Newt relaxed, seemed to shrink, even, and sighed. “It brings back memories. Just little snippets, but definite memories of before we came to this horrible place. Anyone who goes through it acts like a bloody psycho when it’s over—although usually not as bad as poor Ben. Anyway, it’s like being given your old life back, only to have it snatched away again.”
Thomas’s mind was churning. “Are you sure?” he asked.
Newt looked confused. “What do you mean? Sure about what?”
“Are they changed because they want to go back to their old life, or is it because they’re so depressed at realizing their old life was no better than what we have now?”
Newt stared at him for a second, then looked away, seemingly deep in thought. “Shanks who’ve been through it’ll never really talk about it. They get … different. Unlikable. There’s a handful around the Glade, but I can’t stand to be around them.” His voice was distant, his eyes having strayed to a certain blank spot in the woods. Thomas knew he was thinking about how Alby might never be the same again.
“Tell me about it,” Chuck chimed in. “Gally’s the worst of ’em all.”
“Anything new on the girl?” Thomas asked, changing the subject. He was in no mood to talk about Gally. Plus, his thoughts kept going back to her. “I saw the Med-jacks feeding her upstairs.”
“No,” Newt answered. “Still in the buggin’ coma, or whatever it is. Every once in a while she’ll mumble something—nonsense, like she’s dreaming. She takes the food, seems to be doing all right. It’s kind of weird.”
A long pause followed, as if the three of them were trying to come up with an explanation for the girl. Thomas wondered again about his inexplicable feeling of connection with her, though it had faded a little—but that could have been because of everything else occupying his thoughts.
Newt finally broke the silence. “Anyway, next up—figure out what we do with Tommy here.”
Thomas perked up at that, confused by the statement. “Do with me? What’re you talking about?”
Newt stood, stretched his arms. “Turned this whole place upside down, you bloody shank. Half the Gladers think you’re God, the other half wanna throw your butt down the Box Hole. Lotta stuff to talk about.”
“Like what?” Thomas didn’t know which was more unsettling—that people thought he was some kind of hero, or that some wished he didn’t exist.
“Patience,” Newt said. “You’ll find out after the wake-up.”
“Tomorrow? Why?” Thomas didn’t like the sound of this.
“I’ve called a Gathering. And you’ll be there. You’re the only buggin’ thing on the agenda.”
And with that, he turned and walked away, leaving Thomas to wonder why in the world a Gathering was needed just to talk about him.
The next morning, Thomas found himself sitting in a chair, worried and anxious, sweating, facing eleven other boys. They were seated in chairs arranged in a semicircle around him. Once settled, he realized they were the Keepers, and to his chagrin that meant Gally was among them. One chair directly in front of Thomas stood empty—he didn’t need to be told that it was Alby’s.
They sat in a large room of the Homestead that Thomas hadn’t been in before. Besides the chairs, there was no other furniture except for a small table in the corner. The walls were made of wood, as was the floor, and it didn’t look like anyone had ever attempted to make the place look inviting. There were no windows; the room smelled of mildew and old books. Thomas wasn’t cold, but shivered all the same.
He was at least relieved that Newt was there. He sat in the chair to the right of Alby’s empty seat. “In place of our leader, sick in bed, I declare this Gathering begun,” he said, with a subtle roll of his eyes as if he hated anything approaching formality. “As you all know, the last few days have been bloody crazy, and quite a bit seems centered around our Greenbean, Tommy, seated before us.”
Thomas’s face flushed with embarrassment.
“He’s not the Greenie anymore,” Gally said, his scratchy voice so low and cruel it was almost comical. “He’s just a rule breaker now.”
This started off a rumbling of murmurs and whispers, but Newt shushed them. Thomas suddenly wanted to be as far from that room as possible.
“Gally,” Newt said, “try to keep some buggin’ order, here. If you’re gonna blabber your shuck mouth every time I say something, you can go ahead and bloody leave, because I’m not in a very cheerful mood.”
Thomas wished he could cheer at that.
Gally folded his arms and leaned back in his chair, the scowl on his face so forced that Thomas almost laughed out loud. He was having a harder and harder time believing he’d been terrified of this guy just a day earlier—he seemed silly, even pathetic now.
Newt gave Gally a hard stare, then continued. “Glad we got that out of the way.” Another roll of the eyes. “Reason we’re here is because almost every lovin’ kid in the Glade has come up to me in the last day or two either boohooing about Thomas or beggin’ to take his bloody hand in marriage. We need to decide what we’re gonna do with him.”
Gally leaned forward, but Newt cut him off before he could say anything.
“You’ll have your chance, Gally. One at a time. And Tommy, you’re not allowed to say a buggin’ thing until we ask you to. Good that?” He waited for a nod of consent from Thomas—who gave it reluctantly—then pointed to the kid in the chair on the far right. “Zart the Fart, you start.”
