I: Priorities



"Tell yourself there's nothing worse than the pain and the way it hurts, but tell yourself it's nothing new and that everybody feels it too. And there's no getting around the fact that you're thirteen right now." –Natalie Merchant, Tell Yourself



"Rachel? Are you in there?"

I opened one eye, shut it again. "Go away."

The clock read 5:37. If it were the morning, I'd have a right to complain, but it was the evening, and every other girl my age was awake watching TV or hanging out. Not buried under covers, trying to get another precious hour of sleep. It was understandable that Jordan would think this would be a good time to knock on my door.

"Rachel, I just thought –"

"Shut up and go away, Jordan!"

I heard a sniffle from the other side of the door. She'd try to make me feel bad about yelling at her, but she wasn't gutsy enough to knock again. Eventually she'd go away.

I really didn't care what she thought. The night before I'd given up sleep to go try and check out a possible new Yeerk pool entrance. We'd been ambushed and abandoned the mission. Suffered terrible injuries. We're hard to kill and the wounds don't last long, but you can't help but be shaken when half of your jaw gets literally sliced off. So I didn't really care all that much if I'd hurt her feelings.

Sleep. That was what was important. Sweet, regenerative, restoring sleep.

I put Jordan out of my mind. Instead, as I drifted off, I pictured a grizzly bear pawing confusedly at a mouth that gaped open, pouring blood and teeth onto its chest.

I went downstairs at about 9 o'clock, planning on picking over some leftover dinner and going right back up to bed. Mom had left some of dinner on a covered plate. She used to fight about it when I didn't make an appearance for dinner, but eventually she just gave up and since then she's been saving me leftovers every time I don't show up. I guess it'll go down in history as the only time a battle of wills has ever been won against my mother.

I was heading back up the stairs when Jordan intercepted me. Popped up from behind the couch. Jeez, when did they start hiding thirteen year-olds behind the couch? She'd caught me off guard, which was bad. I shouldn't have let my guard down. If it had been someone else-

Hey, when did she turn thirteen, anyway?

"I thought you were going to come to the regionals today."

Oh. Right. "I didn't feel so hot. Later."

She looked put out as I started to turn away. "Don't you even want to know how I did?"

Okay, now I felt a bit guilty. I'd completely forgotten she'd been trying out for a spot in the state competition. "Of course I want to know. I just flaked because I'm tired, is all."

Jordan sighed and sat back down on the couch. "I fell off the balance beam. Once I screwed that up I didn't have much of a shot at anything." And then she started to sniffle again.

Good grief. "Yeah, well, it's a tough world."

Jordan looked like I'd slapped her. Her cheeks got red, her mouth gaped, tears spilled over her cheeks. "Is that all you can say about it? Don't you remember how devastated you were when you missed the cut?"

I heaved a sigh. I guess that was a bit terse of me. But I'd really wanted to get back to bed, and here she was trying to get me to care about a stupid gymnastics competition. I sat down on the couch next to her. "I meant gymnastics is a tough sport. It's okay if you don't do well all the time."

"I didn't just do badly," she groused. "I fell off the beam."

As proof she pulled up her pant leg and showed me the purple bruise running up her calf.

I almost laughed, but stifled it and put on a straight face just in time. It was just ridiculous, her showing me a bruise and expecting me to care. Last night I was gushing blood, limping to safety while people shot at me. Watching as my best friend demorphed to dislodge a bullet the size of a deck of cards from her hips. Watching as the person I love was carried out in a crumpled mess of feathers, begging him to demorph and nearly crying with relief when he did.

And Jordan expected me to coddle her over a bruise?

Oh. She was looking at me expecting a reaction. I forced a concerned look. "Wow, that must hurt a lot."

She glared at me. "What's up with you, Rachel? I mean, you obviously don't care. You quit the gymnastics team and now you act like I should too just because it's not cool enough for you anymore. You never hang out with me and Sara anymore. All you do is go out with your friends and sleep. Mom says you're not even getting good grades anymore."

Great, now Mom was talking about my grades to my little sister? "None of your business. Look, I'm sorry you screwed up at gymnastics, but I'm not the person to take it out on. Maybe you just should've practiced more."

It was a cheap shot and I knew it. Jordan just kind of stared at me, gaping, fresh tears welling in her eyes. Before she could think of a retort I grabbed my plate of food and went up the stairs to my room. It's not like me to run from a fight, but I'm not stupid, either. I know when the damage is done and when to leave. Usually.

I ate my chicken and pasta. It wasn't very filling.

It was kind of sad. In the old days, I would have felt bad about making Jordan cry. I wouldn't have been able to sleep until I apologized or she seemed to not care anymore.

But now, I just told myself that she'd already been crying before I really ripped into her, and I slipped back to sleep by 9:45. And again, all night, all I could see was the carnage and violence. Injured friends and dead enemies. That bundle of broken feathers, and that dripping, bleeding bear.