In the Glow: Capture My Flag, Part 1
Andrew summons the med team. They’ll take their Jeep down the path, then cut through the woods to reach us. We’ll have to take Benson as far as Fire Grove to log our capture. If the others have gotten another, then Andrew’s right, it’ll be near-impossible for anyone to beat us. I lean against a pine trunk, looking out at the lake, the water reflecting the star-spattered sky. So different from home, where the lights light the night like day.
Andrew comes next to me. His shoulder brushes against mine. He’s laughing, still flushed with exhilaration. I watch him, wary. He gets a kick out of victory like no one I’ve ever seen before. He reaches up and tugs on the end of my ponytail.
“Whatcha thinking, big eyes?”
“Nothing much,” I say. It’s the safe answer. Part of me is thinking about poor Benson in the undergrowth, his hard fall, his injured arm, what it could mean for him in the next round of training. But this is life, isn’t it? Survival of the fittest.
Andrew’s shaking his head. “You’re never thinking nothing much.”
He’s right about that, but I don’t want to admit it. I’d much prefer to seem simple-minded. I kept up a pretty good act the first few weeks. But, let’s be honest, they already had tabs on me. They keep tabs on anybody who manages to evade the draft for over two years. When I think about it, I don’t think it was much I did. I just happened to live in a place no one wanted to go, not even Praetorians. Especially not Praetorians. I draw in a long breath.
“It’s peaceful out here,” I say.
“I don’t think that’s what you were thinking. But whatever you say.” He leans against the same trunk, ninety degrees from me. I fight the urge to turn and look at him, to trace the glow of the stars and moon on his face. “I haven’t had so much fun in years.”
I say nothing.
“Why are you so quiet all the time?” he asks. He turns towards me, our shoulders pressing together. “You’re not scared of me, are you?”
“No,” I say, turning to give him a look.
“Then what is it?”
“I dunno, maybe I just — ” I stop. “Forget it.”
“No, come on.” His arm snakes around my shoulders, behind my neck. I fight opposing urges. How can you so badly want to elbow someone away and lean into them at the same time?
His hand closes around my shoulder. It’s large and warm and reminds me of how small I am compared to him. Fingers press, finding the hollows between my bones, massaging knots out of muscles. “C’mon, Lina, relax a little,” comes his voice in my ear. He exhales and his breath spills hot down the back of my neck. My spine tingles.
And kicks me into action. I shove my elbow into his side, not too hard but not too soft, and step away. “Jesus, Andrew. I’m not Mal. Why didn’t you put one of her stupid friends on your team if you were looking for a joyride after you won?”
He holds his hands up, laughing a little. “Jeez, what did you think we were doing? I was just trying to get you to relax. Guess I better take Benson to the path.”
He turns. Split urges consume my mind again. Curse him out, says the part of me that’s stuck on the streets, stuck in hiding. Tell him to stay, says the other half. Tell him maybe you think you know exactly what he wants, and that maybe you want it too. But I say nothing. I do nothing, stuck in this in-between, and watch him haul Benson to his feet, drape his limp but uninjured arm around his shoulders, support him off through the trees, leaving me alone. A galaxy-arm sprawls across the sky, reaching for the lake, stretching star-tips closing around the gap at the end like his hand closed around my shoulder. I stare out, my vision slightly blurred.
A half hour later, we’re all in Fire Grove around the bonfire. Still, no one knows I’m the flag. No one knows I’m Andrew’s flag. Vivi’s made it through in one piece, and we stand together at the edge of the clearing.
“Did you see Andrew?” she asks me. “He looks miserable. And wasted.”
The unspoken thought remains in her eyes, that she thought he’d be happier to win. That everyone thought he’d be happier to win. Only I know what transpired in the lakeside clearing. That he was happy to win. That he hadn’t had so much fun in years. That I rebuffed him. That he had to laugh it off. Or maybe it’s something else. Maybe he drank too much. Maybe he thought too hard. How can you know what goes through another person’s mind?
I spot him across the clearing, standing right by the fire, an arm draped around Mal’s shoulders. If anyone thought his victory would disrupt anything between them, they were wrong. Did I think that? Did I dare? Their hair catches fire in the glow of the twisted flames, the rising sparks. And I wonder. I wonder, if I stood there with him, or if I stood there at all, would my hair catch fire in the glow? Or would it pass me over?
I hope you enjoyed “In the Glow” (“Capture My Flag” Part 2). If you did, and you’re interested in reading more about the same characters and the same world, you can check out my short story “Splinters,” which I published first here, but which occurs later in the story than the “Capture My Flag” sequence.
I posted this one off of some kind comments about “Splinters,” so if you enjoy reading about these characters and this world, please let me know! The project was a “passion project” of mine for about five years of my life. I’m rediscovering some of its value now.
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