Downstairs, people were up to their usual purposeful movements, some hurrying through dinner. I realized I hadn’t eaten in several hours, as I rushed by the cafeteria once more. By the time my eyes adjusted to the new dimness, I was near the main door.
“Hey! You came!” I heard Gamut exclaim.
I smiled at his reaction and was amused when Grange followed with an annoyed sigh. “Yep. I said I would.” I stopped in front of him and blushed a little when he didn’t look away. “Did I miss anything?”
“Nope. Nothing. We’ll be relieved soon.” He paused awkwardly. “I was wondering… If you haven’t eaten yet… Would you want to, um… Would you have dinner with me?”
His question took me off guard. “Really? Uh, sure. I’d love to eat dinner with you… Um, if you want.” My heart was beating a little fast. Was I nervous? It must have been the way he stared at me.
“Of course! I’ll walk with you to the cafeteria, when the others take our place. It shouldn’t be long now. I was so sure you weren’t going to be able to make it,” he laughed uncertainly.
“Um, I’ll just sit over here.” I pointed to the closest of the old trophy cases. As I climbed up, I made myself take a deep breath and continued to take in my surroundings. I could feel Gamut’s eyes on me from time to time but did my best to ignore it.
Their replacements were early. As I watched them approach, I made out a larger figure behind them. Did he oversee each changing of the guard?
Derik eyed me, as he passed by. “Grange. Gamut.” He nodded to them. “Just making a round for the afternoon. Have you noticed anything out of the ordinary?” he asked, as he climbed onto a window ledge to peer over the boards. He was tall enough to see without stretching, and I couldn’t help but stare at him as he made the fluid movement up. It looked effortless. My heart was racing now, and I struggled to catch my breath.
Grange answered, “No, sir. Nothing. Gamut?”
“Huh?” Gamut had been watching me. Had he noticed my reaction to Derik? I hoped not. “Uh, no.” He looked at Derik briefly, then slid his eyes back to me. “Nothing important’s escaped my sight.” This statement brought a deep blush, one I was sure was noticeable through my sunburn, even in the dim lighting. I dipped my head and hid my face from view. Sheesh. What was with this kid?
“Right,” Grange said under his breath.
Then I heard Derik’s feet hit the floor and jumped a little. He looked at Gamut through narrowed eyes, obviously not taking to his implied meaning. But he continued past the two of them. “Switch off,” was all he said, and they handed their weapons over to the other men I had nearly forgotten.
Gamut reached a hand out to me. “Shall we?” His eyes met mine.
I couldn’t help but smile at his directness. “Sure, why not.” And I allowed him to help me down from the trophy case. It was another moment before he released my hand. Grange was following Derik up ahead of us, as we made our way toward the cafeteria, and threw a look over his shoulder. It wasn’t exactly nice, but it wasn’t menacing either. More like something an annoyed friend might do. I leaned toward Gamut slightly. “What’s Grange’s deal?”
“Oh, him? He’s just a killjoy. He feels I wasn’t taking the job seriously enough because you were distracting me.” He smiled smugly.
I glanced at him in alarm. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to –”
He stopped me. “Hey don’t worry about it. I’m not gonna say you weren’t a distraction. A welcome one.” His smile was somewhat shy now. “But I take the work seriously. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t. Besides, he’s just jealous.” And he continued walking.
I stood grounded for a second, then followed. “Jealous? Why?” I asked, genuinely confused.
He laughed, “Seriously,” and rolled his eyes. “Come on, I’m starving.” He led me into the cafeteria.
I glanced back into the hall and saw Derik standing, arms crossed, in the shadows. Did he disapprove of my being by the main door? Or did he dislike Gamut? And why did it matter? He wasn’t my father. I returned my attention to Gamut. Even in the diminishing light, I could see better than in the hall. Now I could make out more than just his size. He was about a foot taller than me, and lean. But now I could see the shade of his warm skin and his dark eyes. Dimples formed in his cheeks when he smiled, and he never stopped smiling, as far as I could tell. We went through the line together, and I tried to remain oblivious to the stares around us.
“So, what were you thinking about earlier?” he asked, as we sat.
He smiled even bigger at my blank stare. “The first time you came to the main door. When you stood at that section out of the wall?” He gestured over his shoulder.
