Generation 2

Chapter Eighteen Part 1: Friend or Foe

When I woke up the next day I was plagued by confusion and guilt.

Confused because of how acutely aware my body was of Noir – of his touch, of his eyes and lips. Confused because just a few hours before that Eden had kissed me and I hadn’t disliked it. How could being in the same room with Noir cause every fiber of my being to ache while I had enjoyed the caress of Eden just before that? Did it mean I was in lust with Noir and in love with Eden? Or was it the other way around? Had my body betrayed me simply because it had been my first kiss; stolen without permission? How did everyone else navigate these feelings? It seemed there was an impossibly thin line between love, lust and like.

Guilt because I was distracted by such thoughts when my father was missing. This was not the time to ponder love. There would be plenty of time for that when he was found. The thoughts persisted despite the anguish they brought with them. I tried to make myself useful as I contemplated the deepest darkest corner of my affections and emotions. I cooked hot meals for everyone who could eat. I alleviated Jasper of his duties by replacing gauze, setting broken bones and cleaning wounds.

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It was morning, my reflection for the day just beginning, when a pink head bobbled into view. She looked tired, her clothing wrinkled and matted. Normally perfect make-up was flaking onto high cheek bones and her once smooth hair was knotted. The ever present scowl on her face, however, was still there. I turned the burner on the stove off, ready for Shiloh to throw her usual insults at me.

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“You,” Shiloh raised a shaky finger at me, “you need to stay away from Noir.” The moment my hands began to move her lips tugged further downwards, eyes ignited with anger, “For your own good and his. Just please, leave him alone.”

She turned on her heels, dismissing me just as quickly as she had accosted me. There was only one way I was going to have a proper conversation with her – I knew that. Taking a deep breath, I sucked up a lungful of air before expelling it through my teeth, “What’s your relationship with Noir?” It was a question I needed to know. How could I be contemplating love with a man who may or may not be intimately involved with another woman?

She paused, startled, before facing me. A movie roll of emotion streamed onto her face one by one – annoyance, remorse, anger and finally distress, “He’s my friend. My best friend and I need you to stay away from him. I know what girls like you do to men like him.”

“I wouldn’t do anything to Noir!” My voice squeaked, surprise prominent in my tone. Why Shiloh would ever think I would every hurt Noir was beyond me.

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“Yes, you will and you have. You can’t defend yourself so you depend on others to protect you – you depend on Noir to protect you. Why do you think he is sleeping in the bed upstairs, deaf!?” Shame bit my gut and I casted my gaze away from her as she growled in my face, “You’re so fragile and innocent, blindly trying to change the world to benefit yourself without worrying about the causalities that will ensue.”

My mind reeled at her attack. That is not true. It was the only sentence my mind could form, repeating it over and over again until it leaked from my lips.

“Oh really?” She sneered, hands on her hips.

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Pink eyes narrowed as I shook my head, “It’s not! I didn’t want to be a part of this! Noir asked me to! He begged me to join. Day after day, Shiloh. I’ve never once asked for any of this, it was pushed upon me!”

She stumbled for a moment, unsure how to respond. Written on her face was regret and sorrow before it hardened back into the disdain she usually held while speaking to me. “Then leave him. Leave now. Noir will get himself killed fighting for this, for you. Living with the regret of that will haunt you.”

It was then that it clicked. I understood why Shiloh hated me so much.

Is it too late
Nothing to salvage

“Shiloh, what happened to you?”

“What?” She sputtered, alarmed, “Nothing happened, I’m just telling you-“

“It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it,” I start softly, “but you don’t have to project your past onto Noir and me.”

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“I’m telling you that nothing happened!”

I smiled, turning back to the stove top, “Okay. If you ever feel like talking about it, Shiloh, I’ll listen.”

“There’s nothing to talk about!” She snapped. Her footsteps echoed on title as she rushed out of the small red kitchen, huffing the whole way. The scene reminded me a little too much of a mother and daughter and I found myself laughing when she stomped back into the kitchen just a few minutes later.

“If I tell you, will you leave Noir alone?”

“No, but I’m not going to leave him alone if you don’t.”

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Shiloh sighed, defeated. I saw it in the sag of her shoulders and the grind of her step. She slowly wandered out into the empty dining room, taking a seat. I felt smug for the first time in my life as I joined her. I had beat Shiloh. It was terrible, really. She was about to pour out some deep dark secret to me and I was practically beaming. I allowed myself to soak in it, though. It was better than the confusion and guilt I had been sinking in for the past twenty-four hours.

