I almost didn’t leave the cabin yesterday. My mom took Abby to join the other kids. I guess she felt that I needed to be alone. It was kind of a mixture though. I left the cabin because I wanted company, but when I would be around people, I wanted the solitude of the cabin.

I finally resolved the issue by sneaking down to the stables. The same four girls from before were working. The eldest of them approached me as I stood waiting for my eyes to adjust to the darkness.

“Is there something you need?” She asked, squinting at me through her glasses. Her eyes widened as she recognized me. “You’re Cleo? The girl that-.”

“Yeah.” I mumbled staring at the floor. I knew what she would say: “The girl who caused two guys to fight.”

She cleared her throat. “I hate to be interrupted. I was going to say, the girl who helped the kids.”

I peered up at her through my mess of hair. “Oh.”

“My name’s Tori.” She added. “Now, what can I help you with?”

“I just wanted…” I waved my hand toward the stalls. Her eyes never left my face.

She kind of reminded me of a scarecrow. She was scrawny. Not thin, but definitely scrawny. I couldn’t give even an estimated age. Straw colored, and textured, hair spewed in every direction from beneath the brim of her straw hat. Her eyes were dominated by the glasses, making her eye color hard to determine. The only thing she was missing was the shaft of wheat hanging from her mouth.

“Well,” she said, her voice thoughtful, “if you’re gonna stay here, you need to work. Know anything about horses?”

That surprised me. “My ribs-.”

“I know, I know. I spoke to your mother, yesterday. But there is plenty to do and we can use all the help we can get. Horses take a lot of work.”

I nodded, feeling a spark of interest. “Alright. What can I do?”

She finally looked away from me. “Well, you can start with Pete and Repete.”

“Pete-.”

“And Repete. Yes. I know the hilarity of the names. But you will see why in a moment.” She leveled me with her glassy stare. Then she was off, striding in a gait that had me jogging to keep up. She stopped at one of the stalls, unlatched the door, then went to the neighboring stall. “Stay there.” She said, unlatching the other stall. “Now, open the door and grab Pete’s bridle.”

I pulled on the door, ignoring the flare of pain as my muscles strained. The door was heavier than it looked. I stepped into the stall of a brown horse with a white face and white reaching well above what I considered its knees. It looked at me with calm brown eyes.

Butterflies were suddenly moving around in my stomach as I stepped closer. “Come on, girl. The horse isn’t gonna bite.”

I stroked the horse’s nose, latching my hand to the bridle under his chin. It snorted. For a moment, I thought it was laughing at me.

Leading Pete into the hall was easy. He just calmly walked behind me, following the pressure of my hand on his bridle. Tori threw open the other stall door and stepped back. Another horse, a dark brown and white paint with a black mane and tail stepped through and immediately got into line behind Pete.

“Now,” Tori said, walking up to us. “We’re gonna take them to the stall at the far end and give them a good brushing.”

She led the way, showed me how to latch the horses to the links in the far stall. It was large enough to easily set four horses into it comfortably.

“These two always have to be done together. If one is taken anywhere the other throws a fit. So.” She handed me a strange metal looking thing. “Take this and start currying. I will tackle Repete.”

She watched me for a moment, before clicking her tongue. “No.” She placed her hand around mine. “Like this.” She moved my hands in small circles over the horse’s side, going against the lay of the fur. “With a curry, you are trying to loosen the dirt and fur. Don’t push too hard, but don’t be too light about it either. After we curry we will brush.” She stepped back and watched me. After a second, she nodded. “Good.”

I never thought grooming a horse could be so much work. After using the curry, Tori handed me a dandy brush and showed me how to use it. Done with the dandy, she handed me a soft bristled brush. Next we used a giant comb to work through the mane and tail. But we weren’t done. After brushing, we used damp sponges to wipe around the nose, mouth, and eyes. Finally, Tori showed me how to clean the hooves.

While we worked, I found myself telling Tori about everything. She was a perfect sympathetic listener. I even told her about my journal. As far as I knew, the only people who knew about it were Abby and River. Gabriel had gotten a glimpse of it, but I didn’t think he understood what he saw. My mom didn’t even know.

