Author's Notes: The story's trekking (twerking) along nicely at this point. Better than I'd been prepared for, actually. I got rather pessimistic about this lovely little universe for a bit, but I'm trying to turn that around. My only worry is that the world seems too convoluted or too dense with fact and not enough action. Those may be my misgivings only, but if you have any concerns please let me know. I want this story to be great and I've already tweaked and reforged so much that it only seems natural for me to keep doing so. So yes, let me know please!
Introducing my beloved Demit'che in this chapter. ;) I have a thing for jackasses, but I promise you he'll grow on you.
Enjoy, and always be Colora. ♥
Chapter 6: I Don’t Think I Can
I woke up and I was alone. I felt less ill than before, but disorientation still unnerved me. Someone had slipped my shoes off while I slept. It must have been Su’iton, because he knew well enough to leave my socks on. My feet were still cold when they hit the tile of the floor. It was dark outside and only dim light and long shadows filled the room. Everything was silent. I stood up and rubbed my face, pulled my hair out of its usual tangles with my fingers, and finally made my way to the kitchen.
A pitcher of water with an empty glass was on the counter, the room lit by a single night light.
Drink, a handwritten sign next to the pitcher read.
I sat at the dark table in silence and drank two glasses of water without pause.
From there, I had no idea what to do. I kept frowning, I kept thinking. I walked through the room, hands clutched around a third glass of water, and distracted myself with my surroundings.
I was standing at the edge of the room, socked toes almost to the glass of the floor-to-ceiling window, looking out at the lights of the city. It looked brilliant from where I was, all glistening and busy. A city that begged for color and music, a city full of people that couldn’t do it on their own. A fraction of what once was. Civilization torn apart, just like that. And what brought them all together was the joy of music.
I let Su’iton come a few steps into the room before I spoke. We had never been able to surprise one another. I knew he had stopped behind me, and somehow he knew that I was waiting for the right moment.
“You already know I’m going to do it,” I said calmly.
“Do what?” He knew. He just wanted me to say it.
“I just couldn’t imagine you not doing it. Not wanting to sing.”
I drank again and realized my hands were shaking. Tension welled up in my sinuses, just beneath my eyes. It felt like tears threatening to spill. “I’m scared I can’t. I saw what you were doing onstage, and that’s so much. And politics, together with that?”
“Don’t worry about the politics. That’s common sense.”
I turned around quickly and fixed him with a steely look.
Su’iton was wearing plain pajamas that practically swallowed his slight frame. His toes were only just poking out from the pools of fabric at the feet. The effect was charmingly boyish, and in the dim light, though he looked closer to the Piper I remembered. My steeliness faltered for a moment and I reminded myself of why I always went to him for advice.
“Deciding what’s best for the people and best for the future, that’s a government’s secondary job. That’s the easy job, really. Numbers and sacrifices. Those are easy to figure out. It’s taking care of the people, letting them know it’s going to be okay. Letting them know the decisions are sound. Giving them hope in what’s happening, in what they’ve decided. That’s the hard part. That’s the real job of Colora. And you’ll be fantastic at that.”
I laughed at the water in my glass, watching the movement send ripples through it. “I thought I’d get another summer before I had to get a real job.”
Su’iton laughed softly. “Sometimes things work out of order, is all.”
We stood at the window, Su’iton a few steps behind me, and looked out at the city in silence. At least a minute passed, and he said, “You might not be able to see me as much as you think. I’m not part of the Su’navyu. I don’t sit in the decision room anymore. I can’t even guarantee you’ll see Teviyu. When your class bid goes through, it will mean everything.”
My chest tightened. “You’re all I have. Even if you’re not with me constantly, I want to follow you.”
“You won’t be following me, I don’t think,” he said with a curiously wistful tone.
I just turned and looked at him until he elaborated.
“I honestly think you’ll be leading all of us within the year. I know it’s difficult to believe now, but soon you’ll understand.”
Remaining silent lest a whimper of fear slip out, I turned my lips in on each other and just nodded.
He turned before I could think to say ‘thank you’ or anything like it, and began to pad off toward the opposite side of the room. “I’m going back to bed. We’ll have you go through the process tomorrow. Teviyu has the day off after morning practice, and if Demide tries to keep her I’ll use my se’uru authority. She can help you.”
Se’uru meant senior, elder, experience. Essentially, Su’iton was not afraid of pulling rank. Giggling sleepily, I wondered who Demide was, but it was not the time to ask questions.
