“I hate this place!” I kicked at the wall with all my strength. I was so tired of being kept away from the world. I wanted to be anywhere but here.
“You!” yelled a nearby guard. “You can’t do that! Don’t you see its glass!?”
I turned to him smugly and showed him the clouded cerulean color of my eyes, and smiled. “No, I don’t see. I don’t see anything.” I kicked the glass again for good measure. I would probably be a more patient person if I had grown up on the planet.
“That’s it,” the guard said as he grabbed my arms to drag me back to my cell-like quarters. I didn’t get the big deal. The glass/plexiglass mix, I know, was 2 ½ feet thick. It had to be on the lunar colony, standard measurements for a geodesic dome. I’d learned that in Lunar Studies class. I couldn’t have cracked it if I tried.
“Stay here until Mrs. Page has a chance to deal with you,” the sliding door slammed shut. The automatic door system was always the first to go when we were conserving energy. My room was cold, in the sense of uninviting, bare and unwelcome. Obviously, I had no photos to look at. No one ever bothered to bring me braille books and magazines. As I sat on my bed, day dreaming of a life on planet Earth, I heard a series of knocks on the wall. I smiled. My neighbor was Robin which was often pronounced wrong if read and not Roe-ben as it should be. He and I had a special knock for “hello,” one for “all is clear,” and one for “good night.”
Robin was lame from an undeveloped foot. It looked like a baby foot, pretty much useless. That’s what put him here in the Lunar Asylum for Neural Correction. Though I’d never seen anyone be rehabilitated and go home. We were all born on earth, but due to overpopulation all “imperfect” children were shipped to one of 119 pods in the lunar colony. Unfortunately, it was the parents who decided which children were deemed “in need” of the special care of the Lunar colony, and who got sent away. All they had to do was appeal to the court and be accepted.
The knock sounded again and I responded. Tap tap pause tap tap fist. At least I had a best friend. I was known for starting calamity, but Robin would always stand by me. He was given leniency for following the rebel Arienne; so he’d sneak me desserts. Robin was kind, socially shy, funny, and one of the Staff’s favorites. I wish I could see what he looked like. He told me that his hair was sandy blond and his eyes were green, he even let me feel his face once, but I couldn’t place his actual face in my mind. What is green? I couldn’t remember. He felt like a summer day to me. I could feel the sun’s warmth prickling my skin. Robin was my sun; I didn’t need a face for that.
We had bored a little hole next to our mattresses, enough to talk, but not enough to be seen. I leaned down to hear him whisper loudly, “What have you done now? I haven’t heard your door slammed in a while.”
“I kicked the dome.”
“Are you kidding?”
“Oh come on Robin, you know how thick that glass is. Two and a half feet. I was just making a point.”
“I guess. You just can’t go losing your head.” Robin was also a bit on the safe side.
“I’ve heard the stories, I want to feel the grass, the breeze, smell flowers. I hate these frigid walls.”
“I wish you could see the stars,” he murmured. “You’d like those too.”
“Maybe,” I conceded.
Just then my door slid open. I didn’t need to see to get a whiff of a very familiar cologne. “Galen,” I said. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m springing you.” His lazy charm and refined handsomeness, made most other girls trip all over themselves, but his looks meant nothing to my non- seeing eyes. His voice, though, that was like honey. Thick , sweet, nectar.
“You’re going to get me into more trouble,” I said, but I got up anyway.
“Last I heard, you were already doomed from your “argument” with Mel in the lunchroom.”
I groaned inwardly, Mel had the ability to get under my skin, like prickly little hairs after a haircut. The daughter of someone influential, I didn’t care who, Melissande Delta was just a spoiled brat. She did everything in her power to irritate or get me in trouble. Galen and Mel were housed in the emotional dysfunction pods, while Robin and I were in a physical ailment section. There were tons of other blind people in the colony, but I still felt like a unique freak. Maybe that’s what teenage life is all about.
“Do you know how much trouble I’m in?” I crossed my arms. I was still feeling rebellious, but the idea of solitary confinement was daunting.
“Yeah,” he said. I vaguely pictured Galen leaning against my door frame. “You were fantastic. And when your lunch tray came down on her head, I thought she was going to go into convulsions.” The grin was in his voice, velvety smooth.
“So now, before sentencing even, you want to sneak me out? How did you get my key card anyway?”
