The bridge was quiet as a graveyard.
It was something out of a science fiction movie, wasn't it? Alice in Wonderland type shit. Something happens, and suddenly the world goes inside out, with people transported to some other dimension. No one had said a damn word, but it was the only explanation that made any sense at all. It looked like home, but it wasn't home. Everything felt a few degrees to the side. Just a tiny bit abnormal. Forests that sprouted up around them overnight. Everyone else in the city, gone. The smell, gone.
Gordie was the first to break the silence. "I mean, there's only so many options."
"Maybe we're dreaming," Allie offered. "It's the best option."
Campbell rolled his eyes, but held his tongue for Cassandra's sake. They would all have to be dreaming the exact same dream at the same time, and that seemed far less likely than some sort of weird wormhole situation.
Harry was sitting on his car hood, with Helena and Luke next to him. He ran his hands through his hair; he was still half drunk, and had no business being there, but there he was and he was freaking out. "Maybe this is just some elaborate fucking game. Like, someone built an exact replica of our town and just put it in the middle of nowhere, and if we just walk..." He paused, waving his hands towards the trees. "Like, this way or that way or any way, eventually we'll get back to the real world."
Christ, that was an even worse theory. Campbell sighed. "An exact replica of the town," he pressed, "complete with all our family's cars? Our clothes? Our bathroom towels, posters, jewelry, stuffed animals, the food in our fridges?"
"I'm not saying it makes any sense."
Crossing her arms, Cassandra leaned against the bridge and frowned. She had that debate team look in her eyes. The look that said she was trying to dissect the situation in her mind. "There was a smell, and then it went away. It came back, and the buses came for us."
Harry scoffed. "You're gonna just work this out, Cassandra? Like some logic problem? I mean, not a flicker of a doubt?"
"The world doesn't just turn upside down without a reason. We're not in some play-within-a-play. Okay? Clever is not the same thing as true. There is a point to everything, there are answers."
"That's right," Helena chimed in. "God doesn't just play games with people for fun."
Cassandra clenched her jaw as she looked to Helena, then to Campbell. They had both stopped going to church a long time ago, and Cassandra had been the one to get religious-specific plays banned from school performances. Campbell didn't really believe or disbelieve anything, but he knew Cassandra and Helena had gotten into argument before about all sorts of things. LGBT rights, abortion, gun control... He could see that anger stirring up in Cassandra. It wouldn't be pretty if it got loose.
Luckily, Luke seemed to sense the tension and butted in. "All right, look, Grizz and I will get a group together and we'll go hike out here through the woods, okay? Like a search party."
Helena nodded. "I think that's a good idea."
"Do you think it's safe?" Cassandra asked, frowning.
"Yeah," Grizz replied, "sure."
Luke tried to smile. "Grizz knows what he's doing. And if there's people out there, we gotta find them, right? You know. To get help."
"I'm leaving." Harry got up off the car and headed towards the driver's door. His eyes were glassy, distant. It wouldn't be long before he imploded. "I'm hungry."
Allie stood up, glaring. "You're leaving?"
Campbell watched the bickering that followed, wondering when-- if at all-- they were going to ask his opinion. But he knew they wouldn't. They never did. If they would have shut the fuck up long enough to bother, Campbell would have told them that the horizon looked a little too clean for a West Ham summer. Too clear. He would have pointed out that there were no planes, no trails even, in the sky overhead. Wherever they were, chances were they were alone.
Instead, he focused on his phone while everyone started arguing in full; Elle was trying to call. Can't talk now, he texted. At the bridge with Cassie and others.
She replied quickly. Why? What's wrong?
Not sure. All roads out of town are blocked.
Blocked? We can't get out? Has anyone found our parents?
Campbell rubbed his face with one hand. No, we can't. No adults or younger kids yet. Trying to figure out what to do.
Oh. A long, long pause. Show me.
Whatever was happening, Harry was officially done. His tone sharpened, and Campbell looked up to see him trying to collect Kelly. "You coming with, Kel?" He stood there, staring, when she shook her head. Ouch. Harry hadn't mentioned that they were on the rocks; he was being an unreasonable ass, though. Not a surprise. "Jesus christ, just get in the car."
"Leave her alone," Will grumbled.
