I couldn’t find words I wanted to express the emotions I was going through. Shock? Hurt? Anger? Longing? “Your son is a Crimson?” My breath escaped from me in a whisper.
My head jerked away from the picture to gape at her. “What?”
“I said no.” She set the picture down gently, lovingly, on the desktop.
“What do you mean he’s not?”
“I don’t understand.”
She smiled at my confusion. “Kya, my son is not now, nor has he ever been a Crimson. He’s a red shirt, yes. But he is not a Crimson.”
The truth smacked me in the face. Sam saw the comprehension on my face, but chose to let me say it. She understood that I would never truly understand until I said it out loud. “You didn’t give him up?”
I sat back in my chair. The small picture expanded before my eyes until it filled my whole frame of vision. The people in the picture changed. I saw my parents laughing and smiling, holding me tight in their arms. I saw their love for me shining in their faces. I saw my life that would never be.
Sam stepped in front of the picture, breaking my trance. I gasped for breath. I had stopped breathing. Tears carved silent paths down my cheeks.
Sam took my hands and pulled me to my feet. “I don’t want to sound like an insensitive monster, Ky, but you need to stop crying. If people think you’ve been crying, there will be no end to what you’ll have to suffer through until the end of the day.” She wiped a tear away.
I nodded. I knew she was right. I pulled my hands out of hers and rubbed the final tears away. I am Kya. I am strong.
Sam pulled a small bag from one of her drawers. Makeup? She had me sit down on the desk. “Let’s get rid of the evidence shall we?”
I almost laughed. She still sounded exactly like the Sam I remembered.
She started the operation, though I’m not sure it could do much to help.
I had questions. “So why didn’t you . . .” I couldn’t finish the question without making it sound mean.
She understood what I was failing to ask. “If The Society thinks that they can breed a hate strong enough in me that I will turn away my own son, they are sadly mistaken.”
I nodded, pretending I knew what she was talking about. In all honesty, I was more lost and confused than ever. What was so different about Sam that she wouldn’t give up her son? Every parent of every red shirt always gave up their child. Why was Sam so different?
I’d have to try to brooch that subject again on another day.
Next question. “Everybody hates me, right?”
Her mouth turned into a hard line. “In a manner of speaking.”
“Then why were those boy all hitting on me? Why didn’t they shun me like the girls at my old school used to?”
Sam applied a last touch to my eye. She stepped back and handed me a small hand mirror. The effect was stunning. If I hadn’t known, I would’ve never known I’d been bawling like a little baby.
I looked up at her and waited for her to answer my question.
She sighed. “This isn’t something I want to talk about, but it’s something you need to know. Kya, in the mind of the species we call boy, Crimson is synonymous with bad. The television has played with the red shirt girls for far too long. In those shows, the crim girl always plays the part of the seductress.” She didn’t look like she wanted to continue. “Do you understand what I’m trying to say, Ky?”
I nodded. It was perfectly clear. All those boys’ comments made sense. They thought my purpose in life was to sleep in their beds. My cheeks flushed in embarrassment. I wish I hadn’t asked. Some things were better left unsaid. I didn’t want to ask any more questions. Even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to remember any of them.
I pushed myself off of the desk. “I should go.”
I turned but Sam snagged my arm. “Kya, feel free to spend any lunch in here.”
I heard her unspoken message. You don’t have to face them. It was the easy way out, and I was grateful for it.
Outside, the halls were chaotic. I checked my bag to make sure nothing was sticking out that could be easily nabbed. I pushed my way through the seething mass of people.
Someone behind me was attempting to get my attention. I press forward.
A hand landed on my shoulder. I spun around and found myself staring into Ethan’s cocky smile. In his hand that wasn’t latched onto my shoulder was a piece of paper. I made out the familiar numbers of an address.
“I thought I’d give this to you since the last one was destroyed.” He pushed the paper at me.
Really? REALLY?! I regret to say that I lost control of my emotions. Actually, I don’t regret it at all.
My hand met his cheek in a resounding slap. The look of shock on his face was priceless. He was at a complete loss for how to respond. The halls around us instantly silenced.
“Don’t you ever touch me again!” My words were quiet, but I had no doubt that every student in the hall heard.
As I continued my walk down the hall, a pathway opened up for me. My classmates pressed to the walls to let me by. I felt something I was walked through them: fear. I smiled on the inside. A little fear could go a long way.
I stepped out in front of the school where buses were waiting to take the students to their respective apprenticeships. Very few students were outside yet. The ones who were, didn’t know of my parole violation yet.
“That was stupid.” Scott was leaning against a tree a few feet away. “Bold, but stupid.”
Why was he talking to me?
“You know what’s going to happen now, don’t you?”
I nodded. Nodding seemed to be my thing today.
He took a step toward me. “I underestimated you. Perhaps it would be to my advantage to stick with you. What’s your name?”
I didn’t respond.
“Here, I’ll start.” This conversation felt eerily similar to the one I’d had with Ethan earlier. “I’m Scott Bentley. You are . . .”
Did everybody think that they had a right to my personal details?
My eyes narrowed at him. “Look Scott, I’m a Crimson. You’re a Crimson. All we will ever be is the scum of the streets. I’m just trying to live life one day at a time, and I suggest you do the same.” He was a jerk. I didn’t want anything to do with him. “Why don’t you stick with your initial rule? ‘Just because we’re in the same boat doesn’t mean I’m not eager to throw you to the sharks. Don’t talk to me. Don’t eat lunch with me. Don’t even look at me. To you, I don’t even exist.’”
I saw anger flare in his eyes as quoted back to him what he’d said this morning. “Fine.” His words were clipped. “I guess I was right. They did get to you. And for a second I was crazy enough to believe that you were like me.”
The sound of police sirens pierced the air. They were coming for me.
He glared at me one last time. “My mistake. I won’t make it again.” He stormed to the buses and climbed on. No apprenticeships for the Crimson. He would be going on the bus that would take him closest to his home in the orphanage.
The police cars screeched to a stop in front of the school. Behind me, students were pressing their faces to the glass to watch.
Police spilled from their vehicles and surrounded me. Cold cuffs shackled my hands together behind me. They pushed me roughly to the line of cars with flashing lights. “Crimson 42693, you are under arrest for violation of your parole by assaulting a fellow-student. Two week solitary confinement to be affected immediately.”
They pushed my head down, forcing me into one of the cars. I looked at my gaping classmates. I picked out Ethan’s face from among them. His features were still painted with shock. I gave him a smile before they closed the door in my face. I didn’t regret it at all.
* * * * *
Ethan watched in shock as the flashing lights disappeared into the distance.
Two weeks solitary confinement because he couldn’t lay off. He couldn’t stop the worm of guilt from curling in his stomach.