Categories
Creative Writing

TA: The Dream

This piece is a continuation of The Astrologist. You can read that piece at the link!

I couldn’t help but arrive early.

I sat on the bench across the street from the town home that the address has sent me too. It was nicer than I had expected it to be – and I expected a lot from the red brick home. The windows were bigger than any of the one’s at The Two Lantern Inn. The time read 2:40 PM on my watch and regret filled my mind. What if he isn’t helpful at all? What if he thinks these dreams are crazy? I mean, to me he seems pretty crazy, so he better not think some silly nightmare is even more crazy. 

Why was I so worried? So what if he thought I was crazy? I hadn’t cared what he thought of me before that moment – I shouldn’t be so concerned with how he feels about me after I tell him about the dream. So what if he couldn’t help me?

Well, I would be out of options if that were the case. Who else could I tell?

Would Evon even be ready if I walked up and knocked on the door? 

I found my feet leading me to the crosswalk and I felt my stomach drop. 

The front door was solid wood. I didn’t know what kind, but it was the kind that screamed ‘if you try and kick me in you’re going to break your ankle’. At least, that’s how I would describe it. Not to mention in the corner of the thin strips of glass was a ADT sticker. So, if you did attempt to break in, you’d break not only your ankle but you would get cuffed. Not a fun combo.

With a chime of the doorbell I felt the need to sprint down the road and forget that this ever actually happened. I could avoid Evon – never go to Newbury Street again and just buy myself ice cream at CVS like all of the other broke college students. I could still get Ben & Jerry’s there at least.

The door opened just as I was about to turn around. But it wasn’t Evon at the door. It was a girl – with beautiful black hair braided back. I wish that I went to sleep away camp with her. We had different hairtypes, but damn. I noticed her bright blue eyes second and how it contrasted her black skin.

“Yeah? Can I help you?” she asked, blowing a bubble of pink gum.

Star struck, it took me a moment to respond. “Is Evon home?”

The bubble popped. “Oh, you’re the girl meeting up with him?” She stepped aside and opened the door wider. “I’m his sister. I’m Emilia.”

The inside of the house was more impressive than the outside – I barely listened as I stepped inside. “Hayden.”

“He’s upstairs. You’ll know which room is his – trust me.” Emilia popped another bubble, and with that she was gone. I wish I had dreams that looked like her.

I followed the slim black carpet up the iron railed stairs, feeling incredibly out of place. But, Emilia was right. I could only guess that Evon’s room was the door covered with a map of constellations. It looked hand-painted and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. 

I knocked on the door. There were footsteps and the sound of papers sliding across the floor. I blinked, but waited. Evon opened the door a few moments after and said “Oh, hey. Emilia let you in? Sorry, I was distracted.”

“It’s fine. I didn’t know you had a sister, anyways.” I replied, glancing around his room over his shoulder.

“Yeah, I do. She’s like 5 years younger though. Come on in.”

Every ounce of attraction I had for her fled my body as I stepped into the room. 5 years? No way. 

I knew Evon was eccentric – yet his room still shocked me. There were posters on the wall of artists I had never heard of, large prints from photographers with names that sounded like I was talking with food in my mouth. The walls were navy and white with gray curtains hung along the windows in the back of the room. The rug was black and gray and spanned across a majority of the sleek wooden floors. He had hand painted bookshelves lining the wall across from his bed filled head to toe with books of different sizes. The smallest shelf was empty, books littered across the floor in front of it. He had a hanging chair across the room that was shaped like a bamboo egg. 

Evon must’ve noticed my staring, because over my shoulder he said “You can sit in it if you want. It’s super comfy.”

I pulled off my sweatshirt and walked over to the chair, plopping down in it and feeling the chair sway with my weight. There were shoes scattered across the floor next to his bed and I couldn’t tell if they had pairs or if he just wore whatever two shoes he wanted. 

Evon kicked the shoes under the bed and sat down. “So, I’ve been doing a little research on dream interpretation. I have a bunch of books.” He pointed towards a broken bookshelf, where books laid scattered on the floor.

“I take it a ‘bunch of books’ broke that shelf.” I smirked.

“Yeah… Mom wants me to donate some of my collection. She says I ‘have too many books.’ I don’t agree.”

