Thursday, 5 November 2009 - 7:33 pm

Plus one, minus two

No matter how much I try to hold things together, shards still slip through my fingers. There are so few pieces that I have any contact with now, and I can’t even keep a grip on those.

Tia has been trying to speak with me for a couple of days. Every now and then, she flicked me hopeful looks across the dorm and nodded towards one of the back rooms, but then someone would turn up and pull her away. The girls have been fussing over her more than usual and I can’t help but wonder if they were keeping her away from me on purpose. I’m not sure what they hoped to achieve with that, but I don’t pretend to know those girls well.

I’m feeling so well-watched right now that I haven’t had the courage to press the issue. I could have gone over there, grabbed her by the arm and dragged her off to talk. I doubt they would have been able to stop me, but it wasn’t a battle I wanted to start. These girls don’t tend to fight physically – it’s all tongue-lashing and voices that spiral up into uncomfortable octaves, sharp with barbs. And their fights don’t finish when someone walks away: they swirl around the dorms, rising and falling like the scum on the tide, snapping dirtily at our edges.

I’ve always hated how girls fight. I used to watch Bree at work and smile, even though it unsettled me. I’m ashamed to admit that I joined in sometimes. Then she turned on me and I realised why I disliked it so much. Girls are vicious. Bruises heal so much easier and cleaner.


Today, I finally got the opportunity to talk to Tia alone. It wasn’t in the dorm at all – just after midday, she slunk into the infirmary looking like a mouse who knew she was sitting in the middle of a trap but hadn’t a clue about where the cheese might have got to.

I was just heading over to snaggle her up before she got lost when Simon was suddenly there beside her. He spoke to her and she looked up at him with wide eyes, and to my surprise, she nodded and went into an exam room with him. I stopped, staring after them, the sheets from the bed I was changing still in my hands.

Peter chose that moment to brush past me – there was plenty of room, but he had to rub his way past anyway – and he chuckled in my ear. “You know what she’s here for,” he said with a grin. I got the sudden urge to slap him, but managed to restrain it until he’d gone away.

I forced myself to finish making the bed up, and then the next one too, while I waited for Simon to come out of the exam room again. I didn’t realise how much I was watching the door until it opened and my hands were only too glad to put down the pillow I was putting a cover on. I was pushing my way into the room when he was still in the process of closing the door behind him. He let me past with a disapproving scowl.

Tia was leaning against the exam table, straightening her clothing and looking paler than usual. She’s an elfin thing at the best of times – if she was any paler, she’d be translucent. She didn’t seem surprised to see me, though she wasn’t comfortable either; she shifted stiffly, as if bracing herself. I asked her if she was all right and she sighed, biting her lip.

“I don’t know,” she said, which only worried me even more. “Has he gone?”

She meant Simon. I glanced over my shoulder to check that the door had closed behind me – it had – and then nodded. “What is it?”

I knew what she was going to say next, but that didn’t make her words any easier to hear. They fell into the room likes stones, toppling into a messy cairn between us.

“I’m pregnant.”

There were so many things I wanted to say. Congratulations. Do you know who the father is? When are you due? That’s wonderful. The words clamoured in my throat but didn’t make it anywhere near my tongue. I put a hand on her arm.

“Are you all right?”

She gave me a look that reminded me how young she is. Eighteen, maybe nineteen by now, forced to take on an adult’s role long before she had ever planned to. Now she was going to be someone’s mother and she was completely unprepared. She was a tiny person lost in a sea of giants and her legs just couldn’t keep up.

The next thing I knew, she was sobbing on my chest, her arms clenched around my middle. I hugged her and stroked her hair, instinctively rocking her while she cried. It’ll be all right, I told her. We’ll get through this. Everyone will help her. Shh, it’ll be okay.

It took me a moment to realise that she was shaking her head. She took a shuddering breath and lifted her head, quietly picking herself up off me. I let her, helped her, made sure she was steady before I let her go completely.

I wasn’t expecting what came next.

“I can’t come with you.”


“When you go. I can’t come, not now.”


“I can’t, Faith. I just can’t.” A sob caught in her throat and she swallowed past it painfully. She stumbled on to tell me about how unsafe it was out there, about how they’d be able to take better care of her here. There was a doctor and an infirmary here. A safe roof over our heads every night and food on the table. No searching, no scratching, no shamblers tearing us down one by one. They were trying to build a future here – there was even a school for the little ones, they said.

“It’s too dangerous out there. I can’t risk it. I can’t,” she told me several times, between pointing out Haven’s virtues.

I tried to reason with her. I pointed out the flaws in this place, and the short-term nature of its virtues. We’re going to look for a future too, something better than this. We’re going back to our doctor, who’ll be able to make sure she’s all right.

“But what if there’s no better future to find? What if there is nothing better than this? What if he’s not there any more, too?”

I couldn’t argue with her. She wasn’t wrong, not about those things. Haven’s promises are so bright and warm, and she’s clinging to them. She won’t see how thin they are – they’re solid enough for her, more tangible than the promise of what lies before us. The Seekers have a lot of shadows to pass through before we have a chance of finding something better than Haven. For most of us, that’s something we’re willing to face. But Tia has her baby to think of and a wealth of fear to keep her exactly where she is.

She looked at me with defiance, tears streaming down her cheeks and her chin trying not to wobble. I closed my mouth on the arguments I wanted to spill on her. She had known that I would argue against her staying – she had been ready for this. She had made up her mind as soon as she suspected she was pregnant. She was trying to do the right thing for herself.

I didn’t agree with her – I couldn’t – but it didn’t feel right to bully her into leaving either. So I hugged her again and told her that I respected her decision. I didn’t like it but it was hers to make. She’d always have a place with us if she changed her mind anyway.

“There aren’t any ex-Seekers,” I told her. “You’ll always be one of us.” It’s who we are, even if we’re not together, even if we’re not out on the road.

Tia was puzzled at first and then she smiled and wiped her cheeks.

“I’ll still help you,” she said.

I thanked her for that and let her go. She slipped out of the room and returned to her work crew, probably to tell them the good news. I, meanwhile, sagged against the exam table and fought back a sudden wave of tears.


She had promised she would still help us get out of here, but I don’t think she will. She’d be a fool if she did. If she got caught, she’d ruin her own position here. She’d end up like me, watched and suspected and judged every second of every day. Pregnant or not, she’d be in trouble. To protect herself, she should separate herself from the rest of us.

And then there’s her brother. Terry is helping the boys out and I have no idea if he knows about this latest development. I don’t think he’ll come without his sister. Families should stick together.

Where does that leave Jersey? She’s attached to Terry, though she’d never admit it. They can’t be together here – even if he wanted to be, which he’s shown no sign of – so what will she do? What will she want to do?

There were so few of us already, and now our numbers are even smaller. With so many barriers rising around us, how will we ever get out of here? There must be a way to make this work. There must be a way to get free of all of this.

I just wish that I could see it.