It’s really amazing what water can do. We can’t live without it. Maybe we could go through a few days, but then we would just become husks of who we once were without this magical nectar. It rejuvenates our stale bodies. It can even quench and awake the mind. As soon as I dunked my face in some ice-cold water, I felt like someone had pulled me by my neck and shaken me awake from a dreamless slumber. The dull voice in my head that warned me something wasn’t right and there were more secrets to be dug up, was now screaming at me incessantly. My new black outfit made me feel reborn into the night. Tiger ran around me whimpering in excitement. Maybe he could feel my adrenaline rush.
“Stay here. Be a good boy.” I kissed his wet nose before opening the window. I silently thanked the mango tree for growing so tall over the years. The night air seeped into my bones. I could barely flex my fingertips. I began to shimmy down the rough tree branches. Bits of bark and twigs pinched my soft skin, but I didn’t mind. I loved the brisk night air burning in my lungs. It awoke every cell in my body. I landed softly on the crunchy grass. I crouched on the ground listening for any sign that I had been seen. I peered into the dining room. Candles were lite across the table. Steaming plates of food were being served to our guests. I could hear the soothing violin melody. My father sat the head of the table with his back to me. He was raising his glass and laughing with Mr. Malhotra. My mother and Mrs. Malhotra were in deep conversation. Raj sat by himself looking like a bored cat. He drew his fork lazily across his plate, not bothering to actually eat anything. I leaned in to get a better look. Maybe he saw the movement of my shadow, but his sharp gaze locked onto the window where I was. I ducked so close to the ground that I could see the moisture droplets oozing off the emerald blades. Then I crawled over the fence and dropped onto the road.
I melted into the shadows as I made my way down the road. My footsteps thundered in my ears. Tiny dots in the sky shone through the clouds. The moon had a reflective ghostly sheen behind the clouds. I didn’t come across a single person. Anyone in their right mind would be inside their home with heated tiles and hot tea. I stuck my shivering hands deep inside my jacket pockets. I grazed my skin across the biting zipper lining. Ruby droplets of blood dribbled out. Why does everything hurt more when it’s cold? I thought to myself. I wondered what had happened to Mark. Did James sell him out after all? That thought propelled me into a jog. I ran against the drizzle of rain that had begun to come down. The wind pressed against me, pushing me off my feet, but I braced myself and pressed on. The slick wet leaves under my shoes made me feel like I was running on ice.
Finally, I came upon a colossal brick mansion at the intersection of Ingenuity Row and the Humanities District. The black marble crow fountain sat at the center of the circular driveway. Trees were bending as if an invisible giant sat on their trunks. Rain splattered against the glass wall at the front of the house. No lights blazed in the glass. I perched on my frozen toes and peered in. I saw no sign of anyone being home. A raindrop splattered in my eye burning my vision. He had to be here. I rolled back my shoulders and made my way to the front door. I rapped my knuckles on the oak door until I was sure they were bleeding. The rain fell like thundering horse hooves now. The tap tap tap played on my hood and rattled my brain. I stiffened as a cylindrical barrel pressed into the small of my back. I didn’t think it was possible for my body to get any colder but ice embalmed me.
“What’s your business here?” A deep voice sliced through the cacophony of thunder and the untamed downpour. He pushed the gun deeper into my spine. Sheets of rain almost knocked me off my feet. My socks were squishy and I was sure my toes had shriveled up into raisins.
“James” I knew he couldn’t hear me over the white noise of the downpour. “James!” I shouted. “It’s Myra!” He didn’t lower the gun. I could feel him circling me like an enormous vulture. The barrel of the gun dragged across my jacket into my soft belly. James’s electric eyes jumped out against the void of the night. His eyes widened in alarm and promptly lowered his gun. His blonde hair was plastered on his forehead. Pellets of rain drops dripped from his face. James’s scowl dissolved into a grimace. He shouted something that got lost in the torrent of rain. He pushed opened the impressive steel doors and disappeared into the dark house. Another cold gust of wind wrapped me in a blanket of ice water and leaves. I rushed in after him, eager to escape the clutches of the cold night.
