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Oliver stares at me. I wish he would say something.
He gulps like ten times. “Please tell me you’re joking.”
I shake my head and his eyes drop to the food, his jaw clenched.
“So,” I say, my voice strangled. “It’s probably best if you just forget about me from now on.”
His head shoots up. “You think I can forget you? Pretend you don’t exist?”
I can’t take the hurt in his eyes and stare at my hands. “You have to. I only have a few days left.”
I jump as he shuffles over the dishes to get to me, and look up at him with wide eyes.
“You sound like you’re giving up.”
“I’m not,” I tell him with a sigh. “I won’t. But no one has ever gotten to stay, right? Who hasn’t had a talent?”
“Maybe you’ll be the exception?”
I scoff. “I’m not special, they obviously only want special.”
He takes my hand. “You’re special to me. To Lyssa, too. Maybe that will count for something?”
I shake my head. “I’m not counting on it. We’ve known each other less than a week, it’s not like we’re in love.”
“No, but I’m attracted to you and I want to see where this goes. Maybe we will fall in love?”
I pull my hand out of his. “We won’t ever find out.”
“Are you sure you don’t have a talent?”
I nod. “Lyssa and I went to all the floors and tried out each talent. I was terrible at all of them. I can run, that’s it, but that doesn’t count.”
I jump to my feet, needing to move, needing to get away from him.
“Where are you going?”
I turn my back on him. “To look around. Try to find a door, a way out.” I move toward the hedge.
Oliver jumps up, coming to my side.
The hedge is thick and hard to pull apart. I want to ask Oliver to help but I can’t find the words. I feel like I’ve swallowed a golf ball. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye today, but I have to. It’ll be easier if he just leaves me alone.
“You won’t find anything,” he says, and I hate the certainty in his voice.
I scrunch the leaves in my hands. “You’re the one who told me not to give up.”
I can’t concentrate with his eyes boring into me. “Go, Oliver.”
He doesn’t. He stays, staring.
Fine. I’ll go. I can come back and check later when he is at the concert tonight.
I start to move and he grabs my arm, spinning me around to face him. His eyes pierce mine and there is a storm raging within them.
He presses his lips to my ear. “Maybe we can hide you, when they come?”
I tilt my head so my lips are at his ear. “And then what? Anyway, Botcop will find me for sure. It’s escape, or let them take me.”
His hands loop around my back, pulling me closer. His forehead rest against mine. “I won’t let them take you.”
“I don’t think you’ll be able to stop them.”
“Then I’ll make them take me too.”
I pull my head back away from him so I can see his eyes. “I can’t let you do that for me Oliver.”
“It’s my choice Amberly.”
I shove out of his arms. “You can’t throw your life away for me. Who knows what’s going to happen when they take me.”
“You think this is a life?” he shouts. “You think because I can smile that I’m happy here? I’m surviving, Amberly. We are all surviving. You think that everyone is so different from you, so complacent and happy because they get to sing and dance and make art all day. You think you’re the only one who wants to get out, who wants to know answers, but you’re not!”
My face burns and I blink back tears.
“What if you get to go home?” he says, grounding the words out through his teeth. “What if the Talentless get to go home?”
I wish he hadn’t said that. It’s impossible. They aren’t just going to let people go. I know it’s impossible, but it’s there. A small, tiny flicker of hope. And then I want it more than anything – want him to be right. If they altered my memory once, they can do it again. I could wake up in my bed and think I had a really strange dream. But my gut churns, knowing the truth.
“You’re wrong,” and I’m saying it more to me than him.
He is breathing hard and I stare at his chest as it rises and falls. I want to put my head against it. Close my eyes. I want to wake up and have this nightmare end.
I can’t just stand here. I need to find a way out. I need to stop worrying about Oliver and worry about me.
“Please, Oliver. Let’s just say goodbye now.”
He shakes his head, turns and kneels down beside the picnic rug. He starts packing up.
I bend down to help him. It’s sad that all this food is going to waste, but I can’t eat anything more right now.
Oliver stops. His head jerks up, turning to me.
“What?” I ask.
“What if we request that you stay?”
I give a short, dry laugh. “As if that will work.”
“It’s worth a try.”
It’s crazy. It won’t work. Besides, I’ll still look for an escape as long as I’m here, and that might make them take me even if I am granted permission to stay, so is there really a point?
He stands, forgetting the picnic and grabs my hands, helping me to my feet.
“Please,” he begs.
Those eyes could make a nun sin. “Fine.”
I’m more nervous than I thought I would be. It feels like a thousand bees are buzzing inside my stomach. Oliver clicks on the request icon. A box comes up for him to type his request into.
“You ask, and then I will,” Oliver says.
I nod. My fingers shake as I reach for the screen and start to tap:
I know you know I don’t have a talent, but I’d really like to stay. I’m sure I can contribute in some way. Please. Amberly.
That doesn’t seem enough but I don’t know what else to add.
Oliver starts typing:
Please let Amberly stay. She is smart and beautiful, and she has a determination found in a lot of talented people, so maybe with time she can develop one. I would really like to get to know her more. So please, I’m begging you to let her stay.
He pauses, then quickly adds:
If she doesn’t stay, I won’t sing again. Oliver.
“Oliver, you don’t have to say that.”
“I mean it.” The way he looks at me I know it’s true and that makes me deeply sad. His voice is too good, it’s a voice meant to be heard.
He hits send and I can’t breathe.
“How long does it take to get a reply?” I ask.
“Usually about thirty seconds, but I’ve never requested something this big before.”
I grip my chair. This is going to be the longest thirty seconds of my life.
Two request have been filed, Doctor Psknah Tarah Soun.
– Computer, mark as read and processing.
Marked as read. Processing….
Approve or decline?
Psknah stared at the monitor, watching 9009 and 7008. They were quiet, fidgeting. She placed her hand on her neck. A request such as this had never been made before. The rules were clear: only the Talented were allowed to stay. But a Talented had never shown romantic interest, as they call it on Earth, in a Talentless before. The results of the two breeding would be interesting and help them understand this talent more.
It would be a ground breaking study, and if she was successful, it could further her career.
It was a risk. The records would be pulled when another doctor realised what was happening, and she could lose her position. But she was willing to risk it. She was sure she could convince them that this new experiment was worth undertaking.
-Computer, type in the following response.
I stare at the screen with such intensity that my eyes sting. The word ‘processing’ stops flashing and my heart hammers so hard I can barely breathe.
Oliver takes my hand.
I let out a shriek, dizzy with relief, and Oliver whoops.
“Wait,” Oliver says, and I freeze, my eyes flicking to the screen.
Amberly may stay if…
There is an if? IF WHAT?
If she mates with Oliver.
©Rochelle Sharpe 2015.
Cannot be reproduced without permission.