Beyond this Life: A Young Adult Dystopian Novel
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Leaving everything she knew and loved behind wasn't easy for Drea, but now that she's out of the Society, she's determined to make a life for herself. One she chooses. With Jerrick at her side, Drea throws herself into learning not just about herself and the world that used to exist, but the Society as well. And the more she discovers, the more determined she becomes to help overthrow the controlling regime and save the people still trapped in the Society.
Unfortunately for Drea, Jerrick has other plans, which include making sure she stays as far away from the Society as possible.
But when Drea receives word that someone she loves is in danger, she's faced with what could be a life-altering decision. Does she stay in the safe bubble she's created for herself in the rebel colony, or does she prove how strong she's become and risk everything?
Book two in an exciting new dystopian series by award-winning author, Kate L. Mary. Perfect for fans of young adult dystopian novels like The Hunger Games and Divergent!
Release date: May 13, 2021
Publisher: Twisted Press, LLC
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Beyond this Life: A Young Adult Dystopian Novel
Kate L. Mary
We’ve been in the truck for hours, and despite my excitement at the thought of finally reaching our destination – and seeing the colony the rebels call home – I’m finding it difficult to hold off sleep. The gentle rocking of the car combined with the utter silence surrounding me, as well as Jerrick’s warm body pressed against mine, has made it impossible to keep my eyes open. My head is resting on his chest, my ear right over his heart. It thumps against my cheek, reassuring me that he is, in fact, alive, and bringing back memories of just a few days ago when I thought for sure I’d lost him. Thinking about finding him in the woods, about seeing the blood and realizing he’d been shot, is enough to send me into panic mode once again, and I have to force myself to remain grounded. I have to be stronger than the sniveling girl who nearly crumpled to pieces at the thought of losing him. I have to be stronger than the girl who obeyed the Society for all those years without question or even the tiniest thought of my own. No matter what happens, I will find a way to stand on my own two feet.
“Here it is,” Mike, the driver of the truck calls, breaking the silence that has stretched out so long it almost felt all-consuming.
My eyes fly open as I push myself up, leaning forward so I can hopefully catch a glimpse of whatever he’s referring to. Through the truck’s windshield, I spot a break in the trees, and beyond the fence are buildings. Excitement surges through me, and I reach back on instinct, clutching Jerrick’s hand. A gentle squeeze of acknowledgement follows, but I don’t look at him. I’m too focused on the sight in front of me. Too thrilled to finally be at the rebel colony and away from the clutches of the Society.
We left the correction colony last night, after the sun had set and during one of the Protectors’ shift changes. From there, we had to hike through the woods for more than a mile, which was no easy task considering Van is still recovering, Jerrick is nursing a gunshot wound, and I hurt my ankle while trying to sneak into the correction colony. We managed, though, and arrived at a cave before the scheduled meeting time. After an exchange of information – none of which was shared with us – and supplies, we headed out.
The first leg of what had begun to feel like a never-ending journey was short since the rebels don’t like to drive at night – afraid the headlights will give away their location and make them easier to follow – and we stopped after less than an hour so we could set up camp in an old, crumbling town we were told was about twenty miles from the correction colony. We slept in a house similar to the one we stopped in only six nights earlier, getting up just after dawn and eating a quick meal before continuing our journey. We’ve been driving for less than an hour this morning, but it seems like longer. The excitement to get there, matched with the throbbing in my ankle from the bumpy ride, has made it drag.
I shift my focus from the colony looming in front of us to my friends. In the front of the truck, Van is out cold, her body curled against Chase and his arms wrapped around her. Her face is still pale, and she has dark rings under her eyes, giving away just how sick she was, but she looks better than she did when we first arrived in the correction colony. She’s lucky they had antibiotics; otherwise, I don’t know what would have happened.
Reed sits to my left, and like me, he’s staring out the window. As if sensing me looking at him, he looks my way, his brown eyes meeting mine, and a wide smile spreads across his face. I return it before glancing to my right, my attention finally moving to Jerrick.
