Betrayal on the 51st

I sat on my bed, ruminating over the pleasant dinner. I hadn’t laughed that much in as long as I could remember. Now, it was late. But I couldn’t go to sleep yet. I was in my pajamas: an old pair of grey sweatpants that had a growing hole in the inner seam of my right thigh, where my legs rubbed together, and a ratty white t-shirt with the words “I believe in unicorns” on the front. The words were faded and the once sparkly pink and purple unicorn had nearly all peeled off. The shirt had come from a thrift shop, two years ago, at the bargain price of 75 cents. More importantly, however, I held a letter in my hand. Jack had pressed it there as I’d left dinner.

I held the envelope up to my nose. It smelled like Jack and Dora’s house. A hint of homemade bread and the fragrance of varnished wood that permeated their home and chantry. Swallowing, I opened up the letter.

 

Dear Fern,

I’m writing this letter before you come to dinner. When you ran off the other day, I felt awful. Sometimes I say things too straight. It can be uncomfortable. I say things straight because that’s the way it comes to me. When I sit and think, I don’t get visions and dreams like some preachers claim to have. And I believe they do get them. But though I don’t mean to imply that I couldn’t get them; for me…well, inspiration just comes to me like a phrase or a clear thought. I get straight, blunt truths. They just come to my mind and so that’s how I teach.

That special spot in the forest I took you, that’s my special spot. But I’d like you to have it. I’ve been going there for years. Sitting in that space, where the light comes down through the trees, has been sacred to me. I’ve sat there for hours and hours and learned many things simply by taking the time to think.

Like you, I’ve gone there angry. Yet, I have nearly almost always left at peace—though maybe not necessarily always comfortable, if you know what I mean. Truth is like that. It’s often uncomfortable. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t become comfortable…in time.

So, the secret pondering place, it’s yours. Now, I know you. You’ll try to dissemble, to politely reject my offer. You’ll say it’s my place, so you could never take it. But to you I say this, Fern. It is my place. Therefore, it’s my privilege to give it to another. It’s never occurred to me to give that place to anyone else before. But I know, as sure as any thought of truth I’ve ever received, that the secret spot in the Learen is now yours. Whether you use it or not, well, that’s up to you.

There’s a lot of goodness inside you, Fern. It’s all bottled up, or dammed up. One day, however, you’ll sit in that special place and that dam is going to break, and all the good that you are meant to bring to the world is going to come flowing out.

Sincerely,

Jack

 

#

 

When I woke up at 7:00 a.m., I felt strangely unburdened with guilt. Something about the dinner the night before—something about seeing Jack and Dora, laughing with my Mom, hearing her talk about going to a chantry, realizing Jack sometimes made mistakes. Even reading Jack’s letter. Well, it gave me hope. I still wasn’t proud of the extent I was going to visit the Peach school, but I knew that when we were done with our research, that I could be done—if I chose. I knew, deep down, that Jack was my compensation for losing Joy. I knew that my life was going to be okay, now. Because of Jack. And for some reason I knew that it wasn’t such a big deal anymore—the rays. The rays were death, but didn’t everyone have to die sometime? If it happened to be unpleasant or uncomfortable for those of us who were left behind, that didn’t change much. Not really. Manny would threaten to slap me if I said that out loud. But it was how I felt.

I put on my nondescript clothing and went to the kitchen to grab some breakfast. Mom came in not long after and patted me on the shoulder. She was smiling in a way I hadn’t seen in a very long time. “What a fun dinner, eh? I swear Jack and Dora are the best people I’ve ever met.”

I nodded. “Without a doubt.”

After stuffing a buttered piece of toast into my mouth, I chugged down a half a glass of milk. Then, when I made to head back to my room, Mom grabbed my arm and stopped me. I looked up at her. “We’re going to be okay, aren’t we, Fern.” It was a statement, not a question.

“I think so, Mom. I really do.”

“Jack and Dora have really helped me heal. Did you know that Dora offered me a job at her shop last night?”

I felt a bit shocked, “Really? Like, a steady job?” Mom was always bouncing around between jobs. Sure, she always managed to make sure we had a roof over our head and some kind of food around, but it was always tight.

Mom nodded. “She wants to train me as a baker—like her. I admired her work so much last night that she said she’d like to train someone to take the shop so she and Jack could vacation sometimes. She said if I do well, maybe she’ll make me a partner in the future.”

Now I really was shocked. A partner? “Really? She said all of that?” I paused and thought. “I’d ask if you think she really means it, but it’s Dora. Of course, she means it.”

Mom smiled and bobbed her head up and down. “I…I start today.”

I gave my mom a tight hug. “Mom, that’s amazing. I’m…well…it’s sort of hard to think about.” I pulled back.

“Now, go get ready for school. Bus comes at 7:40 a.m. I don’t want you missing and having to walk…again.”

“Sure thing, Mom,” I said. Oh, and by the way, I’m skipping school today and stealing a car with Zoe and Manny and we’re not coming back till late tomorrow. Please don’t be mad. I wanted to tell my Mom some made up lie, so she wouldn’t worry when I didn’t come home in the evening. But I simply couldn’t bring myself to do it. I wasn’t a very good liar. I’d always been a better apologizer. I’d leave a note.

 

#

 

“Saxton, here we come!” Manny hollered. He was driving a little faster than I felt comfortable with, but I didn’t know how to tell him to slow down. Manny was impulsive, reckless, and overconfident. But he cared about me and Zoe. So, I figured he wouldn’t try to kill us.

