Stir. Stir. Stir.
The beep of the cheap waffle iron in front of me broke my singular concentration on the batter. I lifted the lid. I had to be careful as I pried the waffle out so it wouldn’t break apart. Even the smell comforted me. If I closed my eyes, or if I took a plate to Darion, I could pretend I wasn’t cooking in a tiny kitchen, in a tiny apartment filled with rebels, and more arriving every minute.
But I didn’t even mind the addition because it meant making more waffles. More batter. More mindless stirring. More forgetting that my life had spun out of control.
“Wow. Man, Eve, Micah was right. These waffles....” Tanner paused to shove more into his mouth. “Arwe...” He swallowed. “Amazing.”
“Thanks.” I didn’t even attempt a smile. Stir. Stir. Stir.
Tanner devoured the rest of his waffle in two bites and dropped his plate into the sink behind me. “My stomach told me to quit a long time ago, but my mouth wouldn’t let me. I think I ate at least a dozen.”
I nodded, acknowledging his compliment.
He frowned momentarily and grabbed the plate beside me, stacked high with hot waffles. He slid around people crowding the kitchen, taking the plate into the living room. Pleased murmurs greeted his appearance.
The batter made half a dozen more waffles, which disappeared just as quickly as my first batch over an hour before. I reached for the malt beside the waffle iron, trying to estimate how much more batter it would yield. A tanned hand wrapped over mine.
“As long as you keep making them, they’ll keep asking for more, Eve. You have to stop sometime.” Darion tugged me gently away from the counter.
“I don’t mind,” I said. I tried to smile for him.
“Come on. You’ve been in here most of the day. Tanner’s probably gained twenty pounds since you got here.” He kept his hand in mine.
I relented and followed him, feeling panicky when he led me into the crowded living room. I’d have to face uncomfortable thoughts without cooking or even cleaning to distract me. Isoli is a bad man...Mrs. Isoli is even more naive than I am. And worse almost no one has good lives. Micah has been right all along.
We met Tanner near the door. “Is it safe for me to take Eve on a walk? She could use some fresh air,” Darion asked.
Tanner nodded. “You know what the Seazan look like. This neighborhood is pretty safe. Rebels around every corner.” He grinned.
Darion grinned back. “Thanks.” He opened the door wide enough for us to squeeze through and led me out into the hall.
We walked outside in silence. I took a deep gulp of air when we stepped out into the night. Darion turned to me, staring down at my face. A sad, concerned expression had replaced the smile. He put his arms around me. I let him pull me close to his chest.
Before I even realized what was happening, sobs shook out of my body. Darion stroked my back and my hair. When the crying ran its course, he leaned back to look at my face.
“I know you’re scared, Eve.”
I couldn’t let go of him. It felt like the last of my safe world would disappear if I did.
He seemed to know what I was thinking. “I’m not going anywhere. I swear I’ll be wherever you are from now on.”
I shook my head. “I’m not a rebel. I never wanted to be.”
The shadow of a smile stole across Darion’s face. “You think making waffles for them means you’ve joined the cause?”
I wished I could laugh, but I didn’t have any laughter inside me. “You helped my brother escape the National Prison. We shot at official bodyguards. The wall is up to keep us from getting out of Phoenix and disappearing into different lives. If we’re not rebels, we’re dead.”
“What’s so bad about the rebels? They seem like a fun bunch of people.” He tried to make a joke, but his expression didn’t sell it. “We’ve ignored it for a while now, haven’t we? Nobody’s happy these days but him. Oh, Eve. Could you really sit back now? Now that you know what he’ll do to take power and keep it?”
I couldn’t answer truthfully because I was ashamed of the answer. If Isoli appeared in the darkness and promised me my life back, I knew I’d take it.
“Tanner says your brother’s going to bring back an army. He thinks they have a real chance of turning things around; not just in Phoenix, but all over.”
I shook my head. “It’s just a bunch of people dying for something that’s never going to change.
Darion bent his head toward me. “Just have a little faith, Eve.” He moved his lips to mine. The sensation electrified me. Like making waffles or doing dishes it made the insanity disappear. A force-field seemed to fall over me, promising protection from everything. His hands moved to my face, drawing me closer. The heat in them flooded my face and spread.
