Okay, first of all, let me point this out. You may find this hard to believe, but it felt better than anything else in the whole world to be free and back with my mom again. It was beyond terrifying, too. Like death, flying, and cheeseburgers (which I have not had in years) all rolled into one.
Yet, I know very well how stupid I had been to specify where that knife hit me as soon as I walked back into the house and my mind opened up to swallow their thoughts along with my own. Not to mention the way I couldn't seem to control myself around anyone.
As Mom dragged me upstairs toward the bathroom (or at least, that's my best guess) my own thoughts since I had escaped the school flickered through my head, echoing like a montage in a movie. And it hit me.
God, this whole time, I had been referring to people as… humans. Thinking about how I was acting like a human. Like I'm not one.
A bitter laugh escaped my lips, lashing through my throat like whips. My mother's pace grew more frantic, if that's possible. I've never been totally human, and I've known that for as long as I can remember. Hell, I didn't get my first bed until I was ten. I remember, with my… with the flock, all we did was try to be human. Pretend to be human. My last couple of years had only made me less human that before. I used to know that I was 98% normal. Now I don't have a number to look at. Not that it was ever really accurate. What does it matter if your mostly human? If your not 100%, then you aren't one.
Right now, more than any other time in my life, I felt like I wasn't even human at all.
I didn't feel the tears streaming down my face until the door slammed behind me, sealing Mom and me in the bathroom. She looked around, her eyes already demanding answers before her mouth had the chance to even form the words. She stopped when she saw me. I glanced at my reflection in the mirror that loomed over the sink. All my muscles were tense. I could feel them clenching, taut, straining against my body. Like my skin kept them in a giant, pale cage. My face was… almost impassive. Like a stone mask, with eyes painted wide, lips slightly pressed together, a fountain of tears trickling down porcelain cheeks. Somehow, I looked so much more vulnerable than you would think. I don't know how Fang does it.
Mom traced her finger across my face, from the ridge of my nose to my temple, following the gentle curve of my cheekbone. The wiped-away tear track was quickly replaced with a new one.
"Max," her voice was low, soothing, full of nameless emotions. That one word said more to me than all the explanations in the world could.
"I'm okay. I'm alright now," how did the bawling mutant end up comforting the still-faced human mother? I'm not really sure. That's it, folks. Once you develop that maternal instinct, you are stuck with it forever.
Her fingers ghosted down my face, wiping up the tears, and kept going down until her hand hovered over my bandaged chest. Her eyes were wide, her lip trembling, her muscles stiff with questions.
I silently took off my shirt and began unwrapping my torso. After a brief mourning of all the work I put into wrapping, the bandages fell to the floor. Her gasp was so choking, I felt with strange certainty that almost everyone waiting downstairs heard it.
"Max!" Why was that one word so incredibly panicked? Was there some sort of illusion that made her see a giant, bleeding hole? If that was true, who saw the reality? Me or her?
My small freak out was quieted when I saw the tears that started running down her face. That's it, I thought. I'm screwed.
But then, this huge smile broke out across her face, her eyes shining with more than just the excess water. She crushed me in a hug, burying her face in my filthy and tangled hair.
I knew that everything was alright. I closed my eyes, and for the first time in what felt like more than forever, I truly let myself go and hugged her back with just as much strength.
She withdrew and tossed a new shirt at me, one that was clean and did not have hole in it. It was baggy, with two slits already sliced down the back. Once I pulled it on, she wordlessly handed me a thick jacket as well.
"Come to the diner with me, we need to talk," she crooned with a low rasp.
She wrapped her fingers firmly around my wrist and pulled me out the door. I felt slightly like a rag doll- being dressed and dragged around. I had a brief flicker of memory, the fourteen-year-old me stirring slightly, deep within my chest. She didn't like being dragged. It felt wrong and dangerous, and way too submissive for her taste. I shoved her back down. Just like I had done for the last few years. I had discovered very early on that having her around after I became an official resident of the school again was much too painful to bear.
The light brightened, and rain started pooling in my hair. I noticed suddenly that we were outside again because of this. A brief glance at Mom showed her tears to still be falling, mixing with the rain in a way that rolled down her face even more intensely. People surrounded us in an instant.
Jake looked at Mom's face. "Oh no," slipped through his lips like a prayer. Or a curse. Everyone's expression grew solemn. I couldn't help but laugh lightly (or however much of a laugh came out) at their thoughts. They all thought, from mom's tears, that I was dead for sure.
