I am about to watch time go backwards.
Well, in a mental sense, at least. See, if this class could get any more boring, I'm pretty sure that time itself would start to unravel, because it certainly couldn't go any slower. Mr. Showalter is way more excited about history and government than we are. Don't get me wrong. When I get to study history stuff on my own, it's great. I love it. But there's something about being forced to read a textbook that just vacuums the fun right out of it.
It doesn't help that it's my last class of the day. It doesn't help that it takes ninety godforsaken minutes to get through it.
My phone blinks to life inside my backpack; I'm smart enough these days to put it on silent before I walk into homeroom, ever since the day in Chem when my dad called (at 10am? Really? Knowing I'm in class? I'm still convinced it was a setup.), and I was looking around with everybody else trying to find whose phone it was since I was sure I'd lost mine or left it at home. I never put things in the same place twice. Wallet, keys, phone - I like it to be a new guessing game every day.
I blink. "Huh?"
"Can you save the texting for after school, or is it urgent?" Mr. S. asks plaintively. Sometimes it's hard to tell whether he's serious, but he's actually one of the few teachers who would understand if I did say it was urgent. He even tried to convince the principal to let us use our phones in class, but that proposal didn't exactly get far.
"Sorry," I mumble, turning my attention back to the SmartBoard. The thing I like about SmartBoards is that most teachers have no clue how to use them, so half the time the assignments and notes they write on there end up deleted or saved upside down and backwards, so we get an extra day to do everything. The thing I don't like about SmartBoards is that if the teacher does know how to use them, like Mr. S. does, we can access our homework from literally anywhere, so even if I tried to say I was sick to get out of a day of school, I'd still have to do it.
It takes me a second to realize he's assigning an essay. Most everyone else whines about it, but I'd rather write paragraphs than answer test questions any day. Give me an essay. Give me all your essays. Sometimes I consider offering to write a massive paper at the beginning of the year on the condition that I won't have any work the rest of the time. I doubt anyone would go for it.
"Yes, I know, I'm the worst ever," Mr. S. says, rolling his eyes behind his glasses. He has a very Portland look, as my dad would say - he's a small sort of guy, but he has a full lumberjack beard and wears plaid for every occasion. He probably owns suspenders. "But this is important. Not that everything I tell you isn't important, but this is especially important. I want you to find a law that interests you and discuss it. The good, the bad, the ugly, anything you can think of. As usual, you can be as humorous as you like, so long as you give me enough content to grade."
I was usually pretty good at picking something to write about, or at least I had two or three ideas. But it was such a huge topic. I had no idea how I would narrow it down.
"Submit your choices by the end of the week, and try to get at least a few sources that aren't online." Mr. S. rolls his eyes, slightly exasperated.
"Does it have to be double-spaced?" Blake Whatley asks.
"I'll put it this way: if you still need me to tell you how to format it, you're already behind."
I jot down a few notes on his lecture - we're working on the Depression, mainly some of the laws that rose out of it, and comparing them to modern events. It's as fun as it sounds.
I collect my stuff when the bell rings for the end of the day and dig my phone out the second I'm outside the classroom. At first I figure it's just Zara asking for help on a math test or something, but instead it's from Liv. She doesn't text or call often - she's a huge government conspiracy nut, to the point where she gets a new burn phone every few weeks or so. I keep telling her I'm sure if they wanted to find her they could just call the front office and ask what class she's in, which usually leads to her punching me in the arm.
10pm. new quill finally out. delete me
I have to read the message about ten times. 'The Quill' is the pen name of our favorite author. No one knows who it is. They've been writing for only a few months, I think, but the books have completely caught fire. (Not literally. We're done with that, I hope.) Liv and Zara and I have been dying for the next one to come out. The updates are hard to catch - once they get posted somewhere, they're usually deleted within hours, but it's always been long enough for someone to grab and share.
Liv's signature dangles from the end of every message. delete me, always lowercase. I zap the time into my head and oblige her. I don't bother adding her contact number to my phone anymore, since she's always getting new ones. Conveniently, she's the only tinfoil hat friend I have (again, one of my dad's Dadisms), so it's not hard to tell when it's her. I walk home, enjoying the last bits of warm sunshine we'll have before winter punches the city in its gut and leaves it gasping.