I opened my eyes a moment before he pulled away. I wanted to verify my reality. To look at Darion’s face and tell myself he could make everything okay. We could hide in Phoenix until Isoli gave up and lowered the wall. Then we could slip away and disappear. Maybe even make it across the border into the Eastern States.
My eyes caught the black lines on Darion’s wrist. 9094. I knew those numbers so well. I reached my hand up and held his wrist in my hand. It wasn’t possible. Isoli’s own son. A garbage man?
“How?” I whispered.
Darion ran his other hand over my hair. “I’m adopted. He kidnapped me from a poor family because of my genes. Just like he took you because of your beauty, Eve. Just like he wants your brother because he’s the son of a brilliant geneticist.”
“Is this why you defied him? Because you’re not who you think you are?”
Darion stiffened. “I don’t have to be what this bar code says.”
That line sounded so familiar. “And if this rebellion doesn’t work? That’s exactly what you’ll have to be.” My safety net slipped again.
Darion leaned over me and kissed the top of my head. “I’ll keep fighting until everyone has a choice. It’s time for you to start fighting too.”
I looked down, ashamed, but not enough to agree. Flashing lights cut off our conversation. Darion pulled me back against the building, staring at the vehicles quickly approaching.
“Come on.” He yanked on my arm, pulling me back into the apartment building and up the stairs.
“What’s happening? Is it the Seazan?”
“Worse,” Darion replied. “Anti-Terror Squad. They only come out for special confrontations with the rebels.” He pushed open the apartment door. “Tanner! ATS!”
Tanner emerged from the kitchen, sleeves rolled up. “Gloria,” he snapped to a girl on the couch. “Get Darion and Eve into the safe room.”
Gloria nodded. “Got it.” She swung open a closet door and grabbed a couple paralyzer guns. She handed one to Darion before turning to a skinny, red-headed boy who appeared behind us. She handed him the other paralyzer and turned to take another. “You’re with me, Abel.”
Darion turned to Tanner. “Are you fighting them?”
“If we have to.” Tanner ducked into the closet, handing out paralyzers to the people crowding around us. “Get out of here before ATS breeches the building.”
“I’m not going to run away from a fight,” Darion said stubbornly.
Tanner stopped doling out weapons and turned to face Darion. “Micah trusts me with his sister. Putting her in the middle of a rebel-ATS riot isn’t what I had in mind for that.”
“Then send her with Gloria to the safe room. I’m staying here.”
Tanner shrugged. “Suit yourself. ATS will go for you first.”
Darion smirked darkly. “Bring ‘em on.”
I grabbed his hand. My safety net had disappeared totally. Darion’s eyes blazed the same way Micah’s did the night he tried to rescue me from the Capitol. “You promised you’d go where I went.”
Darion glanced down at me. “The safe room isn’t far, Eve. Right?” He turned to Gloria.
“In the basement of this building,” Gloria confirmed.
“Tanner, ATS has the building surrounded. What’re your orders?”
Tanner turned to a rebel. “Evacuate the building. I don’t want anybody to get caught in this. Stall until everything’s clear.”
For the first time that night I wanted to laugh. It shouldn’t take long to get all the “civilians” out. Over half the building’s inhabitants had sat in the living room eating waffles and discussing how big of an army Robin Hood would bring back to take Phoenix.
“Gloria, go. Take Eve now,” Tanner ordered. “If you lose her you have to answer to Micah. Keep that in mind.”
Gloria saluted and smirked. “Aye, aye.” She grabbed my arm, pulling me toward the bedrooms in the back of the apartment.
“Darion!” I reached out, trying to grasp his hand. I had to make him come with me.
He linked our fingers. “Don’t worry, Eve. Everything’s going to be fine. I’ll be down to get you soon.” His fingers slipped through mine as Gloria yanked me away.
“Sorry, Eve,” she said gruffly. “I’m not going to be the one to tell Robin Hood we rescued his sister than let Isoli take her back.”
I turned to look over my shoulder, terrified Darion was almost out of my sight. Gloria shoved me into the bedroom. She waited for Abel to scramble in behind us. The last thing I saw before she slid an iron door shut was Tanner handing Darion extra battery packs for the paralyzers.