Charade (Page 6)

Wicked Games (Games #1)(6)
Author: Jessica Clare

“Team Eleven.”

I clenched my gut and then took a breath in surprise. Wait, that was the other team. Why was someone voting for them? We were terrible.

Chip pulled out the next slate, then turned it around so we could all see it. “Team Eleven.”

It didn’t make sense… did it? I watched Shanna’s impassive face, Ginger’s, Jody’s… and they all wore the same inexpressive look.

“Team Eleven.”

Someone’s mouth curled up slightly, and it struck me. Of course. It was blindingly obvious now. They wanted to keep us here because we sucked. We couldn’t work together—which made us no threat. And Team Four, because they were marginally more competent than us, would go home.

“Team Eleven,” Chip continued, flipping over another slate, and then another. “Team Eleven. Team Eleven. Five out of nine votes… that’s enough.” He nodded at Team Four’s shocked faces and banged a gavel against a coconut. “Endurance Island has passed Judgment. Your time here is over.” He turned and glanced over at myself and Dean. “You are safe for one more round. Head back to camp.”

Stunned, I glanced over at Dean to see his expression. He seemed just as shocked as I was.

And here I’d thought we’d get voted out first because we were the worst team out there. The worst team possible. Just the opposite was true—we were going to be kept around as dead weight, as a safe bet.

Even though I wasn’t supposed to, I smiled a little. I’m pretty sure Dean did too.

Chapter Five

You know, if I didn’t want to wring her neck on a constant basis, I’d say Abby is a really cute girl. More of a Mary Ann than a Ginger, but I’ve always had a thing for Mary Ann.—Dean Woodall, Day 3

As soon as we got back to camp, Dean tossed his bag onto the sand. “I’m going to take a walk,” he said and turned away before I had a chance to answer.

I set down my bag and relaxed in the warm sand for a few minutes, wiggling my toes in the grains. I glanced backward at our small camp and my spirits deflated. We had a fire pit, but no fire. I had a makeshift platform for a bed, but no cover. We didn’t have anything to eat or drink.

Some paradise.

I found a couple of coconuts while trekking through the woods, but discovered that Dean had taken the axe with him. Stomach grumbling, throat dry, I realized I didn’t even know where the well was. With no way to eat the meager food, and not quite ready to delve into my peanut butter stash yet, I decided to work on my shelter.

All I really needed to make my small shelter complete was some sort of cover to protect it from the wind (and rain, if I should be so unlucky). I decided on a small A-frame, since that seemed the easiest to make, and set about creating it. The wood was easy enough to find, though I didn’t have anything to lash it together with… I ended up using my pink string bikini to hold the frame together. Like I was going to wear that. Shelter was far more important. I dove into my task with single-minded determination.

By the time I glanced up, the sun was going down, I was covered in sweat and bug bites, and I hadn’t given a single thought to making fire. But my small shelter was done! I felt a sense of pride as I looked at the small thing and glanced over at the blanket that stuck out of Dean’s pack with a smug sense of pride. One of us would be sleeping well tonight, and even though he had a blanket, I had a shelter.

I gathered some wood and tinder to make a fire, but the sun was too low into the sky and I couldn’t see what I was doing—I was mostly guessing at this point anyhow. Dean was still nowhere to be seen, and I stared longingly at my coconuts, still covered in the tough green casing. I could try and split one against a fallen tree, but if I busted it, I’d lose all the good milk inside it. Even though I was trembling with hunger, I forced myself to wait, cradling it in my arms and sliding into my shelter with my backpack to wait for Dean’s return.

I must have fallen asleep at some point—I started awake when I felt something warm and heavy touch my feet. “What—”

“Take my blanket,” Dean said in a gruff voice, shoving it onto my legs. “Your teeth are chattering so hard I can’t sleep.”

I hadn’t realized how cold I was until he’d tossed the blanket over me, and I snuggled under it gratefully. “What about you?” I asked sleepily. “My shelter isn’t big enough for both of us.”

“Don’t worry about me. I can’t sleep anyhow,” Dean said, and I heard him walking away.

Morning came when I could no longer deny the gnawing hollow of my stomach with sleep. I crawled out of my shelter, coconut in hand, staring blearily up at the sky. Still morning, but not early. The sun was high.

Dean sat a distance away on the sand, his shoulders rolled slightly as he hunched over something. He looked… tired. Even from this angle. It gave me a twinge of guilt to see that, and I approached slowly, still holding my coconut. Part of me wanted to hide it, but he’d been generous enough to share his blanket with me—the least I could do is offer to share my food.

If I had to.

He didn’t glance over at me as I approached, fixated on his task, and I peered over his shoulder. He had sticks in his hands, his shoelaces tied to a bowed stick, and he was trying to rub them together to make fire. He was doing it completely wrong. Judging from the sweat on his forehead, he’d also been at it for a while.