I shivered so violently I thought I would crack a tooth. I tried to focus my eyes on the darkness but I could see nothing but shadow. I trailed water and debris as I tracked further into his extravagant home.
“J-James” I could barely get his name out. My teeth chattered like a dancing skeleton.
“Myra?” A different voice echoed through the empty foyer. This voice wasn’t deep and husky; this was rich and radiating warmth. I spun around and fell into Mark’s hug. He smelled like wood musk. His body warmth was a welcome sanctuary from the storm outside. He draped a heated towel around me and began to try to warm up my arms. His navy eyes sparkled like diamonds. His lips tugged into a grin. “You just couldn’t stay away from me, could you?” I wacked him in his broad chest, which probably hurt me more than it hurt him. I could feel my body being risen from an icy, cold grave. Being around Mark was like being in a sauna. My body inexplicably started to sweat despite the bitter cold gnawing away at me.
I heard the click clacking of boots coming towards us. James was soaked through in his blue uniform. His clothes clung to his chest and sagged under the weight of absorbed water. He looked like a soggy, wrung out mop. He handed me a cup of steaming liquid. I tried to raised my eyebrow, but my muscles were still frozen in place.
“Are you going to drug me again?” I tightened the towel around me. James scuffed his shoe on the black marble floor. Then his big blue eyes looked up at me like a guilty dog.
“It’s just tea, no additives.” My shaking hands took the cup. The vapors of steam warmed my face. The first few drops began to work their way through my cracked lips, then slowly diffused to other parts of my body. “Come on, let’s get away from the front of the house.” James squished his way to the past the entry hall into the back of the house. Mark placed his large hand on my back and guided me through the dark hallway. He led me into a study room in the back of the house. The Brazilian hard wood floors reflected the ghostly gleam of the whirlwind of rain rattling the windows.
James leaned against his cherry wood desk. Ten #2 wood pencils were in a straight row on his desk, just below some stacked letter trays. My stomach did a backflip when I saw a smooth black gun precariously balancing on the edge of the desk. James followed my gaze to the weapon.
“I’m not going to hurt you.” He looked me dead in my big brown eyes. Then as an afterthought, he turned to Mark, “Or you, Mark.”
Mark’s goofy grin was a blast of light in the dark house. “Thanks, man, I appreciate it.”
I shook off the towel and threw it on the immaculate floor. I step over the soggy towel and glared at James. “You may not hurt me, but you’ll lie to me, right?” I hated that I had to lift my head to meet his gaze. His crystal eyes burned into mine. I wanted to wrap my tiny hands around his thick neck and strangle him. Then I wanted to bring him back to life so I could strangle him again. James didn’t flinch away from my death stare.
“Myra, your family made me swear not to say a word about your adoption.” A raindrop fell from his chin down onto my forehead. It trailed down my cheek. “If anyone found out, you would have been killed for being Tainted.” I shoved James so hard that he fell onto the desk. His desk lamp shattered onto the floor in a thousand pieces of gleaming rainbow crystals.
“You’re constantly making up excuses! I deserved to know!” I was screaming so loud, I could be heard over the claps of thunder and the vortex of rain. “My grandmother is dead! Who knows why they are targeting my family!” I gripped James by his blue shirt color and dug my knee deep into his liver. “You said I could trust you.” My face was wet again. I realized I was sobbing in anger. Mark tried to pry me off of James, but I clung to James like an annoying cold. I elbowed Mark in the chest and he reeled away from my attack. I yanked James’s blue collar towards me. The traces of gold in his eyes were hypnotizing. He didn’t fight back. He didn’t squirm or push me. He just lay there, looking at me in silent pity. I loathed his pity. I wanted to slam his head so hard onto the cherry desk that it would leave an indent there forever. But with much difficulty, I stayed my unchecked rage. James didn’t deserve it. I didn’t even know who I was angry with, it just kept bubbling and frothing inside of me. I released James and staggered away from the desk. I was so blinded with rage that I had no recollection of climbing onto of the desk.
