Haven Page 6


“Fine. I accept your terms. At least for now.”


I was actually okay with her response, so I moved forward to join the others.


“No. Huh-uh. No way does that work for me,” said Gretchen, moving from her spot next to Jamal to go stand in front of Paci and the others he brought. “If you can’t walk through this gate and tell me that you’ll have my back the entire time you’re here, then don’t even bother. We don’t need troublemakers like you in here.”


Things were quickly getting out of hand. Feathers were ruffling all over the place as people got their backs up and squared off on either side of the fence.


I rushed forward to put some water on the fire. “Hey! That’s enough. Gretchen, get back, please. Let me deal with this.”


Gretchen only hesitated about half a second before she complied, never taking her eyes off Gail.


I got there and faced Paci again. “Are you good with the terms?”


He spoke without emotion. “I’m with you Bryn, no matter what the terms are. You know that.”


My face flamed up again. “Good. Go ahead in.”


The crowd parted to let him by.


I faced off against the three newcomers. Gail was looking definitely mutinous, but the other two seemed neutral. I didn’t feel threatened by them, nor did I feel any warm and fuzzy stuff coming at me either. My gaze took in all of them.


“Listen … we don’t want any trouble. We all just got moved in here, and we have a lot of work to get done before we’ll be comfortable. We don’t want to exclude anyone, but we also can’t let anyone in who will hurt what we’re trying to accomplish in here, you know what I mean?”


One of the guys nodded. “Yeah, I get it. It’s cool.”


“What’s your name?”


“Zach.”


“Zach, if you’re good with the terms and agree to follow them, you can come in.”


“Sure, yeah, no problem. I agree.”


The second guy gave him a half smile before turning to me. “All you’re getting is words. How do know half the people in there didn’t lie to you?”


I shrugged. “I don’t. But in my world, you get one chance to prove you’re as good as your word. It’s all about honor. So long as you keep your word to us, it’s gold. You lie once though, and you’re done.”


“Good luck with that,” said Gail, obviously mocking me.


The guy rolled his eyes. “Give it a rest, Gail, Jesus.” He turned to face her, scowling. “Aren’t you tired of running?” His head swung back in my direction. “I’m in. I agree to your terms. And my word is good. Always has been.” He held out his hand.


I took it in mine, noticing he had callouses that spoke of hard manual labor at some point. I prayed it wasn’t the kind that involved the dismemberment of humans.


“Welcome to Haven … what’s your name?”


“It’s Joe. And thanks,” he said, giving me the first genuine smile we’d seen from him. “It’s good to be here. Really. I’ve been walking forever trying to find a place to settle down.”


“You can tell us all about it tonight around the campfire.” I smiled back at him.


“You have campfires for real? Cool.” Joe seemed easily won over, which was a relief. I much preferred dealing with people who appreciated what we were trying to do here at Haven.


I turned to Gail. “So what’s it going to be? Oath or no oath?”


She shook her head angrily at the two guys who were walking away from her, guys who she had probably thought felt some sort of allegiance towards her. “Fuck that,” she said, spitting on the ground.


I stepped back two paces, bumping into a solid, warm body. I knew it was Bodo from the smell of his sweat and the way he enveloped me in his chest without even touching me. Not breaking eye contact with Gail, I said, “Close the gate!”


Jamal and Ronald jumped to it, sliding it along its track until it clanged into place against the fence. Peter walked up and put the lock in place, making sure it was shut securely before stepping away.


It was dead silent except for the sound of the wind brushing past the high grasses that rose up nearby. Everyone stood quietly, all of us on the opposite side of the fence as this one stubborn girl.


I felt bad for her. And I understood her moral or political predicament, but that didn’t mean I was going to give her a special pass that meant she could ignore rules she didn’t like.


“I’m sorry you made this decision. If you change your mind, please come back.”


“Fuck you, Bryn. I promise you I’ll be back, but not like you think.”


She turned and walked away.


“Come on, Gail!” yelled Zach. “Don’t be like that!”


“Go to hell, Zach! You too, Joe! Assholes!” She flipped a bird behind her back.


“Where’s she goingk to go?” asked Bodo. “Dare’s nothing out dare.”


“She’ll be back,” said Peter. “She’s just one of those people who has a hard time adjusting.”


“Don’t count on it,” said Zach. He sounded sad. “She’s pretty stubborn. That’s how she made it this far. She came all the way from Tennessee.”


“Whatever,” I said, watching her form getting smaller and smaller. “I wish her well. I think she’s an idiot but that doesn’t mean I want her to die out there.”


Paci patted me on the shoulder, leaving his hand there when he was done. “You did the right thing, Nokosi. You have to be tough. People have to toe the line or it’ll be anarchy in here.”


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Bodo walked by and bumped into Paci, causing Paci’s hand to fall off my shoulder. “Come on,” he said, “I’m still hungry. And we gotta digk dose holes very soon.”


Paci watched him walk away, a very slight frown appearing for a second before disappearing and leaving him impassive again. He walked away without saying a word.


