I also regret not saying goodbye to Ruth, Jasper, Aaron, and the others.
“Look over here.” Chance crouches down and pulls some wildgrass out of the ground. “See this bulb here.”
I crouch down beside him. “The root?”
“No, this stringy part is the root. The fat part is the bulb and the only part usable of the plant.”
“What do you use it for?” I ask as I touch it. It’s hard, almost like a potato.
“It’s what we make the ointment from. The one we used for your ribs.”
Chance rises to his feet, then continues, “It’s great for inflammation, pain relief, that kinda thing.” He breaks the bulb open, and I catch a whiff of the familiar spicy smell.
“It smells like pepper,” I comment.
We continue walking as Chance explains, “If you roast them, the hot ashes can be used on open wounds.”
He nods. “Eating them will help with stomach problems and fevers. The shit is bitter, though.” He glances around then yanks another one out of the ground. “It has to have this type of flower.”
The flower is tiny, not really what I would call a flower. It looks more like a yellow-reddish kind of thorn, but if he calls it a flower, who am I to differ?
I nod. “Who would’ve thought such an invasive weed could be so useful?”
We shove what we find into my bag, and I can only hope my clothes won’t smell like pepper by the time we reach the main ward.
“Where did you learn about the weed?” I ask once we get going again.
Raze comes running toward us, her arms waving. She’s been missing all day, most probably enjoying being outside and away from people.
“My dad,” Chance answers. “He taught us a lot about surviving in the wild before he died.”
“Come on, run a bit,” Raze calls out. “The ward is just over the hill.”
Chance waves at her, then takes hold of my arm, holding me back. “The people are different at the main ward. You have to try and see the beauty in the bad.”
“How can there be beauty in bad?” I don’t understand. You’re either good or bad.
He takes my hand and brings it to his cheek. My heart skips a beat when he turns his face into my palm, his lips firm against my skin.
“Is that good or bad?” he asks. He leans down, a smile playing at the corner of his mouth.
“Good,” I answer.
He tilts his head and presses his lips to the skin beneath my ear.
I clench my other hand into a tight fist, not moving a muscle because I don’t want him to stop.
I feel his hand on my waist, and he moves closer until his chest presses against mine.
“Is this bad or good?” he asks again.
A chuckle escapes me. “Good.”
Taking hold of my hand, he presses my palm to his chest, then he presses a tender kiss to my lips. “Don’t you think this is beautiful?”
“Of course,” I whisper, tired of the lesson, just wanting to kiss him. I lift myself the on my tiptoes to take what I want. Satisfaction washes through me when his hands frame my face and he kisses me with so much passion I forget where I am.
My lips are swollen and tingling by the time he lifts his head.
“To the virtuous, this is bad, but to the deviants, it’s good. You and I need to make our own beauty in this world. What both groups don’t understand is that you need both the good and bad.”
Nodding, I say, “That’s true.”
We start walking again, and when we reach the top of the hill, my lips part in a gasp.
In the distance is a massive version of our ward. It’s buried between two hills, and to the side is the biggest body of water I’ve ever seen. It shines like a mirror.
Pointing at the water, I ask, “What’s that?”
“It’s a dam.” Chance leans closer to me. “See that river.” He shows me where to look, and when I nod, he explains, “That’s where the dam gets its water from. It’s the same river that runs through the ecocity.”
My eyes take in the vast land before me, and I realize the world is much bigger than I ever thought.
“Come on.” Chance takes hold of my hand and pulls me down the hill. “It’s time for you to see what we’re fighting for.”