A sharp blow to my ribs wakes me from my shallow sleep.
"Get up." Jett grunts. "You were supposed to be out of camp five minutes ago."
I groan, pulling my jacket from under my head and plopping it onto my face.
"I really don't wanna go out today." I say.
"Tough luck, kid."
"Teenager." I mumble as I drift back to sleep again. Where was I?
My jacket is suddenly ripped from my head. My eyes fly open.
"What the heck happened to your face?"
Jett's jet-black hair is hanging in his emerald- green eyes which shimmer in the little light the trees allow the sunrise.
I put my hand to my face, feeling crust. Dry blood.
"It's nothing." I say. "Me and Jax were just messing around, is all." I reach for my jacket.
Jett holds it higher, above his head. My hand falls to my chest.
"Look, it was nothing. Just some sticks." I push myself forward into a sitting position.
"Yes, sticks. Very pointy sticks." Jett's eyes study mine, and I don't blink, I refuse to blink...
Jett drops my jacket at my feet.
"Be more careful. And for God's sake, act your age for once, Katelyn."
If only you knew where the blood really came from, I think as I stand and pull my jacket on. It's tight , and the zipper is broke, but it serves its purpose.
"Yeah, sure." I say, rolling my eyes. I swing my bag over my shoulder, heading for the treeline.
I sigh. Very deeply. "Yes?" I say in my sweetest, most fake voice.
"Make sure you wash your face before we go anywhere. We need to-"
"Blend in," I finish for him. "Yeah, yeah."
"See you at six."
"Yep." I say, and disappear into the woods toward Pod A.
"What took you so long?" Jaxson asks when I finally get to the park.
"Had to wash my face." I say. "Blade just barely missed your eye. You got lucky."
I scoff. "Lucky? I'd lose my eye if it meant we'd have that wallet back."
"Sure you would." He says with a crooked smile.
Before I know it, I crack a smile myself.
I look down at the sketchpad in Jaxson's lap. I sit down on the blue park bench next to him, putting my backpack in between my legs.
"It's a rose." He says, not looking up as he draws.
I can obviously tell, of course. The detail in his drawing is intense.
"It's really good." I'm telling the truth, too. And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Sometimes Jacson will be sitting on this very bench, drawing a picture, and a stranger will come up and pay for it.
But that's only on a really great day. Really great days are few for kids like us.
"Wanna get going?" I ask.
"Yeah." He says, closing his sketchbook and putting it in a bag that's just as ragged as mine.
We're laying on a patch of grass in the middle of the park. As far as being productive goes, we haven't done anything today.
Jax is messing with his dark-brown, shoulder length hair. I'm counting every bill we hold to our name.
"18, 19, 20, 21."
"Twenty one dollars, Jax." I say.
"How are we supposed to get to Colorado with twenty one dollars?" He asks.
"Colorado? We agreed on Ohio."
"Ohio is warmer. And I am the one who got a knife to the face, remember?"
"Ohio it is?" He says.
"Looks like we'll be here awhile, though." He adds.
"Hell, no. We have to get it back."
"Are you crazy?" Jackson sits up, staring me down with his icy blue eyes.
"What other choice do I have?"
Last night, or me and Jax were out past curfew, we were mugged.
The knife sliced me accidentally, Jaxson had a gun to his head. What else was I supposed to do? I gave them or take it out of the Pods, our houseless camp for kids and teenagers alike.
A wallet with almost three hundred bucks inside.
I'd never held that much money at once before, and I probably never will again, unless I get that wallet back.
We were mugged almost immediately after leaving the relative safety of the Pods. We were mugged by someone in the Pods, someone who knew that Jax and I snuck out nightly and when. Getting the wallet back should be a piece of cake, because I know where to find it. Pod C.
The camp where Jax and I live is split up into four smaller camps, better known as "Pods."
Pod A, Pod B, Pod C, and Pod D. Jax is from Pod A. I'm from Pod B. There's really no difference between all of the Pods except who the leader is. Which really makes all the difference in the world. Pod C is known for bringing out all of the troublemakers. If we were to be found out someday, you could probably blame it on their recklessness.
The leader of each Pod is always the oldest Pod member. In Pod B, Jett is leader.
Once you're 18, you have to leave the Pods. The next oldest Pod member steps in to take the leader's place.
I'm two kids away from being leader. Being leader of Pod B is something i never plan to be around to do. I'm not living in a Pod until I'm 18.
That's why that money was our ticket out of here. I don't even know how anyone knew we had that money.
All I know is that I've gotta get it back.
"Are you crazy?" Jaxson says again.
"Jax, last night, we were in no position whatsoever to refuse. We're at an advantage. We can go into Pod C and demand our money back with force, or steal it.
"Jax, it isnt stealing if we're stealing something back that was stolen from us."
"They have a gun."
"And I actually have more than half a brain."
Jaxson brushes his hair out of his face. "Then do me a favor and use it for once."
I shoot him I'll look that says, choose your next words very carefully.
He stands up, extends his palm to me and I take it. I face him as he says,
"There's gotta be another way."
I sigh at his hopeless optimism.
"And you believe in fate, and me in action."
