Don't Be Fooled By Cold-Hearted Snakes
Love is a Ring Toss Game
In books there are always two types of people, the bad ones and the good ones and nothing in between. I learned early that life wasn't like the stories. People weren't just one thing or another. In stark contrast, it seemed the opposite; even when they were clearly good or undeniably bad, their motives were often as defining as their actions.
I think most people understand that nobody starts off their story attempting to make the decision that will cause the most havoc. Because of this I believe that nobody would judge me before hearing me out from my beginning.
If you ever wanted to feel cold—chilled deep into your bones and to the point you'd be convinced your blood will never run warm again, then I recommend standing at the steps of the abandoned library in subzero temperatures. Tears on your skin would also be an added 'benefit' but only if you could spare them. It might seem abnormal to you but ironically, it is one of the last memories I have of being normal. Sure, I may have been exhausted, hungry, upset and dejected but that was normal enough, especially for around here. I used to be that sad frightened girl, untainted by ambitions and certainly not a criminal. I never in a million years would have considered myself capable of becoming a bad person.
Stiff gale winds cut sharply against my face. A barely-there, worn too-thin parka, no mittens with a rejection letter from the National Academy firmly gripped in my icicle fingers. They didn't want me and McKesson was late.
I shuffled up a few steps to where the snow drifts were less prominent and sat stiffly on the cracked concrete stairs. In moments my rear end was numb and pins and needles were poking at my skin underneath my tights which were underneath my jeans—during the winter, layers were essential. The wind was still biting, it was blowing my hair everywhere and the air was so dry and static filled—I was already dreading the amount of combing I was going to have to do to detangle my hair tomorrow.
Would I even have a place to stay tomorrow? I had been counting each penny and hedging every bet on the belief that the national academy would hire me.
A car pulled up quickly, I looked up to examine it, but it wasn't Mick. I'd know that without a glance—nobody I knew could afford something like that. A car, how absurdly luxurious—especially when some people didn't even have a roof over their head or other didn't have food for the next morning! It had to belong to someone from Vellisima or another better-off contingent.
"Hurry up and get in!" I heard Mick call out as the window opened.
My mouth dropped open.
"Stop freezing your tail off! It has heat vents and everything!" I saw his breathe fog-like white tendrils as he exhaled his words into the icy wind.
"What the—where did you? You didn't steal it, did you McKesson?" I asked getting to my feet slowly, still in awe.
"I'm borrowing it," He explained, "get in, I'm wasting fuel idling and I promised Capper that I'd have almost as much fuel as when I took it out,"
"This is Capper's car? I didn't know he had—"Money. Nobody had money.
"No, it belongs to a friend of Cappers' friend, just get in Percy," he insisted.
I walked quickly to the passenger side; I'd never been in a car like this before. In fact, I had only been in a car twice in my life. Once in a ratty, smelly taxi car when my mother was being hurried to the hospital with complications when having my brother (since I was too little to be left alone) and then more recently in dusty, veteran associations charity car following my grandfather's funeral. All veterans, even the poor ones, got a proper burial and their next of kin rode in an old town car in the procession.
I didn't know anything about cars but I was pretty sure this car was old. Maybe something from the 1970's—long before my grandfather was ever born. "Do you even have a license?" I asked after running my hands over the smooth aged leather seats, and then fastening the corded seat belt.
"Sure, because my family had all this extra money around for the bureau fees, insurance and the lessons," Mick scoffed, "but don't worry driving isn't hard—and remember that I've driven the county lawn mower for almost a decade of summers and the principles are the same,"
"Ugh, I hate that I still trust you after hearing that," I groaned, but Mick was one of those capable people, the type that was an easy natural at anything they put their mind to.
"It is a simple but sleek five gear transmission, I'm old hat and I've only been driving it twenty minutes," he bragged. "Plus this is Clayton, nobody else has a car, so we just have to keep it on the road," he offered with a chuckle.
He got it moving then, surprisingly gracefully as far as I could tell—a hell of a lot smoother than that taxi ride ages ago, when the cabbie stalled several times, more than likely out of sheer terror because my mother was screaming and shrieking profanities from the backseat.
"I got the results back from the interagency placement exams," I told him; I figured I might as well get it out of the way. I was staring at the flakes of snow hitting the glass windshield.
"Oh, yeah?" He responded, I could tell from my periphery that he was turning to look at me.
"I didn't make it in," I surprised myself with how even my tone sounded. "The academy doesn't want m— I mean they said my technology skills were so low—well naturally they are, East Clayton High hasn't had technology education since— I don't even know if East ever had a technology program. But basically they said that it was a definite no, unless I took a bunch of technology upgrading classes—which are crazy expensive. Seriously, I think they think that money grows on trees!" I scoffed, and the trailed on a bit manically "So, um I guess it sounds like all the rich kids from Vellisima are going to be getting all the National Academy jobs," I choked out.
The trees at the skyline blurred, my eyes burned with the tears I was trying to hold in.
"Percy don't, it's their loss! So, you can't program a robot and wouldn't be able to build a virtual battlefield from gadgets and motherboards—but you're a brilliant fighter, an incredible tactician and you have amazing instincts, like what did you score in wilderness survival? Like a hundred percent, right? And you told me you got full marks in target shooting, weren't you the only student in the history of East to get that high of a score? All your marks in every class you took at East were top of the class."
I wiped my nose against the sleeve of my jacket and nodded, "I feel like all your computer knowledge is from 1990's movies and television re-runs but thanks for making me feel better," I scoffed.
