Chapter 11: Adelyn
“Wesley?” Zofia asks, her face scrunched up. “What do you mean, Em?”
Wesley is looking at me with an easy message written across his handsome face: don’t blow my cover.
“You don’t look so good, Em.” Wesley says suddenly, taking a step closer to me. He holds out his hand and lays it gently across my forehead, as if checking for a fever. “Do you feel alright?”
Zofia takes a step away from me, obviously uncomfortable with the mention of potential illness. I imagine disease is probably much scarier of a prospect in this dimension considering there is no modern medicine.
But I understand what Wesley is trying to accomplish with this. “I feel…” Just for effect, I glance around and blink my eyes. “Light…lightheaded.”
Zofia steps back again as Wesley gently grabs my upper arm with one hand and lays a second, steadying hand on my back. He helps me sit on the ground and lean against the metal box before glancing back up at Zofia.
“Maybe you should go tell the others that Emerson isn’t feeling well.” He suggests. I almost roll my eyes because it just sounds so much like the Wesley I knew. Despite the fact that this boy had a devious side, he always came across as sincere and persuasive. You just wanted to do what he asked because he made it seem like it was so obviously the right answer. Wesley could ask a homeless man for a cash donation and probably get it.
Unsurprisingly, Zofia swallows hard and nods her head. “I’ll get Cade.” She starts to back away. “He’ll help you home.” Her tone isn’t irritated as I expected. Instead, it takes on the tone of a concerned friend. I’m oddly touched, even though this concern is for Emerson and not Emerson’s imposter, namely me. “Can you send these letters through, though?” She hands out the pile of letters to Wesley.
My letter back home is in there as well. Wesley nods to Zofia, taking the letters and sending them through the envelope slot above my head. At least I can be assured that my note will get to my dimension. I’m just not positive that anyone will receive it or read it.
Zofia backs away slowly for a few steps before turning and setting off at a brisk pace in the direction of home. Her head swivels from side to side, on the look out for possible threats. Being alone in this world with no protection is not something she’s used to. I send a silent prayer to the sky that she gets back home in one piece.
When she’s too far away to hear us speak, Wesley turns on me, his eyes fierce. “What the heck, Adelyn?”
I’m not surprised that he’s figured out who I am. However, I am surprised that he knows who Emerson is. I’m surprised that he’s in this world and not back home in our dimension. I associate Wesley with playsets and inside jokes, not the broken civilization home to my pen-pal.
“What are you doing here?” I turn the questions on him. When my neck strains upward and I try to meet his eyes, the sun glares back at me instead. I push myself off the ground and stand up, not feeling the slightest bit lightheaded, as I had lied to Zofia. But I had to get Wesley alone. He can’t answer my questions with another person listening in, even if it is someone he trusts.
Wesley’s eyes bore into me. “I asked you first.”
I cross my arms across my chest. “Can we just pretend for one second that we’re functioning members of society and not two bickering kids?” I ask. It’s all too easy to slip back into our normal roles, two young kids with constant arguments and childish insults. I haven’t seen him since we were fourteen. Even then, he was an annoying little kid, not the fully-grown almost-man standing in front of me now. It’s like he’s walked out of a time machine. In my head, Wesley has never grown up.
“Fine.” Wesley mirrors my crossed-arm position. “What do you, as a functioning member of society, have to say to me?”
I can’t understand where his angry tone is coming from, but it’s rubbing off on me without hesitation. “What are you doing in this dimension?” I practically scream. “Why aren’t you back home? Why did you just disappear?”
Oh. So that’s why I’m angry. It’s not because his tone is rubbing off on me. My anger is the remnants of the hurt I felt when he left us. I’m angry that I never got a goodbye. I’m angry that he taught me what it feels like to lose someone important. That’s a lesson no one should ever have to learn.
And there’s tears in my eyes, to my humiliation. Wesley’s resolve dissipates as he pulls me into a hug. He’s much stronger than when we were kids. I briefly remember all the pushups he did just for this reason. His arms are solid and intense, but not domineering. His tight hold doesn’t feel like a cage; it feels like the caring protection I’ve yearned for over the years.
Wesley was like a brother to me in our youth. And brothers are supposed to protect you, not run away from you.
“I’m sorry, Addy.” He pulls away but keeps steady hands on my shoulders, holding me upright and making sure I’m okay.
When I nod and wipe away some fugitive tears, he lowers his arms to his side.
“Now,” I say, fighting to keep my voice even. “What are you doing here?”
“What are you doing here?”
I want to slap him, but his careless smirk tells me he’s only joking. Still, I know Wesley well enough to realize he isn’t going to spill his story until I spill mine.
So that’s what I do. “Grayson pushed me in a lake. I surfaced and came up in this dimension. Emerson’s group found me and I’ve kind of been pretending to be her.”