He’s drifted in and out of sleep during the long drive with the help of the pain pill the doctor gave him. It was the only one they could afford to part with since meds are scarce in the colony, but he needed it for the long drive. It only helped him relax a little, though, and he’s wide awake now. Despite the obvious curiosity and relief radiating off him, he wears a pinched expression, telling me that every bump of the truck’s tires is excruciating. My heart swells until it threatens to burst when I look at him, both because I’m once again thinking about what might have happened, and how much I’ve come to care about him. It all happened so fast. Getting to know Jerrick, learning the truth about the Society, deciding to leave everything behind. Only a month and a half ago, I was a restless and confused girl living a structured life within the protective walls of Antares, and now I’m a fugitive who has escaped a life sentence. It’s hard to believe at times, but I wouldn’t change anything. I’m where I’m meant to be. Of that, I’m certain.
Jerrick’s gaze moves to the front of the truck once again, and I follow it, watching as the colony we’ll soon call home grows bigger. It’s located at the base of a mountain – the same one we used as a landmark on our trek to the correction colony – and is very secluded. With the rocky mountain at its back and the thick forest on each side, it’s the perfect place to hide a rebel colony. The fence isn’t high, but the road leading to it is barely wide enough for the trucks to pass through. Branches scrape the sides as we drive as if trying to prevent us from reaching our destination, the sounds loud in the otherwise silent cab.
We draw nearer, and I crane my neck, hoping to see more of the colony. It’s shockingly well developed and not at all what I was expecting. I’d imagined tents, or maybe even shacks, but the buildings inside the fence are real homes. The fence, too, is a surprise. It’s probably only six feet high and nothing like the one I grew up with – or the one surrounding the correction settlement – but it looks solid enough, made of concrete and iron. How in the world were the rebels able to establish such a secure colony?
It isn’t until we get closer that I realize exactly how old the fence is. The metal is rusted in places, and here and there chunks of concrete are missing as if chipped away by time. The buildings, too, look old, although they’ve clearly been well-maintained. Could this colony have been here before the wars? It seems unimaginable based on what I know of that long-ago world. Who would have wanted to live such a secluded life back then?
“These buildings are from before the war, right?” I ask Mike, leaning forward and holding on to the back of his seat so I can get a better look.
His head bobs as he slows to a stop, while on the other side, an armed man jogs to the gate.
“Yup, we got lucky,” Mike tells me. “This place was already here, although sparsely populated. After the wars, people who wanted nothing to do with the Society found their way here, and a colony was established.”
The gate is pulled open, and Mike starts driving again, giving the armed man a little wave as he goes by.
“Anyway,” he continues after only a beat of silence, “before the wars, this was the location of a crazy, religious cult. They lived here because it was secluded, wanting to distance themselves from the outside world. It’s lucky for us. They already had houses and community buildings, as well as gardens and barns. We can grow our own food and, with the exception of a few things like gas, we’re pretty self-sufficient. The stuff we can’t grow or make for ourselves we get from The Colony.”
His explanation clears things up a little, but not completely. “What’s a religious cult?”
“Oh, just some crazy people with extreme ideas about God.” Mike waves his hand in a dismissive way, as if it isn’t important.
I still have no idea what he’s talking about, but I let it go, too interested in the rebel colony to ask more questions for the time being.
Mike pulls to a stop outside a large building and cuts the engine. I’m still looking around, studying the building as well as what’s beyond. The trees in the distance remind me of the orchards back home, and the roof of what I assume is a barn is just visible as well. It’s early, so only a few people are milling around, and most of them are carrying guns. My heart beats faster at the sight of them, but I tell myself it’s okay. We’re with friends now. These people are on our side.
It does little to calm me.
“Come on,” Mike says then shoves the door open and hops out.
The bang of his door slamming rouses Chase, who lets out a little snort of surprise. He opens his eyes and looks around, then gently sits up, his arms still around Van.
“Vanessa,” he whispers, his voice soothing. “We’re here.”
Her green eyes flutter, blinking a few times as they adjust to the light. Then they grow wide and she’s sitting up, looking around with her mouth hanging open.
