Halon and I spent the night at one of the nicest hotels I’d ever seen. I had an entire room to myself, furnished beautifully. Everything was white, with hints of varying shades of blue. A spattering of chocolate awaited me on my freshly made bed.
I threw myself onto the bed face first. Everything was absolutely silent. So wonderfully quiet. I rolled over to stare up at the ceiling.
For once, my thoughts weren’t consumed by Chase or Talon or Cotto. I found myself humming the lyrics to an old song without realizing it. Wish that I could be your superhero. For you I’d fly through any sky. Hold on tight and pick your head up high. The pain you feel isn’t enough to stop you. Keep on fighting until the bitter end. Keep on praying until you’re heard. Keep moving on, because under that deep black is a diamond inside of you.
Alone with no one to hear, I sang. The words weren’t just a catchy rock beat that Chase used to blare while he piloted the ship—no, they felt like so much more. I had to keep going. It hurt—it was breaking me inside, but that shouldn’t stop me. I needed to pick myself up and keep moving on. There had to be an end. I wasn’t sure how I would get there, but there must have been some happy ending awaiting me. That was all I could hope for—that all my struggles would mean something when everything was said and done.
“Keep moving on, because under that deep black is a diamond inside of you.”
“I can’t teach you how to be whole again, but I can hope until you are.” A voice finished the lyrics for me. I sat up slowly, facing my door. The words had come from outside. “Aren’t you going to finish the song?”
I made my way to the door, and upon opening found a kid standing in the hall. I blinked in surprise. “Um, hi,”
“Can we finish the song?” The little girl asked, her eyes shining.
“I don’t remember all of the lyrics.” I hedged, glancing around the hallway. “Shouldn’t you be with your mom or dad or something?” I may have left home at a young age, but it certainly wasn’t the norm.
“Nope.” She popped his lips on the ‘p’.
Unsure of what else to do, I pounded on the wall. Halon’s room was next door, and sure enough, his door flew open. “Marina, why are you—” He paused, noticing the little girl. “Who is this?”
“I’m not sure. What’s your name?”
“Piper. I heard you singing and I like singing.” She blinked innocently.
“Where are your parents or whoever is watching you?” Halon asked softly.
“Nobody is anywhere.” She shook her head deliberately.
“What do you mean?”
Piper pointed to the sky. “All gone.”
“Gone where?” A sinking feeling overcame me. I had a pretty good guess at exactly where.
“Sister said there would be fire coming and that I had to leave. They left in the rocket.”
“Fire.” Halon repeated, staring into the distance, realizing something that I didn’t. “I’ve got some phone calls to make, Marina. Watch her,” He motioned to Piper and slammed the door behind him.
I ushered Piper into my room awkwardly. I’d never played the role of babysitter before, and I was quite nervous. What did little kids do? I hadn’t interacted with anyone my age or younger for a long time—until Talon, but that didn’t matter.
“So, um, Piper, was it? How old are you?”
The little brunette held out her palm. “Five!”
Why would someone leave a five year old alone? Obviously her family knew they were leaving her to some sort of fire.
Watching Piper turned out to be easier than I’d expected. I switched my TV on, and found some colorful children’s show. She was ecstatic, grabbing my hand and pointing the screen. “That one is blue! Blue!” Piper’s high-pitched voice was so ear piercing that even the onscreen character had to have heard her. Still, it was kind of fun to watch her.
A segment on sea animals came on. They seemed to entrance Piper, although I was sure she didn’t understand most of the words.
She spun to face me suddenly. “What’s your name?”
Her eyes lit up. “Dolphin!”
It took me a moment to make the connection. “Oh, you mean like marine life? I guess so,”
“You’re a dolphin!” She giggled before returning to her show.
I laid back on the bed, staring up at the ceiling as Piper danced. It was about the most relaxing night I’d had in what felt like an eternity.
Piper jumped onto the bed. “Job!” Before I could ask exactly what she meant, she clarified, “Your job!”
“I fix stuff.”
“What kind of stuff?” She asked enthusiastically. I was a little surprised by her interest. Most kids wanted to be the captain or the pilot, not the mechanic.
“Um, the mechanical stuff on spaceships.” How did you simplify complicated mechanics in a way that a five year old would understand?
“I was going on a spaceship when I got big!”
I smiled. “So you want to work on a spaceship, huh?”
“They said I have to.”
My smile faded instantly. “You have to?”
She nodded halfheartedly. “I wanted to be a vet, but they said I have to be on a spaceship. It’s okay though, space is cool.”
“So you don’t want to go to space?”
Piper shook her head. “I have to.”
I wouldn’t voice my concerns for fear of upsetting Piper, but I had an awful feeling that I knew why she didn’t have a choice. Only one kind of person would leave behind a child—not a mother or father, but a slaver.
I wanted to smother her in a hug, but I would only worry her. At least she’d be safe with Halon and I.
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