Haven Page 12


“Are you serious?”


“Yes. I don’t see any reason for me to stick around here right now. The remains are in the pit, and Peter has all the planning for the community started. He can handle things from here, and I trust Derek to keep the place standing while I’m gone.”


“I don’t know him at all. You think we can trust him?”


“Yes, I do. Him and the people he brought with him. The only one I’ve ever had a problem with was that girl, Gail.”


“Yeah. I hear ya. She was … different.”


I looked at him, drawn away from my attempts at seeming nonchalant by his tone. “Different? Different how?”


“Different in that she had a chip on her shoulder, like all the time. And she said things that made her seem really harsh. Like she didn’t entirely blame the canners for doing what they do. At least in theory.”


“You think she’s a canner?” The very idea made me sick. That plus my nervousness at having Paci so close was adding up to severe heartburn. My chest was on fire.


“No. I wouldn’t have let her travel with me if I had. But I think she’d be easy for them to recruit, especially now that she’s been rejected by our group.”


“She wasn’t exactly rejected.” I felt guilty about that, turning a person away in this world. What kind of jerk am I? I pretty much either turned her into dinner or added to the canner army.


“Yeah, she was rejected. But for good reason.” He put his hand on my shoulder, forcing me to look at him. “You’re a leader now. You have to make tough decisions that are going to haunt you if you let them. Kowi always said that he had to do what was necessary and then walk away. Regret is too heavy a burden for a chief.”


“I’m no chief,” I said, almost bitterly. I didn’t want to be in charge; I just wanted to live my life in peace. It pissed me off that a peaceful life was just a dream - a fantasy that would probably never come true for me or any of the others here.


“Sure you are. You may not call yourself that, but that’s how everyone here views you. Don’t look so down about it, though. You’re a natural. Leadership looks good on you.”


I looked up to his brilliant smile. He didn’t give them very often, more likely to remain stoic than anything else. I was struck by how it transformed his face. He was already gorgeous, but a smile made him beautiful.


“What?” he asked, his smile slipping. “Do I have something in my teeth?”


“No,” I said, punching him lightly in the chest. “I was just thinking … never mind.”


I started walking away, but was stopped when he grabbed my hand and tugged me back. “You were thinking what?”


I pulled my hand away. “I was thinking that I shouldn’t be out here talking to you like this.”


He frowned. “Really? No. That’s not what you were going to say.”


I changed tack, knowing he’d keep bugging me until I fessed up. Paci was nothing if not persistent. “I talked to Bodo last night and this morning.”


“Soooo, how does that figure into what we were just talking about?”


“I told him about us … about what we did.”


“What’d you do that for?” Paci seemed totally mystified.


“Because! It was the right thing to do!”


“All you’re going to do is hurt him with that story. You should have just left it alone.”


“No shit, Sherlock. Thanks for the relationship tips. Not that they help me now since I’ve already blown it.”


Paci was back to grinning now. “Feisty, aren’t we? So what’d he say?”


“Not much. I’m pretty much counting on him dumping my ass.”


“And you’re sad about that?”


“Of course I’m sad. I love him, Paci. You know that.”


“I do. I know that. Don’t get mad at me. I’m just … you know, what you did with me wasn’t that bad.”


“How so? I kissed another guy. That’s bad in anyone’s book.”


“No, that’s not what happened. What happened is, you thought your boyfriend was dead, and all the evidence suggested he was dead, so you kissed a boy who threw himself at you. Once. That’s nothing to lose a relationship over.”


“Says you.”


“Says anyone with a brain. Says anyone who really loves you.”


“What’s that supposed to mean?”


He shrugged. “It means that if you were my girl and you thought I was dead and kissed Bodo once or even a couple times, I’d forgive you. A justified kiss is a stupid thing to destroy a relationship over, especially with a girl like you.”


His explanation floored me. Part of me wanted to stand up and yell, Yeah, Bodo! What he said! and another part of me wanted to curl up and cry my eyes out. Is Paci right? Is Bodo’s love for me so shallow that it can’t weather even the smallest storm? I was so confused, I didn’t know which end was up.


“I gotta get out of here,” I said, walking away quickly, lost in my miserable thoughts.


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“I’m coming with you. To Kahayatle.”


“I know!” I said, yelling but not looking back. Talk about a complication. I was about to head out into the badlands with a gorgeous guy who was crushing on me and not afraid to show it, while the love of my life was giving me the cold shoulder. This was making my former high school life seem like a piece of cake in comparison.


***


Peter had us packed and ready to go by first light, five days later. I’d hand-picked my team with care, selecting kids I knew I could trust and who had the skills to hold their own against canners and whatever nightmares we’d probably encounter on our trip.


I had a private meeting with Derek, who assured me he’d hold the fort down and work with Peter until my return. Flick stood as his second in command, anxious about getting as much of Peter’s planning done before we got back. I felt really good about leaving Haven in their hands.


Fohi got left behind along with Yokci, who promised to take care of the feisty Little Bee. Even though his wounds had not yet healed, and he was barely strong enough to stand for longer than thirty seconds at a time, Fohi kept insisting up until the minute we walked out the door that he was coming with us.


