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Rated: GC · Campfire Creative · Novella · Fantasy · #890398
Six kids at highschool are about to discover something, changing their lives forever.

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Six kids at high school are about to discover something mind blowing within the school. There is a hidden portal. What lies beyond the portal that could change their lives and their futures? Will they accept change or not? Further more, how will these high school students react with each other?

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Main Characters

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Name: Corey Akaino

Age: 17

Year level: 11

Appearance: He has sleek, straight, mid-length black hair and black, sharp eyes. The school uniform is more like a suit that contains black shoes, pants, jumper, tie and white t-shirt. He always wears a silver ring on his middle finger.

Personality: Corey is a reserved boy. He is also attentive, but not very self-driven with anything he doesn't enjoy. Anything personal or problems he keeps to himself. He doesn’t care what people think of him and has no one he could call a friend.
He has been raised to take over his fathers business of top of the range computer technology products. He lives with his father but his father is rarely home, except for Sundays, and his mother died when Corey reached the age of three.


Name: [Japanese name]- Saienta Kureshida [English Name]- Sayenta Cressida

Age: 17

Year level: 11

Nationality: Half Japanese/Half European

Appearance: Saienta wears a fierce expression, its intensity magnified by his clear grass green eyes. His hair is dark brown and cut messily with the longest bits at the back hanging down to his shoulders. He wears baggy black pants with straps and buckles that go around his knees and upper-thighs, and has them hanging loose. He wears a white and grey shirt with the school suit jacket and chunky black Skecher sneakers with the laces constantly undone, instead of school shoes. His unkempt uniform has gotten him into a lot of trouble but it doesn’t seem to faze him.
He has a silver ring that he keeps on a chain around his neck, hidden under his clothes. His fingernails always seem to have dirt underneath them and students around the school have come up with quite a few rumours of why, though none of them true.

Personality: He is dark and unapproachable. The students stay away from him and some of them are scared of him. He has a habit of saying hurtful things that he finds true to those he looks down upon and he has a sharp tongue when he speaks. He looks down on most people, especially those that talk too much.
He has no real friends and prefers to be alone. At night he is part of a local gang that terrorise the city from their motorbikes.
Apart from his dark personality, he is also hard-working and extremely loyal to the people he trusts. He is ambitious and if he ever found anyone worth encouraging, he wouldn’t refrain from passing on his ambitious attitude. He is capable of good-humour and grins when he is amused. Make him laugh in a good way and he’ll protect you for life. If there was anything in the world he cared about, he would be deeply possessive and jealous over it, guarding it or them with his life.


Name: Sirian

Age: 16

Year level: 11

Appearance: 5’7 and 118lbs. Sirian has very long black hair and very pale, but clear, blue eyes. Sirian is the picture of charm and grace. Her body is lithe with perfectly balanced curves. Her teeth are straight and pearly white, so her smile is sweet. She tends to add a little bit of her own flair to the school uniforms.

Personality: Though one wouldn’t think it at first glance, Sirian is a multifaceted tomboy. Take a bit of gentleness, some cunning, an opinionated outlook, and top it off with a sexy attitude. At times she can be soft-spoken, but there is definite confidence within. She can be a girly-girl, but only if absolutely necessary. It takes a long time for her to warm up a person, but after that she’s good-natured. Sirian is unassuming with a not so evident
underlining of recklessness. She needs nothing from anyone and is quite content with being independent. Sirian is extremely intelligent and even more dangerous if someone is on her bad side.

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Name: Annaleace [Anna-Le-Se] Campsall

Age: 17

Year level: 11

Appearance: Annaleace has long black hair (to the middle of her back), has dark brown eyes (almost black), is 5’5, 135lbs, lean and muscular (from playing football and rugby), wears St. Francis of Assist on a chain around her neck and has two rings. One is a football ring from year 10 when her team won city champions and the second a thin silver ring with a small diamond, given to her by one of her brothers.

Personality: Annaleace makes friends easily; she’s friendly and outgoing. She can be careless, but has only been in any serious trouble once: when she hot-wired her principles car and moved it on top of the gym. Annaleace plays football and rugby, and would never trade them in for anything. She’s considered one of the guys and doesn’t get along all that well with girls; partly her four older brother's fault. Annaleace hardly gets time to herself while at home, but she tries to get out a lot in order to obtain her own identity from her family’s.

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Name: Ryan Campsall [Twin of Annaleace]

Age: 17

Year level: 11

Appearance: 6’1 Typical Scottish face, and broad shoulders. He has dark brown hair and deep blue eyes. Even though he always has a look on his face that says he’s not really there, and is drifting in thought, he is conscious of what’s happening around him.

Personality: He plays every sport ever invented, and may be a jock but he’s highly intelligent. Because of his observant mind, he has a very firm handle on how the mind works and can tell what someone’s thinking by looking at them. He is very loose with everyone but can get it together when he has to.


Name: Elli

Age: 17 ½

Year level: 12

Appearance: Tall, curvy, and has a sexy aura about her. Has wavy auburn red hair and gray eyes. She usually wears her clothing in a provocative way, not really sluttish, but just in a trendy, showy way. She wears makeup, but almost always seems to wear ruby red lipstick. Has a seductive, devious smile on her face when things are going her way. If they’re not, she pouts and turns violent.

Personality: Mysterious, belligerent and sly, Elli is an instigator and has fun creating trouble and mayhem. As much as she is extremely attractive, she isn’t the typical good girl, but she’s not bad, more like a challenging obstacle. She’s a flirt, a conniver, a warrior with herself and the world, as she tries to secretly fit in while standing out from the crowd.

Autumn had warm winds sweeping the pathways of vibrant yellow and crimson leaves only to be replaced by those left still clinging to their branches. Leaves crumbled under Corey’s feet as the wind fanned his cologne, Nautica, into his face. He kept his eyes to the concrete path, his hands deep in the pockets of his pants, thinking to himself about how he’d have the house all to himself for another week. Corey was used to not having his father around because of business, but every year in Autumn around this time was his loneliest.

Walking alongside the school gate was Corey. Students within the grounds stood talking to friends out in the sun or under the trees to shade themselves from the heat. The enormous school building clearly stood out among the sea of students. He could see fresh graffiti on certain parts of the building that hadn’t been there the day before. Troublemakers of the school were to clean up the graffitists mess as punishment. If anything they were doing the graffitist a favour by removing it. The pocket of Corey’s pants began to vibrate and he stopped. He pulled out a silver phone with a purple U.V light screen. It was the newest of its model and hadn’t yet been put out on the market. It was Corey’s job to test out the products for his father’s company before marketing it.
         “Hello?” Corey leant back against a large sign up on the gate which read in bold blue letters ‘Ellet Secondary College’. Leon, from his fathers company, called and was asking him to give a report and statistics on the phone. Corey gave a fluent report as if he had it memorised, speaking with complicity in an unenthusiastic way.
         “Is that it?” Corey asked, “'cause I need to get to class.”
         ‘Not quite . We want another’s opinion, preferably a teenager. Let the new lender keep the phone for approximately a fortnight and then compose a report from his or her opinion and send it to me by email. Got that?’
         “Yeah. Understood.” He hung up and slid the phone back into his pocket. He sighed, lifting his face to the warm sun and closed his eyes to shield them from the light. Not wanting to think, he told himself to get back to finding somebody to test the phone later. He felt even more unresponsive today than usual. Today had come so quickly.

Corey absent-mindedly stared out of the classroom window in English. Every lesson with his class were noisy. The only time the class was quiet was in Phys. Ed. where Mr. Flyn, an intimidating and mean man, made a pair of seventh-year girls cry because they had forgotten their P.E. uniforms and made them run ten laps of the entire oval in the rain in P.E uniforms from the lost and found office. Mr. Flyn was a somewhat hero to a boy called Morgan in Corey’s class.
He could just hear Miss Silvalets voice talking in his ear at a distance. She was a young teacher in her early twenties with light brown hair to her shoulders and gentle green eyes. She was one of the more relaxed teachers whom genuinely enjoyed teaching and knowing her students on a more personal level. It was common knowledge that she wanted children but couldn’t for anonymous reasons.
I’m so bored. He pulled his attention back into the classroom and looked around at the class, moving only his eyes.
In the seat next to him was a girl called Gwen who was fairly new to the school. She was an opinionated girl who always had something to say with long ginger hair, almond eyes and full eyelashes. She talked and laughed animatedly with her friends as though she had known them from the beginning. He didn’t mind her, but he didn’t like her either. Just then Gwen, and a boy called Saienta who had a sharp tongue and sat at the back of the room, had the shortest quarrel he had ever seen. It was then dismissed by Miss’s Silvalet, asking Saienta to stay behind.
         “I assume everyone has organised their oral presentations for this Wednesday?” Miss Silvalet asked expectantly with raised eyebrows. Most of the classroom chorused yes.
         “Yesss,” Sirian sang sweetly among them. Morgan, an athletic kid but lazy in class, stretched out his arms and placed them behind his head.
         “No,” Morgan answered loudly. Saienta had his head tucked into his arms on the table. Most students dreaded to hear his voice. He looked even more bored than Corey did.

         “What oral presentation?” Corey asked, unaware of this piece of information. Miss Silvalet looked suddenly shocked with herself.
         “Gosh! I forgot. You weren’t here when I assigned it to the class. You were with the other year level representatives that day… I don’t have any of my notes here with me. They’re in my office-”
Gwen stood up. “Don’t worry miss, I’ll give him mine. I’m finished anyway.”
         “Thank you, Gwen,” Miss Silvalet smiled appreciatively and began sorting out pieces of paper piled in front of her. Gwen crouched down next to Corey, her cheeks going a little pink. He took no notice.
         “Here,” she said. “This part explains the oral presentation. And this here is how we have to set it out, including references and bibliographies, so on and so on.”
He took the notes from her and used it like a bookmark in his English textbook. “Thanks Gwen. I’ll give these back tomorrow.”
         “Tomorrow? You can do all that that quick? I’m impressed.” She smiled and moved back to her seat, avoiding her friends’ watchful eyes to prevent herself giggling wickedly.
         “Alright, pack away your things. And everyone, please, hand in your homework on Friday. Morgan, if I hear again that you’ve lost your homework it’ll be a detention.” This didn’t seem to bother Morgan by his indifferent relaxed face. “If by some chance you do,” Miss Silvalet continued, “instead of doing all your homework at home, you’ll be doing it in detention with me, where you can not lose it because I will collect it after every detention.” This did appear to bother Morgan as it registered on his face. “Class, I have with me your grades from your previous assignment. Gwen, would you stand at the door and hand them out to everyone please as they leave. You all may go.”

Students began spilling out of the building onto the school grounds for recess. Corey walked down a corridor to his locker with the grade sheet in his hand.
         “Yo, Corey.” It was Tidus, a guy popular with the ladies and the leader of the crowd Corey hung around with. Tidus was the only person in the group Corey ever bothered to talked with because he was different from them. He had layered blond hair to his shoulders and dark chocolate eyes. “What’s up?”
         “Nothing. What about you?” Corey asked, stopping in front of his locker.
         “Same. What’s that?” Tidus moved his bag further up his shoulder.
A group of younger-year girls walked by giggling, trying to catch Tidus’s attention and he only glanced over and gave them a quick smile. He was more interested in what Corey had to say.
         “English grade sheet.” Corey dropped his bag onto the floor in front of him and opened his locker.
         “What grade did you get?”
         “A+,” he answered indifferently, taking his texts out of his bag and putting them away.
         “Those A’s just keep rolling in,” Tidus grinned. “At least act as though your happy about it.”
         “After a while it gets old, what’s the point?” Corey replied. Just then his phone rang. Tidus’s jaw dropped as Corey pulled it out and checked the screen to see who was calling him. It was Leon again. Exasperated, he put the phone back beside his textbooks and shut his locker to drown out the sound of the phone vibrating against the metal.
         “What kind of phone is that?”
         “New model from my father’s company. Let’s get out of here.”

As they walked, they passed by Saienta. A dark look passed between him and Tidus but they said nothing. When he was out of range, Tidus hissed, “I hate that guy.”
         “Why?” Corey asked. He didn’t think they knew each other since they were in different classes.
         “Never mind…” Tidus replied after a moment, thinking. “He’s dark. There’s always one person who never gets it.”
Behind the oval was an enormous willow. In the shade of it was a small wooden bench. Corey was settled on top of it with his feet on the seat, vaguely listening in on the conversation and then tuning out again, not particularly interested to take part in what material things he wanted. Everyone knew this area of the school was their territory.
Sitting beside him was Tidus. He slapped his thigh, laughing at something his friend had said. Corey leaned over and began turning over the silver ring on his middle finger. He glanced over at the willow, partially curious as to why Cedric, Markus and Andrew stood to one side as though not wanting to be overheard, shooting dark looks at Tidus. Cedric was a bit taller than Tidus with short spiky brown hair and grey eyes. Markus was smaller, stockier and built. He had sleek ginger hair to his shoulders and auburn eyes. Andrew wasn’t taller than Cedric or shorter than Markus. He had hard features, dark chocolate hair and hazel eyes. It was no secret that Cedric and Tidus loathed each other.
         “Damn bell is about to go,” Tidus said, stepping down from the table. Corey followed, no longer interested in their behaviour.
         “What’s everyone doing after school?” Corey asked, not really interested in their answer.
         “Work,” a few replied.
         “Going out with my girlfriend,” others answered. They split up into groups of four or five as they made their way back over the oval toward the school building, all except for Corey and Tidus who trailed behind. The wind blew hard, blowing the lengthy grass this way, then that way, as well as their hair.
         “Wish I didn’t have to work tonight. I’d prefer to sleep. Didn’t get much last night. Studying.”
Corey and Tidus worked at the same workplace in a computer store. Mondays were the only day of the week where they worked together. They were refrained from having any sort of fun. Their boss, Mr Croswell was a scary, petulant killjoy. They liked to called him weasel behind his back because of his ferret-like face, big eyes and gangly body.
         “Geez. I forgot I was working today,” Corey replied thoughtfully and slid his hands into his pockets, watching the clouds in the sky. Tidus unintentionally knocked his arm as he broke into a run, alarming Corey. His eyes narrowed further down the oval where Tidus was running to. Corey ran after him. A fight had broken out. The group surrounded the commotion and watched anxiously, some excitedly. Cedric was pushing over a small seventh-year boy. Tidus jumped in, broke up the fight and pulled the kid to one side; his upper lip bleeding. He crouched down and began consoling the boy. Cedric stood, calm as the sea, and then sneered while Tidus had his back turned. Tidus stood and turned to Cedric, a hard look on his face. This was the second time Corey had ever seen Tidus this angered. He looked intimidating rather than his calm, humorous self.

         “What the hell is your problem?” Tidus growled. Cedric turned his head away from him, smirked, and then shrugged his shoulders. There was a visibly pleased expression on his face. Corey thought back, remembering the dark looks they gave Tidus and became certain of their intentions- to challenge Tidus.
         “He was in my way. When the little punk didn’t move, well, you saw what happened. Scum like this shouldn’t belong to the school. Don’t you agree?” There was a mad gleam in his eyes.
         “Scum?” Tidus said and clenched his fists tightly.
         “Yeah, Scum. Those that can not really afford to attend this school but try anyway for the dream. Scum that work as slave labour to earn a bit of cash, but can’t even afford a place to stay.”
Tidus’s hands began to shake. Corey could almost see the loss of sense draining from his set eyes. It didn't look good, Tidus looked as though he'd react irrationaly. He wasn’t sure what Cedric meant, but it appeared that Tidus did. All pair of eyes were on him, watching carefully to see what the one they looked up to would do next, the boy too. They were wasting more and more time and would be late for class. Corey stepped forward.
         “Don't bore us, Ced.”
Cedric’s cold grey eyes rounded on him and said “Let the man speak for himself, Core.
Corey’s smirked, rather enjoying provoking Cedric. Tidus appeared to have recovered himself quickly.
         “Don’t push my patience, Ced. I’d hate to lose face and become as low as you, picking on kids. Besides, I don’t fight people who I have no interest in.”
Cedric’s eyebrows contorted and turned on Corey. “I’ve lost my respect for you, Corey. Clearly scum is infectious.”
Corey stared at Cedric with unfocused eyes, zoning out. Then he focused them again. “What did your mouth say?”
Laughter erupted, breaking most of the tension, although those in the group that thought of Cedric as a friend, a few did not.
Tidus turned to the boy.
         “What’s your name, kid?”
The boy blinked nervously as though it might be a trick and said, “Kai.”
Tidus grinned and laughed with mirth at the boy’s wariness. “Come hang out with us sometime, OK?”
Kai nodded with some mustered confidence and ran off up to the sick bay to have his bloody lip and chin mopped up, and all returned to class.


The sky was yellow as the sun sank further to the horizon. The air was overflowing with the sound of cars speeding by in the streets. Corey, in casual wear of white sneakers, loose grey pants that dragged a bit on the ground and a baggy white shirt, walked up the walkway, passing shops on his way to work. He kept his hands in his pockets for warmth, thinking about the minor mishap when he reached his locker at the end of the day, not that it really bothered him.
Corey knew he didn’t have to work, that he could use the thousands and thousands of dollars in his bank, but he didn’t spend it or use it. He wanted to work for his money, instead of reaping off his father like a spoilt child. And he would rather work than do nothing in an empty house, apart from study.
The street lamps lit up the darkening street. The arrival of night was upon them. He came to a big store with a large parking lot. He walked across the parking lot to the entrance door where the sliding doors gave way as the sensor sensed him and an electronic bell rang to alert the staff of company. The white linoleum floor was discoloured from customers who would recklessly zoom down the aisles, the hot rubber wheels from the trolleys staining the floor, helped along by Tidus and Corey whenever Mr. Croswell wasn’t watching. It had a high roof and aisles and aisles of computer parts, programmes, games, cleaning tools for computer machines and blank CD’s. He looked around. There was no one in sight.
         “Hello?” Corey called, thinking it ominous to find the place empty. A head popped out from an aisle and he felt relieved.
         “Yo!” Tidus grinned. He wasn’t in uniform either. He wore a faded black t-shirt and dark green baggy pants that had many pockets all up the side of his legs. The bottom of his pants were beyond repair. They were frayed to his ankles.
         “Where’s Mr. Croswell?” Corey asked warily, in case he was lurking somewhere.
         “You mean weasel? He left. Must have been urgent to leave his precious shop in our hands.” He sighed. “He wants us to mop the floor as well and yelled at me for that race we had on the trolleys a week ago. Beats me how he knew. I’m suspicious. He probably hooked cameras up around the joint and is spying on us.”
         “Wouldn’t be surprised,” Corey replied.
Whenever there weren't any customers around they would laze about, playing with things Mr. Croswell would have said no to, and play games, which was also a big no too. It gradually got a lot busier so they didn’t talk much, and then as the amount of customers subsided they began preparing to close, their stomaches empty and sore from hunger pains. The only thing left to do before officially closing, was the mopping of the floor which took them around forty minutes.

The air was cold but not unbearably so. Corey and Tidus decided to get something to eat from the shops before saying their goodbyes. The only shop open still were grocery stores. They both bought snickers and Corey got a single pink-iced cupcake. Tidus saw this and gave him a strange look, deciding not to ask.
They sat outside the grocery store on a pathetic wooden bench that could hardly seat the both of them.
Tidus took aim at the nearest bin and threw his wrapper into it. The light weight of the paper caused it to miss by an embarrassing amount, but seemed to not bother him from his laughter.
         “Hey, Corey?” Tidus asked, a seriousness in his eye and in his voice.
         “About what happened today…No, it doesn't matter.” He smiled. “See ya at school.” Tidus stood up and walked down the street with his hand up in the air.

Corey shut the door to his house and put the keys down onto a polished wooden desk close by. It was dark. He didn’t bother to turn on any lights. The heavy weight he felt that morning returned. Lonely. No one home but him. He took off his shoes, left them at the door and walked over the wooden floorboards to the kitchen to get a lighter and a candle. He lit the candle in the pink-iced cupcake and then blew it out as soon as it caught alight.
         “Happy birthday, Corey. Congratulations on turning 17,” he said to himself in the dark.
A Non-Existent User

Saienta swore loudly and smashed his fist against the brick wall. He felt the blood drip off his knuckles and drip onto the ground.
         “Damn,” Mekhi breathed as the seven of them watched the two teenagers run away down the dark alleyway into the light.
         “The message was clear…” Saienta said finally. “No one in Red Tide is going to move in area 5 except us. Death to us all.”
The group formed a circle, two of them sitting on the garbage dump and Reeva, who was leaning against the wall spoke up. He was the oldest in the group, at 20 years of age, with light-hair and a red bandana tied around the bottom half of his face. His voice was calm and controlled and he would have been leader if Saienta had not taken the position instead. “Area 5 was taken by a small-time gang called the Soldiers of Wrath…anyone ever heard of them?” No one had. “How could they dare? Red Tide rules the underworld in this city. Area 5 is a red-light district not far from here- whores, restaurants, clubs and drugs, they’re all pretty lucrative so why would Red Tide want us to go in? Why don’t they send in the official members? It’s suicide for us.”
         “Isn’t it obvious?” Saienta asked. He crouched to the ground and cooled his burning and bleeding knuckles on the concrete. “We do all the dirty jobs, we’re disposable to them since we aren’t even official members yet. We’re at the lowest of the hierarchy. If they want us to go in tonight, it’s probably to make a statement, that all its members, even the lowest, are willing to die for any cause. We aren’t actually expected to reclaim it. We haven’t been marked by Red Tide tattoos so the cops won’t know what group we’re from but the Soldiers will.” Among hundreds of other groups like Saienta’s, theirs was the only one chosen. “If Red Tide sent in the officials, it would be a slaughterhouse and they’d have it back in a second. It would be easy. And if the seven of us went in we‘d be killed but we‘d make a lasting impression.”
The rest of his crew stared at him in seriousness. “So what do we do?” Mekhi asked. “If we survive…we’d probably be made members. They’d pay us a shitload. Maybe this is to get us back for the drug job we fucked up last week…even though Red Tide smashed up Tyler in repayment. But do we just go in there and die like they want us to?”
         “Of course,” Saienta said, staring him down. His look was challenging and not many eyes had met Saienta‘s sinister green eyes so fully. Mekhi looked away and the others shifted uneasily. “Not like they want us to. I have a different idea.”

Area 5 was an un-policed district due to numerous bribes and threats and at night it was at its peak. The streets were full of business men, members of Wrath and some young men out looking for a good time in the clubs or with prostitutes. To keep themselves from standing out, Reeva and Saienta wore business suits as they made their way down the street. The dirty nightlife was not a secret but most people didn’t talk about it in the city. Saienta had his hazel hair gelled back neatly and he gave the impression that he had it all- he was just out looking for some night time fun. His weapon was concealed in the inside pocket of his jacket. They passed some whores on the corner and Reeva feigned interest. When out of sight, Reeva blanched, “Soldiers of Wrath have no taste. Red Tide all the way.”

Moments later, Saienta entered the doors of a Chinese restaurant while Reeva waited outside. Before they parted, they paused, gave each other a final nod both knowing this could be the last they saw of each other. It was the same look every member of his crew had given before they parted earlier. Reeva patted his shoulder when Saienta turned away. The restaurant was upstairs and he felt his stomach turn heavy as he stepped inside. It was small and dirty, empty of customers except for two tables at the back. One man sat by himself and three members of Wrath sat guarding him nearby. When they saw Saienta, they stood and reached for concealed weapons but Saienta had his gun out before they could pull them out. They weren’t afraid of him and actually sneered, the man at the table who they were protecting continued to eat his soup, ignoring him. Saienta put the gun to his own head and they backed away slightly, confused and uneasy. The man told them to put their weapons away and watched as Saienta sat down in front of him. The man had another sip of his soup and used a napkin to wipe his mouth. He was barely into his thirties and Saienta would never have guessed he was a gang leader in daylight. The cold metal barrel was still against his head.
         “You’re a strange boy. Rather interesting method of entering a restaurant and you dare to interrupt me while I’m eating my meal?”
Saienta stared at him without light in his eyes.
         “You’re a member of Red Tide, no doubt,” the minor gang-leader said tonelessly, “how did you know how to find me? We’ve hardly been here a night.”
Saienta spoke with a low voice, “I followed their eyes. Untrained gangs always look towards their leader. They’re mindless and afraid.”
The man laughed loudly and his eyes shifted towards his guards. He seemed to be growing wary but kept his controlled manner. “What are you expecting to do, boy? You’re obviously unaware of the major imbalance in our situation. You would be dead before you pulled the trigger on me. If you plan to kill yourself, it would not amount to much.”
         “This area belongs to my leaders. Leave the district.”
The humour in the man’s eyes faded. “You’re an irrational boy. Get out of here before I do decide to have you killed.” He went on to finish his soup.
Saienta cocked the gun and heard the loud click of the bullet entering the chamber. “There are seven of us planted all over the district in various clubs and restaurants. There is also me and another just outside this building. In three minutes at exactly 1am we will all commit suicide. There is no way you could erase the unlikely deaths of seven youths in the area from the eyes of the public in time. The police and media will investigate and there is no way this district could function, and even the bribed cops will be helpless to save you, they’ll probably turn on you in the end to save themselves. You have two choices: retreat now and re-assemble later or lose your gang completely. Whichever you choose, Red Tide will win. For now they let you all live but this area belongs to them no matter who resides here and they will grow sick of you in time. They will hunt you down and slaughter each of you and your families. I have seen them do it many times before and they will do it again.”

Saienta saw the nervousness in the man’s eyes. He was straining to keep his composure. The seconds ticked by in silence. “This is quite a situation,” he said finally. “I commend you for your loyalty to the Red Tide but if that is true then why would they send a bunch of boys the first night?”
         “The first is a warning. We are only a minor testament to their power.”
Moments edged by and the man began to sweat visibly. Silence.
         “How do I know you aren’t bluffing?” he asked.
Saienta leaned forward and let the darkness in his eyes pierce into him. The man seemed to shiver and knew Saienta could not be lying.
         “Let one of the others die. Prove it, that you aren’t bluffing, then we‘ll see how things turn out…”
Shit, Saienta thought suddenly. They were all willing to die for Red Tide but how could he choose just one? It was different somehow. Who could he choose?
         “I have a different idea. Two of them will shoot themselves, but not die. A limb each and then we’ll see who is bluffing. If they are there with guns then there is no bluff. There are still five others, enough to cause a problem,” Saienta said.

The gang-leader stared at him and his eyes flicked to his watch and back. There were only 45 seconds left. 44...43...42...
         “Alright. Call them.”
Saienta pulled his phone out with his free-hand and pressed the dial button. The man pushed his soup away and sat up straight. He called each one and gave them five minutes. When he hung up, a moment later a loud gunshot rang outside and a ruckus began. Two of his guards ran outside and then the man’s phone rang. He appeared shaken and pale as he picked up. He received several calls about two crazy teenage boys who had shot themselves on the street and in a nightclub. The club was in uproar and the Wrath members were frantic. Mekhi and Reeva were ever-faithful.

It took a while for the man to compose himself and he stared nervously at his watch. Three minutes and five teenagers would kill themselves in his district. What would his bosses do to him? If they retreated now they could do better later. If just two teenagers who shot themselves in the leg could cause so much trouble then…
         “Psychotic teenagers,“ he mumbled. “What’s your name, boy?”
He answered fearlessly, “Saienta Kureshida.”


“Mekhi and Reeva are safely in Red Tide private hospitals. They’ll be fine,” Saienta confirmed to the others. They screamed in exuberance and they went out on their motorbikes to celebrate, drinking and trashing the neighbourhood. The five of them were still thrilled by their close brush with death. They went to Saienta’s school and drew their graffiti tags all over the walls. Saienta threw his empty bottle over the wall and heard it smash on the other side. They were pleased, their bosses were pleased and area 5 was back in Red Tide control.

         Saienta returned home at 4am on his motorbike and fell dead asleep on his bed for an hour. He changed his clothes and immediately went to work on the farms, careful not to wake his sleeping parents lest they become angered and force him to skip school to do extra work on the farms. He started with the animals, the cattle and chickens and spent some peaceful time with his beloved horse, Rell and then dirtied his hands out on the fields- his leg, back and arm muscles ached from hoeing and turning the soil by the time he had to stop and leave for school. He changed only his shirt, put on his school blazer, rinsed his face and grabbed his bag.
His stomach rumbled as he rode his motorbike to school. The ride took around half an hour. He left his bike chained nearby and walked the rest of the way. He passed by laughing teenagers and grew irritated at the easy lives they had, arriving at their rich school without having to pay for it themselves and mucking around with each other. They didn’t know what the real world was like and yet they acted as though everything was below them. He grew annoyed when he saw a kid talking on a brand new phone that hadn’t even come out on the market yet, something he wanted ever since he read about it in the concept pages of the newspaper. This guy had probably never worked a day in his life. Saienta wanted it and was almost willing to threaten the guy for it until he saw it was Corey. “Tch,” he said when he passed, since he never had a problem with him before. Maybe later.
His life at school was different, he didn’t trust or like anyone and he made sure they kept their distance from him. He could barely tolerate most of them.

Some kids were scrubbing the walls, removing the graffiti and this cheered him some since it meant they’d have new spaces to work tonight. In class he kept his head in his arms on his desk, struggling to keep his concentration on Miss Silvalet’s voice and was ready to punch something as he grew irritated at the girls in front of him. He only knew about half of the class’s names even though he had been to the school since the start of high school. The three girls sat two spaces in front of him, the desks around him were empty at the back the room, and he couldn’t drown out their babbling voices. Nothing they said was important yet they continued to talk as though it was. They rambled on and on about this guy, that girl and other trivial gossip. He found it hard to believe they talked so much and still came up with nothing interesting in the end, reached no truths or conclusions and couldn’t turn the conversation back around to themselves and see they were exactly the same as whoever they gossiped about. Since they were up the back, the rest of the class couldn’t hear what they had to say.
         “And then he gave me this cute ring. Isn’t it cute? And he was sooo nice to me, Gwen. You wouldn’t believe it! Our first date was so amazing!”
         “Oh my gosh, I so wish I was there. You’re so lucky! I wish the guy I liked would do that,” the other one replied.
         Saienta sat up, driven to anger. He spoke without reservation and didn’t care that the entire class could hear him. “He was most likely only nice so he could get up your skirt. Then when he gets what wants he’ll leave you for some other ass, probably the girls on either side of you, Stacey or Gwen since the air in all your heads is so thick it’ll blind you from realising you’re being played by the same guy.”
         The girls had frozen in their desks and the only one who turned around was Gwen who glared at him but he already had his head back on the desk. Peace and quiet. The teacher roughly told him to stay behind when the class was dismissed.

In the silence of the room, the last student left and Miss Silvalet sat at the desk beside him. “You have more bags under your eyes than I do, Sayenta. Your school uniform is looking more unkempt than usual, your school work is suffering and the Skecher logo on your shoes is looking too white, plus they’re untied.” She handed him a black permanent marker and he lifted his feet to colour in the blackened whites until the shoes were completely black again. He didn’t bother to tie them. “This is an elite school,” she said. “You were doing well. I thought we had a deal, you try your best and I buy you lunch, no?”

Saienta put his head in his hands, closed his eyes and massaged his temples in frustration. “I’m so tired,” he said after a while, frustrated.
         “I know. You need to sleep. And you need to stop going around with those red thugs.”
He opened his eyes and looked at her. “How did you know?”
         “I know everything,” she smiled. “I won’t tell anyone.”
After a while, he took out the silver ring on his necklace and rubbed it with a finger before placing it back under his shirt. “How else am I expected to pay to come to this school? Everything I make goes to this fucking school. I get nothing.”
         “I know,” she stated simply. “There’s a rip in your jacket,” she said, standing up. She glanced at his bandaged hand but did not comment.
He groaned, infuriated and let himself fall limp, slamming his forehead against the desk. He felt a pat on his shoulder and she ruffled his hair as she walked away. “We’re eating sushi today, I know it’s your favourite,” she said as she picked up a cloth and cleaned the whiteboard.
A murmur came from his direction. It was his muffled reply of thanks.

The last class of the day and the teacher hadn’t arrived yet. Saienta walked towards his desk and as he passed Gwen, he “accidentally” let his hand swipe her pencil case off her desk. Her pencils and pens were strewn all over the floor. Gwen stood up suddenly in defiance and Saienta stared at her, waiting. The other students remained silent and waited to see what would happen. Some of them barely noticed.
         “Get a life, ass hole! You’re so awful to the people in our school, you’re a hypocrite. You look down on everyone else and you of all people don’t have that right, since you’ll never amount to anything. You can’t get anywhere with an attitude like yours. All you talk is shit!” she screamed.
He let her finish and he almost heard the intake of breath from the girl next to him. “Thank you, Gwen. You’ve made my day a blessing,” he said without tone. The class stared at him as he walked out and passed the teacher entering, unaware of the outburst. He was so tired. All he could think of was how much he was looking forward to those few minutes of precious sleep he was going to get from missing class. As he went to his locker, he stopped upon seeing Corey’s locker next to his own. Tipped over the edge from Gwen’s speech, he decided he would have a new phone after all. He took the fire axe out of his empty locker, smashed open the lock and found the phone next to Corey’s textbooks. He deleted the 7 missed calls, turned it off, changed the SIM card and walked away to his favourite spot on the school roof where nobody else went. He spent all his recesses and lunches there. The sky was blue with dots of cloud and he watched the smoke swirl up out of his mouth from his cigarette. The ground below was awash with autumn colour and he flicked the butt away from him before he fell asleep, setting the alarm on his new phone for the end of the day.

When school was over, he went over to the private hospital to visit Mekhi and Reeva and then went home to work on the farms until 5:30pm, when he took his motorbike to ride to work. He worked from 6:15 until 11pm as an office cleaner. He was exhausted by that time and it wasn’t hard for him to easily fall into the darker side of his life as an underling of the Red Tide. He delivered messages, trafficked drugs, threatened people and did other odd jobs, etc. and hung around for a while with his crew until morning. He always stopped at school during the night to pay his respects and on this night they broke in and turned all the desks around to face the back wall. He had told Tye about Gwen and Tye took it in his head to get her back in a minor though devastating way.
         “What did you do?” Saienta asked when he came out looking sheepish. Tye only shrugged, gave a small smirk and said he would find out tomorrow. “I wish I actually went to your school. Or any school for that matter. Tell me what happens.” He punched him in the shoulder and Saienta gave a wave as he rode off on his motorbike to get home and start work on the farm until school started.

Sirian Tomi stepped gracefully from her black imported sports car. It had been her sweet sixteen present from her father and cost more than what most people could even imagine. Sirian thought of the technology within the machine, custom computers controlled everything from the music to the tire pressure. She liked to think that it could do anything except steer. She laughed a little, musing at how her father’s business was prevalent in so many aspects of her life, even in her car.
He was the owner of several law firms specializing in representing technology companies. Yukio Tomi, though only in his late thirties, was a man who knew his business and it showed. In the twenty years that Tomi Inc. had been running, he had decimated all of his competitors, grossing over four-hundred-percent more than any other law firm in the country.
Sirian’s mother, however, was an entirely different type of person. She loathed business deals and offices. Miya was a world-class artist and former super model. When she turned painter, many had said that she should just stick with modelling. After all she had the looks, attitude and charisma for it, but Miya was a free spirit and would not be held captive be schedules and deadlines. She loved to create beauty rather than classify it.
All in all, the Tomi family was considered to be the one of the most influential families in the world, and according to Yukio and Miya, the affluent social community was holding their collective breath to see what extraordinary things Sirian was going to accomplish. The funny thing was that despite the enormous pressure, Sirian was completely at ease. Her family, though small, was a loving one and she was determined to be the exactly the person that she was meant to be.
Her main problem, was figuring out how to be so many different things for so many different people... Her father wanted her to be a success. Her mother wanted her to be true to her talents. Then there were her grandparents and friends and so many other people wanting so much from her. Sirian seemed to take it very well and was probably the most well-rounded student at Ellet Secondary College.
Before approaching the school, Sirian straightened her uniform (a ghastly thing in her mother’s opinion). Her black shoes were not the simple flats that other girls wore, but stylish designer heels. Her black skirt was a shorter than regulation, due to Sirian altering it to suit her. The white shirt and black sweater were both cut in a décolleté style and hugged her curves perfectly. About her waist was a diamond and platinum belt. Sirian had a black visor atop her head and her midnight hair into a high ponytail and even up it was still to the small of her back.
She thought back to an incident when she had been eight. Miya had tried to cut her hair once, but the scissors had mysteriously become stuck together with crazy glue. Of course Sirian had managed to come up with an infallible alibi, at least to an eight year old it was infallible… So, Miya laughed it off and never attempted to cut her daughter’s hair again.
         “What’s funny Si?” Morgan, the jock, said coming up behind Sirian as she walked to class. He went to wrap his arm around her shoulder she shoved it off.
         “First of all, don‘t touch me. Second, it‘s none of your business.”
         “C’mon Si, why were you laughing?” he said coming up alongside her. She tried to get further away from him, but the further she went, the closer he got. Sirian had been dismissing his advances for almost two years and he was beginning to get on her last nerve.
         “Why do you continue to call me “Si”, when I’ve repeatedly asked you not to.”
         “How come the other guys on the baseball team get to call you Si and I can’t?”
         “Because they treat me as an equal instead of a trophy.”
Sirian had made the team last year as starting pitcher for the JV team. It was, easily, the biggest shock of the school year. The first girl to ever make a boys sports team. Besides baseball she had joined the school swim, track, soccer and volleyball teams, and Sirian had repeatedly been asked to join the cheer squad. That team, however, would be like sticking her head in a vat of “popularity molasses” and never being able to rid herself of the stench.
         “Okay, okay, I get the picture. So, will you help me with my oral report?”
         “What?” Sirian said shocked. “You know Morgan, you’re something else entirely…”
         “What are you talking about, you asked me to treat you like an equal!”
         “Which you bypassed completely and moved straight to cheating partner. The answer’s no. I earn my grades.”
         “If I don’t get off to a good start with this report, I’ll fail for sure.”
         “Fine with me, then you’ll get kicked off the team. I’d rather have another first baseman anyways.” Sirian shrugged him off and began to walk away.
         “Please Sirian!” Morgan came up behind her and grabbed her arm. Sirian, in turn, swung around and punched him, hard. Morgan fell with a thud to the linoleum floor, clutching his nose, which was now bleeding freely. Sirian spoke slowly and calmly. “I told you not to touch me.”
         “Sh-She broke my nose!” he said panicking as he touched his once perfect nose gingerly.
         “Now you know why I made starting pitcher,” Sirian said under her breath as a pack of teachers came running down the hall.
         “Morgan, Sirian, come with me to the Dean’s office,” Mr. Maddox, the history teacher, said pulling Morgan up off the floor.
Good job Sirian, this’ll look great on your transcripts.


         “Fighting on school premises. I expected better from both of you.”
         “Dean Haru, I wish to lodge a sexual harassment complaint against this boy,” Sirian said in a very businesslike tone.
         “I didn’t do anything Dean!” Morgan said loudly from underneath is bandaged nose.
         “I warned him not to touch me and he did. I only hit him only because I felt threatened.”
         “I barely even touched her!”
         “But you did touch her?” Dean said looking up an over his glasses.
         “Only on the arm!”
         “Lower your voice,” Haru said testily. “Did she ask you to not touch her?”
         “Yea but-”
         “But nothing. If the Miss Tomi chooses to follow a suit, which her family is certainly able to carry out, the school will be forced to sever ties with you.”
         “What? You mean expel me?” Morgan cried out.
         “That’s total bull-”
         “I suggest that you don’t finish that sentence,” Dean Haru said. “1st period is already over so you two had better go to your next classes. The ball is in your court Miss Tomi.”


         “I assume everyone has organized their oral presentations for this Wednesday?” Miss Silvalet asked expectantly with raised eyebrows.
         “Yes,” Sirian said in her sweetest voice.
         “No,” Morgan answered loudly. It turned out his nose was fine and it was no longer bandaged. He glanced over at Sirian as Miss Silavet shot him an disapproving look.

As class was dismissed, Sirian was handed her grade report from Gwen the new girl.
100% Maybe this will make up for the fight this morning, Sirian thought hopefully.
         “Siri? Hey Siri! Wait up!” Keiji, a tall boy on the track and football teams said coming up to her. He was gorgeous and quite popular in a way that everyone knew who he was. Keiji was probably about the nicest guy on campus too.
         “Hi,” Sirian said slowing down.
         “So is it true? Did you really punch Morgan?”
         “Keiji, please!” Sirian said, pleading with her friend to not bring the subject up.
         “You did huh?” he said with a laugh. “About time someone did.”
         “I lost my temper, that’s all.”
         “Look, Sirian. You’re not Miss Perfect, it’s good that you’re finally showing the rest of the school that.”
She was about to argue with him when a boy that Sirian had seen around school, but never talked, gave her a dark piercing look.
         “What was that about?” Sirian asked, a little confused.
         “That’s Sayenta. I heard he’s heavy into a gang.”
         “Ohh, I remember where I’ve seen him before. He’s in my English class. I wonder what that look was for.”
         “I dunno, but take my advice, as a friend, stay away from him.”
Sirian laughed. “You make it sound like he’s poisonous.”
         “Look, I know you think that you can be friends with anyone. Probably even Morgan if you tried, but Sayenta is trouble.”

The two friends continued along the corridor, saying an occasional “hi” to various students. Even though Sirian refused to be thought of as one of the popular clique, she was friends with all the popular guys and everyone in the school knew her.
         “Sirian!” Alisa one of the Senior cheerleaders called out to her. Keiji had gone to his locker, so it looked like Sirian would have to suffer the wrath of the insanely perky eighteen year old.
         “Hi Alisa.”
         “Cheer tryouts today after school,” she said hintingly.
         “I’m not trying out. With clubs, committees, sports, and school, I just don’t have time for it. Plus it would interfere with the other teams.”
         “Since we lost all of the graduating classes cheerleaders, we need eight more girls. There just aren’t enough quality athletes to fill the positions though. Please?”
         “Athlete? Alisa, athlete is the term you use for a running back or goalie, not a pom-pom girl.”
         “Look Sirian. We do tough stunts and routines. It is a well known fact that cheerleaders are-”
         “If I try out, will you and the other girls on the squad leave me alone?”
         “Sure, unless you make the team of course!” Alisa laughed. “Because if you make it, and all the girls agree that you will, we’ll all be spending a lot of time together.”
Alisa went off down the hall, presumably to the other cheerleaders. Sirian sighed to herself. Keiji came back and they headed off to Weight Training together. As they were walking it occurred to Sirian that she had finally given into the evils of the “in-crowd”.
At Ellet Secondary College, Sirian was the girl with everything. Looks, personality, talent, athleticism and brains... She was admired by many, hated by some and lusted after by just about every guy she had ever come in contact with. Try as she might, there were just some things she couldn’t change. Her mind was working overtime, and Sirian felt like she would be sick as she admitted the horrible truth to herself. I may as well just accept it... I’m popular.

Annaleace walked up the stairs to Ellet Secondary College; one hand was steadying the bag slung around her shoulder, the other playing with the chain around her neck. She was excited about moving to a new town but angered at the same time. Her brother, Ryan, was kicked out of their old school with the help of his two friends, and it so happens his friends, who had also been kicked out of school, transferred to Ellet Secondary College. Nevertheless, her parents had been thinking about moving houses and schools. She always thought she'd graduate with her old friends, now it was going to be with strangers.
Annaleace and Ryan, her brother, found the main office quite easily. It was just inside the front doors. The bell had already rung, they were late.


Annaleace looked at her schedule. English room 305, Miss. Silvalet. She began walking up the staircase in front of the office. She walked into a few wrong rooms before finding the right one. A woman with shoulder length light brown hair and gentle green eyes was sitting in a desk farthest away from the door. She had a blue skirt with flowers that came down to the bottom of her knees and a dressy white blouse. There was a girl with long ginger coloured hair that stood in front of the class. Annaleace felt as if she were interrupting but no one really seemed to notice her intrusion.
         "Can I help you?" The teacher began to stand and walk toward her.
         "Ya. Umm, here," Annaleace handed the slip of paper Dean, Haru had given her to who she presumed to be Miss. Silvalet.
         "Oh, hello. I'm Miss. Silvalet, I'll be your English teacher. Annalace is it?" The woman smiled now and held out her hand.
         "No, it's Anna-le-se," Annaleace found herself half smiling as she shook the teachers hand.
         "Well, there's a seat available at the back between Corey and Morgan." Annaleace had a confused look on her face. "Right over there." Miss Silvalet pointed to the second last row, the last chair.
Annaleace pushed her hair off her shoulders and took a seat. She found her attention straying to the window to her left. It was such a beautiful day; the sun was out, not a cloud in sight. And through the windows you could hear the birds chirping from a tree where a nest was perched against a couple of branches.
Everyone around her began to shuffle their books and stand up. The bell must have rung while she was daydreaming. Quickly she packed up her books and walked toward the door.
         "Oh, and Annaleace?"
         "Yes," she paused in the doorway.
         "Welcome to Ellet," Miss. Silvalet smiled.


Lunch couldn't have come sooner. She began looking for Ryan but after fifteen minutes gave up. Ellet was a lot bigger than Daly High. She didn't want to admit it, but she missed it, even if it had been falling apart for almost twenty years. She missed David, her best friend and all the football guys. They had all gone to school together since kindergarten; having them around was like always having forty cousins to hung around with all the time. It didn't matter that they were all guys.
Finally Annaleace found the cafeteria. It was packed. Kids sat at their tables with their own groups. As she jumped into the line that was pushed against the side of the room, she smacked her bad knee against the railing.
         “Fu...damnit,” her face winced with pain. A group of girls behind her laughed and she shot them a dirty look.
She picked out a cheeseburger and was out of the line within fifteen minutes. Definitely not like Daly. She stopped to look for a table that wasn’t yet inhabited. Like she had thought there weren’t any. Instead she decided to go out to the front of the school; she had seen picnic benches out there earlier.


The final bell rung at 3:25. It was now 3:32. Annaleace waited outside the front doors for Ryan, her hands folded across her chest.
He’s late, surprise surprise.
She watched more kids emerge from the school, giving her that she-must-be-new look. What felt like hours later, Ryan walked out of the school talking to his usual two friends.
         “Your late,” she sounded more annoyed then angry.
         “Hey, yeah, I’m sorry… I was… looking for you. Where have you been?” Ryan was never a good liar; the smile that always crossed his lips faded and if you watched closely, you’d see through him.
         “Liar,” she muttered under her breath as she shrugged her shoulders. “Can we leave now?”
         “Yeah, one sec Lace,” he turned around, ”See you in a bit, guys. I'm gonna head home, take a shower and catch up with you later...” He waved bye and they began to walk down the stairs towards the parking lot.
         “Yeah, see you soon, Ryan.”

Twenty minutes later they were home. Annaleace walked up the long staircase to her room and shut the door behind her. She dropped her bag at the side of her desk then sprawled herself out on her queen-size bed. She closed her eyes as her unconscious took over instinctively.
Annaleace woke up from a knocking at her door not more than an hour since she let her body rest.
         “What?” She sat up and rubbed the sleep that had began to form in her eyes. Danny, her third oldest brother opened the door.
         “Grab your coat. Mom and dad aren’t going to be home for supper, so we’re going to go eat out.”
She looked over at him still half asleep. “Can I drive?”
         “We’re taking your car; mines a mess and Ryan’s is too small. Tommy’s getting his muffler fixed and Sam doesn’t trust us in his precious Mercedes. Plus your car is the only one with enough room.” He leaned up against the doorframe and folded is arms against his chest.
         “First of all: it's not a car, it's an SUV. Second of all, is that a yes?”
         “That’s a get the hell out of bed and I’ll think about it. Toss me your keys we’re going to wait in your SUV.” Danny unfolded an arm and held it up, ready to receive the keys. Annaleace reached over to her nightstand and tossed the keys toward him. “Thanks. Be fast, we’re starving.”
         “I’ll be there.”
Danny turned around and walked back down the stairs. After hearing the door downstairs slam, Annaleace turned over and closed her eyes.

Ryan and his buddies were at their usual spot on the bench by the bike racks, enjoying the breeze. Some kid looking for trouble got it into his head that Ryan and his buddies were in the way.
         “Move your asses off the bench and screw off,” the kid said.
         “Dude you need to chill out,” Ryan’s friend Mark said.
         “I don’t think you heard me. GET OFF THE BENCH!”
Mark calmly got off the bench, walked up close to the guy, grabbed his shirt and head butted him. The kid dropped like a rock, unconscious. Ryan frowned at Mark and said, “Was that really necessary?”
Mark shrugged and replied, “Made me feel better.”
Sara stood up. “We should clear out before he wakes up and raises hell.”

And raise hell he did. Apparently his father was one of high rank and the three of them, who had allegedly jumped him and beat him for his bike, were transferred off to a new school. This was Ryan, Mark and Sara’s first day at Ellet Secondary College.
They walked up towards the main entrance, but they stopped to watch a fight start up. Some eleventh grader was picking on a seventh grader for being in his way. Ryan started over to beat the crap out of the big kid but Mark caught his arm.
         “Remember the last time we messed up someone with an attitude problem? I don’t think we should beat up any more rich kids, besides they seem to be getting ready to stop the fight anyway.”
Ryan followed Marks gaze to two boys running to the scene, one looked really mad. Sara grabbed both of the guys arms and started towing them to the school.
         “Were already late,” she said in irritation.
Ryan, Mark and Sara were all in the same class so they kept together. They passed the guy who picked on the seventh grader and heard someone call him Cedric, then the guy banged into Mark.
         “Watch where your going!” Cedric spat. Marked wiped his face of the spite and wiped in on Cedric’s shoulder.
         “Not really in the mood for a shower,” he said calmly. Cedric shoved him into Ryan, and Mark, calm as ever, looked over with an uninterested expression and said, “Now that was uncalled for.”
Cedric raged at Mark and swung his fist at him. Mark’s eyes suddenly became very alert and put up his arm, blocked the punch then stepped into Cedric, elbowed him in the face and tripped him up. Cedric hit the floor with a thud. People rushed over to help Cedric when Sara stepped in and screamed, “EVERYONE, STOP! If you want to fight it out we will do it away from school.”
Cedric glared up at them and said, “Fine, ten o’clock in the parking lot in front of Knox mall.”
Mark looked over at Ryan and said, “Are we doing anything at ten?”
Ryan thought a moment before replying, “No, we can make it, how many guys you bringing Ced?” Cedric didn’t say anything, he just got up and walked away.