“Don’t do it,” I heard through my hole in the wall, but I had enough anger lingering to risk it.
Galen spoke louder, sounding annoyed with my voice of conscience. “I have someplace to show you. Come on, I can’t hold this door all day.”
“Don’t -,” I heard Robin call.
“I’m in,” I said.
We ran down the unguarded hallways, Galen tucked my hand in his arm to guide me. We sprinted from one hall to the other, easily losing our breath. Galen took me to the agricultural pod. I could smell fresh air and plant soil. This was one of my favorite places to hide. Most of our food was harvested in this huge greenhouse. Bees buzzed loudly pollinating plants, returning to their boxed hive to make honey. Learning by my senses during the twelve years I’d lived here, I knew every hall, every smell, every sound.
I had been born with perfect eyesight. My mother, a junkie, was used to bringing home an assortment of men. I don’t know why I remember this, it must be the trauma. One of them got tired of two- year- old tantrums and hit my face with a baseball bat. They said he didn’t know what he was doing. The drugs made him crazy. After the reconstructive surgery, no one could fix my eyes. The only thing I remember was a bed of flowers. I have no idea where they had been, maybe I played in them outside my house.
“Why are we here?” I asked Galen.
“I told you, I wanted to show you something. It’s a new installment.” Galen was my friend, but notorious for using girls. He’d already made his pass at me, but I’m not a cheap roll in the cot. With him holding my arm, I felt uncomfortable all of a sudden. I would not be my mother.
“Galen, we’ve been over this. We are just friends -,” and that’s when I smelled them. Behind the crops, the agriculturalists had planted a flower bed. Galen nearly fell as I stopped abruptly.
“Come to this bench Ari,” he said quietly. Only he could use this nickname with me. It only sounded right on his lips. Oh the scents! I could name them all. I could almost see them. Roses, lilac, gardenias, lavender. Then I felt a tiny flutter on my arm...
“Butterflies?” I asked Galen. “Why are they here?”
“To cross-pollinate. It will help our crops.” Galen’s father worked in a very high position in the colony, so he often had inside information as well as a means to spring me. “I wanted to see your face,” he said quietly.
“Galen. I don’t know what to say. Thank you. So much.” I knew he smiled, I wished I could see it. I knew he had clear blue eyes and jet black hair. I had heard the girls talk. They said he was handsome, no, actually they said he was mouth-watering.
“I think I’ve found my new hiding place,” I admitted.
“Can you imagine them?” he asked. “Do you want to touch them?”
It was my only memory of sight. “Of course.”
He led me to the edge of the flower bed and put his hand on mine. Galen reached with me and laid my hand on a Peony. “You can remove your hand now,” I told him.
“Why are you the only one who rejects my captivating presence?”
“Because I’m the only one who can see right through you.” The meaning wasn’t lost on either of us.
We stayed for a while before I regretfully said, “We really should get back.”
“Mr. Floyd! Miss Rystrom!” The guard’s shoes squeaked on the tile floors as he approached. “What are you doing here? You shouldn’t be in the company of this girl. She’s trouble.” Just for emphasis, the guard viciously yanked my upper arm as he lifted me from the flower bed.
“Wha-” I began my protest.
“Not a word from you. I’m sure the disciplinary board will love to hear that you have broken out of your room again.”
“But I -” It wasn’t fair; but I couldn’t get Galen in trouble. “Fine, take me back to my cell.”
I heard a tiny “Hhmph,” but didn’t know if it was a sign of triumph or resignation.
“She didn’t do anything wrong.” This time it was Galen’s turn to speak up.
“Galen,” I warned in my most serious tone, “if you are my friend, let it go.”
I could hear the indecision in his voice before he conceded. “Okay,” I heard from my back, “but this isn’t over.”
“Go back to your room, Mr. Floyd,” the guard said curtly, obviously aware that Galen’s status outranked him. His father was the warden.
The guard nearly tossed me into my room. “You are confined to this space for one week. You will eat your meals here and study here by teleprompter.” My door slid shut. I had a minuscule bathroom in my room and a TV that had no programming. It was simply to relay announcements and teaching to those of us who were sick or sentenced to our rooms. The space was sterile and bleak. I flopped down on the bed face first.
“I told you so,” I heard from the peep hole.
