Author: Lea Lucarelli PM
Lilah lives in an underground shelter with her impromptu "family," hiding from the horrid reality. Brandon lives above ground, ignorant to much that goes on around him. When something breaks the barrier between their worlds, neither will ever be the same.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Fantasy/Adventure - Chapters: 4 - Words: 12,968 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 1 - Updated: 02-23-11 - Published: 01-04-11 - id: 2879401
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"Where the hell were you?" Rex growled as we returned to the shelter. I was coming off the excitement that there had been absolutely nothing disturbing about the little place that Brandon had taken me. Outside, yes, I saw the darkness and the evil everywhere. But the inside of that place remained untouched by the demons that lurked outside.
"I was teaching Brandon about the tunnels. Nothing else."
"You've been gone for over an hour. There's no way it would take that long."
"He didn't build them, Rex. He wasn't raised here like I was. It takes a little longer when you're an outsider. Besides, I made him find his way to the subway platform and back, numerous times. Stop worrying about me. I can take care of myself." Brandon stood behind me, silently taking in the situation.
"He's an outsider." Rex hissed. "Why would you teach an outsider how to get here?"
"I don't appreciate the hostility, Rex. From everyone else I can understand it, but not from you." I said with a sigh. "Come on, Brandon."
He followed me into the room without any objections. Rex had a right to be angry. Not only had I brought an outsider – a normal outsider – into our shelter, but I went up top with him when I knew it wasn't necessary. No more trips, I told myself.
"Your family. They hate me."
"No, my brother is just scared. He went through some really crazy stuff, that's left him a little more than paranoid. Plus, I'm his little sister. He worries a lot about me, especially."
"I don't know what he's so scared of. I've never done anything in my life. I don't even know what you guys think is so dangerous about the world anyway."
"You wouldn't understand."
"So, let me. Lilah, I seriously don't get why I'm even down here. There's nothing to be afraid of up there."
"There is, Brandon. You just don't see it."
He opened his mouth to reply, but then Rex called my name from the main room. With a sigh, I looked up at Brandon. I shook my head and left him there. "I'll be back."
"Lilah!" He called again as I closed the bedroom door behind me.
"I'm coming, Rex. What?" The main room was filled with people. Everyone was out of their rooms, and each one of them were staring at me. Looking at me, as if I were some omnipotent god with all the answers.
"We need to talk." Rex, king of the shelter, said with his queen was purring at his side.
"Listen, we all just had a bit of a conference, if you will. I was content with letting you keep your little friend around, as long as he doesn't take away from the shelter and doesn't put you in danger. As it stands, its been one day and he's already got you going on little escapades into the city. Cavorting around like that is not acceptable! How many times must I reiterate that staying low is the only way we'll survive? I thought you understood this by now."
"We didn't go cavorting around. I took him through the tunnels."
"Do not lie to me, Lilah. Tobin and Willow went looking for you in the tunnels, you were nowhere to be found. You were not out there. He took you up the city. What if someone would've seen you? Or figured you out?"
"No one did. I swear to you. I watched my back and made sure that we were safe. I handled it just like I handle every other time I go up top."
"You cannot just go up whenever you want to, Lilah! If you get caught, then we're all in jeopardy."
"Is this all you wanted to do? Lecture me about things I already know and understand? That's a bunch of bullshit. That's what that is."
"We want him to go. All of us, we want your little friend out."
"No." I replied, simply. "He's not going anywhere. He stays until I figure him out. Besides, I'm fucking sick of being stuck underground with nothing to do with the outside world. He's my connection. He's keeping me sane here. If you get rid of him, you're getting rid of me."
Rex sighed, and looked at everyone in the group whose eyes all seemed to be intently watching the floor, before looking back at me. Rex got real close to my face and breathed, "Keep yourself safe."
Without a sound, I returned to my room. I felt their eyes burning holes into the back of my head as I retreated. Brandon sat on my bed, reading a few of the newspaper clippings that I had tacked up. With a sigh, I tossed myself on Willow's bed.
"Everything's fine. He's just pissy like always. Same shit as before." I said calmly.
"I'm sorry. I really should go, Lilah. My father's birthday is tomorrow. Everybody's supposed to come to my place for the party."
"No, you can't go yet. I can't let you leave."
"Lilah, please. My dad will have the national guard out looking for me if I'm gone much longer."
"He seriously would. No lie."
"Really?" I chuckled, playing along. "Who is daddy dearest?"
"Richard Cross, head of the DPA. Domestic Protection Agency."
"Richard Cross?" My face twisted up and curiosity welled within me. "The Dean of K.I.L.?"
