Davey stood in the laneway where she had dropped off Carly, staring at the house at the end of the sidewalk. It was not the same house Davey remembered from her first assignment. They used to live in a quaint little cottage with colourful rocks along the walkway and a rolling field stretching out behind it. Now, they lived in the area known as the Dry Zone. The area designated for those not up to expected standards. The house wasn’t small or ramshackled or rundown in anyway, but the dull grey paint that covered every inch of the home, including the roof, was bursting with sadness. Just like every other house along the street. The grass of all the lawns was cut uniformly short and smooth. There were none of the trees or gardens that coloured the lawns of the Parks Zone residences. Everything here stank of sameness.
The buildings in this part of town looked utilitarian, meant for nothing more than shelter. These were houses; they were not homes. The lights behind the windows of the Perkins’ house were a simple, pale yellow. Just bright enough to highlight the dull, awful colour of the house. Carly had refused to let Davey walk her to the door. The red-head watched her friend slumped down the concrete slabs, her heavy boots weighing down each step. The rocks crunched beneath her feet, echoing back to where Davey stood.
The Dry Zone was smaller than she’d expected. In a town with the expectations as high as this one, she had thought that there would be more that didn’t, or couldn’t, conform. But two-thirds of the town fell within the Parks, where the grass seemed to glow an unnatural green and the gardens were peppered with multitudes of colours. The houses there shone with bright, inviting lights hinting at the perfection that lay inside.
When the door closed behind Carly with an ominous thunk, Davey made her way back towards the hotel at the centre of town. An icon of all things desirable. Her new home was more than just a pretty building; she recognized now that this was a place people strived to live. She couldn’t figure out why the Master Veils would put her there, somewhere that Carly would feel so out of place. Was it to force D to see the discrepancies in this town? Who were the Fenton? How did they keep the town under their thumb? Why hadn’t the Masters prepped her better for this engagement? Questions were distracting her from her mission.
“Identification.” A voice sounded as Davey reached the sidewalk surrounding the Parks Zone.
“Excuse me?” Davey felt her ire beginning to rise again, but she forced it down. She never wanted to find out what The Cage was. Never.
“Identification is required to enter the Parks Zone after sunset.” The voice sounded again from Davey’s right. She glanced around, looking for a speaker like the one she’d seen at the school.
“Um, let me see what I have with me.” Davey dug through her purse and pulled out the wallet she hadn’t needed to use yet. With no idea what kind of ID was inside, she snapped open the flap and looked through the assorted cards. She found a green card in one of flaps with her picture and name across the front, the words Parks Zone, Class C listed underneath. “Will this work?” She held the card up to the air, feeling slightly foolish.
“Over here.” The voice sounded again as a yellow light illuminated a small booth sheltered within the shadow of the trees.
Davey stepped up to the window and placed the card on the ledge across the top of the half door. A man sat inside, dressed in a dark blue suit covering almost every inch of skin from head to toe. Only his eyes and mouth were visible through the openings in the facemask. The suit was so restrictive that the only indication that it was a man was the hint of beard surrounding his lips. For a moment, Davey thought about the sexless form she inhabited at The Commune and wondered if these soldiers felt the same detachment from the people around them. If they were just doing a job. If they liked it as much as she normally did.
“Thank you, Damhnait.” He glanced at the card, pronouncing her name correctly on the first try.
“You got my name right.” She couldn’t hide her surprise. “That’s only happened… that’s never happened before.” She grinned as his lip twitched behind the mask.
“My mother was Gaelic. I grew up in the Ceilidh Flatlands.” His voice vibrated across the darkness with a deep, reassuring timbre. “You’re new in town. Staying at the Horizon Suites?”
“Yes…” Davey crossed her arms over her chest, hugging herself, even though she wasn’t cold. “How did you know that?”
“Green Class C.” He handed back her ID like that explained everything. “You’re cutting your restriction close. Ten more minutes and you would have spent your night in the Dry Zone.”
