Well...um...Erik turned out to be completely and utterly useless. His first day with the Slicers almost got three people killed, one of them ending up injured in a way that rendered them unable to work for a few days, I won't go into details. His second day with the Track-Hoes didn't put anyone in danger, but he made a dramatic mistake between which plants were weeds and which were growing vegetables. Lorna was able to catch him before he could unearth two weeks worth of vegetables and Harriet had to promise not to let Erik become a Track-Hoe for a single day in his life in the Glade. By this point, everyone in the Glade could sense the potential danger the boy possessed and each group dreaded the day he would try out for a job in their section. When he came to work with the Builders, Gally made it extremely clear to Erik that if he broke a single thing it would end his life. This would scare anyone into wanting nothing more than to sit still and silent for the rest of the day and it worked for Erik almost perfectly until he accidentally tripped over a pile of logs and almost destroyed a new section of the Homestead we'd been working on all week. As promised, Erik almost lost his life and Gally almost broke the second rule. I managed to make quick work on pulling Gally in the opposite direction others were pulling Erik, attempting to calm him down with words of assurance that I'd keep Erik from becoming a Builder. Even then he took it upon himself to glare dangerously at Erik whenever he entered his line of sight. That was just something the poor boy would have to live with…and be thankful for since it could've been way worse.
"You really aren't doing well are you, man," I chuckled to him. Erik and I were sitting with the others on the edge of the Deadheads, enjoying a peaceful evening just after dinner.
"I didn't expect everything to be so hard," he complained solemnly, throwing a rock at a nearby tree but missing it completely. "You all make it look so easy! I mean, seriously, how should I know the difference between dandelions and vegetables?"
"You really should be able to tell the difference between something like that."
"Well I can't!"
I couldn't help but laugh at Erik's suffering. It was something we'd all started picking on him for. Not in a mean way of course, it was all just for fun and Erik knew that. He even joined in most of the time. I didn't really think he deserved to end up working as a Slopper, but so far it looked like that would be his fate. "Did you have any luck with the Med-Jacks today?"
Erik grimaced, "Nope. Rose didn't dare let me treat any of the injured and I ended up just sitting outside all day. I did tidy the place up a little though, Clint is REALLY unorganized."
"Yeah, I helped clean up on my try-out day as well. I think all the Greenies do. Rose does her best to keep the place clean enough for patients but Clint is just awful..."
"So am I only good for cleaning?" Erik asked sadly, turning to look at me.
I hesitated, considering Erik's chances, before shaking my head. "No, Erik, I'm sure there's SOMETHING you're good at. You just have to find it. So far what you have are inappropriate jokes told only at the worst of times. Wait for something tragic to happen, that will be your time to shine." I patted his back and stood up.
Callum looked up from where he was currently in a heated argument with Dan, "Where are you going?"
"Places," I muttered vaguely. I had the sudden desire to be alone and didn't particularly want anyone to follow me. "Nature calls."
Callum's face twisted a little in disgust, "Too much information."
"Hey, you're the one who wanted to know." With that, I walked off.
Whenever I had these sudden introverted desires I would either go to my doodle-tree or take a walk around the perimeter of the Glade, sticking to the stone wall as close as possible. This was what I did now, keeping my left hand to the wall as I walked clockwise around the Glade, I felt like going for a walk today. My hands were rough now, nothing like the softness they'd been a month ago when I doubt I'd done a single day of work in my life. They were riddled with small scars and hardened from working with the Builders. It was impossible to work in the Glade without getting a number of scars. Usually when I got cut I'd just suck on it until the bleeding stopped and then continue with whatever I had been doing the moment before. That always earned me a scolding from the Med-Jacks who were concerned that one day my cuts would get infected and I'd end up with some terrible hand injury that would keep me from work. Personally, I wasn't all that bothered. I had a pretty good immune system that had served me well so far. Maybe I ate a bunch of weird stuff as a kid that made me stronger?
That thought reminded me of the fact that I couldn't remember any of my childhood. I hadn't noticed any unexplainable scars that could have been from past injuries, nor had I found any birth marks. I had asked Lorna and Bonnie to check the areas of my body that I couldn't see myself but they'd both confirmed that I had nothing particularly notable except for the occasional mole here and there. If you think about it in a physical sense, there wasn't really evidence that I'd been alive at all before waking up in the maze. Maybe we were all artificial humans created by some weird form of science and the reason we had no memories of our past was because we didn't have one at all. Of course that was a crazy notion, a brief idea in attempt to explain things I couldn't understand. This is probably how a lot of religions come to be, I thought, still dragging my hand along the giant stone wall to my left. I was coming up behind Homestead now and could see the Slammer a little ways ahead of me. So far I hadn't seen anyone get locked in there. It was used to punish people who broke any of the three rules and I guess just as punishment for anything. I could imagine it being used to keep people like Gally under control when things got a little too heated, but I don't think there's much use for it other than that. Newt told me once that quite a lot of people had been locked in the Slammer before, but it was mostly used for when people who had been stung randomly attacked people. We still didn't know why the few who had been stung would attack others with apparently no reason, perhaps they were just irritable, so it was just a thing we accepted.
