One Year Before Impact Day
When I woke up again the next morning, there was someone else in my bed with me. I didn’t even need to roll over to figure out who it was, and I knew I could blame Aidan for letting her in without waking me up. I could probably also blame him for her presence in the first place, since he’d almost certainly messaged her about what had happened.
“What are you doing in my bed?” I asked, not really needing an answer.
“Stealing your body heat,” she said, smiling gently.
I’d met Liz on my first day of high school, and grew to like her almost immediately. She gave off the impression of being antisocial almost to an extreme, though it wasn’t antagonistic. She just didn’t seem interested in anything that the people around her were doing. I felt like we were kindred spirits. She must have seen something similar in me, because I became the first and last friend she ever made. With the exception of Aidan, I suppose, but that was more a matter of convenience than anything else, since he was always around me.
In the years that followed, Liz’s detached coolness actually drew more people to her, though she never really seemed to notice. She was one of the school’s top sports stars, a high academic achiever and incredibly attractive by just about everyone’s standards. Her Eurasian features could have led to a future as a model, and she had the most captivating bright green eyes, silky black hair and the sort of athletic build that might have been intimidating, if not for her heart-melting smile. She literally had a fan club, and she couldn’t have cared less.
Probably about half the people in our school would have killed to wake up with her in their bed. In my case, it was nice, but I also knew it was going to come with a drawn out conversation about the night before, and that was something I definitely did not want to deal with.
Meanwhile, Aidan was reclined on my couch, lazily reading a book. Sadie was sitting behind him, reading over his shoulder. That was more or less the only way she could read, since she couldn’t pick up the books herself.
“So, do I need to ask what you’re doing here?” I asked.
“What, I can’t cuddle up with a friend in bed on a Saturday morning?” Liz complained, dodging the question.
“Alright, well, I’m gonna go for a run,” I said, hoping to escape before she had a chance to start interrogating me.
“That’s a good idea! I’ll come with you,” she said, effortlessly dashing those hopes.
“I’ll be here,” Aidan added, not looking up from his book.
“You can get out while I change, though,” I told him. He blushed, then recovered by rolling his eyes and closing the book, much to Sadie’s disappointment.
“What, you’re actually going?” he complained.
“Well, yeah. I could do with some exercise, anyway.”
“And some fresh air?” he asked snidely, parroting my excuse from the night before. I glared at him, and he sprung up from the couch. “Fine, I’m getting out. I’ll go amuse myself somewhere else.”
Sadie followed him out, presumably hoping he would continue his book. Liz and I got changed, her borrowing my spare athletic gear. We left together, jogging towards the park I’d lied about being at the night before.
I tried to set a pace that would be too hard for Liz to maintain and still be able to talk, but she was probably in better shape than I was. We picked up the pace a little more, running in silence for a while, but she started talking before I could get too comfortable.
“So what happened last night?” she asked, all pretences of subtlety dropped.
I sighed. “What did Aidan tell you?”
“That you were evasive,” she said. “So I’m asking you directly.”
“It’s really not a big deal,” I insisted, jumping over a crack that Liz didn’t even seem to notice.
“Maybe not to you.”
“No, seriously. I was restless, so I decided to go for a walk. It was dark, and I fell down a hill. I got a bit dirty, but that’s all.”
It wasn’t that I wanted to lie to her. I just didn’t want to upset her, and if she knew the real reason I was out, she would have freaked out. Plus, if I told her the truth about what I was doing, I would also need to explain why I was fine, and there was no way I was going to tell anybody about that. Not yet.
“You’re not a very good liar, Charlie.”
“Liz, look at me,” I said. “I’m running. You saw me before; I’m unharmed. Shouldn’t that be enough to tell you that everything is fine?”
“Just because your body is fine, doesn’t mean you are,” she said. “I’m worried about why you were out in the first place.”
We came to a stop in one of the more isolated areas of the park. Neither of us were out of breath, but it was obvious she wanted to focus on talking, not running. There was no easy way out of it.
For a brief moment, I did consider telling her, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Not yet.
“I just needed some space,” I lied. “It’s been eleven years, and sometimes I still don’t feel like I belong in that house. Sometimes, I just feel like I need to get out.”
“Charlie, you know they both love you, right? You’re as much a part of their family as they are, and you know they’d say the same.”
Liz wrapped her arms around me, hugging me gently. I hugged her back, trying not to feel guilty for manipulating her. It was for her own good, I told myself. I didn’t need to burden anyone else with my problems.
“I’m hungry,” I said, after enough time had passed to safely change the subject.
“Me too,” she said. “Let’s go back and bully Aidan into making us breakfast.”
“Just bat your eyelashes at him,” I told him. “He’ll grumble, but I guarantee he’ll do it.”
“Is that what you do?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Nah, bullying him is more fun,” I said. “And I’m not really the eyelash-batting type.”
“And you think I am?”
“You’re pretty enough to be,” I said. She blushed a little, and turned away.
“Let’s just go back,” she said, and started to jog back the way we came. I smiled, and took off after her.
Bullet dodged, I congratulated myself.
It didn’t feel like a victory, though. It just made me feel more lonely.
Six Months Before Impact Day
“I’m not sure I understand the relevance,” he complained.
“You mean you’re not interested in heart-warming stories about my friends?” I asked sarcastically, fidgeting in my bonds. They weren’t exactly comfortable.
“I warned you about wasting my time.”
“Fine, spoil the surprise,” I said, sighing. “Are you familiar with the Effe family?”
“They’re assassins,” he said. “Contract killers. Some of the best in the country.”
Of course he knew them. I’d expected as much.
“At least,” I confirmed. “Liz was one of them. Well, in training. She was only seventeen, after all.”
He raised an eyebrow at that. “One of your best friends was part of the most respected family of killers in the country. That seems awfully convenient.”
“Like I said, you don’t know the half of it.”
“Well, that’s why you’re telling me your story,” he said. “Now, is it safe to assume that this Aidan will also be important at some point?”
“You could say that,” I said, shrugging.
“I’m getting there,” I snapped. “Trust me, it’s all important.”
“It had better be,” he said. “You can tell me more next time. Right now, I need to make some calls. Your friend, Liz… you referred to her in the past tense. Is she still alive?”
“I don’t know,” I said darkly.
Next Week: You Could Make A Difference Too