Olympia is more of an overgrown town than a city, but it's the state capital, so I guess that counts for something. The whole city is pretty much constantly at risk of being eaten by trees. They practically grow out of the sidewalk cracks at this point. My dad used to tell me not to step on any leaves I saw poking their way up through the concrete because the next day it would be a tree and it would come after me for hurting it. I still watch my step.
"Hey, Nik! Wait up!"
I twist around and see Zara jogging to catch up with me, the tails of her dusty pink scarf flailing behind her. Orange and red leaves are twisted up in her hair and glow like fire against the black. She sweeps it over one shoulder and looks exasperated. "You took off without me."
"Sorry. Did Liv text you?"
"Yeah, I heard. Exciting stuff, huh?" She struggles to catch her breath, so I slow my pace. I never did understand why Zara wanted to be friends with me at first. She's always been just a little better than everyone at everything. She dresses like a fashion model - today it's a slouchy sweater and her favorite leggings with cartoon cat faces on the knees - and she could have graduated a year early to head off to Harvard. Her parents probably would have shoved her into college even earlier if possible. What they never planned on was her complete obsession with all things anime, her tournament-destroying Pokemon addiction, and her ability to ruin her grades just enough to keep from being at the absolute top of the class. I'm sure it infuriates them that she calculates exactly how many points she can afford to lose on a test in order to sit comfortably in the #2 slot, right behind Duke Princeton, who is going to have a damned hard time deciding which of his namesakes to attend.
"I can't wait. What's it gonna be this time, you think?" I'm more of the lazy-gray-hoodie kind of guy. I'm pretty sure I've worn the same pair of jeans for almost a week now.
"I hope it's fantasy or sci-fi this time around." She sighs wistfully. "I'm just glad it's not romance like so much of that other garbage, you know?"
"Ha, yeah." It was hard enough to find off-List books in the first place. I know they say beggars can't be choosers, but when you've spent three hours circumventing security protocols and messaging online drifters for documents, you hope it'll be something you like.
It bothers Zara more than it does me, I think. In spite of everything, she's picky about what she reads. I'm usually just happy to have something that's not on the List.
The List. The government's approved set of newly published books, released quarterly. It's not all terrible. Sometimes there are a few good fiction books on there, but it's mostly boring. My dad tells me that back before the publishing houses got regulated, they would release new books all the time, almost every day. Every time you'd go to the bookstore it would be different. I try to imagine that when we go to Book Barn, the walls covered in endless rows of books instead of a few thinly-stocked shelves near the DVD racks.
We hang out at my house for homework since there's no telling whether her house will be at war or at peace. I think an armistice was declared last week when her dad helped her mom do the dishes, but mostly shots are fired from both sides. My dad won't get home from work until late, so we order a pizza and hack away at the Calc problems. Zara is a wizard at Chem, so she can help me with that; she took the second-level Chem class last year as a junior, so she's taking AP Bio this time. Average people only go one route and choose between them, but I think 'average' is the only word Zara doesn't know the meaning of.
"Have you figured out where to apply yet?" she asks.
I try not to make it a blatantly obvious 'no.' "I haven't decided. There are just so many schools to choose from. I don't want to end up hating wherever I am."
"Pria told me to pick somewhere you'd want to live; that way you can put up with everything else you don't like." Zara's older sister Pria went to Stanford two years ago on a full ride. I lost our bet about whether she would become a politician before she started there. She waited until her sophomore year for that.
"I wish we could all go to the same school." It sounds sheepish, but it's true. I'm going to miss them like hell.
Zara pretends to stab me with the eraser of her pencil. "We'll still be friends, you nugget."
"Yeah, I know."
Zara heads home around dinnertime so it won't look as suspicious when we all meet up later. We meet in the park - it's an older one, which means no cameras, and at Liv's instruction, we always wear hoodies in case we do encounter some surveillance equipment. Cameras aren't all-present here like they are in London, but my dad says it won't be long before we can't take ten steps without being seen on film. It's cold and breezy when I get to the lightning tree in the darkest section of the park. It got struck during a huge storm when we were kids, and a black scar cuts all the way down the trunk, but it didn't die. I run my fingers over the bark and listen to the wind shake the dry branches.
Zara taps me on the shoulder and makes me jump about six feet in the air.
"Shit, Zee, don't do that," I say flatly while she tries to contain her giggles.
"Sorry not sorry," she replies. "Have you seen Liv?"