“Houses,” she says, my own wonder matched by her tone.
Dozens of identical homes sit to our right. Organized in neat lines, they look only slightly larger than the ones we had in Antares, although not nearly as nice. Rectangular and made of an unattractive, brown brick, they’re as worn as the fence, although they’ve clearly been well maintained over the years. They’re not nearly as pretty as the home of my childhood, but for some reason, they look more cheerful. For a moment, though, I can’t figure out why. Then it hits me. They all have personal touches, which is something the Society has always discouraged. Brightly colored flowers grow in well-maintained personal gardens, giving off a cheerful vibe. There are handmade wood signs in front of several homes, announcing the name of the families living there, and I even spot a wooden sign with a stick family painted on it, obviously the work of a child. There are curtains in the windows in every color imaginable, and toys in the yards of a few. The houses look lived-in and loved despite their worn exteriors, and they make the neighborhood I grew up in seem gloomy and depressing by comparison.
“Hey,” Jerrick says, putting his hand on my shoulder. “You okay?”
I turn to find his gray eyes intent on me. “Yeah. Just thinking about home.”
His brows pull together the way they so often do when he’s trying to figure out what I’m thinking. “Do you regret leaving? I know this place is old, but we just got here. Give it time.”
“No.” I take his hand and lift it to my lips, pressing a gentle kiss on his knuckles. “I couldn't be more thrilled to be here.”
He gives me a strained smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes, but I don’t know if it’s because he’s in pain, or if he doesn’t believe me.
“Are we going to sit here all day?” Reed asks.
“No way,” Van says, mustering a decent amount of enthusiasm considering she still looks exhausted.
Doors are thrown open, and everyone begins climbing out. Chase helps Van, and Jerrick does the same for me. I do my best not to put too much weight on him as I climb down, but still appreciate the firm arm around my waist. Once I’m out, I grab my crutches, which makes slinging my backpack over my shoulder a little challenging. Somehow, I manage, and then the five of us head over to where Mike stands chatting with a few other people.
There are three of them, including Mike. They stop talking when we walk up, and the friendly smiles we’re greeted with help ease my discomfort at the sight of their weapons.
“Welcome to the rebel colony!” a man with shaggy brown hair and a youthful yet lined face says. “I’m Rick Stevens.”
He looks to be in his mid-thirties, but he could be a little younger since his scraggily beard makes it hard to tell. His looks are plain enough that he might be forgettable if it wasn’t for his friendly smile, which instantly puts me at ease.
He holds his hand out to Jerrick, who takes it as he introduces himself. “Jerrick Carter.”
“Carter, huh?” Rick replies, his lips pressed together in thought. “Like the president.”
Jerrick gives a slight shake of his head, and I’m relieved to realize he’s as confused by the comment as I am.
“Damn Society.” Rick lets out a chuckle that’s half amused, half bitter. “Jimmy Carter, the thirty-ninth President of the United States.”
Jerrick nods like he understands, but I still have no idea what Rick is talking about.
“You’ll have to excuse him,” the third guy says, jerking his thumb toward Rick. “He’s a bit of a history buff but somehow always seems to forget that people from the inside don’t know all that.”
“Yeah.” Again, Jerrick gives a confused shrug. Then, as if wanting to get down to business, he points to me. “This is Drea Young.”
“Good to meet you, Drea,” Rick says in a jovial tone.
I return the smile, deciding I like this guy already. “Nice to meet you.”
Chase introduces himself, then dips his head toward Van, causing the early morning sun to glint off his blond hair. “This is Vanessa.”
“Van,” she interjects.
“Van,” Rick repeats, as if committing the name to memory.
“And Reed,” Chase hooks his thumb toward the fifth member of our group.
“Well, it’s mighty nice to have some fresh blood,” Rick says, the smile still on his face. “We heard some new people were coming in, so Corinne should be headed over to talk to you soon. She’s in charge here and likes to meet everyone when they arrive. After that, we’ll head over to the main building and find you folks some rooms so you can get settled in.” He stops and studies us for a moment. “I’m assuming some of you won’t mind sharing. We’re running low on space at the moment.”
