“How are you feeling?” Kenzie asked, sitting next to me, putting her hand on mine.
“I don’t know… Doing things with Chuan and Jessie helped me calm down a bit.”
“Did you sleep?”
“No. I wasn’t in the right headspace.”
She gave me a quick kiss and we spent most of the sunday morning just watching television together, cuddled up on the couch. She never let go of my hand and her presence was the most comforting thing in the world.
Around Lunch, Stan came my way.
“Since it appears to be your job around here, do you want to help me cook?” Stan asked.
“Sure, I guess.” I didn’t have a lot of energy but being productive seemed like a good way to pass the time.
We went into the kitchen, leaving Kenzie in Victoria’s, Chuan’s and Jessie’s company and he started pulling ingredients out of the fridge.
He gave me some vegetables including cabbage, potatoes and carrots to peel and dice which I got right onto while he prepared a few other things like sausages, beef and ham as well as beetroots.
“So, what are we making?” I asked.
“My favorite thing in the world; Borscht.”
“I can’t say I’ve ever prepared or eaten that.”
“It’s a traditional russian soup, my family recipe takes muscovite inspiration even though I grew up in Siberia since I was little. I make it most weekend, the others seem to like it.”
“When did you come to America? Is it okay for me to ask?”
“Da.” He said. “We emigrated three years ago, for the same reason every other russian expat did in the last few years. My dad used to own a successful mining company but after the takeover the new regime was very intent on owning and micromanaging everything itself.”
“Russia was flawed to say the least, there was corruption, discrimination and other problems but it was slowly moving forward and getting better. The new Russia might have gotten rid of the corruption and bigotry but liberties are a thing of the past, Red Star’s regime is efficient above all else, but it’s not humane. The government own, control and redistribute everything according to its plan and if you don’t play along then you’re fucked, but if you do, it’s comfortable living so long as you don’t mind having little choice over your life and control in the grand scheme of things. Which is why my parents and I left, using what little resources we had left. America is flawed and has more problems than I can count but mind controlling and reading dictator isn’t one of them.”
As he talked he finished up the preparation and set it to cook in a pot.
“You know this is the first time we ever really hang out, you’re the only one I hadn’t spent time with yet. Well, except Travis but I kind of wrote him off as a lost cause.” I said.
“Yeah, I’ve known him for two years and he hasn’t opened up, he’s kind of an antisocial ass if you ask me. Which I hope I don’t also come across as.”
“You don’t. You’re pretty cool. Plus Chuan and I kind of talked earlier about how you are with people… Among other things...”
“Him and his big adorable mouth.” He said with a chuckle.
“A bit. I like my private life as it is; private. It’s not that I want to hide it, I just don’t like to call attention to it. But yes, I’m gay, so is Chuan and we love each others. Also, he can’t keep a secret worth a damn, so be warned.”
“When you think about it that means half the team is queer, that’s a bit unexpected.”
“Not that much, I’ve seen the statistics; people of marginalized identity groups such as people of color, lesbian, gay, bi and transgender people or disabled people have trigger events at a much higher frequency than their white cis het abled counterparts due to increased stress, also neurodivergent folks trigger much more easily. Then there’s the matter that underprivileged people become heroes at a slightly higher rate than those with higher privilege. So when you take all of these factors into account, our team make up is not all that unusual.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Few people do, but I do my homework. If you want, I can send you the statistics. Discovery foundation puts out an impressive amount of data accessible to the public, including new breakthroughs in divergent studies and population studies. Research is the whole reason they rebuilt San Francisco the way it is now.”
As we were talking, I heard someone come into the lounge.
“Is Paige here?” Kickback asked, there was urgency in her voice.
“She’s in the kitchen.” Jessie said.
Kickback came into the kitchen, she was wearing civilian clothes and she looked like she’d skipped her morning routine to come to the headquarter in an emergency.
“Do you want to tell me what’s going on? Your mother has been leaving me messages repeatedly all night and morning. She says you ran away last night. Is that true?”
I looked down at my feet.
“Paige, talk to me. I’m not going to get angry, I just want to understand what happened.”
