Authors: April Bowles
Winter had settled over Randal. Dirk was the first among us to turn sixteen and no longer had to put up with the daily scheduling of the Academy. He was free of it and spent his time sleeping most of the day to go out to the tavern at night. He started drinking regularly and I guess it helped him cope with having his ceremony put off for so long.
Bryce and I wouldn’t turn sixteen for another few months and it would be maybe a few months after that until we see our mothers again and Cadence; I haven’t forgotten. I’ve been trying to keep my mind busy so I wouldn’t think about it all the time and make the days pass slower. Still having to go to school helped. I was focused on getting my last creative arts project completed before I wouldn’t be here to do it anymore.
“I thought I’d find you in here.” Bryce approached from my left. The class had cleared out already to go home and I guess I was the only one that wasn’t in a rush.
“What do you want?”
“Nothing. Just seeing what you’d be doing after school but I bet I can guess.”
He leaned in to get a look at the work in front of me but then shook his head. “Not really. No. What is it?”
“It’s a new weapon I’m designing.”
“Doesn’t look that dangerous.”
“To the untrained eye, I imagine so.”
“So train me.”
“It’s more like something only I can use because of my gift.”
“Good for you then.”
“I haven’t gotten to fully test it yet. I don’t want to accidently hurt anyone.”
“Makes sense. Are you ready yet?”
“No plans with Kari this evening?”
“No. Her parents want her home. I kept her out too late last night. It’s okay though. I don’t want to come off as clingy when my meet with Naomi is just a few months away.”
I laughed to his amusement. “Still hung on that, are you?”
“Come on, Seth. You know our parents. They want it to happen just like it did with them.”
“Doesn’t mean it has to.”
“I know and it won’t if that’s what I choose. I just want to meet her and maybe get to know her before I decide.”
“All right. Well, I guess I can be done with this for now and we can get home.”
“Are you going to get dressed too?”
I looked down and realized I still had my shirt off and tied around my waist. “Oh, yeah. It’s hot working around these fires. I’ll put them out but I’ve got to be back first thing in the morning to get some more metal melted.”
“Okay. Let’s go.”
He helped pick up my mess while I doused the fires and we headed out to leave. We were the last two walking through the courtyard like everyone else had already gone home. It was fine. I still hadn’t put on my shirt. This cool air felt great but I’m sure I would have gotten in trouble if others were around. My instructor let me do it during class because he at least understood how hot it could get and I think he was really interested in what I was building. He just wanted me to succeed and let me have free range of my actions. It wasn’t like I was a distraction. In fact, I haven’t really talked to anyone in class since I started this project.
“Welcome home.” My father said upon our arrival. “Where are your clothes?”
“Right here.” I gestured to the shirt around my waist and my jacket in my hand. “I was in creative arts being creative.”
“Posing for a portrait?” Troy joked.
Bryce laughed. “Do people really do that in there?”
“No.” I said. “And I was blacksmithing of sorts.”
“Of sorts?” My father asked. “What are you making?”
“A new weapon, perhaps?” Darius added.
He shared this look with my father like they already knew something about it.
“Have you seen this before?”
“Of sorts.” Troy said.
“Don’t show it to anyone just yet.” My father said. “Unless you haven’t got it to work beyond your own abilities.”
“What do you mean? I will so anyone else can use it?”
“You’ll figure it out. In the meantime, I hope it’s kept safe.”
“I lock it up before I leave.”
“Look who’s home.” Dirk came strutting through the main hall like he had a busy day of nothing. “Hey, kiddos. How was school? Anyone ask about me?”
“Of course not.” I said. “They all moved on.”
“Onto you? Judging by your appearance, I mean.”
“No. Shouldn’t you be out by now? It’s dark.”
“I thought I’d stay in tonight and make time to play with my adorable little kid brothers.”
My eyes rolled and I began to walk away. “Pass.”
“Seth! Come on! I was just kidding! I’m not that much older than you!”
“Well, I don’t play!”
I heard his feet catch up to me and Bryce was softly following. “Then we can fight viciously. Come on. I’m not going anywhere tonight. Why can’t we do something like we used to?”
He was being unusually persistent but I accepted. It would have been nice to just hang out like nothing had ever changed even if it was for a night. “All right.”
“Great. Let’s go to my room and we can catch each other up.”
It was another odd request but we went with him just to have that time together.
“Are they the reason you’re not going out?” Bryce asked.
I walked through the door behind him and immediately saw the three girls asleep in Dirk’s bed.
“What? I’m still making time for us. In fact, I’ll let each of you have at one if you’d like.”
“We don’t even know them.”
“They’re from another district. Just turned sixteen.”
“Is this what you wanted us to do together?”
He looked back at the bed and shrugged. “I don’t know. If you want to.”
My eyes rolled and I turned away to leave. “We’ll pass on this. Thanks.”
“Yeah.” Bryce agreed. “They’re pretty but they’re still strangers.”
“Come on, guys.” Dirk begged, following us into the hall. “You’re home early too. I know you didn’t go out after school today.”
“We’re fine.” I said. “It’s not a requirement for our daily activities like yours.”
“Fine. Go mope then. I’m going to be having fun.”
“No. You’re just trying to distract yourself from not being named a man.”
It angered Dirk and he pushed me against the wall. “I didn’t ask you.”
“Whoa, guys, easy.” Bryce said.
“But it’s true.” I replied. “It doesn’t matter how many women you be with. It’s not going to change what is.”
He backed away from me and started to step back towards his door. “Come to me when it’s happening to you because right now, you don’t know how shameful it really feels without tasting it.”
