Home > Champion (Legend #3)(2)

Champion (Legend #3)(2)
Marie Lu

Doesn’t take long tonight. Soon the constant, dull headache disappears, and the world around me takes on a blurry sheen that I know isn’t only from the rain. A girl’s sitting next to me. It’s Tess.

She gives me the grin I was so familiar with back on the streets of Lake. “Any news from the JumboTrons?” she asks me, pointing toward a screen across the road.

I exhale blue smoke and lazily shake my head. “Nope. I mean, I’ve seen a couple of Patriot-related headlines, but it’s like you guys vanished off the map. Where are you? Where are you going?”

“Do you miss me?” Tess asks instead of answering.

I stare at the shimmery image of her. She’s how I remember from the streets—her reddish-brown hair tied into a messy braid, her eyes large and luminous, kind and gentle. Little baby Tess. What were my last words to her . . . back when we had botched the Patriots’ assassination attempt on Anden? Please, Tess—I can’t leave you here. But that’s exactly what I did.

I turn away, taking another drag on my cigarette. Do I miss her? “Every day,” I reply.

“You’ve been trying to find me,” Tess says, scooting closer. I swear I can almost feel her shoulder against mine. “I’ve seen you, scouring the JumboTrons and airwaves for news, eavesdropping on the streets. But the Patriots are in hiding right now.”

Of course they’re in hiding. Why would they attack, now that Anden’s in power and a peace treaty between the Republic and the Colonies is a done deal? What could their new cause possibly be? I have no idea. Maybe they don’t have one. Maybe they don’t even exist anymore. “I wish you would come back,” I murmur to Tess. “It’d be nice to see you again.”

“What about June?”

As she asks this, her image vanishes. She’s replaced by June, with her long ponytail and her dark eyes that shine with hints of gold, serious and analyzing, always analyzing. I lean my head against my knee and close my eyes. Even the illusion of June is enough to send a stabbing pain through my chest. Hell. I miss her so much.

I remember how I’d said good-bye to her back in Denver, before Eden and I moved to Frisco. “I’m sure we’ll be back,” I’d told her over my mike, trying to fill the awkward silence between us. “After Eden’s treatment is done.” This was a lie, of course. We were going to Frisco for my treatment, not Eden’s. But June didn’t know this, so she just said, “Come back soon.”

That was almost eight months ago. I haven’t heard from her since. I don’t know if it’s because each of us is too hesitant to bother the other, too afraid that the other doesn’t want to talk, or maybe both of us are just too damn proud to be the one desperate enough to reach out. Maybe she’s just not interested enough. But you know how it goes. A week passes without contact, and then a month, and soon too much time has passed and calling her would just feel random and weird. So I don’t. Besides, what would I say? Don’t worry, doctors are fighting to save my life. Don’t worry, they’re trying to shrink the problem area in my brain with a giant pile of medication before attempting an operation. Don’t worry, Antarctica might grant me access to treatment in their superior hospitals. Don’t worry, I’ll be just fine.

What’s the point of keeping in touch with the girl you’re crazy about, when you’re dying?

The reminder sends a throbbing pain through the back of my head. “It’s better this way,” I tell myself for the hundredth time. And it is. By not seeing her for so long, the memory of how we’d originally met has grown dimmer, and I find myself thinking about her connection to my family’s deaths less often.

Unlike Tess’s, for some reason June’s image never says a word. I try to ignore the shimmery mirage, but she refuses to go away. So damn stubborn.

Finally, I stand, stub my cigarette into the pavement, and step through the door of the Obsidian Lounge. Maybe the music and lights will shake her from my system.

For an instant, I can’t see a thing. The club is pitch-black, and the sound’s deafening. I’m stopped immediately by an enormous pair of soldiers. One of them puts a firm hand on my shoulder. “Name and branch?” he asks.

I have no interest in making my real identity known. “Corporal Schuster. Air force,” I reply, blurting out a random name and the first branch that comes to mind. I always think of the air force first, mostly because of Kaede. “I’m stationed at Naval Base Two.”

The guard nods. “Air force kids over in the back left, near the bathrooms. And if I hear you picking any fights with the army booths, you’re out and your commander hears about it in the morning. Got it?”

I nod, and the soldiers let me pass. I walk down a dark hall and through a second door, then melt into the crowds and flashing lights inside.

The dance floor is jammed with people in loose shirts and rolled-up sleeves, dresses paired with rumpled uniforms. I find the air force booths in the back of the room. Good, there are several empty ones. I slide into a booth, prop up my boots against the cushioned seats, and lean my head back. At least June’s image has disappeared. The loud music sends all my thoughts scattering.

I’ve only been in the booth for a few minutes when a girl cuts her way through the crowded dance floor and stumbles toward me. She looks flushed, her eyes bright and teasing; and when I glance behind her, I notice a cluster of laughing girls watching us. I force a smile. Usually, I like the attention in clubs, but sometimes, I just want to close my eyes and let the chaos take me away.

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