Food for Thought
At one o’clock Logan entered the mess hall, his handbook in his grasp, and looked around before he stepped up to the serving window. He grabbed a tray and loaded it with two ham and cheese sandwiches, a banana, and a can of soda before turning to find a table.
The mess hall was pretty empty. Logan assumed more people would arrive soon, as training was supposed to finish at this time. He found a seat near the back of the room and was about to take a bite of one of his sandwiches when a group of people entered. Amongst them he recognized some of the recruits he saw training.
Logan bit into his sandwich and as he chewed, he opened his handbook. He located the page he had read to earlier and began to study once more.
“Mind if we sit?” someone asked, and Logan looked up to find Mack smiling broadly, with AJ standing beside him.
“Go ahead,” Logan told them, closing over his handbook.
Both set their trays on the table before they sat down across from him.
Logan was glad they came to sit with him because he wanted to continue the conversation they began earlier.
“I met Gena not long ago.” Logan looked up to see their faces.
“Did she try any of her hocus pocus on you?” asked AJ as she popped open her soda.
Logan thought for a moment of Gena’s flirtations with him, but he assumed AJ was referring to her magic and not her other charms.
“She hit me with a pillow,” he told them, and both AJ and Mack burst out laughing.
“You’re lucky she didn’t turn you into a toad,” laughed AJ.
Logan’s eyes widened. “Can she do that?”
AJ shrugged, still smiling.
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” answered Mack, who was already half finished his plate of roast beef and vegetables.
All three sat eating in silence for a few minutes before Logan asked, “What did you mean before about not being able to leave? Why would you even want to if this is all...genuine?”
“It’s genuine, all right,” Mack told him as he wiped his plate clean with a piece of bread. “When we first arrived it was good. We had been on the streets for two years. This was a roof over our heads and food to eat, but then we started to hear things.” Mack took a bite of the gravy soaked bread.
Logan unconsciously lowered his barely touched second sandwich to the tray in front of him. “What kind of things?”
“About the Witch and the Psychic,” said AJ, playing with the straw in her soda. “What we told you. How they stop you from leaving. We thought it was ridiculous, but then we witnessed some of Gena’s magic and heard that the Psychic can actually read your mind, as well as get visions of the future.”
“We still thought it was just rumor,” continued Mack, “but then we heard how one of the recruits was bitten by a werewolf in the arena and now he turns into one. We both decided the food and shelter just wasn’t worth the risk of being turned into a monster or even killed, so we went to Gerard and told him thanks for the opportunity, but we were going to leave.”
“And he told us we couldn’t,” added AJ. “We weren’t going anywhere. So we took matters into our own hands. Two days later we tried to escape, but Gena was waiting for us when we tried to sneak out. All she had to do was raise her hand. We didn’t stick around to find out what she planned to do to us, knowing what she was capable of. We’ve tried a few more times, but each time Gena is waiting for us.”
Logan stared at the both of them, his food practically forgotten on his plate. They couldn’t be serious, could they? Once again Logan found himself confused and not knowing what to believe.
He was glad when Mack and AJ began to speak between themselves, because Logan didn’t know what to say. He began to pick at his food, but the hunger he felt earlier escaped him now.
After a while, Mack and AJ said their goodbyes. “We’ll be in the rec rooms if you want to hang,” Mack called out as he and AJ headed from the mess hall. “There’s time to kill before the big show tonight.”
Logan gave them a nod then turned his attention back to his handbook while he tried to make a larger dent in his second sandwich than just the few mouthfuls he had already consumed.
He eventually gave up and took his tray back to the counter, but decided to hold onto his banana for later. Logan headed to the door and was almost through it when one of the other recruits called him back.
As Logan stopped and turned, he recognized the recruit as the guy who he saw punching someone when he was in the training yard earlier. He was maybe a couple of years older than Logan and looked as if he would be able to beat Logan with just his little finger.
“A word of advice. I wouldn’t listen to Mack and AJ if I were you,” the other recruit told him. “They’re trouble makers and they’re not like us. They twist things to suit themselves.”
