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Hidden Among Thieves
How many times did he have to keep giving before they appreciated anything he did? How many times would he have to give up his life to do what they wanted him to? How many times would he promise himself that he wouldn’t do it again, but would do it anyway?
He clenched his fists in fits of rage, unclenching them only when the anger and regret released. For a few seconds.
He didn’t know what to do anymore. He obviously couldn’t keep digging his nails into his hands and biting his tongue until they bled.
He clenched his fists again, the conversation returning to his head.
His mother stood in front of him telling him that he would be staying home the next day. He’d tried to explain to her that he just couldn’t because of all the work he’d miss at school, but it didn’t matter. Not even two speeches, notes, a lab, and a test would prove enough for him to do.
She just didn’t understand how hard it was for him to keep catching up on work. Or how he’d almost failed last year’s math class because he’d been so far behind.
And yet it wasn’t even half the year and he’d already missed ten days, none of them from being sick.
He turned his head, tears coming to his eyes in a rush of heat, his throat hardening as a knot returned. Even the vibrations of adrenaline returned. When he wanted to destroy everything. But he never did.
His parents were always gone so it wouldn’t matter if he had decided to destroy the house, but he just couldn’t bring himself to. It was as if something inside him kept him seated, just imagining what would happen if he had destroyed anything.
He plopped down on his bed in the small room a few feet away. It looked like he would be missing another day’s work. It was useless to try to finish the work he’d already missed. There was no way he was going to pass the AP tests.
Jamming his books into his backpack, he heard a knock at the door and looked up. His sister forced a smile as she walked in, her crooked teeth poking out at him.
“I’m sorry about tomorrow. I know that you’re trying to pass those tests, but I can’t miss a day of work. I’ve already asked.” she said.
He shrugged, it wasn’t like this would be the first time. Even when his sister had been in school, he had been forced into always missing school. She couldn’t miss school, they said. She’s on the volleyball team, they said.
But what did it matter that she was on the volleyball team? He had been in Cross Country and Baseball and he had still been forced to miss practices and school. And he was trying to get into a good school.
“I know, everyone is busy. It doesn’t matter if I’d already had plans cleared with Mom and Dad with my friends. Or that I had school. It never matters.” He spat. She frowned.
“I just wanted to let you know that I care.” She said, before walking out.
He pulled the covers over him and turned his back to the door, imagining what would happen if he had said no.
“Show me the list of potentials.”
The man handed the file to the frail old woman in front of him. She picked it up with her pale, brittle arms before flinging it open on the desk. Her grey eyes scanned quickly before returning her gaze to the man.
“This is it? Ten boys?” she questioned.
The man pushed his brown hair behind his ears before nodding, “we’ve narrowed the list down quite a bit. The Multiplier has to be one of them.”
The old woman’s hair fell in her face in wisps as she gazed down once again.
“I want all of them tested within the next few days. Use all of the men if you have to.” She blurted.
The man raised a brow. How would he do that? These were all teenage boys, most of them from different schools around the state.
“How do you expect me to do that?” He questioned. She shrugged.
“You’re a smart man, figure something out.” The old woman replied.
The man sighed, turning toward the door.
“Oh, and Mr. Wright, once you find the Multiplier, I want him brought here.” She said before he walked out.
“Stephen, wait up!”
Stephen turned around, facing his friend, Ben. His blonde hair glinted in the slow trickle of light.
“Where were you yesterday?” Ben asked. Stephen rolled his eyes, thinking of the day he’d had.
“Your parents again?” he guessed. Stephen nodded.
“It’s like they don’t even care that I have a life of my own. And when I try to tell them I already have plans, they call me ungrateful!” he fumed.
He just wanted to live. To experience life as a teenager before he had to become an adult. But apparently his parents wanted him to grow up before then.
“You should just move out, dude. You’re seventeen, eighteen in a few months. And it’s not like you don’t have money of your own. If I remember correctly, you were telling me about how you had saved over a thousand dollars in the bank.” Ben said.
Stephen brushed his unruly, brown hair behind his ears and sighed. He was seventeen, which meant he didn’t have to deal with his parents much longer. But he had been saving that money for college. He didn’t want to spend that money so soon.
“Nah, man. I can live with just another year. It’s not like they torture me or anything.” He said.
Ben shrugged, “It’s your life.”
The air brushed against Stephen’s face as he opened the door, chilling him for a minute before he went into the school.
“I’ll see ya tomorrow, Ben. I’ve got to go catch up on work.” He sighed. Ben forced a smile before leaving him in the dust. It was clear he was disappointed with his decision to stay with his parents. But what else would he do? It wasn’t a sure thing that he could actually find a place to stay. He wasn’t eighteen yet.
He pulled his backpack over his shoulder and continued to walk before he decided to chase after Ben.
“Okay, class, settle down! I have some special news for you all.”
Stephen gazed up from his notebook . Mrs. Burrow never had any news for them. In fact, she’d basically been teaching the same thing the whole year. For three years. But what else could you really teach in a Home Economics class?
