*hours has passed since Cindy's little chat with Claire. School is still in session but only for about half an hour or so. The children were still able to pay attention despite the vast energy used during playtime. A few have grass stains on their clothing due to trips and friction between their garb and the leafy green blades. Chances are they'll most likely get a hefty scolding due to their slight negligence of being careful. Now however, they simply can't wait until they can finish a short pop quiz and finally head home, like any child would. However, one child won't quite go home right away. Not her own at least*
*since that talk with her teacher Cindy felt more relaxed. More or less, simply knowing of an adult she's most comfortable speaking to without any sort of repercussions of her own. The only thing that worries her is if she'll believe her side of the story of what really happened yesterday. Although she mentioned that the abduction was most likely taken out of context, a few more slips of the tongue and she wouldn't be sure if she can reverse the mistake. And this wasn't the first time*
*as mentioned by her Enforcer parent, she's been "involved" with people she first thought she shouldn't have been with many times in the past. When they were discovered by others, only the worst was assumed. Either the person Cindy was with in question was a Marked One or labeled as a Marked One post-haste. Her voice of reason detailing otherwise was shunned and drowned out, the usual responses that she is "too young" to understand and comprehend such things. If only they knew. Even last night she was scolded by her parents, for they're starting to suspect that she's rebelling, something which is far from the girl's intention. Once again, she gets saddened and falls into a short state of hopelessness due to her muted voice. All because of the one thing she's slowly starting to despise; a double-edged sword so to speak. A gift which she has almost no control over. A feeling she can't comprehend; a new type of sense. It attracts herself and certain others to her...and makes the latter disappear*
*now she begins to wonder if being a "smart-aleck" is bad. If pointing out things that others don't seem to see with their own eyes is some sort of transgression she doesn't know about. Would she be better off being like everyone else? Not wanting to delve deeper into the hysteria over something she used to see as normal? To not know their own true names?*
*regardless of what's going through her mind, Cindy focuses on her pop quiz sheet on math. It doesn't take her nor the rest of the students long to finish it before the bell rings, thus ending the school day. The children march out the rooms in single file after packing their belongings as Claire leads them out of the school, the other teachers doing likewise with the rest of the 3rd graders. Upon going through the large double doors and stepping outside, several yellow school buses are seen parked right in front of the school, awaiting their young passengers. However, while the youngsters make their way inside the bus, Claire takes Cindy as they start to walk all the way near the left side of the building, a somewhat long trek it is. While they do so, Claire takes hold of Cindy's hand. The hand holding somewhat puzzles Cindy; it’s something not quite common, or even seen between teachers and 3rd graders. Normally such interactions are limited to kindergarteners. The fact that Claire is taking her elsewhere is enough to ponder a question*
Cindy: We're not going on the bus?
Claire: No no, not this time. Your mother requested that I take you home personally.
Cindy: Why? The bus driver can take me, can't he?
Claire: *sigh* Who knows? She was quite adamant about her decision. She even insisted that I have Shad take the bus home. Considering how many children need to be dropped off it'll take him some time to arrive.
Cindy: Huh?! Who's Shad?
*flabbergasted at her tongue slip, Claire gasps as she raises her hand (that isn't holding Cindy's) to her mouth. Did she make a transgression by saying her son's non-numerical name? Did someone hear her doing so?*
Claire: *stutters* N...never mind about that. No need to w-w-worry.
Cindy: Mommy was really determined on her decision. Is that what adamant means?
Claire: Say, how did you know?
Cindy: Well...it's really silly. You won't believe me. No one does.
Claire: Really? Come now, you can tell me.
Cindy: *reluctantly* ...Okay, but only when we get to your home.
Claire: Whatever you say.
*dropping the short conversation for now, Cindy and Claire arrive at the faculty parking lot; the designated car on the front row. After deactivating the alarm (with a tiny remote on the keychain), the tall teacher opens the front door to unlock the steering wheel. After that though...*
Girl's voice: *shouting* Teacher! Ms. Staydamind!
*Cindy and Claire turn around just before getting in the car. A girl of Asian ethnicity about Cindy's age sprints to the teacher with an anxious look on her face. She dons black eyes and short shoulder-length black hair. Her ID tag: 5-13-9-12-25. Right away Cindy knew her name the moment she glanced at said tag*
Cindy: Emily? Why is she in a hurry?
Claire: What's wrong?
Emily: *pant pant* Oh. You're still here. Ms. Staydamind, can you use that thing again?
Claire: Already? I already used it yesterday. It should be more then...
