CAYTLYN BROOKE Dark Flowers
Edited by Bailey Karfelt
WIRED Copyright ÂŠ 2018 Caytlyn Brooke All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher. This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the authorâ€™s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Published by H2O an imprint of BHC Press Library of Congress Control Number: 2017945383 ISBN: 978-1-947727-53-3 Visit the publisher: www.bhcpress.com Also available in Hardcover (ISBN: 978-1-946848-58-1) Ebook (ISBN: 978-1-947727-54-0)
“Sometimes maybe you need an experience. The experience can be a person or it can be a drug. The experience opens a door that was there all the time but you never saw it. Or maybe it blasts you into outer space…” ~ Melvin Burgess ~
he first time had been a dare. The turquoise liquid had looked like Kool-Aid, but in the split second the numbing liquid splashed against the back of his throat, Joe knew it wasn’t. He looked down at the little plastic cup where more green-blue liquid waited and bit his lip. The first time had been fun, the effects harmless enough. It reminded him of being high—if weed also unleashed incredible powers, like vision that allowed one to see through walls into the apartment of their ex-girlfriend. It was the craving that followed that he disliked, worse than caffeine or carbs. “So, what are you waiting for?” Ryan asked, arching his eyebrows. “Have another taste.” Sometimes Ryan reminded him of Eve corrupting Adam. A gentle chime sounds and my eyes dart to my wrist, abandoning the gritty manuscript on my screen. Above my iJewel, a glistening hologram of my roommate, Sarah, materializes. Her pixilated hand rests on her curvy hips as the message delivers.
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“Hey, Mags! Andy and I just got to the Cheesecake Factory. I’m wearing that off the shoulder gray top that makes my boobs look awesome, see!” The miniature version of Sarah thrusts out her chest. Frowning, I glance down at my own and note with disappointment that Sarah’s miniscule hologram has bigger boobs than me. “Anyway,” Sarah continues, “put down that creepy novel and get over here! Fast, but not too fast!” She winks and my iJewel chimes once more to signal the end of the message. A wave of annoyance replaces my contented mood. She just won’t quit. She can have any guy in Boston, but no, of course she wants my brother. Andy wants her back, too. I know I should let them hook up, or whatever it is they want to do. But I don’t want to become the awkward third wheel and get pushed out of the way while they have a fling that will likely end in disaster, given their dating histories. I look back at the manuscript and sigh. “Must be nice,” I grumble, double-tapping the screen to create a comment. “To be out on a date…to have cute clothes…to have boobs bigger than a pair of Reese’s cups…” I stop and frown at the words I’m typing. “Focus, Mags.” I backspace, wondering if I’m currently winning or losing at life. I used to be fun and wild. I used to date. Then, a year ago, I’d forced myself to try and grow up and do things on my own without the crutch of my parents to bail me out. It had paid off, moving me from lowly assistant to Literary Agent quicker than most. Authors weren’t interested in agents who stumbled into work late, stinking of the Axe body spray from the latest frat boy they’d hooked up with. Those days were far behind me now. Yeah but no one likes a brown-nose either. “Margaret, are you all right?” I jump out of my chair and spin around, mortified. Had I been talking out loud? My boss, Ms. Robins, stands behind me, staring over the rims of her white-framed glasses. The frames throw me off every time I see her. No one wears glasses anymore, not since Cannon Eye came into the picture five years ago.
