The silver doors slide open to pure quietness—other than the voices and typing and other unknown noises.
I know I should have stopped on First Floor. That way I could swiftly get myself out of here, but I couldn't. At least not yet. The paper in my back pocket rustles when I touch it to make sure it is still there. I have to know what it is and why Blake wouldn't tell me who it is. I need to figure out why the newspaper article is titled "WINGS WITHOUT LIFT-OFF".
Nobody looks up as I stroll across the room. When I get to the spot where I saw the picture earlier, I hesitate. I look around to see if this is the wrong spot. But clearly somebody has moved it because this area of wall is the only place void of any papers.
I start to walk over to one of the people working but stop when I hear voices advancing this way from the large hallway.
"…has some of the attributes. It's not normal for a regular angel so young to break lights without knowing it. And, to top that, merely because she is angry!" The voices get closer to the door. I quickly sit down at a vacated desk closest to me and place a pair of sunglasses on. Why somebody would have sunglasses in here, I don't really know.
Two men enter the room seconds later. Wilkinson is with the man who was talking. They stop speaking and command to a man on the other side of the room from me, "Scott, look up 'Karleigh Varner'. Don't do anything else until you have every possible piece of information on her."
That's me. Why do they want to know about me? Especially every little thing. I obviously don't even know everything about me.
I look at the computer screen in front of me. A webpage is pulled up. The title of the search is "Oliver Anderson". I skim through the articles then notice a document window at the bottom. It opens to hundreds of words all about Oliver. A time, place, and date is recorded at the bottom: 1:42 a.m. Rustle Stadium, NC June 15. Today is June 14. A clock on the desk shows 10:18 a.m. Oliver Anderson must be their newest victim. I quickly write the information on the back of the picture in my pocket.
Before I can read anything else, the elevator stops on this floor. I peak over the darkened lenses to see who it is. Of course, it's Blake. But how?
He searches the room for only a moment then walks my way. "Karleigh…." The way he says my name reminds me of a fourth grader being scolded for eating all the cookies.
I slip the glasses off my face, "Blake. How did you get down here? I blocked this floor when the energy transferred."
"I overruled it," he sits down in the chair next to me.
"How? And how did you know which floor?"
"I saw the button reflected on the wall."
Thinking back to the elevator, the walls are not clear enough to see a reflection. Well, unless you have my eyesight.
"Blake," I lower my voice so much that only heightened hearing could understand—as a test, "how did you override block?"
"My remote," he whispers.
My eyes widen incredibly. So it's true, and he is lying about it! He's just like me.
"No it wasn't!" I don't bother to lower my voice anymore. A few people, for the first time ever, look up at us.
He stands up and pulls me with him. We go through the door that leads to the hall. Out of the five doors, he opens the last set—double doors that are three feet wide, made of red cherry wood.
"I knew it!" I exclaim as he shoves me through.
Inside is completely dark, but I can see everything. It is mostly empty except for several wall separators and what looks like high school gym mats.
"It's a testing room. Wilkinson is going to bring you here later today or tomorrow," Blake explains, watching me look around at everything.
I finally ask, "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I'm not supposed to. You shouldn't know now."
His eyes meet mine as I retort, "But I do."
Blake starts pacing, nervously, out of habit I guess. I, on the other hand, stand completely still. Suddenly my feet become very interesting as realizations and understandings flood my mind.
"You know you can't tell anybody." This wasn't a question, but also not a demand.
I glance to my left. There was a movement in the corner. I wave my hand at Blake, motioning him to keep quite. He stops moving to give me a confused look.
Cautiously, I wander over to where I saw the motion. Blake follows on my heels. "What is it?" he asks in my ear. I put my finger to my lips and give him a 'shush' look. A rustling noise escapes from the darkness.
"Hey!" I shout as a figure jumps out from behind a pile of boxes. It starts running.
I look back at Blake, unsure of what to do. He pushes past me and rushes at the person.
Blake is fast. As he runs he is almost a blur, but still clearly visible. Around his feet, I think I see a faint glow. Does being an angel give you some kind of speed enhancement too? The shock that Blake is an angel as well still hasn't worn off. Heck, the fact that I am an angel is still astonishing.