Honestly, I was kind of interested to see someone get stung, as horrible a thought as that may be. I had heard stories about it from Lorna and Bonnie, stories about the endless screams that followed suit after being injected with the Griever serum, green bubbling skin that burnt like fire, eyes that turned black, nails that grew long and sharp like knives, and a terrible rotting smell that would emit from your body. They were definitely just exaggerating and trying to scare me, but I had met one or two people who had been stung and they certainly seemed…different. Almost as if they were tired and had no energy, like a part of their life had been sucked out of them. Newt told me that a few of his friends had been stung before and he'd never been able to stand them afterwards, that they changed in a way that wasn't for the best. He couldn't pinpoint what it was, they were just…unlikeable.
I hoped that neither Lorna or Bonnie or any of my friends would ever have to go through getting stung. The only vague upside to getting stung was the fact that you regained some of your memories, but, based on how the other Gladers reacted to them, there probably wasn't anything I wanted to remember. I took my hand off the wall to walk past the slammer, peering through the window as I did to look at the single uneven chair sitting in the corner. I only knew it was uneven because Callum had been in the slammer once when he got himself into a fight with another Glader. Apparently it wasn't something he wanted to experience again.
"Now just what is a pretty girl like you doing hanging around a place like this," a voice said loudly to my right. I spun round rapidly, for some reason struggling to come up with a reasonable explanation, but relaxed when I saw it was only Newt.
"You seriously need to stop scaring me like that or you're going to get killed one day," I laughed, shaking off my nerves.
"Then stop being so oblivious to your surroundings. A Griever could stand right next to you and you probably wouldn't notice."
I made a face, "I think I'd be able to notice a Griever, Newt."
"If you say so," he shrugged, his smile almost blinding. My previous desire to be alone melted away instantly in front of him, which surprised me because I never changed my introverted ways for anyone, not even Bonnie and Lorna.
"I was taking a walk," I said quietly, answering his earlier question.
"You do love your walks don't you?"
"Well I enjoy the peace and it gives me time to think about stuff. I don't really plan on anything specific; I just go wherever my brain takes me." I waved my hands mysteriously to convey the endless possibilities of my thought processes.
"I understand what you mean." Newt suddenly looked drained, as though he remembered something terrible that made him sad.
"Are you okay?" I asked, concerned. It was unusual to see Newt look depressed in any way, he always looked so optimistic whenever I saw him.
Blinking with surprise, he quickly changed his expression back into the smile he'd been wearing before as if nothing had happened. "Never better. Hey, why don't we continue your walk? I wouldn't want to keep you from your cherished activity." He looked at me expectantly, as if he hoped I'd accept his offer without question. That was definitely an attempt to change the subject and it didn't go unnoticed by me. I was usually an astoundingly oblivious person and if this had been anyone other than Newt I'd probably have forgotten about the whole thing. However, this was Newt, I cherished him as much as I cherished Bonnie and Lorna! I wouldn't peck at his pains, though. I knew he didn't want to talk about whatever it was that was troubling him. His current smile was clearly a fake but I would have to act like I hadn't noticed, he was trying so hard to hide it after all…
"Sure," I agreed, assuring him with a smile of my own. We walked away from the Slammer together and talked about anything and everything but nothing specific, going wherever our brains took us.
The next day, I made an extra effort to keep a close eye on Newt and noticed that he really was rather deflated compared to his usual self. I asked Sonya about it, thinking that maybe his work as a Runner was causing him a bit more strain than usual, but she told me that nothing was particularly different. I was suspicious, since there wasn't much else it could be, but what could I do? I couldn't just ask him what was wrong, not when he was going through so much in an effort to hide it. It seemed to be fooling everyone else, though when I asked Bonnie she agreed that Newt was a bit less energetic than usual. "He's probably just tired," she guessed, seemingly satisfied with her own conclusion. I, however, was not so easily satisfied.
"Maybe he's in love," Lorna suggested through a mouthful of sandwich at lunchtime. "An unrequited love, perhaps?"
"With who? There isn't anyone in the Glade that he fancies."
"Oh, I think there could be at least one."
I furrowed my eyebrows in confusion. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Don't worry about it," Bonnie interjected, elbowing Lorna out of the way. "She's just saying it's a possibility."
I threw my hands up in the air, "Everything's a bloody possibility!"
"Why do you care so much anyway?" Dan asked me suddenly, his eyes filled with curiosity.
"Why do you care why I care?" I shot back, glaring.
