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This is chapter 4 of Cliffton book 1. Some parts of chapter 2 from the previous rewrite are reworked here, from Wes's POV this time. I have not written Wes's POV in forever. As always, concrit is much appreciated. Rip me to shreds. I don't mind. Warning for language because Devin is there.


If you're reading Cliffton for the first time, here are the previous chapters so you can catch up:
Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3



If You Only Knew
(Wes -- one day before the bomb)



"Weeeeeeeeeee!" I can't help squealing as my RoboCart speeds down the aisle, and I can't help squeezing the accelerator handle as tight as it'll go. With its new all-terrain tires, the cart flies across the smooth floors and it's kinda like a rocket ship and Devin fixed it for me and I'm excited that he's here and the Festival's tonight and --

Devin's too far away, and I know he doesn't want to be. I squeeze my handbrake and screech to a stop.

Something's wrong -- something has been ever since Kalen got back in town. Devin's barely said a word in days, not about what's bothering him and not about much of anything else, either. But the way he keeps his eyes down and his hands busy all the time, and the way he hasn't wanted to leave my side? Those things kinda say it all.

He's never clingy like that, and he never offers to go grocery shopping with me, either. Not ever.

I know Devin'll talk when he's ready, because he always does. And I know he's not in the mood to be touched, with his hands in his pockets and every muscle tensed. But I've still gotta restrain myself from pouncing on him when he catches up to me. He's just so huggable, and I kinda want my arms wrapped around him always.

"How the fuck're you a year older than me?" His perfect brows bunch together. "Act more like 12 than 22."

My hand reaches out, and it's like I don't control it at all. It cups Devin's chin and his eyes meet mine, luminous and golden brown like honey, like the eyes of a wild animal no one's ever gonna tame. They're dangerous eyes, framed by lashes so thick a girl'd envy them. Even with those eyes a million miles away, he's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

One look at him makes my insides melt, and it's been that way since the first time I saw him.

And part of that's because Devin's so pretty, with his flawless olive skin and high cheekbones and brown-black hair that flows halfway down his back. Not to mention his amazing butt, and his whole body, all long and lean and not too skinny like mine. He's the perfect shape, the perfect size, the perfect everything.

But that's not the real reason I love him, and it never has been.

Devin knows me better than anyone ever has, and he's liked me for me from the moment we met. I think he might love me, in his way. And he takes care of me better than anyone else ever could. Too bad I can't take care of him now, because he won't let me. He pulls away, crossing his arms and staring at the rows of shelves stocked with food.

"Food on this side's fucking ingenious." He's so quiet I have to strain to hear his words, but at least he's talking. "So many choices, not like our side at all. Always hated when my -- when I had to do the shopping as a kid."

If I didn't already know something was wrong I would now, because Devin doesn't ever talk about his past.

"Fucking hated it, the cramped spaces and the crowds. The never-ending lines and the shitty selection." His voice's rough around the edges, like he's gotta get used to using it again. "Worst part was how the storekeepers looked at me when they ran my background check. Fucking suspicious, like my ration card wasn't just as good as anyone else's."

I never went in a grocery store back home, but then we moved here and I saw the way Devin's jaw tightened when I mentioned us going to do the shopping. And I did it myself and I kept on doing it. I'd do anything for him.

Devin laughs and it's hollow, far away. "Bet no one gave your ma trouble when they ran her ration card."

Oh, no. He really doesn't know about my family. My stomach clenches up and I feel kinda dizzy.

There's no way he'd think my ma had a ration card like most people, not if he knew. But how could he not? He knows my last name and people always recognized me back home and did he live under a rock when he was growing up?

I've suspected before, but it kinda never came up. Devin never mentions his family or asks about mine, either. And he's so proud and always worried about money and I thought it'd make him uncomfortable, talking about how I never had to be. It didn't feel like lying, but it does now that I'm sure Devin doesn't know where I came from. Who I came from.

I've gotta tell him, but I can't do it now when he's already upset and he won't tell me why. And I can't add more to what's weighing on him, but not telling him's gonna weigh on me. Because I know it'll break his heart when he finds out.

And hurting Devin like that? It'll shatter my heart into tiny little pieces, too.

* * * * *

"Ready to see our Festival hats?" I force a grin and I try to make my voice sound bright. "We're almost there."

Devin narrows his eyes, like the hats're gonna explode. "They've got fruit on them. Fucking fruit, Wes."

"Awwww, but you'll look so pretty in yours. Look how fabulous I am in mine!" My stomach's kinda jumpy and it has been all day. But I put on my hat, and I prance around with a swish of my hips. And I already feel better, because Devin's gonna think it's funny. "And the fruit's a symbol of a bountiful harvest, just like our fruit bowls back home."

Devin says something under his breath, and the only word I can make out is "fuck." But he looks happier than he has in days, and he tries on the hat. And I can't help grinning for real, and then he's grinning and that's all that matters.

