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Author's note: This story has been roaming around my head for a long time; I'm glad to have it out for others to see, too. Please feel free to give advice, comments, and suggestions!
A Day In The Life
I lifted my eyes slowly, being sure to memorize the stunning view ahead of me. A blood red sun, contrasting the vivid purple and pink sky, was setting into the horizon of tall trees. I was sitting high up on a sturdy branch of my favorite oak, my two best friends next to me. I leaned against the smooth trunk, sighed to myself ever so softly, and tore my eyes away from the brilliant sky.
I looked over at my friends, sitting next to me on our branch. Alice was mesmerized by the sunset, her deep brown eyes never faltering away from crimson sky. Her long, barely brushed red hair matched the color of the sky perfectly, but she tossed it over her shoulder impatiently, eyes still fixated on the summer sun.
Quiri, on the other hand, fidgeted constantly. His long, tan fingers ran through his dark brown hair absentmindedly, and he kicked his legs against the branch. His midnight blue eyes met my cerulean ones, and he smiled pleasantly, but I could tell his mind was a million miles away, so I retreated back into my own thoughts.
I smiled to myself, remembering another time when I had watched the sun set with friends- on the roof of the Manor, just under two years ago when we were new here. Quiri wasn’t around then- it was just me, Alice, Tolling, and-
Bam. I nearly fell out of the tree; the emotional pain I felt everytime I thought of Flex, the fourth of the original Survivors, was excruciating. He had been the one who held my hand when I’d woken up from the Sickness in the hospital, screaming in pain, the one who’d comforted me at three AM when I’d had yet another nightmare, the one who I always knew I could count on. He was like another older brother to me, and I was his number-one fan, his adoring lil’ sis.
And then, just like that, he had vanished from my life. He’d told us that he was tired of being hidden away on a mansion just because he was different, that he wanted to go out and help people and live his own life. And so, against express government orders, he left us and went out into the world. He started working in a hospital and living in an apartment on the outskirts of St. Louis. Flex had called us every day and told us how happy he was, that someday soon we could all leave the Manor and return to our old lives. We were all just beginning to believe him. And then, only three weeks after he had left Survivor Manor, he had a relapse of the Sickness and died. This time around, his bout was lost within hours; there was no time for us to say goodbye.
I hugged my arms to my chest tightly, unwilling to let my emotion show in front of my friends. Alice, intent as she was on the sky, didn’t notice the look of pain cross my face, but Quiri did. His eyes found mine again, his face concerned, but I avoided his questioning gaze, embarrassed. So he took my hand, squeezed it softly and quickly, and dropped it just as fast, our gesture of reassurance. I smiled my thanks to him.
We’d all been through more than your average teenagers. I had been living my happy little life as Julia Von Streep, a taller than average, somewhat geeky twelve year old who had a passion for all things ballet. I had everything a sixth grader could want- a family that loved me, a best friend that supported me, good grades, and even a promising dance career.
Then I got the Sickness.
I mean, it has some long scientific name, but everyone just knows it as the Sickness. It’s horrible. No one knows where it came from, how it started, what it’s composed of, only that it rearranges every allele in your DNA. Everything about you- your hair, your eye color, your skin tone, your height- completely changes over the course of about two weeks. It’s like someone ripping you apart from the inside and trying to rebuild you in the course of fourteen days. About 20,000 people are diagnosed with the Sickness every year.
Only eight of us have ever survived.
Once you find out you have the Sickness, you are admitted into the ICU for a few days, where you are allowed a few visitors, and your family and friends can say goodbye. Then, once the DNA metamorphosis begins, you are taken to the hazardous ward, where you are treated by nurses in yellow biohazard suits. They do all they can to make you comfortable, but you generally die a few days later. Families aren’t even allowed to have the body; it’s still too contagious.
Flex was the first to make it through this nightmare. He stunned the doctors in his Dallas hospital by hanging on for two, and then three weeks after he’d contracted the Sickness, until he was strong enough to open his eyes and move his limbs. No one knew what to do with him- for all they knew, he was still contagious and could start an epidemic. But no one was willing to study him closely enough to see.
Because the doctors and scientists didn’t want to let into back into the community, they started to build the Survivor Manor, for him and for other future survivors of the Sickness. They agreed not to tell the public that it was possible to survive, in case this was a fluke. They decided to not even tell the patient’s families that their children had survived. They reasoned that Flex’s family wouldn’t have been able to see him or talk to him anyway. Flex inched his way back to health without the support of his family and friends.
About three weeks after Flex’s miraculous recovery, doctors in New York City thought they had a different patient who might live- Tolling. When he ended up pulling through, Flex and Tolling got together and named themselves the Survivors, because they had cheated death by beating the horrible disease. At their meeting, both discovered that the Sickness had given them extraordinary talents. Tolling was much stronger than he’d ever been before- he could bench-press three times what he’d been able to in his old life just a week after recovering from the Sickness. He didn’t have huge muscles or anything, but all of a sudden he was strong. Flex had heightened senses- he could hear, see, smell, and feel things no one else could, like whispers from rooms away. And while they were waiting for the mansion to finish being built, they found Alice and me, in two separate hospitals across the nation from each other, both struggling to stay alive after enduring an entire week of the Sickness. They traveled to us, helped us through the intense pain. And we both squeaked through.
When we first moved into Survivor Manor, right after I had recovered, we had a Survivor powwow and decided to make some changes to our lives. The four of us made sure we all took online classes to keep up with our grade levels (Flex had to enroll in an online university), picked out rooms in the huge mansion, and most importantly, changed our names. It was Flex’s idea- we all looked and felt different from our old selves, so why not be different people?
All of our names symbolized us, or at least meant something special. Flex, who used to be Russell Ross-Davidson, decided on his name after his hometown, Flexley Valley. Ben Reichart became Tolling because the first sound he heard after surviving the Sickness was a church bell tolling noon. Alice, who used to be Elyssa Floyd, chose the name Allanor as a combination of her two favorite aunts’ names, Elanor and Alison. But because no one would pronounce it right (it’s Al- uh-nor, by the way) she decided to go by just Alice. She tells everyone she named herself after all the famous Alices- Alice Paul, Alice Cullen, Alice in Chains, Alice in Wonderland, but it’s really just because she got fed up of hearing it said wrong. Alice’s special power is her ability to sense the feelings of others. Also, she ended up with really good night vision- even when it’s completely pitch black outside, she can see. I have no idea how her talents connected, but there you go.