“I’ve never seen someone with a personal collection that big.” I gestured to the wall filled with books as if he couldn’t see it himself.

“You’re not hanging out with the right people then,” Evon laughed. He stood up from the bed and picked up the books from the floor. He dropped them onto the bed and spread them out in front of him. “I have some books about common dreams and their meanings, and books about symbols in dreams.” Looking at me, he asked “I think it would be helpful if you shared with me the dream, and then I’ll be able to tell you more. Maybe one of these books will be more helpful than the others.”

It only then occured to me that I would have to tell him about the dream. I would have to tell him about my mother. I felt a lump in my throat that I had tried to swallow down. “Right. The dream…”

Evon sat down criss cross on his bed in front of the books. “You don’t have to tell me the whole thing, just the parts you’re comfortable with.” He hesitated, “But, I think telling me the whole thing will be more helpful. The margin of error is much smaller.”

“Okay,” I sighed. “I have one request.”

Evon nodded.

“You can’t tell anyone what I tell you.”

He raised an eyebrow, but said after a moment “I won’t tell anyone, Hayden.”

It felt strange hearing him say my name. It shouldn’t of been surprising, but I couldn’t remember a time where he had actually said it before this moment. 

“Alright.” I took a breath, shut my eyes, and let my branded memories do the talking.

***

How did it feel?

The garden is dead. All around my feet lie the wilted pumpkin vines, and their decaying bodies not far behind. The squash planter is over grown with weeds and the only way I know it’s squash is that the label is torn just above the name. 

I step over the vines and walk towards the gray gate across from me. I don’t know how I got here but I don’t want to be there. I feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. I don’t belong in the garden. I’m trespassing. 

The gate is cold as my hand rests on the top – the metal is rusting but I don’t mind. When the gate swings open, before me I see a path curving through an oak forest. It is worn down to dirt, but the lines are sharp. There are no weeds at the edge of the path. As I begin to walk through the path, I hear the gate creak closed behind me. There is no wind.

The path feels endless. I feel trapped in the forest – there is no way to know where I’m headed, and I don’t know where I came from. I am wandering blindly. The fear of trespassing still lingers in my mind.

I hear a rustling beside me. When I turn, sitting before me is a brown rat. As my eyes set on its – it turns and runs back into the bushes. It’s tail is nearly three times the length of it’s body and I cannot help but watch as it slithers into the bush behind it. 

Back on the path, I hear the sound of children laughing. I can’t tell how many there are, but I know I do not want to disturb them. Maybe it isn’t actually children, but perhaps a predator calling for its prey. 

Perhaps that is me.

The laughter gets closer. Without a second thought, I continue towards the sound. The trees break, and before me is a city. The feeling of oak trees towering around me is replaced with steel skyscrapers. This is more familiar, yet I still don’t know where I am. 

I walk underneath the street lamps in search of the laughing children. I hope that’s what it is, anyways. 

It doesn’t take long to come across a small fenced in park. There is a small jungle gym and a swing set. Sitting on the ground between are 4 children – a girl and three boys. They don’t have faces. I don’t know where the laughter is coming from – but it’s coming from them.

As I watch them, the children play a game. Their hands are intertwined with one another. The girl, stationed at the end of the chain, takes a step and skips towards the boy, who turns behind the other two and follows a similar action. The children do this until they’re all skipping and sliding in a whirlpool. The last boy chases the girl. To catch the other, a hand must be placed in between their shoulder blades. I watch as the girl catches the boy in front of her and the boy before him. The last boy is the only prey left. He moves swiftly in a circle, trying to get behind the girl. She laughs, an echo that stays in my mind long after the dream is over. The girl places her hand on his back – she has won. 

That’s when they turn to look at me. They see me watching their game. The girl walks over to me and holds out her hand as an invitation. I make the same mistake each time I dream – I take her hand. 

They invite me to join their game. Now, I stand at the other end of the line. The game starts over, and I find myself skipping and sliding at the center. Almost like clockwork, the girl and I are the last two. She seems to set the rules, and always wins. I don’t want to lose. 

I try to keep her in the corner of my eye, but she’s sneaky. I feel her presence behind me. I turn to face her, and her hand lands at the center of my chest.

That’s when a blood curdling scream fills the streets. It comes from my lungs, as I feel a coolness spread across my body. The girl does not move, and she does not take her hand off of my chest.  She watches me with her eyeless gaze. 

