Hello! In my struggles with writer’s block, I’ve decided to do some short-story writing to explore my new protagonists, Jenna and Asher, and get a better feel for their relationship/personalities. This, like the last piece with the two of them, may or may not end up being canon. If it does, this takes place about four years before the main story of book 2.
The prompt I stumbled upon was “Two strangers in a cab.”
Hope you enjoy it!
It was pouring, and I wanted nothing more than to stay inside the restaurant until it let up at least a little. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to be late. Already on thin ice with the staff at The Arc, I couldn’t afford to let them think I tried to run away, again, and lock me up for even longer in the Ward this time. I only had a year left – my eighteenth birthday couldn’t come fast enough – before I could be on my own, and I didn’t want to do anything to mess that up. The owner gave me a sympathetic glance, and for a moment I thought he’d give me a ride back, but I knew that wasn’t going to happen. He was a nice guy, but I doubt he wanted a potentially dangerous, though high-functioning, psychic mental patient – The Arc’s words, not mine – in a space as small as his car with him. On the bright side, he did let me have his umbrella, the sympathy in his eyes increasing when I thanked him.
Waving to the other waitresses from the other side of the glass door, I opened the umbrella and hurried into the rain. The wind was pretty terrible – the phrase “raining sideways” came to mind. I braced myself, pushing against the wind with the umbrella. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of yellow. Thanking whatever deity was watching over me, I hurried to the corner of the street, watching my feet to avoid a nasty fall as I hurried to beat the light turning green. The driver signaled for me to get in, so I did, quickly closing the umbrella again and sliding inside.
“The Arc, please.”
“Hey.” I was so busy fussing with the umbrella, that I hadn’t noticed there was someone on the other side of the back seat.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t-”
“No worries.” He smiled, his green eyes bright and seemingly lighting the taxi’s dark interior. “Would have been rude to make you wait for another one.”
“Th-thanks.” To avoid the awkward silence, I continued, “I’m Jenna.”
“Asher.” Another smile, and a shake of a hand. Our touch seemed to linger a moment longer than it should have, and we both pulled away quickly when we realized it. Letting my eyes wander to the window, I tried to pretend I was alone in the car, so I wouldn’t feel the need to talk, but it wasn’t working very well. I wasn’t sure if the tension around us was coming from me, him, or both, but it was suffocating.
“So you work at DeLane’s?” He called my attention again, and I turned to face him, wondering what had given it away. I realized I still wore my apron with the restaurant’s insignia.
“How long? I go there all the time, and I’ve never seen you around.” Words came so easily to him, as if two strangers in a cab could talk like they were old friends. While wary, I found his easiness to be almost contagious. Without realizing it, I was beginning to relax.
“About two weeks.” I remembered when the staff had said I could get a job – one of the best moments I’d ever experienced. It wasn’t every day I was allowed outside at all, let alone given the freedom to come and go pretty much as I pleased (provided that I always returned).
“Cool. They serve the best burgers there…” His eyes seemed to go off in the distance as he stared at the back of the driver’s seat. As if in a day dream, he leaned back, getting comfortable and snuggling himself into the blue scarf around his neck, so that all I could see was a strip of skin and his eyes, slightly obscured by the blond hair that peeked out of his hat.
“Maybe I’ll see you around in my next shift then?” Why was I nervous? It was silly, that I felt under pressure to speak. I fiddled with the band on my wrist, and he seemed to notice the motion, his eyes darting to the mandatory accessory.
“Oh, you too?” He showed me his wrist, pulling the sleeve of his hoodie up to display the delimiter bracelet. We – psychics, that is – have never been eager to identify ourselves as such, and it was almost a relief to see that he was like me. I hadn’t met many outside The Arc. His delimiter was an identical match to mine, like they all were. In that moment, the small LED light on his flashed twice, signaling that a dose of the drug was being dispensed into his system as we spoke. My last dose had been right before leaving the restaurant. I wondered if he knew what it was like to live without the bracelet, like I had?