I chose Miracle Sky as my name. Miracle was because my life was a miracle- I know should not have survived the Sickness. All the odds were against it, and yet I pulled through. Sky is because it’s my favorite color- the bright blue that settles over us on a clear summer day. But I go by Mira for short.
My special power is sort of similar to Alice’s emotional one, but much more confusing and complicated. I can sense information that others have and use it to solve problems. It’s kind of like I can go into people’s brain, pick out information that I want to know, photocopy it, and use or have it just like them. People generally don’t even notice when I do it- they retain all the info that I “borrow” from them. Also, I can use information and fit it together much more easily than most people. It’s like everything I know is a puzzle. I can get all the pieces, and solve them more quickly and efficiently than most people.
“Mira! Snap out of it!” Alice had evidently come out of her stupor and was ready to go. “They’re waiting for us back at home, remember?”
“Right. I’m coming.” I jumped to the ground, spreading my arms and legs wide as I fell and landing nimbly on my feet, Quiri and Alice right behind me. As we walked back to the house, they carried out an animated conversation, but I zoned out, completely contained within my own thoughts.
Flynn had joined the Survivors about three months after we’d moved into Survivor Manor. She had had an especially difficult bout with the Sickness, but she clung to life determinedly. When I met her, she was underweight and scarily skinny, with sunken, scared blue eyes. She was much healthy and prettier now, having gained her normal weight back and grown out her glossy blond hair. But it still killed me that she looked so different from the person she used to be, Lola Cortés Riviera, a girl with Hispanic heritage on both sides of her family, with cropped black hair and tanned skin. Now, she’s pale to an almost albino color.
She picked the name Flynn after a character in a Disney movie that she had watched incessantly with her younger sister before the Sickness. And her special talent was really cool- instant camouflage. She doesn’t disappear or anything, but if she tries to, she can change any aspect of her body- her height, skin and eye color, her hair length, shoe size, even how old she looks. Changing her look takes a lot of effort, though, and when she’s not actively trying, her appearance goes back to the blonde, blue-eyed teenager she really is.
“Mira!” Quiri nudged me. “What do you think?” I hadn’t even heard the question.
“Oh! Um, well…” I was spared answering as I spotted Tolling and Flynn walking towards us, his arm across her shoulder. They smiled at us and waved, looking blissfully happy.
I loved both Toll and Flynn, but I wasn’t at all comfortable with them dating. It’s not that I felt jealous of her- I don’t feel that way about Tolling at all. He’s like a brother, nothing else. I was nervous that they’d break up and make our lives a whole lot messier.
“Race you back, guys,” Quiri yelled to Alice and me, already sprinting away.
“Hey, no fair! Just ‘cause my special talent isn’t speed like yours…” she followed behind him, hopelessly behind. I giggled and sped off toward them.
“Hey, good, you’re back,” Kwitney said, bouncing on the tips of her toes and putting down her book. “I made popcorn. Somebody call Lennon and we can start the movie.”
Kwitney was the latest edition to the Survivors. She was adopted from Russia as a toddler by an African American couple and had grown up with all adopted siblings, each a different ethnicity and background. She had been Ashlee Steffen, a brown haired, soccer-loving girl from Washington state. Now, she looked more like her adopted parents- chocolate skin, a mane of curly black hair, and big brown eyes.
Kwit had picked her name at random from the back of a reference book, but it suited her just perfectly. She’d only been here at Survivor Manor for four months, but she’d already gotten really good at her power- healing. She could cure anything from a bruise to a burn, from a minor cold to small broken bones. Believe me; she’d had plenty of practice healing all of us; seven teenagers together all the time does not create the most injury-conscious environment.
Lennon thudded down the steps, his blondish brown hair flopping over his eyes. It was mussed up oddly in the back, like he’d been sleeping. He’d been here ten months, and among all of us, he looked the most like his former self, Tanner Goldstein. His hair had darkened just a fraction, he’d grown two inches, and his eyes had changed from piercing blue to a softer blue-green, but that was about it. He’d renamed himself after his music idol, John Lennon. His special talent was really awesome. Lennon could control electricity- anything that had a battery or a power cord was completely under his command.
“Hey, Kwit, did you get the sodas?” he asked, sprawling out on the entire couch.
“Yes, Lennon,” Kwitney replied, rolling her eyes and shoving his feet off the sofa so she could sit down. He shoved back good-naturedly.
“Come on, Mira,” Quiri said, eyes on the screen. “It’s about to start.”
I sat down next to him on the floor. Quiri had become one of my best friends almost immediately after he had come here, just over a year ago. He named himself Quirinus, after an ancient Roman god, because his dad was a college professor of ancient history. He had a confusing mixture of qualities; soft-spoken and gentle when it was just Alice and me, but very macho and tough around the other Survivors. He loved to tease me, but if anyone else insulted me he’d snap at them. But mostly, he was just my best friend.
“Hey, shut up! It’s about to start,” Tolling threw a pillow at Lennon, who was slurping his root beer loudly. Lennon grabbed it off the floor and hurled it back, yelling “Pillow fight!”
We all abandoned our movie positions and proceeded to hit each other with the maroon throw pillows, completely wrecking the living room in the process. Then, as we stared at the huge, daunting mess, we fell to the floor, laughing as the movie played on in the background.
It was a perfect day.
I woke up at seven the next morning to the fire alarm blaring from the kitchen. I smiled to myself- probably Kwitney, trying to make breakfast. Maybe she’d burned her oatmeal again. My theory was assured by Kwitney’s yell “It’s all right!” seconds later. My alarm clock subsequently started to beep loudly and obnoxiously, right in tune with the fire alarm. I groaned, hitting the snooze button just to shut the thing up before climbing out my full-sized bed. I could hear the rain pattering on the roof above me- I hoped the roads weren’t so bad that Marilyn couldn’t come.
