Before I Die © 2011 by SheaRyhai
If you knew how fate would turn out… would you still make the same choices?
None of us would probably. There are very few people who can claim to have only made the right choices after all. But it's the freedom to make those choices that defines us, that separates us into the individuals we are.
Those who no longer have this freedom…. Well they aren't trying hard enough to get it back.
Black clusters swirled and thickened, pulled together by an unseen angry energy, muffled with raw static power that snarls at the oblivious world below. The storm is building, waiting, but not for long.
Asher watched the pyramid of dark clouds pass through the gleaming windows. Hardly daring to blink, he waited for the first bolt of lightening to appear in the towering mountains of trapped moisture. It was a habit he'd begun as an eight year old, waiting for the lightening to strike, thrilled by the energy and danger. Perhaps because it was the only risk he ever faced. Standing this close to the outer frame of Eutopia, waiting for the elements of nature to crack along her resistant seems, half hoping one day it might break through.
But Eutopia never failed, defying the anger of nature, and other air crafts who occasionally challenged her port side cannons. A city flying hundreds of miles above the earth, long deserted, for cleaner skies. 600,000 she carried, each native severing to ensure her continual flight- and their own survival.
Only two years ago, on his 18th birthday, Asher had flown around her on a skydiver with his elder brother, Colton. How truly impressive her size had been. The thrill of that memory hummed through him every time he stared into the endless skies, now dark and gloomy. His feet shifted with phantom vibrations of the sky divers engines. What he wouldn't give to be out there right now, dodging nature with his own skills.
But not tonight. No tonight he would be dodging a different force of nature.
A tiny cough behind him, announced the arrival of his younger step-sister, Roxanne.
"Still not ready?" she smirked, revealing all her fourteen years despite the effort she and his step-mother, Sophia, had put into making her appear mature and elegant.
With a resigned sigh, Asher checked his tie in the mirror, before removing the dinner jacket from its waiting hanger. A brief brush through his blonde hair ensured it would be just ruffled enough to earn Sophia's pursed lips.
"She hates when you do that you know," Roxanne commented with a slight shake of her dark curls.
"Who is that?" Asher slipped on the jacket, before flashing her a charming smile.
"I have no time for your childishness. We don't want to be late," Roxanne huffed and exited through the open door.
"We're not going to a party, just an art gallery. You can't be late for those - well, aside from missing it all together." Asher reminded her teasingly.
The drive was long and slow, making Asher miss his skydiver even more. Unfortunately, Eutopia had a 'no flying rule' inside city borders. Only Enforcers were granted a flying pass for emergencies. Drumming his fingers against the door, Asher let his mind wander, until their driver turned off the freeway into the culture section of District One.
The large white building was already surrounded by numerous vehicles, most the same make and model. Eutopia believed in simplicity. Design was about efficiency, not individual taste. Too many variations meant too many complications that could be avoided.
Making sure to keep Roxanne close by him, Asher moved his way past the line of waiting viewers to the front door. He ignored the few offended comments whispered behind them. Growing up he'd learned that those with power and privilege were often resented by those that had less.
"Sir!" A polite young man stepped forward to greet them. Asher removed his citizen ID, and passed it over. The door man examined it doubtfully, until his eyes took in the red numbers at the bottom below Asher's photo and family name. "Asher Marcello, my apologies," the fumbling man released one of the velvet chain hooks and waved them through. "Please, enjoy your visit."
Accepting his ID back with a gracious smile, Asher waited for Roxanne to enter first, well aware she enjoyed the chance to stand out in public. Like mother like daughter.
They stepped forward together across the white marble floor. The interior had been redecorated with a primal jungle look. A series of paintings had been evenly spaced around the circular room, flanked by suitable wild plants from the Botany Department. Muffled voices drifted with pleasant tones around the large open space, mingling with dull soft beat of footsteps of Eutopia's finest. A rather large crowd had gathered around the painting in the center. Some carefully aimed lights in the ceiling hinted that this piece was of importance. Already it seemed to command a rapidly growing audience.
"That's it," Roxanne eagerly seized Asher's arm, nodding towards the middle painting.
"You're the artist," Asher shrugged, moving forward through the crowd of skirts and jackets, exchanging a few polite smiles to friends of their parents. "Less then an hour," he reminded Roxanne under his breath, after the sixth handshake. Finally reaching their destination near the front of the crowd, he let out a small sigh before glancing towards the painting.
Asher's breath caught in his throat as those challenging green eyes stared him down defiantly over a mocking snarl that seemed to curl through his toes up along his spine. Wild and dirty blond hair encircled a savage beauty, bound by iron chains. The girl radiated energy, as if at any moment, she would break free from the oil that had captured her and wreck havoc among them all.
The crowd around him seemed equally spell bound. Not even a whisper as they clumped together, drawn into the savage girl's emerald gaze. Gradually, when he could tear his eyes away, Asher took in the rest of the painting. The boarder was deliberately shadowed, as if a glaring light were pointed down upon the girl; but at the very edge of the painting the artist had added the distinct shadow of a gun.
