Goody two shoes Layla Croft is biding her time at the Institute for Gifted Youth until an illicit encounter with a rebellious new student forces her to question everything they’ve taught her.
Tropes – Opposites Attract, Bad Boy/Good Girl
I started Manifesting when I was 3 years old. I’m told that’s a very young age to start communicating with the Universe.
So the story goes, I was an obstinate baby. Colicky. Demanding. The only time I was calm was when I took a bath.
My mother, bless her heart, used to leave me in the tub for hours until I was swimming in my own feces. She’d rinse me off and put me to bed. I would fall asleep, sedate and mellow. Only to wake up screaming in the morning.
One day, my mother missed our usual bath time. Something about taking me to visit relatives, or the doctor, or whatever. On our way home, I must’ve screamed and screamed for water, but there was nothing my mother could do until we got home.
Instead, the Universe answered my cries. The Great Mother flooded my bio mother’s Toyota Camry, submerging us both in a calm, peaceful oasis. My poor bio mother was so shocked. She lost control and swerved into a telephone pool. Died on impact.
Two days later, my father signed me over to the Institute. Haven’t seen him since.
The Harvey Webber Institute for Gifted Youth isn’t so bad. Like at any other school, we learn Math, Literature, History, Science. Plus supplementary courses like Ethics, Meditation, Tai Chi, and Self-Discipline. The teachers are wary of the students, but that just means they don’t mess with us. They lecture, grade us, then run along home at the first chance.
The campus is big enough to have a playground for the kiddos and miles of forested hiking trails within the fences. Boarders get 3 square meals a day and time off campus on the weekends for good behavior. Only a privileged few are allowed to live off-campus.
Now that I’m 18, I get a room to myself and an ensuite bathroom with a tub. Next year, The Institute will find a job for me and let me live off campus. As long as I keep my head down and stay off the radar.
Life is good. The only time I’m not happy is during lunch when Will and Warren get in each other’s faces. Today, Will was two seconds away from throwing a punch after a snarky comment from Warren about the sushi Will brought from home.
Instead of letting it go, like I asked him to, Will paused on the way to our table by the windows and turned back to Warren. “Maybe if you hadn’t burned your house down, your mom wouldn’t mind packing you a nice lunch.”
Will has been my best friend since 5th grade when he floated up into a tree to rescue my paper airplane, but he can be a dumbass sometimes.
Warren was steaming. The edges of his lunch tray were melting where his fists clenched. The heatwaves formed a halo around his long brown hair.
When Warren’s eyes started blazing, getting ready to reign righteous fury on Will, I flicked my wrist. A stream of water appeared out of thin air and hit Warren in the face. His furious eyes snapped to meet mine. I nodded to the other end of the cafeteria. One of the lunch attendants was approaching us. “Cool it, hothead.”
He wiped his face and kept glaring at us, but all traces of fire and brimstone disappeared by the time the attendant reached us. It was Agnes, one of the stricter attendants. She loves writing demerits. “Everything alright over here?,” she said, eyes lingering on Warren’s disfigured tray.
Will smiled demurely, “Yes, ma’am. Just comparing notes with Warren about the Ethics assignment due next period. Things got a little heated. Difference of opinion, that’s all.”
Agnes held his gaze for a few seconds. I could tell she didn’t buy it but she also didn’t care. “Very well. Take your seats, kids. That’ll be a demerit for the tray, Mr. Price.” See? What did I tell you?
Agnes walked away before registering the dirty look on Warren’s face. I pulled Will away. I could feel Warren’s heated gaze branding me for the rest of the period.
Later that day, I’m floating.
Don’t tell anyone but sometimes I sneak down to the communal pool after curfew to bask in solitude with my element. I lay in it for so long, it feels like the borders between my physical body and the water evaporate.
The Great Mother lulls me into serenity. I forget my worries for a bit. The fear. The demands. They can’t touch me here. I’m just another star in the Universe’s constellation of bodies and beings.