You look away
Clear all the damage

“I went to high school in Bubbleport with Noir and his best friend, Ashe,” Shiloh bit her bottom lip, drumming her dainty fingers as she spoke, “Ashe was a trouble maker, always had been. He was tall and good looking and he wasn’t pink. No, he had shaggy gray hair that fell into wide eyes and the softest off-white lips. He had fallen in love me long before I knew he existed but once I was within his grasp he wouldn’t let me go. I resisted, of course, but it didn’t last long. He swept me off my feet and washed away any doubt I may have had by bringing me to the Bubbleport Uprising. We were young and dumb and very cocky. We thought because we had an organization backing our love we could do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted. They made sure to prove us wrong.”

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She paused, letting out a shaky breath. I flashed Shiloh a small smile in an attempt to be encouraging, “It happened at a small park. We were holding hands as we walked, displaying our love for all to see. There were men – three of them – and they started to make a ruckus. Ashe told them to get lost, to leave me alone. Before long two of the men were holding Ashe down while the third pushed me to the floor. They said if I wanted a different colored man’s love, they would give it me. They made him watch before they- before they killed him,” A single tear rolled down Shiloh’s cheek, “the police found a ring on Ashe, an engagement ring. He was going to propose to me. Now he’ll never get to marry anyone.”

My hand found the small of Shiloh’s back, rubbing soft circles as she sobbed quietly. We sat together, me consoling her, until her shaking ceased and her voice was only a soft quiver, “That’s why you need to leave Noir alone. After Ashe died he made it his life goal to legalize marriage between all Berries. He puts himself into enough danger without you in the picture.”

Are you friend or foe?

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, “but I can’t just leave. I promised Noir – I promised everyone – that I would help. I can’t let them down.”

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The emotion slipped off of Shiloh’s pink features. She stood silently, only pausing when she reached the doorway, “You are sentencing him to death.” And then she was gone.

****

The promises
Hollow concessions

Shiloh’s story resonated inside my head for the rest of the day. Knowing her past helped me to understand her hatred. She knew Noir better than I did – longer. She must have known his impulses, how he would gladly throw himself in front of a bullet for any member of the Uprising. It was the fact that these bullets were more than likely going to be aimed at me that caused her spite. The fact that she saw me as helpless, like she had been that night in the park. Her story cleared up much for me but it had not answered one question, the one question that had been tugging at my heart strings.

What was Shiloh to Noir? There was only one person I could ask.

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The walk to Noir’s recovery room seemed long and tedious. I almost talked myself out of confronting him numerous times before I finally knocked on the door a few times. There was no response. I frowned, discouraged, until I remembered that Noir couldn’t hear me knocking. I cracked the door slightly, peering through the opening. Noir was inside, sitting on the maroon colored comforter. His chest was still bared but I was relieved that he had thrown on a pair of pajama bottoms since the last time I had visited.

“You can come in, Estelle.” He waved me in and patted the empty space next to him. I kept my eyes low as I crossed the room, crawling onto the bed much like we had the night before. This time, however, I kept enough space between us so we were not touching.

‘I wanted to talk to you about,’ I realized we had never made a sign representing Shiloh. Instead I spelt out her name, ‘S-H-I-L-O-H.’

“I’m sorry, Estelle. I’ve told her a dozen times to leave you alone-“

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I held my hands up, shaking my head rapidly, ‘No. Um, I just spoke to her a few minutes ago and she told me to stay away from you. I was wondering… what is she to you?’

“What is Shiloh to me?” Noir repeated the question, eyebrows furrowing, “She’s my friend, Estelle. I’ve known since I was fourteen but we didn’t become close until we were almost eighteen. We’ve been through a lot together and I’ve always tried to be there for her.”

‘She told me what happened. Between her and Ashe,’ I bit my lip, feeling my face flush at just the thought of what I was going to ask, ‘So you’ve never been intimate… with her… after what happened?’

Noir stared at me blankly and for a moment my embarrassment spread wildly though my veins. It was stupid to ask. I should have kept my questions to myself, “You mean have we ever had sex?” He asked. His tone was bland but I nodded, eyes casted at the blankets under us, “No. I have never had sex with Shiloh. We were there for each other when Ashe died and every event after, that’s all. There were a few times where she tried but I always turned her down. It felt wrong to take comfort in my best friend’s girl. Though, I’ve never been a saint, Estelle. I’ve slept with a lot woman; broken even more hearts.”

