Flames: there were flames everywhere. As always. In their midst stood a girl. Her eyes were screwed shut, like she was concentrating very hard.
‘Annika! Don’t do it …’ a woman screamed. Her eyes were wide as she wrapped her shawl tightly around herself, and her hair hung around her pale face. Her face … so very like the girl’s.
‘Go away!’ the girl screamed back, her eyes fluttering open as she spoke. The flames continued to dance.
‘You’ll regret this, Annika!’ it was a male voice this time. He sounded distant, or maybe the fire was messing with his voice, reducing it to a slight wheeze.
‘I-don’t-care!’ the girl spat back. ‘You deserve it. Both of you!’ she screamed.
‘Annika please’ the woman pleaded; the flames crept closer to her, and she gasped.
The girl did not respond this time. Instead, a smile crossed her face, and, within seconds, the flames leapt up, consuming the woman. There was a loud scream, and then, silence.
Nothing but the spitting and crackling issuing from the fire.
I woke up screaming for the third time this month. I threw off my covers, only vaguely registering that I was drenched in sweat. I sat that way, trembling for a few minutes before I heard snickers from the beds around me. Of course, no one at the Orphanage ever missed a chance to laugh at me.
‘Pissed your pants again, Annika?’ sneered Gretchen; I could picture her expression in my head without having to turn back and look at her stupid face.
‘Ooh, what’s it this time, Annika? Pictured your future?’ someone else said.
I was about to spin around and yell at them when a familiar voice broke in. ‘That’s enough, girls, leave her alone’ This was followed by a few annoyed murmurs, but everyone complied and fell silent.
Naturally, no one went against Jessamine. Seconds later, I felt a pair of hands on my shoulders. ‘Are you alright, Ann?’ Jessamine whispered.
‘Go away!’ I cried, attempting to shrug her hands off. But her grip was tighter than I had thought it would be. ‘You should talk about it, you know’ she said softly, letting go of me and sitting down on the mat beside me (yes, we sleep on mats here. What, did you expect the Orphanage to be able to afford beds?)
‘I don’t want to’ I said, shielding my face from view by letting my long hair hang loosely between us.
‘It makes things easier to bear’ Jessamine went on, ignoring me.
‘What makes you think I’d tell you anything?’
’Not me, maybe … but someone’
‘There’s no one I want to tell anything to’ I spat out.
‘Perhaps …’ she sounded thoughtful, ‘I hope you’ll find someone though. Someday’
I snorted. ‘Sure’
‘You heard about the School, right?’ Jessamine said suddenly, turning to face me. I saw no point in snapping at her again, so I only nodded, gathering my hair and tying it in a (sort of) secure knot above my neck. ‘Mr. Corpus told me about it today. We’ll both be going soon. It’s a great opportunity, don’t you think?’
‘For what?’ I asked, raising an eyebrow.
‘Well, a new start, if that’s what you’re looking for’
That was exactly what I was looking for, but I didn’t say so. I didn’t want to give Jessamine the satisfaction of being right (for once in her life) So I only shrugged.
‘Not that I really want to leave everyone behind’ she continued hastily, as though she was afraid that she had just insulted everyone else, ‘But I can’t help but look forward to it, you know?’
I shot her a look. Gods, she looked so happy and calm. How anyone can act so cheerful all the time without going bonkers, I don’t know. I smile maybe a couple of times per week and that’s taxing for me. ‘Why are you telling me all this?’ I then asked pointedly.
‘I don’t know’ Jessamine admitted, sighing. ‘You’re the only one I can talk to about it, honestly, since we’ll be leaving together. Aren’t you excited about learning something new?’
‘I’m more excited at the prospect of my skills being put to a test’ I said evenly.
‘Why can’t you just stop making everything a competition and for once enjoy yourself?’ Jessamine asked.
‘It comes naturally to me, like that annoyingly patronizing tone you always use. Just can’t seem to get rid of it’, and, when she coloured up slightly, I relented (but just a bit, mind) and added, ‘Besides, I genuinely enjoy the competition, and there’s no one to challenge me around here’
Jessamine accepted this answer with a small nod. ‘Maybe you’ll meet your match there, then’ she agreed.
I smirked. ‘There’s only one me’ I responded.
‘Thank the gods for that’ Jessamine sounded relieved.