*before the sentence is finished, Emily thrusts her arms forward and displays her wrists. The wrists appear unusually red and raw, and her hands are a slight shade of purple, as if the blood circulation was cut off somehow*
Cindy: How did that happen?
Emily: *hands shaking due to a throbbing pain* An accident when we had playtime.
Claire: Again? You really need to be more careful, this is the 5th time this month.
Emily: *pleading* Please? I promise I'll be more careful. None of the other teachers will help.
Claire: *sighs* Keep your arms out and your hands still.
*Claire reaches into her dress pocket and takes out a small white tube. It bears no label whatsoever and the part near the opening is flattened. Whatever is inside is probably very low in terms of quantity. Nevertheless, Claire squirts out 2 small dabs of a thick pink liquid, one on each wrist, and gently rubs it in small circles. Within seconds, the aches are gone and Emily breathes a sigh of relief*
Emily: Thank you Ms. Staydamind!
Claire: Please, don't have any more accidents again. It's starting to run out.
Emily: Okay. *notices Cindy* Why are you with Ms. Staydamind?
Claire: Her mother assigned me to look after her.
Emily: The Enforcer lady? Wow, that must be a lot of work. *in a slightly mocking tone* Don't be a bad girl!
Cindy: I think the bus is leaving now.
Emily: *turns around and sees the distant buses starting to back up* AHH! I have to go now! Bye bye!
*Emily runs off to catch up to the departing bus as Cindy and Claire enter the car. Cindy goes to the backseat as Claire takes the wheel. The key is inserted, the ignition turned on, and VROOOM! Off they go*
Cindy: *thinks about Emily's unexpected arrival; whispers* Liar.
Claire: What was that?
*Cindy believes she has good reason for calling Emily such a thing. From what little she heard, Emily claims to have had an accident during recess, implying that she was roughing up a bit and got too energetic for a time. Too much hyperactivity indeed causes accidents and minor bruises. They fall down and get their clothes dirty. Some students are less lucky and end up scraping their elbows and knees. Never has Cindy witnessed, or ever heard of a fall that caused the marks she saw on Emily's wrists. It appeared as if someone grabbed her by the wrists and squeezed them for whatever reason. Did a bully do it? No. The 3rd graders aren't physically strong enough to do that. A teacher? Recess supervisor? She looked out the window while opting to remain inside and not once did she see Emily neither fall nor break any rules. So if it’s not a bully or adult, then what? Not that this baffled the violet-eyed girl the first time. The same can also go for Emily going to Claire for relief of pain*
*but for now, Cindy drops it and remains silent as she looks out the window. From within the moving vehicle, she sees the entire neighborhood scroll right past her. Not bound by the bus route, she sees other areas that she's familiar with. The supermarket known as a one-stop shop for produce, the corner store affiliated with it, the loudspeaker poles bound to the block corners, and finally, they arrive at the suburban area. Upon reaching said area, Cindy catches sight of the homes where the Marked Ones take residence*
*they can be easy to spot, and not just because of the insignias engraved onto the doors. The exterior quality of the houses gives it all away. Most of the windows shattered, the paint job scratched off by someone or something, and the lawn is either too thin, totally barren, weed-infested or far overgrown. Few have flowers planted, but on the next day, they end up being thrown out due to being trampled upon. The very reason why these things happen, are the very reasons why most Marked Ones almost never leave what seems to be their only safe abode: their houses*
*thankfully, the harsh sight is scrolled away from Cindy's view as the car slows down a bit. It has reached the proper destination. Claire backs up a bit as she vertically aligns the car with the driveway and moving in. After the car is parked, Claire and Cindy exit the vehicle and make their way to the front door*
Cindy: It feels so empty.
Claire: That's because everyone else is still at work. Normally I'd still be in school right now but...well, you know. *unlocks the door*
Cindy: Mommy's at work now. Daddy too.
Claire: Let's get inside please.
*the females step inside the home, the living room already adequately illuminated by sunshine. Cindy notices that the living room set, is almost identical to the set she's familiar with from her residence. The one thing that she definitely doesn't recall being in her home is a short maple-colored TV stand that appears to double as a DVD cupboard. Its doors are closed shut and the left side seems to have a small glass circle in the middle. Not paying that much attention, Cindy takes a seat near the table*
Claire: Need anything to drink?
Cindy: *shakes head*
Claire: Then let's get started.
Cindy: Oh. That thing I was supposed to tell you?
Claire: You mentioned that you weren't abducted yesterday, yet...
Cindy: I know. Everyone else thought it happened, but it didn't! Really!
Claire: Now now, calm down. Take it one step at a time.
Cindy: Fine, but before I tell you, can I say something else first?
Claire: Sure. You can ask me anything.
