I always figured when I found the guy I was going to spend the rest of my life with, it’d be easy. Knowing me, I’d fall hard and fast, but unlike with the others, the feeling wouldn’t fade. I wasn’t exactly known for having a great attention span.
My track record hadn’t been so great. Growing up in the Resistance rebel group with a population of less than a hundred, statistically there were only a handful of us who identified as LGBTQ.
So my entire relationship history consisted of hook-ups while I was out on assignment. My cousin Chad used to admonish me for it, but he’d always been a relationship kind of guy. And besides, I couldn’t help that I was loveable.
My hook-ups were with random guys I’d never see again because I couldn’t exactly bring a date back to the rebel base. And I moved around a lot while recruiting for our cause, so it’s not like I could have a long term deal anyway.
And now that I was stuck at the Institute in a cell every day, I knew I wasn’t exactly going to be finding the one down here.
Four months had passed, and the only person I’d kissed in that time was Allira. A girl for crying out loud.
Why did I choose to stay in The Crypt again? Oh, right, the fabulous food. God, even the sarcasm in my head was getting old.
Collapsing onto my uncomfortable cot, I rolled onto my side as my stomach refused to digest the “food” I was just fed.
I was on the brink of insanity, which, for me, was a whole new level of insanity. I tended to push the boundary of a normal level of crazy, so even I knew it was bad when I admitted to going a little nutty.
The cause. The Resistance. I’m here for a purpose.
When my cell door clanked open, I forced myself into a sitting position. It was probably a good thing I was already sitting, or I’m sure I would’ve fallen over myself at the sight of Allira’s brother standing in the entranceway of my rectangular box of death.
Yup, should definitely look into the crazy thing.
I’d met him once before—when Allira came to show him how us other half live. It was a short conversation, and the poor guy was confused for most of it because Allira was having a half-telepathic, half-out-loud conversation with me at the time. But that didn’t stop the strange twist in my gut as I checked him out.
And I couldn’t help checking him out.
I knew who he was because I happened to be on the Resistance council with his mother. But when we were in Eminent Falls recruiting, he was merely a kid. Now, years later, he was taller and broader than when I’d seen him back at his school, and he was definitely no longer a kid. He may’ve looked all man, but he was still only seventeen—legal, yes, but that didn’t make me feel like less of a creeper.
I was lucky Allira was out on assignment. She definitely wouldn’t like the thoughts running through my head as I looked at Shilah.
Don’t go there, dude. Unless you want Allira to throat punch you. Not that she was ever coming back anyway. Not if everything went to plan.
Shilah folded his arms across his chest and leaned back against the wall. “Uh … hi,” he squeaked.
“Hi.” Really, Tate? No smartass comment, no charm, just hi? You’ve lost your touch.
Shilah looked around the cell nervously. And then I heard his thoughts: ‘You can do this. Just do it how you did in the vision. Tell him, apologise, and then leave. Maybe don’t get distracted by looking at his face again. How is it legal for someone to be that hot?’
I tried not to grin, I swear. “Already missing your sister? She’s only been gone a few days.” My voice didn’t sound like my own, but my usual sarcastic tone was ever present.
He smiled, but it dropped quickly. “Hardly. I … uh …” ‘God, how do you tell someone their cousin is dead? Stop stalling and say it.’
And it was times like these I hated my ability.
“Chad’s dead?” I asked.
“How did you … Holy shit, you’re telepathic?”
My brow furrowed. “I’m surprised Allira didn’t tell you. How did you find out just now—”
“Vision,” he said, pointing to his temple. He ran a hand over his hair. ‘God, he heard about the whole hot thing … why didn’t that part show up in my earlier vision when I was practicing what to say? Shit he can probably hear me right now.’
I chuckled. “Guilty. Sorry.”
Shilah held up a finger. “Just gimme a sec.” His face pinched in concentration. His mouth moved as if he was talking but no noise came out. After a minute or so, he nodded and faced me again. “Turns out, no matter which way I play this, getting out of here without making it awkward is going to be impossible. So … I’m just gonna go. Uh … sorry. About Chad, I mean. They … uh … told us in class this morning he was killed on assignment. I just thought you should know.”
Dammit, I was making him uncomfortable. Even his thoughts started stuttering.
‘I … uh … umm …’ “I should go. I’ve got another class.” He transferred his weight from one foot to the other. “Uh … but yeah, I should probably …” He pointed his thumb in the direction of the stairs.
