The thunderstorm had been a welcome reprieve from the heat of the day. It had also ruined the outing. Children ran screaming for the bus as if a single drop of rain would sizzle through them. Marcelina thought it all amusing.

“Babies,” she said.

Despite the dress her mother had shoved her into before school, Marcelina had climbed her favorite tree in the park. With the thunderstorm she knew she should get down, but she didn’t want to go back to school. Every day, more and more, she hated the grey brick building. Grey brick and blinking red lights. Because the cameras had increased. They were everywhere.

“You should get down.”

Jory sat on the branch under hers. His grin made her smile. She didn’t let him see the whole smile because he might misinterpret the smugness. Well, he might see it. There was no way to interpret it wrong.

Charlotte had wanted him to go paddling on the lake with her and her friends, but he’d stayed with Marcelina. Charlotte, wavy hair and perfectly pressed pink dress, had flounced away. Likely she was on the bus, squealing about her hair.

“I want to see the storm.”



“I’m coming up.”

Marcelina scooted out farther on the branch to let Jory get up beside her. He reached for her hand and they swung their legs together as they watched the clouds move swiftly across the sky. It was hard to see with the leaves. If they were higher they could see better, but she knew.

Knew that if she suggested it he would insist they climb down. He was always looking out for her. It was why she tried not to worry about Charlotte all the time. Jory was hers. He had been since kindergarten. Even their parents could not keep them apart.

Only one thing would.

Conscription was only six, seven at most, years away. Jory would not have to worry. His family knew the right people. Plus, he was an only child. No family could have their only child taken. Marcelina’s only hope was Siemowit. If he had some fall from grace and wound up with the ground troops she would be safe.

Except, she wouldn’t. The captain still haunted her. He wouldn’t care about the rules.

Marcelina looked down as the tree swayed in a heavy gust of wind. There was one way to avoid it. If it worked.

Jory squeezed her hand and she looked up to see him grinning. 

“I have something for you.”

He pulled his hand away from her and reached into his pocket. Marcelina’s breath caught as he rocked forward. If he fell…

Except, he didn’t. Thankfully. Because then she would have fallen with him. Jory was her best friend and she would go anywhere with him.


He held his fist out and she opened her hand so he could lay something in the flat of her palm. As soon as his hand moved she looked down. The wind gusted and the tree shook, but Jory grabbed her hand before she could drop the present.

“No way,” she breathed. This was impossible. Even Jory’s family wasn’t this well off.


“I told you I had friends other than you, dork.”

Marcelina, heedless of the potential fall and subsequent death, lunged for her best friend and hugged him. Worried about dropping the gift, she pulled away long enough to drape it around her neck. It was the best gift ever.

“You are the best friend ever. Even if you hang out with Charlotte.”

Jory groaned and reached into the neck of his t-shirt. Marcelina expected him to pull out a different pendant. Instead, to match the one she wore, he had a Claw symbol etched on a silver coin. The ads said they’d only made a thousand of them and he’d gotten two!

“I love you, Jory Couch. I always will.”

“Yea, well, I love you too, Marcelina. But don’t be weird about it.” He was quiet as the rain shifted direction. “And don’t tell Charlotte.”

Marcelina laughed.