Cindy: *taken aback* Huh? Really?! I mean, okay. This grown-up. She feels a little different from everyone else. How? Are adults always correct?
Claire: Well I wouldn't say they're perfect. They're not always wrong either. Why do you ask?
Cindy: I wanted to ask you. I didn't think it would be a good idea to ask someone else again.
Claire: Hmm? Again?
Cindy: I told my mommy what really happened after the person who they thought took me away got arrested. She didn't believe me. No one did. Not even the children!
Claire: Is it okay if I guess, but not assume, that this wasn't the first time this happened to you?
Cindy: Lots of people probably know. My na...number was announced just last week because I was with something called a Marked One. He was blamed and not me.
Claire: Last week's incident aside, can you tell me what happened yesterday?
Cindy: Promise you won't yell?
Claire: Why would I do that? I said you can tell me anything.
Cindy: Easy for you to say. We went shopping yesterday. Mommy and I were in the frozen food part of the supermarket to get frozen vegetables. I was really cold and so was the rest of the store since the heater was broken. I also forgot to bring my jacket with me.
Claire: Oh, we were there on the same day. My son didn't really mind the cold.
Cindy: Well, I told mommy if I could go back in the car so I can get the sweater. She said no, I have to help. I wanted to help but I was shaking too much. I really needed my jacket. She still said no and then said that the car was too far away. I didn't know what she meant because it was parked in the parking lot, and it didn't take us long to get inside. She also said that it was my fault that I didn't bring the jacket.
Claire: *perplexed* What?! Tabatha said that?!
Cindy: Uh-huh. So I just stayed with mommy, but I couldn't hold anything for her because I was shaking from the cold too much. If I knew that the heater would break when we got in...
Claire: Easy now, don't get frazzled. You didn't know it'd be on the fritz that day. But come to think of it, I did see you with a sweater on outside when me and my son were done shopping.
Cindy: That's because my mommy got mad since I kept dropping everything. She let me go get my jacket to be warm, but only if I took that thing on her keychain.
Claire: Miniature GPS. Looks a little like an iPod but its more accurate then most public ones. Only Enforcers have them.
Cindy: She only gave me the tracking thing for the GPS so she can see where I'm going even from far away, but I had to hurry since it was running out of batteries. So I went in the car and got the jacket, then went back to the supermarket. That's when I saw you come out. But before I went in myself...I heard someone.
Cindy: A man, but he seemed confused. I think he was new in town because he was grumbling something about not being able to find a police station. He didn't even have an ID card yet. I think.
Claire: You didn't follow him, did you?
Cindy: *shakes head* No! If anything, he followed me.
Claire: How so?
Cindy: He needed to find a place where he can confirm his place as a citizen, and to do that you need an ID card. That's what my daddy says.
Claire: Then what?
Cindy: I asked him what's wrong. He said he needed a new one. His old one got caught in a paper shredder while he was getting rid of something. And he just moved here too.
Claire: I see. So he needed to find a place to get a new ID card but he didn't know his way around yet.
Cindy: Yeah. The closest place to us that could do that is the police station. I knew where it was so I told him I can take him. He said if I was su...
Claire: Wait, so you just asked him if you could help?
Cindy: It wouldn't take me that long.
Claire: Didn't you think that's a bit dangerous?
Cindy: I knew he wasn't dangerous.
Claire: Not that I've seen him be...*slightly stunned* What was that?
Cindy: *feels her heartbeat pounding again* It's weird, but I just looked up at him and knew he wasn't bad. He was just lost.
Claire: So you offered to help a stranger in need and just knew he wasn't bad?
Cindy: I get it. *head down* You don't believe me. Not like anyone el...
Claire: Wait wait, I do believe you! Honest! Just continue please.
Cindy: Fine. So when I told him he could follow me to the police station to get his new ID card, he almost didn't believe me. It took me a minute to convince him I knew my way around that part of the neighborhood. The place was just a few blocks away. It's just behind the rest of the buildings so it's really easy to miss. While we were walking, he told me where he came from. It's some island somewhere, I forgot the name. There must be a lot of sun too because his skin was bronze-looking. I asked him why he moved here. He said he needed to help someone here. I asked who but he said it's top secret, or something like that. He was also wondering why the children had number names while the grown-ups have real names.
Claire: You had a conversation with him about where he came from and how he was doing? The news mentioned nothing about that.
Cindy: We got to the police station, but the moment we got inside...*starts shaking*
Claire: You don't need to say anymore. I think I can figure out what happened next.