The three of them sat in the parking lot three hours early, mainly because they had little else to do.
         “Should we call anyone?” asked Sara, “You know he’ll bring anyone he can.”
Mark nodded. Ryan checked his watch.
         “There's a rugby game tonight that ends at nine, we could call the guys in, they would come.”
Ryan, Mark, and Sara played Rugby at their old school. Ryan and Mark were both good, and Sara was scrumhalf. Mark pulled out his cell phone to call them. At about nine a kid walked by that they recognized.
         “Hey,” Ryan called to the kid. The kid turned and walked up to them. “You were that guy who stopped the fight with Cedric and the little kid this morning, weren’t you?”
         “Yeah,” he replied, looking at each of them in turn.
         “My names Ryan, this is Mark and Sara.”
         “Hi, I’m Tidus. What are you guys doing here?”
         “We're waiting for your friend Cedric to come by. He tried to pick a fight with Mark today and we thought we should finish it somewhere else.”
Tidus grinned at the prospect of beating Cedric black and blue.
         “Need a hand?” Tidus asked.
         “Probably not, but you can stay.”

Cedric and his buddies showed up right on time; three cars full.
         “Well, well, well. You actually showed up. I don’t know wether to call you brave or stupid.”
Cedric looked over at a bus in the distance, and then turn his attention to them. Cedric and his thirteen friends surrounded Ryan and the others.
         “Tidus, why am I not surprised? Tonight’s going to be interesting now,” Cedric smirked.
Sara smiled at him and said, “You have no idea.”
Mark put his fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly. Thirty-four Rugby players from their old school came out from behind cars and alleyways, carrying chains and bats. They quickly formed a circle around everyone.

         “Now, Cedy,” Mark said, “you now stand at a cross road. You can go one way, have your buddies get the crap kicked out of them, or you can go the other and fight one on one with one of us. If you lose we will kick the crap out of your friends anyway. So the only way to save their hides is to beat one of us. And lucky you get to pick which one.” Glowering, Cedric looked left and right, thinking but not saying anything. “Come on, Cedy, its not that difficult.”
Finally he pointed at Sara and said, “I’ll fight her.”
Ryan winced as Tidus, glaring, spat out, “You’d hit a girl?”
Ryan nudged Tidus in the arm and shook his head.
         “Poor guy,” he muttered to him, “he has no clue what he just got himself into.”

Everyone spread out to give them room. The Rugby team prowled around outside the circle of everyone. Cedric wasted no time and kicked at Sara. She swiftly dodged it and got behind him and lightly rapped him on the head. He spun around and tried to grab her but she ducked low and knocked his feet out from under him. He scrambled to his feet while Sara waited patiently. Then a bold friend of Cedric’s daringly turned and snatched a bat from one of the rugby guys and threw it to him. Three of the rugby players promptly removed from him the circle, struggling, and took him behind the bus. They heard some thuds and grunts. Cedric swung the bat at Sara’s head and once again she dodged it. Someone threw her a chain that had a large weight at the end, and she began a slow whirling motion. She coiled the loose end around her arm. Cedric swung again with the bat and Sara’s chain wiped out, unravelling from her arm to give it extra distance, and wrapped it around the bat and she wrenched it from his grasp.
         “Bitch!” he called out. Sara sighed and dropped the chain. The three rugby players from behind the bus returned without the other guy.
         “Come on, Sara,” called Mark, “we're getting restless watching you have all the fun.”
         “Fine, I’ll finish him off,” she yelled back, “Poor sport.”
She ran directly at Cedric and drop kicked him in the chest, knocking the wind out of him. She was on her feet again and ran around him while he was stunned, wrapping her arm around his throat. Sara was extremely strong and Cedric couldn’t break her grip. After a few moments the lack of air caused him to pass out and she let him go. As soon as Cedric hit the ground the rugby team leapt on the Cedric’s little gang and proceeded to beat them senseless. When it was all over the team pilled onto their bus and left the four standing in the middle of a battle field, unconscious bodies lying all over the place.

Once everyone began to regain consciousness, Ryan, Mark and Sara decided to leave.
         “We’ll be seeing you later, Tidus,” Mark said, “You’re an OK guy.”
         “Thanks.” Tidus turned, looking troubled about something, and walked away with his hands in his pockets.

A Non-Existent User

          “Wow, I can’t believe you said that to him yesterday,” said one girl. “He’s such an asshole. He so deserved it.”

          “I know,” said the girl named Gwen. “But I kind of feel bad, you know…but then again, he did deserve it.”

          “You should feel proud.”

          “I do, actually.”

          “You’re a hero!” The girl giggled.

          Gwen smiled. “Yeah, I guess I am…”

          “Oh what a load of shit!” a voice rang from the far side of the bathroom.

          The girl and Gwen looked up. “Who’s there?” the girl cried out.

          The last stall opened and a tall, red-headed girl walked out. She had an irritated look on her face.

          “Do you think I want to hear you be fucking hero for degrading some guy while I’m trying to pee?” the tall girl asked them. “It’s all shit, and you’re such a hypocrite.”

          “Hey…” Gwen started.

          But the tall girl interrupted her. “I heard you. Talking about how that guy isn’t worth two rats’ asses. How he isn’t as rich as you. How he isn’t good enough to smell the fragrant air or even walk on the school’s marble floors. How he’s cruel to kids and whatnot. Hmm, I wonder why he’s that way. Oh, I know: maybe because you treat him like the shit you are.”

          “Now that’s en--” the girl tried to say, but was cut off.

          “Have you ever got a chance to really know him? Hmm? Bet he could be a nicer guy than the ones you dream of sleeping with…”

          “He’s in a gang! He does illegal things!” Gwen said.

          The red-headed girl stared at her. Then a small smile appeared on her face. “Really?” she said, mostly to herself. “He sounds more interesting than I thought…”

          “And anyway,” Gwen said, seizing this opportunity to talk, “Who gave you the authority to listen to our conversation and then telling us in what we’re doing wrong? Look at you.”

          The redhead looked in the mirror. “Damn, I look good,” she said with a smile on her face.

          Gwen looked at her friend and rolled her eyes. She was beginning to lose her temper…again. “Maybe you should take the time to know him. See how he treats the girls in this school. He’s so mean. He should be locked up in jail.”

          “And you should go to hell,” the redhead replied. “Oh hey, that rhymes…”

          “I don’t like you,” Gwen spat out suddenly.

          The tall redhead smiled. “Oh wow, something we have in common,” she said. “Coincidently, I loathe you. You make me sick. You make women on this planet unworthy of having equal opportunities and whatnot.”

          “What the hell…” Gwen’s friend said, confused. She then shook her head. “Come on, Gwen, let’s go. We shouldn’t hang around with garbage. Especially garbage that is insane.” Together, the girls headed towards the bathroom.

          “It’s Elli,” the tall redhead said suddenly.

          Both girls stopped and looked at her. “What?” asked Gwen.

          “My name’s Elli. Make sure you remember that.”

          “Okay, whatever,” said Gwen. “Bitch,” she whispered to her friend as they left the bathroom.

          Elli washed her hands and re-applied red lipstick to her lips. “That went well, didn’t it?” she asked herself. She then straightened out her clothes and walked out of the bathroom.

          And accidentally slammed into someone.

          “Oh hey, excuse you,” she said to a guy. She noticed it was Corey. “Oh, it’s you. Oh well, no big deal.” She kept walking. Elli lived near Corey and she had only been acquaintance of him, not a friend. He was one of the only people she would actually talk to.

          As Elli walked towards her locker, she saw a dark figure move quickly from the corner of her eye. She turned and caught a glimpse of long, brown hair. She shrugged. “Must be that guy Gwen made fun of,” Elli said to herself. “He must be skipping school again…”

          She stopped and suddenly realized that thought made her curious. Just where did that kid go when he wasn’t in class? Elli decided to investigate.

          She quickly darted down the same hall he previously took.


All was dark crimson but a light that shone on the back of Corey’s head. With a gentle click the stereo turned on and music began to play; Hoobastank - The Reason. He used it as an alarm since he nearly always fell asleep at his desk from studying late. Paper lay scattered all over the desk. Reluctantly he opened his heavy eyelids and sat awake, listening to the words of the song. A darkness he kept concealed during the day emerged from behind his pearl black eyes. He felt hollow staring at the wall, having woken to it many sunrises in his exhaustion in an empty house, but closed his eyes and overpowered it with his desire to sleep.

The assembly held every Tuesday morning was held without Corey. He arrived later to school than usual to get a new lock, and hurried to his locker, hitching up his bag that kept gradually sliding down his shoulder. It was heavier than usual from all his texts. All throughout the corridors were portraits of students hung up on the walls, the glass coverings reflecting people in the hall. Further down the passage was Saienta, and a girl just a bit shorter than him with black hair was giving him something. She wasn’t the sort Saienta would hang around with so he was partially curious.
Walking more or less beside him was Gwen, trying to catch his eye and failing. Corey was too busy thinking about Saienta to notice and was determined to talk to him at the end of the day. With a hand, Gwen waved her hair to let it catch the fluorescent light, and pouted in disappointment when he did not see. She then put on a sweet smile and said “Hey Corey!” He blinked at her before replying out of politeness. Sirian, walking past, saw Gwen and they both smiled at each other in an unspoken hello. Further down the hall he noticed she kept side glancing at him as though waiting for him to engage some conversation with her. This irritated him and was rather glad to escape her stares when he reached his locker.
From his bag he took out the textbooks he didn’t need and threw in his English things, then secured his locker with his new combination lock. It was suddenly nosier than usual, but took no real attention to it as he neatened up the books in his bag so they wouldn’t bunch and bend. He started toward class when he saw a group of people standing around Gwen, who was hysterically sobbing and Stacy, freaking out, screaming ‘Oh my God! Oh my God, Gwen! Who could do this? It’s horrible!’
Elli, a girl in her twelfth year whom Corey knew, was nearby and could see distaste etched on her face at the sight of it all commotion. She turned away, shaking her head while clicking her tongue. Elli noticed Corey and they quickly smiled at each other. Clearly she thought Gwen deserved it. As he walked past to get to the classroom he glanced over with his dark eyes and on the wall was a cracked portrait from a nail that had been driven through Gwen’s forehead, and could not help but feel a semi bit sympathetic toward her as he entered the classroom.

Several people stood waiting around in the classroom for the teacher. Miss Silvalet hadn’t arrived yet. Among the several students was Anneleace, a girl who just started school the day before. She looked rather relaxed and comfortable in a room of strangers. Nevertheless, Corey thought, it must be hard entering a new environment, and he would have given her a quick, small smile, when he felt the atmosphere in the room was heavy with suspicion and confusion. He stopped dead beside the doorframe, looking around at the singular desks in the classroom that were facing the back wall and stared at the strange sight curiously. No one cared to turn the desks the correct way. He would not be surprised if they were waiting for the rest of class to join them and see the peculiar sight before having to turn it back around. Saienta was one among few in the room too and he glanced at him. He looked tired and bored, so he turned his desk around roughly and then leant against it with his arms crossed and eyes closed. Saienta certainly made his days at school interesting, while supposing he had something to do with this and Gwen’s portrait.
Morgan, failing to grasp the atmosphere, burst in with a silly grin on his face. He collapsed into a back-to-front chair and fell straight through his seat, his desk caved in on top of him. Cries of laughter filled the classroom. Corey grinned at his idiocy. Both the legs of the desk and seat gave way. Bits of wood and metal bars sat piled underneath a thunderstruck Morgan. It looked like it took all of Saienta’s energy to stop him from laughing uncontrollably.
         “Dickhead,” Saienta said.
A girl at the front of the classroom whose name Corey knew as Marie, turned her desk around to the front as she giggled and sat down in her chair, when it all collapsed from under her. She screamed from shock and there was more laughter. Stumbling to her feet, red in the face from embarrassment, she laughed too.
         “The furniture has gone mad!” exclaimed Morgan. Gwen, red puffy eyed, and Stacy walked into the room with a comforting arm around her and patted her on the back in sympathy.
         “Gwen, be careful when you sit down, the desks and chairs collapse-” Marie said more sensibly than Morgan, looking suspicious. Sirian and the rest of the class entered the room, but still no teacher. Gwen didn’t hear Marie as she announced dramatically “Keep quiet everyone, I’ve just had the worst day of my life.” And she turned her desk around and slammed into her seat, which collapsed. She screamed and then cried into her hands, her face red from humiliation. Half-heartedly, Corey tried not to show amusement from her senseless speech. Stacy cautiously sat down in her chair and it didn’t cave in- not all the them could’ve been tampered with. Corey watched as Saienta pulled out his chair, stomped on it, and pounded his elbow on the desk. When it didn’t break he sat down and tried to muffle his laughter by putting his knuckles in his mouth. As everyone turned their chairs around the right way Corey copied Saienta. It didn’t break. Sirian had been watching him because she did the same and it broke. She moved to the next table and this time it did not cave in. She took her seat and eventually everyone pounded their desks with their elbows, and their seats with their feet before sitting down.

When all the commotion had been sorted, everyone sat listening to Miss Silvalet. This particular room in the school was always hot and stuffy on warm sunny days, holding the warmth of the sunlight. Corey opened the window a little to let the cool air circulate around him. With a pen in hand he wrote a few sentences, put the pen down and put his head in his hand, thinking of what ‘exacerbate’ meant. His sleek hair fell over his eyes and ignored it as it brushed gently over his hand and cheeks. I can’t think, he thought, frustrated.
         “I have an activity for everyone to complete by next Tuesday, but we won’t be starting it until this Thursday because of your orals on Wednesday. The activity requires you to pair up in twos,” she smiled as a few people groaned and others, mostly the girls, looked excitedly at each other. Corey uneasily looked out the window with uncertainty about being paired. “I won’t be giving out the details today. The only thing I intend on doing is calling out who I’ve paired everyone with. Morgan, you’ll be with me.”
         “What?” he said in disbelief. “But you’re a teacher! Why can’t I do this - this…activity with someone normal?”
She raised her eyebrows. “Because you have an annoying habit of losing your work and there is an odd number of children in this class.” Morgan frowned. Miss Silvalet walked to his desk and leaned over to whisper something in his ear that no one could hear. His face brightened a small fraction, though he still looked as though he got dealt unfairly.
         “Annaleace and Marie,” she continued, “Gwen and Sirian. Saienta and Corey. Stacey and Phillip …”
The end of class finally came and he put all his notes together, stopping as he saw Gwen’s notes she had given him the day before. He looked up to check that she was still in the classroom. She was. Packing away everything but her notes, he swung his bag over his shoulder and walked over to her desk. She looked up at him and gave a small smile.
         “Your notes.” Corey held them out to her.
         “Thanks,” she said sadly, put them aside on her desk and said nothing more.


Tidus went through the details of what happened after their departure the previous night as Corey and him swerved through a tide of black uniformed students in the corridor.
         “Serious?” Corey said when Tidus finished.
         “Yeah… But something’s not right. Cedric lost without difficulty. Went down faster than a little girl…”
It was suspicious…
Two people passing inclined their heads at Tidus.
         “Yo, what’s up Markus- Sara?” Tidus said conversationally, the four of them pausing in the middle of the passage. People had to swerve them to get past. Corey stood a little to one side and listened as he watched.
         “Just going to the cafeteria, not much really,” Markus replied as he hastily studied Corey.
         “Corey, this is Markus and Sara, and this is Corey.” Corey inclined his head to them as they were introduced. “Where’s Ryan?”
Markus shrugged. “Sick, I s’pose.”
         “Anyway, we’ll see you later,” Sara said, nudging Markus onward down the corridor. They pressed on up the corridor, spotting Morgan with his usual group of jocks and he was dancing slowly with an invisible woman. His buddies roared with laughter. Corey and Tidus exchanged inquisitive looks.
         “So does this mean you’re going to the ball next Sunday?” One of Morgan’s friends said. “I’m going…my girlfriends making me…”
         “Oh, the ball…” Tidus said rather dully.
         “What ball?” Corey asked.
         “Weren’t you listening in assembly?”
         “No, I didn’t go. I came late.”
         “Oh, well, there’s going to be a ball next Sunday on a Cruise ship…It’s not cheap…”
Further down the passage Corey caught sight of Cedric whose appearance was unharmed with no bruises or scratches. Nothing. And yet, both his friends who followed him everywhere (Markus and Andrew) were injured with bruises and rather nasty cuts on their hands. “What the…” Tidus appeared to have noticed Cedric too.
         “Why are his friends hurt and he isn’t?” Corey asked, side glancing at him.
         “Hmm,” he thought for a moment, “Sara didn’t actually hit him. She’ll be wishing she had though. Once he passed out they left him there while the others were beaten up. I don’t have a good feeling about this. Cedric looks more pleased than usual.”


The willow's droopy vines swayed in the slight chilled breeze as Corey sat under it in a kind of stupor, thinking of nothing, suspended in emptiness. Winter was not for several weeks and it wouldn’t go as far as rain. Never had it snowed before. Just cold winds, sheets of icy rain and always wet. Boredom was creeping up on him and he began turning over an uneaten apple in his hands just for something to do. Tidus wasn’t with him and he didn’t know where he was. It didn’t bother him. He flopped back onto the grass and started on his apple, ate it rather quickly and threw the core as far as he could. If he was lucky Cedric would be standing right underneath where the core landed. He closed his eyes and could see the sun's light on his eyelids. There were footsteps and they stopped next to him. Whoever it was was blocking the sun and cold edged over him.
         “You’re blocking the sun.”
He heard the person crouch and the sun was once again upon his face. A long silence hovered over the both of them, and it would have been unsettling if it weren’t for his tiredness. Slowly he could feel himself drifting off to sleep, the sounds of people in the school grounds faded too, and the bright sun on his eyelids gradually grew dark, the person beside him under the willow forgotten.
He opened his eyes to a black bamboo looking forest and a small stream. The sun's rays cut diagonally through the trees onto the soft mossed earth. And beside him was a girl. Everything looked real, but subconsciously he knew it must be a dream, since the girl's face continued to be unclear. When she spoke to him, her small, gentle voice reverberated.
         “Pieces…I found them…They will know. Just like you, they will see…”
Flash. He stood in front of several people, their figures silhouetted in the shadowed place, wearing the most awe-inspiring outfits. Their faces were indistinguishable, concealed in the shadow, looking both intimidating and cool. He must have been having one of those dreams that made no sense, and was about to ask ‘You found pieces of what?’ when someone shook hard on his shoulder.
         “Corey! Get up, man,” Tidus’ voice demanded. He sat upright and rubbed the back of his hand over his eyes.
         “What is it?” Corey asked with a faint croak in his voice as he brushed the hair that had fallen over his face to the side. Tidus’ lip was bleeding. “What happened?”
         “Argh,” he said, aggravated, nurturing his lip with his wrist and dropped down beside him. “It’s that dickhead, Cedric. He had Red Tide beat up Markus and Sara, and I jumped in to help them. I knew something like this would happen. They’re in the sickbay right now. It was nothing too serious, I’m most certain that was just a warning. Red Tide could have done a lot worse. I heard enough to know that if they touch Cedric again it’ll be even bloodier. Damn Cedric!” he added, furious.
Corey had heard bits and pieces about Red Tide because even though they worked in secret so no one really knew who was a Red Tide member, it was common knowledge they operated around the inner and outer areas in the town and city.

The end of school came quickly. Corey hang around for Saienta just outside the doors of the school against a pillar out of sight with his hands in his pockets. The air gently ran all through his hair, swaying back and forth over his eyes. He didn’t have to wait long, Saienta seemed to be in a hurry as he sped down the steps.
         “Saienta,” Corey said to get his attention. “Can we talk?”
Saienta stared at him for a moment and said, “I’ve got to go, walk with me.” Corey followed him as they walked down the street and into an empty park.
         “Is this about your phone?” Saienta asked casually.
         “I don’t really care about that, but yeah. And the paired project. Are you free Saturday? If you’re available, come over to my place.”
         “Don’t you need it back?”
         “No, but tell me what you think of it in two weeks.”
They walked in silence as they reached Saienta’s chained motorbike. It was a black and red Kawasaki with silver parts. “By the way,” Corey said with a small smirk, “how did you get the desks and chairs to fall apart like that?”
Saienta didn’t look at him but grinned. “We half-sawed some of the legs in places you couldn’t see. We made sure they would fall if you sat on them. It was a random thing, I’m glad Gwen didn’t realise.”
         “Yeah…” Corey’s mind drifted back to that morning when a girl gave Saienta something. “Who was that girl earlier?”
         “What girl?” Saienta looked up.
         “I saw a girl giving you something this morning, didn’t look like your kind of crowd.”
Saienta thought for a moment as he packed his chains and lock into his backpack. “I’ll see you later, Corey. I owe you one for the phone so I might tell you later.”
Corey turned and began to walk away. “Alright, later.” And he heard Saienta rev his bike and ride off.

A Non-Existent User

Tye sighed in irritation. Their crew had been waiting around their dark alleyway for ages, waiting for the messengers to show. “What do we do tonight, Saienta? What if they never show?”
Saienta shrugged. “Then we do nothing…” He was crouched with his back to the wall. He checked his knuckles, removing the bandages and found they had healed overnight. It was nothing new, he always healed miraculously but was left with silver scars. He wondered if it was better or worse to heal quickly and be left with tissue scars or heal slowly and by chance have no mark. He had a bruise on his right knuckles from earlier in the day when his group was ordered by his leaders to beat up Sara and Markus, he didn’t know them and he had risked getting caught but as usual they were all masked during the day on public missions.
         “Last night was a rush, huh? Your idea was brilliant, Sai,” one of the newer members, named Nor, said to make conversation. He was obviously bored and uneasy and watched Saienta hopefully.
A silence followed as the others waited for his reaction. “Don’t call me Sai, it’s Saienta. Last night was more than just flawed. It was destined to fail had the gang been anything else except amateurs like Soldiers of Wrath. We were banking on their leader’s stupidity. We all would have been slaughtered if he was a Red Tide.”
         “Really?” Nor asked in astonishment. The rest of the crew, only four with Reeva and Mekhi in hospital, listened in interest.
         “For instance,” he explained, “the bodyguards should have shot me as soon as they saw me with a gun- no explanations needed. If not, they should have at least attacked and disarmed me- if they were Red Tide, they would torture me to find out why I was there, discovered the rest of the crew’s location and killed us all. The Wrath were new, they were too confused and surprised when I pulled the gun on myself. Amateurs don’t know how to act in situations like that. They were edgy.” Saienta took out Reeva’s red bandana and tied it around his arm. “Only the stupid attempt to mess with Red Tide anyway. If we had killed ourselves they could have passed us off as some kind of suicidal cult or covered it up quickly. The public in red districts know not to talk, they‘re aware of gangs and consequences.”
         “We were gambling our lives?” Nor asked. “Serious…”
Tye looked up. “What did the leader tell his bosses? A bunch of kids wanted to kill themselves so he was pulling out? They would kill him.”
         “No, he made up some bullshit about Red Tide wiring the whole district with C4 and that I was a Red Tide psycho with an Uzi,” Saienta laughed when he saw the ironic look of humour on Tye’s face.

Saienta stood, turning serious, when he saw a man in his mid-twenties walking down their alleyway wearing an expensive suit. He carried a black bag in his hands and Saienta could tell he was a Red Tide member by his fearlessness alone. Dark eyes, crimson hair, strong, balanced, and probably concealing weapons, Saienta thought. “Saienta Kureshida?” he asked when he reached them.
Saienta nodded and stepped in front of him.
         “We need a good-looking kid. Someone who knows how to charm a nice girl. Choose one.”
Saienta looked around and they did the same. Tye spoke up. “I’d go with Saienta or Reeva but he’s in hospital. Saienta’s the man, he wouldn’t admit it but he could charm a rat into spoon-feeding him for the rest of his life if he wanted.”
The Red Tide member gave the bag to him and told him it was a Giorgio Armani suit. “Dress nice and meet me here at 8pm tomorrow.” He turned and left after passing him an envelope.


Saienta gelled his hair neatly after putting on the suit which fitted him perfectly. He pocketed his new phone along with the invitation which allowed him into some millionaire’s birthday party. He had called a phone number in the envelope and a monotone voice had told him the party was being held by a businessman that owed Red Tide hundreds of thousands in cocaine money. Saienta’s main mission was to take his 16 year old daughter out by no force and drop her off at the address. It had given him some extra details. “Take care of Renna until she is safe,” the voice had said before hanging up with a click. The number was disconnected after that when he tried to call again.
A photo of the girl was in the envelope and he burned it after studying it for a moment. He had to bet on her willingness to leave her own house with him without being caught.

It was a bad idea from the beginning and Saienta realised it was worse when he entered the giant lit-up mansion and saw the many rich men and women, and a few students of Ellet who were their children around. Rich businessmen with trophy wives and daughters. There would have been many Red Tide leaders around, living their separate lives and he wouldn’t be able to recognise them if he tried. He saw the Red Tide member that had given him the suit and the man nodded in his direction but didn’t walk over. Saienta cleared his throat and readied himself to take on a different persona- one that would suit this kind of crowd. He smiled at a passing crowd and they smiled approvingly in return. From the hundreds of people milling around, he recognised the most powerful group and walked towards them when he saw the Red Tide member walk over, nodding in his direction. As he walked, he noticed a few smokers and quickly pulled out his own, smoking it so quickly he had another one out by the time he had reached the circle of men. Saienta was introduced to the men by the Red Tide member. “Sayenta Cressida,” he said when prompted. The men studied him for a while. “Do you go to school?” the man asked.
         “Yes, sir. I attend Ellet College. Happy birthday, I hear you’ve turned the prime age and making a turn-over of your first billion this year, Mr. Tenro.”
The other men laughed when Tenro did. “The way you say it makes it a definite happy birthday. What does your father do, son?” he asked gruffly. “We must know him…”
         “He owns Cressida and Co. I doubt you would have heard of it, the profit is good-lucrative perhaps, but a dairy and cattle company is hardly worth mentioning in a social circle.” Saienta hoped it was a plausible lie.
The men laughed and he received a few slaps on the back. He put out his cigarette in a tray a waiter was carrying for that purpose and pulled out another. The men carried on a different conversation and a younger man held up a lighter and lit it for him. “You must know Corey Akaino then,” he said. “If you attend Ellet, you must. My name is Leon, by the way,” he held out his hand and Saienta shook it.
         “I know him. He is intelligent and will probably inherit his father’s business some day. He is the most suitable from what I can assume. I can only see Akaino tech. Industries growing under his positive contributions. A business like Akaino can only flourish in the hands of his high aptitude.”
Saienta received a look of approval.
         “Ah…my daughter, come meet these men,” Tenro said, and their attention was diverted. A girl with golden-brown hair with a long fringe that almost shielded her eyes, walked shyly, demurely, from her own circle and joined them. She stood by her father with her head down and he put an arm around her shoulders. Her name was never mentioned, Tenro called her ‘my daughter‘. She eyed Saienta in curiosity, he recognised her as the girl he was here for and he smiled slightly. She gazed at him wonderingly and blushed. After several introductions, her father showed her off proudly and raved about her violin skills and incredible grades at the prestigious St. Anne’s Girls College. Saienta studied her the whole time, and it did not escape her notice that she was being watched by him so carefully, and he excused himself, giving her one last measured look which made her cheeks flush.


He waited, leaning against a pillar away from the party, watching from the shadows. The girl joined him a moment later, unsure, and keeping her eyes on the ground. “Hi…” she said in embarrassment. “Um…it was kind of boring so I escaped. So…”
Saienta nodded. “What’s your name?”
She smiled and her eyes lit up. “I would have thought you’d known.”
         “There are some things I would rather find out for myself.” He stared at her and she fell silent.
         “Renna Tenro,” she bit her lip and stuck out her hand quickly for him to shake it. He had to keep from looking at her strangely. He took it and held it for a moment too long on purpose and she pulled back shyly. He looked away and took a drag of his cigarette.
         “You’re a statue,” he said after a while.
         “What?” she asked.
         “Your father only pays attention to you when he introduces you to people he wants to impress. He knows nothing about you, you endure it, he only knows your school, the straight A’s, your violin and your talents. He doesn’t know you prefer the piano over violin and you have an infatuation with photography.”
She looked at him in astonishment, flecked with horror that he could know so much. “How did…?”
         “I saw you taking a photo of the statues and the shadows, the composition and focal point were good so I figured,” he motioned to her pocket and she put a hand to it self-consciously. She had a small digital camera. “How did you know I like piano more?”
         “The way your eyes darted to the piano when he mentioned the violin and the way you listen carefully when it’s being played.”
She bit her lip and looked over at the grand piano and Saienta noticed the player was Corey. He was flawless and highly skilled and she was obviously envious.
         “What happened to your mother?” he asked. She was silent for a while.
         “My…my dad divorced her not long ago, recently…actually. He won custody and I haven’t seen her since. I want to visit her but I’m not allowed. I know she wants to see me, I know she does. I found this…” she pulled out a letter, showed him and put it away possessively. “I can’t even talk to her.” She had tears in her eyes. “I can’t stand him! Everything is business and legalities. He doesn’t give a shit about me or anyone except himself. Nothing he does is without some purpose, he never just does things, you know? Sometimes I wish he’d do something spontaneously, make a joke to make me laugh.” She laughed suddenly, as though she was so angry and found it ironic she was spilling her life to a stranger. “Sorry…I know I’ve said so much but there’s just something about you…the way you already seem to know everything about me.” Her eyes fell away from his gaze. He put his hands on her shoulder and the way he stood there was so intense and so wrong for the social context that she stood up straight and let him talk to her as though to do so would be defiance against the other people in itself. Her shyness had disappeared for the moment, like she was too angry to be shy. He spoke in a low tone, “If we can get out of here, I can take you away to your mother and you will never have to see him again. Trust me.” His fake persona had fallen away for the moment and she trembled. She was about to speak when a girl suddenly jumped in and he broke off quickly. “Sirian!” she said in surprise. The girl hugged Renna fiercely and it seemed to break the tension in her face. Saienta recognised Sirian and he stepped back. Shit, he thought, cursing the intrusion.

“How are you doing, Rennie?” she asked cheerily.
Renna became herself again, hiding behind her long fringe. “I’m fine, Siri, how are you?”
         “Whose this guy you’re with?” She asked looking at Saienta. “Oh my God-” she said, realising. “I mean, um.” Saienta gazed at her levelly.
         “What, Siri?” Renna asked.
         “You’re from my school, aren’t you?” Sirian asked him. “I barely recognised you like that, what was your name again?”
         “Sayenta Cressida, and yours?”
         “Sirian Tomi.”
         “Do you know each other, Siri?” Renna asked, looking from one to the other. She was obviously confused, and wary, wondering why this boy from her friend’s school could offer her an escape. Sirian nodded. Saienta cursed the intrusion again, hoping his chances of persuading her hadn‘t just crumbled. “You look completely different,” Sirian said. “The whole “dark” look at school must be a thing, huh?” she smiled.
         “Of course,” he answered, smiling.
         “I even heard you were in a gang!” She laughed and Saienta laughed a little. Renna seemed to understand after that.
         “But how could I be if I’m here, right? With my rich parents and rich school,” Saienta said.
         “Where are your parents?” she asked.
Saienta looked around, caught the Red Tide member’s attention and put up a hand. He gave a wave in return.
         “Oh. He looks young, my parents are around here somewhere. I better find them. Look after each other,” she said, flouncing away. A moment of silence passed as they watched her leave.
         “It’s Red Tide, isn’t it?” Renna said softly. “My mother’s brother is one of them and he would look after her. Can I get some things before I go? It’s important.”
         “Sure. I’ll meet you here again when you return.”


Saienta found himself wandering over to the music of the grand piano where Corey was playing as though no one else was around. The music was sorrowful, profound and it tugged at him. Eyes on me-Final Fantasy VIII, he remembered. Corey finished on soft notes and once the final note disintegrated, lifted his hands slowly and then he noticed Saienta.
Corey and Saienta stood on a balcony looking down on the guests. It was quiet and no one was around. They leaned on the ornate balustrade in silence. Corey didn’t ask why he was there.
         “Were you the one who hammered a nail into Gwen’s photo?” Corey asked.
Saienta laughed. “No, not me directly. A minor but devastating prank, as Tye put it.”
Corey laughed and then he looked annoyed as he watched some people enter the room below.
         “What?” Saienta asked.
         “Cedric Theodore the III. No one you would have anything to do with.”
He looked and found him. “I know him. He’s a billionaire’s kid, isn’t he?” Saienta asked.
         “Yeah,” he answered, surprised. “How did you know him?”
         “I know a few things. I made a bet with him today.” He looked around and pointed.
         “See that girl? Sirian, he said he could get her to sleep with him in two days. She better not fuck him or I lose five grand. I watched her for a while and I don‘t think she‘s the type. She‘s nice actually, refined too and has some sense unlike most.”
         “I didn’t think you hung around the Cedric type.”
         “I don’t. I passed him in the hall and decided I could make some money from his arrogant ass. Cocky dickhead.”
Corey smiled in approval.
         “Unfortunately I also had to work under him yesterday.”
Corey looked puzzled. “What do you mean?”
         “Red Tide was paid by him to beat up some kids, some people he couldn’t get himself. I have no choice in clientele, even if it is someone like Cedric.” He thought for a second. “You threw an apple core at me yesterday on my way to that fight. I was ready to break one of your legs but you fell asleep, I thought about it while I crouched by you, and I didn’t want to be late.” Corey gave him an amused but regretful look, mixed with some ironic humour. “Er…sorry about that. I was hoping to hit Cedric at that time.”
Saienta looked at his watch. “I have to go, see you later.”
         “Wait, tell me who that girl was. You owe me, remember?”
He stopped. He was silent for a long while. “She’s my half-sister. Alexia Preston. She was adopted by some rich people and she found me three years ago through a private detective she hired to find her real family. Unfortunately for her, that family was me.”
Corey looked down at the people below. “You can’t choose your family.” He sounded as though he could relate.
         “We talked for a while and I can’t be the person Alexia wants me to be, she is a good person and I couldn’t be the brother she longs for. One day I might be.” He smiled as though it was ironic.
         “I’ll tell you something about me, something I’ve never said before, Corey. I’ve learnt two things in my life- my great lifespan of 17 years- some parents give a shit and some don’t. My real parents were in the second category- they gave us both away. My adoptive parents are also in that category, I’m not a son, I’m a farmhand. Second thing: some people give a shit about you and others don’t. I’ve met too many in the latter group, hence my decision not to give a shit about them. Alexia cares but too much, I don’t know how to care anymore.”
He turned to leave. “See you tomorrow, Corey. You’re lucky, you belong in neither group. I’m still deciding.”
He was stopped by a man he recognised as Leon. “Hey, you two do know each other,” he said, looking at Saienta and Corey. “Happy Birthday for Monday, Corey, I didn’t get a chance to tell you. Your phone was disconnected…”
Corey and Saienta looked at each other in amusement. “Thanks, Leon,” Corey said.
         “You’re 17, right? A good age.”
         “Weird,” Saienta said, “Same day as my birthday, same age too.”
Leon thumped him on the back. “Happy Birthday to you, also.”
It was a strange experience for someone to take notice of his birthday and congratulate him, not even he remembered it was his birthday until now. “Thanks.”
         “Your dad get you anything, Corey?” Leon asked.
         “No,” he said, and Saienta noticed a hint of bitterness.


In the shadow, Renna was waiting anxiously wearing a black side bag. She looked relieved when Saienta showed and he took the bag from her. It would look less conspicuous if he was the one carrying it. She led him out a back entrance and they wandered past a security guard, Renna chatting animatedly about nothing in particular to look less suspicious. They reached his bike. So far, so good. She sat behind him, tentative, and explained it was her first time on a motorbike. He passed her the black helmet. He revved the engine and rode through the gate without much of a hassle until he heard a shout, a commotion and he took off quickly down the street. He turned off his headlight. In moments he was being chased by a silver-grey Mercedes and wondered how they had found out. She screamed as he rode full-speed, dodging around cars and swerving to get rid of their pursuers. “Shit,“ he said, when he almost skidded, unbalanced with an extra passenger and slowed to right his bike. The Mercedes caught up and Saienta took a back street. He couldn’t take her to the drop-off point until he lost them. He needed to lose them, and quickly. He rounded a corner, hoping for something but the road was bare and there was little coverage. Luckily it was dark; he rounded another corner with the Mercedes not far behind and as soon as he could, he hit the brakes, turned abruptly and the bike slid sideways along the ground for what seemed like a long time. She screamed. They almost tipped and his knee grazed against the ground as they slid down a ditch. His knee was torn from the gravel and the bike slipped along the grass and he rode into a dark drainage pipe. They waited in the dark for a moment, her breathing heavy behind him. They saw the silver Mercedes speed by and he kicked the engine on again, speeding down the opposite way.

At the drop off point, the corner of Flaminton Street, a woman and a Red Tide member were waiting. The woman received Renna gratefully, and they embraced, crying. The Red Tide member hugged them both and Saienta figured it was her mother’s brother. The Red Tide member gave him an envelope filled with a substantial amount of money and thanked him. Renna would be safe with her mother under Red Tide protection and Red Tide would kill two birds with one stone by using her as ransom for the money her father owed. Her mother was the one who had paid for Red Tide services to take her daughter back. He rode away before Renna or her mother could say something to him.


At school, he walked past Sirian who noticed him and ran, catching up to walk beside him. “Hey Sayenta. I didn’t see you for the rest of the night. Where did you go?”
He ignored her. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I have to get to class,” he said, without humour. He gave her a cold look and she stopped walking, puzzled by his offhanded manner.

Miss Silvalet sat across from him as they ate lunch together, as usual she had bought enough for two. After a soundless meal she stopped and gazed at him “I know it was you who vandalised the school the other day. I want you to know I am majorly pissed off. I stole the school surveillance tapes before they were reviewed and even though you were all masked I could spot you a mile away. I risked my job for you.”
He continued eating.
         “Well?” she asked.
He finished eating and wiped his mouth with a napkin. “Have you ever heard the saying ‘if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all‘?”
         “I’m taking it into consideration now.”
She raised an eyebrow. “It’s never stopped you before.”
He grinned. “True-ly spoken.” He paused. “What do you want? I was pissed off that day. And I wasn’t the one who nailed Gwen’s head either.”
         “Oh, I know that wasn’t you. That’s no excuse for the other things you did do, I will have to have you expelled if anymore misconduct from you occurs. I will make sure. Don’t fuck up, Sayenta, you are so close to the end of this.”
A long silence passed and she kept her look on him.
         “Fine. I’ll stop messing with the school.”
Her eyebrow was raised. “That’s it? You really will? No swearing? Complaints? Smart-ass comments?”
         “No, I’ll leave the school alone and I have time to focus on my studies again,” he said, thinking of the money he was given last night, enough to give him a month off work.
She looked at him warily and then smiled, knowing Saienta wasn’t the type to fail on his integrity. “About the cruise next week, it goes for three days…I was hoping you would go.”
         “What for?” he asked, his turn to raise an eyebrow.
         “I’d like to see you all dressed up for once, I bet you’ve never worn a real suit in your life. The ball on the ship will be wonderful, lots of girls.”
He laughed at the irony. “No chance, Miss Silvalet. I have better things to do.”
She frowned in disappointment. “Since you’re in such a compliant mood, apologize to Gwen…?” she asked hopefully.
         “No chance. I would rather go to the ball.”

It was official; this had been the worst day in history. Sirian had been forced to participate in the assembly that morning. It shouldn’t have even been called an assembly, more like a cattle call. The new cheerleaders, football, baseball, basketball and soccer players (along with non-entity new members of sports teams like golf) had all been introduced along with a list of school clubs and committees. Sirian, as president of the Associated Student Council (better known as ASC or StuCo.), had been asked to prepare a beginning of term speech welcoming everyone. She congratulated the new class presidents (Corey was the president for the Eleventh Grade) and then announced that the School Dance Committee had thought up a pre-homecoming. Calling it the “Shipwrecked Shindig.” Sirian had to restrain herself from commenting about the incredibly corny, and not to mention childish official name of the dance. In Advanced Anthropology, Mr. Gentry, easily the most lecherous teacher in school, had stared down her blouse at least a dozen times during class.
         “Gentry was in rare form today, eh Si?” Keiji said as they walked together at break.
         “The man is disgusting. He has to be three times my age,” she said with a shiver.
         “He really should be fired.” The bell rang. “Aww man, that was a short break. Hey Si, I’ll catch you at the party tonight okay?”

In English, Gwen had been paired with her for some “activity”. After class, Gwen immediately went to Sirian to set up a time to study.
         “Talk to me later Gwen; I have to meet someone.” Sirian looked around for an easy escape. That new girl. ”Annaleace! Hey wait up!” She turned around to see who was calling her. Sirian ran to her and whispered. “Please play along.”
         “Uhh, hi.”
         “Bye Gwen, I’ll see you later.” Sirian sighed as Gwen sashayed to the “popular” group. “Thanks. I’m Sirian by the way.”
         “Annaleace... What was that about?”
         “She’s the type of girl that makes me want to be a guy.”
         “The worst kind.” Sirian and Annaleace laughed. “So you’re new right?”
         “Want to meet some people?”
         “Sure.” The two girls went to a large bay window where about twenty guys were sitting and talking animatedly. “You’re friends with all guys?”
         “Yea. Most guys make better friends than backstabbing, money grubbing girly-girls.”
         “Amen.” Annaleace laughed.
         “Yo Siri!” Jake, a fullback said standing up. “Sport’s Queen is in the house!”
         “Naw, she ain’t queen anymore. She betrayed us.”
         “What are you talking about, Mitch?”
         “Cheer tryouts!”
         “I had to.” Annaleace glanced at Sirian with a look bordering on disdain. “C’mon you know what those girls are like. You’ve gone out with just about every one of them!”
The guys laughed. “And fu-”
         “Watch it!” Sirian said.
         “Do we have to be careful of your virgin ears?”
         “Of course.” She laughed. “So anyways this is Annaleace, she’s new. I saw a football ring, so maybe she’ll be up for try-outs.”
         “I might,” she said smiling. The conversation turned to sports, mainly football, and Annaleace seemed to be fitting in marvelously.
         “So, Siri, when we have a game... are you going to be on the field, or the sidelines? Cheerleaders do generally cheer at football games you know...”
         “I was thinking of accidentally breaking my arm.”
A sudden chorus of shock filled the hall. “What are you talking about break your arm!”
         “We need you!”
         “Why’d you even try-out in the first place?”
         “Guys!” Sirian said, louder than usual. “I was kidding. Of course I’ll be on the field. I worked it out with the coach, Mrs. Walker. She said that so long as I can make it to competition, games don’t matter.”
         “So who’s QB anyways?” Annaleace asked suddenly.
         “Sirian. Plus starting pitcher, goalie and MVP in volleyball,” Keiji said coming into the hall. “Siri has, as Coach Green says, an arm of gold.”
Annaleace seemed to be someone Sirian could relate to. The girls agreed to meet Thursday morning before school on the track and run a few laps. Turns out that she loved being fit as much as Sirian did. However, after school, when the two were talking, Gwen grabbed Sirian by the arm, dragging her to cheer practice. Practice had to be the icing on the cake; Gwen immediately went to her perky friends to tell them about the nail through her photo. Much to Sirian’s displeasure, Gwen had made the cheer squad. Her ego was now so engorged that Sirian wondered how Gwen’s neck managed all the pressure.
         “It was horrible! I mean- I just- it was like so mean!” she whined.
         “Oh my gosh, I like totally can’t even string a sentence together,” Sirian mocked the girls quietly in the locker room.
         “Were you there, Siri?”
         “No, I did see the photo though.” Quite becoming, if you ask me... and probably the highlight of my day too. Other than Annaleace saving me from your incessant drivel. “Pretty twisted.”
         “Seriously!” Gwen huffed. “I just know that it was that idiot Say- whatever his name is.”
         “Saienta? He is so creepy.” Liza, a tiny blonde girl, shuddered.
         “I know! But he is sorta cute.”
         “Maybe in a crazed prison inmate way,” Gwen snapped back.
         “You only say that because you like him.”
         “Do not!”
         “Does it matter?” Sirian said suddenly. “Why do you guys care anyways? Some think he’s cute, some don’t. Some like him and some don’t.” She paused. “Isn’t there something a little more stimulating you talk about?”
         “Like what?”
         “Literature, theatre, sports... Something more than boys and fashion?”
         “What’s the point?” Gwen said a little confused.
         “Never mind.” Sirian did her famous you’re-an-idiot eye roll.
         “So Sirian, did you hear what Alisa said?” Jessi, a senior said coming over and sitting on the locker room bench. Do I care?
         “Haven’t the foggiest,” Sirian said as she pulled the sweater-vest over her head.
         “You’re the new co-captain.”
         “I’m what?”
         “Co-captain! Aren’t you thrilled?”
         “Ecstatic...” Sirian rolled her eyes and went out onto the gym floor to stretch.


Sirian drove a little recklessly from the school gym, far away from the perky cheerleaders. She wondered why she had agreed to try out in the first place. Oh yes, I remember...Coercion.

Practice had been horrible, twenty-one supposedly “grown-up” sixteen through eighteen year old girls prancing around in pretty outfits, chanting perfectly orchestrated cheers and all the while there was Sirian, barely managing to keep a straight face. Sirian tried desperately to forget the entire ordeal and instead turned on the radio. A loud generic rock song came blasting out of the custom sound system and it seemed to have a calming effect of her.

Parking in the circular driveway of her home, she clicked the car alarm on and went inside. A soft and sweet bell rang through the entire house.
         “Sirian darling, I’m in the parlor.” Miya called over the intercom as Sirian stepped into the foyer of the multi-million dollar mansion. She made her way to the back to the house past the domed atrium that lead to the two-acre gardens. Going down a short hallway toward the left wing of the house, Sirian knocked lightly on the slightly ajar door and entered. The parlor in any other home was almost always the largest room in the house and used specifically for entertaining guests. However in the Tomi Mansion, though the parlor was an immense room, it was Miya’s private museum of artwork in every medium. Renoir, Monet, Picasso, Da Vinci, Michelangelo... the list went on. Almost every artist who had made a major contribution to the world of art had a masterpiece in Miya’s shrine. There was no furniture, except a tall stool and an antique cherry oak easel. A watercolor landscape was situated in the easel and Miya looked up from her palette.
         “9x11 watercolor... I’m not sure if I like this medium though.”
         “It’s beautiful so far. You can almost see the wind wafting through the birch trees.”
         “Waft? Good word usage darling! Be sure to tell your father that one. Heaven knows he needs to expand his vocabulary. At least when he was District Attorney, he said things like deposition, affidavit, and plea bargain. But now... it’s all about politics and-”
         “Ohh, sorry darling. I was rambling wasn’t I?” Miya laughed it off. “Anyways, back to the watercolor. Do you really think it’s good? I think I may, in time, get used to it, but after I finish this, I think that I’ll go back to oils.”
         “An old master’s style? Like you did with Daddy?”
         “Who would I paint though? I always do much better with live subjects.” Miya suddenly stopped eyes wide. "Wait a moment! I’ll do one of you. You’d be the perfect model.”
         “Mom, I really don’t thin-”
         “Nonsense!” Miya smiled. “We’ll start on your first holiday from school. That'll give me time to get a rough sketch done, plus some R&R from this watercolor.”
That’s my mother... Rest and relaxation from sitting and being creative. Sirian smiled and made to leave.
         “Ohh Sirian! Before you go, I have to remind you about Tenro’s party tonight.”
         “I remember, but I’m only going to keep Renna from dying of boredom.”
         “Tenro and his associates bring your father a lot of business. So please be ready on time.”
         “I’ll be ready.” Sirian sighed softly and left the parlor. Only reason Daddy gets so much business from them is because they’re all a bunch of crooks.

Sirian went up the two flights of stairs to her private floor. Yes, she had an entire floor of the mansion to herself. Though, Sirian had once shared it with her younger sister, Aida Lee. Sirian took a small key from her key ring and unlocked a door at the beginning of the hallway. It was a beautiful room for a little girl of three years old. Her parents had kept the room like a cenotaph to Aida Lee’s memory. A pink and lavender trimmed canopy bed was made up with white lacey sheets. There was a white dresser with matching mounted mirror and end tables. Various stuffed animals were evident, as was a bookcase filled to the brim with Barbie-dolls in mint condition. A miniature vanity stood just outside the private bathroom, and there was still a neat row of sample perfumes along the top. Aidee had loved playing dress up and a game she called “be like Mommy.”
The three-year-old would imitate everything Miya did. Instead of being annoyed with Aidee, Miya would just laugh and give Aidee a trinket of some sort and remind her to share with her big sister. Aidee would laugh sweetly and promise to share. Of course, at the time, a five year old Sirian would pretend right along side her sister, all the while trying to be as much of a big girl as she could be.

