Immediately after saying it, I felt guilty for sounding so ungrateful. It wasn’t that I didn’t value all Tatum’s help, both as a solider and searching for Max. It just was so frustrating to know that I was so close, and still so far away.
Tatum smiled at my outburst, and maybe that was a good thing.
“I like a girl who’s not afraid to punch a zombie,” he smirked. I cocked my head at him, unsure of what he was getting at, and that just made him smile more. “Calm down.” He leaned in closer to me, his voice barely above a whisper. “I will get you to see your brother. Just give me time.”
“Okay,” I said, a little taken back by his assurance.
“Now, if it’s okay with you, I’m gonna go eat my lunch.” Tatum raised an eyebrow at me, as if really checking for my approval about eating, so I smiled sheepishly and nodded at him.
He backed away, going into the tent, but I stood outside, my mind racing. I looked up at the concrete building looming behind the mess hall.
Knowing that Max was in there was the most maddening thing in the world. He was so close, but he was locked up too tightly for me to see him. I wasn’t even supposed to know he was alive.
Lazlo and Harlow hurried out a minute later to find out what happened with Tatum, but I was vague on the details since I didn’t want to get him in trouble. Max was alive, and really, that was all that mattered. I felt a small weight lift off my shoulders, but not completely. I still had to figure out how to see him and what to do if I didn’t like what I saw.
When we got back to the trailer, Harlow found a deck of cards in one of the kitchen drawers, and Lazlo insisted on teaching us how to play poker. Eager to learn, Harlow sat at the table across from him.
I would’ve done just fine without ever knowing the difference between a full house and a royal flush, but I had nothing better to do. Until Tatum came back with more information, I had time to kill.
Harlow eventually grew bored with the game and went to the smaller bedroom to try on her clothes and take measurements. The next day she had plans to meet with Bishop and start at the little sweat shop they had here.
Lazlo shuffled the cards with unnecessary flair, and I leaned back on the couch, my feet propped on the cushions.
“This feels so weird,” I said.
“What does?” Lazlo asked.
“Just relaxing, hanging out. In a home-like area. We have curtains and carpet and electricity. And cards.” I looked around and exhaled. “It’s just so… unnatural.”
“Yeah, I guess it is,” he laughed. “But it’s kinda nice, though, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” I shrugged. “It’d be nicer if Max were here. Then I could feel like I could really relax.”
“You’ll see him soon. I mean, he’s right here. It can’t be that hard to see him.”
“You would think so,” I sighed, picking at a spot on my shirt.
“Until then, we have this really nice place.” His voice changed, taking on an exaggerated nonchalance, so I looked up at him. He wouldn’t meet my eyes, staring intently at the deck cards, and his smile looked forced. “A nice little home, with… a nice bedroom in back.”
“Oh.” I rolled my eyes. That’s what he was getting at.
“I’m just saying that there are two bedrooms, and that master bed is pretty big,” Lazlo continued, peeking up at me to see how I was responding. “It’s plenty big for two people.”
“It’s not that big.”
“It’s not the biggest ever, but…” He trailed off and sighed heavily. Looking up at me, his dark eyes were a mixture of wounded and confused. “What’s so bad about sleeping with me?” The instant he said it, his expression faltered. “No, I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant… you know. Same bed. Sleeping, with actual sleeping.”
“I know what you meant.” I picked up a Joker that had slipped out of the deck of cards and twirled it around the table. I needed to occupy myself with something.
With a sudden flourish, he splayed the cards out on the table. He flipped them all face down, and then sliding his hand across, he flipped them all face up. He had a showman’s hand, and he smiled at me, sad and hopeful all at once.
“I’m laying all my cards on the table,” Lazlo grinned at his own bad joke, and I returned it uneasily. “I like you.” He paused, and when I didn’t say anything, he went on. “Kind of a lot, actually.”
My pulse quickened in the way only he seemed to be able to make it, but I couldn’t think of anything to say. Everything inside me froze up and stopped. Too much had happened for me to ever consider really liking someone again or having a normal life.
These things just weren’t possible anymore, and I wanted to explain that to him, to make him see that this didn’t have anything to do with how I felt about him. We couldn’t happen.
Instead of saying any of that, I fought to keep my breathing even and looked down at the table.
“Remy, what’s going on with us?” Lazlo asked quietly when I didn’t say anything.
“Do you really wanna know?”
“Depends on what the answer is,” he admitted.
So I didn’t answer. I turned my head to look out the window behind the couch. The curtain obstructed most of my view, so I lifted it a bit. The sun had started setting, and the sky above the trailers glowed pink and purple above us. Lazlo took this as my response, and he sighed.
“I guess I’ll take the couch tonight,” he muttered, getting up.
“No, you don’t have to do that,” I shook my head. “I can take the couch.”
“I can take the flipping couch.” He grabbed the deck of cards off the table and threw them in a kitchen drawer, slamming it shut.
“No, I’m the one having an issue.” I slid off the couch and stood up, trying to calm him down. “I should be the one to sleep on the couch.”
“You don’t always have to do that!” Lazlo snapped at me.
“That!” He gestured to the couch as if it’d mean something to me. “You don’t always have to be the tough guy, okay? I am the guy, here. I can be a gentleman sometimes.”
“This isn’t about being tough or chivalrous or whatever the hell it is you’re having a problem with.” I pulled a strand of hair that had come loose from my bun. “I’m just trying to be…” I trailed off, not even sure what I was doing.