"No, that's not my dad."
It had to be the same guy, I told myself. There's no way that those two men could be that powerful and that similar. One of my clippings featured a photo of him. Anniversary Gala Celebration, featuring Dean Richard Cross.
"Here." I said smugly, after ripping it from the wall. "Is that not your dad?"
Brandon's naive eyes poured over the picture, drinking in every detail. "It can't be him. He works for the government. He's got nothing to do with the university. Besides, I wanna go there. If he were the Dean, then I'd have gotten in." He tossed the clip on my bed and sighed.
"I'll be right back." I smiled, realizing that this was the most perfect way to cement Brandon here. Quickly, I slipped out of the room.
Lilah closed the door behind her, and I immediately pressed myself against the door to listen to the conversation, but all I heard were muffled voices. A minute later, footsteps echoed down the hall, I retreated just as the door creaked open and Lilah's face reappeared.
"I think you should come tell all of us about your father."
"Because, we find him very interesting. And who better to tell us about him than his own son?"
"Alright." I replied. I wasn't really sure what it was about. My father wasn't really all that exiting. And, honestly, I didn't know much about him. Lilah led me into the main room, where a crowd had already formed.
"Brandon, is it?" Rex asked, addressing me for the first time. I nodded in reply.
"I don't think we've been properly introduced." He extended his hand. "I'm Rex."
"It appears that you already know my name." I shook his hand and offered a smile.
"This is my shelter." Rex continued to speak. "And this is my family. We all depend on each other here. Now, I wanted to apologize to you about how I've been behaving. I'm not used to extreme changes, and having someone like you here is a big change."
"Someone like me? What do you mean?"
"It doesn't matter." Lilah chimed in. "Just tell them what you told me."
"Well, Lilah and I were talking and I told her that Richard Cross was my father. He's the head of the Domestic Protection Agency."
"What does that mean exactly?" A girl to Rex's right asked.
"Mostly, it just means that he's the one in charge of all the major problems within the country."
"He's the same Richard Cross that works at the Kingsley Institute." Lilah declared proudly. "I showed him the picture. He said it was him."
"Is your father the Dean there?"
"Well, I don't know that. I mean, as far as work when I thought he was just with the government. I didn't know anything about the college, to me, it doesn't make sense. Unless," my voice trailed off as I lost myself in thought.
"Unless," my voice slowed down a bit as I put the pieces together. "The government is somehow involved with the institute. But, I don't know why they'd have my dad be the front man. That doesn't make sense." It was all so confusing. I had no idea about my father's involvement with that school. If he had been hiding this, what else was he hiding? Why was the government involved with Kingsley?
"Only time will answer these questions, Brandon." Rex said in a far away tone. His eyes were distant and unfocused, as if lost in an old memory. "Thank you for telling us about this. That tells me a lot about you."
"What are you talking about? What about me? Do you know something about my father?"
"No," Rex replied without much conviction. "I can just tell that you're an honest kid. Now, I need to discuss something with you."
"Are you planning on staying with us much longer?"
"I don't really know. I mean, I think that the way you guys survive down here is really cool. But I don't really understand the reason behind it. Plus, I have my own life in the city."
"Well, if you do stick around, you need to know a few things." Rex sat me down on the couch and ran through the four main house rules. He introduced me to all the members of the family as well. "If you stick around, accommodations will have to be made. So, I'm hoping that you'll make a decision soon."
"Thank you, Rex." I smiled at him before addressing everyone else. "It's nice to have met you all."
"Come on. Let's go." Lilah said, tapping her foot against the cement floor. I stood up and smiled at everyone once more, before following Lilah back into her bedroom.
"See? They're warming up to you already." She smirked, throwing herself on the bed.
"I guess." I replied with a chuckle, seating myself on the floor. "What did he mean by accommodations?"
"Well, like a bed and stuff. Depending on how long you're here, we'll have to find you more permanent living arrangements."
"Oh. I'm sure that won't be necessary. I won't be here that long."
Lilah mumbled something to herself that resembled, "You never know."
"Nothing." She smirked. My mind began to drift away. I wondered if my father had been home to check on me, or if he'd even noticed my absence. He and I rarely had any type of contact, aside from occasional phone calls and text messages. To be honest, I couldn't even remember the last time he and I had shared a meaningful conversation. Everything was always so superficial and mundane. Wow, how sad.
