The teachers were barely interested in teaching. Like the students, half had not even shown up. Ordinarily everyone would have taken advantage of the faculty’s distraction by convincing them to let the class go early. But instead, they listened aptly to broken lessons, took avid notes of the hastily prepared slides. Today nobody wanted anything more than for their lives to go back to normal.
Some stayed glued to the news feeds all day. It was rumoured that there were still some insurgents in Athens. They said that parts of Kyrios were under Egyptian siege. And in Canada and America, Chile led Paraguay, Colombia, Brazil and other southern nations in vicious campaigns of bombings, shootings, and city sieges. Several times during class, the students heard the sickening roar of hovercraft overhead, but they always passed, and the teachers resumed their lectures with trembling voices.
The first couple of periods passed in a slow-motion blur. At lunch, Timothy and Isabella ate alone in an empty classroom. He had tried to get her to come to the parking lot, the cafeteria, even, but she simply wasn’t up to another game of pretend. Maybe tomorrow. Timothy thought she was still mad about the fundraiser, about Cassandra. About the bruises on her arm.
“I don’t know what’s gotten into you lately, Isabella,” Timothy started, picking the pepperoni off of his pizza and handing it to her. She tensed, unsure if she was ready to go another round with him. She was tired, and wanted to be alone. Taking the delicious pepperoni she offered a generous smile, hoping to assuage his anxiety.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she replied.
“This whole war thing, it’s changed you. You never used to be so high and mighty, and now you act like it’s your personal responsibility to fix the world.”
She remembered what Cassandra had told her. “It’s everyone’s responsibility to fix the world,” she repeated, liking the sound of it. As though she, frazzled high-schooler, could actually have a say in the play of events.
Timothy sighed dramatically. “That’s not the point, I guess. Even before the lockdown, for the past few months, I’ve been feeling as though…as though you don’t really want to be with me anymore.” For a moment, he sounded so vulnerable that Isabella could only stare. He caught himself quickly, though. “It’s not just me. Everyone else feels like you’re mad at them or something. You used to be so nice.”
Was she ever nice? she wondered. Had that word ever been an accurate description of her?
“I don’t know where this is coming from, Timothy. Of course I’m not mad at anybody.” She didn’t have the energy to force herself to say that she wanted to be with him, however.
“I’m just repeating what I’ve heard. Telling you what I’ve seen.”
“I think you’re seeing things that aren’t there.”
He shrugged. How carefree the motion was. As though it was all it took to dislodge the world from his shoulders. “I don’t think so. Something’s off about us. I don’t feel like we connect anymore.”
“Are you breaking up with me?” She tried to keep the hopeful note out of her voice.
“Then what are you going on about?”
Gazing at her, he took her hand and placed something in it. A small box, for holding jewellery. Great. Probably another pair of earrings. “I wanted to give this to you sooner, but William – ”
“What about him?” she snapped. A little too quickly. His expression shifted from hurt to suspicion to anger, all in a heartbeat.
“Well, nothing,” he said coldly. “Unless there is something. You seem very defensive all of a sudden.”
“Why would I be defensive? It’s not like you’re putting me through some sort of cross-examination or something.” She hadn’t grasped the box. Her palm stayed flat, and it rested there like a weight.
“Look, I know you think he’s all quiet and sweet and whatever, but he’s not.”
“No, Timothy, you’re the sweet one, remember?” She didn’t know why she said it, why she didn’t take the box. This was wrong. A gift in the thick of an argument was a barbed hook.
“I’m just saying. He’s not what everyone thinks. He can be pretty jealous, and he’s always been jealous of me.”
“Why wouldn’t he be? You’re the total package.” Finally, she set the box down, crossing her arms as she faced off against him.
“Will you just listen for a minute?” he exclaimed desperately.
Sighing, she lowered her arms. For all the time she spent wishing he would communicate with her, she certainly wasn’t handling this well. This was not much deeper than his usual string of complaints and accusations, but the rawness in his face, the desperation, that was new. “I’m sorry, Timothy, about everything. I’ve just been having a really bad day.” Which should have gone without saying, but she was running out of words. “William’s your best friend. Why would he be jealous of you?”
“He always has been. I was always picked first over him, people listened to me more, I always got better girls.” He smiled at her like it was a compliment, and she made herself smile back. “At first he used to tease me about it, but lately I can see he’s starting to get really bitter. And the way he looks at you – ”
Her stomach kicked a little as she thought about William looking at her. “What are you talking about?” she asked, not quite able to keep the breathlessness out of her voice. She didn’t think Timothy noticed, though.
“He would do anything to hurt me now, I think.” Timothy’s voice held a touch of grief for the loss of his friend. Tentatively, Isabella reached for his hand. “I don’t know what happened. I tried to be a good friend, but he always wants what I have. Even my screwed up family, since his is so much worse.”
“Don’t worry, Timothy,” she soothed, and she meant it now. “We fight sometimes, but you’re there for me when it matters.” She motioned to the box. “What’s this?”
He seemed to shake himself out of his mourning. “Open it,” he urged, smiling in excitement.