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“Oh.” I mumbled, a red hot mixture of jealousy and disappointment building in the pit of my stomach. Images of beautiful purple women flashed through my mind; their make-up perfectly done and backs arched as Noir’s hand trailed down their spine. Being envious of women I had never met was silly and I began to pick lint from the bed sheets, trying not to make eye contact with Noir. He would surely know what I had been thinking.

And innocent show of affection
I touch your hand

Rough fingertips brushed my chin, holding it gently before forcing my head up, “Are you jealous?” His lips were pulled into a half-smile, an arrogant glint in his eyes.

He was right. He knew he was right. I knew he was right. Yet I denied it with a huff and a slowly enunciated no.

“Remember the game we played the last time we were at Jasper’s house? The one where we have to answer questions honestly?” I nodded and his smirk widened, “I do believe I still had one left.” I gulped, nodding again slowly. “Are you jealous?”

I could lie but Noir would call me on it. He would see right through me, just like he had when we began this game, when I had bumped into him at that bistro. I had been transparent from the very moment I met him; because from that moment on, Noir had set my world on fire, ‘Yes.’

Noir leaned in. His mouth was warm against my ear, the studs hard under his lips. A soft hand on his bare chest ceased his descent and he retreated back to his side of the bed, questions in his eyes.

‘I had one left, as well.’ His laugh vibrated in the air as he waved for me to continue, ‘Do you like me?’ Because if it was one thing I was certain of, it was that Eden had affections towards me. Eden made that clear. Meanwhile, Noir was a mystery of soft touches and smoldering eyes, teasing words and kind gestures.

“Estelle,” My name was wrapped in his soft laughter, “if you would have let me finish, you wouldn’t have had to ask.” In the next moment Noir was kissing me, mouth dancing against mine. I responded instantly. My body soared to life against the feel of him, silently begging for more.

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What we had might not have been love. Perhaps it was pure hormones and chemicals. I didn’t care. I wanted Noir. In all the ways a woman could possibly want a man; in ways that I did not crave Eden. If it wasn’t love I would deal with it when I knew. When my heart was broken in two. For now I wanted my skin to ached at his touch and his lips to cause a thick fog in my head. I gasped, startled when Noir gently guided me down to soft mattress. He crawled on top of me though his hands did not stray, deepening our kiss into feathers and cotton.

It only lifted when the scent of smoke penetrated my trance. I twisted my head, breaking contact with Noir’s lip.

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I tapped my nose and watched as the lines between Noir’s brow deepened. I didn’t need to mouth or sign anything for a mutual understand to click between us, “Stay here. I’ll go downstairs.” Noir said, untangling his limbs from mine.

I wanted to tell him to be careful but he was already off the bed, heading towards the door. The words came too late for when Noir opened the bedroom door a man was there to greet him.

Uncategorized

Quick Poll

Hey there guys and gals! I hope you all are doing swell today!

For plot reasons I need you guys to vote between Mr. Matisse and Mr. Prelude; the two huge CEOs. Mr. Matisse is the one that Noir and Estelle had a conference with. Mr. Prelude is was the one in generation 1 who said he had no problem with mixed breeding on television. 😀

It doesn’t really matter to me who wins, I just didn’t know who to choose so decided to leave it up to you guys to decide!

Generation 2

Chapter Seventeen: Reunited

AN: I really hate this chapter, it feels rushed and really blah to me but I don’t know how to fix it and it’s already so overdue. :[ I hope you guys like it anyways. Thank you all for your support, as always! ❤

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When we arrived in Sugar Valley I guided Eden to my little home by the waterfall. Neither of us discussed the kiss as he navigated curvy roads, pulling up on the grassy plains that surrounded my house. An edgy nerve crawled into the pit of my stomach, bile rising to the back of my throat as I scrambled out of the car. A quick glance through the exposed windows revealed nothing but darkness as dusk settled around us. Twisting the doorknob revealed that front door was still locked. Eden gave the front door a two strong knocks. They went unanswered.

“No one is home.” I whispered, the words tasting sour on my tongue. Over the past few years my Mema hadn’t left the property once; my mother rarely. Eden cupped his hands over his eyes, pressing his nose as close as the glass plains would allow. I watched as his eyes wrinkled, squinting in an attempt to pierce the darkness that swallowed up our vision.

