right where i left off in part 1-again, new and improved and drastically changed
I sat on my bed, twisting and untwisting my slender, brown fingers over and over again as I replayed Jasper’s voice in my head over and over again, cold and steely.
“Just stay away from me.”
A tear trickled slowly down my cheek. I liked Jasper. I thought he’d liked me a bit too…from the way he looked at me, anyone would have thought so. But when he’d said that to me, his eyes had been so flat, his expression so blank, that I was sure I was wrong. Did I really want someone that cruel anyway?
What was so secretive about his life that he couldn’t tell me? It couldn’t be anything that crazy. Was he a druggie or something? Orphan? What was the big deal? Maybe I could help him. If only he would allow me to. But he wouldn’t let me in.
I sighed, got up, and went over to watch the sun rise. I watched the beautiful colors against the clouds, crimson, orange, yellow, pink, as they painted themselves across the horizon. I caught sight of a shadow out of the corner of my eye as it darted away. I turned just in time to recognize Jasper, sprinting smoothly across my back yard. My sadness turned to fury as I threw open my window.
“JASPER!” I yelled furiously. “Where do you think you’re going!? COME BACK! YOU CAN”T LEAVE WITHOUT CLAIRE!” I shouted desperately when he didn’t slow. “She needs you!” His run faltered, but only for a second. Soon he disappeared from view, blocked by houses and trees. I stared blankly, standing motionless at my window.
I couldn’t believe that he had actually left. Why would he do that? He had nowhere to go. I thought he would stay. I thought, over time, I could change his mind, or become his friend, at least. That he would be able to trust me with his secrets, and he with mine-not that I had many.
I thought I might hear him laugh someday.
But he was gone. Like a camera flash, in and out of my life, just like that.
“Lee! What’s going on?” My dad’s alarmed voice sounded from behind me, and I jumped, startled, whirling around. He stood in the doorway, with Keddy standing beside him holding his hand and rubbing his eyes, hair sticking up in tufts. My mom stood behind them, one of her hands on top of Keddy’s head and the other on my dads shoulder. I stared at them, dumbstruck. But of course my shouting would have woken them up.
“He’s gone.” I told them numbly. “He left.”
“Jasper.” I gestured out the window. “I saw him running. He didn’t stop when I yelled.”
My mom looked confused. “But why did he leave?”
I shrugged. “I have no idea. He seemed friendly enough when he woke up…then I went back to my room and fell asleep and when I woke up, I saw him running,” I lied. I felt a little guilty for lying, but my parents wouldn’t have approved of us sleeping in the same room, or that we had been unsupervised. Not that anything had happened. How could it, when Jasper seemed to hate me?
“But what about his sister?” My dad asked, looking worried. “Is he coming back?”
I shook my head helplessly. “I don’t know. He wouldn’t stop and talk. He just kept on running. So I don’t know if he’s coming back or if he expects us to just take care of Claire forever…which…we’ll have to do, right? I mean, we’re not going to give her up to child services or anything, RIGHT?” I didn’t want to lose Claire too. She was so sweet and loving, even when she was sick. I liked the feel of her little hand in mine, and I knew I was already attached. My mom was too, and I saw the reluctance in her eyes.
“No, we won’t give her to child services…if…well…if nobody turns up to claim her…I don’t know…we might adopt her. She really is the sweetest little girl, and I have to confess I’m already very fond of her. And her and Keddy seem to get along well. He adores her.”
My breath caught in excitement. “Oh Mom! Can we really adopt her?! That would be the coolest! I always wanted a little sister!”
“Honey, keep in mind that this is only a contemplation. Jasper might come back. Or her parents might come to get her. Don’t get your hopes up.”
I nodded tiredly. My brief burst of excitement had already fizzled away to nothing. My mom and dad left the room; I could hear them urgently continuing to discuss the Claire situation as they walked down the hallway. I plopped down on the bed and heaved a big sigh, wondering if Jasper would come back. I hoped so. I missed him, and I didn’t even know him. This couldn’t be healthy.
“Lele?” I looked up. Keddy still stood in the doorway, looking half asleep, clutching the teddy bear I’d gotten him for his birthday. He looked confused.
“What is it, bud?”
“Where’s Claire? Where’s that boy? How come he went away?”
I looked away when I answered.