Cindy: *snaps back* It wasn't fair either! When they arrested him, they said he was trying to abduct me or something and made him a Marked One! I tried to explain but they kept saying I didn't know what I was talking about! All I did was just watch him pushed into a jail cell and I had to wait until mommy picked me up! *sniff* He was so scared in that cell. He didn't even know what a Marked One is! All he was is someone who was lost so I helped him out. They thought I was lying, saying that a grown-up wouldn't ask a "dim" child for any help.
Claire: *unfazed by the confession* Slow down. Let's just go back a bit.
Cindy: What?! You're not even surprised?!
Claire: Believe me, I wish I was. Go back to when you first saw him. You mentioned something along the lines of not knowing he was a bad person. Can you describe it the best you can?
Cindy: I can't. It's too hard to say.
Claire: Did you feel anything?
Cindy: It's the same thing I feel when I meet a Marked One. It doesn't happen with all of them, but when it does, by heart goes "bump bump" when he's friendly but my stomach hurts really bad when they're not good.
Claire: Not much. Cindy couldn't be having that many interactions with the Marked Ones. Unless... How is your vision?
Cindy: Where'd that come from?
Claire: Please answer. I just want to go astray from the subject at hand. You seem to be getting uncomfortable.
Cindy: Thank you. I never needed glasses, so I can see just fine.
Claire: You...never see anything out of the ordinary?
Cindy: *shakes head* Nope. No abnormalities.
Claire: *smiles* Cindy, did I ever mention that your vocabulary is quite above your age level?
*shocked and confused by hearing someone else other then herself say her name, the once small violets in Cindy's eyes widen. She scoots her seat back quickly*
Claire: *not surprised* Whoops. Should've seen this coming I suppose.
Cindy: *pleading; panicking* I'm sorry! I'm so so sorry! Please don't tell mommy and daddy! If they find out I found my real name...
Claire: Why are you jumping to conclusions?! I never said I was going to tell anyone. I'm even more surprised you've figured out your real name.
Cindy: The number names are too long. I was only able to get help by thinking more, and even then I needed help from Arlcie.
Claire: Arlcie? I don't recall a student by that name in school.
Cindy: That's because no one's ever seen him.
Claire: You've never seen this person yet he helps you?
Cindy: It's really weird. I don't get why he wants to help me, when there are other kids who need his help.
Claire: Exactly how did this Arlcie help you?
Cindy: It all started when...
*there was the sound of door locks unlocking, followed by the door opening, unleashing a slight draft. A certain young boy walks in, a little taken aback to find his mother and a student together in the living room. He's be even more surprised to see Cindy in his home, but it was to be expected*
Shad: Hi mommy. Didn't expect to be home so late.
Claire: Welcome back Shad. Shad, meet my student Cindy. Cindy, meet my son Shad.
Shad: Sh...she looks even cuter up close. Did I interrupt anything mommy?
Cindy: Mommy? Shad? Um...*raises hand*
Claire: Yes Cindy?
Cindy: Why do you call him Shad? His numb...
Claire: Too long and too computerized. Besides, I called you by your real name didn't I?
Shad: *not catching on* Huh? What? Her name is Cindy? I thought her name was...what was it again?
Claire: Hahaha. See Cindy? Age doesn't necessarily equal knowledge in all cases. He still doesn't know what the numbers on his ID card are for.
Shad: *blushes* Hey! Quit teasing me mommy!
Cindy: Why do you call Claire mommy? Everyone else calls their parents Mother or Father.
Claire: It's hard for some to grow out of certain things. Not that I mind of course. It's...how do I say? Cute, for lack of a better word.
Shad: Me? Cute?!
Claire: Now now, that's enough. Cindy and I were having quite the conversation. Drop your bag somewhere and join in.
Shad: Fine, but if anyone here is the cute one, it's Cindy.
Cindy: *gasps; eyes fixated on Shad*
Claire: What's wrong Cindy?
Cindy: N...*slight shaking* nothing. Nothing wrong.
Claire: *sighs* So she lied after all. Not that I blame her, the poor child.
*Shad pulls in one more chair to the table. Despite what Cindy said, it's clear to Claire that things weren't okay. There's very good reason for that though. Just now Shad unknowingly demonstrated a behavior, no, a verbal gesture not unlike the ones most Marked Ones make. Although Cindy has just met Shad, already she knows that he isn't a bad person. Unfortunately, upon having her stare fixated on the preteen for a mere second, she's almost certain that she must begin to distance herself from him now. Not because she fears for her safety, but because she no longer wants to be partially, if not, completely responsible for finalizing the fate of the Marked Ones. No longer does she want to make who she believes to be almost the polar opposite of what she's been told of them...disappear*
End of Chapter 5!