Sorry I’m a day late on this! I turned in King’s Blood on Sunday night (yay!), so I wasn’t able to write this until yesterday, which put me a day behind. Thanks for your patience.
In conjunction with the #WeWriteBooks series I’m writing over on the Go Teen Writers blog, I’m posting the chapters for THIRST on my website. Subscribe by clicking here. And if you’ve just discovered THIRST, click here for a list of previous chapters, if you’d like to get caught up.
Where are they taking Eli? Do you think he’s going house hunting or somewhere else?
Shockingly, they actually did drive us all around to a bunch of houses.
Of the eight of us, (I changed it to eight from last week’s twelve) I was the youngest by far. Most of the people looked somewhere between their twenties and middle-aged. We were each given a slip of paper that listed eight address and were told to rank our top four. The guide—a lady in a fancy brown suit—told us that she’d do her best to make us all happy.
First they drove us to two houses off of Summit Road that were across the road from each other. They were really close to the LLC compound. Everyone went nuts over the places, but I didn’t think they were that amazing. Then we drove out Gothic and down a bunch of side streets where we found the next three houses. These were what you might find in almost any city across America. Suburban, three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath homes with tiny yards. Some were newer than others, but all were nice inside. We were told that each house came furnished.
While the houses had indoor plumbing, it was turned off. There was a port-a-potty in each yard, which our guide told us was temporary.
“Once the dam is complete, the Champions plan to re-route the water to all the houses. It’s a major project, though, and might take a year or more to complete.”
After that, we went north and stopped at a house on Cinnamon Mountain Road. At 3986 square feet, it had four bedrooms, three and a half baths, a great room, and a wet bar. People freaked out over the place, and I couldn’t help but think this much space would be enough to fit everyone in our ragtag family.
The seventh house was even better. A bit farther north on Gold Link Drive, coming in at 4200 square feet, the five bedroom behemoth looked more like a log cabin hotel resort. It had massive windows overlooking the mountain, quick access to National Forest hiking trails, and bathrooms and balconies in each room. Everyone went nuts over the place, so I knew there was no way I’d to get it.
I got really caught up in the fun of it all and had to keep reminding myself that I didn’t want to live in this town with these people who felt they could do whatever they wanted and we’d all fall in line.
We all piled back into the van and drove to the last house. It was way on the north side of the mountain at the far end of Prospect Road. With three bedrooms, two baths, and 2300 square feet—which included a two-car garage—it was smaller than some of the other houses we’d seen. Several people said the place was ugly outside compared to the other houses and too far away from the LLC compound. It was built into a steep hill. The ground level was stone masonry around the two-car garage. The next two stories were sided in pine. A porch wrapped around the front of the second story, and unless you entered through the garage, you had to climb a full flight of stairs to reach the front door. Everyone complained about this, as if walking a flight of stairs was too much work. The inside was nice but a little outdated. It smelled old. Our tour guide said the house had been built in the 80s.
I liked it.
As we drove back toward the LLC compound, everyone was talking about which place was their favorite. I wasn’t sure if people were being honest or not. I mean, we were competing with each other for these houses. Most people were stuck on the first two that were near the LLC compound and the mansion of a house on Gold Link Drive. While I had no plans to stick around this place long term, I would much rather live in a house than in the condos, and if I could get one close to the mountain, that would be ideal. I had no desire to be close to the LLC compound, but since everyone was obsessed with Gold Link Drive, I chose Prospect Drive as my number one. It was perfect for my needs, and the fact that no one else seemed to want it made me hopeful that I’d actually get it.
We got back to the compound, and our tour guide told us to wait while she took our slips of paper inside. It took forever for her to come back out. My guess is they were rocking off between seven people having chosen Gold Link Drive as their number one.
She finally came back with a shoebox of keys. I wondered about all the families that had lived in these houses. I knew some of the places were vacation homes or rentals for skiers, but not all. They owners had likely died like the rest of the world, and LLC had sent their people in to clear out all the owners’ worldly belongings so that their homes could be given to perfect strangers. So weird.
Gold Link Drive went to a middle-aged guy who looked like working out was his life. He pumped his fist in the air while several others in the group shot death glares his way.
When the guide handed me the keys to Prospect Drive, I was relieved. She had me sign for the keys, then they told me I was free to move in.
I went back to the condo and told everyone about the house. Jaylee and Krista weren’t here, of course.
“Can we go see it?” Dad asked.
