A Story Well-Travelled

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Chapter 4: Adelyn

The weekend drags by at a speed similar to a sloth walking through a pool of peanut butter with cinder blocks in the place of its feet. Aspen manages to acquire some illness that makes her projectile vomit, so I stay home and lock myself in my room for two days, only emerging from my hideout for the essentials like food and bathroom breaks.

Sebastian works most of the day Saturday, so Ezra can be heard cleaning the kitchen, windows, and baseboards of the house until he gets home. She asks me sometime through the day if I’d like her to make me lunch, but considering her idea of lunch is a tofu salad, I politely decline.

The entire time I’m in my room, I switch between phases of reading and planning out my visit to the Council on Monday. Aspen may refuse to go with me, but there are no rules permitting me from going alone. I’ve considered tracking down Wesley, but he disappeared soon after his fourteenth birthday and Aspen and I haven’t seen him sense. He’s a ghost from our past, one I only think about in the rare moments I allow myself to fantasize over my childhood. I could ask Grayson, but he already has a job with the Council, shadowing them and working as an assistant. He’s content with his standing in society much like Aspen is content in her life as a waitress.

It’s infuriating that I’m the only one bothered by the Council’s decision to blow up the path that my life was on with a bomb the size of Resdon central.

So I fall back on the topic of Wesley. We searched for him for a while after his disappearance at fourteen, but there was little that two teenage girls could do. We went to the Council, who told us not to worry about it. We went to the police, who also went to the Council, who told them not to worry about it.

So Wesley’s gone. And with him, my last hope of an ally in my battle that is so uphill, it’s basically a vertical climb.

On Monday, I rise from under my covers well before the sun does. By the time I’m walking down the streets of Resdon, the sky is still gray and the orbs of light suspended above the sidewalk still light my path with their magical illumination. I follow the wide circles of light reflected on the cobblestone streets all the way to the edge of Resdon.

There, a humongous house with thick white support pillars and a pristine front lawn take up most of my vision. This is the house of the Council, and though there is only five of them, the house could fit a hundred easily. I briefly remember Aspen telling me about her pen-pal, who is from a dimension where the president lives in a huge white house much like this one, albeit on a smaller scale. Surprisingly, Aspen is a huge history enthusiast. She knows more about history in multiple dimensions than I know about the history of Resdon, my own town.

There are seven of the white columns, each one meant to represent a separate member of the Council. In the past, there was seven members. Seventeen years ago, two of them left in what was thought of as a huge, scandalous love affair, although it’s all speculation. They haven’t been heard from since.

A tall gate with thick spikes at the top prevents me from walking up to the door of the Council and banging on it angrily. Guards stand at the entrance, stoic and professional in their black uniforms and tall hats.

Bushes line the exterior of the gate, hugging so close to the impenetrable bars that it’s almost an intrusion of the space. I know that one of the bushes—fifth one to the right of the gate entrance—is a fake. It can be moved away easily, leading instead to the tunnels that run all under the Council house. It’s meant to be an escape route, though few people know they exist. My knowledge is one of the perks of being a former Council member-elect.

“Hi.” I walk up to one of the guards. He’s familiar; I recognize him from one of my other trips up here to beg the Council to instate me.

The guard groans when I approach. His protruding eyes flick over me before he glances over at one of his buddies and shares an eye roll.

“Okay, you know what I’m here for.” I say, putting an irritated hand on my hip and fixing him with my best glare.

“Do you have a meeting?”

“Don’t need one.” I say with a shrug. “Tell them who it is. They’ll want to talk to me.”

“No.” The guard’s voice is commanding and deep. “They won’t.”

“Yes.” My voice is high and childish. “They will.”

The guard finally admits defeat, probably in order to get rid of me, and pulls a walkie-talkie out of a hidden pocket in his uniform. Despite the huge improvements we’ve made in technology, the guards at the Council house tend to stick to the basics.

“Officer Randalph,” The guard speaks into the communication device. “We have a girl here who says she’d like to speak to the Council.” He glares at me the entire time. I pretend not to notice, watching the rising sun instead. Pink and orange spreads across the horizon; I watch it rise over the green grass of the Council lawns. It’s shaping up to be a warm day, and the cool breeze forms a temporary haven for me as I await my fate.

The walkie-talkie makes static noises before someone finally answers. “Adelyn Josephs again?”

I smirk in unwarranted self-satisfaction. They all know my name here, and it’s something that I’m all too proud of.

The guard in front of me presses the button to speak again. “Yes, sir.”

Static. “I’ll let them know.”

Approximately ten seconds pass in a staring contest between me and the guard before the gates swing open behind him. The guard jumps back in surprise, and I let out a joyous laugh before waving him goodbye and walking through the gates.

