After a great deal of thinking, I chose a fourth option: waiting for him to talk. I mean, what if he wants to help us, or inform us about their plans? Jumping into conclusions won’t help, anyway.
But for now, what must concern me is Ms. Emma and her relation with Peter. Their last names could’ve been a coincidence, but coincidences don’t make you nervous and stare at strangers with a look of recognition. She is related to him, I can feel it, but how? Well, that’s what I’ve been trying to figure out. Reading her mind while she was looking at Peter was a perfect chance to have all the information on a silver plate, but she wouldn’t stop talking, and that’s the limit of my ability. The other side has to be silent. Talking to Peter about it might at least give a clue to the answers we’re looking for, even if he doesn’t know, or have never seen her before. There must be something he knows that might lead us to the explanation, something neglected in his memory but utterly important at the moment.
Why hadn’t I remembered it earlier? What if a relative of his was exiled in Xolina? He wouldn’t know about it because he probably thinks he or she is dead. This relative might relate to Ms. Emma, and thus, sharing his or her last name in any way with her. Actually, she might be that relative.
If talking to him didn’t seem a good idea earlier, it does now. I step out of my room and rush to his, knocking at the door twice.
“Come in, Zoey!” his voice shouts from the inside.
I push it open and find him sitting on his bed, listening to music.
“How did you know it’s me?” I ask him, sitting on the side of his bed.
He shrugs. “You’re the only one who knocks; others just barge in.”
“Okay, listen, I need to talk to you.”
He pulls the earphones off. “Sure, go ahead.”
“It’s about Ms. Emma, s-”
“I don’t know her, Zoey. I can’t talk about a stranger now, can I?”
“But she isn’t a stranger, Peter. You could see the way she looked at you: does it seem to you as an innocent stranger just randomly staring at you, or was it a look of recognition?”
His expression changes to a frown. “What are you trying to say?”
“I’m trying to tell you that she’s related to you. I’m not sure how, but she is.”
“And how can we be sure?”
“I need you to remember something that might have happened to any of you relatives, uncles, cousins, and aunts, any of them. Like, was any of them exiled to Xolina?”
From the look on his face, I can tell he’s confused.
“Fine, let me rephrase that. Did any of your relatives die when you were younger? Because, that’s what Poliners tell their kids when a relative is exiled.”
“Wait, let me remember.”
I nod and wait patiently, glancing around at his room.
“I do.” He murmurs, and I turn my gaze back to him.
“What is it?”
“I do, I remember, but could it have been that little incident, or something else?” he wondered in murmur barely audible, looking as if he tasted something bitter.
“Incident? What incident? And can you please calm down first? You look…” I pause noticing the change in his expression; his furrowed eyebrows, his clenched jaws, all of them indicating how a typical Peter looks like in distress. “seriously nervous.”
He shakes his head and turns his gaze back to me. “I was just an eight year old that night. The way my father looked like; shock and disbelief mirrored in his eyes, the way mother pulled me softly to a corner and explained the whole matter, the whole image is still in my mind, like an old important file on a memory card. I was told that my Uncle once fell in love with a Xoliner, by whose parents he was killed because they got married. You know the enmity. And since then, I decided that revenge is to be taken by the first chance.”
I nod, comprehending the new information before giving him a respond. “How did your uncle know her?”
“He was an army officer, probably met her in one of his missions there.”
“And, what is she like? What’s her name?”
“I don’t know, Zoey, I don’t know anything. Then why do you think whoever she is, isn’t dead yet?”
“Whoa, hold on. Dead?”
“Zoey,” He calls in frustration.
“Right, I’m sorry. So, how old was he?”
“In his forties, I guess.”
“Well then, it is either his daughter or his wife. And according to his age and Ms. Emma’s age, she has to be his wife, if related to him in any way.”
His expression grows much more intense, and no matter how I try to stop the urge to sneak into his mind, I know I can’t just ignore how thoughtful he looks like.
I’ve been searching for his wife for ages, and I never knew for real what I would do the moment I find her. I only thought of killing her; she was the reason my uncle is dead anyway. And, if I am going to do it, now is the only chance. I have to take it.
“No, you don’t!” I shout in my mind.
“What?” Peter asks in a startled tone.
I mentally face palm myself. I didn’t do it again, now did I?
I did. I shouted my thoughts aloud.
“Oh, nothing Pete, I meant to say ‘no, it might not.’, referring to how Ms. Emma might not be related in any way.” I lie, laughing nervously like a hungry dolphin.
He raises an eyebrow before sighing in frustration. “Quit lying, Zoey, I know you did it again.”
“I’m sorry, I felt like I had to.”
“Why would you ever think you do? Your ability is to be used against enemies, Zoey, and I ain’t one.” He mutters, his tone calm and angry.
“I’m really sorry, okay?” I pause, waiting for an answer, but he only lets out an exaggerated sigh.
“Look, it’s not my fault you were thinking of a murder, okay? You can’t just decide to kill someone and I’m supposed to go with it like you’re going to kill an insect. It’s a life, Pete, you can’t just end it!”