“Claire’s still at the hospital, remember, bud? We visited her there. And Jasper went…to take a break for awhile.” Keddy sighed and then yawned, stumbling over to sit on the bed next to me. He leaned his warm body against mine and burrowed his face in my shoulder. I slid an arm around him, hugging him close to me. I put my face in his hair. He smelled like his little kid shampoo and sun. Tears pricked at my eyes as I wondered what in the world I would do if anything ever happened to my baby brother. I loved him fiercely, had since the day he was born. I could never leave him…I thought again about how Jasper’s eyes had looked when I told him his sister was okay. Surely he would come back for her. Anyone that loved someone like that could never leave them behind. I would do anything for Keddy, and it had seemed like Jasper would do anything for Claire.
So why, why, why had he left? Did he figure we would take care of her? That she would be safer with us than with him? I supposed he must have known that we would keep her with us, keep her safe. Because we would, of course. But I couldn’t see him just leaving her in the care of almost complete strangers.
Suddenly, a thought occurred to me. Maybe….maybe Jasper HADN’T left Claire…maybe…he went to GET her. Maybe he figured she was healthy enough to leave. Maybe I would never see him or Claire again.
I gasped, jumping up with Keddy in my arms, and thundered down the stairs, skidding in to the living room. Mom and Dad sat on the couch with serious looks on their faces.
“Mom! Dad!” I shouted, “We have to go to the hospital! RIGHT NOW!” They looked at me with startled eyes, half rising from the couch as they responded to my anxiety.
“Why, honey? What’s wrong?”
“I think…I think Jasper went to GET Claire! To take her away! Cause I told him she was mostly better…but she’ll just get sick again if she travels so soon! We have to go check on her! NOW!” She actually probably wouldn’t get sick again, but she was the only connection I had left, the only proof that she and Jasper were real. And if she was gone, I was sure they would never come back. I wanted Jasper to come back.
Without waiting to see if my parents were in agreement, I rushed frantically out to the car, grabbing the keys and turning on the car. I strapped Keddy in his booster seat, then turned to see my parents coming out the door. They obviously believed me, from the panicked looks on their faces as they got into the car. I barely managed to buckle my seat belt before we were careening out of the driveway at full speed.
Seven minutes later we pulled into the hospital parking lot.
I shifted my weight impatiently from foot to foot as my mom checked in at the main desk in the deserted front room, then we rushed down the familiar hallway. I got to the door first, and I threw it open, eyes wheeling around the room, looking for Claire.
A slight movement caught my eye, and I whipped my head around to look directly at the window next to Claire’s bed.
My heart stopped.
Crouched on the windowsill, frozen and staring at me.
Before I even realized what I was doing, before I had time to process where he was or how he got there, I flew across the room, shoved Jasper out the window, and slammed it shut. I looked out just in time to see Jasper halt his fall in midair. It was like he was standing on an invisible magic carpet. He stared up at me with furious eyes, looking ready to kill. My eyes widened as my brain tried to handle what I was seeing. What was going on? Was I losing my mind>
“Thank God,” I heard my mom moan in relief from the doorway. I whirled around, my head spinning. I couldn’t cope with this. I couldn’t figure out what I had seen.
So I pushed it to the back of my mind, to deal with later. I couldn’t think about it now. I would lose it
Mom, Dad, and Keddy all walked in and gathered around the bed. I strode over to stand beside them, and looked down at Claire. A deep, powerful rush of relief rocked through my body when I saw her wild head of white-blond hair twisted on her pillow. She was fast asleep, both hands folded underneath her cheek, looking just like an angel. I stood there and stared at her, my heart still beating hard from my panic. I looked down at Keddy to see him still in his pajamas, watching Claire sleep, with no shoes on. A laugh bubbled up in my throat, and I clapped a hand to my mouth, not wanting to wake Claire, wondering why I was laughing after I had seen Jasper…hysteria, perhaps? Impending mania?
A little giggle escaped my lips. We had been in such a panicked hurry that no one had even thought about what they looked like. Mom and Dad were still in their morning robes, unshaved, hair tangled. I was wearing the rumpled clothes from yesterday. We all looked homeless and grubby.
More giggles issued from behind my hand, and eventually, as we all looked at each other, smiles grew, and we were all laughing raucously, shoulders shaking and tears rolling down our faces.