Suddenly, I remembered something. “Su’iton?” I asked, louder than I’d said anything since waking up. He turned back silently, scratching the back of his head, and waited for me to speak.
“I think I’m going to get glasses. How soon can that happen?”
He shrugged, and I detected the hint of a smile in the shadows. “Tomorrow morning, if you want.” He paused for a yawn. “I’d like them to see you in glasses before the bid. It might bring back memories for Demide. It might be a good thing.”
I shook my head, reminding myself again that it was not the time to ask questions.
The first thing I asked was why Teviyu wasn’t wearing her uniform.
“My uona’se? That’s just when I’m in public.” She climbed into the back of the car with me wearing plain workout clothes, sneakers, and a messy ponytail. “I hope this isn’t disappointing. This is how you’ll see me most of the time.” She was out of breath, and was obviously not too far removed from some sort of exercise.
I blinked a few times at her. “No, you look stunning.”
She grinned happily and then pulled me into a hug. “I’m so happy you decided to join! This is going to be fantastic!” She held me back and beamed at my face. I had almost forgotten what was different. “And your glasses! They look great!”
“They’re annoying,” I groused, adjusting them after she squeezed me.
“They make you look distinguished.” She nodded and pulled something out of her shoulder bag. It was a packet of sweets. “Do you want one?”
I passed, assuring her that I wasn’t quite hungry yet. Su’iton had forced an almost excessively heavy breakfast on me before we left for the medical office. Two things had happened, I explained to Teviyu when she asked me how my morning had been. I’d been fitted for eyeglasses, and I’d had my wrist cut open for my I.D.
She dropped the sweets and the foil of the packaging crinkled between her and the seat as she leaned over to take my hand. “You poor thing!” Pouting, she turned my hand over and looked at the padded and taped spot where the incision and augmentation had taken place. “When I had this done, I cried for hours. It hurt!”
“It did hurt,” I admitted. I’d gritted my teeth and curled my toes inside of my shoes, just grabbing the arm of the examination table while they did it. The local anesthesia had only done so much, and I still felt the strange sensation of my skin being pulled and my bones being prodded against. I’d thrown up after. Su’iton told me that was the reason for the big breakfast. “It’ll heal in a week, they said. Until then I have an I.D. card. Why can’t they just use cards all the time? That’s what we did. Do.”
“Well…” She blinked, obviously trying to remind herself that I was an outsider to her world. “Your I.D. is everything, here. You can program it for your belongings, you can hire cars, you can get in touch with people. It’s more than just a card that says who you are. Wait until you have one; you’ll wonder what you did without it.”
Lived on Earth and had my mom turn on the TV when I was too lazy to find the remote, I thought. Another wave of sadness hit me, but I watched the way Teviyu pushed her loose hair behind one ear and worked to distract myself. With beauty? Perhaps.
“What if I don’t get into your class? Su’iton said I might not. How does that work, anyway?”
She looked solemn for a moment, like she didn’t want to think about it, and then explained. “You’ll go through the process for bid when we get to the main house. You’ll answer some questions, have some photos taken, and this info will be passed to all the Su’navyu. All the voting members. If they wish, they can meet you in person at the interview. That’s later this afternoon.”
“Won’t I have to sing or dance? What about an audition?”
Gently, Teviyu reminded me. “New members don’t have that ability, not until they take the essence. You’ll be out of it for at least a day or two, after that. Besides, the essence doesn’t change your essential personality.”
“And then they vote on me?”
“Yes. Su’navyu have merit points for voting. The Leader of each party has three points. The Ace also has three. Royals have two, and Provisionals have only one, if they’re Su’navyu.”
“I’m confused on the rank system, I think.”
“It’s okay. So was I, until I got used to it. There are about twenty-odd people in each class at a time. Most of those are just regular Provisionals, members who get to perform but who don’t have a vote yet. When you’re voted into the Su’navyu – there’s usually seven or so for each class – you gain one vote. The next level is to be a Royal within the Su’navyu. There can be any number of Royals within the Su’navyu of a class, but Ka Class only has three. One Ace, One Leader.”
I nodded, wishing I had some visual aid to go along with the sudden lesson. Even Teviyu looked like it took her a minute to sort it all out in her head before passing it on to me.
“What’s the difference between the Leader and the Ace?” I asked.
