“Welcome to the Glade, Greenie.” The girl that helped him to his feet was stunning – her frame was slight, but she was deceptively strong and easily pulled him up. Her hair was long and golden, playfully dancing in time with the wind like a field of wheat. Intelligence sparked behind her stunning green eyes, making them glisten like the dew-soaked grass surrounding them.
Once he was out of the box, she set to work unloading the other things that he hadn’t even noticed were contained with him. “Some seeds, some bedding, some knives, and… aha! New pairs of shoes for the runners.” She smiled, holding up the pristine sneakers in triumph.
The boy from the box – he didn’t even know his own name – was bewildered. He tried to take in his surroundings, but couldn’t make sense of it all. There were dozens of boys – around his age, give or take a few years – and just the one girl. His heart deflated a bit when he saw one of the other boys drape his arm around her affectionately.
He didn’t have time for disappointment as his mind was flooded with new information. The Glade, the Maze, the runners, the council. It was almost too much. Night fell and they held a celebration in his honor, though he couldn’t for the life of him understand why they thought this was something to celebrate.
Suddenly he was in a ring with a boy named Gally, who seemed to harbor an innate hatred toward him. “Come on, take it easy on him, Gally,” the girl said. The boy with no name smiled in her direction, but the motion caused him to miss Gally’s attack that came from the other side.
“Thomas!” the boy exclaimed, face still planted firmly in the dirt. “My name. It’s Thomas!” There was a round of cheers, a few slaps on the back, and much more drinking. Before long, steps became more like stumbles and words became incomprehensible slurs.
Thomas – who was still in his right mind – had been watching the girl closely. He couldn’t help it. So he saw when the boy who’d embraced her earlier, who was clearly drunk as a skunk, planted a sloppy kiss on the corner of her mouth and failed to have even enough motor control to properly wrap his arms around her.
“Ugh, sleep it off, Minho,” she said, pushing him away.
“Come on,” he sloshed, “gotta burn off this alcohol in my system somehow.” He waggled his eyebrows and leaned into her again. She took one step to the left and he toppled to the ground.
“What the hell, Emily? I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about the slice-and-dice, alright? But it’s been weeks – lighten up, already.” His ego looked more bruised than his body as he lithely, though clumsily, pushed himself off the grass.
“You always do this! Just… go to bed,” she said, storming off. Despite her command, the boy named Minho managed to crawl back the bacchanal and continue his only slightly dampened merriment.
Thomas, with a telling spring in his step, raced after Emily. “Hey,” he panted, jogging up next to her. “Are you alright? Looked like that guy… might have been over the line.”
She snorted. It was quite unladylike, which made it all the more adorable escaping from her pixie face. “Don’t worry – he’ll see the line in the morning when I kick his ass back over it.” Thomas grinned, and he was rewarded a breathtaking smile in return. “Thomas, is it?” He nodded, enjoying the way his newfound name rolled off her tongue. “I’m Emily.” She held out her hand and he shook it, unsure exactly how he knew the greeting. “And I appreciate the concern, but you really don’t have to worry about Minho. He can be a real slinthead sometimes, but he’s harmless, really.”
“Really? He looks like he could plow right through one of those Maze walls.”
She laughed and the sound was light and musical, like the tinkling of bells. “Not quite. Though it hasn’t stopped him from trying,” she rolled her eyes at some memory from long ago.
They walked and talked together for hours, about everything – about the chaos before Alby stepped up to lead them, the grievers that could be heard whizzing just beyond the walls, the runners – of whom Emily was one – who spent their days trying to unlock the secrets of the Maze. The fire had dulled to a soft glow and the boys were quiet and unmoving. The air was warm and still, and there – sitting in the grass next to a beautiful girl – Thomas could almost forget the nightmare he’d awoken in.
The sky was just beginning to change colors, and when her earthy eyes locked on his and she smiled, he thought her a goddess in the mystic glow of the pre-dawn light. And like a supplicant drawn to worship in the most primal way, he leaned down and kissed her full lips.
