We walked in silence. Archer's arms swung in the rhythm of his feet. His fists were clenched and he looked fully alert.
"So..." I said to try to cover up the awkward silence as we walked. "You work for the Order?" He nodded. "Which...um...Division are you? Like, uh, set of gods or-"
"I know what a Division is, Gracelyn."
"It's Gracie," I corrected.
"Gracie," he repeated, "My apologies."
"So, which Division?"
"I serve none. I only serve the Order."
I frowned. "Can it work like that?"
"Most of the time? No. For you, if that is what you are asking, most definitely not."
"So, what do you do for the Order?"
"I train." He said simply.
"Only the special cases."
I huffed. "There seems to be a lot of special cases going around."
"With you, Layla, and Ari? There always are." I swore I saw the tips of his lips twitch into a smile. Finally we stopped. It was another set of smaller double doors, but instead of the usual old, brown, wooden doors that I've seen around. These doors looked pristine and they were white. The tops of the doors were also arched. Archer knocked.
"Come in." I heard Sophia call.
Archer pushed open the doors, but did not walk in himself. "Thank-you," Sophia told him politely. "You may leave now. I will escort her to the entrance."
Archer bowed, and then left. I looked over to Sophia and her office. Like the large room I first saw, this room was circular with a domed ceiling, though it was about half the size. Many floor to ceiling bookshelves hugged the walls, as did even more statues. All of these looked Roman to me. There was a slightly raised platform with Sophia's white desk and chair, which was where she sat, writing in a leather bound book. She wrote a few more sentences before looking up, or rather down due to the fact she was once again on a raised platform. I couldn't help but feel that Sophia felt the need to feel superior.
"Greetings, Gracie." She leaned back in her chair. "Oh, how I have waited for the day I could finally meet you."
I swallowed. "Um, thanks, I guess."
Sophia sighed. "I have not the slightest clue how frightening this must be for you. I, personally, quite literately grew up in this life."
She nodded. "It's not that interesting of a story. My mother sat where I sit now. She was the leader of the Roman Division. I aged and grew always knowing I would one day be where I am now. I have never spent more than two weeks away from the Order in my life. I do not know what it means to be an average girl, just as you do not know what it means to be a Blessed. Perhaps, we may teach each other."
"I'm, um, afraid I don't quite follow you."
She rubbed her eyes, she seemed exhausted, as if she had spent days with minimal sleep. "Gracelyn, Gracie, these people here, they too have not idea what it means to be an average teenage girl. They see it as an insolent and horrid fate to have. In their minds, they are saving you."
"Saving me?" I asked, disbelieving. "What if I don't wanna be saved?"
Sophia sighed. "Does a drug addict wish to be saved? Does an alcoholic? More often than not, the answer is no. This is how the other members of the Order will view it."
"And I have not even gotten to the worst of it. They will wish to take you from your precious school."
"Well, I wouldn't call it precious," I muttered.
"They will wish to rob you of your friendships," she continued with determination. "And they will wish to tear you from that darling mother of yours."
"My mom?" I squeaked. "My friends? What do they have to do with it?"
"Nothing, and that is precisely why they wish to remove them from you. In their minds, if they are not a direct asset, then they are a liability to be dealt with."
"I don't want to lose them." I told her, soft, but determined.
"Exactly. And, Gracie this is crucial, you mustn't. There is a very precise reason why your powers only awoke at your sixteenth birthday. Why, unfortunately, your birth father was banished and birth mother was killed. Why, even more unfortunately, your adoptive father went missing."
"What are you talking about?" I was beyond pain and shock at this point. I was just numb.
Sophia clasped her hands together, put left her two pointer fingers sticking out. She tapped them to her lips and then pointed them at me. "Fate, girl. I am talking about fate. Destiny. God's plan. Whatever you wish to call it. All those things had to happen for you to become the girl you are now."
"I don't understand."
"And that's just it. You don't. You know nothing about the world of the gods and the Blesseds and the Order. You, Gracelyn, are completely unbiased in our world."
She leaned forward. "Gracelyn, trust me, your not being raised in this lifestyle, will be crucial in the times to come." I winced, noticing the similarities to what Zane told me. She leaned back. "We should probably get you back home. Gracie, I know you must have an unending supply of questions-"
"Why me?" I interrupted quietly.
"Excuse me?" She asked, not having been able to hear me.
"I said why me?" I repeated, shouting this time.
Sophia sighed. "This is very hard to explain in the limited time we have."
"Please," I begged, feeling for the first time tears prick my eyes. My numbness was wearing off like a pain killer taken several hours earlier. "Just...just tell me why I have to be special, because I'm not. I'm not brave," I told her honestly. "I'm not tough. I'm not...extraordinary. I'm just...me. Ordinary, plain ol' Gracie."
"Gracie," she told me dead serious, "Ordinary is one of the last words I would use to describe you."
Embarrassed I wiped my tears with the heels of my hand. "Why? Because I have some sort of special powers?"
She just shook her head. "No, Gracie. You're special, you're rare, because you honestly care."
"What?" My voice went upwards.
She sighed. "You honestly don't know how many people have come here and have found themselves, not exactly heartless, but finding it difficult to feel compassion. Now, I can teach them how to fight an opponent, but not when that opponent is their own inner issues. You stay here long enough...well, you met Ari. She's been here over ten years."
I nodded, somewhat understanding what she meant. Ari seemed like a good enough person, but while Layla seemed genuinely concerned about my welfare, that day in the woods, Ari seemed to treat it like another job she had to do. I didn't want to be like that.
"How do I...How do I, you know...not become like that?"