“What are you going to do about any demolitions work you might need? I’m the expert, you know. I’m in charge of that.” Fohi was standing up with his arms crossed in front of him, trying to act like his legs weren’t shaking with the effort. I might have taken him seriously regardless of the tremors if he hadn’t been standing there with Fuzzybeans balanced on one shoulder and Freak-the-Cat on the other. Something about fuzzy kittens as shoulder ornaments took all the seriousness out of what he was saying.


“Dude, that kitten is giving you a shoulder massage,” said Rob, laughing at how Fuzzybeans was kneading the material on Fohi’s shoulder with a singular focus. It was like she was in a trance.


Fohi reached up and fluttered his fingers in her face, easily distracting her and starting her on a new course of play - the attack Fohi’s finger game. “Cut it out, Fuzzybeans. Daddy’s being serious right now. Play later.”


“I can’t take you, Fohi. Peter needs your help here. As demo expert, it’s your job to guide the teams who will be building your traps.”


“My traps?” His fingers stilled, making them easy prey for the kitten. She reached out and grabbed one with her claws, bringing it to her mouth for a bite. Fohi didn’t even feel it, he was so focused on my response.


“Yes. Peter’s going to sit with you and discuss them today. Or tomorrow. He’s sending over paper so you can sketch out your designs.”


Fohi chewed on his lower lip for a few seconds. “You serious?”


“Yes. As a heart attack.” Or as serious as a cut in the gut, like you have, dope. I pushed the kitty to the side a little and put my hand on his shoulder like my dad used to do to me when he was talking heart-to-heart serious. “So handle that for me while I’m gone, would ya?”


“Yeah, no problem, Bryn. You can count on me, you know that. Like for whatever. Demolitions, traps, managing the armory.”


“Armory?” I asked, my hand sliding from his shoulder.


“Yeah. You know, where all the guns and bullets are kept?”


“Yeaaah, okay ...”


Rob was standing behind Fohi, waving like mad and making a cutting motion across his own neck.


Fohi turned around when he noticed I wasn’t focused on him anymore and caught Rob in the act. He twisted around to punch him, swinging and missing. “Shut up, dicksack! I’m in charge of the armory, you heard her!” He was out of breath from the effort of trying to get to Rob, but gamely stayed on his feet.


I couldn’t help but laugh. “Yeah, Rob. You dicksack. Fohi’s in charge of the armory.”


Rob had danced out of his friend’s way and was still bouncing on his toes a little. “Whatever you say, boss. It’s all on you though when he blows the whole place to the moon.”


I looked at Fohi through new eyes. “You’re not going to do anything stupid, are you?”


He frowned at me like I was crazy. “Whaaat? You can’t be talking to me. I never do anything crazy. I’m totally serious. You can count on me, I already told you.”


I didn’t bother reminding him about the pit of sharpened sticks we’d both almost died in - the pit that had given me a permanent scar down my leg. He would have wondered how that applied in this situation, being that he was Fohi and mostly clueless.


“Just be careful, would ya? I don’t want you overdoing it with your injuries. Just rest and help Peter do your stuff, okay?”


“Yeah, okay sure. I’ll do that and manage the armory, no sweat. I’m on it. You can count on me. Like I said.”


Winky came walking up. “You ready to go?” She had a big backpack over her shoulder and was wrestling with it to get it on the rest of the way.


I helped lift it up onto her other arm. “Yeah, I’m ready. What about the others?”


“Just waiting for you.”


I stepped out of the alcove and saw them all by the gate. Bodo and Paci were as far away from each other as they could be without looking painfully obvious about hating each other. Rob hurried past Winky and me to join Paci, throwing his backpack on as he ran out the door.


“You seriously ready to do this?” I asked her as we walked over to join our group.


“Hell yeah, I’m ready. I can’t wait to get my loom and have it set up in there. Peter has a weaving room all planned for us.”


I laughed. “I’m glad you’re happy about weaving.” It was funny to me to think about my berserker fighter friend at the very passive loom, just passing the thread back and forth all day.


“You should try it sometime. It’s very calming. I’m going to do some crochet too this summer.”


“Crochet?” It was like a foreign concept to me, from another planet, even. “Isn’t that what old grannies do?”


“No. It’s a hobby good for all ages. And what’s better than a fuzzy, crocheted blanket to warm your toes in winter?”


“Uh … an electric blanket?”


She smacked me lightly on the arm. “No. Don’t even go there.”


We got to the gate and waited as Peter unlocked it for us. Everyone passed through, wheeling bikes by their sides, leaving me to go last. Ronald wheeled my bike for me and passed it to me at the gate. “Go with God, Bryn,” he said.


“I’ll go with anyone or anything that will help me. Thank you.” I accepted his hug and watched as he walked back to the lobby, joining his brother, Gretchen, and Bianca at the window. They all waved, worried looks on their faces. I hadn’t let them come, even though they’d volunteered. None of them were trained to fight yet, and the girls were still too weak. Jenny was on a blanket behind them, sitting up, also waving at me.

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