“I…can’t…believe…we…were…so….freaked out!” I gasped. Actually, I could. I was right after all, wasn’t I?
At that moment, while Mom and Dad nodded, grinning, a soft, drawn out yawn drew our attention away from our disheveled appearances, and we all looked down to see Claire’s bright blue eyes slowly blink open, her fists curling and uncurling as she joined the conscious world. Keddy stood on his tiptoes, clutching the railing on the hospital bed. Claire blinked one more time, her eyes focusing on Keddy, and a blinding smile spread across her face.
“Good Morning, Keddy!” She trilled softly in her light, little girl voice.
He blushed a deep, dark red, and smiled shyly back.
I hovered furiously outside the second floor window to Claire’s hospital room, watching in frustration as stupid, infuriating, INTERFERING, Allele smiled at Claire with relieved eyes.
How dare she keep me from my own sister? She was MINE. Allele had no claim on her! Claire would be better off with me! What was she thinking? No! She couldn’t have been thinking! She pushed me out of a window, for God’s sake!
But then I sighed. I knew what she was thinking. She loved Claire. Everybody did. It was impossible not to, once you met her. And now Allele’s family would do anything to protect her, I was sure of that. They would not let me get away with taking Claire.
I punched the side of the building, ignoring the sting of the skin on my bloody knuckles. It would be healed within seconds. Damn, damn, damn! I couldn’t leave now! I couldn’t leave Claire here! She was my baby sister. She needed me.
I needed her.
I had no choice. I would have to stay. At least until Claire was unguarded. I felt a flicker of unease. Allele had seen me use my powers. She wouldn’t understand what she had seen. She would want answers. Which was why I was so unwilling to stay. I would have to give her some sort of answer. Something that would logically explain what she had seen…never mind that that was IMPOSSIBLE…
Sighing, I reluctantly let the energy holding me up release itself, and I landed in a blur, crouched on the sidewalk. Of course, no one could see me. My defensive shield was up. It was natural, part of my power. It took no effort to work. And no one saw me.
I started running, for the second time that day, pumping my legs and blinking my eyes against the wind of the cool morning air. Buildings and trees and people whipped by as I pushed myself to slightly inhuman speeds. Everything turned blurry, like paint running on paper. I breathed evenly in and out, well practiced in running like this, and kept my eyes wide open for danger. Crowds, even small ones like these, made me nervous. You couldn’t tell who was who, or what was what. It made me twitchy, and I sped up a bit, almost unwillingly eager to be back at Allele’s place.
I slowed when I got to her neighborhood, then her house, slightly secluded at the end of the street. I walked in her white front door and looked around at her kitchen for the first time. It was pleasantly cool and clean-looking, with the now familiar white scheme. Shiny white table, cabinets, counters, with bright steel appliances. The walls were a comforting light green, as were the curtains. The floor was hardwood, a very sandy-colored wood. It looked like a beach house. I almost expected to look out the window, curtains billowing out softly in the breeze, and see the sun rising over the ocean.
I walked into the living room. Light blue walls this time, white couch, blue pillows, nice flat screen TV, and various armchairs of different colors. A huge white bookcase, holding probably hundreds of books, was situated in the back corner. I immediately noticed the binding of a thick red book with “Allele” written on the binding in white, and I pulled it out curiously. There was a picture of a tiny red-faced baby on the front with a wealth of dark hair, held in the arms of a very tired, but happy looking woman, who I took to be Allele’s mother, and the baby to be Allele. Even more curious now, I opened the cover to be confronted with more pictures of baby Allele, at age one, then age two, and so on. I turned more pages, my eyes darting as I looked at each and every picture crammed onto each page. My hand hesitated at one point, eyes caught on a picture of Allele at age five, in the very corner of the page.
In the picture, little Allele was kneeling in some deep, green grass, sitting perfectly still, her dark brown hair-cropped short then-wind-blown and crazy, her little girl silver eyes fixed intently on one thing and one thing only-a beautiful azure-winged butterfly, perfectly captured for one instant.
My breath caught as I stared at her sweet little face, and I found myself wishing I had known Allele then, that we had been friends, and I could have shared that moment with her. She looked so wondering in that instant, as if she could hardly believe that such a pretty bug existed, and that she was lucky enough to see it.
