Stella was fine. At least as fine as she would ever be with that weird numb feeling in her chest and her stomach hurting like she had eaten something that had gone bad. But she was sick of being asked if she was all right by a worried Lucie and Andromeda. She just had a headache. Normal people got headaches all the time. It didn’t mean she was weak. She had just lost her best friend and normal people got upset about that.
She opened the medicine chest and pulled down the bottle of pain medicine that Gil had found somewhere. She wasn’t sure what was in it and was pretty sure it was expired but it wasn’t poisonous as he had taken a couple and was fine. She took one out and swallowed it with a cup of water. Lucie peeked in and instantly pulled back alarmed. Stella wondered what Lucie thought she was doing. Trying to kill herself like Juliet. It was ridiculous. She just had a headache.
“I have a killer headache.” She groaned and regretted it as a spasm of pain flashed across her head.
“Aww… Why don’t you stay home and lie down for a while? I can call Gil.”
“I’m ok. You know how he feels about sick days. I’ll just take one of these and I’ll be fine.”
She absolutely would. But even Gil knew something was wrong when she appeared wearing sunglasses. The shop was brightly lit with government-issue natural sunlight bulbs. It always seemed slightly ludicrous how the government always proudly proclaimed that the Nocturnes lived with plenty of light. It wasn’t true of course. This didn’t make up for sunlight. The sunlight that people like Leo and Summer and all the rest of the Daylighters lived in.
“What’s wrong?” Gil asked as she sank down by the desk and tried to add up the weekly account books. She was pretty good with math even if she hadn’t been able to go to college.
“I’m fine. I just have a headache.” She repeated for the 100th time. She was starting to believe that the minute this damn headache disappeared she would be fine. That Bill would magically disappear and everything would be fine.
Gil didn’t say anything for a while but just looked at her constantly with that worried look. She hated it and she also hated that she was having so much trouble adding up a simple row of expenses. Normally she would have been able to do double this.
“I got the email.” His voice startled her out of her reverie as she was considering if thinking about going home and playing Chopin was a good idea. It was not. At all.
“Yea,” she replied.
“That’s what this is all about.”
Stella balled her fists and forced herself not to start crying. Crying was something she couldn’t do. She was afraid that if she started crying she wouldn’t know how to stop because she hadn’t known how to stop when her parents died and now she felt the same. She needed to be strong.
“I can’t understand how this bill passed or why. It’s just another right that is taken away from us. And yes I’m not happy that I won’t ever see my best friend ever again. It just sucks.” She continued adding her figures though she knew she would have to keep doing it until they came out right.
Best friend was so much easier and neater to say than boyfriend or someone she loved. It was true because they could talk about everything and even when they didn’t agree or understand it somehow didn’t really matter. (It had that time they had that big fight but both had learned a lot about the world they lived and realized that they really weren’t in control at all. She had also learned how to forgive which hadn’t been easy.) But friend wasn’t the only word she could use to describe their relationship. The whole thing hurt too much to talk about or label or define.
“ I’m sorry.” Gil for once didn’t tease her or tell her to be careful. It was almost worse than if he had.
“Are you really? Aren’t you glad I won’t see him again? You never liked him.” Stella did let him hug her though. He was her family and no matter what they would stick together.
“I don’t like seeing you sad. Also I do like him. I just wish things were different. He’s a nice kid. He really cares about you, which is all that really matters. But you can’t blame me from wishing you had never met him. ” Gil patted her shoulder like he had when she was a kid and hurt herself coming down the stairs.
“Not really,” she replied biting her lip to keep from crying, “ It doesn’t matter to the government or to anyone else. People don’t seem to even see how they are affected.”
Gil sighed and went back to the invoices which they typed up on a typewriter of all things because one had been found in a basement that survived the disaster and it was practically free to operate and didn’t stop working during the power outages. Stella kept working too. She wouldn’t let herself feel.
It was at bedtime that she let herself relax and then she usually started crying. She would press her head into the pillow so she wouldn’t wake Lucie up. She suspected Lucie knew what was going on but Lucie never talked about it. Stella would have her cry, which usually made her feel much better and then drop off to sleep.
She would dream then and sometimes she hated it. When she woke up everything was back to normal. The way her room looked with the blackout curtains made her feel sick. In her dreams she could see the sun and when she dreamed of Leo he always looked illuminated by sunlight. She had never seen the sun but she had watched pre Apocalypse movies that showed her how it looked. In those dreams the world was just like them. They went to coffee shops and did homework and took pictures. They went on hikes to forests that looked far lusher than anything that Horizon had. She even dreamed about the ocean which none of them had ever seen in person. She dreamed that the sun was shining on her and that the world she inhabited didn’t have a trace of inky blackness or moonlight.
The dreams hurt the most. During the day she could push through with work and plans and hope that Huxley and his party could save the day. But in bed the world she lived in was just about perfect and knowing that was completely impossible was terrifying. She knew the plans were a gamble and that everything could go from bad to worse. She knew there had been revolutions in the past that had been put down and the leaders had simply disappeared. She didn’t want to think about what happened to them.
She got Leo’s letter a few days later. She didn’t recognize the handwriting and it was addressed to the shop not to her. But when she opened it she realized what had happened. As nice as the videos were this was written privately to her and wasn’t a public announcement.
She read it a few times squinting at Leo’s truly terrible handwriting and Gil came in to see her reading it. She glared at him for a second for technically she wasn’t taking up time from work. This was her lunch hour and she had a right to read a letter. It made her feel so happy just to see something tangible and to read what he thought even if it was far more disorganized and messy than when he talked.
Gil looked at her for a moment before he finished unpacking the boxes of antique wall clocks they had just gotten in. She could tell he was unhappy about something. It made her a little apprehensive.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I just wish you wouldn’t. Get your hopes up I mean. This video and letter thing. How much longer do you want to do this?” Gil put down a box more forcefully than necessary.
“But Huxley?” she replied.
“Stella, it’s a very distant hope. And a very dangerous one. If the Unity Party fails anyone connected with it could be in serious trouble.”
“But free representation is part of our constitution.” She replied knowing the answer. She wasn’t stupid. The constitution could be interpreted for practically everything.
“If the Council doesn’t like what they do they can say they are breaking the law and arrest them. All they have to do is plant evidence of election fraud or violence. We could all be sent to jail. Or worse. I’ve heard stories about what happens to people who are caught.”
Stella shivered. For the first time she wondered if it was worth it. Maybe just living the way they were was better than fighting for a freedom that seemed very far off. The idea of her brother, Ara, Lucie, Andromeda or Leo being sent to jail was terrifying. Perhaps it wasn’t worth it.
“Listen, I’m not trying to scare you. But I just don’t want you to get your hopes up. Also please don’t get too involved. Leave the politics to me.”
“I’m a strong, independent woman. I’m not going to be protected by a guy.” Stella scoffed as she punched him playfully.
“I’m just your protective older brother. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“I know. And I’ll be careful. I don’t want to get hauled off to jail either.”
She went back to her letter but it felt so cold and comfortless. Everything was so frightening. She couldn’t understand how just a few months ago she had been happy. She refused to allow herself to give up. She would fight out of this. The burning pain in her heart fueled her. She would be strong and brave. Someday Horizons would be united and they would all be together.