It felt great to get out of the tunnel after so long. When the sun hit my face, I sighed blissfully, causing Amelia to laugh. She turned out to be a great shopping buddy and even though I considered running away multiple times, it was quite enjoyable. Especially at the end when she totally flirted with the checkout guy to get an extra mandarin for us to eat on our way back to camp.
“That was mean,” I laughed under my breath as we walked up. A glance back revealed the poor, unsuspecting boy watching us go with a small smile. I bet he’s never been hit on in his life.
“I do what I have to do,” she declared as she pulled the skin of the costly fruit. “Here’s your half.”
When we arrive back at camp, I help her sort the groceries into boxes which will be sent out to the different families. It’s a great system. Hundreds of us go out each day and return with enough food for every single person. Some can even be put aside in storage. I don’t like saying these things out loud, but when Carmen asks what I think, I tell the truth. She doesn’t look impressed with me, probably because I didn’t run away. Take that, you cow.
I’m not usually a bitchy person, but some people just bring out that nature in me.
People start returning in pacts not long after. I keep an eye out for Alice, bit she never seems to appear.
“I wouldn’t worry so much,” Amelia elbowed me gently. “Toby will look after her.”
Somehow, I don’t like Toby very much.
“Come on,” she tugs me towards the tent. “Let’s go see my dad in case we missed anything while we were out.”
I let her pull me away from the return desk, but throw another glance around. I too hope they make that snitch soon that reveals people’s names. It would be so much easier than searching everyone’s bar codes.
Jackson isn’t home when we arrive so Amelia and I decide to chill on our beds. We talk about different things, random things. She tells me about her mum, something she’s taken to over the days. Every now and then she’ll just bring up some random fact. Today, we end up talking about the photo I found on my first day here.
“That was when I finally got named a soldier,” she sighs as she leans back on her bed, throwing her arm over her eyes.
“What does that mean?”
“It means I get to go on rescue missions, or ones that require trained people.”
“So you don’t usually do the shopping trips I’m guessing?”
“No,” I see her smile. “I thought it would be fun to take you on the first trip. The first day out of the tunnel is always the best. After today, you’ll get into the swing of things and it won’t seem so amazing anymore.”
“Oh. Thank you.”
“I hope Toby’s looking after Alice.”
“He should, shouldn’t he?” I sit up, fixing my eyes on hers that now gaze over her arm.
“Of course. He’ll guard her with his life. I just hope he does it nicely. I swear that dude has bipolar.”
“You hang around Toby a lot?”
“Yeah,” she sniffs. “We grew up together. He’s like a brother to me; one I sometimes wish doesn’t exist.”
“What about Liliana?” I ask gently. I haven’t met her, but apparently she’s still in hospital thanks to a concussion that occurred when she got hit in the head by a government official.
“Not so much,” she sighs. “I hanged out with her, but we’ve always been too different. She was born to relax and be a mum raising a family. I’m born to be a soldier, fighting wars that should be fought.”
I nod my head thoughtfully.
“But anyway,” she rolls onto her stomach. “Alice should be okay. “He’s the biggest pain in the butt, but he can fight like a ninja.”
As if on cue, we here the tent unzip and watch the silhouette move around inside.
“Hi dad!” Amelia calls out. “We’ll be out in a sec.”
“It’s me,” Alice pushes her way inside and flops face first onto her bed. She looks awful.
“What happened?” I scramble over Amelia who looks confused. “Where’s Toby.”
“I abandoned him in the tunnel,” she says into her pillow, shakily. I’m not sure, but it sounds like she’s crying.
“What did he do to you?” Amelia leans towards her, frowning. “Did he hurt you?”
“Not really,” Alice shakes her head.
“Tell me, Alice,” I beg her, running a hand over her back.
She quickly sits up, revealing her tear stained face and red nose. Her hands a mess and her hands and face are covered in dirt. My eyes zone in on the grazes on her hands and I feel anger boil inside of me.
“Did he do that to you?” I point and she shakes her head again.