"Hold on to what makes you human, Gracelyn. Hold on to those old friends of yours. Keep taking your silly pictures. Spend some evenings with your eccentric mother. Even deal with everyday bullies like Audrey." At that moment, I didn't wonder how she knew those things. "Be human, Gracelyn. Because that is the part that makes a Blessed so dangerous to their enemies. Workers of chaos often leave behind their human qualities. We mustn't. However hard the Order pulls you away from those which make you human, the harder you must hold on. Do you understand?"
"I...yes. Yes, I understand."
She nodded, satisfied. "Now, let's get you home shall we? I would like to meet with you tomorrow but I understand that you must keep up to date with your academics so during school hours will not be an option. For now, just tell your mother your spending the day with Zane. And, please, bring some practical clothing. Your training shall begin. Zane will pick you up at three-thirty and you should be home around eight-thirty."
"Um, okay, I guess."
She stood and walked over by my. She was only about an inch taller. I guessed her to be in mid-thirties, though she could pass off as late twenties. "Come, we must go meet Zane." She leaned down and motherly wiped a stray tear off my cheek. "There, your much prettier when your not crying." What came out of my mouth was part sob, part laugh, and part choking. "I know you'll fit in here. It'll take time, but this really will feel like a second home. Where you're not out-casted because of your differences. Instead, your honored for them."
After that we walked out. The entire time we ventured to Zane we remained quiet. I'm fairly certain I saw about half a dozen different sides of Sophia and it left me spinning, unsure about my opinion of her. We finally reached the door we entered in. Zane was standing by it, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet, looking awkward. His face lightened, though, when he saw us.
After a short talk, one that I barely paid attention to, Zane put his hand on the small of my back and guided me out. We passed Patrick. To him I gave a friendly smile and a small wave before departing. We walked out to Zane's car and he opened the door for him. Wordlessly I sat down. Zane went over to the drivers door and used the door to get in. He sat there, hands on the wheel, but didn't start the car.
"Please," I begged, "don't ask me if I'm okay."
"I wasn't planning on it," he responded simply. That made me smile just a little bit.
He started the engine and pulled out, off the dirt road. We passed fields of nothing, but I knew they contained much more than nothing below them.
I didn't think about what had happened the past twenty-four hours.
I didn't think about how my father had lied to us.
Didn't think about how maybe, just maybe, he did that to protect us.
Or why there may, possibly, be a good reason that he left us, and I just didn't know it.
Or how apparently this really powerful goddess thought I was good enough to give special powers to.
Or how everyone seemed to find me even more special than the other Blesseds.
I didn't think about what that might mean.
I didn't think about how much my life had been turned upside down and totally screwed over.
Or what Sophia meant about clutching to what made me human.
I didn't think.
Instead I leaned back and closed my eyes. I enjoyed the breeze and the April air in eastern California. I enjoyed Zane being next to me. Positive I felt his gaze on numerous occasions.
Instead, I enjoyed.
When I got home I went upstairs and laid down, feeling the days events try to flood me and drown me. I pushed them aside, or at least, I tried to. I stared at the pictures on my wall, and I reminisced the day each one of them were taken. I smiled at the memories of normality, a thing that seemed like it was suddenly light years away.
At four-thirteen my mom came home and rushed to my room. She asked me twelve times if I was okay, if her baby was all right. I assured her I was fine, but my heart wasn't in it. She must have sensed I was tired because she didn't hover nearly as long as I expected. I just laid there. Around six I went downstairs and ate with my mom. It was a quiet ordeal. I don't think my mother understood it, but she knew there was something.
And as eccentric and hovering as my mother is. She doesn't pry if it's clear you don't want to talk about it.
After lazily pushing around my food and taking a bite every now and then, I went back upstairs, I texted Si asking for the homework and she responded. Good news was that homework was minimal and I had all the supplies at home. I finished it within an hour.
I walked over to our bathroom and splashed water on my face, taking deep breaths, finally allowing myself to think back on the day. And I did what any logical person would do.
It got to the point where I grabbed a towel and held it to my mouth to subdue the noise. I sank to the floor in despair and defeat. I leaned my back against the wall and I felt sorry for myself. I mourned. Mostly about my father. For the first time in years I let myself mourn over the life I didn't get. Now, not only did I get robbed of the life with my adoptive father, I found out I was robbed from my life in Italy. I always knew I was born there, but knowing that my mother had to give me up for my own protection hurt like a fire in my heart. Somehow, I never felt like I was missing out on that life when I assumed that my mom had given me up like the weekly trash. Knowing that she loved me, that she would have wanted to keep me, tore me up.
When I was little, after my dad left, I would cry like this every day. After a couple years I only did it once a week or month. Somewhere around fourth grade I just stopped. I had become sick of crying over him. I hadn't cried over my lost life since. It felt like the hoover dam broke and was crashing over me.
I felt like I lost everything all over again.
After a while, I wasn't sure how long, I stopped. I wiped my tears away with the towel and just leaned back, focusing on taking deep breaths, though for a while they were shaking. Eventually I forced myself to stand. I pushed my hair out of my eyes. I used toilet paper and blew my running nose.
I looked myself in the mirror. I pushed my hair out of my eyes. My green eyes looked darker after I cried. My eyes were also still red, so you could tell tears had recently fallen. My nose was red as well, and my hair was all over the place.
I was disgusted. I had cried so much recently. I hadn't cried this much since I was little. Shove it away and move on. That was typically how I dealt with things that emotionally hurt. I saw a small tear escape my eyes, and I vowed it would be the last.
I was done crying.