“The Leader carries the class. The Ace attracts the public.”
“What are you, then?”
“I’m the Ace.”
I could have figured as much, but it still filled me with inexplicable happiness to see the pride on her face when she said it.
We went to the main house, which was unexpectedly exactly what it sounded like. It looked a little like the Biltmore Estate, which I’d visited with a school group in eighth grade. Immaculate and impeccable, with black marble details in the columns and flooring, it was as intimidating as it was beautiful. It wasn’t only Su’iton’s office space, obviously; everything about Meldunon was open and airy. My shoes squeaked on the shiny floor as I stepped inside after Teviyu, self-conscious about my appearance. Despite what Teviyu had told me, I still half-expected to be met by a group of perfectly coiffed Colora wearing uona’se jangling with medals and badges.
Instead, we were greeted by a lazy “Good morning.” I craned my head to see someone stepping out from behind a desk in front of Teviyu. “Aren’t you in practice?”
“I got to cut out early. I needed to bring Silios for bid!” Teviyu tilted her head and I could tell from her tone of voice that she was smiling.
The person in front of her leaned out until I caught a glimpse. I couldn’t pin down her age, but she was chubby and colorful, with several patterned ribbons tying off braids in her fire engine red hair.
She was short, too; almost as short as Su’iton. I shrunk on instinct, wondering if I should show deference or not. “Can you talk?” She asked, walking forward and jabbing a tablet at me.
Blushing, I let my shoulders slump as Teviyu laughed. “Me’vi! Be nice!”
“I’m on office duty, I don’t need to be nice to anyone.” She was already walking away before I even had the chance to thank her. “Hey, new girl. Just touch it to start. It will ask you to answer the questions. Be natural.”
Teviyu came up to me and explained, motioning that I follow her. “Me’vi is in Cri Class. She’s a Provisional Su’navyu member. You have to rotate out duties with your other Provisionals, whether you’re Su’navyu or not. No one likes office duty.”
“I spend most of the time dancing, when no one’s here,” she whined as we passed, pushing one headphone into her ear and tossing me a wave. “Which is most of the time.”
I stopped and tried to be as sympathetic as possible. “I hope it gets more exciting. You’ll need to vote later today, won’t you? That will be a change of pace.”
She glanced at me sidelong for a moment, showing no obvious expression at first. Then, she smiled mischievously, and chuckled. “Good point, new girl. You sound hopeful. We could use you in my class.”
“I don’t know anyone but Teviyu,” I admitted, not quite sure why I was babbling about it to someone I’d just met. “So I really want to be in Ka Class.” I hoped I’d pronounced it right.
Me’vi nodded. “Well, then, watch the questions about discipline and taking direction. That’s all Demide cares about. And if you don’t have his votes, he will downvote you instead of abstaining.”
Before I had time to really digest what she was saying, I nodded. “Thanks for the advice.”
Teviyu was halfway down the hallway, looking back at me with her bag on her shoulder. I waved in quick goodbye, and ran off after her. Me’vi laughed, and I heard her say, “Good luck.”
The tablet was a single locked screen currently. Continental Colora Party Entrance Questionnaire. EYES ONLY. Touch to begin. There were two spots specifically indicated, where I would need to place my fingers. I stared at it while we walked down the hall. “Don’t touch it yet,” Teviyu said.
“Do I need to be somewhere before we start?”
“No, but I want you to be comfortable. It’s going to record you while you answer. You don’t want to be breathing hard and jostling the tablet all over while you do that, right?”
“Oh, yeah. I guess not.” I laughed sheepishly.
“We’ll just duck in here. It’s a conference room.” She held her wrist up to a lockpad, and the door beeped at us before she pushed it open.
“Teviyu… who’s Demide?”
She turned to me as the lights came up automatically, and deposited her bag in one of the chairs at the long table. A monitor was at the head of the room. “He’s the current Su’naeoa.”
“The big man himself, eh?” I leaned forward, eager but a little nervous.
“Yeah. I actually think we can access videos in here, so I can show you what he’s all about. Hang on,” she lifted her wrist and after a small movement of her fingers, the monitor flashed to life. I watched in awe as she flipped through a few different screens with minute flicks of her hand. I looked down at the bandage on my wrist, wondering how I would learn to work that thing, whether it was something that came naturally or took meticulous practice. I’d have enough of a problem learning how to dance; I didn’t need the added pressure of a gadget like that.
