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7| Poetic justice

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At nine pm, the door to my room slides open again. I stand in the cubicle to be scanned before Reyes escorts me to dinner.

"Don't speak to anyone," he says on the elevator ride down. "Keep to yourself. Don't step out of line."

"Or you'll zap me?" I ask, glancing at the sleek, smart watch on his wrist.

He looks at me out of the corner of his eye. His mouth twitches slightly in what looks like amusement. "Don't tempt me, inmate."

I roll my eyes. "I have a name, you know. It's Zoe." When he doesn't respond, I add, "And you are?"

He cocks an eyebrow, as though contemplating whether or not to ignore me. "Aron."

As soon as the doors open, he rests his palm on my lower back and guides me down the hall, stopping us just before we get to the cafeteria. He looks at me, his hand still resting on my back in a way that makes me nervous.

"I mean it when I say stay under the radar," he says. His eyebrows are furrowed, forcing his long lashes to curl into his browbone. "There are people twice the size of you in there. You can't prove to be the strongest, so your best defense is to act the weakest. Maybe a few of them will drop their guard if they think you're an easy kill."

Even though I know he is trying to help me, his words only serve to irritate me. How can I act weak when I have spent my whole life trying to prove I'm not? And Aron isn't just asking me to pretend to be weak. He's asking me to give up my pride; the only thing I have left.

"They can think whatever they want," I say stiffly, stepping away from his hand.

Aron's eyes flash with irritation. "Fine." 

He leads me into the cafeteria, where it feels as if every pair of eyes turn to look at me. Whether they're already sat at the tables or still waiting in line, each inmate stops to watch me as I stand in the doorway, their eyes burning holes into my skin.

I force myself to stare back with feigned defiance. They are searching for something to prey on, any kind of weakness, and I'll be damned if I give them one.

Several guards line the back walls, and Aron quietly takes his place amongst them, his gun slung over his shoulder as his eyes sweep the room. They are no doubt under strict instructions not to shoot unless absolutely necessary—there would be no justice in that.

With a deep breath, I grab a tray and join the long line, trying not to make eye contact with any of the inmates. I've seen plenty of prison movies before–albeit this is a strange, luxurious type of prison–and I know what happens when you look at someone the wrong way. Even if I'm not going to pretend to be weak, I still don't want to give anyone cause to target me before the arena.

When I finally get to the end of the line, an old lady in a hair net spoons a mountain of rice onto my plate. Then she grabs a fork and spears a limp looking piece of chicken from off the tray before flinging it on top. I slide my tray down the rail, watching as the oil from the chicken seeps into the rice, turning it a pale yellow.

With a grimace, I move on to the vegetables, spooning as much of them onto my plate as I can before I grab a cup of water and a carton of orange juice and take a seat. There's only one other inmate on the table. He's a skinny man in his early twenties, with blonde, raggedy hair and bright green eyes.

I make sure to sit as far away from him as I can before I examine my food, nudging the piece of chicken with my fork. It doesn't look particularly appetizing, and with the nice rooms we've been given, I was expecting the food to look a little better than what's on my plate. Still, at least I recognize the meat as something. Only lord knows what the gray, rubbery lump I was served in the holding cell was meant to be.

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by Rachael Rose
Zoe is a teenage girl convicted of a murder she didn't commit, but th...
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