by Mae Redding
A life taken... A soul lost... A revolution begins.
The Color of Jade. A gripping new novel that fans of The Hunger Games and Divergent will love. As a devastating illness ravages through the rural community she grew up in, sixteen year old Jade Kennington finds herself caught in the middle of a battle between Morrison and his Militia who is threatening their way of life and her brother Kane who is trying to preserve it, while realizing she has a battle of her own, venturing out into the unknown world of growing up, finding new love and keeping the security and innocence of her childhood.
What I wouldn’t give to see someone walk by my house. To see life as it was before. I sat at my window seat and gazed out at the wet, empty road. With curled up legs I pulled the blanket tighter around me and rested my head on my knees with a sigh. I needed a sign, any sign that life still existed and would return to normal. An empty wish, for deep down I knew my life never could be, and never would be the same again.
The temperature warmed so the usual snow fell as dreary sheets of rain. A continuous torrent showered into large puddles at the sides of the road and with nowhere to go, flooded the already saturated ground. Mounds of melting snow scattered along the fence lines where it sat higher from the winter’s drifts, while matted yellow grass surfaced across the front yard.
My tears receded and the pain inside me turned into a hollow emptiness. I wished the tears would come back. At least then, I could feel something. So many died and I knew I should be thankful, but couldn’t help but think, I wasn’t much better off.
I would have settled to see just about anyone. However, there was one person in particular I hoped to see again. Thoughts of a guy who used to walk by my house entered my mind. Months passed since I saw him last, that fateful day, the first day of September, the day my world ended.
He showed up not long before that, everything unsuspecting and normal. A clear summer morning before the blistering heat grew unbearable, a month before school started and the first day I noticed him. He had to be new in town, because I knew just about everyone and I didn’t know him.
It started with a jump that my horse, Fire and I never missed. I counted wrong and her hoof hit the pole. I stopped to fix it and saw him, intrigued instantly by this stranger, I watched him as he passed by.
More days than not, I would look down the road and see him as he headed up the same dusty path through the tall, uncut grass along the side of the road and it became our silent routine. Me outside in our arena as I exercised my horse. Then him, as he walked by my house, his destination, to me, unknown.
When he didn’t walk by, something seemed out of place. I didn’t realize how much I depended on seeing him pass by and I missed him. I longed for that sense of normality his routine brought.
The memories lingered painfully. I sighed as I pulled my gaze from the window. I absently twisted a strand of my hair as I looked around my room. Nothing but reminders of a life I once had. My soccer trophies cased in the wall shelving with a few ribbons and pictures of me and my twin brother, Trey. Just underneath the shelves sat my soccer ball on the floor, untouched since last September. My math book sat as a constant reminder on my desk. A light dusting revealed how long it had actually been since I opened it.
Movement outside drew my attention back to the window as a grey ford pickup truck parked down the road. I’d seen it before and there was nothing comforting about it, just eeriness from the silhouette of a dark figure in the driver’s seat. My chest grew tight. Something unsettling grew inside me, as the truck sat there again this morning, parked under the shadows of the old maple tree two houses down and I knew it didn’t belong. I noticed the truck there lately on occasion and only when Kane wasn’t home.
Nine days passed since my oldest brother, Kane, headed south. He promised he would be gone maybe a week and I wanted him to come home. He warned me from the beginning, that our way of life changed instantly and not for the better. The world grew dangerous quickly outside the walls of our home and he didn’t want me outside.
Pulling me from my revery, I felt a hand rest on my shoulder. I looked back to see a somber face, my younger sister Emery. She put her head against mine and wore the same worry in her hazel eyes that I felt inside and I hoped that my expression didn’t show it. She ran her fingers through my hair as she picked up a long blond strand and braided it.
“He’ll be home soon,” I said, answering Emery's question before she asked. I forced a smile, and then noticed Trey, his arms crossed as he leaned against the doorway.
“He’ll probably be back tonight,” he said.