“It does not look like there was a forced entry nor are there signs of a struggle.”

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The words were meant to be comforting but the sound of his voice caused the knots in my stomach to tighten. The knot exploded into a furry of butterflies as Eden’s fingertips fluttered across my arm. My breath caught in my throat, the contact muddling my thoughts. In the same moment I was propelled behind Eden’s back as he spun around. The crunch of cement resounded in my ears and I found myself standing on tip-toes in order to peer over Eden’s wide shoulders. A white SUV rolled up, tires slowing as it jerked to a stop. Eden caught my wrist in a strong grip as I tried to run forward.

I whipped around, hair smacking me in the face, “It’s my sister, Eden. It’s Panda!” His grip loosened and I tugged myself free, feet flying over wooden boards and across soft blades of grass, “Panda!” I cried. Emotions surged within me, threatening to bubble over as her beautiful silvery hair appeared behind the car door. Her eyes were wide, surprise written clearly in the crease of her brow. I slowed as tear stained cheeks became evident, her eyes smeared with make-up.

“You just. You spoke?” Pandora’s voice was hoarse but the disbelief caused her to squeak.

“A lot happened in Bubbleport…” I trailed off, eyebrows furrowing, “Why are you crying. What happened? Why weren’t you answering my phone calls?”

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The back of her pale hands rose, gently attempting to wipe away the ugly black circles under her eyes, “Half the city’s phones stopped working a few days ago. I-I-I,” her voice caught in her throat, tears threatening to pour as she spoke. Pandora had always been the pillar of strength in my life – in my family. For her to be shaken up, on the verge of tears, I knew something bad had to have happened, “M-mema fad-ded while you we-re-re gone and Father…” she couldn’t finish her sentence. She collapsed against the side of the SUV, hands clutching at the side mirror desperately.

“What happened to Daddy, Pandora?”My question went unanswered, soft sobs crippling my sister’s ability to speak, “Pandora! What. Happened?”

“I don’t know!” Pandora screamed, distress oozing out of every fiber of her being, “He never came home Friday! There have been police everywhere! Randomly stopping people. Questioning people. Arresting them. Jasper’s been trying to organize a search party for him but with all the refugees we just don’t have the man power.”

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“How many are there?” Eden asked as he took his place beside me, face solemn.

Pandora took a few deep breaths and I found myself copying her example. Composure was key; we had to collect ourselves if we were going to benefit anyone, “Almost two dozen.” Panda eventually answered, standing tall again, “Most of them are in Jasper’s house. Spare bedrooms, basement. A few are in the loft of the Sour Apple. It’s a mess.”

“And Noir?” I whispered.

“He’s there…” She trailed off, running a hand through stray silvery strands, “in Jasper’s house. He’s doing… okay.”

“Just okay?” The words were thick on my tongue. My sister’s eyes filled with sorrow, dropping down to the grass. I knew she was debating what to tell me and I couldn’t help but wonder what was wrong. What had happened to him in that smog?

Pandora’s wasn’t Noir’s biggest fan but she wouldn’t wish harm upon him, “He’ll live.” She finished and her tone indicated she was done with that topic, “Mom is there, helping Ivy. She’s trying to keep her mind off of Dad by making herself useful. You should go see her. She’s worried sick about you.”

I nodded, “What about you? What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to figure out what the fudge is going on in this town.” She was practically growling as she stomped past me.

“Be safe out there!” I called as she retreated towards our house.

Pandora paused long enough to respond, “You better not let them touch a hair on her head, Eden.” Her usual confident demeanor had returned; the threat evident in her voice.

“The Princess is safe with me.” His response reassured Panda enough to get her securely inside, door locked tight behind her. Eden motioned to Cephei’s yellow vehicle, dull smile on his lips, “After you.”

*

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My Mema had faded and I hadn’t been able to say goodbye. I had missed her funeral. I would never see her wrinkled smile or hear her words of wisdom. It was all I could think about on the way to Jasper’s. If I did manage to push away those thoughts – even for a moment – my Father’s smiling face would be projected before my eyes. My mind’s way of reminding me of what I still had to lose. Of torturing me slowly with what ifs. Never knowing if I could have changed the events had I just stayed home. Realizing that my last words to my Father might have been a lie.

I wondered briefly how my mother would react when I arrived. Surely she knew I had not been staying at Ocean’s house; had lied to her face before running off to a dangerous city. I worried about Noir – wishing with every cell that made up my being for him to be okay. I hoped when we arrived he would greet me with a smile before taking me into his arms.