I feel my fingers lock in place as the bitter chill reaches my extremities. I do not break my gaze from her as the cold trails up my spine and covers my eyes. I wasn’t told one of the rules of the game.

Never turn around.

In the darkness, I hear a voice. “You don’t belong,” she says, and I feel a finger run through my hair at my neck, “You don’t belong here. Come home.”

“I don’t know where home is,” I tell her. “Home is gone.”

“Why?” Her voice is familiar. 

“Home left me.” I feel my throat tighten – a hand gripping the back of my neck.

“Come home,” the voice repeats to me.

“Where is home?” I ask as the grip gets tighter.

“Find the pathway home,” she says, and I feel her hand release my neck. 

I gasp for air.

She grips my shoulder and snaps my neck.

I wake up.

***

I opened my eyes and sat up a bit, hugging my knees up to my chest. Leaving out the detail of the woman’s voice being my mothers didn’t seem important. I figured telling him that it was familiar was enough.

“How often have you had this dream, Hayden?” Evon asked after a few moments of silence.

“This one specifically happens… probably three times a week.” I rubbed the back of my neck, feeling a lingering pain at the base. 

“Do you dream every night?”

“Yes. But I have a few other dreams… sometimes they are random. You know, like a normal person,” I laughed at my attempt to joke. 

Evon looked at me for a few moments, “We have a lot to unpack in that dream…”

“You think?” I leaned back against the cushion and gave myself enough momentum to swing slightly. 

He stood up and turned to his books, picking and choosing out of the pile. He put some back on the floor and was left eventually with two books on his bed. 

“These are going to be the most helpful,” Evon said, “I hope at least.”

I peaked out of my chair and saw one of the titles: 12,000 Dreams Interpreted. 

Evon sat down on the floor and leaned against his bed, opening up that book and said “This may take awhile. I may need you to repeat some parts.”

I nodded and fiddled with the string on my hoodie. I tried to get comfortable, knowing I would be there longer than I ever intended to be.

Categories
Creative Writing

The Great Mind Meeting

This is another piece of my novel! Check out the rest of my posts further down in my blog!

When Jaelyn came home, the meeting was in 5 hours. She rushed to her room and locked the door behind her. She leaned back on the door and looked at her reflection in her window. She smiled and turned around to face the poster hung up. Mars Addington. 

She was going to see Mars Addington in person. Her hero. The legend. The Mars Addington.

Opening the closet, she pulled the dress off of the hanger and shoved it into her backpack. She put on her best shoes, and ran her fingers through her hair to pull apart the small knots.

It was easy to sneak out of the house. Mae was asleep on the couch, as usual for this hour, and Cade still hadn’t come home from Picking yet. All Jaelyn had to make sure she didn’t do was slam the front door shut. 

Once outside, she ran down the dirt paths and past the lit up houses. There were lots of people around, but none paid attention to her unless she was about to run into them. She weaved through Pickers and to the monorail station.

She checked the letter again. It was folded up from being hidden in her pocket. At the end of the letter the students were told to bring them to get admittance to the International Space and Air Museum grand ballroom. She hugged the letter to her chest and smiled at her reflection in the window across from her seat. She had never been so excited for an event.

She got off at the Museums stop on the monorail. It was just a 5 minute walk from the stop that she was able to see the large white block building. The museum looked to be 4 large white blocks connected. They were several different sizes, and one stacked on top of the other three. It was blinding under the moonlight. Jaelyn watched as limos pulled up to the front of the building. Several boys and girls would get out of each, wearing lavish gowns and pressed suits. 

When Jaelyn realized that she was yet to put her dress on, she was set into a panic. Where was she going to change? There was no way she would be able to enter that building without it on. She was out in the streets in the middle of the city. There were no trees to hide behind, no bathrooms nearby. Glancing around, she noticed an alleyway off to her right. She decided that was the best place to change.

In the alley there was a dumpster and several trash cans. The rats scattered as she walked further into the darkness.

She hid behind the dumpster, took a deep breath, and pulled the dress out of her bag. She kept it in a ball in her hand so the flowing bright orange ends didn’t get stained by the murky puddles. Looking around to make sure that the only thing that could see her were the stars and the rats hidden away, she hesitantly took her shirt off and pulled the dress over her, leaving her pants on.