"Hey, fuck off, Will." Harry looked to Campbell, seeking someone to follow him. Campbell just raised an eyebrow. Harry seethed, getting into his car and starting the engine. "Fine. Who gives a shit."
He knew Harry would be mad at him for a while, but eventually he'd stop being a selfish prick and come around. Campbell needed to be there, to keep an eye on people and the situation; he needed to hear what was happening, and plan accordingly. If Cassandra couldn't keep herself together and all hell was going to break loose, Campbell needed to be ready. In the mean time...
Cassandra blinked at him and he moved to her side, lifting his phone to take a picture of the blocked off tracks and road. "What are you doing?"
"I'm just gonna send a text. Let everybody know how fucked we are."
"Campbell!" she hissed. "Don't. Come on, let's think about this."
But there was nothing to think about. Campbell pressed the send button, and his phone dinged in confirmation. He smiled at the look of horror on her face, sitting down on the sidewalk while he waited for Elle to reply; it wasn't often that he actually felt stronger than Cassandra, or even smarter, but it was one of those rare moments that he saw an opportunity and took it. Hiding the truth from people would only backfire. She'd thank him later, if she had the sense.
Cassandra was still moaning over it. "Fuck. Why did you do that?"
"Relax, Cassandra. I don't have many people on my contact list."
"But they'll share it with their friends. It'll spread."
"A slow, steady distribution of information is better than pretending things are fine."
"Look." Setting aside his phone, Campbell turned to Cassandra and held her gaze. "You, me, and like a dozen other people already know. How long do you think it'd be before one of them squealed, huh? Someone would let it slip, at some point. And if you go back into town, telling everyone it's all good when it's not, at some point they'll realize you lied. What do you think is gonna happen when three hundred teenagers stop trusting their student body president, Cassandra?"
"I'm not student body president anymore. Harry said so, and it's true."
"Harry's a shithead."
"Then why are you friends with him?"
"Not the point. You're one of the smarter people here. Gordie, Bean, Will, Grizz? They're amazing, but you were the closest thing to a leader we had back home. That doesn't just go away."
Cassandra chewed on her lip. "I don't want to be a leader. I'm..." She pressed her hand to her chest. "I'm sick. What if I can't get my medicine?"
"Tough shit," Campbell retorted. "Power is in your hands, and if you don't get a grip on it, someone else is going to put you in the dirt. All the medicine in the world won't help you if there's a fucking mutiny."
"What do I do, then?"
"These kids are gonna get scared, and they're either gonna look to you or they're going to challenge you. Pull yourself together."
For a long time, Cassandra didn't speak. She sat next to him and gazed woefully at a small group of teens that were heading their way, some walking and others jogging. They were pointing at the road, and some began shouting. A few began to hover closer to her, looking nervous. "Well. Maybe you're right."
"Usually am. Now if you'll excuse me, I have an acquaintance to console."
Elle had arrived with the group, staring off the side of the bridge at the tracks. Other kids joined her nearby, and Campbell could hear them whisper as he approached. He was telling the truth. What does this mean? How is it possible? He ignored them, leaning against the railing next to Elle; she didn't look at him, but she leaned a little closer.
"This is such bullshit," she said after a time. "What are we supposed to do?"
Campbell shook his head. "Whatever is happening, if we're stuck with no way out, then we gotta do what you do in any survival situation. Secure resources. Shelter, food, water."
"Should head to the store and grab some shit before people all get the same idea."
Elle glanced over at him. "You're pretty calm in all this."
"Getting panicked or scared just means mistakes get made." He texted her a small list of supplies. "Go to the store. Bottled water. A lot of stuff can be frozen or dried. Get what you can, we'll figure out how to preserve it later."
She nodded, turning and heading towards the closest market. Campbell waited for her to be out of earshot, then headed towards Cassandra, who was talking to Will and Sam. Everyone else seemed to have dispersed. They all glanced at him, but kept talking; Will was discussing the food situation, already, and Will specifically mumbled something about dehydrating and canning. Well, at least Will had some clue, then.
"I saved a bunch of YouTube videos," he said, looking sheepish. "I always wanted to be a chef, so..."
