Lyra couldn’t believe it – not only could she not visit the park, but she couldn’t even go to school! If anyone had told her that she would miss her education, she’d have laughed in their face – but there it was. She was lonely and bored, neither of which did her any good at all.
It could have been worse. Her papa had taken time off work to keep her company – though they spent a lot of time in a semi-comfortable silence. She knew he was doing his best not to remind her of what she’d lost, and she appreciated it, but sometimes she just wanted him to tell her that it would all be ok. Even when when she knew it wouldn’t be.
Why couldn’t he just lie, like a normal parent?
She sighed, getting up from her bed and gazing around her room. It felt strangely bare without all her posters. Her radio and mirror were gone, too. She didn’t feel like dancing anymore, and her face was something she would rather avoid. She couldn’t ignore her heritage, but she would rather not be reminded of it every morning.
Her spine twinged as her clothes brushed against her new tattoo. She’d planned on getting her whole body covered in them, but Leo had refused. Get used to this one first, he’d said, then ask me again. She’d cut her hair in retaliation.
Her room was a blank canvas, and so was her body. The problem was that she had no clue what to do with either of them. Without her dancing, was there anything left of her? She’d built all her hopes and dreams around that one idea, and now it was gone.
“The food will get cold,” Al called through the door.
She rolled her eyes. She didn’t have anywhere to be, but woe betide anyone in bed after seven am. Breakfast was family time. She didn’t have it as badly as her dad, though. The poor man worked until midnight, and he was still expected to be up and eating with everyone. Not that anyone dared wake him if he wasn’t – she giggled as she remembered Ellie’s warnings. Apparently he could be quite fierce when sleep was involved.
Lyra made her way downstairs, passing a zombified Shea on her way. She hoisted her cousin up onto her hip and carried her down – the last thing they needed was a return to Lor’s first aid kit. She grunted, putting the young girl back onto the ground. Shea would be a teenager soon, and she was certainly beginning to feel like one. It was a good thing she had so much upper body strength, or they’d have both ended up falling.
“There you go, lass.”
Shea mumbled something unintelligible, weaving her way over to the kitchen. If this was going to be a regular thing, they might need to dig that coffee machine out storage soon. She’d be a nightmare otherwise.
“Hey, Ly. Come here a sec.”
She glanced longingly at the fridge, then back at her brother’s expectant face. Few things were more important than food, but she would be lying if she had said Altair wasn’t one of them. He’d been a mess after The Incident, as she now called it, and it was good to see a smile on his face again.
He held out his phone, and she peered at the screen. It was completely filled with messages, and her eyes blurred as she read them.
– Tell Ly we miss her!
– I’ve started throwing things in science class. Her legacy will live on!
– Now who am I going to stare at at lunch time? The cutest girl is gone.
Her eyes widened at that last one, and she checked the sender. Anonymous. Curses. She had an admirer, and she hadn’t even known it.
– Do you think she can mix up some of that ‘blue fire’ stuff again? It’d make prom a lot more fun.
She giggled. That one was from Yaritza. She turned to her brother, wiping her eyes on her arm.
“Thanks, Al. I needed that. And tell Yari I’ll make lots of different colours, and she can choose which ones she wants.”
“By the way, when are you gonna tell the dads that you’re-”
“Hey, you’re the one who butt-dialed me while you were talking about it. Not my fault that you keep your phone in your pocket.”
“I’ll tell them soon, ok? Yari needs to tell her parents, too – I don’t want them hearing gossip before she can do so.”
She hugged him tighter. “I don’t know about her parents, but I think ours will be thrilled. Goodness knows we need some good news right now.”
It had only been two weeks, but they had been the longest two weeks of her life. She’d read all the fiction books in the house, she’d tried her hand at fishing – which had been completely gross – and she’d even tried working in the garden. She sulked at the memory of the last one. How was she meant to know that those weren’t weeds?
She was getting desperate. That was the only explanation for why she was sat at the bar with a book of beginners rocket science in her hands. Ellie had left it behind when she’d moved, claiming not to need it anymore. It was too basic for her, it seemed.
Lyra’s head was aching and she hadn’t even finished the first chapter. If this was what basic looked like, she wasn’t going to get anywhere. So many diagrams…
Her phone buzzed and she sighed in relief. She was saved.
Mind if I pop by? I’ve got the day off, and I could do with one of your fancy drinks.
“How’re you holding up?”
Were her feelings that obvious? She would be terrible at poker, if so.
“I’ve been worse. Today’s looking up, though,” she smiled, reaching for her big sister’s hand. “Come on, it’s drinking time.”