Another car rumbled by and Jaelyn pressed herself against the brick wall, staying hidden from the line of sight of the street. She took her pants off and left on her black school shoes. She knew that all the girls around her would be in heels, but she didn’t own any, and she wouldn’t borrow any from her mother. 

She shoved her shirt and pants into her backpack, and held the invitation tight in her hand. Jaelyn glanced around the street before coming out of the alley and continuing towards the building.

There were two men posted outside the entrance doors. Behind them were a group of men and women in slimming black suits. Jaelyn watched as when a group of kids approached them. They handed their invitations to one of the men, and then followed two of the members of the group. They must’ve been guides to the ballroom.

Jaelyn walked up the large marble stairs and approached the man on the left.

“How can I help you?” He asked her. His voice was dark and deep.

Jaelyn handed her invitation to him, saying quietly “I’m here for the Great Mind Meeting.”

The man inspected the letter and said, glancing at her “You didn’t come in a car?”

Jaelyn bit the inside of her cheek and quickly replied “It broke down. Down the road. I didn’t want to be late.”

He nodded after a minute and turned around to a slim red haired woman and said to her “Take Ms. Beyer to the ballroom.”

The woman gestured Jaelyn to follow her. As she walked down the hallway she said over her shoulder “Congratulations on your score, Ms. Beyer. Are you excited?”

“Absolutely,” Jaelyn replied as she followed her and then added “And thank you, miss.”

The woman smiled at her and led her down the hallway. There was the sound of voices and music becoming louder, and soon Jaelyn three sets of doors open.

Inside was a wide open room, decorated with hanging crystal chandeliers and large round white tables. There were floating white and cream colored lanterns dotted around the ceiling, some floating on their own. There were models of planets hanging as well, in perfect scaled detail. The tables were decorated with gold and silver plates with cream napkins and matching silverware. On top of the plates were small white boxes with silver ribbon tied around it. The center pieces were lilacs and baby’s breath, as well as what appeared to be tiny models of Ivosa in the middle of the flower arrangements. At the back of the room there was a large stage with a podium and a large projecting screen. 

The windows on the sides of the room were adorned with white curtains, tied back with gold rope and pulled away to reveal the view of the Brighton View City Gardens on the left side of the room. On the right, Holloway Pond could be seen glittering in the moonlight. Also on the right side was a group of musicians. Jaelyn couldn’t even begin to identify all of the instruments that they had with them. She had never seen a professional music group perform.

The red haired woman led Jaelyn through the doors. Some students were standing, while others were sat around tables. At a closer look, Jaelyn could see that there were name tags in front of the plates. She followed the woman over to a table in front of the stage and saw her name placed between two others: Ember Daniels and Julis Dedam. 

She thanked the woman and put her bag underneath her chair. She looked around to see if she recognized anyone from her school. She slowly made her way around her table and didn’t recognize any of the names at her table. 

“They let you in?” Tanner said across the table.

Jaelyn met his eyes and furrowed her eyebrows and replied in a mocking tone “They let you in?”

He rolled his eyes and shoved his hands into his dress pants pockets. “I can’t believe you actually showed. Considering I’m sure that they’d kick you out once they find out that you’re a picker.”

“I have the right to be here, Tanner, as much as you hate the idea.”

“Sure, picker, whatever you want to think.”

Jaelyn clenched her fists at her side, biting the inside of her cheek and saying “I don’t understand why you treat me the way you do, Tanner. I deserve to be here. They wouldn’t of sent me an invitation if they didn’t want me to come.”

“You don’t belong here, picker,” Tanner snarled, “You don’t belong in high class society. You should give up trying to impress with your little knowledge of astronomy and technology.”

Jaelyn’s mouth was dry. She opened her mouth to spit a response, but the only sound she heard was another girl’s voice saying behind Tanner, “Dude, anytime you open your mouth you make people want to punch you in the face.”

Tanner turned around and gave Jaelyn view of the girl. She was his height, with tan skin and a mop of curly dark brown hair tied up in a bun on the top of her head. She wore a long black dress with a slit up the side of the leg that reached her thigh. Her eyes were dark and narrowed as she looked at Tanner.

“What do you want?” Tanner rolled his eyes and scoffed at her.

