Innocence

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Chapter 3

Tido has left the house. It's quiet now, too quiet. I've gotten so used to his constant mocking that the silence makes me uneasy. It makes me feel as if something is going to happen. It's almost like being back in Acadia again—alone and waiting for danger—and I hate it. I can almost feel the cars rumbling over our heads again, feel the sand crusting into my skin like a shell.

I flip the channel on the TV to find that a storm is heading towards us. I thought it was supposed to be clear out today, but I guess even the weatherman can be wrong. I fidget on the couch. Will Zeke be able to drive back alright? I can't remember if he was supposed to come home today or tomorrow, and it makes me nervous. What if he's in trouble?

"Do you know when Zeke is getting back from that job?" I ask. Roku looks up from where he's cooking dinner and shrugs. I feel my shoulders slump.

I need to do something. I can't stand just sitting here and waiting for something to happen. I scratch at my arm anxiously.

"Just do what you want. Don't worry about the consequences."

Should I go into town? To see her? No, I shouldn't bother her. Katya is no doubt busy with work for her family, and she doesn't need my pestering.

The feeling in my gut urges me to do otherwise.

"Hey, where are you going?" Roku asks, but doesn't follow me.

I grab my jacket, cursing the thirst as I walk out to my bike. I pull the helmet onto my head quickly, feeling my heart thud in my chest. What am I going to say? What am I going to do?

I start driving towards the city, leaving my bike in the nearby parking garage. I start walking, aware only of the few people rushing through the city. It's getting darker and darker as the clouds swallow up the setting sun. I increase my speed and within minutes I'm at the gate to the Ratskera mansion. I go through the gate cautiously, feeling oddly like an intruder. The path to the steps is long. Bright green grass grows peacefully along the sides of the cobblestones. How did they manage to clean up so fast after last night? I can still remember the number of cups that had littered the ground, not to mention the rest of the trash. Life must be easier when you have a thousand servants at your beck and call.

The smallest of raindrops begin to hit the pavement as I climb the stairs. I should have brought an umbrella, or at least a warmer jacket.

I go to the door and knock. My hands find my pockets as I wait. What if they aren't home? Well, then I'm going to have to drive back in this weather, and that just sounds like a nightmare. I knock again, louder this time.

It takes little time for Tido to answer.

I would expect at least a greeting from him, but his eyes are cold.

"What are you doing here?" He asks, his annoyance radiating from him like a poison. It makes me want to recoil.

"I'm not allowed to say hello?" I manage to ask through my own annoyance. What did I expect? A civil greeting? We've always just been dirty street rats to him, and now that he's married into the ruling family of Ruka, how does he see me now?

"We're a little busy right now. Can you learn to call first?" Tido interrogates.

"Jeez, I'm sorry, can you chill?" I ask. "I don't want to see you, smartass."

He's about to retaliate when Katya shoves him out of the way. We watch as she storms past us, hearing Yia yelling something vulgar at her. I exchange glances with Tido and turn abruptly.

It's difficult to keep up with Katya's quick, angry steps as she wanders, ignoring my attempts to stop her. The thunderstorm doesn't help anything as it roars down at us, flashing with furious lightning. She eventually reaches an old apartment building and goes inside. She turns back as I follow her, putting her hands on her hips. The fury in her eyes stuns me. I've grown so used to her smiles that any negative emotion comes as a surprise.

"What do you want?" Katya asks.

"You said that you wanted to hang out again, right?" I answer. I continue to follow her as she stalks upstairs, getting to a door and pulling out a key. She fumbles in the dark and mumbles out a curse.

"So, you had to follow me halfway across town just for that?"

She shoots me a look.

"Well I'm sorry that you're in a snappy mood, KitKat," I say sarcastically. Katya looks at me as she gets the apartment door open, her brown eyes flashing in a mix of shock and anger.

"KitKat?" She asks as she storms inside.

"Yeah! Because you're being snappy!" I say, following her. I'm careful to close the door behind me.

The apartment is small, with a mattress pressed against the corner where wall and window meet. Pillows and mismatched blankets are piled upon it, and stuffed animals adorn it with quiet, plastic black eyes. A small couch rests between that and a table that has assorted dining chairs set around it. A TV rests on an old outside table, barely standing up. When Katya turns it on, I find that it has clusters of dead pixels.

I blink.

This looks closer to my room in Zeke's cabin than the clean and pristine mansion that she came from. What is this place?

Katya walks to the couch and crosses her arms, sitting down. She takes a breath, then another. Her thumb runs over the back of her hand. I lean against the wall, unsure about what else to do.

"Sorry. I'm just pissed at my sister," she grumbles.

"What's going on?" I ask curiously. She looks at me and gets up.

