I CRAWL TO THE DOOR AND UNLOCK IT. IT SWINGS open. Henri is covered in dirt, wearing gardening clothes as though he had been working outside on the house. I'm so happy to see him that I have the urge to jump up and wrap my arms around him, and I try to, but I'm too dizzy and I fall back onto the floor.
"Is everything okay in there?" asks Mr. Harris, who is standing behind Henri.
"Everything is fine. Just give us a minute, please," Henri says back.
"Do I need to call an ambulance?"
The door shuts. Henri looks down at my hands. The light in the right one is shining brightly, though the left dimly flickers as though trying to gain confidence in itself. Henri smiles widely, his face shining like a beacon.
"Ahh, thank Lorien," he sighs, then pulls a pair of leather gardening gloves from his back pocket. "What dumb luck that I've been working in the yard. Put these on."
I do and they completely hide the light. Mr. Harris opens the door and sticks his head through. "Mr. Smith? Is everything okay?"
"Yes, everything is fine. Just give us thirty seconds," Henri says, then looks back to me. "Your principal meddles."
I take a deep breath and exhale. "I understand what is happening, but why this?"
"Your first Legacy."
"I know that, but why the lights?"
"We'll talk about it in the truck. Can you walk?"
"I think so."
He helps me up. I am unsteady, still shaking. I grab hold of his forearm for support.
"I have to get my bag before we leave," I say.
"Where is it?"
"I left it in the classroom."
"Let's get you to the truck and I'll go get it."
I drape my right arm over his shoulders. He supports my weight by putting his left arm around my waist. Even though the second bell has rung I can still hear people in the hall.
"You need to walk as straight and as normal as you can."
I take a deep breath. I try to gather any bit of strength I might have on reserve to tackle the long walk out of the school.
"Let's do this," I say.
I wipe the sweat from my forehead and follow Henri out of the darkroom. Mr. Harris is still in the hallway.
"Just a bad case of asthma," Henri tells him, and walks past.
A crowd of twenty or so people are still in the hallway, and most of them are wearing cameras around their necks, waiting to get into the darkroom for photography class. Thankfully Sarah isn't among them. I walk as steadily as I can, one foot in front of the other. The school's exit is a hundred feet away.
That is a lot of steps. People are whispering.
"What a freak."
"Does he even go to school here?"
"I hope so, he's cute."
"What do you think he was doing in the darkroom to make his face so red?" I hear, and everyone laughs. Just like we can focus our hearing, we can close it off, which helps when you're trying to concentrate amidst noise and confusion. So I shut out the noise and follow closely behind Henri. Each step feels like ten, but finally we reach the door. Henri holds it open for me and I try to walk on my own to his truck, which is parked up front. For the last twenty steps I drape my arm around his shoulders again. He opens the truck door and I scoot in.
"You said seventeen?"
"You should have kept it with you. It's the little mistakes that lead to big mistakes. We can't make any."
"I know. I'm sorry."
He shuts the door and walks back into the building. I hunch over in the seat and try to slow my breathing. I can still feel the sweat on my forehead. I sit up and flip down the sun visor so I can look into the mirror. My face is redder than I thought, my eyes a little watery. But through the pain and exhaustion, I smile. Finally, I think. After years of waiting, after years of my only defense against the Mogadorians being intellect and stealth, my first Legacy has arrived. Henri comes out of the school carrying my bag. He walks around the truck, opens the door, tosses my bag on the seat.
"Thank you," I say.
When we're out of the lot I remove the gloves and take a closer look at my hands. The light in my right hand is beginning to concentrate itself into a beam like a flashlight, only brighter. The burning is beginning to lessen. My left hand still flickers dimly.
"You should keep those on until we're home," Henri says.
I put the gloves back on and look over at him. He is smiling proudly.
"Been a shit long wait," he says.
"Huh?" I ask.
He looks over. "A shit long wait," he says again. "For your Legacies."
I laugh. Of all the things Henri has learned to master while on Earth, profanity is not one of them.
"A damn long wait," I correct him.
"Yeah, that's what I said."
He turns down our road.
"So, what next? Does this mean I'll be able to shoot lasers from my hands or what?"
He grins. "It's nice to think so, but no."
