He steps away and kicks the loose leg of a picnic table so it tumbles to one side, then he swings around. ‘Or maybe I’m a masochist and I like girls who are as annoying as hell! Don’t try to analyze me, Jenna. I am what I am.’
And I am what I am. I just need a definition for what that is.
Jenna n. 1. Coward. 2. Possibly human. 3. Maybe not. 4. Definitely illegal.
‘Let’s not argue.’ Ethan comes up behind me and places his hands on my shoulders. ‘Why did you cry back in the market? Are you afraid? We’ll talk to Allys. Change her mind.’
‘I’m not afraid, Ethan.’ At least not of Allys. I’m afraid of my thoughts, my feelings. I’m afraid of my fingers against a sunlit window and the shocking relief that comes with it, when I should feel shame. I’m afraid that I feel wildly alive and grateful and like the Special Entitled Miracle Child Jenna Fox, while boxes sit in a closet trapping minds that will never see fingers or sunlight again, and I am too afraid to let them go because I might need them. I’m afraid of a hundred things, including you, Ethan, because everything in the universe says it’s not right, but that doesn’t keep me from wanting it.
And I’m afraid I am becoming something that the old Jenna Fox never was and maybe ten percent isn’t enough after all. I am afraid of Dane and that the something that everyone says he is missing is the same thing Father may have left out of me, too, and that Senator Harris is perfectly right about it all and Father is perfectly wrong. I’m afraid I will never have friends like Kara and Locke again and it will all be my fault. I’m afraid that for the rest of my two or two hundred years I will still have all these questions and I will never fit in.
And I’m afraid that Claire and Matthew Fox will discover that the new, improved Jenna doesn’t add up to three babies at all and never did and everything they risked was for nothing. Because when all is said and done, I am not special at all. Those are the kind of things I am afraid of.
But I am not afraid of Allys.
‘She said she liked me,’ I say to him. ‘She wouldn’t tell.’
‘I saw her eyes.’
I turn around and lay my head against his chest. I listen to his heartbeat. A real heartbeat.
‘We need to talk to her. Soon,’ he says.
Allys is not at school the next day. Or the next. Should I worry?
I listen for sounds. Knocks on the door. Footsteps.
Sirens tracking me down.
When Mother and Father are gone and Lily is out in the greenhouse, I listen, waiting for the silence of the house to crumble.
I wait for creaks on the stairs, and I wonder what it would be like to be imprisoned again. And then when the silence is long and sustained and I am beginning to believe it will always be there, when a tiny doorway is opened and I am trying to slide through to that place called normal, the silence is broken again.
Not by footsteps. But by a voice.
A voice crisp and clear. Not the voice of my past. Not the voice of a dream. The voice of now.
There are no keys flying through the air. No hot glimpses of a night that still escapes me but has changed me forever. No memories of words said in haste. But fresh words that somehow crawl through my scalp until I feel I may be mad.
We need you. Now.
I stomp through our eucalyptus forest, letting my feet come down hard on twisted pieces of bark and twigs, listening to the snap, the crunch, and the sounds I can control. I kick up the woven mat of leaves at my feet and release months and years of decay and send beetles scurrying for cover. The voices are quiet. I slow my pace. Is it guilt speaking to me? Or did Father not understand everything his tampering might lead to? I hear the rush of the creek at the bottom of the incline and the rustle of something else nearby. Birds?
The forest is foreign, an import, Lily tells me. At the turn of the last century, someone thought he could make his fortune raising the timber for railroad ties. As it turned out, the wood was too hard for cutting once it dried, and the groves were abandoned. They spread on their own, sometimes wiping out native species of plants. Lily is not pleased. Original, native, pure—these are the words that matter to Lily. And Allys.
I look at the trees that don’t belong, brought here through no fault of their own. Their bark is soft velvet, mottled and creamy, and their scent is pungent. The leaves, smooth slices of silvery green, create a thick, lacy carpet on the forest floor. Beautiful but unwanted. What have they crowded out that was more beautiful or more important?
I reach out between two trees, pressing a hand against each, breathing in slowly, closing my eyes, searching for something beyond their bark and branches and second-class status on these hills, searching for something like their souls.