The eavesdropper falls face first when Blake tackles him. Blake pins his wrists and digs a knee in the middle of the person's shoulder blades. I jog over there— not nearly as fast as Blake—and try to see who it is. When the guy looks up at me from under Blake's hold, I have no recognition of him.
"Konner?" Well, Blake seems to know who it is.
"Get off of me, man!" Konner huffs, unable to breathe correctly. He squirms to get out from under Blake's heavy grasp.
"Konner, what are you doing here?" Blake asks, not letting go.
"Who is this?" I point to Konner who has fear and irritation written in his caramel brown eyes.
Konner grunts while Blake answers, "Used to be one of us. I mean them—the acquirenti di angeli. But he left. He even threatened to expose us… them."
To tell you the truth, I got a little confused during Blake's jumbled explanation. Once I understood, I was interested. This guy is on my side—against the acquirenti di angeli.
"Blake, let him go," I demand. He hesitates before unleashing the intruder. "Konner, is it? What are you doing here? If you got away, why come back?"
I offer Konner my hand to help him up. He takes it and wobbles when he is on his feet. After thoroughly brushing off the back of his jacket and jeans, Konner speaks in a light, southern accent, "I came back to see how things were going, to see if this place finally shut down. Got here last night while they were bringing some girl in."
I glance at Blake and say, "That was me." I turn back to Konner and wonder aloud, "How did I not see you?"
Konner looks down at me. He towers over me a good six inches. "Snuck in behind y'all. I saw you, Blake, following behind like you always do."
Tension in the room suddenly thickens—I should know, I actually feel it.
Maneuvering myself in between the two, I ask, "Why are you hiding out in here? This isn't a very good place to find out what's going on."
He sighs and looks around, though I don't think he can see much. From what Blake was trying to explain and the lack of gold in his eyes, Konner is only human. "I came down here to check out Wilkinson's 'chatting' room, but he was in there with some guy. So I came in here. When they finally left, you guys came in. I thought I could get out before your little spat got heated. But… well here we are." Konner stretches his arms out wide.
Blake starts to walk to the doors we entered through. "Where are you going?" I ask, not moving from beside Konner.
"We're done chatting aren't we? I'm going to tell Wilkinson he's back." Blake points to our obviously unwelcomed guest.
Disbelief washes through me, "What? Why? Just let him leave."
"You don't know him!" he snaps, striding back to where I stand. "You don't know what he's done or who he is. So you don't understand why I have to turn him in."
"Well I know that's not fair!" I take a step toward the fuming man. "He only came back to see if this place shut down; he did, so let him go. If he didn't come back you probably never would see him again, so what's the difference?"
For the first time, I notice the absence behind me. Konner is almost through the door when I turn around.
"Great," Blake mutters when he sees what I am looking at. He got away. But Blake is not going to give it up. He takes off after Konner, but when he pushes on the closed door, it won't open. Blake looks at me. Apparently he thinks I did this. As far as I know, I had nothing to do with this lock.
"Don't look at me," I defend.
Realizing I have no reason to be here anymore, I leave. Once I'm out in the hall I remember what I did to Andrew. I am reminded of this because through the little window on the Picture Room door, I see a furiously red-faced Andrew glaring straight at me. I guess I knew I had to deal with him sometime.
Simultaneously, the red doors and the wooden door swing open with angry people charging through each.
"Karleigh!"; "You!" they sneer at the exact same time.
"Look what you've done!" Blake barks.
"Come with me!" Andrew bellows.
The echoes are too much for my eardrums to bear. I clamp my hands over my throbbing ears.
I try to turn and walk another way, but they latch onto each arm and pull at the same time in two opposite directions.
"Ouch!" I shout as they rip my limbs off. As their death grips let up, I stand there staring at the guys scrutinizing each other.
"She needs to see Wilkinson," Andrew demands.
"She needs to find somebody," Blake throws back. Thankfully, he said 'somebody' and not 'Konner'. I don't believe anybody here—including Andrew—is too fond of this mysterious Konner. At least that's what I got from the way Blake was acting.
Andrew narrows his eyes in suspicion. "Who?"