Campbell kept walking. They already were making plans; they didn't need him any, and he should go make sure that Elle was doing alright. He made it a few yards before Sam caught up to him, grabbing his sleeve to get his attention.
"Where are you going?" Sam asked.
"To get what I can." Campbell sighed at the way Sam's eyebrows knit together. There was no point in wasting time trying to explain, and besides, he had to make sure Sam wasn't gonna starve to death. "Coming?"
There were a few different stores and markets in town, and while there was one close by, Campbell knew of a smaller one run by one of those doomsday prepper types. There wasn't as much variety there, but it did have gallon-sized bottled waters and things like powdered eggs. People went to it for camping supplies, but not much else; it wouldn't be the first place most would think to go to.
Sam followed him inside, watching at Campbell began to fill a basket full of supplied. At least he didn't try and argue that it was theft or anything. "What are you getting?"
"This is for you. A week of water. Jerky, nuts and seeds. Dried eggs. Dried fruit, some other shit. Keep it in the basement until you need it."
"Why a week?"
"Because if the utilities go and no one comes for us after a week, they're not going to." He didn't mean for the words to come out quite so grim, but it was useless to sugarcoat things any. "Keep using the water at home as long as you can. If it goes off, use this."
Campbell grabbed some for himself, and they managed to weasel the baskets home without being seen. Probably because most of the other kids were at home crying or at the bridge by that point, who knew for sure. At least no one approached them. As they put shit away, Campbell made a list in his head of things in stores that would be in high demand. Toilet paper, first aid kits, batteries, medications, alcohol, anything for hygiene. Bleach, matches, lighters. And knowing his peers, condoms. If he got his backpack and headed out again, he could probably snatch a good stock before anyone else thought of it...
Sam sunk onto the sofa once they finished. He tilted his head as Campbell got a couple backpacks, and made another list on his phone. "What are you going to do?"
"I have some business to take care of."
Maybe it was the comment itself, or maybe it was the eyebrow quirk of Sam's eyebrow, or some sort of tone his brother had. Either way, Campbell's mood soured on the spot. "Don't pretend like you know me."
"I don't know you. That's what scares me."
There was nothing to say to that, in the end. Campbell stormed out of the house, heading towards the pharmacy first. Most of what he wanted would be there, and the chances of anyone else being there already were slim. To his surprise, when he arrived, someone had already been messing with the lock; they hadn't managed to get in, whoever they were. Campbell slipped his lock picking kit from the backpack and made quick work of it. First was anything addictive, then meds that would be important. The pharmacy had a little book behind the counter that explained what everything was, and Campbell swept through as fast as possible to grab asthma medications, birth control pills, anti virals, whatever looked useful. He paused as he examined the shelves, seeing a prescription for Cassandra. Her heart meds. He tossed it into his backpack, and then found the rest of that medication and stole it, too.
Harry's home was close by. Campbell headed there, knowing Harry would let him stash shit there until Campbell convinced Sam to get in line. When he knocked, though, no one answered. Sighing, Campbell found the hidden key Harry had made specially for him; the house was quiet when he came inside, with Harry nowhere in sight. He hid the backpacks in the attic first, then went hunting for his friend.
"Harry? You were supposed to be here eating." A muffled sound came from the living room. Campbell found Harry laying curled up in a ball on the floor, under a blanket. "Hey, buddy. You don't look so hot."
"Leave me alone, Satan," Harry slurred.
"Are you high?"
Campbell flopped onto the floor next to Harry, lifting up the blanket to peer in at him. "C'mon. Tell me. What'd you take?"
"A xanax. From mom's medicine cabinet."
A quick trip upstairs, to peek at the dose. Not worrisome, but definitely more than a beginner should take, and enough to knock Harry on his ass for several hours. Campbell went into the kitchen and made a can of soup. Harry's favorite, split pea with ham. He brought it to Harry and sat on the floor again, tempting Harry with it. Eventually, Harry crawled out from under the blanket and took the bowl.
"She dumped me." Harry poked at the green mass. "Kelly. We found out her dad was screwing with my mom, and I don't know. She got pissed off at me."
"You do stick your foot in your mouth regularly."
"I didn't mean to make her mad. Now we're in this fucking nightmare world, and... what am I supposed to do? I can't do this alone."