“Whatever needs to happen,” Jerrick replies.
I’m not sure if Rick means Van and me or Jerrick and me, and excitement mixed with a little fear twists through me. Could Jerrick and I possibly have a room to ourselves? Do I want that? I’m not sure I have much of a choice since I seriously doubt Chase and Van will want to be split up, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about that. I came here so I could have a choice in what I do, and while that choice did include Jerrick, I want it to be on my terms.
Rick is looking at something behind me when he says, “Here she comes.”
I turn, curious about the leader of this little colony, but freeze at the sight of the woman walking toward us. Her skin is dark brown, reminding me of the freshly turned dirt in spring, fertile and ready for planting. I’ve never seen anyone who looks like her before. Everyone in Antares looks like me. Pale. Where did this woman come from?
Staring is rude, but I can’t help it. Only it isn’t just her skin attracting my attention anymore. Tall and elegant, the woman wears her dark hair cut close to her scalp, and she has large, brown eyes and high cheekbones that make her face both unique and breathtaking at the same time. She can’t be that old, probably only in her thirties, but she exudes an air of authority no one would be able to miss, and it awes me. Instinctively, before she’s even spoken a single word, I know she’s the kind of woman I aspire to be. Strong. Sure of myself. Powerful.
“Corinne Reese,” she says when she stops in front of us, offering a polite but subdued smile. “I’m the leader of this little group.”
Jerrick steps forward, establishing himself as the leader of our own group, and introduces us before saying, “We’re happy to be here.”
Corinne studies us silently for a moment, her intelligent gaze sizing us up, then she says, “Well, we’re glad to have you join us.”
When her eyes meet mine, heat rushes up my neck to my cheeks. I tell myself to look away. I have to stop staring. It’s rude, and I don’t want to make a bad impression. Only, I can’t.
Corinne’s expression doesn’t change. “You’ve never seen a dark-skinned person before, have you?”
“No.” My face grows hotter, and I finally look down. “I’m sorry for staring. It’s just a surprise.”
“It’s not a big deal.” She hesitates, and I venture a glance up. She’s still looking at me, and I’m relieved to find no judgement in her eyes. “It’s a common reaction for new recruits. The Society segregated the population after the wars.”
“Segregated?” I repeat the word, trying to come up with a definition, but failing.
“Keeping the races separate,” Corinne replies. “Two colonies, Sargas and Vega, are inhabited by non-white people. People like me. The Society doesn’t want us to mix.”
“Why would they do that?” Van asks.
“Why does the Society do anything? They would say it’s for our protection, I’m sure, but I think it’s probably just another way to control us.”
Her words hit me like a punch as the meaning sinks in. There are hundreds of people living in other colonies who have dark skin. I can’t believe it. I never even knew people could have different color skin. Sure, there are people in Antares who get darker after being in the sun all day – my mom was one, although I took after my dad and only got pink – but that’s as different as we get. I wonder, once again, how many other things I don’t know about the Society.
“I have a lot to do, but I wanted to introduce myself,” Corinne says, switching gears as if the revelation she just dropped is nothing. “Rick will help you get settled, and tomorrow you can meet with my number two, Luke, who will find you some jobs. It was nice to meet you.”
“You, too,” I manage to mumble.
Corinne heads off, and I follow her progress with a sense of awe. This time, it doesn’t even have to do with the color of her skin. It’s her. She’s formal, but not rude, and serious. Despite our very short interaction, I find I have an immediate respect for her.
“Let’s get you folks settled in,” Rick says.
Folks. Yet another new word for me. I get the feeling I’m going to be learning a lot of new things over the next few weeks, and instead of asking Rick to explain, I start a mental list of questions to pose once we’re all settled in.
Our group trails after Rick as he leads the way to the largest building in the colony. Chase and Van holding hands, Reed walking silently at their side, scanning everything and everyone we pass. I hobble awkwardly on my crutches, lagging behind, while Jerrick walks at my side.
People shoot us curious glances as they hurry about their business, but no one stops to ask who we are or where we came from. They must be used to seeing refugees.