I catch his eye for the smallest of seconds. I see a rare glint and immediately I know I've won.
"Let's go home." Jax says.
"Best idea you've had all year."
On our way back, Jax stops in front if the library.
"Need to stop right here real quick." He says. I nod and wait outside on the stone steps. Ten minutes and we're walking again.
On our way back to the Pods, we always walk past this very fancy bakery. Today is no exception. In the window display sits A doughnut as big as my face. It has real strawberry stuffed inside and powdered sugar coated on top. A fried piece of pure heaven. I press my nose to the glass and pointed it out to Jax.
"One day, I'm gonna come back here, buy that donut, and eat it in one bite."
"You wouldnt share?"
"You'd have your own donut, Jax. We wouldn't have to share."
"We have twenty one dollars." He says.
"That's our dinner for the next two weeks."
"I'll keep dreaming." He says, practically drooling.
"That's the spirit." I say, grabbing him by his sleeve and dragging him along.
We reach the abandoned strip mall that hides the fenced entrance to the Pods.
We slip through the hole in the chain link fence that surrounds the woods we call home.
Trees and trees until we reach the first Pod, Pod A. Jaxson's Pod.
The trees in these woods are skinny, and easy enough to remove. The layout of each Pod is simple. A circular haven surrounded in every direction by trees. In the center of every Pod is a firepit. Around each firepit are several rocks large enough to seat yourself on.
Now, about half of Jax's Pod has made it back for tbe night. Which is about five people. The fire is going strong already.
Things are already quite busy. Cans of food are being emptied into mouths. I give Jaxson his five dollars for his weekly food and give him a hug. He's the only person I'll wrap my arms around.
I notice his smile is wavering, which is unusual, for Jax, at least.
"You good?" I ask.
"Yeah. Just tired."
I nod. "See you tomorrow." I say.
"See ya." He says, his voice shaking.
Jax seems a bit off, but I shake the feeling. I have sixteen dollars left and I have to take care of the both of us, so I take a detour.
I pass through Pod B. Jett is warming up by the firepit.
"Where you going, Katelyn?"
"None of your business." I say, walking to the next treeline, towards Pod C.
"Cool off." He mutters.
Eyes on the prize. Eyes on the prize.
I reach Pod C, which is unsurprising unteeming with life. There are only three kids here, all boys.
I quickly walk up to the nearest and swing a blow to his face, catching him off guard. At least, I hope it caught him off-guard.
"Where is it?" I shout. He's holding his face where I struck him.
The other two are here now. The boy I struck swings back at me, but misses when I duck. The others land hard blows to wherever they can reach, and it's three against one.
I take them well for someone my size, and soon, I'm rolling on the grass, the smallest of the boys rolling with me.
He pushes me off and I stumble to my feet, ready to keep going.
"Pod B, Pod B..." The tallest guys says in a deep voice.
"Where's the money?" I spit out.
"My buddy has it. But he's not here right now. Would you like to leave him a message? He sure did a number on you, little girl."
"What he did to my face, that was nothing. And call me little girl again and I'll-"
"And you'll what?"
I stop suddenly when I hear a distant noise. Maybe I'm just paranoid, but just maybe...
The boys laugh. I hold my hand up.
"What, little girl? You out of breath?"
"No, seriously. Listen."
I strain my ears. Yes, it's getting close. Too close. Sirens. Police sirens.
"They're in the Strip." One of the boys says.
"Go through Pod D." They scramble out together towards the treeline that leads to Pod D, and eventually out of the Pods altogether.
Jax. I should go back for him. He can hold his own, but for the safety of us all, I should go back for him.
If the police find him, he'll talk. I need to get to him first.
Taking off in the fastest run of my life, I head towards Pod B, which is towards Pod A, which is where Jax is, which is where I need to be.
Pod B is in a frenzy as I run through.
The fire has been stamped out and everyone is yelling at each other and that all the quiet way and running in the opposite direction I am. Jett is one of them.
"You're going the wrong way!" He yells in the normal yelling type of way.
I ignored him and the sharp November air catching in my throat and keep running.
Just after passing through the treeline, I tripped over a fallen tree branch and rip yet another hole in my jeans.
I get up and keep running, running into several Pod A members, none of them Jaxson.
I trio into Pod A, which has been deserted by all but one person- Jax.
"What the heck are you doing?" I whisper-shout to him. He's sitting by the dying fire. The sirens are so close. The Strip is right next to Pod A. They'll be here any second.
I pull on Jax's arm.
"Come on, Jax. " I say. "Hurry up. They will find you. They will find us. And they'll take us God knows where."
"I can't move."
"Do it. Move. Move for me."
He makes an attempt to move, but tenses back up.
I grab his arm and start pulling him towards the treeline.
"I'm gonna leave you here and run if you don't stand up. You know I'll do it."
"Would you?" He looks up at me with tears in his eyes.
Would I? "Yes." I say.
I hear a rustle through the trees. I hold on to his arm tighter, not letting go, not just yet. Frozen. This isn't like Jax.
The rustling gets closer. My grip tightens and Jax looks up at me, pleading.
Then they reach the tree line and I stare at the gun and let go.
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