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   Chapter 17 One on One

Stolen Souls (boy x boy) By m i c h e l l e p a k Characters: 18216

Updated: 2018-02-10 21:47

"Your city sucks and I hate it." These are the first words I tell the mayor when I'm freed from my chains and of that little yellow room where Jules flatlined and then tried to spear himself.

She only shoots me a look. Not an angry one. Not even am offended one. Just eyes me up and down like she's trying to read me. I shrug at her. "I mean, it's terrible. The police are corrupt and Syn breaks into people's houses and stabs little kids. Your city sucks. It's a perfectly objective statement." I hold up my head and undo my ponytail so my hair falls down my back in long, glossy ringlets. I can still smell roses, and when I touch the back of my ear to find the rose is gone, my heart plunges a little. Poor Jules. Even if he hates me and even if he thinks I'm less than human, poor, poor Jules.

"Syn?" She cocks a penciled eyebrow.

"You don't know about Syndicate?" My voice has taken on a robotic quality. I'm too tired to be shocked. I'm too tired for any of it.

"Afraid I don't." She shakes her head and fixes me with another odd look. Her face is wrinkled, though many are smoothed with makeup and creams. She crinkles her nose. "Is is it one of those metal bands Jules likes—liked—so much?"

I can't hide my disgust nor do I want to. "Jules is alive, " I tell her, because he is, and she has no right to talk about him in the past tense like that. "Just because you signed him up to be a lab rat doesn't mean he's dead. And you had no right to do that." My cheeks heat up. "He'll be hurt. He has rights. He has to choose."

"He doesn't have rights, " she says as we shuffle through the complex. It's more colorful here. Not the usual white, but a delightful mix of vomit and beige. "He's not—"

"Alive?" I ask. I shake my head. Hold back a sigh. "Like mother like son."



"Learn to respect your elders. Backtalk is rude."

You may not believe this, but I'm a good kid. Really. I respect authority, follow the laws as best as I can, minus the coffee thing. But I don't respect kidnappers and people who allow the torture of children, no matter their age.

I glare up at her, my whole body a mass of swimming aches. "I want my drawing tablet and I want to go home."

She ignores me as she turns down another hall. I consider running, but she must have a whole bunch of slayers like Kath and Sirius at her disposal, ones who are probably a lot meaner, too. I sigh, relishing the movement in my legs and in the arms pumping at my sides. Could be worse, I tell myself, so suck it up.

After a moment of silence as we rush through the squeaky halls, she continues. "You saved my son."

"Yes, ma'am." She shoots me a look. I cross my arms and scowl. "I'm respecting my elders."

"How do your parents deal with you?"

"The don't."

Her expression softens. "Star... Shirozaki? Is that it?"

I cringe on the inside but nod anyway. The air is heavy with the smell of ash and disinfectant. Makes my fingers jittery, makes me crave my stylus to hold like a smoker would crave a cigarette. I breathe in deep gulps.

"Your parents are good people, " she tells me. "They're just busy. They do important work."

A shiver crawls into my chest. "Are they dead?"

The mayor shrugs.

I wish I could say more. She's their boss supposedly. That's what they told me, we work for the city and the mayor. But I can't think of anything more to ask, don't think I want to. I settle on staring down at my boots. They're still polished and comfy. The army does really get the best.

The mayor turns down another hall, waves to a few people in blazers when they pass us by. They wave back, grinning at me. Cooing. They think I'm cute, kid cute. Maybe they put two and two together and think I'm Jules' would-be boyfriend and that his mother is taking me aside to give me the 'If you want to date my child...' speech that always ends with murder threats. My heart is clogged in my throat because I wish that was it. I wish I could just be a normal guy asking for the permission to date another normal guy, Jules—the boy of my dreams before he became the boy of my night terrors—no less.

I comb my fingers through my hair as she leads me to a room with a smooth gray door and no window. At first, I just stand there, too scared to follow after everything that's happened to me tonight. But then I figure, eh, what could go worse? What do I have to lose?