Eleven Years Ago

“Seeree! Let’s visit Ren! She’s got great toys and a pony!” Aida Lee said tugging Sirian’s sweater.
         “Okay, okay!” She said. The two sisters got permission from their mommy and went next door. It was a long walk, but both girls loved being outdoors. Coming upon the next-door-neighbor’s property, Sirian called out. “Rennie!”
A little girl was swinging quietly in a gigantic playground. The three friends played for at least an hour. Climbing over the jungle gym, sliding, and jumping from what they thought were high places. Exhausted, they went into the house to have a quick teatime and then back to the seriousness of playing.
         “Where’s your mom and dad, Rennie?”
         “Dunno, let’s make some cookies, Cooky showed me how.” Renna laughed at her own silly joke. “First we turn the ofven on till the numbers are 3 7 5 all in a row.”
         “Ren gots bad countin!” Aidee giggled.
         “Do not! It’s the tepertur.”
         “Ooooh,” Sirian and Aida Lee said at the same time. During the next few minutes, the three girls began packing ingredients into a mixing bowl. When the batter was finished, they splattered the gooey mess onto cookie sheets and sat at the table to wait.
         “Renna Tenro! You are in so much trouble young lady!” The cook, Minnie, said coming into the large kitchen. “Look at this mess. I’ll be telling your father about this. Now go outside!”
They all went out the back door, a sadder bunch was never seen.
         “I just wanded cookies,” Ren said, blinking tears back.
         “Here’s brownies girls,” Minnie said coming onto the lawn. “I’m sorry I yelled at you. But the kitchen can be a dangerous place when no one is watching.”
         “Cookie’s burnin’” Aidee said looking at the wisp of smoke coming from the open back door. “Gotta get em ’for they’s all messed up.”
The rest was a blur. Aidee ran into the house, Minnie screaming after her. Then there was the explosion...

         “The world stopped, Aidee... It really did. Renna moved away before your funeral. Daddy and Mr. Tenro went into business together... So much happened so quickly.” She paused. “You would be fourteen now; a freshman at Ellet, and boys would be starting to notice you.” Sirian smiled ruefully. “You’d be gorgeous, like Mom. Everyone always said that you looked like her and I looked like Daddy. I miss you Sis.”
         “We all do,” Yukio said coming into the room.
         “Ohh, I didn’t see you there.”
         “It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who comes up here to sit and talk to her.”
         “You don’t think I’m crazy?”
         “For loving your little sister? Of course not.” Her father came over and sat next to her. “You don’t have to come to the party tonight. I did buy you a dress though. I know you hate stuffy dresses. But like I said, you don‘t have to go.“
         “I’ll go Daddy,” Sirian said getting up. She kissed her father on the cheek. “Thank you for the dress, I’m sure it’s beautiful.”


That was an interesting party. What was Saienta doing there anyways? What does it matter though? I’ll just be glad for this day to be over... Sirian fell asleep, too tired to notice that her childhood friend Renna had never said goodbye to her when the Tomi’s left the party...

The next morning, Sirian went through her normal routine and set off to school. As she was at her locker Cedric Theodore the III came waltzing up to her.
         “Hey,” he said in a voice that was supposed to be charming.
         “Hello,” Sirian said sweetly. “So what’s up?”
         “Nothing much. You?” What is this the Morgan replay?
         “Yea, I was thinking that you and I could go to the ball together.”
         “Really?” Sirian fluttered her eyes sweetly. She placed a hand on his cheek and traced his jaw line. Cedric fell into her lure, hook, line and sinker. “So, you could pick me up at seven in the limo right?” He nodded.
“I’d be wearing a sexy red dress, or would you prefer black?” Sirian pouted softly and slowly licked her upper lip. He half-smirked. ”Red’s good.”
         “I think so too. Then after the party, we could take the limo to a really secluded place...“
         “Yea?“ he asked, urging her to go on.
         “And you would wake up all sweaty. Know why?“
         “Yea, I do.”
         “No, it gets better. Because dreams are like that. And your dreams would be the only place something like that would happen. I’m not going to be anyone’s trophy girlfriend and I sure as hell am never going to sleep with you.” Sirian whipped around to see Saienta smirking into his locker. “Besides, I know about the bet.”
         “What?!?!” Cedric was shocked, but the look on his face was nothing compared to what happened next.
         “You were only talking loud enough for the whole world to hear last night.” She walked over to Saienta. “You’re welcome, but I think you owe me though.”
Saienta looked expressionlessly at her. "Oh?"
         "You can repay me by taking me to the dance.”
         “What?” he said, “I’m not going.”
         “You are now.” She paused. “Motorcycles aren’t exactly conducive for dresses and heels. So, I‘ll pick you up at seven.”

That said, Sirian sauntered to her first class of the day.

The hallways were packed during the beginning of lunch; kids almost running from there last class, avoiding whatever assignments were due only to have to stubble into another classroom with even more assignments. Annaleace found her locker in better time then yesterday and began walking toward the cafeteria, not worrying about finding Ryan today.
         “Annaleace, hey wait up.” Annaleace turned around to see who was calling her and was met by a girl with the longest hair she’d even seen.


“Knock knock,” Annaleace knocked on the door as she walked in the room. Cloths were scattered across the floor, and the walls were lined with Carmon Electra and posters from the “suppose” to be next big action movie. The bed was in the middle of the room, between two large windows. And in the middle of the bed was a body, a pillow over the head and blankets covering the rest.
         “Go away.”
Annaleace closed the door behind her and crept up to the bed. She was as quiet as she could be, but Ryan still heard her.
         “Lacey, Go Away! I’m trying to sleep,” he sounded more annoyed with her than anything: so she didn’t turn back. Instead she crawled onto the other side of the bed and poked her brother in the back.
         “Don’t you wanna heard about my day?”
         “Not really. I’m trying to sleep like I was doing until you came in.” The pillow seemed to be surgically attacked to his head.
         “Hey come on, its your fault we had to move here anyways!” Annaleace signed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that.”
Ryan turned around and took the pillow off his head and hit her with it. “Yes you did, you know you did.”
She smiled at him and took the pillow out of his hands and put in under her head. “Ok, so maybe a little bit.”
Ryan laughed, “So are you going to tell me about your day or can I get back to sleep?”
         “Well in English, some of the desks were… I don’t know like cut into or something so when people sat in them they’d brake and ya it funny. And than my English teacher gave out these assignments and I’m with this girl I think her name is…Marie? Oh well I’m not too sure. And then at lunch this girl came up to me and we were talking and she introduced me to some of the footballs guys and I think there teams pretty good here. I mean I saw some football trophies in the display case at the front of the school. But ya that was my day, how was yours?”
         “Oh and I totally forgot,” Ryan had a really annoyed look on his face, Annaleace brushed if off and continued talking, “there’s the homecoming dance next week, and its on a ship! Can you believe that? Its like the more money people have the more they want to show it off you know. Ok, I’m sorry you can tell me all about your day sleeping and calling mom twenty times to get her to bring you soup.”
Ryan looked over at her and smiled, “Hey I only called her twice!”


Annaleace tossed her bag onto the passengers’ seat as she stepped into the drivers. She turned on the engine to find Led Zeplin screaming at her. She turned down the radio and changed the station as she pulled out of the driveway.

7:30, it was too early to be up, but school never waited for everyone to be there before the bells rung. The student parking lot was circular; there were already twelve cars there when Annaleace pulled in. It must have rained through the night; the pavement was darkened and squawked under her running shoes as she walked up to the front doors.

The halls were pretty full; her locker was around the corner from the head office. She saw a few people who she recognized from classes, the rest were strangers. After tossing her stuff in her locker she picked out her English blinder and walked back out the front doors, and sat on the picnic tables. It was only 7:55, she still had twenty-five minutes till the bells rung.

Soon Sirian pulled up and parked her black sports car. As she walked up the steps Annaleace called her, “Sirian. Over here.”
Sirian turned around, she gave a wave as she started walking over to her. “Hey”. She smiled as she sat down beside Annaleace.
         “Hey. So what’s new?”
         “Nothing much. Are you going to the homecoming dance?”
         “Umm I don’t know,” Annaleace looked down at her feet as she shuffled them around. “I don’t know anybody and it’d be weird…”
         “But that’s just one reason you should go, you can meet everyone.”
         “Well I guess if Ryan goes I’ll go too.”
         “Who’s Ryan? Boyfriend?” Sirian’s looked curious. Annaleace clenched her teeth, “Ewww no he’s my brother.”
Sirian laughed, “Oh ok, so he goes here too? I haven’t heard of him, well maybe its cause I have no classes with him. Is he older or younger?”
         “Neither,” Annaleace sighed, “he’s my twin.”
         “Wow you have twin? That must be so cool!”
         “Umm ya I guess sometimes, I mean…” Annaleace was interrupted by the warning bell.
         “Well sorry I have to get to class and hopefully not late, so I’ll see you in English?” Sirian started gathering up her books, and her and Annaleace began walking toward the doors.
         “Ya see you there, bye.”

As soon as she got in the building Annaleace started walking toward the stairwell. It seemed as if every student in Ellet was heading in the opposite direction than she was, so she clung to the railing on the stairs. She looked up to realize she had no time to move before running into a guy with dark brown messy hair. The collision was unavoidable. Everything in her hands went up in the air than fell across the steps. Annaleace fell to her knees and so did the guy.
         “Shit I’m sorry, I..”
         “Hey,” a voice snapped, “watch where you’re going. Stupid girl.” The guy got up and continued walking down the stairs.

Annaleace began picking up her the contents of her binder that were scattered underneath the feet of Ellet’s students.
         “Need some help?” Annaleace looked up to see a fairly cute guy with shoulder length blonde hair. She smiled, "that might be nice. Maybe I could make it on time to class.”
The guy laughed, “yeah, teachers usually get mad when your late. Your new here right?”
         “How could you tell?”
         “Well,” He handed her a stack of papers, “you tried to apologize to Saienta when it wasn’t your fault. I’m Tidus by the way.” He got up off his knees and put his hand out.
         “Annaleace,” she pushed her binder and papers to her other arm and took his hand. “Saienta, was that his name? He seems like a jerk to me.”
Tidus laughed, “Well he is. What class you have?”
         “English.” They began walking back up the stairs.
         “Sounds like fun, which teacher?”
         “Miss... Umm, I think it’s Silvalet.”
         “A friend of mine has this block too. Maybe you know him, his names Corey?”
Annaleace thought about it for a minute, “I recognize that name but I cant put a face to it right now. Well here’s my stop.” They stopped in front of a closed door. “Thanks for the help.”
         “Not a problem, and hey don’t worry about it, Saienta’s a jerk.” Tidus looked down at his watch, “I gotta get going, but I’ll talk to you again. Bye.” He started walking toward the end of the hall.
         “Bye,” Annaleace tried the doorknob, but it was locked so she knocked on the door. Miss. Silvalet opened the door and gave her one of those “your late” looks.
         “I’m sorry, I ran into someone on the stairs and had to pick up my binder.”
         “It's ok this time, just try not to be late everyday. Take your seat.”
A Non-Existent User

          Elli grabbed her tray and glanced down at it. “You wouldn’t happen to have spicy orange chicken or even filet mignon, would you? Maybe even gourmet chocolate chip cookies or those little brownies with the green filling in them, with nuts on top? Maybe even caviar? How about--”

          “How about I slap on a hairnet on your head and make you come in here? I swear, every day, I want to throw a pie in your lovely face or put arsenic in your mashed potatoes.”

          “Yeah, you have a good day too, lady,” Elli said, walking away from the lunch line. “Crazy wrench,” she muttered to herself, looking around. But soon, I will miss all this. The chaos, the blood, the cafeteria slop…

          She suddenly spotted Gwen and her friends. She casually walked over and smiled at them. “Hey Gwen,” she said in a fake friendly voice. “How are you today? My, don’t you look nice!”

          “Do I know you?” Gwen asked, with a confused look. Her high-maintenance friends produced the same look.

          “Yeah, you should. Elli, remember? I told you not to forget. ‘Tis such a shame you did…such a lowdown dirty shame….”

          “I don’t remember.”

          “The bathroom, remember?”

          “The bath--? Oh…now I remember you. You filthy bitch!”

          “Yep, that’s me!”

          Gwen stood up. “You still have to apologize to me for what you said.”

          “Oh, I think my memory is in a coma like yours…um…why should I apologize?”

          “Because!” she led Elli away from her table. “Because I’m more valued than you, obviously. You’re nothing. Plus, you must consider people’s feelings.”

          “What the …? What shit do you smoke this morning?”

          “Do it!”

          “Oh, so now you’re commanding me? Sorry, you’re not my superior. In fact, I outrank you. I’m in the twelfth grade. I don’t take orders from a skinny, blonde Britney Spears wannabe. And if you don’t watch out, I will personally make sure the rest of your years here will be a nightmare in hell.”

          “’The rest of my years’?”

          “Yeah. Knowing you, you’re going to be in this grade for awhile. You stupid heifer.”

          Gwen turned red and held her temper in.

          “What are you going to do?” Elli asked her. “Maim me with your pom-poms? Torture me with your cheers? Brainwash me with your Nazi-like techniques?”

          Gwen threw up her hands in frustration and walked back to her table. She then directed her crew to the nearest bathroom. “Have fun at your bulimic party!” Elli called out to them.

          She turned and bumped into a tall guy. Her tray flew from her hands and her lunch spilled all over the floor. Some of the food and her drink hit her school uniform.

          “Oh fuck, oh shit,” Elli said to herself. She looked at the guy. It was Cedric.

          “Hey you big oaf, watch where you’re going!” she told him. She then looked at the spilled food. “There goes my lunch for the day…”

          “Hey,” Cedric said, walking closer to her. “You were the one who bumped into me. You should watch out.”

          Elli looked up to him. “Thanks to you, you ruined my lunch and my uniform.”

          Cedric looked at her and smiled. “It actually doesn’t look bad on you,” he said, indicating to the food on her chest. “Why, I would say it goes well with your eyes. You have a nice form, you know.”

          “Yeah, I know I’m sexy and beautiful. We’ve been over that many times. The point is, what are you going to do about my lunch?”

          “What I’m going to do?”


          “How about taking you to the ball?” he said, walking behind her and slipping his arms around her, squeezing her. “You could wear something slinky and black and I could pick you up in a white limo…”

          “Sorry, I’m allergic to limos,” Elli sarcastically said.

          “Well, it doesn’t have to be a limo. It could be anything you want, baby…”

          “Don’t call me ‘baby’, you stupid baka,” Elli said, pulling away. “And for your information, I already have a date to the ball.”

          “You do? Who?” Cedric had to know.

          “Um…” Elli looked around frantically around the lunchroom. She spotted a familiar face. “Um…Corey.”


          “Yeah, he’s going to be my date. Since he knows how to treat a lady very well.”

          “I can treat you very well, Elli. I know I can.”

          “See, that’s where you’re wrong. That’s why you don’t have a date yet. Corey is truly a man. He can do everything better than you can. Know why? Because he can.”


          “See, you can’t understand. You’re not Corey. Well, better go. I have to talk to Corey about our after-ball plans. It’s going to be his lucky night, and I’ll be right there with him…”

          “Oh man…”

          “Yeah, so sorry,” Elli said. She was enjoyed torturing Cedric. “But hey, if you’re still looking for a date, might I suggest Gwen? I heard she’s totally into you…”

          “Really?” he asked.

          “Oh most definitely. She secretly has convulsions when you are near her. Why do you think she ran to the bathroom so quickly? It’s because she saw you…”


          “Yeah, so you better ask her! She’s too nervous to ask you.”

          “Hmm…okay. She might not be as cool as you, or as hot, but I’ll take what I can get.” He looked at Corey. “He’s a lucky son-of-a-bitch.”

          “Yeah, well, that’s just the way the ball bounces. So, see you later. Bye.” Elli quickly walked away toward Corey’s table, where he sat alone. Cedric angrily stared at him and watched Elli sitting beside him, giving him a grand hug. Cedric shook his head and left the cafeteria.

          “Thank god, he’s gone,” Elli said, letting go of a surprised Corey. “So, hey, how are you, old sport?”

          “Pretty good…um, what was that, Elli?”

          “What was what, dear Corey?”

          “The hug…”

          “Oh! I was just showing my affection to you, that’s all. After all, you’re my date to the ball…”

          “What?! Elli…”

          “Shh! Not so loud!”

          “I am not going to the ball…”

          Elli gave him a sad puppy-eyed look. “You don’t want to be my date?”

          “It’s not that, it’s just that, I don’t want to go."

          “Listen, Corey,” Elli said, grabbing him by the shoulders. She squeezed them tightly, almost causing Corey to yell. “I had to lie to Cedric about you taking me. Why? Because I’m tired of him stalking me. And I’m tired of Gwen. In fact, I’m tired of everyone around me. They live in some sick fantasy, where everything is happy and easy for them. Fuck them.”

          “You sound like someone I know,” said Corey.

          “And so with that known, you will take me to the ball and you will be my date for the entire night. No ifs, ands, or buts, okay?”

         “I won’t go,” Corey said firmly.

         “Corey,” she sang sweetly, “you will go. You don’t want an enemy."

“No, I don’t. I don’t want to go to the ball either, but if I do, I’ll make the decision to ask you out…”

         She let go of his shoulders so he finally could breathe and sat down beside him again.

         "You will make the decision?"

         "Yes," he said, looking up at her from his tray.

         "Well...will it keep Cedric from stalking me?"

         "If he asks, I'll lie and say we're going, even if I haven't made the decision..."

          She smiled at him and began persuading him into it. “It’s going to be fun, Corey. Don’t worry. I’ll see to it we have lots of fun. Even if that means terrorizing the others. It’s my last year, and I want to make the most of it.”

          Corey shook his head, hiding his smile.

          “So pick me up around seven? Or around then?” Elli asked hopefully. “Whatever fits your schedule.”

          “How about never?” Corey said in a low voice as he smirked jokingly.

          Elli messed up his hair and took half of his lunch. “I heard that,” she said, taking a bite into a sandwich. Corey looked at her. “Hey, I lost my lunch, the least you could do is share,” she said in between bites.

          Corey smiled again and handed her a napkin. “Thanks,” she said.

          Across the cafeteria, they could hear Gwen’s squeal of delight. “Guess who I’m going with to the ball?” she excitedly said. “Cedric!”

          “Cedric?” the cheerleader robots said in a monotonous tone.

          “Yeah! And he’s bringing me gifts! Lots of pretty gifts! Oh, who knows what he might get me! Maybe that gorgeous tennis bracelet I saw at the jewelry store in town. Or maybe the diamond choker necklace. Or maybe…”

          “The older I get, the more I’m beginning to understand that girls are just too weird, “ Elli said to Corey. He nodded to that.


Written by Samantha and Akira

“I’ll tell you something about me, something I’ve never said before, Corey. I’ve learnt two things in my life- my great lifespan of 17 years- some parents give a shit and some don’t… Second thing: some people give a shit about you and others don’t. I’ve met too many in the latter group, hence my decision not to give a shit about them…”
At that time, Corey stared into his averted eyes and felt, for the first time, lost in a reflection, and could relate to it so well. From what he knew of Saienta, he was in a world different from his own, and that was the way he chose to tolerate life, which what separated them from being, possibly the same.

Friday afternoon after school Corey reached the black automatic gate closing of his house from other property. The three storey mansion walls were cream, the window frames crimson red, the front door a black in addition to the tiled roof; The Akaino Estate. He flipped open a box and dialled in the pin code and the gate moved inward to a concrete path that led to the front doorstep. The gate swung closed with an eerie rattle of clinging metal.
Closing the door behind him, he threw his bag beside the entrance and hung up a key on a hooked rack, holding many keys that opened various places inside the house. Around the big living room hung red curtains on the windows. All the walls inside the house were a creamy white and the ceiling a grey. The most recent plasma television had been built into the wall and a surround sound stereo system that hadn’t been released yet was hook up to it. Many delicate statues of geisha robed in autumn colour kimonos were placed around the house. Once he had kicked off his shoes, Corey walked over to the desk he had fallen asleep at many times and played back several messages on the phone. One was from Leon, the other calls were important business men wanting to speak to his father, and one from his father checking up on Corey’s pool heating assignment his father had set for him. Around the house a lot of the electronics equipment was originally designed and built by him. He had wired the whole house with a video-face intercom system when he was twelve, had invented various models of phones, including the one Saienta stole, and was now creating a system to heat pools in three minutes or less. The project was certainly challenging; he liked challenges, they kept him busy and preoccupied from his troubled thoughts whenever he sat around at home; a silent and empty place.
The biggest room on the first floor was the indoor Pool Room at the back of the house, centred by two rooms on either side; one being a sonar and the other a shower room to rid oneself of chlorine. To his right was a staircase and at the foot of it was another large room full of gym equipment. Beside the staircase was a passageway that led into the Pool Room, lined with several short bamboo sticks behind each Japanese light.
Feeling hungry, he walked into the kitchen to his left and grabbed an apple, unable to cook very well, and then made his way to the Pool Room, chewing on grains of apple broken off with his teeth.
The tiled floor was cold beneath his feet. Above his head the ceiling was an artistic spiral. The pool was pear shaped; the stairs into the pool were on the other side where the stem would be, had it been a pear. In every corner of the Pool Room was the same water feature; a bamboo log, pouring water into a little pond, making a thunk every time the log tipped and hit a particularly large rock, spilling the contents of the water to steam down over the rock and into its pond. Japanese styled houses were in. Corey liked it that way.
I’ll have to wire and install the solar panels tomorrow, he decided as he lifted his eyes to the ceiling. The roof was the best location he could place the solar panels for best effect…Strewn across the floor were wires, screws, bolts, equipment he needed to make and program systems.
He threw the apple core into a bin and went upstairs to shower before having to leave for work, and left the house in unusual dark blue jeans and a white button up shirt, smelling lightly of Cool Water for men. Both the legs of his pants had denim crisscrossing belts you could adjust; he always kept them on its loosest. He slid the silver ring he wore everywhere back onto his finger from having taken it off to shower.

The place was busy but the hours crawled by in his impatience. All through work he kept a straight and expressionless face; Mr Croswell was back and never missed an opportunity to snap at him over the smallest thing and order him around like he was incompetent. Corey wasn’t going to let it provoke him, but it steadily started to touch his nerves and had to try hard not to do something highly satisfying (like telling him where to shove it) and regrettable (like losing his job). It got to a point where every little thing began to annoy him, but he beard with it.
As usual, he took an item from the counter and slid it through the scanner without looking at who he was serving.
“Let me just say, you suck at customer service, Corey.” Corey looked up in surprise to see Elli, grinning slyly at him. She wore a black sleeveless shirt with silk silver material cut diagonally across her chest and under her bust that broke off into two silk ribbons which she tied up at the back, showing a bit of cleavage, and wore pale blue hipster flare pants. He gave her a small smile.
“Hey, what’s up, Elli?”
She looked around and then leaned forward. “I’m hiding.”
“From who?” Corey asked, with a raised eyebrow and pressed a few buttons in to the cash register.
“The cops... I was hungry, you see, and I saw a packet of hot donuts steaming from inside a police car. Lucky for me and unfortunate for them, the window was open, so I swiped them and ate them on the way here to buy some blank CD’s…” And then she laughed at the look on his blank face. “Didn’t realise you were the gullible type.”
Mr Croswell, who stood some distance away, kept glancing over at Elli’s breasts. Elli saw this and cunningly lifted her hand slowly to her chest and stuck up her rude finger. Corey didn’t notice this.
“I’m not,” he replied. “I’m not sure anyone would believe that.”
Elli then pretended to itch her chest with her finger and Mr Croswell showed no sign of embarrassment as he noticed Elli was aware of his gawking and lurked out of sight quickly like some wild bad-tempered animal from having been denied a delight.
“Gwen would,” she said at random with distaste on her face once again. He looked up at Elli for a moment as he put the CD’s into a plastic bag.
“Have you made a decision yet? The ball. And don’t worry about the bag, don’t need one…” she said, watching him over the counter.
“Nope,” he said awkwardly after a pause and handed her the CD’s. Truth be told, he hadn’t given it much thought since that time in the cafeteria. “Ten dollars…”
“Well, hurry up and make one!” She gave him the exact amount needed. “See you later.” And she walked out of the shop. Her impatience did nothing to improve his mood. If he was to go to this cruise, he would ask her, but he wasn’t going. She really was an unusually OK person, one Corey wouldn’t mind understanding better.


The next day, a bit past twelve, Corey sat on the floor of the Pool Room when Saienta’s voice sounded through the speaker on the video-face intercom.
“Er…hello? Is this thing on? Can I get some service out here?”
Corey gave him directions through the house to reach the indoor swimming pool through the intercom next to the arched entrance frame. It was a little startling to have Saienta as his first guest but was content and composed all the same. Saienta had decided on his own to come and work on the paired project. While Corey read over his notes, several minutes later Saienta entered through the archway and lifted a hand in greeting. “Nice house,” he said. Saienta wore his usual black pants with straps and buckles that went around his knees up to his upper-thighs and a red, white hooded jacket; its zip hidden under a white trimming down his front.
Corey looked up from a small box of metal and screwdriver in his hands. “Thanks.” He was among a heap of wires and equipment which Saienta had to step carefully through to get to him and then he picked up a sheet of notes among the mess.
“What are you working on? Saienta asked, as Corey tightened a screw with the screwdriver.
“A pool heating system to heat the water in three minutes or less.”
“What for?”
“A project my old man set for me, like the intercom system and gate.” When he could no longer move the screw further he carelessly threw it aside.
“Sounds technical,” Saienta murmured, reading the programming list.
“I just completed the computer programming aspect, the interface is over there,” he pointed to a small flat screen by the archway. “Took a few months. I’m just wiring it all up, attaching the heaters and installing the solar panels. It probably isn’t interesting to you,” Corey said as an after thought. Saienta shook his head.
“No, it sounds good, want some help with those?” he asked, pointing to the 2x1 metre slab of solar panels.
“Yeah.” He grinned appreciatively. It was strange how casual he felt. Perhaps it was Saienta’s confidence, being and knowing where he was, that caused Corey to be more himself. They were both strangers still, but the few times they had talked Corey found they had a lot of common factors and could relate to him, whereas he couldn’t with any in school.
“How do we get them up there?” Saienta looked up through the glass walls, outside. It was a nice blue sunny day with a small amount of cloud coverage. A ladder was positioned close by outside and Corey pointed out the pulley system he devised.

It was a little breezy on the roof. It had taken them an hour until they were both resting on it, gazing at the many fields and acres of the Akaino estate. The heavy solar panels were near them, and Saienta lit up a cigarette.
“So much land. You ever go out there?”
“What for?” Corey wondered.
“Just to…you know…use it?”
“Sometimes…” He watched the grass swaying in all directions and had indeed walk out there sometimes, just to laze about in the sun with the wind in his hair and on his face as he descended into contemplation, but preferred to keep that piece of information to himself. Corey got up and walked over to unpack the wires. Saienta helped to connect them once he finished his cigarette.
A spark flew from Corey’s side and they both laughed. “I guess I should have unplugged it first. Too much hassle though.”
Saienta and Corey’s hand were tangled together in the wires. “Here, hold this,” Corey said, passing a blue wire over and had let go after being shocked. He flexed his hand by tightening it into a fist and relaxing it.
“Shit!” Corey said. “Didn’t hurt, don’t worry.”
Saienta laughed. “This shit is more dangerous than Red Tide.”
Saienta received a shock also and pulled away, shaking his hand. Corey laughed and took the wire and as they both held it they both were shocked with a strong electric current. Saienta cursed loudly and they both jumped back, standing and laughing.
“You alright?” Corey asked.
“Yeah, you?”
“Yeah.” And continued to laugh in amusement at themselves. “If my dad or Leon saw us doing this, they would never let me run Akaino tech,” Corey mused. Saienta slapped him on the back.
“Don’t worry, we could make our own industry. We’ll call it Akaino & friend tech.” He grinned.
A side to Saienta he had never seen at school, where he was unapproachable and dark, showed through like sunlight pouring out of a gap in a thick grey cloud, and could bet is ring not one person in Ellet had seen this side of him before which made him feel - honoured. Corey suddenly felt warmth on the back of his neck.
“Oh, shit!” Corey yelled. They both turned and ran over to the wires which were now in a blaze of flames. Saienta cursed and they took off their jackets to beat the fire out. It seemed to be a funny yet a bad thing at the same time. Their jackets were smoking and burn holes formed from the flames.
“We need water,” Saienta exclaimed. It was ironic that they were above the room that held the most water but couldn’t get a drop. Eventually they extinguished the fire and their jackets were nothing more than burnt rags. Their faces and exposed skin had smudges of ash on them and they sat, exhausted, watching the wisps of smoke rise into the wind. “It smells,” Saienta said.
“The plastic from the wires,” Corey explained, looking back at the burn mark mess of melted wires. “I think we should put the panels…there.”
Saienta began to laugh until they were both hysterical. “Corey, funny shit happens around you.”
“This is the first time I’ve have a guest over…maybe it’s you.” Corey grinned at him. Saienta shrugged and pulled out a cigarette.
They finished installing the panels and retreated into the house. “There’s still a lot more to do but I’ll do it later.”


They sat on the field, overlooking more fields and a small forest. Saienta pointed, “That one looks like Gwen’s face,” he said, amused.
Corey looked at the same cloud, “Looks like a blob to me.”
Corey grinned and then they fell into a content silence. It suddenly dawned on him, his curiousness of Red Tide that Saienta had spoken of at Mr Tenro’s birthday celebration. “Hey, how did you get involved with Red Tide?”
Saienta took a drag of his cigarette. “Hard to say, it just sort of happened. There was a time I was just a normal kid at a normal school. I remember getting into a fight outside an arcade and one of the guys - Reeva - saw me and it all just came together. I needed them, they needed me. I was fourteen at the time, a year older than Red Tide recruits are supposed to be.”
He thought for a moment. “Why go to Ellet then? You don’t seem to like it.”
“I don’t like it but I have to. There are things I want to do. Tell me something, Corey, why do you get so involved with Akaino business? Is it a family thing?”
Corey thought for a moment, had never been asked before; a subject he usually treaded around carefully. There were some things best kept unsaid and this was one those subjects.
“Yeah. Family business…”
“Nothing else?”
“No,” he said quickly. A long silenced passed. “What do you do as a Red Tide?”
“I’m not officially a member. I may never be, depending on how things go. We just do jobs- deal drugs, buy drugs, threat people; you know how it goes.”
It appeared to Corey that he wasn’t the only one having things kept unsaid. Surely Red Tide did more than what was said, but he didn’t resent him for not sharing. He didn’t mind at all and it actually made him feel rather glad. They both weren’t telling the full story, and then he thought for a second.
“Take drugs?” Corey asked.
“No,” he said seriously. “No Red Tide are allowed to take drugs, one of the bigger rules. Red Tide don’t want junkies working for them. It causes too much trouble anyway.”
Corey nodded in understanding and said at random, “Have you heard about this cruise?”
“Have I?” Shit, that’s all I’m hearing lately. I’m not going, that’s for sure. Anyone ask you out?”
“Yeah, actually. And I said no.”
“Really now? That doesn’t sound like you, Mr. Class president. Why’d you break the poor girls heart?”
Corey frowned slightly. “She gave me no choice, said that I was to go, no ifs, ands, or buts.”
Saienta burst out into laughter. “Another thing we have in common.”
“Someone asked you out? I didn’t think any Ellet girl would be so bold.”
“Sure,” Saienta picked up a flower and threw it, “Sirian, the girl who Cedric wanted. It was a sudden thing - she just said we were going and that’s that. I put her back in place, though. I’m not the schmoozing type. Ellet girls are always hanging out in front of Balwyn High - some of my crew go there - and try to pick up a gangster or two. They just want to be seen with someone cool or something pathetic like that. Balwyn High guys can’t stand Ellet bitches. It actually pisses them off. They can spot an Ellet girl no matter what she’s wearing. They’re like a beacon in the night.”
Corey looked at him interestedly. “I didn’t know that…”
“It’s a common thing around Balwyn. There’s rivalry or something between Ellet and their school but there’s no competition academically.”
A cloud changed shape overhead. The inside of his stomach was light, empty and he was beginning to have hunger pains. The temperature in air felt as though it dropped a few notches and the winds were more icy. Both of their hair were wildly being thrown from side to side every passing breeze. “Hungry?” Corey asked.
Saienta nodded. “Starving.”

It was a little past three o’clock. They raced each other back to the house. The back of Corey’s house towered over them. On the second floor, where a balcony was and the entire wall was glass with a chiffon curtain drawn to the one side behind the walled off balcony, you could see Corey’s favourite place in the whole house; the piano room. A grand, highly polished, red piano was centred in a white room. They reached the door to the house at exactly the same time.
Corey glanced over at Saienta’s schoolbooks on the table while they ate two minute asian noodles and wondered if it was about time they started their project, but he was having fun, the first time in a while. He rarely did his schoolwork until a few days before the due date. No one knew it took him a while to be driven to do something as expected as schoolwork, being class president at all, which he loathed. No one knew that also, but he had his reasons for being class president. He looked up from his bowl and saw Saienta stop eating and bare his teeth in a grin.
“What?” Corey asked, wonderingly.
“Nothing,” he said, eating his noddles.
“No, you have to tell me now. You can’t do that.”
Saienta laughed. “I was just thinking…what would you be like hanging around with me and R.T and how I’d be welcomed among your group.”
Corey began to wonder why a thought like that occurred to him and grew curious. “What made you think of that?”
“Don’t know, just came to me.”
Corey twirled his chopsticks in his hand as he thought briefly on his words. “Let’s find out.”
Saienta stopped. “You’re serious?”
There wasn’t anything to lose from Corey’s point of view. He didn’t know his crowd anyway, with the exception of Tidus. And he didn’t know Saienta’s crew. It was the same either way. However, Saienta managing in his crowd would be different, perhaps difficult, aware and considering Tidus’ feelings. But it wasn’t his problem how Tidus felt about Saienta. Then again Corey would be caught in the middle, inviting conflict, and began thinking maybe it wasn’t such a good idea.
Saienta spoke suddenly, “Don’t worry about Tidus, I’m not going to hurt him.”
Corey realised Saienta had noticed all the expressions on his face and smiled, amused and rather self-conscious, having had his mind practically read.
“Red Tide guys won’t hurt you either, if you’re with me, they’ll respect you. Just like how we respect friends of Reeva or Tate…”
He didn’t know who Reeva or Tate were, but figured they were a part of his gang and that Saienta obviously had high respect for them…

Corey left Saienta in the living room on the couch for a moment and he had fallen asleep. He left him alone and returned to his room where he immediately fell unconscious on his bed, exhausted from the day.

A Non-Existent User

         Sirian turned her back to him and sauntered away, leaving Saienta in a state of contempt. He looked at Cedric who seemed annoyed to have lost his night of fun. Saienta slammed his locker shut and walked over to Cedric who ignored him, pretending as though he didn’t know Saienta was waiting expectantly right beside him.
         “What?” Cedric asked as though he hardly noticed.
         “My money, $5000.” Saienta leaned on the locker, waiting.
         “She knew already, the bet is off. It’s unfair.” Cedric shut his locker and began to walk away and Saienta watched him for a moment. He walked beside him for a few steps, then turned and threw Cedric against the lockers with an impact that knocked the breath out of him and pushed his elbow into his throat, pinning him. Cedric made choking sounds and his eyes were wide; Saienta gave him a cold, dark look. “My money,” he said again. “I shouldn’t have to say it twice.”
Cedric reached for his wallet with his free hands and took out ten $1000 bills. Saienta let him go and took the money. He counted it and threw half of it at Cedric’s feet, walking away.

Saienta stopped Sirian while she was on her way to class, and he thrust her into a dark corner, much to her surprise. He pushed her against the wall by her shoulders and pinned her there, her visor falling to the ground. She looked at him strangely and made to say something but he ignored it. “Sirian,” he began with a low and harsh voice, “I don’t know who you think you are or even why you think you can talk to me and invite me out to be your escort.” He gave her a dark look, never tearing their eyes away from each other. “But I won’t go to this ball; I wasn’t planning to in the first place. Guys like me don’t have enough money to be throwing away for cruises.”
He pressed her against the wall with one hand and with the other he pushed his index finger into her forehead until she had her head pressed against the wall. She was silent, waiting, ignoring the finger.
         “I’ve turned down girls like you before who look like they have a rich and easy life, and want to be seen with someone who would be their social opposite, someone they think is dark and will show the world how rebellious they are just by being seen with me. You don’t know me; you don’t know where I live or why I even live.
I’m not ignorant, I know your life looks perfect from the outside but you have your problems like anyone else- family, friends, whatever- but observe and realize there are worse things in life, like getting caught up in a life that you can’t handle: mine.”
She was about to say something again but he kept speaking. “I’ve seen you around, you try and impress everyone; a people-pleaser who doesn’t know what she really wants. Are you gonna live, Sirian? For now, you don’t. You live someone else’s life, and someone like you can’t change someone like me. Not every body gets what they want, you should remember that.”
She looked pissed off and with a hand, knocked his hand away from her forehead. She glowered. “Don’t lecture me, I-“ she began, but he went on.
         “I’m too selfish, too prideful. I’ll tell you something- I respect Corey Akaino. If you can become friends with him and earn his respect, I might consider it but if I’m lucky you’ve already been put off me. All girls give up by this stage.”
         “Is this how you turn down all the girls?”
He gave her a measured look and let go, taking a step back. He reached up and flicked her in the forehead with his middle finger. He maintained his straight expression as he walked away, amused by the complete shock she seemed to have for flicking her in the head. People probably never got away with doing strange things to her. He heard Gwen’s voice as she ran to Sirian’s aid. “Oh my God, Sirian! Did he- I mean, oh my God, did he just assault you? Have him put in jail! Your parents are lawyers, right?”

“Elli,” he called. The tall red-head girl stopped and they stood eye-to-eye. Her face seemed to colour as though she recognized him but it was the first time Saienta had ever met her before. “Uh…yes?”
He held out his hand and a silver name-plate bracelet dangled from his finger. Her name was engraved on it. “Yours. You dropped it on the school roof.” He had found it only a few days earlier.
Her eyes widened, “Oh, right! Heh, mine.” She took it from him. “Thanks.”
They stared in silence for a moment. “Did you find what you were looking for up there?” he asked.
She opened her mouth to say something, “Ah…” She looked past him and was struck with an idea. “Ah-hehe, I’ll have to take a rain check on this conversation,” she said quickly, “my uh, best friend over there, he’s having terrible heart problems and I was just searching for him to help him out.” She said it seriously as though divulging a secret that she shouldn’t have been but was keeping Saienta in her confidences. She nodded and smiled.
He turned around and who did he see but Corey in his locker. Corey looked up and nodded in greeting towards them. “I see…” he said, nodding. “He looks healthy. I never would have guessed. You guys been friends long?”
         “Oh yeah!” she waved her hand in the air, “me and Corey go way back.”
He nodded as though he believed her and told her to give Corey his regards and walked away.

School had long been over and Saienta leaned on the rail overlooking the bay with his half-sister. They spent time together every now and again, though he was unsure why exactly. They liked each other, for the most part but it was not love, not the kind shared between most siblings. They were more like friends.
Alexia stretched and yawned, then smoothed out her grey pleated school skirt. She had jet-black shoulder-length hair, styled perfectly with layers at the front. She smiled at him with her perfect white teeth and leaned on the railing next to him, gazing at the sky with her jade-green eyes. Their school bags lay between them at their feet. Saienta glanced at her and turned to watch the sunset. “Thanks for the birthday present, by the way,” he said.
She grinned and bounced around a little, eyes twinkling. “Really?”
         “Sure, who doesn’t like a box full of origami stars and flowers?”
She stuck out her tongue at him and he half-smiled. She was silent for a moment but it was the kind of silence that meant she was about to explode with something.
         “Ner! I was only kidding, you knew that. That was only part of it. Here’s the real present.” She handed him a small wrapped box excitedly and waited for him to open it, chewing on her lower lip. He took his time on purpose, torturing her, and pulled back the white tissue paper inside to reveal the present.
         “You like it?!” she asked, looking ready to shake him by the shoulders for an answer.
He laughed. “I love it.” He put it on. “I needed a new watch. Why not a Rolex? Thanks Alexia.” It wasn’t bad; it was stylish- black and silver and not too extravagant.
She jumped and hugged him and he held onto the rail to keep from falling. “Woah…”
         “I knew you’d like it! My dad loves these kinds of watches.”
He had to keep from laughing. She was so sweetly naïve and at times it made him wish his life had been different. For some reason he had liked the box of origami she had given him more; he had imagined the time and effort she had put into making every flower and every star but he didn’t say anything.

After a few minutes, Alexia turned to him. “Are you going on that cruise ball thing?”
         “I don’t know, I don’t think so. Why?”
She shrugged.
         “Did someone from my year level ask you to go?” He knew she was popular with many of the guys from school, even the ones above her year. Alexia was a year below him. Fortunately, Alexia was too smart academically to be anything like Gwen or her pets.
         “Yes…” she looked down into the water.
         “Who?” he asked. He wondered which of the guys in his class asked her out and if he knew who it was. Hopefully it wasn’t anyone like Cedric or he would have to do something about it…
         “If I tell you and you don’t like him, will you hurt him?”
He laughed. “Alexia, I won’t hurt him if he hasn’t done anything to you.”
         “Okay. Um…It’s Tidus.” She looked at his face for his reaction. Saienta’s face didn’t change.
         “I see… Tidus will treat you well. You’ll have fun.”
She nodded quickly. “I’ll only go if you go!”
He looked at her. “Why?” This was a problem, he didn’t want to go and he didn’t want to be responsible for Alexia missing out.
         “Because if you go then I know I’ll be safe and I’ll be happy knowing you’re happy. Besides…you never go anywhere and you never seem to have much fun. You said it’ll be fun…”
He rubbed the back of his neck. “Alexia…”
         “Please?” she asked, looking up at him pleadingly. “I don’t know anyone else the way I know you in the 11th grade. I’d be too nervous on my own with a bunch of strangers, it’d be okay, even if you’re just outside.”
         “Who am I supposed to go with? I’d be…”
She stuck out her tongue. “Liar! I bet girls have already started asking you out and you’re fighting them all off with a pole. You always pretend you don’t notice they’re around.” She bared her teeth in a cute grin. “Sai…? I bet any girl would be surprised and proud to have you ask them out. Besides, you never care if you’re around by yourself.” That was true enough, he knew. “Pleeease?”
         “…I’ll have to think about it,” he trailed off.
         “Yay!” She hugged him around the waist tightly and he patted her on the head. He grinned.

         Saienta sat on the long couch waiting for Corey to return, listening to Corey’s song, Hoobastank- The Reason. I’ve found a reason to show…a side of me you didn’t know, a reason for all that I do and the reason is you…
He found himself becoming drowsy, his eyes feeling heavy and before he could help it, he was asleep.
He dreamed of strange places, of destroyed cities being overgrown with nature and strange people who eyed each other warily as though they were suspicious of one another. He could still hear Corey’s music as it played and it became distorted, in place of drums and guitars were bells and chimes until it sounded almost cute.
He was standing in front of Corey and before he had realized, they were already deep in conversation but he couldn’t hear the voices of himself or Corey.
         ”Whatever happens, we’re in this together. I’m not going to let you drown,” Corey said.
Saienta felt his body become solid and he looked at Corey strangely but it had no effect, as though he couldn’t see it.
         ”What are you on about, Corey?”
Corey kept on speaking in his serious way, ignoring him.
They had blood splattered on them and Corey had a cut above his left eyebrow that was still bleeding. “I’m your brother in pact only, but it still means more than if we were real brothers, Sai. I’m not afraid of your power, I’m afraid of what it will do to you; you’ll darken, no one can reach you.”

Saienta heard the sound of chains clinking together and the chime echoed for a moment. He realized the chains were on Corey somewhere and Corey placed a hand on his shoulder- it felt slightly heavy. “Do you trust me, Sai?” His eyes pierced into Saienta’s- there was no way to lie, or to change the subject.
         “I trust you, Corey,” Saienta answered.
         “All of us? Elli, Sirian, Ryan and the others?”
He didn’t even know who half these people were and didn’t know what to say. “Who…?”
The dream faded and he heard the voice of a woman before he began to awaken slowly. The memory of the dream was gone completely by the time he had opened his eyes and peered around him to find he was on Corey’s couch with a thin blanket draped over him. He tried to recall his dream but nothing came, except that he still had the deep feeling of dread and fear in his core that had been in his dream.
He found Corey five minutes later, sleeping on his bed with his arm and leg dangling off the side, a thin blanket draped over him as well. He looked to the bedside table and saw a picture of a woman sticking her tongue out at the camera. He figured it was Corey’s mother and had a closer look, picking it up. She was beautiful and Saienta realized there were no other signs of her being around, so she must have been gone for a while.
Saienta sat at Corey’s desk and waited. He didn’t have to wait long. One of Corey’s many new phones began to ring and Corey’s hand snaked out, reached around for it and threw it under the bed. Saienta wondered if Corey was still asleep and he laughed. Corey turned his head and slowly opened his eyes. He got up and Saienta had no doubt Corey felt as bad as he did a moment ago.
         “What time is it?” Corey yawned.
Corey looked around him. “Did you put this blanket over me?”
Saienta shook his head. “No, did you put a blanket on me?”
         “It must have been…my dad. Or Leon.” Corey sounded distant and unsure so Saienta changed the subject. “Let’s go out tonight. Some of the R.T guys are playing pool.”
         “Er…yeah, alright.” He thought for a moment. “Anything is better than staying here, anyway.”
Saienta agreed. The house was huge and probably always empty. He stretched his limbs. “I’m hungry, let’s cook something.”
         “Er…cook? Serious? I’m not very good…”

“Shit, Corey!” Saienta said, beating out the flaming frying pan with a tea towel. It shouldn’t have been possible for sauce to catch fire and he groaned in frustration running a hand through his hair. Corey stood back in surprise. “I didn’t think it would go in flames…”
         “Alright, get out. I’ll do it.”
Twenty minutes later, they sat at the table and Saienta said nothing as he began to eat. Corey paused and then began to eat. “I didn’t know you could cook…and so well,” Corey said afterwards. “You should cook for me all the time.” He grinned hopefully.
         “And be your personal chef on call 24/7? I don’t think so. Thanks for the compliment though, you’re the first I’ve ever cooked for.”
         “What’s this dish called?”
         “Fettucine Carbonara.”
Corey took a sip of his drink. “Oishii.”
Saienta looked up at him. “You know Japanese?”
         “Hai,” he answered, “My father is Japanese.”
Saienta nodded. “Same story…my real father, anyway.”

“We’ll take my car,” Corey said as he locked the front door. Saienta agreed and parked his bike in the driveway. He was wearing one of Corey’s white jackets and Corey wore a dark grey jacket with red stitching. Saienta stood looking at Corey’s car in the garage and nodded in approval. “Mazda RX8, not bad Corey.”
Corey shrugged. “I had it stripped and sprayed silver last week.”
Saienta nodded. The rear doors of the sports car were unique to the RX8, called “Suicide Doors” because they opened towards the rear instead of being like the front doors. Saienta jumped in the passenger seat and watched as Corey turned on the engine.
         “Renesis,” he said.
Corey looked up. “Yeah, RX8’s Renesis Rotary engine.” He grinned. “You remind me of Leon, he knows his cars.” He switched on the small plasma display showing a digital navigational system. “Where is the place we’re going?”
Saienta gave him directions. “I’d have a car if I had enough money…and still have my Kawasaki. I’ll never part with it.” He turned on the small digital screen on in front of him and watched the end of Gone in 60 Seconds. Corey flicked on his screen and Saienta realized it was a DVD. The movie ended and Corey put in another one, even though he could only watch it at red lights. Saienta watched the first part of a Japanese movie called Azumi, and Corey kept getting beeped at from behind whenever they both became too engrossed in it to realize he should be driving, until they had to stop when they reached their destination. They parked behind the pool hall and Saienta looked over at the row of motorbikes sitting outside the door and noticed his Red Tide guys’ bikes among them. The night air was chilly and he zipped up his jacket.


The billiards hall was smoky and the click of balls and noise of the men and few women laughing filled his ears. Corey and Saienta reached the tables at the far end and were greeted by Saienta’s Red Tide crew. Tye slapped Saienta on the shoulder when he arrived and the others stopped their game. Saienta introduced Corey Akaino to Tye, Nor, Tate, and Ray. They held their pool cues with one hand and shook Corey’s hand with the other.
         “The guy from your school, Sai?” Tye asked, surveying Corey. Corey pretended not to notice as the rest of them observed him carefully, probably summing him up in their minds. Saienta approved, he had taught them how to look at each part of a person to figure out parts of their lifestyle and personality- hair, clothes, the way they stood, the way they held their hands or the way they looked you in they eye when talking, if at all- except Saienta did it less noticeably. Corey pretended not to notice and stayed as calm as he always was- confident and assured in himself, but somewhat detached and serious usually; and capable of adapting to different situations.
Saienta nodded, “Ellet guy too, but not like the rest of them.”
They seemed to approve and Tye handed them both a cue. “Know how to play?” he asked Corey. Corey shrugged. “I know a little.”
Saienta suppressed a smile.

“Shit, Corey, you’re full of surprises. You’re a non-smoker, non-drinker, an Ellet kid and you’re a fucking pool shark,” Tye exclaimed.
Corey’s mouth flinched and Saienta laughed. Saienta hit the white ball and pocketed the eight ball, winning the game for him and Corey. Tye and Nor seemed to slump at their quick loss. They had only pocketed one ball before it was Corey’s turn and he pocketed every single one of his own, with Saienta hitting the last and winning the game, although he counted the win as actually belonging to Corey.
This was one of Nor’s first times out with their Red Tide crew and he had caught on quickly that Ray, who was on the other table was not worth playing against if you wanted to lose quickly. “Another game,” he said, and turned, calling to the other table.
         “Hey, Ray, you’re on our team, Corey’s a freak too.”
Ray looked at Corey in interest – finally…a challenge.
Corey and Saienta had Tate and the other team was made up of Ray, Nor and Tye.
         “Where is Tyler tonight?” Saienta asked Tye.
         “Visiting Mekhi and Reeva in hospital, keeping them company.”
Saienta nodded and they turned at a commotion near the entrance of the pool hall, Ray’s hands in mid-air as he was placing the balls in the triangle.

