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Chapter 5: Astrid

We walk a ways before he pushes open a different door and we step into a large room filled with flowers. I gaze in amazement at the colors. He sits on one of the many benches and watches me walk around the room. I pull out a red rose and lift it to my nose.

“Where did you find this place?” I ask.

“I just stumbled upon it.” he says. I turn towards him and notice his clothes for the first time. He’s wearing Levi jeans, a blue t-shirt with dark smudges and a pair of black boots. He’s a Nobody. But he’s gorgeous. With hair the color of midnight and a sharp jaw bone. I can’t see his eyes with so little light, but I imagine them to be beautiful. He’s tall and around my age. I glance down at my clothes, suddenly conscious of what I’m wearing. “Here. Take a seat.” he says and scoots over. I take the rose with me and sit down next to him.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

“Chris.” he says after a moment. “What’s yours?”

“Astrid.” I say. “I guess I should thank you for what you did back there.”

“No need,” he says. “I would have done the same thing if it hadn’t been you. No girl deserves to be treated that way.” I smile and look around the room.

“How do the flowers grow without sunlight?” I ask.

“I’m not sure to be honest. Every now and then I spare them some water, but the only light is from that small crack in the wall and even then, it’s not enough to keep flowers alive.”

“It’s beautiful. It reminds me of my grandmother’s flower gardens.” I say. I close my eyes and try to remember everything about that moment. The sun filtering in through the greenhouse ceiling, the water spraying out of the hose as she waters them and the fragrant smell filling the air. For a moment, I’m at peace. I open my eyes and see Chris watching me.

“What?” I ask, turning to him.

“Nothing. You just surprised me.” he says. “Well, we better get back. You must be tired after today.”

“You saw that?”

“Watched the whole thing. You nailed that course. What did you have to do in the halls?”

“Oh. The Know-it-alls had a whole hallway of booby traps set up and then when I thought I had finished, I had to fight three guys almost triple my size.” I try not to think about the three kids I found in my room. I wonder if Chris knew the kids I killed.

“Oh, wow. That must have been tough.” he says.

“Yeah, it was.” I say after a while.

“Well, I wouldn’t mind staying here all night, but I think you might want to get back. Your sister might look for you in the morning and if you aren’t there, you could scare her.”

“How do you know my sister?” I ask, suddenly suspicious.

“I don’t really know her. I’ve only seen her in passing.” he says and holds out his hand. I grab it and head towards the opening in the wall. I hold up the rose and prepare myself to put it down, but he says, “You can keep it if you want. Just don’t show anyone. I’d hate for this place to become the new spot that everybody hangs out at.”

“I won’t tell a soul.” I say and hold the rose close to my heart. When we get to my classroom, I’m suddenly unsure of what I should say. I feel like I just went on a date and he should be kissing me goodnight. Instead, he whispers a good night and turns on his heel. I watch him walk away and when I can’t see him anymore, I unlock the classroom door and step in with a grin on my face.

The next morning, I’m not sure how I feel about showing up for guard rotations. I am nervous that Peter will say something even though nothing happened. When I feel as put together as I can, I make my way to the gymnasium with one glance at the red rose laying beside my bed in a plastic water bottle with a bit of water in it. I step in the door and find Peter not even in the room yet. I breathe a sigh of relief and find somewhere to sit. A guy comes up to me while I’m waiting and I look up, nervous.

“Umm, hi?”

“Hey. Do you remember me?” I look him up and down and shake my head. “I’m the guy you punched in the nose yesterday.”

I glance at his nose and laugh. “Oh. Yeah. Sorry about that.”

“Oh, it’s no big deal.” he says and grabs the seat next to me. “Does it look bad?” I look at his nose closely and see a slight bump that might not have been there before.

“Nope. Not bad at all unless you count the big bump in the middle of it.”

“That bad?” he asks with a worried look.

“No. I was joking. Not bad at all.”

“Whew. At least I still look good.” he chuckles.

“Don’t worry. I didn’t bruise your face, I just bruised your ego. You weren’t bad though. You’re just a little tense.”

“A little tense?” he says with a laugh.

“Yes. I might be able to teach you sometime.” I say. It feels good to flirt. I haven’t flirted in a while.

“I might take you up on that offer,” he says. Two other guys come up to us and sit down beside the other kid I was talking to. “Oh, this is Tom and Jerry. Fake names, but they’re always together and fighting even if they don’t mean it. Real names, Phil and Matt. My name’s Jared, but you can call me Red if you like. What’s yours?”

“Astrid.” I say.

“Hmm, got to give it to you, that doesn’t give much room for a nickname. How about we call you Ostrich?”

“No way.” I say with a laugh.

“Okay, how about Ari or Ridda?”

“Ari if anything, but I don’t mind Astrid.”

“Well we like to have different names, for now anyways. That way if we ever get out of here we can use our regular names and not have memories of this place.” he says. “Right guys?”

“Yup.” they say with smiles.

“Listen up everyone.” I jump at the sound of Peter’s loud voice. We turn to him. “Yesterday was a hard day, so today we’re going to let you have a free day. That doesn’t mean guard rotations get left out though. If you are scheduled for today, you go guard, if not you’re free to do whatever. Take a shower, read a book, eat, play a card game. Do whatever, but don’t get on my nerves.” He walks away when he’s done with his speech. I groan and turn back to Red.

“Why’d you jump like that?” he asks.

“Long story. I’m sorry guys. I have to patrol today.”

“Aww, that’s too bad. I was going to ask if you wanted to come take a shower with me.” Tom says. I give him a look. “I’m just joking with you. I know you’d kill me if I did ask.”

“Anyways, we have today off, so when you get off, come find us and we can play a card game or something. Okay?”

“Sure. I’ll see you guys later.” I say and stand up. As I’m walking away I hear Tom say I’m hot and then a bunch of hushes. I smile and grab a flashlight from the table.

I walk out the gym without a backwards glance hoping that I don’t see Peter. Instead, as I turn the corner he stands there with his arms folded across his chest. “You didn’t think you’d get away without telling me anything, did you?” I stand there with my mouth open as I try to think of something to say. “Speechless?”

“I don’t have anything to say. I’m not going to do anything with you. I’m not like Rena. I won’t stoop down to that level.”

“Ahh, but you won’t have to. You’re already so much like me. If we were together we could be an unstoppable force.”

“I don’t care. I don’t like you and I never want your mouth on me again.”

“Ahh, then I don’t want your hands on me ever again. Those hands have killed. Just look at them. You can practically see the blood on them.”

“If I remember correctly, I killed that girl for you.” I say not even being able to say her name out loud.

“You did it for yourself though, too. You knew that in order for you to be in a high place near my side you had to be the best. And you were right. You are the best.” he says.

At that moment, Rena comes running out the doors. “There you are, silly. Why are you talking to her?”

“We were just talking about where she was going to stand position.” he says and slides an arm around Rena’s waist.

“Oh. You might want to get going then, Astrid.” I glance at her and walk away. When I make it to the end of the hall, I begin my rounds. I feel a tap on my shoulder and get ready to tell Peter to leave me alone, but when I turn I see Chris.

“Oh hey, I thought you were someone else.” I say.

“Nope. Just me. Was Peter giving you a hard time?”

“Not really. I told him off.”

“What are you doing?” he asks.

“Just doing my rounds. Got to go through the whole school. See if there have been any changes.”

“Mind if I walk with you?”

“As long as you don’t get in my way.” I say with a small smile.

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