“Sure,” I said. “We can move out there. Why don’t you guys pack up and we’ll take a load out after lunch?”
Everyone agreed and took off to pack. I went next door.
Jaylee answered and grinned when she saw me. “Well?”
“I got a house,” I said, dangling the key in front of her face. “Want to go see if before everyone else?”
She snatched the key out of my hand and took off past me, running down the stairs. I chased her all the way to my truck. We got in and I drove north on Gothic Road.
“It’s really far out here,” she said, watching the houses we passed by. “You think that’s why they are giving these away?”
“Don’t know,” I said.
“Is it big? Tell me about it.”
So I did. And I told her nothing about any of the other houses. Jaylee would never have chosen Prospect Drive. So the less she knew about the other houses, the better.
We arrived, and Jaylee jumped out before I had fully stopped the truck. I heard her squeal, which made me feel good. I shut off the truck and joined her where she stood before the garage, looking up.
“I like that deck,” she said. “Race you up the stairs.”
She took off. I chased her but let her win.
She slapped the front door. “Ha! I beat you.” She fiddled with the keys. “Which one opens the door, I wonder.”
I snatched the keys from her hands and held them behind my back. “Hold on, I want to ask you something.”
She smirked and set one hand on her hip. “What?”
I was suddenly nervous. This girl had always made me nervous, but what I was about to say… it could go badly. I hoped it wouldn’t. “You really want to live here with me?”
She narrowed her eyes. “I already told you I did.”
“Yeah, but this place is big enough for everyone. We’ll all live here. But I was thinking—”
“You want to share a bedroom.” She reached out, grabbed the waistband of my jeans, and pulled me toward her. She slid both hands around my waist, slipping them up under the bottom of my T-shirt where her fingernails lightly scratched my lower back.
My cheeks burned. “Actually, I was thinking we should get married.”
She looked up at me, her eyes huge.
I swallowed, wondering what she was thinking.
She burst into laughter.
Nice. That’s just what a guy wants to hear after he proposes. “Come on,” I said.
“I’m sorry, Eli. I just did not expect you to say that!”
I took a deep breath, thankful the asking part was over, but still nervous about the answer part. Was she going to answer? “Well…?”
“Married. Eli? Why?”
“I’m not going to live with a girl before I’m married. I’m just not.”
“My mom never got married, and she has always been fine.”
“Really.” The woman had always treated her apartment like a bed and breakfast. Whichever guy she was currently hooking up with got to move in until she dumped him.
“I don’t expect you to understand—your parents were always so loyal or whatever. But I think that’s boring.”
“It’s boring to fall in love with someone?”
“Uh… no. It’s boring to vow to stay in love with someone forever. You can’t know that you’ll even like them a month from now, so there’s no point in making promises you can’t keep.”
“It’s a vow. It’s not supposed to be easy all the time.”
“Because you stop loving each other, and then comes the guilt, and that’s when divorce happens. Why do that to each other? Be together if you want to. And when you don’t, move on.”
“I’m not like that,” I said. “I want one person to be mine. And I’ll be hers. That’s how it should be.”
“So says your parents and Pastor Scott and thousands of years of archaic traditions.”
“I like those traditions.”
“Well, I don’t.”
I backed up to lean against the porch railing. “Okay. So, I guess that’s a no.” I’d gotten my answer. Now what?
“Don’t be mad, Eli,” Jaylee said. “It’s not a big deal. We’ve only been dating a few weeks. You’re moving a bit fast for me.”
Maybe he was.
“And you know what? I’ve been trying to do things your way. I really have. But you haven’t even tried to do anything I want to do. That’s not really fair.”
The statement hit hard. She was right. I’d been asking her to change, but I hadn’t been willing to change anything about myself. Not that I would, either. And that did sound unfair.
Hannah’s warning came back to me. Perhaps Jaylee and I were just too different.
“We should get back,” I said. “The others will be waiting.”
She turned her head away and stuck her nose in the air. “Not until you smile.”
Really? Everything was a game to this girl. “Jaylee, let’s just go.”
She folded her arms and sat on the porch, cross-legged. “Nope. Not until we make up.”
What? “I asked you to marry me. You said no. I think we’re done here.” I should have seen this long ago, and I felt really stupid all of a sudden. Embarrassed.
“Break up? You’re breaking up with me?” She sounded totally shocked.
“Let’s just say it’s mutual.”
“Mutual? You’re such a bore, Eli.”
