I couldn’t help it. The idea of me having a best friend at some point in my life was just too ridiculous. After all, that went against everything that I was.
I didn’t have friends, I had pawns; I didn’t pick favorites, I noted usefulness; I didn’t show emotion, I drew it out of people.
Just the thought of me having some sort of weakness such as a connection was silly.
Then again, that would mean that almost everything I’d done since I got to the island was ‘silly’ because I’d felt some sort of draw to the place. I felt like I should know it, but I... didn’t.
And why should I? I’d never been here before.
“I’m sorry,” I managed, “My what?"
Alexia looked pained for a moment before her face cleared into a blank slate. “Your friend,” She replied flatly.
I scoffed, “You’ve got the wrong person. I don’t have friends.”
She kept studying me. “Then who is Cole to you?”
I hesitated. I actually hesitated. “He’s a pawn,” I said, but I didn’t feel like I meant it. I was having a crisis because I didn’t know if I was me anymore.
Why was I feeling things?
“You’re lying,” Alexia said, a small smile spreading across her face.
I stiffened. She saw through my facade. She wasn’t supposed to see through my facade.
“Why would I lie?” I asked her, not having to force interest.
What did she know about me? Why was she so focused on me?
How did she see through my act after I had modified it to mimic everyone’s here?
“I don’t know,” Alexia said, still looking at me. She took a step towards me. “Why don’t you tell me?”
I shook in anger, my eyes narrowing. “Who do you think you are to be entitled to people’s personal reasoning?” I spat. “You don’t know what I’ve been through.”
Alexia cocked an eyebrow. “Don’t I, though? After all,” She tilted her head and smiled wickedly. “Your parents put me through the same thing.”
“No, they didn’t,” I told her. “I don’t have parents.”
Alexia tilted her head, walking past me. “That’s true. You don’t have parents anymore.”
I stood still and listened to her footsteps walk away from me, never faltering.
“Oh, and by the way, the first part was true, too,” Alexia called back after me. “My parents didn’t drag my twin sister away from me and leave me in the streets.”
“I don’t have a sister,” I said bitterly, gritting my teeth.
“They wiped your memory!” Alexia shrieked.
I slowly turned around to face her. Her face was red and anguished.
“I was your best friend,” Alexia whispered hoarsely, coming back. “We would run around and have mud fights and we would laugh whenever Emma would freak out over getting dirty. You don’t remember that?”
I kept watching her, not saying a word. I didn’t remember, but I wanted to know. I was envious of this person. I was jealous that Alexia had loved her so much that she’d chase down a total stranger and almost get on her hands and knees to get her to remember.
“You were a princess, but you didn’t care that I wasn’t anyone of consequence,” Alexia continued. “But then your parents," She spat out the word with more venom than I’d have thought possible. And I was... me. “Ran away with both of you and then they tried to come back.” She looked up into my eyes, begging me to remember something that simply hadn’t happened to me.
“They came back with Emma, but they didn’t come back with you,” She rasped.
I kept watching her, stunned by her emotion but not willing to show it.
“How do you know I’m the person you’re looking for?” I asked her flatly.
Alexia’s shoulders slumped. “I don’t,” She mumbled. She swallowed hard. “All I know is that you look like she used to, just older. You’re probably around the right age, you are fierce like her and you hate instructions just like she did.” She paused for a moment, then sighed. “And Cole thought you were, too.”
I stilled. “Cole thought I was this girl?” If my voice had been any more emotionless it would’ve been robotic.
“Yes,” Alexia whispered.
I stared down at her, my lips pulling into a frown as sudden wistfulness came over me.
I’d never be loved like this girl was.
“Bring me to Cole,” I ordered Alexia. “I want an explanation.”
Alexia stood up, wiping her eyes. “Of course,” She said softly, visibly withdrawing. “You’d need more... proof.”
I looked her right in the eye. “I don’t need proof because I’m not her,” I said, believing every word so firmly that my head sang with how true it felt. For whatever reason, my heart didn’t agree. “I said I want an explanation. I want to know who this girl was and why you love her enough to start crying trying to get me to remember something that just isn’t there.”
Alexia stiffened, “I can’t tell you. I can’t—” She stopped abruptly, gasping. “If you aren’t Ellie, I can’t tell you!”
“Lex, stop,” A familiar voice said.
I turned to see Cole approaching us. His face was entirely blank.
He glanced at Alexia’s face and his own flickered for a moment, mirroring her sadness.
I glanced between them, feeling awkward for a moment. It was so unusually bad that I actually felt I should break it.
I cleared my throat. “Either you’re going to tell me, or I’m going to do what I came for and leave,” I told them.
Cole turned back to me. “We aren’t talking here,” He said, glancing around. He gestured for me to follow him. “Even if you aren’t Ellie, I’m going to need you to act like it.”
I didn’t argue. I wanted the information enough that I followed him immediately. The only noticeable uncertainty was the way I felt my hand drifting towards and away from my knife belt.
Cole turned a corner, leading into an area that expanded to the point where rafters showed on the ceiling and I could see the cracks between the boards. If ever a room had been expanded as much as possible, it was this one.
I kept walking in, looking around curiously before I’d realized that Cole had stopped and stepped aside.
I turned back and cast an inquisitive look at him. “Well?” I asked.
Cole looked defeated. He fell into a chair that I hadn’t even noticed and slowly looked up at me, his eyelids looking heavy and his eyes dim. “What do you want to know?”
This time, I didn’t say everything.
“I want to know whatever I need to,” I told him evenly. “I’m guessing you’ll know what’s essential and what’s not.”
Cole’s mouth quirked up at one corner, but he didn’t look happy.
“You didn’t say everything,” He noted.
I kept watching him. “I’ve learned that nobody can know everything. You can only know what is available to you.”
Cole took a deep breath. “Well, then,” He nodded towards the chair across from him. “Take a seat. This is going to take a while.”