The train ride through the mountains wasn’t that bad. Jasper found it kind of peaceful compared to where he came from. The highest Zone he had been to was Zone 5, and even that was rough. It didn’t get better until you got to Zone 6 and up. The train system worked because you couldn’t go into all the Zones unless your train was specifically going into that one and that one only. So, when Jasper’s train passed Zone 3, all he saw was a giant concrete gate with a big red three on the front.
“Have you ever been in another Zone? I have. Lots of times. Even Zone 10. My daddy takes me all the time,” Lilly bragged. Jasper could tell she wanted him to be jealous. Which he kind of was.
“Is that right? What’s it like?” Jasper asked, trying not to sound interested.
“It’s sooo pretty! They have the best food there, and everything costs a lot of credits. Like a lot more.”
“Huh, your dad must be rich or something.”
“Yeah, he used to be king. I bet you’re jealous.”
Jasper turned his head so fast towards her he almost got whiplash. “What?”
“Yep, daddy was King #20. They called him King Leo the 20th. I guess that makes me a princess. Bet you feel bad calling me a kid now.”
“You’re lying,” Jasper said. “No way, you’re related to a previous King.”
“Yeah, huh! Look.” Lily pulled out her ID card. “See that symbol? That’s the King’s Mark. Anyone who is related to the king gets one on their ID. Proves we’re royalty.”
The symbol was a small black crown in the bottom of her ID card. Jasper got up and looked around. He took out his and compared them. Besides the standard info, his didn’t have a crown on it.
“Hey, excuse me,” Jasper said, tapping the man in front of him on the shoulder. “You know The King of the World competition, right? Do you know if they get a little black crown on their IDs?”
“Uh, yeah, I think so. I’ve never seen one in person, but I know they have special ID cards. So it’s possible,” The man said, turning back to his phone.
Jasper sat back down and handed her ID back. “That doesn’t prove anything.”
“Yeah, it does. I don’t have to prove anything to you, Casper!”
“I swear I’ll chuck you out this window, kid,” Jasper thought. He took out his phone and saw he had two missed calls from Emily, with one coming in as he looked. “Hello?”
“Please tell me you’re on the train?” Emily asked.
“I’m on the train.”
“Oh, thank god,” Emily said, relieved. “Ben was about to explode. I told him you were coming.”
“Of course I am,” Jasper said. He didn’t blame Ben for thinking he wouldn’t show. It wouldn’t be the first time.
“Okay, we’re waiting at the station. You’ll see us when you get off.”
“Sounds good. See you soon,” Jasper said.
“Bye,” Emily said, disconnecting.
Jasper put his phone back into his pocket. Part of him hates that he missed her calls before. “You were late again, idiot. What if something had happened?”
“She’s okay. She’s okay,” Jasper said to himself.
“You okay?” Lily asked. She looked concerned but tried to act like she didn’t care.
“Yeah, I’m good.”
Lily turned away from him and took out her sketchbook. “Move your head to the side a little. Kind of like you’re looking out the window.”
“Why?” Jasper asked, narrowing his eyes.
“No reason, just do it,” Lily demanded as she started drawing. “Okay, stay like that.”
“Why am I doing this?” Jasper thought. “How long do I have to stay like this?”
She didn’t answer. Her attention was divided between the drawing and him. Only answering with, “Hmm.” It wasn’t like he had anything better to do but watch the Zone gates go by. They had to be close by now.
Twenty minutes had passed since he became her hostage (He counted.) He almost fell asleep when she shouted, “Done!”
Jasper tried to move, but his joints snapped with every movement. “Okay, I want to see.”
Lily quickly held the drawing to her chest. “No.”
“What do you mean no?” Jasper said, reaching for the sketchbook.
“Not until you say you’re sorry!”
“One, calling me a kid. Two, for saying I was lying.”
“I’m sorry,” Jasper said, rolling his eyes.
“You have to mean it.”
“I swear to…” Jasper took a moment. “I’m sorry I called you a kid and didn’t believe you about your dad. Happy?”
“Nope,” Lily giggled. “But it will do. Here.” She handed him the sketchbook.
“Whoa, this is actually good. How’d you do this so fast?” The sketch looked spot on. It reminded him of the filters Amber would try and fool him with.
“I was drawing it anyway and just added you in. I want to be an artist when I get older. If you couldn’t tell, I’m pretty great at it.”
Jasper took out his phone and took a picture of it. “Lily, huh. What’s your last name?”
“Cool last name. Mine’s Jones. I got stuck with Jones.”
“My mom says people should take pride in their names. It’s yours, after all. I guess I’ve heard worse.”
“Look, we’re almost there,” Lily said, pointing at the announcement board. The closer they got, the worse Jasper felt. He didn’t know if he was ready to see them again, not after what happened to their mother. They hated him. He knew it. He couldn’t blame them. He hated himself too.
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