Okay, I'm either brave or possessed.
But I've decided to post a chapter from my WIP.
I would love some constructive criticism, or any comments on it at all.
Here we go...*bites nails*
Another day, another flying plate.
“Mom!” Darcy screamed, ducking as a cup followed the plate. Thankfully it just bounced off the wall, the corner chipping, but was otherwise salvageable. She stooped over, grasped the broken plate pieces in her hands and ignored the old wounds that re-opened and fresh ones making their debut.
Mae Hallow was having another one of her episodes. They had taken up a significant part of Darcy’s childhood, and she remembered that they got progressively worse after her Dad died and her sister had been taken for service two years ago.
The past two years of her life had been hell, but it was her life. And you deal with the hands you’re dealt, she told herself. You don’t complain. You just try to make the best of a bad situation and pull the best poker face possible so no one can tell if you’re aching inside.
Mae collapsed in a heap on the kitchen floor, murmuring to herself as she rocked back and forth. Darcy found a rag and hid the broken pieces, making the whole nasty situation disappear, and steadied herself against the counter. Slick blood seeped between her fingers. She took a deep breath, clenched her fist and grabbed another cloth to staunch the wounds before comforting her mother.
“Everybody leaves. Everybody. Everybody leaves...” Mae rocked back and forth, back and forth, eyes wide and glistening. Darcy stooped over, swept the matted hair from her mother’s eyes and rested a comforting hand on Mae’s shoulder, only to feel her tense against the touch.
“It’s going to be okay, Mom. Everything will be okay.”
“Nothing’s okay,” she cried, “Derek, Raina....gone. Gone forever. I have nothing left, nothing.”
What about me? Darcy thought, feeling tears scorch and well in her eyes. Am I nothing?
“I have nothing but you.” Mae grabbed Darcy’s arm with a bruising force, refusing to let go. “Don’t ever leave me.”
“Mom...” Darcy grew uncomfortable.
“Please don’t go.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” Darcy continued stroking the hair on her mother’s crown and wondering when their roles had been reversed, then realised they always had been.
“But,” Mae’s bottom lip trembled with emotion. “If you have to go...”
“I’m not going anywhere--”
“Don’t forget to say goodbye. No one ever says goodbye.”
Darcy paused, but nodded her assent, watching her mother crane her neck, eyes pleading for an answer.
“I promise.” Darcy patted her mother’s hand, reached down and gripped her beneath the armpit to pick her up. Mae stumbled forward as Darcy helped her out of the cramped kitchen and into her bedroom, before tucking her under the sheets, closing the curtains and shutting the door behind her. Darcy leaned against the hard wood, and blinked the last few tears away. If she cried every time this happened, she would dissolve in a sea of salt. Pragmatism was the name of the game. The key to survival.
The kitchen needed a good clean and her homework lay untouched and abandoned in her bag, just like every other night. But if she neglected it one more time...well, the repercussions would be dire. Especially where Ms. Buchanan was concerned.
Ten minutes later, the kettle screeched and Darcy poured herself a well deserved cup of coffee after searching every last corner for shards of broken porcelain. Mae and Darcy had a habit of walking around the house in their feet, and after the twentieth time she sliced her foot open, she realised a thorough clean was desperately needed.
The phone rang as Darcy dumped her bag on the table, rummaging around in its depths. Thanking the distraction, she ran to the phone.
Dense, thunderous silence.
Darcy froze “Raina?”
It couldn’t be Raina, she decided. Just her own wishful thinking. Raina was in service for another year. There was no contact with family during service. It made it that much harder when the delegates died.
Darcy put the phone back on its hanger and tried to stop herself trembling. She had that eerie feeling that something was wrong, but tried to ignore it. Even though she generally trusted her gut and this time it wouldn’t stop turning.
When her dinner made an unwelcome appearance on the kitchen floor, she decided it was time for a run.
After cleaning up, she raced out the door. The sun was setting, and the greenish tinge fell across Lexington Avenue. After the first three nuclear explosions, radiation seeped into the atmosphere and left an odd green glow across the skyline. The streets were almost deserted, as per usual, since the habitants’ feared contamination; even if the Alliance had assured them it was benign.
Darcy scoffed and began pounding the pavement. But she didn’t care about the radiation. It was an everyday part of her life; like breathing.
Well, like breathing toxins, but breathing nonetheless.
Darcy turned the corner and beat down the street to the hum of the streetlights and passing cars. But when she heard a sniffling, sobbing sound coming from the alley up ahead, she slowed. It was Conrad Reeler. He was on her cross-country team at Second school.
“Conrad?” He jerked up, rubbing his eyes and flushed. Darcy kept the beat of the street on her toes while Conrad wiped his eyes dry and his skin raw.
“Hey, Darcy. Practicing?”
“I just needed a distraction,” she shrugged, edging closer to him. Conrad tensed, and pulled himself straight. “Are you--?”
“Okay?” He scoffed. “Of course I’m not okay. My little brother is being sent to die, and I’m just meant to sit back and take it? No, I’m very much not okay.”
“That wasn’t what I was going to say.” Darcy stopped moving and planted her feet.
“I was asking whether you were coming. I think you need a distraction too.”
Conrad paused, wiped his face clean and jerked his hands through his heavily-mussed hair.