“Oh, I don’t think your mother will want to hear about you talking to me like that, now will she?” the girl then smiled and threw her arm around his shoulder and said “Now, cousin dearest, why don’t you be nicer to this lovely girl?”

Tanner tried to shove her away and replied in disgust, “Don’t touch me.”

She rolled her eyes and let go of him. She placed her purse on the chair next to Jaelyn’s and said “Don’t be such a party pooper, Tanner.”

“Ember, she’s a p-” Tanner began to protest, but Ember quickly cut her off.

“I don’t care what she is.” Ember looked at Jaelyn and flashed a pearly white smile at her, saying “Hi, I’m Ember Daniels.”

Jaelyn quietly replied “I’m Jaelyn Beyer.”

“Oh, so we’re sitting next to each other!” Ember walked over to her and smiled and said “I love your dress. It’s gorgeous.”

“Thank you.” Jaelyn wasn’t used to compliments from people her age. Mrs. Montrone complimented her a lot, and Mrs. Alia complimented her hair cut. But the only person her age that usually complemented her was Marea. Sometimes Jaelyn thought she did it just to be nice.

“Ember. I don’t think your parents would like to know that you’re talking to a Picker.” Tanner crossed his arms and glared in Jaelyn’s direction. 

Ember raised an eyebrow and said “Tanner, what did you get on the assignment?”

“Why does that matter-”

“What did you get?” Ember asked again, narrowing her eyes.

He lowered his and mumbled “99.”

“Well, I got a 100. So maybe, since I’m smarter than you, you should listen to me. And stop bullying this girl.”

Jaelyn stared at Ember. She got a 100 too?

Tanner’s face flushed and he bit the inside of his cheek and grumbled “You aren’t smarter than me.” He turned on his heel and walked away from the table.

“Sorry about him.” Ember turned to Jaelyn and smiled warmly at her. “I hope he didn’t bother you too much.”

Jaelyn mumbled in response “He’s been bothering me since our first year of secondary school.”

“Seriously?” Ember sat down in her chair and continued, “He’s such a jerk. I’m sorry about him.”

Jaelyn shrugged and said “I’m used to it. I’m sure other people think the same things that he just happens to say out loud.”

“I’m sure that’s not true. Just because you aren’t from here doesn’t mean you don’t belong here.”

From here? Jaelyn bit her cheek harder. She was from here. The trash heaps were still part of Brighton View. She decided not to mention anything. She wanted Ember to like her. Jaelyn knew that you don’t correct your friends.

“I know it’s only been ten minutes since I got here, but this sure is boring.” Ember looked around the room and added, “this is a bunch of high school students and they hired a classical orchestra. This is stuff that those adults would like.”

“Do you know who is presenting?” Jaelyn asked.

Ember shrugged. She picked up her crystal water glass and took a drink.

Jaelyn watched the doors as more students began to flood in. She took her seat next to Ember and soon their table was full. Once everyone had checked in and had sat down, there were waiters that came into the room. They each carried golden platters. The waiters, mostly men with a few women as well, came over to their assigned tables and put the small porcelain plates in front of the students. Their first course made Jaelyn’s mouth water. It was a small piece of brown meat – either beef or veal, she wasn’t sure. It was decorated with orange and red sauces and what looked like thinly sliced potatoes on top of it. She wondered if it came from the Montrone farm.

She was ready to dig into her plate, but she watched Ember pick up the third fork in the line and start eating with that. She took note of that, picked up the same fork and her knife. She took a bite and it melted in her mouth. Jaelyn had never tasted anything like it before. It was sweet, spicy, and warm. 

“So, you’re from Hoffman Academy?” Ember asked after she swallowed her first bite of food.

Jaelyn nodded and she quickly shoved another piece of pork into her mouth.

“And you got a 100? That’s pretty impressive, it seems like you’re the only one to have gotten that from there.” Ember glanced around the table and whispered to her “None of the others at this table are from there, are they?”

“No.” Jaelyn swallowed her bite. “I’m the only one who got a 100 from Hoffman.”

Julius, the read haired boy sat on Jaelyn’s other side, chimed in “I figured no one from there would even get invited.”

Before Jaelyn could process his thought, Ember jumped in “Well, Jaelyn did it.”

Julius shoved another piece of pork into his mouth.