Most days, none of us would even think of being out of bed before nine o’clock, but today was a Thursday, the day Marilyn Ambrose would come and visit. We all loved Thursdays, the one day we had contact with another human being other than our fellow Survivors. So when Marilyn came, usually around eight AM, we didn’t want to miss a minute of it.
Originally, we’d had a supervisor that lived with us full time. Dillon had been the first one, a seventy year old retired agent with no family and no life outside of his FBI job. He was begging to get away from the horrors and bores of retirement, so they sent him to us. We all got along really well for the first week. Then Dillon caught the Sickness and died.
They’d replaced him a few times. Vita was next, a scientist studying to figure out just what the Sickness was. She’d gotten sick just four days after her arrival. Then came Markus, a disgraced agent desperate for any kind of job. He’d lasted two weeks. After that, all the federal agents and scientists studying us agreed it was best to leave us by ourselves for the majority of the time. They had security cameras installed all around the house and grounds, and they’d send agents with Marilyn to our house occasionally to make sure we weren’t up to any trouble, but that was about it.
I changed into a pair of clean sweat pants and a green v-neck tee and pulled my curly mess of hair into a ponytail before heading downstairs. Everyone else was already in the kitchen, so I snagged my seat at the counter between Alice and Quiri, who were both watching with amusement as Flynn attempted to give Kwitney some cooking tips.
“Kwit, you can’t stick a metal fork in the toaster!” Flynn said, who had unplugged the toaster and was shaking it upside down to try and get the charred bread out.
“Why not?” Kwitney asked. “I have to get the bread out somehow.”
“You could get electrocuted!”
“Me, electrocuted?” Kwitney was shocked. “Lennon wouldn’t let that happen. Plus, I could just heal myself.”
Flynn opened her mouth to try and argue with her logic, but closed it and shook her head, just as the badly burnt toast fell out of the toaster and flopped onto the counter. Flynn picked it up, felt it in her hand for a minute, and stared incredulously at Kwitney.
“You didn’t really butter this before you put it in the toaster, did you?” she asked.
Kwitney looked confused. “Should I not have?”
The six of us fell onto into laughter again, until Kwitney broke down and started cracking up.
It took a full half hour to tidy up the kitchen for Marilyn’s visit. Kwitney had needed to take a shower to get all the toast crumbs out of her bushy hair. Everything was ready to go when we heard the doorbell ring and Marilyn walked in. “Hi, guys,” she called. “I brought some company with me,”
She took off her shoes and walked in, immediately hugging everyone tightly. Her black hair was sopping wet and her mascara was slightly smeared, but she still looked gorgeous. Marilyn was tall, even taller than Tolling and Lennon when she was wearing her four inch stilettos. Every time we’d seen her, she’d had a huge smile on her face that lit up the room.
Three people trekked behind her into the spacious kitchen. I recognized only one- Dr. John Parker Perry, the head of Sickness research and treatment programs for the FBI. He was pretty much in charge of us. “Hi, Mr. Perry,” Alice said cheerily. “How’ve you been?”
“Just John Parker, please, and I’m doing very well, thank you,” he smiled at her, but his grin it didn’t quite meet his eyes. Alice didn’t seem to notice. His dark brown hair was precisely the same color as his eyes, which were hidden underneath thick bifocals he called his “reading glasses,” even though he wore them all the time. He was not especially tall or muscular, and was not particularly handsome, but he had a way of speaking that commanded the attention of anyone within a twenty foot radius. “I’d like to introduce some colleagues of mine, Dr. Rosaria Benitez and Dr. Gregor Vladimir.”
Both smiled and nodded their heads slightly at the mention of their names. Dr. Benitez was a small woman with very tan skin and eyes like a trapped animal’s, darting around every which way, memorizing the makeup of the room. Dr. Vladimir had black hair down to his shoulders with very pale skin, and eyes that never seemed quite focused on the conversation.
“May we have a seat?” John Paul asked. Tolling nodded and led all of us out to the living room. All of the adults and the older kids took the sofa and the chairs, so I made do sitting on the plush rug, near Flynn. “Let’s get right to business, guys,” John Parker said, relaxing in our leather armchair. “How would you guys like to get back into the real world?”
The room was silent as we soaked in this new bit of information. “We could go home?” Quiri asked, trying to look neutral, controlled, but I could see emotions cross his dark eyes- happiness, confusion, disbelief, excitement.
“No.” Dr. Vladimir spoke in a thick Russian accent. We all stared at him, completely bewildered. Before we could pelt him with questions, Marilyn broke in.
“You guys wouldn’t be able to go home yet; this’d be kind of like a trial run. The plan is to send you to a boarding school and see if you’re ready to move on with life. You could have friends your own age, do sports again, take classes with real kids, live in a-”
Lennon cut her off. “Why couldn’t we go home and see our families?” he asked, impatient and distrustful.
“We’re not keeping you from your families just to make you angry. We considered sending you home, but we’re not 100% positive that you’re not contagious. None of us want your families to get sick, too.” John Paul spoke comfortably and confidently. “We’ve been looking into this school as a potential temporary home for you all ever since the first of you arrived here.”
“I wasn’t completely on board with this idea at first, you guys, to be honest,” Marilyn said, “but it really is a good idea. I know y’all miss hanging out with kids your own age and doing sports. Brookby Academy, where you’d be attending, has some really cool programs. They have great opportunities for really smart kids and tutoring in all subjects. You could take drama classes again, Kwitney, and Lennon could take guitar lessons. And all you boys could play football. Flynn and Mira could go out for cheerleading, or play volleyball, or take dance classes. There’s something for everyone.”
“Well, if you send us to boarding school, isn’t it just as likely that these kids will be exposed the Sickness?” Kwitney asked logically.
“No, that’s the beauty of it.” John Parker told us excitedly. “Brookby Academy records show that 82% of their students have been exposed to the Sickness in some way during the past two years. Some lost a friend, others a relative. And they’ve all taken vaccinations just to get into school, which your families have not had done. Plus, they’re young and strong, and your parents are, well…” he trailed off, changing his wording. “Your parents have not had the kind of immunization that these kids have had.”
“But there’s still a chance these kids could get sick, though, right?” I asked.
