“He’s real,” I said quietly. “He’s just… he’s not sick. He’s the opposite of sick.”
“What does that mean?” Lazlo asked, and at least he didn’t sound angry. Just confused.
“It means…” I took a deep breath. “He’s immune.”
“What?” Lazlo asked.
“Immune? To the virus?” Blue looked dubious. I bit my lip and nodded.
“Wait. Does that mean you’re immune?” Lazlo asked hopefully.
“No. I don’t know.” I leaned back against the counter.
“But how do you know he is?” Blue asked.
“He was bitten.”
“He was bitten?” Blue raised an eyebrow, still uncertain about my story. “Are you sure it was by a zombie?”
“Yeah, I know a zombie when I see one.” I met his skeptical gaze evenly. “We were in Des Moines looking for food or survivors. Five zombies ambushed us. One of them got Max really good in the leg. It was so bad that I wasn’t sure he’d live long enough for the virus to take effect.”
Max had been behind me when the zombies attacked. I told him to go hide, but he grabbed a stick and beat on one that came at my back. I heard Max scream, and when I turned around, the zombie was gnawing on his leg.
“Then what happened?” Lazlo prompted me when I lapsed into a silence.
“I, uh, bandaged his leg. I knew what it meant, but I had to do something. I knew that he had to be infected, but he didn’t know. He was just a little kid, and we’d been through so much. I wasn’t gonna give up on him.”
“And he didn’t turn? He never got sick? At all?” Blue asked.
“No. The leg hurt like hell. I broke into a pharmacy and stole antibiotics and First Aid. I got food, and we had a gun,” I said. “I found an abandoned house and locked us in the attic, and I waited for him to show any signs.”
For seven days, I sat up in the attic with my little brother. I fed him, took care of his leg, talked to him, played games with him. And I never slept. I couldn’t.
I kept the loaded gun in the back of my pants, and I never let him find out. My plan was to kill him as soon as he started turning into a zombie, and then kill myself. For seven excruciating days, I waited for us both to die.
“But he never did.” I shook my head. “I was too afraid to leave. I might have stayed up there forever with Max, but soldiers came in, looking for survivors to quarantine.”
Beck had been the one to find us, and at the thought of him, I felt fresh guilt. We had never really been together, not in any sense of the word, but he hadn’t been gone for very long. Kissing Lazlo felt like a betrayal to Beck’s memory, and I moved farther away from Lazlo.
Beck was the first person I had told about Max possibly being infected. Other soldiers would’ve left us to die or killed us themselves, but Beck believed me.
At the quarantine, he took Max to the doctors and scientists, who were trying to find a cure or a vaccine for the virus. Beck looked out for both of us, making sure that the doctors didn’t reduce Max to a glorified lab rat, and training me so I would be able to defend us.
“So they know?” Blue asked, drawing me back from my thoughts. “The doctors, they know he’s immune and that’s why they’re keeping him safe?”
“Yeah,” I nodded.
“Why are you so worried?” Harlow asked. “Max is obviously a top priority for them. That’s why they evacuated him first. Why do you need to get him so badly?”
“He almost died on my watch, and I swore that if he lived, I would do everything to protect him,” I said fiercely. “And I can’t live up to that if I’m not with him. I need to be there, and I need to be sure.”
“I can buy all that but… why did you keep this a secret?” Lazlo asked, sounding almost hurt.
“Because. Telling people your brother might be the cure to the worst epidemic known to humanity sounds insane. Or worse. The wrong kind of people would do anything to get their hands on somebody like Max.” I looked up at them. “I’m trusting you that this won’t go any further.”
“Who are we gonna tell?” Harlow rolled her eyes.
“Come on,” Blue said, apparently done with the conversation. “We should get back on the road. London made the quarantine sound like it wasn’t too far from here, and I’d like to make it there by tomorrow.”
Lazlo tried to walk with me out to the car, but I made a point of keeping a step ahead of him. I sat in the front seat next to Blue, and Harlow sat in back with Lazlo.
A definite tension was in the car when we started on the road, and that didn’t help the situation any. This is why I always tried to travel alone. Getting involved with other people never helped anything.
I offered to take over driving as the sun started set, but Blue gave one derisive look at my arm and said no. It hurt, but it was the smart thing to do. If I ended up going rabid, it would be better if I weren’t behind the wheel when it happened.
I still didn’t have any symptoms, but that didn’t mean anything. I had seen enough infected people to know that sometimes, it just happened. They were fine, then they’d start vomiting, and then they were crazed monsters trying to tear out my throat.
Lazlo ended up driving, and I moved to the backseat so Blue could have shotgun. I thought it would be better to give Lazlo some space. I had no idea how I felt about the kiss earlier, but I knew that I didn’t want to complicate things any more than I already had. And I didn’t want to hurt Harlow anymore, either.
By the time nightfall settled in, Blue attempted a nap, resting his head against the window of the car door, and Harlow chatted with Lazlo about anything.
Her main interest seemed to be Lazlo’s music career, which he seemed uncomfortable talking about. When we had first met, he been nearly bragging about it, but now he didn’t even want to mention it.
“So you had your own signature bass?” She leaned forward, resting her arms on the back of the seat so she could talk to him. “What does that mean?”
“It just means that I designed a line of basses for a company.” Lazlo shifted, and he looked at me in the rearview mirror. “What about you, Remy? Did you ever play an instrument?”
“I’m sure she did,” Harlow replied dryly, sitting back in the seat. “She can do anything.”
“You know, you can’t be mad at me forever,” I told her.