Kickback was a real slave driver. If I could do an exercise four times, she made me do it seven. If I needed a minute, she gave me twenty seconds.
It didn’t take long into my first day of training to truly realize just how horribly unhealthy and out of shape I had become. The warm up stretching exercise were agonizing, my muscles were not used to moving that way and cramping easily while every exercise from the main regiment left me needing a break, I couldn’t breathe and my heart felt like it would jump out of my chest.
Even worse, the other young guardians did ten times more than I did without breaking a sweat. By the time I’d finished the mile long set of laps in the gym, they had already been dismissed and went to change.
“That’ll be it for today.” Kickback said, noting my embarrassingly slow speed on a pad. The others had done it in the singles digit of minutes, I was somewhere over twenty, after the first two laps I had slowed down and hadn’t recovered.
“That bad, eh?”
“You’re an out of shape slob, Paige. I can tell you the other young guardians weren’t that bad when they started.” Kickback said, making my heart sink. We started walking toward the building holding the lounge
“But and this is an important but; You’re giving it you all, as mediocre as that might be and you didn’t whine. That counts for something in my book.” She said. “Go take a shower, I’ll get your dinner from the kitchen. Today is beef stir fry or the blackened Salmon both served on brown rice. Which do you want?”
“I’m not really hungry.”
“Do you skip meals like that often?”
“Sometimes once, but often twice a day. I’m just not hungry.”
“And what do you eat at home, when you do eat that is?”
“Whatever is there, I guess.” I said with a shrug. “Instant ramens, cheap Chinese takeout, lots of precooked or canned foods. Boxed mac n cheese is probably what I eat the most.”
“That’s rather unhealthy. Lots of carbs, grease and very little vitamins, minerals or proteins. Do you know how to cook?”
“Not really. My mom has never touched a stove for anything other than for cooking boxed foods or spaghetti sauce and my dad is always away so I never really got the chance to learn from him. Not that there’s anything to cook at home to begin with…”
“Alright, go clean yourself up and change into fresh clothes, I’ll see you in a few.”
I took the elevator, I didn’t trust my leg to carry me up the stairs. The others were hanging around, having finished cleaning themselves up already. Chuan and Stan were talking on the couch, sitting right next to each other, Jessie was reading a book quietly in the library corner while Kenzie had taken her braces off and was massaging her naked leg with some kind of ointment. Hedron and Victoria were nowhere in sight. I didn’t interact with any of them, just silently going to the locker by the shower room I’d been assigned and retrieving some clothes. There wasn’t much in there; two sets of clean clothes I’d stored for emergencies, a place for the gym clothes I wore and the clothes I’d removed when I’d changed to my gym gear. I took my old clothes and some deodorant and then went for the showers.
The place was empty except for Victoria who was meticulously cleaning and brushing her fur with an oversized brush. I didn’t pay too much attention to her, instead going to one of the furthest stalls and undressing there, hanging my clothes on the stall’s wall. With the help of hot water and the generic unscented body wash that was provided, I scrubbed off all the sweat and grime off my body before procrastinating, letting the water massage my sore muscles.
After probably a good twenty minutes, I shut down the water and dressed back up, all I wanted was to crash down for a hour or two. I came out of the place before Victoria did, her daily grooming could take quite a while.
“Are you alright Paige?” Kenzie asked me as I shambled back into the lounge. She had a plate of stir fry in front of her on the coffee table.
“Exhausted, that’s all.”
“Poor girl.” She said sarcastically. “Come and sit.”
I sat down next to her on the couch and mostly zoned out for a moment, my heart was still beating a little out of whack. I was vaguely aware of Kenzie patting my damp hair but that was the extent of my perception.
“Alright, Paige. Please come with me.” Kickback said, coming into the room with a box in her arms. “Paige and only Paige, please.”
Kenzie pushed me to a standing position and I dragged my feet to the kitchen where Kickback was headed.