Blake glances at me and says, "It is none of your concern. She has to come with me. Now."
"Boys, boys," a deep, old voice resonates as he steps out of the completely black room.
"Wilkinson, I was just about to bring her to you." Andrew says this like a dog begging for a treat.
Blake lets go of me and storms out of the hall. "Well, then there is no reason to be standing out here. Shall we?" Wilkinson motions for me to walk in first. When I don't move, Andrew thrusts me into the darkness.
A soft light clicks on beside the metal chair—the same setup as before.
"Please have a seat Miss Varner."
"No thank you," I reply placing my hands on the back of the seat.
Wilkinson steps into the light across from me. "Alright then. I hope you won't mind that I do," he drops down in a chair that looks more like a throne. Andrew sits in a metal chair next to him—Wilkinson's right hand man, literally.
Silence follows. A clock somewhere in the room ticks the seconds away. Instead of watching them stare at me, I attempt to make out any figures around me. Nothing. How does smoke block out my vision? I've been to bonfires and the billowing smoke did nothing to my senses. However, my lungs were a different story though.
"Miss Karleigh Varner," Wilkinson starts, catching my attention with each enunciated word, "you are very confusing. First I hear you have no advanced power at all; then, you lock Andrew in your room and temporarily block entry to this floor."
He waits for some kind of confirmation from me. It doesn't come.
He sighs. "So I want to know what you can do."
Again, he waits for an answer. My lips stay sealed in a firm line.
Andrew pipes up, "Girl, answer the question."
I clutch my hands behind my back to contain my annoyance. "I didn't hear a question."
Agitation grows more intense on Andrew's face and Wilkinson simply looks entertained. The amusement is apparent in his next words. "What I meant to ask was what abilities do you have? And I want to know all of them."
"I would like to know that too," I answer truthfully. "All I know is that I have heightened senses and partial energy control."
Wilkinson attempts to whisper to Andrew.
They are deciding if I should go to the testing room. I'm not too sure about that though. I want to know what I can do, but not like that—through a series of unknown and possibly threatening test. "I'm not going to that room. I refuse to be tested like a guinea pig!" I fold my arms across my chest and plant my feet to the concrete floor.
"Not like a guinea pig, Karleigh. It will be more like training exercises, getting to know your potential," Wilkinson soothes.
"When?" I ask. I am not saying yes, only considering.
"Now," he quickly answers.
The two men stand up. Wilkinson guides me by my elbow out the door. I'm not ready yet. Thinking fast, I ask, "Can I use the restroom first?"
Andrew's expression says 'no' but Wilkinson says, "Make it quick. Use the one on First Floor."
I make my way back to the elevator. A guy looks up at me as I pass his desk. Black-framed glasses cover his eyes and red, curly hair tops his head. I recognize him as Scott—the man who is digging up information about me. To avoid any trouble I know I would get into, I avoid him. For now.
Inside the elevator, I push the first button. My energy does not transfer this time. Maybe it only works sometimes….
On First Floor, the cafeteria is empty except for two people in one of the middle tables, deep in conversation. They probably know where the bathroom is but I don't dare interrupt them. Instead, I silently walk out into the bright room I first walked into yesterday. It takes a few seconds for my eyes to adjust, but when they do, I see a face coming towards me.
I scream and jump back. The person lifts a finger to their lips and leads me to a door on the other side of the room—the only other door in this room other than the exit, which looks pretty good right now.
He takes me inside a dark room that, again, makes me blind for a few seconds because of the sudden brightness change. "Where are we?"
Caramel colored eyes stare into mine as he answers, "Just a room. Nothing and nobody is in here, so we can talk."
"Konner, I can't stay long," I reply looking around—seeing nothing but us and four plain walls enclosing the small area.
"Well we need to talk, alone. Don't listen to Blake. He is…" Konner's voice trails off thinking of the right word.
"Brainwashed," I finish. "Why does he want to turn you in so badly? What did you do?"
"He blames me for something. I'll explain more on that later."
I turn to leave but stop mid-spin. "What kind of tests, or examinations, am I going to take?"
Konner's eyes widen. "They're testing you? You have to lie."