When she cracked open the lid, her breath stuck in her throat. Against a fluffy bed of soft cotton sparkled a bright silver ring, a string of tiny jewels that dipped up and down like a sine wave. They went from red to orange to yellow to orange and back again. It was the class ring she had spent so much time designing, but at the last minute, her parents refused to pay for it because she was grounded for one thing or another. Picking it up, she felt its weight in her hand. It was heavier than it looked, and cold to the touch.
“How did you know?” she whispered, searching his eager eyes.
“Do you like it?” he asked, snatching it out of her hand and holding it up to the weak sunlight. “I know how upset you were when you couldn’t have it.”
“I…” For a moment she didn’t know what to say. Conflicting emotions stabbed at her, raising tears of frustration in her eyes. “It’s beautiful, Timothy. Really,” she added when he looked at her in sharp concern.
“It is the one, right? When I was on your tablet there was another green one, but you had marked this one with stars so I only assumed.”
What were you doing on my tablet? she asked silently with a cemented smile, held in place by the barbed hook. Nothing she had was really hers. Timothy did whatever he wanted with all of her stuff. She wanted to feel the joy of being given such a beautiful gift, however, so she tempered down her annoyance and reached out to touch his face. The hopefulness that sparked in his eyes made her stomach feel a little warmer. For the most part, Timothy seemed simply unaware that some people needed space, and that not everybody thought and felt the same way he did. A simple, non-malevolent ignorance. She kissed him lightly, and when she pulled away he smiled, pleased. Taking her hand gently, he pushed the ring onto her finger.
“I promise,” he told her, kissing her again. This kiss, too, was undemanding, quiet, almost relaxing.
“Promise what?” she murmured against him, trying to stay in this marvellous dream.
Brushing her hair away from her face, he gazed at her for a moment. For a moment he looked older than their nineteen years, more profound than the night sky. It was rare, but sometimes he took her breath away, and in those moments she wondered why she ever doubted him. Halcyon.
“Everything,” he whispered.
If anyone was surprised when the alarms went off, it didn’t show. Unlike the absolute chaos of the week before, this lockdown announcement was met with stoic resolve. There were some tears, but the phone calls home were hushed, comforting. The students from grades eight to fourteen held on to each other as they filed into the cafeteria as instructed. No one brought out a guitar. No one offered free pizza. Shivering and murmuring quietly, the kids waited while the vice principal took the stage.
“Good afternoon, everyone,” she said tightly into the microphone, and the screech of feedback made everyone cringe into silence. “I regretfully inform you that we are under attack again. Last time only the north side of Crete was threatened but…but it seems there are Reformists in Chania.”
Frightened babble bubbled to the ceiling like carbon dioxide in a soda.
“Please, please, everyone stay calm. The city board has recommended that no one leave their homes until at least morning. In this case, no one is leaving the school grounds until further notice. There will be zero-tolerance adherence to protocol. By this, I especially mean adherence to sleeping arrangements.” There were some nervous chuckles, but the vice principal barrelled on, cold and straight-faced. “Boys, you will sleep in the science and art buildings. Girls, you will stay in the main building. No one is to leave their designated sleeping area between ten o’clock tonight and eight o’clock tomorrow. Infringement and disobedience will result in immediate isolated confinement. At six you will be called down to the cafeteria for dinner, and there will be a silent study hall period afterward until lights out. Until dinner, I invite you to participate in intramural basketball, floor hockey, or soccer in Gymnasiums A, C, and D respectively. Any other announcement will be made over the intercom, and will be adhered to strictly.” Done with her speech, Mrs. Ewen walked out of the cafeteria without a backward glance at the students.
“Who died and made her king?” Timothy muttered.
“What is this, martial law or something?” someone else asked. More nervous laughter, but it was cut off by the sound of an explosion.
The deafening thunder seemed to shake the school like an angry hand. The students dropped to the floor while their screams rose to the ceiling. Hands were crushed under knees, heads banged together, and teeth rattled.
“Everyone, everyone, stay calm!” one of the teachers yelled through a megaphone. “Everyone, calm down!” This begging was followed by no explanation as to why they should be calm. Isabella cowered against Timothy, trying not to cry.
“Hey, my phone’s not working,” someone yelled, and soon everyone was checking and hysteria mounted as the lack of signal became known. Steadily, like a barefoot mountain climber losing his footing on a snowpack, the room descended into chaos once again. Everyone wanted out, and as a desperate measure the one of the teachers pressed the universal lockdown remote. Metal grates slammed down over the windows, the doors didn’t open so much as a millimetre no matter how hard the students pounded. Penned in and blacked out, the panic swirled like smoke when the second bomb hit. This one shook them to their core.
One of the teachers had a back-up radio, and when someone overheard that a biological detonator may have gone off, the news sprinted a marathon into everyone’s ears. Rumours and whispers looped around their minds, pulling tight and squeezing out all rationality.
Timothy and Isabella watched from inside of a classroom with a few others who had not lost their minds. With the lights out and the doors locked from the inside, they could imagine that they were safe from their peers.
