“Okay, stick with me here, because this is going to get complicated.”
It was a sentence that I’d heard a thousand times over. Mr. Grains had been my history and politics teacher since I was six years old, and it was one of his favorite phrases when we were diving into some of the more complex topics like the Great Outsider War of 128 or the West Station Migration of 236 or the Minor Outsider War of 301. Usually, it was said with a smile, and I greeted it with the enthusiasm of knowledge. After all, Mr. Grains taught my favorite classes and if he was truly excited about it, then surly I would be too.
This was the first time I’d heard it with such desperation, hushed in a whisper, concern on his face, and I know I would not be excited to learn whatever it was he had to teach me tonight.
“You still with me, Finley? I need you to hear me on this one.” I gave myself a little shake and tried to smile at him.
“Yes. Of course. Complicated. Give me what you’ve got.”
Mr. Grains talked for a solid fifteen minutes, barely pausing to take a breath. I tried to follow his explanation—I really did, but aside from basic concepts like the Department of Parenting and the Registry of Children which I’d always known about, he was using a lot of terminology I didn’t understand. I guess m blank stare told him I wasn’t following—so he shook his head and waved his hand to the side, a gesture like he was wiping clean the blackboard. “The details aren’t important right now, you’ll come to understand them with time. What you need to understand here and now is you weren’t unclaimed, or orphaned, or unapproved. It’s not that your parents didn’t want you or weren’t impressed by you. You, Oliver, Alexa, and at least thirteen other children in your year—they were stolen. Just like I was. We’re the children of outsiders, and our parents don’t know what happened to us.”
At that point I may have punched Mr. Grains in the face.
But, perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.