“And wasn’t it my uncle’s life that got taken? Snatched away from him just like that? Why did nobody say what you just said, huh?” he snaps.
I take a breath.
“It was, but does killing her makes you any better than them? Will killing her make your uncle proud?”
“He’s dead, Zoey, because of her! Why don’t you get it?”
“Why don’t you get it? He loved her! If he were alive, he would’ve done anything for her.”
He opens his mouth to say something but stops midway, shaking his head and leaning on the wall.
“You know what? You’re right. I never thought anything straight; everything is crumbled in my mind right now. I don’t know what to do.”
“Do the hardest thing. Wait.”
He breathes in and straightens..
“Fine, but promise me one thing.”
“Sure, what is it?”
“Never trust her.”
I nod. “I promise.” I say, and he smiles sincerely.
“Let’s get down now, they’ll question our absence.”
“Yeah, right. Let’s go.”
Right after, we both walk out of the room, closing the door behind us.
“So, how is he now?” Jo whispers to me in the living room.
After we explained everything to her and Edward, they were amazed. Edward didn’t show it though, he just shrugged and patted Peter on the back telling him that it’s okay, but I knew it. I don’t think I need to explain how...
Jo, on the other side, gasped and hugged Peter as if he were a five-year-old kid whose favourite TV show got cancelled. But right now, Edward is playing video games with Peter, and I and Jo are watching them while we lay lazily on the sofa as we talk.
“I think he’s doing fine now, especially after I promised.”
“What did you promise?”
“To never trust her.”
“Zoey,” Jo hisses, “how could you promise that? What if she really is a good person? That might not be fair to her.”
I take a breath. The fact that she’s right makes me want to take that promise back, but I can’t, and now I have to keep it.
“I know, but Peter is our best friend, Jo. If this makes him feel better, then the hell with everyone else, I’ll do it.”
She smiles and nods, turning her gaze back to the guys as crashing sounds come out of the game.
Edward gets up a few moments later with Peter following behind.
“Zoey,” he calls, and my head snaps to him.
“Thank you.” He mutters, smiling, and goes up the stairs.
I lean back smiling to myself.
“You’re so done.” Jo says.
She pats me on the back and heads for the stairs.
“Good luck with that.” She shouts over her shoulder, and I snicker at her last comment.
Even the ceiling is plain. No squares, no circles, not even a dull design, just plain white. Yet, its dullness isn’t helping my awake brain at 3:09 after midnight. I sigh, giving up on trying to sleep and get on my feet, lazily making my way out of the room.
Perhaps a good sight might help, I think to myself before climbing up the stairs.
A slight breeze welcomes me as I step on the roof, breathing in some fresh air. I walk to the edge and carefully sit on it, letting my legs swing down freely. Looking up at the dark sky, with all the stars glittering it and twinkling with the blinking of an eye, I smile, already feeling the peace in the atmosphere filling me up.
A lot more magnificent than the ceiling, it is, I think, not even to be compared; this is real beauty.
As the air tickles my ear, and the branches of the tree on the other side of the road moves with the smooth wind, I hear a low but frequent sound, that is closer to be footsteps than anything else. I slowly lean down, trying to have a glance at the source, and as I look more intently, I figure it’s a boy, perhaps a teen. But, what would a teen do this late at night?
To satisfy my curiosity, I make a try to read his mind, but when my head started to go spinning, and my heartbeats got so fast that my ribcage pained, I stop, disconnecting from him. Taking quick breaths, my eyes widen in realisation, and I rush down the stairs and out of the apartment.
You are not getting away this time, you creepy lad!
Holding my breath, I follow him quietly into narrow paths and dark corners.
What is to be done here, I wonder?
He stops suddenly, and I quickly hide behind a wall that was right next to me. After a fair number of glances around him, especially behind him, he shakes his head and resumes his walking. I sigh in relief and take a peak, checking if all is clear before stepping back to where I was.
I take the same turn he took a few seconds ago, walking silently in the darkness. Footsteps behind me get closer, and I remind myself not to drop my guard.
“Is that you?” I shout over my shoulder.
“It depends on who you’re looking for.” The answer came in a drunken old voice, and I freeze.
Swallowing the lump in my throat, I turn around, looking at the man in the eye. He seems in the late thirties, and from his appearance, he seems to be a man who spent his life on the streets.
Perfect luck, Zoey. Stuck with a drunk homeless guy at 3 AM, the only defence you got is your bare hands.
“Well, whoever I’m looking for would never be you. Now, if you allow me, I shall go back to what I was doing.” I say in a bold calm tone.
“Sure, Ms, if you empty your pockets to me.”
“There you have it, Mr,” I say as I turn them out, “already empty, just as your skull.”
His expression changes, fills up with fury at the comeback, before he sends a knife flying in the air in my direction. I dunk and close my eyes, waiting for the sound of it hitting an object, but nothing comes next. Slowly, I open them, just to see the boy’s hand around the knife that’s a few centimetres away from my face. My eyes widen, and he takes it in his pocket.
