“Trust me and let go,” Chance’s voice is kind for the first time since I met him. “I’ll catch you.”
He helped me up a ladder.
He pulled me up after the jumps.
He won’t let me fall now, not after all that trouble.
I glance up and see thousands of lights I didn’t notice before. They shimmer and wink at me. The moment is dreamlike.
Wow, I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.
I let go of the edge, and with my eyes on the twinkling lights in the sky, I fall.
As I drop down the side, the building scrapes against my arms and stomach. Suddenly an arm wraps around my hips, and I feel hot breath spread over my stomach. Then I’m yanked forward, and my forehead slams hard against the top part of the opening as I’m pulled into the building.
My vision blurs, and the lights in the sky disappear.
This time I don’t care about embarrassing myself. As Chance starts to lower me to the floor, I throw my arms around his neck and hug him as tight as I can.
This is the first man I’ve ever hugged. Well, besides Dad.
I’ll never forget this moment.
“Thank you for catching me,” I whisper, near tears and still breathless from the fear of plummeting to my death.
I should be straightening out my shirt and not clinging to him, but I can’t help myself.
Chance’s hand brushes over the exposed skin of my lower back, sending a wave of tingles rushing through my body. To my surprise, he hugs me back, his arms and chest feeling like the safest place on Earth.
“It’s nothing,” he says, his tone hoarse. “We have to move.”
Setting me down on my feet, his hands move to my sides. My heart begins to race as he takes hold of my shirt, tugging it down to cover my exposed skin.
I pull my arms back and look at my feet, so I don’t have to make eye contact with him. I’m mortified that I hugged him. I’ve never done something like that before.
It was an indecent thing to do and not the virtuous way.
“I saw lights,” I blurt out to cover up my embarrassment. “In the sky.”
“They’re called stars. You’ve never seen them because of the dome. There’s a lot you’ll learn on this side,” Chance explains as he takes the backpack from Ethan.
He walks away as if I didn’t just hug him – as if it meant nothing to him. My cheeks flame with humiliation and shame.
Things like hugs and stars mean nothing to the deviants.
“Stars.” I test the word on my tongue. It feels foreign, but the name suits them. There are thousands of lights flickering out there, and I never knew about them before tonight.
What else don’t I know about?
Will I make it long enough to find out what else has been kept from me?
“Come on,” Chance mutters from a doorway. “Let’s go.”
I only see his shadow as he disappears down a dark flight of stairs.
I can still feel the ghost of his breath on my stomach and pull at the hem of my shirt. My heart skips a beat, and heat creeps up my neck and cheeks. I duck my head and wrap my arms around my waist, not ready to inspect the weird emotion.
Moving down a staircase, I end up between Aaron and Ethan. It’s dark, and I can barely see my hand in front of me. I keep close to the wall, feeling each step jolt through my body, all the way to my teeth.
I’m constantly conscious of keeping myself from walking into Ethan, but I don’t want to go too slow, scared Aaron will bump into me.
It doesn’t help because when Ethan suddenly stops, I slam nose-first into his back. He takes hold of my arm and slides his hand down, feeling for my fingers and pulling me closer. An awkward feeling spreads up my arm at his soft touch.
“We have to wait for Chance to come back,” he whispers.
The fact that Ethan feels he needs to whisper sends a chill down my spine. Aaron is close to my left, and I stand crammed between the two men who saved my life today.
“Thank you.” I feel a need to show my appreciation in some way while we wait. “For doing what you did back there. You could’ve left me to–” I let my sentence hang, unable to finish it.
“Don’t mention it. Your dad asked us to help break you out, and in return, he’ll help us.”
“Why did my dad arrange this?” My throat feels even drier now. “Is it really unsafe in the ecocity?”
“Yeah, but don’t worry–”
“This way. Quick,” Chance barks the orders at us, cutting off from completing his sentence.
Ethan lets go of my hand and darts forward, and I follow close on his heels. At the entrance of the building, we all duck down and follow Chance out onto a sidewalk, keeping to the dark shadows against the walls.