He slammed his door shut and I looked at Bryce. “Does he seem moody to you?”
“Come on. Let’s do something else before dinner.”
Bryce and I headed outside after changing to get out our aggravation with Dirk by training with each other but instead of bitching about him, we came to the harsh conclusion that he was right. We didn’t know how it felt. After all, we were still fifteen and hadn’t experienced how frustrating it could be to put off the most important day of a young man’s life but we knew we were going to. It only meant that we needed to change our prospective on Dirk because none of this was his fault.
I dreaded even going to dinner at this point. What would we really talk about? Nothing I wanted to. That’s for sure but I went anyway because this hunger inside me wouldn’t let me stay. I ordered some food to be sent to my guest before showing myself in the dining hall.
“So, you are going to join us.”
“Of course, father. Wouldn’t miss it.”
“And we’re glad.” Zayden said. “We got some news from your mother’s today.”
“Don’t get too excited.” My father said sarcastically. “Don’t want to hurt yourself.”
“I won’t. We know they’re not coming home yet.”
“What do they want?” Seth asked. “Did something bad happen?”
“No they just had a request.”
I sighed loudly; work.
“It’s a good request that we considered letting you fulfill.”
“Fulfill how?” Bryce asked.
“Well, your mothers want to give you the option of designing your own armor.” Troy said. “Normally, we’d just have you wear Seni’s ceremonial design but your generation seems to be the one for change.”
“And by change, he means updating what’s already there.” Zayden said. “Like you did with the Academy uniforms.”
It sounded good but I only had one question. “Who are we going to war with?”
My father laughed. “No one. It’s just a tradition. The Assassins are doing it too.”
“Okay. Sounds cool.” Bryce said. “Seth, I’ll need you.”
“Why?” He sounded amused.
“I’m not artistic. I have other talents.”
I couldn’t stay quiet about this and laughed. “I’ve heard.”
He shoved me but I could take it. It was still funny.
“Fine.” Seth said. “We can work on it later. The three of us have something else to do.”
This was news to me. “We do?”
“Yes. We’ve talked it over and you were right so—we’ll join you.”
“You will!” I was excited about this.
“We will?” Bryce asked.
“You will what?” Zayden asked.
“Nothing.” Seth said. “Private conversation.”
“Which you’re doing right in front of us. What are your plans?”
“It’s nothing. Really.”
“Dirk?!” My father bellowed.
“What?! I didn’t do anything!”
“You better not be taking them anywhere tonight.”
“I’m not—technically. We’re staying here.”
Seth looked over at me and asked with his eyes if my father new about the girls in my room. All I could do was shake my head.
“None. I swear. We’re just going to hang out like we used to before I stopped going to school.”
“Yes. A harmless evening. I’d say quiet too but I can’t necessarily guarantee that.”
Seth nudged me for saying too much but it was okay. Our fathers didn’t read into it.
“All right. I suppose we should be grateful that they got you to stay in tonight.”
“Yes. Family is quite important.”
Seth nudged me again. “Okay, now you’re just being sappy.”
“Sorry. Just trying to sell it.”
“Don’t make me regret this.”
I laughed. “Don’t worry. You won’t. Trust me.”
He didn’t seem very pleased but maybe he was just playing it that way in front of our fathers so they wouldn’t get suspicious. They never did. We had a nice normal dinner and retired upstairs for the rest of the night.
The girls were chatting and laughing when we walked in. I couldn’t even really remember their names but it didn’t matter. They took immediate notice to us entering and of course they knew who was with me. I introduced the guys anyway and the girls introduced themselves. Since Seth and Bryce seemed to have a problem with them being strangers, we sat with them on my bed and talked for a while until I felt they were more comfortable. That’s when the real fun started.
We had a few drinks despite what I told my father just so we could blur the line of familiarity a bit more. It was okay though. We weren’t going to go anywhere or hurt anyone. It wouldn’t have mattered if we drank or not. It put Seth in a much better mood quick since he wasn’t as used to it as me but Bryce couldn’t get drunk. That was a horrible flaw but I convinced him to go with it on his own and we got to have our fun.
By morning, I only really remembered parts of it and they fell asleep in my room as well.
“Dirk!” Seth’s voice was nice and loud to go with my headache.
“What did we do?”
“What do you mean? We had a good time, Seth. Don’t make it sound like a bad thing.”
“It is when we don’t do things like this. Bryce, how could you let it go this far?”
“Are you blaming me now?”
“I know you were aware of everything the whole time.”
“I thought you were having fun. What’s wrong about that?”
“That now we have to go to school looking like this and explain to the girls why.”
Now Bryce looked concerned.
I laughed. “Oh, yeah. I forgot. You two have actual girlfriends don’t you? You should really plan to let that go soon. You’re going to see Cadence in a few months, Seth.”
I shouldn’t have said anything. I only really made it worse because he got depressed.
“I know. Shit. I’ve got to get out of here.”
“Maybe a fight is just what you need!” I called as he was leaving. “She’ll let you go easier if she’s the one mad at you!”
“Don’t make it worse.” Bryce said. “You did just by mentioning Cadence.”
“I know. Tell him I’m sorry.”
“Okay. I’ve got to go to school.”
I nodded. “And I guess I’ve got to clean up the mess and send a few things home.”
He looked around at the girls still passed out asleep. “Yeah. Don’t let anyone see them.”
He left and I was stuck here with the work. I almost wished I could go back to school but that would probably be weird. Just show up for a free day? Nah. I could find something to do around here until they got back. I knew I had some apologizing to do with Seth and maybe some begging to get him to see that I didn’t mean any harm. I thought he wanted last night to happen. We all knew he needed it to.