I smiled. “You’ve said that. About six times in the last thirty seconds.”
With a single nod, he turned on his heel to leave.
“Can I ask a favour before you go?”
When he paused, I continued.
“Can you not tell anyone? You know, about my ability that I’ve managed to keep secret for four months?” There might’ve been a reason Allira didn’t tell him.
“Of course,” he said with his brow furrowed. It was almost as if I’d offended him by having to ask. He went to walk out but turned when I called out his name.
“If you wanted to ever … come back, I know how to block out the thoughts of other people if you feel too self-conscious. I mean … if you want to.” Who are you? You usually have so much more charm than this.
If my gaydar was working properly, and if what Allira told me about Shilah had anything to say, I’d have to guess he wasn’t sure where he stood himself. His thoughts suggested he was interested, but running away suggested he wasn’t ready to deal with it.
And perhaps our attraction was mutual, but that wasn’t a good thing. For many reasons. One, he was Allira’s kid brother. Yeah, she was only fifteen months older than him, but she looked at him as if he were still a child. She acted like his parental figure. Two, secrets—so many secrets. I felt bad enough lying to Allira. I’d have to lie to Shilah just as much. And three, it was easier for me to get over a crush if I knew the guy was straight. Knowing there was a possibility?
I threw my head back, resting it on the wall behind me. I’m so screwed.
Although, with the way he ran out of here, I doubted he was going to be back anyway.
I told myself to push thoughts of Shilah aside, because I had to at least acknowledge what he said about Chad being dead. I hoped it was because our plan to get Allira out to the Resistance compound was a success. I couldn’t be too upset when I was ninety-five percent sure he was still alive. But what if something did happen?
Just one more thing to obsess over in my crazy brain.
I couldn’t believe what just happened.
Okay, so, I’d never had a girlfriend before; that was no secret. I’d never had a boyfriend either. Growing up Defective, I never thought I’d ever be able to have a relationship, so I didn’t let myself even contemplate one.
Sure, I’d see a cute girl and my mind would wonder, but if I was completely honest with myself, I did that with guys too.
Being here, where I could be myself for the first time in my entire life, I could be whoever I wanted to be … whoever that was.
The first time I met Tate, I was under the impression he’d hooked up with Allira. That was the rumour floating around. Yet, I couldn’t help noticing how he stared at her with complete indifference compared to how his eyes held heat behind them when staring at me.
I didn’t know how to feel about it at first. I’d even half-convinced myself I was reading into it because perhaps I wanted to. My initial reaction to a guy checking me out wasn’t disinterest. It was worrying over the fact he was a lot older than me. I wasn’t sure how old he was, but I knew he was at least in his early twenties.
With the fact our age gap was my only problem with that scenario, I figured I should’ve worked out why that was.
Seeing him again today, I found it hard to even look him in the eye. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I did. I didn’t want to stop. Of course, it’d turn out he was friggin’ telepathic too, so he heard everything I was thinking.
It doesn’t mean anything, I told myself. He was a good-looking guy, and I was merely admiring that fact. But again, what did that say about me?
“Hey,” a hesitant, feminine voice said next to me.
I looked up from my desk in my history class to see Katie, a cute brunette around my age who made glasses look trendy. Her short hair sat below her chin in natural waves.
“Hi,” I said, sitting up straighter.
“Can I …” She gestured to the seat.
“How are you going? Your sister left on assignment a few days ago, right? Have you heard anything?”
I shook my head. What, now I can’t talk? I cleared my throat. “Nothing so far. I think that’s probably a good sign, though.”
“You excited to get out there?” she asked.
“Will you judge me if I say no?” I laughed. Am I flirting right now?
“After this morning’s announcement? No.” Her voice was quiet. “You’re in room twenty-one, right?” she asked, drastically changing the topic.
“I’m in thirty-one, so I guess I’m directly on top of you.”
I was almost certain she didn’t mean it to sound as dirty as it came across, but I couldn’t stop the smile anyway.
When I looked over at her, redness was making its way up her neck and to her cheeks.
I liked it.
Shilah Daniels, you are one confused little puppy.
“Did you …” she started but then stopped herself.
“Did I what?”
“Would you want to come to my room to study sometime?”
“Study …” I repeated like a moron, trying to work out if there was double meaning behind it. “Umm … okay?” My voice pitched at the end as if I was asking a question. I’d never realised until today that I was just as awkward as my sister. God, that sucks.
