Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, the rhythmic drumming of Briar’s fingertips was acknowledged by her ears only. Her sketchbook lay open before her, her latest drawing staring at the ceiling with a look of hurt and resentment.
The subject wasn’t at school.
She sat alone at her table in the crowded lunchroom, eyes shifted to Queenie, who hadn’t put her phone down since the hour began. Her group, ruckus as ever, created their usual din around her without paying any mind to their Queen’s mental absence.
The sketchbook was in Briar’s bag before the first round of laughter rang out over a lame pun made by one of the robotics kids. She cut through the bulk of the group and glimpsed Queenie’s phone.
Glowed at the top of the screen. Queenie glared at her and cradled her phone closer to her body as Briar passed by flashing something only Queenie could identify as a quizzical look.
That day ended, another began.
Still no Jackson.
Just as Briar began to question this, Queenie pulled her into the girls bathroom.
“Yes?” Briar asked, scanning the room to ensure it was, indeed, vacant.
“Look, I need you to get out of the house for the weekend.”
“I’m having a friend over and, seeing as you can’t even keep your own friend on his leash, I don’t trust you not to screw this up for me.”
A pang of something unfamiliar hit her in the chest, crawling up her throat like a parasite, “I’ll be elsewhere,” she managed with a faltering voice.
Queenie rolled her eyes, “Don’t tell me you were actually attached to that kid.”
She sighed, “Okay, look, if you want him to get over whatever dumb thing you did or said or whatever, just apologize with as much fake emotion as you can muster. Maybe wear your formal outfit and everything too. Just don’t let this affect our missions, m’kay?”
Briar left with nothing more than a nod.
“Where are you?” Briar typed out. Jackson’s name taunted her from the top of the screen. Why am I here? She deleted the message. She wrote a new one and pressed send before she could think about it.
Her blank walls suddenly felt restrictive, like they were silently caving in around her. She left.
Cold night air bit into her exposed skin and turned her breath to fog. There was a ring of forest surrounding the richest district of Kroy city where she wandered in search of nothing in particular. Time moved sluggishly around her, with the chirping of crickets and the cracking of the trees gnarled limbs marking the seconds and minutes that passed in the vacuum of space surrounding her.
Her phone buzzed.
“This is Lois, Jackson is at the hospital.”
Her mind was a whirlwind of miscomprehension and unnamed emotion. She wasn’t sure if she was breathing. Was her heart beating? Why did she feel guilty?
She hadn’t realized she was moving, but now she was in her room and there was a bag in her hand. She stared down at it, trying to puzzle out what she was doing. Sketchbook, pencils, laptop, gun. She stood there, blinking at the contents of her bag, for only a moments more.
She found her father in his study.
“Yes, Eleanor, come in.”
She entered the room, her footsteps absorbed by the thick carpet and the firelight dancing across her face and casting her eyes in shadow.
“I will be out this afternoon, may I take one of the cars?”
He closed the book he had been reading by the fireplace and motioned for her to sit on the stool across from him, “Will you be going anywhere dangerous?”
“No,” she said, unsure if she was lying as she lay her backpack neatly on her lap.
“You sound uncertain.”
“If I go anywhere I may get hurt, I will inform you beforehand.”
He shook his head, “No, you will come directly home.”
“I’m not swaying on this.”
She frowned, “You’ve found something?”
“Nothing you need concern yourself with. Now go on, I would assume you would want to get out of here before Queenie’s friend arrives.”
With a final exchange of goodbyes, Briar retrieved a car and made her way to the hospital.
She had no trouble getting in or finding the room. The words, “Visiting hours are over,” were repeated a few times, but even without Queenie’s carisma, convincing them to look the other way wasn’t hard.
“He’s my friend,” never worked, “Just a minute,” could if she added, “please, I’m moving to Italy tomorrow because my grandma’s sick, this might be my last chance to see him before I go.”
She had to look down at the sketchbook in her hands to do it convincingly. How Queenie got the false emotions to her eyes would always be a mystery to Briar.
With a purse of their lips and eyes averted to hide the effect of the sad story on their emotions, the nurses would always reply with, “Alright, just one minute,” or something of the like.
Regardless of how, though, Briar managed to talk her way into Jackson’s hospital room with a sketchbook and a handful of pencils.
“Jackson?” she said as she entered, eyeing the first bed where a sleeping man lay with both his left limbs in casts.
“Briar?” she came around the curtain, pulling it as close to closed as she could get it behind her. He began to stutter something incomprehensible but she shook her head.
“It’s alright, take your time.”
His left arm was in a cast and he had a nasty black eye, but Briar doubted that was all the injury that was keeping him here.
“No, Briar, listen.” The command in his voice gave her pause, “The guy who did this-” he moved his arm the few inches her could, “-was asking about you.”
She forced her face to remain blank, “What did he want to know?”
Jackson’s eyes were wild before, but now they got wider, “What the hell Briar?! I just told you some guy put me in the hospital be-” he stopped himself.
“Because of me,” she finished for him, opening her sketchbook to a fresh page, “Can you describe him?”
“So you’re a sketch artist now? Who the heck are you?!”
She looked him in the eyes and repeated, “Can you describe him?”
He blinked, staring in awe of her indifference while she selected a pencil and got it ready.
Resigning to the fact that she wasn’t going to react, Jackson gave a description. He didn’t remember many details, and he kept stuttering, but by the time Briar was kicked out she had put together a sketch that Jackson confirmed looked like the guy.
“What are you going to do?” he had been asking before she was escorted out.
“Nothing violent,” she had said loud enough for his ears only. She was no more sure of that statment’s truthhood than when she had promised her father she wouldn’t do anything dangerous tonight.