Jaelyn couldn’t believe how quickly Ember jumped to defend her. The only other person who would do that was Marea. But she was all talk, she never did anything she said she wanted to do.

Almost as quickly as Jaelyn finished, their plates were whisked away and a new one was placed in front of them. This one had a silver cover on top of it. When lifted, a white smoke flowed over the edges of the plate and across the table. There were laughs across the room and then the clatter of silverware digging into the noodle dish.

By the time dessert came, Jaelyn was laughing with the others at her table as if she had known them forever. The blonde girl across from Jaelyn talked about her parents arguing over where to send her older sibling. The boy with long black hair told them all about his favorite band and their concert coming up.

In the middle of Ember telling the table the story about her father’s auto business, the lights began to dim. The lights on the stage got brighter, and a younger woman walked over to the podium. Her light hair was on her head in a tight bun and she wore a long form fitting black dress. Nothing about her struck Jaelyn anyway; she didn’t know who she was.

“Hello and welcome to The Great Mind Meeting.” She smiled and held her hand up. She flicked her wrist and a large graphic appeared on the holographic screen behind her. “For those of you who do not know me, my name is Andromeda Calquin. I am the Director of Affairs for the International Space Association. I was assigned by my higher-ups to create and distribute this research assignment, as we are always looking for bright young minds to intern with us.

“As you all are aware, the only students that received invitations to attend tonight’s meeting were students that were graded at a 95% or above. Out of the hundreds of students assignments that were graded, the 80 of you here tonight were able to obtain such an incredible feat.” She clapped, and a roar of applause between the students themselves and the staff standing near the doors of the room.

When it died, she continued on “You all showed through your work that you have incredible potential.” She flicked her wrist again, and the slide behind her changed. “It is my pleasure to announce the reasons behind this project.”

Behind her the large screen showed the cover page of the International Space Association’s yearly published magazine. On the cover page was a girl with orange hair, tied back in a tight ponytail. She wore large black framed glasses and her face was pointed and her features were slim. In bold lettering above her head read “Best Rising Scientist of 2150” in white letters.

Ember leaned over to Jaely and whispers “I know that girl. She’s such a snob it’s ridiculous.”

“Every year, the ISA selects a student to receive the Best Rising Scientist Award. Usually, we look at course work as well as their internships involving the ISA. However, this year we decided to do it differently,” Andromeda continued. “This student, Delta Gardence, is a senior attending Swanson Academy. She has been working under Dr. Orion Hoffman for 2 years. As a part of her internship with the ISA, she had to create a scale model of a CO2 remover that she and Dr. Hoffman created together. Not only has she excelled at that, but she then proceeded to create a working model at the scaled size. She is sitting amongst you all tonight.”

As Andromeda continued to drone on about all of her accomplishments, Jaelyn took the chance to scan the room to find the girl. It wasn’t that difficult to find her. She sat at the table next to Jaelyn’s, and she herself had noticed that there weren’t many red haired people in attendance. Delta, Julius, and one or two others. She was looking up at Andromeda, sitting straight up with her hands folded together on the table.

Ember whispered again “She’s the ISA’s little angel. They never shut up about her. She’s so full of herself.” Ember leaned her elbow on the table and watched Delta and continued “Look at her, sitting there all pompous while Calquin praises her in front of all of us.”

Jaelyn took a closer look at Delta. She seemed to have her nose turned up. She was smirking to herself and she pushed her glasses up and closer to her face.

“Now that you mention it…” Jaelyn murmured, but before she could finish her thought, she heard the words she had been wanting to hear all night.

“I’m sure you’re all tired of listening to me drone on, so I will introduce our next speaker. Please give a warm welcome to Mars Addington, spokesman for the International Space Association.” Andromeda stepped away from the microphone and clapped.

Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion then. Jaelyn stared in amazement as Mars walked across the stage. He was taller than she thought he would be. On the stage he looked perfect. He had no wrinkles, no freckles, no flaws in sight. He had bright eyes, dark hair, and one of the whitest smiles Jaelyn had ever seen. Even though she had seen his face in pictures, on tv, and in documentaries; he was still stunning.

She wasn’t clapping, just frozen in place as he made his way to the podium. 

When he reached the podium, he gave Andromeda a hug and a kiss on the cheek. She stepped back and took a seat in one of the empty chairs.

