WAIT! Before you read Part 2, click here –> #ThirstyThursday :: The Circle to read the first segment of The Circle and meet Jett & Thad.
Clouds descended as I exited the building and the salty breeze clung to the ocean with a weight predicting a rain heavier than the darkness. I collapsed on the third step and felt the fiery burn of tears at the back of my throat; no one stopped to ask if I was alright and for once I was grateful for the stoniness of the mainland’s citizens. I could feel the lingering heat from the stone stairs under my thighs and my hands trembled the tiniest bit as adrenaline pumped its way out of my system.
I had been so certain, so sure, I would be given a chance today. I hadn’t counted on Thad’s stubborn presence much less his resistance. I’d been informed he was away and wouldn’t be back for another week; something about the convenient timing of his return nagged at my nerves and frayed my last bit of patience. I chose to ignore the fact I had been ironically acting just as cowardly hoping he wouldn’t be home for my presentation.
Reaching down, I unclasped the t-strap of my heels and stood to walk down to the sand at the edge of the steps. The hall behind me echoed the crashing waves and overlaid conversations from people on the beach. I watched a line of children dance impatiently for shaved ice and an older couple perched on a bench reading newspapers. Annoyed gull cries were sharp against my skull and the beginnings of a headache left my skin feeling stretched and taunt around my eyes.
The sand was the perfect temperature and texture under my feet, cool from the lack of sunlight filtering through the clouds and soft from daily treading. Before I could stop myself, my eyes sought and found the massive shape of the Phoenix building across the waves, tucked on an island surrounded by blooming hibiscus and plumeria trees.
The Phoenix had been my home for seven years; the turquoise glass walls and lily filled pools stark against the dark ocean water surrounding it. Its structure wasn’t tall nor extravagant but it still took my breath even though I’d observed it a thousand times. It was stunning in its simplicity and easily the most advanced building in the city.
I knew I wouldn’t struggle finding a boat to take me back to the Phoenix in the lazy hours of the afternoon so I wandered for a few minutes more along the sand. As I ran through the meeting with The Circle again in my head, I kept thinking of the dark haired woman’s expression as I left. She’d done her best to hide her face but I saw the set of her shoulders, the weighing down of her spine. She’d wanted to know what I’d found about Asher and she’d been just as crushed by Thad’s blatant refusal as I had been. I knew it in my gut.
The voice carried across the sand as familiar to me as my own hands. I studied the small docks further up the beach and the tiny gaps of boats between them. Water-taxis of all types made their trip between the Phoenix and the mainland; some were ferries big enough to hold fifty people and chugged along at a quicker pace than the tiny canoes for sight seeing. The men and women running the boats had an equal variety of personality, some as funny and charming as tour guides while others sat quietly and let you study the waves.
A green john boat with a curly monstrosity of a dog asleep on the dock beside it caught my attention as I skimmed the parking spots. The driver was of average height but as thick as an oak tree through his chest and shoulders. His skin caught the sun with a beautiful caramel brown shine, a warm contrast to his snowy white buzz cut and chrome grey eyes. His hands reached to cup his mouth as he shouted my name again across the docks.
“Matias, it looks like you’re working poor Iago a bit hard?” I laughed as the dog perked up at my voice, his tail thumping lazily against the weather gray wood of the boat dock. “Hello, my sweet curly friend.”
Iago’s eyes were the deepest amber and his coat caught somewhere between burnt gold and reddened honey. When standing, he reached higher than my hips but he was a gentle creature. Protective of Matias but friendly; he had become somewhat of a mascot for Matias’s runs and people frequently asked among the docks for the “massive curly dog’s owner.”
Matias was far from gentle however, even with his easy smiles thrown in my direction. A trained eye would catch the way the man never turned his back to customers and the weight of a gun tucked in his waistband. Matias’s arms licked with the same flame tattoos marking Thad’s skin – the Phoenix Order branding. Where Thad’s flames were coal black and deeply shadowed, Matias had chosen to have his tattooed in all shades of blue: turquoise dips of ash at his elbows, wispy navy flicks of flame clear up to his shoulder blade covering his entire bicep between, and teal smoke floating over his collar bones up his neck. His tanned hands were calloused and his knuckles were covered in scars marring his caramel skin. The first time I’d met Mattias, his eyes sent a shock through my pulse with a curious sort of attraction. They weren’t the indigo of the waves around us or the cyan of sky during the day but instead they were a cool, dove grey. At the moment, they were watching me carefully as I leaned down to stroke Iago’s ears.
“Joke all you want. I can see the disappointment in your eyes,” Mattias murmured, reaching for my hand. His surrounded mine easily, the slight squeeze of his fingers on mine like gentle support. “I heard Thad is back.”
Nodding, I let him guide me down into the boat with my high heels still dangling from my other hand. The floor of the boat was warm against my feet and the gentle rocking lapped tiny ripples against the sides in a comforting rhythmn. Iago jumped in behind us and found his familiar seat stretching out at Mattias’s feet.
“I take it Thad was thrilled with you request?”
Mattias’s voice was rich with humorless sarcasm yet I caught the way his eyebrows refused to settle without looking menacing. I couldn’t share much about the information I’d collected on Asher since it was classified but Mattias knew I had gone to the Circle to present something extremely important to me.
He’d been the one to bring me over to the mainland from the Phoenix earlier that same morning. He hadn’t talked much, sensing my nervousness the way he always so easily gauged my moods. Instead, he’d remained silently watching the waves while Iago crawled over to my feet and fell asleep in the morning sunlight.
“He was the only refusal,” I stated, staring across toward the Phoenix as we backed away from the dock. The safety of my home and my lab called to me like a well traveled child’s blanket. “I was being immature thinking he wouldn’t be there today but I never thought in a million years he’d actually say no.”
“My brother is many things, Jett-Pack,” Mattias sighed, easing the sting of his words with his old nickname for me. “One of those annoying characteristics of his happens to be loyalty to the Order before all else. Maybe there are things in motion neither of us are aware of. I don’t know what you were trying to present but possibly Thad was saving you in his own way.”
Again I nodded, knowing Mattias was probably right but a whisper in my heart murmured of how it still felt like a betrayal.
Copyright © 2016 Pearl Bayou