“Least likely to die in the next four hours,” Ford says, winking at me. “I hope I’m on that list.”
I laugh out loud, making Ford smile, and then look out across the cafeteria. “Based on what odd event?” I ask, sliding into the food line with a tray.
“An extremely small meteor. Like, extremely small compared to most meteors. Comes out of nowhere. From that direction,” Ford says, pointing up and to the right.
I think about it for a minute. “We would die. Sorry to burst your bubble. But on the bright side, Clique A1 would also be demolished,” I say, gesturing to a table of girls who are talking amongst themselves and giggling in high-pitched little voices. I wrinkle my nose while Ford laughs, not bothering about the looks people are giving him.
“That’d be great. I wouldn’t mind dying if that would happen,” he said. Don’t get me wrong, Clique A1 has never done anything really bad to harm us. It’s just society that’s got us all mad. Ford and I and a few other people aren’t really in the ‘in’ crowd. We hang around the edges, people-watch and talk behind their backs. Watch drama unfold from a distance, that’s what we do. You can call us the Wallflowers.
We live in a lonely city called Telans, but it’s enormous. Like, about as big as a county back in the old days. The Speakers say that the reason Telans is all alone is because of what humans did to the world. There is only enough space now for us and thankfully we can run self-sufficiently. Telans is basically like any other city back in the old days, but there are small farms and several factories, and everyone pulls their weight. Children are forced to enroll in the one school in Telans, a school that holds all the grades in one. The elementary kids have school Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday is off. And high schoolers and middle schoolers have Thursday and Friday. The weekends are always free. All people have jobs ― unless they failed StormKeeper initiation.
The StormKeepers are the keepers of our city. Mostly shortened to Keepers, they watch over how we run, handle our education, and most students say they even control the weather(hence the name), and that they each have their own separate unique powers that help them rule. Speakers are special Keepers who come out and talk to the city while the other Keepers stay hidden behind their dark cloaks. Speakers come to the School of Telans every fifty years to renew the generation of StormKeepers. The teenagers the Speakers choose go through an initiation. If they fail the initiation, they are sent back to the main part of Telans and can’t get a job or continue their education. A person like that in Telans is basically useless.
“Any important news today?” I ask Ford. He shakes his copper-haired head, scooping pesto pasta onto his plate. “Well, I have some news. I heard it in second period today,” I mutter, seeing if he’ll be excited.
He immediately looks up at me, piercing me with his intense blue eyes. Honestly, if Ford wasn’t as shy and nice as he is, he could probably be popular just by his looks. So could a lot of the people in our group of friends. Funny what you miss when you only pay attention to people who grovel to the floor for attention. “What is it?” he asks.
“You’ll have to wait until we sit down,” I say, winking my bright blue crystal eyes. He narrows his eyes at me but keeps quiet. Eventually we finish serving ourselves and reach the end of the line. The lunch lady, Ms. Patricks slides us two extra cookies, smiling at us. We’re her favorite students in the school. Maybe because we aren’t nearly as obnoxious as everyone else.
“Okay, spill the beans,” Ford says once we sit down at our usual dreary table across the room from everyone else.
I grin at him and push my dark brown, almost black hair away from my pale face. The thing I hate most about me is my pale vampire skin. I was cursed with freckles, which might look good on any other girl, but paired with pale skin, freckles look like a disaster. At least I got striking blue eyes. They’re aqua, like shallow water.
“Well, you know Beth? The girl who always seems to know everything before it actually happens? Well I overheard her talking to her boyfriend about something rather interesting. She’s convinced that the Speakers are coming in a few days to initiate some teenagers here,” I say, waiting for his reaction.
Ford’s mouth drops open, revealing his pearly white teeth. “Woah,” is all he gets out. “Th-that’s… You know what this means?” he says in a muted voice. I raise both eyebrows, waiting for him to say. “It means that we stand a chance of leaving this place!” I shake my head sadly at his excitement. “What? Don’t you want to be a Keeper?”
“Well, not really. It seems… scary. All that risk just to be ruler of the city. And then you can’t see your family or the friends you left behind. Nobody but the Keepers knows what happens to them. And if you fail initiation, you get sent away to be jobless, you know? I would never want to waste my life just to rule the only stupid city in the world,” I say, closing my eyes and trying to picture what the Speakers will look like. It’s been forever since the last one spoke on TV, and I’ve never seen them in person, so this’ll be some interesting event.