I hear more rustling, like leaves, and in the same moment I realize it can't be that (the leaves mostly fell last week), Liv drops down from the branches and rolls to her feet like a ninja. This, while still startling, is less surprising. She's nimble and as stable on her feet as a cat. I'm pretty sure she still plays "The Floor is Lava" and rearranges the furniture in her entire house to make it as difficult as possible.
"Ready?" she asks, her voice slightly muffled by the thin mask she pulls over her face, revealing only her eyes.
"Yeah. Let's rock and roll."
Liv marches ahead to lead the way. I don't know how she finds out where to go for these things, but she's pretty well-connected. This time it's the basement of a house a few blocks away. It looks quiet and unassuming from the street. All the lights are off upstairs, and for a moment I think I should ask Liv if she's sure it's the right place, but then she hops the gate to the backyard so we have no choice but to go after her. The grass is dry and stiff under my shoes as we approach the back door.
Liv knocks a certain way, and the door opens. I hear a muffled voice, but I can't understand what it says before whoever it is steps aside and lets us through. Liv peels the mask over her head, unleashing her hair for only a second before she swiftly pulls it into a tight bun at the nape of her neck. More murmuring voices emanate from the basement, and it's barely lit enough for me to pick my way down the steps. Once we reach the floor, I realize it's because the light is from candles. Enough of them line the walls and shelves for us to see, but it's too dim to reach upstairs and be seen from the street. Pretty smart, actually, plus the house won't record any lights being on late at night, which would be suspicious.
"Hey, nice to see you guys again," a familiar voice says.
I grin. "Cayliss."
Cayliss is one of Liv's friends. I don't know their real name - none of use our real names, just in case - but they've been at almost as many of these little meetups as I have, and they always have leads on the best books.
"You ready for this?" they ask with a grin. "It'll knock your socks off, I promise."
They hand me a phone at the same time that I dig mine out. Sharing used to be tricky before the LemonJuice app; you have to make your phone discoverable, but you don't want the wrong people getting in. We had to use direct link cables, which was a total pain. LemonJuice makes you visible, but only to the devices you allow, and it automatically shuts down if it detects any government-ware on the network. It's almost stupidly simple, but it's brilliant in the same way that the candles are: lower tech is harder to track, and they're not built to shut it down.
I hold the phones close to each other and check the boxes on their screens as they pop up. The filenames are meaningless, again, just in case. I grab the newest one, entitled "1derful," and look around as it downloads. There are about fifteen people here, maybe twenty. It's hard to see most of them in the low light, but what is clear is that everyone's happy. There are smiles, some laughter, a lot of hushed whispers. Zara is clearly geeking out about whatever new anime she's fallen in love with, and Liv flits from group to group, grabbing as many books as she can. I usually let her do the work and profit off it later when I can download them all at once.
My phone announces that it's done, so I give Cayliss the phone back and open the document. I can't wait. The file feeds into Monocle, my reader app, while I shuffle into a quiet corner to read.
Rex shielded her eyes from the sun as the ship cruised ever closer to the island. The flag overhead flapped and snapped in the ocean breeze, waving a shadow back and forth on the deck that creaked under her boots. Her hat did most of the work, three-pointed and holding stiffly against the years of wear the captain had put on it, but it was bright nonetheless - the island's sands practically glowed white against the deep blue.
"That's it, then?" she asked without removing her gaze from the island.
"As fine a stopover a man could ask for," a trim English voice replied from behind her. "Steady on the helm, there, or you'll take us right past it."
"Your confidence is appreciated, Captain."
The captain grinned and planted a hand on her shoulder. "You always have it."
She guided the vessel ever closer, calling for the men to bring the sails in as they neared the narrow spit of land. It was little more than an overgrown sandbar stuffed with trees. Nearby she heard one of the men say it looked too small for all of them to stand upon at once and they would have to take turns. Once they were near enough that the shallows became a danger, she had them drop the anchor and ready the smaller boat to take a few of them ashore at a time. The break on the island would give them much-needed rest and supplies before the long haul back to England. Rex made it a point to be the first to set foot on the sand.
The boat had to take a separate trip for their digging supplies, so she waited in the shade, now gazing back across the teal expanse they had just crossed. It was hard to believe there were entire countries on the other side of that water, possibly whole worlds that had never been explored.