"What?" I ask, confusion seeping in my already jumbled emotions. Lie? Why would I need to lie?
"You cannot let them know all you can do. They'll use you in ways you can't even imagine."
My uncertainty grows. "But all they want is my power. How could they use me after they take them?"
Now it's Konner's turn to look puzzled. "Do you know who you are? What you can do?"
"I'm going to guess that I don't, but you do."
His mouth forms a straight line which can be interpreted as 'I'm not going to tell you, my lips are sealed'. Konner runs his fingers through his wavy, blond hair and says, "Alright, you need to go back, then. But tonight, we'll finish talking."
Without going to the bathroom, I head back to Wilkinson. A thin line of light frames the red doors so I push them open. Andrew is standing in the middle of a mat talking to a group of people dressed in black tracksuits. Wilkinson sits across the room on a raised platform overlooking the entire room. Everybody stops talking when they catch sight of my presence.
"Hello Karleigh." Wilkinson greets me. He doesn't use a microphone since I can hear him perfectly without one; though the size of the room definitely seems like he would need one.
I sigh and look around at each separated section. There has to be at least twenty of them—one tracksuit-wearing person standing in from of each.
Maybe this won't be as bad as I think. Konner's words race through my mind. You have to lie. I don't know if I want to. If they can tell me all that I am able to do, I want to know. Then again, Konner appears to know something that I don't.
Bringing me out of my thoughts, Andrew drags me to the middle of the mat. "Welcome Karleigh." Wilkinson's voices bellows from where he remains on the platform. "We are going to study your abilities through a few quick tests. First, Andrew, will you take her to Amanda?"
Once I am standing in front of the lady, I am guessing, is Amanda at the first section, Andrew lets go of my arm. A light bulb is set up on a tripod behind the thirty-something year old woman. "Hello Karleigh," she says stretching her hand out to me.
I shake it out of politeness. She doesn't seem too bad—no negative vibe. Actually, she reminds me of my Aunt Marissa with her dark curly hair and soft, inviting voice.
She walks around the light bulb so it stands between us. "What you are going to do here is place your hand around the metal part of the bulb. It will help transfer your energy much easier and faster."
While Amanda talks, she points to what she is explaining. My fingers slowly rise toward the bulb. A slight tingle starts at my fingertips and makes its way through my palms. Tiny sparks fly off my fingers even before I touch the metal.
Amanda's chagrin expression makes me a little frightened. I did what she asked, right?
As I think this, the light bulb lights up, growing hotter and hotter. Afraid to get burned, I hastily move my hand away. But as I do, the light bulb shatters. Several people gasp and I jump back, tumbling over Andrew's feet. Amanda's face transforms to utter alarm.
"What is going on here?" an annoyingly familiar voice demands from the door. I turn to see Blake marching my way, but looking directly at Wilkinson. He effortlessly lifts me off the floor and stands rigid beside me.
Wilkinson makes his way off his platform. Walking down the few stairs, he explains, "We are testing her talents, Blake. Which clearly are far more advanced than we had expected. We always do this with new angels, you know that. This morning I even told you we were going to test her soon."
"Not like this! Within hours and not telling her sooner!" Blake insists. "She hasn't had any time to prepare. No wonder she broke the bulb."
Wilkinson glares at Blake as he stands in front of us. Obviously Blake has forgotten that Wilkinson calls the shots. No questions asked. The wrinkles concealing Wilkinson's face become more defined as he processes Blake's accusations. "Blake, you need to leave. Now."
Following his order, like I knew he would, Blake turns around. But what I didn't see coming was Blake pulling me along with him.
"Whoa Blake! What are you doing?" I try to squirm out of his angry grip. My feet fight to stop, but if they did immobilize, I believe I would fall to my face. And with the determination behind his speed, I believe he would just continue to drag me out the door.
Wilkinson's loud commands are left inside the room as the red door slams shut. Down the hall and in the Picture Room, I hear Andrew chasing after us. Blake pulls me into the elevator. Screaming and yelling is what I should be doing, but my voice remains silent. He can't just take me whenever and wherever he wants. But out of nowhere, relief floods through me that he got me out of there. My mind is jam-packed with mixed emotions.
