[ I've never heard silence quite this loud.]
"IT'S NOT JUST BREAD," SAID PAIGE as she stared at the fluffy, half-eaten roll in her hand. "It's someone's livelihood."
"Whose?" asked Mott. "According to the Council, everyone else in the world is dead. We have food in case of emergencies here. Even if there are other people outside of our community, there's no way to provide for them. No one new has ever been in or out of this community."
Paige thought about this for a moment.
It was just a piece of bread in the physical sense. A simple roll, with a crust and a fluffy inside. It was sustenance, whole grain, something to provide part of a balanced diet. It was extra, in case one fell, and no one would have eaten it if none had fallen anyway. It would have gone to fertilize the crops.
Because food wasn't meant to provide pleasure.
She felt like a glutton, like she was the fluffy Pilot from the history museum, the one who was laughing at the world, the one who hadn't been wary about it. That man hadn't considered balance. But she would heed the warnings of those who had come before her. She would be the smart one, one of the many thousands of humans in their community who understood.
They started to walk back to the community picnic. The leaves on the trees were a multi-layered green, and Paige could see their veins as they glowed beneath the morning sun. What was the harm, she wondered, in enjoying the pleasure derived from this? Would she really be harmed if she stayed out in the sun for too long, if she took an extra few minutes to meditate at lunch, if she ate one single extra roll?
"Look," said Mott after they had walked for a little while, "It's okay to let go of all these concepts that have weighed you down for so long. It's okay to be hesitant. It won't kill anyone."
"They haven't weighed me down at all," said Paige.
"Yes," said Paige, though she wasn't sure anymore how true that actually was.
"Fine, then prove it."
He stopped walking. The picnic was in sight. Karen had spotted them and waved at them as they approached, and Paige waved back. "Prove it?" she said. "How?"
"Kiss me, right here."
"In the open?! They'll all see!"
"Are you embarrassed that you love me?"
"Of course not, I have love for everyone!"
"Oh, yes, like a good little Ritual Girl."
Her hand twitched, and if she hadn't remembered that she was holding the bread basket that now didn't have an extra roll, she would have probably reached out to physically maim him. Her eyes widened as she stared at him, and they opened and shut a couple of times as she registered the adverse reaction. She wanted to be a good Ritual Girl. She wanted to perform well at whichever Role she'd been assigned, and she'd been assigned this one, and now he was telling her that she should be one. But the problem was with the word little. It grated on her brain, repeated itself over and over again, little, little, little. She wasn't little. She was strong.
It was patronising.
She hadn't imagined any other future aside from spending her time away from the community with him. She hadn't realistically considered going alone. But in that moment, the last thing she wanted to do was spend time with Mott, because that little word made her uncomfortable, annoyed, hurt.
She stopped looking at Mott because she couldn't read his face. She started to walk away from him, first slowly, and then, as he tried to get her attention by repeating her name over and over and she continually ignored it, she walked faster, as fast as she could without tipping over the bread basket.
"Thanks so much, you two," said Karen when Paige handed the basket to her, and Paige simply nodded without a smile and started to head off, not caring where Mott was in the slightest.
"Hey, are you okay?" called Karen after her.
"Stubbed my toe," lied Paige, waving her off.
"I'll take care of her, don't worry," she could hear Mott telling Karen, and she could hear him calling after her, she could hear his footsteps in the grass, but she couldn't bring herself to look at him. She tried to walk as quickly as she could back to her family's apartment, and finally she heard his footsteps stop, and finally she was walking alone.