“Thanks,” murmured Logan, and he left the mess hall even more confused than before.
When dinner arrived that night, Logan still hadn’t seen any creatures. He was beginning to wonder if everyone at the estate was in on the hoax.
He spent the rest of the afternoon in his room reading his handbook, deciding not to seek out Mack and AJ after what the other recruit told him. He didn’t know if it was true or not - another thing to add to the ever-growing list - but he would try to keep his distance until he found out for sure.
His resolve didn’t hold, though, as Mack and AJ asked to sit with him when they entered the mess hall. Logan had to admit it was nice to have people to talk to, even if they were troublemakers. Over the last two years he hadn’t really had many friends.
“I was reading in my handbook,” Logan began after he finished a mouthful of food, “that on display days, the recruits and creatures don’t eat together, but they normally do.”
AJ nodded as she chewed. Convenient, Logan thought.
AJ swallowed. “Yeah, usually we have all three meals together, but it works a bit differently today. They have theirs at a different time. I think it’s because Gerard doesn’t want us mingling and being all chummy right before Fight Night.”
Logan’s fork came to a stop as it was about to enter his mouth. “Fight Night?”
“That’s what the recruits and all call it,” explained Mack. “I think it’s catching on, though. I overheard Gerard calling it that once.”
AJ laughed, and she and Mack smiled at each other.
The longer Logan spent in AJ and Mack’s company, the more obvious it became that the two of them weren’t just friends. They weren’t flamboyant in their relationship, but there was definitely something between them. It was in the tiny things that passed between one another. The eye contact, finishing each other’s stories, the different smiles.
Logan started to eat once more, feeling a bit like a third wheel. As he ate, he listened to some of Mack and AJ’s conversation, which was mostly about the recruits who would be fighting that night and the occasional comment about the Witch and the Psychic.
“We should have planned something for tonight,” Logan heard AJ say. “They would have been distracted trying to figure out what dresses to wear.”
Mack laughed, and Logan assumed they were still talking about the Witch and the Psychic.
The longer he sat there, the more nervous he became about what to expect. He actually became so nervous that he couldn’t finish his dinner.
“I’m going to head back to my room until the display,” Logan told Mack and AJ as he stood up with his tray.
“Did you want us to come and get you when it’s time to head over?” asked Mack through a mouthful of French fries.
Logan shook his head. “That’s okay, I’ll make my own way over. See you later.”
He left the mess hall, still nervous and feeling a bit light headed as well. He would finally find out the truth soon and the thought of this made the dizziness he felt grow.
Logan made it to his room and sat down heavily on his bed. His eyes caught on the banana he kept from lunch and he began to wonder if his light head was from the fact his dinner was the second meal he hadn’t been able to finish today. Logan didn’t think so.
Penny looked in the mirror and tugged at the hem of her dress. She let go of the smooth, stiff material and it immediately puffed out once more. Penny hung her head. She wondered if she might for once get away with wearing trousers to Thomas’s cocktail party. She hated wearing dresses, mainly because all those in her wardrobe were something a seven year old would wear.
There was a knock on the door, and Gena entered.
“What do you think?” she asked, twirling in Penny’s doorway. The scent of her perfume, a combination of gardenia and jasmine drifted across the room.
As always, Gena looked stunning. She was wearing her usual footwear, a pair of heels, and a floor length, tight-fitting bronze dress with spaghetti straps and a split to her thigh. The dress was also backless, but her hair, which she left down, mostly covered the exposed skin. Like always, Gena went light on the jewelry and makeup, opting to wear two large, gold hoop earrings and black liner to emphasize her eyes. She let her dress and body do all the talking.
“You look great,” Penny told her, knowing she sounded jealous.
Gena didn’t notice. Her mind was too busy wondering where she would spend the night, and if it would be with the new recruit.
“Gena, you are such a...”
“Language, Penny,” said Gena cutting her off, but a smile played across her lips. “I’m a grown woman. I’m allowed to do things like that.”
