Summer put the bowls of soup in front of the two men and returned to her shadowed corner. Her friend Crystal wasn’t here anymore; she had decided to make her death mean something. Summer envied her.
In place of Crystal’s melodies, a speaker system quietly played in the background. The music seemed tinny in comparison to Crystal soul music, but the men didn’t seem to notice.
Summer turned her eyes to the floor as every good urchin did in the presence of bourge, especially these two. President Holt and Malcolm West were the most powerful men in the Dome and they talked in front of her as if she didn’t have ears, or perhaps they just misjudged her ability to understand. But every single spoken word was carefully committed to memory.
After only a few mouthfuls of soup, Holt set his spoon on the service plate, behind his bowl, signaling the end of the first course. Summer cleared away the bowls, still full of delicious hot soup, and felt the familiar cramping of her empty stomach. Quickly, she hurried away from the table before her stomach made a noisy protest. The president would not be happy.
The next course was already being delivered in the servant’s quarters and Summer traded the bowls for plates heaped with food. By the time she returned to the dining room, the two men were in the middle of a heated discussion. As she set down a plate in front of each man, she noticed the president’s face was beginning to turn red with anger. Her entire body clenched in response. She prayed she wouldn’t be the one to pay for the way this conversation was going.
“I’m only saying you should at least entertain the possibility that your plan won’t work,” Malcolm West insisted.
“I will not compromise.” Holt sat up straighter in his chair and readjusted his silver utensils, an act Summer recognized as his way of cooling down. “My plan has worked all along and the final solution will not fail. And if does, it’s only because I didn’t have the support of my so-called faithful followers!” He emphasized his last statement with an accusing glare at his dinner companion. West shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
“Mr. President, I didn’t mean to suggest-” he began, but the president cut him off.
Malcolm West took the napkin from his lap and returned it to the table. He gave a stiff nod of his head, stood and exited the room. Holt didn’t watch him go. Instead, he placed his head in both hands, rubbing his eyes with the intensity of his anger. Summer shrank farther back into the shadows, hoping to be forgotten.
Eventually, one of the president’s security guards laid a hand on his arm.
“Sir, perhaps you would like to retire to the living room for a brandy.”
The president gave him a blank stare, but then seemed to realize where he was.
“Yes. I think I should,” he agreed in childlike fashion.
The guard helped him into the living room and Summer followed. She went to the bar and poured a hefty brandy for the president and, checking to make sure neither man was looking at her, poured another for herself and tossed it back. Breathing deeply, she picked up Holt’s drink and took it to him.
“I don’t need you tonight!” he sneered at her. “You’re one of them! Go home.” He pointed toward the door, but Summer hesitated; he had never dismissed her like this before. The security guard gave a curt nod of his head, confirming she should leave.
One of the presidential guards escorted her all the way to the entrance of the Pit. She walked through the corridor that would lead her home and felt giddy with relief as she heard the door close behind her. If she hadn’t had the brandy, she would have skipped all the way down to the sixth floor.
Her stomach gave a groan of disapproval when she entered the common room to discover that dinner was already over. But her spirits lifted to see the evening’s entertainment was about to begin. This was the very first evening she had to socialize with her own people since becoming the president’s property. She scanned the room and was disappointed not to find her parents here, but Reyes was sitting at table with a few of his friends.
“Summer!” Reyes said in surprise when she walked up to their table.
It was hard to miss his fingers interlaced with those of the girl sitting next to him. Upon closer scrutiny, she recognized the girl as Sunny’s neighbor Dawn. Appalled, Summer walked away and found an empty table to sit alone, but within seconds Reyes took up a chair across from her.
“I haven’t seen you down here in a while,” he said sheepishly.
“I can tell you weren’t expecting me,” Summer said sarcastically. She leaned forward, giving him a hard glare. “Your fiancée is outside risking her life to save everyone and the minute she’s gone you take up with her neighbor?”
“So I guess you don’t know that Sunny dumped me for her new bourge husband,” Reyes countered. “I won’t feel guilty for being happy with someone else.”
“I talked to her. She’s not with Jack Kenner like that.”
“That’s what she told me too, but everyone else tells me differently and I believe them. She never hung on to my every word the way she does with him.”
A couple of girls walked past and stopped momentarily to look at Reyes, whispering and giggling in his direction. Distracted, Reyes gave them an appreciative glance and Summer took the opportunity to study him for a moment. He was a stunning man – tall, strong and extremely good-looking. He had the potential to be everything a girl could ever dream of, but his ego got in the way far too often. She knew Sunny was having second thoughts about marrying Reyes long before her accidental marriage to Jack Kenner, although that was a secret that would remain between best friends. Still, she had a difficult time believing that Sunny would fall for a bourge.
“Has anyone heard from them?” Summer changed the subject.
“No one’s singing that they have, so I guess not.”
“Yeah, it’s Crystal’s legacy. There are singers going from room to room singing updates on them and the war effort.”
“Crystal’s song was true,” Summer leveled with him. “President Holt wants to get rid of everyone in the Pit. He calls it his final solution.”
“What?” Summer had Reyes’ full attention. “Kenner told everyone that we’re important to the bourge. That they need us to keep the Dome running.”
“Yeah. Until they don’t need us to do it anymore,” Summer countered.
“What the hell does that mean?”
“It means don’t give Holt what he wants. You need to tell whoever is in charge. Tell the singers.”
“Tell them what?” Reyes demanded in frustration.
“Tell them -” Summer began, but stopped when she saw two Domers walk into the common room.
The entire room fell silent and Summer could feel the fear rippling through everyone. But the feeling didn’t touch her. She recognized them as two of the president’s men. An overwhelming sense of disappointed weighed her down. He had changed his mind about not needing her tonight after all.
The Domers walked in her direction and she scraped her chair back as she stood up. They flanked either side of her as she walked out of the common room.
Taking her time, she climbed the stone stairs to the Dome in silence, her escorts trailing behind her. Reception recognized her, but made her scan in anyway. The elevator ride to top floor of the Dome passed by far too quickly.
Once inside the first set of doors to President Holt’s quarters, one of the two security guards there patted her down looking for any weapons. A crazy little voice inside of her head found this comical. Where would she ever get a weapon? Cleared, she was escorted to the president’s bedroom.
He was sitting at his personal desk writing something when Summer entered. Without looking up, he finished whatever he was writing, carefully folded it, and put it in a file.
“I needed you and you weren’t here,” Holt accused in a sharp tone.
“Sir, you asked me to leave,” Summer said quietly, looking at the floor.
“I needed you and you weren’t here!” He insisted.
Summer knew better than to provoke him.
“I’m sorry Sir. It won’t happen again.”
“It had better not!”
Without another word, Summer left him to get his slippers and robe. She knew his routine all too well.
Her thoughts turned to her best friend and she wondered where Sunny might be right now. Was the world back to normal? Was it rich with clean air and water? Or was it still toxic? It didn’t matter what the answer was to any of those questions. Summer envied her best friend because even a radioactive wasteland had to better than life inside the Dome.
She prayed for Sunny to hurry up.
Written by: S.M. McEachern Edited by: Christina Galvez