Chapter Five

Open the Box

I'll neve know what woke me up on the day my life changed forever. Maybe it was the gut feeling that once I walked out the front door, nothing would ever be the same. And my gut feelings were ususally right.

2nd period English came, and I was surprised when I came in and the chair next to mine was empty. So not only did I have to listen to Mrs. Marone drone on about Greek mythology, but I had to do so without a distraction except for my notebook.

"Who can tell me the legend of Pandora's Box?" she asked. One of the know-it-alls in the front row raised her hand and, without missing a beat, bgan explaining the ancient story.

"Well, Pandora was a young, beautiful, and curious woman. One day, Hermes the Messenger God was flying past her house, saw her, and fell in love. So the two met in secret. Hermes would shower Pandora with lavish gifts and one day, he gave her a box, but he warned her never to open it. Hermes left, and Pandora listened, not opening the box. At first. But she saw it sitting there day after day, and she eventually let curiosity get the better of her. When Pandora opened the box, demons and bugs and terrible things flew out and scattered across the globe. Those demons were envy, crime, hate, disease…all those kinds of things."

"Not exactly," Mrs. Marone corrected, "Pandora was created by Hephastus on Zeus's command. Zeus sent her to earth to fall in love with Epimetheus to get back at his brother, Prometheus. Zues gave Pandora a box with a lock, and gave Epimetheus in the hopes that he or Prometheus would open it. Pandora was the one who got curious, and she stole the key from Epimetheus in his sleep. Yes, she opened it and the evils were released, but so was another small bug named Hope."

I found myself actually intrigued by the story. It seemed to be a perfect metaphor for what was going on. I was Pandora and Justin was the one who delivered the box, but instead of it being filled with the worlds' evils, it was filled with secrets. I set my jaw, determined to open that box.

Walking out of class, I watched another scene unfold. Craig stopped Jane as she bustled out of class. I could see the fear painted across her face.

"Hey, you auditioning for Wicked?" he asked, his cheeks growing red. Jane shook her head. This was going south quickly. "Oh, well I just-"

"Absolutely, we'll be there!" I intervened, "Auditions start tomorrow," I added, wrapping my arm around my sister's shoulder. She turned to me, then back to Craig, and nodded slowly. Craig beamed.

"Okay, I-I'll see you there, then," he said, turning to race off to his next class. Jane pulled away from me.

"That was strangely out of character," she muttered.

"Yeah, well, people change."

Jane shot me a scathing look and skulked off to her third period.

Naples was a small town, and Calvin Coolidge was a small school, so everyone noticed Jutin's absence, and everyone assumed I'd know where he was. As annoying as it got throughout the day, it actually kept me wondering. Even if it shouldn't have bothered me as much as it did. Lunch came around and I decided to shoot him a text message.

Project later? Your house this time.

sure. 1432 Poppyglen Blvd. Just come in when you get there.

Jane plopped down beside me, seeing the projected message just before it vanished.

"Study date?" she asked.

"No, just study," I snipped back. Jane merely shrugged as Mish and Ingrid joined us.

"Suuuure," Ingrid rolled her eyes.

"You were so red after dinner," Jane added.

"So what?"

"Oh, you like the new kid," Mish teased.

"I do not!"

"De Nile ain't just a river in Egypt."

"He and I are friends. And that's all…Okay, all right. Maybe I feel a little…spark. But it doesn't mean anything."

Mish smirked at me and I could just feel my cheeks were a bright red.

Justin's house was even closer to the school than mine was, and almost twice as big. He had told me to just come in, but still I rapped my knuckles on his front door. Nobody answered, so I turned the doorknob in my hand, sticking my head into the house.

"Hey asshole! I'm here!" I shouted. I heard someone rustling around on the floor above me before Justin's voice answered.

"I'll be down in a minute. I just- oh- got out of the shower."

I stepped inside, taking a look aroud the expansive house. To my right was a piano with sheet music scattered around it and an acoustic guitar laying by its side. Around the corner was an office secluded by a glass door. Several filing cabinets and bookshelves lined the walls around a mahogany desk that held an old PC system. I reached out for the handle of the door, curiosity swelling up inside me, but before my figners could curl around it, a thunk sounded upstairs.

"God damnit!" Justin shouted.I took a few steps up the stairs that coiled around the middle of his house, pausing halfway. I heard another thunk and ran the rest of the way up, opening the door just to the right of the top of the stairs. Behind the door was a wide-open bedroom that hooked off to the right into a tiled bathroom. Justin came around the corner, missing his usual turtleneck, but instead wearing a grey undershirts and darkwash jeans. But his slightly-muscled forearms weren't what caught my attention; his neck was. Or rather, what was on his neck. On either side was a series of flaps- gills. A feeling of horror dropped over me. Justin's eyes widened when he saw my terror and he moved towards me. I recoiled, turning back and leaving, confusion overpowering logic in my mind.

"Leslie, wait!" Justin called. I was already out the door.

I sat in the park once I had calmed down a little. A shiny white car pulled up and Justin hopped out, now in a grey sweater, and sat down on the bench next to me.

"Get away from me," I whispered.

"I can explain."

"Fine, then, explain!"

"The Institution."

"What?"

"Halpert Medical Institution. Five years ago, they performed genetic experiments on a bunch of kids. I was one of them. And so were you."

"I still don't get it."

"I don't know how you could forget something like that, but-"

"Prove it to me."

Justin pursed his lips, pulling a pocketknife out. He flipped the blade out and hovered it over my palm, shaking. I pulled away from him.

"What the hell are you doing?!"

"Just trust me, it'll be proof enough." Justin grabbed me by the wrist and let the steely knife bite through my skin. A dribble of red flowwed out, but it was only a moment before the red faded to a pink scar, and the scar to a fleshy tone. I pulled my hand away from his once more, studying where the cut should have been across my palm. "They turned you into a healer. You-"

"Can never get hurt? I'm not sure that's a good thing."

"Huh?"

"Scars are a symbol of something you've fought for. Something I'll never have."

"Not entirely true…it's something you can have. And do. You can heal your scars on the outside, cover them up, build youself a defense system of biting sarcasm and pretend everything's okay, but I can see you've been hurt. You have scars on the inside. You push away anyone who might get to know you on a deeper level- push them away to keep them from hurting you. Right?"

I kept my face away from his. He stood from the bench and places his fingers on my chin, tilting my face upwards to look at him.

"I understand you better than you think I do- better than you're willing to admit. Take my hand," he said.

"No," I answered, starting to cry.

"Why not?"

"Because it'll hurt when you let go."

"Then, Leslie, I won't let go."