Something in my gut told me I was wishing for too much.

Jasper greeted us with a mixture of relief and apprehension. He seemed nervous and the bags under his eyes made him look like a junkie. I had been invited into his home before – when Affair had been hurt – and it had been clean and well kept. As Jasper allowed us inside it dawned on me that the red berry was in over his head.

The furniture that had been well spaced was pushed into a corner; patients littering the floor instead. They laid in sleeping bags and gurneys, the red carpet stained black from the copious amount of blood that had been spilt. The air had a pungent scent to it – a mixture of copper, medicine and perspiration. The curtains were drawn tight, keeping curious Berries at bay. Jasper signaled for us to be discreet as we tip-toed around and over slowly rising chests. The few that had bare flesh exposed seemed the worse for wear, blood splattered gauze wrapped around their extremities. A few had facial wounds; lacerations or burns or both. It was more than any individual could handle alone.

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Jasper led us to the second story, soundlessly moving into a bedroom. It was spacious and sported a king size bed in the middle. Under the covers someone was sleeping, tossing restlessly against whatever dream had ensnared them. Jasper gently peeled back the comforter to reveal white skin and hair, her face clenched in pain. She awoke at the small gesture, eyes flying open as she sat up in surprise. The circles under Jasper’s eyes matched my mother’s.

“Estellise?” Her voice broke; shuttering as if she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. My heart shattered as she choked back a sob. I had caused her so much unnecessary pain and worry. She had already lost one child; I never thought she could handle the thought of losing another. Yet here she was, striving to help when I knew she was on the brink of destruction, “Oh, thank Berry you are alright. You’re alright!”

She practically jumped out of bed to reach me, clothes wrinkled and stained from the work she had been doing earlier. I sniffled, returning the hug she encased me in. I stayed enveloped in her arms until she pulled back, looking me up and down for injuries. The scratches that lined my arms and legs were puffy and pink, almost completely healed but noticeable enough to catch my Mother’s attention, “What happened?”

“I’m fine, Mom. Really,” My words caused her eyes to widen and she pulled my head back into her chest, squeezing tightly.

All suspicions concerning my wounds were dropped as she whispered in my ear. “Oh my. Your voice. Sweetie, it’s so beautiful.”

I allowed her to coddle me in silence, unsure how to respond to her compliment. My voice still sounded foreign to my ears, “Eden and Noir took good care of me, I’m sorry I made you worry.”

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Her eyes hardened at Noir’s name and a scowl protruded from her lips, “You lied to me.” The mood in the room shifted. Jasper quickly excused himself and Eden followed suit. It was obvious neither man thought they belonged in this discussion.

“I did.” I was expecting a lecture.

Instead I received another bone crushing hug and my mother sighed in relief, “We can talk about that later. As long as you are okay. So much happened while you were gone. Your Mema-“ she couldn’t even properly begin the sentence before tears streaked her cheeks, “and your father. He-“

I stopped my mother, shaking my head against her shoulder blade. She had aged a life time in little more than a week; the lines circling her lips seemed more prominent and wrinkles on her forehead deeper, “Pandora told me. I’m so sorry about Mema, Mama. I should have been here for the funeral, to say goodbye-”

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“Shhhh. You couldn’t have known baby. You couldn’t have known.”

“We’ll find Daddy. We will. You’ll see, Mama. He will be fine.” The words were meant to bring comfort to my mother but I also found solace in them. It had to be true; Dad had to be out there alive and well.

*

It was hours before I untangled myself from my mother’s arms and warm bed sheets. The sun had long set, darkness settling around the quint red home. I crept out into the barren hallway, heart in my throat. My hand shook as I reached for the door handle, unsure what I should be expecting. I took a deep breath, steadying myself as I gathered my courage.

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The lights inside the room were off, dosing the inhabitant inside in velvet obscurity. He was sleeping, and for a moment I contemplated sliding back into the hallway. Morbid curious got the best of me, fueling my need to know the physical condition my recklessness had left Noir in. I waited for my eyes to adjust before slipping inside, dodging night stands and dressers along the way. I had made it to the foot of the bed before my big toe slammed into a bed post. A sharp intake of air rushed through my lungs before being hissed out in pain. Light flickered on, turning my vision red behind clenched eyelids.