I looked down embarrassed, as I remembered hoping they hadn’t noticed.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be – well, yes, I guess I did mean to be nosey. Sorry,” he said sheepishly. “You don’t have to tell me.”
Suddenly I felt almost guilty. “No, it’s not that… Um, do you know anything about me? I mean, have you heard how I came to be here?” I put my spoon down.
He actually blushed a little but kept eye contact with me. “Well, I’ve heard a few things being tossed around…” He noticed my eyes widen and rushed on, “But I don’t believe most of it. Karroll said she spoke to you, and you told her what really happened. Though, to tell the truth, I wouldn’t have believed it from anyone else.” He reached across the table and rested his hand on mine. “It’s an amazing story.”
I exhaled a quick breath, “Yeah,” and did my best not to pull my hand away, afraid of hurting his feelings. When I did pull it back, I moved it to my spoon to continue eating. I looked down at my bowl, as I continued talking. “I was just thinking… about—well, those spaces in the walls used to be trophy cases.” I glanced up at him.
He frowned for the first time. “Trophy cases? Really. Huh. I guess that makes sense. What kind of trophies?” He started eating his food again.
“Oh, well, different sports, mostly. Baseball, softball, basketball, a few track and field, and some cheerleading.” I thought about it for a second. “I think there might have been one for an academic competition and a few music awards, too.”
He perked up some more. “Oh! I’ve read about baseball! Seen some pictures in a book upstairs. That’s the one where you hit the ball with the stick, right? They called it a bat?”
“Yeah, that’s the one,” I nodded.
“What’s cheer – cheerleading?”
I stopped eating. I had never been much into sports in school, so I wasn’t the best person to be answering these questions but did my best. “Well, it’s basically the group of people, girls mostly, trained to cheer for the sports teams at school. They practiced almost as much as the other athletes but had pompoms and jumped around in these little—never mind, you wouldn’t be interested in it.” I started eating again.
“Oh, I don’t know… That sounds like something I’d be interested in,” he smiled slyly. Guys really don’t change all that much. He could tell, by the look on my face, I wasn’t angry, only slightly amused. “You still haven’t told me what you were thinking about though.”
I paused again and pushed the nearly empty bowl to the side, as I collected my thoughts. “Well.” I sighed. “So, you believe the whole time-travel thing, then?” I looked at him.
His eyes turned grave. “If Sabella says it’s so, then I believe. But what’s more important is do you believe?” He had moved his bowl to the side as well and placed his hands around mine, holding them in place.
That alone would have made me nervous, but his eyes on me made my heart beat faster. It was nothing compared to my reactions to Derik but a reaction nonetheless. And why I was thinking of Derik at that moment, I didn’t know. I took a deep breath. “It makes sense to me, I guess. Though I’ve always thought that time-travel could be possible, I never imagined experiencing it myself. But somehow it seems… logical? I don’t know, but… yes. I do believe it. Besides, it’s hard to argue with Sabella.” I almost laughed. “Really, it’s a bit overwhelming.” I slumped over and dropped my head down between my arms, resting my forehead in the triangle they formed. The table was cool against my face.
I felt one of his hands move to my hair, smoothing it down. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. I should have but I didn’t. It would be immensely trying.” He lowered his voice, as he moved closer to me. “But don’t worry, please. You have friends here. Glenna, Sabella, Karroll and Merritt. And I’m here. I’d like to be your friend. Anything you need, anything at all. Don’t hesitate.” He paused and I felt his hands tense ever so slightly over my hair. “And I’m sure Derik cares for your well-being to some degree, as closely as he’s been watching you these last few moments.”
I raised my head suddenly, Gamut’s fingers trailing through my hair, and I followed his gaze to see Derik start walking toward us. Gamut’s hands rested lightly on mine again, and I pulled back from him slowly, as Derik got closer.
“Has Glenna spoken with you?” he asked.
I shook my head dumbly.
“She says she’s unable to ‘attend’ to your first aid training today. She asked me to do it but—”
“But you don’t have time, right?” I asked.
Derik glanced between Gamut and me before continuing. “Actually—”
“Hey, that’s alright,” Gamut interrupted. “I know the workings of the infirmary forwards and backwards. I can show Haylee everything she needs to know.”
