Chapter one – I have more written, and I will upload regularly.
It was a long ride through the mountains, the final of several days travel. Grace stared out the window, the lush green slopes rolling by, the steady sound of the train clicking over the tracks settling into her bones. Outside the terraced fields were full of shoots, just barely poking their leaves above the soil, but the trees were a fresh, crisp, new green, in full springtime glory. The scenery was a refreshing change from the towering buildings and crowded streets of the cities, the old ivy clad brick buildings and narrow hallways of campus. Two years ago, when Grace had left and traded in her community school in the city for the dance company five hours north, the mountains had looked like fire. It had been autumn – she had left her decision until the last minute, and when she had made it, it hadn't been the one she wanted to make.
In the autumn, the leaves had been red, gold and orange, as though some ancient goddess had transformed the peaks into her own gilded palace. Now, in spring, everything was lush and green, rich with life, the ridges purple and blue. Fading crocuses dotted the hills, tulips bloomed yellow and purple, daffodils lining the swampy ditches beside the railway tracks. The view out the window was spectacular, despite the fact that the vinyl seats were lumpy and hard. The woman next to Grace was smoking a cigarette and wearing overly sweet perfume – the resulting smell was enough to make her want to vomit.
"Hope you don't mind," the woman had said when they boarded, lighting a cigarette as she spoke. "Trains make me queasy without." Her ill-fitting suit said she was a secretary, but the fact that it fit her so poorly, and the run in her nylons, made Grace sure she didn't work for anyone with powerful Gifts. In the luggage rack overhead suitcases rattled, so close to tumbling down upon the occupants of the seats below that it was a wonder anyone could sleep.
At almost nineteen years of age, Grace had long brown hair that curled half-heartedly and grey eyes. She was of average height with a slim, muscular build from years of dancing and tended to favor loose fitting trousers and sweaters that hid the muscle in her form. It would draw attention that she didn't want, from a variety of sources. In an age where everyone was Gifted, Grace liked to keep hers hidden.
Sometimes she thought it might be better if she didn't have a Gift, because all it brought her was trouble.
Building a railway through the Greene Mountains was not practical, not in the least, but the upper class, always so conscious of practicality, had wanted to escape from the filth and unrest of the cities and see a piece of what remains of the world's natural beauty – all from the luxurious comfort and safety of a train, of course. In this case, Grace didn't mind their careless indulgence – it was not something they could keep for themselves, and she enjoyed the view just as much as those who viewed it from a first class carriage, despite the elated hollering of the children who kicked the back of her seat. As in this case, however, most of the frivolous spending of the upper classes came before other, more pressing needs such as the rising numbers of the homeless and and food shortages, as well as the war that threatened to burst forth along the borders.
The capitol lay ahead of her, her birth city of Siede. It was where she had grown up, and the streets were familiar to her, like the back of her hand. It would be a nice change from the city in which she had spent the past two years. She had been home to visit her family once since she had left – it wasn't easy to travel these days, between her busy schedule and the frequent jumps in third class ticket prices. In truth, the primary reason she was going home was at the request of her sister, Jenny. Jenny was getting married later in the summer, and wanted Grace home to help with the preparations. That along with an impulsive desire to see the person she had gone north to escape.
Grace huddled over the package in her lap - a gift for her sister, and gazed out the window, but she no longer saw much of what passed her eyes. No matter how many times she tried to divert her thoughts, they kept returning to what lay at the end of the tracks. She hadn't called Mitch to tell him she was coming – as much as she wanted to see him she knew it was going to be uncomfortable.
The train pulled into station and a cool, female voice came over the loudspeaker.
"Once again, this is Queensbridge Station, for Siede." More than half of the third class passengers were exiting the train here, including the woman Grace had shared a seat with. The red haired woman stood stiffly, stretching, cracking her back and – oblivious – flicking the ashes of what must have been her sixth cigarette into Grace's hair.
