But he didn’t need to know everything that was going on with me. Besides, it wasn’t as if I shut him out to spite him. I was trying to protect him, too.
After Blue left, Lazlo huffed about the trailer, making as much noise as possible without saying anything. Realizing that I had to say something to get him to knock it off, I told him that I had been cut in an embarrassing place and didn’t want him to see. That relieved him, and he smiled and made a lame joke about my body being nothing to be ashamed of.
Harlow came back carrying several bags filled with clothing. Her long blond waves had been pulled back in a hair tie, and I demanded she share one with me. She talked at crazy speeds, excitedly showing Lazlo and me everything after I put my hair up in a messy bun.
Most of her clothes consisted of skirts and dresses, all of which she claimed she could “fix” because she could sew. Bishop had been convinced jobs involving sewing and repairing clothing would be idea for Harlow, and she actually sounded kind of thrilled about it.
The clothes she picked out for Lazlo were equally attractive, of the tight tee shirt and jeans variety. Not that he couldn’t pull it off, because he really could, but I hated that even in the thrift store during the end of the world, they could both still manage to look good.
Harlow’s one big complaint: no combat boots. Hers had been destroyed when we got here because of excessive zombie goop, and Bishop didn’t have any replacements. Although, as Lazlo kindly pointed out, we were on an army base. There had to be a pair of combat boots here she could fit into, and obtaining new boots became her life’s mission.
She went to put her clothes away in her room, carefully arranging and folding them, while I set my sack in the hall closet. I knew I could theoretically put them in the master bedroom, but I still wasn’t ready for the conversation about sleeping arrangements.
I changed out of my bloodied tee shirt and gray sweats in favor of brown pants and a white thermal shirt.
After she had finished, Harlow said we should head down to lunch. Since Lazlo and I had no idea where we were going, we followed her. I’m not even sure how she knew her way through the maze of trailers. As we walked, it became apparent that many of the trailers were empty. The government had planned for a lot more survivors than there actually were.
We walked on a dirt trail amongst the more inhabited homes, and some of them really did look like homes. One of them even had a small flower garden by the front steps, with a bent Radio Flyer filled with rocks sitting next to it.
In the window, a child had colored and cut out pictures of the sun and rainbows and taped them to the glass. I stopped, admiring them. People were really alive here, and I couldn’t help the excited, warm feeling that left inside me.
A familiar throaty growl interrupted my thoughts. I cocked my head, not sure that I heard right, and then it came again.
Without waiting for Lazlo and Harlow to follow, I darted between the trailers, rushing to where I thought I’d heard her. I changed direction twice, because her roars echoed off the trailers, throwing me off course. Harlow and Lazlo were right on my trail, which led me to believe that I was more injured than I thought. Normally, I could outrun them both.
I saw her. Near the brick walls surrounding the quarantine, a heavy chain link cage had been set up. I’m assuming it had always been there, because I don’t know where they would’ve gotten fencing just for her. It wasn’t very big, smaller than our trailer, but it was a lot larger than the dog run we’d had for our collie when I was a kid. Barbed wire ran along the top, in case Ripley decided to climb out.
A small crowd had gathered around, mostly young kids, and Ripley paced the cage back and forth, roaring unhappily.
“Ripley!” I wanted to rush to her, but because of the crowd of people, I settled for walking quickly.
As soon as she heard me say her name, her ears perked up, and she looked at me and roared. She stood up on her hinc legs, pressing her front paws on the fence, and swished her tail.
I put my hands on the fence, sticking my fingers through the holes, and she bowed her head, rubbing it up against them. It was the first time I had ever really pet her, and she nuzzled up against the fence, purring.
They had taken the chain off from around her neck, and when I saw the thick, chafed ring it left on her skin, I felt guilty for not taking it off sooner.
“Is this your lion?” a little boy asked in an awed tone.
“No. Ripley doesn’t belong to anybody,” I said, then realized the irony of my statement when I looked at the cage holding her. I swallowed hard, but Ripley just kept rubbing against the fence, her course fur brushing against my fingers. “What is she doing here?”
“She’s a zombie killer,” Bishop said, and I turned to see her standing behind us. “They just brought her in a few hours ago. They saw her attacking zombies, and they thought they could use her. She came with you?”
“Yeah,” I nodded and looked back at Ripley. She stood there, staring at me with her big golden eyes, and swished her tail.
“She’ll be a great asset here,” Bishop said, then added for my benefit, “They’ll take care of her.”
Ripley didn’t need anybody to take care of her. She was the most badass thing alive, but I didn’t say that. I just scratched the side of her head when she rubbed it against the cage. She must’ve really missed me, because I’d never seen her so happy to see me before.
“She’s a really good cat.” Harlow came up next to me to pet her, too. “She deserves to be treated good.”
“I’m sure she is, and I’m sure she will,” Bishop replied, smiling. “But lunch is ready, and we should all eat.” She raised her voice, speaking to the crowd around us. “Everyone, lunch is served!”
The people started dispersing, heading to the mess hall, and Harlow stopped petting Ripley and took a step back. Bishop lingered for a moment longer, then went with the group. I stayed at the fence, feeling like it would betray Ripley somehow if I just walked away.
“She really is safe in there, you know.” Lazlo leaned against the fence next to me. Ripley eyed him for a second, then continued rubbing her head against the chain link. “You should find comfort in that.”
“She doesn’t belong in a cage.”
“She’s spent her whole life in cage,” Lazlo countered. “Until the past few weeks. She doesn’t really know the difference.”
“She knows,” I insisted.