He studied the plump, old lady as sweat beaded her face in attempt to gain the class’ attention. He could almost see the fear in her sapphire-like eyes as she pulled her greying hair back in a ponytail.
Stephen gazed around the room. No one but a few others seemed to even notice that she was talking. He stood up.
“Hey! Everyone shut up and listen!” he snapped. The kids stared at him in surprise, turning their gazes to the front. He hardly talked at all during a class, so it wasn’t a surprise to find that everyone was shocked to hear his voice.
He gazed back over to Mrs. Burrow, a light emitting from her face, as though all she wanted to do was hear herself talk over the class.
“Tomorrow, we have some special guests coming to talk with you all!” she blurted.
Stephen raised a brow. Special guests? What, were the president and vice president coming to visit?
“And who’s that?” a boy asked beside him.
Stephen’s thoughts exactly.
“Representatives from Yale, coming to interview all of you for a chance to win a full scholarship!” she exclaimed.
Yale? Why on Earth, would they want to come to their little school? They weren’t one of the best schools in the country! Or even in the state!
Stephen had only heard of one instance where they went to a school, but that was a special circumstance! They weren’t anywhere near special. It just didn’t seem right.
Every time he thought about it, his stomach churned. As though it was trying to warn him about something.
“And what if we don’t want to speak with them?” he questioned.
Mrs. Burrow turned to him in surprise. She’d known that he was trying to get into a good college. He was sure it would surprise anyone to hear him reject a chance like this. But he couldn’t help but feel that something very wrong was going to happen.
They all waited a moment before Mrs. Burrow could regain her composure.
“Then I guess you could always wait in the hallways when all the interviewing is being done, but why would you pass up such a thing? This could change your life. All your lives.” She said, peering around the room at all the shocked faces.
Her gaze returned to Stephen. The only thought running through her mind, why did he look so scared?
“As I was saying, representatives will be going to each of the classrooms to ask you questions and if they like what they see, they’ll offer you a scholarship. If not, well, you better work hard to earn it.” She continued.
Did he really want to pass up a chance this big? He gulped as he thought about it. The second best school in the US?
The bell rang, announcing the arrival of the end of the day. Stephen got up from his seat, walking out with the rest of the class. Completely unaware of the man watching him from outside the classroom.
“How many schools have you been to so far?”
Mr. Wright held the phone up closer to his ear, “Seven out of the nine. Tomorrow we go to the last two schools.”
Grumbling tumbled inside his ear from the phone as the unpleasant, whiny voice beckoned at him, “hurry up! We can’t wait another day!”
He rolled his eyes as he watched one of the last few boys from the corner of his eye. He didn’t look like he was having a good day either with the scowl on his face, tears welling. But he could tell they weren’t tears from being sad. They were tears of frustration or anger. He’d had those a few times. On the few instances where he failed to complete a mission.
“We’re scouting the boys out as we speak. Only four boys remain.” He said.
“If we don’t get the boys within two days, you can expect a lot more than just a firing!”
And with that, she hung up, leaving him to watch the boy in curiosity.
He pushed a nimble finger on his temple, navigating his hearing on the boy as he tried to hear what he was thinking.
“What do I have to do to get some time to do what I want? Why do I always have to do their chores? Pay their bills? What did I do to earn this?”
Mr. Wright frowned, thinking of his own parents. Poor kid. And then something peaked his interest.
“I wished I had some sort of power to make them forget about me. To duplicate myself or something. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about finding time to live my life.”
He turned his gaze to the man standing beside him, “I want you to keep an eye on this one. He may hold promise. Or he could be the guide to our key. Remember, we’re looking for both the Multiplier and the Keeper.”
He glanced back to where the boy was, but he was gone before he could hear another thought.
Seven men walked in, all carrying manila folders and a sheet of paper. Stephen knew right away that these men were supposed to be the representatives. The way they carried themselves just suggested they felt powerful. Justified. Above everyone else.
And if they truly wanted to interview, they would.
He had thought about it all night, wondering why they would possibly want to go there. Why they would spend the time going through all these people, but the only thing that popped into his head, was the story of Ira James. The fifteen-year-old boy that had gone missing the same day that Yale had decided they wanted to offer these services. The first time ever a college like that had offered up the opportunity.
The police had just passed it off as a coincidence, but what if the same thing happened today? What would they do if it happened a second time?
Immediately, he knew that he didn’t want to be stuck in a room with one of them. They just gave off that aire. Like they were dangerous.
“Class, this is Mr. Lange. He is the person that had informed us about the interviews. Say hello.” Mrs. Burrow said, forcing another one of her fake smiles.
The class practically yelled in unison, just trying to be heard, to stand out. In their third year of high school, it was vital that they stand out. That was what they all believed anyway. Even Stephen, who tried to be the least interesting kid in the room, seemed to be getting with it.