“I told my mom I was gay. She was angry at me and I didn’t know what to do or what she’d do so I left. She’s been trying to call me but I don’t want to talk to her, I don’t want to see her… I just want to be alone.”
“Alright. I’ll tell your mom that you’re safe and that you need some time. You can stay here for a while.”
“You’re not going to make me go back?”
“Not for now. I think this was maybe a misunderstanding but you need to cool off and engage her when you’re ready. Legally she could call the police or sue us for infringing on her parental rights but neither would work because of your probation status. I’ll put you down as residing here temporarily for special training.”
“Thank you Kimberly. I’m sorry you have to deal with this...”
“It’s alright. You seem okay and that’s what counts.” She put a hand on my shoulder. “If you need my help, just ask. But just so you know, your mom would not be this much of a pain if she didn’t care about you. Please don’t write her off without giving her a chance.”
“I’ll think about it.”
She left us and probably went back home and Kenzie came into the kitchen, she gave me a silent hug and we sat down. Talking to Kickback had drained me.
“Do you need some more proteanotherapy?” Victoria said with a grin. “There’s a few spots you missed yesterday.”
“I think I’ll be alright, but thanks for the offer.” Petting Victoria was rather demeaning to her even if she pretended otherwise.
“Since she doesn’t want to can I pet you instead?” Chuan asked.
“No.” Victoria answered flatly before strutting away to the kitchen and coming back with a bag full of apples and sitting down on her mat to carefully devour them one by one.
I only came out of my torpor when Stan called me over to the kitchen somewhere between an hour to two hour after we’d put the food on the stove, I’d lost track of time.
“It should be ready.” He said, tasting it. “It is.”
Stan served the first bowl of soup along with a generous scooping of sour cream in the middle of the reddish purple broth. I got the first portion and sat down at the counter, digging in with a spoon. I still wasn’t hungry but I forced myself to eat some rather than go back to my old habits.
“It’s nice. I normally don’t like beets but like this, I do. The sour cream mix really well with the other flavors. My dad would love it.”
My dad was that one weirdo who liked everything others didn’t like; beets, candy corn, anchovies, black licorice and every other things nobody else did.
“Well, you know my recipe. Just give it the proper love it deserves.”
“I will. Thanks for showing me.”
I got up and helped Stan serve everyone else except Victoria who couldn’t eat it so I cooked her one of the large steak that were hidden in the fridge along with some fried veggies which she tore to bits and ate with her claws and powerful jaw. She did seem to appreciate me being considerate enough to think about her.
The rest of the day passed through at a crawl without much fuss. When the evening came, I could barely walk, having not slept in about forty hours. Kenzie pushed me to my room and I crashed down.
I didn’t quite go to bed yet. Instead, I opened my phone. I could see the dozens upon dozens of messages, both text and vocal my mom had left and it made a knot in my stomach. I scrolled down my contact list and found my dad, he had asked me how things were going a few hours prior.
“What are you doing?” Kenzie asked me.
“Just texting my dad.” I said, typing away on the cracked screen of my antique phone. It had been my dad’s before he bought a new one and I had inherited it. It was barely functional at best but texting and calls was the only thing I used it for.
“Does he know about you running away?”
“Not unless my mom told him… I don’t want to worry him, he’s always away working so hard, he doesn’t need my drama in his life. I’ll tell him what happened with my mom when he’s in town...”
“Don’t you think you should give her a chance to talk?”
“I need time.”
“Alright.” She wasn’t really satisfied, but respected my choice and dragged me into a hug.
I tucked the bedsheet around myself and lied down, head on the pillow.
“Do you always sleep fully clothed or just when I’m there?”
“Most of the time, yeah… I don’t like being naked or undressed, even in private or when in bed, it makes me feel awful and vulnerable... Also, sleeping like this means I only have to change in the morning and when I train. It’s not about you, it’s just me who can’t handle it.”
“I love you.” She said, kissing my forehead.
“I love you too.” I mumbled, out of energy.
I dozed off quickly despite the creeping feeling in my guts.
It was a good thing Divergents didn’t dream...