I touched the picture lightly, then, purely on impulse, I slipped it out of its holder, rearranging the other pictures to cover up the space. I held the picture in my palm, looking at it, unsure what to do with it, seeing as I had no pockets to slip it into. I was still wearing just PJ pants, and no shirt.
And so I sat, staring at the photo, in a deep reverie as I thought about lots of inconsequential things. Eventually some distant noise brought me back to the present, and I blinked spastically for a minute before closing the album and replacing it where it belonged. I hesitated slightly before sliding the picture in the waistband of my pants.
I slowly meandered upstairs, sliding my hand along the smooth wooden railing and reveling in the quiet of the large, airy house. It was peaceful…but empty. This was the sort of house where you expected a small herd of children to run through the rooms, screaming with laughter and childish play. It felt strange that no one was there,
I blinked, shaking uneasy thoughts from my head, and continued up to the landing. I looked at the doors lining the hallway. There were five. Two were just plain white doors with silver handles. One was brown wood, another was painted a light blue with a big poster of a dinosaur on it. I figured that one was the little brother’s room. The boy with light brown hair, the one I had only caught a glimpse of through the hospital window.
The last door was painted a bright, neon green, definitely defying convention. A white sign with bold, black letters hung on it.
A smile quirked on my lips as I read it. “My goal in life is not to go gently to the grave. I want to slide in sideways, totally worn out, shouting “Holy crap, what a great ride!” Nice, I thought appreciatively. Very original. I rested my hand on the doorknob, debating on whether or not I should enter. I didn’t want to admit it, even to myself, but I desperately wanted to see Allele’s room. You could tell a lot about a person by their room.
After glancing around me nervously, like I expected Allele to come stomping up the stairs, demanding to know what I was doing, I hesitantly turned the knob and pushed the door open.
The first thing that greeted me was a large window seat with French styled windows, showing me a breathtaking view of the bright blue sky and the blazing sun, the emerald trees and puffy white clouds. Everywhere the sunlight touched was vibrant with color, and I felt my mood lightening as I gazed outside, marveling at how alive it looked out there. I had never taken much notice of nature, never had time to notice it, what with being constantly on the run and all that, but it was certainly beautiful.
I blinked and tore my eyes away from the window, looking around the room. My fist impression was green, green, green, and…a bit of blue. The walls were lime green, just like the bed, the desk, her closet door, the rugs, and her miniature trash can. The trim on her walls were a deep, cerulean blue, along with the rug by her bed, her pillows, and the window seat cushions. It was like walking into an explosion of color, and it contrasted sharply with the rest of the house. I liked it immediately, and I grinned unthinkingly as I strolled around the room.
On one wall there was a huge collage of pictures tacked to a corkboard, hundreds of photos of smiling faces and peace signs, and also of beautiful landscapes. The pictures I saw repeated most were ones of her family, of course, her parents and little brother and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins, and even a dog that I assumed must have passed away, because there was no sign of a dog in this house. The only other people with more than one photo were a girl and a boy, about Allele’s age, I would guess. There was one photo of them and Allele, with their arms slung around each other. The girl on the left had a copious amount of black curly hair, copper skin like Allele’s, and huge, bright green eyes. She was grinning widely, and her arm was thrown around Allele’s shoulders.
She’s beautiful, I thought dispassionately. But Allele’s much prettier.
The boy on the other side of Allele was tanned very dark, with a head full of flaming red hair and dark brown, almost black, eyes. His white teeth shone brilliantly against his dark face. He, too, had an arm around Allele.
“These are her friends,” I realized, staring at their obvious companionship and happiness. I felt a sharp pang of jealousy. These kids probably knew Allele very well. They’d probably seen her at her best and worst, saddest and happiest. They probably knew all the things I didn’t-and never would-know.
I glared at the picture, jealousy raging through me as I stood with my fists tightly clenched. Some part of my brain registered surprise among my other roiling emotions.
I was surprised at this combination of anger, jealousy, loathing, longing, wistfulness. I wanted everything they had. I wanted to be normal, to come to a normal home from a normal school in a normal town, with normal friends and a normal family. I wanted to be able to have my parents with me. I wanted Jared. I wanted to be able to be with Allele without worrying that my actions would hurt her. I wanted Claire to be able to live a normal life, to not have to worry or get sick or go hungry, like she had many times before. I wanted a home. I wanted…everything.