I looked away again, not wanting to see the brightness leave his eyes the way I knew it would. We all knew the drugs were for our own good, for the protection of the general public so our abilities wouldn’t get out of control. I knew that better than anyone, but I hated what they did to people’s eyes. Soon after a dose, while the medicine takes effect, the psychic’s eyes lose their spark of life. That bright light that once lit up the small cab was going to turn an ugly, dull, lifeless green.
When I looked out the window again I realized the taxi had stopped, and the entrance to The Arch’s main building stood about twenty feet away from the cab.
“This is me. Thanks, again, for letting me share a cab.” I offered a smile, though I couldn’t look him in the eye, unwilling to see emerald turn to moss.
“No problem – always good to meet a kindred spirit. See you around, Jenna.”
I paid the cab driver, turning for a moment back to Asher. “Bye.”
A part of me didn’t want to leave the cab, didn’t want to say good-bye to Asher. It was completely irrational and ridiculous that I felt that way, that the pressure in my chest had turned into something else entirely. Could he see that? I lingered longer than I should have, and the fear I felt seemed to peek through. Why was I afraid?
“It’ll be alright, Jenna.” Another smile, and this time he reached over and placed a gentle hand on mine – though it was more like the tips of his fingers over mine. This time I couldn’t help but look at his eyes, noticing that they hadn’t changed gone dull – they were still bright, still looking at me with a mix of curiosity and sympathy.
I couldn’t really say anything. Responding with an embarrassed smile, I quickly left the cab, nodding my head at the driver before hurrying inside.
“Looks like crap out there, Jenna. Why didn’t you call for a ride?” I hadn’t thought to…but I wasn’t going to say that. The receptionist walked around the desk to get a better look at me.
“I’m fine. My phone died, and there was a cab outside anyway.” I shrugged, scribbling my name in the sign-in sheet.
“At least you’re out of the rain.” She took the booklet back from me, signing beside my name. “You look exhausted. Dinner’s not for another half hour. Why don’t you go take a catnap or something?”
I followed her suggestion, dragging the umbrella behind me as I made my way to the elevator.
My room was dark when I opened the door, the curtains shut with minimal light coming through small spaces. I walked in and closed the door behind me as I turned on the light. When I did, I wasn’t alone in the room anymore.
On my bed sat a woman. She looked to be some years older than me, maybe in her mid-twenties, and was reading a history book I’d gotten from the receptionist for my birthday. When she looked up, her eyes went straight to mine, and it felt like she was looking into me.
“I wouldn’t call out – no one else would see me…” She closed the book and put it back on my desk. “You have an interesting taste in literature. Not a lot of people read history books for fun.”
I couldn’t move, frozen to my spot in the room as I watched her stand and move towards me. It wasn’t until she stood that I realized she was dressed very oddly. A cloak covered her from the neck down, the hood of it resting on her shoulders. Her hand reached out from under the cloak, cupping my cheek softly as her eyes continued to hold mine.
“Wh-Who are you?”
“A friend. You won’t believe me, I know, and I’m sorry I have to do this, but you’ll thank me later.”
“Wha-?” Before I could finish the word, I felt a jolt of electricity from her hand as she moved it up to my head, palm against my forehead.
“Jenna…Jenna?” The orderly’s voice floated over from the doorway and through the haze of sleep.
“Yeah?” Groggy, I sat up, rubbing my eyes and trying to make out what time it was. “Did I miss dinner?”
“No, but when they didn’t see you they sent me up here to get you. Are you alright?” He sat at the chair by my desk, concern clear on his features.
My head was killing me. “It’s just a headache – probably developing a cold from the rain. Good thing I caught that cab when I did, or I’d probably be worse…”
“Maybe you should get some more sleep?”
“No, I’m fine. I went to bed as soon as I got back. If I keep sleeping I’ll be up at 3.” Shaking my head to clear it, I got up and followed him out and to the dining hall.
Jenna’s slowly but surely settling into my brain right next to Lexia. It’ll be a while before I know her as well as her predecessor, but I’m getting there! I’m hoping that by NaNoWriMo this year I’ll be close to done, so I can use November as that final push.
Hope you guys liked this piece. As always, think happy thoughts!
Image credit: Found on eofdreams.com via Google image search.