Act 1: Chapter 1, Part 2

Posted on February 26, 2017

In Which We Meet the Boys

Megan. First Day of School. A While Till School.

The two had walked several blocks over the course of the conversation, and the lane they were on was approaching an intersection with a lane tracked for the trolley, which ran east and west. A head-height retaining wall on their right kept them from seeing along the lane in the direction of the high school. Angie slowed, and said, “You should know this, but in case you don’t…  Ryan and I are. Um. We’re dating now.”

Megan blinked at Angie, having just been stuffing the tissues into her bag, taking that in for a second, then laughed in delight, smiling, so glad to be talking with Angie again. “Of course you are! Good job, you!”

Angie gave her a dubious look in return. As she did they turned the corner toward school. Twenty feet or so ahead of them, a short blond boy, his hair cut so as to give him a roguish air, stood leaning against the wall, one foot up against it, doing something on an iPhone.

He glanced over at them, arching one eyebrow, a very well practiced expression—right, that was where Angie had gotten that. He was dressed in black jeans, a tight black t-shirt, and a pair of grey Vans. There was no sign of a gun on him anywhere, which was curious. Megan would have thought that he and Evan would be all over carrying sidearms now that they were of First Age1 and were permitted (or, for some people, forced) to have them in public.

He really was very short. From a distance, he could be mistaken for a younger child of twelve or even eleven, but up close there was a musculature to his frame, a sharpness to his face, that belied his true teen age. His eyes were a startling robin egg blue, and were currently hooded in some quiet amusement of his own.

“No, actually, good job me,” he said as they approached. “I managed to score this smart, tall, foxy redhead as my girlfriend. She’s way too good for me, and eventually she’s going to wise up and realize it. ‘S weird, she’s pretty bright otherwise.” He clicked off the screen and dropped, almost tossed, the phone into his pocket. He sounded pleased with himself.

“I’m five four. Just because I’m taller than you, that’s doesn’t qualify me as tall,” Angie said crossly. “More importantly, your hearing is so good it’s eerie. Or you bug my phone, one of the two.”

“I don’t bug your phone,” he replied, in exaggerated offense. Then he grinned, and something genuine touched his voice. “I hack your phone. Totally different.”

“You better not listen to me in the bathroom,” Angie said, then stuck her tongue out at him, and then she reached out and took his hand.

“Of course I don’t,” Ryan replied, genuinely scornful. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m a perfect gentleman, and that holds no appeal for me. Megs,” he went on, glancing at her, “you gonna close your mouth or what?”

Megan closed her mouth. “Hey there, Ryan.” He was at least two inches shorter than Angie at this point; still shorter than Megan, even. He looked good, though, standing there holding hands with her. They looked right.

“What’s shakin’, Megan?” he said, a genuine smile in his eyes.

A laugh burst its way out of Megan’s belly, involuntary and welcome, as one of the knots there released. “My butt!” she said, joyous, then did a little dance.

Laughter burst from the other two teens, loud and equally joyful, and it took all three of them more than a few moments to quell their giggling.

“Powers Above, Megs, have you been practicing that?” Ryan asked, wiping one of his eyes and grinning wide. “Those were some moves!”

Angie stifled another giggle and bumped him with her hip. “Don’t tease!”

“I am absolutely not teasing,” Ryan said, fully sincere.

“Okay then, don’t be too appreciative. She ditched us literally for years!” Angie said that, but she still sounded happy. A shining motor-wagon rolled by them, the well-dressed woman inside glancing at them curiously, a trio of young distractions on her way to work in her unnecessary toy.

“It was middle school, Ange. It was like a prison, and she had the chance to be on the top rung,” Ryan said. He wasn’t looking at Angie, though; he was watching Megan, his blue eyes steady. “It’s you and Evan,” and at that he did glance at Angie, one brow slightly raised, “that are mad about it. I’ve always understood.”

Megan found herself blinking back tears again. “You don’t mean that.”

“Sure I do,” Ryan said. “You’re pathologically incapable of not caring what other people think of you. You did your best to protect yourself by getting away from the danger of people not liking you. Way more people than just three dorks in the corner.”

Megan stared at him for a long moment. “I don’t know whether to be offended or grateful.”

“Yeah,” Ryan said, his lips quirking up. “I get that a lot.”

“Sure,” Megan said, skepticism touching her voice. “I guess.” She shook her head “Hey, you have an iPhone? Those things are like ten Eggs2!"

Ryan grinned. “Yup.”

She stared at him expectantly, then when it became clear he wasn’t going to continue speaking, she said, “You want to elaborate?”

“No,” was the reply. “We’ve had stuff going on, Megs. You should see Evan shoot now.”

Megan glanced away. “That’s fine. I’m sure he’s very good by now.”

Angie rolled her eyes. “We should get going. We don’t have forever here.”

The three started walking. While Megan wondered if she should pry more about the iPhone—she was so curious!—Ryan chuckled and shook his head. “Evan’s going to be sad he missed that dance.”

“Is he?” The words came from both Angie and Megan at the same time, the former skeptical, the latter hopeful. They glanced at each other and Angie said, “Jinx!”

Megan made a face at her and bit her tongue.