“Yeah, I think maybe I do.”
Conrad and Darcy shuffled down the street, towards the usually abandoned park. At least there they could talk. At least there they wouldn’t have to act happy. At least there they could be free.
“So, you want to talk?“ Darcy said, sitting on the rusty swing at the far side of the rusted fence. Acid rain does nothing for steel. “Talk.”
Conrad pulled a hand through his hair, one of his most common ticks, and stood opposite her, between the roundabout and the see-saw. Darcy waited for him to gather his thoughts, which seemed like an endless struggle from the expression on his face.
“Why are you doing this, Darcy?”
“Because, believe it or not, I know what you’re going through. You aren’t the only one to lose someone.”
“But Raina was older than you.”
“It doesn’t make it hurt any less. Age is just a number. Family is a lifetime. And it’s hard not to be affected by that.”
Conrad’s shoulders slumped. “I guess you’re right. It just doesn’t seem...right? He’s only thirteen.”
“Aren’t they all?”
“But he’s so small. And he has asthma. I see him coming home from training with bruises and he doesn’t even whimper, doesn’t even flinch. Every broken bone, every wound and scar—they’re like a badge of honour.” Conrad shuffles his feet through the gravel, growing angrier with every swipe, letting it all out. If the ground was a person, they would have been unconscious and bleeding by now, Darcy thought, but let him continue. Everyone needs to vent sometimes, and Conrad had a damn good reason.
“It’s just not fair.”
“But it’s life.”
“But it’s life.” Darcy agreed, and the heavy gauntlet of truth bore down on them.
“The funny thing is,” Conrad laughed, the humour long gone and replaced with anger. “Twenty years ago? He would be safe and sound at home, probably bugging me for a game of basketball. God, if that’s all it took to keep him here, I’d play basketball till my hands fell off.”
“I know the feeling.” Darcy hung her head, but then snapped it up. “Wait, what?”
“Yeah,” Conrad smirked “they introduced a new law about twenty years ago, declaring each family were only allowed to have three children. Any more were supplementary. If the number went above three, the cycle would begin again, and the fourth child would then be the first born. And it is the duty of the first-born to protect and serve. Till death do us part.” There was no humour in his laugh and he slumped over the roundabout, grabbing its rusted steel bars between his hands.
“I never knew that.” Darcy let Conrad vent, knowing from personal experience that someone trying to comfort you was the most irritating thing in the world. Conrad was like her. When you’re about to lose a sibling, you just want to be left alone. But the fact that she understood, even if she said nothing, did nothing, but stayed there, would be enough to make him realise he wasn’t alone.
When the person closest to you is taken, that’s the one thing you never want to feel.
“That’s the beauty of being kid number three,” Conrad turned his head and half-smiled. “You’re well versed in legalese.”
“Whereas us second borns are destined for a life of servitude.”
Conrad quirked an eyebrow. “Don’t most of you guys end up teaching?”
“Exactly.” Darcy smirked as Conrad laughed.
Conrad pushed himself off the roundabout, turned and made his way to the swings sitting next to Darcy.
“Damn these things are small.” He said, wriggling between the bars. Darcy laughed, pushing herself back and forth, gaining momentum.
“They aren’t built for your average sixteen year old, Conrad.”
“Seventeen.” Darcy slowed down and smiled at him.
“Yeah, it was my birthday last week.”
“Well then, happy birthday.” She said, leaning over and softly, sweetly, swiftly kissing him on the lips. Conrad’s green eyes flashed.
“Well, that was unexpected.” He laughed, beginning to propel himself back and forth, just as Darcy had begun to do again.
“Well, it was that, or buy you an actual present. And since shaking me for change would be a silent affair, I thought it was the better option.”
“Well, as long as it makes you feel better.” He laughed. “Just don’t let Lorie find out.”
Damn, Lorie, Darcy instantly winced at the thought of Conrad’s girlfriend finding out about her kissing him. Even if it was purely innocent, Lorie was a champion kick-boxer, and strangely possessive of her boyfriend. Darcy shuddered.
“Let’s keep that our little secret, then?” Darcy propelled herself back and let the swing carry her back forth. All of the fun, none of the work. Bliss.
They stayed like that for another two hours, swinging back and forth, letting the weight of the world slip off each of their shoulders, if only for a moment.
“So how are you feeling?” Darcy asked eventually.
“Better. Worse. Both.” He sighed and jumped of the swing, landing in a crouch five feet away while his swing swung aimlessly, lonely after him.
“Yeah. Both.” She agreed. Darcy paused and watched the sun completely set and nightfall come. She sighed. “I better go.”
“Darcy...?” Conrad called as she pushed open the rusty gate at the back of the park, deciding on taking the long way home.
“How did you know?”
“Not to ask if I was okay? Any other person would have.”
“I’m not any other person,” she half-smiled.
“I know,” Conrad smiled. Darcy paused, and shook it off, but couldn’t help but get a niggling feeling in the nape of her neck. She kept staring at him. Conrad, with his messy blonde hair, kind, but currently bloodshot green-eyes and the smile that seemed to echo in her mind...
Conrad cleared his throat and Darcy internally kicked herself. “So how did you know?”
Darcy stopped, lowered her lashes and answered honestly. “Because, it’s been two years, and I’m still not okay.”