Campbell resisted the urge to gloat. He'd never really liked Kelly, anyways, and the feeling had been mutual. "Look, you two have been having problems for over a week now. This changes nothing." He reached over, snagging the spoon from Harry's hand and loading it up with soup. "Besides. You're not alone. You have me."
Harry didn't fight as Campbell fed him the soup. "You know what I mean," he said through a bite. He suddenly stopped, swallowing and sinking his face into his hands. "Maybe you don't. Christ."
"You're hung over and high. Eat your soup and we can talk later."
He muttered under his breath, but Harry listened anyways. Campbell put on a movie, chilling while Harry ate; when Harry was done, he slumped against Campbell and fell asleep. Well, at least he couldn't panic if he was passed out cold. Hours passed. Harry eventually woke up enough to stumble into the shower and clean himself up, while Campbell made them grilled cheese sandwiches. Harry had just returned when their phones began to buzz.
"It's from Cassandra." Campbell slid Harry a sandwich. "She wants us to get to the church as soon as possible."
Harry shook his head. "Man, fuck her."
"Quiet. She knows what she's doing."
"Do you seriously believe that?"
"Yeah, I do."
Harry didn't say anything, but he tightened his jaw, and Campbell saw something in his eyes that planted another seed of worry. Rebellion. Fucking hell, it was starting already. Campbell headed towards the bathroom while Harry got dressed; it was a quick detour to the bedroom of Harry's parents, where Campbell knew Harry's mother kept a gun. The case wasn't locked. The ammo was right there. Thank fuck Harry never had the inclinations to kill anyone. Campbell made sure it was unloaded, then stuck the gun in his waistband and the ammo in his pocket, before heading back out. Harry was waiting on the porch, and they hopped in his car and made their way to the church.
By the time they got there, people were starting to gather, but it was mostly empty still. Cassandra was standing by the water fountain, leaning against the brick wall and taking deep, slow breaths. Harry went on inside without waiting. Campbell hung back, sidling up to Cassandra when no one was paying attention.
"I can't do this," she whispered. "I can't."
Campbell nudged her shoulder with his own. "It's gonna be okay, somehow. If it makes you feel any better, I knocked over the drug store and stole you a few months worth of your heart meds."
"You... What. No, no, nevermind. I don't want to know."
"You're welcome. But seriously, just chill out. What are you even talking about?"
Cassandra ran her hands through her hair. "Luke texted Helena. Helena texted me. We got ahold of everyone on the buses, but people all keep asking me what's going on. You were right. People are looking to me, and I don't know how to lead them."
Campbell shrugged. "We're kids, okay? Most of us aren't used to living in the real world. They're gonna be worried about things like resources and safety. Guide them a bit towards ways to get or keep that, and they'll follow."
"But why would they take my word for it? I have maybe five friends, Cam. There's over two hundred people coming, and I don't know how to trust them, or get them to trust me."
Trust wasn't something Campbell was familiar with, but he knew no one would trust Cassandra if they saw her as weak. And if Cassandra didn't believe in herself, then weak was exactly how she'd come off. Cassandra had been tempered by her love for her family and friends. It was sweet, it was good, but sweet and good wasn't going to get shit done. The people in their town only understood wealth and power.
But it was too late to talk more; dozens of people were heading their way, and Campbell knew better than to be seen lingering around Cassandra too long. He took a seat in the back, far from the Cassandra and her little herd. Sam was there, surrounded by Allie, Becca, Gordie, and Will. His actual, chosen family. Even Harry was up there, and Kelly. He felt a small stab of jealousy, but bit it back as soon as it reared its head. It'd do no good.
"You could join them."
Campbell glanced up at Elle's voice. She stood in the church aisle, watching him. "No, that wouldn't be a good idea. I don't want to be a public relations nightmare for my cousin."
"Stay away from the alcohol, and you'd probably be fine."
"No, Campbell, whatever you're about to say just don't bother. The best thing you can do is promise never to do that again, and then keep that promise, okay?"
"I can do that."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah." Campbell hesitated. He hated making promises, because he knew he could be unreliable and he hated breaking promises just as much, but Elle was worth the effort. "I promise."