Why could did my life have to be like this? Neither me nor my family had ever asked for this. Wanted it. Of course, I didn’t know what my parents had wanted. I hadn’t known them very long. I tried not to think about them anyway. It hurt too much.
I forced my thoughts to a halt, so that I would not remember, but still a few tears trickled down my cheeks. Every time I came close to actually remembering about the night my parents died…I couldn’t contain the pain that was as raw and fresh as if I was ten again, not sixteen. It was easier just to think of the good times. Then the pain was just a dull ache.
I took a deep, shuddering breath and turned away from the collage of pictures, giving my attention to the rest of the room.
Her bed was huge, taking up a good portion of the room. It was unmade, the bright green covers bunched up and the sheets wrinkled. I smiled at her obvious messiness. A stuffed toy lay on the floor, and I picked it up curiously. It was a bunny, with button eyes and large, soft floppy ears. I pressed it to my face and inhaled. It smelled good, and vaguely familiar. I breathed deeper, and realized with surprise that it smelled a bit like…Claire. Claire always smelled sweet and sunny, like little girl. I blinked. Maybe all little girls smelled alike. This was probably Allele’s childhood toy.
Suddenly a door slammed downstairs, and my head jerked up in panic as the sound of voices reached me. I hurriedly set the stuffed bunny on her pillow and dashed out the door and back into the room I had been staying in. I threw myself onto the bed and tried to look like I’d been there the whole time, putting my hands behind my head and crossing my ankles, studying the ceiling.
I listened as footsteps stomped up the stairs and waited expectantly until the door was thrown open. I turned my head to see Allele standing in the doorway, looking extremely suspicious and confused. I raised an eyebrow.
“I hate people who can do that,” She muttered.
“Sorry? Didn’t catch that.” I raised it again.
“Nothing!” She said loudly. Then she marched over and plopped down in the armchair beside the bed, giving me a very superior look. “You,” She said emphatically, “have some explaining to do.”
I stared at Jasper, inwardly reeling as I replayed the vision of him floating in midair over and over again, trying to explain to myself what I had seen. I couldn’t do it. What explanation could there possibly be? What could he say that could make it NOT completely insane?
A loud sigh drew my attention away from my inner thoughts, and I blinked once, taking in Jasper’s innocent expression. My eyes narrowed. SURELY he wasn’t going to try to wriggle out of an explanation?
“Well?” I asked. He blinked at me slowly, looking confused.
“I don’t understand. What do you want me to explain?”
“WHAT!?” I exploded. I jumped up from my chair and pointed a finger at him. “What are you talking about? Do you not REMEMBER floating in midair after I tried to push you out the window? By all rights, you should be grievously injured right now, if not DEAD! WHAT do you have to say for yourself? And don’t think you’re going to get out of telling me what’s going on, because you WON’T! I want to know what’s up with you and Claire, and I want to know NOW!” I stood there, glaring at him, waiting.
I wasn’t ready for his response.
He jumped out of bed like a cat, landing lightly on his feet. The look on his face was livid, and I instinctively took a step back. His eyes were dancing with fury as he prowled closer to me, and then he leapt at me, grabbing my shoulders tightly with his slender, pale hands. I let out a yelp, trying to pull myself out of his grasp.
“Jasper! Stop!” I gasped. His only answer was to tighten his grip as he dragged me over to the window. He shoved it open with one hand, grabbed my wrist, and jumped out, pulling me with him.
I let out a small shriek, too terrified and breathless to do anything else as air rushed past me. I squeezed my eyes shut and braced myself for impact, expecting to feel the hard ground any second now. Jasper’s hand still had a death grip on my wrist, and all of the sudden he jerked me to a stop. My feet lightly touched the ground, but I barely had time to register what had happened before Jasper started dragging me across my lawn. I opened my eyes, stunned, flicking a glance towards my open window two stories up, and then at Jasper. He was taking long, furious strides, pulling me roughly behind him. My wrist felt bruised by now, and my hand was going numb from loss of circulation.
