“The kitchen. I was gonna throw this away and get some water.” I held up my empty can.
“No, I meant, where are you headed in life?” There was something sad in his eyes when he looked at me. His happiness might be more of an act than he let on.
“North,” I said, wishing I had a better answer. “My brother is in a government quarantine, and I have to find him.”
“We’re looking for a quarantine.” Lazlo brightened. “Maybe we should go with you.” I didn’t answer right away, so he added, “There’s safety in numbers.”
“Yeah,” I nodded, and I wasn’t sure if I’d live to regret my decision. “We’re gonna rest here for the night and go in the morning.”
“That sounds good,” Lazlo said and went back to staring outside.
Ripley climbed out of the pool and shook the water off, her chain crashing loudly against the stone patio. I went into the kitchen to get water, and then went upstairs to the master bedroom. Blue had cleaned Harlow’s feet and wrapped them up. With new socks, hopefully they would hold up better tomorrow.
I stole silk pajamas from the dresser drawers, knowing that I would have to leave them here to conserve space in my messenger bag. Grabbing a candle, I went into the bathroom to get ready for bed.
Once I took off my clothes, I inspected my entire body for scratches, and I only found a bruise. When I turned on the faucet, dirty water sputtered out, but it was better than no water at all. Using a washcloth, I did the best I could to clean myself up.
When I came out, Blue had gone, and Harlow had changed and crawled into bed, but she wasn’t asleep yet. I called Ripley, and once she finally came in, I locked the door behind her. Ripley lay on the bedroom floor, licking herself clean from her swim, and Harlow was asleep within minutes.
Sleep didn’t come that easy for me, though. After tossing and turning for a while, I gave up, snuck into the bathroom, and shut the door. I sat on the floor, burying my face in my arms, and sobbed harder than I had in months. My whole body shook.
I cried for Beck, who I had cared for way more than I should have. He deserved so much more than this, and I had just turned and ran away, leaving him to die. Leaving them all to die.
I hadn’t wanted to leave Sommer alone and terrified like that, but I didn’t know what choice I had. Letting her follow me had been a mistake, but it wasn’t worse than staying in the quarantine. Everyone had died. All the soldiers who stayed behind to try to save them, and all the people trapped in small rooms as the monsters broke in.
And I cried for Max. I didn’t know where he was or if he was all right. It was my job to protect him, and I hadn’t been there. Maybe he’d made it to a new quarantine. Or maybe he had never even made it out at all.
But I couldn’t think that. I had to believe that Max was still out there and that I would find him. I couldn’t live with myself if anything happened to him.
But right now, in the bathroom, it was all I could do to keep from screaming.
When I had myself under control, I went back out and climbed into the huge bed, lying on the far side from Harlow. I was too exhausted to lay awake any longer.
I woke up because I couldn’t breathe. I was suffocating, and Ripley growled. I opened my eyes to see her face right in front of mine.
– 5 –
Over two-hundred pounds of jungle cat sat on my chest, crushing me. Someone knocked at the bedroom door, and Ripley growled again. Using all my strength, I pushed her off me and gasped for breath. She leapt onto the floor and did another low growl/roar at the door.
“Hey, are you guys awake?” Blue asked when he stopped knocking.
“Yeah!” Harlow shouted and came out of the bathroom. She glanced over at me, still catching my breath. “What’s going on with you?”
“Nothing,” I shook my head, refusing to tell her that Ripley almost killed me in attempt to wake me up.
“So, are we all going together then?” Blue asked through the closed bedroom door. I swung my legs over the edge of the bed, and my feet groaned when I stood on them.
“Going where?” Harlow looked at me.
“North,” I replied vaguely and hobbled to the bathroom.
“What? Why? Why can’t we just stay here?” Harlow asked.
“I have to find my brother,” I told her.
“Okay, well, I’m making breakfast,” Blue said, when neither of us really answered him. “So you guys should come downstairs, and we can all talk about this.”
When I went into the bathroom, I slammed the door behind me. I’d been plagued by horrible nightmares all night long, and then the lion nearly suffocated me. I did not want to fight with Harlow.
“I don’t want to find your brother!” Harlow shouted from the other side of the door.
“Okay! Stay here!” I groaned. I couldn’t even pee in peace.
“We slept in a real bed last night, not just a stupid cot!” Harlow continued. “And I wore real pajamas! The closets are full of clean clothes!”
When I finished going to the bathroom, I washed my hands with water and lots of soap. I opened the door to Harlow standing right outside, her arms crossed firmly over her chest. Ripley, for her part, was sprawled out on the bed, fast asleep.
“The food and water are gonna run out in a few days.” I brushed past Harlow on my way to get clothes to change into. “The zombies will come here, and we’ll run out of bullets.”
“How is that any different from anywhere else?” Harlow asked. “We’re gonna run out of food and ammunition, since there aren’t any more factories, and zombies are always gonna find us. At least here we have a place to sleep.”
I hated that she had a point, but things weren’t like that in the quarantine. I’m not entirely sure where they got food, except Beck once said something about a major government stockpile of dehydrated meals. Plus they had a garden, a water purifying system, electricity, and fences.
“Well, you can stay here as long as you want.” I grabbed a pair of jeans and a shirt. “But Blue and Lazlo are going with me. So…” I shrugged and went into the closet to change.
Harlow didn’t say anything after that, and for the first time since I’d met Lazlo, I was glad that we’d run into him. He could at least be useful for getting Harlow to do stuff.
I changed and got ready, but Harlow took her sweet time. She searched through all of the former inhabitant’s makeup, and spent way too long getting gussied up for a vacuous rock star who was way too old for her. He had to be at least twenty.