“I’m sorry. Like you said, I’m new. I don’t really understand how things work around here. Maybe you could fill me in on some of the rules.”
“I’m not allowed to chat with the people that pass the gate.” His voice lowered “I could already get in trouble for the amount of time you’ve spent here. I’m off shift tomorrow at 6:00. If you happened to be in the hotel restaurant…” He paused.
“I’m usually hungry around 6.” Davey slid her card back into her purse and walked away, unsure if she’d just made an ally or gotten herself deeper into an already complicated situation. The moment she stepped onto the laneway on the Parks side of town, the streetlights began to hum with energy, bright enough that you almost forgot it was evening. People flitted about, visiting and running errands. Laughter sounded from a group of girls gathered at the corner in front of the soda shop. Davey could tell from this distance that they were all very attractive. Each dressed in different coloured versions of identical outfits. Outfits very similar to the one Davey was wearing. The Commune had done a good job with the styling for this world, if nothing else.
“Hello, Davey.” A voice called. As Davey approached, a tall, dark skinned girl with long, chestnut brown curls stepped from the centre of the gaggle of girls.
“Hello, Joy.” Davey recognized her from their childhood. The deep brown eyes were the same now as they had been that day in the barn. Just as conniving and calculating as they’d been when she convinced Carly to walk across that wooden beam.
“What brought you back to town?” Joy leaned casually against one of the trees lining the street.
“Just felt like the right time.” Davey shrugged and started to walk forward. “There’s nowhere quite like Faulery Valley, right?”
“If you think that you can come back here, stay friends with that girl and still fit in, you’re wrong.” Joy stepped into her path. With a nod of her head, Marisa and Voula stepped up to her flank.
“Joy,” Davey took a calming breath, “I’m not here to make waves or get into anyone’s business. I’m just here to finish my last year of high school. Carly is one of my oldest friends, but we’re not the same anymore.” The lie rolled of her tongue easily. It was nice to feel like she as back in her natural groove for a minute.
“Well that’s a relief. I heard what you said to Jett today and I was worried. You seem like someone I could maneuver into the group.”
“It’s been a very tiring day, Joy. I’m just trying to get my bearings. If you don’t mind, I’d just like to go home and get some sleep.” Davey swallowed her disgust. All she wanted to do was get back to her room to check the profile again. See if it made more sense now that she had some idea what was going on in this town.
“Watch yourself, Davey. You wouldn’t want to end up like your former friend.” Joy smirked and skipped away with her friends.
Davey watched them disappear into a building with music pumping from inside. Shaking her head, she continued down a street full of charming storefronts. Shops invited patrons in for ice cream, clothing, wine, or anything else they could possibly want. It was actually pleasant. If she hadn’t experienced that dungeon room, she would really like this town. Davey was only a few blocks away from the hotel when Jett and his friends rounded a corner, heading in her direction. Not wanting to deal with him for the third time in one day, Davey slipped through the first available door.
Bells tinkled as the door swung shut behind her. The smell of the building was so inviting her stomach twisted with hunger. All she’d eaten tonight was that plate of bacon, and now, she was famished. She pushed against the wall as Jett traipsed past the window, not even glancing her way.
“Can I help you?” A delicate voice fluttered from behind her.
Davey turned to see a woman in her mid twenties standing behind a large counter displaying rows and rows of pastries. The fresh bread behind her threw up ribbons of steam, creating a halo around the girl. Her pale blue dress, covered by a buttercup yellow apron, seemed entirely inappropriate for a baker, but fit in perfectly with the fashion of the town. Her fluffy white hair was tied back with a yellow ribbon that perfectly matched her apron.
“I would love…” Davey stared into the display case, looking at round swirls covered in sticky, brown sauce; rectangular loaves yellow with lemons; round, perfect cookies with chunks of strawberries and white chocolate. “It all looks so amazing. I’ll take one of everything.”