She glanced over at the captain, perusing his map with a thoughtful expression. She was about to speak when something seemed to click into place inside his head. "Ah. Right. I remember. This way." He loosely rolled up the map and motioned for her to follow, picking an invisible trail into the jungle undergrowth that grew thickly right up to the edge of the shore. He hacked away a few plants with his sword, but after a while the trees and brush thinned out to reveal a rocky mound that rose up in the center of the island. The captain paused at the top to get his bearings and check his map again, then he turned and directed them to a small crop of trees at the bottom of the rocks.
"I planted these as saplings a long time ago," he noted as they neared the short, scrubby trimmings. "They're doing well."
"Never figured you for a gardener," Rex commented, crossing her arms. She heard cawing overhead and saw a few seagulls circling.
"Yes, well, I supposed an enormous 'X' would have been too obvious." The captain kicked aside a little sand with the toe of his boot. "Retrieve the men. It's not buried deep."
Rex nodded and threaded her way back through the underbrush with one hand on the dagger she kept at her side, just in case she came across a wild boar or an overzealous snake. She did not relish the thought of killing an animal, but dying from a bite wound hardly sounded appealing either. The crew were in the midst of setting up makeshift tents for the night when she returned and announced that they had the location of the chest. A cheer rose up from the men, and she could not help but grin to herself as she waved them along, shovels and picks in hand. There was a fair amount of talk about how to spend the money, mostly on women and wine, it sounded like, but she kept her comments to herself. Better to let them get it out of their systems.
They arrived at the location and began to dig while she and the captain supervised. She tried to catch his eye, but she realized something was off. He continually glanced around and over his shoulder, as if sensing they had been followed. Her hand went to her sword subconsciously. If the captain was tense, it was for a reason.
The thud of a metal shovel head against wood caught her attention. "Aha, over here, men!" one of them yelled. The others raced to clear a hole around the chest, and soon they had unearthed it enough to raise it from the earth. Rex saw the sand underneath it was wet and dark, and it stuck to the wood like a stubborn fungus. Scourge brushed much of it away with his gloved hands, especially around the keyhole, and dug the key from his pocket to unlock the thing. She heard it click into place and the heavy tumblers fall, and she caught her breath as the captain swung the latch aside and raised the lid.
She had expected glittering coins or jewels to be spilling from the wooden chest, but instead she only saw a pile of leather pouches, some the size of satchels and some no bigger than her palm. Scourge seemed unperturbed at this, but when he loosened the strap of the first one and emptied it into his glove, a few rusty coins fell from the opening, and his eyes flashed.
"Doesn't look like any silver I've ever seen," one man complained gruffly. The aura of discontent reached out to the other men, binding them like an invisible rope, and soon they were all grumbling.
It got worse when Scourge slashed open a larger bag and sand came bleeding out.
Rex eased her sword out of its sheath by an inch. The situation could turn mutinous in a heartbeat. She waited to see what Scourge would do.
He gripped the leather bag so hard his arm shook, then cast it aside and climbed atop the nearest rock to address the crew. They gathered quickly, throwing their hats to the sand and cursing.
"We will rain hell upon the man responsible for this," he cried, possibly angrier than all of them. "I will have our treasure returned to us. Until then..." He managed a serpentine smile, even in the midst of his fury. "We will have to fill this chest with something other than sand."
The men erupted in a war cry, this time in support of their captain. They rifled through the rest of the pouches in case some remnant of gold or pearl still remained, but no inch of the treasure had gone untouched. The rest of the crew soon dispersed to gather what they could scavenge from the island, but Rex remained with the captain, hoping to get a closer look at the coins. They looked unfamiliar and oddly made. She scooped up a handful of them. They all bore the same crest on both sides, but each seemed to be hammered from a different piece of scrap metal, so no two looked alike. Most were thin and flimsy.
"Who could have done this?" she asked, half to herself and half to him.
"I have never seen anything quite like these," Scourge mumbled, holding one coin pinched between his thumb and forefinger. "Damn if I can't read them, though."
Rex snorted and plucked it from his grasp. "Perhaps if you weren't so old."
"Watch your tongue, sailor."
She ignored him and focused on the crest adorning the coin. It seemed to be a drawing of a woman, but also of a tree, depending on how she focused on it. The hair spread into leaves and branches, and her body became the trunk and roots, with her hands held up as if welcoming rain. A single word wrapped around the bottom of the coin, but it was so small and worn she could not decipher it.