I watch her, entranced by the way her hips sway, the way her hair flows over her shoulders, the scent as she strides past me. She gets into the small fridge and comes back with two sodas, pressing one into my hand. Her brown eyes flick to meet mine and she breathes out, red streaks slipping into her eyes.

"My sister wants me to have an arranged marriage, with a priest's son," Katya admits. "And I don't get a choice about it. So yeah, I have every excuse to be snappy."

"An arranged marriage?!" I ask. A lick of hot rage flashes down my spine. I want to say that it's because she doesn't want the marriage, but it's because I don't want the marriage. I'm jealous. I shake my head and glare at the floor. Jealous? How many times have I had this conversation with myself this week? She's above me.

"Don't worry about the consequences."

"I know, right, it's absolutely awful," Katya sighs, collapsing dramatically on her couch. She kicks her sneakers off and sighs. "Why a priest of all people? It doesn't matter if he's cute, I'm not marrying him."

"Cute?!" I question, choking slightly. She rolls her eyes and smirks.

"Don't worry, you're cuter than he is," Katya teases. I blush and look away from her.

"Is teasing me your way of taking your anger out?" I grumble, finally sitting beside her. The couch is uncomfortably lumpy and crusty in some place. Where did she get this? Off the side of a road? It's as if someone bought it specifically to hide drugs inside of it.

"Yep. I am not a happy camper," she says, taking a long drink.

"So, what are you planning to do about it?" I open the drink.

"Oh, I don't know," Katya sighs. "Maybe I'll run away, skip town. Not like anyone is going to miss me." I look at her and frown slightly. She was serious last night, then. I stare down at the metal top of the drink in my hand.

"I'd miss you," I admit. "You're the only person with any sense of humor in this town."

"I'd miss you too, in all honesty," she says as she smiles at me. The smile fades as quickly as it appears. "Even if I did leave, they'd just hunt me down and bring me back here anyway."

I watch as she takes another drink. She clears her throat and her eyes seem to dull. It's several seconds before she turns back to me.

"So, you wanted to hang out, right?" Katya asks, resting her hands in her lap.

"Yeah, but it can wait," I try to say, but she raises her eyebrows at me. "I mean, yeah."

"So, talk. Unless you want to go take another dip in the ocean."

"Are you ever going to let that go?"

"No, but since then... Well, it's just that I... I feel safe," Katya explains. "Is that stupid to admit? Everyone is always expecting more of me, but you don't seem to care that I'm different."

I get the same way around you, I have no idea why," I admit, tapping my fingers on the couch. "It's good that you're different, I think."

"You think?" she teases.

"You know what I mean. You're exciting, and unpredictable."

"You make it sound like I'm a new television show or something."

"Well, I don't actually mean it that way, but don't you feel the same way?"

Katya stops and thinks for a moment. She nods, waving her hand.

"Yeah, you're fun," she admits. "Especially to tease."

"And because you apparently think that I'm cute," I point out. Katya blushes and hits my arm. "Oh, wow, I thought you were kidding!"

"You're such a jerk!" she laughs. "Yes, I think you're cute, you got a confession, are you happy? Did I make a dream come true?"

I hesitate to tell her the truth. It's dangerous. Her family already has a marriage set up with her, even if she doesn't want it. We could both be killed if we're found out. Katya raises an eyebrow and crosses her arms. She's getting impatient.

"You do like me, don't you?" she accuses. I nod, then rush to cover myself.

"But I get that we could never, I mean, I guess, but you've got that guy's son, and uh, um," I stammer. "Look, maybe I should go."

"Why are you freaking out so much? I'm not gonna shoot you or anything," Katya reassures me. She pats my arm and smiles. "No one killed anyone for liking a girl."

"Your sister and her new husband probably wouldn't hesitate, " I point out.

"Then we can run away, right?"

"Didn't you just say that they'd catch you?"

"Well, yeah, maybe if I was on my own,"

A knock at the door makes us both freeze. Katya holds a finger up to her lips and reaches over for a baseball bat. She stands, inching towards the door. I stand too, realizing that this isn't the best neighborhood. She has a reason to have that bat so close.

She opens it as if it might explode, but only enough to peek out.

"Risa?" Katya asks. She opens the door just a little more and sighs in relief. "You haven't told Yia about this place, right?"

"No, no, that isn't important right now," Risa responds. She sounds so breathless that I raise my brows. Something is wrong. What happened?

"What's going on?" Katya interrogates quietly.

"You've been here the whole time that you've been gone?"

"Yes, now stop beating around the bush and mow it down."

I want to yell the same thing as Katya's sister hesitates again.

Risa takes a breath and holds her arm tightly. It's that moment that I know that something truly awful has happened. I've never seen her look so shaken, especially in public. Whatever it is that she's seen, if she suspects her own sister...

"Your would-be fiancé was just found dead."

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