“Well, yes,” John Paul admitted, “but-”
“I don’t think we can chance it if it could potentially infect all these innocent kids,” I said. Everyone stared at me. “C’mon, guys, you can’t seriously think-”
“I think we need to talk it over, just us Survivors,” Tolling cut me off hastily. Dr. Benitez and Dr. Vladimir looked less than thrilled at this suggestion, but Marilyn nodded understandingly.
“Of course. We’ll just wait outside in the garden, then. Call us in when you’re ready.” She smiled as she led the others out the back door.
“Okay, guys, what do you think?” Tolling asked us when they were safely out of hearing distance.
I opened my mouth to protest us leaving, but Flynn spoke up first. “I think we should go,” she said, glancing at us all. “It’s a really good opportunity, and we don’t want to be stuck in this house for the rest of our lives.”
“What?!” I was stunned. “I thought that we were happy here, and that we agreed not to risk infecting the entire world.”
“We are happy, Mira,” Lennon said, quietly and thoughtfully, “but don’t you miss your old life? You know, hanging out in the mall, learning in an actual classroom, going to get ice cream just because you felt like it. I know you miss dance. Aren’t you tired of learning ballet from Youtube videos? Don’t you want to be back in the real world?”
“Of course I do, but-”
“Mira, this is our chance! We can’t live in our safe little bubble forever. Don’t you see? When this year goes well, then they’ll let us go back home. And then we won’t have to hide away.” Alice went on, excited. “It’s a really good idea.”
“But what if we’re not ready? We could KILL these kids!”
“Of course we’re ready-” Flynn began, but I cut her off.
“You don’t know that! And if anything does goes wrong, it’ll be our fault. We’ll be the ones who doomed them to die. It’s selfish of us to take a risk with these kids’ lives!”
“Selfish? Your decision is the selfish one, Mira,” Kwitney was angry, her eyes widening slightly, fists tightly clenched. “We deserve a second chance. At life, at school, at everything. I don’t want to grow old in some mansion out in the middle of nowhere without my family! I want to go back to school, get a job, have a boyfriend. I want to live, Mira, and the hell am I going to let you take away this opportunity to have my life back.”
“Listen, Kwit, I want to go home even more than you do,” I said, my own temper flaring, “but there’s something wrong with this picture. Why now? Why not in a few years, or why not two years ago? Why won’t he let us talk to our parents, or even let them know that we are alive? I don’t trust John Parker.”
“I would know if he had anything bad planned for us at boarding school, Mira, I can read his emotions,” Alice rolled her eyes at me, and I was tempted to throttle her.
“Did you?” I asked.
“Well, no, but…”
“Exactly! None of this adds up. Why is he telling us about school a week before we’re supposed to leave? Why didn’t he let us visit Brookby first? Why-”
“Let’s not keep arguing, guys,” Tolling interrupted . “Why don’t we just vote on whether to go or to stay here? All in favor, raise your hand.”
Six hands went up in the air, some of them quickly, like Kwitney, others slowly, like Quiri. “It looks like we have a majority,” Tolling said.
I stood, blinking back tears, and ran out of the room.
I headed straight to my bedroom on the top floor, in the farthest corner of the house. I didn’t bother to turn on the lights- I headed straight to my window and screeched it open, pushing out my screen and climbing out onto the roof like I had a million times before. This might be the last time I come out here, I thought, as the tears started to free fall down my cheeks.
I climbed the gentle slope of the roof until I was in my favorite spot; a small, flat area of roof nestled right next to a tall red-brick chimney. I put my head between my knees to try and impede my sobs, but they escaped me, one by one.
How could I leave the Manor now? After two long years confined here, I had grown to love the place. I had my garden, where any and every flower bloomed freely under watchful hands. We had the woods, where Alice, Quiri and I had spent so many hours exploring. The lake, the roof, the kitchen; they all housed so many special memories. I couldn’t let them go.
Part of the reason I hadn’t wanted to leave was because I was so happy here. I had never thought I would be- I had assumed it would be like a prison. It was like Beauty in the Beast, when he keeps her captive and she falls in love anyway. I hadn’t meant to like living at the Manor, but I did. It was home.
Another huge part was fear. What if the Survivors couldn’t handle the real world? What if one of us had a relapse of the Sickness, like Flex? He had been healthy and strong, and he had still died quickly and without warning. I didn’t want to sacrifice another one of us just to test a flimsy theory.
But my main reason for not wanting to go to Brookby was John Parker. He was always so kind and charming, but there was some instinct in me that told me not to trust him. I had only read his knowledge two times, not because I didn’t want to, but because the other Survivors thought it was rude and had forbidden me from it. And both times, I came up with new information that didn’t reassure me, but instead made me more suspicious.
He had told us that he was married with a baby on the way. He’d even shown us a picture of his wife. But when I read his knowledge for the first time, it showed me that he was a bachelor, and that he didn’t even have a girlfriend. It wasn’t a huge deal, but why would he lie about something like that? The other time, his knowledge had told me he was from a really rich family that lived outside L.A. But John Parker had told us he had spent his childhood growing up in a poor family near Denver. It didn’t make sense for him to lie about that stuff.
I had tried other times after that to read his mind, but I always came against some sort of mental block, like he wasn’t allowing me to access his knowledge. It puzzled me so much that I almost asked the others for advice. I knew I couldn’t do that; they hated it when Alice and I used our powers on others. Alice rarely read anyone’s emotions, so she wasn’t an issue, but they wouldn’t be happy if they knew about my reading the knowledge of John Parker, whom they all loved so much.
I took a deep breath, sucking in the humid midday air. In the early Survivor days, we used to hang out on the roof all the time. Not where I was- there was another flat space just outside the laundry room window on the second floor. We used to drag lawn chairs out there and sit all day, sipping lemonade and snacking on pretzels and Cheez-Its, talking, doing homework, whatever. The roof was the place to be for all Survivors. But when John Parker had found out about our spot, he had vetoed it, and no one except me went up there again.
I stayed up on the roof for another hour or so, collecting my thoughts, and then climbed down silently and sat down on my bed, grabbing my blue laptop from its place on my desk and powering it on. Alice walked into my room a few minutes later, not saying anything, just plopping down next to me on my bed, and staring at me. I could tell she was reading my emotions. I tried really hard to keep myself under control, but I could tell that she knew everything.
