CHAPTER TWO – TOO TIRING
Zelda ate lunch with Gabriel before she left.
It was Sunday, one of their rare free days, and exactly 24 hours before their scheduled departure. They had decided to dine in a restaurant in the city, far from the Base so no one would recognize them.
“Over here,” Gabriel heard the girl speak up from behind him.
He turned and flashed her a sheepish smile, then started over to the table occupied by the black-clothed, frail-looking girl. “Hey, I didn’t notice you over there.”
“I’ve ordered for both of us. I hope you don’t mind,” she said, her unreadable gaze shifting from the tabletop to the young man, watching as he took the seat across from her. He looked relaxed and put together, as usual.
“Thanks,” he said, taking a sip of water. “We seldom go out these days,” he sighed, reaching across the table for her hand and playing with her slender fingers.
Zelda shrugged. “There hasn’t been any free time.”
Gabriel watched her intently, his eyes narrowing. “I know you didn’t ask me out just for a social visit. What’s the matter? Do you want to talk about something?”
The girl took a deep breath and exhaled before speaking. “They gave me a really long assignment,” she muttered.
He gazed at her over his water goblet. “Is that your problem? Because I don’t believe so.”
She felt a flash of irritation. Getting inside peoples’ heads was Gabriel’s unique and very annoying special ability. Of course it wasn’t her bloody problem! Her problem was that she was afraid, and that she’d rather die first than admit her weakness.
“I’m afraid,” she bit out resentfully, at last.
The boy stared at her, his hawk-yellow eyes wide and surprised. Zelda was scared? And this was coming from a girl who didn’t flinch at the sound of artillery fire, handling firearms or mecha, or crouching next to bomb-blown corpses. “You’re…afraid.”
Zelda sighed and closed her eyes. “Not exactly…afraid, I suppose, but I’m more unsure and nervous than I’ve ever been. I did a background run on my class and apparently, they’re all troublemakers.” She stopped and opened her eyes to look at Gabriel’s handsome Hispanic face. “Honestly, I don’t want to do it. What if they annoy me and I lose control?”
She began tapping on the tabletop, a frustrated, nervous gesture that made the whole table vibrate. “What if I have a reaction in class? What if our enemies show up in class and harm the students? What if I accidentally hurt them?” Suddenly, she realized that her voice was rising in panic and visibly tried to calm down. “Goodness. I’m rambling on, am I not?”
In response, the boy laughed lightly and patted her clenched, white-knuckled fist. “Would you relax? I’m sure you feel a lot better now that you’ve gotten that out of your system. Trust me, kitten. Everything is going to be fine.”
“Gabriel, I don’t know what to do,” she groaned, burying her face in her arms. “I’ve never felt uncertain about anything before.”
“Tell you what,” he said suddenly, his face breaking into a grin. “I’ll take you to school on Monday. Once your class sees your tough, handsome boyfriend, they’ll quail before you afterwards.”
Zelda blinked, a blank look on her face. “Thank you,” she said. “But you’re not my boyfriend.”
She did not notice him wince. Someday, Gabriel told himself, she will notice. “Can’t we pretend?” He said casually, looking up as their food arrived. “Now, gorgeous, before we tackle the rest of your problems, let’s sample these appetizers. Beluga caviar on toast points and mocktails – a bellini for you, and a mojito for me.”
Zelda peeked at him from beneath her hair. “Gabriel? Do you really want to be my boyfriend?”
Gabriel stared at her, a faint blush tinting his face. Truth be told, Zelda was one of the prettiest girls he had ever seen. She had a pale complexion that contrasted with her long, dark wavy hair. She possessed a particularly pixie-like face with sharp cheekbones, a tiny freckled nose, and pointed chin that made her look mischievous all the time. When she smiled her quirking one-sided smile, her full lips parted to show the points of tiny white teeth.
“I…of course. Of course I do, Zelda.”
The girl’s catlike eyes, her most distinctive feature, looked thoughtful. “Okay then,” she said, giving him a small smile.
“Okay,” he said, reaching for his drink. Then he choked. “What?!”