"Strange," she said absently. "Clearly without value, if they were left behind in such great number."
Scourge nodded firmly. "Do not trouble yourself with it. We will find whoever did this and punish them accordingly."
They rejoined the rest of the crew in the clearing closer to shore, where they found many tents already set up and a fire pit being dug in the center. Scourge's mood was still foul, but his expression lightened when his quartermaster approached. "Ah, Francois," he said as the shorter man arrived with a mountain of pineapples tied up in his shirt. The captain rattled off something in French, and they spoke back and forth briefly before the other man tossed him a pineapple and continued on his way. Scourge slashed off the top of it and dug a chunk of the fruit out with his knife, offering some to Rex.
"It seems odd that someone would come all this way just to take a small amount of treasure," she mused, still mulling over their predicament.
Scourge agreed and gnawed on the tough core of the fruit as he spoke, letting its juices run down the sides of his mouth and throat. Despite constant time in the sun, he was typically pale, as he kept his face and arms covered to avoid burns from the reflection of the sun on the water. His eyes were dark and intelligent under the brim of his hat. "Indeed, I have no shortage of enemies, especially as we make our way closer to the homeland." 'The homeland' was a term he used wryly; they both considered the ship a better home than any country, and Scourge would be the last one to claim loyalty to any flag but his own. He meant England. "I suppose the Spaniard could be at fault, though we have not crossed swords in some time."
"Can you think of anyone else?" She hated to annoy him with persistence, but it was just so out of the ordinary. Most pirates feared and respected Scourge, and in spite of their differences between one another, very few would have dared to cross him so boldly.
She thought his jaw hardened for a moment, but he shook his head. "No. As I said, do not dwell upon it. There is little more we can do for now."
The crew enjoyed more rum than usual that evening, dancing and singing drunkenly around the fire as Francois sawed away at an old fiddle. Rex would have preferred to sleep on the ship, but ill feelings toward her had always been commonplace, especially among the newer members superstitious of women aboard, so she expended every effort to be like them, to do what they did, short of the whoring and most of the drinking. She fell asleep under a length of sail-cloth bent over a branch, listening to the gentle lull of the ocean waves, the image of the coin burned into her mind.
Pulling myself out of the story always hurts. It's like peeling a wad of gum off the sole of my sneaker with a stick, slow and sticky and unsettling. I read the chapter fervently, absorbing every word like they're going to disappear. Then I read it again. I'm halfway through my third trip into the world of pirates and treasure when Zara taps my arm.
"Hey, Nix, it's almost midnight," she says, keeping her voice low but gently urgent. "We should get home."
I sigh and reluctantly tuck my phone away. My mind buzzes with this new world whirling inside it, and even as we say our goodbyes and sneak back out into the dark of night, I feel warm and busy inside.
"What did you think?"
Liv usually doesn't say much when we're on these missions, claiming they might be listening, but I can hear the electricity in her voice, the hope for reassurance that we've done the right thing by sneaking out for a single chapter of a book.
"It was the best," Zara says first, stretching and then shivering. "Cramped in there, though. Why can't we meet out in a field somewhere?"
"Because they'd find us in about a minute." It's obvious Liv is rolling her eyes, but I can hear the smile in her voice, too.
"I'm just saying it would be way more comfortable if it were out in the open. It could still be far away."
"It was beautiful," I whisper, mostly to myself. Liv looks over her shoulder at me, but she doesn't say anything right away. "I can't wait for the rest of it."
Zara suddenly sounds glum. "I just hope it doesn't turn into another Red."
All three of us go silent. Red was the best writer, the kind of writer who makes you believe every word and take every story to heart. Red published like it was going out of style, and let's be real, it was. New chapters almost daily, sometimes two at a time, and not a single syllable was ever out of place. Like the book just fell out of someone's head and into existence.
It was right after the nineteenth chapter of Red's latest book, All's Fair, a murder mystery in steampunk style London, that everything happened. The updates stopped without so much as a two-word explanation on a forum. Nobody knew what happened for almost two weeks, and then word started getting around that Red had been killed, taken to a re-education facility where no one got out alive. I didn't want to believe it until I saw a story on the news about how the government had busted a huge illegal publishing operation and carted away a truckload of political prisoners. They kept going on about how they wanted to reform people instead of just punishing them.
Like the facilities were anything but punishment.
