(This is 100% Marisol. She just asked me to read over it and post it for her while she sleeps all day like a vampire lady. I can’t take any credit for this greatness.)
“Hey, Jerkface. We should talk.”
Dragging the beanbag chairs out into the middle of the floor, Reggie and Simone sank down across from each other, both drained and energized in their own way. Simone felt like she had a little more of a grip on where Reggie was coming from, and Reggie was eager to close the rift in their friendship this last argument had caused. The gray elf girl hesitated, knowing that what she was about to bring up wasn’t going to be much fun for him. There wasn’t any way around it, though, not if the trust between them is going to be based on honesty and unflinching support.
“Hey…I want to ask you about something I found out. When I left here last time, I was really hurt. Like maybe the worst since I’ve come to Claremont, except for losing Adnan. There are a lot of personal reasons for that, but what matters right this second is that it means I wasn’t paying as close attention to what was going on with you; I was just reacting to my own shit. When I had a chance to cool down, I started thinking about the fight and some things you’d said, and I realized that there was a good chance something had happened to you, maybe a long time ago, that was getting triggered now. I’m not saying you didn’t kind of have good points on your own, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that you weren’t talking to me so much as reliving a different situation. So, I went searching through your past.”
Simone paused for a moment, watching to see how he was reacting to her words. For once, Reggie seemed to go completely still, his face a nearly-unreadable mask. That was to be expected, though. His eyes closed, and he seemed almost to brace for a hit.
“I found an article about a boy. His name was Jack Simmons. You were a witness in his death by a drunk driver. You weren’t named, but there were enough clues to piece it together. You had to have been, what, only ten years old?”
Silence stretched on for a minute, which is an eternity to wait for a response from a guy who burns through time and space like the sun inside him. Finally, he let out a breath.
“Yeah, I was ten.”
“Have you talked about it much?”
“I haven’t talked about it at all.”
“Talk to me. Please.”
Reggie shifted his weight forward, leaning his elbows on his knees and resting his hands against his forehead. Simone watched and waited, hoping she wasn’t making things worse but trusting in her insight and his resilience. When he began talking, it was in a monotone with short sentences, like he was a younger version of himself, reporting.
“Jack…he was a powered kid too. Had the ability to control plant life. He was always listening to the trees. He was coming over to my house for a sleep over one night. He lived one street over. I was going to meet him half way. His mom always made me do that to make sure he didn’t stop to talk to too many trees on the way. I yelled his name and he looked up from a really old oak near the intersection by my house. He waved and started running and…”
Reggie stopped, digging his palms into his eyes. There was a faint tremor running through him, and when Simone reached out to put a hand on his shoulder, she could feel the vibration and knew he was locking down both himself and the fire inside. She was reminded that his human side didn’t have the luxury of a breakdown, not with that constant inferno waiting to burst loose, but she also knew that he was still a human and a human needs to be able to express their glorious, dangerous, messy feelings in order to be human. Reggie had made himself into a paragon, and she was pretty sure this denial of weakness was tied to the moment he was reliving. His shoulder tensed up at first at the touch, then some – a very tiny bit – of the tension started to ease.
“Hey. You’re here. What happened, as terrible as it was, is over. You’re here now, and you’re bringing this out because it needs to come out.”
Reggie removed his hands from his yes. “Couldn’t I just make sure nothing like this will ever happen again to anyone?”
He wasn’t looking for an answer to that, and she didn’t try to give one, partially because she was worried that anything else she said would be the wrong thing and what the hell would the right one be? What do you say to someone who logically knows all the factors involved but none of that matters because this isn’t a pop psych article. This is the rawness that marks your childhood and the rest of your life. Simone felt for a second like she was choking, feeling her own childhood traumas rise up and banishing them just as quickly. But they weren’t going to be gone for long, not if she wanted to balance Reggie’s confession with her own.
His next words came out calmly paced – again almost reporter-like – then began picking up velocity.
“The rest is simple. A high school kid coming back from a party ran the red light at the intersection. Never saw Jack. He was over twice the legal limit. Jack died right there. That oak he was talking to never dropped another acorn after that…but yeah. I was just ten, but I was a damn speedster. And I couldn’t get to him in time. If I hadn’t yelled, if I’d seen the car before it…if I’d just figured out what could’ve happened, I could’ve stopped it. So that’s why I do what I do now. Why I always need to know what’s happening before it happens, so I can rush all the scenarios in my head a hundred times in a second and figure out what is most likely going to happen. Maybe next time something like that happens, I will be in the right place at the right time to stop it.”
He finally took a deep breath and, for the first time since he began speaking, looked directly back at Simone, wiping his eyes with one hand and spreading the other out as if to say, “here, this is me, this has always been me.” Simone grabbed that hand and, standing up, tried to pull him out of his chair. Smiling slightly at her frustration, he pushed himself out the bean bag chair and looked down at her. She gave him a ferocious hug, holding it long enough to feel more of the tension easing from her friend, then stepped back.
“You know this but I’m going to say it anyway. You don’t need to be perfect. You can’t control the world, and you can’t protect all of us from danger all of the time. You couldn’t then, either. It wasn’t your fault.iI’m so sorry, Reggie. Jack sounds like he was just the best.”
“He was, really. Everything was always more alive when he was around, you know? And even if he got ticked off at you, an acorn bopping you on the head was the worst thing he would do to you. He was…yeah. I don’t know if I can talk about him that much right now. Maybe later?”
“Hey, if you ever want to tell me Jack stories, whenever you want, I am super down for it. There’s no way you guys didn’t have a blast together.”
