By Merrylea Bullock


Chapter 21

Something like a week passes. More sessions with Dr. Joi, more races with Jared, more glares from his posse and more nights with my new gas cloud friend.

Rock comes again with Melissa. She still hugs the stuffed animal and doesn't talk much. I tell her I love her at least five times, but she barely smiles. I wish I could hold her.

Rock did give the book to Amelia but he still talks about it a lot, excited to learn about new animals.

On a whim I ask, “Hey, is there a gas cloud in there? A...sort of a vapor with big eyes?”

He thinks for a minute, then nods. “I think so, why?”

I sit back and smile, suspicions confirmed. “Nothing.”

On the way back, the cop who always supervises these things turns to me. “You know...I'm really sorry you're in here. You're a good kid.”

I glance at him in surprise, unsure of what to say. “Uh...thanks, sir.”

He smiles. “Gina's told me about you.”

I blink. “Gina?” Now that I look closer, there is a slight family resemblance. “Oh. You're her dad, right?” I thought he was the chief. Maybe I was wrong. Or maybe he got demoted.

He nods. “Yeah.” Then he shakes his head. “I'm sorry. I shouldn't be talking to you like this.”

“Oh.” Fraternizing with the prisoners, I guess.

Though we've never spoken before, the silence is suddenly awkward. I glance at him again, amazed I haven't seen the likeness before. In fact, I can imagine Gina walking next to me in the uniform. Officer Gina. The though makes me smile.

“Oh – ” I turn to him. “Can you tell me the date?”

“Um...the twenty eighth, I think.”

“Thanks.” More time has passed than I thought. That means my trial's in a little over a week.

That means a little over a week until I can hold Melissa again. Until I can go to school, which, believe it or not, I've missed. Until I can actually talk to Wood...

A little over a week until I can see Tanya again.

This next week passes agonizingly slowly, more slowly than all the other days combined. With something to look forward to, time drags.

Amelia comes to see me once in that time. She seems really nervous, which doesn't exactly boost my confidence. I think she notices though, because at one point, she bends down and puts her hand on my shoulder.

“We're gonna win.” She smiles. “You haven't done anything. Don't pay attention to me. I'm just an amateur. But we can't lose. I promise.”

I smile back and nod, but just the fact that she's using such short sentences is getting me worried.

She comes again the day before the trial and gives me a suit. It's nothing fancy, but it was the best Wood could afford and it's pretty nice.

“Thanks.” I hold it up against my body, hoping it's the right size.

“Of course.” She gives me a little one-armed hug. “You can keep it in your room tonight and change tomorrow.” She starts to pack up her stuff.

I watch her, chewing on my lip. “ it legal for you to be my lawyer? I mean, you're kind of biased...”

She nods. “That doesn't really matter. Some people act as their own attorney. That's pretty biased.” Her sentences are choppy again. Then again, they've always kind of been like that. Maybe I'm overreacting.

I barely sleep that night, which doesn't bode well for my performance at the trial. I stare at the faint outline of the R until a glow is cast on the wall.

I roll over. “Hi.”

The gas cloud kind of dips its head.

“I am so scared.” I know I'm crazy to talk to this thing, but I also know it can understand me, so where's the harm? “This entire thing is riding on the jury feeling bad for me and that's most likely not gonna happen. I am totally dead...” I run my hand through my hair.

It makes the low noise and moves closer.

“I'm not going to win my case, I'm gonna stay in here for five more months, Melissa is gonna get over me and probably go out with Rock again, and I am never going to fall asleep...” I half smile, in spite of myself. “Maybe hypnosis would work.”

It makes the noise again, sort of questioningly.

“You know. 'You are getting sleeeeeeepy...'” I wave my hand and then drop it, realizing how tired I must be to act this crazy. “Hypnosis.”

It almost smiles and all of a sudden, the air becomes fuzzy and I fall fast asleep.

I have dreams for the first time since I got here.

They're mostly kind of jumbled, just a blur of pictures and sounds...only one little sequence is clear enough for me to actually understand.

I'm standing in front of the gym, which looks brand new and slightly imposing, and wearing that outfit Melissa likes. Tanya's sitting next to me – not the big white thing she's become, but the way she's always looked. Only now she has six tails.

We're both looking up at the gym almost nervously. There aren't any noises from inside, no shouting or fight sounds, though it does seem like there's very faint music in the background.

I look down at Tanya. “You ready?”

She gets into a fighting stance and lets out twin puffs of smoke from her nostrils. I was born ready.

I look back up at the gym again and this time, in the sky just above it, I glimpse a bird.

It's amazingly vivid, especially for a dream. It's mostly gold with some multicolored feathers and a long tail that streams out behind it. It flies slowly, almost majestically and it practically seems to sparkle, though that could just be the shine of its feathers. I stare at it until it's out of view, then look back down at the gym.

“Okay...” I take a deep breath and twist my hat backwards. “Let's go.”

The doors slide open automatically for us and I step inside...

...and wake up with a start.

I sit up, banging my head on the upper bunk. “H-oh!” I rub the bump, looking around at the gray walls, the graffiti, the other beds , my suit...

I groan and close my eyes again, the image of the bird still burned into my eyelids.

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