“Hello everyone!” Mars announced, “Give yourselves a round of applause, please!”

There was another echoing of clapping. Jaelyn joined in this time.

“You all should be incredibly proud of yourselves. Seriously, you all should be proud of yourselves for getting to this point. You all have amazing opportunities ahead of you. I can’t believe I get to work with some of the brightest minds in Brighton View. You guys are the men and women who will grow up and continue to make Brighton View the leader in space exploration and colonization.

“I think one of the most important things a young mind needs is a role model to look up too. Mine at your age was my father. Growing up, I always wanted to do everything that he did. I watched him. He taught me how to shave, how to tie a tie, how to tie my shoes, and so many other things. My father also taught me about the planets and the stars.

“Each one of you has someone who inspires you. This person, even if they have no idea that you exist, they inspire you to do more than you ever thought that you were able to do. This concept is so important to me. If my father hadn’t been such an inspiration to me, I probable wouldn’t be in the field that I’m in today.” Mars looked out over the crowd with a smile, and he continued “I hope to be an inspiration to my son as my father was to me.”

Mars took a water bottle out from underneath the podium, took a sip, and then chuckled “I’m sure you’re all wondering what comes after this meeting.”

He put the water bottle down and flicked his wrist, a new screen appeared behind him. The lettering was geometric and in bright blue letters: WHAT COMES NEXT.

“As Ms. Calquin explained in her speech, Ms. Delta Gardence has been interning at the ISA for the past two years. Last year, she was named the International Space Association’s: Best Rising Young Scientist Award. With that award, she received a prize of $10,000 and a feature in the ISA’s magazine.” Mars took another sip of water. “This year we decided to open it up to all students.”

A feature in the ISA’s magazine guaranteed you a job offer once you graduated from high school. Jaelyn’s heart began to race. That could be her. She could be the next featured young scientist and she could finally be out of the trash heaps. Her mind wandered to all the possible outcomes her life could have if she was chosen to be the next feature. She could work for the ISA, or even begin her own smaller company that provided niche research for flight companies or even food researchers. In that moment, she did not care where she ended up after being featured. All she could think about was finally being away from her home.

Living in the city would smell so nice. Instead of rotting food, she would smell the clean air. She could take long, hot showers in her own bathroom that she didn’t share with anyone else. She could look out clean windows that were taller than her. Jaelyn could buy food from grocery stores. She wouldn’t have to deliver trash to the Montrone’s to make money anymore. She would make a living doing what she loved. She would live where she was safe and alone.

“What we’re asking from all of you in to create a scale model based on the invention in your research papers. You all cited from scientists, past and present, and created inventions of your own. While they were just descriptions of what you created, one of the many reasons that you all are here is that the inventions you ‘hypothetically’ made have a possibility of being successful.” Mars flashed his perfectly white teeth as he smiled and finished by saying “There will be more instructions given to you all before you leave. I want to, again, congratulate all of you on your incredible work. Enjoy the rest of your night here with us.”

He stepped away from the podium while everyone clapped. Jaelyn glanced around at the students sitting at tables surrounding her. She could see the same looks of awe on other faces that she could feel on her own. They all were having similar daydreams, Jaelyn was sure of it. 

The lights rose back to their regular lighting, and everyone continued to eat and chat. Jaelyn fell silent at her own table, listening to the conversation surrounding her. She was too busy thinking about her possible future. 

When the plates were cleared, Ember turned to Jaelyn and asked, “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Jaelyn replied. “Just thinking a lot. Can you believe it? That any of us could be featured in the magazine?”

“It’s pretty cool, yeah. But the fact that they want us to make scale models of our designs is annoying.” Ember leaned back in her chair and fixed her dress at the waist. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that much money to take out of my savings to spend on parts.”

“What did you research?” Jaelyn didn’t want to talk about money. 

“I looked into work done by Weston Brooks and Elijah Queens. They did a lot of work a couple years ago on the creation of an airlock. I always found it super interesting that the lock must be super powerful so that nothing breaks it, otherwise everyone dies. What about you?”

Jaelyn clasped her hands in her lap. “I did research on an oxygen machine created by Orion Hoffman. I also looked into how colonizers create power on plants other than our own. Some of Evelyn Snow’s early research was about that. I also looked into Raymond Addington’s work talking about that.”

