(A/N: Time for a history lesson :) Also the last two important characters, so that big character flood is finished!)
"They didn't… look like this in the flier…"
Skeptically, Jenny Kvalko eyed the magazine in her hand, then her reflection in the full length mirror. The model was lithe, toned, and the denim shorts hung perfectly on her waist. On Jenny's, they puckered awkwardly, bunching up at the top of her thighs and making it very apparent that she did not work out unless she had to.
With a pout, she tossed the magazine over her shoulder, letting it settle wherever it wanted on her already sloppy floor. "Good enough," she decided firmly as she grabbed her bookbag and slung it over her shoulder. Her company wouldn't be noticing her clothes anyway. She'd be lucky if he gave her more than a cursory glance. He was only her tutor, after all.
Whether her mother approved or not.
Tentatively, she peered out of her room. The television was on in the living room down the hall. That was a good sign—the more distracted her mother was, the less likely she was to ask questions. Jenny took her chances.
"Hi mommy!" she chirped as she bounded down the hallway and into her favourite plush armchair.
Her mother, a woman still young-looking despite being in her mid-forties, smiled back. "Hi baby, what's up?"
"I'm gonna go out for a while, okay?"
"Oh?" She eyed her daughter's bag. "Go out where?"
"Just…" Jenny swallowed heavily. "Maybe to the library. I'm gonna do my… English report."
Unfortunately, Jenny didn't count on her mother's astuteness catching on. She leaned forward, her demeanor changing. "With who?"
Jenny didn't answer, but her silence was an answer in and of itself.
Her mother shook her head. "You know I don't like that boy, Jenny."
Jenny was pouting again. "Why, because of the way he looks?"
"That's not true."
"We're not doing anything, he's just my tutor! And!" Her voice raised, strengthening her point. "He's gonna be valedictorian! So there really isn't a better tutor!"
"I just don't trust that boy. There's something… not right about him."
Jenny pouted harder, staring at her mother with what she hoped was a pitiful look. "Well I don't think so."
Their eyes locked for a moment, her mother still shaking her head in disapproval. Eventually, though, her daughter's insistence won over, and she leaned back again. "Do a good job on your report, sweetie."
Her pleading finished, Jenny leapt out of her chair and practically skipped down the stairs to the front door. "I'll be back!" she called happily over her shoulder as she left.
His car was already outside, to her mild disappointment. She'd been hoping to beat him this time. He was always waiting for her, it seemed, and just once she wanted to have that advantage over him.
He did not, however, start the car when she came outside. He was distracted, or something. It was a small victory.
Barely able to conceal her grin, she sidled up to the driver's side of the car, expecting him to notice her at any moment. But he never did. Curiously, Jenny peered in through the window. His attention was held entirely by the screen of his phone—held barely an inch from the tip of his nose, as he held everything he read. He was completely entranced…
It was boring to watch. She rapped on the window.
Calder Redwell nearly jumped out of his skin, and he immediately smothered the phone in his lap. Jenny laughed, reveling in her petty victory, and slipped around to the passenger side. "Did I scare you?"
"How long were you there?"
"Were you watching porn or something?"
"No!" He scoffed indignantly and started the engine. "It was news. Some people like to know what's going on in the world."
"Must've been really good 'news'." She eyed him smugly; he nearly ignored her jest entirely, sparing her only a blank stare in response.
"Where are we going?"
"The library. I need help with my English paper."
He grimaced slightly. "Writing isn't exactly my strong point."
"Why, 'cause you didn't win any awards for it?"
She hushed. She found their bantering to be fun, but a small part of her always felt guilty for teasing him. He got enough of that as it was.
Oculocutaneous albinism, that's what he called it, and it was a particularly severe strain at that. She'd made sure to learn the term well; she'd once called him an albino and he'd nearly snapped her head off. Because of it, he was almost completely ostracized by their schoolmates.
Or so he would say. Jenny found, though she wouldn't dare say such to him, that he'd done most of the ostracizing himself.
Whatever it was he had read, it was keeping him distracted.
It was becoming increasingly obvious to Jenny that his mind wasn't on tutoring. For starters, he looked physically ill, deeply troubled by whatever he had discovered.
Also, he kept giving her the same feedback on her paper.
"That's good, keep going," he murmured for the fifth time as he slid her draft back to her over the tabletop.
She frowned at him, then stared back down at her draft. He hadn't even read it. If he had, then surely he would've had at least something to say about her closing paragraph, which was entirely about strawberries and held absolutely no relevance to the rest of her report on controversy in the media. It was a shame; she'd thrown that in there specifically to catch him off guard, too. Up until then, she thought that maybe she was doing a good job, good enough that he just didn't have anything to say. She stole another glance up at him.
He was staring at his phone again.
With a sigh, she packed up her books and stood up.
He looked up at her. "What are you doing?"
"Let's go home."
"'Cause! You don't look so good. Something's bothering you." She pointed at his phone. "You've been glued to that thing since you picked me up!"
As if to prove her wrong, he set it down on the table. She wasn't impressed.
"Will you tell me what it's about?"
"Not this." He met her gaze steadily, but his cold expression failed to deter her. She leaned into him, palms flat on the surface of the table.
"Tell me!" she moaned, dead set on uncovering this mystery she'd crafted for herself. He averted his eyes first, and quickly; he stared at the ground and hoped that she would give up on her own. She didn't.
"Alright," he said as he stood, "then let's go home."
