Chapter 1I brace my forehead against a sturdy tree branch and release a heavy sigh. My eyes stay wide open, watching, ready to jump at the first sign of an attack.
That wasn't always my first instinct.
I pathetically bang a fist against the tree. I can't keep doing this. I'm in a place between running and rebelling, and it's not like I'll ever choose either. But it's been three years now… Surely it's time to move on. If he were going to escape, then he would've by now.
But what if I leave just before he finally breaks out…?
No. I can't risk that. I'm not leaving the city. Besides, I don't have anywhere else to go.
I glance out at the open countryside to my right. Rolling hills stretch out for as far as I can see.
“What are you doing up there, gorgeous?”
I nearly jump out of my skin. I jump and swivel to face the voice, balancing lightly on my toes.
“Does it matter?” I snap. If I'm hostile enough, everyone moves along. I guess I'm just intimidating. But it's better that way. The fewer people who talk to me, the fewer hard questions I get asked.
He shrugs. “No, but I can't see your pretty face when you're up there.” He peers up at me through the branches, which are all covered in blooming flowers. What’s that supposed to mean? I'm not stupid. “That's your problem.”
He flashes an amused grin, and my skin sets fire. I cringe away. He has animal teeth. “What the…? Your teeth…”
He laughs in a way that makes me want to hit him over the head with a tree branch. “Didn't you notice my tail or ears?” A long, golden cat’s tail sways behind him, and small lion ears poke through his messy hair. How did I not notice before? I need to pay more attention. Next time, it might cost me my freedom.
It wasn't my fault, a small voice in the back of my head says. I've just been doing this - or trying to - for way too long. I'm tired…
I shove the voice away.
“I guess… I'm just… not that observant, okay?”
He grins. “I can tell. Hey, why are you in a tree?”
“Again, none of your-”
“None of my business. Yeah, I get it. So you're not gonna come down?”
“Not planning on it, no.”
“Well, I guess I'll just have to come up, then.” He grabs a low-hanging branch and swings himself up.
“HEY! This is my tree!!”
“Too bad, sweetheart.”
He stretches out on a branch and rests his chin on his hands, calmly watching me. I glare stubbornly. “Don't call me sweetheart.”
“Sweetheart is a pet name, not a nickname.”
“Fine. Then what's your name?”
I hesitate. There's no reason not to tell him, but it somehow feels wrong to. Sometimes it feels like I’m the only person in the world who knows my name anymore, and it feels like a betrayal to that little world of mine to tell a stranger my name. “Zemma.”
He considers this for a second, his tail swinging lazily. “I’m gonna call you Z, then.”
“Why not just Zemma?”
I scowl, and he grins, those teeth just as unnerving as they were before. They don't belong in a human mouth. “What's with your bangs?”
Of all the questions he could've asked, all the things he could've pointed out… Does he somehow already know what I am? Or is he just nosy and annoying? Maybe he comes from the Compound. I mean, where else would be come from? And if he really is an artificial hybrid...
No. I can't trust anyone. That's the first rule I made when I ran. Keeping it may have saved my life several times now.
I take a step back, wanting to run. All I have to do is jump from the tree. I can run off, and I'll never be heard from again.
I’m sick of being alone.
It doesn't matter. I can live alone forever, or at least until Zorian escapes. I will.
My long silence must’ve been answer enough for him. He stares curiously at my deliberately covered forehead, but he drops the subject. “Well…”
“I need to go.” I stand abruptly. Everything in me is screaming, either to stay with the one person who’s bothered to talk to me in three whole years or to run as far and as fast as possible. I can't tell which is screaming louder, but I want to make the screaming stop.
“Oh… okay.” He looks a little disappointed, but he doesn't try to stop me.
I jump from the tree and hurry off, not wanting to actually run lest I attract more attention than necessary and not wanting to linger for too long, either.
I just have to make it back into the city. Then I'll disappear into the maze of alleyways and buildings that I call home.
Then I'll disappear.
(A/N: In the original version, I used italics. If any of this is confusing without the italics, then I apologize. I hope you like it! If you did, pretty please comment ((and tell me how I could improve!)))