“Ow! Jasper! Let GO!’ We were out on the street now, Jasper leading us towards the park where I had first found him and Claire, out of sight of my house. I tried to pry his hand off of my wrist, digging my nails and dragging my feet in an attempt to slow him, to no avail. He was so much stronger than me-I hadn’t realized. I gave up fighting and tried to keep up as he marched us straight to the park. We went past the slide, swing set, sandbox, past the soccer field, until we reached the line of trees. A few feet in, Jasper abruptly stopped. I stumbled a bit and stopped too. He finally let go of my wrist, and I let out a little gasp as the blood rushed back to my hand, sharp and stinging. I massaged my hand, staring at Jasper, who stood facing away from me, looking out into the forest. His whole body was stiff with barely contained anger.
“Jasper?” No answer. “Jasper!”
Still no answer. I felt my previous anger gush back. I threw my hands up in the air. “So WHAT! You drag me all the way here for nothing? You JUMP OUT OF MY WINDOW-WITH ME-AND YOU HAVEN’T EXPLAINED HOW YOU DID THAT WITHOUT KILLING US, BY THE WAY! What the hell is going on here, Jasper?! Who are you? WHAT are you? What do you-!” I cut off, inhaling the rest of my sentence in a fearful gasp. Jasper had turned, and the look on his face was enough to stop anyone in their tracks. It was even angrier than before. I stumbled back as Jasper flew at me again, so quickly he was just a pale blur. He grabbed me and slammed me back against something hard-probably a tree-my head hit the tree with a loud “thunk!” and for a moment I saw stars pass before my eyes. Then my vision cleared and my head started pounding, just as Jasper’s voice exploded out of him.
“GOD-you are the most interfering, nosey, selfish, stupidest, ANNOYING girl I have ever met! You think YOU deserve an explanation for ANYTHING? You’re not involved! Stay out of it! You have nothing to do with anything going on in my life! You are nothing! You and your house and your family are just a stop along the way of a long journey. A convenient resting place. That is IT. When Claire is completely better, you will NEVER see us again. We don’t want you, we don’t need you, so just keep your thoughts to yourself and stop asking questions you have no right to ask! Don’t you GET it? You will never see us again. Ever. And I, for one, will not miss you.” His eyes blazed, his fingers gripped my upper arms tighter, making them ache. I flinched away from him, turning my face. He abruptly dropped his hands, the anger fading from his eyes as he turned away, walking to another tree and leaning against it. His posture was stiff, his head bowed. He said nothing else.
I was in shock for about ten seconds, until exactly what he’d said sunk in. No one had ever said such terrible things to me before. My body went limp, and I slid to the ground, a hand over my mouth as tears started to trickle down my face. I hung my head, wrapping my arms around my chest, trying to contain my heaving sobs. The rough bark of the tree pressed against my back, and the ground was cold and soggy.
I knew I was sometimes hard to get along with. I was stubborn, I was nosey. But I hadn’t thought I was THAT despicable, that…repulsive. I hadn’t done anything to deserve his cruel words and actions. HE had dropped into MY life. He was the one who needed help, him and Claire. And I had helped him. I’d never heard a word of thanks, and I wasn’t asking for any, but he…I…I hadn’t done anything wrong! Claire would have been dead by now if not for me. So what if I wanted some answers? Surely I deserved that much, at least. For God’s sake, what was I SUPPOSED to do when I saw a person floating in mid-air? When he jumped out of a two story high window with me and we both remained completely uninjured? Was I supposed to just take it in stride, act like it was all normal? What did he expect from me?!
My temple throbbed, my heart beat erratically, the tears kept streaming silently down my face, for what seemed like hours, but in all reality was probably only a few minutes.
Why did he hate me? Why, when I was drawn to him so intensely, did he despise me?
A soft whimper broke from my lips as my control slipped, and I froze, wondering if Jasper had heard. My fears were confirmed when I heard a rustling, a soft gasp, and hurried footsteps crunching on the dead leaves, heading my way. I squeezed my eyes shut, ducking my head, trying to dry my tears on my legs, fervently hoping he would just walk right past me. I didn’t want the boy who had caused my tears to see them. I didn’t want to look at his face.
No such luck.
I felt him kneel down beside me.
“Allele,” his voice was tentative, hoarse, filled with an emotion I didn’t understand. I didn’t answer. I just wanted him to go away.
“Allele?” I felt him lean closer, felt a hesitant touch on my arm.