“Alright, everyone, I understand this is a cool experience and you all want to go, but we’re going to start with the W’s.” Mr. Lange, a slim, tall guy hollered.
Stephen’s heart stopped. Was it a coincidence that he was the only W in the room? He glanced at Mrs. Burrow. She gave him a thumbs up, but hadn’t he told her that he didn’t want to do the interview?
“Stephen White, where are you? We’ll start with you.” Mr. Lange asked.
Stephen swallowed hard, his head pounding. The man’s sharp features and tall build made his stomach flutter. His dark eyes gazed at him directly. How had he known that it was him? Did they carry pictures with them? And why would they start at the bottom of the list? Everyone always starts at the top!
“Um, sir, I’m sorry to inform you, but…I’m not going to participate in the interviews. I believe in earning your way to college.” He said, clearing his throat.
He had lied of course, he would’ve jumped at the chance to get a free ride into college, but there just wasn’t something right with all this.
Mr. Lange’s eyes widened in alarm, “but wouldn’t it be easier to just go with the interview?”
Stephen shook his head, “I’m sorry, Mr. Lange. I’m not going to go through with the interview. You’ll have to start with someone else.”
Stephen turned to Mrs. Burrow, “where are the interviews going to be held?”
“In here. You may go to the library to work on the assignments I’ve given you, if you want.” She said.
“Thank you, Mrs. Burrow. I will see you tomorrow.” He said standing up. He grabbed his backpack and started walking. Mr. Lange stepped in front of him.
“This could change your life. You could do amazing things.” He said.
Stephen glared at him, “I’m good, thanks. I think I can decide what’s good for me.”
Mr. Lange stepped aside, his heart dropping to his intestines, aggravating his stomach. Making it churn.
“Then we’ll start with the S’s.” he said, turning to the class.
“What are you doing out here when the interviews are going on?”
Stephen looked up from his notes watching as a short man started towards him, wearing the same ordinary suits that the men interviewing the class had been.
The man leaned against the wall beside him, “don’t you want the chance to become someone important?”
Stephen shook his head and returned to his notes.
The man pushed his fingers on one of his temples, staring at Stephen.
“There’s just something not right with them. Wouldn’t trust them even if they gave me the chance to win a million dollars. Bunch of liars.”
The man gulped. He was on to them.
“Look what happened to Ira James. He was gone the day they decided they wanted to give the offer the first time.”
“What if you were offered the world? A future that would one day could bring you a bunch of glory? A bunch of pride?” the man asked.
Stephen looked up once again. What was with this man?
“I wouldn’t even if I were offered the world or all the glory in the world. I’m happy being perfectly mundane.” He replied.
The man shook his head, “have it your way then.”
“We’ve found one. We’ve found the Keeper, the key to both unlocking the Multiplier’s powers, and finding him.” Mr. Wright said.
“Good, but what about the Multiplier? Any ideas whom that might be?” The woman questioned.
He bit down on his tongue. He always hated this part.
“No, but there is one kid that refused to go through with the interview. And we still have lots of files to go through and…” he started.
“You’re sure you found the Keeper?” she interrupted.
“Yes, the file matches up perfectly.” He replied.
“Then wherever the Keeper is, the Multiplier follows. Set a trap for the boy and watch him chase after her. According to legend, the Multiplier and Keeper are very close.” She huffed.
Mr. Wright smiled. He knew the perfect way to do that. And then his smile faded.
“There’s just one problem. If the Multiplier is in fact the boy that refused to go through with the interview, he suspects ulterior motives.” He said.
“Then make sure that he doesn’t have a reason to.” She said.
He frowned. How would he do that?
“Hey, Ben! Ben, what’s going on?” Stephen hollered.
Ben peered behind him, a grin emerging from his face.
“I’m just hurrying to catch up with Gabbi. She rushed off on me when she heard that she had won the scholarship.” He said.
Stephen’s heart stopped. That couldn’t be a good sign. They couldn’t give Gabbi the scholarship! She was just a sweet innocent girl! She was supposed to be an important person to this civilization. She was one of his best friends!
“Where is she, Ben? Where did they take her?” Stephen questioned. Ben’s eyes widened in bewilderment.
“She’s in the office with them. What’s up with you?” he raised a brow.
Stephen’s heart dropped to his stomach, acid eating away at whatever hope he had left. But why was that? Why was he afraid of those ‘representatives’? It wasn’t like they could steal a kid off campus. But then again, Ira was captured just off the premises.
“I’m going to find her, Ben! Just don’t…don’t let any of the representatives leave until I bring her back!” Stephen exclaimed.
Ben gave him a strange look, “but what are you doing? What’s going on, Stephen?”
Ben shook his head as Stephen took off. What was so wrong with Gabbi winning the scholarship? Shouldn’t Stephen be happy for her?
He scratched the top of his head and gazed around. Two representatives leaned against the wall. Watching him.
He tore his eyes away from them as fear gripped his gut. Why were they staring at him?