“Yeah.” Her eyes went wide for a moment and she laughed drily, like even calling Demide the Su’naeoa was understating things vastly. “We can watch his solo from an old concert here. This would be…” She squinted at the screen full of menu options. “The song is called ‘Unified Move’, and it’s from his inaugural concert. But I’m warning you, this video isn’t a good representation of who you’ll be meeting.”
“What do you mean by that?”
She looked away from the monitor and right at me. For a moment her teeth grabbed her bottom lip and she looked almost fearful. I couldn’t help the smirk I gave; she looked adorable at the same time that I wondered if she treated every one of her se’uru with such reverence. “Demide isn’t like anyone else I know. He can switch on his Colora persona at any time, literally within an instant. When he isn’t performing, he’s totally different. He’s very stern, very honest. He’s the most focused person in our class, at the very least; probably in the whole party. He can’t stand lazy people. He’s blunt. He’ll tear down your confidence with one word.” She went quiet as if an uncomfortable memory had suddenly invaded her mind. With a swift shake of her head, though, she assured me that it wasn’t all bad, reaching out for me as she did. “But it’s for a reason! No one is allowed to be vain beyond their abilities, and that’s why our class is the best. That’s why he defected; because he wanted to help lead a class on those ideals.”
She realized she’d said something beyond my understanding, and pressed her fingers to her lips as she set her face in concentration, trying to think of how to put it. “Demide was in Fier Class. They won his bid when he joined at age 10. He was one of the youngest Provisionals ever, but he had the raw potential to back it up, even before the essence. After the essence, he was unstoppable. He rose through the ranks and by age 17 he was a Royal, part of a quartet in Fier Class known as the Ma’mon.”
“Ma’mon?” I didn’t really comprehend it, even with the necklace working hot against my skin. Vaguely I recognized something of the sort coming up in school before. It sounded like a name I’d heard in mythology.
“It’s an archaic term. Long ago, before the clash with the Toran’di, there were governments run by Ma’mon. It meant ‘dynasty’, or close to it. For Demide and his friends, it was just a nickname within the party at first. But it became a popular term used by the public, too. They even wrote a song for concerts about it. It seems pretentious and self-aggrandizing, but you didn’t hear the crowd roaring when they performed it. People like to root for the best, and it was obvious that those four were the best. Demide, Go’rai, Ko’mied, and Sayan. They were an ironclad generation of winners, with so much talent between them that some whispers suggested they could rule the party purely on performance. But policy is also a huge part of it, and Demide took policy very seriously. Apparently there was a quarrel, and even with the Ma’mon having an uncontested lock on several foreseeable elections, Demide disagreed so vastly with Fier Class policy that he bid to defect.
“It was something no high-ranking party member had done before. If you elect to leave your class, you have to start at the bottom after you find a class willing to take you. We don’t look kindly on defectors. It seems weak-willed. But our Leader, Vi’data, saw it as an opportunity. She bid for Demide, and so did several high-ranking voters in Cri Class. There are lots of rumors as to what really happened. Long story short, Demide was inducted into Ka Class when he was 22 years old, and he spent the next three years proving himself all over again. It’s not easy starting as a Provisional. You have to duel your way to the top, and no one is willing to trust you. Tensions rose between Fier Class and Ka Class, and even when Ko’mied was re-elected twice it was obvious that they blamed Demide for leaving them just that slight bit less powerful than before.
“Finally it was revealed that Vi’data would be stepping down. The Leader position would be open, and if no one contested it, the votes were sure to fall to myself or Na’dteva. I didn’t really want to be Leader. I’d become friends with Demide at that point. It’s difficult to befriend him, but he wants to help, and if you’re willing to accept his guidance he can be the greatest ally you have. He helped me a lot, and I admired him so much. I confessed to him that I didn’t want to be Leader. I thought he didn’t even notice. He just responded like he always did; that is, he acknowledged me but didn’t really want to talk about what I couldn’t change.
“He announced at the next meeting that he wanted to duel the winner for the position. Now, keep in mind that even if you duel, you still have to earn the votes afterward. For the position of leader, Na’dteva won the popular vote. I was relieved only that I would not have to throw a duel so obviously against Demide. The duel began. Na’dteva is not a slouch. Vocally, she may not be as strong as Demide, but she could dance circles around anyone. She was determined to give him a proper fight.