The grass crunches underfoot and the sun peaks above the wide expanse of building. The white exterior looks gray in the shadows.

“Do you need an escort?” A voice calls from behind me.

I wave a hand over my shoulder. “I know the way.”

The Council meets in a dark room with wooden paneling on the wall and a large oak table that stretches the length of the room. Lamps stand in each corner, the only light due to the inconspicuous blackout curtains on the windows.

Each member of the Council turns their head when I shove open the door and walk through. It’s intimidating, but a familiar jolt of unease for me. I lift my chin and walk towards the table.

Sullivan sits at the end today; they alternate the authoritative position. Hayes and Windsor sit on one side of the table, Soren and Judah on the other. I take a seat next to Soren. She’s notorious for being the kindest one on the Council. Her silver hair is tied in a meticulous bun and her hands fold and entwine with themselves on the dark table.

“Good morning, Council.” I say with a smile, scooting in my chair and straightening my posture.

At the head, Sullivan rolls his eyes at my display of respectability. They know me too well to be impressed with my poise. “Miss Josephs,” He nods his bald head at me. “Always a pleasure. How long has it been? Three weeks since we last saw you?”

“I believe it’s been four weeks.” I say.

Sullivan rolls his eyes. “Two and a half weeks, Miss Josephs.” He deadpans. “I was being generous.”

I cock my head. “Oh? You mean I missed my appointment last Tuesday?” The Council isn’t known for their humor, but they know me well enough to pick mine up most of the time.

Across the table, Windsor scoffs. “You never make an appointment!” He bursts, sunken eyes wide and startlingly blue. “Never. You think you own the place.”

“Well, I was supposed to—”

“Why are you here?” Sullivan interrupts me, cutting through our familiar banter, though they would consider it more of an exasperating argument.

Five pairs of eyes watch me. The wooden seat makes my butt ache. The darkness in the room makes me sleepy. I’m so tired of this bi-monthly meeting. By the time the disappointment of my last meeting wears off, I’m waking up before the sun for another one. Taking off the cast before the arm is properly healed.

Still, I hone in on my determination and clear my throat. “I wanted to inquire again as to why you made the decision four years ago to eject us from the Council.”

“First of all,” Sullivan says. “We didn’t eject you. We just decided you weren’t the right fit.”

“But why?” I lean forward in my seat. My voice is pleading, just the tone I promised myself I wouldn’t have today. “You told us for years that we were going to be on the Council. You kept us from being adopted. For years.

“Is that what this is about?” Hayes asks. Her thin eyebrows, drawn on in a startling black, furrow. “You’re upset that you didn’t get adopted earlier in your life?”

“No—”

“I bet that’s what this is about.” Sullivan nods his agreement.

“It’s not—”

“She is just a kid, after all.” Soren looks at me with pitying eyes. I can still remember the point in my life when I yearned for her to be my mother figure, but those days have fled with the passing years.

“NO!” I shout, finally cutting off all their useless commentary. My eyes are wild, I’m sure, and I can feel my heart beating rapidly in my chest. “This isn’t about me not being adopted. This is about not being added to the Council after a lifetime of being told that was my destiny.”

“Not a lifetime—” Sullivan starts. “Some years, yes, but—”

“It was all of my lifetime.” I counter, meeting his dark eyes. “That was my path. That was my future and you just ripped it away.”

Now five pairs of pitying eyes rest upon me. I know what they’re thinking. Poor girl. She doesn’t know anything about the world.

Sullivan glances to his side and meets Windsor’s eyes. They seem to share a silent conversation with questioning eyes and an obvious idea saturating the air between them before Sullivan turns back to me. “Three weeks.” He says. “We’ll meet again in three weeks and discuss this further.”

“You mean there’s a chance I’ll get put on the Council?”

He shakes his head, telling me not to push farther. “Three weeks.”

It’s enough for me. I leave the room with a cocky smile and a renewed sense of dignity.

In my temporary state of euphoria, I almost get lost leaving the Council house. The long, elegant hallways wrapped in crimson wallpaper and lit by ornate chandeliers form a disjointed map in my head. I either need to take the next right…or the second to last left. Either way, I’m utterly lost and confused.

When instinct tells me to take an abrupt right turn, I almost run straight into Grayson.

“Wow!” He swings his arm around, trying to balance five cups of coffee on a silver tray. They rattle and shake but he expertly keeps them upright. I had almost forgotten about my friend from the past, now playing errand boy for the group that kicked him out of their club.

“Sorry!” I reach out to help him then think better of it. When the coffee situation is settled and the crisis averted, I apologize again. “I am so…so sorry.”

Grayson smiles at me. “It’s okay.” He says. “I have near catastrophes all the time. Keeps me on my toes.”

