Zane chewed on his lower lip. “You can’t go alone,” he said at last.
I shrugged. “Can’t be helped,” I said. No, I didn’t really like the idea of wandering out into the wilderness by myself, especially given that my survival skills were pretty much limited to chopping veg on a wooden board inside the safety of an enclosed kitchen, but I didn’t figure in the end it would matter much. I’d either survive and find Kit, or I wouldn’t.
“I’ll go with you,” Zane said.
My satchel dropped to the floor with a thunk as I turned to stare at Zane. “Come again?”
“I can’t let you go by yourself,” he said. “You’re a kid. So I’ll go with you.”
“You’re only two years older than me,” I said irritably, banging drawers open and shut in an attempt to find Dad’s old knife. “I’m no more a kid than you are.”
“Can you use that?” he asked, nodding towards the knife I’d just unearthed from beneath a stack of clean towels.
I looked down at Dad’s whittling knife. He’d worked for years as a carpenter; his workshop at the back of the house hadn’t been touched since he’d been taken away, and our house — my house now, I guess — was filled with the furniture he’d made for my mother in their first year of marriage, to fill the empty rooms. I could remember him sitting out on the front step on warm nights, turning some shapeless bit of wood into a sparrow, a shell, a flute. After he’d gone, the only thing of his Mom had ever used was the knife. It had been a familiar sight for years, but Mom hadn’t let me use it until I turned twelve, when it had, for all intents and purposes, become my knife.
“I can chop vegetables,” I said, somewhat defensively. “That’s something.”
Zane snorted. “Yeah, I’m sure there are going to be a hell of a lot of vegetables waiting to be chopped into neat little cubes once we leave Granite.” He shook his head and said, gently, “You don’t know how to hunt and the last time I saw you try to throw a knife, it smacked side-on into the tree two feet to the left of the one you were aiming for. If you go alone, you will die.”
“If you go with me, we’ll probably both die,” I retorted. “And you have a lot more to lose than me. If you go — ”
“If I go, they won’t do anything to my family,” Zane said. “Because clearly I don’t care enough to give a damn that stepping out of line might put my family in danger, so clearly retaliating against me by doing something to them won’t make a difference.”
I rubbed my head. “You’re giving me a headache.”
“Does that mean you’ll let me go?”
No, said a tiny voice in my head. If you let him come along, you’re putting him at risk. And his family. And that’s not fair.
Yes, but he’s right, argued another tiny little voice. If you go alone, you’ll die. You’re used to all of your food and your clothes and everything turning up on your doorstep every week. You don’t know anything about surviving outside of Granite.
But his family is almost intact, came the retort. Taking him away not only breaks them up but risks further decimating his family.
He volunteered to come! the second voice objected. It’s his choice, not yours. Besides, he’ll probably follow you even if you say no. You know how stubborn he can be.
That’s probably true…
I groaned. “Okay, fine,” I said, as much to shut up the voices in my head as anything else. “But you do what I tell you.”
He kissed his fingers and pressed them against my forehead, startling me. It was an old-fashioned gesture, hardly ever used anymore. “I promise I’ll keep you safe,” he said seriously. “You may think you’ve got nothing left, but you’ve still got me. And I’m going to keep you safe.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. Especially since his eyes had got all dark and intense and he was looking at me with this expression that suggested that I wasn’t going to be allowed to do anything dangerous. Which was ridiculous.
“Okay,” I said finally. “Well. Okay.”
“When do you want to leave?”
“Um.” I blinked and looked down at my bag, still sitting on the ground where I’d dropped it. “I was thinking of leaving tonight.”
“Better to wait until morning, get a good night sleep, get a fresh start when it’s light,” he suggested. “I’ll go home and pick up a few things. Meet you in the morning on the road out of town?”
“Yeah, sure,” I said as he was out the door. I resisted the urge to shout at his back but I’m in charge, remember! Because that would be childish. And at almost sixteen, I was most certainly not a child anymore.