“The two dueled for twenty hours. Twenty hours of singing, dancing, and filibuster. By the end of it, we’d attracted the attention of dozens that weren’t even in Ka Class. Na’dteva eventually conceded when she couldn’t go on, and the votes were cast.
“Demide became the new Leader by just three votes, and he took the Su’naeoa election by a landslide with the legend behind him – not only his duel with Na’dteva, but his legacy as one of the Ma’mon. It didn’t hurt that he and Na’dteva saw eye to eye on most policy issues and she agreed to be his de facto in the campaign.”
Teviyu became quiet, and fidgeted with her skirt. My gaze went from them up the line of her arm, finally seeing that she was wearing a subtle smile. “They’ve led wonderfully,” she said in a soft, happy voice. “I don’t know that I would have been able to do nearly the things they’ve done. I know I’m a very formidable opponent in the decision room, but I could never be what Demide is. He’s a true Colora. He’s not like Su’iton, he’s not like Ko’mied or Go’rai or even Na’dteva. He’s in a class all his own. In fact, he’s made our class his own. It’s an interesting thing…” She looked at me, and paused until I met her eyes. I was still nervous to look right into them, fearing I might start babbling or make a fool of myself over how pretty she was, how much I wanted to impress her. I hated when people had the power to take that control away from me. But I didn’t go immediately weak. I didn’t become distracted. I looked at Teviyu and kept my wits. It was a powerful achievement, on the small scale. “I mean, it’s interesting to be so proud to be part of something that you don’t care about winning on your own. That’s how it should be. The best leaders should be the leaders. The rest of us support that, and promise to step in if something goes wrong.”
She was trying to convince herself. Teviyu was still not entirely comfortable with the idea that, for all of her experience and support, she was not prepared for the most eminent position. All I could do was nod, and keep myself from doing something stupid like reaching for her hand when she lifted it to start the video.
The screen blinked to life. The stage was dark. A few flashbulbs popped – were cameras the same in any world, I wondered? Applause began to swell as the opening strains of a song filled the arena with bright, brassy notes. Finally the stage lit up, dimmer than I’d expected, followed by an unmistakable spotlight.
He began singing as soon as the spotlight hit him, and I barely had time to think. Did I focus first on his voice, or on his appearance? The uniform was very similar to the costume Teviyu had been wearing on the day we first met, except it was green where most of hers had been black. I wondered at the significance, but did not want to speak up. Demide was, after all, singing. The sound of it was enough to keep me quiet. Few things could do that.
The voice was full, baritone bordering on a higher register, full of vibrance and color. More than that: control. Absolute control, even as he finished the first lines of the song and the melody shifted into a more fast-paced beat. His sound was smooth, expressive, and if I knew anything I knew it took a lot to pull that off with such bravado. Demide was dancing about, light on his feet despite sliding, spinning, and executing precise footwork that reminded me of the Gene Kelly movies my granddad would put on while we made Thanksgiving dinner. Through it all, his voice did not waver. The smile on his face was completely genuine. On top of that, it seemed to have a challenging hint to it. A ghostlike sneer to the lips, like he knew he was better, or at least good enough to do what others couldn’t. He was enjoying himself. He was completely in his element.
I had been prepared to see a rote technical performance, from all of Teviyu’s talk. No doubt, it was flawlessly executed. But he managed to bring something to it that was raw, unexpected. Maybe it was the way his whole body moved with each step, from eyebrows to ankles, like he was deciding at the last moment to let the rhythm of the quick, jazzy song dictate his choreography. I couldn’t help shaking my head. It was spectacular, beyond the obvious prowess he displayed.
Most stunning, though, was that Teviyu had failed to mention that he looked the way he did. When I thought of a man who could dance and sing for twenty hours nonstop, I put the thought in my mind of someone nubile and balletic, a build and presence suited for the theatre instead of… what he was.
Demide was, even ensconced in his Colora uniform, undeniably strong. Tall, slim, but absolutely solid in his build. He looked more stereotypically like an athlete than anything else. Not like Su’iton at all. Probably half a foot taller, probably thirty pounds heavier. He had sharper features, longer lines in his face and more pronounced angles in his bone structure. Why I was comparing him to Su’iton so exclusively, I didn’t know. Maybe because he was on my mind. He kept his dark hair cropped very short, despite a messy line to the edges, and when the camera closed in on his face I saw that his eyes were dark, the same color as Su’iton’s but worlds different in the personality they conveyed.
