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I haven't been making as much progress with this novel as I'd like, but I broke 10K! That means it's time for me to post another excerpt. Read the first part here. Let me know what you think.
A novel by Briana Morgan, Draft 2
Chapter Two. Awake
The man’s name was Julian. He had blue eyes. Their intensity startled me more than their color. More surprising than his eyes was the fact he knew my name. I swore we’d never met. He looked at me like he could see under my skin.
I’d never been looked at like that before. I averted my eyes.
“Julian,” I said, repeating his name. I liked the way it rested on my tongue, “you’re a lawyer?”
“I'm surprised you don't recognize me."
"Why, should I?"
His expression darkened. "I defended your brother."
I felt like I was falling. As far as I knew, Rory had never stood trial for anything in his life.
"What are you talking about?"
Atalanta stood and out her hand on Julian's arm. Her fingers curved around his bicep.
"Careful," she said.
He shot her a look that said, 'I know what I'm doing.'
"Look," he said to me, "I'm guessing there are lots of things your brother never told you. I can reveal a few secrets here and there, but I think it's best you hear everything directly from him." He put his arm around Atalanta. "If the three of us know anything about Rory, it's that he's honest."
"Almost to a fault." Atalanta smiled.
My stomach churned like someone had put it on spin cycle. They didn't know. Then again, how could they? Rory had only been dead for a few hours. It was impossible for me to believe he wasn't dead in their world yet. For them, he was very much alive. In their world, we could see him.
"Damita," said Julian, "are you all right?"
I lay back down and closed my eyes. Julian knew my name. Presumably we had met before, so why didn't I remember him? Why didn't I remember seeing him with Rory? Most importantly, what had my brother been doing hanging out with a sky eyes? Fraternization was illegal. Everyone knew that--especially Julian, if he were serious about his career.
"What crime was he accused of?" I asked. My voice sounded small. I tried again. "When you defended Rory, what was he on trial for?"
Julian hesitated. "It's better he tells you. He might frame it better."
"There's no other way to frame it," Atalanta said.
"She should hear it from him, don't you think?"
"He's dead," I said. "My brother died. He can't tell me anything."
Tears bubbled up behind my closed eyelids. Why was I crying? I was still in shock. Even though I was saying the words aloud, it still hadn't hit me that Rory was gone. The idea was impossible. He'd been the one fixed point in my unstable life since I could remember. How was I supposed to cope with losing my anchor?
"You're joking," said Julian.
I opened my eyes. He was holding on to Atalanta with both hands, as though he needed her support in order to stay standing. She had a death grip on his arms. Her nails dug into his skin.
I looked at him. That was all. He could see the pain reflected in my eyes.
Atalanta sobbed. Startled by her violent reaction, she clapped her hands over her mouth.
I wanted to reassure her. What could I say? She mourned my brother. I mourned my brother. There was no changing facts. Rory was dead.
"Bathroom," Julian said. His voice was clipped and cold.
Atalanta went into the bathroom. She pulled the door shut. Her sobs were almost muffled by the whirring of the fan. Almost, but not quite. They tore me up inside in a way I wasn't expecting.
"Hold on," Julian said.
He went into the bathroom and closed the door again. I heard the two of them talking. I couldn't make out what they were saying. Atalanta was still crying. When Julian came back out, he wore pants and a button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He'd missed a button. I told him so.
He fixed the problem right away. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I had no idea. I never would’ve said…” He let his voice trail off. “Rory and I were close.”
"Why didn't he ever mention you?" My question was supposed to come out as an innocent inquiry. It rang more like an accusation--maybe even an insult.
Julian paled. He took a step backward. He couldn't look at me. I wanted to take my words back, but it was too late.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't mean--"
"It's fine," he said. "It's all right, really. I don't know what I expected." He tried to smile, but his face refused to take it.
I knew he was in pain. I felt terrible. What could I say to make him feel better? Rory hadn't said anything about Julian. I'd already said so. I couldn't go back on my word. As silly as it seemed, I felt as though Rory would know if I lied--that he'd come down from wherever he was and deliver a stern lecture.
"We didn't talk much," I tried. The explanation was weak. "I mean, about personal issues."
That wasn't right, either. Heat rose in my cheeks. I knew he could see right through me. I felt pathetic.