There were a few snickers as Zart, the quiet big guy who watched over the Gardens, shifted in his seat. He looked to Thomas more out of place than a carrot on a tomato plant.
“Well,” Zart began, his eyes darting around almost like he was waiting for someone else to tell him what to say. “I don’t know. He broke one of our most important rules. We can’t just let people think that’s okay.” He paused and looked down at his hands, rubbing them together. “But then again, he’s … changed things. Now we know we can survive out there, and that we can beat the Grievers.”
Relief flooded Thomas. He had someone else on his side. He made a promise to himself to be extra nice to Zart.
“Oh, give me a break,” Gally spurted. “I bet Minho’s the one who actually got rid of the stupid things.”
“Gally, shut your hole!” Newt yelled, standing for effect this time; once again Thomas felt like cheering. “I’m the bloody Chair right now, and if I hear one more buggin’ word out of turn from you, I’ll be arrangin’ another Banishing for your sorry butt.”
“Please,” Gally whispered sarcastically, the ridiculous scowl returning as he slouched back into his chair again.
Newt sat down and motioned to Zart. “Is that it? Any official recommendations?”
Zart shook his head.
“Okay. You’re next, Frypan.”
The cook smiled through his beard and sat up straighter. “Shank’s got more guts than I’ve fried up from every pig and cow in the last year.” He paused, as if expecting a laugh, but none came. “How stupid is this—he saves Alby’s life, kills a couple of Grievers, and we’re sitting here yappin’ about what to do with him. As Chuck would say, this is a pile of klunk.”
Thomas wanted to walk over and shake Frypan’s hand—he’d just said exactly what Thomas himself had been thinking about all of this.
“So what’re ya recommendin’?” Newt asked.
Frypan folded his arms. “Put him on the freaking Council and have him train us on everything he did out there.”
Voices erupted from every direction, and it took Newt half a minute to calm everyone down. Thomas winced; Frypan had gone too far with that recommendation, almost invalidating his well-stated opinion of the whole mess.
“All right, writin’ her down,” Newt said as he did just that, scribbling on a notepad. “Now everyone keep their bloody mouths shut, I mean it. You know the rules—no idea’s unacceptable—and you’ll all have your say when we vote on it.” He finished writing and pointed to the third member of the Council, a kid Thomas hadn’t met yet with black hair and a freckly face.
“I don’t really have an opinion,” he said.
“What?” Newt asked angrily. “Lot of good it did to choose you for the Council, then.”
“Sorry, I honestly don’t.” He shrugged. “If anything, I agree with Frypan, I guess. Why punish a guy for saving someone’s life?”
“So you do have an opinion—is that it?” Newt insisted, pencil in hand.
The kid nodded and Newt scribbled a note. Thomas was feeling more and more relieved—it seemed like most of the Keepers were for him, not against him. Still, he was having a hard time just sitting there; he desperately wanted to speak on his own behalf. But he forced himself to follow Newt’s orders and keep quiet.
Next was acne-covered Winston, Keeper of the Blood House. “I think he should be punished. No offense, Greenie, but Newt, you’re the one always harping about order. If we don’t punish him, we’ll set a bad example. He broke our Number One Rule.”
“Okay,” Newt said, writing on his pad. “So you’re recommendin’ punishment. What kind?”
“I think he should be put in the Slammer for a week with only bread and water—and we need to make sure everyone knows about it so they don’t get any ideas.”
Gally clapped, earning a scowl from Newt. Thomas’s heart fell just a bit.
Two more Keepers spoke, one for Frypan’s idea, one for Winston’s. Then it was Newt’s turn.
“I agree with the lot of ya. He should be punished, but then we need to figure out a way to use him. I’m reservin’ my recommendation until I hear everyone out. Next.”
Thomas hated all this talk about punishment, even more than he hated having to keep his mouth shut. But deep inside he couldn’t bring himself to disagree—as odd as it seemed after what he’d accomplished, he had broken a major rule.
Down the line they went. Some thought he should be praised, some thought he should be punished. Or both. Thomas could barely listen anymore, anticipating the comments from the last two Keepers, Gally and Minho. The latter hadn’t said a word since Thomas had entered the room; he just sat there, drooped in his chair, looking like he hadn’t slept in a week.
Gally went first. “I think I’ve made my opinions pretty clear already.”
Great, Thomas thought. Then just keep your mouth shut.
“Good that,” Newt said with yet another roll of the eyes. “Go on, then, Minho.”
“No!” Gally yelled, making a couple of Keepers jump in their seats. “I still wanna say something.”
“Then bloody say it,” Newt replied. It made Thomas feel a little better that the temporary Council Chair despised Gally almost as much as he did. Though Thomas wasn’t that afraid of him anymore, he still hated the guy’s guts.