Brandon got quiet for a while. I let him sit Indian style on my floor, and reflect on his life without interruption. For some reason, I just really liked sitting around with him. His presence excited me, even if he didn't understand anything about my world. After a while, I realized we had slipped into a strange place, a silent world of confession. He was struggling to tread water, desperately trying to keep his head up, while I swam circles around him. As if I had all the puzzle pieces and simply refused to hand them over.
"Do you wanna do something?" I finally asked him, slicing through the silence.
"Uh, sure. What is there to do exactly?" He replied with a confused smile.
"Well, we could play cards. You know how to play Texas Hold 'Em, right?"
"Sort of." He admitted, before dropping his eyes to the ground.
"No need to be embarrassed. We'll all teach you, come on." I stood and grabbed his hand, pulling him back into the main room.
"Hey guys!" I called. "We're gonna play a game of poker. Junior here never played." Immediately everyone's eyes flicked upward at me, and their ears perked up. Without further encouragement they all grabbed a seat around the coffee table. Willow grabbed the cards, while Helena reached for the chips. Meanwhile, Rex pulled Brandon into the empty sear on his left, and began explaining the rules. I took the unoccupied seat between Jace and Zander. I nudged them both in the ribs before smirking. "Move over."
"You sure have lightened up." Jace commented, with a smile and looked up at Zander. He simply nodded in agreement.
"Life's got a little less monotony lately."
Rex's voice then dominated, as he gave a brief overview of the rules of the game. We all remained silent, until the game began. Table talk was always common in our games. Except for Zander, who nodded and smiled only when it was expected. For a round or two, everyone went easy on Brandon. However, they eventually started harassing him like they did to everyone else.
After about two hours, I excused myself to make dinner. While absent, I heard shouts of misery and joy. Tobin and Willow were the two biggest competitors, and always ended up pitted against each other. When one of them would finally lose, the loser would curse the other in their moment of embarrassment. Sibling rivalry at its comedic best.
When I returned with meager meals for everyone, they smiled gratefully and continued the game. By then, Jace and Helena were both out and Zander's stack was dwindling. Surprisingly, the two with the most were Rex and Brandon.
"Looks like you know what you're doing after all, kid." I chuckled and slapped his shoulder.
"Yeah, I must be doing something right."
Two hours later, Zander and I were both out, and Willow and Tobin were on their way as well. At that point, I took over as dealer. Rex and Brandon would be the final two, and we all knew it. A battle that all the king's men would surely watch with eager eyes. It took about three rounds for Willow to finally take her brother down, which he cursed at her for. She smiled, proud at her minor victory because we all knew she'd soon face defeat. And two rounds later, she'd lost half of her stack to Brandon and half to Rex.
My eyelids were drooping slightly, but my heart pounded as I watched Rex react cooly to every one of Brandon's movements. I assumed that it was just dumb or beginner's luck, because Brandon appeared to have absolutely no strategy.
In four hands, Brandon had won about two thirds of Rex's chips, and he was silently fuming. I could tell by the way he was tapping his foot and too frequently cracking his knuckles, all while wearing an eerily flat expression.
In the next round, Rex doubled his chip count with an all-in bet on the river. And following that, he went all-in once more. I watched everybody closely as I flipped the cards. Every pair of eyes anxiously followed each card flick. Poker was one of the only activities we had available, and it was nearly impossible to beat Rex. The only one who'd done it was me, once. And here, this newbie was playing his first game ever and nearly winning.
The majority of the chips traveled back and forth for at least three hands. Then, Rex folded four straight times. Why? I have no idea. But after that, he won every hand, until Brandon had lost all of his chips.
"Good game." Rex said, with a strange smile. He reached over the table and shook Brandon's hand.
"We should play again some time. Maybe next time you'll win." It was the most intense game of poker that I'd ever witnessed. Everyone played it off, as if they'd known from the beginning who would prevail, but I knew that each had secretly worried that our leader would be defeated by an outsider.
"Not bad for my first time." I smiled, after everyone had retreated to their rooms. Only Lilah and myself remained in the main room. I laid comfortably on my pull-out bed, while she slung herself on an armchair.
"Not bad at all." She replied, standing up and heading for the light. She flicked it off, and everything went dark. Then, I heard a swift movement and a moment later something slammed against the bed next to me. I felt the bed shift, and realized Lilah was flipping over onto her back. All was black, but I could feel her breathing and, I swear, I saw a glimmer from her violet eyes.
"What are you doing?" I whispered, trying not to disturb the delicate balance of the situation.
"I don't know." She whispered, uncertainty in her tone. "I just wanted to lay here."
My heart fluttered, and I wanted to ask why, but fear of offending her was too great. Instead, I laid next to her in silence, staring in the direction of what I assumed was her face.