Lips pressed tightly together, as the unspoken feeling of regret passed through him. Even here he could not escape the constant reminder of his father's actions. Dropping his gaze still lower, Asher read the title of the painting aloud. "Untamed Rebel."
"She is rather terrifying isn't she darling." The musical voice pulled Asher's attention from the painting. He turned surprised to find his brother, Colton, only a few feet away. Asher also recognized the tall beauty on Colton's arm. Tovah, his soon to be future sister-in-law.
Roxanne tugged his sleeve distractedly, before noticing the direction of his gaze. Her jaw instantly dropped in obvious envy at Tovah's glittering white dress, and diamond jewels. "She is so so - divine. Do you see her dress? Such a lovely design, I wish-"
"Are we here to look at art or find you a new dress?" Asher joked playfully, feeling slightly relieved when Tovah and Colton moved on to another painting. Colton would no doubt want to know if they had Father's permission to be here.
Turning back he found Roxanne's brown eyes glaring at him, her annoyance all too clear. With a small smile she stepped towards him, before spinning away on her heel carefully drilling into the toe of his boot. A tight grin barely masked his grimace of pain as he watched her storm off. Asher limped faintly after her, promising himself he'd get even when he cashed in for this favor.
The artist, responsible for the massive crowd now blocking the entrance doors, stood off to the side. Numerous impressed viewers were making their way towards him, gracing the until now unknown artists with generous praise he returned only with silent bows. The young man's green eyes seemed to never leave the floor.
"That's him," Roxanne squealed softly, coming to a stop.
"Good for him then," Asher commented, glancing over the scrawny, dark haired young man with little interest.
"You must introduce me," Roxanne pleaded, turning to give him the full attention of her large brown eyes.
Not this again…
"Hey, the agreement was to escort you here since Sophia-"
"Mother," Roxanne corrected.
"- was caught up with work. We're here, let's take a look at some other paintings and head out," Asher finished with finality.
"But this is the artist! The one everyone's been talking about. You can't tell me you weren't impressed. You were staring at the painting for a good fifteen minutes," Roxanne protested, gripping his hand, still trying the pleading gaze.
"I was not-" Asher glanced down at his wrist watch. They'd already been here for 30 minutes..? "Look, I don't know the guy, so how can I introduce you?" he reasoned instead.
"You know his cousin," Roxanne answered all too quickly with a growing smile.
Confused, Asher studied the small cluster of people standing supportively behind the artist. He recognized a familiar tall, broad shouldered young man, who stepped forward when one of the viewers began badgering the artist about his painting.
"This shouldn't be allowed anywhere on Eutopia," the elderly gentleman fumed, his cheeks flushing red with anger. "It's an embarrassment."
"The painting was approved by a leading member of Eutopia," Shayne cut in, gently pushing the man back from the trembling artist. "If you have a complaint, you can write it out and send it in. No need to embarrass yourself by making a scene in public, you hear?"
Sputtering furiously, the old gentleman gripped his cane tightly, before turning around to head for the doors. Shayne grinned broadly across the next line of viewers in Asher's direction. The forward-offensive soccer player was demonstrating his usual charisma with people. Asher sighed, nodded a greeting back to his team mate, then turned to Roxanne.
"Fine, but this changes the terms of our agreement," Asher pointed out with a playful smile.
"You're impossible. Can't you just do this because I'm a wonderful sister too you?" Roxanne huffed impatiently.
"You abuse your rights as sister and you know it," Asher returned dryly. Turning his back to her object of interest, he pulled out a piece of candy, which he unwrapped and chewed slowly. Roxanne waited with growing agitation.
"What do you want, Asher?"
"You to convince Sophia that I don't need to attend every party she throws this year," Asher answered around the savory mound of amber chocolate melting in his mouth.
"I can try. Just how many-"
"Seven," Asher returned, keeping his tone persuasive. Roxanne tilted her head uncertainly.
"You want to be excluded from seven?" she asked hopefully.
"No. I will only attend seven," Asher affirmed, eyes returning to the artist and Shayne, who was motioning for the crowd to move back. "I'll need your answer soon, it looks like your artist has had enough attention."
Roxanne head snapped around then back, her expression clearly desperate.
"Fine, I'll talk to Mom. But this is blackmail-"
"Don't be ridiculous," Asher scooped up her arm, and escorted her around yet another line of offended citizens, to where Shayne stood next to the artist, who looked rather tired. Motioning towards one of the waiting rooms near by, Asher sent his teammate a signal to escape the crowds.
Just a few more moments to keep Roxy happy, and I can get out of here. Asher promised himself, already trying to imagine Sophia's displeasure when Roxanne explained their deal. Shanye was supporting the artist, who looked rather pale, stearing him towards the private viewing rooms. Perhaps he has some illness, that would explain why he's been invisible all this time despite his talent.
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