“Actually, making a log of what’s happening isn’t a bad idea.” Tori surprised me by saying. “Have you thought about interviewing various survivors for their stories? Or maybe going out on supply runs or hunting trips to see how other aspects of the camp work?”

I nodded. “Yeah, I thought about it.” I shrugged. “I doubt that they would let me go anywhere, though. They have some weird ideas about women here.”

She laughed. “Yeah, that’s true. But at least you can try to talk to other people. Get their stories.” She gave me a piercing look over the back of the Repete. “I am sure people would like to leave something as a kind of record behind. Just in case.”

After Pete and Repete, we worked through four more horses before Tori let me handle horses on my own. But I was only able to do three more before the dinner bell rang.

Tori helped me finish with the last horse and replace it in its stall. “You did good.” She said, smacking me on the back while I closed the door to Melody’s stall.

“Thanks.” I said, but it didn’t seem to be enough. “For letting me-.”

Tori grinned a gap-toothed smile at me. “Hey, from what I hear, you needed it. Feel free to come back whenever. We can work on cleaning the tack, next time.”

I groaned and she smacked me on the back again causing me to grin at her before she went striding off to do something else.

I stepped out of the stable and had to stop. The world seemed so bright after the darkness I spent the day in.

“Cleo.” River was leaning against the side of the building. I hesitated when I saw him, for moment thinking about running up to the dining hall. But after what I put him, them, through, it didn’t seem fair.

He straightened and walked over to me. His movement was awkward and stiff, not the flowing grace that I was accustomed to. He had a nice cut on his forehead above his right eye and the eye itself was almost swallowed in a swath of black. A bruise marked his jaw on the other side of his face. He also had a split upper lip.

“Are you ok?” He asked drawing up with me.

I swallowed, staring at the damage I caused. “I’m sorry.”

His eyebrows started to lift and he winced. “For this?” He let out a coughing laugh. “Ah, that guy was asking for it. Besides, you should see him.”

I honestly didn’t want to. River cupped my cheek, looking intently into my eyes. It would have been nice if I wasn’t so distracted by the huge black eye, which was turning an unhealthy shade of green around the edges.

“Are you alright?” He asked again, his voice going soft. The pad of his thumb brushed my cheekbone.

I shook my head and stepped back, breaking the contact. “How can you ask me that? After-.” I hugged myself and stepped back again.

“Cleo, this wasn’t your fault.” River sighed, letting his arm fall to his side.

“Would you have fought him if I wasn’t there?” I asked him, staring at the ground.

I almost didn’t catch his shrug. “Probably. He’s a jerk. He deserves to be knocked down a peg or two.”

I frowned. “You don’t even know him.”

“No, but I know his type.”

“Everyone knows everyone’s type, but it doesn’t define who they are, does it?”

He considered me for a moment. “I guess not.”

I turned and started to walk toward the dining hall. I heard his footsteps behind me. I didn’t want to say it, but there was another problem I had with the fight, and it was one that I had nothing to do with. “You realize that you did that right in front of Abby?” The footsteps stopped and I found myself stopping, too. I wanted to kick myself. The fight was my fault. Getting upset at him about Abby wasn’t fair. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”

“No, you’re right. I didn’t think. I just saw you fighting with him…” He stepped up to me. “I was already a little upset before the fight.”

“Why?”

From the look on his face, I thought he wasn’t going to answer. But when I made to continue up the hill, he said, “I saw how uncomfortable you were in those… clothes. And it never even entered my mind to help you get better ones.” He shook his head. “I was more worried about what you would say and do to Melburn.”

“You were right to be. Worried, I mean. If you hadn’t… I probably would have said something stupid.”

River shook his head. “That’s really not the point, Cleo.” He started to reach for me but dropped his arm. “I was jealous that Gabriel was able to take care of you.”

“River, you helped me and Abby at the store.” Something else popped into my mind. “Do you think clothes are more important than being kicked out?”