I was so lost in my affinity, I didn’t notice him until I sensed the flickering of his flame disrupt the air. Treading water, I turned to the entrance of the room. Warren, in his Institute-issued pajamas, stood by the stairs at the shallow end, observing me.
“What are you doing here?,” I whispered.
“I could ask you the same. Little Miss Perfect, Layla Croft, breaking curfew. This could earn you more than a few demerits. Aren’t you afraid of ruining your perfect record?” He tossed around the fire in his hands while maintaining eye contact. “Maybe you don’t have to worry. I’m sure Stanton would put in a good word if you got caught. Then all would be forgiven, right?”
I rolled my eyes, wading closer til I stood on solid ground. “What is your problem with Will? He was nice to you when you first got here. You completely dismissed him.”
“His holier-than-thou attitude is my problem.” Warren’s eyes narrowed. “He’s an entitled prick who’d get away with murder just cause his parents are rich and Gifted.”
I rolled my eyes again, moving my arms around to make waves. Will would never murder anyone but there was no point in arguing with Hothead.
Warren concentrated on his fire juggling for a minute before changing the subject, “Wanna see something cool?”
Before I could respond, Warren’s arms caught on fire. First, deep amber flames climbed up his arms, stopping at his biceps. The peaks faded into a light orange then into a pure white with a faint yellow core. The fire singed his sleeves but didn’t burn him. With his blazing arms raised at his sides, Warren stepped into the pool.
I tensed as his burning limbs reached the surface of the water. Instead of extinguishing the flames, the water enveloped them. The deeper and deeper he got, the brighter the flames. I could feel the pool heating up to a warm jacuzzi level. The flames were flicking back and forth underwater, like the two elements had embraced each other in a slow dance. Warren stopped a foot away from me, glowing like a jellyfish.
I rubbed my eyes. He was really burning underwater. “How are you doing this?”
As impossible as manifesting seems at first glance, there are rules. Every child has the potential to manifest. They usually start between the ages of 5 -10, then most lose the ability by their late 20s.
During their manifesting years, people display 1 or 2 affinities. The theory is that a powerful manifestor could control and create anything in nature but that hasn’t happened yet. At most, I’d seen kids with a connection to 2 complementary elements. Like, someone with an affinity for wind and air who could also build a small fire. Or someone with an affinity for water, like me, who could create air bubbles underwater. I’d never seen anyone who could merge and manipulate two opposing elements, like fire and water.
Warren’s voice was clipped, still concentrating on maintaining his fire. “I was messing around a few days ago. This is the safest place to practice. The flame has to be really hot, or it won’t last more than a few seconds.”
“This is amazing,” I whispered in awe. This moment felt sacred. “The Great Mother is showing off again.”
“Great Mother?” Warren raised a brow with a quirk of his lips, “That’s cute. Do I get any credit for this?”
I ignored him and stepped closer to the light, bringing my hand up to make contact with his. A hush fell over both of us as our palms connected. An intense heat suffused me, crawling up my arm into my soul. It didn’t burn me. I knew it wouldn’t.
Before either of us could break the silence, footsteps echoed just outside the pool room. Warren extinguished his flames and pulled us to the side. I was wedged between the side of the pool and Warren’s lean body.
The footsteps got louder as they entered the room. I ducked but kept my head peeking out of the water. Warren glanced over the edge of the pool just as a flashlight shone his way. “Who’s there!?,” came a stern voice. It must be one of the night patrolmen, here to “protect us” from intruders.
Instead of trying to hide, Warren leaned over the side of the pool, keeping his body between me and the guard. “Hey, just out for a swim. Didn’t realize it was so late.”
“Nice try, kid. You know the rules. Come on, I’ll escort you to bed. Principal Meyers will deal with you in the morning.”
“Alright, fine, you got me.” Warren held a hand in front of his eyes, “But can you point the light away from my face? You’re blinding me.”
The light swooped away. Warren pulled himself out, his body grazing my arm. Warren distracted the patrolman with a joke about the size of his flashlight. He never mentioned me, cowering inside the pool. The exasperated patrolman led him out of the room without another word.
I went to bed 30 minutes later wondering what the hell had just happened.