My dad told me it seemed like we never learned our lesson about anything. I just wanted it to be a lie, a big fake scandal, but as the weeks passed and we still didn't hear anything from Red, I had to face the truth. We would never find out what happened in the story. And we would never find out what happened to Red.
"It won't be," Liv says firmly. "That won't happen."
She means it won't happen because we're more careful now, because we sneak around and meet in secret and make sure we don't leave a trail. But I know we're all thinking it. I can picture it easily, the police kicking the door in and lining everyone up against the wall, demanding our IDs, searching our pockets, and confiscating our phones. If they ever found out just how much I'd illegally read, just how many illegal books I illegally obtained, I'd go to jail for years. I get what they're worried about, I guess. With self-publishing, people could post anything - anything they wanted, and a lot of it was stuff no one needed to see. Kids reading about murder and sex and drugs. Books telling teenagers how to make homemade bombs to plant in government buildings and track down where cops lived and burn them alive in their beds. No restrictions. Anyone could read anything. I could've written a book about how I was going to kill the President and published it online - not just to be read, but for sale, actually charged people for it, and no one could have stopped me.
It was all before I was born. My dad remembers, but he doesn't like to talk about it much. He says it was an ugly part of our history.
Zara peels away from our trio and heads toward home, while Liv accompanies me most of the way back to my house. She lives the farthest, and I know she goes out of her way not to go straight home, but it doesn't seem to bother her. Like I said, she's a ninja.
"So, you really liked it that much, huh?" she asks quietly.
"I did. It was fantastic. Better than that- I don't know." I cut myself off, not sure how to explain it, but she stays silent, politely asking me to continue. "It was like I was there, you know? Like it was happening around me. I've already read it almost three times."
"I'm glad." She pauses for a long time. "I think this might be the one."
I frown and look at her weirdly. "The one...what?"
But she doesn't answer me. Instead, she bolts into the night, leaving me with nothing but the stars overhead.
I'm not tired when I get home, so I decide to be productive and look up a few ideas for my paper since I got everything else done earlier. It's weird trying to search for laws, especially since I don't have anything specific in mind, but I come up with a list (even if it is a really short one). I can barely focus, though, because my mind keeps drifting back to the island, to the salt and sea and the wind in the sails. I'll read almost anything, like I said, but I have a soft spot for fiction, and it's hard not to fall in love with pirates.
It's my dad's day off the next day, so he's working on breakfast when I get to the kitchen.
"Good morning, sleepyhead," he says.
I answer him by yawning and waving at the same time to prove his point. "What're we having?"
"Well, I'm having pancakes and bacon. I don't know what you're having."
I roll my eyes, but it's hard not to smile. "I can start begging."
"Alright, fine." He dumps a mountain of pancakes on a plate for me because I plow through food the same way I plow through books. My excuse is that I need it for basketball, but I could probably eat my way through an entire kitchen in about an hour if I really tried. "How's school treating you?"
"Meh. Mr. S. gave us an essay. It's not too bad."
He raises an eyebrow at me, curious. "I thought you liked writing papers."
I stop myself from eating an enormous bite of food so I can still talk. "I do, it's just complicated. We have to, like, pick a law and talk about it."
My dad nods approvingly. "I like it."
"I just don't know what to pick," I admit. "There are so many to choose from, and most people are probably going to take all the common ones."
"Why don't you write about the Publishing Act?"
The Protection of Publishing Act, the one that started everything. The whole reason I have to sneak out in the first place. "I guess I could."
There should've been a lot of competition in my class for that one, you would think. It changed our entire country almost overnight. I don't think most people see it that way, though. Not that they don't care about reading, I mean - they just don't care about it the way I do. They like the super-popular, same-story-every-time books the big publishers keep pushing out every three months.
"I'll give it a shot." I chug an entire glass of milk and another one of orange juice. I have practice after school, and if I eat a ton for lunch I just feel like taking a nap for the rest of the year, so I have to cram as much into my face at breakfast as possible.
My schedule on odd-numbered days is way better than my even-numbered one. Even days I have Calculus, Chemistry, English, and U. S. History. Odd days I have Computer Science (which is a joke), Spanish, Psychology, and an early dismissal period, which I usually use to go practice in the gym since I can't at home. CompSci is basically a class centered around how to turn a computer on, and I'm pretty sure I knew how to use one as soon as I was born, so I barely pay attention during it, except when we do ridiculous things like make movie posters or slideshows. Spanish is great because my teacher just gives us short stories and translates them to us one line at a time for us to copy down, and whenever we're done with that, she lets us buy enormous candy bars that she keeps in the boxes her copies of the textbooks came in. I heard she's going to retire at the end of the year, so I'm pretty lucky I got to have her class.