“They’re all looking for you in the woods,” she said nonchalantly, eyes still locked on mine.
“Oh, really?” I responded, just as casually.
“Yeah,” Alice replied. “We told John Parker you probably went out the front door and around the back, into the forest. I figured you didn’t want him to know about your rooftop excursions.”
“How did you even know about that, Alice?” I asked. “I didn’t think anyone noticed me. I was quiet.”
“Oh, you were,” she said, “but I am an emotion reader, you know. I gotta put my skills to good use every once in a while. Don’t worry, I won’t tell.” She paused, looking up at me. “You are planning to come with us to Brookby, right?”
I sighed, avoiding eye contact. “Of course I’m going with everyone else. What else can I do?”
Alice reached over and hugged me, hard. “Thank you, Mira,” she said quietly, “We need you there.” Her grin returned as she filled me in on what I’d missed.
“John Parker says we all have to pick full names. You’re supposed to call him and tell him yours tonight.”
“Oh. What last name did they choose?”
“All kinds of different ones. I’m Allanor Ivy Epsilon, it has a nice ring to it. It’s Greek for the letter E, you know. Flynn’s now Flynn Isabeth Paradox, mostly ‘cause her initials spell FLIP. Tolling chose-” she stopped short, reading my emotions again. “Oh, Mira. You thought… we’d all have the same last name, didn’t you?
“I thought we were supposed to be a family at this school.”
“Mira, we are a family, but we don’t look alike at all…I mean… oh, I’m butchering this whole comfort thing. Quiri, come in and help me out.”
Quiri, who had evidently been standing outside the door, eavesdropping the entire time, entered the room. “Mira, think about it. We chose different names because Tolling and Flynn are dating. How would it look if they were brother and sister and they were going out?”
“Oh. I see.” I was still a little offended, but decided to let it go. “What name should I choose?”
They pondered it for a second. “Oak? After the tree? Or a dance word, like pointe?” Alice suggested. “Or maybe a kind of flower?”
“No, that’s not it. How about your grandma’s nickname for you? Wasn’t it something like… passer? ” Quiri offered.
“That’s perfect! Miracle Sky Passero!”
“Passero? What’s a passero?” Alice was confused.
“In Italian, it means sparrow. My grandma lived with us, and she always used to call me that.” I sighed, remembering, but then snapped out of my melancholy mood. “Thanks for your help, guys,”
“Hey, Quirinus Lance Holland is happy to help anytime,” he replied, nudging me with his elbow and offering a hand to help me up from my seat. “And seriously, Mira, don’t worry, Brookby’s going to be great.”
I nodded and forced another smile, still certain that the decision to move was a bad one, but determined to stop sulking and make the best of it.
I walk slowly down a long, narrow hallway that was covered on all sides by tall mirrors. I can see my reflection in them, all different images of me. There I am, swimming in our little lake at Survivor Manor on a humid summer day; sipping hot cocoa inside the kitchen during a light snowfall last winter, working on my online Spanish course on my laptop right before my final exam; laughing in the oak tree with Alice and Quiri; crying on the rooftop right before we left for Brookby. I see the Julia me too; focused during a ballet class; walking with my best friend Lucy to spend the night at her house; eating dinner with my family; and in the ICU, saying goodbye to my family forever. I come to the end of this hall of memories and stop, staring at the final reflection of me.
I am standing straight, looking taller than normal because I’m wearing heels, my curly brown hair cascading down my shoulders much more elegantly than I could ever have styled it to do. I am wearing a very long, pale pink dress and carrying a bouquet of exotic flowers. I do not look happy; I have a defiant expression, but I can see the barely concealed fear lurking behind casual.
I see a gruesome face walk towards me. He has one blue eye and one brown eye that he cannot fully open, and his lips are permanently twisted into a satirical smirk. His face is badly scarred, and he is missing cartilage in his left ear. His black hair is greasy and matted to his horrific face. He laughs softly, creeping up behind me, his nostrils flaring in cruel delight. I try to run, but there is nowhere to go, so I scream at the top of my lungs, praying someone, anyone, would hear me, help me-
“Mira, wake up, it’s just a bad dream,” I opened my eyes as Flynn and Alice shook me awake as Kwitney stood hesitantly behind them, looking concerned.
“Huh?” I groaned, shifting into an upright position.
“You had another nightmare is all, Mira, but don’t worry, we’re almost to the airport,” Kwitney told me, patting my hand encouragingly while still retaining her distance. We’d had an awkward sort of half-truce since our fight over Brookby, and I wasn’t quite ready to apologize for that.
“The boys are in the other room, changing into their school uniform. We should dress now, too,” Flynn said, offering a hand to help me up. I stood somewhat unsteadily, still shaken by my awful dream.
“Are sure you’re all right, Mira?” Alice asked me after Kwitney and Flynn had left the room. “That’s the third nightmare you’ve had since John Parker told us about Brookby last week.”
Actually, it was the fifth, but I wasn’t going to volunteer that information. I hoped Alice wouldn’t read my emotions, so I rolled my eyes, acting like all was well. “I’m fine, Alice, I swear,” I lied.
Alice grinned happily. “Well, then, come on!” She pulled me along behind her, grabbing one of my blue suitcases- of course she would know which one had the uniforms in it- and throwing it at me. “Put your new uniform on!”
We had an entire private government plane to ourselves, which felt pretty cool. Before, I had only flown coach on huge airplanes. This was way more luxurious than anything I’d ever been in.
We switched out our regular street clothes for the Brookby Academy uniform, which consisted of white oxford shirt with a plaid skirt for girls or khakis for boys. Because it was orientation day, we also had to wear the navy blue blazers and blue ties that were mandatory for dress up days. “Ugh, I hate this getup,” Flynn said, tugging on her skirt uncomfortably. I giggled to myself, thinking it was probably the first skirt she’d worn in months.
“Believe me, the one at my old school was even worse,” Kwitney said, twisting her hair into a bun. “As private schools go, this uniform isn’t bad.”
The boys came out, dressed up in their new outfits as well. I slid into the seat next to Quiri, across the aisle from Flynn and Tolling.
