Chapter 7: Astrid
When I left Chris, all the warmth I felt in my chest from talking to him has gone cold. I make my way to the stage, where Peter and Rena make out.
“Finished. No changes. Am I free to go?” I say without making eye contact.
“Yes…” Rena says, but Peter holds out his hand.
“Actually, before you go, I was wondering if tomorrow you would be willing to fight me. I’d like to see what your strengths and weaknesses are. So that we can work on them, of course.”
“Umm. Sure.” I say even though every part of my body is telling me that I should say no. I back away.
“You’re good to go. Have a great rest of the day.” I nod and head out the back door. Chris is nowhere in sight, so I find myself walking through the halls until I find a classroom door open. I step towards it and see Tom, Jerry and Red sitting around a desk flipping cards over. I stand in the doorway and watch them place bets on their hands, but since they have no money, they’re betting their food and laundry packets away. I continue watching until Red looks up and meets my eyes.
“Oh. Would you like to join? We’re playing poker.” Tom and Jerry sling their heads around to stare at me.
“I’d like to play, but I’m not sure I know how to play. And I have nothing to bet on.”
“Oh. Not to worry. Tom will give you something you can bet on. I’ll teach you.” I walk in and sit next to Tom who’s added an extra stool.
Over the next couple of hours, I’m taught different ways to play poker and I turn out to be pretty good. By the end of the game, I’ve got most of the winnings.
“Beginners luck.” Tom says, grouchily.
“Uh Huh. So when I beat you next time, will it be beginner’s luck then, too?”
“No. So you’re saying you’ll play with us again. It’s been so long since any girl has played poker with us. Ashley died and Harley, well she wasn’t very good.” Jerry says sadly.
“Well. I play with you again, but I’ve got to get going. See you guys later?”
“Yeah, see you later, Ari.” I walk to the classroom and find Iris waiting up for me.
“Hey, where have you been?”
“Oh, I just got done playing poker. I’m actually pretty good.” I say.
“That kid came and brought his clothes over. There over there.” I walk over and grab the clothes.
“Hey, I’ll be right back.” I say. I lock the door behind myself and walk to the cafeteria. I open the door and step in to find most of the Freaks of Nature around buckets filled with water and soap. I step up to the first one I come across and ask them to wash Chris’s clothes. I pay them with a small portion of food and wait. While I’m waiting, I walk around the room. This is the place where most of my favorite memories came from over the years. Where I had my first fight with Rena and the first time I got asked to Prom. The memories flood me with pain. I take a seat on the floor and try to find hope for myself. I should be worried that my birthday is coming up, but I’m not. A Freak of Nature sets a stack of clothes beside me and walks away. I take them and lift them to my nose. The smell of fresh laundry fills my nose and I sigh in relief. Something I’m used to. I get up and make my way to the basement. I shouldn’t have shown a sign of weakness back there, but I needed a break from the facade I’m always putting up. I take a sharp turn and head down the stairs. When I hit the bottom, I notice that everyone is leaning against the walls. Zach stands at the end of the hall looking as white as a sheet. I walk closer to him, but before I can reach him, two huge guys are standing in my path.
“Is Chris around?” I ask. “I’ve brought his clothes.”
“Chris isn’t here and don’t think you should come down here whenever you feel like it. We were perfectly fine without you around. Chris may be happier, but he doesn’t need you. He has Chloe and that’s enough.” one of the guys says. A small girl steps closer to the big dude in front.
“Chris likes having me around.” I say.
“No he doesn’t. He might say he does, but he doesn’t. We know him better than you do. So stay away from him. You hear?”
“Fine. Whatever. Just tell him I stopped by to bring his clothes.” I throw them at Zach and turn my back before I can do something I will regret. I take the stairs two at a time and try not to look back. It makes my heart hurt that someone I just met is kicking me out, but I get it. I get back to my classroom and find my things strewn around in weird places. The rose is smashed to pieces and my bag of food is missing. I throw things around and can’t find anything. I press my hands to my forehead and breath deeply. How could Iris do this? Leave the door unlocked. We must have been getting too lackadaisical. I punch the wall and a deep throbbing main shoots up my arm. I slam the door shut behind me and run towards the stairs. I fly up them and run to the library. I frantically knock on the door and wait for footsteps on the other end. When the door opens, I don’t wait and push the girl aside. I step in and look around for Iris. She sits in the back taking apart a computer. I rush to her side and pull her out of her chair.
“What’s wrong? Astrid. What’s happening? Where are we going?” I take her behind a bunch of bookshelves and make sure the coast is clear. I turn to her and ask her where her key is. She searches her pockets, but can’t find it.
“Where did you leave it?” I ask.
“It was in my pocket this morning.” she says, quietly.
“Has anyone come close enough to touch you?”
“No.” she says after a brief hesitation. I nod and look away trying to clear my thoughts. “Astrid, what’s wrong?”
“Someone broke into our room. Everything’s gone. Our food. Our clothes. Even our beds.”
“Yeah.” I say, miserably.
“What are we going to do?”
“I don’t know yet. Give me some time to think and let’s meet in the bathroom next to the basement.” I say. It’s the first spot that I can think of at the moment. I give her one last nod before I run out. As I run through the halls, it seems like the walls are getting closer together. I can’t breathe and then I run into someone. I ricochet off their chest and almost hit the floor, but two muscular arms wrap around my waist and hold on. I look up and release a calming breath at the sight of Chris. I smile and then remember what his team said to me. I get my groundings and step back. He takes my hand and pulls me towards the locker that has a hole in it. We step into the darkness without so much as a glance back.