Lucy called a meeting. She felt it imperative that the key group of compound residents, those whose main duties included defending the facility, review all of their plans and defenses—particularly now that Mara and Dixon were absent. She asked Adele to prepare a meal and ordered that all those not joining the meeting were to eat on the first shift.
The last of the early diners waved at her as they made their way out. Lucy didn’t have close personal friends amongst the other compound inhabitants, but they all respected her position of authority.
Jules and Nina, whose children Nina’s sister, Erin, watched for the evening, arrived first. The oldtimers, Fidel and Leala, showed up shortly thereafter. With them came Kayson, Raman, and more Oathtakers and Select. Lucy instructed everyone to get right to dinner so that the meeting wouldn’t run too late.
The attendees helped themselves to heaping plates of wood roasted chicken, baked potatoes with butter, sour cream and chives, and fire-roasted broccoli sprinkled with garlic and drizzled with spicy red pepper-infused olive oil.
Before long, Basha and Therese arrived.
“How is everything?” Basha asked Lucy.
“Fine. I just thought with Mara and Dixon . . . gone,” she shook her head, clearly disapproving of their absence, “and with Carlie still missing, that we should take a good look at our situation.”
“Have you eaten, Lucy?” Therese asked, as the din in the room grew.
“No. I’m waiting for the last to arrive.”
“Who else are you expecting?”
“Just a number of the guard who’ve led defensive groups into the outer perimeter of the compound in search of Carlie, and a handful of some of the senior Select. Oh, and I’ve asked Marshall to attend, of course.” She scanned the room. “Samuel is out with a group, so unfortunately, he’ll not be with us.”
“Yes. Oh, and Velia and Jerrett. They just returned from their trip for supplies.”
Just then the cafeteria door opened. In walked Reigna and Eden, both dressed in training gear of loose fitting pants and tunics tied at their waists and with leather armguards about their wrists.
Lucy rushed their way. “Girls,” she said, “you needn’t be here this evening. I hadn’t realized you didn’t get dinner earlier. I’ll have some sent to your cabin.”
“We’re not going anywhere,” Reigna said.
Lucy furrowed her brow. “Wh— Whyever would you want to trouble yourself with all of this?” she asked, waving her hand.
“Because it concerns us,” Eden said. “We’re staying.”
Lucy scowled. “Really, it’s not necessary.”
Basha approached. “I think it’s an excellent idea for you two to join us,” she said to the twins.
“But Basha—” Lucy argued.
“Goodness, Lucy, as the twin were good enough to remind me recently, they are no longer children. The fact is that they’ve long since left childhood behind. They should know what’s going on around here, and why.”
“It seems unnecessary to trouble them with—”
“You’re not troubling us,” Reigna interrupted. “You know, all our lives we’ve been told that we’re all here—that you’re all here—at this compound, for our safety. All our lives we’ve watched others do whatever is necessary to keep this place secret, and to keep it—to keep us—safe.” She bit her lower lip. “You know, Mara always said: ‘the only thing worse than making a child grow up too fast, is to keep her a baby for too long.’ We agree. So, we’ve decided. We’ll not be babied anymore. It’s time we knew more. We’re staying.”
Lucy glanced Eden’s way, apparently seeking her assistance.
Eden failed to comply. She grabbed her twin’s arm. “Come on, let’s get some dinner.”
They went to fill their plates after first greeting Nina with a hug.
Basha watched them. “They’re right, you know.”
Lucy scowled. “I never understood that saying.”
“What? About keeping someone a baby for too long?”
“Exactly. What’s that supposed to mean anyway?”
Basha chuckled. “Well, I can tell you what Mara told me.”
Lucy crossed her arms and raised her brow, a question in her eyes.
“Have you ever seen a nine year old left with the responsibility of seeing her younger siblings clothed and fed after their mother died? Or a teenage boy responsible for running the family farm after his father suffered a heart attack?”
“Of course,” she huffed.
“Those things are sad.”
“So, have you ever seen a child nurse at its mother’s breast at five years of age? Or a full grown, able-bodied man, tied to his mother’s apron strings, depending on her to make his decisions, his meals, his livelihood, even?”
“What of it?” Lucy asked as she looked over the dining room.
Basha put her hand on her arm. “Those things aren’t sad—they’re tragic. Hence, Mara’s statement: ‘The only thing worse than making a child grow up too fast, is to keep her a baby for too long.’”
Lucy shook her head. “The girls shouldn’t be here. They needn’t concern themselves with the goings on.”
“You’re wrong, Lucy. They belong here. Its time we quit treating them like children. Mara was well aware of that fact. Her going away might be the best thing that ever happened to them. They’ll learn to stand on their own feet. What’s more, they want to. If you stop them now, they might never rise to their proper positions later.”
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