Reggie half smiled again as other old memories came to mind. “Yeah, maybe in a little while. But I wanted to talk to you about our fight. So you know why I was freaking out over teenage drinking now, but that doesn’t excuse how I talked to you. Simone, I trust you. I know you’re smart, and you’re careful, and you don’t do stupid things to put other people at risk. It wasn’t fair for me to put the weight of that drunk kid from seven years ago on you. But…like you just said, no matter how careful you are, things can still blow up in your face.”
“I know. And maybe I shouldn’t trust the other students to make the right call as much as I do, but I do. I have to trust them, believe in them. Because here’s the thing: my world isn’t a dystopian hell-scape. If you saw it, you’d swear it was a pleasant, predictable, safe place, where people should raise their kids. Like the suburbs in this world. But it looks like that because nobody is trusted to make their own decisions, not about anything beyond the rules. It isn’t just life and death. It isn’t as clear as trampling on peoples’ freedoms. It’s more like a slow smothering. It’s that there’s always a sense that someone else knows better than you and if you don’t want to make problems, you should be a good citizen and trust them, not yourself or anyone else. Always. With your hobbies, your job, your family life, your tastes in music. With everything. They have people believing that the rule-makers have done what you’re trying to do: go through all the possibilities and pick the best one for everyone involved. But the problem was that I could see people weren’t really happy. That whoever they could’ve been never had a chance to fight its way out. It’s like a dream, but it’s a false dream. And I loved them all so much I couldn’t stand to see that fear and hesitation destroying it in them. So, I fought everything, all the time. I grew up like a thorn in that dream garden. I caused schisms.”
Simone paused, unconsciously rubbing her neck, and Reggie got very quiet, his eyes rapidly assessing his friend’s posture. He knew that look, but he never expected to see it on the rebellious firebrand in front of him; it was the look of someone who’d been nearly broken by long imprisonment and punishment.
“I put everyone near me at risk of government intervention just by being myself. When I did manage to find others who wanted to know who they really were, we became enemies of the state. We were children, Reg. How the hell do children become enemies of the state? All I had to do was be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student. And I wasn’t. I was a bad influence on everyone around me because I believed in them over the government. So, I had to be contained, and if my parents couldn’t do it, well, then the state would. The first time I was put in solitary confinement, I was five years old by your earth standards. I don’t remember much other than screaming for two days before I could manage to break through their teleport blocks. Then came everything after: power restraints, nullifying bracers, shock collars, injections, the works. The reason I’m so stubborn and so good at picking up on what’s going on around me is because I’ve been trying to outsmart and out-stubborn everything thrown at me for the last nine years.”
“Christ, Simone. And your parents…they allowed this?”
“They didn’t like it. I can say that now, but when I was little I thought they hated me. But they loved me. I think they love me. I remember my mother holding me on her lap, hugging me, begging me to just be a good girl and they wouldn’t take me away. That’s when I realized it wasn’t just disappointment; it was fear. Because beneath all those good influences and examples and comfort, there was always fear. And if they didn’t allow those restraints, the state would take me away, and nobody knew what would happen after that. By the time I turned fourteen, I wanted them to. I wanted them to take me to their fucking compounds on the hill and show me how ugly they could get under all that softness. And then I’d know exactly what I needed to do to destroy them.”
As she spoke, Schism’s eyes turned a dark red with pure, untempered hatred and her mouth twisted as she spat out those last words. Taking a moment to shake her head, as if to clear it, and take a calming breath, she continued.
“My grandmother Vira was the only adult I knew who didn’t fear them like the others. I know there was a resistance movement…somewhere…and that she’s somehow tied to it, but I think maybe I was too young to be trusted to know more. She’s the one who found out about Claremont, I have no idea how. She convinced my parents that sending me away was better than me being taken away. And my brother and sister, they were trying to just get on, but they looked up to me, you know? Yeah, I have siblings. I don’t talk about them much. Twins, five years younger than me. I miss them. It was like I had to choose to either put them in danger as a bad example or watch every true, real part of them die off while I did nothing. So, I left. I came here to learn what I could never learn in my own world, so I can go back and free them, somehow. And yeah, I get it, there are rules that have good reasons behind them. I’m not as crazy as I was when I first got here, ok? But when I was in that detention center in Greece, they put a…they put a power restraint collar on me after I took the fall for Adnan and Aramat, and I swear I could taste the same damn air from my home world in my mouth every time I tried to take a breath.”
Reggie reached out a hand to offer some comfort, holding it still on her shoulder as she flinched and recovered.
“Hey, Simone. Look at me. If I ever, ever say some pretentious crap about you needing to be a good example again, you have permission to teleport me up to the Lighthouse, ok?”
She gave him a shaky laugh, “You’ll just jump down from it and start running around the earth in circles like in that cheesy Centurion biopic from the 80’s you showed us last Tuesday.”
They both leaned back against Reggie’s desk, knowing there was a lot more to talk about but feeling the relief of getting the worst out in the light, shared with a trusted companion.
“So, since compromise is some exotic novelty you have in this world, and I’m all about new experiences, how about I ease off on introducing other Claremont kids to the joys of brain-altering substances and you…”
“Stop being a judgmental jerkface?”
“Hey, you said it, not me. This time.”
“It’s a deal. So, in honor of this agreement, how about we go, uh, liberate some ice cream from the kitchen freezers? I noticed a new shipment of Pralines and Cream came in this morning.”
“Damn, Checkmate, we’ll make a rebel out of you yet. Hell yeah, I’ll race you there.”
“You’re on, chicky.”
“Suck it, Patriarchy!”