Julie found Tyra and Lyla on the thirty-eighth day.
She had reached a small mall, probably somewhere near Bellmead. She had been on foot for about two days now, after her car had broken down around Hewitt. She wasn't as alert as she would have liked, her eyelids drooping, but she still felt that she was more or less prepared to deal with the potential zombies.
What she wasn't ready for was Lyla Garrity barreling right into her, and yelling, "Get down!"
Julie hit the ground as Lyla took out two zombies with two shots.
Tyra was the one who pulled Julie up and drew her in for a brief hug.
"Oh my god, Julie," she kept saying. Julie blinked and almost brought her hands up to hug her back, but then something flickered in her periphery vision, and it was there.
It was coming at them, but Lyla fired again and it was down. Julie let out a breath, and rested her hand on Tyra's back, briefly.
They stumbled upon five on the forty-second day. One came up right behind Tyra as she was picking up a can of coke from the shelf in the grocery store.
Julie could feel panic coursing through her, like something squeezing her insides, something painful and awful. She used to think she'd felt fear before, but it had never been like this, ever.
She almost froze — she never froze, not after the first time; she didn't know why it was different now — but Lyla was in another aisle, and the zombie was still reaching out for Tyra without her noticing, and Julie had a gun in her hand.
"Down," she yelled, and Tyra hit the floor.
Julie fired. The zombie wavered, but didn't go down, and she shot it again, and again, until it was over.
She barely had time to think that before Lyla was calling out and Tyra was rushing up from the floor and grabbing Julie's arm as they ran towards Lyla's voice.
Lyla had taken out two of them, and Tyra and Julie took care of the rest.
Julie had stopped looking at them as if they were human, she had, but she couldn't stop the small hiccuping sound she made when they were back in the car and Lyla was pulling out of the parking lot.
Tyra climbed over to the back, and she didn't pull Julie close, and she didn't hug her, but she linked her fingers through Julie's and held on.
"How did you get so good with a gun, anyway?" Julie asked Lyla, leaning forward between the seats. Lyla was by far the best of them, and Julie wondered why she hadn't asked earlier.
"Practice," Lyla said, keeping her eyes on the road. "And I've used one before."
"Oh, you have?" Tyra asked. Julie could hear the smile in her voice, and couldn't help but grin herself. "You have?"
"Yes," Lyla said. "I have gone shoo— Where did you learn how to shoot one?" She directed that at Julie, and Tyra turned a little in her seat to look at her.
Julie sat back, and looked down. "I kind of— Well, I picked it up on the way, I guess."
She glanced up and met Tyra's knowing gaze. Tyra nodded at her, and Julie relaxed a little.
She'd forgotten how the girls always made her feel just a little younger than she was. She was surprised to realize that that hadn't changed.
"Well, you're good at it," Lyla said, and Tyra turned back to her.
"Oh, yeah? Are you an expert?"
Julie could see Lyla roll her eyes in the rear-view mirror. The sun was going down behind them, shining on Tyra and Lyla, making their hair glow.
She leaned back further on the seat, and turned her head to stare out the window. The girls kept bantering. Julie let herself drift for a little while.
Julie thought they wouldn't ask. The people she ran into during the first days, they'd always ask. Are you all on your own, honey?; What are you doing here all by yourself?. After a while they stopped, though. And soon after Julie stopped running into people at all.
Tyra asked, though. They were both stretched out on the backseat, with Lyla driving, and she asked, "What about your parents, Jules?"
Julie was taken aback at first, but it was Tyra, so she told her. About how she'd come home that night and had not found a trace of them. She suspected — hoped — they'd been taken to quarantine. Most of the families with kids had, she'd heard. She'd stopped thinking about it soon after, stored it away as one more thing she was unconsciously clinging on to.
She didn't ask. Tyra and Lyla had both been in college when it'd happened, they probably wouldn't know either way.
Lyla told her one night. About how Tyra had found her on the side of the road after Lyla's father had gotten sick. Julie lay her head down on Lyla's shoulder, just to show that she was there.
It started raining one day; a summer storm. Julie realized she'd stopped counting the days.
The windshield wipers were old and Julie strained her eyes to see through the window when dusk started to fall. They hit a town soon, and Tyra suggested finding a house or a hotel to stay at.
None of them really liked the idea — not with what they might find in there — but sleeping in the car was uncomfortable and irritating at best. They stopped at a small, one-story building.
The house was dark, and the clouds hovering overhead weren't helping any. Tyra and Lyla creeped up the driveway, their guns in hand, while Julie tightened her hold on the wheel and tried not to blink, not to move.
She didn't like staying in the car, but Tyra had convinced her that she'd be invaluable in case they needed to get away fast. Julie had only agreed because Tyra and Lyla had been on their own for a while and doing fine without her, or anyone's help.
On some days Julie didn't understand how she'd gotten to them, survived that far alone.
"We're clear," Tyra said, right next to her on the passenger seat, and Julie startled. "Come on."
She didn't realize how hard she'd been holding on to the wheel until she drew her hands away and had to muffle a pained noise when flexing her fingers.
Lyla took first watch while Julie and Tyra curled up on the couch together. Julie's fingers still hurt, but Tyra covered her hands with her own and Julie slowly relaxed into sleep.
They found Tim with two guys they didn't know. They were heading the other way: going back to Dillon.
"They say that it's better up north," Lyla said. "Something about the colder climate."
Tim shrugged. They were sitting on the hood of his truck, watching the sun slowly creep downward.
"We haven't seen one in at least four days," he said. "The other guys think it's over. They're heading towards Round Rock, I said I'll drop them off along the way."
"There's nothing there anymore," Julie said. She shifted a little, and her fingertips grazed Lyla's hand. "It's empty."
"It won't be empty for long," Tim said.
"Oh yes," Tyra said. "'Cause Tim Riggins is coming home. The zombies will throw you a parade."
Tim grabbed her by the waist and lifted her off the truck. She screamed, but Julie could hear the delight in her voice, hidden behind outrage.
She'd thought she'd never see any of them again. She'd tried to forget about them; had thrown all the energy she still had left into it. It had almost worked.
She was really glad it hadn't.
Lyla was laughing next to her, and Tim was still spinning Tyra around. Julie felt warm.