“You ready for this?” Quiri asked. I nodded, and he laughed at me. “Even when you don’t say anything, you’re a horrible liar.”
I smirked at him. “Oh, really? Then how come you believed me when I said that your uniform looked nice on you?”
“Touché,” he grinned, lightly punching me in the arm. I hit him back, and a mild boxing session ensued, interrupted briefly by Flynn’s attempt at a stern “Quit it” that did nothing to stop us from fighting. We only stopped Tolling joined her and threatened in a half kidding tone to punch us both if we didn’t cut it out.
“Everyone, listen up,” John Parker, who had accompanied us along with Marilyn on the plane, said. “I have your orientation packets with me. They have all your class schedules, housing assignments, sports practice times, ID numbers, and basically all you need to know about this school, so be sure to look at them closely.”
I grabbed my packet, ripped the envelope open, and flipped through quickly, ignoring the letter of welcome and the explanation of Brookby’s school policies. I stopped short at the fourth page and stared at my schedule.
Name: Miracle Sky Passero Grade: 9 Homeroom: Ms. Sobczak D217
Hour Class Teacher/Room
1 Intermediate Spanish Mrs. Montgomery D314
2 Honors Biology Mrs. Bianchi S212
3 Dance Expressions Mr. Kohler- Arts Building
4 Honors Algebra 2/Trig Mr. Van Diest S315
5 Honors Literature Ms. Sobczak, D217
6 Honors World History Mrs. Nowicka S110
7 Technology Mr. Koehler D113
Extracurriculars: Intermediate/Advanced Ballet, Mme. Lepley, Hoyt Dance Studio
Housing: Willow 312 Roomate: Chelsy Clare Kilpatrick
I wasn’t surprised by any of the classes- I’d already been told that I’d be taking advanced courses. School came easy to me, mainly because I could read the teacher’s mind, which helped immensely when I was stuck on a test question. I glanced over at Quiri’s schedule- we had no classes in common, which didn’t surprise me. A glance back at Alice’s sheet showed the same result, which was more puzzling because we were taking nearly identical courses. “There must have been a mistake,” I said. “I was told Alice and I were going to room together, and that we’d all have classes together.”
“I know that’s what I said, but this is the way it turned out,” said John Parker, shrugging. “I called the school and spoke to the headmaster personally, but he said that we were lucky to even get a spot here. Sorry, you guys.”
We all compared our schedules. Not one of us had a class with another Survivor. We weren’t even placed in the same dorms as our friends- the only slight overlap was that both Lennon and Tolling were signed up for football, but Tolling was an defensive player and Lennon was on offense.
“I’m sorry that’s the way it worked out, but I’m sure the seven of you can work something out to spend time with each other. I wouldn’t worry about it,” Marilyn said.
I didn’t join in the conversation about how awful the schedule was. I just leaned my head against the small window and sighed softly, already dreading the moment we would land and be split apart.
A moment later, the pilot came onto the intercom. “Hiya folks. I’d like to welcome you to Pennsylvania,” he said in a jolly sounding voice.
“Yes,” John Parker said without looking any of us in the eye. “Say hello to your new home.”
“Welcome to Brookby,” a middle age woman wearing a no-nonsense outfit- a black pencil skirt, a tucked in green oxford, and sensible dress shoes. “I’m Mrs. Andrew, the wife of your headmaster and the Chemistry teacher here. I have two daughters attending Brookby- Luisa and Francine. You’re going to love this school as much as they do.”
It took about three minutes for every member of the group to become completely bored with her “Brookby is wonderful” spiel. “Can you believe this tour?” the girl next to me said, coming closer. She had really long hair that was right in between a dirty blond color and a light brown, with dark freckles splashed across the bridge of her nose, and hazel eyes that were rolled to the ceiling. “I don’t care about the history of the football stadium. I just want to go to my dorm room and chill out!”
She saw introduced herself. “Hailey Powers. I’m from Montana. And you are?” she said in a shrill high-pitched voice.
“Mira Passero. I live in Tennesee.” Technically, we weren’t positive where Survivor Manor was located- the government had decided not to tell us where it was to make sure that we didn’t try to run away. We’d guessed Tennessee, though- we could tell from Marilyn’s frequent stories about her weekends spent in Nashville that we had to be in close proximity.
“Tennesee? You don’t talk like someone from down South,” she said suspiciously.
“Because I was born and raised in Ohio. I only moved to Tennesee a few years ago.” I responded, rolling my eyes.
“Oh,” Hailey sniffed, still looking accusative, but then laughed obnoxiously and changed the subject “Where’re you staying?”
“In Willow Dorm.”
“Oh. I’m in Aspen. To bad for you, I guess. Everyone I’ve talked to says that Willow’s the smallest dorm and the one that no one wants to be in.”
This girl was really starting to irritate me, but I continued on because she was the first person I’d met at Brookby. “My best friend is in your dorm. Her name’s Alice Epsilon.”
“Is that short for Allanor?” She pronounced in uh-lay-nor. “What a coincidence! She’s my roommate!”
“Oh!” I wasn’t sure if I should be delighted or depressed at this news. Mostly I just felt sorry for Alice. “Well, she’s the nicest. You’ll love her.”
“I’m sure she and I’ll be BFFs in no time.” she responded. I was unsure if she was trying to be offensive or if she was simply rude. Before she could interrogate me more, the tour ended and we were set free to find our rooms. “I’ll see you around, Mira.” She flounced off without another word to me.
I slowly headed towards the slightly smaller red brick dorm labeled Willow. It wasn’t as modern as the others, but it was situated right on the shore of Lake Raleigh, the tiny body of water that the crew team used for practice. It was farther away from the main school buildings, but it was much prettier than some of the other dorms.
I walked into the lobby, a cozy room with dozens of comfy chairs and couches arranged around a fireplace and in front of a widescreen TV. On the east facing wall, there was a long window seat, overlooking the lake. I hoped I had that view from my window. I crossed the lobby and headed up two flights of stairs, stopping short when I saw room 312. It had a little whiteboard on the outside of the door with the words “Welcome Chelsy and Miracle!” written in green curly script. The door was ajar, so I knocked and came right in.