“Estelle?” My name rolled off Noir’s tongue much a little loudly for this time of night, the pronunciation muddled by sleep. I quickly straightened, dropping my offended appendage back to the floor in order and raised a single finger to my lips, giving him a curt nod. My cheeks colored as Noir’s bare purple chest filled my vision, his messy hair left to its own devices without a headband.

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“My bad, still trying to get used to speaking.” His voice sounded clearer, more coherent, but now I had to strain to understand what he saying he was speaking so low. His statement itself didn’t make much sense, and I found my eyebrows furrowing in confusion.

“Getting used to speaking?” I angled my head away from him, trying desperately not to stare at the ample amount of bare skin he was bearing to the cool night air. Thankfully, his waist was still hidden under covers or I would have matched Jasper’s drapes.

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“Sorry, I can’t hear you.”

Noir had my complete attention now, “What do you mean you can’t…”  As I spoke sorrow filled his eyes and his fists gripped the blankets until his knuckles turned white. The meaning of his words dawned on me then and the horror of that reality caused me to stumble backwards.

“You’re deaf.” I whispered more for myself than him.

“Hey, hey. Don’t you run away from me.” He called, a little too loudly, pushing the blankets aside. He stood swiftly, too swiftly, but quickly began stumbling as soon as his bare feet touched the ground. I was by his side before either of us could blink, helping him to slowly sit back down on the mattress. Once he was settled in I crawled across the bed, positioning myself in front of him. Our knees were barely touching and I tried not to pay attention to his boxers as I began to sign.

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‘I’m so sorry, Noir. I never meant for this-‘ His hand capture mine mid ASL, a small smile tugging on his purple lips.

“It might not be permanent, Estelle. My ear drums ruptured during the riot. Ivy says they usually heal on their own. If not, I might be able to get surgery.” I frowned. Possibly being permanently disabled was nothing to scoff at and yet here Noir was, acting as if he had gotten stung by a wasp instead of both his ear drums popped.

‘What if they don’t heal? What if they can’t fix it?’

He shrugged, as if his potential loss of hearing was insignificant, “Then I’ll be deaf. I’m alive, you’re alive. I can keep practicing my ASL with you, though I guess you don’t really need it anymore.”

I shook my head, brushing a stray strand of white out of my eyes, ‘This is my fault.’

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“You didn’t ask me to follow you into that riot, Estelle. You aren’t responsible for my actions.” Noir reached out, fingertips gracing the bottom of my hair gingerly, “What happened to your hair?”

‘Oh, it was cut and dyed,’ the look in Noir’s eye was teasing and I knew he was going to bring up the various times he had suggested I do the very same thing but argued against it. I beat him to the punch, ‘against my will.’ His fingertips glided down the side of my cheek bone before resting on my hand. The contact caused me to shuttered and I noticed that his hands were rough and calloused where Eden’s were soft and smooth.

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I’ve read hundreds of romance novels over the course of my short life; visualized dozens of passages about love and the feelings that came with it. I had never truly comprehended the descriptions before. Never understood how a single touch could light your skin on fire or a crooked smile caused your stomach degenerate into a million butterflies. As I sat there with Noir, his hand lingering on my fingers, I finally understood.

When I left his recovery room that night the floor felt like clouds and I was sure I was hovering above the ground; ready to take flight at any moment.

Generation 2

Chapter Sixteen: A Moment of Reprieve

                I dialed the same three phone numbers for over an hour before I finally gave up. No one was answering, not even Panda. I was alone in Cephei’s living room – the two women hadn’t made their way back to the small apartment yet. Eden had sat with me for quite a while. He only left a few minutes prior to my resignation when his own cell phone rang. Excusing himself, he had slipped out the front door and into the narrow hallway.

                Despair washed over me. I desperately wanted to head back to Sugar Valley to check on my parents but we had to find Noir. I could not just abandon him – even if I didn’t know where he was. Noir had done so much for me over the past few months: he tried his hardest to protect me while opening my eyes to how much of the world I had shut out. I had locked my voice in a safe and intentionally forgotten the combination until he found me. Curling up into a ball, I let soft sobs lull me into my recurring nightmare.

                It was a scene I knew all too well -Sugar Valley’s shore being nursed by the tides under the light of a full moon. Mithos and Pandora playing in the sand a few feet away while I nervously fiddled with my fingertips. A loud whimper snagged my attention and my head snapped to the side. Two men came into view, relentlessly kicking the defenseless animal that was caught in between them. I didn’t fight the dream. I knew no matter how much I screamed and shouted my legs would still march forward. I had long ago succumbed to the horrors that were about to unfold.