“Don’t start, Robin. It was worth it,” I said wistfully.
“What? To be with that jerk? You do know that he’s snuck into all the senior girls’ rooms? What is his emotional dysfunction anyway? Psychopath?” Robin almost spat it out.
“Are you bitter? What do you care? He’s been nothing but nice to me.” I didn’t know why I was defending Galen, I already knew all this. I guess I just liked the attention. Didn’t I? I only knew that I didn’t want to discuss it with Robin, even though he was my best friend. There was nothing wrong with Galen.
“He’s bipolar,” I told the wall. “Now leave me alone.” I didn’t know why I said that either. I really wanted the company. Damn my incorrigible pride.
The following week dragged on forever. Galen never came by and Robin was sulking. I could understand Galen’s absence. We were in pods according to ailment and last name, and even if we had the same dysfunction, Floyd was not close to Rystrom. I missed his confident cockiness, but I would never let him know that. I kind of liked being pursued.
Robin, however, bothered me deeply. He was the one I told all my secrets to as we lay in bed at night. He was often my eyes, so I missed him desperately. I had tried to talk to him once already, but he wasn’t speaking to me. I couldn’t figure out why my punishment affected him so severely.
“Robin,” I called quietly. “It’s been a week. Won’t you please talk to me?”
“How can you like him?”
“Is that what this is about? Robin, you’ve got to be joking.”
Just then my teleprompter bleeped on and began printing out braille instructions. Oh great. A pop quiz. Luckily, I had plenty of time to get ready for this one and it was in “multiple guess” format. The easiest ones were questions from Lunar studies that we had gone over millions of times:
The colony is powered by? A. Solar powered generators. Gravitational difference between the earth and the moon? C. The moon’s is 1/6 of earth (which was why physical education trained in heavier gravity chambers). Where does our water come from? C. Ice from lunar poles. How does waste get processed? B. Solid waste is used to fertilize crops and liquid waste is recycled for clothes washing. Colony diet? A. Mostly vegetarian with some freeze-dried meats and added calcium for bone density. How is our travel system comprised? B. Mostly walking with underground interpod train transit in lava tubes.
It was an ordinary Thursday when our doors slid open for suppertime. Only standing in my doorway, I could smell his cologne, was Galen.
“Don’t you have someone else to get into trouble?” I quipped.
“I came to be your escort,” he said with mock disappointment.
“That’s my job.” Robin was in the hall, sounding angry.
Galen grabbed my arm. “Not today.” He nearly dragged me down the corridor to the meal hall. I heard Robin cursing as his crutch clicked on the linoleum in a quickened rhythm.
Galen held both of our trays, and I held the back of his shirt as he led us to a table.
“Look what the cat dragged in,” Mel sneered. “How was solitary confinement?” Oh joy. She was at the next table.
“Why don’t I hit you over the head with my tray again and find out how an extended time would be?” I moved towards her voice. “Lots of time for pushups and situps. Wanna see if I can take you?”
“Guard!” she yelled. “Arienne is threatening me.”
I backed off but said quietly, “One day it’ll just be you and me.” Then I let Galen pull me to our spot. I heard her mention to her friends that I was Galen’s new whore and the whole table giggled. Jealous much? I didn’t care. We were friends, but only friends.
“My lady,” he helped me sit. “Why do you let her get to you like that?”
“Do you remember back in the third grade- well it would have been fifth for you- when the girls’ bathroom in the elementary pod caught on fire? All the paper?” I waited for him to nod and “hmmm” in acknowledgment.
“I was there. So was Mel. I don’t know where she got the fire from, but this whole place is filled with oxygen. She could have blown the dome and killed us all. So, I started putting the fires out. When they found me there in the ashes- with a little influential coaxing from Mel, the guards believed the whole thing was my fault.”
“That sucks. So unfair,” Galen lamented.
I continued, “One week in solitary was nothing compared to my punishment. I spent a month in the sensory deprivation room, in silence with oatmeal to eat. Just to show me how serious my infraction was, the warden (Galen flinched next to me) hit my knuckles with a stick until they bled. When they healed, he did it again.”
“I can see why she affects you that way. Well, as your gallant knight I will-”
“You will do nothing.” I spoke quickly as the words came rushing out of my mouth, then whispered, “Unless you want me in more trouble.”
“Then who would be my partner in crime?” Galen pouted with a chuckle.