River rocked back on his feet. “I guess not.” He said after a moment. My stomach gurgled and I blushed. He frowned at me. “How long has it been since you ate? And don’t give me yesterday, because I know you didn’t eat yesterday.”

I started walking again, not bothering to answer. Truth was, I had no clue.

Getting my tray in the dinner hall made me wish for the simple dinners my family and I had at home. Though, lately, my dad was absent from most of them. But then again, Anubis had been happy to take his place.

Thinking about Anubis made my stomach clench. I missed him. When I would get frustrated at home, he would always join me in my walks. It didn’t matter if we went to one of the parks or traipsed up the hill at the end of my street. He was just happy to do whatever I wanted.

“Penny for your thoughts?” A tray slid in next to mine. I looked up expecting River, only it was Gabriel instead. I stared at him long enough to know that River bore the lion’s share of the fight. The only mark on Gabriel’s face was a dark bruise on one cheekbone.

“Nothing worth interest.” I said before taking another bite of my sandwich. My mom caught my attention and lifted both eyebrows as River slid in next to Abby across from me.

The tension in the room instantly amplified, even though neither boy even looked at the other. I finished my sandwich as quickly as I could. I wasn’t ready or eager for them to break out into another fight, but I found myself still sitting at the table a few minutes later.

Someone braced themselves on the back of my chair and I started. Mel leaned forward enough that I could smell he had recently smoked a cigarette, probably another necessity. “Can I speak with you?”

“Um. Actually, I am kinda eating dinner with my family.” I knew everyone was looking at me, but I only met my mom’s eyes. She was the one who didn’t want me anywhere near him, and though I agreed, she should say something. All she did was blink.

“It will only take a moment.” He prodded.

I bit my lip. A glance at River told me he was engrossed in his tray. Gabriel was looking at a point somewhere across the dining room. Abby was looking over my shoulder at Mel with obvious dislike.

“Can you just say it here?” I wondered aloud. I did not want to go anywhere with Mel alone again. He may have been apologizing for his treatment of Abby, but he was still creepy.

“Alright.” He stopped for a moment. “I have heard that you like to write.”

I looked over my shoulder at the Santa look-alike. “Yeah.”

“I also heard that you are interested in interviewing people for their stories.”

“Yeah.” I said and nodded again. “I would also like to go out, see how the rest of the camp works.”

He frowned. “Go out?”

“On supply runs.”

He shook his head. “No, you would be a liability.”

I thought about it a moment. “I’m a pretty good shot, ask River.”

“No.”

“I could train with the guys.”

“No.”

I stood up and turned to face him, my hands on my hips. “You can’t really tell me no, you know. I have free will.” I heard the noise level in the room drop and my mom’s intake of breath.

“As long as you live here, you will abide by my rules.”

Suddenly, I was angry. “And if I want to leave?”

I heard two chairs scrape back on the floor and my mom’s panicked voice, “she doesn’t mean it.”

“Cleo.” River snapped at me.

Gabriel’s hand clamped over my wrists as he hissed, “What are you doing? Don’t be an idiot.”

But I kept my eyes on Mel, unable to back down. He stared right back at me, his eyes hard. Instinctively, I had the feeling of staring into the eyes of a predator. The feeling that whatever I did next would decide whether I was attacked or left alone flooded through me.

“No.”

I gritted my teeth. “You don’t-.” Gabriel jerked on my arm and I staggered, almost landing in his lap.

“Shut up.” His hand tightened around my wrist hard enough that I fought not to gasp.

“She doesn’t mean it. She’s just had a rough couple of days.” The panic in my mom’s voice caused it to raise several octaves.

It wasn’t until River leaned over my table to hiss in my ear, “think of Abby,” that I finally let it go.

“Fine. Interviews.” I tried to pull my wrist out of Gabriel’s grip, but his fingers tightened again. I had a feeling that there would be a bruise in the morning.

Mel straightened. It was easy to tell he wasn’t happy, but he was willing to overlook it. “Then I will see you in the morning.”

“Huh?” Two voices chorused along with my own.

