“I’m going to drop him,” I say, my heart fluttering at the thought of him falling so far. Crouching down, I cradle the chick against my chest. Unable to resist, I stroke its tiny head, earning myself another peep.
Kenzo crouches down on one knee and looks at me with a smile. “You’re a natural, kid. Just don’t let Aldric catch you playing with the food.”
“What?” He doesn’t have to repeat what he said. I heard him loud and clear. I bring the little chick closer to my chest to shelter it as if Aldric is lurking around the corner with a butcher knife.
Little peeps of protest sound up, and the chick squeezes its head through two of my fingers.
“Don’t worry, peepster, I won’t let Aldric make dinner of you.”
Kenzo lets out a burst of laughter. “If you’re going to try and save every chick, we’re never going to eat chicken again, and there will be chickens running all over this place. It’s the way it is, the natural order of life.”
I shake my head, and it has him adding. “It is nature’s paradox, kid. Somewhere something has to die so something else can live.”
He reaches out to me and slowly pulls my hand away from my chest, cupping his hand beneath mine. “Wait until tomorrow morning. You’re going to want to slaughter them all once they start crowing and you’re trying to sleep.”
“Never,” I say adamantly.
“Let’s put him back.” I slide the chick into Kenzo’s palm. “Peepster, you say?”
My cheeks flush with heat. “It was a spur-of-the-moment thing.”
I let myself out of the enclosure while Kenzo places the chick back with the others.
“Thank you for letting me hold him.”
Kenzo shuts the gate behind him, then narrows his eyes at me. “I’m trying to decide whether it will be a good idea for you to work with the animals.”
“Why?” I ask as we walk toward the dining hall. I think it will be nice looking after the animals.
“You’d grow too attached to them, especially the little ones. You’ll probably give them all names.” He chuckles, smiling at me. “And you’ll cry every time we have to slaughter one.”
Looking at Kenzo, I understand why Chance said I should let him train me. He’s been really nice to me. I like Kenzo.
In the kitchen, Kenzo makes two cups of coffee. Eager for some caffeine, I take a cup from him and swallow a couple of sips while following Kenzo to one of the benches.
After taking a seat, I admit, “I expected it to look different on this side of the boundary.”
“What did you expect?” Kenzo watches me from over the rim of his cup.
“I don’t know.” I shrug. “Not rebels and trackers.”
“The rebels are our front runners. We have an understanding with them.” I watch his throat work as he swallows some coffee. “We supply them with food, and they supply us with shelter and safety on runs.”
“So they aren’t a part of this group?” I look down at my cup as I remember the night before and the way they behaved.
“No, they aren’t.” Kenzo stares at me pretty much the same way Chance and Idris have been staring at me. Like I’m too weak for this world. Then he surprises me by saying, “You’ll be okay, kid.”
“You think so?” I ask.
“Yeah. We all find a way to survive when push comes to shove.”
He’s right. I’ve already survived jumping across rooftops and the trackers shooting at us. I’ll survive everything else as well.
Getting up, we rinse our cups, but before we leave the dining hall, Kenzo says, “I was nice to you tonight.” He gives my arm a squeeze. “But it doesn’t mean I’m going to be nice to you tomorrow.” He inhales deeply. “Word of advice, kid. You have to figure out how you want others to see you and be that person. Everyone loves the nice, innocent girl thing, but you won’t make it that way. You have to make them forget where you come from and see the survivor you are.”
I absorb his words like a sponge and nod. “I will.” Meeting his eyes, I add, “Thank you for being nice to me.”
I really needed it.
“I’ll start training you tomorrow until you’re chosen. Go get some sleep, kid.” He winks at me as he walks toward the exit. “I’m gonna break you tomorrow.”
With a smile on my face, I feel almost giddy as I head back to bed. I feel like I’ve made a friend in Kenzo, and it makes everything not seem so dark.
“Rise and shine, kid!” Kenzo growls in my ear as he yanks the blanket away from me. I hear crowing echoing down the tunnel while I try to blink the sleep away.
Geez, the chickens are loud.
“Don’t kill the newbie,” Valen mutters as she shoves her pillow over her head. Then I hear more mumbling. “I’m hoping she can help me catch that chicken later. Its crowing days are coming to an end.”