She seemed a little less worried but I wondered what we would say if he didn’t come home tonight. By the look Trey gave me, he thought the same. However, at least for now, my sister seemed satisfied.
“Are you going to sit here all day?” He asked. I sighed, ignoring his question as I turned back towards the window and slowly traced a neverending swirl into the fogged glass. I did spend too much time up in my room doing nothing but stare out the window when there were things that needed attention. This winter had been hard on all of us and my far from jubilant mood made me, in my own opinion, unpleasant to be around. I couldn’t blame him.
“That grey truck is parked down the street in front of Zach’s house again.”
I gave him a sidelong glance. Alarm surfaced in his eyes, and then he walked through my room. He stretched across the window seat as he placed a knee in the cushion and pressed his hands against the glass, disrupting my perfect swirl, as he peered out the window. “Yeah,” he said, and then glanced at me with an afterthought. “Zach hasn’t lived in that house for almost ten years.”
“You know what I mean. Do you know who it is?”
“Maybe,” he said, his brows furrowed and the strain intensified his green eyes, the same color as mine.
“Do you think he’s watching our house?”
“I don’t know… Come away from the window… We have plenty we need to do, come on, I’ll help you,” he said, as he attempted to distract me. I knew he worried about me, even more so since the truck started to make an appearance.
“In a minute,” I said, grudgingly.
“One minute,” Trey said, with a huff and a stern glare, and then left my room. The soft sounds of Emery humming behind me, oblivious to our conversation of the truck as I looked outside.
I drew in a ragged breath as my heartbeat quickened in my chest. The truck sat in the same spot, its rear window, completely unobscured and the driver, the dark threatening figure, gone.
My panic grew. I looked closer, scanning across Mr. Taggart’s front yard in search for him. I pressed my forehead against the cool glass and strained to see as far to the side as I could, then down to the bend in the road, no movement, nothing.
Alarm sounded in my mind through the buzzing silence and I grew increasingly angry that Kane wasn’t home. The stranger couldn’t have gone far, but wherever he was, I knew he shouldn’t be there.
As I debated, find Trey or continue my watch for the stranger, I realized Emery’s humming stopped, with a sideways glance I looked to see she had left my room. She straightened my bed up nicely and made it look like she spent time making it. I turned away from the window and sighed. I haven’t been the greatest sister during all of this. It was still hard for her to understand the worldwide devastation the virus caused. It’s been hard for all of us, but it was the hardest for eleven-year old Emery.
I walked into the hall and stopped, briefly stunned by my image before me in the mirror. Sallow-faced and thinner, my cheekbones looked more pronounced from my waning appetite and dark circles formed under my eyes from too much sleep and not enough fresh air. I felt weak, looked weak and it irritated me.
I would have never let myself get to such a sad state before. As a small, sixteen year old girl, I didn’t look like the tomboy type. Thin, short and small boned, but growing up, I would much rather be out with the boys than taking dance lessons. I was active, fit and competitive, and took pride in my ability to beat them at their games.
I learned at a very early age that I needed to keep up. Trey and Kane played rough and I learned to as well. They weren’t mean, and they didn’t tease me, at least not to the point it wasn’t fun. They looked out for me, especially Trey, and they still did, but differently. Something changed between us as Kane kept us hidden and we spent the winter trapped inside.
I glanced into my parents’ bedroom. She immediately glanced up from their bed, waiting for me to walk by. I hesitated, wondering who needed me more. Emery, or the truck with the missing driver, and I sighed and walked into their room.
“I miss mom and dad,” she said, clutching a wooden picture frame with an image of them in it, once perched on the lacey bedside table.
“I miss them too,” I replied, the springs to the old bed creaked as I climbed onto it. She rolled over and curled up next to me.
Tears filled her hazel eyes and she blinked them away as I pulled a blanket around us. The shock still raw for both of us, that they were among the many that got sick. A pang of sadness stabbed in my chest. A dull ache compared to the anguish I felt for months after. I closed my eyes to see my mother’s face.