My stomach growled and I decided to skip pointing out the obvious, moving around him and looking for the axe. It sat on the far side of his left leg, half-covered in sand a few feet away, and I moved to pick it up. “Morning.”

He grunted something that might have been a hello, not looking up from his task. With the bow and string, he sawed back and forth on another stick of wood, obviously trying to make fire. Doing a damned pitiful job of it, too.

I hefted the axe and examined my coconut, trying to determine the best way to open it. I had no friggin’ clue. After a moment, my hunger won out and I simply dropped it on the ground a fair distance away and lifted the axe.

“You’re going to hurt yourself,” Dean said behind me. “Especially if you hold the axe like that.”

I bristled at that and turned to glare at him. “I’m starving and this coconut is going into my stomach in the next five minutes or I am going to have to go after small woodland creatures with this axe. Got it?”

I could have sworn that his mouth twitched at that. “I saw the other coconut you left out for me last night—thanks.” He stood up and brushed the sand off of his swim trunks and moved over to stand beside me, his hand out for the axe. “Let me do it.”

A scowl touched my face, and I glared at him even harder, hugging the axe to me. “Is this some sort of macho bullshit?”

“No, this is a I-really-don’t-want-to-have-to-bandage-you-up sort of bullshit. It took me forever to figure out how to crack mine open, and your hands are shaking. Now give it to me or you’re going to hurt yourself.”

Reluctantly, I handed over the axe. He had a point, and my hands were indeed shaking like leaves. I moved back a couple of feet so he could split open my coconut for me, but still hovered nearby, watching closely. I didn’t want to take my eyes from it, for fear that this was a trick and he’d run off and eat my food.

But it seemed that I was more suspicious than he was. With easy, sure movements, he peeled the green husk from the coconut and used one tip of the axe to chop a hole at the top of the coconut and then held it out to me. “Drink that. When you’re done drinking it, I’ll crack it open for you.”

With overjoyed fingers, I snatched the nut from his hands and raised it to my mouth. The first sweet mouthful touched my lips and I wanted to pass out at the sheer heaven of it. Wet and sugary, it was the best thing I’d ever tasted. I took another thirsty gulp and then glanced over guiltily at Dean. It took everything I had to hold out the coconut and offer him a drink. “Did you want some?”

He waved me off. “Nah. I had three of them this morning.”

“Three?” I sputtered, anger surging past my guilt. “Where did you get three?”

Dean gave me an odd look, the I’m-stuck-here-with-the-crazy-girl glance I’d come to recognize so well in the past two days. “We’re on a tropical island. They’re everywhere. You can have three for breakfast if you want, too.”

Right. I hadn’t realized. Hunger was making me faint—and stupid. Of course there were coconuts on the island. I didn’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me to look for more. Exhaustion, I supposed. We had rice, too—once we figured out how to boil it.

I tipped my head back and finished draining the coconut, disappointed when it was empty and I had to hand it back. A moment later, Dean split it with an easy crack of the axe and handed the two halves back to me. I crammed the thick white meat into my mouth as fast as I could. Oh god, it was so good and my stomach was so empty.

Dean moved back to his fire-building supplies and took up the bow again, his shoulders setting in the same resigned stance that I’d seen before. I said nothing as I scooped and ate, scooped and ate. He picked up the bow and began to saw at the wood again, the sticks twisting back and forth with great speed… and little results.

When I’d pried the last ounce of coconut from the empty husk and licked my fingers clean—gritty sand and all—I watched Dean for a moment more. His face was dripping with sweat, his movements exhausted but steady.

“You’re doing it wrong,” I decided to blurt out despite my better judgment.

He lifted his head, squinted at me and swiped at his forehead with one hand. His mouth set in a hard line. “What do you mean, I’m doing it wrong?”

I crawled over in the sand, moving to the other side, and pushed his hands away from the fire-making implements so I could study them easier. It was obvious to me where he’d gone wrong. “Here,” I said, and pointed at his bottom stick, where he’d carved a small hole to catch the spark. “You need some tinder and then cut a notch here for the ember.”

Dean tried to take it back from me. “Listen, I have—”

I held it away from him. “Can you just trust me and do it, already?”

We glared at each other for a few moments and then he got up and headed down the beach to get a palm leaf. By the time he returned, I had a notch cut into the wood and had started setting everything back up again—wood, coconut fluff for tinder, and the leaf itself. I put everything in place and then handed him the bow again. “You want to do it, or do you want me to?”

“By all means,” he said with a gesture. “Go ahead.”

Clearly he expected me to fail. I snorted at that and positioned the bow, then set to work.

If you’ve ever made a fire out of sticks, well, you know it’s not an easy task. You have to get the friction going really well, and that means sawing very hard, which also means sawing very fast. My arm was screaming after about thirty seconds, but I wasn’t about to give up. Instead, I ignored the sweat beading on my brow, bit my lip, and continued to continually move the bow back and forth, trying to coax a spark from the implements.