Crossing her arms, Elle looked down at the floor. "Alright. Well, Kelly invited me to sit with her. I'll let you know if they say anything good."
She didn't wait for an answer. Elle peeked back at him as she headed up front; he tried to smile at her, and she didn't really smile back, but it was a start at least. Campbell turned his focus to the crowd in the church and their quiet whispers. Many were scared. A few were angry. Most just seemed confused. As time passed, they became restless.
At least, that was until Cassandra stood, and began to speak. She stood in the center of the stairs leading to the podium. "Listen. Hey, listen up."
Silence fell over the church.
Cassandra continued, her voice shaking at first, but becoming louder and clearer as she carried on. "While we're all here, together, there are some things that we ought to figure out. Before we rip this place apart and maybe... you know, start hurting each other." She paused as quiet murmurs spread through the gathered students. "I don't know what the hell is going on. Maybe Luke will come back with some good news."
Elle spoke first, her tone annoyed. "Maybe? Of course he will."
"Yeah," Harry agreed. "Why don't we just wait and see, Cassandra?"
Cassandra sighed. Her eyes darted to Campbell, for just a split second. "Because I would rather prepare for the worst before the worst happens."
"What does that mean? Prepare?" Kelly wondered.
"I don't know specifically, but I think it means we agree not to just take things when we want until all the food is gone and we starve."
The murmurs turned into a panicked rumble. Campbell winced, but Allie, Clark, and Helena loudly agreed with Cassandra, and that seemed to quell the surge of fear... until Harry opened his goddamn mouth, just as Campbell knew he would.
"This is bullshit."
Will's back was to Campbell, but he could heard the disbelief in Will's voice. "Jesus, man, what is your problem?"
"What are we agreeing to, Cassandra?" Harry turned to Cassandra, ignoring Will completely. Some of the students waiting in the pews began to yell in agreement with Harry. "Which one of us gets to decide who gets what? Your friends?"
Becca let out a huff. "It's called democracy."
"I'm not a fucking idiot, Becca."
That was debatable, Campbell thought, but he kept quiet. At least for the time being, to see how things would play out. At least Cassandra seemed to have a handle on things, for the time being; Harry was getting flustered, especially when Cassandra brought out the coin she'd kept from the play.
"How do you want to decide things?" she challenged. "Every person for themselves? Then we're back to where we started. Maybe you want to flip a coin to see who decides? You don't like democracy? How about random fucking chance?"
Harry scoffed. "That's--"
"Call it, Harry. Call it."
"I'm not gonna do that."
"Okay, okay. I'll call it for you. You get heads." Cassandra flipped the coin. "Tails. Still think it's unfair? Best two out of three. Oh! Tails."
"I... I mean..."
Cassandra flipped a third time, but this time, her face fell. "Tails."
Harry looked frozen. The church had become so quiet, it was like no one was even breathing. Harry was thinking back to the play, and Campbell knew everyone else was, too. "Do it again." Four more times, Cassandra flipped the coin. Tails, tails, tails, tails. Harry stepped back from Cassandra, eyes wide. "Fuck."
For a moment, Cassandra paused. She stared at the coin, and flipped it again; she closed her eyes, her hand over the coin for a long moment before she finally looked. "Heads." She held up the coin, and the crowd let out a long sigh of relief. She turned her attention back to them, lifting her voice once more. "It's all up to us. There's no civilization here, not until we start one. So what are we gonna do? First, I think we have no choice but to share. Share food, share resources."
"Houses?" Harry asked.
Allie stood up. "Really? How much electricity do we have? Until it's all used up and everything goes dark? I think 225 people in 200 houses doesn't make sense."
239, but who was counting.
"Keep what's ours!" some random fuckhole shouted from the other side of the church.
"What is yours?" Cassandra questioned. "Do you have money? Who you gonna pay? The things that you need to live-- food, clothes, the stuff in stores-- no one owns them."
Will and Harry erupted at one another over housing, and Campbell sighed, leaning back and closing his eyes. They were snapping and snarling, and the mood in the church was getting tense. Will on one side, arguing for Cassandra's view that there should be rules, organization, a method. Harry on his own side, screaming about how he should get to do whatever he wanted. Campbell understood. Harry was afraid, afraid of losing what was his and the comfy little life he had for himself. The big house and big bed and things were all he really had, in his mind. And well, men in general weren't great with sharing, were they?