“How about finding someone else?” Robin had finally caught up to our table.
“You sure are a buzz kill,” Galen picked up his tray and moved away. “See you soon, little flower.”
“What did he mean by that?”
“Oh nothing, he thinks he’s being charming.” I assured. “Don’t worry, I won’t fall for his fake expressions of affection. I’ve heard how that always turns out.”
Robin sighed in relief.
“What?” I asked around a mouthful of corn.
“I just don’t want to see you get hurt, that’s all; and I know him better than you think. Every girl in this room was shooting daggers at you with their eyes. Even if he doesn’t hurt you- they might.”
“Ah, you do care,” I took another bite and could almost feel him blush. “Robin, you’d be the first to know.”
“Promise?” His hopefulness made him sound like he cared for other reasons and that bothered me. I was afraid I was leading him on. No, we were just best friends.
“Promise.” I answered, hoping that I wouldn’t break his heart. I’d deal with that later.
I began to go back to classes, ignoring the sniggers of zealous gossipers. Let them think what they want. I held my head high, but Melissande and her friends had been busy concocting all sorts of stories. If she wasn’t here for ADHD I would have been impressed at her efforts, but for all I know, she never slept. I didn’t know how ADHD worked, but it was serious enough in her case to get sent to this God- forsaken moon. Surely there was more to her diagnosis? Robin was in most of my classes, so he had shielded me from as much as he could, but there were still bad days. One such day Mel was in a particularly black mood.
“Psst.” She poked my thigh with her pencil. “Seen any baseball bats lately? Actually, have you seen anything lately?”
I could feel it building inside me. Despite Robin's presence, despite his hand lightly touching my arm. He tried to tell me she wasn’t worth it. He tried to tell me to let it go, but all I felt was rage. A hot energy creeping up my neck and latching onto the back of my head.
“Robin, I need to leave. Now.”
“Mrs. Fargo,” Robin asked, “Arienne needs to go to the infirmary. Can I take her?”
I tried to look sick. I dropped my shoulders and let my head hang, mouth open.
“Oh my, yes,” she said. “No getting sick in here. My, my.” She turned back to her work.
“Take the baby away,” this time Nova mocked. Nova Steele was Mel’s best friend and most vocal imitator.
“Robin...” I warned. He knew how close I was to doing something stupid.
He pulled both of our bags on his shoulders, handed me his crutches, and pushed me out of the door with both hands.
Since class was still in session, I led Robin to the gardens. He was just as amazed by the beauty of the flower beds as I was. I was so envious of his sight. We talked on the bench made of teak and I felt slightly guilty bringing him to a place that I had shared especially with Galen.
“Please don’t tell Galen I brought you here?”
“Why? Are you afraid he’d be jealous?”
I began to feel indignant, but decided with a sigh, that I didn’t want to fight. Not here. Not now. “No, but I think it might be a secret. Robin, you know how I feel about you. You’re my best friend. I tell you all my secretest secrets.” I couldn’t see a smile, but he reached out his hand and laid it on mine. It was warm and safe, like an old blanket.
“I don’t want Mel and Nova to know.” I admitted. We sat in silence for a while, soaking up the sun lamps and inhaling the fragrances.
“There you are my little flower. I couldn’t find- ” I knew the instant Galen saw Robin and I slipped my hand from his. Mostly it was from nervousness, but it hurt Robin all the same and he got up to leave.
“I’ll let you two have time together,” he quipped.
“Robin-,” I pleaded, but he was gone. I turned my anger back onto Galen. “What do you want?”
“That’s not a way to treat someone who brought you a present.”
“I don’t need your presents,” I said. “Everyone will just think I’m your concubine or something.”
“That’s okay, I know karate and I’m taking a combat class. I can defend your honor.” He actually sounded serious, so I didn’t laugh in his face.
“Hold still,” he stood behind me. The lightest object touched my chest and I felt him bringing a chain around my neck. I touched the charm and felt a butterfly. “It’s iridescent, like the ones flitting around here. I thought you might like to carry a piece of it with you all the time. Maybe it’ll help your temper.” I could hear the teasing laughter in his voice.
“Thank you.” It was really the only thing to say, and I meant it.
“You’re welcome,” he said. “One of the benefits of my position- or my father’s,” he said with a mix of gratefulness and malice.