Chapter 146: Kailani
And if it gets heavy
You can't keep it steady
Remember the things you been told
Who taught you to live like that
Kai kissed Conrad good-bye twice as she got ready for training with the Thorne Girls, then a third time on her way out into the suite, where she paused to slip on her sneakers.
"Going out again?" Mabina called to her from the kitchen. "Come talk with me for a minute first."
"I've only got a minute," she demurred, but headed into the kitchen anyway.
Mabina was cooking; she must've appointed Cassidy to watch over the twins, for the moment, at least. A pot bubbled cheerily, and the air was redolent with spices, filling the room with a pleasing aroma.
"You've always only got a minute, it seems. Are you taking Conrad with you?"
"Massima makes him uncomfortable," she answered, avoiding the non-question. "Dinner smells delicious."
"Them again." Mabina shook her head, clucking her tongue. "You should put more stock in the skills you'll actually be using in the future. You don't think dinner smells delicious all by itself, do you?"
"Of course not. But I am putting stock in my future skills." She didn't really think Kai aspired to be a housewife, did she?
"And what about Conrad's future?" Mabina continued. "Is that a part of your future, too? He certainly can't fend for himself, he'd starve in a week."
She really did. Kai boggled at the older girl. "If he wants to be part of my future when we leave here -" when the Bond no longer tugged at him "- then of course my future will include him."
"If he wants to?" Mabina nearly dropped her spoon. "If? Have you talked to him, girl? You need to sit down with that boy and figure out what you're doing."
Kai glared at her, wondering if the other girl really underestimated her that much, if she even paid attention to the person she was trying to control. Acacia knew her better than that. "Of course I've talked to him! I know what he says now… but if he says that when I'm no longer Keeping him is a different story, isn't it?"
"Will it be a different story? Well, maybe, if you keep gallivanting off on all these cockamamie schemes. I'm glad to see you haven't been out at all hours lately with that Jamian fellow, but this... workout, or whatever it is, seems to be eating up all of the extra time you've found. It's no wonder you're concerned about what will happen when Conrad's unbound."
Kai shook her head. "So you'd rather I stayed home and played housewife? That's not how life would be out of here; I'd be selling him on a lie."
"Will you be one of them, then?" Mabina thrust her spoon into the pot forcefully, punctuating her question. "The newest Thorne Girl? Is that the kind of person you want to be?"
She thought, momentarily, of Finnegan's bruises, of the collar Carter had worn. She thought of staying home cooking instead of going out, learning, working, improving the world. "I'd rather be a warrior than a housewife."
"A warrior, is it? So will it be Conrad some day who tells your babies their mother isn't coming home, or will you not even need him anymore?"
"Why are you being like this?" Kai asked, frustrated. Mabina was supposed to be her friend! "Why isn't it good that I'm learning? Why can't I be Conrad's girlfriend and have other friends, too?"
Mabina took a step back, raising a hand to her face and fluttering it. "Oh, Kailani, dear. Of course, you should have other friends, and we're here to learn, aren't we? Of course we are. You just need to learn some responsibility." She drew out the word, punctuating each syllable with a waggle of her finger.
Kai flinched back, feeling as if Mabina had slapped her. "Responsibility?" she gasped. Responsibility? She thought she was being irresponsible?!
"But of course!" Mabina approached again, arms outstretched. "Kailani. You're a good girl. You just spend so much time thinking about everything out there, sometimes you neglect what you have right here."
"I don't neglect Conrad," she retorted angrily, stepping backwards.
Mabina made a face, lowering her arms. "Dear. I'm sure it seems that way to you..."
Kai had had enough. "I may be a lot of things," she snapped, "but I'm not stupid." She ran out of the room, wiping away tears. Why was Mabina so determined to tether her to the kitchen?
She slowed down once she'd gotten away from the suite, remembering to pay attention and set up her Idu Kaana Working to tell her if anyone was around (except Anwell). She still had ten minutes before she had to meet the Thorne Girls; she could take a little time and think.