She looked at him obliquely for a few seconds, and then laughed a secret laugh.
Yuri crept into his sister’s room that evening, bringing with him a dose of her old prescription medicines concealed inside his coat. They were illegally made now, being potent enough to spill over to illicit drug status. They were ridiculously expensive, but money was the one thing Yuri never lacked.
The air-conditioning in the room was freezing, way too cold for January.
“Zelda!” He hissed, switching on the lamp next to her bed. The sudden illumination made him squint, but as soon as his sight could adjust, he saw his twin sister lying on top of her unmade bed. She clearly was not finished yet with undressing, because although she was in shorts, the black corset she had been wearing earlier had not yet come undone. Its straps were tight in places and loose in some, as if yanked in a fit of silent rage.
Sighing, Yuri knelt beside the bed and began loosening the corset. “Zeldele? I’m taking it off. Don’t worry.”
I’m asleep, you idiot, Zelda thought to herself. She preferred to feign sleep, because if she demanded to know what in hell he was doing in her room in the middle of the night, they would just bicker. He always got so offended and defensive.
Yuri knew that his twin was not asleep. His soul, his very essence was intertwined with hers and she would know that he was nearby. Their emotions were in sync, and when one was hurt, the other ached in sympathy as well. She finally gave up and turned towards him.
“I brought you your medicine,” he said.
Silently, she sat up and shrugged the now-loose corset off. She reached for the t-shirt Yuri handed her and pulled it over her head.
Yuri followed her movements with his sharp, fire-coloured eyes. “Did something happen? Don’t try to lie your way out of it, because I can feel it.”
She offered him a weak smile. “Oh yeah?”
He sighed in exasperation. “Tell me.” They had no secrets from each other. They tried, but the other always, always found out.
“I was just mad,” she muttered, uneasy in her brother’s presence. She could shut everybody out, except for him. “As usual. The corset, I couldn’t get the damned thing off…” Zelda crossed her slender arms, looking defensive and daring him to argue.
“I know you did. But that’s not your problem.”
She had to tell. Biting her lip, she inclined her head away from him and whispered, “I had a reaction.”
He was silent. Then he lay down beside her and wrapped his arms around her slim frame, burying his face in her hair and breathing in her scent. She smelled just like him. “Were there…casualties?”
“No. No, not this time.”
“Oh, Zelda.” His voice was sad.
She turned to him and clutched at his shirt. “Will you sleep here tonight? Please?”
In response, he hugged her tight, and everything seemed all right again.
Kirsten yawned as she and Zelda finished stacking the last of the clothes into the suite’s spacious closet. They had quite an uneventful trip to Riverville, except for an overspeeding violation.
“Well, are you all set?” Kirsten asked an hour later. “Do you need me to coach you through your dialogue?”
The other girl shook her head. “No. I’m set, but thanks for asking.”
Kirsten gave another giant yawn. “No offense, Zeldele, but I think early morning just not suitable for this kind of job,” she complained, sleep and fatigue evident in her hazel eyes. “Why not catch a few hours of rest? That police chase through the Undersea highway just about finished me. Now I’m a nervous wreck.”
“I can’t sleep,” Zelda informed her shortly, deftly folding a pair of jeans and then looking at it in curiosity. “Wait, I don’t own jeans. Are these…?”
“Your twin brother bought them for you,” Kirsten said absently. “Now come on, let’s tackle the bedroom.”
Twenty minutes later, the two girls collapsed side-by-side on the queen-sized bed in exhaustion. “You owe me a big breakfast,” said Kirsten, even though she had just announced that she was starting a new diet. “Eggs, hash browns, vegetarian bacon, croissants and orange juice.”
“I’m going to have chocolate milk. You want, you cook.”
“Dammit, Zeldele. I’m dying of hunger here.”
Zelda sighed and got up, tapping the panel on the wall to call for room service.
“You really ought to get out and explore your new surroundings,” Kirsten reminded her, sounding sleepy. “And please, Zelda, please don’t bring weapons to school tomorrow.”
Zelda just smiled. She would show up in class tomorrow, armed to the teeth.
She had to. Just in case.