Road Runner, by Bianca Brutaldo
Chapter 34
How to graciously accept an apology

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Dec. 5

Dear Peasant,

Merry Christmas-ish. We don’t celebrate it around here, but it snowed a bit last night so it feels festive. I hope that you’re all safe. The best Christmas I ever had was that one where Vivian brought home a 1,000-piece puzzle with about 200 pieces missing and we penciled in our own puzzle pieces on the floor to complete it.

I miss you.


I follow Nicole’s advice, kind of. I don’t practice what I’m going to say to Zelda but I do wait for a good time to say it – egg night, when we condition our hair together. We’re both in a pretty good mood on egg night.

“Are you excited for prison tomorrow?” she asks.

The day has finally arrived: Our Understanding the Enemy class is going to tour the prison tomorrow. We’re supposed to stay in real cells and get the whole prison experience. It’s one of the reasons I want to talk to Zelda now. I figure, with the way people here whisper about prison, I don’t need another stressor weighing on my mind.

Professor Munger makes her second-years attend prison every year. Zelda and I are the only first-years going, which makes us rather tragically hip.

“Being the authority in a police state is a serious responsibility,” she has said many times. “Subjecting someone to prison time, even in the short term, can have lasting effects on their psyche, their family and their future ability to get a job or even rations. It’s imperative that their behavior warrants such a profound punishment.”

I’m not sure the on-the-ground practice of the Peacekeepers I’ve witnessed would agree but it’s a nice thought, at least.

All the third years on base whisper about the tour like it’s sacred, which is to say they say nothing about it at all. Even Rodney wouldn’t tell me what to expect after I did him a Rodney-favor and dropped off his laundry for him.

“You’ll fit right in,” is all he’d say. Which I think is insulting?

I am dreading prison. But first, I have to get through this conversation with Zelda.

“Of course I’m excited for tomorrow,” I tell her. “I can’t wait to see all of my domestic terrorist brethren and plot how next to terrorize Peacekeeper scum.”

Zelda stops beating our eggs. “Is that supposed to be funny?”

“Yeah, it was.” I try to keep my tone light but even I can hear it’s going brittle fast. “You seemed to think it was funny when you were laughing with what’s-her-face about how I was too stupid to be a domestic terrorist.”

Instead of guilty, she looks puzzled. “What? When?”

“In the library last week. She said people on campus thought I was a domestic terrorist and you told her I was too stupid to be one.”

“Oh.” She puts the bowl down. “I’m sorry.”

I’m shocked. I expected her to argue.

“I do remember that conversation, although not exactly how you describe it,” she continues. “Alexi was floating some stupid theory about you plotting to have Rodney and Mel attacked, and I remember trying, logically, to explain how impossible that was. I can’t imagine the discipline and planning it would take to orchestrate attacks like that from on base, and discipline and planning are two of my favorite things! You know that. And they are not your forte at all – we both know that. That’s all I was trying to convey to her. Rather than saying, ‘No, you’re stupid and wrong and I know this because Rio’s my friend,’ which is the truth and what I wanted to say, I was trying to show her how ridiculous her theory was so maybe she’d stop repeating it. I didn’t know you were listening but I can see how that would sound callous to you, and I never intended that. Although, I will admit, it did hurt my feelings that you were so flippant about Mel, and so concerned about how you’d never run off base again.”

I don’t know what to say. Her explanation was so beautiful and sincere and so very Zelda that I’m speechless. Why do I expect to feel victorious when I am given apologies that are owed to me? And why do I instead feel humbled?

“Ok, thanks for apologizing,” I eventually respond.

She smiles. “Ok, ready to get magazine hair before our big prison visit?”

I’m nodding at her but then my mouth says, “No. Not yet. I need to say a few things that need saying. I, uh – thank you for saying all that you said. Thank you for trying to defend me. I know sometimes I’m not the greatest friend. I didn’t really have friends growing up, just my little sister and she won’t even speak to me now. I’m still learning this whole ‘how to be a good friend’ thing. And – and – I’m grateful for you. For your friendship. And for your patience with me when I don’t measure up.”

Because she is Zelda, because she is an angel, she ignores my glassy eyes and simply says, “Of course. I’ll always stand by you, up until the day you try to overthrow the government, you dirty domestic terrorist.”

If I really were a good friend, I would’ve told her about the ‘F,’ but I keep my mouth shut. Instead, we laugh together and speculate about prison while eggs put the gloss on our magazine hair.