“For how long?” His eyebrow is raised, his eyes are narrowed, and his lips are pursed. It’s Wesley’s thinking face.
Wesley sighs and runs a hand through his billowing hair. I watch as the sun hits it and reflects the shine. “Okay.”
“Now your story.” I prompt.
Wesley leans back against the metal box casually. “I’ve been here since I was fourteen.”
Wesley nods, anticipating my stunned reaction. Some of me already had guessed it, but my reaction was spontaneous. I can’t really believe it even though I suspected it.
“I mean, I first came over here when I was fourteen, but I still keep up with your dimension. Grayson and I are pen-pals.” He says.
“How did that happen?” I’m stunned not only that he’s here but also that he’s kept up contact. Why didn’t Grayson ever tell me that Wesley was okay? I’ve wondered for years.
Wesley faces the sun, even though he has to squint to do so. Truthfully, I just don’t think he wants to look at me when he tells the story, though I couldn’t guess why. “I kept going to the Council everyday after they gave us the boot and we were adopted.” He begins. “I had a family, but I didn’t know anything about them and they didn’t know anything about me.
“And I wasn’t smart like you or Grayson. I wasn’t naturally great with people like Aspen. The Council was the only future I had and they just took it away from me.”
“There were other options.” I tell him, even though I’ve been feeling the same way he felt for years. The Council is my only future. And while there’s other things that I could do, I don’t want to do any of them. I want to be the next leader of Resdon. There’s so many changes I want to implement.
“No, there were no other options.” Wesley shakes his head. “But anyways, I went every day, and one day they just told me to stay. They gave me my own room and for about a week, it was great. I went to their meetings. I ate meals with them.”
Wesley is floundering. I can see his confidence slowly draining out. He’s a leaking faucet, his assurance dripping down to the sink. “Then what happened?” I ask before he runs out of steam.
“Then they locked me up.” He says bluntly. The air rushes out of me, but Wesley strides on. “They did experiments, extracted my blood.”
“What?” Why would they extract his blood? Why would they lock him up?
Wesley shoots me a sad smile. He’s a parent telling his kid that Santa Claus isn’t real, breaking down my beliefs and replacing them with something much less enchanted: reality. “The Council is just a group of humans.” Wesley says. “They aren’t immortal. They need magic to keep them young, and they can do it forever.”
“But why did they need your blood?”
“Because we were special.” He says. “That’s why they kept us from being adopted in the first place. Some people have magic inside of them. Not enough to have crazy powers or anything, but a spark of life that others don’t have.
“And they can extract that magic and keep themselves young and healthy.”
“And that’s what they did to you?”
“Yep.” Wesley nods. “And they probably wanted to do it to you, too. I’m just lucky I escaped.”
“But why didn’t they keep us then?” I ask. “Why did they let us go?”
“EMERSON!” A voice yells from down the road. Wesley and I whip around to see Emerson’s family coming, Cade leading the way. He runs the rest of the way to us, an impressive feat for a man of his size. His each and every footstep pounds the pavement with his urgent strides. “Heard you weren’t feelin’ well.” He says upon arrival. “Let’s get you home.”
“Oh, I…feel much better now.” I say, glancing at Wesley. The last thing I want to do is end our conversation. My mind is whirling with all the new information I’ve already uncovered. “I think I might stay here with We—with Lee for a little bit.”
“No.” Cade shakes him head. “We’re getting you home. Better not to risk anything.”
“Lee can take me home.” I say.
Cade shoots Wesley the evil eye. He’s burly enough for it to be intimidating, and Wesley backs a step away from me. I hadn’t even noticed his comforting presence and vicinity until it’s gone. “No, let’s go home.” Cade sounds like a protective father trying to keep his daughter away from a rebellious boy. It touches me that Cade cares so much, even if his softer side is truly meant for Emerson.
Knowing I’ll lose this battle, I smile at Wesley apologetically.
“I’ll see you around?” I ask, the question holding much more weight than Emerson’s family realizes.
Wesley nods. “Here every day.” It’s a message for me. Not just a casual statement.
I turn to the family waiting to take me home. Porter wraps his long arm around my shoulder and tries to help me walk, even though I’m absolutely fine. Zofia keeps glancing at me worriedly, but she keeps her distance away. The entire way home, Kenzi keeps asking me if I’m okay and every time I answer in the affirmative. Cade gives me an insufferable lecture about Wesley and all other teenage boys, wrapping them up in a neat little package labeled “Trouble.”
And I feel loved. I’ve only known these people for less than a day, but they’re much more accommodating than Ezra and Sebastian ever were. I miss Aspen terribly, but the lake can’t take me back home at this point. It takes you to the place you long for the most, but I’m already here.