"Well, what am I going to do with light? When I'm getting chased am I going to turn and flash it in their eyes? Like that's supposed to make them cower from me or something?"
"Patience," he says. "You aren't supposed to understand it yet. Let's just get home."
And then I remember something that nearly makes me jump out of my seat.
"Does this mean we'll finally open the Chest?"
He nods and smiles. "Very soon."
"Hell, yes!" I say. The intricately carved wooden Chest has haunted me my entire life. It's a brittle-looking box with the Loric symbol on its side that
Henri has remained completely secretive about. He's never told me what's in it, and it's impossible to open, and I know, because I've tried more times than I can count, never with any luck. It's held shut with a padlock with no discernible slot for a key.
When we get home I can tell that Henri has been working. The three chairs from the front porch have been cleared away and all the windows are open. Inside, the sheets over the furniture have been removed, some of the surfaces wiped clean. I set my bag atop the table in the living room and open it. A wave of frustration passes over me.
"The son of a bitch," I say.
"My phone is missing."
"Where is it?"
"I had a slight disagreement this morning with a kid named Mark James. He probably took it."
"John, you were in school for an hour and a half. How in the hell did you have a disagreement already? You know better."
"It's high school. I'm the new kid. It's easy."
Henri removes his phone from his pocket and dials my number. Then he snaps his phone shut.
"It's turned off," he says.
"Of course it is."
He stares at me. "What happened?" he asks in that voice I recognize, the voice he uses when pondering another move.
"Nothing. Just a stupid argument. I probably dropped it on the floor when I put it into my bag," I say, even though I know I didn't. "I wasn't in the best frame of mind. It's probably waiting for me in lost and found."
He looks around the house and sighs. "Did anyone see your hands?"
I look at him. His eyes are red, even more bloodshot than they were when he dropped me off. His hair is tousled and he has a slumped look as though he may collapse in exhaustion at any moment. He last slept in Florida, two days ago. I'm not sure how he is even still standing.
"You were in school for an hour and a half. Your first Legacy developed, you were nearly in a fight, and you left your bag in a classroom. That's not exactly blending in."
"It was nothing. Certainly not a big enough deal to move to Idaho, or Kansas, or wherever the hell our next place is going to be."
Henri narrows his eyes, pondering what he just witnessed and trying to decide whether it's enough to justify leaving.
"Now is not the time to be careless," he says.
"There are arguments in every single school every single day. I promise you, they aren't going to track us because some bully messed with the new kid."
"The new kid's hands don't light up in every school."
I sigh. "Henri, you look like you're about to die. Take a nap. We can decide after you've had some sleep."
"We have a lot to talk about."
"I've never seen you this tired before. Sleep a few hours. We'll talk after."
He nods. "A nap would probably do me some good."
Henri goes into his bedroom and closes the door. I walk outside, pace around the yard for a bit. The sun is behind the trees with a cool wind blowing. The gloves are still on my hands. I take them off and tuck them into my back pocket. My hands are the same as before. Truth be told, only half of me is thrilled that my first Legacy has finally arrived after so many years of impatiently waiting. The other half of me is crushed. Our constant moving has worn me down, and now it'll be impossible to blend in or to stay in one place for any period of time. It'll be impossible to make friends or feel like I fit in. I'm sick of the fake names and the lies. I'm sick of always looking over my shoulder to see if I'm being followed.
I reach down and feel the three scars on my right ankle. Three circles that represent the three dead. We are bound to each other by more than mere race. As I feel the scars I try to imagine who they were, whether they were boys or girls, where they were living, how old they were when they died. I try to remember the other kids on the ship with me and give each of them numbers. I think about what it would be like to meet them, hang out with them. What it might have been like if we were still on Lorien. What it might be like if the fate of our entire race wasn't dependent on the survival of so few of us. What it might be like if we weren't all facing death at the hands of our enemies.
It's terrifying to know that I'm next. But we've stayed ahead of them by moving, running. Even though I'm sick of the running I know it's the only reason we're still alive. If we stop, they will find us. And now that I'm next in line, they have undoubtedly stepped up the search. Surely they must know we are growing stronger, coming into our Legacies.
And then there is the other ankle and the scar to be found there, formed when the Loric charm was cast in those precious moments before leaving Lorien. It's the brand that binds us all together.