I clutched Tama’s file to my chest as I strode through the library. Gerard wasn’t waiting there to escort me back to my room like I had thought he would be. By the time I was stepping through the library doors, I heard my mother’s footsteps behind me. I didn’t bother to look back as I made it to the stairs, where Gerard was waiting. I barely acknowledged him, and he didn’t follow me. I was more than halfway up them when I heard her speaking to him.
“I’m going back to the CGP. They don’t leave.” That last part was directed up towards me as I made it to the second floor. Her voice was cold, angry.
A moment later the front door slammed shut, and I heard Gerard finally start to follow me up the stairs. It didn’t take him much time to make it to the second floor behind me. I was already to my door, shutting him out by the time he reached it though. I caught a glimpse of his brown eyes through the crack in the door just before I shut and locked it. He didn’t knock, but from the look in his eyes I felt like there was something he wanted to say to me. I almost opened the door back up to demand what he wanted. But instead I let my hand fall from the bolt. My skin felt tight, my blood roaring through my head. He could have been delivering the most joyous news, and I just wouldn’t have been able to handle more new information.
I turned to find my friends waiting for me. Kalea and Nakoa on the couch, Kagan in the armchair. They didn’t move to come to me, just watched me curiously. I didn’t say anything, just walked across the room and laid on the far side of the bed that was still mussed from earlier. I was staring out the windows, listening. There was a rustle and footsteps a moment before Kalea knelt into my line of sight.
“What happened?” she asked, eyeing the file still in my arms.
“I can’t right now.” I winced at how raw my voice sounded. “I just need some time. But we should all stay in here.”
“Okay, take what you need.” She brushed hair from my face. “We’ll figure out sleeping arrangements among ourselves.”
“Thank you.” I whispered. She gave me a sad smile, getting up to walk back to where the other two waited for her.
I could hear them murmuring to each other, but didn’t bother trying to make it out. My eyes fluttered closed, blocking out what little light there was from the lamps that had been on. I could feel myself spiraling, trying desperately to grab a hold of anything within myself to steady myself. Two days ago, I had been standing barefoot, greeting the dawn, while we waited on a new babe to be born. How ordinary it had felt. How precious it was and I had barely even noticed. That girl had given away her child so she could have a chance at a life someone else wanted for her. My parents ruined lives for a chance to have a child. A child whose standing was so precarious that her very existence was in question. Should she live? Or should she be studied? Which would benefit them more? None of us ask to be here. But here we are, burning just as brightly as any star.
I must have fallen asleep. The next thing I knew was there was a hand on my shoulder gently shaking me awake. The room was quiet around me, the kind of quiet that settles once everyone is asleep. I could feel a warmth at my back, and that telltale rhythmic breathing that told me they were asleep. I cracked my eyes open, finding a pair of green ones staring back at me. For a moment I thought it was Kalea, but these were a darker green, and harder than her eyes were. I took in the lines and graying blonde hair around them.
“Laura,” her named croaked out of me. I was sitting up, throwing my arms around her, and she did the same.
I cried into her shoulder and she let me, rubbing circles on my back. I felt like a small child. The one that I had been when I’d run to her crying for one reason or another. Usually it was my parents absence keenly felt, or the solitude they had enforced upon me. I was lonely. And Laura had always been there for me. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed her until she was right in front of me. I didn’t mean for my emotions to get the better of me. I didn’t mean to pour them out all over her. But that is what it felt like as wave after wave of sobs rolled through me. She just accepted them. A few minutes passed before she was pulling me back to look at me, wiping tears from my face.
“Did you know what they were doing?” I gasped out. I had become aware that my hysterics had woken my friends. They had gathered around us, watching warily.
“Your parents?” I nodded. “I had suspicions, but no proof one way or another.”
“And me? Did you know about me?” I said, barely above a whisper.
“You? What about you?” she frowned at me. A moment later, some sort of realization came over her as her expression changed from confusion to shock. “Your father. He was always following you around with a notebook. They experimented on you?”
“Something like that,” I said simply, not feeling the need to explain further. I looked down at the file in my lap. “Only I was unaware. My mother confessed quite a lot to me tonight.”
“Well, Darian sent me to fetch you.” She stood, taking in my friends now standing at the foot of the bed. “I guess he assumed that since I got you out once before, I can do it again.”