When you can't answer to either of those questions, let me tell you, you've got some serious life dilemmas on your hands.

The room is warm and the air is thick with the scent of lilacs and roses. Orange light spills over the horizon and seeps into the plastic canvas roof. Vines climb up the white wire arches and flowers of all kind grow in wooden squares. Daffodils, sunflowers, lilies. A greenhouse, how quaint. The rose bushes look particularly sparse, the dirt in front of them uneven and kicked up. Shiny sheers lie at the roots. A lump wells up in the back of my throat.

"Jules was up hours cutting, " the mayor says, "he told me about you."

"He-he did?" My mind is spinning. He hates me. He said I don't have rights. Said I'm not human. His mother crosses deeper into the greenhouse, weaving through the planting grounds. I can only follow, drawing up big breaths of flowers and earth, summer and honey.

She turns to me and smiles. Alone with me, she cries freely. Tears dripping from heavy lids and thick lashes. And I know to her, Ju

e mayor finally raises her head and shrugs at me.

"Yes, in a way, I am."

"You're saying I'm a corpse." I don't think much of the words. They just come out. They feel stiff and disconnected to me, like I'm just stating the way things are.

The mayor winces, and she doesn't even try to hide it. "In a way."

"In a way? I'm either a corpse or I'm not a corpse."

"Tell that to Jules with his zombie obsession." She smiles like she's trying to inject humor into situation, but we both know there's no humor to be had. And her mention of Jules only makes the situation that much worse. I gulp, stare down at my hands.

"That's not a real answer, you know." I've started counting the stars. One, two, three... I lose count, start all over, one two three four five, one two three, one two three four five six seven eight nine--

"Star, why are you counting?"

It's only now I realize I've begun counting out loud, first in a whisper, under my breath, louder still, a soft insisting chant. I wipe my tearless eyes. They burn like they're stuffed up with chili sauce and sand. "Explain, " I beg. My voice doesn't shake. It's the only thing I have to portray confidence, like I'm not so, so, scared. Like my world isn't spinning out of my control and there's nothing I can do to stop. I start counting the stars again, white, burning specks in the distance, though I know it's futile. "Please, what's happening? To me? To Jules?"

I slump back in my chair. Charging. Need to get enough energy to stand up, to say more. I sigh, though it sounds more like a moan. So low and mournful, it scares even me. The mayor stares, but I don't want to look at her. Don't want to try to figure out what she's thinking, feeling, when everything I know and love has gone into a pit of uncertainty. I'm too tired, really, to even try.

"Child, child, child, " she cooes, and she's back to me all at once. Her hand wrapped around the back of the chair, her head close to my ear. She can't offer me comfort and I know I can't offer her any either. Nothing we can do to soothe the hurt in the other. I suddenly feel guilty. She shouldn't have to try to comfort me when she just lost her son.

"I'm fine." I swallow. Make my voice even smoother and lower that my throat hurts. I'm hungry. "Really. Just a little stressed." Still won't look at her, just look out over the buildings that stretch across the horizon, the lights in their windows like thin strings of glittering gold, so far away they match the stars. "Ignore me." I even crack a smile, though she can't see it.

She sighs. I can feel her breath on her cheek. She's just had a peppermint. She doesn't bother climbing back into her chair, just sinks deeper into the ground beside me, looking out at the skyline. We're silent for one minute, then two. The pressure in my head increases, first with another throb, then with a pressure that pushes deep into every segment of my skull, makes my breath hiccup in the back of my chest. I feel like I'm drowning. I feel like I'm crumbling.

"I hate to bear bad news" is what the mayor says when she finally decides to say anything at all, looking past the fading stars, past the streaks of orange and pink in the sky. Her voice is a tired drone.

"My night has been bad news. There's nothing you can say to make it any worse, I promise." Though I'm starting to question even that. My smile quivers on my lips, frozen on my face.

There's another second of excruciating silence, then, finally, like a breath exhaled:

"A body can only survive so long separated from its soul. Star, on your fifteenth birthday, you're going to die."

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