"Because it's interesting," Callum interjected, grinning wickedly. "You like Newt, don't you?"
I stared at him, flabbergasted. "What do you mean by that?!"
"Oh come on, Claire, it's so obvious!" Felix laughed. "The way you're so worried about him and talk about him constantly…"
"I do NOT talk about him constantly," I hissed, feeling my face heat up.
"Yes you do. What's better is that he clearly likes you as well. You're just too oblivious to notice. Hell, you didn't even realize you liked him yourself, did you?"
"I do NOT like Newt!" I yelled; my face was probably as red as a tomato at this point. "I don't know where you could possibly get that idea and there's no way he likes me!"
"Now, now, don't go making assumptions; you're going to break my heart."
I looked up and, again, found Newt standing behind me. I didn't even bother to tell him off for sneaking up on me and got straight to the point. "Newt, help me break these guys from their delusion that you like me and I like you."
Newt blinked, surprised, "You don't like me?"
I stammered, rushing for words but unable to process them properly, "Well…I l-like you of course, y'know as a p-person 'n' all that, but they're talking 'bout it i-in a romantic sense and as far as I'm a-aware we don't feel those sorts of t-things for each other. Do we? I don't know. I can't tell-"
"Okay, okay, easy there," Newt soothed me, reaching for my shoulder with one hand. "Slow down, breathe."
I pulled away from his hand. "Do you like me, Newt? Is that why you've been so out of it recently?" My voice came out surprisingly steady this time, though it was almost too quiet to hear.
Newt was silent for a long moment, his face scrunched up in thought. I opened my mouth to say something, but was forced to close it when Newt grabbed my arm and started pulling me away from the table, towards the privacy of the Deadheads and away from the hoots and catcalls of my friends. Once we were deep in the woods, and far from chances of being disturbed, Newt finally let go of my arm. We stood in awkward silence for a few minutes, listening to the swaying of tree branches and the distant sounds of the other Gladers at work. I was the first to break the silence.
"You still haven't answered my question, you know."
Newt didn't reply. He'd been concentrating on the ground like it was the most interesting thing in the world. His face seemed slightly redder than before, or was it just my imagination? I kept my eyes on him, waiting for an answer.
It took a few more minutes of silence for him to finally speak. "You were a wild one from the start, you know? Unpredictable, that's what my first impression of you was." He looked up at last and gave me a sort of half smile. "I remember watching you as you were held down by Gally. You were glaring at us with these terrible eyes, like you were warning us not to come close or you'd bite. You were interesting. I don't think there have been many Greenies to react aggressively when first coming out of the box. Of course I don't blame you for your actions, you were scared. We're all scared when we first come out of the Box." He sighed and ran a hand through his blonde hair, searching for words. "I guess what I'm trying to say is that you caught my eye right from the beginning and you're always doing things to amaze me. You immediately wanted to become a Runner the moment you heard they existed, you've somehow managed to tame Gally – how you did that I'll never know – and apparently now you can tell when I'm…well 'out of it' as you so delicately put it." The deflated look I saw before appeared in his eyes briefly, but it was only for a moment. "I don't think even Minho noticed. Everyone probably assumed it was a lack of sleep, but not you. I could hear you halfway across the bloody field; you're seriously amazing you know? A bloody miracle girl."
"No, don't. Please don't. I know you don't…do you even understand what I'm saying?"
I shook my head slowly. I really couldn't see where he was going with this. "I have a vague idea where you could be going with this but I don't really-"
I was unable to finish what I had been saying because something suddenly covered my mouth.
That something was Newt.
Newt kissed me.
What I can only describe as an explosion of emotion followed suit. Feelings I had for Newt that I had barely noticed before suddenly became clear, so unbelievably strong and solid that it made me feel stupid that I hadn't noticed them before. I liked Newt, really liked him. I didn't need any stupid memories to know that. Shuck it, I was in love with him. How had I not noticed it before?
As Newt pulled away I realized I'd been holding my breath and slowly allowed oxygen back into my lungs. "…oh," was all I could manage to say. Newt started laughing and after a brief moment I joined him. We laughed until our sides ached and every time we thought the laughter had died down, one of us would suddenly burst out laughing again which only dragged the other down with them...it was a mess. I don't know how much time passed, but it did. We talked about other things after that, sitting together under a tree. We didn't need to say anything else on the subject; there was an unspoken mutual understanding of our feelings. To be honest I was surprised I hadn't noticed how I felt earlier, it seemed so obvious now. I must've been really, really oblivious, or I subconsciously tried to hide it because inside the Glade I knew there was no real future for us. However, in this moment, that didn't matter. I just wanted to be with him.
I looked up at Newt, I'd been sitting with my head leaning on his shoulder and I needed to lift it to look at him properly, "Yeah?"
He kissed my nose.
Smiling, I rested my head on his shoulder again, my hand held in his. "Good that."