"Hey, no mocking, my great aunt Tenniel has an old fashion TV and it still picks up signals from an old rundown broadcasting tower—so a lot of the channels are ancient!" he laughed, "Plus, you said yourself East hasn't had a tech program, I'm a product of my society and education," he teased.
"I just don't know what I'll do now! The money from granddad's house sale is almost all used up. I don't know how I'm going to figure out rent. Everything was so set on getting accepted and training with a squadron at the national academy. I really thought I'd be able to pay for Lucas' school fees and the cost of food, and rent with a government wage, " Maybe it was prideful but I had never really set a backup plan because I felt so certain I was going to get in. "Vainly enough, I thought I'd be a specialist after a few years," I laughed, it seemed so farfetched now—something that had seemed so realistic, so destine mere hours ago was changed instantly with the rejection letter.
"You'll figure it out. Chat with Davenport, he's connected and he'll give you all his best ideas—and he's brutally honest—so he'll be straight with you, won't give you any bull-shit lines just to make you feel better,"
"Yeah," I nodded, "I'll probably do that." Secretly though, I thought I might not because Desmond Davenport had always intimidated me. I think it was his deep eyes that tried to read your mind and soul; and his sharp 'I'd just as soon help you as hurt you' look. Davenport I'd leave well enough alone, if I had any option whatsoever.
"It's all going to work out," he convinced me with a reassuring nod.
I couldn't say I believed him but somewhere in the combination between the heating and his smooth driving and idle talking, my hands stopped trembling and my heart relaxed a little. I was a fighter. I was going to survive. I would find a way.
Things got bad fast. My landlord was threatening to kick us out. I begged for three more days, three more to try and sort something out. I'd beg, steal or borrow just to make sure my brother and I had a roof over our heads. I pulled strings with everyone I knew to get a meeting with the last man on the planet I wanted to work with or be indebted to. It was the last, desperate plea of a girl with dying dreams, an empty stomach and no prospects.
He was the only person remotely within my connections that had any money and that is what brought me to his campaign office. Everything was bright, clean and polished; it was the opposite of everything I was used to and as a result it was off putting. I felt like a foreigner—lost and scared.
Desmond Davenport stood just shy of 6'2"—the military hair cut he typically sported had been allowed to grow in recent months to a more flattering length, short at the sides and longer at the top, perfectly styled with a gel or cream. I noticed that he had taken out the piercing that typically sat above his eyebrow and on his left ear. He was campaigning again, for a bigger piece of the pie this time and I'm sure his PR people had told him a softer image would work better on the cleaner side of the tracks. Unfortunately, there wasn't much he could do about his sharp hawk like gaze and harsh jaw and sharp aquiline features.
Davenport was one of us once. But now the once hood rat had turned into a social figure. It wasn't an easy feat. The powers at be always made sure the right people gained power and the wrong ones didn't get a chance to possess it. Davenport must have clawed, ripped and crawled his way out of the East Clayton gutter and then up the social ladder. His roguish rugged looks would have been a testament of power in East, and now were being revised and polished to convince a bigger audience. Clayton proper and then who knows what was next!
"A friend told me you were coming," Davenport told me, his voice abrupt with a slight East Clayton accent that I never heard in his public addresses when they were broadcast.
I nodded shyly, too flustered to speak.
"Said you needed a job, a hand, something to get you back on your feet," he stated, his eyebrow raised in challenge—as if he didn't feel that anyone deserved a helping hand up.
"Yes, sir," I told him. I wouldn't have been here at all if I hadn't been eating out of the garbage at the back door of Benny's Bagels.
He moved around his desk to sit down, "I thought you'd be a boy, they said you were a fighter. I just assumed," he said nonchalantly.
"Well, I'm not," I bristled, fearing a rebuff more than I feared the man in front of me, "I am a fighter and a good one," I assured with resolve that must have been hidden deeply within myself.
"Hmm," he said, his hand rubbing his chin subconsciously. After a few moments, turning to say, "I'm not sure how much use you'll be,"
He said this with a sharp glint in his eyes, a knowing look. It told me everything I needed to know about him. I was right; I shouldn't trust Davenport as far as I could throw him.
"I can leave if you don't think you have something that will work for me," I told him firmly.
"I had one idea, but I so hate playing the long game," he offered with an exaggerated drawl.
"So what is the idea?" I asked, feeling motivated once more—preservation, hunger, anxiety all stirring within me to create a positive response.
"I'll be in touch on that, leave your contact information with Marseilles at the front desk and she will forward you a stipend," he added with a dismissive wave.
I still had a choice. I could have walked out of Davenport's office without taking his deal and never looking back. I chose to shake hands with the devil the moment I gave Marseilles my banking details. In fact, I felt like I shook hands with him the minute I had considered asking Davenport for his help.
Two hundred credits were visible in my account that afternoon. My mind tore between dreaming about all the food I could buy, considering how I would ration the money and fearing what Davenport might ask me to do in return.
Owing Desmond Davenport was like owing the mob, they always got more than they gave. In an effort to ease my mind I bought a jug of milk and my brother's favorite cereal, at least this way I felt encouraged that I was doing the right thing. And if not the right thing at least my motivation to do the wrong thing was for the right reasons. The relief from our struggle, even if only temporary, would surely be worth the risk and cost.
Authors Note: If you are reading this, please review! I have a fantastic vision for this story and I need to know if there is reader interest!
Honestly, you don't have to say much, at least announce your presence! I need to know how many people would like this to continue.