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“Oh, y-yeah,” I stutter, tucking a long strand of light brown hair behind my ear. “Sorry, I was just, uh, talking to myself.” Ms. Robins chuckles. “Yeah.” I grin awkwardly. “Well, I’ll just get back to work.” This is so embarrassing. “No, wait, Margaret. I know what time you got here this morning, and I know what time you left last night. Every night in fact,” Robins says, cocking her head to the side. “Ever since I promoted you, you’ve been killing yourself over this manuscript. Go home; be with your friends and family. The story can wait until morning. And when I say morning I mean like nine. I don’t want any more of this coming in at six-thirty, all right? All your overtime is killing me!” I blush. “Yes, ma’am. I’m actually meeting my roommate and brother for dinner downtown to celebrate my promotion tonight.” I lean over the back of my chair and hit the save button three times before closing out Word. I swipe my fingers in a pattern across the screen and my computer shuts off. “Oh, how nice. Hopefully you’re going to a place that serves strong drinks,” Ms. Robins says, waving me forward. “Come on, I’ll walk you out.” I pull on my coat and grab my messenger bag, slinging it over my head and situating it so the bulk of the weight rests against my backside. We walk in silence for a few minutes until we reach the elevators. “So, I guess I don’t have to ask you how you like being an agent so far,” Ms. Robins teases, pressing the dull number one until it glows to life under her touch. “I just love it,” I say in a rush. “Thank you so much for the opportunity. I hope that I can make you and Red Leaf proud.” Ms. Robins smiles. “Yes, well I’m sure you will. I noticed that you chose to rep the same YA novel that I myself tossed away, even after I told you it wasn’t a good fit for us.” Her dark green eyes study her fingers. I fumble for the right words in my head. It wasn’t that I wanted to go behind her back with the story or rub it in her face that I was right,
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but the connection I felt with the manuscript had been too strong for me to pass up. I want to tell her this, yet nothing but awkward syllables spill from my lips. “Well, I, you, um—” “Relax, Margaret.” Ms. Robins chuckles. “I didn’t mean to put you on the spot. I actually think that it was very brazen of you to reach back out to that author. You knew it was a good story all those months ago and then, when you finally had the opportunity, you went out there and fought for what you wanted. It’s very impressive.” Warm color spreads across my face once more. “Oh, well thank you very much, ma’am. I’m so thankful that I have the chance to discover the next great stories for our youth and that a few are still interested in reading.” The elevator doors ping open and slide apart to reveal the deserted lobby and the darkening night beyond. “The next great stories,” she repeats. “What a lovely idea.” Before I can ask what she means, she gives me a curt wave and briskly walks across the shiny tile toward the bustling streets of Boston. I consider running after her to continue our conversation, but my iJewel chimes again. This time, my brother Andy’s goofy lopsided grin greets my gaze. “Hey, Maggie. We got your favorite table reserved for when you get here. Sarah and I will be hanging out at the bar until then. Just tell the hostess to grab us. Oh, and the Q train isn’t running. Try catching a ride through UPick or rent a hover bike. There’s a station right around the block where you can return it. And, Mags…take your time.” Andy laughs and waves before ending the message. I roll my eyes and groan. “Great. Way to be subtle, Andy.” My promotion was probably just an excuse for a date. I shake my head and push the awkward situation from my mind. Tonight is about me. I’m going to celebrate, damn it! “Hover bike rental,” I state, alerting the iJewel to fulfill my need. Instantly, four rental sites ding and the device maps out the closest one with the expected step-distance away. They’re convenient, but I’m
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wary. My love-handles are already softening because of all the crap I’ve been ingesting at the office. I need to skip rides on a gliding seat running along a fabricated rail as often as I can. “You don’t even have to pedal,” I scoff, shaking my head. Acey, the old security guard, tips his hat to me as I approach the double doors. “Good evening, Miss Maggie, last one as always. Off to have some fun I hope.” He gives me a wide smile that exposes the few teeth he has left. “Off to dinner actually,” I say, wrapping my scarf around my neck tightly. “My brother and roommate are meeting me there to celebrate my promotion.” Acey’s smile widens and he reaches out a weathered hand to me. “Well, congratulations, Miss Maggie. That sure is wonderful news to hear,” he says warmly, giving my hand a gentle squeeze. “Thank you, Acey. Well, have a good night. I’ll see you tomorrow,” I call over my shoulder as I step from the tile floor to the concrete stairs. He waves back, pulling the door shut behind me and locking the thick deadbolt with a solid clunk. I inhale deeply as the late August evening envelopes me. Summer has just started to release its hold, giving way to slightly cooler nights, but warm air still lingers over the city during the day. The wind blows, carrying the slightest chill from the harbor. A shiver tickles my spine and all the hairs on my arms stand erect. I pull back the left sleeve of my coat, exposing my silent iJewel. “Weather Cat,” I command, shivering again. The beautiful machine chimes to life at the sound of my voice. A holographic tabby cat leaps out of the screen, suspended a few centimeters above it. Weather Cat regards me with indifference, its silver eyes glowing. “Yes, Maggie?” Weather Cat purrs, licking a paw. Every time I use him I’m reminded of the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. “Weather report, please. What’s the temperature?” I ask, walking down the wide stairs to the sidewalk below. “Temperature is warm. Seventy-four degrees Fahrenheit,” Weather Cat replies. “You’re wearing a coat?”