But Campbell knew history sided with people like Will and Cassandra. Capitalism, mine-mine-mine, greed. It never fared well in situations like the one they were in. No, they needed rules. They needed some sort of system, where everyone had an equal portion of things. And they had such a small, small window of time to get things going and working, before it all fell into chaos.
Harry was yelling at Cassandra, getting ready to storm off like the entitled rich boy he was. Great. "I don't have to listen to this. Not anymore."
"Harry, this has nothing to do with you," Cassandra snapped. "We need to--"
"I don't need to do anything you say, you fucking--"
Campbell had been busy loading the gun while the two argued, with the rest of the students starting to stand up and scream back and forth, too. He stood, pointed at the back wall's roof where it wouldn't hurt anyone, and fired a single round. The angry screams turned into screams of panic as everyone hit the floor. Some started crying, but everyone was staring at him, and no one was speaking.
"Well..." Campbell took to the center aisle, walking towards his cousin. He had to act fast, before anyone recovered and tried to stop him. "Fuck this. Harry's right."
Cassandra's mouth dropped open. "What?"
"No one elected you king, cousin. Did anybody vote for her? Did they?" Campbell stopped in front of Cassandra and gestured to the cowering teenagers on the floor. "Anybody elect her to speak on your behalf? No?"
"I... I don't want to be king."
Campbell stared hard at Cassandra. She was stuttering. Oh, it wouldn't do at all for her to look like this in front of the people she was trying to rally. He cocked the gun again, but this time, he pointed it at Cassandra. There was no bullet left in the gun, but she didn't know that. No one did. "That's not what it looks like. Is it?"
Allie jumped in front of her sister, glaring daggers at Campbell, but Cassandra gently brushed her aside. Something flickered to life in her eyes. Something courageous. Self-sacrificing. "I've thought a lot about dying. I've almost gotten used to that. But I don't like to be afraid." Cassandra looked down the barrel, then met Campbell's gaze. If she had any idea of the hand he was playing, she didn't give it away. She simply stood tall, steeling her voice and not flinching a bit. "Do you want chaos? Fucking shoot me."
And there she was, the Cassandra he loved. Campbell chuckled, lowering the gun and giving her a little smile. "I don't want to shoot you. I wanted to get everybody's attention." Just one last part of the plan to put into place. "This meeting's obviously over. We'll be back when Luke gets here. Until then, if anybody else is tired of listening to her, you can follow me."
Campbell turned and headed towards the door, knowing Cassandra would be watching and counting each and every person who left with him. She would know their names. Their faces. She would know exactly who was siding against her. Once he got to the exit, he glanced behind him. It was a good sign. Harry and Kelly. Seven others, of various genders. A tiny, tiny minority, and no threat to Cassandra at all. She would be safe.
But then the church doors swung open with a bang, and Campbell fell back. Everyone did. Luke walked in, flanked by Grizz, Bean, Gwen, and the others that had gone out into the forest. In Luke's arms draped Emily's pale, limp body. Gasps and noises of despair rippled through the crowd, and everyone parted to allow Luke access to the table at the front of the room. Grizz cleared the table, and they all stood around, staring. Some started to cry. Some tried to check for her pulse.
She was dead. It was clear the minute Luke came in. Campbell had never really known Emily, so he stayed near the door, letting everyone else have a chance to see her for themselves. Closure or whatever.
"She died from a snakebite," Luke called out. "Her whole body just shut down. We did everything we could, but we couldn't save her."
Grizz spoke when Luke sank to the floor. His voice was flat, cold. Practical. "So we're gonna bury her tomorrow, before it starts to smell. I'm gonna need a couple of guys..."
"There's nothing out there, guys. Just a whole bunch of just... woods that go on forever. We're all alone. This isn't our home."
This isn't our home. Those four words were all it took to shift everything. He looked to Sam, his thoughts already spinning. His little brother was huddled with Allie, Cassandra, and Becca, and Campbell could practically smell the fear on him. Alone. Sam didn't trust Campbell, and now they had to be alone together? They had to try and survive together? It wasn't going to work, not like this, especially when-- not if, but when-- things started getting cutthroat. Campbell was too bitter, too hateful, and he knew he wouldn't be able to handle the stress of worrying about them both.
