Now He's Gone
The next few days are boring. I wake up, eat, go to my lessons, attend junior training and sleep. Well, I do sneak out a few times, but it’s for a good reason. I keep going to abandoned buildings and trying to scavenge for any sort of gift to give Jack before he goes away. On one certain day when my mood was extra foul, my mind convinced me to go to our neighbouring box.
“What in the whole of space is going on here?” I gasp.
Although there are still no guards, the box isn’t in ruin like the first time I saw it. It’s perfectly functional and there are even some people walking about. The first thought that came to mind was to call Jack and tell him to come to look at this. However, he won’t believe me and he’ll probably instead shout at me for sneaking off. Shocked and confused, I hurry back to the orphanage. I don’t know what the hell is going on with this box but I don’t feel safe living right next to it.
On my way back, I think about my life. All the choices (mostly terrible ones) that resulted in us being here. That resulted in our supposed home planet being a complete war zone. I never understood why this is happening. They don’t teach us that, they don’t tell us what started this war. Fight for your race! Fight for your freedom! It’s all shit. Lies to make us die for reasons we don’t even know. Fighting just to keep this chaos alive. Just then light reflects off of something from a pile of trash grabbing my attention. I pick it up and realize there are two glass balls with blue smoke in them. They’re so beautiful that I momentarily how frustrated and bewildered I am. The smoke inside twinkles in all shades of blue, like a pool of water. There are little figurines in the balls but I can’t make them out.
“There you are!” I scramble to hide the glass orbs in my hoodie and look at the source of the voice, “What are you doing here, Ellie? Madam Bindles is about to blow the whole orphanage up looking for you.”
“’Sarn it, did she send you? ” I ask.
“No, I had to sneak out. She doesn’t know you’re out here, but I saw you sneaking out.”
“Let’s go, Lyra,” I state and we both dash back to the orphanage.
This is my fault and now we’re both gonna be punished.
“Come on, Ellie, the back window should be opened,” and luckily it was.
We hurry to our room, praying that we don’t get in trouble.
“Ellie, what the hell!” I hear Jack’s shout before I see him, “What is wrong with you?! Do you want to get cast away that badly! I haven’t even left yet, Ellie! We could be spending time together but you choose to be rebellious!”
“Jacklinso, lower your voice,” Lyra whispers, “Madam Bindles will hear you.”
Jack sighs. He looks at me and I instantly feel guilty and selfish, but above all heartbroken. Jack’s never been this furious before. He rarely gets angry at all. He’s been acting cool these days to comfort me and instead of hanging out with him to make our last days together memorable, I pushed him away and broke the orphanage’s most important rule countless times.
“Goodnight, Ellie,” he states harshly, turning around and stomping to his room.
Just as I’m about to go into my room I hear Madam Bindles intrusive voice, “Miss Lizank, where have you been?”
“I ummm,” I try to come up with a smart response, but all I can think about is how angry I made Jack, “You were looking for me?”
“Miss Lizank,” she insists.
“I... I was in my room.”
She sighs, “I know Toablome is leaving, but that’s no excuse for sneaking out,” she pauses looking down at me, “Multiple times,” she sighs before continuing, “Go to bed, Lizank.”
I walk to my room, scowling at her for pitying me. How dare she! She doesn’t know what it feels like to exist for one sole, stupid purpose. She doesn’t know what it feels like to grow up scared because your life will be taken by the war. It’s then that I realize that there are adults here, people who are older than 18 and are still living in the boxes. How did they not go to war? I decide I’ll go ask Jack. Yes, it’s a lousy excuse but I need to apologise to him. I head to his room and knock bracing myself since Hank’s the likeliest to answer, and of course, he is.
“Ooooh, Jacklinso, it’s your little girlfriend,” he taunts and I can’t help but want to punch the smirk off his face. It’s not like my day’s been going well.
“Move Hank, let her in,” I sigh in relief as I hear Jack’s voice coming from inside.
“You’re both no fun,” he pouts but steps aside. I really don’t know how I’ll deal with him when Jacklinso’s gone. Hank’s mean and disrespectful but he’s smart enough to not mess with JC. After all, Jack is one of the strongest boys in the orphanage; probably the smartest.
“Hey, Jack,” I murmur, “Can we ummm, talk outside?”
He looks at me blankly but follows me out the door. I leave the room and stand in the corridor but he closes it and leans on the doorframe. It makes me feel cold, the empty space seems as if it’s taunting me.
“I...,” I try to decide whether I should play it cool or apologise. I mean I know I’m not the nice kind of person that would comfort or apologise to someone, but Jack’s my best (and only) friend. “I wanted to ask you about something,” I say unsurely.
“Really? That couldn’t wait till the morning?” he asks coldly.
My act drops. I can’t talk to him when he’s this angry, it just reminds me that I’m selfish. “Jack, I’m sorry, ok? Just stop this,” I sound desperate but I don’t care, he’s my best friend, the closest thing to a family.
He sighs and I thank the stars that he accepted my apology quickly, “It’s alright, french fry, I know you only do these stupid things because you’re upset.”