Despite my preferences I had to say Demide was strikingly attractive, in a traditional and sort of austere way. Beyond that, even, he exuded a confidence that turned itself unexpectedly into charm. I sort of wanted to wipe the smirk off his face, but I also had to shake my head and concede completely that he deserved to wear it. Teviyu’s warning was odd to me, then. I could expect Demide to be stern and overbearing as a leader. Someone so in tune with precision and excellence had every right to be.
As was quickly becoming the norm for me, however, I was not prepared.
The difference between selective omission and lying became abundantly clear to me as I proceeded through the questionnaire, breaking a sweat at nearly an hour in as Teviyu sat calmly in a chair on the other side of the table. I exercised the most discretion I could, but the unexpected need to hide the secret of my origin became taxing as the questions got more personal.
Where do you go when you need to get away from it all? The next question on the screen read.
The only pause I gave was long enough to remind myself not to mention anything by name. “I get in touch with my best friend. He usually meets me, and we go out to an old theater. We climb up on the roof and look at the stars, and just talk. I don’t like being alone. Even when I’m stressed, he calms me down.”
I wanted to take a break, because I felt that hot feeling under my eyes again, the pressure of my sinuses threatening to turn on the tears. I swallowed it back and adjusted my glasses, trying to seem casual. I’d forgotten (for the most part) that the tablet was recording me, and that dozens of my new colleagues would be watching that recording. Every now and then, when I remembered, it was obvious; my posture would straighten up and I’d look right at the lens carefully embedded near the top of the gadget. As I thought more about the questions, though, my mind tended to wander, and then I didn’t really care what I looked like.
What do you think is the main job of Colora?
I went silent. I thought of what Su’iton had explained to me. But even in school, I was never comfortable with simply regurgitating information. I ran out of room on essay questions because I liked to prove I understood things, and if I didn’t understand something I wouldn’t stop talking until it finally clicked. What Su’iton had told me wasn’t real yet. I couldn’t just lie. The question was asking about what I thought, not what I’d been told.
I looked at the lens for a few moments, just silently contemplating. My mouth must have drawn into a frown. Next to me, I was vaguely aware that Teviyu had stopped listening to her music and was looking at me, wondering if the excessive pause meant anything worth her concern.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m not stupid, but I just don’t know. Who does know? Only Colora, right? I’m not one yet so I really have no idea. I can’t say what I think because I don’t like forming an opinion without some facts. Whether that makes it sound like I don’t have an imagination, I don’t really care. I’m sorry, I just… I don’t know.”
Exhaustion was setting in. For a flash I felt like I just didn’t care, like the whole question and answer process was only a chore I had to go through in order to get on with things. I didn’t like talking about myself, and so the entire process was an exercise in reining my annoyance. I felt momentarily hopeless as I sighed and pressed the spot on the screen that would send me to my next question. Instead of loading up another line of text, though, the screen blinked white for just a moment and then displayed another message:
You have completed the questionnaire
Upload in Progress
Please return this tablet to the office representative
For some time, I just stared at it, mouth hanging open. “It’s… I’m done?” I turned to Teviyu, and she just nodded happily, clapping her hands very lightly in front of her face.
“But it wasn’t. I left the worse last impression I could have.”
“No, I heard it. I think you were honest, and that goes a long way. Especially in our class. I mean, my class. I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore.” She stood up and gathered her bag, stuffing the music player into the pocket of her sweatshirt. “Come on,” she continued, where I was still lost in a disoriented state of shock. “Let’s get that back to Me’vi and we’ll have time for lunch before the interview!”
Silently I agreed to the plan, and followed her to the door. I was quickly learning that food seemed to be a great motivator for my new friend. At least we had that in common, and I would enjoy exploring the possibilities once my stomach was sufficiently calm. She swung the door open and stepped out immediately, but was thwarted in her effort at a quick escape.
Following the grunt of a collision and a loud yelp from Teviyu, she stumbled back into the doorway, shrinking into a protracted shrug with her head bowed. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”
I heard a gruff voice respond to her, but didn’t really feel like moving forward to see who it was. I would have my fill of meeting new people later in the afternoon, I figured. “Even after all your strength training? When you run into me I expect you to knock me down by now.”
She laughed, but it was a nervous laughter. “Be quiet! You’re twice my size!”
