Sol goes to a party for the first time after he was attacked.
Sol’s heart thudded hard against his chest. He was trapped against the table, no way to escape
Then it hit him—of course—he wore a mask. The boy couldn’t recognize him. Unless he spoke.
The boy wasn’t wearing his white Purity Patrol uniform now, but he had then, as had all Sol’s attackers. His mask was a green snake with obsidian eyes, black and fathomless.
“Well, we’re already in Q,” said Sym. “So it can’t get any worse.”
“Oh, it can.” The boy smirked. He was a fellow Sojourner, so he was a “brother”, and his name, he recalled, was Zane. “I speak a word of this, and you end up in the ‘Zones.” He snapped his fingers. Sol flinched. He knew what damage that hand could do….
Zane inched closer. “Anti-torture laws don’t apply there, you know. Rumor has it they’ve got chain whips, electric knives, instruments you couldn’t dream of. Wouldn’t want that smooth, sun-kissed flesh getting flayed….” He reached out, slid his hand down her cheek.
A stab of horror flared through Sol. He wanted to help her but was rooted to the ground.
She grabbed Zane's wrist and bent it backward. He gasped in pain. “How dare you touch me!” she said. “I’m Nobility.”
“Ha! Didn’t I just hear you extol the virtues of democracy? Besides, the only true nobility in Q is the Patrol.”
“That may be, but you don’t have the…natural equipment of genetic Nobility.” She let lightning flicker across her knuckles.
Zane’s black eyes blinked; for a moment he was speechless. Then he said, “Touch me and my comrades will swarm down on you. Some of them are Nobility. You wouldn’t stand a chance.”
“Maybe not, but I’m good. And I’ve trained in stormdance. How many of your Patrol comrades can say that? You thugs rely on your dubious authority but you’re really just scared kids who like to bully the innocent.”
“We keep law and order.”
“Oh—I’ve seen your ‘law and order’. It really is upside down in here. The thugs rule and the innocent are drowned out. Maybe we need someone who can beat you up for a change.”
Zane drew himself up, comically small next to Sym’s height. “I will let your insubordination slide—this once. It’s Festival; for now, everything is chaos. But the next time I see you, well….” He let his threat hang in the air and then backed away, melting into the crowd.
Sol took a deep breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.
Sym turned to him. “Those guys, they—” She reached toward him. “Sol, are you okay?”
“I—” He couldn’t speak. He was shaking.
“Here—let’s sit down.” She gestured to the seats along the wall, and he sat down. Then she strode away, leaving him alone.
Desolation spread through him. The crowd closed in on him. Purity Patrol, everywhere, hidden among them—
Panic gripped him.
“Here.” Sym thrust a cold glass of water into his hands.
He drank, quenching his parched throat.
She sat down beside him, her blue-violet eyes fixed on him. “Are you okay? You’re shaking.”
He cradled the glass in his hands, not sure if he could answer. Thankful that he hadn’t let Zane hear his voice….
He wanted to speak now. Wanted to trust someone. But the words stuck in his throat.
“It had to do with that Patroller, didn’t it.”
“He hurt you?”
He nodded. The images, feelings, from that day crowded in on his mind and he shut his eyes, trying to block them out.
“I’m sorry.” She laid a hand on his arm.
“Oh! Sorry!” She jerked her hand away. “I…should’ve known…. It wasn’t very long ago, was it.”
He shook his head. Struggled to speak. The words tore from his throat, hoarse and quiet. “Two weeks.”
“That’s nothing. It’s amazing you’re even braving these crowds….” Her hand crept toward him, as if of its own accord, then stopped, alarm on her face.
“It’s okay. You just…startled me, that’s all. It’s…actually, I…want—I need touch that doesn’t hurt, from someone who…doesn’t mean me harm.” Tears stung his eyes; the dancing crowd blurred, like a picture with its colors running.
“A-are you sure?”
“I need to get over this. I can’t…be stuck here, afraid of people. That’s why I came….”
“It’s a big step. Maybe it’s enough. You don’t want to go too fast.”
“You sound like Mom.”
“That’s not a bad thing, I assume.”
He laughed. It felt good to laugh—akin to listening to music. “She’s one of the most wonderful people that exist. Of course, I’m biased.”
“Yeah…My family may have its flaws, but I’ll defend them to the death.”