It took nearly two hours for the faculty to extinguish the frenzy. With great consternation, someone cracked open the classroom door, just as an announcement came overhead: “Students and staff, I would like to inform you that the biological hazard warning was only speculation, and the worry has been confirmed to be false. Everyone must report to either the intramural gyms or the auditorium for a movie. That’s an order. Move it, people!”
Where was this commanding voice when kids were trampling each other to death? Isabella wondered bitterly. She and Timothy and the others crept out of the room. “Where do you want to go?” Timothy asked her as they stood uncertainly in the hallway. On the far wall, a bloody handprint was smeared.
“The auditorium,” Isabella answered. “I’m too tired to play.” Truly, she questioned whether such unstable students should be involved in contact sports at the moment.
Tonight’s movie was just as bad as the last ones. Isabella played a game on her phone as some kid tried to get a whale back to sea or something. As far as she knew, whales had gone extinct years ago. She thought of leaving, but every time she turned around a different teacher guarded the entrance to the auditorium, brandishing a tablet and a radio that proved where she was. Dinner was quiet, punctuated with the occasional bitter or stupid comment. During study hall, she managed to get away from Timothy when he and Jason went off together. She tried to take a nap, but every now and then the ground shook. And she couldn’t bring herself to do any homework, or anything productive. As bored as she was, she never thought she would actually be glad when the time until curfew finally ran out.
Timothy went to his locker for his schoolbag, and then kissed her. “Meet me in the loading bay at midnight,” he whispered into her ear.
She was shaking her head before he even finished. “No, Timothy, I really think we should – whoa, are you okay?”
A greenish shadow had suddenly past over his face, and he jerked away from her. For a moment he stood hunched over, his hands on his knees, gulping in lungful after lungful of air. “I’m…fine,” he finally gasped.
“Timothy, maybe you should go to the nurse,” she said, stepping toward him.
He held up a hand and shook his head, straightening. “No, I think I just ate too much. But maybe you’re right about the bay. How about I see you tomorrow?” Without waiting for her to answer, he strode down the hall and out the door, waving a hand at the teacher who tried to sign him out. Isabella went to the window and watched him trek to the art house alone, a silhouette in the fading light. It took only a second for him to dart into the bushes beside the path, and retch up everything he had eaten. He seemed to be in pain after he finished, crouching down and hugging his stomach. A teacher patrolling the path stopped and talked to him, offering him a hand. Lumbering to his feet, he immediately doubled over and vomited again.
“Hey, Isabella, what are you looking at?” Cassandra appeared beside Isabella, pressing her face against the window. There was no one around to embarrass Isabella for talking to one of the “geeks”. Cassandra’s ice princess act seemed to have completely melted since their talk on the school benches. Still, Isabella had tried her best to avoid her for the rest of the day. “Is that Timothy?”
Isabella nodded mutely. The teacher once again got Timothy to his feet and kept one hand on his back, leading him away. As far as she knew, Timothy never got sick. He must be more stressed out than she had thought.
She turned from the window. “What are we going to do, Cassandra? They can’t keep locking us up. They’ve got to cancel school for good, until things get straightened out.”
Cassandra shrugged. “One of the first places they will want to protect, next to the hospital and the government buildings, is the school. We’re definitely safer here than in our neighbourhoods.”
“What about our families?”
Cassandra didn’t reply. Really, what was there to say? There was nothing they could do from here, anyway. “Oh, come on, Isabella, you spoke too soon!” she grumbled suddenly as two boys came into view. Noah, and his twin, Mason. Isabella peeked around the corner, expecting to see Harvey. She had caught only a glimpse of him this morning, but with her newfound desire to be on time for class, hadn’t stopped to say hello. Or make up an excuse as to why she didn’t have the graphs done yet.
“We’re heading out,” Noah said to Cassandra, his eyes not once landing on Isabella. “Don’t forget to brush your teeth and feed the cat.”
“Idiot,” Mason muttered, punching Noah in the back. “Be careful, Cassandra.” She stepped into the arm he extended, and they both glared at Noah. After a moment, Noah touched her hair, the sarcasm evaporating from his eyes.
“They’re your family?” Isabella asked. “I didn’t know Noah had a sister.” Which one of them teased Cassandra about video games? She couldn’t imagine that Noah would have that kind of softness.
“Yes, they’ve got a sister,” she answered with fond distaste that Rhoda sometimes used when she talked about Isabella.
“Were you adopted or something? You look absolutely nothing alike.” Too late Isabella realized how rude this must sound.
Cassandra glared coolly. “Yes, actually. I’m their triplet.”
Blinking, Isabella tried to process this. “Are you sure?”
“For crying out loud, Isabella, of course I’m sure. They’re twins, and I’m their triplet.” At Isabella’s blank stare, Cassandra sighed. “We were supposed to be fraternal twins. My mom superovulated and both the ova were fertilized. But then their zygote split in two. So they’re clones, and I’m the lonely only.”
“How odd,” Isabella murmured. She barely understood this jargon from biology class, but this was not what she mused over. Did Cassandra ever feel left out from the camaraderie that only twins share? She wondered if her group of friends had all come from the same preschool zygote, split into clones of one another over the years. Leaving her intact and alone.