Ryan, in the meantime, looked thoughtful. “I don’t know, actually. I have no idea how Evan’s going to react.”

“I owe you a Coke,” Megan said to Angie (who replied “You owe me a lot of Cokes,” but was mostly ignored), then said to Ryan, “No idea? At all?”

Ryan didn’t reply for a bit as he thought about it, and as a result they walked in silence.

“We wrote you off,” Ryan said after a time. “About three months in, we stopped saying your name entirely. Angie would get angry whenever you came up.” Megan flinched and glanced at Angie, who didn’t look back, her face expressionless. “So no, I’m really not sure at all. Haven’t really talked about you for a while.”

That hurt. It made sense, though. She’d done the same. Megan nodded. “Okay,” she said, trying to keep her voice even. “We’ll see, I guess. Where is he?”

“Probably waiting up ahead. I just walked out this way early to meet Ange. He was still showering and shit.”

Megan blinked. Still showering? Megan knew Ryan was an emancipated ward of the City, but Ryan had never explained what that meant or why. He’d always kept his home life close to the chest. Was Ryan living with Evan now or something? She started to ask, then, worrying it might be too early, her position too uncertain, she pivoted.  

“Uhm. How’s Cali?” Megan asked, referring to Evan’s younger sister, California. A pair of older teens on motor-scooters buzzed by.

“Not a Light Bearer, and very happy about it. She dropped everything but basic shooting practice like a red hot poker,” Ryan reply, his voice touched with amusement.

“That’s good,” Megan said. The younger girl had always hated the combat training she’d had to start when their older sister had proven to be a Light Bearer, in the anticipation that she could be one too. Megan shied away from thinking about their older sister.

“Oh, there’s Evan,” Ryan said, off-handedly. At the end of the block ahead was another intersection, the last turn onto the lane that led directly to school. Also on that corner there was a trolley stop; a small crowd of adults milled around the stop, and sitting on one of the benches among them was a teenage boy with a book open on his lap. A tome, really; it was easily textbook sized. Megan wondered what it was.

“Evan!” Ryan called, drawing glances from the crowd.

Evan Cadell glanced up at them as well, then turned his attention back to his book, starting to put a bookmark ribbon into the page he was on before his head jerked back up to look toward them again, his mouth dropping open; he half stood and nearly dropped the book, catching it last second and slamming it closed in the process. He glared down at it briefly, then shoved it into his open backpack on the bench next to him and picked up the pack, zipping it shut as he did. He slung the backpack onto his shoulder and started walking to meet them.

“Hey guys,” he said when he got to within easy speaking distance, halting and waiting for them to reach him. “Uhm. Hey Megan.”

“Hey Evan,” she said, softer and more uncertain than she meant to. A pause followed, as she stood for a moment, studying him, and he her. He was much taller than the three of them now, five nine or five ten, and lean. As a result, his features were both familiar and strange; he’d changed much more than either Angie or Ryan had. His dark brown hair was cut shorter than Ryan’s, and was kind of messy, as if he’d run a hand through it at some point without really thinking about what the result of that would be. Or he hadn’t really combed it. He was dressed similarly to Ryan, in a blue and black t-shirt and grey jeans, and he was wearing dark blue Vans and a black leather gun belt. Holstered on his hip was a much larger revolver than either Megan or Angie carried, some sort of magnum. He was staring at her with eyes the same grey as winter above Seattle, locked onto hers.

The silence between them began to stretch. His expression was a mixture of uncertainty and something like longing, and she found she didn’t have any idea what to say in response to it.

Then he glanced at Ryan and Angie, and the moment was over as his face recomposed itself into a much milder expression. “Nice to see you,” he said. “Been a while.”

“Yeah. I know,” she said, feeling like she’d fallen face first in the deep end of a swimming pool. For all she hadn’t handled it the way she’d wanted to, Angie’s anger hadn’t been a surprise. Ryan’s initial unflappability hadn’t been, either. She had been touched by the understanding he’d shown her, for all he’d put it in the most unflattering way possible. But nothing she’d imagined while planning to make amends had prepared her for the expression that had been on Evan’s face. After too long a pause, she said, “I’m sorry.”

When he replied, she realized he’d been biting the inside of his cheek. “Okay,” he said. He seemed to struggle for a moment. Evan had always been the quietest of them.

  • 1. The First Age is fifteen years old, the age citizens of the Fredonian Union of City-States are legally considered adults, and receive limited privileges, such as enfranchisement, being allowed to carry side arms in public, and being allowed to acquire a hunting license and join the Neverending Conflict. The terms second age, third age, and so on have long fallen out of common use, but nineteen is the year citizens reach Full Age, and have all the legal privileges and responsibilities of full adults.
  • 2. Slang for a Silver Eagle (Se), a unit of currency with purchasing power roughly equivalent in value to one hundred United States dollars. Other units of currency include the Copper Turkeys (Ct), worth approximately one dollar, Gold Finches (Gf), with a purchasing power of more or less around ten dollars, and Platinum Thunderbirds (Pt), worth about 1000 dollars. Each type of coin also has associated ‘bits’, quartered versions of the coins with a quarter of the value.