Penny placed her hands on her hips. “You’re twenty and you still live at home.”
“Well, aren’t you in a good mood,” she mumbled as she leaned against the doorframe. “I like living here. Father’s employees make for such a nice selection to choose from.”
Penny could see from Gena’s mind precisely what she meant by that.
“Eww,” she complained, her nose screwed up. Gena had the ability to block thoughts from Penny if she wanted to, but unfortunately, Gena didn’t feel the need to block these. “Is there anyone who you wouldn’t...you know?”
“Oh, I can think of one person.”
Penny knew who Gena was referring to, but she let it go. She turned back to the mirror and frowned once more at what she saw.
“What’s wrong?” Gena asked. “It’s not like you to be so grumpy.”
“It’s just this stupid dress.” Penny tugged at the hem once more.
“What? Don’t you like it?” The humor was evident in Gena’s voice, but Penny didn’t need to hear it to know Gena found the sight of her in pink taffeta highly amusing.
Penny raised her eyebrows. “I look like I should be holding a giant lollipop.”
“You know, Father did pick that one out especially for you to wear tonight,” Gena told her.
“And Thomas still sees me as a child.”
Gena considered for a moment. She pushed away from the doorframe and crossed the room to where Penny stood. “Fine. What else do you have to put on?”
Gena wasn’t referring to trousers.
Penny shrugged. “Nothing. All of my dresses look like this only more hideous. Can’t I wear something of yours?”
Gena held up her hands, eyes widening. “No way. First, my clothes would be too big for you. Second, and most importantly, Father would kill me.”
Penny decided to push it a bit further. Gena was only about a size bigger than Penny and there would have to be at least one dress in her wardrobe that wasn’t too revealing.
“Come on. It’s about time I started wearing appropriate clothes for my age. I’m sixteen, not a dress up doll.”
She shook her head. “Sorry, Penny. I can talk to Father about getting you some different dresses, but that’s the best I can do. For now, you’re stuck with what you’ve got on.”
“Fine, but you could at least fairy godmother this crime against fashion for me.”
Gena smiled. “Okay.” She held out her hand, flicking her fingers.
As Penny watched her own reflection in the mirror, the dress started to transform. The stitching in the skirt unraveled then re-stitched itself in a new line. The skirt became less puffy and Penny could feel the brush of the extra material against her legs. The thread that attached the bows and ribbons to the bodice also unraveled and one by one, the bows and ribbons dropped to the floor.
Gena bent to pick them up. “We’ll hold onto these in case Father doesn’t approve.” As she stood, she examined Penny’s skirt. “Is the extra material too annoying? I could cut it off, but if I need to reverse the modifications...”
Penny turned away from the mirror. “It’s fine. Thanks. I’m sorry to be so difficult.”
Gena placed her handful of bows and ribbons on top of the chest of drawers then put her arm around Penny. “Don’t worry about it. That’s what little sisters are for.”
Penny smiled and let Gena lead her from the room, hoping her smile looked genuine. From Gena’s thoughts, she knew it did.
To Gena, they were sisters. Thomas had adopted Penny when she was seven, and she and Gena got along very well. They had even become close. But Penny hated it when Gena referred to her as sister, because after all, they weren’t really family.
“Ah, civilization,” Gena whispered in her ear as they entered the foyer and saw the guests being shown into the ballroom. “For you, at least. I don’t know why you have dinner in the mess hall each night. Well, I know one of the reasons, but the company would be a lot better and a lot safer,” she emphasized, “in the main house.”
Penny just shrugged and detached herself from Gena.
She had her reasons. One Gena was aware of, but the others she didn’t know about. Penny needed to keep it that way.
“Penny, sweetheart, you look fantastic,” beamed Thomas as he stepped forward and hugged her.
“Thanks,” she mumbled, glad he hadn’t noticed the modifications to her dress.
“Come and say hello to some people,” he told her, moving her forward to a group of gentlemen. “Everyone, you remember my daughter, Penny,” he said, and she tried very hard to hold back a groan.
© 2012 Jade Fowler