They heard girls’ laughter and he watched as a group of four or five girls made their way over to their tables. Saienta recognized them through the haze and he saw Tye fixing his short blonde hair consciously. Tate checked his breath and Corey watched them all, probably wondering what was coming. Saienta stood with his arms crossed and held his cue with a hand as the leader of the girl’s crew made her way over. The other girls were kissing the guys on the cheek in greeting and the leader kissed Saienta on the cheek, smiling mischievously. That was the smile she always seemed to wear, and she moved like a feline. “Hey, Sai,” she said.
He watched as the girls looked Corey up and down with interest and kissed him in greeting too. He said nothing but smiled, if somewhat embarrassed at their attention.
         ”Hey Phoenix. Good job the other day, Sara got the message and you didn’t damage her badly; she’s apparently doing fine now.” The girls weren’t officially Red Tide but were the girlfriends and friends of the members in his crew, who were happy to help out, especially when it came to fights with girls.
She glowed at his praise and made her way over to Tye who was waiting for her. Tye pulled her close and they started kissing, tongue and all, and a little too openly for everyone to see. He put a hand in her long silky red-orange hair with the other around her waist and she had her hands around his neck. The other girls watched in amusement sitting on the couch and the guys weren’t interested as they prepared to start the game. Tate was standing with his girlfriend, his arms wrapped around her from behind as they watched the guys play. Phoenix and Tye finally pulled away and Phoenix smiled her mischievous smile, raising an eyebrow. Tye looked up towards the door. “Your boyfriend’s over there,” he said casually.
She immediately pushed him away and swiveled around on her heel. “Where?”
Tye doubled over in laughter and stood up again as she turned back to him. When he could breathe again he said, “Your boyfriend is in hospital, loser.”
She punched him in the chest. “You fucking asshole, you scared the absolute fuck out of me.”
Saienta laughed and Corey was standing next to him. “She has a boyfriend?” he asked in interest. This was probably new to him.
         “Yeah, Reeva. He doesn’t actually care if she’s with someone else but it’s disrespectful for her to be making out with Tye if Reeva’s in the same room.”
Corey nodded and glanced at Tate with his girlfriend. “Do they all do that?”
Saienta shook his head. “Only Phoenix, and Lina,” he motioned towards the couch at a pretty girl with streaks of silver in her black hair. “How are you finding the guys so far?” he asked.
Corey smiled. “They’re interesting, definitely- and humorous. They’re a lot different to my usual crowd…” he searched for the words to articulate it, “I guess they’re a little more…real, you could say.”

Saienta didn’t react. He lit up a cigarette and watched Ray break and pocket two balls. Corey went next and as he was about to strike the white, his cue slipped against the table and knocked it an inch to the side. “Shit,” Corey said, amused at himself. The girls on the couch were watching him carefully and the guys laughed.
         “Bad luck, kid,” Tye said as he was about to take his turn.
As Tye went to hit the ball, Tate released himself of his girlfriend and grabbed Tye from behind in a passionate embrace. “I love you, man,” he cried.
Tye pushed him off and punched him in the chest. “Fuck off man, that’s sick,” he paused for effect, “Not in public.”
The others broke into laughter and Tate pretended to look heartbroken.
         “I don’t want to be feeling no dick on my ass while I play pool,” Tye joked, disgusted. “Save it for your woman.” He winked at her and she smiled.

“New guy?” Phoenix asked Saienta as she watched Corey leaning on his cue, and her look suggested something Saienta disapproved of. Corey was smiling in mirth at Tate’s antics and seemed oblivious to the interest of the girls.
          “No, a friend. He’s not involved, so don’t.”
She gazed at him. “I wasn’t going to. I won’t taint him.” She smiled. “Keep like water,” she shrugged- cool and calm was her suggestion. “He’s an innocent, huh? His hands are clean.”
          “About as innocent as they come.” He lit another cigarette and she did the same.
A moment of silence passed.
          “Oh, guess what?” she said, smirking.
          “I’m coming on the Ellet cruise.”

He looked at her and raised an eyebrow. “You?”
         “Mm hmm.” She tilted her head. “I’m going with some dick, I forget his name for now, and I wanna meet the bitches there. Lina’s coming too.” She grinned. “Should be very fun.”
He laughed under his breath. Phoenix and Lina would make their mark somehow, subtly but devastatingly- they were manipulative and good at it, beautiful and charming. They only let live those they respected- Red Tide and each other- and no one at Ellet except he and Corey- they would be exempt. He wondered what they would get up to; in a word they were uncaring. People who don’t care instill fear in those that do. “Should be.”

Corey stood to the side and Ray was next to him, staring at him and had a strange grin on his face. Corey raised an eyebrow and looked at him from the side. Saienta shook his head and was about to laugh, knowing what Ray was doing and was glad he wasn’t on the receiving end this time.
          “What?” Corey asked after a moment.
Ray smiled as though he was very happy. “I farted,” he stated simply.
Corey cracked up laughing. “Then what the hell are you doing still standing on my side of the room?”
Corey started walking away but Ray followed him until Tye noticed what he was doing and jumped on Ray tackling him. They laughed and Corey watched as Tye pinned Ray to the ground. “Get your stinky self away from the new guy. Run Corey, run!” he yelled dramatically. Corey laughed and the others watched in amusement.

Saienta took his time aiming his cue, slowly examining the last two balls and deciding on the yellow at the last moment.
          “Hit your two small balls with the stick, baby,” Ray winked.
Saienta looked up and kept his eyes on him, shooting and pocketing the ball without looking. Ray’s smile disappeared. He shrugged. “One ball and the black left, Saienta, better make it count.”

Before Saienta could shoot, a bell ringtone from his old phone split the air and rendered everyone silent, including the girls on the couch; they all stared and Corey looked around wondering why everyone was suddenly tense, and he looked at Saienta inquisitively.
          “Better go,” Ray said seriously, taking his pool cue from him. “Corey’ll take your shot.”
He nodded and moved to the corner of the room, taking his phone from his pocket. The conversation and game continued where the others were but he could see it was strained. Corey glanced over from time to time but continued playing.
          “What’s the emergency?” he asked, answering his phone.
          “There’s a kid doing a runner - $200 worth – corner of Rix and Belldone,” the voice cut out and he hung up. It was all the information he needed. Belldone street was only a block away. It was strange how Red Tide always seemed to know where he was.
Saienta called Nor and Tate over and told them the details. Tate gave him a look and glanced at Nor, an inquiry as to why Saienta had chosen Nor when he was new. “He needs the experience,” Saienta said as they walked. Saienta told Corey he would only be a minute and Corey nodded.

Saienta, Nor and Tate were two streets away, he had split them up and had fixed them in positions that would corner the guy in. They were walking slowly towards the center from different directions and Saienta reached Rix street, deciding to take to the roof of a nearby shop by climbing the fire escape. The roof stretched out and connected to another and he ran across swiftly, keeping his eyes below. He received a message on his phone that the runner was wearing a dark blue jumper. The runner would be easy enough to spot regardless of his clothing. The streets were bare and the roofs of the shops and flats were low. Saienta was glad he was wearing Corey’s jacket considering the cold, unfortunately it was white and if he was spotted before he was close enough the guy had a better chance of evasion. The streets were dark and pools of light from the streetlamps were bright in contrast. Fortunately, most people never looked above them and Saienta spotted movement at the end of the street. He crouched low and called Nor and Tate, telling them to head towards Westgate bridge, and gave Nor extra instructions for the moment he reached the road. Saienta hung up his phone and ran across the next roof, jumping the meter space between the two buildings and landed with a thud. He paused at the sound and listened for footsteps or running but there was nothing but silence. He saw Nor a moment later heading in the opposite direction of the guy in the blue jumper, towards him, and Saienta ran ahead. Nor began the chase.
The sound of running filled his ears and he watched the pursuit below, ahead of him. Nor was far behind him and the guy ran at full speed towards Saienta, oblivious of the predator above him. As soon as he passed below, Saienta dropped from the building onto him and they rolled onto the cement road. Saienta was fine except for the impact which had knocked the breath out of him and the other fared worse, hitting the sidewalk- a cry of pain escaped from him and his eyes were closed.
Saienta let no moment pass as he jumped on him and began pounding his fists into his face. There was no retaliation, there was no chance for it and Saienta was strong, every strike was with full force and directly on him. It was his job to teach the boy a lesson. A boy, Saienta realized. A boy, but he didn’t stop. Blood spurted everywhere, running from open cuts on his face, from his nose, his mouth, even his ears. His mouth opened, some of his teeth were wobbling, one had fallen out and blood covered his teeth, and he choked. Saienta noticed nothing else except for hitting his target. Blood splattered on Saienta as well and Tate and Nor stood by with their hands in their pockets, watching.

Saienta heard the boy sniff and a tear escaped from his eye, mingling with his blood and rolling down into his hair, but the tear was unmistakable and finally Saienta relented, falling back on his hands to the side. He wiped his bruised and bloody knuckles on Corey’s jacket, out of breath, and he motioned for the others to search him for the drugs. He felt an ache behind his eyes and he sat on the pavement with his head in his hands to pull himself together. Adrenaline was still coursing through his body and his mind was in a state of turmoil. Nothing was on his mind but everything was on his mind. It was never easy for him to beat someone senseless. Second time this week.

          “Come on,” he heard distantly. “Let’s get back, I already called the ambulance.”
Saienta only followed soundlessly, and they knew better than to speak, say a word, touch him or even look at him while he was in his dark, impenetrable state. The wall was up, but it was up even around himself, not only to the outside world. His eyes held nothing except they seemed to look but not watch as they usually did; they held a kind of darkness that veiled his emotions. He could easily lash out and strike any one that willfully or accidentally provoked him. He had no control over his thoughts and he could remain in this state from anywhere between a few hours to a few days. He didn’t always break into this mood after jobs like these- it was always something small, subtle but no one could pinpoint exactly what it was that turned him.
He stumbled over on his own foot. Stupidity. Insanity. He stared at the closeness of the ground and was on all fours. Tate tried to help him up but Saienta turned his gaze on him, eyes flashing and Tate backed away quickly.
He ignored everything and walked into the billiards hall past the eyes that gazed at him, the strange looks, the fear, the curiosity- why was this boy covered in blood?

Saienta walked all the way to the tables at the far end and the guys stared, their laughter stopped immediately and the tension returned increased ten-fold. Corey creased his brow, wondering at the sudden change in atmosphere and turned to see Saienta covered in blood walking in a daze towards the couch and he sat. The girls had all gone and only his crew remained. Tate and Nor walked towards them and they didn’t need to ask. They shook their heads and they understood but Corey, however, did not. Only one glance and they knew to stay away. Corey took a step towards him. Saienta stared at his hands.
          “What happened…you’re covered in blood-” Corey began but Tye pulled him away.
          “Don’t-” he began, holding his arm. They knew the danger, if Saienta began striking, he didn’t stop and hit anyone who tried to stop him. No one could reach him. “-not when he’s like this…”
Corey ignored him and the RT guys stared, “Saienta, are you hurt?”
They glanced at each other and back at Corey, and then stood by…just in case.
He stared at his bloody hands…at the split knuckles, at the ground and at the ash in the carpet. Voices in his mind were broken. Yes, no, you didn’t, not. If you have two, then you really have one and then the three don’t matter. His hands are clean, my hands are broken, feel it here, see? Oh my God- like, like.
Corey was on one knee, gazing into Saienta’s eyes seriously. “You shouldn’t-” Tye was saying. Saienta blinked as though someone had slapped him and he finally noticed what he was looking at. Ellet guy too, but not like the rest of them. More like me. But not.
He turned his eyes away from Corey. “You should go home, Corey. I’ll get a lift with someone else,” he said tonelessly.

Strange occurrence, someone got through. The RT guys exchanged looks of amazement.
What the fuck.

         “I’ll take you to my place, your bike is there, and you need it, don’t you?” he spoke carefully and softly.
Saienta nodded slowly. He wanted to hurt someone and mostly himself- he could die if he really felt like it. It is so easy to die- just cut the air supply, sever the central nervous system, drain the life blood…. It was a strange feeling- somewhere deep inside he was still had sense and it told him to walk. Run, even.

He was in Corey’s RX8, he realized. Staring at a blank screen, just blackness and nothing else. Saienta’s jacket had been taken off him and Corey turned up the heater.
          “I feel sick, Corey,” he clutched his stomach and leaned over. The voices were loud and Corey’s was one of many in the distance.
          “Are you going to be alright? Maybe you should sleep in the guest room and ride home in the morning-”
Did you know that when you kill a person and he looks at you, he takes ten years off your life? Laugh at that, it isn’t not true. Pieces. You are in pieces. Fall. Fall. Fail. Rise. All like a dream but too real. Fell, fail, flail and then…and THEN you just gotta be impermanent. Got that, Sai?

Saienta had woken up and had ridden his bike home without waking Corey. His darkness stayed with him all morning as he worked the farms and then he was in the stable and Rell, his precious mare had her eyes on him. Warm comfort enveloped him when he pressed his forehead to her and put an arm around her neck, gripping her mane with his hands. “Rell…” he whispered. Silence in his mind. “I wish I was home. I haven’t had home for…” he drifted. Ever. “No home, no purpose, no life. Are you gonna- For now, you don’t. I will.” He choked and then spluttered, moving back. He blinked and looked at his dirty and scarred hands. He ran a hand through his hair and crouched to the ground, collecting himself and then Rell whinnied softy; at the same moment Saienta was himself again, as much as he could be.

Sunday morning crawled by and he sat on his bed in the garage-turned-bedroom flicking through Alexia’s origami stars, flicking them at the insides of the box, one after the other. He picked one up, it became an individual, he flicked it- it joined the rest- lost- and became part of the collective. Over and over again. His old phone suddenly rang and he sat up. The bell ringtone resounded through the garage, and seemed to be absorbed by the thick cement walls. Another emergency? Every Red Tide member had two phones, one only used for Red Tide emergencies. Saienta looked at the flashing screen- a private number. He picked it up.
         “Sai?” It was Reeva.
         “Reeva. What is it?”
         “Shit, Sai, you don’t know what’s happened, do you?”
         “What? Aren’t you in hospital?”
         “I am, and that’s why I was the one they gave the message to. There are Red Tide guys after you, officials, man. I don’t know what else you can do, but run. They’re going to kill you, Tate and Ray.”
         “Kill us? Why? What…” Saienta shook his head, not understanding.
         “They think you’ve done something, stolen something. I don’t know exactly but when you come here today, they’ll be waiting for you. Shit! I gotta go, Sai-”
Saienta held the silent phone to his ear and when he lowered it, his hand was shaking. What had they done? What? It wouldn’t matter, if they had been accused and they were going to be killed, there was no trying to stop it unless…unless they ran. They could take the warning and run. But they might kill Reeva or Mekhi or any of the others if he neglected them. Should he run…or should he face them? He gripped his trembling hand with the other and made it stop. Fuck.


         “Is this how you turn down all the girls?” Sirian quipped.
         Saienta gave her look, took a step back. He reached up and flicked her in the forehead with his middle finger. She was a little shocked, but the amused look on his face was interesting to her.Fine Saienta, I’ll give you this one. But don’t forget you still owe me and don‘t think for a second that I‘m letting you slide on this one. Just as she was about to have the last word, Gwen came running.
         “Oh my God, Sirian! Did he- I mean, oh my God, did he just assault you? Have him put in jail! Your parents are lawyers, right?”
         Gwen babbled on as Sirian watched Saienta walk away. Sirian smiled to herself. A challenge eh? Too bad he doesn’t know that challenges make my world turn. I‘m glad he didn‘t give in so early. Maybe he‘s actually worth the effort.
         “Sirian, are you even listening to me? Have him arrested, get a restraining order and get him kicked out of school! You just have to do something!”
         “Why don’t you just go and screw someone? That’s probably the only way anyone would tolerate your incessant drivel . I’m sure that Cedric would welcome some play, you know he‘s going to want payback for all your “pretty” gifts.” Sirian said.
         Gwen looked shocked and huffed. “Just because he chose me over you doesn’t mean you need to act so mean. I can‘t help it that he has good taste in girls.”
         “Gwen, honey, listen carefully and I’ll spell it out for you, okay?” Sirian started. Gwen looked infuriated, but Sirian continued on. “I turned Cedric down, not the other way around. Cedric is three things and three things only: ostentatious, narcissistic, and horny.”
         Stunned, Gwen stormed off to the other cheerleaders. Sirian looked over at them and giggled quietly as she watched Gwen retell the story. Suddenly, as if making up her mind once and for all, she waltzed over to the girls. They all stared at her like she had broken some unspoken cheerleader code of honor by telling Gwen off.
         “Can we help you?” Gwen said coldly.
         “No. I think I just realized you can’t help me. As much as I hate to admit it, Saienta was right... I’m always trying to please everyone else. So here’s the deal. I don’t want to be a cheerleader. I think it’s horrible that I was sucked into your labyrinth of insanity, but it’s even worse that I allowed it to happen. Truth is that I think most of you are prissy wannabes and I simply want absolutely nothing to do with any of you.” Sirian smiled to herself and turned to leave.
         “Sirian?” Liza said suddenly.
         “Does that mean you aren’t coming to practice tonight?”
         “Yes Liza. That‘s exactly what I mean.” Sirian shook her head slightly and walked away.

Friday- After School

         “K?” Sirian said as she and Keiji walked out to the parking lot. “Who are you taking to the dance?”
         “Dunno. Why?”
         “The impossible has happened. I don’t have a date.” She said with a laugh.
         “I though you were going with that gangster, what’s his name-”
         “Saienta. Long story... Difference of opinions.”
         “He thinks I’m a typical rich girl drone. I’m almost inclined to believe him.”
         “Sirian, you are anything but typical. I’ve known that since 1st grade. Remember when you took out that bully who pushed me off the jungle gym.”
         “He still has the scar.” Sirian laughed.
         “Why would you care about what he thinks anyways? That‘s not the Sirian I know. Besides, he’s not your type.”
         “He’s interesting. I can tell he’s at least a little intrigued by me, just be the look on his face. And frankly, I’m attracted to him. Not on a physical level, even though he is good looking. It’s more of a mental thing. He keeps me on my toes, wondering what he’s going to do next. There’s just something about him that I want to figure out. It’s almost as if he’s measuring me by a whole new set of standards. Trying to see if I can hold my own against him.”
         “Sounds like he’s not worth the trouble.”
         “That’s what I thought too, at first anyways. But the more he pushes away, the more certain I am that he’s worth the fight.” At that statement, Keiji laughed. “Oh shut up. I was being serious!”
         “I know. That’s the funny part.”
         Sirian slugged Keiji hard on the arm. Unlike most girls throwing a punch, when Sirian hit someone, it hurt. He rubbed his arm, still sniggering.
         “If I have a bruise tomorrow I’m going to-”
         “To what?” Sirian laughed. “You couldn’t so anything to me if you tried.”
         “Ya, you’re right. I’m to much of a gentleman.” He smiled. “So you need an escort right?”
         “Could you?”
         “Of course. What’s the good of having a best friend of the opposite sex if you can’t use them once in a while for back up dates.” Sirian gave him a big hug and left to go home.

Saturday Morning

         “Yes, I’d like to order some white roses, lilies, orchids, preferably a very pale lavender, and hyacinths.” Sirian said over the phone. She had been put in charge of all the ordering for the school dance. There was no budget and she had basically been told there was no limit and to order the best for the Shipwrecked Shindig.
         “Hya-what?” The florist of the telephone said confused.
         “Hyacinths. You know, bluebells.” Sirian said with a roll of her eyes. Who was supposed to be the florist anyways?
         “Ohh, well why didn’t you say so?” She said a little huffily. “How many would you like?”
         “How many do you have?”
         “Excuse me?”
         “The flowers are for a school cruise next Sunday and I need as many as I can get. Money isn‘t an object, but if you can‘t deliver enough to fulfill our needs than I‘ll go elsewhere.”
         “No miss, we’ll be able to get as many as you’d like, and we’ll even arrange them on the boat.” The florist said, this time much more congenially.
         Sirian confirmed a price and that they would be at the cruiseliner two hours before the dance began. She hung up and then dialed another number.
         “Music for All- this is Dennis how may I help you?”
         “I’m looking for a DJ to work next Sunday night on a cruise ship.”
         “How many hours?”
         “4-6. Maybe more.”
         “Well, the only DJ I have for that long a period of time is Solomon.”
         A DJ named Solomon? Hope he isn’t as boring as his name sounds. “Um, what type of music does he play?”
         “All kinds.”
         “Okay we’ll set him up for an interview with the Ellet Dance Committee for Tuesday at four in the afternoon in the school gym.”
         “He’ll be there.” Sirian thanked Dennis and was about to call the caterers, when she heard a voice over the intercom.
         “Uh, Sirian?”
         “Annaleace? Hold on a sec, I‘ll open the gate.” Sirian flicked a button in her study room and went to greet her guest. “Hey!”
         Annaleace and a boy that Sirian had never met were at the front door.
         “Hey Siri. This is my brother Ryan. You don‘t mind if he comes running with us do you?”
         “Of course not. I was thinking though. I could call a couple guys from the team and we could play some touch football, just for fun.”
         “Sounds good to me.” Ryan said. Annleace nodded.
         “Besides I have good news that everyone needs to hear.” She said.
         Sirian was still feeling great having quit the cheer squad. The three teens went inside and Sirian went about calling several of her “jock” friends. Twenty minutes later, Annaleace, Ryan and Sirian, dressed in shorts and a tank top, met five guys from the team at the front gate of the Tomi Mansion. Keiji, who had driven everyone over in his SUV, Mitch, Paul (a lean receiver), Jake, and Justin (Jake’s younger brother) all greeted Sirian.
         “Hey boys.” Sirian said smiling,
         “Men.” Mitch corrected her. Everyone laughed.
         “Okaymen. I think you all know Annaleace and this is her brother Ryan.” After all the names were exchanged, they followed Sirian around her house and to the back yard. As they neared the field, Sirian asked. “So who’s picking teams?”
         “Sirian, Annaleace, Ryan and me on one team.” Keiji said quickly. “Mitch, Paul, and the J brothers on the other team.”
         “Two girls?” Justin said with a laugh. “We’ll beat ’em for sure!”
         “No wait. I didn’t even get to choose me team members.” Mitch whined. “I want Keiji and Sirian!”
         “Mitch., I know you want us but we’ve been claimed.” Sirian said, straight-faced.
         Keiji busted out laughing and everyone else followed suit. As they approached the open field behind the Tomi gardens, Ryan stopped stopped and looked at everyone.
         “So where’s the ball?” He asked.
         “Keiji, did you leave it in your car.”
         “No, I didn’t bring one. I thought you had yours.”
         “Remember it popped two weeks ago when Big T accidentally landed on it.” She said.
         Big T (Thomas Ritchards was his actual name) was the giant of Ellet’s football team. Standing at 6’9 and weighing an even 300 pounds, Big T was a monster on the field, but a sweetheart at all other times.
         “Well that idea is shot to hell then.” Mitch sighed.
         “We could grab a Frisbee.” Paul suggested.
         “Boring!” Justin whined.
         “How bout a swim?” Said Keiji.
         “No trunks.” Jake said.
         “You guys could borrow some of my dad’s. And Annaleace, you can borrow one of mine.” Sirian said. Everyone agreed and went inside.
         The boys branched off, with Keiji guiding them. Annaleace and Sirian headed upstairs. As they reached the hall, Sirian noticed that Aidee’s door was open. She rushed over and slammed the door shut, locking it quickly.
         “Are you okay?”
         “I’m fine.”
         “Why did you shut that door?” Annaleace said, concern apparent in her voice.
         Sirian brushed a tear away and shrugged it off. “We don’t like to waste heat.”
         “Okay, I get the picture. When you’re ready, you’ll talk about it.” Annaleace said quietly.
         “She was my little sister and her name was Aida Lee.”
         That simple statement was the most Sirian had ever said to anyone about Aidee. Keiji even avoided the subject and they had been friends since kindergarten. But Annaleace didn’t ask to know more. She only said one thing about it.
         “I’m sure she was wonderful.”
         “She was.” Sirian smiled ruefully. They began walking again and Sirian led Annaleace to her room. “Any particular style?”
         “Board shorts and a tankini top?”
         “K.” Sirian rummaged through her bottom drawer and handed Annaleace blue shorts and a white top. “You can change in the bathroom, it’s the door next to my closet.”
         Annaleace went inside to change. Sirian grabbed a green one-piece and put in on. She looked in her closet for a couple pairs of sandals and beach towels. Annaleace came out, thanked Sirian, and they left to go to the pool.
         “Where is it?” Annaleace asked, looking around.
         “By the gardens.”
         “But we were already there, that’s just an empty field.”
         “Other side.” Sirian said. “C’mon I’ll show you. The boys probably won’t be there for a while. They’re all the way on the other side of the house.”
         The two girls went outside and Sirian led Annaleace through the gardens and into the pool house. Annaleace dove right in. Sirian grabbed a volleyball, threw it to her friend, and jumped in. Just as the girls were getting a good volley going, Keiji came out of no where and did a cannonball right in between them. The other boys followed suit. Sputtering water out, Sirian and Annaleace looked at each other. Without warning, Sirian pushed Mitch under, then went after Jake and Annaleace tackled her brother and Justin. When both girls resurfaced, Keiji notice a glint in their eyes and a couple seconds later, he was under the water being held down by them both. He resurfaced, quite undignified, and looking, quite frankly, like a wet dog. Annaleace and Sirian let loose laughing and both dove underwater to get away from the enraged boys. They came up laughing again. They boys were about to tackle the two girls when a ringing reverberated through the pool house. Sirian looked up. She couldn’t imagine who would be calling. Her father was at the office and her mother was in the park, painting on what she called “this glorious day”.
         “Expecting a call Si?” Keiji asked, as bewildered as she was.
         He knew how strange it was for anyone to call the Tomi residence. For a couple reasons, Sirian and her parents all had cell phones and the rarely gave the number out to anyone. Yukio Tomi was in a delicate business and privacy was what kept them alive when he was a DA. One false move could have landed the entire family in the morgue. And as with most things, old habits die hard.
         “No.” Sirian said a little timidly, getting out of the pool. She dried off her hands quickly and answered the call. “Hello?”
         “Siri?” A shaky female voice said.
         “Renna?” Sirian cried. Keiji turned to look, he had been good friends with Renna as well. “Where are you? Are you okay? Your father’s been worried sick since you went missing.”
         “Whoa! Slow down Sirian.” Renna laughed. “I’m fine. I’m- I just... I’m free.”
         “From what?”
         “My father.”
         “Why? Did he hurt you? Is that why you ran away?”
         “You know my father. He isn’t a “hands on” kind of guy. I’m just another tax write-off to him. But I’m free now. It’s wonderful.” Renna said. Sirian could tell that her friend was close to tears.
         “When will I see you again? We all miss you.”
         “Soon Siri. I promise. We’ll hang out, like we did in primary school.”
         “Is there anything you need?”
         “Maybe a good book.” Renna said with a laugh.
         “Are you sure that you aren’t in any trouble? I’ll help if I can. You know I will.” Sirian said, deadly serious.
         “I know, but I think I‘m going to be all right. Things are finally starting to come together. As soon as things calm down, I’ll visit you, okay?” Renna asked.
         “Of course.”
         “Oh, I have to go.” Renna said quickly.
         “Remember our promise.” Sirian said.
         “Though not by blood.”
         “And not by law.”
         “We are sisters.”
         “In spirit and mind.”
         “Always true to the other.”
         “Forever sisters.” Sirian smiled softly, and she could tell that Renna was smiling too. “Be careful and take care of yourself okay?”
         “I will. Bye Siri.”
         “Bye Ren.” Sirian hung the phone up and didn’t even notice that Keiji was by her side.
         “Is she-”
         “She’s okay.” Sirian said looking at her friend.
         “Are you going to call Mr. Tenro?
         “No!” Sirian said sharply. She turned to everyone. “Please guys, don’t breathe a word of this to anyone. I know how corny it must sound, but Renna’s life may depend on us keeping quiet.”

Saturday Night

         What the hell is going on around here! Sirian thought to herself. She had been in her room since after dinner. Her parents probably thought that she was doing homework, but she was really just thinking. Sometimes, she just needed to sit down and dissect her life. Everything had been so normal just a short time ago... What happened to make life turn upside down and inside out.
         “Sirian? Honey?” Her mother said knocking on the door.
         “Come in.”
         “Your father and I are going out tonight.”
         “Have fun.” Sirian said with a smile.
         “Are you feeling well darling?” Miya sat down on Sirian’s bed and pressed her forearm gently to Sirian’s head.
         “I’m fine Mom. Just a little tired I think.”
         “Well if you’re sure. Try to go to bed early tonight then. A good night’s rest can do wonders for a person.” Miya kissed her daughter on the cheek and sashayed out of the room. “We’ll be home late.”
         Sirian got up and turned the light off. Then, she just lay on her bed, in the dark, going over recent events in her mind. Renna floated in and out of her mind. Sirian knew her friend was safe. Renna wasn’t one to lie. So if she said she was doing well, then she was. But still, she had said that things needed to calm down, and there was obviously some amount of danger involved. Sirian couldn’t help but think that she should have kept Renna on the phone, forced the information out, and the knock some sense into her.
         “That’s what i should have done. Convinced Rennie to come home. But I couldn’t just do that. She obviously left for a reason...” Then Saienta’s face flashed before her. “What an idiot!”
         That’s why Saienta was there that night. Renna had disappeared shortly after and then at school Saienta had said nothing about why he had gone missing too. Only difference is that Saienta came back, Rennie didn’t... Sirian let her mind wander and in no time she had drifted off to sleep. She woke up in the early morning hours and went downstairs to get a snack. As she neared the kitchen, Sirian overheard her parents talking.
         “Tenro is furious. He thinks that Sirian has something to do with this whole fiasco. I told him that my Sirian has more sense that to just aid a naive girl into the hands of some gang member.”
Gang member? Are they talking about Saienta?
         “Yukio, calm down. Tenro can’t possibly think that Sirian would knowingly put Renna in danger. They’ve been friends since they were in diapers! Besides, when Renna went missing, Sirian was dancing with Keiji.”
         “I know, I know. But as much as we tell Tenro that she had nothing to do with it, he’s still going to believe that she did. These Red Tide people he was talking about are some treacherous characters. I don’t want Sirian to end up like Renna... Some kidnap victim.”
         Kidnap! Renna was kidnapped? But why on earth would she call me and tell me everything was okay if she were being held against her will? Sirian went back upstairs, silently. Her mind awash with new thoughts. There has to be something about this whole thing that I’m overlooking...

Saturday- Just past noon
         With one hand guiding the steering wheel, Annaleace twirled a piece of hair between her fingers; then she pushed the strain back with her palm and pulled another strain out. Her hair had curled from the swim at Sirians house that morning. Sirian had acted odd; first with her sister’s room, then with that phone call. Now to think about it everyone had acted weird when the phone started ringing. Annaleace shrugged it off, she didn't know Sirian that well and if she wanted to talk to her about it, she would when she was ready.

Annaleace found her cell phone on the passenger seat and started dialing Sirian’s cell number.

         “Hey Sirian its Annaleace, how are you doing?”
         “Good good good, you?”
         “I’m ok. So I was thinking about the dance next Sunday, and I realized that I had nothing to wear for it.”
Sirian laughed, “That’s not cool.”
         “No its really not, and I have absolutely no taste in anything good, so could you take me shopping sometime next week?”
         “Not a problem what about ummm Friday?”
         “That would be great! Thank you. But I have to go I’m pulling up to my house now. Bye.”
         “Ok bye, see you Monday.”

“What!?” Ryan yelled into his cell phone.
         “Yah,” someone on the other side said, “a bunch of people from a group called Red Tide jumped them. They didn’t get hurt too serious but it could have gone worse. I think they under estimated Mark and Sara though because they put up a good fight, I hear.”
         “Cedric,” Ryan said under his breath, “Are you sure they’re fine?”
         “Oh yah, they’ve been through worse.”
         “Alright Jack, I’ll call you later.” Ryan hung out, then dialled a new number.
         “Hello?” came a young voice.
          “Hello Alex, could you get your older brother? Tell him it’s Ryan.”
Their was a short pause then, “Kyle here, what’s up Ryan?”
         “I need you to pull up anything on a group called Red Tide. I need this info as soon as possible.”
         “You wont have to wait long,” Kyle said, “I’ve been studying those guy for a while. They are a powerful crime organization that almost as well counted as the Illuminati but far more brutal. They will kill anyone who gets in the way of something they call ‘the plan’. They are very picky about members, they need to be sharp, resourceful, and utterly with out conscience. They have few true members but a ton of people working for them. They sometimes put out they’re services for hire but only at very high prices.”
Cedric would be able to pay, thought Ryan. “Thanks Kyle.”
         “No problem.”
Ryan hung up the phone. So Cedric hired a super crime group to fight for him. Prick. Ryan was mad; he would kill that little bastard. He’d open his wind pipe with a rusty screw driver, or maybe he would disembowel him with a wooden cooking spoon, or could tie him to a chair and kick him in a lake, if he floats he could burn him as a witch. Ryan shook his head- he was fooling himself, he couldn’t touch Cedric with that Red Tide people on him- they could come for his family. He looked at the phone for a long time just zoning out before he was snapped back to reality when his door opened.
         “Hey Ryan,” Annaleace said, sitting on the bed beside him. “What’s up?”
Ryan was silent for a while. “Mark and Sara got jumped.”
         “That’s what I said. Jack called and told me, they aren’t too beat up. Their okay now.”
         “That good, I guess. Hey- you should take Sara to the Ball next week.”
Ryan thought it over for a minute. Mark wouls probably take his girlfriend Terry from their old school and Ryan and Sara may as well, so it was probably a good idea.
         “Yah, I think I will,” he said. Annaleace smiled.
         “I’m heading to a friends house tomorrow, you want to come?”
         “Sure, I have nothing better to do.”
         “You could do homework.”
         “Like I said, I have nothing better to do.” Annaleace laughed and left the room. Ryan sat for a moment before calling Sara.
“Hello?” Sara’s voice sounded a little hoarse over the phone. “Hey Sara, it’s Ryan, are you doing Ok?” he asked.
         “Oh I’m fine, my throats a bit sore, one of those guys put a choke hold on me like I did to Cedric but other than that I’m fine.”
         “That’s good, uh Sara… you know about that ball next week…”

         Ryan stood before the gates to a mansion with his sister talking into the inter com. He was going to get a suit with his father later that night for the Dance with Sara. The gates swung open and the twins started in.
         “What kind of flowers do you think Sara will like?” Ryan asked.
Annaleace threw a sly look his way. “Your stressing a lot considering your ‘just friends’. You seem to be taking this a step further.”
         “Of course we’re just friends, I just want her to enjoy herself,” he said defensively.
         “What ever you say, Ryan.” Annaleace replied, still smiling.

Poor guy has no idea, thought Ryan as they picked teams for football. If their was ever a better player of anything it was his sister.
         “No wait. I didn’t even get to choose me team members,” Mitch whined. “I want Keiji and Sirian!”
         “Mitch., I know you want us but we’ve been claimed.” Sirian said, straight-faced. Keiji busted out laughing and everyone else followed suit. After a long deciding on teams they found out there were no balls to play with, so instead they decided to swim.
         “You’re lucky we had no ball,” Justin said, “we would have stomped you into the ground. Two girls is like being short two players.”
Ryan laughed and replied, “I have kicked total ass in every sport ever invented but my favourite is the noble sport of Rugby. The one person who has ever done better than me in sports is my sister. Having her is like having four of you guys.”
         “You’re exaggerating,” Mitch said.
         “No he’s not,” Keiji said, “I picked her and Ryan for a reason. I used to play Rugby for club teams and we played your old school once and we were totally obliterated. I remember you and your sister and I knew that with you guys the teams were so unfairly stacked we couldn’t possibly win. I mean, you guys won nationals, then headed for South Africa and played in the World Cup. How did you do by the way?”
         “We lost to New Zealand and beat South Africa for second.” The other guys were just staring open mouthed.
         “You and your sister and totally hardcore; you should play for us, we’d be unstoppable.”
Ryan shook his head, “You guys don’t have Rugby, you just have football. The only position I’ve ever really like was line backer and theirs so many on your team already. I’ll just play club teams for now. Annaleace might, she’s a good receiver because she’s fast and un-stoppable.”
          “We’ll ask her.” Jake said, “Now lets go swimming!”.

They headed out to the pool and the girls were already there, “Five bucks goes to the one who makes the biggest splash.” Keiji said.
         “Your on!” So the boys leapt into the middle of the girls volley ball game. They started to wrestle in the water when the phone rang… After a suspicious phone conversation Sirian hung the phone up and didn’t even notice that Keiji was by her side.
She turned to everyone.
          “Please guys, don’t breathe a word of this to anyone. I know how corny it must sound, but Renna’s life may depend on us keeping quiet.”

Saturday Night
         That Phone call probably would have made more sense if you could hear the other side of it
, Ryan thought as he stepped out of the change room for the third time with his third suit. He slowly pivoted for his father.
         “I think that’s our one Ryan,” he said. “Now it’s just the matter of finding a shirt and tie.”

Monday morning
         Ryan had to be calm today, he couldn’t afford to break Cedric in half yet. Oh that’s a good idea. I’ll have to add breaking in half to my list. He just needed to make it through the day without ever coming in contact with him because he was sure he would try everything he had been thinking about on Cedric.

A Non-Existent User

Friday night

          “Thank you, I hope you enjoy your purchase,” Elli said, handing the customer her receipt and bag of clothes. “Please come again soon.” The customer nodded, smiled, and left the store.

          Right, only an hour left until I get home…I’m so tired… she thought, staring at her silver watch. She sighed and glanced over at her left wrist, in which her silver bracelet dangled. She secretly smiled. She didn’t know she had lost it until Saienta told her he had found it on the school roof.

          What a hero. He knew my name. My name! She cherished the thought. But…does that mean he knows? He knows of my trips to the roof…? He knows…I’ve been watching…?

          “Oh well, que sera, sera,” she said to herself. “Whatever will happen, will happen, so there.”

          “Hey cutie, whatcha doin’?”

          Elli looked up to see Davie, a kid from another school. He was obviously younger than her, but that didn’t stop him from stalking her. “How you doin’? he asked her.

          “I was considerably fine until you approached me,” she said.

          “Sorry,” he said unremorsefully. “So, you want to go out tonight?”


          “How about tomorrow night?”


          “How about to your infamous ball they’re having on a ship?”

          “Hey Davie, guess which negative, two-lettered word I’m thinking right now. Put the word ‘hell’ in front of it.”

          “Aw, come on, Elli sweetie, you have to give me a chance!”

          “And why, prey tell, should I?”


          “Uh huh…well…I don’t take shallow answers….especially answers that have no truth to them.”


          Elli smiled.

          “But I just got this really tight vehicle for my birthday. It’s a Bentley. A black one.”

          “Ohh…I’m so impressed…”



          “I would love to drive you in it.”

          “I bet you do.”

          “And I would love to show you off to everyone, proving that you’re the hottest girl alive and that you’re mine.”

          “To be your property—that’s every living girl’s dream…”

          “And I’ll buy you nice gifts and take you everywhere you want to go ‘cause you would be my girl…”


          “Wouldn’t you like that?”

          “Would you like to live in a glass cage, with everyone staring, feeding, and petting you?”

          “Huh? No way…”

          “Well then, you can understand why I do not want to be with you.”

          “Okay, okay, sorry,” Davie said, again unapologetically. “You know I would do anything to please you.”

          “Achoo! Achoo!” Elli fake-sneezed. “Did I mention I was allergic to compulsive liars?”


          “Anyway, if you please excuse me, I have to tend to the customers. If you’re not here to purchase anything, then I suggest you leave,” Elli said, pointing toward the exit.

          “Damn, so professional,” Davie said, resting his elbows on the counter to get a closer look at Elli. “Turning me on…”

          Elli blushed and leaned over towards him, which excited him more. “If we were not in this store right now,” she said, “I would mercilessly crucify you. Seriously.”

          “Ooo…and which part of my body would you start with first?”

          “OUT!” Elli loudly yelled and angrily shoved him back. He fell, gave a wide-tooth smile at Elli, got back up, and quickly left the store.

          Ms. Roberson, the manager, walked over to Elli counter and crossed her arms. “Everything right here, Elli?” she asked firmly.

          “Yes ma’am,” Elli said, her cheeks glowing redder.

          “No trouble?”

          “No ma’am.”

          “Good, now get back to work. You still have an hour left. Make the most of it!” She turned on her heels and nearly marched off.

          “What a heifer…” Elli muttered to herself. She noticed some customers approaching and presented herself, but suddenly stopped when she recognized the person.

          No! It can’t be! Not her!

          The annoying blonde looked down at a younger blonde girl, saying, “Why make hot dog wieners so long? I mean, why not make them a little more square, you know?”


          I can’t let her see me! I can’t let her see me like this! Working in a clothing store that’s beneath her! Elli thought as she started to panic. Of all the people in the world, why does it have to be her? She doesn’t even wear clothing from here. Maybe she’s getting something for someone she doesn’t like…Oh, what am I going to do? What am I going to do?!!

          Elli quickly ducked behind the counter and rummaged through the miscellaneous drawer, looking for a solution. “Excuse me, can I be tended to? Anyone here?” Gwen asked loudly, not to mention, impatiently.

          Elli quickly grabbed a long, blonde wig and dark glasses, threw them on, and stood back up. “Hello, miss. Yes, I can help you? What is it that you need?” Elli asked Gwen in French accent.

          “Well,” Gwen began, as she threw a pair of colorful socks onto the counter. “These are the largest size you have, but don’t you have a larger pair?”

          Elli nearly giggled. Gwen has giant feet! But worse than that, she wears socks from the Gap! She will die once everyone finds out… “My dear, which size would you like?”

          “A size eleven-and-a-half, but preferably twelve.”

          Holy shit! “Let me see what I can do for you, mademoiselle.”

          “Hey, I like that…’mademoiselle’…that’s Spanish, right?”

          For the next couple of minutes, Elli managed to find the socks in a twelve. Gwen gladly paid them. Elli also found out that the girl accompanying Gwen was her younger sister. She was just as talkative as her older sister, but had a little more sense than her.

          “Yeah, your new boyfriend’s pretty tough,” she said to Gwen. “I heard he’s itching to beat up that Saienta until he’s in a bloody coma.”

          Elli’s ears perked up. What? Saienta? He wants to kill Saienta? Why, I’ll murder that giant douche bag…

          “Serves that little punk asshole right,” Gwen said, picking out a pink barrette. She threw it at Elli. “I’m buying this too,” Gwen said to her.

          Elli silently scanned the item and continued to listen.

          “Yeah, they say that Cedric has been hanging out with the Red Tide long enough, that he’s invested into their little organization, which is making him a top superior in the group. So since he’s in charge, he can control who’s in and who’s out. It’s rumored that he’s kicking Saienta out and is going kill his sorry little ass.”

          “Wow,” Gwen said, smiling. “I didn’t think Cedric was that powerful. He’s sounding more and more like my dream man every day. I guess I should thank Elli for hooking him up with me…even though she’s the biggest bitch I have ever known…”

          “Your total comes to $15.98,” Elli loudly interrupted in her entertaining French accent. Gwen pulled out a twenty and gave it to her. “I want the change back,” she demanded to Elli.

          “Oui, mademoiselle,” Elli said through clenched teeth. She gave her the change and Gwen took it. “Let’s go, Kristy,” she said to her sister. She then turned to Elli.

          “I just wanted to say, thank you for helping me,” she said.

          Elli’s jaw dropped, but she quickly regained herself. “You are very welcome, miss,” she said, continuing with her act.

          “Please don’t mention to anyone that I went here,” Gwen said softly. Her sister nodded. “Me too,” she said.

          “Okay,” Elli said.

          “Thank you,” Gwen said, and then smiled. “You know, you’re pretty amazing—being blind and Spanish and working at the Gap. You’re an inspiration to all.”

          Elli was silent, and slowly touched the dark glasses. How dumb can you be, honestly?Merci, miss. It’s an honor.”

          “Well, I have to go. How do you say good-bye in Spanish?” Gwen wondered out loud. “Oh yeah—aloha!”

          “Thank you,” Kristy said, and together they left the store.

          Elli sighed and took off the glasses. She then checked to see if the twenty was still in her pocket. It was.

          “No, thank you,” Elli said to no one, and smiled. She had overcharged Gwen’s purchase and was going to take home an extra twenty tonight.


          “Everything closed up, locked up, right?” Ms. Roberson asked Elli. She nodded.

          “Good. You may leave. Good bye.”

          Elli quickly walked to the back of the store and opened her locker. She put on her jacket and grabbed her purse. She placed her paycheck in her purse. It wasn’t much, but it was something that could help her in a tight situation.

          She was about to leave, when she heard a familiar male voice speaking with Ms. Roberson. “…still here? You know, tall, thin, and sexy, with beautiful red hair and stunning gray eyes? I was going to take her home in my new Bentley.”

          “Yes, I know what she looks like, sir,” Ms. Roberson said in an irritated voice. “She’s about to leave. In fact, I bet you could still just catch her—“

          Elli left the store before she heard anymore.


          Surprisingly, it was very cool. It was already dark out, and the street lights were coming on. Elli felt nervous; the surroundings look like it was taken out of a horror film.

          She suddenly heard a noise and spun around. She then sighed and continued her walk home. She knew it was dangerous for a young woman like her to walk home at night, but she didn’t have any other way. She didn’t have a car, and she would sometimes take the bus or taxi, but she hated those things.

          Besides, she liked walking. It was good for the mind. It was good for the body. It was good for…


          …serial killers and rapists on the streets!

          Elli walked a little faster, and tried to listen for anymore noises. None. She wasn’t far from her house…just a couple of more blocks.

          She passed Corey’s grand house. She looked to see if anyone was home. It had been awhile since he invited her to his house; so long ago…she forgot how it looked inside. But she could remember how she felt. Impressed. Amazed. Small.

          She passed a couple of more houses, until she arrived at hers. It wasn’t as grand as the other kids’ homes, or too small; it was just in the middle. Not too big, not too small.

          But not the typical house of an Ellet girl.

          She got out her key, unlocked the door, and went inside. She went immediately upstairs to her room and collapsed on the bed.

          Another day gone, she thought. She put up her things and decided to take a shower. She went into her bathroom, turned the water on, and undressed. Stepping into the shower, she closed her eyes and let her thoughts overwhelm her. She then opened her eyes and looked down at the small scars on her arms and legs.

          It’s been five months since I’ve done it, she thought. I promised myself not to do it again, but…

          Her eyes searched the bathroom and lingered on a razor.

          No…I’m not going to do it. I-I’ve got to be strong. Can’t give in… And she didn’t give in. Instead, she slowly sat in her bathtub and began to sob.



          Elli woke up and smelled toast burning. “Breakfast is ready,” she said, getting out of the bed and running down the stairs to the kitchen. She walked in and saw her father putting the plates out on the table.

          “Good morning, sunshine,” her father said in his thick Japanese accent. “Slept well?”

          “It wasn’t bad, but I’m good,” Elli said, sitting down. “What time did you get home?”

          He sat down. “Around five o’clock this morning. I went to check on you and you were sleeping hard, so I guess you did not hear me?”

          “No, I guess I didn’t. So you didn’t sleep?”

          “I’ve been awake since I got home. No sleep for me; I could not sleep.”

          “Dad, you know you have to work long, irregular shifts at work. You need to get your rest.”

          “Don’t worry about me.” He smiled. “I will go to sleep after breakfast.”

          “And then I could make you a meal when you wake up.”

          “Um…you can’t.”

          “Why not?”

          “Because you have to see your mother today. She called me before I left work last night to remind me to tell you that she’s taking you shopping today.”

          “Shopping? What for?”

          “Your ball.”

          “Ohhh yeah…I don’t want to go.”

          “Elli, you must. You know how your mother gets.”

          “I know, I know. Will Shaun be there?”

          Shaun was Elli’s older half-brother. He lived with her mom, while she lived with her dad. They had been divorced for four-and-a-half years.

          “I’m not sure. You do not want to see him also?”

          “I just want to stay home. I had a busy week.”

          “I would let you stay with me, only your mother is very persistent.”

          Elli groaned. “Dad…”

          “So sorry, Elli. I will make it up to you, okay?”


          “Besides, how bad could it be?”


          “Now that’s marvelous! Marvelous! Twirl around for Mommy! Aw, don’t you look divine?!”

          Elli twirled around in a glittery pink, one-strapped gown. She didn’t like the dress, or the color, yet her mother thought otherwise.

          “This might be it! Yes, it might be it!” her mother exclaimed, her blue eyes shining. “What do you think, Shaun?”

          Shaun looked up from his car magazine. He was an extremely handsome nineteen year old, with long dark hair that fell in his face and sparklingly sapphire eyes shone through. He was a musician and liked to party with the high crowd.

          “It’s nice,” he said nonchalantly, and returned to the magazine.

          Elli’s mother pulled back a stray red strand of hair that fell in her face. She wore expensive jewelry and clothes, and smelled of the latest designer perfume. The fact of the matter was, Elli’s mother was extremely wealthy, and although she lived with her caring father, her mother made sure she had everything a girl needed. Cars, jewelry, bungalows…Elli didn’t want that. Her mother was always a boisterous and ostentatious person and Elli didn’t want to live with a person of that character. So she lived with her honest and hard-working father, who worked in Corey’s father’s computer technology business, putting the pieces together to create new gadgets for the future, instead of living with her mom, who likes to go to dinner socials, travel, and drink martinis. (She is an alcoholic.)