“It’s ten in the morning.”
“Exactly. Drinking time. Don’t worry, it’s non-alcoholic,” she said as she led the way into the back garden. “For now, anyway.”
“So, are you making the most of your time off?”
Lyra laughed, bitterly. “You make it sound like something I’ve chosen.”
“Would you rather I say ‘How are you enjoying your forced imprisonment’?”
Lyra took another glass out from underneath the bar and began making her signature ‘Everything is on fire and my mouth is filled with lemons’ drink. Extra salt, she decided. She deserved it – she was certainly feeling salty today.
“Honestly? It’s awful. I have no idea what I want to do with my life, let alone whether I’ll be allowed to do it. I miss my friends, I have no goals, and I’m either bored out of my skull or nervous about my mandatory ‘career meeting’ with The Powers That Suck.”
She heard Ellie stifle a laugh at the last part, and the corners of her mouth twitched upward.
“You mean the government, I assume.”
“Well, they can’t force you into something you hate. You can always say ‘no’.”
“Can I really? If I don’t do what they say, they might try to send us all back to Sixam. I can’t do that to you all – it would be selfish.”
Lyra turned around, startled. Now that was a voice she hadn’t heard in a while. Ellie stood, face frozen in shock.
“Hello, Ashlynn,” Ellie said, eyes cold.
“Just give me the word, and I’ll make her go away,” Lyra whispered, but Ellie shook her head.
“No, it’s fine. I’m fine.”
Ash walked over to them and stood near Ellie, who moved to the other side of the bar. Lyra raised an eyebrow. It looked like her sister wasn’t going to make this easy.
The silence was painfully awkward. She had to do something. She grabbed an empty glass and raised it above her head.
They both looked at her like she’d gone mad, and she winced. Why did she always crack under pressure? Then Ellie laughed, and the tension melted away.
“Pretty sure you’re meant to use a full glass for that, Ly.”
“Well, sometimes we’ve got to make do.”
The silence was back, and she frowned. This was ridiculous. She was about to say something, anything, to break the barriers that had sprung up, but then Ashlynn spoke.
“I’m sorry, Ellie.”
“What for? You’re going to have to be more specific.”
Ouch. Yep, definitely not going to make it easy.
“For not believing you. For leaving.”
“I waited for months. Months, Ash. Not even a text.”
“I thought you cared about me.”
“I do. I just…”
“Thought I was lying.”
“When I saw the news, I realised… you really can’t leave. You weren’t just-”
“I wasn’t what, Ash? I wouldn’t lie about something like that. Why did it take something so plumming awful for you to believe me?!” She was yelling now, glowing red. “You could have trusted me.”
Ellie stood up. “I’m going inside. Don’t follow me.”
“I screwed up, didn’t I?” Ashlynn whispered as they watched the door slam behind her.
“Yeah, you did.”
“It’s not me you need to convince. It’s probably best that you leave.”
“Altair Centauri, if you think for one moment that I’m not going to marry you, you’ve got another thing coming. I’m going to tell them tomorrow.”
He grinned, flushing with pleasure. If one good thing had come out of the last few weeks, it was this. She’d shown up on his doorstep the day after the twins had made the news, grabbed his hand and dragged him into the garden.
“Don’t you dare think about leaving,” she had said. “I don’t give a plum what anyone says. You’re staying with me and that’s that, ok?”
He’d gaped at her like an idiot, hardly able to believe she still wanted him after all that had happened. “Yari-”
“You said that the ring could mean what I wanted, right?”
“I want you. Marry me.”
It hadn’t exactly been the proposal he’d imagined. It had been better. Of course, they couldn’t officially get engaged until they’d both left school, but unofficially…
“You know, I’ve still never seen your room,” she said, smiling against his lips. He took her hand and led her upstairs, thankful that everyone else was outside. He’d be teased mercilessly if anyone saw.
“I like it in here,” Yaritza said, nuzzling into his hand as he moved a strand of her hair out of her eyes. “It’s relaxing.”
He kissed her, bringing her closer so that their bodies seemed to melt into each other. She really did fit perfectly against him. Their hands soon found their way under clothes, and they lay down on the bed, exploring. Al brushed his lips over her collarbone, working his way down her body. He shifted slightly, almost falling off the bed, and she giggled.
“I think we need a bigger bed.”
His eyes widened. Did she really mean what he thought she did? She kissed him again, deeper, and his doubts fell away.
“There’s one upstairs. It used to be Ellie’s room, but no one goes up there anymore.”
She sat up, gently pushing him off her as she slid off the bed.
“Come on, then.”
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.”