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I frown and narrow my eyes. “I didn’t ask for your opinion.” I turn left and begin heading downtown but leave the app open. It’s nice to talk to someone after staring at a screen all day. “Was it an opinion? I thought I was simply stating a fact,” Weather Cat argues lazily. “If you’d like to know, there’s also a light breeze about five miles an hour coming from the north. I’d get home quick, you wouldn’t want to blow away.” I roll my eyes at the Cat’s dramatics. “Thank you, but I’ll be fine and I’m not going home.” “Not going home? But you’re heading west,” Weather Cat insists. “Yes, but the restaurant is only a few blocks away from my apartment,” I counter. Why am I arguing with Weather Cat? “A restaurant, eh? I hope you have a scarf in that bag. Most restaurants have an interior temperature of sixty-two. Don’t want patrons getting too comfortable,” the cat purrs. “As always, thank you for your insight, Cat,” I say with a grin. Using the tip of my index finger, I close the app and the smug tabby vanishes. I double tap the black screen and select Sarah’s name from the small list of contacts as I pass an empty hover bike station. Glancing up, I see at least a dozen people riding the bikes, their eyes glued to their iJewels as the smart machines glide in and out of traffic. Damn. I wish there was one left. As much as I want to walk off all the empty calories I consumed today, I could wrap up the chapter from my client’s manuscript and still get to the restaurant faster than if I walked. Why does nothing ever work out for me? I keep walking and hold my left arm out, pointing the iJewel screen toward my face. “Launch,” I command. A pale white light glistens, beginning the broadcast. “Hey, Sarah, I got your message. Your boobs do look awesome…like always,” I praise. “I just left the office, but there aren’t any hover bikes so I’m walking to—oh—” I stop as I collide with a very solid object and look up to see a young kid, no more than eighteen, holding out his hands and blinking rapidly. “Sorry about that,” I say. “I was broadcasting and didn’t see you.”
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The kid doesn’t reply. His dark brown eyes look oddly glazed. “Hey, are you okay?” I ask. “Did I hurt you?” The kid reaches up, touches the back of his neck, and resumes a slow walk. I turn to watch and see the dark green metal machine partially lodged beneath the skin on his neck. He’s wearing a Vertix. “Oh, that explains it.” I sigh, turning back to my iJewel. I double tap the screen and resume my broadcast. “Sorry, Sarah I just ran into a kid wearing one of those Vertixes. He didn’t even see me. I bet he thought I was a pole until I started talking. Are you sure you still want to get one?” I glance away from the screen and twist my body, just missing a large blue mailbox. One of the very last in the city. “Anyway, I should be there in ten minutes, I know I know, walk slow,” I finish. “Bye.” I hold my index finger on the front of the screen for three seconds and release. Hoisting my bag straps back onto my shoulder, I focus on avoiding other potential hazards in my path. There aren’t many people out for a Thursday night. I listen to my heels clack against the concrete and think about the kid and his Vertix. The first edition came out last fall. The papers called it “Revolutionary!” and “An incredible advancement for a new era!” “Vertix,” I command. I swipe my finger to activate the speaker once the search engine, Jet displays an article on the screen. “Vertix. A technological feat designed by Ramsey Coon in 2029. First sold in stores in 2030, the Vertix is promised to be an experience unlike any other. The device is worn by the user on the back of the neck with sensors that connect the device to the spinal cord. From there, the device uploads to the brain stem, flooding the occipital lobe with unimaginable information. Sold at all cellular retailers,” the smooth voice concludes. “Huh.” I frown. I get it’s supposed to submerge you into a new world of social media and data, but it seems pretty intense. Sarah got one when they first came out, but she hadn’t kept it for very long. I’m not sure why she wants the new model. “Vertix latest news,” I instruct Jet.
