Home > Firstlife (Everlife #1)(3)

Firstlife (Everlife #1)(3)
Gena Showalter

“Not even a little.” As her shoulders droop, I add, “I hate to break it to you, but your guardian sucks. He—she?—sentenced you to hell. For nothing! No one here will accept your light.” Trust no one. Question everything.

“Maybe not, but I’ll still make the offer. Yesterday, today and tomorrow, my actions matter.”

In that, I agree with her. I’ll even take it a step further. The most destructive or constructive actions begin with a single thought. And, ultimately, a single action can decide the direction our lives take. And our deaths.

I will choose my path. Me alone. My choice will affect no eternal future but my own.

She opens her mouth to say more, but I shake my head. Subject closed.

She hops up and walks around the room, studying every nook and cranny, finally stopping to gape at my calendar. “Seriously? You’re using a finger pen? No wonder everyone calls you Nutter. You’re the biggest nut in the whack shack.”

She just got here. How does she know what I’m called? “Everyone calls me Nutter because of the size of my lady balls. That, and I tend to smear my opponents across the floor like peanut butter.”

She thinks for a moment, frowns. “If your lady balls are so big, why don’t they call you Hairy Cherries? Or Furry Meatballs?” She taps her chin. “Well, duh. Because neither name describes your explosive temper. Oh! I know. I’ll call you Sperm Bank! It covers the balls and the explosions.”

I snort-laugh. She’s brave, so gold star for that. In a place like this, lack of fear is rare and precious. Of course, if she threatens me in the slightest way, I won’t hesitate to end her. Survival first, nothing else second.

“If anyone calls me Sperm Bank, my temper is going to explode all over you,” I say. “Meanwhile, I’ll be sure to call you Hatchet. The tool used to cut your hair, I’m guessing.”

She fluffs the ragged ends of her style. “I used a kitchen knife, thank you very much. I’m confident the trim properly highlights my beauty.”

Have to admire her positivity.

My internal clock suddenly goes off, the conversation forgotten. “Breakfast!”

She sighs. “Mealtime. Yay.”

“Our cell will open in three...two...one.”

The double doors slide apart.

“We have thirty seconds to exit the room,” I explain. “If the door closes while we’re still inside, we’ll miss the meal.” The food sucks, nothing but slop, but that slop has enough vitamins to keep us somewhat healthy. And really, anything is better than starving.

“So we’re like dogs in a crate, taken out only at scheduled times so we won’t crap on something important or chew on the furniture. Awesome.”

Together, we dart into the hall. Our blockmates do the same. In total, there are twelve of us.

Twelve: the number of months in a year, members on a jury, and the hours on the face of a clock.

For a moment, we take each other’s measure. Anyone going to uncage the rage today?

When no one makes a lewd or violent gesture—hey, this might be a good day—we head for the exit at the end of the hall.

Jane, one of the older inmates, mutters to herself and stops to bang her forehead against the wall. Skin splits at her hairline and blood trickles down her cheek. Everyone else keeps walking, head down and arms wrapped around the torso, as if to protect the vitals—or stop an avalanche of pain and misery from spilling out.

I march determinedly beside Bow, for the first time noticing she exudes a fragrant mix of wildflowers and lemon drops. I like it, but I know it won’t last. Our water smells like chemicals, and the soap we’re given smells like grease.

A high-pitched whistle cuts through the air, making me cringe. “Well, well,” a voice says from behind me. “I just lost a bet I’d assumed was a sure thing.”

“Like Becky,” someone else calls, and snickers erupt.

I don’t have to glance over my shoulder to ID the first speaker. Sloan “don’t hate me because I’m beautiful, hate me because I plan to murder you” Aubuchon. She is Dr. Vans’s favorite inmate, even though she’s tried to kill him, oh, a dozen times.

From the things I’ve heard the good doc say to her, she’s here because either (a) she can’t control her temper or (b) she refuses to marry the old fart who will save her grandparents’ estate. I’ve always leaned toward A. Arranged marriages still happen, but not often.

“Tenley didn’t kill her new roommate at first sight, y’all,” she continues, her Southern twang ridiculously adorable even while she’s sneering. “Meaning, the newbie wasn’t eaten—at least not literally.”

Charming.

A few boos ring out, but so do a couple of cheers.

Bow turns and smiles at the girl. “What’d you lose? A few more IQ points?”

I almost sigh, because I can guess what’s coming next.

A volcanic Sloan races forward to grab Bow by the collar of her jumpsuit, forcing her to stop.

Yeah. That.

I stop, too, unsure how I’ll proceed. I’ve seen this song and dance before—eleven times, to be exact—and my reactions always differ. I’ve pretended to be blind and deaf, but I’ve also thrown a punch while screaming obscenities.

Sloan and I live by different philosophies. While I lash out only when provoked (usually), she attacks newcomers at the first opportunity to prevent challengers later.

Life sucks. We’ve adapted.

“Bless your heart.” Sloan releases Bow to plant her hands on her hips. Tall, blonde and model-pretty, she’s the girl every other longs to be. Until she opens her mouth, and her outer beauty can no longer compensate for her inner bitch. “You’re not smart enough to realize I run this shit show. You’ll keep your eyes down and your tongue quiet...or you’ll lose both.”

Bow flicks me an amused glance. “Hey, what do you call a blonde with only half a brain? Gifted!”

Am I really caught in the middle of this? “Have you forgotten that you are a blonde?” And Troikan! Forgive and move on.

“So,” Bow says, tapping her chin. “You’re suggesting I blow in her ear for a data transfer?”

“That’s it! Say goodbye to your tongue.” Sloan pushes Bow with enough force to make the girl stumble.

Before she can do anything else, I react without thought, slapping her arm away. “Hands off.” Guess I’m going to protest today. Which might do more harm than good. Like the rest of us, Bow has to learn to defend herself. There’s no other way to survive.

Sloan’s narrowed gaze focuses on me. “What are you gonna do, Nutter? Huh?”

“Do you really want to know?” I ask softly. Being the crazy girl in a place full of crazy girls certainly has its advantages. No one is ever able to anticipate my next move. “What I say, I’ll do. No take-backs.”

We’ve thrown down before, Sloan and I, and it wasn’t pretty. Forget scratching and pulling hair, the quintessential “catfight.” We punched and kicked and ripped at each other like animals.

We both bear the scars.

I’m not afraid of physical pain. Not anymore.

I’m hit with surprise when my roommate says, “Dude. Do you have any idea how funny this is? Sloaner the Moaner has a mouthful of number two while she’s talking to Ten.”

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