“And you’re mean,” I said. “Look, if it makes you feel better, tell everyone you dumped me, okay? I don’t really care.”
But I so did. I jogged down the steps and climbed into the van. Jaylee stayed up on the balcony for a while. She finally stood up and made her way down to the truck. She got in, slammed the door.
“I’m dumping you,” she said. “You’re a jerk.”
I released a slow breath and started the truck. It was weird. I’d been in love with Jaylee for years. I’d spent a lot of time imagining what it would be like to be her boyfriend. Reality paled in comparison, which as I drove back to the condo and Jaylee glared out the passenger’s window, shocked me. I had wanted this for so long, but I’d never really understood what it would look like. I think, deep down, I’d always believed that I could save her. That if she would just get to know me, she’d realize that we were meant to be and she’d stop making reckless choices and stop drinking and clean up her life.
But she didn’t want to. And at the moment, I really didn’t care anymore.
Three blocks from the condo, I stopped at a red light and someone knocked on my driver’s side window.
I jumped, saw that it was Riggs, and rolled down the window.
“Hey, losers,” he said. “You really get a house or what, Eli?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Dude, you should have a party, man. That would be sweet.”
“Eli doesn’t party, Riggs,” Jaylee said. “He’s too good for all that.”
“Well, sure he is.” Riggs reached in and patted my shoulder. “You’re one of the good ones, man.”
I was starting to think he was a little drunk.
Someone honked behind me. The light had turned green. “See you later, Riggs,” I said, stepping on the gas.
He held onto the window and ran alongside the truck. “Hey, wait! Whoa! You guys should come meet my friends. We’re going for cupcakes.”
“Some other time,” I said.
But Jaylee was already climbing out of the cab. She shut the door and stepped back from the truck without a word.
I nodded to Riggs and drove on.
Good riddance, right?
When I got back to the apartment, I found the door wide open. Stuff was piled by the door. Lizzie was wiping down the counters with some Clorox wipes. I should probably go pack my own stuff, but I just didn’t feel like it. I came in and sat down at the table. My sister didn’t see me, she just kept cleaning. I wondered where everyone else was. Didn’t hear any voices. It wasn’t until I leaned back in my chair and the wood cracked that Lizzie looked up.
“Eli.” She stopped cleaning. “Where’s Jaylee?”
I slouched down. “With Riggs.”
She nodded. “Well, this stuff is ready to load. Hannah and Shy are next door, packing their stuff. The guys went for sandwiches. They’re getting them to go. We weren’t sure when you were coming back.”
I stood up, glad to have something to do. “I’ll start loading the truck.”
By the time the guys returned with lunch, I had loaded the pile by the door. We crowded around the table and ate sandwiches while I told them all about the houses I’d seen that morning and why I picked the one I did. Krista criticized me for it, and I almost hoped she’d tell Jaylee.
We didn’t have anything more than we’d come with, so we moved to my new house in one trip. Then we went back out and used up our daily food rations at the market, stocking up on supplies. It would be nice to be able to cook our own meals, though we’d have to be careful about dishes since water was still scarce.
We stayed up late that night playing board games. There was lots of laughter, and I started to feel better. The girls all went to bed, and us guys went out onto the deck.
“This was a perfect night,” Logan said. “She likes me, don’t you think so, Zaq? Me and Hannah? She volunteered to be on my team.”
“Yeah, I don’t know, man,” Zaq said. “It was just Pictionary.”
“We did good together, though. I guessed everything she drew.”
“Because she’s a good artist,” I said. “She didn’t guess half the things you drew.”
Logan ignored that. “I’ve been thinking of what Reinhold said about us all need to pair off and procreate. Repopulate the world.”
“He didn’t mean right now,” Zaq said. “He was talking long term.”
“Still, you and Lizzie. Eli and Jaylee. And Hannah and me. Right?”
“You can cross me and Jaylee of that list,” I said.
“Why?” Logan asked. “What did you do?”
“Why do you assume it was my fault?” I asked. “She’s always liked Riggs.”
“Oh,” Logan said.
“But, Eli,” Zaq said. “Riggs doesn’t stick with anyone. If they hook up, it won’t last.”
“I’m not waiting around for Riggs to dump her,” I said. “Hannah was right. You were right, Zaq. Jaylee and I are just too different.”
“No worries, Eli,” Logan said. “You can go for Krista, instead.”
I wrinkled my nose. “Pretty sure Krista has her heart set on any of the guys in that condo at the foot of the stairs,” I said.