Especially if Cassandra expected people to start sharing houses. There was no way Campbell could do it. He would hurt someone, at some point. In the end, it was for Sam's own good. Campbell knew he, at some point, would snap. He would destroy Sam. He wouldn't want to, or even mean to. But if they were on their own, trapped, it'd be like too many rats in too small a cage. They'd turn on each other someday, and Campbell knew he would always save himself, without hesitation. Sam deserved better than that.
So... Campbell eyed Cassandra and Allie as they walked past, heading to their home. They had already opened their home to Will. Safety in numbers, right? And Cassandra loved Sam. Allie was protective of her family. Sam trusted and loved them, too. They could keep him safe. They would take care of him, and sacrifice their own needs for him if it came down to it. They could be the home Sam needed, even if it was just for a little while. Campbell just had to hope that Sam was angry enough inside, hurt enough by years of distrust and backbiting between them, that he'd be happy to leave.
He grabbed Sam's arm as Sam followed after their cousins. Campbell kept his face calm, his voice neutral. Maybe it would be simple. No need to get nasty about it, if Sam would go willingly. "Hey. Don't come home tonight."
Sam tensed. There was hurt in his eyes, and the smallest glint of stubbornness. He was angry, but not angry enough. Not yet. "It's my house, too."
Campbell studied Sam's face, choosing to dig a little deeper. Something more painful was going to be needed, obviously. "Ever since you were born, I never had just one day that was mine, until now." It was the truth, anyways. It had been the Sam Show from day one, and it was no secret that Campbell resented Sam for it. "Alright?"
Sam stared Campbell down, not saying a word. Not at first. Finally, he shook his head. His voice was low. Pained. But he didn't look away from Campbell, not even a little bit. "No."
So, that's how it was going to be. "Give me the key, you little fag." He had never called Sam that before, or anything like it. He'd busted plenty of people's lips for less. It felt dirty on his tongue, but it was the one thing that Campbell knew would hurt Sam past the point of forgiveness. And if that didn't work... Campbell shot his hand out and scruffed Sam like a petulant kitten, digging his fingers hard into the back of Sam's neck. "Give me the key."
Shock was the first emotion that crossed through Sam's expression. Campbell had never laid his hands on Sam before, either. He'd never needed slurs or physical violence before. But persuasion wasn't working, and maybe shock was exactly what Campbell needed to bring Sam's rage to the surface. It worked like a charm; the fury finally arrived, hurt transforming into a deep, crushing hatred. It was the same hatred that Campbell had seen in Sam the night Oliver was found dead, and fuck, it wasn't what Campbell wanted to see. But it had to happen now, before it happened later. Before Sam got hurt worse.
Sam handed over his key to the house, then shoved Campbell hard and walked away. Campbell watched him go. Sam didn't look back. Good. It stung more than Campbell had expected, in some weird, dull way, but it was necessary. Wasn't it? Sam would be with Allie and Cassandra, where it was warm and welcoming and loving. Campbell would be on his own, away from anyone he could easily hurt, with time and space to figure shit out.
When he got home, it was dark. He turned on the lights, turned on some music. There was cold cheese pizza still in the fridge; he ate it, not bothering to heat it up first. It was late, and he was tired, but there was a restlessness in him that wouldn't let him sleep. He ended up standing in the living room a bit past midnight, with the lights turned off and just a little bit of moonlight streaming in through the windows. He'd turned off the music, and it was quiet. Perfectly quiet, like he'd always fantasized about. No one to interrupt him, no one to scold or condemn him or look at him funny, or bother him with questions or requests, no one to have to pretend around. Happy, relaxed, carefree...
Campbell sat in the middle of the living room sofa, emptiness settling over his shoulders like a frigid, heavy blanket.
For the first time in years, he cried.
Emily was buried in the morning.
They chose the church yard for her final resting place. The grave was too shallow, and there was no casket. Just a bedsheet, white and clean, and some flowers laid across her body. No one spoke any memorable words. Helena said a sermon from the Bible, ironic for the fact that Emily had been Buddhist, and that was it. They buried her, people cried, and then they went home.
