Jory found her in the infirmary. She’d told them not to track him down, but the medics never listened to her. Someday, she’d figure out why they liked him better. Oh, who was she kidding? She knew why. He was nicer. Sweeter. Kinder. There was no one in the world as perfect as him. Which did not mean she wanted him to be here right now.
In the outer room she heard Dosia laughing. Marcelina felt bad. Poor Dosia had witnessed what happened. Guilt clawed at her innards once more and she turned away from Jory when he sat on her bed.
“Don’t be like that.”
“I’m terrible. Awful. Is Dosia ok?”
Jory’s hand took hers, but he let her stare at the wall. His other hand stroked the feathers on the back of her neck. She knew he meant to be comforting, but it only increased her guilt.
“Dosia is fine, Marcelina. You scared her, but our little terror is made of sterner stuff than that.”
The sob she’d been holding in since she’d heard his footsteps escaped. Now she rolled over and buried her face against his side. Fingers stroked her feathers as she wrapped her arms around his waist. The bandages and splint on her hand made it partially awkward, but she couldn’t let go.
Jory didn’t speak. He knew better. Quieter footsteps entered the room.
“Give me a minute with mama, terror.”
“No. No, it’s ok.” Marcelina forced herself to sit up and her wings shook before they settled down. With her good hand she patted a spot beside her on the bed.
Dosia grinned and leapt up. “Wings, mama!”
Jory shook his head as Marcelina let her wings extend as best she could in the small examination room. Dosia held still until scarlet feathers circled around her. Only then did she press her face against Marcelina’s side. The slight tremble in her small body left Marcelina fighting back tears once more. As she fought for control, Jory’s fingers stroked the feathers on her wing.
“I’m sorry. Dosia, terror? Mama’s sorry.”
“It’s ok, mama.”
They sat together, surrounded by scarlet feathers, until Dosia began to squirm.
“Why don’t we go for a walk?” Jory suggested.
A firm, “no,” was on her lips, but died as she saw Jory’s expression. So, despite the leaden feel of her limbs and the throb in her hand, she unwound Dosia’s arms from around her and stood. The medics nodded to Jory and smiled at Dosia, but gave her not even a glance. Well, fine!
“They don’t like me.” She waited until they were in the hall to speak.
“It’s not that, Marcelina.”
“Mama! It’s snowing!”
Because, of course it was snowing. They detoured to their tiny apartment to grab Dosia’s coat. She raced ahead of them to the outside door and waited with impatience as they punched their code in so they could get out. A few other kids were out playing as well. Fewer parents had braved the cold.
Marcelina was happy enough to find a bench under a tree and sit with Jory. The cold would lessen the pain in her hand. They had offered pain killers, but she’d turned them down. The base didn’t have enough as it was and she wouldn’t take away from someone in need because of her own stupidity.
As Dosia screamed and hurled snowballs, Marcelina laid her head on Jory’s shoulder.
“The holes in the wall were impressive.”
Jory laughed and scooted closer to her. “That is the first time I’ve ever heard something approaching meekness from you, Marcelina Couch.”
“Shut up, Jory!”
“I saw it as well.” The broadcast. Everyone had seen the broadcast. Every screen and speaker had blared the announcement from the president dictator. “It could be a trick.”
“It could be.” She didn’t believe it was a trick.
“It’s not, is it?”
“How could it be? Why would he bother doing such a thing? I don’t understand, Jory. Why would they have lied?”
“Marcelina, it’s a trap.”
“But you’ll still go.”
She wanted to go. How she wanted to go. Every muscle quivered with the urge to shoot for the sky, but she would not.
The pronouncement startled Jory. In truth, Marcelina was surprised by her own vehemence. Shrieking distracted her.
“Dosia, stop that!” She did not need to look up. She knew that shriek. Someone had thwarted the terror. Maybe they should stop calling her that name.
“Should we stop using terror? Will it harm her? Do you think she’ll grow up and believe we didn’t love her?”
“Marcelina? What did you mean no?”
“What about Dosia?”
“Stop changing the subject.”
She took his hand and wished her other weren’t broken so she might hold them both. He knew her well enough that he laid his hand over her forearm. The snowfall thickened and she thought they’d need to go in soon.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Of course it matters. She’s your sister.”
“No. I mean, yes. I’m sure if he’s decided to parade her around as my sister she is, indeed, Zuza. Except, I hardly remember her.” Her wings shook as the snow began to overload the branches above and trickle down to them. “He expects me to race in there.”
“So, you’re not going to go?”
Marcelina stood and hauled Jory up with her. “The Menchers have to deal with their own problems. I’ve enough on my plate with the Couch family.”
Jory didn’t look convinced, but eventually he would accept she did not mean to go. Although, later as she helped clean up the mess she made of their rooms she felt a moment’s desire to flee. She’d never liked cleaning her room.