“Don’t touch me!“ I cringed away, shooting a fleeting glance up at him. I saw his expression change, his mouth pull down at the corners, his eyebrows draw together, the anguish in his eyes as he saw the wetness on my face. He looked horrified.
“Oh, god, Allele. I’m sorry.” Jasper reached his hand out again. I didn’t want him to touch me.
“I don’t ACCEPT!” I shoved him away from me and stood up on unsteady legs, walking quickly out of the trees. I wiped my tears away with my hands, brushing off the dirt on my clothes from the ground. I tried to ignore the footsteps following directly behind me, forced myself not to look back at him, but he got harder to ignore when he grabbed my hand and pulled me to a stop. I yanked my arm viciously away from him-or tried to, anyway. He was too strong.
Reluctantly, I looked up at him.
“What? I don’t think there’s anything left to say.” My voice choked up at the end as I felt the tears coming back again, but I forced them back.
Jasper looked anguished, horrified, stricken, his bright eyes pleading with me. “I’m sorry, Allele. I…I swear I didn’t…I didn’t mean any of it. I’m just…I know it was unforgivable, what I said. But I was just…SO angry…because….I…I can’t tell you…the things you want to know…I don’t know…I just…can’t. It’s…eh…you…it’s dangerous. You could never be safe with me. This life I live…it’s not for you. It’s not for anyone, really. But I’m stuck with it. And I don’t want that to happen to anybody else. Because this life sucks, Allele, it really does.”
I saw tears prick up in his eyes, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I felt my resistance, my anger, melt away like butter in a microwave.
“Please,” he whispered, “Forgive me?” His eyes were shiny, the tears threatening to spill over. I shook my head, biting my lip.
“Jasper…I have to know. I…I saw something completely not of this world, and…I need SOME explanation, or I’ll go crazy Jasper, I really will. You have to tell me. You have to. I won’t be able to just live a normal life, without wondering everyday what you are. Please, Jasper, I swear I’ll never tell anyone. I swear. Please.”
I clasped my hands together, pleading him with my eyes. He shook his head again, expression wild as he tried to figure out what to do.
“Please, Allele. Don’t make me do this.”
I just stood there, looking at him, waiting, waiting…Finally, he let out a long, frustrated, sorrowful sigh. Then he turned and walked over to the swing set, plopping down on a swing and twining his arms around the chains. He beckoned for me to sit on the swing beside him, and after I did another resigned sigh blew past his lips. I felt my face lift as I realized that he was going to tell me something, at least, and I immediately sat up straighter and looked at him attentively. Jasper was frowning down at his feet, his knuckles white around the swing set chains. His eyes were squeezed shut, and he took a deep, fortifying breath before opening his mouth and speaking in a rush.
“I…I’m not human, okay? Well, I mostly am, but different. Don’t say anything yet,” He said, seeing the look on my face. I was reeling, questions flitting through my mind, heart pounding, but I calmed myself as best I could and tried to listen as he went on.
“I’m descended from these sort of…er, defenders, I guess you could call them. We’re supposed to protect the world. Protect all the good people. We are sort of…an advanced race. Of humans. We‘re humans, but more evolved.” His brow furrowed. I shook my head, confused.
“But…but who do you protect them from? And…how? And why don’t normal people know about it? What do you mean, more evolved?” The questions burst out before I could stop them.
Jasper bit his lip. “There’s people…things…in this world that are more dangerous then anything you’ve ever heard of. These…things…they are like us. Or they once were. But…they went bad somehow. I-I can’t tell you everything. It’s a closely guarded secret, and I would be forever an outcast if they knew I had told an outsider. All I can tell you is that they want control-over everything. I know, typical take-over-the-world villain, but they actually have the power to do it-if not for us, the defenders. We have powers too, as you have seen. By evolved, I mean…well…here, I’ll tell you the basics. Have you ever heard of that theory where scientists think there’s a part of the brain that humans don’t use?”
I nodded uncertainly. Jasper looked at me solemnly.
“Well, that part of our brain is…unlocked. And what it revealed was…this…power. Energy. Magic. Whatever you want to call it. It’s made us just slightly stronger, faster, smarter. We’re an advanced race of humans.
“ And why normal people don’t know about it? Well, come on, imagine how people would react if they knew about the crazy bad guys forever trying to take over! It’s better kept a secret. Of course people discover them sometimes, and sometimes they are hurt…but they soon forget.” He made quotation marks in the air when he said forget.