“I guess. I’d like to be a StormKeeper. Kind of different from our everyday life, huh?” Ford picks at his food with a plastic fork, and I do the same. We talk about some of the people in our classes, the upcoming dances, what homework we have, etc. Eventually, the rest of our friends come sit next to us.
“Hey guys,” a girl with dark red-purple hair and brown eyes says, scooting her tray next to me.
“Hey Taylor,” Ford and I say in unison.
“You’ll never guess what happened today,” Taylor says. “Well, maybe you could guess, but I highly doubt it. You know that dance coming up? Well Chance asked me to go with him!” Ford chokes on his food and took a swig of water.
I glance up at Taylor in surprise. “Chance? You mean slightly popular, lacrosse-playing, twenty-girlfriends-at-once Chance?” Taylor nods, beaming. I look around the cafeteria trying to find Chance. He’s easily recognizable because of his bright blue head of hair. Honestly, it’s a little distracting…
“That Chance?” I ask Taylor once again to be sure, gesturing to him.
“That’s him! Isn’t this so cool? I’m soooo excited.” Chance looks over at us and winks at Taylor. She squeals and practically melts into her seat.
I make eye-contact with Ford and we seem to be thinking the same thing. Chance is going to hurt Taylor one way or the other. Usually I refrain from ripping people’s heads off, but for Taylor I would do anything.
“Are you guys coming?” Taylor asks, still excruciatingly giddy.
“No, I don’t think so,” I say.
“Me either,” says Ford. He scoops up the last bit of pesto pasta and eats it, then gets up to leave. I follow suit, and then we walk over to the library, where it is much more quiet. Plus, basically all our friends go there at lunch.
“Liv, I have your book,” I say, taking an old copy of a book made years ago from an inside jacket pocket. As a bookworm, I have taken it into my responsibility to expand and add any inside pockets so that they can fit normal-sized books. Plus, the jacket still looks quite normal, so I can easily slip a book out during a boring lecture and read a few chapters without anyone noticing.
Liv, a blond-haired, blue-eyed girl takes her book and hands me another one, the sequel. I smile and then sit down next to everyone else to start reading it. After a few chapter in, the bell rings, and I gently put the book into one of my jacket pockets.
“See you at PE,” Caelan, a guy with dark brown hair, green eyes, and a charming smile says.
“Yeah, okay,” I say, walking towards my next class, Honors English. I step through the threshold and an aroma of flowers and trees greets me head on. Following that, someone steps out in front of me, hurrying somewhere, and I crash right into them. The smell wasn’t from them. It was from the awesome classroom that is basically my third home, coming after bookstores and fast-food places. Now the person I crashed into was someone I knew, but just barely.
“Sorry Fox,” I say, nearly falling back. He grabs my shoulders to stop me from falling, or maybe to stop himself from falling, but either way it doesn’t really matter. Usually we just exchange some words and that in itself can make my heart go wild, but holy crap he’s touching me. I stare up into his gleaming honey brown eyes and can’t talk for a bit.
He grins at me, and that doesn’t really help with my focus, either. “It’s okay, Squirrel,” he says. That’s one of the only reasons we ever actually talk. We’re both named after animals. I have no idea what my parents were thinking. What kind of people name their kid Squirrel? “You okay?” he asks, his smile faltering.
“Uh… yeah,” I say quietly. “Where are you going? Isn’t this your class?” I ask.
“Yeah, I’m just…” he looks around at everyone else passing through the doorway and pushes me into the hallway with hands that hadn’t yet left my shoulder. “You want to know something?” he asks.
“Okay,” I say, wondering what would have happened if I’d said no.
“Well, you know how I’m in Student Council? Well, we’re all working on something in the auditorium. The Speakers are coming,” he says. I pretend to look excited, but he doesn’t buy it. “You already knew?” he asks.
“Well, yeah, that too. But I really don’t see why everyone’s so excited… I mean does everyone want to be a StormKeeper?”