Blake presses the sixth floor button and holds it down. I watch as his energy transfers through the button. It is a remarkable experience to witness somebody else making a transfer. The gold dyeing his tan flesh, the tiny sparks pouring into the button from his skilled fingers.
Literally two seconds later, the doors open.
"I made it go faster," he explains, anger still dripping off his tone.
A single door stands four feet in front of us as we step out. It is made of glass, but I can't see past it because of the curtain shielding what is inside.
My questioning eyes meet Blake's. He speaks calmly, almost in a monotone, "Karleigh, I couldn't let them test you now. You need to see this first."
"What am I supposed to see? I don't really know what I am looking at," I ask looking at the door, imagining what could possibly be on the other side.
"Do you remember the newspaper article you asked me about?" Blake studies my face as I think back to the winged-figure on top of the hill. My hand involuntarily reaches in my back pocket to make sure the drawing is still in there.
I look at the door before us. What could this glass portal possible have to do with the drawing? The curtain looks to be old, like it could fall apart at any second. Maybe this story is in there, hiding, waiting to be acknowledged. Perhaps there are more articles and photos like the one I guard.
"I…" I start, not sure of my answer. Of course I remember. How could I forget something like that?
"Well, I am going to tell you about it now," Blake replies.
I turn to Blake searching for answers. Inside is an answer to one of my many questions. To be honest, I doubted I would ever find out what it was about.
Wiping the lingering frown off his face, he smiles and grabs my hand to lead me toward the door.
Before he can turn the bronze, dusty handle, the rising elevator stops on the sixth floor. We turn to see who it is. The doors slide open and Blake scowls as Konner strides toward us. Blake drops my hand and positions himself between me and Konner.
Konner's southern drawl interrupts what Blake was about to say. "What are you doing? You know she's not allowed to see what's in there."
This makes me even more anxious to see what is beyond the curtain.
Blake counters, "You know you're not supposed to be here. So leave before I call Wilkinson."
"Go ahead," Konner says, not affected by Blake's threat in the least. "When he gets up here he'll haul us both into the cellar. Then I'll get out and you'll be stuck in there until Wilkinson's final call. And you never know how long that'll take."
"How would you be able to get out but Blake would still be stuck?" I ask, peeking around Blake's shoulder.
Konner flashes a charming smile as he answers, "I have my ways, darlin'. Don't you worry."
"As a thief!" Blake practically shouts. His volume and statement takes me by surprise. I step around Blake's protective stance and walk to the elevator.
"Where are you going?" Blake asks. Konner follows behind me. "Karleigh, I have to show you this," he basically begs. Although I am tempted to turn back, I press the Four button and hold it down like Blake did.
It takes less time to get to Fourth Floor than it did to Sixth and yet it felt like a normal elevator's speed. "Konner, you should go. If you can be locked in a cellar, you shouldn't be here." I walk out of the elevator with Konner right on my heels. Apparently my advice means nothing to him.
"I told you, we need to talk. Now would be a great time to do so." He explains while opening my door, "Ladies first."
This room seems a bit less like a prison cell holding me in, keeping me from life. The bed is the same, smelling of mold. The fan is broken and the light is still shattered. Pieces of glass are sprinkled on the floor and mattress. And yet, it feels safe in here. A place away from all of those people who took me captive.
Trying not to look frightened, I unlock—with my newfound talent— the bolt that Konner just locked. He looks at me with amusement written all over his face. After locking it again, I command it to lock back. But it doesn't. I don't hear the familiar click. Konner smiles and holds his hands up. Gold shimmers on his fingers like mine do after using my power. He's not an angel, is he? I look down at my own hands. The only color I see is the pale cream of my skin. Bewilderment floods through my emotions. I just used my power so they should be a fading gold.
Konner walks toward me. I back up. Glass crunches as it breaks even more under my shoe. He continues to close the space between us. I attempt to shatter the lights in the bathroom, in order to distract him, but once again my powers fail me. What is going on?
"Stop!" My hand pushes against his chest. He stops walking, but never breaks his intense gaze.
