Chapter 44

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Hailie had almost reached the port when she remembered that she still had some money left over. She could lie and say that she'd spent it but she didn't think she should, so she turned around.

Figuring out what to buy was hard. She had never just wasted money before. She'd never had enough money to waste, and trying to buy something she didn't need made her stomach upset.

Hailie walked through the streets looking at each shop. She was tempted with the bakery and the dairy, but decided on the sweetshop. She couldn't remember the last time she'd had sweets, and with the money she had left over she was able to buy enough to share with everyone. It even gave her a little trouble to fit in her bag.

Hailie left the shop with a few coins left over. She stopped at one of the stalls that sold trinkets. Faith and Benji might like one. Just as she was paying for them she was grabbed from behind.

"Another one of those runaway slaves," the voice said.

She groaned inwardly. This never got any less annoying no matter how many times it happened.

She was spun around. She shoved the trinkets in her pocket and was ready to fight off the soldiers when Eli's words echoed in her mind. She lowered her fist.

"You should know better than to run away. I'm taking you back to where you came from." The man tried to pull down the collar of her shirt to see if there was a tattoo or brand on her back.

"I am not a slave," Hailie said. He pulled down her collar further to check her shoulder.

"I can't find one," the man said to the soldier next to him.

"We'll take her down to the office and search her better there," the second man said.

"I am telling you that I am not a slave."

"Ah, so the Hail Storm really is back in town." A group of men came walking towards them. This day was just getting better and better.

Things were just getting better and better.

"We want back our money," another one said.

"She stole from you?" one of the soldiers asked.

Hailie didn't wait to hear how the conversation would have continued. She twisted out of the man's grasp and took off running. She could hear them chasing after her. She dashed around a corner almost knocking into a woman and having to jump over a bench to avoid a cart. She made a few more sharp turns but the men were still on her tail.

She coughed. Her chest burned and felt tight. She wouldn't be able to run for much longer.

She bumped into a brick wall and then realized it was Eli.

"Hailie, what is--" He caught sight of the men behind her. "Captain," he said, his voice dropping low and his face hardening.

Hailie coughed into her hand, unable to force out a word between them.

The Captain paid the man he was talking to and walked over. She could see Shen and Gordon standing not too far away.

"Hailie, go back to the ship," he said.

He didn't need to tell her twice.

She patted Eli's shoulder.

"Then I will leave... you guys to handle this," she said before she ran away, this time in the direction of the ship. Hailie didn't stop, despite her coughs, until she'd reached the ship. She fell to her knees on the deck, feeling like she was going to cough out her lungs, and as if she couldn't get any air into them.

Roberto came towards her, crouched down next to her, and patted her back. She lacked the energy to move away. When the caughing had subsided, he pressed a water bottle to her lips. It helped a little.

Hailie glanced towards the port.

"Don't worry. No one steps foot on this ship without my permission, especially not when the kids are on board," he said.

Kids? Did that include Kendra, Celeste and Indira?

"I think they can handle themselves," Hailie said.

"They can, but even if they were the most powerful people on this planet, I would still be standing here, even if it was only for my peace of mind." This was the first time she'd ever wondered what his story was before he came on board the ship. She bit her tongue. She was spending too much time around Eli.

Hailie got to her feet with a little help.

"Thank you," she said and took out the bag of sweets from her bag. She held it out to him. He smiled and popped one into his mouth.

"You can prevent the coughs if you stop smoking," he said.

"I do not plan to stop any time soon." She caught sight of a man on the dock. She backed up. "I am going to go below deck."

Roberto saw him as well, but leaned on the rail, calm as ever.

"I told you before, no one steps foot on this ship without my permission. It's up to you whether you want to stay up here or go down there. The kids are playing cards."

"I am going down," Hailie said.

The noise hit her ears as soon as she opened the door. The card game had become heated. They stopped talking when she entered.

"You're back fast," Kendra said. "I thought you would have spent some more time in town with Eli and the rest."

"There was an incident. I decided to come back early and in one piece." She went over to the kitchen area and emptied the bag of sweets into and a bowl that she placed in the center of the table, on top of the pile of cards. Hands grabbed at the sweets and the kids had their mouths filled in seconds.

"What incident?" Celeste asked.

"A simple misunderstanding, but I did not want to take any chances so I came back." She sat down in the chair next to Benji.

"Deal Hailie in. I want to see if Kendra was lying about your skill," Zigzag said.

"There are some people you don't play in cards," Indira said. "If Hailie is a true gambler, then strategy wouldn't be as effective since she would have none. If she is pretending to be a gambler and has Eli, the Captain and Kendra fooled, then strategy will definitely not work, at least any strategy you come up with. I on the other hand, would love to find out which it is."

"I do not feel like playing right now. You can continue without me," Hailie said.

"What did they say?" Benji asked.

"They were happy, especially your mother. They wanted to speak with you but I told them they could not since you were not with me." She lowered her voice. "You were right. Your father only agreed to let you stay when I called their names." She considered telling him what she overheard and what his father had said, but decided to keep it to herself. She could hear people talking around her, but she had too many thoughts going through her mind.

Benji tapped her arm.

"I was talking to you but you weren't hearing me. Is there something bothering you?" he asked.

"No, nothing. Nothing at all."

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