Upon first seeing the huge building in the middle of the colony, I assumed it was the main community building, and stepping inside confirms my suspicion. A set of stairs stands in front of it with a long hallway stretching out just beyond it. The scent of food hangs heavy in the air, telling me there must be a kitchen somewhere.
“This building is three stories and holds pretty much all the community areas.” Rick doesn’t pause to give us a chance to look around. “To your right is a good-size meeting area, which they used as a church before the wars.”
I make a mental note to ask what a church is later.
“On the left is the school. There are three classes, as well as a library if you ever want to get a book to read. The cult itself didn’t have a lot of that stuff, but over the years, people have brought in books they had hidden, or they found in abandoned libraries around the country, so we actually have a pretty good selection now.”
Excitement bubbles up inside me, and I crane my neck to look into the library as we pass, catching sight of dozens upon dozens of books crammed onto shelves. We grew up being told fiction was bad, and that the Society had destroyed all books to protect us. I now know, of course, what a lie it was, and the idea of actually being able to read something from the past is thrilling.
“We had a book back in Antares,” Jerrick says, interrupting Rick.
He stops walking, surprise written plainly on his face, “Really? How in the world did you manage to get hold of a book in the Society?”
“It was passed down to me from a Protector who worked with the rebellion. I was actually hoping he made it here a few years ago. Aeron Martin. Do you know him?” Jerrick asks, looking hopeful.
Rick shakes his head. “Sorry. I don’t know everyone. We have a few hundred people living here, but I have been greeting the new recruits for several years now, and the only Aeron I know is Aaron Miller.”
Jerrick’s face falls, and my heart goes out to him. He’s lost so much. First his father when he was just a kid, then his mother, who was taken away by the Society and sent to live in the correction colony. Aeron was a Protector in Antares who befriended Jerrick after his mother disappeared. When Jerrick got older, the Protector told him the truth about the Society and led him to the copy of 1984, which is what eventually brought us together. Aeron disappeared a few years ago, though, and Jerrick was hoping to be able to find his old friend once we arrived at the rebel colony. After the disappointment at not finding his mother in The Colony, this has to be a major blow.
I take his hand, hoping to provide a little comfort, but he barely reacts. It stings, but I tell myself not to take it personally. Everyone deals with grief in their own way.
Moving on, Rick continues the tour. “We have some other offices at the back here, as well as a conference room we use for important meetings. This is where Corinne and the others in charge, like me, work. I would normally take you on a tour of the second and third floors, but you folks are looking a little banged up, so we’ll skip that.”
He gives my crutches a pointed look, and I respond with a grateful smile.
“The second floor has a large kitchen and eating area. The houses have small kitchens, but we eat in a group. It’s easier that way. Breakfast is from five to eight every morning, and if you miss it, you’re out of luck until lunch. We have lunch from noon to one, and dinner from five to seven. Lunch is only an hour because a lot of the workers get their meals delivered to them, so they don’t have to walk to the main building. The third floor is the clinic. We have three doctors and a few nurses. The equipment is old, but it works.” He stops outside a door but pauses before opening it, glancing my way again, “We can get you up there later today and get that ankle looked at.”
“Thanks,” I say.
Opening the door, Rick steps aside and motions for us to head into the room. Chase and Van step in, and Reed follows with Jerrick behind him. I go in last, so I don’t hit anyone with my crutches.
A gray-haired woman sits behind an ancient looking desk, a row of metal cabinets at her back. She glances up and frowns, clearly not thrilled by the interruption.
She focuses on Rick. “More people?”
“Now, Suzie, let’s not get an attitude.” He gives her a smile, obviously trying to win her over. “We have plenty of space, and this isn’t going to be the last group to come in.”
Unmoved, Suzie shoots us a sour look before turning to the cabinets. My dislike of her is instantaneous.
“We have some space,” she says as she digs through the files. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say we have plenty.” She puts a lot of emphasis on the word, as if hoping to make us feel as unwelcome as possible.
Rick is frowning now, clearly not happy with her attitude. “We’re going to find space for every person who comes in, no matter what. You know that.”