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Several articles ping and the smooth masculine voice speaks again. “The Vertix H2 premiers tomorrow, August twenty-seventh. It is the second generation of the Vertix. Remastered to enhance the digital visualizing experience and give the user split screen experience, rather than the original option. The Vertix H2 has—” “Cons of Vertix,” I interrupt, narrowing my search. The iJewel recalculates and launches into a new article. As the male speaker begins, my heart melts at the deep baritone and slightly southern accent. Man, I’m glad I picked him. “With the Vertix H2 launching this week, some reports have gone viral regarding potential side effects of usage. These reports highlight the negative effects the Vertix has had over human interaction. With more and more people switching to the new technology, reports have shown a decrease in sociability and an increase in the amount of time people spend alone. The studies also measure the quality of social interactions and found that, compared to several years ago, in-person conversations have become shorter and revolve solely around money or social media,” the speaker explains. “One study based at the University of Cambridge, even found similarities between Cocaine addicts and—” “Stop,” I say, feet from the large ornate doors of the restaurant. The article disappears as I take in the large crowd milling around the doors. Thank God Andy reserved our table. “Excuse me,” I say, pushing through the stagnant mob. Most of them don’t move, eyes glued to iJewels and other devices. Hunching my shoulders, I flex my elbows and barrel through the people. A few groans and grunts are expelled as I go by. Sorry not sorry. At last I reach the doors and slip inside. My iJewel softly chimes again and I tap it to release the message. Holographic Sarah appears. “Hey, girl. We just left the bar. Have the hostess bring you to our table,” she says with a squeal. “Say hi, Andy!” Sarah grins and aims her iJewel at my brother. A small holographic Andy waves and takes a drink before she ends the broadcast. “Perfect timing, I’m starving.” I sigh happily. I let my wrist fall to my side and scan the interior crowd for the hostess stand. Nothing but
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large stomachs and hyper children fill my gaze. I bend down and peer through the bodies and catch a glimpse of a large wooden block. “Excuse me!” I say loudly over the hum and crescendo of the action movie someone is streaming. Sirens and a growl similar to the Hulk answer me. Clutching my purse in front of me like a shield, I wind and weave my way through bodies packed together like a herd of cattle. It feels like days have passed when I tumble out of the crowd toward the hostess stand, completely out of breath. I reach up and feel my long brown hair sticking up in sweaty patches. Great. The young blonde hostess looks bored. “Welcome to the Cheesecake Factory. Can I help you?” “Yes, hi. I’m meeting my friend and brother here. I got a broadcast saying that they were at their table. Name is under Stone.” I relay. The blonde nods and touches a large Torch, the more commercial tablet. She clicks on the correct table and alters the yellow symbol to neon green. “You’re all set. Head to the left and look for the green light,” she says, her eyes already on to the next group. “Thanks,” I say, hiking up my bag again as I turn to the tightly clustered labyrinth of tables. I swear there’s more crammed in here than last time. Four servers swerve out of my way, balancing a large tray between two of them as the others stop to dole out their piled-high plates. I look up and lock eyes with a handsome guy walking toward me. Oh no, I’m so terrible at this. Whenever I try to flirt it always comes out so awkward. My cheeks blush and I flip my hair over my shoulder, trying to appear confident and relaxed. The cute guy raises his hand and waves. Oh, my God. He’s seconds away; we’re going to bump into each another. I rack my brain for something to say as my palms start sweating. Crap, please don’t think I’m always a sweaty mess! Yeah, that’s a great opening line. I straighten my shoulders and try to push out my non-existent chest. “Hi,” I whisper as the guy steps in front of me. “Talk about claustrophobic!”