He felt her lips turn down into a frown and she leaned away from him. “Whoa, whoa. Thomas,” she began, planting her hand firmly on his chest so he couldn’t get any closer. “This wasn’t… I don’t…” She must have been taken off guard by the action, as this was the first time all night she’d been at a loss for words. She took a deep breath. “I’m with Minho. We’ve been together almost two years now.”
She waited for her words to sink in. “Oh,” was all Thomas managed. “Sorry. I just – you never said… and after what he did…” he stuttered.
She grabbed his hand and he tried to quell the burst of adrenaline he got from the contact. “It’s okay. You didn’t know –“
“Like hell it’s okay!” Minho bellowed, just a few yards away. “You’ve been here less than a day, Greenie, and you think you can just take whatever you want?” He dragged Thomas to his feet by the collar of his shirt. “Well, you can’t. She’s mine,” he growled.
Emily slipped in between the two of them, causing Minho to break his hold on Thomas. “Excuse me, oh great Keeper of the runners,” she said, and Thomas could practically hear her eyes roll, “but the last time I checked, I did not belong to anyone.” The glare she gave Minho made him swallow whatever retort he’d had. “And you’re right. He’s only been here a day. And based on what an ass you were being last night, how the hell was he supposed to know that you’re the shucking love of my life?” The question was rhetorical, so when Minho began to answer, she put her finger to his lips. “Thomas,” she said, turning to him while keeping her hand over Minho’s mouth, “go see Alby. You’ve got a lot to learn today, and the sun’ll be up soon.”
Thomas – more out of eagerness to obey the pretty girl than out of fear of her hulking boyfriend – trotted off to where he saw most of the Gladers gathered.
Once he was out of sight, Minho’s face softened and he pursed his lips into a pout. “You let him kiss you.”
“First of all, I didn’t know he was going to kiss me, so it wasn’t much of a decision.” Minho stood as still as a statue as she wrapped her arms around his waist. “Second of all, you should know by now that you’re the only one I want to kiss me.” He exhaled deeply and looked down at the small girl clinging to him. Her smile was innocent, but her eyes held a challenge – if he couldn’t let this go, he’d be sleeping alone again tonight.
Minho sighed and scooped her up in his arms, kissing the top of her head. “Fine. But if he makes another move on you, I’m throwing him to the grievers.” She frowned at the threat – remembering the way Thomas looked at her and knowing Minho’s penchant for violent solutions – but figured it was the best offer she was going to get.
She leapt gracefully out of his arms and stood on her tiptoes to peck him on the cheek. “Thank you,” she said, intertwining their fingers and practically skipping to breakfast with Minho trudging in tow behind her.
Thomas watched them as they sat down to eat breakfast. He was ravenous and quickly polished off his plate, but most of the others just pushed the food around their plates, holding their heads in their hands and squinting in the early morning sunlight. To his surprise, Emily wasn’t eating either.
“Not hungry?” Thomas asked, earning a glare from Minho.
She shrugged. “Must have had too much to drink,” she replied. Thomas frowned. He hadn’t seen her earlier in the night, but she hadn’t seemed drunk and certainly didn’t have any more once they started talking. He didn’t press the issue, and set out to find Alby, tired of the daggers Minho was staring into his back.
After being shown all the different jobs a Glader could be assigned – and watching Emily disappear through the massive stone gateway – he easily decided that somehow, he would be a runner. With the exception of Gally, he got along well with most of the other boys. Chuck became like a little brother to him, but Newt had this way of putting him totally at ease.
Thomas was about two weeks into his trial rotations when he noticed that Emily wasn’t with the other runners. He grilled Newt about it, who reluctantly informed him that Minho had been pushing her extra hard lately – possibly to punish her and make her too exhausted to spend time with Thomas. His plan had worked too well, and he was unable to rouse her from bed that morning.
Thomas tried to finish his work quickly, so maybe he could stop by and check on her, as a friend, before the runners returned. So that’s how he found himself wading through the woods to find kindling and herbs while everyone else was on the other side of the Glade having a delicious-smelling meal. All but one, apparently.