The car Manny had stolen was posh. It had black leather seats, but the leather was softer than any leather I’d ever felt. The dash had chrome accents that highlighted wood panels and a sound system with all the bells and whistles. From a six-CD-changer to XM radio and a brand name speaker system, not to mention power everything. The three of us were riding in what might as well have been a limo. None of us had ever had anything so nice.

“It’s not so fabulous,” Zoe said, sighing as if she didn’t care. But I saw her petting the leather when she thought we weren’t looking.

“So,” Manny said, a big smile on his face. “Do we know exactly where in Saxton this Peach school is?”

I nodded. “413 Bilton Avenue. I think it’s a pretty big building. Should be hard to miss.”

“Program it into the GPS,” Zoe said.

After I figured out how to get the address into the GPS, Manny, Zoe and I sat in silence, speaking only here and there as the miles went by. I realized, as I sat there, that aside from all of our commiserating over the years about the rays, that we hadn’t talked about much else. I knew their problems and their fears. They knew mine. But as we drove, I realized I didn’t know their hopes, or their plans for life after the rays, or despite the rays.

“Uh, what are you guys hoping we find at the Peach school?” I asked. “I mean, what if we can’t find enough information to…pinpoint when the rays will strike? What if when we’re done, we can’t figure out how to implement…our plan?”

At first neither Manny or Zoe replied. Zoe merely pursed her lips and tugged at a few of her dark curls. Manny seemed to look everywhere but at me—and the road—but then he slowly gave me a sideways glance.

“What?” I asked. “Well, no one has ever run into a death ray on purpose. No one has ever done what we’re trying to do…to find out what the Utopias are really like. And if we can’t figure out how to do it…then, what do we do?”

“It’s not like our lives will change much.” Zoe said at last. But she fixed me with a concentrated gaze. “I mean, we’ll have to find something else to focus on. We’ve always believed this would solve our issues…you know, our problems. We’ve all been unhappy because of what the rays have done to our lives. If we can’t chase them down. If we can’t get to the bottom of it all…well, Manny and I have jobs. We’ll just go on like we’ve always gone on.”

Manny cleared his throat. “If I’m being honest with you guys, I’m as keen on what I can steal from the Peach school as what I’ll learn there. I mean, what if I find stuff that I can sell to influential people? People spend as much money on information as they do stuff. If I can’t find answers to how to track a death ray, I’ll simply turn the search into looking for something I can profit off of.”

“What?! We can’t steal from the school, Manny.” I said. “We’ll get caught, for sure, and then thrown in jail! My mom will kill me.”

Manny didn’t react to my outburst. He simply looked at me. “We’ve already stolen a car, Fern. Your idea, I might add. But I took the risk for you. That’s on me. If anyone finds out, I’ll get the punishment. Now, you’re suddenly going Peachy on me? You won’t take the flack for me in return? That’s just rotten…”

Zoe sort of laughed, from the back seat. I felt sick and somewhat angry. But Manny was right. I’d expected him to take the fall for us—about the car. He had every right to resent that I didn’t want to take the fall for him if he wanted to profit from our excursion. How can you be angry, Fern? You know your friends. The rays are all you’ve ever had in common.

“You’re the angry one, Fern. You’ve always been so angry about the rays. I used to be angry,” Zoe spoke again, unexpectedly. “But I’m not as angry as I used to be. And I was never as angry as you. I haven’t told you guys, because I wasn’t sure how I felt. But I haven’t cared as much as you two for a long time. Sometimes I feel too tired to do this anymore. I mean, risk my life? Run into a ray?”

My mind reeled. We had just stolen a car and were on our way to a Peach school—our first big boost into the plan we had all three devised a few years ago. Now was the time Zoe decided to tell us she was losing her nerve? Now, after we’d just taken our biggest risk ever?

“I’ll still do it,” Manny said, giving me another sideways glance. “This life isn’t worth much to me. But if we can’t do it, I have other plans. That’s all I’m saying. Just keeping it real.”

“What about you, Fern? What are your plans if this whole thing doesn’t work out?” Zoe asked.

Suddenly, instead of feeling like I wanted to quit the plan, I felt a renewed determination to carry it out at all costs. “It will work out…eventually. I’m never going to give up,” I said. And I meant it.

Manny met Zoe’s eyes by looking in the rear-view mirror. And the look they exchanged was one I couldn’t puzzle out. “Do you guys think I’m crazy?” I asked, anger building again.

“Of course!” Manny laughed. At first it was just a chuckle, but then it grew. Zoe joined in. “We’re all crazy, Fern.” She laughed. At first my anger numbed me to the laughter. But I wore down quickly. Soon, we were all laughing. Then, we slowly calmed down.

Manny gave me a sober stare—one of the few I’d ever gotten. “We’re with you Fern. Always have been. You’re cray-cray for sure. But so are we. So, if we can do this plan, we will. Alright? But you did ask. So, now you know.”

Zoe patted my shoulder. “Alright?” she asked.

Finally, I nodded. “Alright.”

Then, as we finished our conversation, a big blue sign that said, “Welcome to Saxton” flew by on the side of the road.

“It’s time.” Manny said. “We’re almost there.”

I took a deep breath. “Let’s do this.”

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Angela Tempest
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Angela Tempest

Fiction Author

Hi! My name is Angela Tempest. I write fiction that entertains, takes you to another world, and fills your life with truth. I hope you’re enjoying A Search for Utopia. If you love it, there’s more. Check out my author page to read my other stories!