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“Kina, hey baby!” the guy says easily, staring blatantly over my shoulder. “I’ll be right there.” He moves past me, brushing me aside gently like one might an overeager child. It catches me off guard and I stumble into a table. “Oh no!” I manage to cry as I catch myself on the fresh plates of food. My right hand crushes a perfectly square dinner roll and my other hand splashes into a bowl of French onion soup. “Oh!” I yank my hand out of the steaming liquid. “Hey, what the hell is wrong with you?” the male diner yells. A piece of half-chewed broccoli hangs out of his mouth. I throw up my hands. “I’m sorry, so sorry, that guy pushed me and—” A manager appears and is already moving me away. “Please continue to your table,” he says out of the corner of his mouth. “Evening folks, I’m so sorry about that. Allow me to add fifteen extra minutes to your Torch gaming time for the inconvenience.” Curious, I lean around the manager’s side and notice the couple staring at their table. I stare too. Large bubbles ranging in color float all over. Their plates sit on the edge of the table, allowing more room for the screen. I scoff. “So that’s why it takes three hours to get a table,” I mumble under my breath. The manager’s eyes narrow. “Is there anything else I can help you with, miss?” “No,” I shake my head and spin around. What am I doing? Oh, yeah, looking for a green light. I resume my search of the maze, looking for a green light or the familiar faces of my roommate and brother. Like the couple I bumped, each dining patron and family sit with their heads down, their eyes glued to the large screens, their fingers frantically trying to squash mutant bugs or stack uneven blocks. I also notice their plates. “The Cheesecake Factory is going to have a ton of food to throw out tonight,” I say aloud. No one looks up. “Maggie! Maggie, over here!” Sarah’s high-pitched voice rings out amongst the sound of clattering forks and beeping machines.
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I spot her and head to my right, relieved. “Hey!” My high heels clack against the smooth stone floor and I collapse into the semi-private booth. “Oh my God, that was an adventure!” “I know! It’s packed tonight. It took us ten minutes just to find the damn table,” Sarah agrees. She looks down at the large screen and checks the awaiting box. “This is handy at least. Now this weird green light can calm down.” She draws a checkmark with the tip of her finger and instantly the tabletop screen fades from alien green to normal black. The Cheesecake Factory initials are intertwined, roaming around the confines of the screen. “I hope I didn’t keep you guys waiting too long,” I say, shrugging out of my coat and looking across the table. Andy shakes his head. He’s wearing a Boston Red Sox baseball cap backwards. “Nah, we just got here,” he says, winking at Sarah as he lifts the bottle of Corona to his lips. He’s wearing a dark red shirt with a faded white insignia. I can’t make out the design because the table’s in the way, but it accentuates his biceps and triceps and all the other kind of ceps being a personal trainer has given him. I nod in his direction, pointing to the side of my head. “You shave it again?” Andy grins, removing his hat. He runs his hand over the shaved sides of his head then combs his fingers down the length of the brown hair on top. “You know it! I can’t have it any other way. The hair tickles my ears. I almost shaved it completely this time.” “Gross!” Sarah chimes in, swatting my brother’s shoulder. “Don’t do that. You’d look so weird. So how was your day, Mags?” My roommate tosses her raven black hair to the side, but it’s cropped so short it doesn’t go anywhere. I squint as a flash of blue winks near her ear. Sarah sees me staring and laughs. “Like it, I just got it this morning!” She lifts her fingers to the side of her neck, tracing the small navy blue rose with her triangular nail. “Isn’t it so cute?” I force a smile, wishing this didn’t bother me. “I love it, but I thought we were going to get them together?”