Peter came up and stood beside me as we watched everyone else walk to the door. “Trouble brewing in paradise, I see.”


“Please say it isn’t, Peter. Seriously.” I looked over at him. “I have too much crap to deal with right now to worry about roosters in the henhouse.”


“Perhaps you should have thought of that before you kissed the second rooster.”


I gasped. “What? How do you know that?”


Peter raised an eyebrow at me. “How quickly you forget who you’re dealing with. I know all. I see all. I am the great and terrible Oz.”


“Coli caught me, didn’t she?”


Peter sighed. “Yeah. And she told everyone who would listen what a slut you are.”


I rolled my eyes, headed back into the building. “Great. As if my life didn’t suck enough already.”


I could just barely make out Bodo walking through the crowd of kids to get to the food again. I was going to have to tell him about Paci and me as soon as I had the chance. I couldn’t let him hear about that kiss from anyone else, and the guilt was eating me alive. I was seriously not looking forward to that conversation.


***


It was Buster’s frenzied behavior that clued me in to something being not quite right about Paci.


Bodo was eating lunch with the others, and I had just started making my way over to the buffet when I caught frantic jumping motions out of the corner of my eye. Buster was doing some kind of crazy dance at Paci’s feet. He looked like a little kid on Christmas morning, waiting to open presents that were just out of his reach.


I frowned, taking a detour in Paci’s direction. He was standing just at the entrance to the alcove where Fohi was recuperating. By the time I reached his side after weaving my way around several groups of people, Buster’s enthusiasm had increased in its fervor. He looked like he was going to suffer a stroke any second, whining and letting out sharp barks over and over.


“Dude. What’s in the bag?” I pointed to the bag he had hanging over his shoulder and resting on his hip.


“Just some stuff,” he said, his eyes glued on Fohi.


“What kind of stuff?” I tried to use the side of my foot to guide Buster away, but he wasn’t having any of it. He rushed around my toes and started dancing again on Paci’s other side.


“Stuff stuff.” Paci shifted the bag a little.


A muffled meow came from inside.


“What the hell was that?” I asked. “Is that a cat in there?”


Paci sighed heavily. “It was supposed to be a surprise.” He frowned scoldingly at Buster as he opened up the flap on his bag.


Several of the other kids who had followed my progress over and watched Buster doing his dance gathered behind me.


“What’s in the bag?” asked one of them.


Paci’s hand finally came out with a big ball of fluff in it.


“What the hell?” I asked.


And then the ball of fluff moved and two little tiny eyes were looking at me, blinking sleepily. Paci extended the thing out to me, and my hands came up automatically to accept it. He reached into his bag and pulled out another ball of fluff, handing that one to me too.


“Happy birthday,” he said, smiling slightly.


“But it’s not my birthday. And what … what are they?” I knew I sounded totally stupid, but I couldn’t figure out what he was doing giving me kittens.


They shifted to get more comfortable and cuddled up closer to each other. Then they began purring, the regular rhythmic motors fluttering over my fingers. Something in me started to melt.


“They’re kittens,” he said, his smile getting bigger. “You know … baby cats?”


“Yeah, I know what they are. I just … don’t know why they’re here in my hands. In Haven.”


“They’re a gift from the Miccosukee. Mousers. Snake eaters. They’ll help keep you safe.”


I didn’t know what to say. My heart spasmed a little as he just stood there and stared at me. He could have given me jewelry, and it would have been way less awesome.


A tiny kitten paw came out and distracted me, flopping itself over the edge of my hand as the baby got more comfortable and stretched out. I shifted the furballs into one arm so I could feel the little fuzzy foot. The smooth pads on the underside with bits of fur between them were so amazing; it was the first time I’d ever felt a cat’s paw. Staring down at it, I reveled in its tiny perfection. How does nature come up with something so amazing?


I had no idea what breed they were, but they were super tiny and fluffy. I’d never had a cat before or a pet of any kind. Not even a gerbil. I rubbed the closest kitten with my index finger and he leaned into the stroke, his eyes remaining closed but his purring increasing in speed and volume. I wasn’t sure why, but it brought tears very close to the surface.


“Awww! Look!” said a girl standing just behind me. She was probably the youngest of our group from the looks of her. “It’s kittens! That’s so sweet. He brought you kittens.”


I looked up at Paci again, my eyes bright with the tears I’d never let fall. “I’ve never had a kitten before.”


He didn’t say anything for a few seconds. He seemed to be wrestling with his response. When he finally spoke it was for my ears only. “I hope they will make you happy.” His gaze shifted from me to a spot over my shoulder. I turned in time to see Bodo walking up to stand behind me.


“Kittens. Oh, dat’s a problem.”


I turned to him, confused. “Why are kittens a problem? They’ll help keep the mice under control, right?”


“Yes, dat is true.”


“So? What’s the problem?” asked Paci. He didn’t sound angry. Just very serious.


“Some people are allergic, dat’s all.”


I hadn’t thought of that. “Is anyone here allergic to cats?” I shouted out into the lobby.

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