Logan groaned. “Then fix it, Eli. Fix things with you and Jaylee.”
“I’m not fixing it,” I said. “I’m done.”
“Don’t worry about me, Logan. Reinhold wants me to marry Kimama, so I’m all set.”
Zaq and Logan stared at me, mouths gaping. Then they glanced at each other and cracked up.
I don’t know if they thought I was joking or not, but I’d had enough talk about girls. “You guys do what you have to do, but I’m going to focus on getting us out of this place. That’s all I care about right now.”
When I came down to breakfast the next morning, Lizzie ran up and gave me a hug. “How are you? I made you some pancakes. Come and eat.”
She dragged me to the table and pushed me into a chair. Logan and Zaq were playing war across from me. Hannah was sitting in the living room with Shyla and Davis. No sign of my dad or Cree.
“What time is it?” I asked.
“It’s eleven thirty, Eli. You slept in. It’s no wonder, considering.”
“Krista came by this morning to give me some stuff I forgot. She and Jaylee are going to keep living in the condo. I can’t believe it, Eli. I’m just so sad for you.”
“What are you talking about? Because Jaylee doesn’t want to live here?”
“Because you asked Jaylee to marry you? She said no? You guys broke up?”
I stared at my sister, felt every eye in the room fix on me. My face burned. “It was mutual,” I said.
Zaq put down his cards. “You proposed? Seriously, man?”
I shrugged. “Pancakes ready yet?”
Lizzie brought me a paper plate with three steaming pancakes on it. I picked up the butter knife, cut off a slab of butter, and slathered it onto the top pancake.
“Why didn’t you say anything last night?” Zaq asked.
“Didn’t feel like it,” I said, reaching for the syrup.
“She’s a moron,” Zaq said.
I squeezed my frustration into the syrup bottle and ended up drowning my pancakes. “I’m the moron. We’re too different. Everyone said so.”
“Being different isn’t the problem,” Zaq said. “You guys want different things.”
I set the bottle of syrup down on the table with a thud. “You’re right,” I said. “I’m going to spend the day on the radios, trying to get in touch with Reinhold. It’s weird that he hasn’t checked in.”
“I hope something didn’t happen to him,” Lizzie said.
“He could have gotten bitten by a rattlesnake,” Logan said. “That’s the only venomous snake on the mountain.”
“How would his getting bit keep him from using the radio?” I asked. “How would it keep Kimama from using the radio?”
“Maybe he passed out and—”
The doorbell rang.
We went silent, staring at each other. Who could that be?
Jaylee, perhaps. She realized she was wrong to reject me and had changed her mind. Well, I wasn’t going to forgive her so easily. I got up and walked to the door. Opened it.
Two Enforcers stood there. It was Officer Harvey and a guy named Bell. Below, they’d parked their police car beside my truck.
“Hey,” I said.
“We’re looking for Hannah Cheng,” Officer Harvey said.
Hannah? I suddenly grew suspicious. “What did she do?”
“Is she here or not?” Harvey asked. “One of her roommates gave this as her new address. You know you’re supposed to report a new address with LLC headquarters.”
“I didn’t know,” I said. “I’ll be sure that we all do that today.”
Hannah stepped up beside me. “I’m Hannah Cheng. How can I help you?”
“You’re to come with us, miss,” Harvey said.
“On what charge?” I asked.
“You’re not being arrested,” Harvey told her. “When you filled out your application to live here, you acknowledged having medical training. There is a growing need, so we’re bringing in anyone with medical training for a meeting.”
“Let me get my shoes,” Hannah said, walking away.
That left me with the enforcers. Hannah was a generous person. I knew she’d happily go with these guys if she thought she might be able to help someone. Problem was, I didn’t trust these guys or the people who pulled their strings. It wasn’t my choice, though, and Hannah returned momentarily, shoes on, and left with the enforcers.
I stood in the doorway, frowning as the police cruiser sped away, kicking up a plume of dust on the dirt road. This was just the beginning. Soon they’d find “jobs” for all of us. Jobs that didn’t pay. We’d have to do them in exchange for the housing, food, and water that LLC provided. Freedom was important to me, and I didn’t like being forced into a new way of life. I should get to choose. To vote. To have a say. It was time to get in touch with Reinhold and get out of this place. The sooner, the better.
END OF CHAPTER
Is Eli right to worry that Enforcers took Hannah away to work? Or is he overreacting?