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Sarah waves a dismissive hand. “We were, but you take forever to decide,” she stresses. “I’ll just get something else when we go, kay?” “Fine…is that my lipstick?” I point, noticing Sarah’s crimson lips. “Maybe,” Sarah says, smiling beautifully. My stomach growls. “Damn, Maggie, did you eat anything today?” Andy laughs, throwing me a piece of bread from the center of the table. I catch it. “I had a few Hershey kisses and a pack of pepperoni slices.” Sarah rolls her slate eyes. “Well at least that’s better than yesterday! I swear all I saw this girl eat was a handful of cheerios before she left for work. You’re working way too hard, Maggie.” I sigh, knowing where this conversation is heading. “I know, I know,” I nod, biting into the white bread. Even without butter it’s glorious. “As soon as I get through the editor’s notes it’ll calm down.” “And speaking of the relentless agent, let’s toast to your promotion!” Andy cheers, raising his almost empty Corona high in the air. “Sorry it’s taken us a few weeks to do this but I’m really proud of you, Mags! My baby sister is finally a big shot literary agent, people!” Sarah laughs at his antics and smiles at me. “I’m proud of you too, Maggie! I can’t wait to read your first represented novel! But let’s be honest…I say I will but I’m really not going to!” She winks and raises her beer. I look around the table for a fun drink to toast with as well, but the only liquid available is a glass of lukewarm water. I wrap my hand around it and join the toast, fighting to keep my happiness from overrunning my face. “Thanks guys. I’ve wanted this for so long and I can’t believe it’s finally here!” “Tell me about it. I remember when you would steal the birthday cards I made for Mom and Dad and go over them with red crayon, telling me how I should fix them.” Andy laughs. “Well, I saw opportunity and I wanted to help you make it better,” I say defensively. “You were six,” Andy retorts, cocking his head.
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“And you were a lazy ten-year-old who didn’t know how to spell birthday,” I shot back. “All right, enough siblings!” Sarah commands. “This is Maggie’s night. To Maggie!” “To Maggie!” “To me!” We all clink our glasses together and drink, delighting in the moment. “Let’s eat, I’m starving! Can we order?” I ask, craning my neck for any sign of a server. “Isn’t it weird that they haven’t come over yet?” “They don’t do that anymore, Mags.” Sarah scoffs. “They stopped taking orders like a year ago.” “Oh, guess I haven’t been out much,” I say with a laugh. “You have, just not to places that are brightly lit with comfortable seating.” Andy grins, jabbing my love of clubs and bars. Sarah directs me to the Torch at our table. “Here, pull up the menu on the screen and select what you want. There’s a spot to customize it so you can get your food without spices and all the healthy crap they try to sprinkle on it. Twelve cheese pasta, right?” “Yes,” I say, dragging out the word. “If they ever get rid of that I don’t know what I’ll do.” They laugh and quickly select their meals from the endless menu. “Does anyone want another drink?” Sarah asks, navigating to the long list of beverages. “Another beer for me,” Andy chimes. “Can I get an amaretto sour?” I volunteer. “Done and done and a margarita for me! Time table says two minutes for the drinks and fifteen for the food.” Sarah sits back, partaking in the bread slices. “So are you excited, Maggie?” “Of course! Mr. Bruit, the author, is creating the perfect soundtrack to his novel so as readers explore the story, a song will trigger when they flip certain pages. It’s really cool because—” “Whoa, Maggie, slow down!” Sarah laughs. “I didn’t mean about your job. We all know how excited you are about that. I meant are you
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excited for tonight? In just a few hours we’ll be like the pretty models on the app ads, a beautiful Vertix H2 decorating our necks.” Disappointment descends as I realize what she’s saying. I don’t have a problem with the Vertix, but I don’t see why we have to go to the release rave. Frowning at my silence, Sarah shakes her head, setting her empty beer down. “Come on, Mags, we talked about this, remember? We’re all getting one together! It’s going to be so much fun!” I smile weakly and nod just as a server approaches our table with a tray of drinks. She places the beer and cocktails in the center of the table, collects the empty glasses and walks away without a word. I draw the small square glass toward me, smiling wider as the juicy cherry lolls around on the surface of the golden liquid. I love when they remember. I withdraw the cherry from the liquor and pop it between my teeth. Instantly my tongue sets to work separating the fruit from the stem, eager to tie a few knots. “I heard this new model is insane,” Andy says, his blue eyes lighting up. “Jay from the gym said they’re only releasing a few