“Nice throw, drunkard.” He comments with a smirk.
“Nice catch, boy.” The man replies back, slowly stepping back before turning and running away.
I take in a breath, relieved, before getting back on my feet and brushing the dust off.
“Why did you do this? I thought we were on different sides.” I ask him.
“We are never on different sides when you are my sister, Zoe.”
“Max?” I question in disbelief.
“Take care, sister, take care.” He shouts over his shoulder before turning behind a corner and disappearing in its darkness, leaving me in my own mess.
“Oh. Hello there.” I mutter out the moment I step into my room, my right hand holding a cup of coffee to get a grip on myself after what happened tonight.
Jo straightens her back and looks me right in the eyes. “Hello? Where on earth have you been?”
I walk towards her, silently placing the cup on the table on my bed’s side before taking a seat on the comfy mattress.
“I went for a cup of coffee. Why do you ask?”
Rolling her eyes, she says, “Zoey, don’t lie to me. I checked in the kitchen forty-five minutes ago, and you weren’t there.”
I sigh. “Fine, I went on the roof.”
She narrows her eyes. “And, you lied about a thing as simple as that because...?”
“Because I didn’t just go up there. Something caught my attention, and I chased after it.”
“Oh! Come on, Zoey, spell it out!” she yells in frustration.
“Okay, okay. Did you notice that boy at school who kind of always glanced at me?”
“That creepy kid? Yes, I did.”
“Well, that kid is a Xoliner. I found it out when I tried connecting to his brain and got blocked out. An open mouth can catch flies, by the way.” I say and she shuts it instantly.
“And,” I start again, “that creepy kid is my long-lost brother. Max, he’s Max.” I utter, pushed back myself for being so collected when I said it.
“What?” she asks in a calm yet astonished voice.
“He was the one who caught my attention, sneaking into dirty corners. I followed him until an unfortunate incident happened that I would love not to talk about, and we had a conversation. I knew it was him when he called Zoe. Nobody but him calls me that, I-,” and that’s when my voice cracks. Jo pulls me into a tight hug, and I break down. “I missed hearing it, Jo, more than I thought I did.”
She pats me on the shoulder, and whispers close to my ears, “At least he’s still alive.”
I take a deep breath and nod. Pulling away, I wipe my tears with the hem of my shirt.
“So, are you fine now?” she asks in concern.
“Where is my coffee?”
She snickers at that, and hands it to me. “It’s still warm, drink it before it runs cold.”
“Thanks.” I say, taking a sip.
“Oh, and by the way, I’m sleeping here tonight.”
“No buts, I’m still staying whether you like it or not.”
I chuckle, “I was going to say I might push you off the bed.”
“Do it, and I’ll let you sleep on the floor.”
Laughing, we both move to one end of the bed. Jo lays by my side and I get seated leaning at the wall, sipping my coffee with one though circling around in my mind.
Is Max an enemy now?
The next morning is a mess. Besides the fact that it came just 30 minutes later, I’m in no mood to go to school. It’s not necessary any ways, but if Max would be there, I might get an explanation.
I shake Jo, and she wakes up. Smiling, she yawns, gets off the bed and out of the room.
I place my empty cup on the side table and stand up, stretching and flexing my sore muscles. I change into a black sweater and a grey pair of jeans before Jo walks back in, dressed and ready to go.
“You haven’t done your hair yet?” she asks.
“It’s in a messy bun, no worries.”
She stares at me with her –are you kidding me- look, then shrugs.
“Let’s go.” She says over her shoulder and follow her.
“You’re late, girls.” Ms. Emma states the moment we take our seats.
“It won’t happen again, we’re sorry.” I apologise.
“Stick to that, young lady, or else you won’t be allowed to sit in my class.”
“I can’t believe that! It’s just two minutes!” Jo hisses in my ears, and I let out a silent chuckle.
I glance around the room, examining all the faces and searching for a blocked connection, but I find nothing. Disappointed, I let out a sigh. Where can I find him now?
“Hey, what’s wrong?” Jo whispers.
“He isn’t around.”
She nods, “Can I ask you something?”
“Were you and Max twins?”
“Yes,” I say after a pause.
We weren’t just twins; we were connected by soul more than blood. But I wonder, are we now?
The bell rings, and Ms. Emma walks out. I get on my feet and start heading out. I need to find him even if that means going to that corner again. Before I go any further, Edward holds my arm, and stop, turning around to face him.
“What’s wrong with you today?”
“I haven’t slept.”
“And where are you going? We only made it through the first class.”
“To the apartment, Ed, I need to get some sleep.”
“Fine, do it, but answer me first. Honestly.”
“All right, go on.” I say folding my arms over my chest.
“Are you okay?”
“No, I’m not.”
“You asked a question, and I answered it.”
His jaw clenches. “Fine, get going, but remember, if you need anything, I’m ready to help.”
“Thanks.” I say smiling, before making my way out of the building.
I twist the door knob open and slide inside my room. And that’s when shock turns my face pale.
Max stands right in front of me.