"Unless, you don't want me here. I can just –"
"No, no." I replied, probably too fast. "Stay." My heart began to race, causing me to worry that she could feel the shocks. I wondered if maybe she heard the thumping, or if it was causing the bed to shake. For a long while, we stayed like that, staring into pitch blackness, unmoving and totally silent. I barely allowed breath to escape my lips, for I was terrified of it pouring out in too rapid succession. After what felt like hours, my eyelids doubled in weight, threatening to fuse together. I tried to force them to stay open, but a moment later, I was slipping into the unconscious. Finally, I slammed against rock bottom, totally gone.
Upon awakening the following morning, much to my surprise, I awoke alone. The room was totally empty as well. Sitting up and stretching, I glanced around the room and felt oddly empty. I shook my head and threw myself back, landing on the other side of the bed. The scent of Lilah's hair and skin immediately permeated the air. A smile crept up on my face at the sweet smell.
Quietly, I crept out of bed and took my time looking around the apartment. The kitchen was cluttered, with dishes crowding around the sink, canned goods and bottled drinks lined shelves next to the fridge, which was filled with some fruits, vegetables and a few other cold foods. The walls and counter-tops were the same pale, dull gray-brown color, and the floor was the same concrete as the rest of the house. The main room had a carpet that covered most of the floor, and the furniture all seemed to have been found in junkyards and then had been attempted to be refurbished. The biggest couch was mismatched red, green and yellow, stripes and paisley patterns. It was homey, but still such a mess. There were a couple arm chairs, in addition to the couch, completed a circle around small coffee table. One was black, with tears and holes, as if a dog had torn through it. The other was red and brown striped, covered in dirt, with stains from God knows what. The floors were covered with puzzles, game boards, clothing and shoes. It was as if living with a family of preteens.
I yawned, realizing my breath tasted disgusting and I was sure my body wasn't much better. Slowly, I tiptoed over to Lilah's room and pushed the cracked door open. Willow and Lilah were both sleeping soundly on their cots. I spotted the pile of clothes leaning against Lilah's bedpost. As quietly as possible, I approached the pile and began looking through them. While rooting around for a pair of pants, I heard someone yawn. My head jerked back and I looked over my shoulder, seeing Lilah stretching out. Slowly, her eyes opened and she glanced my way. When her eyes met mine, she simply shrugged before jumping up and exiting the room.
I grabbed the first pair of pants I saw and rocketed out of the room. From the hallway I could hear clatter in the kitchen.
"Do you think I could take a shower?" I asked, stepping into the kitchen. Lilah faced me for a moment and smiled, before returning to her stack of dishes.
"I don't know. How's your hand-eye coordination? If you can't move your hands all that well, then you may have some problems."
"Sorry. May I take a shower?"
"Of course." She replied. Lilah spun around and walked right past me, motioning for me to follow her. Lilah led me to the hall closet, which was filled with towels and small plastic containers with each members' name on one. There was one labeled, "Extra."
"Here ya go." She tossed a towel at me, before pulling out the box and opening it.
"It's all brand new. Deodorant, toothbrush, soap, shampoo, conditioner, razor, shaving cream, condoms. You know, all of life's necessities." She said with a subtle smirk.
"Yeah." I removed the miniature soap. "I'm sure the sample sizes will go far."
"You said you weren't going to be here long. And, we aren't exactly rolling in dough."
"I'm just kidding. Thank you very much."
"Bathroom's the last door a the end of the hallway."
"Alright. Thanks again." I smiled, our eyes locking for just a moment. I broke the gaze and headed down the hallway. Lilah bounded off toward the kitchen, probably with intentions of preparing a simple, yet satisfying meal. I cracked open the medicine cabinet, checking out the contents. Behind the mirror, I found some pill bottles, mouthwash, hair care products, and all the typical shared products. Carefully, I closed the cabinet and tossed my pants, boxers and towel on the floor, grabbed my single serving soap, shampoo and conditioner and stepped into the shower.
At first the water was freezing, chilling me to the core, but it began to warm up. With the continually climbing temperatures, stress began to seep out of my body. My mind slipped away as I lathered up my body, stopping on thoughts of Lilah. An unconventional angel in every sense. No, I had not forgotten the events that led to my situation. It was hard to believe it'd only been two nights down there. Felt like years.
Lilah. The little that I knew about her was thrilling, practically begging me to push further, dive deeper beneath her exterior and discover the vulnerable center. Why did I have the pull and attachment developing? We'd shared so little, yet, I felt a burning connection between us that simply could not be severed.