I tap my foot on the ground in agitation, wishing I had the excuse of training to escape the usual dinner time festivities. The food may be God-awful, but the company is always good here in the Rebeldom. What we lack in resources we make up for in revelry. Jessica sits to my left, nibbling on a chunk of bread. Her face is flushed, her hair escaping its braid, and she wears the same smile she’s been wearing for a week, since the night I let her into my bedroom.
Damn my stupid male pride! I should’ve taken Rachel to bed. I should’ve done exactly what the others expected me to do and left Jessica well alone. My attempt to prove Jeffrey wrong has backfired in the worst possible way. To be fair, I had no intention of bedding the girl, but she looked at up at me with those damn doe-eyes and the sweet curve of her lips was my undoing. She made me feel, for the briefest of moments, like the man Jeffrey expected me to be. And then, in the cold light of day, reality had reasserted itself and I’d realised that I had made a colossal mistake.
Blissfully unaware of my dark thoughts, Jess runs her hand through my hair.
“You need a haircut,” she laughs. Rachel, sitting across from us at the table, narrows her eyes at the intimate gesture. The feisty cadet, so cool and distant before, has morphed into a cat on heat since her non-threatening friend stepped out from her shadow and landed a man of her own. I’ve known so many women like Rachel, I could write a handbook. Sexy, strong, and overconfident, a girl who gets what she wants and takes what she gets, who surrounds herself with women she believes to be inferior so that she has no competition. Jessica, as a result of her relationship with me, is receiving far more attention than Rachel, and, unbeknownst to sweet, unassuming Jess, Rachel is spitting.
Rachel notices me watching her and arches her neck, rubbing at a tender spot at the tip of her spine. Her skin is a few shades darker than Jess’s, and her body is toned, a result of the hours spent outside training. Rachel is a good cadet, of that there’s no doubt. She works hard and she will make a valuable asset to Kenneth’s army.
I realise that Jess has fallen silent beside me, mistaking my scrutiny of her friend for something else. I take her hand, giving it a quick squeeze.
“I always need a haircut.” I say, getting to my feet. “I’m off to clean up,” I add, dropping a kiss on her upturned forehead.
I make a detour to visit Kenneth, who is in good spirits, although there has still been no word from Jeffrey. I have the utmost respect for the Vice President. Despite his age, his mind is as sharp as it ever was, and he did survive World War Three, a feat which, to my mind, is worthy of admiration. I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes that day, without Jeffrey.
“Hello, Reed,” Kenneth greets me warmly, rising from behind his desk to grip my hand in both of his.
“How are you feeling, Sir?” I ask. Kenneth’s health has been deteriorating for months now and looking at his pasty skin and the thin, beading line of sweat on his brow, I feel a tug of anxiety in my gut. Jeffrey is determined to reinstate Kenneth, but I fear he may not last long enough for Jeffrey’s dream to be realised.
“Better than I look,” Kenneth replies, giving me the ghost of a wink. “Any word from Jeffrey?”
“No.” I shake my head.
“Ah, well, these things take time. I wouldn’t lose heart just yet, son.”
I nod, feigning a confidence I don’t feel. Kenneth takes a deep breath and lowers himself back into his chair. His hands shake and I lose my nerve, not wanting to put any additional pressure on the man when he is so obviously not feeling well.
“I’ll see you later, Sir,” I say, and exit the office.
After a lightning shower, I head to my room and collapse on the thin mattress. I need to end things with Jess, sooner rather than later. The longer I put it off, the worse it will be, but the thought of hurting her is not something I cherish. Her sincerity and her realness remind me of Jeffrey. Ironically, she is the exact type of girl he would approve of me dating, if he ever took the time to ponder such trivial things.
I close my eyes and clasp my hands behind my head. Where are you, Jeffrey? If I haven’t heard from him by the end of the week I’m going to submit an application to enter NUSA. Our soldiers infiltrate the Cities all the time, although Kenneth is becoming less inclined to give permission, now that we are losing more men this way. Eric Dane has beefed up security at the fences and it is becoming increasingly difficult to access the States. Still, I have to try. I won’t abandon Jeffrey, even though he would probably kill me with his bare hands if I sacrificed myself to save him. Jeffery is a soldier, and a firm believer that one life is nothing in comparison to the greater good.
A gentle knock at the door rouses me.
“Come in,” I call. The door opens and Jess peeks through the crack.
“I have scissors,” she smiles, holding them up and making snipping motions. Her blue eyes are twinkling mischievously. I laugh, despite myself. Tomorrow, I think guiltily, I’ll end things tomorrow.