"God, you're laughing? Why in the world would you laugh? You're dying! WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?" Charlie finally exploded. I felt myself wince. Someone yelling at me always meant a world of excruciating punishment.
"I'm taking Max and Ella, and we are going out for a little while. I need to talk to her where no one will eavesdrop," She looked pointedly at the wolves with that last statement. Somehow, she reached to Charlie and cupped his chin, forcing his eyes to look into hers. I guess he saw something there, because he slowly backed down.
It dawned on my suddenly that she had seen the pack turn into wolves during the fight. All of us had. Yet, she seemed to have no reaction whatsoever about it. That meant that she knew. Why would she know? For that matter, what was Mom and Charlie's relationship with the pack? I was so confused, I felt that I wanted more than anything to curl up and sleep, leave life behind for as long as the night would give me mercy.
Ella hurried up to grab my other hand. I hesitated only a moment before letting my fingers twine with her. Yet, I still saw several of their eyes narrow at my hand while I deliberated.
I was carted over to the police cruiser in the driveway. It was almost ironic, putting me in the backseat. After all, I was technically illegal. I was a recombinant experiment (which are illegal) created by a lab (that is both secret and illegal). Get it?
Oh, well. I thought it was funny.
I sat in the backseat in a sort of comatose. All my thoughts seemed far away, as though they were from someone that my mind-reading was picking up on, but thoughts that I weren't listening to. I frowned slightly when the rain wasn't on me anymore. It counted as being part of water, to whoever was keeping score of that. It might have hummed in displeasure when I got into that car, but I wasn't really sure. I just sat there, watching it pound on the windows, watching the trees blur by as they passed. I was reminded faintly why I hated being in cars.
I vaguely made out Mom's voice, probably filling in Ella on what had happened in the bathroom.
I didn't realize we had stopped until my door opened and Ella held out her hand to help me out. I took it.
We ducked into a little café, and once the smells hit me, I was awakened. God, I was hungry! I'd been living off of pilfered non-perishables since I escaped, and hadn't even eaten anything today. My stomach growled threateningly, demanding food from me-or else. (or else what, you wonder? I can see the headlines now: girl survives fatal stab and then dies of hunger)
Once we sat down, my eyes scanned over the menu only long enough to select which burger had the most food in it.
"How are you alive?" Ella immediately dived in. The phrase takes no prisoners popped into my head. I wasn't even entirely certain what in meant in that exact moment, though.
A heavy sigh burned through my lips. "What did they tell you?"
They both slightly winced at the memory. I braced myself.
"They said that you got captured off of that beach in Houston, after you thought they were destroyed. None of you were prepared, and you were just too outnumbered. They were all in the same general area in the school; close enough to talk to each other. All except for you. They thought it was a few days that they were there. They planned how they would escape, they tried to figure out where you were, and they picked fights with the scientists."
Mom's voice died down as a waitress came up to our table. I felt like stone. Ever tried swallowing electric needles? That's what this felt like.
"Ready to order, sugar?" The girl's polite voice rang out
I didn't pay attention to what mom and Ella ordered. I was too busy trying to find the name of the burger I had decided on earlier.
"And you, sweetie?" She was looking at me now.
"Um… I'll have three loaded burgers, with a side of fry's on all of those, two glasses of coke, and two glasses of water." I know water was a weird drink for me to get. But drinking it always made me feel so much stronger. I haven't decided yet if my water affinity was worth the process of getting it, but I did love having it. "And that will be all."
Her eyebrow shot up considerably. She stared at me for a moment, considering. "Would you like those burgers all at once, or one at a time?" I was shocked (and so happy) that she was taking me seriously.
"All at once?"
"Alright… You're food should be out shortly."
I turned back to mom. "You were saying?"
We made meaningless chat about the weather or something until the waitress disappeared into the kitchen. I wasn't really paying attention to Mom's falsely cheery tone. Just nodding and waiting for the tell-tale drop into a grave whisper.
It came a few moments later.
"Angel said… That they killed you. She said that she saw it happen."
"How could she be wrong?" Ella's voice came in, barely above a hoarse whisper.
"I know…" My flinch did not go unnoticed. "I… I made a deal with the scientists. My cooperation for their freedom."