He heard footsteps and cracking branches, then a thump and rustle of leaves as someone dropped to their knees. He stepped around a large tree just in time to see Emily’s back arch as she heaved and coughed, expelling her lunch into a small bush. Even once her stomach was empty, she had to hold her breath every few seconds before blowing it back out again.
Her eyes were squeezed shut, and she was concentrating so hard on trying to quell the waves of nausea that she didn’t see Thomas kneel beside her. When he brushed against her arm she jumped in surprise and he steadied her with two large hands on her petite shoulders. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you,” he apologized, though she was more horrified by what he’d just witnessed. “Are you alright? I heard you weren’t feeling well…” he trailed off, not wanting to reveal how much he knew or how he got the information.
Emily nodded. “Yeah, I was just tired is all.” Thomas’s eyes darted to the soiled bush and he raised a skeptical eyebrow. “And… I wouldn’t recommend the egg salad,” she said with a grimace, the remnants still roiling in her stomach. Thomas still had his hands on her and she shrugged off his touch.
Being the only girl in the Glade, she was used to the looks in their eyes – the longing, the desire, the need; not for her, necessarily, but to be loved and to feel wanted. Minho had been a hard nut to crack, and she could be just as hardheaded and dysfunctional as he was, but once they had been completely open to each other – physically, emotionally – she had fallen in love with his naked soul. His lithe, powerful physique was nothing to scoff at either.
It had taken months to get close to Minho, and even now there were days he remained a mystery to her. But ever since his first night there, Thomas had been open and honest, and always seemed to find Emily when she was at her most vulnerable; a feeling she didn’t particularly care for. Which is why she trudged out of the woods, not looking back at Thomas and carefully avoiding the dining hall and its nauseating scents, back to the Homestead.
He found Newt sitting by himself on a large rock, using his knife to whittle away at a piece of wood. Thomas sighed and plopped down at his feet. “Girl troubles?” Newt asked, an uncharacteristic bitterness coloring his usually genial tone.
Thomas looked down and picked at his fingernails. “She was in the woods throwing up,” he explained, and Newt was instantly contrite. His expression softened and he put down the figure his was working on. “She said it was food poisoning…” he trailed off, unbelieving of the words even as he said them.
Newt slid down from his perch to join Thomas on the ground, giving his shoulder a friendly nudge. “She’ll be alright, mate. Won’t be done in by a little… what’s Frypan serving up today?”
Newt wrinkled his nose in distaste. “I’d have likely gotten sick too,” he groaned, clutching his stomach dramatically and listing to the side.
Thomas laughed and pushed him the all the way over. They were quiet for a moment before Thomas asked the question that had been plaguing him since his first night in the Glade. “Why does she love him, anyway? She could do so much better…”
“What, like with you?” Newt asked, amused.
“Maybe,” he responded, narrowing his eyes. “Or you. I mean, you’re considerate, and nice, and caring.” Thomas was busying himself with plucking the grass beneath his fingers, so he missed the slight darkening of Newt’s already sun-warmed cheeks. “All things that he… just… isn’t. It just makes no sense to me!” he whined. Once his fingers started to get stained green, he looked up, and Newt was staring at him in contemplation. “What?” he asked defensively, ashamed at his childish outburst.
Newt rolled over and propped his long, lanky form up on one elbow. “Love isn’t rational, Thomas. You can’t explain it, or reason with it. It makes smart people do stupid things, and turns normal human beings absolutely bonkers.” He flipped onto his stomach, resting his chin onto his folded arms. “When you live in a place like this, it seems like everything gets taken from you – safety, hope, contentment. So when somebody’s been given something back, you may not understand it, but you damn well better respect it,” he finished, closing his eyes and the conversation.
Thomas tried to take his words to heart, but he just couldn’t make himself believe them. It sounded good in theory, but what if one man’s gift was another man’s pain? Whose need, then, was greater?