Mabina had always seemed as if she'd had Kai's best interests at heart, but, the more she thought about it, the more it seemed as if it was the interests of the rest of the crew - first Taro, then Conrad - that 'Bina had been considering. She didn't seem to care about Kai's hopes or dreams or goals at all, wanting to tether her to the kitchen, sounding more and more like something out of Kai's mother's nightmares.
When push comes to shove, Girl Scout, you find out who your friends are. She hadn't appreciated the appellation at first, but lately it had seemed friendlier, not a term of endearment but more of a nickname, at least. Acacia had a point there, too. Who had actually been honestly helpful to her?
Acacia, and Rozen. Jaya and Shahin, Conrad, a little, Emrys, even, in his obnoxious way. They'd all helped her… while Mabina and Taro had stood aside and watched while Rozen choked her, and stood aside while Agatha raped her.
Even Anatoliy, despite everything, was trying, in his own clumsy way. Her own crew though... maybe she really wasn't associating with the right people. Hadn't someone said that to her, at the beginning of the year?
She wracked her brain for who, but couldn't remember. So many people had said so much to her, and so much of it had been lies and half-truths. At least the Thornes had been direct with her. They'd given her more information than anyone else, really. And the "price" for that information turned out to be mostly spending more time with them, picking their brains, while they taught her these amazing skills that she never would have imagined she could learn, much less be good at. Of course, there was the "hunting once with them," but even that was experience gained, while it seemed more and more like Mabina wanted to limit her experiences as much as possible.
And for what? To save Conrad's feelings? Kai didn't believe he was that fragile; he could handle her having her own life, couldn't he? And if he couldn't…
Well, he'd have told her. They'd just had that talk about, well, she hadn't come out and said it, and neither had he, but after seeing Shahin's ring, and Conrad clearly knew what they were talking about and he'd said he wanted to be with her. So. As long as that's not the Bond talking. But that was a worry for another day.
Kailani entered the locker room to change, her thoughts still churning. By the time she set foot in the training room, at least, she was calm again. She bowed to Acacia, and then, unexpectedly, giggled. Rather bow to her than kowtow to Mabina.
"Something funny, Girl Scout?" Acacia raised an eyebrow, but she also cracked a smile.
Now you've done it. "Just, um, thinking of the differences between you and 'Bina."
"Oh, this I have to hear."
Keeping alert for a surprise attack, Kai tried to get her thoughts in order. "It's just what you said, about finding out who your friends are. Mabina really doesn't seem to have my interests at heart at all."
Acacia was perfectly still in her stance, as Kai watched her hands, her feet, ready for the movement that would give away her strike. "Did you really expect her to? I hate to break it to you, but most people aren't like that."
"I've never had friends before," she answered honestly. "I didn't know what to expect. But she talked as if she cared about me - until recently." She nearly didn't jump aside in time, as something plummeted from the ceiling, crashing to the mat where she had stood just a moment before. A cinderblock was nearly embedded in the floor when she glanced down for a second.
"Don't let your guard down," Acacia smirked. "A skilled opponent will attack from the direction you least expect. Anyone could be capable of anything - complacency will be your downfall." Was she talking about the training, or Kai's friends?
"It seems like," she said, shifting into position, "there ought to be people you can relax around. You have your crew."
"Don't relax. Competition is everywhere; crew are just people who aren't out for blood when you compete."
"What about your Kept?"
"Well, they hardly count as people now, do they?"
For a moment, Kailani couldn't tell if she was kidding or not. She bought herself time to figure it out by attacking, using one of the moves Acacia had been showing her. Acacia blocked, and counterattacked, but Kai dodged back again, reclaiming her distance.
"People," she said, dancing back another half-step, "but people you can trust. Completely." No wonder the Thornes liked to Keep.
"Now you're learning something," Acacia smiled.
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