She smiled. “I’m free after class?”
During class, I couldn’t concentrate. I found myself staring at every single person in the room. Where I could appreciate the soft appearance of a girl’s face, or her lips, I was equally drawn to the guys. There was one guy in particular. I didn’t know his name, and he was a few years older than me—hmm, maybe that’s my thing?—but as I eyed him, I began to wonder what it would feel like to kiss someone with a stubbled jaw.
My palms had never been so sweaty by the time class finished and Katie and I left together.
Making our way to the exit, I put my hand on the small of her back, and that’s when I was hit with a full-blown vision.
Most times, I tried to switch off so I wasn’t constantly being hounded with images of what was going to happen three minutes from now. But then something like touch or a smell hit me, and it’d send me into a catatonic state I couldn’t stop.
She walks me into her room, and before I even get the chance to suggest studying, I turn to face her and am cut off mid-sentence by her lips on mine.
The kiss feels urgent and needy, at least on her end. I think it’s … nice, which probably isn’t a great way to describe something that should be a hell of a lot more than nice.
I cup the side of her face and open my mouth, my tongue exploring hers.
My body reacts accordingly, and it’s clear I’m attracted to her, but my brain doesn’t, can’t, or won’t allow myself to get swept up in the moment.
It has nothing to do with her or the fact she’s a girl and I wish she was a guy. It’s the fact I picture someone else, wondering what it would be like to be kissing him instead of her.
I’d only had two encounters with Tate—and both were extremely awkward—so I had no idea why I would think about him while I kissed Katie.
I stopped walking, and Katie paused before she got to the elevator that led to the apartments upstairs. “What’s up?” she asked, her head cocked to the side.
“Uh … umm … I don’t think I can go through with this.”
Her cheeks flushed. “You only just worked out I didn’t really ask you to study, didn’t you?”
“Yes … no … I mean, I figured you didn’t mean study, and that’s why I said yes to going to your room. But I … I think I like someone else.”
I ran my hand over my hair. “I don’t know. It’s confusing. Because …” God, don’t say it aloud. “He’s a guy.” Good job listening to your conscience.
“Oh.” Her eyebrows shot up. “Oh. I didn’t realise you were gay—”
“I’m not. At least, I don’t think I am. Then again, does a truly straight guy find other guys attractive?”
She laughed, but not in a mean way. “This guy. Is he in our class?”
I shook my head. “My sister introduced us. He’s … in The Crypt.”
“I know, I know, I should stay away from him.” Everyone was told about how dangerous the ones down there were, but it wasn’t true. They weren’t put down there because they were dangerous, they were put there because they refused to conform. I couldn’t tell Katie that though.
“But you really like him?”
“I don’t know. He’s a lot older than me. And I’ve only met him twice.”
“If he’s affecting you this much, maybe you should go talk to him. Find out for sure.”
I ran my hand through my hair again. How can I go talk to him when he can hear all of my thoughts?
I didn’t expect him to come back. I definitely didn’t expect him to come back the very next day. “Uh—”
He held up his hand to cut me off. It was the first time I saw any sort of confidence in him. “Okay, what I have to say is going to sound super crazy. Can you do the blocking out thing you were talking about yesterday? Just until I get everything out?”
I narrowed my eyes, tempted to only pretend to do as he asked. How could I not go searching with a preposition like that?
I must’ve contemplated it too long because—
I laughed and threw up my hands in mock surrender. “Okay. Sorry. No cheating. I won’t probe your thoughts.”
He let out a sigh and started pacing my small cell. “Okay, I think I figured out a way to get through this conversation, but I have to say, you have a horrible habit of butting in.”
Don’t smile. Don’t smile. “We haven’t even had this elusive conversation yet and you’re telling me I butt in?”
“I’ve had this conversation. About twenty times in the last twenty-four hours. You need to let me finish talking before you start.”
“Wait … you’ve already had this conversation twenty times? Why don’t you just skip to the end?”
He stopped pacing and pierced me with his gaze. “Trust me. That won’t work.”
“What’s it about?”
Taking a deep breathe, he started pacing again but less frantic this time. “Yesterday when I left here, I was confused, but everything made sense when I had a vision of making out with a girl who’s in my class.”