Fox shakes his head, taking his hands off my shoulders. This has been the longest conversation we’ve ever had. “You don’t get it, Squirrel. Fifty classes have missed out on the chance to be StormKeepers, but we get the chance! Do you get how incredible that is? Out of everyone, we born just right, just in time to be able to be initiated.”
“Well, do you even know how they initiate people?” I ask him. He shakes his head. “They test you. I hate tests,” I say. “And anyway, they probably ask you super weird questions, like ‘What superpowers do you have?’” Fox laughs, running a hand through his short, dark red hair.
“I think it’ll be fun,” he says. “Anyway, I have to go. I’ll be back in time for PE,” he says, strutting off towards the auditorium. I wave bye and then go back in class, hurrying to my seat.
We have relay races in PE, and Caelan and Fox are partnered with me. I notice that Fox seems to be spending a lot more time with me than usual. Most of the time I just stare at him from a distance. I take off my jacket and lay it on the grassy field so it’s out of my way. Caelan walks up to me and glances at my jacket. “Am I allowed to call that a book jacket?” he asks, grinning. For a minute I don’t get it, but then I laugh. “Ba dum tss,” he says, his white teeth distracting against his dark ebony skin.
“Everyone get the rules? Good let’s get started. One of you is anchor, one of you start, the rest are somewhere in the middle,” Mr. Olsen says, rubbing his forehead. I feel sorry for him. Most kids in Telans really hate him and disrespect him.
“I’m starting,” the fourth person in our group says. I don’t know them, but I’m pretty sure they’re on the running team. We don’t really have competitive teams because they can’t run against any other school, but sometimes our teams run against the other teams in our school.
“Squirrel or Fox should be anchor,” Caelan says. “They’re much faster than me. And isn’t anchor supposed to be super fast or something?”
“I’ll be second,” Fox says, inadvertently volunteering me for anchor.
“Um, okay,” I say, and follow the other anchors on the other teams to where we wait. I’m not usually one for relay races. Teamwork never works well with me. Maybe that’s why I’m always such a loner.
A shrill whistle meets my ears and I jump, then turn around to see the racers sprinting away. I run to my spot and then wait there, watching our person pass off to Fox, and then Fox pass off to Caelan. Our lead quickly shrinks down, and by the time Caelan gets to me, we’re almost last, the others far ahead of me. He passes me the metallic baton and I instantly sprint ahead of the person nearest to me. That’s something I’m proud of about myself. I’m quick and agile, which is kind of a coincidence, since my name is Squirrel.
It doesn’t take me long to zip past the rest of the people, and then there’s only one left. Kicking forward, I sprint towards them, slowly closing our gap. Surging forward, I get neck and neck with him. It must look pretty funny, because I’m so small and he’s practically a bodybuilder. I see Mr. Olsen watching with excited eyes from the finish line. Nearing the end, the person next to me releases a burst of energy, and I feel competitive blood pulsing through my veins. With a rather large surge of new energy, I dash ahead, beating them by mere inches.
“That is one of the closest races I’ve seen in quite a while,” Mr. Olsen says, clapping slowly. “Nice job, both of you,” he says. I put my hands on my knees and take huge breaths of air, glaring at the other person, who seems barely tired. For the rest of PE, we have a few more relay races and then play flag football, which I turn out to be rather okay at, while Fox and Caelan are totally boss.
The rest of the day goes by pretty fast. I walk back home with Ford and Liv because we all live in Sector 3. There are six sectors in Telans, each a wide circle around the capitol building, where the Keepers are said to live. It doesn’t look much like the shiny quartz buildings in history books, but more like a small castle. In Sector 1, we have prisons and police academies. The school is in Sector 2, and so are the factories and other important buildings. Sector 3 is where the people who work at the factories live. Both my parents work at a fabric factory. Sector 4 has public businesses like libraries, book stores, fast-food places, a mall, hospitals, etc. Sector 5 is where the people who work in Sector 4 live. Finally, Sector 6 is full of large farms, fishermen, mines, drills, etc who live where they work. There’s an ocean to the West, and rolling hills to the East.When I get home, I finish homework fast and then read a few more chapters of the book Liv got me. I only go to sleep when I hear my parents get home at about midnight.
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