As I change behind a screen- my small attempt at privacy - Beck emerges from the shower. The scent of soap—Beck’s soap—tickles my nose and I grin. Thankfully, I’m hidden and he can’t see my reaction.
He doesn’t need the encouragement - things are hard enough as it is.
“How do these even fit you?” he asks.
I peek around the screen. He stands next to my closet, dressed, but his hair is damp and tousled. He holds the jeans out in front of him like they’re some sort of foreign object, though I know he’s seen a pair before—they’re not that obsolete. “They’re so small. Look!” He shoves his feet into the legs and they get stuck around his ankles. He hops to my bed, nearly tripping in the process, and tries tugging them off.
I pull on my blouse and walk around the screen toward the mirror. “They’re authentic, Beck. There’s no smart technology in them to stretch to the right size. And even if there was, they’re still not meant to be worn by a six-foot-two giant.”
While he struggles to disentangle himself, I smooth my chestnut hair into a loose ponytail. Neat and tidy, just like a future Stateswoman. In the mirror, I see Beck has stopped fighting my jeans and is watching me. Flutters tickle my heart. His eyes burn for a second but then he returns to just regular old Beck.
A weird tension hangs between us. It’s been happening more and more lately. When I catch Beck staring at me, he’ll look away or pretend to be doing something else, and then we avoid each other for a while until the awkwardness passes.
But we don’t have time for that this morning, so I stick out my tongue and hope it distracts him.
“Oh, you did it now!” he growls playfully.
I’m pulled off the ground and hurled through space. The unexpected sensation leaves me dazed and unprepared for what comes next. I land on my bed, my legs dangling over the edge. Beck leaps on me and straddles my waist. He deftly pins me, holding both my hands over my head with one hand.
I look up at him, suppressing my urge to shriek and laugh simultaneously. “We’re going to be-”
“Come out, come out wherever you are. We know you’re here,” a man’s voice sing-songs.
I fumble with my wristlet, trying to find the alarm feature with my frozen fingers.
Why aren’t the school security alarms sounding?
Beck’s fingers wrap around my wristlet. At first, I think he’s going to sound the alarm button, but he does nothing. His rapid breathing fills my ears.
“Come now. This is no way to play.” The man’s voice is so clear, he must be on the other side of the small hill Beck and I have hidden behind.
“Our footprints,” Beck mumbles. “He sees our footprints.”
My body shakes, not from cold, but fear. If he catches us…I press my eyes shut and swallow my scream. Around us, the snow whirls, frantic like the beat of my heart.
Suddenly, I no longer feel the pressure of Beck against my back. He stands on top of the hill, fully exposed.
“What are you doing?” I cry.
Beck keeps his attention focused on what he sees before him.
“Looking for me?” he asks. He sounds calm – not like he’s facing down our greatest threat.
Why would they be looking for him?
My feet slip as I climb the slight incline and I use my hands to steady myself. When I reach the top, Beck positions himself between me and the dozen Sensitives standing below us. My eyes instinctively flit to their wrists – all bare. The State hasn’t caught them yet.
Beck reaches behind himself to hold my hand tightly, as if trying to absorb my trembling.
To my surprise, the ragged group doesn’t attack. They watch Beck and I with confusion, their eyes darting between the two of us and our enjoined hands.
From the back of the group, a disheveled woman steps forward. She lifts her arm, points at us – me. She’s pointing at me.
“I know who you are.” Her crazy eyes gleam. “I know.”
A silent scream lodges in my throat. Of course she does. I’m Malin Greene’s daughter; the direct female descendant of Caitlyn Greene, one of the Founders of the State and the reason Sensitives are hunted.
Everyone knows who I am.
And Senstives hate me and my family more than any other.
My heart whirls as my fear gives way to anger.
Beck’s fingers release mine and travel to my wristlet. He pushes the alarm button, the one I couldn’t find earlier with my numb fingers.
A loud wail fills the air. Sirens. The barricade hums to life, lighting up. In the near-distance, security guards rush toward us.
“We will be free!” the crazed woman shouts. “You can’t stop us!”
I angrily raise my hand to tell them to leave us alone, that there’s no hope for them. They’re caught.
An impossibly blinding white light flashes. Beck screams, “No!” and throws me to the ground again, forcing my gaze away from the Sensitives, toward the distant bay.
“Lark? Are you okay?” He stands in the shadow of the trees, hidden from view.
I shake my head and hope he’ll go away. I don’t want him to see me like this.
“You need to leave, Beck. You can’t be around me.”
He ignores my order and crosses the expanse of sand. “I need to talk to you.”
“I don’t think this is a good idea. They’re probably already looking for you.” I hide my face from him.
“Doubt anyone is looking for me,” he says. “They sent me to find you.”
So that’s how it is. Beck’s here to do what I know he has to: send me away. Tell me he doesn’t want me.
He’s here to tell me things we both know are lies.
I twist the chain of my necklace around my fingers and wish this moment away. Even though I know he doesn’t mean it, I still don’t want to hear those words. I take a deep breath and prepare to have my heart ripped out.
But instead of doing what he needs to, Beck sits next to me. His warmth envelops me and pushes some of the sadness and worry away.
“Not the best day, is it?” His voice is heavy, but there’s not a trace of sorrow.
“You could say that.” I stare out into the night. Tears stain my cheeks and I pray he doesn’t notice. I hug my knees to my chest and rest my head on them.
Beck’s hand strokes my hair. He tugs at the ends and wraps them around his fingers. I close my eyes and savor the feeling of being close to him again.
With that one gesture, I realize he’s not going to do it. Beck won’t tell me to leave. He won’t lie to me.
I turn my head toward him, my hair falling across my face. Through the strands, I study him, trying to discern whether or not it’s really him or Henry again. His eyes look hopeful, not sad. Not at all worried. I sigh. Only Beck would be optimistic when everything seems hopeless.
He’s making this worse.
All my life, I’ve turned to him when I haven’t known what to do. But now, it’s my turn to lead. I need to be strong and do the right thing: If Beck won’t let me go, I’m going to have to make him not want me. I’m going to have to force him away.
I fumble with the clasp of my necklace. When it falls away, I gather it in my hand and force it into his. A faint tingle runs along my skin when my hand brushes against his.
Beck stares at the necklace before clenching it in his fist. He holds it for a moment, closes his eyes, and then drops it into his pocket. When my lip trembles, I realize I’d been hoping he’d refuse it, or maybe even clasp it around my neck again.
“What do you want, Beck?” My flat voice sounds empty, like I feel.
Given the way my uncle died havin a drink directly after his funeral just didnt seem right so I went for a walk instead. One of them downtowns where all there is is stores. Came across a store was a big…