"I need to talk to you. But we have to leave. And you have to trust me." He speaks quietly so that Blake doesn't hear as he walks toward the room we stand in. "Also, don't listen to a word Blake says. He thinks he knows…" Konner stops talking and slips into the bathroom without a sounds.
Seconds later, Blake knocks on the locked door. "Karleigh, come on. Open up."
For a moment I hesitate, debating on whether to open the door or not. In the end I command the door to unlock in my mind and Blake saunters in. He looks around at the broken glass. "What happened here?"
"You," I answer, folding my arms over my chest. "When you were talking about angels like guinea pigs. By the way, why did you say all of that stuff if you're an—"
Blake cuts me off by clamping his hand over my mouth and raising a finger to his lips. "Don't say it—not out loud." His eyes dart around the room until finally landing on the closed bathroom door. "Someone is in here. Is it Konner?"
I rip his hand off my face. "What? No, he left the building."
Blake squints his eyes, clearly not convinced. "So you don't hear the breathing? Feel the presence of somebody?"
"Well yeah but it's probably just Andrew."
He shakes his head "No, it's not. Andrew is with Wilkinson." Blake creeps over to the door that hides Konner behind it.
On no. This is definitely not going to turn out good. All I can think, while Blake turns the door knob in extra slow motion, is for Konner to have suddenly disappeared somehow.
As the door swings open, I hold my breath, preparing for anything. But the small space is empty. Blake goes in and throws open the shower curtain only to find it vacant as well. I let out a sigh of relief.
The only thing running through my mind now is how? How did Konner escape a room without another door, or windows? It just doesn't make any sense.
By lunch time my mind is going crazy. A new determination has set in my mind. I have to get out of here. I have to know what that news paper article was about. I have to know what Konner did to make Blake want to turn him in. But most importantly, I have to know what Konner needs to talk about.
"Why aren't you eating?" Andrew asks sitting next to me. His plate was piled with more than twice the amount of food than mine, and yet it's already more than half gone while I just finished my apple.
I tear the stem off of the core and glance over at the large man. "Not very hungry." Obviously, I could never tell him why I am so anxious.
"Well," he starts, staring intently at my fully-loaded sub sandwich, "are you going to eat that?"
Such a typical guy phrase. I can't help but laugh and shake my head no. He slides the plate to him and scowls at me. Surprisingly, I'm actually used to this look from him; seeing as how this is the only look he gives me other than full-on anger.
Five more minutes of sitting and bouncing my foot under the table impatiently, Blake comes over and sits across from me.
"Hey guys." So casual. I have come to notice that Blake is a very chill person.
Andrew grunts a greeting and I avert my eyes to the wall behind him. Though it is several yards away, I see a little silver square. The flat square is surrounding a light switch.
I want to try out my abilities, see if I can gain control of the cafeteria lights, so I excuse myself from the table.
Andrew starts to get up but Blake stops him. "I'll go with her."
"I'm going to the bathroom," I lie smoothly.
They give me the same expression that says 'are you that stupid?'. Blake is the one who speaks. "You know you can't go anywhere by yourself. Come on, I'll take you."
Rolling my eyes, I wait for him to join beside me. I think fast and notice the trashcan just beyond the light switch. "Hold on, let me throw this away first." I hold up my browning apple core.
He nods his head and guides me in the direction I want to go.
As I pass by the silver square, I pretend to trip. Making sure to catch myself on the wall, my fingers graze against my target. A slight tingle shoots through my finger tips. Nobody noticed the connection—even as my skin and the silver turned gold.
Blake catches me under my arms. His face is close to mine as I stand up straight again. "Are you okay?" he asks, lowering his voice so the few people staring would look away.
They did and I answered, "Yeah, I'm fine. Just a little clumsy."
After throwing my remaining apple away, we make our way to the elevator. The whole ride up, I couldn't keep the feeling of accomplishment off my face.
When we reach Fourth Floor and are standing in front of my door, Blake takes hold of my shoulder and spins me around to face him. Not even a foot away, I notice that those gorgeous blue eyes are filled with worry.
"I saw it."
Confusion skirts across my face. Saw what? Instead of asking, I keep quiet, my lips pressed together in a firm line.