She ignores him when she turns back, choosing instead to focus her unfriendly gaze on Jerrick. “I assume you’ve been told you’ll have to share rooms?” She doesn’t wait for a reply, instead looking down at the papers in front of her. “There’s a room in house seven you girls can have. One of – ”
Van interrupts before she can get any farther. “Chase and I will be sharing a room.” She puts her arm around him to let Suzie know who she means before pointing toward Jerrick and me, “And so will they.”
A thrill shoots through me, followed quickly by a burst of nerves. I knew Van would speak up, but it didn’t prepare me for the moment, and it didn’t give me ample opportunity to decide how I feel about the whole thing.
Unsurprisingly, Suzie looks less than thrilled by the interruption.
“Is that so?” she asks, raising an eyebrow and giving Van a cool look.
Van’s face turns red, and she clenches her fists. She looks ready to explode, and Chase must see it, too, because he steps forward.
“That’s right,” he says. “We left the Society because they wouldn’t match us, but that’s what we want. We’re together.”
I’m not really sure if Suzie’s issue has to do with their age, whether or not they are matched, or if she just doesn’t like being told what to do. Regardless, Chase’s comment seems to satisfy her.
She glances at Jerrick and me. “And you two?”
Not only am I not ready to make any kind of permanent declaration, but there’s no way I’m going to assume Jerrick is, so I keep my mouth shut. Suzie continues to stare, and the longer she does, the more irritated I get. I don’t really think our relationship is any of her business, and I resent her putting us on the spot. Yes, we’ve talked about it a little, but we never made any plans, and I don’t think this is the time or place for the discussion.
Luckily, Rick clears his throat. “Let’s just get on with it, Suzie. They’ll be sharing a room as well. It’s really not your place to butt into their relationship. We aren’t the Society.”
While I’m thankful for Rick’s intervention, Suzie’s pinched expression grows, telling me she isn’t at all pleased.
Fortunately, she decides to let it go.
“Fine. You two,” she looks at Van and Chase, “can have the room in house eight. It has one bed instead of two. And the other two can take the room in house eleven.” She turns to look at Reed. “I’ll have to find a space for you with someone.”
“He can room with me,” Rick says. “We’re running out of space, and those of us in charge are going to have to start sharing as well.” He turns to Reed. “We’re in house two.”
Suzie makes some notes on the paper in front of her before looking up. “I’m through with you, then,” she says, obviously dismissing us.
We file out of the room wordlessly – and quickly.
“Sorry about that,” Rick says when we’re safely out of earshot. “She’s not a favorite person around here.” He shakes his head before continuing. “I suppose you folks are going to need some clothes?”
“We didn’t get to take much with us when we ran,” Chase says, his tone apologetic.
“No problem,” Rick replies, heading toward some double doors at the back of the stairs. “They’re all used, but there’s no shortage here. One thing the correction colony has more than enough of is used clothes. We get pretty much all we need.”
He opens the doors and flips on a light switch, illuminating a large storage closet lined with shelves stuffed full of clothes. They’re divided into sections, each one carefully labeled with the sizes, and I’m shocked to discover they’re not all blue. Back in Antares, there was little variety. We were given comfortable pants and shirts, which only changed based on the season, and they were all the same color. Black pants and blue shirts. The shelves here, however, have reds and browns and blacks and greens. Do the other colonies wear different colors?
“Everyone grab a few sets in your size, girls on the right, and boys on the left. Take whatever you think you need,” Rick says.
I follow Van to the shelves of women’s clothing and pick out five sets, which is what I had at home – although I decide to mix things up a little and get shirts in different colors – then manage to find two pairs of shoes that will fit me. Remembering I ruined my coat when I used it to soak up Jerrick’s blood, I grab a jacket as well. A red one.
Jerrick takes them from me since carrying them while on crutches will be an impossible task, and when our eyes meet, my heart speeds up. As if reading my mind, a ghost of a smile pulls up his lips. Of course, he knows I’m thinking about tonight. About not only being alone with him, but about how we’ll be sharing a bed as well.