                My voice rang out in the chilly night air. Red and purple heads jerked upwards, eyes fogged by juice. They started towards me, their rowdy aura dissipating into disgust. Slurs were thrown my way, words much too harsh and tones much too frigid. A red hand rose and I knew I would close my eyes and flinch away from rough hands. Only I didn’t. I couldn’t. Something urged me to keeping looking, to watch, so I did.

                And then I saw it. A red forearm inked with circles and straight-lines that crisscrossed at their apex before diving back down to tangle at their middle. Everything froze, as if I had hit the pause button, before the nightmare shattered, falling around me like millions of pieces of shattered glass.

                I woke up gasping for air. The despair that had nestled into the pit of my stomach had doubled in the short time I had been napping. Those men had been part of the Resistance. No matter what action I had taken that night, they were bound to assault us once their intoxicated fun had concluded. It wasn’t my fault that Mithos had been killed but that revelation didn’t make me feel better. It made everything worse; as if my brother’s demise had been written in the stars before any of us were ever born.

                I buried my face into my hands, taking deep breaths to calm my racing pulse. I didn’t look up when the front door open and clicked shut. Didn’t pay attention as the couch beside me sagged with weight.

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                “How are you feeling, Princess?” I shrugged in response, still refusing to remove my hands from my face, “You look like you are in psychical pain. Did you get hurt?” His hand landed on my shoulder, gentle and kind, but I shrugged it off.

                “I’m fine.” I muttered, “I just want to go home.” As soon as the words escaped my lips I knew it was more than a desire. I needed to go home. It was the only possible solution to this entire mess. I wouldn’t be abandoning Noir – I would be gathering our friends together to broaden the search. I could figure out what was happening with my parents – why no one in my family was answering their phones. Sugar Valley was the perfect solution to all of my problems, “I need to go home, Eden. Will you take me home?”

                “I would love to bring you home, princess, but I do not think that is a good idea.”

                “Why not?”

                “For one, we do not possess a safe method of travel.” He pointed out. I pouted, knowing that he was right. Noir’s car was at the apartment Shiloh had rented for us, but the keys were more than likely on the missing Berry. Not that I would be okay with commandeering the purple death machine if the keys were still in the apartment, “why the sudden urge to jump ship?”

                “I… when we were at the station I found more than just that letter I gave to you,” I could barely hear myself speak and I saw Eden lean inwards, straining his ears to understand, “they had Sugar Valley circled on a map. It mentioned searching for me there and my… my family.”

                “Another reason we should not go.”

                I whipped my head around, unable to conceal the hurt and anger in my voice, “We have to go! They aren’t responding to my calls, Eden! They could be in danger and it would be entirely my fault.” I had to take a deep breath to keep myself from falling into another fit of sobs.

                 “I am sure your parents would rather you stay here – safe- than endangering yourself for their sake.” I was going to argue. Wanted to dispute his claim but I knew he was right. Before I could vocalize my discontent with his objection – despite how right it might have been – the door open and Cephei walked in, pausing in the door frame when she saw the two of us.

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                “Oh. Um. Should I leave you two alone?” She stuttered, rubbing the back of her head. I shook mine in response, head falling back down into my hands. Cephei moved further into the room, closing the door behind her, “I have some good news, I think.” I perked up at that, eyes wide and alert as I waited for her to spill the news, “Noir’s alive. Or at least, the last time anyone in the Bubbleport Uprising saw him, he was. He was injured, but no one seemed to know how serious the wounds were.”

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                “Where is he?” I could barely keep the desperation from dripping off each syllable.

                “Sugar Valley. The Uprising here doesn’t have a well-equipped medical center nor any trained medical personnel. Rumors say Sugar Valley has a surgeon on staff,” she paused, her face scrunched up, “most of the injured were rushed that way, actually.”

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                “That must have been what tipped them off…” Eden murmured, causing Cephei to raise an eyebrow.

                “Tipped who off?”

                Eden looked up at her in surprise, as if he hadn’t realized he had spoken out loud, “The Resistance and the BPD. They’re looking in Sugar Valley for Estellise. The sudden influx of Uprising members must have led them there.”

                “We have to go.” I whined, pout forming on my lips the moment a stern “No.” left Eden’s.