“It tastes pretty amazing, but that much will make you sick.” The girl chuckled again, her laugh a delicate, glass-like tinkle that made Davey smile. This was the first person she’d spoken to today who seemed as unbound to this place as she was. She fit, but with a lightness no one else portrayed. Davey made a note to come here as often as possible. “Try one of these first and we’ll go from there.” The baker placed one of the golden brown swirls on the plate and handed it across the counter to Davey’s waiting hands.
“Thank you. I am famished.” Davey took a seat on one of the stools at the long, gleaming counter.
“Who were you avoiding?” The blonde wiped away tiny traces of crumbs from the counter and moved the loaves of bread into a large piece of machinery with rows of sharpened blades.
“This guy from my class.” Davey grinned, “He’s supposed to be top dog or something, but he just seems a little smarmy to me.”
“Ah yes, the golden children.” The girl smiled as she lowered the blades through a loaf of bread, separating it into slices.
“That’s not the answer I expected.” Davey cut the soft dough of the pastry on her plate and raised a bite to her lips. The sweet, sticky sauce melted in her mouth, running down her throat. “Oh my god, this is so delicious.”
“Thanks, I just made them.” The girl slid the bread into a bag and wound it shut. “I haven’t been in town long. I don’t’ really understand how all these rules work. Or why those obnoxious children are glorified.”
“Me either.” She reached a hand across the counter, “I’m Davey.”
Davey was sure the girl paused for a moment before she shook her hand. “Sinder.”
“What brought you to Faulery Valley?” Davey folded the last bite into her mouth and pushed the empty plate away. “Something new please. I’m starving.”
“Work.” Sinder shrugged and scooped a piece of braided, crispy pastry onto a new plate. She sprinkled a fine white powder along the top before she slid it back across the counter. “You?”
“An old friend who needed some help.” Davey pushed her fork through the pastry and released a flood raspberries. “Will you be my new best friend? I’ll pay you to cook for me.” Davey laughed.
“I get paid to do it here.” Sinder smiled her delicate smile, laughter bubbling past her lips. “It’s just something I’ve always been able to do. Business is slow tonight. Normally, there are a few more people in here by now.”
“The pastry business picks up when the sun goes down?”
“You’d be surprised. The people of this community do like to gorge themselves.” Sinder pulled up a stool from behind the cupboard and sat across from Davey.
“I know I’ll be back. And back. And back.”
“I’d like that very much.” Sinder smiled, “Tell me about your friend. Does she need some healing through food?”
“If she was allowed in this section of town, I would go get her right now.” Davey wiped away a stray crumb from her lap. Sinder reached behind the counter and pulled out a ceramic mug that she placed in a machine behind her. A dark, frothy liquid dripped into the cup.
“She’s a Dry Zone kid?” Sinder slid a new cup under the spout and passed the full one to Davey.
“She’s had some bad luck over the last couple years. I wish there was something I could do to help her.” Davey sipped from the cup, the piping hot liquid coating her mouth. “Everything in here tastes like perfection.”
Sinder smiled and took a sip from her own cup.
“I just wish I could make Carly realizes that she matters, regardless of what this town says.”
“Would you like to take her some snacks?”
“I’m not allowed to leave the Parks after sunset, but I’ll definitely pick some up tomorrow.” Davey pointed to the rack of cookies, “I’d eat them all if I took them now.”
“Everything’s better when it’s fresh.” Sinder placed a cookie on the plate, “Bring her here during the day. I’ll make her something special.”
“I’m so very glad I stumbled in here, Sinder.” Davey polished off the cookie and drink. “I’ll take a few more things to go, and get out of your hair.”
Sinder packed up a yellow box with an assortment of treats. Davey pulled several bills from her wallet and slid them across the counter, not concerned about the excessive amounts of money she was handing out. If she ran out, it would be refilled. She grinned as she stepped back out onto the street, the box warming her hands. The pleasant sensation in her stomach almost overshadowed the pain of colour everything else.