“Hurry! You have to jump!” Izzy cupped her hands around her mouth.
Terror enveloped Fale. Her heartbeat was so fast; it felt like there was a bird trying to take flight inside her chest. Imaginary wings beat against her lungs and she struggled to fill them.
Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.
The noise of the people around her faded as if she were behind a glass wall. It dimmed the vision of bodies swaying in her periphery, yet heightened her sense of touch as she felt the air between her fingers. She rubbed her slick palms down the front of her suit. Backing up slowly, she felt the way with her feet. She had spent the entire season riddled with anxiety in anticipation of this moment.
“Come on, Fale, it’ll be fine! Trust me.” Izzy waved her hands above her head.
I’m too high.
Suddenly, the board Fale was standing on began to bounce. She looked down at all the people, so far away. She hated this. Immediately she bent her knees and threw her hands out for balance. Before she could turn around, a body crashed into her. Wrapping their limbs around her, pinning her arms to her body, the attacker fell with her. Fale barely had time to shriek as she hit the surface hard, and her mouth filled with water. She pulled out of the embrace and pushed her assailant away, kicking with all her might.
As she rose to the top and sputtered, she looked around to find her best friend in the world, also surfacing. “Lisle, you pushed me!”
Lisle dunked his head back in the water and laughed like a hyena. “I wish I could have seen your face!”
“Ugh.” She splashed water at him.
“You were never going to jump on your own. Admit it,” he challenged her.
“I would have. You wait, when you’re not looking, you’re going to get it.” Her smile was genuine. “Let’s go back to the shallow end.”
“I knew you could do it,” Izzy said when they got back to their little corner of the public pool.
“I didn’t do it. Lisle did,” Fale said while pushing Lisle’s arm away from her.
“Whatever,” Izzy said. “You still jumped off the highest diving board we have. I’m proud of you.”
The pool was crowded during this time of year. The Industrial District was one of the hottest cities in Algea, due to all the metal, and the water was the only way some of the less fortunate had to cool down. Fale felt a spark of indignation over the fact that the most unfortunate people were the only ones not allowed. Income-based privileges were common here, but she didn’t have to like it. A poor citizen must be the guest of a wealthy one to be seen at the pool.
“Thanks, Iz. Who wants to dry off in the sun?”
“I’m game,” Izzy turned toward the ladder.
“I’m starving.” Lisle followed the girls out of the pool and over to the wooden slatted lounge chairs.
“You’re always hungry,” Izzy said. “Where are you putting it all?”
Lisle laughed. “I’m a growing boy. Do you want anything from the snack bar?”
The girls both shook their heads and Lisle left them, rubbing his hair into spikes with his towel.
“So, are you finally ready for school to start? You are taking this whole thing too seriously if you ask me.” Izzy laid back and rubbed sun cream into her copper- colored skin. Fale admired Izzy’s petite features and smiled warmly when she met her chocolate- eyed gaze.
“Of course I’m not ready, I still have to buy textbooks for Educator Disciplines. Then I want to map out the University buildings, so I know where all my classes are. You’re welcome to come with me and walk the campus. I don’t understand how you can be so relaxed about it. Hey, can I use some of your sunscreen?”
“Sure. You know I make things up as I go. I won’t be ready until the day before it starts. I am ready for fall, though. This is the hottest summer Algea’s had in forever.” Izzy fanned herself and drank from an insulated cup.
“Didn’t you hear?” Fale looked at Izzy with her head cocked to the side. “Our planet is closer to the sun this year.”
“It’s because of some asteroid hitting us and throwing the planet’s orbit off, or something like it.” Fale didn’t understand much about space, scientists had long desired to visit the planet’s moon, but they had yet to do it.
“You’re making it up.” Izzy laughed.
“Probably isn’t true anyway. I read it while I was in line at the grocery,” Fale agreed. She spread the lotion on her chest, lifting the key from around her neck.
“I’ve given you so many pretty necklaces, and yet you insist on wearing that old thing.” Izzy pointed to the brown cord. “You could at least take it off for special occasions.”
“It was the last thing he gave me. I can’t take it off,” Fale said. “No occasion is important enough for me. Maybe I’m just too sentimental.”
“Nah, I get it. Your dad was special and it was his. Oh, look, Lisle’s back. And he brought food!” Izzy was delighted. “What’d you bring me, Lisle?”
“Veggie chips. What did I miss?”
“Izzy was asking me if I was ready for classes to start. What about you, Lisle? Did you convince your parents to back off?” Fale took the bag of chips he was offering.