          So since her daughter went to live with her ex-husband, Elli’s mother felt as though she should be a part of her daughter’s life. In fact, she needed to spend time with Elli, so they always went out. After all, every girl loved shopping, material things, and money, right?

          Elli sighed. “What’s wrong, dear?” her mother asked her.

          “I don’t like it.”

          “You don’t? Why not?”

          “I just don’t. You always pick out dresses that don’t suit me. Even Dad can do a better job, and he doesn’t know a thing about fashion!”

          That remark nearly stung Elli’s mom. “Well, honey, I’m sorry,” she said. “You have a great figure and complexion; you’d look gorgeous in any dress! Maybe I got a little too carried away…”

          “Yeah, you did. I might not even go to the ball anyway.”

          “What? Why? You don’t have a date? I can find you one, if you want…”

          “No, that’s okay. I’m better left alone.”

          “If you say so, sweetie. Now if you don’t mind, why not try on the lavender gown? Please?”


          Elli laid in her bed, listening to her neon green i-pod. It was playing Hoobastank’s The Reason, and Elli loved the lyrics to the song. She softly sang along.

          “I found a reason for me…to change who I used to be. A reason to start over new…and the reason is you…”

          She wondered what Corey was doing, right at this moment. She saw that he hung around Saienta a lot lately, which made her curious. Was Corey planning on becoming a member of Saienta’s rough group? She shrugged. “No…Corey’s way too reticent…”

          She doodled in her journal. And Corey still hasn’t given me an answer about the ball! Oh well…it’s official: he’s not really going. She scribbled some more on a page. Well, then, neither am I…

          She reached for the telephone and dialed Corey’s number. As it rang, she thought up what she could say to him: ”Hi, Corey. Since I know I’m a pain in an ass and you hate dances, I not going to the ball at all…I hope that makes you happy, seeing I was a fool in asking you…”

          Or maybe: ”Hey Corey. I know you’re too shy to say ‘no’ to my face, so I’ll make it easier for you: I’m not going to the ball. So have a hell of a lot of fun without me.”

          Nah. How about this one: “Corey, this is Elli. Sorry for disturbing you, but I wanted to tell you that I’m not going to the ball. This should comfort you. I’m sorry for planting a ridiculous idea in your head; it’s just that, you’re my best friend; my only friend, in fact, and I like you well enough for you to accompany me to a simple ball. But it’s okay; it doesn’t matter anymore. Especially since I have an intense crush on your friend Saienta instead…”

          Oh that one is nice, Elli thought. But if I let that last sentence slip away and I’ll never have a friend again…Be focused. You can do this.

          The phone rang for the millionth time and Elli gave up. “Why have a phone if you don’t use it?” she said, throwing her own phone down. She was irritable and angry. At her mom, at her brother, at Gwen, at everyone—she hated the world and the people in it. Sometimes she just wanted to...to…

          She lay back down on her bed and stared up at the ceiling. Well, she didn’t hate everyone. She loved her father, Corey, and… Saienta…

          Damn it! She angrily thought. Why couldn’t he escape from her mind? He finds and gives you back a bracelet you lost, and suddenly, you think he’s your Prince Charming or something. Smart, Elli. How very smart.

          “He doesn’t even know me,” she said to herself, hugging her pillow. “He wouldn’t want to, seeing how I am. Well, I don’t care. I don’t care about anyone…not even myself…”

          Even though she knew that was totally untrue, Elli contemplated about what she just said. It reminded her of the recurring dream she had been having for the past few weeks and the mysterious, rhetorical question that haunted her dreams:

”If my pieces should fall, who would be there to catch them all?”

          Elli sighed and went to sleep.



          “I have a surprise for you,” Elli’s father said, his hands covering her eyes. “You deserve it, for the hard work you do at school and at your job.”

          “What is it, Dad?” Elli said, walking blindly through the living room. “Is it really a big surprise or is this you just pulling my leg again?”

          “It’s a surprise, really,” he said. “You may be surprised too, that it is from me. I picked it out especially for you.”

          “Can I see it?”

          “Not yet.”

          “How about now?”

          “Um…okay! Open now!”

          Elli’s father pulled his hands away from her eyes and Elli opened them. And gasped.

          On a simple mannequin, was an exquisite, creamy white, strapless, fairy-tale gown. It had tiny, intricate pearl and glittery embroidery near the bottom. There were glass high-heeled shoes, pearl and diamond earrings, with a matching necklace, and a diamond tiara. Elli could not believe her eyes; it was the most beautiful dress she had ever seen. And it was all hers? Wow.

          “It’s for you. For your ball. I picked out everything for you. Do you like?” her father asked her.

          Elli turned and embraced her father tightly. Tears streamed down her cheeks.

          “It’s one of the most beautiful things you ever gave me,” Elli said, smiling.

          “ ‘One of the most’?”

          “The most beautiful thing you ever gave me was your love. And looking at that dress, I-I…I love you so much, Dad. Thank you. Thank you so much.”

          He began to cry also, and hugged his daughter tighter. “You are my daughter. I will always love you no matter what. I always want to make you happy. And seeing the expression on your face, have I succeeded?”



          They laughed, and Elli wiped away the tears. “I’m sorry to cut this short, sunshine,” her father said, wiping away his tears, “but I have to go to work early today. I should be home around eleven.”

          “Okay. Have fun. Be safe.”

          He kissed her on the forehead. “You too. I love you.”

          “I love you too. Have a nice day at work.”

          He nodded, grabbed his briefcase and jacket, and left the house.

          Elli touched her gown. It was so soft, so heavenly, so…even her mother could not find a more perfect dress.

          As Elli put the gown and accessories up for next weekend, she promised herself she would get a date for the ball. Even though she didn’t really want to go, she had to do it.

          For her father.


Monday morning

          Elli carried the little brown bag down the steps and quickly put it in her book bag. She slung it over her shoulder.

          “I’m leaving, Dad!” she called out.

          “Okay, have a good day at school, Elli! I love you!” he sleepily called out.

          “Love you too!” She opened the door and then closed it. She then made her journey to school. Today was going to be an interesting day. Especially for Cedric.

          Located safe inside the paper bag in her book bag, was a concoction Elli created to put in Cedric’s food at lunch to make him sick for the rest of the week while she investigated the link between him and Red Tide. If what Kristy said was true, Elli was determined to protect Saienta and Corey.

          Besides her father, they were the only other people Elli cared about. And she would not let anything happen to them.

          She promised herself that.


         Although his mind was downstairs where his neglected homework lay, Corey sat playing the piano on the second floor. The chiffon curtain had been moved to one side of the room from Corey opening the glass doors to the balcony to let the air drift indoor. Stationed beside the door to the Piano room was a healthy pot plant.
The last lingering note faded and he gazed at the keys, thinking of a different song to play, but none came to mind. He wondered about Saienta, and if he had recovered from last night.
         “Why’d you stop?” Corey looked up in surprise and saw Leon leant against the doorframe, holding a glass of water. He was always seen wearing a suit. Leon was a tall man in his early twenty’s with short brown hair all over and eyes, and was his fathers best, most trusted worker and friend. It bothered him occasionally that his father and Leon weren’t equals in the business of Akaino tech. Leon knew the company as well as his father did, and he often gave Corey advice to help his projects succeed. Leon was an excellent information systems technician and was prized for his skills. Corey ignored the question.
         “What are you doing here?” Corey asked wonderingly. Leon walked over to the piano with a hand inside his pocket, taking a sip from his glass.
         “Passing on a message to you from your dad and picking up some files and reports from his office.”
Slowly Corey closed the lid to the piano. It was Sunday and his father evidently was not coming home from Akaino tech. “What’s the message?”
         “He wants you to come by Akaino tech this Tuesday after school.” Leon watched the water in his cup swirl when Corey did not reply. There was no need to ask why his dad wanted him to come by; it was anything but uncommon, especially when Akaino tech was about to launch a product. Leon looked up at him and smiled. Corey stood up from the piano and they walked toward the exiting door.
         “Everyone at Akaino tech is busy with the launch of the CA7. It won’t be long now... Who’d you lend the phone to?” Leon asked curiously, tipping out the rest of his water onto the pot plant as they both exited the room. Corey looked up at him and they stopped, standing in the passageway.
         “Do you remember Saienta?” Corey asked, sliding his hands inside his pockets.
Leon smiled in sudden approval. “Saienta? Brown hair- green eyes, was in a Giorgio Armani suit at Mr. Tenro’s party?” Corey nodded. “I liked that kid. Bring him to Akaino tech this Tuesday too.” Leon paused. “It’s good to see you’re making friends.”
Corey avoided Leon’s gaze with a feeling of having been misjudged. “…Yeah”
The passageway went around the two centred rooms like a large ‘U’; the two centred rooms were a bathroom and a business room. From the staircase up where Corey and Leon stood was Corey’s room, a guest room, a room which was always locked, and then the Piano Room at the back of the house. On the other side of the house was a large library and more locked rooms.
Corey descended the stairs to the first floor as Leon ascended to the third floor where his father’s office was. On his desk in the living room was a gift-bag. Corey eyed it strangely before turning to his untouched homework. He’d have to do what he can, and do the rest tomorrow at school with Saienta. A moment later Leon descended the staircase with a bundle of folders under an arm, and an empty glass in his other hand. He smiled sheepishly as he placed the empty glass onto the desk when he reached Corey.
         “What?” Corey asked wonderingly.
Leon indicated to the gift-bag sitting on his desk and walked across the wooden floor to the front door. “That’s your birthday present from me. I’ll see you Tuesday.” And he left without giving Corey a chance to show his gratitude. He picked up the bag and pulled from it a silver camera and black photo album. His brow creased as he wondered how he could make use of it. Until he knew how he’d keep it up in his room, and told himself to remember to thank Leon on Tuesday. He put the camera and photo album aside before reluctantly sitting down and starting on his homework that would take up the rest of his Sunday.

         Corey walked down the noisy corridor to his locker on Monday morning and came across Saienta. They gripped hands like one would when hand wrestling in greeting, and then parted. He didn’t ask how he was feeling, Saienta looked in a pretty good mood.
Corey passed Gwen and her large group of friends before reaching his locker, and put his bag down at his feet. The English assignment due in on Tuesday was half finished. Corey hoped he had done enough so they both had a chance of finishing that day.
As Corey checked his CA7 phone for any missed calls or messages someone tapped him on the shoulder. He turned to see Tidus with Markus, Sara and a guy he didn’t know.
         “Hey,” Corey said to them, turning back to his locker to put his phone away and he shut it.
         “Got to hurry, I just wanted you to meet Ryan,” Tidus said. Corey turned to Ryan. Ryan gave an impression as though he wasn’t all there, but it was clear he was through his blue eyes.
         “Hey,” Ryan said. Corey inclined his head to him in greeting, and then they left with Tidus saying he’d see Corey later.
Just then Cedric walked by with Markus and Andrew and stopped at his locker, not far away from Corey’s.
         “I’m becoming a Red Tide,” Cedric said smugly. Corey raised an eyebrow in disbelief as he listened. “Money can buy everything, huh?” Cedric smiled in a superior kind of way. Corey shook his head. Baka. Cedric, a Red Tide? There was no way. Saienta would have known and told Corey already. And Cedric was too old to be in Red Tide, plus Cedric had only been a client of theirs. And Red Tide don’t hurt their members from paying clients, only if members betray Red Tide will they hurt them, maybe even kill them, Corey thought as he listened and heard Saienta's name mentioned. Corey had no doubt Cedric was talking shit. Though he supposed it may be a good lie to anyone who didn’t know as much as Saienta had told him.
Corey look down to zip his bag and when he looked back up he found himself backed into his locker by seven of Gwen’s friends. He looked at them in wonder as he hitched his bag over his shoulder. A girl at the back whispered something to the girl beside her and they laughed wickedly.
There was a girl with shoulder length, dirty blonde hair and brown eyes, and she stepped forward; he was reminded a little of Renna, although he only knew her by appearance. She stated his name and folded her arms in a manner of importance. Corey didn’t know who she was or how she knew his name.
         “Yes?” he said casually.
         “Would you go with Gwen to the ball?” she asked, holding herself up confidently. Corey gave her a measured look before turning to Gwen who stood at her locker, talking animatedly to a friend. Gwen glanced over at him, and then laughed airily at something her friend had said. He looked back at the blonde girl. “What’s your name?”
For half a second she looked surprised but caught herself quickly. “Amy.”
         “Why are you asking me and not Gwen?” Corey asked placidly, taking no notice of the six other girls who were watching him carefully.
         “She’s shy!” another friend of Gwen’s burst out knowingly.
         “She really likes you, you know,” a brunette haired girl said, pointing a finger at him. The irritation prickled his insides. He sensed Gwen watching and listening in closely. The conversation was not up for discussing, least of all with Gwen’s friends. Wasn’t Cedric supposed to be taking Gwen to the ball?
         “I have class,” Corey said dismissively, and walked passed them.
         “So is that a yes or no?” the brunette asked loud enough for him to hear and he ignored her. Corey was having a weird morning.


The bell for recess rang and Corey met Saienta at his locker. Saienta was leaning on his, waiting and nodded in greeting.
         “What’s up?” Corey asked, wondering why Saienta was waiting for him.
Saienta smiled slightly. “I donno…” he said thoughtfully. “Thought I might want to meet your friends seeing as how you met some of mine.”
Corey put his things away and shut his locker, and felt unsure about Saienta meeting his crowd, not because he was worried about losing their companionship but he felt they might try something. He knew Saienta had a bad reputation. However, Saienta was more than capable of looking after himself, still, it bothered him.
         “Don’t worry so much, Corey, I know what they’re like.”
Corey laughed, amused with himself; Saienta had read his face again. “You’re pretty bad at keeping your thoughts separate from your expressions,” Saienta grinned.
Corey shrugged. It seemed that around Saienta he could be free to express himself, he never reacted as much in front of anyone else. “Alright,” he said, still unsure.

The sky above was clear and the wind was calm as they walked across the green grass towards the big willow tree where he could see the usual people sitting on two picnic tables talking. Before they were in range, Saienta suddenly stopped Corey. He turned Corey around to face him and asked seriously, “I need to know one thing before I go there- do you care about any of them?”
He put his hand in his pocket and recalled a small mental list of each person and then shook his head. “No…except maybe Tidus.”
Saienta gazed at him levelly. “Okay. One more thing- at school I‘d rather be known as Sayenta Cressida. Red Tide purposes.”
A thought crossed Corey’s mind. “Should I call you Sayenta?”
         “Saienta sounds similar enough, people won’t notice, but use Cressida.”

As they approached, the ones that noticed stared at Saienta and then at Corey inquisitively. Corey sighed mentally. They reached the table and sat down casually as though nothing was strange. A few sat on the table edge with their feet on the seats, and Tidus who was sitting on the bench stood up quickly, glancing at Saienta and then looked at Corey, confused. Saienta looked up at him. Everyone had gone silent and was staring.
         “…This is Sayenta Cressida,” Corey said.
Tidus sat down. “So…what is-”
Saienta lit a cigarette, relaxed. They stared, and then gave each other looks.
A girl with blonde hair turned away and refused to look at him. A guy, who was probably her boyfriend spoke up. “Never seen you around here before, where do you usually hang out?”
Saienta blew out smoke. “Some places. Library’s not bad.”
Corey looked at him but suppressed a laugh. Saienta caught it and glanced at him quickly, as if to say never mind.

         “Is this what you guys usually do?” Saienta asked, looking at Tidus who seemed to be silently fuming. “The silence…”
Tidus composed himself and pretended to relax. “Usually. Anyway,” he said, turning to a girl nearby. “You said you had something to say?”
She nodded. “Yeah, like, I was talking to Gwen before, and she said Stacey never got her insurance. Can you believe that? I mean, her crash was totally legitimate- it wasn’t her fault.”
The conversation carried on for a moment longer with most people agreeing Stacey deserved her insurance and she should sue her company for thousands. It was nothing new to Corey. He never listened much and mostly zoned out, but he was surprised to find Saienta genuinely interested.
         “So how much is the damage worth?” Saienta cut in.
They looked at him and the girl was pleased to have him ask a question she could answer. “Oh…$800.”
Saienta looked at his knuckles and up again. “How much is it to file a lawsuit these days?”
They glanced at each other. “Like…$2000, if you don’t include the attorney…”
Saienta raised an eyebrow. “Wouldn’t it cost less to pay the insurance rather than…”
         “Yeah, but, that’s not the point. It’s the principle of the thing.”
         “The principle? What’s that?”
The girl looked shocked. “The principle? She shouldn’t have to be swindled out of money that belongs to her, I mean, it’s hers, it wasn’t her fault.”
Corey’s eyes went back and forth.
Saienta shrugged. “I suppose the principle is worth it if you have the expenses.”
The blonde who wouldn’t look at him turned and her eyes flashed. “What the hell does that mean?”
         “It means if she has the money for pointlessness then good for her.”
Corey agreed and always had but never said it.

         “What car does she have?” Tidus asked.
         “Oh um…some cute little thing. A Honda something.”
         “A Honda Prelude,” her boyfriend answered for her.
         “Damn, pretty nice car. I was gonna get me one of those,” another guy chimed in. “Got myself an Integra instead.” He whistled.
A guy with short hair laughed. “That’s all Jap crap, plastic shit. I got myself a Ferrari, baby.” He grinned. “Half a mill, right there.”
A leaf fell nearby and Corey’s hand twitched- he and Saienta were half-Japanese. Corey felt Saienta nudge him gently. Saienta was looking at him, prompting him to say something. He shrugged, it wasn’t like he ever spoke up.
         “What kind of car do you have, man?” the guy said turning to Saienta.
         “I don’t have a car,” he answered.
The astonishment cut through the air and they all turned to each other and they smiled mockingly, his words seemed to have established their superiority further. Saienta only shrugged and lit another cigarette.
         “So how do you get around?” a girl asked, sitting on the grass.
         “I ride a bike.”
They laughed hysterically. Corey stayed silent while Saienta smoked his cigarette.
         “A bike, oh my God, are you serious? You’re not, are you?” They continued laughing and Saienta shrugged. “It gets me around.”
Corey kept from laughing- he didn’t want them to think he thought it was funny when the joke was actually on them, they didn’t realize he didn’t ride a push-bike, he rode a Kawasaki RSV. Saienta gave him a look and said, “Baka,” under his breath. Idiots.

Tidus didn’t join in. He was still angry and Corey only looked at him calmly, realizing he‘d never seen Tidus driving a car before.
         “So Sayenta, what do you do when you aren’t at school?” the girl in front of him asked and they all waited for the answer.
He thought for a moment. “I go home. I work. That’s about it.”
         “Work? Really? What do you do?” the girl on the grass asked scathingly.
         “Cleaning offices. Starbucks head office- fascinating place. They drink their own coffee there.”
         “What were you doing at the Tenro party the other night? Not your kind of scene, I figure,” a girl said. Saienta was silent and Corey noticed Saienta’s hand twitch.
Corey broke in quickly, “He was with me.”
Tidus looked up at him angrily.
Silence followed. “What do your parents do?” Tidus asked Saienta.
         “I don’t have parents.” He flicked his cigarette away.
The girls gave each other looks as if to say that explains everything and Corey felt his blood begin to heat and clenched his teeth.
         “Actually,” Saienta said, “that explains nothing. A person’s life is in their own hands.”
A few rolled their eyes as if it was a stupid suggestion.
The guy with short hair cleared his throat. “Been to Blue Angel?”
         “What’s that?” Saienta asked and Corey wondered the same thing but they looked at him in disbelief.
         “Blue Angel, it’s a club. You haven’t heard of it? That’s hard to believe. Everyone hangs out there.” The others agreed.
Corey was about to say he had never been there but Saienta turned and said, “Kami-sama ni hotoke-sama ni. Yama no youni mieru.” To God, to Buddha. Looks like a mountain. It made no sense and was so irrelevant Corey burst into laughter. Tidus looked shocked since Corey never laughed. Corey replied, “Gokusaishoku no karasuga sore wo ubai totte yaburi suteta.” A colourful crow came along, stole that map, and tore it up. Saienta and Corey laughed and Saienta clutched his stomach.
The others looked on in irritation. “That’s rude, you know,” the blonde girl said, holding her boyfriend’s hand.
         “Why?” Saienta asked casually.
         “Because we don’t speak Chinese.”
         “That’s good then, it’s Japanese.”
         “Oh my God, you guys, did you hear about those two kids getting beaten up by a gang in our own school?” a girl cut in.
         “Yeah, it was Red Tide,” Tidus said, looking at Saienta. “I’m sure you would know something about that.”
         “Red Tide? Nah. Never heard of it. Is it a gang?” Saienta asked the group.
         “Yeah,” the girl on the grass said. “I heard they kill people and stuff.”
“Interesting. Stuff. Why do they kill people?” Saienta looked bored.
Tidus glared. “Because they’re all criminals.”
An anger was now stirring in Corey’s insides that had built up during Saienta’s stay. He stopped himself from standing up and was about to say something but Saienta stood up and stretched. “This was fun. Anyone wanna join me in the library? They’ve got new books there, beautiful work.”
Corey stood and they began to walk away. Tidus stood in anger. “Since when did you start hanging around with assholes instead of us?”
Corey turned sharply and they stared each other down. “Be careful, Tidus.”

They were walking back across the oval and Corey was tense and felt bad, these people were supposedly like friends, and he felt obliged to apologize to Saienta. He probably wouldn’t be able to go back there again, not that he cared so much, but Tidus…he had his suspicions that Tidus would be angered but not to that extent. In a word, he was pissed.
         “Sorry, Saienta,” he murmured.
         “What for? You weren’t speaking for them, they spoke for themselves.”
He had nothing to say.
         “I trust you, Corey,” Saienta said, looking at him.
Corey looked up and only waited for an explanation.
         “I’m grateful that you said I was at the Tenro party with you. I can’t have anything to do with Tenro or that party.” Corey stopped and looked at him. “It’s because…” Saienta explained his reason and Corey didn’t know whether he should be pleased or concerned, but it was what Saienta wanted and he seemed as though he was in a good mood.
         “I was wondering; why were you so interested in the conversation about the insurance? I thought it was all shit…” Corey said.
Saienta shrugged. “I find their stupidity interesting. Sort of like a novelty, new to me, but I probably wouldn’t stand it for long. And I was wondering about you, actually. How can you put up with it for so long? Obviously you aren’t yourself there.”
That was true. His main reasons were because of his dad but there was no way to explain it. “They were the right connections, for business and stuff, I suppose.”
Saienta didn’t reply.

They worked on their project at lunchtime and Miss Silvalet dropped off lunch for them both. He thought it was weird and he wondered why she had bought it but Saienta didn’t react so he said nothing. They put down their pens with satisfaction when they finished the project and Corey let out a breath. “Are you free tomorrow evening?”
         “Yeah, I’m not working tomorrow…why?”
         “I have to go to a meeting at Akaino tech, and Leon wants you there so you can do a survey about the phone. You’re one of the subjects for the trial.”
Saienta thought for a moment. “Alright. Will your dad be there?”

Corey was mentally exhausted when his last class finished. He shut his locker and started down the corridor while adjusting the strap on his bag when he saw out of the corner of his eye a shadow standing in plain view down a different corridor across from him. He looked up and stared narrowly down the corridor. No one was there but he had heard movement and felt a spur of curiosity. Corey looked back and forth between the two corridors, deciding whether he should ignore it and go home, or investigate. The mysterious occurrence was too strange to not go and see for himself. He was curious. Corey turned away from his intention of going home and walked down the corridor. As he neared the end of the corridor he heard gentle footsteps ascending and the sound was growing faint with every step. Corey stopped in front of a staircase at the end of the corridor and saw at the top of the stairs the bottom of a flowing white dress and black sandals under her feet. A wave of curiosity washed over him again as she continued up the stairs out of sight. He could tell from her small feet that she was a young woman. Just then a group of students ran down the corridor; the sounds of their feet were bouncing loudly off the walls. As they neared, he was surprised to see Elli, Annaleace, Sirian and Ryan, carrying their school bags. They stopped in front of him panting heavily; Sirian and Elli lent over holding onto their stitches at their sides.
         “Did you see her too?” Elli asked urgently, looking up from the floor. Corey nodded and pointed up the stairs, not finding it as interesting as they did. Their eyes brightened.
         “Only a glimpse. Why? What’s going on?” Corey asked wonderingly. They exchanged impatient looks and ran up the staircase. Elli grabbed Corey’s wrist and pulled him up the stairs too. He held his bag close to his side to prevent it from sliding off his shoulder.
         “We’re going to the roof,” Elli told him, as they climbed the stairs in a hurry. The sound of their feet climbing the steps, their voices and the squeaks from their shoes echoed off the walls.
         “Why?” Corey asked.
         “Something strange is going on,” Elli replied seriously.
Annaleace who was further up the stairs called back. “Ryan and I saw her first in the corridor.”
Corey looked at the back of Annaleace; her black hair bouncing off of her back and to the sides. It was the first time he had heard her speak.
Ryan had his hand sliding up on the railing as he stepped up the stairs and said, “Yeah. But not just that. Markus and Sara were there and they couldn’t see her.“
“No one else around noticed either,” Annaleace added.
Corey turned to Sirian as she spoke up more quiet than the others and the disturbance in her voice was clear. “And her eyes- they were in a daze, like she wasn’t there…She wasn’t even looking where she was going. Her clothes were…different- out of place. I don‘t know how they didn‘t notice her.”
Corey creased his furrow in disbelief. It was strange, but how was it possible no one else could see her? He had seen her. They had seen her…
Annaleace reached the door to the roof first and pushed it open a little too rough. Corey and Elli were the last to reach the door and step outside.

Sunlight poured over the five of them as they rushed out onto the fenced roof. The only thing they saw was Saienta with his back to them, half a metre away from the fence, smoking. He didn’t even turn around and the five of them were searching the roof with their eyes, wondering where the girl had gone. They glanced at each other, feeling a little unsure of themselves. They approached Saienta who looked over at the five of them, probably wondering why they were on the roof. He took note of each face but seemed less interested in them than he was in something else.
         “Did you see a girl come up here?” Corey asked.
Saienta looked at him. “Yeah…white dress, and not from around here…” He stared through the wire fence again and the others stood silently, waiting for Saienta to tell them where she went. “Through the fence,” he said. “Didn’t kill herself.”
Corey stared ahead, through the fence and down at the cityscape. A sudden glimmer of rainbow light ran over a part of the fence and he unintentionally stepped back in surprise. Saienta flicked his cigarette through and they all watched as it disappeared upon entering the fence and didn’t fall through like it should have, or rebound off the wires.
         “What the hell?” Ryan exclaimed.
Elli stepped closer and examined the fencing, but didn’t touch it. “What is it?” She tentatively reached out a hand but pulled back hesitantly. She turned around and everyone was staring at the fence and then at her. Corey wondered what it was, why the cigarette disappeared and how the girl in the white dress was involved. Sirian pulled off her visor and stepped beside Elli, she threw it and Corey half-expected it to bounce off the wires and their shock was re-established when it too disappeared. “That’s some freaky ass shit…” Elli drifted.
         “God, what is this?” Annaleace asked incredulously. No one answered.
         “She went in,” Saienta said, “I saw her.”
         “Does that mean…we could go in?” Sirian looked around at them.
Corey ’s eyes passed over each face and it was then that he pondered on why it was only these people that saw her, if she had indeed been invisible to everyone but them. Corey shook his head and crouched down, thinking.
         “We don’t know if it’s safe, we don’t even know what it is or if it goes anywhere…” Annaleace said slowly. “We can’t just rush in there.”
It was decided, then, they would sit here and discuss whether they should risk entering this thing together but Corey shook his head again and looked up at Saienta who was staring ahead. It wasn’t as though they were about to turn and leave the mystery untouched. There was nothing imaginary about this thing and Corey had no other choice but to accept what was in front of his eyes. It appeared the same for Saienta and Elli. Saienta looked down at Corey and motioned with his head towards the fence. Corey suppressed a grin. Did he just mean what I think he meant?
Elli drifted over to the others, never taking her eyes off the mysterious part of the fence as they began a discussion on what the mystery could be, and whether they should risk it, but Saienta and Corey had different ideas. Nothing to lose.
While the others were crouched down, Saienta touched the fence with a hand and saw it disappear. He pulled back and slowly put his face through. Corey copied him, standing beside him and felt a rush of cool air on his face.
         “Shit…” he heard Saienta breathe. He stepped through first and Corey followed, finding they were up high on a roof…somewhere else.

Beneath the white clouds blanketing the afternoon sky, he and Saienta were surrounded by black skeletons of what had once been city buildings. The city must have been untouched for centuries because the walls of the buildings had crumbled and it was deserted of people. Nature had already taken over and beyond the city was flourishing forests and valleys. He imagined his own city would look something similar if it had been destroyed and empty of people and development. He heard Saienta let out a breath as they took in the strange view. Saienta reached back behind him and his hand disappeared. A moment later, Elli was the first to step through and be bewildered by the same scene. The rest came through and stared around in awe. No body said anything but the same questions ran through their minds. Where were they? Where did the girl go? Was it the future, or something else entirely different? Was this real?

         “This was an amazing city once…” Saienta’s voice drifted away and Corey looked in the direction he was. Unlike their cities where only a few skyscrapers reached into the sky, there were thousands of these incredible structures, standing together looming into the clouds- now deserted and crumbling. One of the closest had broken in half and the top leant against another. Corey looked back at Annaleace and Ryan. Ryan had his hand through the thing as he stared at the destroyed city.
         “Why do you have your hand through there?” Annaleace asked.
Ryan stared at her. “So it doesn’t close on us.”
She raised an eyebrow. “If it closes, your hand will disappear.”
         “Oh shit,” he exclaimed, snatching his hand back possessively. If it closes, we’ll all disappear, Corey thought. There were feelings of fear in him, but excitement too- he knew it was the same for the others. The excitement was balancing out the fear; in him he felt the gentle beat of his heart wearing the two emotions, making his chest feel strangely empty.
         “What is this place?” Sirian asked, picking up her visor and dusting it off.
         “Not our world…it feels different somehow,” Corey answered, scanning his eyes again over the skyscrapers and the positioning of the buildings that were nothing like their own, though he wasn’t certain; if it were the future would it look similar to this? Sirian looked down at the cracked rooftop and then at a vine that had snaked its way over across the ground. She bent over to look at it closely with her eyes narrowed. The vine was black and it looked dead yet it was very much alive. Along the vines stem were beautiful ocean blue flowers similar to orchids but smaller and different.
         “I don’t think this species exists,” Sirian said slowly as she examined it.
Corey stared at his feet, thinking. He couldn’t see how the girl could disappear; there was no way off the roof. The only stairs down were behind the portal. Corey stepped forward but Saienta held him by the shoulder with his hand. He looked around at Saienta.
         “There’s no way off,” Saienta said. “Don’t walk around, it’s unstable.”
Corey peered down off the roof and saw that some of the wall had already fallen apart. He looked back; it all happened too quickly. Five people appeared out of nowhere in front of the six of them. In the space of time he had, he had seen that the woman in the white dress was one of those five, and the other four were men of different ages, wearing the same black uniform. Corey took a sharp intake of breath out of shock. Three of the men vanished and before he could blink, Elli, Annaleace and Sirian were falling forwards. Just when his instincts registered and it told him to turn, he felt a painful sharp jab at the back of his neck and everything was swallowed into darkness. Strangely his last thought was ‘pieces.’

She sat on the plain white bed with her knees drawn up to her chest, going through the pictures on the screen of her digital camera over and over. Her mother and uncle, Sirian, Sirian and Keiji, and Sirian and Renna. The large apartment was nice- minimalist and well-kept, but it was quiet. Her uncle had gone somewhere, her mother with him, and Renna was left by herself, but she knew there was Red Tide watching. She didn’t know where, but they were around and no one would get past them- they were officials, just like her uncle. Knowing what her uncle was like, the other officials wouldn’t be much different. He was smart and serious, and though he didn’t show it, he observed every detail and made a summary of everything in his mind, like a book. Renna sighed and walked through each room and made her way over to her uncle’s bookcase. She brushed her fringe to the side but it fell forward over her eyes anyway. All boring books, nothing fictional- philosophy, psychology, even books on sociology and biology.
“Mew…” Renna felt the small kitten brush up against her leg and she looked down. She picked the soft and delicate ginger kitten up into her arms and hugged it to her body. It had been a present from her mother, to keep her company while she was alone- her mother was making plans to travel to Europe where she would find the best lawyers and help; her uncle was assisting. Her mother would win, they knew it, she had Red Tide help, but it was just a matter of time.
She was bored. She was alone. Her kitten, Omi, struggled in her arms and scampered away towards the kitchen. She left the books alone and sat down on the smooth leather couch. She had called Sirian moments ago, and knew she would be seeing her soon as a last goodbye before her mother and her moved overseas. Everything would be explained to Sirian properly…soon.

A Non-Existent User

Saienta sat on his bed, having only just hung up the phone. His hand trembled beneath the other no matter how hard he tried to make it stop. He looked at the screen of his phone, the blank face staring up at him, and he thought about Reeva- if they were going to kill Reeva if Saienta ran. But Saienta already knew it wasn’t going to happen, he was loyal to Reeva and he would never run, even though Reeva had told him to. He reasoned that it was just Reeva’s concern; Reeva would have known he wasn’t about to leave any of them to die. He had done nothing wrong and wasn’t about to either.

Saienta threw open the doors of the wing leading to Reeva and Mekhi’s rooms, aware he was already under surveillance by Red Tide. No one had stopped him yet and Saienta paused in front of Reeva’s room, looking at the room next door where Mekhi was. He thought about going into Mekhi’s room first to see who was there but decided not to, opening the door to Reeva’s room. He found Reeva on his bed with his bandaged leg, looking up at him, and two Red Tide in business suits standing beside the bed. They all stared as Saienta entered the room and shut the door. Reeva didn’t say a word, only smiled, and Saienta felt a confusion and anger growing in him.
“This is the man we’ve been waiting for- Saienta Kureshida. Sit down, Sai, they want to discuss something with you.” Reeva’s complacency hinted at betrayal and Saienta wanted to kill him. He stayed silent, unable to find any words to speak. Saienta walked over slowly and sat in one of the chairs. After all they’d been through…Reeva had even saved Saienta’s life, and likewise he’d saved Reeva once before. Saienta’s dark gaze wandered over Reeva who was half-smiling.
Reeva leaned forward and his intelligent eyes masked something he found humorous. “Tell us, Sai, why did you come here when I told you to run?”
The two Red Tide remained standing, listening to the exchange. Saienta was annoyed by the tone in his voice, as though he was looking down on Saienta; he’d never done so before, he had always been compliant and shown Saienta respect as their crew’s leader.
“Because my loyalty is to my crew and I’ve done nothing wrong,” Saienta said acidly.
“Nothing wrong,” Reeva looked up at the two Red Tide. “Believe me when I tell you both that Saienta knows what the truth is. He’s blunt and not afraid to tell it like it is- I’m the same.”

Saienta started to feel that something strange was going on. He wasn’t afraid to die, and had come almost expecting to have his life ended. Here Reeva was, talking as though he didn’t care- Saienta had trusted him, had laughed with him, they had talked and done missions together for the last four years.
“He is recommended to you, by me,” Reeva said. He sounded different- as though he had suddenly matured. Had Reeva been acting for this many years? “Saienta,” he called, turning, “You passed the Red Tide initiation. You’ll receive your wings if you accept.”
Saienta creased his forehead. “Passed the Red Tide initiation?” he repeated.
Reeva nodded. “Accept?”
Saienta looked up at the Red Tide and then at Reeva. But who was Reeva to be telling him he had just become a Red Tide? Reeva was under him…
“I accept if you’re serious,” he said, looking at the Red Tide again.
Reeva lifted his sleeve and showed Saienta his Red Tide tattoo: on the inside of his arm above his wrist were two blood red angel wings, splayed, that also resembled flowing ocean waves. It was a work of artistic genius. Saienta shook his head. “You? You’re an official? Since when?”
“Since…when was it? Must have been two years ago, when I was eighteen. Why do you think I didn’t take leadership when Aaron passed it on? I had to watch all of you, I was the next informant. Every group has one.”
Saienta glanced at Reeva’s leg and his shock was made more apparent. “You shot yourself?” He couldn’t believe he had made an official shoot himself and the side of his mouth twitched.
He shrugged. “I had to do whatever you said. I’m loyal to Red Tide. I watched every move of you and the others. As a Red Tide your missions will be harder- but you can accept and reject as you please- take a note though, the more you reject, the less you will be favoured for the higher paying jobs. You work mainly alone unless you’re told otherwise, and you’re still leader of Mekhi, Tate and Tye.”
“Them too?” Saienta asked.
Reeva shrugged. “They’re not bad, even though they’re dickheads sometimes. The old group merges with another. Go next door, they’re waiting for you. We made a bet- I knew I’d win.”
Saienta stood and shook hands with all three of them. “Congratulations,” one said. “The leaders look upon you with favour- you should be proud.”
He was handed a check and his eyes widened. “$500, 000?” He looked up and Reeva was grinning. “Welcome to Red Tide.”

In Mekhi’s room, Tate was in the middle of getting his tattoo and the others cheered when he opened the door.
“We knew you’d come,” Mekhi said, on his bed, nursing his arm.
The buzz of the tattooing was inaudible next to their excitement.
“Hey, how much was your check for?” Tate asked. The man giving the tattoo growled and pulled at his arm roughly. “Ow, shit.”
“Half a million,” he said, shutting the door.
They all looked at each other. “No way! Ours was only 200k each…” Tye said in astonishment.
The tattoo artist growled at Tate to stay still, concentrating.
“The mark takes a few hours. You’re next, should be beautiful when it clears,” Mekhi showed Saienta his own unhealed mess, winking at the gruff tattoo artist. The man growled but said nothing.
“I don’t think it speaks,” Tate murmured, peering closer. The tattooist bared his teeth. He grunted something and gave him a death stare. Tate looked away quickly, after all, the man was putting needles in him.
When it was Saienta’s turn, he noted the clear ink and asked the tattoo artist why it wasn’t red when the other’s had red tattoos. The man ignored him and continued working.
“You’re Rex Tandem, right? You won that national art award last year.”
The man grunted and kept working.
Saienta’s eyes traveled over the room. He looked back at the serious tattooist. “You work for Red Tide, you’re the only one who can apply these.”
After silence Saienta was about to open his mouth again – he was in a good mood after all- but the man made a move first.
The man cleared his throat. “The fluid is clear because it isn’t ink. The fluid has a chemical base that charges and bonds with your blood. It means it’ll always create a burning feeling while you have it and will show like normal when it heals. When you die, the tattoo will disappear. No mark.”
The others were silent, staring.
It spoke.
And so intelligently, less like a primate and more human.

He walked into Reeva’s room to find Reeva sitting up on his bed with Phoenix curled up next to him. He was stroking her hair and staring ahead in thought. Reeva put a finger to his lips and said Phoenix fell asleep.
“She told me she loves me,” Reeva sighed as Saienta shut the door.
“And what did you say?” Saienta asked.
“Nothing yet…I think I’m falling for her though.”
Saienta saw Phoenix’s eyes open for a second and knew she was awake. Saienta suppressed a smile. Reeva probably knew she was awake; which meant he would have wanted her to hear it while she was pretending she was asleep.
“What are you going to tell her?” Saienta sat down on a chair.
“That I was thinking along the same lines.” Reeva sighed again. “No more playing around, Sai. What a shame, I thought I enjoyed the single life. Looks like I’ll be stuck in a relationship with this little brat, when I wanted to sleep around, you know? I liked the bullshit. But I’m stuck with this crazy but sexy Balwyn bi-” he stopped when Phoenix reached up and slapped him on the chest and he laughed. She kept her hand on his chest and stayed in her sleeping position without saying a word.
Reeva suddenly grinned after a moment and looked at Saienta. “Causing some trouble at your school, Sai? There was this rich kid who wanted to pay Red Tide to have you fucked up. I was the one who got the call. I laughed my fucking ass off for ten minutes.”
Saienta laughed in amusement. “The guy’s name?”
“Cedric or some shit. Billionaire’s kid.”
Saienta nodded. His Red Tide wings felt like they were in flames. “I know him. I don’t know why he would be out to get me. He doesn’t know I’m a Red Tide.”
“That’s obvious. He doesn’t know Red Tide members respect each other first, then their clients. Why the fuck would we touch one of our own if he didn’t do anything? Oh yeah, there’s a funnier part, fucking loser. He wanted to pay- pay me Sai, to join Red Tide. Made me laugh again. I told him Red Tide services are no longer available to him. He drew the line.”
If Cedric wanted to join Red Ride, he was five years too late. The thought of Cedric becoming a Red Tide made him laugh and then shudder. But Red Tide changed people and Cedric wouldn’t be who he was if he had joined that long ago. No one would.
“Well done on getting so far, I had no doubts about you,” Reeva said after. “Things are more formal now. You can still visit the others but no one can know you’ve been made official. Try and lose the gang label- if you keep at it, it’ll eventually fade away and no one will know what you really are, or that you ever had an association. It isn’t compulsory to remain anonymous but it makes most missions easier. If anyone asks, it was all just a phase.”


The Gate – Monday

Saienta was calm – as calm as on that day outside Corey’s on the fields…everything was peaceful and all was black. His eyelids were too heavy to open and he felt someone lift his sleeve where his Red Tide tattoo had healed since last night; feeling like it was burning constantly. They put his sleeve back down and walked somewhere across the room, their feet only making patting sounds on the soft flooring- not carpet…harder and springier, definitely not wood…something like Japanese tatami flooring. He rolled onto his side with great effort but his eyes and body refused to wake completely. He heard a familiar voice, but it was distant even though they must have been in the same room.
A woman, “…it never does…”
A man’s voice, “…they’ve never…it’s not impossible.”

Saienta felt a kick in his side and his body reacted, waking him quickly. He opened his eyes to see someone’s black pants and bare feet. He remembered they had been on the roof overlooking the destroyed city. One of those guys from before, he realized and if he could have moved, if his body wasn’t so weighted down with sleep, he would have smashed him in the face. The young soldier smirked, proud to have the power in his hands, and leaned down to look him in the face. “Nice to meet you, I could tell you were awake just by your breathing pattern, I think you’re stupid not to have kept it controlled.”
What the hell? Saienta thought. He tried with all his energy to move but didn’t succeed.
The guy, who was probably a few years younger, maybe thirteen or so, clucked his tongue. “You guys fell so easily- I was looking forward to a fight, especially from you, you looked strong but I was wrong. Hey, a rhyme. My name’s Sin, remember it.” He winked and disappeared. I’ll remember it, you little prick.
Saienta struggled to move and his arm regained some strength. He moved his head and found he was in a large room- he was right about the flooring- and above him was a railing and upper floor. He was lying on a thin mattress on the ground, like a futon, and beside him half a meter away were a girl and guy, asleep. He couldn’t remember any names but he was sure they had a close relationship, brother and sister maybe.
He moved his head to look down past his feet and Corey was unconscious on a mat next to Elli and Sirian. Saienta noticed Sin gazing at Elli in curiosity. Sin reached down and touched her…it better have been her stomach or Sin would get a beating soon, from Elli, most likely. Sin picked up her limp wrist and turned over her silver bracelet. It took him a while but he unclasped it and then looked down at Corey. Saienta wondered where the boy’s parents were and why he was here roaming around causing mischief. Sin picked up Corey’s hand and slipped his silver ring off, sliding it onto Elli’s bracelet and clasping it together. He waved it around in interest and pocketed it.
Those people who had knocked them unconscious suddenly came to mind as though remembering a dream and Saienta was able to sit up. He remembered the thing they had gone through and wondered if he really was in the other place…the same world with the destroyed city. The lethargy drained out of him like water and the blood rushed through him. He stretched and Sin glanced at him in surprise. “You’re up already? I thought you would have been down there for at least another half hour. That’s how long it usually takes.”
Saienta lifted his watch. “It’s already been half an hour, how much longer do you think I need to sleep? Besides, I need the next half hour to kick your ass.”
Sin’s eyes widened and then he grinned. “Bet you couldn’t even if all of you were against me at once.”
“Cocky, aren’t you?” Saienta asked, truly surprised.
Sin shrugged and jumped as Elli whipped her hand out and grabbed his ankle. “Bracelet…now,” she demanded.
Sin looked from one to another and decided his fun was over. He darted away so quickly Saienta looked at the door in confusion, one moment he was there and then he had gone out the door in a blur before he could blink. What the hell? His eyes couldn’t even keep up, just like when they were knocked unconscious, these people moved so fast.

Elli and Saienta were up first, trying to wake the others before someone came in. They had agreed there were people in the next room and weren’t about to go charging in, unsure of who they were and if they were friendly. They decided they were unfriendly considering the way they had been brought here. Elli worked on Sirian while Saienta tried to wake the guy who was closest. It took the better part of ten minutes. In twenty they were all awake, most of them trying to shake off the sleep and looking around them, unable to react or move at normal pace. Saienta and Elli were awake by that time and were wandering around to find…things. Anything- water, clues on where they could be or even weapons. Corey yawned and rubbed his leg where Elli had unceremoniously bashed him with her knee to wake him.
The door suddenly slid open and they all looked up in surprise. “I knew you were all awake- your breathing patterns changed,” the tall soldier said, sliding the door after him. Again with the breathing patterns. It didn’t make sense anyway, how could he hear them breathe? The man was in his forties- tough, big and reminded Saienta of imposing war leaders. His face had many scars and his uniform was made in a practical way- with tough black material, and was obviously not just for show. His dark brown hair was cut short and he had dark eyes. He linked his hands behind his back and walked in, looking down at them. He had weapon belts but his weapons had been taken out. He probably removed them to seem less intimidating but it didn’t help him much. He could probably break Saienta’s arm with a hand. Saienta recognized him as one of those men that had been next to the woman in the white dress. For a long time no one spoke as he looked them over with his eyes. “Your cities, I have been told, are still standing, correct?” he asked in a deep voice. His tone was not friendly but serious and direct- it was almost as though he had to force out conversation if he wasn’t giving orders.
They looked at each other, who wanted to speak? His question seemed to suggest that they were no longer in their own world but elsewhere where all the cities were no longer standing.

“That’s correct,” the girl he didn’t know said, sitting with her legs crossed. Her brother shot her a look of disbelief for answering. The door slid open and the woman in the white dress appeared. A wave of calm swept over them and Saienta found that none of them were reacting like people usually did in such situations- with apprehension and confusion. They had already decided these people were unfriendly but still…they didn’t know for sure. The woman smiled- she was in her early twenties and without having to think much on it, he decided she was one of those rare and truly beautiful women. Her black hair was long and silky reaching all the way down to her mid-thighs. “Pleasure to meet you all,” she beamed, standing beside the warlord. The contrast was clear.
“My name is Ame [A-meh],” she said, gazing at them and then looking at the man expectantly. “Well? Aren’t you going to introduce yourself? Really.”
He nodded as if it was an order. “Evriel, but our people call me General. You will do the same.”
“What are your names?” Ame asked, looking at Corey first.
“Corey Akaino,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck, still tired.
“Sirian Tomi.”
“Annaleace Campsall,” the girl who answered the General earlier said.
“Ryan Campsall,” the guy answered when Ame’s eyes went to him, confirming that they were related.
“Oh, brother and sister?” Ame asked.
“Twins,” Annaleace explained.
Ame turned to Saienta and he noticed the strange colour of her eyes. At the top they were dark blue and faded into a pale blue at the bottom. “Saienta,” he said.
“Elli.” She yawned and lay down where she was.
How could we be… Saienta thought but his thought didn’t complete itself.

After a brief silence, the General and Ame sat down cross-legged in front of them.
“I have dreamed of you all before,” Ame began mysteriously, “we knew there was another world, but none have entered before, that we know of, and to have you here is improbable…but expected. We are as alien to you as you are to us. It was not long ago when we discovered there was another world almost similar to what ours once was, and having the six of you enter means something very important is going to occur. Your appearance coincides with the beginning of a new war.”
The six of them glanced at each other. Was she for real? Oh well…
“You have wars in your world?” the General asked.
“We have, but none for…over 60 years,” Corey said.
The General nodded and Ame went on. “Our wars have been going on for over 200 years. This war…it is not what you might consider new but it is only now that so much has been happening again. It is only now that we have needed to take action desperately. Never in my experience have my dreams affected reality so much- to have them do so means you are here for a reason.”
They looked at each other. Her dreams led them to another world? He found it hard to believe that her dreams could be significant in any way…but then again, they were sitting here.

The six of them sat on the floor with their legs crossed and their shoes off. For a bunch of kids who just entered through the school roof into another world, they were strangely relaxed. Saienta thought it was definitely abnormal but his thoughts couldn’t dwell on it long. Ame and the General gave them brief details of the concerns of their world- past and present. Their world had been similar- once- but the cities were more advanced.
“After a prolonged war between the north and south of the city, all city structures were destroyed, leaving them destitute and fallen,” Ame began. “It began over two centuries ago, a war between our great-grandparents that has never quite ended. The survivors numbered many but nowhere near what it once was. Now it is somewhere in the hundred thousands as opposed to millions that once lived. It had taken many years for the cities to be deemed unlivable and the survivors in the south migrated down- where we here now reside- and the northerners up but closer to the city. We dwell in villages and abhor the use of technology or anything to do with our past that led so many to destruction. We are happy living simply. The northerners were once the same but now they are fighting to reclaim the city and use technology once more. All villages in the south fight to stop them.”
“How will we help?” Elli asked. “We’re just…kids.”
“That is true,” Ame nodded, “I believe you’ve met Sin? He is thirteen years old and extremely gifted. Our world is different to yours- the people here are not…” she struggled to find a word. “They’re not…inhibited.”
“Inhibited?” Elli asked. “What does that mean in this case?”
The General took over. “After observing you, we realize that your people are not aware they can break the pattern of thinking that allows us to use Mythra and enhanced abilities.”
They looked at him inquisitively. “Mythra?” Sirian asked.
“Abilities beyond the normal capacity- it is different for every individual as fingerprints are.” The General turned to Ame. “Lift it for a moment.”
They looked at her. Lift what? Ame raised a hand, closed her eyes and Saienta felt the wave of calm lift off him like a blanket. The reactions he had expected rushed in- fear, curiosity, skepticism, distrust, feelings of imprisonment, and others. He sat up and looked at the others who must have been experiencing the same- Elli sat up quickly, Ryan stood and looked angry. “How-” he began but was cut short when Ame lifted her hand and calm swept over them again. As calm as that day on Corey’s roof… Ryan had his hand up, taking deep breaths and he sat down again.