“Just so you know, I was looking for something to gift you. I don’t get a lot of metal pieces so I can’t buy you anything-”
“Let me guess,” he cuts in, “You decided that breaking the number one rule and sneaking out, then breaking into abandoned buildings and stealing something (which is two other rules broken by the way) was your best option? You probably went to 916 too, didn’t you?”
“That’s four rules in total, Ellie, and with your record, they wouldn’t hesitate to cast you out.”
“Well, you know what you’re going there anyway, so what if I go? The only difference is that you’ll have a gun and I won’t.”
“And what, you’ll be titled as a soldier while I’ll be called a castaway? So wh-”
“Ellie, stop!” he sniffs.
I look at him and notice that his eyes are tearing up.
“Jack? I’m only-”
“Ellie, promise me.”
“Promise me that you won’t get in trouble when I leave. That you won’t sneak out again.”
He takes hold of my shoulders and shakes me, “No! Just... just promise. No sneaking out! No breaking rules!”
“Fine, I promise,” I’ll regret this promise later but I can’t bear this. Why is he crying? He’s stronger than that. Even if he’s leaving, this doesn’t feel right. He’s always so lighthearted and funny.
“Jack, I already promised,” I whine, “Please stop crying.”
“I’m not crying yet, El.”
“Then stop being on the verge of crying, it’s annoying.”
He pulls me into a hug so abruptly that the air is forced out of my lungs. Before I think about it I find myself hugging him back with all my strength. He hugs me as if it will keep him from leaving and it’s now my turn to cry. The last time I was hugged with this much love and despair was when I was 4, moments before my mother and I were separated. And to think that just a few nights ago I thought Kathryn and Liz were being too soft.
“I don’t want you to go,” I snuffle.
“I don’t want to go either, french fry, but I don’t have a choice,” he sniffles back.
“Well, I ummm, found these,” I say pulling the glass orbs out of my pockets, “I honestly have no clue what they are but they look pretty.”
Jack takes the balls and studies them, “They’re beautiful, El, thanks.”
“Yeah, well since there’s two of them you keep one and I keep one so we remember each other.”
“Which one do you want?”
“Aren’t they the same?” I question him.
“No, El, there are animals in them. This one has a turtle and this one has a fish.”
“It’s your gift, Jack, you choose.”
“Sure,” he says, “I’ll have the turtle.”
“Because you’re slow?” I comment.
“There we go, annoying Ellie is back,” he teases.
“Shut up, turtle,” I say punching him lightly, “Happy birthday since I didn’t get to say it.”
“It’s ok, El,” he smiles, “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight,” I say and for the first time in a long while, I sleep calmly.
The next week passes by in a blur and before I know it, Jack’s about to leave. We’re sitting together, I’m helping him pack whatever little personal stuff he has.
“Jack, what the hell is this,” I ask holding up a pair of shorts made of weird material.
“Oh, they’re swimming trunks.”
“What this material though?”
“It’s to help you swim better, french fry, don’t you have a swimsuit?”
“Ummm, no? Am I just supposed to have one?”
“Well, you’ll get one sooner or later in training,” he takes a pause, “Remember your promise, El, no trouble.”
“Yes, yes, I know.”
“And in return,” he says, “I promise to try my best to survive the next three years,” he takes a breath looking at me, “Or until we see each other again.”
“Great, can’t wait to see you. You’ll probably be stinky and have a war stubble and disgusting hair.”
“Why would you say that? I’m taking my comb and deodorant with me.”
We both start laughing and I cherish this moment. At least our last memory together is one full of laughter. I was worried things would be weird after Jack’s outburst, but I should’ve known better. He would never allow things to be weird. He always knows how to lighten up the mood.
By curfew Jack, Liz and Gartel (a third 18-year-old) are all packed up and ready to leave. Everyone’s gathered around the table to bid them a final goodbye. Kathryn took Liz to a corner and they both sit there hugging and crying. I look at Jack as he says goodbye to his roommates and decide that I won’t cry. I don’t want to make this harder than it already is.
“So,” Jack’s voice breaks me out of my trance, “This is it, huh?”
“No, we’ll see each other again, won’t we, turtle?”
“You just like annoying me, don’t you?” he jokes as he gives me one final hug. Even though I remind myself of his promise, even though I remind myself that he’s strong, I can’t help but feel like this the last time I’ll see him. I hug him tighter before letting go. He gets into a small space shuttle that’s already half full with other 18-year-olds, probably from other boxes. I wave goodbye until I can no longer see the space shuttle.
That night when I went to sleep I felt something under my pillow and found a little piece of cloth wrapped around metal pieces, “Crikey, JC,” I gasped under my breath. There were a lot of metal pieces, I guess he’s been working extra hard to get those metal pieces. I smile, he probably didn’t give them directly to me because he knew how much of a fight I’d put up. I sleep holding the little makeshift pouch close to my heart.
Hola, my little buns. How amazing is this story? Tell me in the comments.
Just like this chapter, the next one will be out on Friday. ✨Cya✨