“They are as pushy as ever. They’re making me take classes in natural science, and keep my wizard training part-time, or they won’t pay for any of it,” Lisle said.
“I hope you can do everything.” Fale munched on a chip.
“Are you still thinking about this wizard stuff? Everybody knows it’s not real, Lisle, just illusions. There’s no such thing as magic.” Izzy squinted up at him in the bright sunlight.
Lisle sighed. “It is real, Iz. I’ve seen amazing things.”
“Like what?” Fale asked.
Lisle pinched his lips together and narrowed his eyes in thought. Izzy laughed.
“He can’t think of anything,” she said. “My point, exactly.”
“There is more to it, but nothing’s coming to me right now.”
“I believe you, Lisle,” Fale said. “When will you be able to live with them? Or do you still have to keep your brother’s old apartment?”
“I have to stay in the city while I’m in school, then I’ll move out to the wizards’ congregate after graduation.”
“Well maybe you can work your magic on my parents,” Izzy said. “They pulled some strings at work to get me a job in the Control Agency. Can you imagine me as an office professional? The last thing I need is to work with my parents. I want to get out of this city and move somewhere more progressive. Maybe the Glass Plant. I’ve heard their art and culture there is high class.”
Fale didn’t understand those feelings. She was happy in the Industrial District. It might be a little rough around the edges, but she had everything she needed there. She was going to finish school in four years, then teach classes at the Takanori Core Training Center full time, helping with the books whenever she could. And by then, she should have mastered the craft of control, and she would become a full Takanori warrior. For now, though, she was going to enjoy her last childhood summer. When classes began, life would settle down, and she would focus on her goals.
“Don’t look now, but someone is staring at you,” Izzy poked Fale’s arm.
“Who?” Fale sat up and looked around.
Izzy groaned. “I said don’t look. It’s you-know-who.”
“Keron’s here?” Fale tried to keep the excitement out of her voice as she scanned the crowd, but there was no fooling her friend.
Izzy nodded to the chairs by the entrance. “And he’s with a girl I don’t know.” Izzy was a social bee, buzzing with news. It always troubled her not to know someone. Especially someone who looked like that in an expensive looking three-piece swimsuit. Fale noticed no one sat too near them, though. Most fantocci avoided the stares and put-downs that came along with public places, but Keron had never been like the rest of the biomechanical population. He seemed to find a new wealthy benefactress every month, who insisted on showing him off. Or they were just trying to prove their benevolent belief in equality to their friends.
“Oh.” Fale flopped back onto her lounge chair. The girl was looking at a paperback, her red suit crossing her chest, then connected to a center piece with gold chains, linking to some very small bottoms. Fale grimaced at her blonde hair piled high and crystallized glasses. She could never compete with that. What was she thinking? It’s not like he hadn’t already turned her down flat and humiliated her, but only Izzy knew (because she’d told Fale not to ask him). Fale had thought at the time Izzy might have been the tiniest bit jealous, seeing as how she’d been friends with Keron longer, but maybe Izzy had just meant to warn her. She glanced over to see him looking right at her with his horribly adorable smirk. She quickly looked away. “Why did you have to ruin a perfectly good afternoon?” she asked Izzy.
“I said he was staring at you, dummy,” she answered.
Suddenly, Lisle was paying attention. “Who’s staring at Fale?”
“No one,” Fale said sourly.
“Keron,” Izzy volunteered.
“Oh,” Lisle sounded as defeated as Fale had.
“What’s wrong with you two? I’m going to go say hi.” Izzy leaned forward.
“No. No, Izzy. Come back here. Oh, please don’t-”
Izzy walked across the scorching cement to Keron. The Control agent stationed at the gate watched her closely. Keron leaned back and crossed his ankles in front of him, his metal leg shining in the sun. Izzy spoke to them, and Fale wished she could hear what was being said. The other girl pulled down her sunglasses to look up at Izzy, and of course, Izzy pointed over to Fale and Lisle. Fale wanted to shrink and hide, but she forced herself to wave. Keron chuckled.
What does the chuckle mean?
Izzy said a few more words and turned to come back. Fale watched the girl whisper to Keron, and he roared with laughter. That was it, Fale was ready to go. Keron got up and lightly kissed the girl’s upturned face and walked to the men’s room.
“Izzy, I’m going to kill you one of these days,” Fale said.
“Nah, you love me too much.”
“Things change,” Lisle said.
“So, do you want the details, or not?” Izzy taunted.
“Not,” Fale looked down at her faded old one-piece suit. “I simply want to live my own life and never think of him again.”
Additional Book Details
- Publish date
- Rogue Phoenix Press