Ame smiled. “I’m sorry to use Mythra on you all, but as you can tell, things would be difficult to explain.”
Elli shook her head. “What is…how- I don’t understand how you can-” she shook her head again and gave up.
“I can change the atmosphere around me- that is the Mythra ability I possess. In my case, Mythra is born in my mind and that is where I draw it from, it is different for others. I have another ability and that is what led you here but…” She shook her head, unwilling to explain it further.
A thought occurred to Saienta. “If the people in our world can’t break that thought pattern allowing them to use Mythra, does that mean if we learned how, we could use it?”
“Yes,” Ame explained. “But only because you have entered through the Gate and the Mythra that exists here woke the Mythra in all of you.”
Saienta wondered if they planned to have them all learn how to use Mythra and why.
“Gate…you mean the, uh, portal we entered through?” Annaleace asked and Ame nodded. “Can we go back?” she asked suddenly.
“Yes, you can return, we planned to have you return before the day is out. But we wish for you to return again…”
“Why?” Ryan looked up. “What do you plan for us?”
“We will train you for war,” the General said brusquely.
Ame shot him a disapproving look for his tact or lack of it. Saienta saw some eyes widen and looks of disbelief. Except for Corey who was mostly unresponsive and had been for a while now. Even though Corey was quiet in most situations, he was a little too quiet. Saienta was about to ask but Corey’s stomach growled and Corey looked down at it in misery.
“We want you to think it over carefully for the next hour. You will be free to wander around until then- it is a simple yes or no. If you say yes, then we will require you here again in a week. You will be asked to come here as often as possible- you have to put in your all or nothing. We will give you the details of the war and what we expect of you. However, if you say yes, we will also require your reasons for wanting to help us. If you say no or your reason is unacceptable, we will have to send you back after erasing your memory of this place and you will never learn how to use your Mythra.” The General nodded and then stood. “I will expect you to come into my office individually for your answers when the hour is over.”

Saienta was the first to walk outside while the others felt they should talk about it together. The villages were simple and Saienta noticed they had taken on the Japanese style of housing- simple wooden structures, minimalist and clean. The air was fresh and the sun was slowly setting as he stepped outside. He stood for a moment on the wooden porch that went all around the house as he took in the amazing view. The flourishing green forests bordered one side and spread out for miles downhill until they reached great mountains in the distance. The village houses were spread out over a green valley and sloped downwards from the house he stood on. He stepped out onto the green grass and shielded his eyes to see how big the village was. There might have been a few hundred, almost a thousand, houses like this one dotted out over the vale. He walked across to the side of the house and saw the grey city far in the distance, looking so dead and wrong compared to this place. There were fields where he could see farmers plowing and some packing up for the day and heading home. The calm that Ame had put over them was gone but given time to think about it, he found he was stable anyway. Saienta lit a cigarette and walked around the house to see a building that looked like a dojo- the schoolhouse, Ame explained when she walked past him to go inside. She stood next to him for a moment. “The General has many soldiers, his most gifted and devoted live here. Sin is one of those. If you look here you can see the training field,” she pointed beyond the schoolhouse towards the forest at a large green field that was bordered by the trees and he could see a large river flowing on the edge by the forest between the field. “See them training there now?” she asked. “That will be you soon,” she said knowingly, walking into the building. Ame was the village schoolteacher. Looking at the field, Saienta could only see black blurs darting back and forth. Was that the soldiers in training? His eyes could barely keep up, and he knew they wouldn’t if he was standing closer. Wild horses were running on a field further over and between the trees. Rell might love it here, he thought.

After about ten minutes of thinking, Saienta pulled Corey outside where they could speak alone. They were standing on the grass overlooking the forest. “What did you decide?” Saienta asked, pulling out a cigarette. Corey put a hand in his pocket and looked out towards the mountains. “Same as you.”
Saienta was afraid of that. “Look, Corey, it isn’t that I don’t think you’re capable, but I want you to think about it more. No one seems to be aware, like they think this new life on the side will be a joy- new world, Mythra, increased abilities, heroic shit- but take a look at the General’s soldiers- they’re not kids, they’re warriors, people who kill. They do it for a living, look at how hardened they are- they’re not having fun, Corey. They’re starving for normality.” They watched one of the soldiers walk by without looking at them and enter into the training building. He would have been only a few years older. “If we say yes, everything will get harder from here- it won’t be easy learning all this shit they want to teach us, we’re too conditioned by our own society, our thoughts aren’t as malleable as a child’s, we weren’t lucky to have grown up here.
Ame and the General are aware of how tough this is going to be on us, that’s why they’re giving us the time to think it over. This is a war, and they want to train us for it. When they mean we have to put in our all or nothing, it means we have to give our lives over to this, we have to work hard and devote everything we have. Forget about every commitment you’ve made in our world. We’ll need every moment we can get to train for what we might encounter- death, torture, pain that your body won’t be able to cope with, trauma- it means we learn to kill others, people we don’t know or in an unlucky case, someone we do know.” Saienta watched for Corey’s reaction and he only creased his forehead.
Saienta went on. “Our lives in our own world will be nothing like it will be here. There is always danger here, everyone is conditioned to be wary, that means there is something to be afraid of. We will suffer, Corey. Have you ever? I don’t think half of our own world knows what it’s like to experience it.” Saienta shook his head and Corey looked at him.
“What do you mean by suffer?” he asked.
“The worst thing…torture- physical, mental, emotional. We’ll be fighting- struggling to live, we’ll always be one step away from dying and every day we live will just be one more day to be glad we haven’t died yet. Besides the physical pain of being slashed with a blade or whatever, there is the fear and pain of losing someone you trust or care about. There is the mental pressure, how many soldiers in WWII lost it after the war? They say the nightmare of a soldier who survives is the worst.
It’s nice that we’ve lived in our own world for so long, but can we handle staying here? I don’t even know if I could say yes so easily. We’ll harden, and we’ll darken- there won’t be as much to laugh about. Sirian, Elli, Ryan and Annaleace- they need to think it over, their lives will change forever from this day forward if they say yes. Look at the contrast- our lives at home where most of us just live without thinking about it, compared to this place where everyday existence makes itself clearer.”
A long silence passed as he let Corey think. “Have you ever suffered?”
Saienta sat on the grass and looked out over the forests. He remembered that time of darkness- ropes cutting into him, being cut up with unseen knives and screamed at to tell everything he knew, physical torture…but that was only once in his life, those people he never saw had added to so many scars. They didn’t know who he was, he was an enemy only because he was a Red Tide.
Everyday in his life before had been his suffering- he had lived like a Red Tide soldier and his own life wasn’t so important to him now.
He was a slave before, when he was a child, in a home that wasn’t home. Everyday was nothing, not worth waking up for. That was suffering. Everyday was the same, it wasn’t like if he made the decision to stay, much would change, it was just that there was more purpose than his own self now.
“Never,” he answered. “What have you decided?”
“I haven’t changed my mind,” Corey said, sitting on the grass too. “I know its right.”
Saienta only nodded.
I’ve never suffered? I’m sorry to have lied, Corey. I suffer everyday.

“Out of the six that entered the Gate, who do you think has the most to lose?” Saienta asked.
Corey thought for a while. “Maybe…Sirian, she’s involved in a lot at school, and not just that, it seems like she’s not the type to face death so easily. I don’t see her killing anyone. And then Ryan and Annaleace- they have a close relationship and a big family. I don’t know about Elli. Do you think she’ll say yes?”
Saienta nodded. “She will…there’s something going on in her life- I don’t know what it is- and she wants to escape it. She’s headstrong too, she’ll want to fight. It’ll kill her if she missed out on an opportunity for something as life changing as this.”

Saienta stood in front of the General at his desk. The General’s eyes wandered over him. “Your decision?” he asked roughly.
“I thought so. Tell me your reasons.” The General sat back in his chair.
“I need to do this. There are things in my life I won’t reveal but they have driven me to this point and there is no turning back now. I want to fight,” Saienta explained.
“Tell me more, there are things left unsaid,” the General said slowly.
“I want to make a decision for once in my life- a decision that is bigger than my own selfish wants- and I want to know existence, to taste it and live it. I know I’ve been searching for something all my life and I’ll find it here. I’m not sure what you do here…but I’ll join you.”
The General’s face didn’t change but he nodded, Saienta had observed many people but none like him. He was impossible- a man who was hardened and impenetrable, made into stone by the wars.
Before he left, Ame walked in and tied a piece of string around his pinky finger, twisted over in an elaborate way. She explained that it was impossible to remove and it would break only if he broke his pact. “What pact?” Saienta asked.
“You are to mention to no one in your world, except for those who have this string around their finger, the Gate, our world and anything in it.”

They were escorted to the city by the General and two of his older soldiers; none of them had their memories erased and they all had strings around their fingers so Saienta concluded that everyone had said yes and had been accepted. It took two hours to reach the building from the village and no one had spoken the whole way as they observed everything. After a while it became easier to believe everything was real. They watched in amazement as one of the soldiers leapt all the way to the top, at least seven storeys high without much effort. He jumped between two walls, making his way up by jumping between window ledges that were at least two meters apart at a time. He threw down a rope ladder that the group of them used and they stood in front of the familiar wall that would be the Gate. By watching, Saienta could tell that the soldiers and the General did everything effortlessly. They would have trained hard, everyday, all their lives.

The General saluted them and they awkwardly did the same.
“Return here at exactly 8am, Monday, next week,” the General commanded.
Sirian looked up at him. “Um…I don’t mean to be troublesome but the cruise is next week and I need to be there. It goes for three days.”
Saienta gazed at her, wondering how she could bring it up but it must have been important for her for some reason.
The General’s eyes narrowed. “When will you be available?”
“Wednesday…” she said.
“Then you will assemble here at 8am, your time, Wednesday. Your first day of training will proceed then. None of you are allowed to enter through the Gate until then, there will be consequences if you do.”
They didn’t mention the fact that they had school. Once was enough. They nodded and he disappeared along with his soldiers.

Elli, Corey and Saienta were the first to step through the Gate and felt strange to be back in their own world on the school roof. It was evening, growing dark quickly and Sirian, Annaleace and Ryan stepped through, looking back at the portal wondering if they had really just come from there- a different world. It seemed to confirm everything that was happening to them.
Saienta’s stomach rumbled and he realized they hadn’t eaten since lunchtime.
“I’ve got to get back,” Sirian said suddenly, looking out towards the city. Annaleace and Ryan agreed and Saienta led them through the school, a route he knew only because he had broken in so many times. Ryan and Annaleace said goodbye and drove home; Sirian drove away in her black sports car. Elli looked at Corey and Saienta while they stood in the car park of the school. “Walking home?” she asked them.
Corey nodded.
“Good,” she said, “you can walk me.”
Saienta walked with them until they reached the park where his Kawasaki was chained and then Corey gave him a strange look.
“What?” Saienta asked.
“I’m hungry and I have no food at home. Well…I do but nothing I can cook.”
Saienta laughed. Elli sighed longingly. “Pizza would be good; I’m craving pizza, yep.”
“Let’s order some,” Saienta said, “there’s a place not far from here. We can eat at the park.”
Elli sat on the wooden platform of the slides, her feet on the ladder, Saienta on the top of the slide and Corey was lying down next to them. Exhaustion had set in.
“Hello? Oh yeah, pizza please. What kind? Right,” Elli began, and Corey laughed, amused at her greeting on the phone. “Three large- very large- pizzas. One with mushrooms, ooh, and cheese and wait, extra cheese; and sauce- barbecue, not tomato; and no pineapple- yuck. Ham, bacon, pork. Oh wait, I change my mind, I don’t eat pig. Do I look like the type of person who eats pig? Seafood pizza please. What do you guys want?” she asked, looking at them.
“Cheese and pepperoni, that’s all,” Saienta said.
“Pepperoni too,” Corey told her and she repeated it into the phone.
“Where to?” she asked into the phone. “The park. Yeah, the park. Oh, I donno… which park, Saienta?”
Saienta gave her the directions. “Yep, thanks,” she hung up.
They sighed and waited in the silence. The stars had come out. While Elli talked, they listened. “That over there, I believe, is Sagittarius and there, that one is Taurus- my star sign, thank you very much.”
“Isn’t there only one star sign that comes out every month?” Corey asked.
“Oh…yeah…well I guess that one just looks like Sagittarius- a look alike maybe.” Elli sighed and glanced at her watch. “I don’t feel like going home. There isn’t much to do. Sitting here and eating pizza will be fun.”
Saienta only lit up a cigarette as he listened to Elli talking. It was comforting to everyone to be speaking somehow, after all the seriousness of the other world. The subject remained unspoken of for now.
“So…” Elli began, “When is your birthday? Corey? Saienta?”
“Same day,” Corey answered.
“Last Monday,” Saienta said.
“Really, same day…do you know whose birthday mine coincides with? Paris Hilton. Terrible twist of fate. Do you know she had a birthday cake in the shape of the Eiffel tower for her party? I had none, so you know what I did? I went out and got myself a cupcake and sang Happy Birthday. I had a candle and everything.”
“Serious? Me too,” Corey said, amused. Saienta looked at him but didn’t comment. He wondered why there was no one to celebrate with, same for Elli.
Elli and Corey were friends…they might all end up as friends one day. If all six of them were together in the other world, it didn’t necessarily mean they would be friends, it meant they only had to be loyal.
Because that’s what soldiers do, he thought.
“My hero!” Elli suddenly exclaimed, standing. The pizza had arrived and they all paid for their own. Before the pizza guy even left they were already eating their pizzas with relish.
Halfway through downing their pizzas in silence, Elli asked what they thought the food would be like in the other world. Saienta shrugged and pulled out the phone he had stolen from Corey- the CA7, and turned on the speakerphone- switching the radio on for them all to hear. The announcer was introducing a song. “Hm…” Elli murmured, “does this mean you want me to stop talking?” She raised her brow at him.
“No,” Saienta said, “I wanted to enhance reality- it feels weird coming in and out of a different world.” He glanced at the string tied around his finger.
The song came on and they all said ‘ugh’ in unison: “…this is the closest thing to crAzy I have ever known… the woman sang in a slow voice and Saienta changed the station, wincing.
“That woman sounds like a lunatic,” Elli commented. They agreed and a Japanese song came on: Utada Hikaru- Colours.
“Ooh, leave this one, I like it,” Elli said, singing along. Saienta and Corey finished their pizzas and sat, filled and content, listening to Hikki on the radio and Elli singing. The song ended and Saienta turned the radio off. A long peaceful silence followed.
“We all need to get together and talk about the portal and the decision we made,” Elli said seriously. “I know we probably aren’t in the mood for it now, but tomorrow. The decision we all made may not be final unless we discuss it properly.”
Saienta thought for a moment. Elli was a strange character- humorous and outspoken but he knew she definitely had a serious side; beneath all she conveyed, she was observant. He was glad for her lighter side- the optimist- it would remind them all to be positive, especially in the future when they would need it the most. “Good idea,” Saienta said, looking up into the sky.
“Me and Saienta will be in the city by that time,” Corey added.
Saienta nodded, having forgotten- that morning at school felt like an age ago.
“There’s a small restaurant I know of there,” Elli smiled. “Good Chinese food- a lot of people, mostly noisy working-class men, and no one will overhear us. If they do, they’ll probably think we’re nuts, or we’re working on some kind of school thing. It’s called The Golden Sands.”
“It’s settled then, tell the other three tomorrow. We’ll meet there at 6.30.”

Sirian hadn’t known what to say. An hour to make what could very well be the largest decision in her life? How could that possibly be enough time? She left the group, went for a walk by herself. Of all five, Sirian felt closest to Annaleace. Though they had only known each other a few days, Sirian and Annaleace had so many common interests and she actually felt like she could trust the other girl. But even with that promising friendship, Sirian didn’t feel like she could speak with anyone at the moment.

Sitting on a half-eroded bench facing the ruined city, she closed her eyes and just thought. A few moments went by and Sirian felt a distinct presence near her. She opened her eyes and saw Ame standing just a dozen feet to her left.

“It used to be so beautiful here.” She said softly.

“It still is, just a different type of beauty.” Sirian answered back.

“You are an admirer of beautiful things, are you not?”

“Isn’t everyone?”

“Good answer.” Ame smiled cheerily. “Do you feel that wisdom is beautiful?”

“How can it not be? Acquired knowledge transformed into an almost palpable insight...”

“Would you care to begin a trip on the road towards true wisdom?” Ame spoke, putting a hand on Sirian’s shoulder. “It may help you to make your decision.”

With a swift glance, Sirian nodded her head. Ame guided Sirian to a building. On the way in, she noticed an oak tree emblem on the front door.

“What does the tree mean?” Sirian asked.

“Though withered by age and storms, truth dwells beneath. It is my school‘s aphorism.” Ame paused and turned to Sirian. “Always ask questions Sirian. Questions lead down the path to enlightenment. Only by inquiring about life will you be able to experience it fully.”

They entered the schoolhouse and Ame immediately went to the front. She beckoned Sirian to an empty chair in the front. In the room were a dozen or so young boys all with a dangerous look about them.

“Class, this is Sirian, one of the six from the other world.”

Several of the boys glanced her way. A vicious looking twelve or thirteen year old simply glared at her. Ame didn’t give the class any other explanations as to why the girl was in their private session. She went straight into her lesson. The more that Sirian listened to Ame, the more her respect for the woman grew. She was pure wisdom. The session ended and Sirian walked to Ame.

“Will you teach me more?” Sirian asked eagerly.

“In time.” Ame smiled brightly. “Life is complicated, but we must try to learn as much as we can in the time allotted to us.”

“So we are, in essence, students of Life.”

“Exactly.” Ame said. “I think that you could be my most promising student.”

“I would like that.”

“Your time to meet with the General draws near. Though I will not coerce you to help us, I will say that you, as with each of your friends, have definite potential.”

Ame said nothing more, but led Sirian to where the General was. Sirian went in and, as there was no chair, stood before him.

“What have you chosen?”


“I was not so sure about you. What are your reasons?”

“This is the right thing to do. Honestly, I don‘t relish in fighting, but there are times when fighting is necessary.” Sirian paused. “If I can help, I will.”

The rough man before her said nothing, and Ame walked in. The calm smile was still about her face and she explained the string’s significance to Sirian.


Sirian drove home, quite a bit faster than she normally did. Pulling up to her house, she saw her parents come running out the front door.

“Sirian! Are you all right?” Her father asked.

“Darling, were you hurt?” Her mother said directly after.

“No, I’m sorry for worrying you. I met with some friends and lost track of time.” She said sweetly.


The week went by as a total blur. Only on Friday did Sirian actually break routine. She met with Annaleace outside the school and the two girls drove to the mall.

“Where do we go?” Annaleace asked once they entered.

“There’s a great boutique by Macy’s. They sell one of a kind hand-sewn dresses.”

“Well that’s good, no one else will have my same dress at the dance.” Annaleace said smiling.

The two girls walked to the opposite side of the immense mall, finally coming to Macy’s. Sirian walked past it and to a store that was tucked away in the corner. Annaleace began browsing and looked at a tag.

“They don’t kid around here do they?” She laughed.

“Huh?” Sirian asked.

“Are you okay? You’ve been acting kind of weird the past few days.”

“It’s this whole parallel world thing. Shopping for dresses seems really insignificant compared to everything else that’s going on.”

“Yea... But at the same time it‘s nice to do something at least a little normal right?”

“Definitely.” Sirian smiled. “So let’s pick out a dress for you. I think this one.” Sirian held up a garnet colored halter top dress with a not too-full skirt to it. “It’s a great color for you. Not too girly, but still enough to make a statement.”

“I like it.”

While Annaleace went to try the dress on, Sirian browsed through the racks. Finally her eyes settled on a very light pastel blue dress. It had flowing princess-sleeves, a low-cut neckline, and a sleek skirt with a slit up the left side. Simple but sexy at the same time. She went into the dressing room and was convinced that the dress was perfect. Annaleace showed her the red one.

“That rich color works really well on you.” Sirian said.

“I guess it goes to show that you don’t have to be an anorexic blonde model to be drop dead gorgeous.” Annaleace joked. Both girls laughed.

They changed back into their street clothes and left with the dresses in garment bags. After grabbing a bite to eat in the food court, the two girls went back to Sirian’s house. She gave Annaleace first pick of all the accessories.

“You know what Sirian?”


“I really had fun today. And that’s saying something since I hate shopping.”

Sirian laughed. “I had fun too.” She paused. “I was wondering though, who’s the lucky boy you’re going with?”

Annaleace walked out of the building and into the village. She had too much to think about, with so little time. She began to bit her bottom lip as her fingers twirled strands of her hair. She took a deep breath and watched soldiers walking into what she assumed was the schoolhouse. She felt distracted, unable to concentrate on what was important. Soldiers walked all around, ignoring her; it was as if she didn’t exist. Annaleace looked down at the ground. They looked so empty, their faces so hardened by everything their people were put through. They walked on both sides of her, a couple meters between her and in lines.

She felt someone staring at her, raising her head she saw a soldier, out of line; walking toward her, watching her. Her arm dropped to her side as she caught his eyes. They compelled her, not like anything from her own world. The green shade of them, light, was like baby blue is to navy. His hair was short, and blonde, like those models on hair dye commercials. He looked her up and down, then returned his sight back to her face, then back to her eyes. As he walked past her, his arm brushed hers; sending shivers down Annaleace’s spine. She grabbed her arm and looked behind her. The soldier’s head was turned around, watching her as he vanished into the schoolhouse.

She took a deep breath in, feeling as if she hadn’t been able to breathe for the last minute. Annaleace walked over to the schoolhouse and sat down outside of the doors. She sighed, putting her head in her lap. “What am I going to do?”
         “Only you can answer that.” Ame was standing over her.
Annaleace looked up at her and slapped a half smile across her face, ”I know.”


Annaleace looked at Sirian and laughed, “I don’t know, I think I’ll just go stag. Guys do it all the time right? And if I'm lucky I'll meet some cute guy.” Both of the girls laughed. “Who are you going with anyways?”

Ryan lent up against a wall and exhaled slowly.
         ‘We will train you for war.’
This was pretty serious, war was chaos, war was suffering, and war meant death. Was this really something he wanted to get into? Ryan thought back to his family names: Campsall, Wallace, Scott, and Monroe. They were all clans that fought with other clans in Scotland; war was in his blood but not in his heart.
         ‘If I fight it will consume my life,’ he thought, ‘it would be for the right reasons but it isn’t my fight.’
Annaleace got up and left the room. ‘What if she joins? I couldn’t just let her walk through the Gate all the time wondering if she’ll ever come out. I can’t leave her here alone.’ Ryan felt around his chest for a moment then pulled out a necklace. It was a large coin, on one side was a dragon turned to the left, its wings were wide open and it held an orb in its left hand. On the other side was a Celtic peace knot. Annaleace had one too but the dragon faced to the right and the orb was in its right hand, he thought about how they got them, it was left to them by their grandparents.

He looked at the centre of the knot and could still make out the symbol of the Masonic Lodge. Then he turned it over and looked at the orb; it was a red cross.
         “There has been a family member wearing one of these for centuries,’ his grandfather had said, ‘and every one of them was on this earth for a reason. Your ancestor Jacques de Molay had a set of these made before he died and sent them to his nephew's family to be given out to the whole of the house on Molay. These are the only ones left. This is who you are Ryan, this is what you were born to be.’

Ryan put the necklace back under his shirt. If his grandfather was here he’d give Ryan that ‘I told you so’ look.
         “Alright grandpa,” Ryan murmured, “you win. Let's try it your way.” Ryan rose and walked out of the room; soon he found himself in front of the General's office. He knocked and entered after he heard a response.

         “You have come to a decision” the General stated.
         “I have,” Ryan responded. The General nodded and Ryan continued, “I will fight for you.”
The General leaned back in his chair, “Why?”
         “I am descended from a line of knights, those are a type of warrior in my world, and each knight was born for a reason and every one of them found what that reason is. This is my reason, I’m not here to win your war, I am here to protect my sister from your war by fighting with her.”
The General regarded him a moment. “Your sister came in and told us she would fight but she hasn’t been in contact with you since. How did you know?”
Ryan smiled slightly, “I know.”

Ryan stood before the Gate looking around at everyone. They each had the string around their finger. Ryan and Annaleace looked at each other. They had just started a new chapter of their lives and there was no one else but them. They held each other's hand and stepped back into the world they could never really return to.

A Non-Existent User
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          “I’m going to save the world!” Elli said in a singsong voice. She moved around the room, gathering a few things into a small sling bag. “And I get to kick some ass too!”

          There was a knock at the door and her father walked in. “Dad,” Elli said, “I give you points for knocking, but remember, you have to wait until I say ‘Come in’.”

          He smiled. “I was just wondering how you were. You seem more cheerful these past few days. Why?”

          “Oh, Dad,” she said, grabbing his hands and swung him in a circle. “Why must people need to reveal the source of their secret happiness?”

          “I was just curious, that’s all.”

          Elli smiled; a genuine smile. In one week, she had poisoned the most hated guy at school, discovered a new world and agreed to help the people of it, got to patronize Gwen (an in a disguise, too!), and she got to hang out with her two best friends over some pizza and Japanese songs. Nothing could make her happier now.


          “She wears a fucking size twelve, Corey,” she said, as they walked through the hallway. “It’s extremely obvious; she’s a witch, a demon.”

          Corey laughed. “I can’t believe you disguised yourself so quickly and Gwen fell for it.”

         “Shows you that even dying maggots are smarter than her, huh?”

          They stopped at Corey’s locker. He fiddled with the lock and opened the door. “Corey,” Elli said looking inside, “You seriously need to organize your locker.”

         “It’s a locker.”

         “It represents you as a whole. Looking at this locker, it’s telling me that you are a messy and lazy person.”

          Elli didn't have time to catch Corey's expression because she giggled as Saienta strolled towards them. Elli smiled at him. “Hey,” she said.

          “Hey,” he said. He looked at Corey. “Are we set for tonight?”

         Corey nodded.

          Suddenly, Gwen walked by, clad entirely in black, including a veil, sobbing into a handkerchief. “My dear Cedric,” she wailed. “Poisoned! Bamboozled! Deceived! And it’s all because he cares so much about you all!” she yelled. “Whenever he gets better, he will search for the traitor that did this to him! So if I were you, I would, like, confess now!”

          “How do we know it wasn’t you?” Elli yelled back.

          Gwen marched toward her. “It couldn’t have been me. I love him,” she said.

          “Oh, you love him? As well as your twelve-sized feet?”

          Gwen let out a yelp. “How—what are you talking about?”

          “Oh, nothing. Just a rumor I heard around the school…”

          “Well, it’s not true!”

          “Of course, Gwen…I believe in you…you love Cedric…you don’t have twelve-sized feet…and you do sleep with a pink pony named Amber…”

          “Yeah, I do all of those things…wait…how did you know about Am---wait, it’s not true!” She got upset and ran off into the bathroom.

          “How did you know about that, Elli?” Corey asked her.

          Elli just gave him a devious look. “Wouldn’t you like to know all of my secrets?” she smiled.


** Images For Use By Upgraded+ Only **

Tuesday in the corridor at recess Elli told Corey she had told Annaleace, Ryan and Sirian to meet them in the city that afternoon at The Golden Sands. Corey nodded and said he would see her at The Golden Sands at 6:30 as planned. Corey looked down at his middle finger sadly, missing his ring that had disappeared. He felt more not himself than normal. The ring had no special meaning, but after years and years of wearing it, there was a fondness, and having it absent from his finger left a strange sensation of the ring being on his finger even though it wasn’t.

At lunchtime Corey saw Tidus across the corridor and Saienta’s half sister was with him. He laced his fingers around her hand and grinned happily at her. Corey blinked and didn’t think he’d be smiling if he found out whose half sister it was. He turned and made his way out of the school, descending the stairs outside into the schoolyard.
         “Corey,” a girl's voice called from up the stairs and he turned. It was Amy, Gwen’s friend. Was she going to ask him out for Gwen again? He hoped not, he thought heavily, but waited politely as she hurried down the steps.
         “Are you going with Gwen to the ball after all?” she asked him in puzzlement. There was a change in personality since Monday. She must have been acting someone else in front of her friends, he assumed. Being someone you’re not felt common with girls.
          “No,” Corey replied, rather confused. Amy itched her left shoulder with her right hand and looked at him in a contemplative way.
         “Do you like her?” Amy asked, pressing on.
Corey shook his head slowly, and Amy continued to look ponderingly at him.
         “Gwen is saying you’re her date even though her date is Cedric,” Amy explained finally. “I didn’t think so, so I thought I’d find out myself.”

Lunch break ended and Corey took out the books he needed for Literature. A hand slammed his locker shut just as he was about to close it, and he turned to Tidus who looked anger.
         “Where were you yesterday night?” Tidus demanded, his hand still on Corey’s locker door. They stared at each other. He felt annoyed by Tidus’ rage. He must have been angry at him still about Saienta. Corey didn’t reply. He didn’t know how…The way Tidus put it made Corey think he had plans the day before, and wasn’t there, but even so what would it matter to Tidus and how was he involved?
         “You didn’t show at work, and you’ve taken quite a few days off work too. You’ve gotten yourself fired,” Tidus growled. Work? It had completely escaped his mind. He was now jobless- sort of…It came as an actually relief instead of disappointment. One less commitment, he thought, remembering everyone needed to put in their all for training. When Corey continued to be quiet Tidus gazed at him and in his eyes was resentment. Corey sensed it and didn’t like it.


Corey and Saienta sat on the train in their school uniforms with their bags, watching the brightly lit up buildings pass by as the train sped onwards. The city was buzzing with activity in the busy streets. Corey looked over at what Saienta was doing. He had the CA7 phone out and was changing the ring tone settings to his liking. The digital sign at the front of the carriage told him that there was three more stops to go until theirs and he sat back, sighing.
         “Three more stops to go,” Corey told him and Saienta nodded as he made a ring tone play out loud; the song was Creed - My Sacrifice. The music cut out when he pressed a button and pocketed the phone. They were shaken when the train shook and then it balanced.

They stepped out onto the platform when they reached their stop and fed their tickets through a row of machines that let them pass out into the city once their tickets had been sensed.
         “Where abouts is Akaino tech?” Saienta asked, flicking his lighter encouragingly to flame and light the cigarette in his mouth. Corey pointed into the distance to a well presented grey building with many windows. At the top of the building in black lettering was the name Akaino. Saienta blew out smoke as they gazed at it for a moment before beginning their walk.

The glass doors of Akaino slid open and they both entered into the large foyer. Corey turned when Saienta stopped to take in the view inside the building. The tiles beneath their school shoes were white and in every corner of the building and next to the information desk on the far wall were vibrant green pot plants. There were thirty floors in Akaino and on each floor you could see down to the first level from the railings. On either side of the building were two elevators with glass exteriors and the cables were visible, extending and contracting as the elevators zoomed to each floor. They stood between the elevators in the middle of the foyer where the large water feature spread out across the floor. Saienta looked back at Corey who was waiting, and he walked over to stand beside him.
         “I like these elevators,“ Corey smiled.
Saienta looked at him strangely. “Why?”
         “You’ll see.”
They stepped onto the elevator when the doors opened and Corey pressed a button to the thirtieth floor. They felt the gravity hit them slightly as the elevator lifted and zoomed swiftly towards the top. As they sped upwards they could see the employees of Akaino tech. rushing around, entering and exiting through all sorts of offices on each floor. They reached the top and they stepped out. They looked at each other, back at the elevators and then back at each other, grinning as they knowingly shared the same idea.
         “I’ll race you,” Saienta said with a grin, eyes brightening. “Whoever makes it to the start again wins.”
Corey smirked. “Okay.”

They travelled back to the water feature to start from the middle of the ground floor.
         “On my count to three… One, two…” They stared at each other competitively. “Three.”
They raced to a lift on opposite sides, throwing their bags against the wall, but Saienta won and he laughed, watching him through the glass across the foyer. Corey cursed to himself and ran straight for the elevator next to the one that closed on him. Fortunate for him someone was just coming out of the elevator and he turned sharply into it. The man who had just walked out of the elevator looked back at Corey and his mouth opened as though just realising something.
         “Corey Akaino, isn’t it?” said the man. Corey look impatiently up. Saienta was in the elevator moving further up past the fourth floor, and he was looking down at him, grinning widely through the glass.
         “Yeah, that’s me,” Corey replied rather hurriedly.
         “Nice to meet you,” the man smiled. “I’ve been-”
         “Yeah, you too.” Corey pressed the button up to the thirtieth floor rather rudely and the doors closed. Corey looked back up at Saienta who was leaning against the glass wall of the elevator with his arms crossed, enjoying the ride to victory as Corey’s lift began to rise. Just then Saienta’s elevator slowed down to a stop and he unfolded his arms in defiance. Corey smiled, feeling a rush of gratitude toward the person who had slowed Saienta down. To Corey’s shock Saienta pushed out the man with his foot and pressed the button to the thirtieth level feverishly. Corey laughed but no sooner his elevator stopped and a woman stepped onboard. Corey couldn’t be as bold enough to push out an Akaino tech. employee, especially with his foot. To his relief the lady pushed the button up to the twentieth floor. Corey glanced up at Saienta who was ascending past the twenty-forth floor. “Damnit, he’s gonna win,” he said without thinking and the woman gave him a strange look. She looked across at the lift above and smiled knowingly. She cancelled her option on the elevator’s touch screen and pressed thirty instead. Corey grinned and gave her his thanks.
He reached the thirtieth floor and the woman stepped out, but as the doors closed, a hand reached and grabbed the door, and it slid automatically open. His father appeared and Corey’s eyes widened in surprise. His father, Hiroka, had the same dark eyes and haircut as Corey but his hair was a rich dark brown with a faint red tinge.
         “Oh…” Corey said and bowed. His dad suddenly grinned and patted him on the head affectionately, quickly pressing the touch screen for the ground floor. He looked through the glass and Corey followed his line of sight expecting to see Saienta on his way to the bottom but it looked like he had been stopped too. Leon was standing next to Saienta and Leon winked.
         “Quick, we have to beat Leon,” his dad suddenly said.
The elevators began to move down and it was a race to the bottom.
         “C’mon,” his dad said impatiently, watching Leon and Saienta through the glass. “We have to win, Corey, you don’t understand.”
         “You’ve done this before?” Corey asked, unsurprised.
         “Of course, I upgraded these elevators for this exact purpose. This one is mine, I had it re-upgraded but shh, don’t tell Leon that. I know Leon upgraded his too…” he gave Leon a sly look. “I know he did.”
As they sped down, they stood side by side; his dad had a hand on his shoulder. “One second…” his dad said, making a phone call. Corey wondered who he could be calling. After he spoke and hung up, Corey raised an eyebrow at him. “Isn’t that cheating, dad?”
He shrugged. “Who’s the kid next to him?” his dad asked.
         “One of the trial participants for the CA7, a friend.”
His dad gazed at him. “You’re making friends at school? That’s great,” he smiled.
Corey felt he was being misjudged again, “Yeah…” he replied.
         “Excellent!” his father exclaimed, watching Leon and Saienta turn around when their elevator stopped on the third floor.
As they reached the third floor, Corey’s stopped on the second. They spun around to see who had stopped them from their victory and a man was standing outside the doors as they opened. He looked at both the Akainos and bowed.
Hiroka smiled and kept it on is face. “This elevator is full…please take the next one.”
The door slid shut in the man’s face.
If Corey didn’t know Hiroka, he would never have guessed he was the head of Akaino.

         “We win!” Corey’s dad called across the foyer and slapped Corey a high five. Saienta and Leon reached them looking disappointed.
         “Ahh…not again,” Leon sighed, running a hand through his short prickly hair. “I thought I had you this time. I even called someone to stop your elevator!”
Hiroka grinned. “Cheater!” He pointed an accusatory finger at him and Corey glanced at him wondering how he could say that.
He introduced Saienta and Hiroka shook his hand.
         “Douzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu,” Saienta greeted him formally.
Corey’s dad smiled and patted Saienta on the head. Corey looked at his dad in horror but Saienta didn’t react. “Pleased to meet you too. I‘m glad Corey has a friend,” Hiroka said and led them to his office on the thirtieth floor. Corey sucked in his breath, embarrassed.

His father’s office was just as he remembered it- simple but gigantic lined with windows that overlooked the city. One side was lined with anime paraphernalia and the other with models of Akaino tech’s latest and first releases.
         “I’m starving, let’s eat!” Hiroka put his hands out and stood in front of a table in the middle of the room with piles of sushi and sashimi platters.
         “Good idea,” Corey said as he began eating.
         “But we just ate…and are going to eat again at 6.30...” Saienta murmured. Two more hours.
         “Just a little…” Corey said as he grabbed plates full. Leon shrugged and ate just as much.
Saienta gave in and ate too.

         “The meeting begins in a half hour. What do you kids wanna do until then?” his dad asked between bites.
Corey shrugged. Saienta looked up. “I was hoping to be shown around Akaino tech…”
Hiroka waved his hand. “Ah…it’s all the same, we have to do that prior to the meeting anyway- we have some visitors coming in, publicist partners. We can watch anime while we wait, how’s that?”
Saienta shrugged. “Sounds good.”
         “Or…we could play games. Counter strike, the LAN is already set up. I’d like to have a round without bots for once. Leon’s pretty pathetic and I’d like to play against Corey.”
         “Hey! I’m not that bad…” Leon defended himself. “Just because you’re freakishly good.”
         “How’s the violin coming along, Corey?” his dad asked, putting his plate away and sitting back with a sigh. Saienta looked at him and then at Corey for his reply.
         “I play the piano, dad.”
Leon coughed and shot Hiroka a look of disbelief.
         “Oh right! I bought that with you, didn’t I? Are you still playing Mary had a little lamb? I used to love that song.”
Corey gave him a bitter look. “I haven’t played that since I was five.”
         “Have you gotten better then?” he asked, scratching his chin.
         “You could say that,” Corey said. Geez, it‘s only been twelve years. “I played for you once at that Enterprise party a month ago.”
         “Right…” his father mumbled and then stood up. “CS time!”

Corey sat at the long table in the meeting with Saienta seated next to him, bored to the limit and wasn’t even paying attention. He glanced down the table where Leon was seated up the table beside his dad and found it odd, though didn’t dwell on it long because Saienta leaned over and whispered, “Is that Cedric Theodore the second…as in Cedric’s dad?”
Corey followed his line of sight to the end of the table where a man who looked like the older version of Cedric with greying hair, and an air of arrogance that was impossibly worse than his son’s. Corey nodded and said yes. “He’s not involved with Akaino but he owns a publicity firm and Akaino hired him for the project.”
Half an hour later, Corey was asked to stand and give a review of the internal structures of the CA7 and any hints as to how they might market the phone. Corey stood and gave his talk, and then told them that the buying demographic would be mainly teenagers. His father stood and gave a serious account of all possible faults that had arisen but had been corrected in the timeline of the last month. They asked Saienta a few questions, along with other subjects, and he answered them.

Hiroka steered Corey to the other side of the room when the meeting ended to talk privately while Leon kept Saienta company.
         “Corey,” his father began, “there’s something I need to do and I’ll need you to take over Akaino for a while- after school.”
Corey only waited for an explanation but none came. He had never been asked to before and found it unusual- a spur of the moment thing; something his father was characteristically capable of, yet still peculiar. Corey quickly thought back his lost job- one commitment lost, another gained. “Why?”
         “I’m in need of a holiday,” he smiled, and Corey agreed with him.
He paused and stared at Corey for a long time, a serious expression on his face. Corey wondered what he might say next, he seemed to have something to say but instead he smiled. “Hey, I heard about some cruise thing from Cedric Theodore, I’ll need you to go for a meeting there with a few students. Can you do that for me?”
Corey nodded slowly, and knew that it wasn’t what his father had to say as Hiroka gave brief details on the meeting held on the ship. A thought occurred to him. “How come the meeting’s held on the ship?”
         “Cedric Theodore owns the ship,” his dad explained, putting a hand on his shoulder and pushing him down the room toward Saienta and Leon. It made sense- Cedric Theodore’s involvement- when Corey thought about it and the details of the meeting. He was going to the ball after all, he thought dully- for three whole days.

Saienta and Leon turned and Hiroka put up a hand smiling cheerily.
         “What do you think? Shouldn’t us men go out tonight? We’ll go to a club. Leon will get us in VIP, no problem.”
         “We’ve got plans tonight, dad. Sorry.” Corey looked up at him.
Hiroka shrugged. “Is it important and are the people worth it?”
Corey nodded slowly… “Yeah, it is kind of important.” Why did his father want to spend time with him all of a sudden? He really wanted to go with his dad, Leon and Saienta but the dinner with the other four was too important. They had already said they would go as well. He sighed. The one time his father invited him out and he couldn’t go.
         “You should skip dinner, Corey. You’ve made your decision,” Saienta said.
Corey looked at him but wasn’t sure, the dinner may have been more important than what he felt he wanted at the moment. He shook his head. “The dinner’s important.”
His father put a hand on his shoulder and looked sad. “Oh…too bad. But that’s okay. I’ll see you…at home.” His father grinned.


Corey sat on the only seat available on the tram as it sped along the rail while Saienta stood next to him holding onto the hand railing from the roof, swaying with the movement of the tram. Corey looked out the window at the cars travelling alongside and the city- still standing and populated, so unlike the other world. This world could look like that, he thought. Sometimes the other world felt far away, almost a dream, but other times it was almost as though this one was a dream. But…this one and the other are both real no matter which one I’m in. The tram came to a stop and the woman beside him stood up and Saienta took the seat. Corey was interested to know what Saienta had been thinking the whole time at Akaino, especially about his father. “So what did you think?”
         “Of what?” Saienta turned out the window.
         “Of Akaino tech.”
“It’s a stable company. I can see why it’s thriving in the technology industry.”
Hm…Corey thought, he was hoping Saienta would be the first to talk about his father. “What did you think of the employees?”
         “The employees? They work in good conditions, better than a third of the businesses out there.”
Corey became silent, trying to think of more questions but Saienta turned to him. “Say it.”
         “You’re dancing around the subject. What is it?”
         “Heh… yeah- what do you think of my dad?” Corey rubbed the back of his neck, hoping the answer wouldn’t be too bad.
         “He’s a genuine guy. I don’t understand some of the things he does but I could like him.”
Corey didn’t say anything else.

The tram reached the closest stop to the restaurant and Corey stood first. He stretched and they walked down through the city streets and into Chinatown to find The Golden Sands. The restaurant was medium sized and old but well-kept. There were quite a few people inside and like Elli had said, most of the patrons were businessmen laughing and relaxing. The atmosphere seemed extremely casual. They were ten minutes early and none of the others had arrived yet. Corey and Saienta waited outside while Saienta smoked, watching the many people pass back and forth across the path. He looked up at the ornate red awnings with dragons and lions, and many different Asian writings. Ellet students probably wouldn’t come down here often. There were many kids going in and out of a dirty arcade across the street and Corey itched to play something. Five minutes later, Annaleace and Ryan arrived together down the street. Annaleace punched Ryan for something he said and then he laughed, rubbing his arm. Annaleace waved and Ryan put up a hand in greeting. Saienta only nodded and Corey inclined his head.
         “Hey, where are the others?” Annaleace asked, standing next to them to look inside the restaurant. She checked her watch. “I guess we’re still early.”
Annaleace wore nice casual clothes and Ryan wore a hooded jacket and jeans. Ryan peered through the window closely and two men inside gazed up at him. If there was no window, they’d be an inch away. Ryan noticed and then pulled away, turning his back. “So…”
Corey felt the awkwardness but wasn‘t bothered by it. They didn’t know each other, they had met once and again because of the Gate but other than that, they had no other relations. Annaleace was in his class with Saienta but none of them talked and Corey figured Saienta didn’t know her name before the portal.
         “I hope they have good food here,” Annaleace said, standing between Corey and Ryan. “I could go for some Singapore noodles.”
Ryan nodded and held his stomach. “I’m starving. I want Rainbow beef.”
         “What? You just ate at home like five minutes ago. I thought you would be full,” Annaleace said.
         “Five minutes? It was more like an hour ago. I only ate a small plate of mom’s food.”
Annaleace sighed and murmured “Sure…the tray was tiny…”
Saienta’s CA7 rang and he disappeared up the road to take it. Corey wondered if it was Red Tide.
         “Did you know I bumped into him once?” Annaleace asked Corey, looking at Saienta. “Are you guys friends?”
         “Yeah…” He wasn’t sure what else to say.
She smiled thoughtfully. Had she heard the rumours about Saienta, even though she was new? He wondered if she believed them. Just then Elli rocked up in her usual preferred clothing.
         “Hey!” She smiled at the three of them, evidently counting the number of arrivals and absences. “Where are the other two?”
Corey pointed up the street and spoke on behalf of Saienta. The limelight focused on Sirian’s tardiness.
         “She said she’d be here. I spoke to her not that long ago on my phone,” Annaleace said.
         “Right,” Elli replied as Saienta returned and stood beside Corey.
Elli leaned towards Corey, “I’m nervous and excited at the same time,” she whispered.
Elli walked in first and ran around hugging and chatting with the three waitresses. He wondered how she knew them all. They waited inside the restaurant on three small tables side by side in the corner. Saienta, Corey, and Annaleace sat on one side by the wall, and Ryan sat across from Saienta. Elli chose the seat next to him in front of Corey and the spare was beside her in front of Annaleace. Saienta was slumped in his chair playing with his red chopsticks twirling them and they ordered drinks. Corey ordered a lemon, lime and bitters- his favourite- and Saienta and the others had Chinese tea. The waitress left and Elli remembered something. She put up a hand and motioned to a waitress across the room.
         “Hey, Anne! Three color milkshake too,” she called. The waitress waved, smiled and wrote it down.
         “You can have milkshakes here?” Ryan asked. She nodded and he ordered a vanilla.