A girl I presumed to be my roommate was already inside, setting up her things. She looked up sharply when I came in, and then smiled. “You must be Miracle,” she said, striding over, hand outstretched. “I’m Chelsy Kilpatrick.”
She had light blond hair that was cropped into a cute bob and eyes precisely the same shade blue as mine. She was the same height as me, but she appeared a few inches taller because she walked around on the tips of her toes.
A woman with hair the same shade as Chelsy walked in. “Honey, I found your-” she stopped short. “Oh, I was hoping to meet Chelsy’s roommate! Hello there! I’m Mrs. Kilpatrick, Chelsy’s mother. Your name is?”
“Miracle, but I go by Mira.”
“What a pretty name. Are one of your parents around?” she asked. “I’d love to meet them too.”
“My guardian will be here soon. She’s just helping some of the other kids move in.”
Mrs. Kilpatrick looked incredibly confused. “Other kids? What-”
She was interrupted by Marilyn barging into the room. “Mira, Alice accidentally packed your pillow and sheets in her bag, here they are. Kwitney says she might have your swimsuit in her suitcase too, but she’ll give it to you later. Oh, is this your roommate?” she asked, already hurrying over greet them. “I’m Marilyn Ambrose, one of Mira’s guardians. Mira, do you have Flynn’s tennis shoes by chance?” she asked, turning back to me. “She can’t find them anywhere.” I dug through one of my duffel bags and handed them over. Marilyn quickly helped me make the bed and organize my clothes in the dresser.
“I’ve really got to run, Mira, I’m still supposed to check in with Flynn before I leave and stop in the main office and sign all your health forms. John Parker’s busy helping all the boys move in, I figured you wouldn’t mind him leaving without saying goodbye to you. I’m sorry I couldn’t help you more, but our flight home leaves in two hours and I’ve got a ton to do.” She stopped short and stooped down to give me a huge hug.
“You be good, Mira, all right?” she said, patting my back. “I’m really gonna miss you, sugar. Call me sometime, okay? Whenever you need to talk, I’m here for you.”
I nodded my thanks and barely managed to say “Bye, Marilyn,” before she hustled out of the room, waving behind her. I turned and saw Mrs. Kilpatrick staring at me, a curious look on her face. She looked away when I caught her eye, but I could tell she was looking for an explanation.
“I’m in the foster care system down in Tennessee,” I explained. This was technically true; the Manor was registered in the U.S. government as a home for “special” orphaned children. “When my parents died, I was sent to live with my aunt down South, but she couldn’t take care of me because she got sick too.” This was false, but I continued on with my fake story. “There’s seven foster-care kids here- the government decided this would be best for us.”
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t know about your situation,” Mrs. Kilpatrick said, giving me an impromptu hug. “If you ever need a place to go for the holidays, you’re welcome to visit our house.” She grinned at me. “I think you and Chelsy will get along just fine.”
Mrs. Kilpatrick left the room with her daughter so they could explore the campus and say goodbye. I could hear them talking and laughing as they walked together down the hall.
I sat on my new bed and stared at the floor, wishing I was back home.
Classes began the next morning, and though I struggled to find my way around and to readjust to learning in a classroom once more, I found myself enjoying everything about high school. I made friends with just about anyone; Chelsy, of course; a saxophone prodigy named Max; my lab partners Becca and Thomas; Reagan, who sat next to me in Literature; and others I came across. I’d forgotten what it was like to have so many options, to be able to hang out with anyone whenever I wanted. As fun as it was to make new friends, I occasionally mourned the old Survivor days. At the beginning of the year, we’d made plans to meet up all the time, but all our hopes and ideas had unraveled. I only saw my fellow Survivors a few times. I ate lunch with Quiri a few times, and once we went out for ice cream after I saw him at the football game, but that was all. In a matter of weeks, we had drifted apart, and I was embarrassed to say that though I thought about them, I was too busy with everyday life to really miss their company.
Maybe it was the move north, or all the physical activity I was getting in ballet class, or just the process of being a student again, but all of a sudden, time began to sprint past me, and it was all I could do to just keep up. Days flowed into weeks, and before I knew it was the end of October and time for the school-wide Halloween party.
Chelsy and I had both decided to be angels. It wasn’t hard to create our costumes; we wore our white tutus from our first ballet recital and cut wings out of cardboard from the art room. She even did my makeup for me; at Survivor Manor, I had never learned how. When we walked into gymnasium arm in arm, smiling at the over-the-top cheesy decorations, we were mobbed by a pack of our friends. “You two look adorable! I love the wings,” squealed Becca, who had dressed as a cowgirl. “Oh my God, there’s Sydney!”
This conversational pattern ensued for about ten minutes until everyone had arrived and the teachers began to shove us onto the dance floor. “Go dance or I’ll flunk you!” my math teacher, Mr. Van Diest, threatened us with a wink. So we did, first in a group and then in partners when the music calmed down. I had just finished a slow dance with a really attractive sophomore named Kyle when Chelsy came up to me with a plastic cup of Dr. Pepper.
“Don’t look now, but there’s a cute guy behind you who’s been checking you out for a while.” I immediately turned my head, saw who she was talking about, and began to wave when Chelsy knocked my hand down, nearly showering us both with soda. “I just said not to turn around!” she complained.
I laughed. “No, you’ve got it all wrong. That’s my friend Quiri, from Tennessee. Come on, I’ll introduce you.” I dragged my spluttering and protesting roommate across the floor until we were next to him. “Hey, stranger,” I said, elbowing him in the ribcage.
He started. “Oh, hi, Mira” he said, sounding surprised. There was a beat of awkward silence between us as he stared at me. “Um, you look nice.”
I smiled shyly. “Thanks. Hey, I just wanted to introduce you to my roommate Chelsy. Chels, this is Quiri, my friend from back home.” Chelsy smiled and shook his hand as a group of unfamiliar boys joined our circle.
“Hey, guys,” Quiri said. I laughed internally; the second his friends joined us, his voice got a bit deeper and his tone became more casual. “Mira, meet Michael, Billy, and Jake. I know her from Tennessee.”
“Oh,” the boy called Billy said, dragging out the word into several syllables. “One of the girls you live with. Nice to meet you, Mira.” The other boys snickered and made comments under their breath.