She grabbed his sleeve before he could walk away. "I want to know! Why won't you tell me?"
"I can't tell you—" His voice dropped to a whisper and he pocketed his phone, glancing around the library at the other patrons. "—where there are this many people around that could overhear." He nodded his head in the direction of the door, and she let go of his sleeve.
After all her pestering, she wasn't sure that she wanted to know anymore. She didn't like the sound of that. Whatever it was, though, it had gotten him riled up, and she was going to drag it out of him if it took all day. He never opened up to her, and now she couldn't help but feel it was imperative that he did. "Will you tell me in the car?" she finally asked.
He nodded hesitantly, his teeth sunk into his bottom lip.
Satisfied with at least that, she hoisted her bag onto her shoulder, and they left.
Even in the confines of his car, though, Calder was hesitant to speak. They sat in silence in the parking lot for a good couple minutes before Jenny started to pry it out of him again.
"I'm not going to judge you or anything, if that's what you're worried about," she assured him. When that failed, she added "We're friends, right?" though he'd never called her his friend, and she worried that she thought more of their acquaintanceship than he did.
When he finally spoke, it was with such a force that his delivery nearly shocked her more than his words.
"I need to drop out of school."
For a moment, she couldn't respond. "Why?" she croaked, though it seemed like a lame thing to say. "What do you mean, you 'need' to?"
"I can't… be there anymore. I can't do it." The panicked expression on his face scared her, and for a moment Jenny thought this might all be about the things he'd had to deal with at school. The constant derision from his classmates, perhaps the pressure put on him for his grades.
"You're almost done though!" She reached out to touch his hand, but thought better of it. "You're gonna graduate soon! Can't you tough it out?"
He turned to face her, forcing his panic down, and she anticipated a lecture. But there wasn't one. He asked her the last question she would've expected.
"What are your political stances?"
She stared at him as if he'd just grown a third eye. "What?"
"I can't… tell you anything until I know that you… won't…" He trailed off there. "You support the Federation, right?"
"I…" She didn't have an answer for that. The Federation and the head of state Benedict Lindau had been in power before she even knew how to walk. She knew from history and civics classes that there had once been a democracy, and the Federation had sparked a nationwide outrage when it was first established. But she had never experienced those things first hand. She had no frame of reference for them. The protests had just stopped after a few years. The few who still harped on it were all but ignored. People adapted. But she…
"I really don't care either way," she answered tentatively, though she knew the words were true as soon as she spoke them. The Federation had no bearing on her life as she lived it. If it ceased to exist, her life would only continue as it always did. At sixteen, it just didn't matter to her.
Calder seemed to relax a bit at her affirmation. "You should care," he scolded, but his voice lacked conviction. "Do you think things are okay the way they are?"
She leaned back in her seat, already bored of this conversation. "I guess so."
"Do you know how much better they could be? If the system wasn't just run by one guy and… and whatever agents of his he likes best? You know that's all the Federal Authority is, right? Did you know that there are actually members of the Authority that are completely unqualified? That they're only in there because of connections? And we the people can't even do anything about it! When they do something we don't like, we just have to sit and deal with it! They call themselves a federation. They're no federation. This is like… it's communism. I-it's a dictatorship!"
Jenny chewed her lip and nodded as he spoke. It was true that she hadn't thought much about the Federation, but he certainly made it seem bad. She suddenly felt scared.
… for more than one reason. Even she knew that one thing he said was true: nobody went against the Federation anymore. It was no wonder he didn't want to say these things in public. If anyone heard him…
"It doesn't have to be like that, though." He pulled out his phone and managed a brief, awkward smile—rare even during lighter conversations. "There's still the Revolution."
Involuntarily, Jenny shuddered. Just like the Federation, she didn't know a whole lot about the Revolution, but she knew what they were: they were terrorists.
He noticed her shudder, and his eyes lit up. "They're not what you think they are! They're the good guys! They're the only ones who'll stand up to the Federation! They're trying to do something good for the world, and they—" His voice caught in his throat, and his face fell. "… they don't discriminate. It doesn't matter to them what someone… looks like, or something. If you're on their side, you're family."
She stared at her lap, almost guiltily. "… it doesn't matter to me, either…"
"I know." He laughed; it was awkward, and forced. "Like you said. We're friends, right?"
Despite the heavy subject matter, she grinned.
He handed his phone to her, its browser already opened to the article that had him so occupied, but he was already discussing it before she could read. "I think they're getting serious about it now. They're not passive anymore. They… bombed a prison this morning. To make a statement." He fell silent for a moment, debating his next words, but she already knew what he was trying to say. She just needed him to confirm it.
"I don't know how, but I need to… do something. I can't keep pretending that the world is find while these people are… fixing it. I…" He ran a hand through his hair and inhaled heavily. "I need to… help them."
Again, Jenny only nodded. She stared at the phone in her hand as if reading the article, but she couldn't focus on it. This was real. It had been happening all along, practically in her own backyard, and she had been blissfully unaware of it all. Part of her wished she could go back to that ignorance…
… and part of her was thankful to have the sheet pulled from her eyes. Part of her was angry at the Federation, for all the fear they'd instilled in her without her even realizing it. Part of her wanted them eradicated. Purged.
Her mother was right. Something was wrong with Calder Redwell.
But then, perhaps there was a little something wrong with Jenny Kvalko too.
She passed his phone back to him, and when he looked up to take it, she caught his eye and smiled.
"Will you teach me about the Revolution?"