“Since you never answered what you wanted to eat, I’ve had a little idea.” She explained, putting her box on the brunch counter. The inside contained a head of broccoli, some ham, uncooked pasta and a large block of cheese. “I am going to teach you how to make healthy food. Nutrition is the basis of your health, it doesn’t matter how much you exercise, if you don’t eat properly you’ll lack energy, be sick easily and weak. Cooking is the key to taking control of your nutrition and your health and I think it’ll be a rewarding experience for you.”
“Today, we’ll start with something simple. Something you eat all the time, we’ll make some homemade mac and cheese with a little extra.” She took out a pair of pot out of the cabinets and filled them with water, setting them down on the stove, salting the water. “The first step is to grate the cheese. I’ll let you handle that.”
She gave me a cheese grater and I got to work. While I did that, she took out the broccoli and chopped it into small bits before tossing it into one of the two pots. She then took another pot and put some milk in it, setting it to medium heat. Once I was done grating, she gave me a knife and showed me how to properly dice an onion, letting me do the work. Everything she did herself, she explained. When the onion was cut, it was time to do the same for the precooked ham. When that was done, she tossed it all in a pan with butter at low temperature we cooked it until the onion turned a light gold. By the end of it, she wasn’t touching anything, she just gave me directions and I followed; putting the whole wheat macaronis in the empty pot with boiling water, removing the broccoli from the other after blanching them for a minute or two, putting the grated cheese into the simmering milk and stirring until it was all melted. Salt and pepper. Drain the pasta once cooked.
“And now just combine everything together in and mix it all up.” Kickback said. “Congratulation Paige, you now know how to make a kickass Mac and Cheese. How does it taste?”
I took a spoon and dug out a bite sized portion out of the pot, blowing on it for a moment before stuffing it into my mouth. It was amazing, a lot better than the boxed just add milk kind my mom bought.
It’s great and I made it. The thought filled me with a sense of pride.
“Alright everyone, You can stop lurking around the corner and come on in.” Kickback said, with the rest of the team entering the kitchen. “Are you hungry? Wait, who am I kidding, you’re divergent and you’re all probably hungry for dinner two point oh.”
She and I prepared bowls for the others, although Kenzie and Victoria only asked for a taste, I felt a little bad for making something they couldn’t eat but they reassured me it was alright and it tasted phenomenal.
When everyone else was served, I dug into my own bowl, proud of my creation. After I was done eating, Kickback pulled me aside from the others.
“How does it feel to have people liked what you made?”
“Great. I guess it’s validating, I mean I’m not really good at a lot of things, I’m like average at best at lots of things, so having people love it makes me really happy.” I wasn’t feeling tired anymore, It was there, but it had taken a back seat.
“I believe in you Paige, I think you can accomplish great things, both as a young guardians and as a person.” She fumbled around her pocket before taking something out and handing it to me. “I know the financial situation of your family and I’m willing to help you.” She’d handed me a credit card. “I want you to make a promise to me; That you’ll eat regularly and more importantly, that you’ll eat healthy meals.”
“I promise.” I said, taking the card and clutching it.
“The card is at my name, don’t worry about the spending, but I want you to bring me bills so I can make sure you’re buying the right things; whole wheat pasta and bread, fresh vegetables, lean meats, for snacks take nuts, fruits or low fat cheeses. I also want you to go and buy some meal bars, if you can’t get yourself to eat and would skip a meal, try munching on one. If you need anything else not food related you can put it on there too.”
“I don’t know how to thank you.”
“It’s simple; Make me proud. Don't squander your potential. Make me want to tell the whole world that I trained you. Don’t make me regret sponsoring you when the DDA wanted you in Juvie.”
“I will.” I was starting to tear up. “I promise.”
She gave me a hug and I returned it.
“Alright, I’ll see you tomorrow for training and your next cooking lesson.”
Maybe Kickback wasn’t such a hard ass afterall...