My heart surprisingly sank into my stomach. Whether it was the straight thing or the fact he liked someone else, I wasn’t sure. I opened my mouth to say that making out with a girl was his prerogative, but he held up his hand again and continued talking.
“Even in the vision, it felt wrong. Because the whole time I was kissing her, I was thinking about you. And don’t interrupt. You promised.”
“And people say my ability’s annoying,” I mumbled. But damn, that’s impressive.
“The minute I turned Katie down in real life, I was sent another vision. My visions change with the different choices I make, and … what I saw made me realise two things.” He breathed out a heavy sigh and turned to face me. “One, I’m bisexual. Yay, go me. But two, and this is the bigger revelation here, I … we … you and I … God, on second thought, can you just pull it from my head?”
“I promised I wouldn’t cheat. Or talk.”
“I’m asking you to because I don’t think I can say the actual words.” ‘We’re meant to be together.’
“Shilah …” Part of me was ecstatic. The other part? Screaming at me for even entertaining the idea.
“I know what you’re going to say, and you raise valid points. Allira won’t like it. You’re seven years older than me, and I’m still a teenager. But I can tell you now, that in the future, none of that matters.”
Instead of shooting him down like I should have, I found myself asking, “What did you see?”
“Us. In the real world. No longer living in this hellhole.”
My eyes widened in shock. I thought I was going to be stuck down here for the rest of my life.
“I don’t know how it happens. I can’t seem to pull those visions of how we’re freed, but I do know that you and I have an amazing life on the outside of here.”
As much as I wanted what he saw to be true, I couldn’t see how our relationship would work. We couldn’t start something when I had to lie to him.
“And I know you’re hiding stuff from me.”
“Are you psychic or telepathic?” I quipped.
“I knew that was the next thing you were going to tell me—that you have secrets. I don’t know what you’re hiding, but I also don’t care, because I know we overcome it. I know that sounds insane because we’ve spoken for all of five minutes. But having gone over this conversation a billion times already, I worked out if I’m too passive about it, you dismiss the idea as experimentation on my part, because you think I’m confused about liking guys. And that’s not what this is about. Not at all. It’s about you and me. As soon as I had my vision, I knew it was what I wanted. Just like when I had the vision of kissing Katie and I immediately knew I didn’t want it.”
My heart beat loudly in my ears. “I realise you and Allira aren’t great at social cues because you’ve basically kept to the shadows for most of your life, but telling someone you’re meant to be with them after meeting them twice—and with such intensity in your voice—usually doesn’t work out too well. It’s a good way to freak someone out.” My hands shook. I tried to stay strong and remind myself of the reasons he already stated. It didn’t matter that I wanted him; there was too much going against us.
“Usually doesn’t work, no. But I know it works with you. Straight and to the point is what you need.”
He’s right about that.
And then he did something that took me by complete surprise. In unison we said, “Pretty surestraight is the last thing I need.”
We both laughed and when his face relaxed into an easy smile, I was done. Goner.
“I get this is super weird,” he said.
“In this world, normal is a little overrated, right?” As much as my pessimistic side was telling me it was wrong, I wanted to believe we had a future where we were on the outside and that we were happy. Whether it came true or not, I at least wanted the chance to make it happen.
“If you need some time …”
I found myself standing and taking tentative steps towards him before I hesitated completely. I almost came to my senses, but then he closed the gap between us.
“For future reference,” I said, pulling back slightly, “you should totally settle all our fights in your head before you tell me about them. That was the weirdest conversation I’ve ever had, considering I practically didn’t contribute to it.”
“Deal.” He laughed as he leaned in to kiss me.
I put my hand on his chest to hold him back. “You know Allira’s going to kill me, right?”
He shook his head. “Nah, at worst she’ll just throat punch you.”
This time when he leaned in, I’d run out of excuses to hold him off.
He smiled but paused, his mouth lingering just a few inches from mine. “I make you nervous? Really? You don’t seem like the type of guy who gets rattled easily.”
“I’m not,” I said quietly. The fact I knew this wasn’t going to be a hook-up—that according to his vision, this was going to be a serious thing—I was scared I was going to screw it all up. Hook-ups I could do. A relationship? Not so much.
“Seriously,” Shilah said, “you won’t screw this up.”
“Okay, for real? How did you know what I was thinking?”
“You were about to say it,” he argued.
“Dammit. I think I’ve met my match.”
Finally, our mouths came together, and everything he’d said—everything he’d seen in his vision—suddenly made sense.