Derik hesitated, seeming to struggle with what to say or do next. That was odd. He didn’t seem the type to ever have that kind of trouble. He looked as though he might be angry but closed his eyes briefly before speaking to me. “Is that what you would like?” he asked, with a controlled voice.
He’d asked what I wanted? I didn’t know what to say. I imagined I risked hurting Gamut’s feelings more, as I couldn’t see why Derik would care what I did, as long as I didn’t cause any more trouble. “I, uh… I guess, if it’s not any trouble, Gamut could show me.” I looked at Gamut tentatively.
He smiled at me. “It’s no trouble. We’ll head straight over.”
I turned to Derik, who wasn’t looking at me. He straightened. “Great. Get to it then.” He started to leave. “We should start with the self-defense tomorrow,” he said, as he left.
“Uh, okay,” I called after him. I watched him leave.
“So. Are you ready to get started?” Gamut asked, regaining my attention.
“Sure. As soon as you are.” And we headed out.
Once we were in the infirmary, Gamut lit some lanterns, and the room was nearly as bright as if we had flipped a switch.
“It’s too bad we don’t have electricity,” I commented.
“Oh. Well, we could, but we don’t have any light bulbs so… But we’ve got somebody working on that,” he replied.
I frowned. “What do you mean ‘we could’?” I perched on the examination table.
“Well, we do have an electrician. Someone who specializes in electricity,” he clarified. “So, if we had the light bulbs, we could have the artificial lighting.”
“Oh, really? How does that work? The electricity thing.”
“We’re not exactly sure, it’s just their ability, to pull electricity from one place to another. They don’t even need the wires, they can just sort of jump it.”
“Oh, well, that’s pretty handy,” I smiled. “Like a generator?”
“Yeah. And you should see him in a fight. Now that’s something.” He was standing close to me now, his smile faltering as he realized how close.
“Um. What do you do?” I asked, impulsively.
He blinked and moved a little ways away. His smile blazed again. “A little bit of this, a little bit of that,” he joked. “No, seriously, mine’s not all that useful. Well, it can be in some situations. I’m more productive in hand-to-hand situations, anyway. But it’s more of a sensing, really… I can tell, or feel, when I’m being watched. It’s weird, a little tingling at the back of the neck, the base of the skull.” He wiggled his fingers behind his head. “Kind of like goosebumps, I guess. I can feel their eyes on me, whoever it is, and I have an idea of where they’re watching from. You know?” He didn’t look at me.
“Kind of a heightened sense of awareness, huh? You hear about things like that, to a degree. I mean an instinctive kind of thing. Yours is, like, what? Several times over?”
“Well, yeah…” He glanced up and caught my look of fascination. “I guess I almost forgot you’re not from here… you know what I mean.”
I was just remembering something. “Is that what happened in the cafeteria? You felt Derik watching us? Before you saw him, I mean?”
“Yeah… He was there for a little bit before he started walking toward us. I’m not sure why he didn’t come up right away, unless…” he trailed off.
I frowned and shook my head a little. “Unless what?”
He thought for a moment. “Unless he didn’t like me touching you? There seems to be something there, anyway. I don’t know… It was probably nothing. Don’t worry about it.” He shrugged it off. “Let’s get started, okay?” He moved over to one of the cabinets and pulled a few things out. Then, he looked up suddenly. “Do you know CPR?”
I slid off the table. “Actually, I do. I had to for a job I had last summer… well, it’s been almost a year, anyway.” I walked over to the work surface he was spreading things across.
“Oh… too bad.” He was carefully watching what he was doing. “I was hoping we might work on that,” he said, quietly.
Astonishment spread across my face and I gave his shoulder a playful backhand. “Gamut.”
He looked up at me. “What? You can’t blame a guy for trying.” He laughed and went back to his work.
We spent the next hour going over the various medicines in the infirmary. He told me what worked for what ailment, how to properly care for wounds of various degrees. The worst wounds didn’t make it to the infirmary. But other serious injuries, more often than not, were attended by Glenna. Most of what I learned, I had already known from past training, or would have known based on common sense. However, many of the bottles and tubes contained medicines of which I had never heard, so the training was necessary.