“I slipt and fell,” her hand goes to the back of her head and she winces. “I think I have a concussion.”
I’m not a doctor, but I quickly make her lie back down. If I’m correct, you’re meant to let your body rest after head injuries.
“So why did you abandon Toby in the tunnel?” Amelia questions.
“I grew tired of him.”
A snort rips up my throat and she opens her right eye to peek at me.
“It wasn’t funny. He insulted me the whole way there and back.”
“Are you absolutely sure he didn’t shove you over,” I narrow my eyes at her, hoping she’ll say yes so I have a good enough excuse to beat him up and not get into trouble.
“No, but he sure wasn’t that big of a help,” she closes her eyes again and takes a shuddering breath. “I came so close to hitting him.”
“You don’t have to worry about that,” I stand up and dust of my jeans. Turning to Amelia, I ask, “Can you look after her?”
“Of course,” she frowns, “but where are you going?”
“To take care of some business.”
I don’t have to elaborate since her facial expression goes from confused to surprise. Luckily, Alice doesn’t get it.
“Don’t leave me here,” she whines and I grip her outstretched hand in my own.
“I’ll be right back. Now tell me, where did you leave him?”
Amelia lent me her torch so I don’t have trouble picking my way through the tunnel. The cement is more slippery than I remember and I understand how Alice could have slipped so badly. Multiple times I have to catch myself before I crash to the ground.
It seems Toby had come along way and it doesn’t take long to spot his torch beam shine around the corner. Switching off my own, I quickly press myself to the tunnel wall so I can scare the hell out of him. Maybe I can make him sleep and I won’t have to murder him after all. I can say I was just an innocent bystander who was out for a walk.
I grin when Toby comes into view, staggering under the weight of so many bags. I can hear him muttering under his breath, but his words string together so badly I can barely understand him except for a few swear words.
Deciding it’s the perfect moment, I jump away from the wall just as Toby walks by me.
He screams, sort of high pitched mind you, and the bags are thrown into the air. Luckily, The Chocolate Society doesn’t use jars anymore so the tins of fruit simple get dented as the hit and roll across the floor.
“What the flip?” he glare at me, only he doesn’t say flip if you get my meaning.
Smiling politely, I pretend to straighten my shirt.
“Nice to see you too, Toby.”
“Who are you?” he squints at me in the dim light of his torch which has travelled quite a distance down the tunnel.
I quickly pull out my torch so we can both see better.
“I still don’t know who you are,” he glares at me. “What the flip is wrong with you anyway? I could have slipped.”
Again, he doesn’t say flip. I just hate swearing so my thoughts censor things for me.
“Like Alice?” I glare back equally and I see him pause.
I use my polite attitude and stalk towards him so I can jab him in the chest with my finger.
“What did you do to her down here?” my voice comes out louder than I intend and I quickly quieten it a little. “She was crying!”
“She was?” he frowns. “I didn’t realise she hit her head so hard…”
“I hardly think it was the fall that’s got her so emotional,” I laugh sarcastically. “Why do you have to be so mean? To her of all people? In case you didn’t notice, Alice is a very emotional person. She takes words to heart whether they may be good or bad. I, myself, can throw of insults as quick as people throw them, but she lets them swirl about her small brain.”
I see Toby swallow and jab him again.
“You are going to apologise to her,” I shine the torch into his eyes, causing him to throw his hands up to block the light. “I don’t care what it does to your ego, but I swear, if you so much as hurt her again, I will hurt you.”
To add emphasis, I stomp on his foot and he lets out a yelp, backing away from me.
“Okay, okay!” he rubs his eyes. “I think you almost blinded me.”
“Good,” I smile.
He lowers his hands, looking at me quizzically.
“Was she really crying?”
“Um yes. Her eyes and nose were bright red like they always are when she cries.”
He actually shoots a guilty look at the ground as he bends to pick up the vegetables and fruit.
“I didn’t mean to hurt her.”
“You can tell that to her,” I state matter of factly. “But right now, I’ll help you get these back to camp.”