Psych is kind of hard, but mainly because I don't like it. I shouldn't complain since it's my last "class" of the day and it means I can go grab lunch wherever I want, but somehow that makes it seem to drag even longer. I feel like it's never going to end, but it finally does, and I stop by the cafeteria for food. My phone vibrates in my pocket, which surprises me. Almost no one would be texting me right now unless it was an emergency.
It's Liv, though. And it might as well be.
part 2 already!! delete me
I can't believe it. Chapter two? This soon? There's no way. Quill must have had them all written out ahead of time, which is insanely dangerous. Suddenly I wish I didn't have to go to practice. It doesn't usually run past 7 p.m., but the prospect of another chapter to read takes over my thoughts, and it feels like the world won't spin fast enough to get there.
I head to the library to distract myself by studying up on the Protection of Publishing Act. I email Mr. S. to tell him that's what I want to write about so no one else takes it, then I come across a timeline showing how it progressed through Congress. Like most bills, it was introduced in two versions, one in the House and one in the Senate. The one in the Senate died just before it went to the floor for a vote, but the House version had a lot more support. I send the whole article to my email so I can open it at home. It even lists who voted for and against it.
I'm scrolling through some of the old news articles surrounding its progress when I come across one that catches my eye. It's a video. I can't get it to work on the library's computer, but the frame it's stopped on looks like something out of World War II, a mountain of books with someone holding a torch against the pages and a blur of people cheering in the background. I shudder.
Practice is easy. We don't have a game until the end of next week, so it's mostly drills and running. I'm not the tallest guy on the team (even though I'm taller than pretty much everyone else in the school), but I make up for it by being fast and light on my feet. I manage to concentrate most of the time, even though my mind wants to wander off to the pirate story again. I miss an easy shot, and Coach barks at me to focus, but the rest of the drills go well enough that he lets us go a little early. I hurry through the shower and jog home even though my legs feel a little bit like Jell-O.
I pass my dad's room on my way down the hall and smell a fog of cologne, so I step back and peek around the corner. "You have a date tonight or something?"
"Yes, Sherlock," he says mockingly. I hear the can of hair spray for a few seconds. "Let's hope he's not so boring this time."
"To be fair, his profile did say 'Traffic Engineer.'"
"Hush. Go to your room or something."
I laugh and do just that, tossing my backpack on the bed. There's an email from Mr. S. waiting for me, approving my topic and reminding me that the first outline is due next Friday. I check the clock - 7:50. Two more hours before we can get together and go get the next chapter. I reread the first one a few more times and try to guess what's going to happen, but I don't have much to go off of yet. The most I can do is knock out my Psych homework and watch TV while I wait.
Finally, seemingly decades later, Liv texts me. This time we're going to meet by the fountain in front of the country club a few blocks away. She's crouched behind the bushes when I get there.
"Zara can't make it," she mumbles as soon as I'm close enough to hear. She stands up and brushes a few leaves off of her arms. "Parents."
I nod. It's not that unusual. "We'll get it to her tomorrow."
Liv takes off at a run, but I'm feeling a lot more awake and alive than I did after practice, so I have no trouble keeping up with her. The fresh, cold air feels good on my face, and the moon is full overhead, and for a moment I can imagine myself on the deck of a ship cutting through the waves, searching for a faraway land ripe with treasure.
This time the meeting is in an old warehouse. As usual, I'm not sure whether we've come to the right place until we get inside and I realize there are other people. This group is a lot bigger, practically a convention in comparison. A few flashlights roll around on the ground for light, and some of the moonlight makes it in from outside, but it's pretty hard to see anything but shoes and occasional flashes of people's faces in the light from their phones. I shuffle around, following Liv while she asks around to see who has the file. It wouldn't be the first time we came all this way just to end up without finding what we wanted, but we rarely leave empty-handed.
"Got it," she says after a few minutes of searching. "Ready?"
I nod and open LemonJuice. It's hard not to grin when I see how wide she smiles, already reading the text while my phone absorbs it like a sponge. I sink down against the wall and read.