thousand to start—just to enhance the craze.” “Well that’s why we’re going early. What time is it?” Sarah asks no one in particular. She glances down at her sleek, black iJewel and issues a command. “Display Scarlet Meadows.” Immediately a looping image of the large shopping plaza dances on her screen. Sarah taps an arrow on the iJewel screen and transfers her display to the big screen at our table so we can all see. “Ah, man it’s already filling up,” Andy observes, pointing to the gathering crowds surrounding Yeti, the biggest telecommunications store in Boston. “Is that a virtual reality course? No freaking way!” My eyes roam everywhere, spinning in their sockets like a pair of loose marbles. There’s so much to see and hear. There’s at least four different bands competing to out-do one another and the pulsing beats give me a headache. Great, wait until I’m standing in the middle of it. “Wow! Is that R.C. Mills on stage?” Sarah gasps as a twenty-something girl with purple dreadlocks jumps up and down. “Why is the food
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taking so long?” She cranes her neck for a second and then looks back to the captivating image. I try looking at the bright colors, try to find something to get excited about, but there’s too much noise and movement. It looks like one of those chaotic pictures my grandmother showed me last Christmas where you end up searching for a tall guy wearing glasses and a white and red striped shirt. A small ache begins behind my eyes and I look away, shutting them for a moment. “Oh hey, look at that!” Andy exclaims, and I look back. “They even have weights. Jay was telling me about a new app that shows you how the workout affects each muscle. I’m definitely trying that out.” I begrudgingly watch as Sarah inches closer and closer to my brother. Their heads are almost touching now and I smirk as Sarah points to more cool stations. Her lavender sprayed nails bump Andy’s nonchalantly. Soon she’ll be sitting in his lap. I sigh at my thwarted attempt to keep my best friend and brother away from one another and take a long sip of my drink. The sweet amaretto makes me shiver and before I know it, I’m holding the glass upside down, licking the last few drops from the bottom of the glass. I wish there was a way to magically refill that. I set the glass down with a frown and glance around at the nearby tables, listening to Sarah and Andy talk. Seated all around us are friends, families, children, and couples, all enjoying their dinners and the 6J laser screen tables. Fingers are moving so fast across screens that one couples’ water glasses threaten to tumble off the edge of the table. I study the couple, wondering if it’s a first date. Vaguely I recall what my high school boyfriend, Chaz, looked like. Light blond hair and pale green eyes. I tried to convince him to tag them turquoise when I got mine done but he refused. I wrinkle my nose. We didn’t last very long. He never wanted to do anything fun. “Mirror,” I command my iJewel. The black screen brightens to a silvery sheen, reflecting my oval face. I’m not beautiful or alluring like Sarah with her surgically enhanced cheekbones and heart-shaped lips,
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but my eyes are unlike anyone else’s. For my sixteenth birthday my mom had taken me to get my irises tagged, changing them from dull brown to electric purple. Guys had started noticing me. “MAMA!” I shift my gaze to another table, where two young kids sit moving their hands around the large screen, maneuvering fighter jets through narrow passageways. A younger boy beside them is waving a napkin in the air. “Mama, look, look, I colored it,” he squeals. His mother doesn’t look up from her iJewel. I wonder what she’s looking at. “Mama, look it. Mama!” the little boy tries again. She seems to hear him at last and looks up, dazed. “Mama! Mama!” “What? What do you want? The food is coming, now sit down and keep your mouth closed, all right?” she barks, ripping the paper out of the child’s hand and pointing to the chair. “Play with your brothers until the food comes.” The little boy whimpers for a moment and then bursts into tears, his face turning red. Sarah and Andy stop talking and turn to look. “What the hell is that?” Sarah demands. “A kid at the next table,” I say, pointing. He’s still crying. The rest of the family ignores him. I wish I could do the same. “That’s so annoying,” Sarah groans, covering her ears. “You’d think they’d tell him to shut up.” I nod. “See, this is why I go to upscale places. No kids allowed,” she says with a laugh. “Usually it’s not bad. I don’t even notice kids, but this is awful,” Andy frowns. “What did I say?” the little boy’s mother yells, grabbing him by the arm. “Stop crying. Eat some bread.” She tosses the full basket at him and then double clicks her iJewel, resuming the video. At last he stops crying, turning his tear-streaked face down to the crumpled picture in his tiny hands. “Thank God,” Sarah sighs.
