Man, Woman, Makes no Difference

Continued from ‘Judging Reactions

Mal breaks the girls off into groups of four or five. Each group gets a task: patrol, food collection, water collection, burnables, clothing scavenging. From there, the groups are given time slots in which they need to work and be back.

“Theater girl,” Mal calls across the room, bringing me to the forefront of everyone’s attention.

Dozens of pairs of eyes shift from the commanding brunette to my end of the table, where I wish I could sink into the chair I sit in. I wish I could just vanish like a chameleon. Instead, I have to endure the stares and the sudden whispers.

“You’re with me.”

I offer a tiny nod before ducking my head, wishing once more that the girls couldn’t see me if I can’t see them.

“Alright. There’s work to be done.” Like Mal said the magic word, the girls climb to their feet and most of them exit the room to go about their tasks while the leader of this pack waits for me at the end of the room.

“Come on,” Lea grumbles, grabbing me by the arm and hoisting me to my feet. She drags me across the room where Mal stands with two other girls. All three of them watch me.

Mal’s blue eyes, in particular, pierce into me. “We’re taking south patrol today, theater girl. Shouldn’t be too dangerous. So, you’ll be fine… as long as you stick with us.” Her warning is as plain as day and I take heed of it, but I can’t keep my mouth from running away from me.

“I have a name.”

A brown eyebrow rises on her forehead. “Really? Are you sure you want to give it to us, theater girl?” Something dark and threatening lingers in her question and I debate whether to give them my name or not.

What harm could really come from telling them my name? They’ve already seen my face. I’m practically in their custody and I’d much prefer to be called by my name than ‘theater girl’ when I’m not even sure if I am a theater girl or not… What if Derek won’t take me in? Having allies here might be a good idea.

I incline my chin, meet Mal’s gaze, and pool all the courage I have left in my aching body. “Natalie.”

The corner of Mal’s lips twitch like she might smile. “Cute. Now, if you’re done strutting your pride around, we have work to do.” The dismissal in her tone is mirrored in the way she saunters away from me, the other girls in tow.

Though, I don’t get the chance to follow on my own as Lea tugs on my arm, once more, like I’m a dog on a leash. I bite my tongue as words threaten to spill out in annoyed fervor.

Instead, I let her drag me down the stairs, our shoes echoing off the concrete walls. Despite the constant noise, it feels quiet. The quiet leaves room for my curiosity and questions bubble to the surface. I should keep them to myself. I should just stay silent for the next few days until I can find Derek, but I can’t help myself. Curiosity has always been my biggest flaw. It’ll probably be what kills me, too. I just hope it’s not today.

“How long have you guys been here?”

“A while,” one of the girls answers.

“And it’s just girls?”

“Yeah,” Lea snaps.

“Why?”

The girl right in front of me stops and swivels, forcing me to halt on the staircase before tumbling into her. “Because, while women can be monsters, too, men show more signs of being so. They’re the ones more likely to act upon their violent urges. They’re the ones who forced us to join together to protect ourselves in the first place.”

“That’s not true,” I counter, annoyed by the dysfunctional age-old belief that men are the root of women’s problems.

“Oh?” The girl crosses her arms and hikes up both eyebrows, waiting for me to continue.

I inhale, readying myself for the debate like I were in class rather than a stairwell. “Yes. Men are no more likely to be violent than women. They’re no more cunning, no more dangerous or callous or lustful. Women can be just the same.”

“Tell that to half the girls in that room,” the girl jerks her arm into the air in the direction of the room above us. “Half those girls were left for dead when we found them. Men attacked them and used them. Women didn’t do that. Tell me-“

“That’s a generalization,” I counter, my voice rising. I drop down a step on the staircase. “I have seen women act callous, violent, cunning, greedy, spiteful, and throw away lives just as much as men. And I’ve seen men risk their lives for women.” My blood ravages my veins as my adrenaline spikes. Heated arguments always do this to me, especially when the other side is uninformed or naturally biased and therefore not clear-headed.

“Is that so? Are you saying women are bad?” Her challenge is obvious, licking at the tension in the air caused by the four women standing around me.

Mal cuts in before I get the chance. “Everyone is bad, Car.”

The girl challenging me scoffs and throws her head to the side. “I’ll see that when I believe it.”

I join Car on her stair. “Believe it,” I demand of her. “Yes, I was chased and attacked by a man, two men, but a boy saved me. He saved me from my attacker and he traded himself for me so I could go free. He traded himself in my place when a woman demanded my life as a toll. So, say what you will, but believe that there are good people out there. Man, woman, girl, boy, child, adult. They’re not all inherently bad. Not all of them can be corrupted.”

“Was this boy from the theater, too?” Mal is the one who asks the question, but I dare not look away from Car.

“He is from the theater, but that doesn’t mean anything.” I stare into Car’s eyes, asking her to challenge me. “He saved me when he didn’t even know my name.” This time I glance to Mal, to sink in my point. “Just like Lea and Jade.”

Next Installment: Not My Life

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