Seven

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I woke up just as the sun was starting to rise. All I could hear was the sound of birds chirping in the surrounding trees, and the water flowing around all sides of the raft. Winder was passed out in his corner of the raft, curled up in a little ball with his back still to me. "Good mornin'," I heard Kanon say behind me as I rubbed my eye with my right hand and stretched my left arm up towards the sky.

I turned to see a wide-awake (or rather, an alert-looking) Kanon smiling at me as he continued to steer. "Good morning."

"I've got some berries and nuts in my bag if you're hungry," he said. As if right on cue, my stomach growled.

"Thanks," I told him before pulling his backpack towards me. "Did you get any sleep?" Kanon shook his head. "You haven't slept at all?" I was shocked.

"Somebody's gotta steer ya know."

"Yeah but, I thought you'd pull over or something."

"Nah. I said we were gonna get to Spades by mornin', and I'm a man of my word."

"Well ... do you want me to steer for a while?"

"It's-"

"Just so you can take a little nap, at least. I really don't mind." How hard could it be to steer?

"It's alright, Lil' Missy. I'm used to not gettin' much sleep anyways."

"Why don't you get much sleep?" I asked as I started rummaging through his backpack to find the food that my stomach was so desperately yearning.

"Front pocket," Kanon said, probably noticing my struggle to find it.

Within seconds of taking his advice, I found the treasured berries and nuts. "Thanks," I told him as I reached my hand into the pocket and pulled out a handful of what looked to be blackberries and cashew nuts. "So, why?"

Kanon shrugged. "It's hard to get much sleep out here; you gotta be on guard for any animals tryin' to steal your food. I usually sleep with one eye open Lil' Missy, even after I pack everythin' away at night."

"So you actually live out here? In the woods? All the time?"

"Yes ma'am. Got everythin' I need in that there bag. Tent, lantern, machete, gun, everythin'. I can go fishin', huntin', and explorin' wherever I want, whenever I want. It's the life."

"But, doesn't it get lonely out here?"

"Well ... I'd be lyin' if I said it ain't lonely out here. But it beats gettin' picked on back in town."

"You mean because you're an ace?" I asked, looking down as I picked out the nuts in my hands and popped them into my mouth.

He sighed as he nodded. "I'm sure they still make fun of me even when I'm out here-I was always the butt of people's jokes. But I'd rather 'em make fun of me for the way I choose to live my life than for the way I was born ... makes me feel like I have control, ya know?"

"Yeah, I know what you mean." I looked up at him with a disheartened look on my face. "What about your parents?"

"Died when I was lil'."

"... I'm sorry."

"It's alright. My older brother and sister took care of me after Ma and Pa were gone."

"Oh ... so I'm guessing you don't stay in touch with them?"

Kanon took off his hat and rubbed his head. I could tell that, even though it didn't look like he shaved regularly, Kanon had been cutting his hair himself, probably without the assistance of a mirror. "No. They said it was my fault Ma and Pa died, even though it was a freak accident near one of the construction sites in town."

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