“I will submit to an interview.”

I thought quickly. My first instinct was to turn him down, but if I was going to do this and do it seriously, then I would need his approval. If I turned him down, he might not give it.

“Abby.” River hissed in my ear so quietly that it sounded like a sigh.

“Abby is having some trouble with the other kids,” I said, catching on instantly, “so I am watching her for a while. I hope you don’t mind.” I felt relief flood through my chest as I spoke. I continued to make sure he couldn’t refuse, “so, we will see you tomorrow morning. After breakfast might be best.”

Gabriel released my hand as if he could sense what I was going to do. I grabbed my tray, stepped around Mel, and rushed to the bins. Then I was out the door. All before Mel could respond.

At the cabin, I sagged in relief, resting my forehead against the cool door.

“Cleo,” Mr. Jackson said, startling a quick yelp from me, “you are playing with fire. I don’t think it would be a good idea to interview Melburn.” He leaned against the side of the cabin and stared at me.

“What am I supposed to do? Turn him down? That could be just as bad as interviewing him.” I pointed out.

Mr. Jackson sighed. “Look, be careful. Something glinted in his hand as he held it out to me. “At least take this.”

It was a short black knife. When I didn’t take it, Mr. Jackson grumbled, finally taking one of my hands and putting the knife in it.

“Be careful.” He said again before walking away.

I stared at the knife in my hands. What did he expect me to do, kill Mel? I sighed. A knife that small wouldn’t do anything anyway. I let myself into the cabin, still staring at the knife.

It wasn’t until I heard my mom talking that I finally shoved the knife under the mattress as far as my arm would push it. I straightened up with a jerk as she, Abby, River, and Gabriel came into the room.

I was certain I looked guilty of something, but they didn’t seem to notice.

“Why are you so determined to screw everything up?” Gabriel demanded, stopping right in front of me. “Are you trying to get-?”

“Back off.” River growled from the other side of my bed.

“Boys.” My mom warned. “I will not have you fighting in here. Gabriel, step back.”

“Thanks,” I muttered to her.

“Don’t thank me yet. I have to say that I agree with Gabriel. What do you think you are doing?” Her hands were on her hips as she glared at me.

I stared at each of them in turn, finally melting on my bed to stare at my hands. “What do you want from me? I’m trying. But you are all acting like I sought him out, trying to get in his face. It’s not my fault he keeps coming to me.”

“That isn’t what is bothering us, Cleo.” My mom said gently, moving around Gabriel to sit on the edge of her bed. “It’s that you keep challenging him.”

“And now you have to see him in the morning.” Gabriel added.

For once, I didn’t have to reply to that. River did it for me. “What did you expect her to do, Gabrielle?” He twanged out Gabriel’s name again.

“River.” My mom snapped.

“Did you expect her to say no? To walk away?” River continued as if my mom hadn’t said anything.

“And going to that interview is a good thing? Alone?” Gabriel snapped back. They were glaring at each other over the bed.

“She won’t be.” River replied, crossing his arms over his chest.

“A little mute girl isn’t going to be much help.” Gabriel mimicked River’s movement.

“That’s enough, you two.” She glared at one then the other in turn. “Cleo can conduct the interview in plain view of people.”

“God!” I stood up. “I am not a kid. Stop treating me like one.” I bolted out of the cabin, sliding on the icy stoop. As soon as I hit the gravel, I started running. I pushed myself until I felt like my side would split apart. When I finally stopped, I was standing outside the stables.

I stayed there for a long time before going back to the cabin. My mom was still up, sitting at the table. She looked up when I came in, but wisely didn’t say anything.

I climbed into bed with Abby and tried to go to sleep. I heard when my mom finally did, but it wasn’t until dawn’s light showed through the windows that I finally slid into the realm of dreams. And they were disturbing.

It felt like only minutes went by when my mom shook me awake. I didn’t bother hiding my journal today. It is what I will be using to interview Mel. If I can figure out how to do an interview, anyway.

I am not looking forward to this.

Go Back to Day 11 – or – Go to Day 13 

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