She looked at her watch, then went to the windows, looking out over the grounds. Then to the door to listen through it for a moment before waving us over.
“We have to take the direct route this time. No time to navigate the walls. And I have help this time.” She grinned at me before opening the door just enough for a body to slip through. It was Gerard, looking subservient as ever. He even took a mocking bow towards me.
“Of course it’s you.” I could feel the hysterical laughter that had taken control of me earlier trying to bubble back up again.
I bent over, bracing my hands on my knees while I counted my heart beats. My eyes were tightly shut, but someone was rubbing my back, reminding me to breathe. I cracked an eye open, peering at Kagan, who was kneeling beside me while his hand made circles on my back. He took slow, deep breaths, motioning for me to mimic him. Inhale for five heartbeats, exhale for five more. It wasn’t long before I had both my breathing and heart back under control. We stood together, watching each other carefully.
“How did you know to do that?” I asked. He just shrugged at me.
“He used to have panic attacks when we were kids. His emotions just running off with him like an unbroken pony.” Kalea offered, coming over to look me up and down. “Our mom showed it to him.”
“Every day I’m more and more grateful to that woman. First for you two, and now this.” I smiled weakly at them.
“You okay to go now?” Laura asked, looking me over. I noticed that they were both wearing matching, maintenance coveralls.
“Yeah,” I leaned over to pick up the file I had dropped while I had been trying to catch my breath.
“Most of the guards have been reassigned to the other side of the house and grounds.” Gerard whispered, opening the door back up. The two guards that had been stationed in the hall lay crumpled on the floor just outside the door. I looked up at Gerard, who shrugged with one shoulder. “They wouldn’t leave.”
“Are they dead?” Nakoa whispered.
“Hard to say,” was Gerard’s reply as he stepped over the one closest to the door.
We followed him, stepping carefully over the prone man. Laura came after us. We moved swiftly down the hall and stairs. Once we reached the first floor, he stopped, easing around the stairs, listening carefully. He motioned to us to stop while he did this. Once he was assured the path was clear, he waved us on. It was only a matter of minutes before we were in the kitchens, to take the side door out. The whole way through the house, I couldn’t look at anything without thinking about how my whole life was a lie. The music room where my father had watched me learn to play piano, a lie. The library where I had learned to read, a lie. The halls I had run up and down, playing by myself, a lie. This whole house was a lie. And it was making me sick to be there. I stopped dead in my tracks in the middle of the kitchen. Perhaps the one place that hadn’t been wrapped up in the fallacy of my life. Where the staff would gather, where they were kind to me. The cooks sneaking me sweets. Laura laughing with other staff members. This is where no one had known what I was, and treated me just like any other kid.
“Are there staff in the house?” I asked.
“No, they were sent home just after dinner.” Gerard answered, wariness in his gaze. But he stepped out the door after Laura waved him off.
“What are you doing?” Laura whispered to me. I looked out the door to where my friends were climbing into a waiting SUV, likely with CGP plates.
“I need a minute,” I told her, turning towards the dining room.
“You have 30 seconds!” she whispered harshly at me.
I ran as quietly as I could to the formal dining area where I knew it would still have a candelabra on it. I snatched it up, and ran back to the kitchens. On the far side of the room was a table where the staff would eat. The silver candelabra, and white candles looked so out of place on the rough table. Matches were in a drawer at the end of the cabinets, just before the doorway. I lit the candles, leaving the matches next to it to rush to the other side of the kitchen. I blew out all of the pilot lights before throwing the switches on to full. The smell of gas hit my nose a moment later, and I turned to run out the door, slamming the door shut behind me to keep the fumes contained.
“We should probably hurry.” I announced, climbing into the passenger seat.
My friends were in the back, Gerard was driving, Laura in the middle. He took off without question, heading for the front gate, which had been left open to us. We were halfway down the drive when I heard the explosion behind us, causing everyone in the vehicle to jump. It wasn’t big enough to take out the whole house, but a good chunk of one side was now up in flames. It wouldn’t take long for the whole house to be up in flames. I watched in the rearview mirror as the smoke billowed, flames reaching for the sky. I could feel Laura’s eyes on me, but I couldn’t bring myself to meet hers.
“Liar, liar, pants on fire,” I whispered to myself as I continued to watch the flames spread up the side of the house in the mirror.