5. Whenever One Takes a Breath

Sometimes, one must destroy in order to create.

A puzzle might be taken apart to solve it correctly. A forest might be cut down to clear land for a suburban neighborhood. An entire race—races, even—might be enslaved to labor for another's profit.

In this instance, I was slicing some potatoes and breaking eggs over a frying pan to try to recreate Kenny's favorite breakfast dish, potatoes with a side of sunnyside-up eggs, in order to properly apologize for the disaster of yesterday. Although food was not the way to Kenny's heart, it definitely made finding that way easier.

"That's kind of you," drifted in Kenny's soft, drowsy voice from behind the counter.

I smiled and turned off the stove, ready to serve the eggs. "I had the opportunity because you were finally asleep at a normal time. Also, I'm really sorry about yesterday."

He let out a low chuckle. "Then, by all means, princess."

"Dork," I replied reflexively. I served him his meal and opened the fridge, asking, "What would you like to drink?"

"Orange juice, please."

I nodded and grabbed the juice carton. As I poured him a glass, I began my apology. "Look, Kenny, I was thinking about yesterday, and I just wanted to let you know that—"

"Eru," he interrupted quietly. "It's okay already. I'm not mad. I was never mad. Just worried, was all. No need to apologize."

"All right," I conceded, sliding the glass across the counter. I glanced at the clock and scrambled to my room. "I'm going to be late!"

"Do you need a ride?" Kenny called after me.

"Yes, please!"

"I'm glad he didn't kill you, I guess."

I whipped my head around to glare at Beth. "You guess?"

"Well, of course," she replied, not even bothering to look my way. "I thought he was going to slice you up with his favorite katana for sure."

"He only has one katana," I remarked dryly. "In any case, I'm still alive, so that's good news."

She nodded and checked her phone for the fifteenth time in two minutes. I'd been keeping track.

"Are you meeting up with Mik?"

Beth visibly jumped, causing me to laugh at her reaction. "What's so funny?" she demanded, her embarrassment making her voice sound defensive. "And what if I am? What's it to you?"

I only laughed harder. "All right, all right! There's absolutely nothing wrong with meeting with your boyfriend. Except for the fact that I'm telling you about my near-death experience." I elbowed her gently in the ribs, still trying to stifle my chuckles. "You don't even seem to care."

"Honestly, I mostly don't. I mean, of course I care that Ken didn't slice you to bits, but it's not like there was any actual harm done—"

"He was so worried," I interrupted. "And he actually admitted it."

It was odd to realize that the people I loved the most were the people I often hurt the most. Perhaps it was because the people who kept close would always be the first to get burnt.

Beth fell silent for a moment. "I didn't think it was such a big deal, Erunai. I mean, you're already eighteen—we're already eighteen—so you'd think he'd let you take care of yourself."

Her words made me pause. For a second, I almost believed them, but I knew Kenny would insist on taking care of me until the day he died. Even in death, he would probably come back to make sure I was okay. After all, he'd been doing that since we were children. I didn't see why he would stop just because I was old enough to vote.

My thoughts were rudely interrupted by incoherent squeals from Beth as she all but tackled Mik, who had approached us with Mark at his side.

"Don't tell me this is how they're going to greet each other each time they see each other," Mark groaned, covering his eyes. "It's already annoying."

I laughed at his remark, not knowing what else there was to say. After all, stopping people from showing their affection for each other wasn't really something I planned on doing, though I did find the public displays extremely obnoxious. However, all I had to do was turn away, so that made it slightly more bearable.

When the couple finally broke apart, Beth focused on her attention on me for a fleeting moment to tell me, "I'm leaving for that date, so have fun with Mark. See you!" And with that, she left with Mik, who had bid a similar farewell to Mark.

"Well, that was abrupt," Mark commented, chuckling slightly. He glanced at me with a huge smile on his face. "What do you want to do now that those loser lovers are gone?"

I shrugged and checked the time. "I have to get back home, actually." I offered a slight wave and began walking toward the bus stop.

"Bye, Erunai," he called out after me.

I pulled out my phone to let Kenny know I was on my way home. I wanted to know if he had cooked dinner.

"Ken on the line," he greeted as soon as he'd picked up.

I smiled at the sound of his voice. "Kenny, hey. I just wanted to let you know that I'm heading home now." The bus arrived, and I clambered on, being sure to murmur a greeting to the driver after paying.

"Okay, Eru. Thanks for calling." There was a pause, and I heard the sound of metal clinking together for a moment. "Do you need a ride?"

"No, it's all right," I replied. "I can take the bus. Are you, by any chance, making dinner right now?"

"Can you smell the soup through the phone line?" he chuckled. After a moment, a sigh escaped through the speakers. I could just imagine Kenny leaning back against the counter, tilting his head up and closing his eyes.

I furrowed my eyebrows, checking the time to see how much more time I'd have to wait before being able to properly comfort him, whatever was bothering him. But no matter how soon it would be, it would not be soon enough.

I was not so much infuriated as I was miffed that Kenny had refused to tell me what was bothering him, but I had waited a couple of days because pushing him would only cause him to pull away even further. Patience had never been much of a strength for me, but for Kenny I would force myself to wait a thousand years and more.

I crept into Kenny's room, glad to see him actually asleep. I hadn't known if he was getting any sleep before, and, knowing him, it was probably the first time he'd properly slept in a while. It hurt to see him so completely bothered by something, but I had no way of helping him until he told me what was going on.

He stirred, and I grabbed a book from one of his bookshelves in my rush to leave without being caught. I stretched out on the couch, looking over the book I'd taken. I glanced back at the hallway to make sure that Kenny hadn't actually woken up and opened the book.

I must have lost myself in the story because in what felt like the next moment, Kenny was speaking to me.

"What are you reading?"

I briefly glanced at the cover before answering him. "A book called Enclave by Ann Aguirre. I found it on one of the bookshelves." I hesitantly lifted my eyes up to his because the likelihood that Kenny knew exactly which bookshelf I'd pulled the book from was very high.

His expression confirmed my suspicions, but he didn't call me out on anything. "I've read that one. I have the second book, Outpost, if you'd like to read that, too."

I turned back to the book I was reading and grinned, replying, "Sure!"

"So," he began, nudging my feet to make room for himself on the couch, "what do you love most about the story?"

I shrugged, failing to have given it much thought beforehand. After a few moments, I had come up with an answer. "Probably the fact that Deuce doesn't give up, even if her entire world is turning on her. She's strong and continues to fight no matter how she's broken."

He nodded at my response, a faint ghost of a smile on his lips. "I also really like the idea of standing up for what is right in a society that requires you to go with the flow. I love how she learns to become completely independent in decision when she needs to."

"Yeah." I bit back a retort, knowing that pointing out that I didn't enjoy the fact that he always tried to be independent in making decisions would not improve anything at all. "Can you leave so I can continue reading?"

"Well, excuse me," he answered, flinging his arms into the air in mock surrender. "Sorry to bother you, Your Highness."

"Kenny!" I groaned, throwing a pillow in his direction. I only managed to clip his side.

He laughed as he picked up the pillow and placed it back on the couch. He smoothed my hair back and gave me a kiss on the forehead. I descended into a fit of giggles myself, hoping that the day that Kenny and I wouldn't be able to laugh like this would never come.

Corresponds to 1.08