                There was a moment of silence in which I contemplated throwing a temper tantrum. I wasn’t sure if it would accomplish anything, though. I was fairly certain, actually, that it might be detrimental to my plans. Cephei interrupted my thought process just as I was about to concede, “Eden, can I speak to you for moment.”

                Eden’s teal head bobbed before he stood. I froze into the cushions, feeling helpless. Constantly kept in the dark, left behind and useless. The deep freeze of depression was soon boiled away by anger and annoyance. Who were they to exclude me from a conversation that more than likely revolved around me? How could they possible entertain the thought of knowing what was best for me?

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I peeled myself away from the couch, energized by these thoughts. An image of me bursting through the front door and demanding inclusion flashed before my eyes. I settled on sneaking over to their location and pressing my ear against the wooden door that separated us.

                “Then go with her,” Cephei. I was sure of it, “Take my car. Keep her safe but you cannot hold her here.”

                “I refuse to let the Princess get herself killed.”

                “She will hate you if you do this; if even one person gets harmed. Her whole family is over there. Everything and everyone that she knows and loves could be in danger. You cannot keep her from trying to save them.”

                “Yet you wish to keep me from saving her.”

                The inflection of Cephei’s voice turned sour, “No. I am asking you to protect her as she grows. We cannot hinder her development, Eden. Have some faith in the girl.”

                Eden’s response was muffled, voice too low for me to make sense of. Silence followed and I rushed back to my previous location when I heard their feet begin to shuffle. I had just dived back onto the couch when they entered, door swinging wide open. I feigned innocence as the duo approached me – Eden looking sullen while Cephei seemed expectant.

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                “Let’s go.” His voice was barely a whisper but my face split into a grin, excitement coursing through my veins. Eden turned on his heels and left without another word and I hurried to follow, only pausing briefly to hug Cephei, “Thank you.”

*

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We were halfway to Sugar Valley before I had to use the restroom. I tried to hold it but five hours was a long time to keep liquid in your bladder. I knew if I didn’t voice my concern to Eden soon I would have an accident, so I sucked up my embarrassment and asked him to get off the highway at the next stop. He changed lanes smoothly, using his blinker as the exit for Apple Pie Plains came into sight.

It felt like we were driving forever before a small rest stop came into view. He pulled into the parking lot, effortlessly gliding into a space, “I’ll come in with you.” He didn’t leave room for arguing and I really didn’t want to. With my teal guide leading the way, we weaved through double doors and past a few fast food joints to the women’s room. He stopped just short of the door, standing with his arms crossed like a guard to a castle.

When I emerged a few moments later Eden was in the same spot I had left him. Only, he had a snow cone in his hand. He offered me the syrup coated ice and I accepted with a smile, “You didn’t get yourself one?”

“No, I do not particularly like sweets.”

I raised a brow, licking the blue raspberry flavored treat, “How do you not like sweets.”

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Eden shrugged, setting a leisurely pace for us as we walked, “Many Berries do not care for them.” He stated, as if that answered my question at all. I rolled my eyes, taking another bite as silence settled between us.

             Cephei’s car came into view and Eden walked around the passenger side in order to open up the door for me. I placed my hand on his chest to stop him, lifting up the cold slushy delight to his lips, “Try it.”

                “I’d rather not have bright blue lips like you.” His voice was serious but a hint of a smile played on the corner of his mouth.

                I ignored his teasing, putting on my best pout, “There is no way you hate all sweets. Just this once?”

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                “If you insist,” It came out causal even as his hand reached up, gently moving my arm out of his face. His head bent down; swooping in to catch the briefest taste of my lips. The sticky juice trickled down my arm as warm lips fogged my head. By the time I had recovered, Eden’s face was contorted in confusion. Conflicted, guilt and desire mingled interchangeably before he finally spoke, “I apologize. That was out of line, Princess.”

                “It’s fine.” I whispered, fingertips fluttering to my tingling lips. I wasn’t sure if it really was fine – if I really had wanted my first kiss to be stolen in a moment such as this. It felt natural to reassure Eden, however, so I continued, “Really, it was… nice.”

                Surprise claimed his eyes and for a moment I thought he might kiss me again. My breath hitched; every muscle coiling tightly as he moved closer. The car door opened and I realized a beat too late that he was expecting me to climb inside.

                We didn’t speak on the way to Sugar Valley. Guilt puddled in my gut: how could I be so carefree during such a pivotal time? I was an awful daughter; horrible friend.

Even so, my lips sung on.