Her warm brown eyes with faint laugh lines at the corners were the color of melting chocolate, warm and happy. Her natural giving spirit carried an immeasurable strength and I wished I could possess just an ounce of her strength as I searched for words of comfort for my little sister. Nothing came.
“Will we ever get to go back to school again, Jade?” Emery asked and set the picture down on the table.
“I don’t know… I hope so.”
I sighed, the waver in my voice, thankfully, gone unnoticed. I knew the answer to her question, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her we wouldn't. The life she longed for of friends and school and security, didn’t exist anymore.
I reached for a brush on the nightstand and pulled it softly through her long, dark tousled hair.
The mention of school brought the memory of that guy to my mind again. My high school experience lasted a two whole weeks, a drastic change from junior high with a pleasant surprise. The stranger who passed by my house, passed me in the halls at school. A senior and three grades older than me, he had all the girls attention, so to talk to him and risk public humiliation amongst my friends became rather quickly, completely out of the question. Content to watch him from a distance, I did catch a glimpse of him every day through the narrow crowded hallways at school. He left the gym as I got there. His face looked heated, flushed with his chest and arms pumped from an intensive workout, his dark hair damp from the shower.
“What are you thinking of?” Emery asked.
“No one… uh, nothing,” I fumbled, slightly startled as she pulled me from my thoughts. She looked at me strangely.
His heart-melting smile made my stomach flip with the feel of butterflies and chills that rushed down my spine when he flashed it my way. Just the thought of him brought a whimsical smile to my face.
“Jade… You have that look on your face,” she said, she looked back over her shoulder and gave me a mischievous grin.
“I do not,” I said, instantly on the defense. My cheeks flushed with heat but I would never admit he filled my thoughts.
He looked at me differently than other guys did. Not the usual, like my status as one of them, thanks to my reputation of being Trey’s twin sister and the fact I’d grown up with all of them since kindergarten, but like he saw me differently. Despite him being new around town, I saw a familiarity in his eyes when they met mine, as if he knew me and I had no idea how. Maybe from his walks by my house, but for some reason, that didn’t feel like the cause.
“You zone out a lot lately,” Emery added, with a raise of her eyebrows she interrupted my pleasant thoughts. “Kane said it’s not healthy to dwell on what we don’t have anymore... but I don’t want to forget it, Jade.”
“I know… me either,” I sighed, my smile faded, realizing I might never get another chance to see him again. I wished I made some sort of effort to smile back or hold his gaze longer. At the very least, say hi. I thought I had plenty of time to get over my unusual shyness, the whole school year to get the guts to talk to him. I had no idea a time would come that I wouldn’t see him again, especially like this.
I pinched her playfully, distracting her to pull us from our melancholy mood and unwilling to reveal my deepest thoughts. She giggled then jumped up and grabbed her pillow. Wisps of her hair floated softly as the pillow rushed through the air.
“Thanks,” I said, as I blocked it and placed it comfortably underneath me.
“Hey that’s my pillow!”
She ripped it out from under me and with a whoosh, hit me upside the head. “Pillow fight!” She squealed loudly and jumped to her knees.
I laughed at her and grabbed mine, returning the favor. The blows from the soft fluffy pillows continued as she bounced on the bed. An occasional fluff of downy soft feathers escaped into the air. We both fell to the bed laughing as she hid her pillow under her body and curled up next to me. The sadness in her eyes, lost in her smile, at least for now.
Bam! Bam! I gasped and whirled around towards the doorway, startled by the sudden thud. Emery practically jumped out of her skin, terrified, clutching her pillow. We still hadn’t become used to the ominous heavy knock at the front door. I wondered if the stranger from the truck finally made his appearance.
Kane and Trey were on guard almost constantly, the threat of looters, very real. It was not about if someone would come, but when and how many. I heard heavy thuds as Trey ran up from the basement.
“Em… Stay there! Jade…” Already off the bed, I met him in the doorway as he handed me my rifle. “You know what to do…”
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