As soon as she could get to it, Grace took her red leather suitcase in one hand; the package clamped tightly in the other, she joined the throngs of people pouring from the train. Amid a haze of steam, the station was flooded with people – the upper class passengers disappeared rapidly into the sleek black limousines and sports cars that lined the street beyond the brick archway, leaving servants of varying positions to collect their luggage from the baggage cars. As she had just her one suitcase, Grace had no need to do so, and she paused, gazing around at the station she hadn't seen in almost a year.
The vehicles into which the upper class had departed began to dissipate, and Grace found herself watching them, half mesmerized.
Queensbridge was the oldest station in Siede, and the cobbled courtyard and ornate lampposts, the green benches and the large, ornate clock above the archway, made her wish that everything could still be like this – elegant and sophisticated – there was so much more to look at here than in the sleek metal and glass buildings in the newer parts of the city. The clock itself was a work of art, black wrought iron hands ticking over an ivory face marred only by a slight stain of rust around the roman numerals that circled the face like a wreath. Another piece of a distant, more elegant time.
Behind her, the steam engine flared to life once more, clouds of steam pouring out over the station platform. A handful of people crowded towards the tracks, waving goodbye; a few women clutched handkerchiefs in teary farewell. The train, each car a sleek shade of navy, inched out of the station, gaining momentum as it went.
Grace stood there, staring after it for several minutes in a daze, almost hypnotized by the white reflecting windows as they passed by. First came the passenger cars, people half hanging out the windows to say goodbye, then luggage cars, and finally a few bearing assorted cargo. The clock overlooking the station rang out ten o'clock, bringing Grace back to herself. Feeling absurd for dawdling for so long she turned, suddenly rushed, and nearly ran into a young man, suitcase and package tumbling to the ground.
Her breath caught in her throat. She felt a flash of recognition at the face she suddenly found herself so close to.
Frozen as she was, it was he that moved first, bending to retrieve her belongings. He held them as though they were precious, delicate as eggshells beneath ones feet.
Her voice sounded thin, half a gasp rather than an intentional word. His sounded reluctant, as though saying her name was an admission of fact.
After two years, somehow, she had pictured their reunion differently. Harsh words, clenched fists, that familiar tilt of the shoulders that said he was angry. Her eyes swept over him, trying to decide how much he had changed. He was of middling height, somewhere around 5' 10", with curly, soft brown hair. He had brown eyes, ringed with shadows, lined with weariness as they hadn't been when she had seen them last.
"Are you okay?" he asked. Silently, she nodded. He straightened, claiming a better hold on her things.
"I…" Grace paused, trying to regroup her thoughts. "I…how…how did you know I was here?" she asked. She realized that he must have, for this was no accident. He didn't look half as surprised as he should have, and she would have expected his first question to be more along the lines of "why didn't you tell me you were coming?" She slowly pulled herself back together, knitting back together her shield.
"I saw you." His voice was just a murmur, barely discernable over the clamor of the station – in the distance she heard a call for someone selling popcorn, someone shouting for their missing child. "Fresh popcorn, sweet and salty, here and now…" – another voice called - "Bella! Bella? Has anyone seen my little Bella? She's so little to be away from me…"
Grace was drawn back to the present by Mitch's hand taking hers. She looked down – somehow he had shuffled the suitcase and the package to one hand, and a look of concern flitted briefly across his face. She drew her hand back as though burned.
"I'm fine," she said, just as he started –
"Coming back for a visit?"
They both laughed nervously, the sound dying quickly.
"I'm here to visit my family," Grace answered, the first to speak. "For…for Jenny's wedding." Mitch tightened his hold on the box.
"Wedding?" Mitch asked. Grace nodded, and a slight smile lit his face.
"Did you have any trouble on your way here?"
"No, no trouble," she answered quietly.
There was another long pause.
"I…do you want to walk with me?" he asked. "For a ways? Maybe we could have lunch?" There was something in his voice, some glint of hope that she clung to.
"I suppose," she said.
"At the very least, I can carry your things," he said. Then he added, "at least, if you'll let me."
"I will carry this though," she said, taking the package gently from his hands.
"It's good to see you," he said, giving her a mysterious smile.