“That sounds like Mom too.”
A smile spread across her face, her eyes sparkling like the sea at sunset. “So… is it just you and her then?”
“And my grandparents. Since we’ve been shunned, it’s pretty much been us four…. Except Mom had a fiance who wasn’t Sojourner. It was nice having someone else around for a change…who seemed to accept us for who we were. Almost like family. But then….” A pang struck his heart. “After…you know… what happened…. Mom spent every spare moment with me. Because there’s no psych-care in here—I needed all the comfort I could get. And Steel begrudged mom that. Said she was spending too much time with me.”
“What a jerk!”
A sharp jolt shot through his heart at the word; he was almost as sensitive to words as to touch. But at the same time, his heart warmed at her reaction.
“So Mom broke up with him. Told him to get out of her life. Then he said, ‘If you value that kid more than me, you don’t deserve me.’” He had used a less kind word than “kid”, but Sol wasn’t about to say it.
“Wow. He showed his true colors. Good thing your mom got away from him.”
A shadow spread over Sol’s heart, a deep pain that was as bad, in its way, as his own trauma. “There were other signs…. Not many, because he was usually on his best behavior. But—after he left, Mom said he was getting verbally abusive, even…hurting her.” He grasped his wrist. “She had bruises that she covered up…. kept from me, because she didn’t want me to worry. She…ignores danger to herself…. The only reason she got away from him was because of how he treated me. I should’ve known—I should’ve helped her before….” Pain tore through his heart.
“You just said he was on his best behavior around you. That’s what abusers do.”
“But I was there…. With him. I….” He stopped, not sure if he should reveal one of the deepest secrets he held. He barely knew her, after all. But she seemed like someone he could trust. And he wanted, needed, to trust someone—even if it turned out to backfire in the end. “I should’ve sensed his darkness. I did… but everyone has some darkness in them. They don’t always act on it. And I didn’t often touch him….”
Sym’s brow furrowed. His stomach knotted in anticipation of a verbal attack. “You mean—what are you saying? You can sense what people are like by touching them?”
“I feel what they feel.”
Realization dawned on her face. “No wonder you’re averse to touch! Even under normal circumstances… I don’t know if I could stand it.”
“You mean—you believe me?”
“The few people I’ve told, well… they either don’t believe, or treat me like a freak. I’m not even sure if my grandparents do…. Mom does, at least.”
“You’re not the sort of person to be dishonest. Even I can sense that. Sojourners aren’t prone to it? I know they can be secretive about their heritage.”
He shook his head. “I’m the only one, as far as I know.”
“That’s amazing! I get why you’d be wary of telling people. Especially in Q. It would be an exploitable ability, if people believed it…. And…it would be quite a burden.”
“I try not to let it be a barrier between me and other people—usually.”
“So…you can’t turn it off? Like me and my lightning?”
He shook his head, a thread of sorrow lacing through him. It hadn’t been such a curse, before….
“That would be hard. Especially if—” She stopped, her honey-bronze face tinged with gray. “Sol. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay.” He knew what she implied.
“No, it’s not! They hurt you—and you could feel what they—”
He nodded, not wishing to go into it. Not wanting the floodgates to burst open, and the images and terror and agony to seize him, drown him…. Not here. Not now. He needed more recovery first—to feel good things, concrete things, not immerse in the shadows of past nightmares.
“Sorry. You probably don’t want to relive it. I’m a complete stranger, really. And you just gave me a precious gift, your secret… I’ll honor that, and not dig any deeper, unless…” Her eyes sparked. “If you need to talk, ever, you can tell me.”
“I wish there was a way to bear more of that burden. It sounds… incredibly lonely.”
Tears threatened to well up again. His heart felt like a large fist was crushing it, slowly. “It is.”
“Sol….” Her hand crept toward him again before stopping.
“It’s okay.” He held out his hand.
Tentatively, she let her hand slide toward his, and his heart pounded in anticipation of the touch. He forced himself not to flinch at the soft, warm embrace of her fingers. Her emotions spread through him—kindness, sorrow, and deep pain that echoed his own. He grasped her hand, then gently squeezed. He willed his gratitude to flow through his touch, even though she couldn’t truly feel how he felt. But she still had a strong sense of empathy without having his lonely, overwhelming gift. And that was more than enough.
Questions & Answers
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