Continued from ‘Pack Mentality‘
“I can’t stay.” The words pop from my mouth before I can even understand what I’m saying.
The outer corners of Mal’s eyes droop as if weighed down by her dark eyebrows, but she doesn’t fight me. “Very well. If you’re more of a lone wolf, I can understand that.” Even as she says it, though, her voice is full of disbelief and sadness.
“No,” I counter. “I mean, I already have a pack.” What? What am I saying?
“Oh,” Mal exhales. Even so, she doesn’t sound convinced. “Well, I’m sure your pack will be wanting to know you’re safe.”
I nod despite myself. I don’t have a pack. At least, I don’t think I do. I mean… what if Derek didn’t make it? What if he really isn’t alive and there’s no one to meet me at the theater? What if it’s only him and me at the theater? We’d make a pretty small pack and say something happens again like it did last time?
What am I doing?
“I would like to send word to your pack to let them know you’re okay. Are you allowed to tell us their location so I may send an envoy?” Mal speaks with such clarity, with such authority, like she were the leader and we were at war.
The strangeness of her words and her manners does nothing to set me at ease. I want to leave as soon as possible. “Can I not go to them now?”
Mal shakes her head, her brown pony tail bobbing back and forth behind her. “I think you need a couple days, at least, before traveling. That ordeal with the river isn’t something that’ll go away easily, especially depending on the…” Her eyes narrow down on me. “Circumstances… behind how you got in the river in the first place.” She inhales, expanding her chest like she’s coming to a decision. “No, I’d feel better if you stayed with us for a few days.”
Something about the decision irks me. Why can’t I leave? “I don’t see the difference between going now and going another day,” I counter, trying to ease her towards giving me some answers.
“Like I said to you before, we’re a pack. We look out for each other and even if you’re not part of our pack, I wouldn’t feel comfortable letting you go alone and I don’t currently have the forces to give you an escort big enough to get you where ever you need to go safely.”
Mal’s shoulders drop as if weighed down suddenly. “There was a riot the other night, a couple blocks from here.”
I tense at the notion. “What happened?”
“Some people were lucky,” Mal explains. “They died quickly. Others… were not so lucky.”
“In what kind of a world is it lucky to die quickly?” I mumble, glancing to the ground and trying to understand the concept.
“This world.” Her voice is flat, emotionless, almost hopeless. She strides back to the edge of the roof, the sun now rising over the peaks of the buildings in the distance. “I will not put my girls at risk to return you to your pack, but I can send a patrol to give them word of your safety.”
With her standing at the edge of the roof, nothing more than a shadow in the morning light, she looks like a guardian, a sentinel protecting the city. Or perhaps just me.
“I’m supposed to meet them at the theater.”
Mal glances at me over her shoulder, her blue eyes watching me as if I’m under inspection. “The theater, you say?”
Her attention shifts to the concrete rooftop, but she says nothing. She just stares it long and hard.
I watch her again, trying to understand what’s going through her head. She’s not much older than myself, maybe a fourth-year in university, and yet she acts like she’s been at war her whole life, doing whatever she can to survive. Has the world really changed that much in the past few days?
“Perhaps it is best that we get you back to your pack,” she comments, finally, her voice changed from earlier. Where it was comforting and strong, it’s now cold and unwelcoming. Even her gaze is darker as she focuses on me. “I’m sure your… theater pack will want you back as soon as possible.” A hint of spite glitters in the word ‘theater’.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me. I have things to attend to, including the patrol to inform your pack that you’re here.” Her head inclines and she walks past me like I’m not even there, like I’m not worth looking at. Her hostility buffets me.
I remain still, lost in my confusion. What did I say? Is she that disappointed that I don’t want to stay or is it something else?
The thought’s silly. I shake it away. She’s just trying to protect her pack. One less person in her pack is just another enemy. Surely, that’s it, but I wouldn’t fight them. She said it herself that I’m no animal.
With another shake of my head, I run my fingers through my messy hair and head for the door, but I pause just before opening it. Muffled voices sound on the other side of the metal.
“She’s from the theater?”
“That’s what she said,” Mal confirms.
“But… she has to know who we are. Why would she tell us she’s from the theater?”
“I don’t know.” Mal pauses, the silence sitting between her and the other girl.
“We’re not really going to just let her go back to the theater, are we? …after what they did to us?”
“What do you suggest we do? Keep her prisoner? Ransom her? We’re not like them, Lea. We’re better than them.”
“And what’s that gotten us so far, Mal?”
“A world of hurt,” another voice answers, different from the two before.
Mal cuts back in. “Enough. It’s settled. If the theater wants to collect her, they can, and we’ll let them without any problems. I don’t want her here and I don’t want them here, but I won’t sacrifice her just because she’s from the theater. Do I make myself clear?”
Grumbles of acknowledgement end the conversation before footsteps signal their movement away from the door.
What are they talking about? What has the theater group done to these girls? What has Derek done to these girls? My insides churn at the idea of what I might be getting myself into and who I might be going to hang out with.
Next Installment: Judging Reactions