"He never bothered me with anything too serious. He always worried about upsetting me. Whenever I asked him about his day, he'd hit the highlights. I never got the gritty stuff."
My brother had worked at a funeral home. It had bothered me when I was younger, but as time passed, the job became an extension of my brother, another part of him to love. I learned a lot about the industry. Death, like everything else, was a business. I wondered what Rory would think about whatever they'd do to his body. I wondered if he had a will. I didn't hold out hope.
"He didn't want you to know about me," Julian said.
I couldn't figure out why. If we had a sky eyed lawyer like him on our side, why hadn't we taken full advantage of his status? The more I thought about the situation, the less I understood.
"It was for your own good," he continued. "For your protection. Don't you understand?"
I did understand. I didn’t like understanding. “Eye color,” I said. “Contacts. It all makes sense now.” They’d been plotting something together. Why else would a sky eyes have become friends with my brother? Rory hadn’t wanted me to meet Julian because he knew it was dangerous. If I recognized Julian in public, people would get suspicious. Silver might hear something. Rory had really been looking out for everyone.
Atalanta came out of the bathroom. She rubbed her eyes. “She figured it out, didn’t she? What are we supposed to do?”
"We don't have to do anything rash," Julian said. His voice was calm but I could sense a touch of malice in it. My pulse spiked. What were they going to do?
"She's dangerous," Atalanta said. "If she tells anyone--"
"She won't tell anyone. Look at her. She's a mud eyes. Who would believe her?"
Normally I would've been offended by that remark, but I could recognize that he was trying to help me. I kept my mouth shut. I'd heard much worse.
"I don't know, Julian. I think it's risky."
Julian nodded to me. "Would you mind stepping into the bathroom? Atalanta and I have some things to discuss."
I didn't dare disobey. I doubted Julian would press charges but I didn't want to take the chance. I went into the bathroom, shut the door, and flipped on the fan. The lid on the toilet was down. I sat on it and buried my face in my hands. What was happening to me?
I could hear them talking. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but I heard their voices. For all I knew, they were plotting my murder. But if they’d truly been close to my brother, surely they wouldn’t kill me, would they? I didn’t know anything about them.
I thought about throwing open the bathroom door, pushing past them, opening the front door, and running away as fast as I could. What if I couldn’t get past them? What if they pursued me? If I did get away from them, where would I go? Home wasn’t home anymore. I was all out of options.
I stood and knocked on the door. The talking stopped. I knocked again. Julian open the door and peered in at me. His eyes shifted around the room as though looking for something to cling to. They found me instead. “Atalanta’s going out,” he said. “You should be gone before she comes back.”
At first, I didn’t understand. Julian lowered his voice. “Please. I’m trying to help you.”
“She won’t hurt me,” I said. It came out as more of a question than a statement. Both of us knew I wasn’t confident about that. “Tell me she won’t hurt me.”
“Please go,” he replied.
I heard the front door open and close. Atalanta had gone out. I wanted to get as far away from that hotel room as possible. Whatever those two were involved in--even if they’d known my brother--I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. Treason was insanity. I was only half-crazy.
What was it that kept me standing in the bathroom?
“I want answers,” I said. “All you’ve done is confuse me. I have so many questions.”
“I know,” he said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t want--” He cut himself off. “Please get out of here, Damita. Go to your room and lock the door. Pretend this nonsense never happened.”
He had no idea how much I wished that were possible. “My brother was murdered. That wasn’t pretend. You can’t understand how bad it hurts.”
Something flashed in his eyes. “You have no idea.”
He stepped aside and allowed me to walk past him. I made my way across the room and through the front door without so much as a look over my shoulder. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t care if I never saw those two again. I couldn’t fathom why my brother had kept company with them. The woman was attractive but volatile--a smoker and a rebel and God knew what else. Julian was trickier. An aristocrat at first blush, he seemed to be more of a poor little rich boy with a past I couldn’t fathom--a past I’d never know.
I hated not knowing.
I hated the idea of going back there and confronting Julian even more.
I went back to my room, closed and locked the door, and slid the deadbolt into place. I took off all my clothes and tore the scratchy blanket off the bed. I turned off the lights and slid between the sheets. I fell asleep in minutes.
What do you think of the story so far? Whom do you think Damita should trust?
"My brother was murdered. That wasn't pretend." Read an excerpt from YA dystopian novel Mud Eyes by @brianawrites. (Click to tweet)