Clesiar wasn’t making my day easy. All I wanted to do was read my crime novel before class started, but all she seemed to want to do was ask me stupid questions.
“Why do you call yourself Matt and not Matthew?”
I looked up at her over my book. Sure, her freckles were cute, but her long, black hair looked like she couldn’t decide what she’d wanted to do with it that morning. A fringe here, a ponytail there, it was baffling, just like she was.
“It’s a nickname.” It was the most obvious answer I could think of, but I knew that that wouldn’t be the end of it.
“That’s not it…” Clesiar put a finger to her lips. “Weren’t your parents in that religious cult for a while?”
I knew she would’ve picked up on that, you could never sneak anything past this girl. It was like she had a sixth sense or something. I sighed.
“Okay fine, Matthew is the name of a saint, a saint that’s a part of a religion that I don’t believe in. So I prefer the name Matt so I don’t have to remember all the times my religious school teachers used to say Matthew is such a saint to my classmates and parents.”
She smiled upon getting a truthful answer. “So that’s why!”
I bet she’d already thought of that. “Can I read my book now?”
She shook her head. “No.”
The automated alarm on our monitors rang out and I rolled my eyes, exasperated.
“Class is starting.” She returned to her desk beside me.
Our teacher, Mr. Moran, ambled in, rubbing his unshaven chin. He glanced out the door at something. I tried to see what was in the corridor but I couldn’t see anything past the frame.
“I know it’s the last term, but it’s never too late for a fresh face, right? So, I’d like to start today by introducing a new student who’s come all the way from Uteria. Ayla, will you come introduce yourself?”
A pretty blonde girl with blue eyes and olive skin walked into the class and we all stared at her.
“Tell us a little about yourself.”
“My name is… Ayla Lane… I’m into crime fiction and films.”
Mr. Moran nodded. “Alright then, take a seat next to Clesiar on her right, there. Do you see it?”
Nodding to him, she made her way over to Clesiar and sat down with her bag.
Before she could even pull her monitor out, Clesiar leaned over and whispered to her, “Your name isn’t really Ayla, is it?”
Ayla froze. “W-what do you mean?”
Clesiar tilted her head. “Well, it looked like you were about to say your name started with an Ali sound before you corrected it to Ayla.”
Ayla let out a nervous laugh. “No, no, it’s just that the guy beside you was looking at me so intensely that I forgot what I was going to say.”
“Your own name?” Clesiar’s eyes narrowed for a moment, but then she shrugged. “I guess so. Yeah, Matt does that from time to time, sometimes makes my bones shake.”
“And here I thought it was polite to look at people when they are talking,” I murmured and returned to my book.
“What’s your name?” I heard Ayla whisper.
“Clesiar and this is Matt. I wasn’t insinuating anything before, I was just—”
Mr. Moran shut her up with a friendly, “It’s great to see you two are getting along, but I do have a class to run.”
They quietened and Mr. Moran continued his lesson.
The sun was beginning to sink into the horizon when I finally located Clesiar on one of the library computers. She seemed to be trying to find the password that would allow her to get into the students’ data-files.
“You know, you’re beginning to look like a stalker looking up this stuff,” I said as I found her. “Have you been doing this since lunch?”
She looked up suddenly with a pen in her mouth and her eyes wide as though I had surprised her. “I had a feeling she wasn’t telling me her real name!”
I turned to walk out of the library. “Tell me on the way home. It’s late.”
She turned off the computer, picked up her bag and chased me down the steps. Considering we had known each other since we were kids and lived very near one another on the other side of the city, we usually walked home together. Our relationship was solely platonic. We were more like brother and sister than anything else.
When we entered the city, the sky was darkening with the evening. The remaining passing cars rushed home before curfew came into effect. This surprised me, it was much later than I’d realised. I finally decided to break the silence and ask her what she’d found out about Ayla.
“Alright, tell me then.”
She exhaled heavily like she’d been holding in her breath since we had left school. She then let out the flow of information that was a signature of Clesiar’s ramblings.
“Okay, the first thing I noticed was that, even though she’s from Uteria, she spoke very proper for a place so low on the food chain. So I thought, private schooling? I searched every private school in Uteria and then every school in general with no success.”
“Does she have an internet profile?”
“None.” She almost interrupted me. “I even looked up her last name in the phonebook but she’s like a ghost.”
“You know there’s one way of getting information easily and honestly from people.”
In my most patronizing voice, I said, “You ask, nicely.”
She stopped. “Yeah right, like she would tell the truth. She wasn’t even honest with her own name!”
It was fully dark when we approached the city centre and the streetlights were being lit. Whether it was because of daylight savings ending or just our dawdling pace, the swiftly approaching night suggested something abnormal was about to happen. The police cars waiting in the crossroad up ahead only went to confirm my suspicion. I stopped, reading the situation for the danger it presented, but as I went to walk around the crossroad, Clesiar showed she had other plans.
“What are you doing?” I hissed even though it was quite obvious as she tiptoed through the shadows towards where the cars were encircling.
She waved me on, making her way into an alley where she could more easily see what was happening. Knowing how stupid this idea was, I followed her across the street into the alleyway.
“Do you know why I know this is a bad idea?”
She ignored me.
“Because it’s pretty obvious that this is a bad idea!”
There was silence for a moment but then came the echoing sound of heavy footsteps hitting the pavement. I peered out, and in the streetlight, saw a man in a long, black coat and hat walk down the middle of the road into the semicircle of police cars.
“What do you think is going on?” Clesiar whispered.
Spotlights suddenly lit up the entire road and we shrunk down into the alley so no one could see us. My heart felt like it was trying pound its way out of my chest. I couldn’t figure out if this was a meeting or an ambush.
“Vincent Lorengi!” one of the police officers spoke through a megaphone. “You have been found guilty of desertion and we are taking you in, give yourself up!
We stared in confusion. Nothing about this situation felt right or even made sense. The man flicked his arms out to his sides. Loud, shattering explosions filled the air as glass smashed and rained down from every direction.
Chaos filled the crossroad as a shock wave spread from the man’s body. Clesiar and I jumped as windshields, building windows and even the streetlights next to the alley we were hiding in all shattered, spraying us with glass. The policemen flew back from their cars as though weightless. I didn’t understand what I was seeing, but all of my instincts told me that we had to get out of here as fast as possible.
Terrified, I grabbed Clesiar by the wrist and ran out of the alleyway without looking where I was going. An upturned police car suddenly hurtled towards us. All I could hear was a sudden scream from Clesiar before everything went dark.