“You’re so transparent,” he whispers, just loud enough for me to hear.
I roll my eyes but laugh. “And you think you’re so smart.”
At that, he breaks out in a wide grin. “I know I’m smart. There’s a difference.”
I let out a snort.
When everyone has the things they need, we follow Rick out of the closet and down the hall, then back outside. Even with Jerrick carrying my clothes, I struggle to keep up on my crutches. Rick seems to notice and slows a bit.
“Which colony did you come from?” he asks as we make our way through the colony.
“Antares,” Jerrick replies. “What about you?”
“No colony. I was born here. My dad lived in Polaris but made a run for it about five years before I was born. He got here and met my mom. She was born here, too.”
“There have been people living here for that long?” I ask, shocked to learn the rebel colony has been around for such a long time.
“Yup. There are some of us, like myself, who are descendants of the cult members. My mom’s great-grandfather was one of the founders. Of course, I don’t buy into any of that nonsense myself.”
Once again, my thoughts are clouded with confusion. I’ve heard of a grandfather, I even had one until the age of six when both he and my grandmother Aged Out, but great-grandfather is something I’m not familiar with. I add the question to my rapidly growing list. After we get settled, I’ll get my answers. For now, I’m way too tired to cram any more information into my brain.
Rick stops in front of a house and turns to Reed. “You can go on ahead and get settled. Our room is the second door on the right. Make yourself at home, and I’ll be back after I show the others to their own houses.”
“Okay, thanks,” Reed says to Rick and then turns to us. “I guess I’ll see you guys later.”
“Lunch is in two hours. You can see each other then,” Rick says before walking on.
We follow him to house number eight, and Jerrick and I wait outside while Rick shows Van and Chase around. Grateful for the break, I lean against the wall, trying to give my throbbing body a rest.
“You doing okay?” Jerrick asks, taking my hand.
“Yes. Just tired. What about you? Are you in any pain?”
“A little,” he says then reflexively puts his hand on his side. “But it’s not that bad.”
He starts to say something else but goes quiet when Rick steps out of the house.
“Now for you two,” he says, leading us on.
We cross the street and walk toward a house with an eleven painted on the door in dark, black characters. There are flowers planted in front, but other than that, no other personal touches to indicate who lives in it.
“We have forty houses in all. Some have four, bedrooms but most only have three. This is one of the three-bedroom houses,” Rick tells us as he opens the front door. “The other two bedrooms in this house are already taken. Not sure by who, though. You’ll just have to introduce yourselves when you run into them, I guess. There’s only one shower, but a sign-up sheet should be outside the bathroom to make things easier. There’s a half bathroom, too.”
I hobble inside and pause to look around. The living room is small and features an old, dusty couch and matching chair made of an ugly, brown plaid material. To the left sits a tiny kitchen that looks like it’s mostly used for storage, as well as a small dining room table with four chairs, all of them covered in dust as if they, too, go unused most of the time. Despite the neglected feel, there’s something homey and comfortable about the place. Although it’s strange not to have Datascreens mounted on the walls. We had them in every room back home.
At the thought of the screens, I find myself looking down, and the shock of my bare wrist is as stark as it was the first day after leaving Antares. After a lifetime of checking my Wristband to make sure I’m on schedule, I feel almost naked without it. Still, I can’t help feeling liberated as well. No more bending to the will of those little green numbers. No more ding whenever I step into a building. It seems too good to be true.
“This way,” Rick says, leading us down a hall.
We pass a small bathroom, then two rooms with their doors shut, before he finally stops.
“Here it is.” Rick waves toward the room. “Anything I can do for you before I head out?”
I shake my head, too busy scanning my new bedroom to reply.
“I think we’re good,” Jerrick says, answering for both of us.
“All right, then.” Rick is already backing down the hall. “Get settled, rest, and take a shower if you want. Just be sure to head to the main building at noon for lunch.”
He’s gone a second later, leaving Jerrick and me alone.
I feel almost shy when I meet his gaze, but he’s smiling.
“After you,” he says, motioning toward the open door.
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