There was a silence after that. I couldn't tell if it was a shocked silence, or a calculating silence, or maybe just a mournful silence. I couldn't read their minds, because of the block, I couldn't read their faces, because they were frozen and impassive. All I knew was that they didn't speak, and the sounds of the world faded, until the only sounds we had ever known were the ones in that moment. The clatter of silverware against dishes, jumbled conversations, she swooping shush of rain against the windows, the walls, the roofs, the grass just outside. Bursts of laughter, and sudden spurts of quiet, when you could just imagine that the rest of the world was as silent as you and that moment.
I'd nearly forgotten why there was a silence in the first place by the time the waitress came back with our drinks, and then again with our food. Our meal continued on with wordless eating. I began to wonder if they were waiting for me to say something else.
I was halfway through the second plate when Ella spoke up. "What… what did they do to you? When you were… there?"
I took my time to think. I felt almost reluctant to use my voice again, after just listening for so long. It felt strangely unnatural.
"Ella, you know I love you and Mom. I can talk to you- really talk. But because I love you… please. Ask me anything but that."
There you go. Maximum Ride's attempt at being emotional. My years of… whatever you would call what happened to me, had not changed the fact that I hated the mushy emotional crap. But I'll be damned if I burden them with all those details, on top of everything else.
Ella and Mom exchanged a quick glance, which only served to make me feel even more vulnerable. I made a half-hearted excuse of going to the bathroom just to escape. This mostly consisted of me leaning against my stall door in there, and staring at my reflection as I washed my hands. I did so slowly. I placed excruciating detail into every step I took as I waked.
My mind auto piloted, tuning into the hushed voices of Ella and Mom as I walked out of the bathroom.
"…No wonder she seems so… I don't even know what word to use. Just the way she is right now. Max had such a strong will. I can only imagine how much it killed her inside to sit there and submit while they continuously used her, experimented on her, tortured her. God, I can only imagine…" Her voice trailed off as she spotted me coming back.
No, Mom, you can't even imagine. Or at least, if there is a God, please, please don't let her be anywhere close to the truth…
I was starting on my third burger when I braved speech again.
"How were they? The last time you saw them," My voice was a low rasp that sounded weird even to me.
Mom's lip twitched. I honestly couldn't tell if it was good or bad, but it reminded me eerily, of… something. Something… Fang… used to do?
"They came to the wedding a few months ago. They are all healthy and getting along all right. Everyone's taller. Especially Gazzy. He really had quite the growth spurt..." She stopped short. I didn't know if It was because she had nothing else to say, or just found some reason to stop. I downed my water in a fit of nerves. Their frayed ends stopped screaming inside my head.
Tell her to keep going a part of me prodded. At the same time, it hurt. It hurt a lot. Who would seek that out? So I let the topic drop.
We were just marvelous at making conversation, weren't we?
I was much more alert on the car ride back then I had been on the way to the restaurant, and that awareness came with an acute sense of unease. Unease of being in a car, unease of being in the back of a police car, unease as I mulled over the whole chain of events in the past few hours.
Despite all the people that were still in the house (which you could tell by how much noise they were making) I was hugely relieved to get out of that car.
I followed Mom through the front door. Everyone was silent before we even walked in. I assumed that Jake and the others had tipped them all off to our arrival.
"So she's still alive," I heard Bella mumble sarcastically.
My mother sighed, a long, windy breath, as only a mother can sigh. "We all need to talk…"
"Yeah, no kidding," Charlie drolled.
What was there to really say? I know they all needed to hear something. I was just glad I wasn't the one who was coming up with the explanation.
Mom sat down, and Ella plopped onto the arm of the couch, next to the white coat. Even though it wasn't me, I couldn't help but shudder at her proximity.
"Max is my daughter, let there be no mistake about that. Please, though, for your sake and Max's don't seek an explanation any further than that. Oh, and she's alright. I can personally assure you that she will NOT die."
There was a pointed silence.
"…That's it? That's all your telling us?" Bella cried incredulously.
My hands fisted and unfisted at my side.
"We were attacked by those… those… things! And you expect us to just except that?" Bella's voice rose an octave higher as she began to shout.
"Don't yell at her." My voice was a low warning.
"Or what?" She shouted again.
A growl rose in my throat and my stance rolled forward threateningly. "Want to find out?"
"Bella." Edward warned calmly, holding her hand. Holding her back. I had a sudden realization how exactly un-human I currently looked. That knowledge weighted down my shoulders, making them slump. I felt torn open all over again, but this time, it was so much more vulnerable.
Welcome to the family, Max, I thought sarcastically.