“So, what are you going to create a scale model of?” Ember raised an eyebrow.

Jaelyn bit her cheek and said “Probably the oxygen machine. I haven’t really thought of a way to combine the two ideas yet.”

Ember smiled. “That sounds pretty cool.” She sat up and looked around the room. “You know, I’m pretty surprised that Dr. Snow isn’t here. She’s usually at all of the ISA’s events.”

“Mars is here though, which is pretty cool.”

“I know, right?” Ember smiled and said “He was my hero when I was in elementary school. He work on the planets and the stars started up my interest in space.”

“Me too.” Jaelyn was thrilled she had so much in common with Ember. “He’s still my hero.”

Ember stood up out of her seat and looked around the hall. She glanced at Jaelyn and asked “Wanna walk around with me? I want to see if I can find where everyone is getting those little chocolate medallions.”

Jaelyn nodded and stood up, walking away from the table with her. She looked around at all of the decorations hanging from the wall. She liked the sound that Ember’s shoes made when they hit the tile floor. Click, Click, Click. She wished she had shoes like that.

“Are you coming to the after party?” Ember asked.

After party? “I didn’t know that there was one, I didn’t get an invitation to that.”

Ember laughed. Jaelyn felt her heart sink. Had she done something wrong? She didn’t know why she was laughing. “It’s a party at Caine Warshborn’s house. He invited a ton of people. You should come with me, it’ll be fun.”

“Oh, well, I don’t know if I should. I have to go p-,” Jaelyn began to say, and then cut herself off. She didn’t want to tell her she had to go picking. “I have to go practice.”

“Practice what?” Ember asked, weaving between two waiters.

Jaelyn bit her cheek. She hadn’t thought this through. “I have to practice my speech. I’m giving one in class on Monday.”

“Oh, cool.” Ember walked over to the long banquet table and scanned options available. “If you decide to have some fun tonight, let me know. I’ll get you into the party.” She picked up a small chocolate wrapped up in purple paper and bit into it “This is awesome. You should try one.”

Jaelyn reached down and picked up the chocolate. She took the wrapper off of it and turned around to throw it into the recycling bin. She didn’t look where she was going as she took a step, and her body crashed into another.

She was flustered and looked at the brown stain on the mint green dress in front of her. Jaelyn looked up as she apologized “I am so sorry I didn’t see you.”

Delta looked down at the stain, and then looked at Jaelyn and spit, “You should watch where you’re going!” She grabbed a napkin off of the table and wiped off as much of the stain as she could. “This dress is brand new!”

Jaelyn was frozen staring at her. She couldn’t get anything to come out of her mouth.

“Delta, relax,” Ember cut in. She stepped up next to Jaelyn and said, “It was an accident. Chill out.”

“She should’ve been looking where she was going. Now I have to get this dry cleaned.” Delta huffed. She looked at Jaelyn and said, “Who do you think you are?”

Ember took a step-in front of Jaelyn. “She said she was sorry, Delta. Just walk away. I’m sure you have more important things to do than attack Jaelyn because she accidentally ran into you.”

Delta clenched her fists at her sides, and then shoved her way between Jaelyn and Ember, walking out into the hallway.

“Isn’t she just lovely?” Ember wipes her hands on a napkin.

Jaelyn was still frozen. She felt like she couldn’t breathe.

“Jae?”

She turned and walked away from Ember, headed towards the small balcony doors at the side of the hall. She needed air. She couldn’t be in that room. She thought about her mother and her brother. She thought about the night that they cut her hair. It felt like Cade’s hand was back on her windpipe. She didn’t mean to run into Delta. 

It was an accident. 

It was an accident.

Shoving the doors open, she felt the cool breeze hit her face and she stumbled over to the railing of the balcony. She gripped the edge tightly, breathing heavily. She was trying to get air into her lungs. There was an elephant sitting on her chest. Jaelyn shut her eyes and tried to steady her breathing. She squeezed the metal bar hard in her hands. She thought for a moment that the railing was cutting her hands. It was an accident. 

She heard the door open up behind her. She could hear the music echo out of it.

“Are you okay?” She recognized the voice.

Turning around, Jaelyn’s heart raced faster. She was face to face with Mars Addington.