“Guys, cut it out,” Quiri complained. The boys ignored him.
“I’ve met you before, I think. You were with him at that ice cream store, right? I was there too, with my girlfriend,” a different one, Jake, insisted.
“Oh, yeah, that’s right,” I said, inching away from the pack. “Well, I’ll be seeing you-” I began, attempting to make an exit.
“So you two are having a powwow without me?” a familiar voice snapped. I whirled and came face to face with Alice, who was standing inches away. Even in the pulsing lights, I was close enough to see the heavy layers of bronzer that adorned her face.
“Hey, Alice!” I grinned at her, and then did a double take at her outfit. It was a witch costume, but not one that was really appropriate for a school event. It was strapless, with a super short skirt and fishnets, and was the kind of getup that looks really good in an ad but that no actual human could pull off. To complete the look, she was carting a broomstick, which was tucked between her torso and her arm at the moment because her hands were clutching a red plastic cup.
“Oh, howdy Mira!” she mimicked in a fake cheery voice. “Please. You’re making me sick.”
I glanced over at Quiri, who looked just as baffled as I felt. “What are you talking about?” I asked.
“You know, I thought we were all friends, so I put up with a lot of your crap. Both of you. But when you get to this school and completely ignore me, and then go off by yourselves, I’m going to get pissed!” she exploded, earning an odd glance from a few students on the dance floor.
I stared at her in shock; this was totally out of character. Alice wasn’t the type of person to freak out about something so insignificant. “Huh?” I said intelligently, as Chelsy and the boys backed away slowly, whistling and pretending like they hadn’t noticed that the atmosphere had suddenly gotten really tense.
“You know I like Quiri, and yet you continue to chase him even though we’re together, he and I,” she said confusedly, trying to grab Quiri’s arm and then stumbling as he snatched it away. For a moment, I felt like an idiot- since when did she like him?- until I connected the dots between Alice’s angry words, her outfit, the lack of self-control, and how she was only just now telling me she liked Quiri right in front of his face.
I grabbed the cup from Alice’s startled hands and lifted it to my nose. She tried to protest, but I was stronger as I sniffed. “Oh my God. You’re seriously drinking beer at a school party?” I asked her, indignant, as she snatched her cup back.
“What’s it to you?” Both Quiri and I took a step away from her. “It’s beside the point. Quiri, tell her you choose me,” she demanded, taking another sip.
“I-I…” he stammered, as I seized the cup a final time and threw it in the trash.
“Quiri? she asked again, expectantly. “Tell her you like me.”
“I- I don’t, Alice,” he muttered, eyes downcast.
Her face fell dramatically, and her eyes went wide as she mouthed his words. Quiri started to say more, then faltered and stood quietly. I rolled my eyes; why was he being so unhelpful? I’d just have to handle this myself. “Alice, you’re drunk. Go home,” I told her.
“I’ve got this,” said a voice behind me. I recognized Hailey, Alice’s roommate, from orientation. “Poor girl. I guess she just didn’t know when to stop,” she laughed, and again it struck me how much this girl irritated me. “Ah well, I guess the only way to know your limit is to exceed it. C’mon, let’s get you back,” Hailey coaxed, and Alice followed her obediently, all the fight emptied out of her.
Quiri and I stared at each other for a fraction of a second. “Well, thanks for all your help,” I said angrily, turning to run out the door.
“Mira, wait-“ he began, his hand trying to grab my wrist, but I shook him off.
“Just let me go!” I shrieked, and then hurried out the nearest door, blinking back tears. What the hell had just happened? In the span of ten minutes everything had gone from fun to a complete mess. And without warning, either. I was completely puzzled. There were never any clues that Alice had a crush on Quiri; I would have known, my special gift was my ability to notice these things. So why on earth was she suddenly professing her love for him? And since when had Quiri turned so spineless? I was thinking deeply as I burst through the heavy metal door and found myself in an unfamiliar school corridor. I turned to reenter the gym, but the doors had locked behind me, so instead I headed down the hallway, towards the other glowing red EXIT sign.
When I was about halfway there, I heard voices approaching from around the bend in front of me. I panicked; was it a teacher? Was I even allowed to be in here? To be safe, I hid inside a doorway with the words Welcome to Computer Class! written on a piece of construction paper and prayed no one would see me. The loud voices came closer until I could make out everything they were saying, and to my surprise I recognized both of the people.
“Just give it up, Tolling! I know you were lying when you told me you only stood me up last weekend because you had a football practice. I checked with Lamar, and he told me you only had practice until two in the afternoon. I know you blew me off so you could go to her party!” Flynn said angrily.
“Oh, so you’re stalking me now?” Tolling countered.
“You know that’s not fair, Toll. I’m your freaking girlfriend, I want to spend time with you. Why is that so hard for you to understand?”
“Well, why don’t you go spend some time with your buddy Lamar, since you two seem to be getting along so well,” he said. Through the crack on the door I saw her face fall an inch. “Yeah, I know about your little study group Thursday night!”
“I, uh… We didn’t mean… It was just a kiss, Tolling, I swear. He kissed me. I love you, only you,” Flynn pleaded.
This was just too weird, all around. First Alice and Quiri acting oddly, and now Tolling was ignoring Flynn and she was cheating on him. Something was wrong with my friends, and it was up to me to take drastic measures. Ignoring the voice of morality inside my brain that was screaming for me to respect their privacy, I calmed myself and searched Flynn and Toll’s minds.
At first, it seemed like everything they were saying was true; I could see both instances unfold, just as they’d said. But there was a strange quality that came with the knowledge, almost like an aftertaste, that was difficult to describe. All these images seemed hazy, like they didn’t quite belong where I’d found them. Before I could delve into this mystery, I was jolted from my trance by Tolling.
“We’re done,” he snarled, turning his back on Flynn as he headed towards me and the gym. I saw tears in his eyes as he went past me, but he ignored Flynn’s wailing after him and walked on. She ran in the other direction, sobbing loudly. After a minute I followed her, hurrying into the chilled night air until I reached the comforting, familiar doors of Willow dorm, with the Happy Halloween banner still displayed in the window.
I snorted. Ironic. It sure had been a Happy Halloween.