“Who’s we? Who else is out there besides you? And aren’t you a little young to be a defender of some horrible things even if you’re not…not like us?” My voice trembled a little at the end. Jasper shot me a sharp glance before reluctantly answering my questions.
“We…the rest of the defenders. They’re out there, hundreds of thousands of them, pretending to live normal lives. They’re business men, shop owners, athletes, singers, actors and actresses, teachers…at least most of them are. Some are on the run. Like my family.” A hard bitterness stole across his face. “My family is a very old line…we’ve been around for centuries. We’re one of the most powerful, too. So of course, the…eh…let‘s just call them Demur’s, okay? That‘s close to their real name, which I can’t tell you anyway, so yeah…”
“Yeah. Weird, I know.” A half-hearted smile flickered on his lips. “Anyway, they focus mostly on my family and others like it, trying to get rid of what they see as their biggest threat-which is absolutely right, of course. And because of that, none of us can really live normal lives. We have to constantly be on guard. We are trained from age five to fight and defend ourselves and survive without material comforts. I could kill you seven different ways this very second, with only my bare hands and the objects around me.” He laughed harshly as the blood drained out of my face. My brain wasn’t quite working properly as I tried to consume the flood of information tumbling from Jasper’s lips. I was scared. Scared of the unknown, scared of the fact that Jasper was something unheard of, scared of all he could do, scared of the unseen monsters that were apparently all around…Then a thought occurred to me.
“Well, even if you all are on the run, why are you just by yourself, with Claire? You say your family is large and ancient and powerful, surely they would help you. Why don’t you go to them? Where are your parents?” Jasper flinched as if my questions had hit him in the face. His eyes went suddenly blank, bleak, dead. He spoke in an a raw voice.
“My parents are dead.”
I heard myself gasp.
“They were killed when I was ten years old. Me, my older brother, and Claire were hiding nearby. They were murdered by the…Demur‘s …right in front of our eyes. And we couldn’t do a thing. Nothing. Of course not. What could a sixteen year old boy, ten year old boy, and one year old girl do against at least thirty or more Demur’s with immense power? What could we have done? Surely it wasn’t our fault. We were barely trained, underage. It wasn’t our fault, right? Right? Oh, god.”
His voice sounded desperately pleading, hitching in strange places as he tried to convince himself. I felt my heart aching for him, my arms yearning to wrap around him as his bright blue eyes filled with pain and tears. He suddenly stood up from the swing, clutching at his head and pacing in front of me. I could see sparkling tears dropping into the grass, glinting in the sun. I could hear him talking to himself.
“Oh god, Jared, I need you. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just one kid! I’m so sorry. I should have saved you. This is all my fault. I’ll never see you again, ever, and it’s all my fault. I’m worthless. Oh, why is this happening to me? I…I don’t know what to do! How am I going to live without you too? I miss Mom and Dad, and I miss you. What will Claire do if something happens to me? This is so hopeless. Damn it! It’s not fair! This isn’t fair! God DAMN it!”
Jasper fell to his knees, hands over his face, his body shaking.
“Jasper!’ I gasped, jumping up. I ran over to him, dropping to my knees and reaching out a hand. I blinked. Hadn’t this scene just happened a few minutes ago, only with me in Jasper’s place? Surely this meant something. Maybe we needed each other. Maybe he needed me.
“Jasper,” I whispered. I wrapped my arms tightly around him, resting my head on his chest. I felt him latch onto me with warm arms, and something in my chest fluttered as we kneeled there, waiting for his sobs to stop and his breathing to slow. Eventually he was calmed down completely, and I looked up at him in trepidation. Would he be angry? After all, he had made it clear many times before that he didn’t want me.
But no, he was gazing at me with shining blue eyes, his arms still around me, and warmth shot into my veins at that look. Slowly, Jasper sat back, still holding me close, until he was sitting cross-legged, with me in his lap. My breath started to come and go in quick bursts at his nearness.
Jasper looked at me with a conflicted expression, half-longing, half-wary.
“Allele?” His eyes searched mine. I didn’t say anything, but I swayed closer, my eyes dropping to his lips, pale, shell-pink and flawless.
I wanted him to kiss me.