Blake continues, "I saw you make a connection down there. What were you thinking?"
Without moving my hands, I open the door. Blake releases me and we go inside. Glass still covers the floor but a new bulb replaces the broken one. He turns the light on without using his remote.
"Anybody could've seen you," he goes on.
"I get it." I say while sitting on the bed, avoiding glass pieces. "I understand that I could've been caught. But I had to try. And why does it matter to you?"
Blake wipes away some shards of glass and sits down next to me. Our shoulders are not touching but I still feel the pressure of the closeness.
"Because," he starts, looking directly into my eyes, "if they knew the extent of your abilities, they would take you away now."
I break the intensity of his gaze by looking at anything but him, and reply, "But if they are going to take me away no matter what, why does it matter when?"
Blake places two fingers under my chin, bringing my eyes back to his. "Because, Karleigh, you have hope. Which is something I lost a long time ago. I was only fifteen when they took me. That was three years ago. Three years that my family has been looking for me. I was like you when I first came here— totally against all of this. But then Sonna Claire talked to me. She told me that I could be normal. And that's all I wanted… up until now."
Somehow during Blake's confession we drifted closer together, his face merely inches from mine. His hand lay on top of mine. Where our skin meets, a slight tingle shoots up my arm and to my heart, making it flutter like a butterfly's newly formed wings. Still, we lean in closer, closer until…
The bedroom door swings open and we both look up, darting to opposite sides of the mattress.
Konner enters the room slowly, "What's going on?" he smirks.
Blake stands up. I stay where I am and silently watch as the two approach each other.
"Konner, what are you still doing here?"
"Well, Blake," Konner snaps, "if I knew you were up here I wouldn't have come."
"Why would you come at all? And how did you not know I was up here?" Blake shoves his hands into his jacket pockets.
"I came to talk to Karleigh," Konner answers avoiding the last question.
I glance away as Blake looks at me accusingly.
"About what?" Blake asks still looking at me.
Konner laughs, but not in a humorous way. "It's funny," he starts, looking back and forth between Blake and me. "I can only feel one energy-projection. I mean, when I first came in here I felt the energies split, but when you focus on her, Blake, there's only one energy projection— not two."
I have absolutely no clue as to what he is talking about. Blake obviously does since confusion, but also understanding, is written on his face.
In order to follow the conversation, I ask, "What are you talking about?"
Konner answers, "I can—"
"He can feel an angel's energy projection. Each projection is specific to who the angel is," Blake interrupts. "But not only can he feel it, he—"
"I can borrow the power for—"
"He steals their power for a limited amount of time."
During their Word War, I had lost comprehension. When Blake said his last statement, I understood. Everything starts to make sense. How Konner always knows where I am, how he uses power when I briefly lose mine.
"But how?" I look down at my hands.
"This is kind of what I wanted to talk to you about." Konner sits next to me and I get up to stand across the room. "Karleigh, please hear me out."
Placing a finger over my lips to silence him, I hear the elevator and Andrew's distinct footsteps coming up the hall. Instinctively, I grab Konner's bicep and drag him into the bathroom with me.
Since Konner can't hear as well as I can, his face is still twisted with confusion. I stand on my tiptoes and whisper in his ear, "Andrew."
"What's taking so long?" Andrew's voice boom through the door.
Blake replies, "How am I supposed to know?"
Andrew's giant hand beats against the door.
"What do you want?" I shout.
"Hurry up! Wilkinson wants to see you."
I roll my eyes and lean against the wall. Konner goes to sit on the toilet, but I pull him back up and shake my head 'no'. He looks down at the dirty seat and mouths thank you. Nodding my head, I laugh quietly.
Outside the door, I hear Andrew explain where Blake is supposed to take me. He says outside. What's outside? Blake's words come back to me like a slap in the face. If they knew, they would take you away now. Everything seems to be closing in on me. The room gets smaller; Konner's presence looms much too close to my fragile body.
As soon as the elevator doors close, I burst through the wooden door to find Blake still fuming, barely phased by what Andrew implied.