         “Would you like to order now?” another waitress asked, pulling out a notepad but Elli shook her head.
         “We’re still waiting on somebody,” Elli explained and the waitress smiled and left.
The clatter from the kitchen could be heard through the wall as Corey leaned back and the friendly noise of the other customers was welcoming. Formal restaurants lacked that quality.
The others talked and Corey leaned sidewards a little and spoke quietly to Saienta so only he could hear. “I have to go to the ball after all.”
Saienta gazed at him. “You want me to go too, don’t you?”
Corey grinned hopefully. “Yes.”
Saienta shrugged. “Alright. But.” He stopped. “I’ve got nothing to wear. I destroyed my last suit.”
         “Have one of mine … I’ve got … too many.”
         “RX8?” Saienta grinned.
         “Yeah, definitely.” He was glad Saienta preferred his car over a limousine too. He looked up at Elli who was chatting to Ryan about music. He waited until she finished. “Hey Elli, I’m going to the ball.”
She smiled and her eyes flicked to Saienta and back at Corey. “Does that mean you’re my date?”
He shrugged, not wanting her to get the wrong idea by ‘date’. “Companion…”
         “Wakata,” she said, waving her hand at him. “Mou...” I know. Geez.
The others turned and began a conversation about the ball. “Are you coming?” Elli asked Ryan.
         “Yeah, I am.”
         “Are you coming Lacey?” Ryan asked Annaleace across the table.
         “Yep,” She folded and unfolded her napkin.
         “Who organised it?” Elli asked thoughtfully.
Corey shrugged.
         “I think Sirian had something to do with it,” Annaleace answered.
The drinks arrived and Ryan looked at Elli’s drink inquisitively, eyeing it with interest. Three layers of flavours and floaty things- black tapioca pearls at the bottom in white cream, the second layer was green and Corey figured it was green tea milkshake, and the top was clear with bits of clear red jelly.
         “What is that?” Ryan asked, examining it as though it had animals inside.
That right there is the best drink ever created. Three colour drink. They come in different varieties but this one is the best.”
         “But what is it?”
She explained the different ingredients and he nodded unsurely, sipping at his vanilla milkshake.
         “Brain freeze,” Elli said, holding her head.
Corey sipped at his lemon, lime and bitters with relief. The tram ride had made him thirsty. He sat back and played with his straw, poking the ice blocks to make them bob up and down inside the glass.
Sirian came in through the door and Annaleace waved her over. She looked over at them with relief and sat in the chair. “Hi, I’m sorry I was late, the parking around here is difficult. I felt like leaving my car on the tram lines.” She smiled and her eyes scanned all the drinks.
Elli, seated next to her, slid over the urn of fresh hot tea and a cup. “Doesn’t matter. You should take public transport next time, the city is always packed out and it’s peak hour. I heard you had something to do with the cruise, do you know what the ship is like?”
Sirian shook her head. “I haven’t seen it yet. I have a feeling it’ll be something grand. It’s an Ellet thing after all. I was told not to hold back on expenses.”
         “Are you coming too?” Elli asked, turning to Saienta who was taking out his cigarettes, about to slide out of his chair. He paused, “Mm…” but it would be difficult to discern whether it was a yes or no. He told Corey what to order for him if the waitress came and walked across the restaurant towards the door. Corey thought about following but stayed where he was. He might have wanted to be alone.
         “We can go after all, the Gen- uh…the G isn’t expecting us until Wednesday,” Ryan said, looking around.
Sirian nodded. Annaleace laughed. “The G!”
Elli smiled. “The G, the gangster. Could you imagine calling him that to his face? I think he’d snap our fingers off.”
         “It wouldn’t be hard for him,” Annaleace agreed.
The waitress returned and Elli stood up. “I’ll take it, Anne,” she said, and the waitress passed her a spare notebook and pen before leaving. “What do you guys feel like?” Elli asked, clicking the pen, ready to write.
         “Do you work here, Elli?” Corey asked. Don’t mess with me Elli, I want my food.
         “Of course not, I have a job…somewhere else,” she said dismissively and he couldn’t tell if she was joking.
         “Egg noodles? Fried rice? Special fried rice?” Elli prompted as they scanned the menu. “Corey?”
         “Lemon chicken and special fried rice…large. And a house special soup with extra tofu.”
It was strange to have a friend take Saienta and his order.
         “What about Saienta?” she asked, turning to see him out the window on his phone.
         “We’re sharing the fried rice and soup, he wants sesame chicken and steamed rice.”
She wrote it down and took orders from the others.
         “Is this good? Ryan asked.
Elli looked, “Mongolian beef? Yep.”
         “I’ll have that then.”
         “Wonton and noodle soup,” Annaleace said and Sirian ordered the same, agreeing they would share a serving of egg rolls.
         “And a Hu nan shrimp for me…” she murmured, writing it down.
She collected the menus, turned and disappeared into a door.
Saienta returned and bumped into Elli on her way out, “Sorry,” he said, and took his seat.
She sighed loudly and sat. “I made sure we’re top priority.”
         “How’s cheerleading practice?” Annaleace asked Sirian after a brief silence. Elli’s head swivelled around to Sirian quickly, a look of deepest revulsion.
         “I quit the squad,” Sirian told her as she looked through her handbag. Corey turned when Saienta ‘hmphed’.
         “That’s alright then,” Elli murmured under her breath, turning away and shielding her face. Saienta refrained from laughing. Corey wondered when the subject for their reason being at The Golden Sands would come up in conversation; if it continued any further he’d be regretting his decision from declining his dad’s invite. He was glad Saienta was there. Saienta’s phone beeped and he watched him pull out the phone and read the message. Saienta stood up and turned to Corey. “I’ll be back in ten minutes.”
Corey nodded and as he left he sighed and began playing with the ice cubes in his drink. That had been the third time he had disappeared after a phone call or message in a period of twenty minutes, and he thought “what’s he doing?”
Corey’s mind drifted off out the door and across the road to the arcade where all those games were. He zoned out as the others talked. They couldn’t talk about the other world until Saienta returned and they seemed to be avoiding the topic anyway.
         “Hey, I tried calling you the other day. You never answered!” Elli said suddenly. “Hey, you…are you listening?”
Corey looked up. “When?”
         “The weekend.”
He shrugged. “I was probably out.”
She stuck her tongue out at him and finished her milkshake. Corey blinked and sank into his thoughts again.
         “How’s StuCo presidency going, Corey?” Elli asked.
         “I’m not president, I’m year level president…it’s boring. Doesn’t seem to be anything more than a title.” He finished his drink.
         “Who’s president?” Elli asked.
         “Sirian,” he said, nodding his head in her direction and Sirian looked at them from her conversation with Annaleace.
Elli waved her hand dismissively, “We were just talking about school presidency.”
Sirian turned away and talked with Annaleace again. Ryan stood up and went to the bathroom.
         “School president and cheerleading,” Elli whispered, leaning in towards Corey. He glanced at Sirian…her and Elli were right next to each other. “I’m scared, Corey,” and her eyes widened in horror.
Corey scratched his chin. Elli leaned over to Sirian and drummed her fingers on her chin, her elbow resting on the table. “So what else do you do Sirian? At school, I mean.”
         “Oh…sports or school related?” she asked.
Sirian thought for a moment. “Track, baseball- starting pitcher, football- QB, volleyball- MVP…and other sports. Swimming too, at home though.”
         “Hm…I’m interested,” Elli murmured, nodding. Corey had a feeling she wasn’t.
         “Anything else?” Elli asked. “That’s a lot to take on board.” She sounded like a counsellor.
Sirian nodded. “A few things here and there.”
         “I’m interested…why did you quit the cheer squad?”
Ryan returned and sat down, taking his chair over to speak with Annaleace.
Sirian sipped her tea. “It wasn’t my kind of scene. Flouncing around in skirts and Pom Poms, cheering like a maniac- too much to deal with.”
         “How did you get into it in the first place?” Elli poured herself a tea and the waitress took away the empty glasses.
         “Persuasion. Coercion. The cheerleaders made me tryout.”
         “They made you?” Elli’s voice heightened in pitch as she emphasized ‘made’.
         “…Yes. I was made co-captain.”
Elli’s eyes widened. “Co-captain?” Again with the high pitch emphasis. “You must have cheered and danced around a lot to be made co-captain for someone who was forced.”
Sirian shrugged and gazed at the table cloth, catching the drift.
         “You’re a girl of many talents. Do you enjoy what you do?” Elli asked.
Sirian shrugged. “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t.”
         “That’s absolutely true,” Elli nodded, turning away thoughtfully.
Saienta returned and sat beside Corey. Saienta refilled his cup of tea and sipped at it without speaking. Elli turned to him and back at Sirian. “So Sirian…you were made co-captain of the Pom Poms squad, such an important role and an elitist club- only the ‘chosen ones’ can enter, what made you think…’gee, I don’t belong here’, that you weren‘t one of them?”
Sirian’s eyes narrowed and she gripped her cup. Saienta appeared to be anticipating the answer, looking up at her, and Corey watched Elli who seemed to be scheming.
         “Some people can be annoyingly persistent. I wanted to shut them up. They saw me as one of them but I’m not,” Sirian said in a low voice.
         “If you aren’t one of them, why didn’t you act like it and say no?”
         “Act?” Sirian asked, raising her eyebrow.
         “Be what they aren’t and say no. Sounds like you were only saying yes to please them…they call that being a people-pleaser. Running with the crowd.” Elli tilted her head and smiled.
Saienta coughed and grinned into his hand.
         “I’d expect you to be big as a jock,” Elli said, putting her arms up like a muscle-man.
Saienta’s phone rang again as Sirian answered. “Fuck,” he cursed under his breath, annoyed, and Saienta walked to the bathroom, picking up his phone. Sirian turned away and began chatting with Annaleace. Elli looked indifferent, still smiling.
The food came to the table and Corey put the soup and rice in between his plate and Saienta’s. “Hm…” he mumbled, wading through the soup with a spoon. He ate a cube of tofu…and another one. There were many, he told himself, and ate a few more. He better save some for Saienta, he thought. The others ate too and Ryan returned to his seat to begin eating from his sizzling hotplate. Corey ate a few more bits of tofu and returned to his lemon chicken. He scooped a few more bits of tofu out and put them on his plate, watching them. He glanced inside the soup bowl. Hm…should be enough for him. He ate some of his tofu, then a piece of chicken…and finished his tofu. He scrounged up a few more from the soup and ate them. He went to look for more but there was only one left. Maybe he should save it. “Hm…” He picked it up and ate it as Saienta sat down. He wouldn’t even notice, Corey mused. Saienta began to eat and then put his spoon in the soup. Corey didn’t look at him as he ate his chicken.
         “Corey….?” Saienta began.
         “Mm?” he asked, swallowing.
         “Where is all the tofu?”
         “What tofu?”
         “The tofu in the soup.” Saienta looked at him.
         “…They didn’t give us any, maybe you should ask for some- I’d like some too.”
Saienta blinked at him. “Corey…? This soup should have tofu in it, I make it at home and there are traces.”
Corey ate, murmuring into his food.
          “What was that?” Saienta asked.
Corey looked up at him, “Someone must have eaten it all. Go check in the kitchen.”
Saienta stood up and took the soup bowl with him. “Phew,” Corey breathed and he grinned, glad he believed him.
He returned with the bowl, and there was more tofu in it. “Here,” Saienta said, setting the bowl down. Elli looked up at Corey and smiled mischievously. She witnessed everything.
         “Save me some this time,” Saienta said, eating his sesame chicken.
Corey stopped eating for half a second and laughed with Elli. So he didn’t believe him.
         “You’re a bad liar,” Saienta mused.
Corey shrugged.
         “It’s a good thing, I think.”
Elli nodded. “Should be…I think.”

Corey finished eating and put down his chopsticks, waiting for the others to finish. He sat back in contentment while the others were finishing. Ryan had almost finished and Elli was probably full but kept picking at it and moving it around with her chopsticks.
Corey leaned toward Saienta and whispered, “Why does your phone keep ringing?”
         “R.T, I just had to pick up some money, nothing else though.”
Corey nodded as Ryan finished the last bite and sat back, sighing.
         “Liked it?” Elli asked, putting her chopsticks down.
Ryan nodded, “It was good.”
They waited for the others to finish and they ordered coffee and dessert to use the time to talk. It was silent for a while and the other customers’ voices was all Corey could hear. When would they talk about the Gate?
Elli picked up on the fact that they were supposed to be talking about the other world and leaned toward Corey. “Say something noteworthy,” she whispered to him. “It’s a big moment.”
Corey stayed silent, and blinked, not knowing how to start the conversation…
         “Alright,” Elli said seriously, after a moment. “We’ll talk about it now. We won’t discuss why we said yes, but we’ll discuss the world, our involvement, and we’ll individually think about whether or not we still want to join.”
Corey nodded and Saienta leaned forward to lean on his knuckles with his elbow on the table.
Now what?
         “It’s a war,” Ryan said. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot and it’s a war. We think of the word and it seems surreal, but then go through all the things a war involves.”
         “We’ll be soldiers in that war,” Annaleace added. “Not an audience or the people waiting at home.”
Elli nodded. “That’s true. The G said we’ll be in it and we’ll be training as often as possible. We’ll have enhanced abilities and…Mythra.”
         “But our enemies will have it too,” Saienta said. “And they’ll have trained longer.”
         “So what does it mean?” Sirian asked. “He won’t let us into a fight without knowing we’re ready.”
         “That will take months, probably years,” Ryan replied.
They were discussing the war and the extent of what they would have to do, something Corey had thought about often.
         “If it takes years, and most of our time, our priorities in this world will have to change. Everything we’re involved in will have to come second- we’ve said yes and said we would put in our all and the G expects that from us. Not only him, but for the sake of our own survival. Ame said that the main obstacle keeping us from using enhanced abilities is our own inhibitions so it may not take as long to train as we expect,” Corey inputted.
         “But why us?” Elli asked, thinking. “If the people already living there, the soldiers, have all been training all their lives, what can our small group of six do?”
Corey shook his head. “We don’t know that yet, we’ll have to find out from them. It may have something to do with Ame- she said we were a part of her dreams.”
         “How do we know her dreams have any significance? Her dreams led us through but how do we know they mean anything more?” Saienta asked. “We can’t lay any hopes on being significant because we’ve been seen in her dreams.”
Sirian shook her head. “I’m open to all possibilities- we never knew there was another place or a Gate to begin with, and we hardly understand what Mythra is. I’m not saying we should go in there, hope for the best, and hope fate is on our side but I feel that if Ame and the G have hope in us, than we’ll be capable…eventually.”
Annaleace nodded her head in agreement.
         “Capable of training, yes,” Ryan nodded, “But what about actually being in the war? That‘s what we have to think about most.”
“That’s stupid, we don’t know every detail of the war and how we’ll take part in it. How do we know we’ll have to…kill people?” Annaleace asked.
Ryan snorted. “Because that’s what you do in a war.”
         “Alright…” Elli said, “What about our involvement? If we do have to kill people, would you still join?” she asked, looking at each person in front of her.
A long silence followed.
         “I’ll do what it takes,” Saienta said.
         “Everyone should have known what we were getting into before this,” Corey answered and raised his pinkie and they looked at the twisted, crisscrossed thread around the tip. “My thoughts haven’t changed.”
Ryan nodded. “Same here.”
Sirian thought and then nodded. “If it comes to that.”
Annaleace looked unsure. “I don’t know. I‘m not sure about my own reasons for saying yes but the G took what I said and accepted me anyway.”
The waitress gave them their desserts and coffees and they waited until she disappeared again.
         “If we do have to kill, it isn’t for no reason,” Elli said. “I’ll fight back on defence and if I get to that point…I’ll just have to see.”
         “Hey,” Ryan said suddenly, looking up. “If the G let the girls in our group join, does that mean we’ll have to be fighting girls as well? That feels,” and struggled to find the correct word, “wrong.”
         “Don’t think in such a sexist way. It isn’t about who it is, it’s about what they are- soldiers who are trying to kill us,” Elli interjected. “We won’t be hurting innocent people.”
         “We need to know more about what we’re fighting for,” Annaleace said. “We know the south want to stop the use of technology but why is it so important? They haven’t explained…We could end up fighting for the wrong side.”
         “There is usually no wrong side, just different people with different views,” Saienta said. “You would have to find a reason to fight for yourself.”
Corey expected the conversation would be like this- they didn’t know much and everything was still questionable, but it wasn’t a waste of time. Everyone’s views were made clearer. It was probably why the General wanted a reason from each of them.
         “I wonder what kind of training we’ll do,” Ryan said.
Sirian shrugged. “Fighting maybe, possibly weaponry.”
         “Weaponry is a type of technology, we probably won’t be using it,” Corey muttered. “Swords will be used, most likely, anything that can be forged in a blacksmith.”
The conversation ended. Corey was correct in thinking the discussion wouldn’t have changed anything- they had said yes and there was no backing out, no matter what they felt. It was good for them to talk- bringing unity- and understanding where each person stood.

They walked across the street towards the arcade and Elli walked beside Corey. “You know, Corey…I’m really glad you asked me out to the ball after all. I thought I was dateless!” she said in horror. “I thought I might have to beat you up and drag your unconscious body on board.”
Corey laughed. “That bad?”
She nodded and then stopped abruptly with wide eyes.
         “What?” Corey asked her.
         “One sec,” she said and hurried away. They entered the dirty, dark arcade and a few of them walked to the counter to exchange notes for coins. Annaleace stood in the doorway looking on. “I hate video games…I don’t want to play. Is there somewhere else we can go?”
Ryan came back and dragged her to Time Crisis 3, forcing the gun into her hands and placing her foot on the pedal. He took the place beside her and they began to play. She played as though bored, clicking the trigger without looking at the screen.
         “Play properly!” Ryan yelled. “Reload, geez, I’m paying for this, you know.”
         “You know I hate video games.”
He leaned closer. “Shh…don’t call them video games in an arcade, it’s not Mario.”
She rolled her eyes. Sirian watched from behind.

An arm wrapped around Corey’s shoulders and a face appeared beside his. A complete stranger with blonde hair and dark sunnies was treating Corey as though she knew him. Saienta drew back and looked at the girl strangely.
         “It’s me,” Elli whispered. The blonde hair was a wig.
Corey stared at her for a moment and shook his head, smiling. “Why are you wearing that?”
         “I can’t let everyone know it’s me. My skills are too good, no one will challenge me,” she replied. Behind the dark sunnies he saw her eyes darting right, then left. Elli bounded over, dragging Corey to a car racing game. Saienta sat in the one beside Corey and Elli took the other side. “Daytona one? Don’t they have the second one?” Corey asked.
         “No,” Elli said, “this one is better anyway, it’s old school.”
After the game, Elli jumped up. “I win, oh yeah!” She danced around and Saienta sighed, having lost.

They approached Dance Dance Revolution Ultra in the corner and Elli watched as a guy younger than them jumped around on the four arrows, obtaining almost every arrow; Corey thought he was amazingly good. Elli waved a hand. “I can do better.”
When the song finished she stood on the platform next to him and started a rave song. She danced around and got every single arrow without even looking at the screen, even turning around to wink at them.

Corey and Saienta played a motorbike game, Corey took the one on the left, sitting on it and leaning forward to put his hands on the handles. As they played, Corey grinned, winning.
         “What the fuck? I made that corner!” Saienta growled in frustration.
         “I hate this fucking bike,” Saienta said, kicking it after getting off.
Corey laughed, “I win!”
         “What kind of plastic shit is this anyway? The steering is all wrong.”
         “I win. Does this mean I can ride your bike, Saienta?”
Saienta hmphed and looked away. “No.”
         “I’d let you drive my RX8,” Corey said.
Saienta looked at him. “Really?”
         “No,” Corey grinned.
Saienta punched him in the shoulder and grinned. “Asshole.”
Corey fell off the bike and Saienta moved to help him but Corey made himself stable with a foot.
         “Shit, are you alright?” Saienta asked.
         “Yeah,” he answered and they heard a scream of happiness come from the other side of the dark arcade where Elli was jumping around. “Told you I’d kick your ass! Pay up,” she said and the guy handed over a few notes sadly.

Corey walked around the arcade by himself, Saienta was a playing a one person game while smoking. He found Sirian by herself wandering the arcade while Annaleace was forced to play with her brother.
         “Hey,” he said, standing next to her, wondering why she wasn’t playing or enjoying herself. “How come you’re not over there playing too?” He looked in Annaleace’s direction and Sirian caught his drift.
         “I’m not in the mood for games,” she replied. Corey placed his hands into his pockets. Sirian gazed in Annaleace’s direction but her eyes were unfocused, then she turned to him.
“About the conversation earlier with Elli, I felt I was being misjudged. You’ve seen me in school councils, do I seem that way?”
Corey felt a little surprised at the mention, and shrugged. He had been given the impression before Elli disliked anyone who reminded her of Gwen who was cheerleader- who spoke out loud without thinking and had the air of stupidity around them, but he knew Gwen wasn‘t actually as stupid as she made out to be, not that he had ever heard Sirian say something stupid or be an idiot.
         “That’s her impression of you, probably.”

Outside the arcade, Corey waited beside Annaleace with the others behind. Saienta went next door to the convenience store to buy a pack of cigarettes. A teenage boy who may have been older than them walked towards them and could have walked around but instead he walked straight through Annaleace and Corey, shoving them both with his shoulders. “Hey!” Annaleace said. The guy turned sharply. “The fuck?”
Corey stared at him thinking, asshole.
He made to go away but he glanced at Corey’s jacket and noticed the Ellet symbol- instead he put his fist up, “Say sorry fucker,” he snarled at Corey.
Ryan looked as though he was about to smash the guy but Saienta came and grabbed him fiercely, twisting his shirt by the collar and pulling him close. “You say sorry or I’ll smash you the fuck up,” Saienta growled.
The guy looked unsure as Ryan came up behind him also.
         “Fuck off,” the teenager said boldly.
         “Get on your knees and apologize bitch,” Ryan said. Passers-by glanced at the scene but kept walking. Annaleace rolled her eyes. Elli stood looking at the guy with a hand on her hip and Sirian looked a little unsure.
Ryan kicked the back of the guy’s knees and he fell onto them, looking up.
         “There was plenty of room to walk around. Say you’re sorry and we’ll let you go.” Saienta stood over him.
He began to look worried but hid it behind a mask of anger.
To Corey’s surprise, Saienta reached forward and slapped him across the face.
         “To me, you aren’t worth a punch,” Saienta said.
The teenager held his face and narrowed his eyes, then glanced at Corey.
         “Don’t look at me like that, Lacey, this guy pushed you. He can’t get away with it,” Ryan said.
         “Just apologize,” Elli told the teenager in irritation.
         “I’m…” he looked around as though searching for people. “Fuck you all.”
Ryan looked at him in an angered disbelief and Saienta stared at him coldly.
A moment later, three more guys came along and studied the scene. The teenager on his knees smiled scornfully.
         “What’s going on?” one of them asked him.
         “These fuckers want me to apologise for nothing.”
         “Sure…” one of them murmured, rolling his eyes.
         “All Ellet are weak fuckers,” he said, still on his knees. Corey glanced down. He had almost forgot he was in uniform. Saienta was also. Neither of them had time to change.
         “Tell him to apologize for his disrespect or we’ll fuck him over,” Saienta called to them.
         “What did he do?” one of them asked Annaleace.
         “He shoved her and Corey, that’s what he did,” Ryan answered for her angrily, “Then he called us fuckers for nothing.”
         “Hm…” the one who looked like the oldest said. “That true Noah?”
         “Don’t lie to me.”
He looked down and didn’t answer.
         “Apologize or take it out one-on-one. Do it or we‘ll fuck you up ourselves.”
         “I’ll take you on,” Elli called.
He snorted. “I don’t fight chicks.”
         “Pshh, sexist loser,” Elli said, bored, turning away.
         “I’ll take him on,” he said, looking up and pointing straight at Corey.
         “Apologize to her first,” Corey spoke finally, inclining his head towards Annaleace.
He turned his head towards her and then spat on the ground. “I’ll apologize after I kick your ass.” He stood up.

They entered a large alleyway and Annaleace stopped, talking to Sirian for a moment. “Ryan,” she called. “We’re leaving.”
         “Why?” he asked.
         “I’m going home.” She turned and Sirian walked with her, disappearing into the street. Corey hadn’t changed his mind, even if Annaleace left and wouldn’t be getting an apology.
Corey wondered if the others had to be there watching. He wasn’t a fighter. He was going to take a beating and he knew it. He especially didn’t want Saienta to see him. He turned around and Saienta stopped.
         “I don’t want you here,” Corey said softly.
         “Why?” He gazed at Corey questioningly.
         “Because you know what’s going to happen and I don’t want you to see.”
Saienta breathed and looked down at his knuckles. “Be sure, Corey. Do you want me to leave?”
He nodded. “Take Ryan and Elli with you and I‘ll see you at school tomorrow.” Corey managed a grim smile.
Saienta put a hand on his shoulder. “Dodge to the right first. Save the head and here,” he said, tapping him on the abdomen. “See you at school, Corey.”
Saienta conferred with the three that were friends of the teenager and the three nodded. Saienta took Elli and Ryan and Corey watched as they left the alleyway. Elli looked back but Saienta said something and she kept walking. Corey put his bag down and inhaled deeply and then exhaled, looking up at the night sky. I can’t wait to get home, he thought. Dad will be there.


Thirty minutes later, Corey limped out of the alleyway, clutching his stomach, struggling to breathe and look normal. It was getting late and the streets were still full. People glanced but hardly reacted. The fight had ended ten minutes ago but Corey had stayed sitting on the ground against the wall to collect himself. None of the three other guys had joined in, thankfully, and one of them had put a hand on his shoulder as they walked away, giving him a cloth to wipe the blood off with. He rested on a wall for a while, seeing people’s feet pass him by but he didn’t look up, letting his hair fall over his face. His school uniform was dirty and his jacket was grazed and ripped.
So many thoughts cluttered his mind. He was weak, he had never been in a real fight and different types of pain was all he felt through his whole body. His ribs ached, his lip had been cut and was stinging, there was a cut below his eye on his cheek and his entire body felt shaky from exhaustion. He had managed to keep his face from being hit for the most part but he had been smashed in the stomach with a knee and he had thrown up on the spot. Now he was hungry but wouldn’t be able to eat.
He was weak, and he knew it, and for once he was thinking about it enough and it bothered him. He thought of the other world…if they were going to be soldiers, Corey wouldn’t be any good at combat. Would he ever let anyone down? He didn’t feel sorry for himself. It was more like anger.

Corey reached the tram that would take him to the train station, and saw Saienta waiting against the fenced off tram stop through the hair hanging over his eyes. He didn’t ask why he was there, only stood beside him as they waited but neither of them talked; it was an unspoken agreement. Corey was still brooding silently and wiped the blood bleeding lightly from his lip and cheek with the bloody cloth.
The tram came gliding up the street and the wires above made noises like cardboard being shaken and they stepped onboard.
The train station was packed, as expected. People continued to glance but kept on walking. They feed their tickets through the machines again. He was relieved he didn’t have to wait for the train to come; it came almost immediately as they entered onto the train platforms.

The train ride felt long, which was good because he used that time to pull himself together. How would his dad react to his appearance? A strong part of him wanted to see him when he returned home, but there was apprehension. Corey and Saienta stood outside the train station, and went their separate ways without saying a word. He made a mental note to thank him at school. Corey was grateful for Saienta’s being there, and Saienta’s understanding without use of words. He headed home, both anticipating his return and anxious about it at the same time.

A Non-Existent User
** Images For Use By Upgraded+ Only **

Saienta examined the cruise liner- it was big, white and lit up by all the windows alongside. They filed up the stairway- he, Corey and Elli stepped onto the ship’s deck and looked up at the banner.
         “Woah!” Elli exclaimed and Corey looked up with her.
         “Shipwrecked Shindig…that’s really…pathetic,” Corey said. Saienta and Elli agreed.
Corey and Saienta were in suits, Saienta had borrowed one of Corey’s Gucci suits and Corey wore a midnight black and grey Nautica suit. Saienta could smell the sea and a strong mix of expensive cologne from the Ellet kids. Most of the students were already onboard and had gathered inside where a ballroom was. They couldn’t decide where to go first, they were asked to move away from the entrance so they moved to the side.
         “Well…” Elli said. Girls were laughing flirtatiously and Morgan was grinning like a dickhead, holding onto his collar with his hands. “This looks like fun…”
         “I need to find some people,” Corey said, and told them he would find them again in an hour.
         “The dance starts in half an hour, Corey, don’t forget,” Elli reminded him. Corey raised a hand with his back to them as he walked away and Saienta moved to a dark area and started smoking over the railing. He wondered how he was going to stand three more days of this. Elli disappeared inside and most of the other students were in the ballroom. He was alone and could hear classical music and laughter from inside. The night air was cool and the stars visible above. He looked down at the dark water and figured it would be freezing- a shame, no way to swim away if he wanted to.
He thought about the Gate and the other world and pushed it into the back of his mind. Only three days more and we’ll be back there. It was strange how unreal all that seemed right now while he was on the ship. Was there seriously a portal to another place, a world where people like Ame and the General lived? They knew there was, Corey and Saienta had spent their recesses and lunch gazing at the Gate on the roof. Ever since Corey had said yes to the General despite what Saienta had said, his respect for him had grown, and after Tuesday when he walked into a fight knowing he would lose, Saienta’s respect had increased for him even more. It took more courage to willingly involve oneself in a fight knowing a bad outcome was inevitable.
The ship blew its horn, indicating departure and he wondered if Phoenix and Lina had made it onboard. The ship moved away from the dock, its engines and propellers whirring beneath him- it shuddered and then moved swiftly away from shore. He had a sudden trapped feeling, not quite claustrophobia, but something similar, he couldn’t escape if he wanted to. His stomach felt queasy. He heard Ellet laughter- Ellet kids had a way of laughing, high pitched and forced- and he shuddered. The city lights were far away and the ship was enveloped in darkness. Further and further away the ship drew from land and he fought the urge to dive into the water and drown. Why was he here again? Alexia, Corey, Phoenix and Lina...and to experience something new. Was it worth it? He wasn’t sure.
He tapped the bronze railing and turned around, leaning on it, looking at the inside of the ship through the large window. Elevators with pearl-black doors went down several floors and there was a large swirling staircase beside them. Everything reeked of careless expense- whoever owned the boat had plenty of money and wasn’t afraid to show it off. A large crystal chandelier hung almost to the floor and Morgan with his friends were there, playing with the drops, plucking them off and throwing them around. They turned swiftly at something and then ran away, laughing.
He glanced at his watch, the one Alexia had given him, and saw only half an hour had passed since Corey disappeared. Funny how slow the time went. It was only 8pm. He lit up another cigarette and thought about finding his suite. A speaker overhead announced, “All Ellet students gather into Ballroom A, please. All teachers and supervisors into Ballroom B, thank you. The Shipwrecked Shindig is now beginning.”

Phoenix and Lina hung onto the arms of their partners. Phoenix had discovered her partner’s name was Ashton and Lina’s was Paul. She smiled at her date and then looked away, gagging at Lina who agreed. He wasn’t bad looking but he was just so…boring. She couldn’t wait to get inside and ditch him. Everything about him was so desperate; the way he held her arm, the way he smiled hopefully, even the way he talked to her. She kept cool and acted out her part. She missed Reeva mostly, he knew how to have a good time and he wasn’t desperate in the slightest, something that made him even more attractive. Guys who don’t know they’re sexy are even more sexy.
Lina had her hair done up high and Phoenix kept hers out. They had agreed to wear simple long dresses that wouldn’t get them noticed or set them apart from the Ellet girls, for now- they made a bet to see how long they could keep up the pretence. Ashton said something as they entered the doorway and walked past the chandelier into the ballroom, and she laughed airily, even though she didn’t know what he said. He smiled, pleased with himself. The ballroom spread out on two levels, on the lower floor she could see an Asian DJ at the back, looking bored, probably forced to play classical music. Above her, lights glittered and reflected onto the marble flooring. Flowers were hung up everywhere, if there were any more it would be a jungle. She looked at a blonde girl by a pillar who was laughing airily, the same laugh Phoenix had forced out earlier, only this girl actually meant it. They walked by a group of Ellet girls and they all smiled at Lina and Phoenix, but Phoenix knew that smile- the smile reserved for polite occasions but it had a hint of sarcasm, like you’re lucky I’m polite or else I wouldn’t even look at you. Phoenix smiled her sweetest smile.
Lina plastered on her smile and kept it on, looking at Phoenix and she nodded her head as though it was fascinating.
         “Ashton, Paul- would you mind getting us both drinks? We’re thirsty, it must be all this…air,” Phoenix smiled. They nodded fervently and disappeared and Lina grabbed Phoenix. “God, they’re like…freaks.”
Phoenix only smiled calmly, “Let’s get to work. We’ll see what they’re like when we act like one of them.”

They approached a group of four girls, one of them the blonde she saw earlier, in the middle of a conversation. They stared, surveying Phoenix and Lina carefully and then smiled. Phoenix read it all, it went something like –are these girls one of us? They might be…close enough, as long as I get to talk and they listen. I’ll show them how good I am.
         “Pleasure to meet you all,” Lina smiled, tilting her head sweetly.
         “I agree, it’s a pleasure,” Phoenix said.
The blonde smiled. “Pleasure. Your names? You aren’t Ellet students, are you?”
Phoenix shook her head. “No, we’re from…” Balwyn, she thought. “St. Anne’s Girls College. I’m Phoenix, this is Lina.”
The other girls nodded approvingly except Sirian who seemed like she wanted to get away. “Gwen,” the girl said and looked around her, obviously searching for someone. “This is Stacey, and Marie, and Sirian.”
“Anyway, I was just telling these girls about my date tonight,” Gwen continued. “He’s around here somewhere but guys are so funny, they always disappear at the wrong moments.”
         “Really,” Lina said. “What’s his name?”
         “Corey, you wouldn’t know him. He’s quiet, it’s very charming.”
         “Corey? I’d like to meet him.” Phoenix wondered if it would be the second time, if it was the same Corey she had met the week before.
Stacey looked them up and down. “Versace?” she asked, looking at her dress.
Lina tilted her head. “No. Valentino.” It was true. Our jobs pay very well.
         “Oh I love Valentino,” she tittered. “What do you think of Vera Wang? Especially haute couture stuff.” Whatever that was, Phoenix and Lina agreed.
Phoenix looked straight at the girl named Sirian and walked forward to her through the circle and kept walking, pushing Sirian back a little as she stepped backwards. She peered at her from head to toe and Sirian watched her strangely, saying nothing. Phoenix smiled; this one was different from the others. Sirian turned away from her gaze and Phoenix reached out and used her finger to pull her face back. Sirian raised an eyebrow at the contact and Phoenix licked her finger and traced it down her skin along her neck and down between her cleavage. Sirian pulled away in shock and blinked at her in astonishment, looking around in case somebody saw. Phoenix smiled. Maybe not so different. “I’ll teach you four very important words,” Phoenix began, “Who-gives-a-fuck.”
Sirian raised an eyebrow.
         “If you don’t give a fuck, and no one else gives a fuck, who does? So just live and don’t give a fuck. The philosophy for a life like ours in this era.”

Sirian and the others talked while Gwen chatted to Lina and Phoenix.
The conversation went on for a while and boredom had set in. “ANYway,” Phoenix said. “Where is this date of yours?”
Gwen looked embarrassed. “He’s probably doing something important, you know Ellet boys- they all have their parents in business and then it passes down so they have to take care of it too.”
Phoenix nodded. “So what do your parents do, Gwen?”
         “Oh, some business thing. I’m not sure. And your parents?”
         “My mother is a dancer. My father is in Europe somewhere.” Phoenix wondered why she wanted to know, usually they wouldn’t bother asking questions.
         “Oh really,” Gwen said. “A dancer? What kind?” Phoenix realised Gwen only wanted to know their social standing.
         “She’s a Prima ballerina,” Phoenix replied. Stripper, actually. Her mother would have been a ballerina if she hadn’t gotten into drugs.
         “Wow, interesting,” Gwen said, uninterested. “I imagine you can dance too?”
         “Of course.” I’ll even show you later. She smiled at Lina.
Phoenix wasn’t surprised at their shallowness, it was just surprising how they could stand it for so long, at some point in their lives you would think they’d realize there were more important things.

Gwen watched as a small girl with shoulder-length blonde hair walked up shyly to them and said hello. Lina and Phoenix watched silently. Gwen scowled and then smiled. “What a nice surprise, Amy,” she said acidly. “I didn’t think you would show, seeing as how you stabbed me in the back on Tuesday.”
The girl didn’t hide her hurt.
         “Oh really?” Lina asked, not taking sides. “How so?”
Gwen talked as though Amy wasn’t there. “Stacey heard her telling people that Corey wasn’t interested. Of course, it was all a lie and she even had the guts to ask him. How low.”
         “I-I’m sorry, Gwen. It was a mistake,” she said with a small voice. “I really thought he wasn’t- that he didn’t…”
         “Hey,” Phoenix said loudly. “A mistake is a mistake. Let it slide, girls gotta have each other’s backs.”
Gwen looked like she’d been slapped, annoyed. Amy looked at Phoenix in interest, something close to admiration and Phoenix wanted to slap some boldness into her. Life is too short to be shy or to be sorry to bitches.
Sirian had disappeared saying she had better things to do, and Stacey and Marie tuned in.
         “Well, looks like you’ve got someone on your side, Amy,” Gwen spat. “Hard to believe. Listen, Phoenix, you wouldn’t be on her side if you knew what she was really like.”
Phoenix looked at Amy who was staring at the floor, about to cry. She was probably Gwen’s puppy, an ear to shout her problems and commands into. “And what is Amy really like, Gwen?”
Lina put a hand on Amy’s back.
         “She’s pathetic.” Gwen, Marie and Stacey laughed…like birds.
Suck my dick. “Is she?” Phoenix moved and her face was an inch away from Amy’s. Amy looked up and her eyes were watering. “Amy? You’re pathetic. That’s what this girl says, now what do you think of her?”

Amy’s lip trembled. “I think…” She glanced at Gwen who crossed her arms. “I think…” She glanced at Lina’s face and arm, and back at Phoenix. “I think Gwen is a nasty-ass bitch who needs to get a life, and if I could, I would rip her eyes out. Corey doesn’t even like her, he has sense, he’d never go for her. Her date is Cedric, that loser over there,” she said scornfully. She brightened at her words and Gwen looked like she wanted to tear Amy’s hair out but Phoenix looked her in the eyes. She lowered her head and darkened, her voice turning icy. “Let me tell you something, Gwen. If you want to hurt Amy, or do anything to her, I will personally grate your skin off with a fork. I will let her tear your eyes out and I’ll let Lina rip every one of your manicured nails out with pliers.”
         “Is that a threat?” Gwen asked, looking at her friends.
         “No, I’m making a decision for you.” Phoenix took out a small flip-knife from her purse and Gwen’s eyes widened in fear. She held up her own hand and cut into her palm, slicing from her index finger to her wrist without flinching- she kept the reaction of her pain on the inside. Holding up her hand, she said, “If I can do this to myself, you can be assured I won’t have trouble doing it to you.”
Phoenix tilted her head, “Check yourself carefully, who’s pathetic?”
Lina smiled sweetly. Lick my clit.

Phoenix visibly gave Amy her number in view of Gwen and while Amy was storing it, Lina asked her, “Is there any one you like, Amy?”
Amy looked up and shook her head but her eyes darted away to the exit and back again.
         “Are you sure?” Lina pressed on, smiling.
         “Um…there is someone, I don’t think you would know him…Sayenta.”
         “What?” Phoenix asked, looking up. She was shocked that anyone at Ellet would have a thing for him.
         “Sayenta…he’s, I guess, I don’t really know…”
Lina looked at Phoenix, raising her eyebrows. Phoenix could see the attraction- Amy with her shy personality was drawn to Saienta’s strong will. “I’ll give you some advice about him,” Phoenix began, “If you like him- don’t. He’s the type of guy that makes his own decisions, there’s nothing you could do to make him change his mind once he’s made it and if you pursue it, he’ll draw further away- even hate you for it.” Phoenix only knew because Reeva was the same, he had chosen her and she had accepted, it was that simple.

They started drifting towards the DJ but Lina spotted someone, screamed and hugged her.
         “Elli! Fuck! I haven’t seen you forever!”
         “Well fuck you, Lina,” the girl named Elli laughed, and hugged her. “Where have you been?”
Lina introduced her to Phoenix and they hugged in greeting.
         “This was my best friend in second grade. I haven’t seen her since she left two years after that. Damn baby, you look hot,” Lina grinned, looking her up and down.
         “You aren’t bad yourself,” Elli smiled. “What have you been doing? Did you end up in ballet school?”
Lina grinned. “Of course. Me and Phoenix are auditioning for the NYC company in January. I’ll let you know how it goes.”
Elli smiled and they exchanged numbers.
         “I never thought you’d become an Ellet bitch,” Lina grinned.
Elli shrugged. “Where did you end up going?”
         “I’m a Balwyn bitch, what else did you expect? I met Phoenix there.”
Elli sighed. “I would have liked Balwyn.”

Lina and Phoenix went over to the DJ’s table and chatted with him. He was so bored he was happy to have someone talk to him, especially two girls. No Ellet kid would have.
         “Name?” Phoenix asked.
         “So,” he answered. “Damn shit music, I swear. I had to borrow a collection from some old guy.”
         “No shit, your name is So? DJ Rez?” Lina asked, eyes widening.
         “Yeah, that’s me.”
         “You make the best mixes,” Lina punched him in the shoulder. “Fuck! We always listen to your shit.”
He grinned. “Thanks.”
         “Do us a favour, So…” Phoenix said. “Do you think that…”


Saienta turned around and faced Alexia who was wearing a flowing pastel green dress. It brought out her eyes. She smiled happily. “You came!”
         “Yeah, I did.”
         “So…” she leaned on the railing next to him. The water was black and rushed beneath them. “What were you looking at?”
         “Nothing, just the water. How’s the date going?” he asked, smoking.
         “Great, he’s nice and his friends are nice to me.”
Saienta smiled. Of course they were. “What’s going on inside? Anything interesting?”
         “What? You haven’t even been inside yet?” She tugged on his arm. “How can you stay outside by yourself when everything is happening inside? You’re not even doing anything.”
         “I’m waiting for someone.”
         “You know, Saienta…I was thinking. Ever since your birthday you haven’t been as serious as you usually are. You know, you always had that expression on your face…”
         “What expression?” he asked.
         “That…’touch-me-and-die’ or ‘look-my-way-and-die’ look,” she laughed, imitating him.
He half-smiled.
“Why? Did you get a girlfriend?” she asked, giving him a sly look.
He shook his head. “Nothing like that.”
At the same moment, Corey returned looking relieved.
         “Corey, this is Alexia. Alexia, Corey,” Saienta said.
Corey smiled and Alexia stuck out her hand- he shook it. Saienta thought it was strange but said nothing, it must have been an Ellet thing.
         “Nice to meet you, Corey, are you Saienta’s friend?”
Corey looked at Saienta. “No,” he said.
Saienta looked up and Corey was grinning. “Just kidding, yeah, he’s a friend.”
Alexia smiled happily. “Do you have a date?”
         “Er…depends what you mean by date.”
She screwed up her face. “You know…a date, a girl.”
         “Elli, I suppose, but it’s more like a friend thing-“
         “So you do have a date, I thought you would.” She leaned close to him and put her hand up as a shield around her mouth. “Does Saienta have a date?” she whispered but not secretively.
Corey smiled. “Why don’t you ask him?”
She pouted. “Because Saienta will probably say he doesn’t.”
         “I don’t though…”
         “See what I mean. Tch,” she smiled and turned to the door when her name was called. Tidus was standing in the light, looking at them. He looked pissed. “Alexia…”

Tidus walked towards them and Saienta leaned looking down into the water. Corey stood where he was, staring at him. Tidus held onto Alexia’s hand. “Oh, this is Tidus, have you met?”
Saienta turned, knowing things were about to turn bad.
         “We know each other, Alexia,” Tidus said. “Come back inside, I want you to meet some people,” he said, eyeing Corey and Saienta.
         “Wait, have you met Saienta?” Alexia asked.
Saienta nodded. “Go Alexia, have fun.”
         “Go inside. I’ll meet you there in a sec,” Tidus said sternly, and Alexia felt the tension. She walked away slowly and turned back but kept going until she was out of sight.
Saienta, Corey and Tidus were gazing at each other, Tidus’ eyes narrowed. “Why were you two, of all people on the ship, talking with my date? What were you trying to do?”
Corey looked annoyed and he put a hand in his pocket. “I don’t like your attitude, Tidus. You’re taking it the wrong way.”
         “The wrong way? How else can I take it? Here I find my date talking with someone I despise, and the guy that was my friend. You aren’t acting like yourself, ever since you started hanging out with him.
         “I am me, maybe you never really knew who I was,” he replied coldly.
Saienta thought about how quiet Corey was around Tidus and the others. Saienta pressed a hand to his stomach and realized he was starving, and it was making him grow irritable. He stood up straight and looked at Tidus. “Alexia is a friend, I was asking her to dance.”
         “A friend? Huh. I find that hard to believe,” Tidus spat.
         “Forget it,” Corey said. “Why are you so prejudiced against Saienta?”
All three of them were on edge, fists clenched. “Because.” He didn’t finish what he had to say, he wasn’t furious enough yet and Saienta knew it.
         “Because we’re the same, but different,” Saienta said, looking across into the sky.
Corey looked at him. Tidus looked angrier but he stayed silent. He glanced at the strings on Saienta and Corey’s hands and scowled.Tidus looked up at Saienta, a sinister look in his eyes. “It’s true, we’re similar. What was it you said? A person’s life is in their own hands, and you just don’t seem to get it. You could go about everything the right way but you choose to live like a criminal.”
Saienta knew Tidus was in a similar situation, and on the outside, it may seem like Saienta had a choice but he didn’t, not that he could explain it.
         “So you judge me on that- I don’t think it’s enough. There is always more to it. If you want to get pissed with Corey, that’s your problem- you had the chance to explain yourself and never trusted him enough. It’s your fault only that you’re afraid of what you are.
Alexia is my half sister, we were talking about dates,” Saienta said. “I don’t want people knowing, especially Ellet students, no one should judge Alexia because of her connection with me.”
Tidus looked blank, was silent for a while and he gripped the railing with both hands. “Alexia, Alexia is your half sister.” He looked at him, every detail, as though he was starting to see the resemblance and didn’t want to. Corey stood in the dark with his hands in his pockets, looking at the ground. Tidus shook his head.
         “If you tell any one or you hurt her in any way, I’ll fuck you up.” Saienta turned his clear green eyes directly on Tidus. “Don’t treat her any differently.”
Tidus stared and the rage was visibly building inside. He crouched and struck the deck with full force. “Fuck!” he growled and then walked inside.

“Let’s go inside,” Saienta said after they had cooled down for a few minutes. “I promised someone a dance.”
Corey nodded and they entered the ballroom to find the DJ playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21. Most of the couples were dancing slowly on the marble floor and a few people were sitting around watching and talking with each other. The floor above them was the same and Saienta split up with Corey. Saienta found Tidus and Alexia and asked if he could cut in, Tidus refused to look at him and then walked over to the wall, leaning on it with his arms crossed. Saienta danced with Alexia and she chatted animatedly about her new puppy, an Alaskan malamute. She had her hands crossed behind his neck and they stood apart slightly.
Saienta looked at the couple next to him and was surprised to find Corey dancing with Gwen. She was beaming until a few seconds later, Lina arrived. She kissed Corey on the cheek in greeting and Gwen’s face flushed.
         “May I cut in?” Lina asked quickly.
         “No!” Gwen answered and then caught herself. “I mean, we just started…”
         “Thanks!” Lina said, pushing her aside and putting her arms around Corey. Saienta laughed softly. Corey looked at Saienta as if to ask what just happened? and then he shrugged, continuing dancing with his new partner. After the song finished, Tidus returned and stole Alexia away, and Phoenix arrived, kissing Saienta on the cheek. She winked and then danced with him.
The song was slow and boring and Phoenix yawned loudly. “God, Sai, if this was any more boring we’d have to start cremating people.”
Saienta wondered if she or Lina had started anything yet. They were bound to.
         “Ah…Sai. You and Corey are looking so sexy right now, me and Lina were thinking about eating you alive.”
         “Very subtle, Phoenix,” he smiled.
         “I know! What was I thinking? Subtle. Shit! Let’s make this place a little more interesting. We’ll be back in a moment. I owe you a dance, don’t I? I don’t count this shit as dancing.”

Phoenix and Lina disappeared into the ‘Ladies’ room and Saienta stood with Corey, at the side of the room. He looked up and noticed Sirian dancing with her partner. She laughed, slapped him on the chest, “Keiji, I wasn’t with Gentry! That‘s gross.” He grinned and when she looked away, Saienta noticed the way Keiji looked at her. There was a moment where Keiji’s eyes misted over and when she turned back, he looked normal again.

When Lina and Phoenix reappeared, his first thought was this is more like them. Phoenix’s silky black dress had been cut diagonally showing all of one side of her leg, and covered the other. A part of her midriff had been cut away, revealing her bellybutton and her cleavage. The bottom of Lina’s rose-red dress had been torn around mid-thighs and hung in tatters, all the way up to barely legal, and she had ripped one shoulder-strap off. Corey who was drinking water from a glass choked and he spat it back in. Saienta noticed the many eyes, especially the guys who were ogling and the complete awe and jealousy of the girls. They were completely wrong for the setting and were headed right for Saienta and Corey. Phoenix and Lina smiled mischievously and then found two seats at the edge of the room. They kicked a couple off the chairs, picking them up to get rid of the occupants and then carried the chairs to the middle of the dance floor. Saienta wondered what the chairs were for and Corey looked like he obviously didn’t want to know. The room was now divided into two- the audience which was everyone, and, Lina and Phoenix. They set the chairs back-to-back and the Ellet students formed a large circle, as if quarantining a virus.
Lina and Phoenix walked to them and Saienta gave her a look she recognized but ignored. Phoenix led Saienta to one seat and Lina led Corey to the other. “Phoenix…I don’t-” Phoenix cut Saienta off by putting a finger to his lips. Great, she was already in her mode. There was no stopping them now so Saienta leaned back and relaxed; pulling out a cigarette while Phoenix put her fingers in her mouth and a piercing whistle cut the air. The music cut off and the DJ put up a hand. The silence lasted a second and a fast, beaty, hip-hop rap song came on- the volume was up and almost deafening- and the bass was so hard it shook the room. It was sexy, dirty and the expressions on the faces around him were flecked with horror and shock. The contrast between the last song and this was amazing. From Beethoven’s 16th Symphony to Ludacris’s What’s Your Fantasy? Remix. First words- Yeah, yeah, give it to me now, yeah, remix. I wanna li-li-li-lick you from your head to your toes. Phoenix began her dance, she was confident, sexual, and moved her body smoothly, and naturally. She danced in front of him at first and then sat on his lap doing body rolls. He shook his head and kept from laughing, he looked over at the crowd and saw the faces on most of the guys- jealousy, arousal, whatever. He had no doubt Corey was receiving the same treatment behind him and wondered how he was taking it. Phoenix put a finger in her mouth, turned and slid her hand down between her breasts, looking at an Ellet guy whose jaw dropped. Poor Cedric. Saienta saw Tidus on his own and was grateful that he had taken Alexia out of the room. I wanna move from the bed down to the floor; and I wanna uh uh, you make it so good I don’t wanna leave, but I gotta kn-kn-kn-know wh-what’s yo’ fan-t –tasy. Phoenix was mouthing the words and staring him in the eyes. She looked up and then nodded. She moved off and then danced around him, swapping with Lina. Lina had taken her hair out and it hung out over her shoulders- black and silver.
Saienta saw the crowd part slightly and Morgan jumped out, staring at Lina’s body. He was trying to dance- and was failing- he looked like he was a dying fish, out of beat and he looked like a dickhead. He was trying to interest Phoenix and Lina and everyone watched to see what they would do. Saienta smoked his cigarette and watched Phoenix and Lina give each other a look then pretend to be interested in Morgan, dancing over to him. They rubbed against him, Phoenix in front with her leg between his, rubbing his crutch and Lina was behind. Phoenix did a body roll and Morgan’s face was priceless- especially after she kneed him with full force. He doubled over and fell into the crowd and Phoenix and Lina continued their lap dance. No more guys tried anything. Lina moved to the DJ table and took up the microphone. The DJ looked like he was finally having fun. Phoenix cheered her on- Lina was a good rapper. “I’m a Balwyn bitch, let her ride dick, ass in his face, cock spread out,” were only some of the words. The music cut out moments later while Lina was still rapping, but it didn’t stop her, she kept on going carelessly to the whole of Ellet and the teachers, who stood behind the DJ looking on disapprovingly. Phoenix quickly stole Saienta’s cigarette and smoked it.
         “F-O-X, havin’ rough sex- Have a sexy little ménage trois, getting buckwow no matter where we are-”
The plug for the microphone was ripped out from the machine connecting up to the speakers. Lina let the microphone slip through her fingers, annoyed that their fun had been cut very short. Phoenix turned to Saienta and winked. “Too bad. I’ll see you later.”

mirror on the wall - Corey
The first hint to know just how boring the cruise was should’ve been the banner on the entrance as they stepped onto the ship (Shipwrecked Shindig). In comparison to other events Corey made appearances to when his father couldn’t make it, the Shipwrecked Shindig was the same and less; in his opinion. There was something about the occasion on a cruise ship that made it distasteful. His purpose for coming came and went quickly, and he now felt stranded. It hadn’t turned out all that good at the beginning. Tidus was even more so angry at him, but there was no way to set Tidus right without having to reveal personal issues about Saienta and him, and even then, there were some personal things said out of anger.