But when we get to the Festival, my heart sinks. Nobody's wearing hats like ours, and everyone's looking at us kinda funny. Some of them even make comments, and Devin's gotta be so embarrassed because he hates being stared at. "Wanna take our hats off now?" I squeak, and my face feels all hot and I think I'm gonna die right here.

"Fuck it, let's wear them anyway." Devin shrugs. "Fruit's fucking cheerful."

If we weren't in public, I'd hug him so hard he couldn't breathe. "So what d'you wanna do first? There's the SimCoasters and the real ones and the bumper planes and a pie contest and the midway and this booth where you dress up like old-time swordsmasters and get a vidframe of it, and -- "

"Doesn't matter, Wes. Whatever makes you happy."

Devin makes me happy, but I want him to be happy, too. And he is, at first. He seems like himself while I'm beating him at the bumper planes, and while I'm dragging him off to get MegaSlushes and VitaFries. But once we're sitting on a bench with our snacks, he starts to get that look again -- the one where he's kinda not all there.

"Where'd you go, dude?" I whisper, but I don't think he hears me. He chews on his straw and stares off into the distance, and I rest my hand on his arm. There's a special way I've gotta do it, just right or it'll startle him.

Devin turns to face me, and he rubs his eyes and blinks like he's waking up from a dream. "Still here."

My arm snakes itself around him of its own free will, and I wait for him to pull away but he doesn't. He kinda collapses into me and he lays his head against my shoulder. And if I didn't know something was wrong, after the grocery store and after he reorganized my kitchen cabinets by color and shape -- after the whole past two days -- I do now.

Devin never wants me to hug him in public, and he barely likes being touched at all, except by those guys from the Splinternet he thinks I don't know about. That's different, y'know? It isn't close, and it isn't real, but this is.

"Wonder why they even still have the Reaping Festival," he muses. "No fucking harvest anymore."

Is he ever gonna say what's really bothering him? I've gotta remind myself not to push. And I take a deep breath and give him a little squeeze and I keep on listening because that's what Devin needs.

"Food's all fabricated," he mutters. "Has been for centuries now. Things they can't make on their own, they grow them in labs. Year round, no seasons. No fucking reaping at all. Started back before the War, kinda even caused it."

"Is this what's got you so worried?" I kinda don't get it.

Devin lets out a laugh, and it doesn't sound like his. "Genetic engineering? Nah, that shit doesn't bother me. Wasn't like it is now, back before the War -- just scientists changing a sequence or two. Making crops that'd grow in sandy soil and animals that'd survive the heat." He stops, and his teeth tear at his straw and then his lip.

And my arm tightens around him, because he looks so scared and I kinda am, too.

"Bothered people on our side, though." Devin shakes his head and this little shiver runs through him. "Said the modified foods changed people, made them paranoid and violent. Didn't want to trade with Kalen's people anymore, didn't even want to breed with them. Thought they were fucking contagious. Wonder who the paranoid ones really were."

"A war over food?" My words hang in the air, and if I could take them back, I would.

"Spoken like someone who's always fucking had enough." Devin tenses up, every muscle in his body all at once.

"I'm sorry." I fumble for the right words, and now I know he's gonna pull away. "I didn't mean -- "

"Know you didn't mean anything. It's okay." Devin reaches up and ruffles my hair, and he kinda snuggles into me and relaxes again. "Wasn't just about the food, anyway. Started as one thing, turned into another."

And I do get that, more than he knows, and it makes me ache.

"Breeding thing came up more and more. Kalen left a book -- you can see it later if you want. Didn't read much, but it was enough." He shifts in my arms and sighs. "People on both sides freaked the fuck out. Ranted about the 'mingling of blood' and the 'sanctity of familial lines.' Think that's what really started the fucking War."

I'm never gonna understand the War, not any of it -- why people'd kill each other in the first place and why it'd all last so long. I kinda don't care what started it, but Devin does, and that's what I care about.

"Wes." Devin straightens up, and he grasps my shoulders gently. "Kalen's got a bomb. Fucking helped him build it. Don't think I can keep you safe. Maybe you should -- " He makes this strangled noise and clears his throat and his fingers are kinda digging into me now but I don't say a word. "Maybe you should just go back home for a while."

My heart breaks and my eyes fill up with tears, but I make them meet his. "Devin, dude." My voice's all high and shaky like it always is when I'm afraid. "I'm not gonna leave you. We'll do what we always do -- we'll look out for each other, and it's gonna be okay. We're gonna be okay. I promise."

Devin blinks like he's gonna cry, but that's not a thing he does. So he just nods, and he's so beautiful it kinda hurts to look at him. And when my tears come again I let them fall, because I know what he'd do if he knew where "home" was.

He'd tell me to go there, and never come back.


(Next chapter is here)
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