I laugh uneasily and push dark strands of hair out of my face. When I can focus well enough to look at him, I see that Grayson has grown. Like…seriously grown. He must be well over six feet tall, even though he still manages to look boyish. I think it’s his ruffled brown curls and big ears. Or maybe it’s the mess of freckles sprinkled over his pale cheeks.

He looks like a child, though realistically I know he’s seventeen years old, just like me.

And he’s staring at me, ostensibly because I’ve been examining him silently for the last ten seconds. “I—”

“What are you doing here?” Grayson asks suddenly, taking the reins of our fragmented conversation.

I take a deep breath, trying to steady my racing heart from the adrenaline rush. “I had a meeting with the Council.” Grayson raises an impossibly bushy eyebrow. “Well, sort of.” My cheeks flush a rosy red and I duck my head to hide it.

“You had a meeting?” He sounds skeptical, which I suppose is warranted.

I shake my head. “No. I didn’t.”

He smirks. “Didn’t think so. What did you want to talk to them about?”

Embarrassment makes me hesitate. How can I explain that I’ve been bugging them for the past four years to reconsider their decision and not sound like a complete imbecile? But Grayson looks understanding. His hazel eyes look at me curiously, but not in a mean way. He looks truly invested in my answer, so how can I give him anything but the truth?

“I wanted to ask them why changed their minds.” I clear my throat against the awkwardness. “You know, four years ago. About us.”

Grayson nods, causing his brown curls to bobble. His hair is bordering on afro-status, though I suspect he’s just too scatterbrained to remember to cut it, or at least he was when he were younger. “They told you no?”

“Actually,” A little bit of pride leaks through my voice. “I have a meeting in three weeks with them.”

Grayson’s eyes widen, stunned. His hand absentmindedly lets the tray of coffee lean too far to the side; the full cups slide towards the edge. He rights his mistake immediately, using his second hand and the black journal in it to steady the bottom of the tray.

I point to the journal, a reminiscent smile playing across my lips. “You still love stories?”

Grayson’s eyes flick to the journal and back to me. This time, it’s his cheeks that resemble a bright red tomato. “Yeah.” He grins. “Still the little dreamer boy with his head in the clouds.”

“It’s not a character flaw.” I assure him. “Besides, I always loved your stories.”

“Yeah?”

I nod my head. “Yeah.”

For a moment, he looks giddy. Then a flash of resolve crosses his face and his eyes darken. “Adelyn, you shouldn’t go to the meeting in three weeks.” He says.

“Why not?” I attempt a teasing grin, but his icy demeanor spreads over me as well. My smiles drops. “Why not, Gray?”

He glances down the hallway, as if checking to see if we were alone. “Just don’t. Skip it.”

“But I want to be on the Council. I—”

“You’re not going to be on the Council!” Grayson whisper-yells. His face inches closer to mine, hinting at urgency. “Just don’t come.” His eyes soften, sensing the immense amount of fear he’s instilled in me. “Promise?”

I remember a scene from our childhood: Grayson showing Wesley, Aspen, and me the abandoned playset for the first time. But you can’t tell anybody about it. He said then, his eyes pleading with all of us but settling on me. Sparkling hazel. Promise?

But I can’t promise him this now. I’ve been working at fulfilling my destiny on the Council for years. Now I’ve finally made progress and he wants to snatch that away. But with his familiar eyes boring into mine, I can’t turn him away either. I sigh and admit temporary defeat.

“I’ll think about it.” I tell him, even though I won’t follow through with it.

Grayson sees right through my lies, as he always has. “Addy—”

“I said I’ll think about it.” With that, I push my way around him and down the hall, not knowing where on earth I am or where I am going.

Grayson’s voice calls out after me. “Take the next right and the next left after that!”

“Thanks!” I yell behind me. I turn back around only once before I make the right turn. When I glance behind me, Grayson’s already gone. Just like that, he’s a ghost again. I really miss his constant presence in my life. I’ve been dependent on his optimism since I was six. Being without him for the past few years has been torture, but it’s my own fault. I’m too stubborn to heal the old grudge I have against him for his internship here.

Another memory pops up then, this one of Grayson and I at thirteen instead of six. We’re getting adopted, two nervous and clammy kids on the eve of a new phase of our lives. But don’t forget about me when we’re adopted, okay? I had asked him. We need to always be friends. Promise?

Hazel eyes. His outrageous ears picking up my every word, my desperation. A goofy grin and a sweaty handshake. He wore khakis that day. I remember I thought he looked so grown up. So handsome. Promise.

Back in our childhood, promises seemed to be set in stone. If you broke a promise, the world fissured beneath your feet and the world shook with fury. Over the years, promises lost their relevance. I suppose after hearing so many empty promises, you really stop believing that any could possibly be full.

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