After their feud, Corey and Saienta walked inside, stepping over the small crystals from the chandelier on the floor. They separated inside and Corey caught sight of Elli, standing against the wall, looking bored. Her face brightened as she noticed he had returned and he walked over to her.
         “Having fun?” Corey asked her.
         “Oh, yeah, I’m having a ball. Did I just say that?” she said with usual sarcasm. “Let’s do something, Corey. I’m bored”
Corey looked around at the dancing couples, rubbing the back of his neck as he thought of the possibilities but none came to mind. Morgan swiftly passed by, doing the tango with himself; a rose in his mouth.
Elli watched Morgan strangely and said, “At least he’s having fun.”
Morgan spat out the rose, groaning as he rubbed the side of his mouth and laughed when his friends did. “Thorn got me!”
         “I think I’ll go freshen up like all the other stupid prissy Ellet girls…Oh, no. I change my mind, the bathroom is probably stuffed like a turkey.”
Corey grinned at her black humor, and was reminded of Saienta.
Cedric waltzed over and looked from one person to the other. Corey wondered what his problem was. He grabbed Corey’s shoulder and patted him roughly. “Your lucky night, man,” he said and then walked away, his eyes on Elli. Corey didn’t understand and he looked at Elli but she only shrugged.
         “Where’s Saienta?” Elli asked, looking around the room and back at Corey, who put a hand in his pocket.
         “Somewhere in here. Dancing, I think.”
         “Dancing? Saienta? To this? I have to bear witness!” She was swallowed whole into the crowd of dancing couples. Corey watched her leave, shaking his head in amusement, and then made his way over to the side of the room where he could get a drink, but was stopped by Gwen who cut in front of him, staring at him sternly. They were standing underneath a red light that tinted their hair.
         “Let’s dance,” she said rather demandingly with a quick smile.
Corey gave her an unsure look. “Later, maybe. I’m a little busy.”
         “Now,” she said, turning to where Stacey and Marie stood and back at Corey. “Please, just one dance.”
Corey thought for a moment as he stared at her. He didn’t want to give her the wrong idea, but he didn’t want to be harassed for the entire night for a dance… “Alright. Just one though,” he said heavily. I may as well since Saienta is too.
Gwen dragged him over to the dance floor, looking smug with herself. He looked around at the other couples, wanting the song to hurry and finish. He saw Saienta dancing with Alexia, nearing toward him and Gwen. Just then Lina appeared and kissed him on the cheek in the usual greeting for her and Phoenix, from what he remembered at the Pool Hall. She looked nice, but was rather surprised that she chose to dress to blend in. Corey smiled at Lina and wondered if Phoenix was there too. Lina wrapped her arms around Corey and took over without Gwen’s approval. He heard Saienta laugh; they were right next to each other. Tidus took Alexia away from Saienta and Corey saw Phoenix take over from Alexia; she also the part for the occasion. Ryan was dancing with Sara a few meters away.
Lina looked up at him and smiled as they sidestepped back and forth. “My, you look sexy, Corey.”
He smiled in thanks, unsure how to answer. “Who did you come here with?”
         “My date? Some guy name Paul, nasty common name.” Lina breathed in deeply.
         “What’s that scent you’re wearing?”
         “Mm…smells delicious. Makes me want you.”
Morgan walked by, checking Lina out visibly and Lina raised an eyebrow at him. Morgan whistled, nodding his head in approval and Corey shook his head. Was Lina offended? He looked at her reaction but she didn’t seem bothered.
         “You ever been to a strip club?” Lina asked simply.
Corey laughed in surprise. “What? Why?”
Lina gave him a sly look. “No, I didn’t think so… You’ll see.”

Phoenix and Lina disappeared, and Corey took the opportunity to get a drink with Saienta at his side. He saw Sirian sitting with Annaleace by the wall talking and they looked up and waved in greeting. Corey put up a hand. It was hard to believe he considered that the cruise might’ve been different from other social events; it was the same down to every detail- the slow classical music, the same dress sense, the exact atmosphere…Just as he took a sip of water, he choked from shock as Phoenix and Lina returned wearing the same dresses but had modified them to their liking. Maybe the cruise wasn’t quite the same. They placed two chairs back-to-back. Corey looked away from the scene as Lina’s words played over in his head, “You’ll see.” They led Corey and Saienta to the chairs and seated them. Everyone crowded around the four of them in a circle and stared. The cruise was definitely not the same, he thought, as he looked up at Lina who was standing in front of him and winked rather seductively. Corey looked around at the crowd. Ellet girls were scowling with jealousy and contempt, and very few with awe. Music blasted and the bass from the music vibrated the chairs. The song was so wrong for Ellet standards Corey almost laughed. With a finger Lina lifted Corey’s chin so he’d look at her as she reached for her hair tie and pulled it out, letting her silver streaked black hair fall over her face, shoulders and eyes.
         “Woah…” Corey said. He heard half the guys watching say ‘Woah’ too. Lina smirked and leaned in close to him so he could hear her say, “I know, it’s my favorite part too.” Ellet guys looked rather excited; others watched but were more controlled. Lina danced on him, on his lap and off too. Corey was more interested in everybody’s reactions and how amazingly it changed in just a few minutes; from a boring social gathering to…well…a strip club. Corey looked back out into the audience and saw Tidus scowling in the crowd; a look that said only too clearly “I can’t believe you.” He looked away from him, and the next time he looked back in Tidus’ direction, he was gone, probably back to wherever Alexia was. Lina danced over to Saienta and Phoenix took over. She looked up over Corey and disappeared for a moment.
Saienta leaned back. “How’s things, Mr. Class president?”
Corey thought for a moment, reminded of his position as class president, and leaned back to reply. “Oh, shit…” They laughed. “Not bad for a Shipwrecked Shindig.”
Phoenix returned and he heard Lina rapping, “How about in a candy store. Mmm chocolate- chocolate, make it melt, whips and chains, hand cuffs. Smack a little booty up in my belt…”
He looked up at the balcony to see faces looking down at them, probably wondering what was going on. Phoenix disappeared into the crowd and pulled out a girl he recognized as Amy. Amy looked around at the crowd in embarrassment as Phoenix held her hands and encouraged her to dance. She moved around a little from Phoenix’s encouragement and smiled, starting to have fun. Phoenix laughed and put her hand behind Amy’s head, pulled her forward and kissed her on the forehead to Amy’s surprise, and then delight. Corey could smell smoke and knew it was Saienta.

The music stopped; Lina’s rap was stopped shortly after once someone pulled the plug on the microphone, and everything went back to normal. The classical music was back on and couples began to dance again. The DJ look bored once more. Corey and Saienta weren’t in trouble; because everyone had witnessed they had been pulled into the spotlight, with the exception of Tidus. Figures.
Corey and Saienta stood and began walking away from the dance floor when Elli caught up with them.
         “That was interesting,” Elli said with a sly grin, “I was going to join in but they were dancing on you two” She rolled her eyes and Corey couldn’t tell if she was being sarcastic or not.
Two teachers accompanied Phoenix and Lina out of the ballroom and they waved a happy goodbye, appearing as though the trouble they might be in didn’t bother them in the slightest, and it probably didn’t.

The ship was still and floated on the water’s surface like a cork in a pond; the ship must have been anchored. Corey, Saienta and Elli were out on the deck close by to the entrance and they leaned on the railing; Corey with his back to the water, Saienta on the railing, and Elli’s hand holding onto the edge.
         “I can’t take it anymore. The boredom is suffocating me,” Elli said, and looked straight down at the water. “I wonder how cold it is.”
Corey looked at Elli, then down at the water, thinking it too freezing for his liking. Saienta flicked his cigarette and it was swallowed whole into the darkness of the water.
         “I already thought of that,” Saienta said. “Too bad we haven’t learned how to walk on it yet…”
It was clear that the three of them wanted nothing better than to leave the stupid ship and return back to shore. Corey looked up at the immense sky, littered with stars. Home looked as out of reach as the sky did. He sighed mentally with a hungered stomach and turned to lean over the railing.
         “I’m starving,” Corey said.
“Same,” Saienta agreed. They turned expectantly when Elli didn’t say anything and saw that she was leaning right over the railing, craning her neck to see something alongside the ship. A boat was being lowered onto the water carrying Phoenix, Lina and two teachers…The three of them exchanged looks and shared a light bulb moment.

Saienta split up with Corey and Elli to pick up his and Corey’s bags, while Corey and Elli went to get Elli’s belongings; her suite was closest. They stopped by the buffet room to steal food. Elli disappeared for a moment as Corey stood indecisively in front of the table spread out with delicious, steaming hot dishes and cuisines. The smell of it stirred up his insides and he clutched his stomach. Elli reappeared with takeaway boxes that had red Chinese writing on it; she had her bag over a shoulder. She passed the boxes to him and tapped her fingers together in front of her. “I’m a criminal,” Elli told him.
         “It’s no different to the time you stole those donuts,” Corey teased. Elli blinked sheepishly, took a box and began stuffing food into it. Corey filled his and Saienta’s boxes and they ran out of the buffet more suspiciously than they could help.
         “No, wait!” Elli stopped just outside the buffet room. She ran back inside and he waited for her. She returned with a hand full of silver cutlery, grinning.
         “What? I can’t eat lobster a la crenẻ with my hands,” Elli shrugged.

They met up again with Saienta and he passed Corey his bag.
         “I was stopped by Miss. Silvalet on the way. She wanted to know why I was carrying two bags,” Saienta said.
         “What did you tell her?” Corey asked, slinging his bag over his shoulder. Saienta shrugged.
         “That we were moving rooms. I don’t think she believed it.”
All three of them walked along the side of the railing until they came in range of the life boats but none of them had motors.
         “Hey, look,” Elli said, “a speedboat.”
Corey looked around and saw it hanging over the edge of the ship by two cables. It was becoming windier and cold. On the side of the white speedboat was written: C.T III.
         “What’s that stand for?” Elli pointed out. Corey shrugged, not bothering to figure out its meaning.
They threw their bags inside the speedboat and Elli jumped in. Saienta and Corey set to work on lowering the cables when they couldn’t figure out how to work the automatic system. Corey worked on one cable while Saienta worked on the other as Elli rummaged through the speedboat.
         “I figured out what C.T III stands for,” Elli said loudly so they could hear.
         “What?” Corey asked, loosening the winch which was a part of the pulley.
         “Well…” Elli began in a posh reading voice, “Property of Cedric Theodore the third.” In her normal voice she continued, “That’s engraved on the steering wheel.”
         “Woah,” Saienta said as his cable lowered too fast and the boat fell sideways, sitting lopsided.
         “Hey!” Elli exclaimed. “It’s a long drop, you know!”
Corey balanced it for Saienta and resumed working on his cable.
         “Oh my God,” Elli said.
         “What?” Saienta asked.
         “Everything is labeled. His first-aid kit is labelled, his mini fridge, even his binoculars,” she said, looking through them. “Oh look, porn!” They heard rifling sounds and she held up a page for them to see.
         “Let me guess…labelled?” Saienta asked.
         “Uh huh.” She started throwing piles of magazines onto the cruise deck between Saienta and Corey. A magazine titled ‘Luscious Lesbians’ fell at Corey’s feet and he kicked it away shuddering. Together Corey and Saienta lowered the boat further down the side of the ship and Elli looked up at them through the railing, still in the boat.
         “Excuse me?” Elli called, “Do you plan to leave me here on my own?”
Saienta looked over the edge at her and called back, “We’ll slide down the cables.”
Corey looked across at him. “We will?”
         “How else are we going to get down ten storeys?” Saienta grinned. Corey looked down and they were still wearing their suits and shook his head, laughing softly.
         “What?” Saienta asked.
         “We’ll look like James Bond in these suits,” Corey replied. Saienta laughed.
When the boat reached the water Elli flashed a torch. Saienta took off his jacket and began taking off his shirt.
         “Why are you taking off your clothes?” Corey asked. Was it the James Bond thing?
         “Here, hold this,” Saienta said, passing him his cigarette. He took it, and noticed for the first time, scars all over Saienta’s body, but didn’t ask. This from a guy who never suffered? The scars must have had something to do with Red Tide. A silver ring dangled from a chain around his neck and a white bandage was wrapped around his arm where Saienta had shown him his Red Tide tattoo on Monday. Corey watched carefully as Saienta ripped strips off the bottom of his shirt for the both of them and wrapped it around his hands tightly.
         “You’ll burn your hands and strip them clean otherwise,” Saienta explained as Corey did the same, passing back his cigarette. Corey wondered how Saienta knew what to do in these kind of situations, as though he had a lot of experience. Saienta slipped his jacket back on without his shirt and chained down the rest of his cigarette, flicking it over the edge. They slid down with ease but it was rough on their hands regardless of the material. Elli gave Corey a cheeky look when she noticed Saienta wasn’t wearing a shirt and refused to look Saienta’s way. Corey started up the boat as Elli and Saienta released the cables. Maybe home wasn’t as far as the sky. Corey turned off the lights on the speedboat so anyone looking down from the ship couldn’t recognize who was in it; there was also enough light illuminating from the city to see where they were going, and enough light from the stars to see the controls.
Elli picked up the binoculars to look back at the ship.

“There’s someone up there,” Elli said as the speedboat drew away. “Hey, is that Cedric?”
Saienta took the binoculars and peered through. “Yeah, and he’s flapping his arms like a little girl.”
         “Let me see,” Corey said. Saienta took over the controls while Corey stood with Elli. He peered up at the ship where they had lowered the boat from and saw Cedric clutching with one hand on his porn and screaming. Also he was…
         “Is he crying?” Corey asked. Elli snatched the binoculars from him.
         “Oh my God, yeah he is…like a bitch…”
They were silent for a moment, possibly feeling bad for him, and then they all cracked up into laughter. He was a billionaire’s spoilt kid, after all. They all sat down and ate from the takeaway boxes, and then Saienta turned on the music from a radio that was built into the boat.
         “Should be another twenty minutes before we reach the shore,” he informed them, lighting up a cigarette.
         “Hey!” Elli shot at Corey. “You’re my date, we never got to dance. You owe me.”
The song playing from the radio was My Boo by Usher and Alicia Keys. Corey stood up and held out his hand.
         “What? Here?” Elli asked, then shrugged and stood up. Elli grabbed his hand and lifted it up so she could twirl underneath it. The way they danced wasn’t romantic and he was grateful for it. Sea mist sprayed on them once in a while and the wind was blocked by the windscreen at the front of the boat. Saienta looked out to sea with his foot on the edge while Corey and Elli danced, having fun.
I don’t know about cha’ll but I know about us and uh, it’s the only way we know how ta ROCK.” the song ended.
         “Looks like we’ll be seeing Sirian, Ryan and Annaleace on Wednesday,” Elli said. “I suppose they’ll tell us what happened during the rest of the cruise. Do you think we should have taken them with us?” No one mentioned the Gate but everyone thought of it.
They shrugged. It was a spur of the moment thing, and they could escape if they wanted to. They couldn’t enter the Gate until then, anyhow and then it would be their first day of training. Elli looked back at the cruise ship in the distance. “Shit. Do you think we could get a refund?”
         “Damn,” Saienta said. “…Suppose we could sell the speedboat.”
         “Good idea!” Elli grinned.
Corey wanted to remember this moment- his whole week had been the best he could remember- and he recalled he brought his new camera with him. Unzipping his bag, he took it out and Elli smiled in approval. They set the timer and he took one photo with Elli, one with Saienta, and the last with all three, with the night sky as their background.
         “Did you end up terrorizing people like you wanted?” Corey asked Elli.
She smiled her mischievous smile. “Of course I made my mark, dear Corey, how could I resist?”
         “Hey Corey,” Saienta called. “How’s the heart problems?”
He looked up in puzzlement and Elli burst into laughter, clapping Corey on the shoulder.
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         As Sirian drove to Keiji‘s house to pick him up for the cruise, she thought back to the meeting on Tuesday. Her mother and father had decided that Tuesday would be the night for “family togetherness”. It had taken Sirian over thirty minutes to convince her parents that she had a pressing engagement (that wasn’t a date or anything concerning school). She had been all knotted up since they all had gone back through the Gate. Sirian wanted desperately to tell her parents, but she knew she couldn’t. It was imperative. But Tuesday, the whole story almost came out accidentally. Since then Sirian had been keeping tight lips about almost everything to avoid talking about her other world encounter.
         But what had really worried Sirian was the meeting at The Golden Sands. Everything that Elli had said. The entire conversation about Sirian being StuCo President and then moving on to the cheerleading fiasco. It felt as if Elli had been verbally attacking Sirian because she was involved in her school. After the meeting, in the arcade, Sirian had purposely separated herself from the others, even though she had a serious love for some of the classic arcade games. But then when she had talked to Corey, it felt like he understood her. At least a little bit. Corey knew what it was like to come from an affluent and influential family. To have everyone watching your every move. It wasn’t as if Sirian had asked to be born with a silver spoon in her mouth. And why was it such a bad thing for Sirian to be involved in making her school a better place? Sure Sirian liked to see others happy, but did that make her a “people pleaser?” There were times when Sirian did things for herself, instead of thinking of the “good of the many” so to speak. Like with cheerleading. If Sirian truly were a people pleaser than wouldn’t she have stayed on the squad?
         When Sirian and Annaleace had left the rest of the group, they immediately began talking about the evening. At one point Annaleace had noticed that Sirian was not her usual talkative self and asked why. The two girls drove to Lacey’s house and spent over an hour talking about Elli’s comments. Sirian sighed as she came to Keiji’s three-story brick house and shook the thoughts away. She had things to do, and reminiscing about immaterial things was not one of them. But she couldn’t. Elli’s remarks were like a bad song that Sirian wouldn’t expel from her mind. She stepped out of her Aston Martin. Walking up the steps, she almost tripped in her heels because she couldn’t stop thinking.
         ”That was graceful.” Keiji said opening the front door and looking quite debonair in his Kenneth Cole suit.
         ”Shut up, or I’ll deck you.” She joked. “You look great by the way.”
         Before Keiji could say anything, his mother, Nanette sauntered into the doorway. She spoke laughingly. ”Now, now Sirian we need our son back in one piece.” She paused, “Lovely dress darling. You look absolutely exquisite. The blue diamond pendant is a perfect touch matching bracelet and earring too. I see that you’ve inherited your mother’s good taste. Speaking of your mother, we should all have brunch sometime.”
         ”Thank you Nanette.” Sirian smiled politely. “I’m sure that my mother would love to have brunch.”
         ”Hey what about me? I thought that I was the one who was supposed to be complimenting her? She‘s my date after all.” Keiji said, mock sadness plastered on his face.
         ”You’ll get your chance.” Sirian laughed. “Every girl loves being showered with compliments.”
         Anxious to leave, the best friends said a quick goodbye and Keiji threw his things into the trunk of Sirian’s car.
         ”Want to drive?” She asked.
         ”I’d better not. I’m kind of on three month probation for, uh, running a stop light. I t-boned a Jag. Mom and Dad weren‘t too happy about that one...”
         The drive to the docks where the yacht was moored. Keiji had put in Switchfoot‘s debut C.D. and cranked up her stereo. The sports car literally bounced from the custom bass boost. There were two benefits to having the stereo up so loud. One, Sirian couldn’t hear Keiji sing in his tuneless and off-key way and she couldn’t hear herself think. The trip was short and Keiji insisted that they wait for the song Meant To Live to play three times before Sirian finally turned the ignition off.
         ”Party wrecker.” He pouted. “You should be nice to me, or I’ll start singing.”
         ”No not that!” Sirian laughed, only half-kidding.
         ”Not what sexy?” Cedric said, coming out of no where.
         ”Don’t you ever give up? I'm tired of this okay?” Sirian sighed. “I have a date Cedric and you have one too. So, please, just leave me alone and I’ll extend the same courtesy to you.”
         She didn’t wait to see how Cedric reacted. She just took hold of Keiji’s hand and went onto the yacht. They had arrived before anyone else, except Cedric of course. Sirian was in charge of setting up everything last minute. She checked the caterers, and that the florist had done everything as she had been instructed. She also happened to notice that the DJ was horrible. That’s what I get for leaving the decision making to the Dance Committee. By the time the yacht set sail, Sirian was stressed beyond words. And of all the things that could happen, Gwen cornered her. Two other girls joined in and Sirian tried desperately to get away.
          Then two girls, from St. Anne’s Girl’s College came. Phoenix had touched Sirian like no one else had ever dared. No boy had even come that close to Sirian’s body and not come out of the situation missing a few teeth. Before the shock passed, Phoenix spoke.
         “I’ll teach you four very important words. “Who-gives-a-fuck.” Sirian’s eyebrow raised. “If you don’t give a fuck, and no one else gives a fuck, who does? So just live and don’t give a fuck. The philosophy for a life like ours in this era.”
         Finally, Sirian spotted Keiji, she excused herself and nearly ran to her friend.
         ”Where were you? With Gentry?” He sniggered, pointing to the chaperone across the room.
          “Keiji, I wasn’t with Gentry! That‘s gross.” She laughed. Keiji grinned and Sirian noticed there was something different about him. It almost looked like he was going to cry. He hid it quickly and before Sirian could say anything, the two girls from before showed up.
         Their dresses couldn’t have been more risqué if they’d tried. Sirian watched as the ball was turned into a Vegas strip club. For what seemed like the hundredth time this week, Sirian was speechless. Sirian was shocked... She had spent hours making plans for everything to go smoothly and now this disaster. But does it matter? She thought to herself. I mean seriously matter? A stupid dance is nothing compared to all the weird stuff that’s been happening lately. This new world inside of school property. Renna going missing then calling out of the blue. And not to mention my liking Saienta. He‘s not my type. Obviously he has an intense dislike for me personally and of course there’s his blatant disdain for wealthy people period. So why do I like him? Sirian glanced at Saienta, and mentally chastised herself for allowing her mind to become so wrapped up in a boy. She had always promised herself that she wasn’t going to be just another of the “in crowd” but lately, she’d been acting like it.
         Then she laughed quietly. The strip scene hadn’t bothered her as much as she thought it had. It was Saienta. That boy had managed to get himself wedged in her mind. She glanced over at him as he was turning to leave. How the hell did he do that? No one has ever gotten inside me head like he has.
         ”Fuck that shit.” Sirian said aloud, completely unintentionally.
         ”Whoa!” Keiji stepped back. “Did you just drop the F-Bomb?”
         ”You never cuss like that.”
         ”Ohh, it’s nothing. I just- No never mind.”
         ”You sure? We can talk about it if you want.”
         ”Thanks, K. That’s sweet, but no. I have to deal with this little situation on my own.” If Saienta doesn't like me, fine. I've never given any boy the kind of mental attention that I've given him. He's not worth it. But there was another little voice in her head. What if he is worth it?
         Annaleace came over, laughing at her brother who was trying desperately not to step on his date’s toes during the song.
         ”No offence Siri, because I know you did all this work for the ball and everything, but this dance is bombing.”
         ”You‘re right,” Sirian answered. “Want to leave?”
         ”Keiji, Ryan, his date, you and me. We could just go. Maybe we could go clubbing in the city or something... All I have to do is call my father; he’ll send his yacht out. We’ll be gone in twenty minutes.”

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Annaleace closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
Focus Annaleace stop thinking...about him.
She opened her eyes and picked up her lipstick.


"Mom come on, we're going to be late."

         "Ya and we still have to go into the city and pick up Sara." Ryan sighed.

         "Come on, you guys never get all dressed up! Let me be a mother won't you?"

Annaleace and Ryan sighed. "Dad. Please help us out here."

"Oh Diane, let the kids go."


"Wow that's a big yacht." Sara looked up from the car at the yacht and marvalled at its size.

         "Fucking rich kids. It might be fun, right?" Ryan looked around at Sara and Annaleace.

         "Maybe, oh well looks like we're one of the last to arrive, lets hurry up. Sirians probably already here."


         ”No offence Siri, because I know you did all this work for the ball and everything, but this dance is bombing.”
         ”You‘re right,” Sirian answered. “Want to leave?”
         ”Keiji, Ryan, his date, you and me. We could just go. Maybe we could go clubbing in the city or something... All I have to do is call my father; he’ll send his yacht out. We’ll be gone in twenty minutes.”
         "Then I would have to say thank God!!! I thought I was going to pass out!!" Sirian and Annaleace laughed. "Ryan, Sara, come on we're leaving!"

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Ryan and Sara found Mark and Terry pretty quick. Ryan wore the suit he and his father had taken forever finding. It was a black suit and charcoal grey shirt. Sara looked beautiful in a gown that was an unusual hue of violet that wouldn’t match anyone but her. The gown had a slit up mid thigh on both sides. Her silky black hair had been braided into three braids then tied into a pony tail. Mark gaped open mouthed when he saw Terry and she smiled and elbowed him in the ribs. Mark had a classic tuxedo and Terry had a velvet gown. They talked for a while before the music started and they began to dance. Ryan smiled to himself, Mark and Ryan couldn’t dance slow to save their lives, but they didn’t have to dance slow. They just rotated on the spot for a bit as to not attract any attention. Par usual Ryan and Mark stepped on a few toes but they had learned to put all their weight onto their heels so they wouldn’t hurt Sara or Terry. It was nothing but Classical music just like they had expected. Sara stopped for a moment and pulled out an Mp3 player. She hooked it to Ryan’s coat pocket and used an adapter that puts two head phone into a slot. Ryan put his head set on and Sara pressed play. Mark and Terry were following suit. Then they started moving. They moved through everyone else as smooth as water, swerving and spinning around other couples. The DJ looked at them with envy, he didn’t have an Mp3 player with him; he was stuck listening to the Classical stuff. By the time the teacher came and told them they were disrupting everyone all four of them were red in the face and breathing hard. Ryan and Mark left to get some drinks. They saw Cedric and Ryan felt anger welling up. “Left my knife at home,” he said to Mark, “but it wouldn’t make a difference, not with Red Tide working for him.” Mark smiled and told Ryan something that made him very happy. How Mark knew, Ryan didn’t know, and didn’t ask questions.

They returned to the girls with the drinks and could tell that they had been having their little “girl” talk. Ryan gave Sara her drink and whispered something in her ear. An evil grin formed on her face. They talked and hung out like they used to do at their old school when there was a dramatic change in music.
         “Now,” Ryan whispered to Mark and all four of them spread out and slipped through the people. Ryan caught a glimpse of Corey in a chair and a very attractive girl with a ripped up dress rolling on him. Ryan focused back on Cedric. Sara and Terry bumped into guys on either side of Cedric, spilling their drinks on them. Mark crashed into the Teacher near by and Ryan wrapped his arm around Cedric’s throat and covered his mouth. He slipped through the crown and was out the door before any one else noticed. Ryan through Cedric up against a wall and dropped kicked him in the chest. Cedric hit the ground and gasped for air. The door banged open and Mark was on him. He picked Cedric up and punched him in the face. Sara appeared and kicked him in the stomach; the slits in the dress were coming in handy. They stopped for a moment and waited for Terry.
         “Is this him?” she asked when she arrived. Mark nodded. She waited for him to get to his feet, then punched him in the face. He dropped back down again and curled up into a ball. Cedric laughed softly when he caught his breath and Ryan wondered what was funny.
         “You can’t do this to me, I’m Red Tide now,” Cedric babbled.
Mark laughed. “Really?” he said, “A friend of a friend of mine told me that you tried to buy your way into Red Tide and they told you to screw off. You all alone now Cedric; they’re is no one to hear you scream.”
They heard someone inside the ship rapping into a microphone. Cedric looked terrified, obviously wondering how they knew.
         “What should we do with him?” Terry asked.
Sara opened her purse and pulled out a switch blade and said, “We’ll castrate him.” The blade flicked out; Cedric’s eyes widened in horror.
         “Only a girl, huh?” Mark said. Ryan nodded. The Music cut short and it was quiet again.
         “They’ll hear him,” Terry said, “You’ll have to knock him out.”
Ryan and Mark exchanged glances and both punched Cedric in the face. He dropped like a rock. Mark bent over and spread Cedric’s legs as the others got some red as wine punch. They returned with a dozen glasses of it. Sara splashed Cedric’s crotch and the others spilt in around his legs as if he had been bleeding heavily. They stepped back to admire their handy work. In the dark it looked an awful lot like blood.
         “He’s going to freak when he wakes up and thinks that Sara cut his balls off,” Mark said.
         “We should probably leave then,” Terry said. And she and Mark went back into the Dance Hall. Ryan leant over a kissed Sara on the cheek. She turn to him and kissed him on the lips. They stood there holding one another when Annaleace showed up with Sirian and Keiji. They were outside on the deck with them, but further away. Annaleace was saying something across to him but Ryan didn’t hear well, when Sirian marched over to Ryan and Sara.
         “What did you do!?” Sirian screamed.
         “Relax he’ll be fine,” Ryan assured her. He explained to them what happened and Annaleace burst out laughing, Sirian and Keiji looked a little shaken up but were OK. When Annaleace got control of herself she said, “We’re jumping ship you want to come?” Ryan looked down at Sara.
         “Sure,” she said.
A Non-Existent User
The Dream

          The trio hopped out of the boat and Saienta went up to the booth near the pier and spoke to a half-asleep man that sat behind the glass. A few words were exchanged and the man handed Saienta a slip of paper. Saienta pocketed it and walked back to Elli and Corey.

          “What did you do?” Elli asked curiously.

          “I sold Cedric’s boat,” he stated proudly. “Don’t worry, I’ll treat you guys once I cash in the check.”

          “Yay!” Elli said.

          “So what do we do now?” Corey asked.

          They each thought for awhile until Elli came up with something. “Let’s go to the arcade and the bar right next to it,” she said.

          The guys nodded and the headed for Corey’s RX8. They got in, Corey and Saienta in the front, Elli in the back, and they drove off.

          “Um…knowing we’re not at a ball anymore, I’m going to change,” Elli proclaimed. “So no peeking or I’ll gladly kill both of you, okay?”

          “You’re going to change clothes? In the backseat?” Saienta asked her.

          “Yeah. What? You’re not wearing your standard formal clothes anymore, Tarzan,” Elli said, indicating to the bare chest look Saienta sported under his blazer. “So, you think I’ll wear a white formal gown all night with you guys? Especially one my father worked so hard on getting me? Hell no. Give me at least ten minutes, and I’ll be prepared to have some real fun with you guys.”

          “Somehow, when she says that, there’s an innuendo for something,” Saienta said to Corey casually, winking.

          A glass-looking shoe with a large heel smacked the back of Saienta’s head. “I heard that,” Elli said. They laughed.

          The guys stared straight ahead, at the road, while Elli continuously struggled with her clothing. “Need any help, Elli?” Corey asked her.

          “Help taking this dress off? Sure. While you’re at it, why don’t you guys get naked too? And then we can go swimming in the river and catch pneumonia and die telling our most embarrassing stories in the moonlight…” she said sarcastically.

          “Okay…forget I ever asked.”


          Soon, they arrived at Satisfecha, a bar with an arcade, and Corey parked near the trees. He and Saienta got out and stretched.

          “I’m ready,” Elli called from inside of the car. Corey politely opened the door, and a black-strapped, heeled foot stepped out. Elli emerged from the back, and stood up. She was clad in a small, black cocktail dress that hugged everything that made her a woman. Her hair was in a messy bun, with her loose red strands surrounded her neck. “How do I look?” she asked them.

          They were astonished, with Saienta nervously running a hand through his hair, and Corey slightly blushing.

          “You look wonderful,” he stated simply.

          “You’re going to wear that while playing games?” Saienta asked her.

          “Yes,” she said, walking up to him, her heels made her nearly taller than him. “Yes, I do. You got a problem with that? Or will I have to introduce you to my stiletto heel?”

          Saienta laughed and shook his head.

          “Why are we just standing here? Can we please have some fun?” Elli said, and looping her arms with Corey’s and Saienta’s, they walked together and entered the realm of video games.


          “I need a drink, this is getting fucking ridiculous,” Saienta said, taking a stool at the bar. Corey took a seat, and Elli sat between them, with her newly won prizes.

          “How do you do it? You won every fucking game here,” Saienta asked her.

          “Some call it luck, I say it’s a gift,” she said with a smile.

          Saienta ordered Elli and him some drinks (Corey wanted to be sober, for he was driving) as well as some appetizers. They sat around talking about anything that popped into their heads, when the discussion of the dance came up.

          “I didn’t really have fun,” Elli said honestly.

          “You didn’t?” asked Corey.

          “I mean, it was great seeing Lina, don’t get me wrong, I love her to death. And it was great seeing her and Phoenix entertain us; that was great. When will I get my chance to lap-dance you guys?”

          Corey and Saienta laughed out loud in unison.

          “Okay…I take that as a no…”

          “Why didn’t you have fun, Elli?” Corey asked her. “Didn’t you have fun with us?”

          “Of course I did, but we weren’t at a ball. We were on a speedboat.”

          “Well, what happened to you at the ball?” Saienta asked.

          “Well, it began when I made my ‘mark’…”

          “Oh?” Corey said.

          “Yes, my evil scheme…but you guys don’t want to hear it.”

          “Yeah, we do,” Saienta said, leaning in to hear.

          “Come on, Elli,” Corey said. “Please?”

          “Oh, all right, you asked for it,” she said. “It began when we first got there…”


          After Elli departed from Saienta and Corey, she went inside the ballroom. She was looking for someone. A particular someone.

          Her hair was a reddish blondish color tonight, and she wore a magenta, one-strapped gown. She was decked out in jewelry and carried a small, pink purse with diamond pins all over it. Elli watched her go into the bathroom. Time to strike.

          She followed Gwen into the bathroom. She found Gwen looking in the mirror, placing her purse near the sink. She then went into a stall to use the bathroom. Elli looked around, seeing that no one was there, and pounced on the purse. She opened it and found a cell phone, a makeup bag, some condoms, more makeup, lots of mints, birth control pills, aspirin, her wallet with all her credit cards, and of course, the tampons.

          Elli took out nearly everything and hid it in a small bag. She then replaced the things with other things inside the purse. Suddenly, the stall opened. Elli quickly jumped into the nearest stall and locked the door. She watched through the crack, Gwen fixing her hair. “Damn it,” she was saying. “Why must it be tonight? Stupid blood coming out of my body…” she turned and walked out of the bathroom.

          “So, she talks to herself, huh?” Elli said to herself, looking down at the bag of Gwen’s supplies. She then deviously grinned; more fun was on its way.

          *Flash back to the present*

          “Ewwww,” Corey and Saienta said, looking at each other.

          “I told you,” Elli said, crossing her arms. “You wouldn’t want to hear this.”

          “But I want to know what happens next,” Corey said. “Please?”

          “Oh, all right, but if you have nightmares, don’t blame me, okay?”


          Elli dumped the expensive makeup and pills in each toilet in the bathroom. She didn’t flush it, she just left it there. She then left the bathroom. She reached in the bag and took out the cell phone. She saw Morgan coming around the corner and she carefully slid the phone into his pocket as he danced on by.

          Her credit cards were next on the list. What to do with those? A man carrying a tray came out of the kitchen, rushing passed her. That gave her an idea…

          Garbage disposals sure are fun, Elli thought, watching the plastic being chopped up into a billion pieces. “Good bye,” Elli said, waving to the machine.

          Now for the big finale…to top off the night…Elli deceitfully grinned again. Since it was Gwen’s “time of the month”, and she wanted to completely forget about it, why not help her remember it? After all, she was a young woman, and young women should embrace their ways…Elli smiled…


          “Where is Corey?” Gwen asked, looking around. “I won’t rest until I find him!”

          “He’s probably hanging out with that punk-ass jerk again,” one girl said.

          “Or that gangling, obnoxious redhead,” another said. “She gives me the creeps.”

          “Wherever he is, I have to tell him,” Gwen said dramatically, faking a tear. “I have to tell him tonight…”

          That was the cue. A waiter with a black hat, with red tufts peeking out, walked over and placed a covered tray on Gwen’s table.

          “What’s this?” Gwen asked. “I didn’t ask for any--”

          “Compliments from the owner’s son himself,” the waiter said; you couldn’t see his face. He bowed and quickly dashed off.

          Gwen was curious. Placing her hand on the cover, she slowly pulled it up…

          …and let out a loud shriek, along with the other girls.

          Cocktail drinks, all different colors and shapes, stood on the tray, with delicious fruit hanging from the glass. But the freakiest part was there was something white with red stains poking up and out of the glass. And it wasn’t a straw or an umbrella. It was…

          “A tampon?!” one girl yelled. Some of the guests looked over at them. Gwen stood up, sickened by the sight. The tampon looked bloody…sickeningly bloody, and being in a drink with fruit and all, it was disgusting. Absolutely fucking disgusting.

          But who could have done this? And more importantly, why?

          Gwen suddenly remembered what the waiter said:

          “Compliments from the owner’s son himself…”

          “Cedric,” Gwen said under her breath. She should have known better. She knew he wanted to go with the detestable redhead, and not her. She knew Cedric had a thing for long legs and bright red things, and she didn’t have that. She knew he wasn’t crazy about her, in fact, he hated her, and he wanted to get revenge by humiliated her.

          He succeeded.

          She opened up her purse. She was in too much pain and agony to move, so she decided to call him to her table…if only she could find her cell first…

          Without thinking, Gwen dumped the contents of her purse on the table, and then shrieked again. Pictures of porn, lesbian porn, in fact, scattered all over the table, including hemorrhoid cream, a dildo, hot oil, and handcuffs included with a mini whip.

          Everyone in the area stared at Gwen as though she was Typhoid Mary.

          “W-what?” Gwen said weakly.

          *Flash back to the present*

          Corey and Saienta were dying of laughter. Large tears spilled down their faces. Elli shrugged, and gulped down another glass of tequila.

          “And that,” she said softly, “was my mark at the ball.”

          The guys continued to laugh for five more minutes, until oxygen entered their lungs. They then breathed deeply, trying to regain their composure. Finally, after they were calm, Saienta said, “You’re insane, Elli.”

          “Thank you,” she said, downing another glass. The bartender gave her another, this time, a larger, nicer glass, with a pretty flower next to it with a note. Elli looked at the bartender, but he just shrugged. Elli opened the note and read it. She then quickly balled it up.

          “What’s wrong, Elli?” Corey asked her.

          She let Corey read the note. His eyes grew wide as he covered his mouth with his hand. “Who wrote you that?” he asked her.

          “Someone in this bar, I guess,” she said.

          “He’s right over there, señorita,” the bartender said, indicating to a man who sat alone at a table across the room. “He told me to give it to you.”

          “Let me read it,” Saienta said. Elli handed him the note. He quickly read it and tore it to shreds. Corey could feel he was losing his temper.

          Saienta stood up and cracked his knuckles. “Uhh…Saienta?” Elli asked. “What are you going to do?”

          “That son of a bitch is old enough to be your father! Maybe even older!” he angrily shouted, stomping his way towards the man. Elli turned to Corey and said, “This ain’t going to be pretty, isn’t it?”

          Saienta approached the man. “You wrote a letter to that girl over there?” he snapped at the man. The man felt frightened; even if Saienta was much, much younger than him, his presence forced the man to be pissless.

          Saienta picked the guy up by his collar. “I said, did you write a fucking perverted note to that young woman over there?!”

          The man nodded.

          Saienta slammed him over and over into the table. “You fucking bastard! What the hell is wrong with you?? You think you can possibly…”

          Elli and Corey sat and watched, amazed. Well, Elli anyhow. Corey was wondering if the police would be called in for assault or something.

          “Isn’t this exciting?” Elli said, downing another. Corey could tell she was nearly drunk. He never saw her so bouncy before.

          Saienta punched the man again in the face and the man fell on the floor. “Get out, you piece of shit,” he yelled. “You are not even worth killing. Get out before I change my mind!”

          The man quickly scurried out of the place, without looking back. Saienta pushed back a few strands away from his face, lit up a cigarette, and took his place right next to Elli, who was beaming.

          “Wow, Saienta, you’re so strong, how did you get that way?” she asked, with wide-eyes.

          He only glanced at her. “Stuff,” he said, drinking from his glass.

          “Well, thank you! You’re my hero!” she said, patting him on the back. “Oh! And so are you, Corey dear!” She pinched his cheek. Corey rubbed it. She really is drunk, he thought.

          “Hey, you want to do the shot thingie?” she asked Saienta.


          “To see who can drink the most shots,” she said.

          “You guys, that’s not a good idea, seeing already how drunk you are,” Corey said in an authoritarian voice.

          They both looked at Corey. “I’m not drunk,” they both said. Corey sighed.

          Saienta looked at Elli. “You might have won all the games, but you definitely won’t beat me at this,” he said, indicating to the bartender to bring out the shots.

          “Okay,” Elli simply said. “I’ve never done this before, so I will have fun!”

          “Oh god,” Corey said, shaking his head.


          “Go Elli, go!” Corey said, cheering her on, still taking pictures of the event. She was winning, it was amazing.

          Elli slammed the glass down for measure and wiped her mouth with her hand. She then tried to look at Saienta, but her focus was blurry. “I…won,” she stated. “Thank you.”

          Saienta sighed. “I underestimated you,” he said, and then smiled. It was the first time a girl beat him at this kind of thing.

          Elli ordered tequila. “You want to hear a sad story?” she asked out loud.

          “Not really,” Corey said.

          “Cedric was so mean to me tonight…I could kill him…”

          Both guys looked at her. “Cedric? What did he do to you tonight?” Saienta asked.

          “Well, it happened after I pulled that prank on Gwen,” she said…


          Elli ran into the janitor’s closet to change back into her regular clothes. Storing away the waiter’s clothes, she laughed at the sight of Gwen’s face. It was priceless. Once she found Corey and Saienta, she would have to tell them what happened; they missed it.

          She was about to open the door, when it opened by itself. In walked Cedric. He closed the door and faced her. “Hey Elli,” he said, smiling.

          “Hey, um, I need to get through that door,” Elli said, trying to go around. But Cedric blocked her entrance.

          “I know it was you, Elli,” he said calmly. “You were the one who did that to poor Gwen.”

          Elli put on an honest face. “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

          He walked closer and grabbed her wrist. “Oh for god’s sake, let’s not pretend here,” he said, twisting her towards him. She tried to escape, but he held tightly on to her wrist.

          “You smell good,” he said, catching a whiff of her neck. He nuzzled his cheek against her neck. “You know, I could tell Gwen it was you. I could watch her destroy you every day at school for the rest of the school year. But…I won’t, unless you give me what I need.”

          Elli gulped slightly. “And,” she said, in a whisper, “what’s that?”

          Cedric reached into his pocket and pulled out a few condoms. He looked up and stared into her eyes. Elli was frightened, but she stood ground.

          “Fuck no,” she said, trying to back away. “There is no way in hell. Forget about it.”

          “Then I’ll tell Gwen.”

          “Go ahead, tell her. I’d rather be tortured by her than your slut. Get out of my way.”

          He pushed her into some mops. “Why don’t you listen to me? Don’t you know who I am?! Why—why do you hang with that boy? This Corey, what do you see in him?”

          Elli was taken back. “A lot more than you could ever hope to be.”

          “Yeah, right. That little shitty son of a bitch ain’t much, admit it. You’re just after his money, virginity, or something. He ain’t worth nothing.”

          Suddenly, Elli angrily kicked her foot high and hard up between Cedric’s legs. He groaned and bent over, letting her go. She grabbed a bucket and hit him in the head a few times until he slumped to the ground.

          “You want to know who’s entirely made out of shit? You are. I don’t care how rich or famous you are, Cedric, but you have no fucking right to talk about my best friend. So sorry I wouldn’t be your fuck buddy, but you always have your hands, right?”

          Smoothing out her dress, Elli left the janitor’s closet to find Corey and Saienta…

          *End of flashback series* (Thank you for watching!)

          “That dirty bastard,” Corey said, the three of them walking towards his car. He was now angry for what Cedric had in mind for Elli and what he said. He could—no, he would—kill him with his bare hands.

          Elli placed her prizes in the car when she heard the loud music. “Ooo, a nightclub, can we go, please?” she asked Corey, like a little girl asking for a doll.

          Before Corey had a chance to say anything, Elli ran off in the direction of the nightclub. She moved quickly in those heels, Corey noted. He looked at Saienta, who was still smoking, and together, they followed Elli.


          It was dim, loud, and very pungent-smelling. Music spilled out from all directions, and people’s bodies pulsated to the rhythm of the music. Corey and Saienta managed to find Elli sitting at a small table, watching the dancers. She had taken off her shoes and was rubbing her left foot. She looked bored.

          She got up, picked up her shoes, and smoothed out her dress. “Come on, let’s go,” she said, leading the way they just came. “This reminds me of the ball…please, let’s just go…”

          Corey and Saienta sighed and followed her.

          They tried to make their way through the gyrating-body jungle when Saienta spotted someone. “Hey,” he said to Corey, “isn’t that Sirian? And Annaleace and Ryan?”

          Corey peered over his shoulder and saw, indeed they were. Ryan spotted Corey and led the two girls to them. “Hey, what’s up?” he said with a friendly grin. “So you guys ditched the ship too?”

          “Yeah,” Corey said. “We were on our way heading home.”

          “Ohh,” said Annaleace.

          “I hope you enjoy your ride home,” Sirian said with a smile.

          Elli had watched her for the past few minutes. Being drunk, she felt more audacious and impetuous than ever before.

          “There she goes, pleasing everyone again,” Elli said out loud, but directly to Sirian. “Honestly, you’re so superficial. You have no personality. You’re like a zombie, only with pom-poms, and straight A’s and all that shit. It makes me sick.”

          Sirian took a menacing step towards her. “Well, if it does, why don’t you leave?”

          “How about I introduce you to my fist?”

          “Gladly, as soon as I show you mine.”

          “Hey,” Corey said, interrupting them. He grabbed Elli by the shoulders and began to direct her out. “She’s drunk, she didn’t mean it,” he called out to them. Saienta nodded a good bye and left.

          They reached outside. “Elli, what’s the matter with you?” Corey asked her. “You can’t talk to Sirian that way.”

          Her eyes narrowed. “Why not? She’s one of them.”

          “How do you know? You never gave her a chance. She’s different.”

          “Oh really? She’s now trying to fit into our group because she was outcast by her own group. I don’t like imposters.”

          “No one’s imposter-ing!”

          “You guys!” Saienta said, stepping in between them. “Chill out, for fuck’s sake.” He lit up another cigarette. He then looked at Corey. “ ‘Imposter-ing’? Made that one up, did you?”

          Corey sighed.

          “Look, Elli made a mistake; she’s drunk. She said those things because alcohol can do that to you.”

          “Still, she shouldn’t have--” Corey began to say, but was cut off.

          “It’s late, Corey, maybe we should discuss it tomorrow. We should be getting home…”

          “Yeah, I guess so,” Corey said, looking out in the distance. Suddenly two strong arms swallowed him up and squeezed him gently. It startled him.

          “I’m so sorry, Corey, for saying those things,” Elli said, crying. Tears slid down her cheeks. “I’m s-so s-sorry…”

          He returned the hug and patted her on the back. “Hey,” he said in a soft voice. “We all had a long night, and getting drunk was just an alternative to escape from reality. I understand.”

          “Y-you do?”


          She hugged him tighter and jumped into his arms. “My feet hurt, so please carry me to your car?” she asked. Corey sighed, but smiled. “Sure,” he said.

          They all walked back to the car when Elli had an idea. “Hey Corey, I have a preposition to make,” she said.

          “You mean, ‘proposition’?” he asked.

          “Yeah. How about if we had a sleepover at your house?! It would be fun!”

          He looked over at Saienta. “Sounds good to me,” he said. “And for Elli too. I don’t think her parents would be too thrilled about her being drunk.”

          “Okay, a sleepover it is,” Corey said.

          Elli was ecstatic. “Yay!” she said, hugging Corey around his neck. “I know why you look forward to it,” she said. “You’re just dying to sleep with me, aren’t you?”

          Corey nearly dropped her. She started laughing and he laughed too. She won’t laugh so much in the morning, he thought to himself.

          He gently placed her down and opened the door for her and she got in. Saienta opened his door and saw Elli’s prizes in his seat. He looked at her. She gave him an innocent look. He sighed, closed the door, and got in the backseat instead. “Scoot over,” he said, and then closed the door.

          Corey got in, started the car, and drove off. He admitted it had been a long night, and he was aching for some sleep. He couldn’t wait to get under his warm covers and feel the gentleness of his pillow…

          Quiet. It was too quiet in the car. Corey stopped at a red light and turned to glance at the backseat. Saienta leaned against the window, fast asleep, cigarette slowly burning out in left his hand. Elli’s head rested near his chest, she was sound asleep also. Saienta’s arm wrapped around her, protecting her from falling out of the seat.

          Corey got rid of the cigarette and took pictures. He softly chuckled to himself. It wasn’t a bad night after all.

          The light turned green and he drove on. Home wasn’t far away.


End of Part 1

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