“This,” he said, as he was putting things back in their proper locations, “is the burn ointment you said you used earlier? It is made from the aloe plant. We actually grow it up on the roof, so we can make more. I’m telling you this, so you’ll feel free to come use it as necessary. And so you won’t object to using more now.” He gave me a look. “Sit. Please.” And I followed his directions, trying not to laugh at his somberness. He saw this and grinned. “Come on, now. If you’re going to be training with Derik tomorrow morning, you’re going to need this. The pain may have subsided enough by then.”
My feet dangled above the floor again. Derik was right, I’d already been in here too much. “I’m not saying I’m not willing to use it. It’s just… well, I can do it myself, you know.”
“Yeah, yeah. But I can do a better job of it. You missed some spots last time, I’m sure. And you were timid in your application, so…” He gestured with the tube.
“Oh, alright. I can’t argue your logic, I guess.”
“Good. Now this won’t hurt… much.” He smiled in mock malice and pulled my right sleeve up. His fingers were gentle and the cream was cool. I nearly sighed with relief. “See? Aren’t you glad you listened to me?” He followed with the left arm. “Let me check under your hair, okay?” he asked, and I lifted my hair off of my neck. I felt him run his fingertips along the border of my shirt and I shivered a little. “How’s that feel? Hurt at all?”
I shook my head because that was all I could do.
“That’s good. I don’t see anything there either.” I could almost feel his breath on my neck, and then he pulled away. “Okay, you can lower your hair now.” And I did. In front of me again, he studied my face and smiled slightly. “Your poor red face… and I can still tell when you’re blushing,” he teased. “Here.” He applied some more of the ointment to his fingertips and gently touched them to my forehead, cheeks, and nose.
I was almost afraid to breathe.
When he was finished, he stood and stared at my face for another moment. A look of amazement covered his. “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen skin so fair on a human being.” And I understood what he meant. Most of the people here spent a great deal of time working in the sun, so even the lightest skin was well tanned. But the Amara had skin as pale as mine. Paler. “I know you’re not one of them, don’t worry. I understand how things have changed, but don’t think I’ve ever known anyone to burn so easily. It’s just… even as red as you are right now, you’re so…” He let out a small laugh and lowered his eyes to the tube in his hand. “I’m sorry. That’s inappropriate. I shouldn’t think things like that.” He was replacing the lid, as he turned and put the tube away.
This time I almost forgot to breathe. What? What shouldn’t you think? I wanted to ask. What was with this place? People never act this way around me. Maybe this is Wonderland.
“You should be set,” he said, turning back to me with a smile. “I should be getting to bed. Need some rest. No doubt you do too. You’ve got a long day tomorrow, I’m sure.” He held out his hand, and I placed mine in it and slid off the table.
Standing directly in front of him, my hand still in his, I said, “Thank you… for everything. With everything that’s happened, I…” And I couldn’t go on. I lowered my gaze to the floor.
“Hey. There’s no need to thank me, Sunshine. Your hair’s like sun—I’m sorry… What?” he asked at the look on my face.
Shaking my head, I replied, “It’s nothing.” I didn’t want to explain how my mother had always compared my hair to dishwater, and how I had trouble thinking of it in terms of sunshine.
Amused, he said, “I’ll walk you upstairs, okay?”
I just nodded, and he led me to the door.
Once we had reached the door to the room where I slept, he put one hand under my chin. “I’m not going to say everything will be alright, okay? Just this. Everything will work out as it is meant to… And I’ve heard rumors you’re meant for good things.” He smiled as he met my eyes.
I laughed a little. “Really? And who is spreading these terrible, awful lies?” I joked.
“Don’t you worry about that, alright? My source is legit.” With that, he gave me a quick peck on the mouth. And before I could react, he said, “Now, get some rest, and I’ll see you tomorrow.” He tapped my chin with his knuckle and released the hand he had been holding. “Remember, I’m at the main door, same time everyday.” He went to the next room, opened it the door and, with one last glance, closed it behind him.
I stood dumbfounded, as was my habit since I awoke in this place. Wow. What was happening here? I didn’t know what to think, so I did as he suggested. I went to bed.