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"You can sit with us, you know," Gaige was half way in his seat that he had sat at for dinner last night. Mid-air when Cliff, his twenty-something roommate he had finally met last night, stopped by his empty table with his own meal in hands. Gaige barely glanced up at the man with his five o'clock shadow, curious of who 'us' was. 

Cliff looked over at one of the extra long picnic tables -the kind that was in Gaige's high school cafeteria- that was pretty full of people of all sizes. Most were men and boys, but Gaige could see the occasional women in the group. 

Gaige turned back to Cliff all ready to shake his head and plop down in his seat to push around his breakfast of an omelet, water, and hashbrowns. But more and more Gaige was having flashbacks. War memories creeping his life and dreams. Last night he laid straight on his back, staring at the perfectly white ceiling, reminiscing over months back in Flordia behind 2-foot thick cement walls and ten-foot chainlink fences. 

Those flashbacks made him hesitate. Made him bite his tongue and hold onto the automatic response of a head-shake. 

"Lone wolf? Makes you look weak, Carson. You may not be the top pick, but you are up there. You won't be for long, so you better chose a group and fast before better meat comes in."

Gaige bites harder, holding back the cringe of pain, and forces a stiff nod. Cliff smiles at the teen boy and nods his head back at the table again. Gaige sucks in his sigh, picks up his plate of two much fatting food, and cup, and slides out of his seat. 

He felt like just the way he did nearly a year ago. Head bent down, eyes on the floor, attitude in check. Don't speak unless spoken to, don't cause problems you don't want to wipe up, don't interact with who you can't outsmart. 

Hairs on the back of Gaige's neck rose on instinct at all the eyes on him. Mary had told him it had been a while -only two weeks- since they had someone come or go. He was new, he was entertaining, he was fresh. 

All the tables watched Gaige slink behind Cliff, but Cliff's table all perked up at the new addition. Cliff smiled kind-heartedly at his friends as he slid into his seat, Gaige chewing his lip for a moment before following. 

"Carson, I'd like to officially introduce you to Armel Beasly," Gaige kept his face straight, finally gathering the courage to tilt his chin. The sun was right behind Armel's head, making Gaige narrow his eyes at the bright light that contrasted Armel's dark skin. Armel tilted his chin up too like he had to up his dominance even if he was on literal higher ground -sitting on the table part of a picnic table.

"Sup," Armel nodded slowly and Gaige's stomach wrung its self, "Whatch ya got to offer to me?"

Gaige kept his head down at his omelet that was taunting him almost more than the people staring at him. His hair was falling in his eye, and his chest was hurting from such shallow breaths.

"Huh, it's G-Gaige, right?" Gaige figured he had to look up at the sound of his name. And that the voice, even over the slowly coming back conversations, seemed to irk familiarity. Gaige glanced up, flipping his now clean hair -he finally took a shower last night, with a fat bandaid over the stitches on his forehead- and scanned the long table for the source of his name. 

It was another person from the group. The one male who had really talked the entire time- Rob. He seemed like the oldest man at the table but blended in between a woman with her hair in a ponytail and boy in a heavy Carhart sweatshirt. His head was turned down the table to smile at Gaige, and the boy couldn't help but notice how the man's plate was empty. How?

"I was secretly hoping I hadn't seen you last night. You doing alright, kid?" Usually, Gaige would growl and maybe even threaten any adult who bothered to call Gaige 'kid'. But Gaige was so fucking tired. That and Rob had some kind of nice parental-figure-like quality that made Gaige let him get away with it. 

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