Before I can get even one frantic word out, he points to Konner who stands right behind me. "We're not done." Then he puts a hand on my shoulder to guide me out of the room.
Too stunned to speak or think correctly, I follow Blake's unspoken order to go with him. The three of us walk down the hall, but only Blake and I enter the elevator.
Just as Blake presses a button, the doors begin to close.
But before Fourth Floor disappears completely, Konner yanks me through the gap. His hands glow golden as Blake struggles to stop the elevator.
"Come on!" Konner instructs, grabbing my hand and running back up the hallway.
We stop in front of Blake's room. He looks at me expectantly and I notice that his hands are only the color of his tanned skin. I make a quick connection with Blake's door then open it. Rushing across the room, I hear the elevator rising to our floor again.
Konner slips through the curtain and onto the balcony without hesitation. I follow him outside, but when the winter air thrusts against my cheeks, I don't see him.
Snow descends to the ground and I spot footprints leading to the left. A ladder—that I failed to see last time I was out here—stretches from the bottom to the top of the building. I race over to it.
Just before I grip the cold metal, I hear, "Karleigh!" from two different voices. One calling me for freedom. The other beckoning for my captivity.
Quickly, but carefully, I climb down to the white carpeted floor. Konner helps me off the last step and we begin to run again.
Once we reach the first line of trees before the thick woods, I glance back. Blake is slowly making his way down the ladder.
I didn't realize I had slowed my pace until Konner grabs my hand again to pick up the speed.
"Wait!" Blake shouts when he finally reaches the ground.
"We have to lose him," Konner calls over his shoulder while looking around. For a hiding spot, no doubt.
I hear Blake's ragged breathing behind us as he tries to catch up.
Without warning, Konner pulls us to the right. The trees start to fade out, becoming more and more of an open space.
"Konner why are we in a clearing?" I panic, nervously checking behind us. No one is in sight and I can no longer hear Blake's worn-out breaths or heavy footsteps.
And soon enough, I saw.
In the ground, below a bush beside a large tree, is a hole. Only about three people can be crammed into it—uncomfortably.
Swiftly and quite gracefully, Konner slips into the hole then helps me in as well. When we're both inside and silently crouching down next to each other, I hear distant footsteps. They aren't running but they do come quickly.
"D—" my hand clamps over Konner's opened mouth. I place my free finger over my lips, signaling him not to speak.
Almost a minute later, Blake's shoes pass by the hole without stopping. He didn't see us.
After about another minute I slowly release my hand. "I think he's gone," I whisper.
Konner looks at me a second longer before exiting our hiding place. Again, he helps me to get out.
I cautiously glance around and feel extremely grateful that the falling snow covered most of our footprints.
"Come on," I say while ducking behind the nearest tree.
"Nobody is coming. We lost him. And if you don't believe me, listen. You're the one with super-hearing." He chuckles and pulls me out from behind my cover. Slowly I start to relax. I don't hear footsteps or breathing anymore. No sign of any followers.
We're alone out in these vast woods.
Still lightly holding onto my wrist, Konner walks beside me. We make our way to the pond I saw from Blake's balcony.
"Wait right here," Konner tells me as he lets go of my sleeve.
Once he's out of sight, I sigh. We made it. I'm finally out of that place.
Now normally is the time that I would run for the hills, or at least my life. I have no reason to trust this Konner guy. Yes, he got me out, led me to my freedom. But why should I listen to him any further? I'm not exactly sure why, but I stay put— plant my ice-covered feet in the white forest floor.
A quiet rustling catches my attention. I turn to see nothing but trees and drifting snow.
"Konner?" I call. I knew it probably wasn't him, but I had to try.
No answer. Panic strikes through me. Where did he even go?
My toes become numb and my fingers are frozen solid. I dig my hands deep in my jacket pockets. Glancing down at the ground, I notice a glimmer in the bleak snow. I fall to my knees when I realize what it is.
A ring. But not just any ring; an acquirenti di angeli ring. I pick it up and study it in my hand. The melting snow soaks through my jeans so I stand up straight and look around. The metal is still warm from where it was recently on somebody's finger.
I suddenly feel the presence of somebody behind me.
Turning on my heels, I say, "Blake?"