“Hmmm,” the voice paused. There was a moment of appraisal. It was a man’s voice, I could figure that much. He still hadn’t forgiven her for running into him. “I’m about one and a half times your size, let’s be fair.”
“Rude! Get out of here!” Teviyu reached out and slapped whoever it was, probably on the arm (I hoped). A slightly menacing chuckle followed from the hallway.
“Hey, what are you doing in here, anyway? Is this where you’ve been sneaking off between practices? Is this where you hoard all your junk food? Come on, what’s the secret?” Before Teviyu could counter, she was forced to the side, wearing a look on her face that was half apologetic and half frustrated as she met my eyes.
A figure leaned halfway in, and I nearly lost my breath. I just hugged the tablet closer to my chest.
It was Demide, dressed not entirely unlike Teviyu in a dark t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants. He looked actually intimidating out of his uona’se and lacking the spotlight and the grin that went with it. In fact, he looked downright dark, half-frowning with his eyes slightly hooded. With that stature and those clothes, he reminded me of the boys I strategically avoided in school, the football and basketball players who hung around the weight room which was inconveniently in the middle of campus. Even his bearing reminded me of them. I was not pleased with the development. I couldn’t reconcile the person before me with the sparkling performer I’d seen in the video.
When I did not respond to his appearance, and in fact lowered my eyes in deference like I was being sized up for the auction block, he came around the corner and leaned on the inside of the doorjamb.
“Hello,” he greeted me with an expectant tone. The hair on my skin bristled on instinct. I didn’t like expectant tones.
“Hi,” I replied, still averting my gaze. I’m sure I was blushing.
“Who is this?” Demide pointed a finger at me and asked Teviyu under his breath. “Why are you acting so clandestine?”
“This is Silios,” Teviyu replied, sounding proud and bright despite Demide’s authoritarian drawl.
“This is Silios?” I hazarded a glance up and looked past him to see Teviyu smiling at me softly. Her chin was held up, and something in her eyes told me that she was assuring me of something. I wasn’t sure what, but I tried to keep my wits and stop shrinking.
“Yes.” I cleared my throat and took half a step forward, holding out my hand. I tried to seem confident, which more often came across as aggressive or unkind thanks to my stand-offish personality. “You’re Demide. Nice to meet you.”
He nodded at me respectfully and stepped up to shake my hand. My eyes went wide and he woke me out of my exhausted stupor with a firm grip that felt like it might crush my knuckles. I’m sure I looked mortified when I pulled my hand back, leaning away just slightly. Demide put his hands on his hips, filling the space between the table and the wall, and smirked.
“Silios,” he regarded me simply. The charm was still radiating, but there was something else he had that the video hadn’t shown me. It was something I never responded well to, from adults or other teenagers, or even Piper. Demide was exuding an obvious aura of superiority.
In the gap of silence I felt the requirement to say something, especially something to try and prove to him that I was not to be looked down on (though I had absolutely nothing to back that up, aside from my natural sense of human worth). So my mouth opened, and unwisely I started to talk. “Teviyu’s taking care of me because Su’iton told her to. She said I might have the chance to get into Ka Class. I’d really like to get into Ka Class.” I paused, and he waited for me to continue. “Do I call you ‘sir’, or…?”
One eyebrow lifted in an obvious reaction to my audacity, and then a smile followed. It was a challenging smile. “Only if you choose to.”
He didn’t respond to my other remarks, and just nodded at me again before turning around. On his way out, he addressed Teviyu. “Get the tablet back to Me’vi and meet me in the decision room for her interview. I want to talk to you before, so be early.”
“Sure,” they bumped fists lightly as he made his exit. “Bye.”
Teviyu’s shoulders fell and her face went completely apologetic as she moved toward me, letting her bag hang in front of her knees so that it bounced against every heavy step she took. “You just need to get to know him,” she said, so sweetly that it made me want to believe her. “Once you’re friends with him, he’ll tell you: he hates that he can’t seem to be anything but bossy. It’s just natural for him.”
“I don’t think I can be friends with that guy,” I said, sneering. I didn’t want Teviyu to take it the wrong way, but I was still bristling from his first impression. I rolled out the tightness in my shoulders and sighed sternly. “I just want to punch him, really.”
Teviyu nodded, smiling as if she knew exactly what I was talking about. “I punch him all the time. I think the most important part is that he never punches back. He knows he deserves it.”
She laughed. I didn’t.