James staggered to his feet. His soggy uniform was dragging him down like a paperweight. I was incredibly conflicted about him. A tiny rational part of me understood it wasn’t his fault for keeping a secret that my family charged him with. But a larger, emotional part of me still wanted to punch him in the kidney. But seeing him soaked to the bone in ice water and clutching his now bruised side, I felt ashamed.
“I’m sorry James. I’m just so angry at all the secrets. All the whispers in the night. I just want the honest truth.” I widened my eyes, pleading with him silently. James picked a stray crystal from his shirt and flicked it onto the floor. He shook his short blond hair like a wet dog.
“I deserved it, well maybe not the knee in the stomach.” I looked at the ground sheepishly. James chuckled dryly. “But I should have told you. After everything I put you through, you deserved to know.” I stared at him in silence. White flashes of lightening illuminated the woods behind his house. The rhythmic sheets of rain were calming. Compared to my rage induced episode of blind violence, the belligerent storm outside seemed more like a light drizzle. “I know it doesn’t seem like it right now, but you can trust me.” His blonde hair was the only pop of color in the darkness. James stood tall like a marble statue that could never be swayed.
Mark cleared his throat from behind me. “He can be trusted.” His hopeful eyes implored me to listen to him. “He could have easily turned me in, but instead he brought me here and kept me safe.” I tightened my jaw but relaxed it just as quickly, releasing all the frustration at James that I was harboring.
“He has a point.” Begrudgingly I threw James an appreciative nod. “Thank you for that.” James didn’t reply to me. He just kept studying me in silence. I was afraid that I had squished his vocal cords along with his liver. “But no more secrets James, tell me everything you know. Secrets are tearing us apart.” I demanded.
James nodded. He looked as worn out as I felt. “No more secrets, I prom-.” James was cut off by an incessant banging coming from the front door. All three of us froze like we were sprayed with liquid nitrogen. I didn’t dare breath for fear the people at the door could hear it.
“Enforcer James Crowley! We are from the Magistrate. Open up!” Someone shouted. I locked eyes with Mark and then James. My heart crawled up my throat, strangling my words. James brought his index finger to his pink lips. As quietly as he could, he pulled back a black rug that lay on the side of the room. A square wooden cut out with a metal hook stared back at me. I cocked my head to the side and opened my mouth to ask James why he had a secret hideout, but the thundering at the door sealed my lips together. James pulled at the trap door. It opened with a creek. Dust flew out and assaulted my nose. James pointed down the dark hole. Then he pointed at Mark and me. Mark took my hand in his and pulled me towards the unknown opening. I stayed glued kneeling around the black square.
“No, I’m not leaving you.” I whispered furiously. I touched James’s hand. His body went frigid like he expected me to shove him down the hole. “Regardless of what has been done, I can’t just throw you to the wolves.” James scoffed, but a strained smile crossed his still handsome face.
There were more voices yelling for James to open the door. My stomach was turning inside out with anticipation.
“I have to answer the door. I promise, I’ll be okay.” James’s voice was steady and calm despite the danger lurking at his door.
My gut twisted and churned like it was thrown in a high-speed blender. I knew leaving James to fend for himself was a terrible idea. Mark had already lowered himself halfway into the void.
“Be careful James. We’ll be listening if you need help.” Mark’s usual musical tone, dropped to a husky whisper. James shook his head.
“I don’t need help. If either of you are caught, you’ll be killed. Stay down there, no matter what. Now go.” Mark threw one last uneasy look at James then disappeared into the dark without arguing. I began to follow him in. My foot scraped against a metal rung and I lowered myself into the hole.
“Wait Myra.” James hurried over to his desk and brought over the last thing I wanted. He handed me his slick gun. I immediately felt a wash of pure energy spread over me. This wasn’t training with Cephas anymore. For a split second I wondered if Cephas knew this day would come, that my secret would come out, that was why he had trained me. An old spark of James’s smirk glinted for a brief moment, then it was replaced by a heavy burden of sorrow. “I know you know how to use it. I also know you’re a good shot.” His sky eyes shone with the intensity of a super nova. “And Myra, if worse comes to worse, fight like hell, just like I know you can.” With that he closed the hatch and left me in darkness.