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“Some people just shouldn’t come out in public,” Andy agrees. “Have you heard about the split screen?” I stare at my glass, running my index finger along the rim as they discuss the features of the Vertix. Rebel T capabilities. Short switch. Optic channels. I hear all these words but don’t pay attention to the context, focused on not staring at the other table. It’s none of my business. “Yes, can we have to-go containers?” Sarah’s sweet voice asks, breaking me from my thoughts. “Mags, come on, we’re leaving.” I turn my head and see Andy and Sarah stuffing the contents of their plates into large Styrofoam boxes. “But we haven’t eaten yet.” “Yeah, but Scarlet in filling up. We need to get there now if we want even the tiniest hope of getting a Vertix H2 by midnight,” Sarah says, tossing me a box. I catch it before the bottom can slide over the top of my pasta. I look down at my newly arrived food. “They didn’t put the extra mozzarella on it,” I say to myself. “Whatever, Mags. Here, have some of my cheddar to make up for it.” Andy pinches a small pile of yellow cheese between his fingers and tosses it onto my pasta. “There, all better. Let’s go!” With reluctance I pick up my plate and scrape the warm pasta into the box. My stomach growls, objecting. “How about I eat and catch up with you guys after?” Sarah reaches over and jerks the plate out of my hand, quickly dumping the rest of the noodles and marinara sauce into a messy heap. “Oh no you don’t,” she says, clicking her tongue. “Then we’ll never see you again. You’re coming and that’s final.” My empty plate clatters to the screen below and Sarah pulls me to my feet. “Come on, this is going to be so amazing!” I smile in spite of my starvation. Few can resist the charm of Sarah when she’s excited about something. “You’re right,” I say with a grin. “New job, new device! I can eat on the way.” “That’s the spirit!” Andy claps me on the back. “I’ll check UPick for any shuttles headed downtown.”
28 | CAYTLYN BROOKE
“Good, but make sure it’s an actual person please. Those automated cars still freak me out,” Sarah cautions, shoving our take-out boxes into a plastic bag. “Yes, princess,” Andy concedes, touching her waist. Startled, Sarah jumps and bumps into me. “Andrew, cut it out,” she scolds. “You know I’m off limits.” She squeezes my hand and bats her eyelashes in his direction. “Come on Mags, let’s get some fresh air while Andy pays.” She winks at my brother and pulls me away from the table. As we’re leaving, the crying boy looks up to stare at me and my loud friend. His cheeks are still red and he’s too little to wipe his tears away. He still holds the napkin with his picture on it. He hasn’t tried to show his mother again. The take-out bag swinging from Sarah’s arm hits my knee as she changes direction abruptly. “I can’t wait to get there!” “I know, it looks really cool!” Her excitement is contagious. The Vertix H2 launch is the biggest in history. Steve Jobs would have been blown out of his little white socks. My steps are light and the night is young. But the little boy’s face remains imprinted in my mind.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Caytlyn lives in Elmira, NY with her husband Daniel, her son, Jack, and her orange tabby cat, Ana who is only slightly overweight. She can quote any Disney movie and believes that everyone should wear polka dots.
Imprint: BHC Press/H2O Genre: YA/Contemporary/Technology Publication Date: 7/13/2018 Book Description: When Maggie Stone straps on the Verti...
Published on Apr 7, 2018
Imprint: BHC Press/H2O Genre: YA/Contemporary/Technology Publication Date: 7/13/2018 Book Description: When Maggie Stone straps on the Verti...