Echo looked up and her eyes met Sierra’s. The blonde was standing five meters away from her with a tray of food in her hand. Echo was at a table that was empty but for herself, and for a moment a warm feeling settled over her heart as she thought about how nice it would be if Sierra walked over and sat down with her.
Echo liked it when Sierra was near. It made her feel good. And, she knew from the way Sierra smiled at her, and looked at her, that she made Sierra feel good as well.
They were friends. It was nice to be friends.
Only, even though she didn’t fully understand it, Echo knew that as nice as being friends was, it was also dangerous. Everyone was very friendly, and Echo liked talking to different people when she saw them in the hallways, but she wasn’t friends with anyone but Sierra. In fact, she had determined that none of the others were friends with each other either.
She and Sierra were different. They were special. They had something beautiful together that none of the others like them had.
And Echo knew that they had to hide it or else it would be taken away.
Echo had commented the day before to Dr. Saunders that people watched her a lot more than they watched the other Actives. Dr. Saunders had told her that it was because she was very good – though Echo didn’t know at what – and that others always paid attention to people who were special. Dr. Saunders had sounded funny when she said that, and Echo had asked her if being special was good or bad. Dr. Saunders had looked away from her then, and she was quiet for a long while. So long in fact that Echo had thought she wasn’t going to answer, but then Dr. Saunders had taken her hands, and whispered, “It’s bad Echo. It’s very bad. Try to be like everyone else. You don’t want them looking at you.” Dr. Saunders had closed her eyes then as if something was hurting her, and said, “Please remember,” softly before she released Echo’s hands and continued with the checkup.
Echo dropped her gaze from Sierra’s. She wished that Sierra could come and sit with her, but she knew that she couldn’t. Sierra knew that too, which was why she had simply stood there and looked instead of walking over. They’d had lunch together the day before and the day before that, and they couldn’t do it again. The last time they had eaten together more than two days in a row, people had looked at them, and then they’d been called in for tests.
Echo looked down at her plate and moved her fork around though she didn’t bring any food to her lips. She felt sad and lonely, and when she looked up again to see Sierra walking away from her, wandering over to where Victor was sitting, her eyes began to sting and her face got wet.
Echo dropped her eyes back down to her plate, and began to eat again, using the motion to subtly wipe at her eyes.
Crying made people look at you.
Whiskey and Foxtrot joined Echo soon after Sierra had walked away, and they all agreed that pudding was nice, and that it would be fun to make things out of paper if they had Art Time after lunch.
It was a pleasant meal, but Whiskey and Foxtrot didn’t make Echo’s heart feel warm and she missed Sierra greatly. The only time that she really felt happy throughout the whole meal was when she looked over at Sierra and found that Sierra was looking at her too. Sierra had smiled quickly before looking away again, and when Echo went back to her food her pudding tasted much better than it had before.
When the bell rang, they all stood to put their garbage and trays away.
“How was your meal?” Sierra asked as she and Echo moved towards the same trash bin.
“Very nutritious,” Echo responded, concentrating on emptying her tray so that she wouldn’t smile.
“Yes,” Sierra agreed moving to empty her tray when Echo was done. “It was a very balanced meal,” she continued glancing over at Echo as she shook her tray clean.
There was a slight smile on her face, and when Echo saw it she dipped her head down and smiled too.
Together, they joined the throng of others gathered to hear what their afternoon activities would be. The open space where they were all standing wasn’t very big, and they were packed tightly together. They were surrounded on all sides, hidden from the view of the Guardians on the outside, and as Echo gazed forward attentively she let her hand drift to the side and touched Sierra’s fingers with her own.
Sierra breathed in sharply, but kept her eyes facing forward. She then allowed her fingers to brush against Echo’s as well, and after a few seconds of touching each other, they found their fingers entwined comfortably together. It felt nice, very nice and Echo felt a white, comfortable warmth wash over her. Sierra’s fingers tightened around hers and Echo was glad for it. She wanted to hold onto Sierra too.
Once their afternoon activities were announced, everyone began to split up and move towards the Guardians that would be running their activities. Echo felt Sierra’s fingers slip from hers as they became visible to the outside once more, and reluctantly, she took a step away from the blonde.
“Massage after second session,” Echo whispered, watching the others in her group move towards the door. She needed to join them, but she wanted to see Sierra again and needed to tell her where would be safe. They wouldn’t be able to talk much during the massage, but they could turn their heads towards each other and look at each other without anyone paying attention to them. It wasn’t as great as having lunch together, or being able to hold each others hands, but it was better than not seeing Sierra at all.
“Okay,” Sierra said, and they held each others eyes for a second before turning away from each other to head in opposite directions.
As Echo joined the rest of her group her eyebrows scrunched together thoughtfully. She and Sierra were friends. They were special. Dr. Saunders said that being special was bad, but being Sierra’s friend didn’t feel bad. It felt good. It felt like now that she knew what it was like to have a friend that she would be so sad that she would go to sleep and never wake up if Sierra ever went away.
Sierra filled up something inside of her that she hadn’t even realized was empty, and that couldn’t be bad. It couldn’t be. And even if it was, it didn’t matter. Echo didn’t care what Dr. Saunders said. Being special wasn’t bad. Being special was good. It was the people who were watching them, and trying to keep them apart that were bad. They were bad, and Echo didn’t like them, and she wasn’t going to obey. Echo wasn’t going to give Sierra up.
They were friends, and friends stood by each other. Friends looked after each other.
Instinctively, Echo lifted her right hand and tapped it against her left shoulder.
Friends protected each other. That’s what friends did. She and Sierra were friends, and nobody was going to take Sierra away.