Over the next few days, cards and handwritten letters showed up around Emily's grave. Campbell brought a few flowers from the front yard, and Harry brought one of his sister's teddy bears. It felt right to show some sort of solidarity. Soon, there were candles and other things left behind, too. Campbell wondered if anyone would leave tokens at his grave, if he died. Not that he'd care, but it was a morbid little thought, nonetheless.
People hid in their houses, for the most part. Emily's death seemed to solidify what was happening. They weren't home, they weren't going to be magically saved; that was something else to be grieved. Harry coped by throwing parties. He never invited Campbell. Not anymore. Campbell knew it was because drugs were involved, but whatever. Elle would come over in the morning for coffee, anyways. She wouldn't talk much or stay long, but she'd give him a hug before leaving. For just a little while, it'd soothe the strange pit in Campbell's chest.
In the ten days that followed, Cassandra stopped by twice. Once to get some of Sam's things, once to take the food rations he'd stolen for Sam. They didn't speak. Cassandra was pissed. Whatever. He was used to people being fed up with him. At least on day ten, Campbell got a text from Harry, inviting him to the gazebo. Apparently, Lexie and some friends of hers were trying to channel God or something.
They're talking to a stack of rocks, Harry said. You gotta see it.
Campbell couldn't resist. He found Harry, and the two watched the bizarre spectacle unfolding on the green. Sure enough, Lexie and several others had gathered up rocks, stacked them, and were sitting in a circle around them while chanting. He almost felt bad for staring, but Cassandra, Allie, Helena, and Gordie were in the gazebo and staring just as much.
After twenty minutes or so, Harry gently prodded Campbell in the chest with his phone. "Hey, there's a game of Fugitive tonight. It's gonna be the biggest one yet. You in?"
"Yeah, sure," Campbell replied. He'd rather piss on an electric fence. "Whatever."
"Look, I know I've been kind of a dick these last few days. But I miss my friend, you know. We've always been partners in crime, haven't we?"
Campbell looked over at Harry. The poor fuck had dark circles under his eyes, and his hair was a mess. He hadn't been taking care of himself at all. It was enough that Campbell wanted to tell Harry to get a shower, and then they'd talk, but... Partners in crime. Campbell had long ago given up on the idea of Harry ever desiring him, and now Campbell had Elle to focus on, but when Harry batted those goddamn eyelashes of his and used that tone? Impossible to resist.
"Yeah, yeah," Campbell murmured. "Forgiven."
Harry leaned against him, just a little. It was almost enough to distract Campbell from the absurdity that was Lexie attempting to throat sing, but then several people began to shout and point upwards towards the sun. Campbell glanced up, just a bit. Enough to notice that something was happening. He turned the screen of his phone towards the sun. In the reflection, he could see a dark circle oozing across the face of the star.
"We asked for a sign!" Lexie yelled.
Her rock-stacking buddy, genius that he was, stared up directly at it. "What does it mean?"
Gordie saved the day, luckily. "It doesn't mean anything. It's a fucking solar eclipse. It's not a sign, it's a predictable astronomical event." His tone turned pointed as he looked at the guy. "Just don't stare at it, and we'll be fine."
Of course, some people kept staring at it. Campbell waited until it went completely dark, and the air turned cold; Harry let out a soft gasp, and Campbell looked up. Totality. It was beautiful and eerie. The sky was dark, the moon was dark, and around it was a halo of bright light. It stayed that way for a long, long minute and a half, before the "diamond" appeared along the side of the moon. It was ending. Campbell looked away, and soon daylight returned to the world.
"Shit," Harry whispered.
Campbell nudged Harry. "C'mon. Like Gordie said, man, it's nothing. Let's go get breakfast and leave Lexie and the God Squad to freak out."
Harry nodded, following as Campbell led them to the small coffee shop downtown. It was easy enough to pick the lock and disable the alarm; Harry had worked there the last few months, and could make one mean coffee. They found some of the frozen sandwiches and heated them up, sitting down at the little table near the window.
"Been a while since we just hung out," Harry said as he sipped his drink. "How have you been?"
"Oh, I've been keeping myself busy."
"I heard you kicked Sam out."
Campbell groaned. "Why does everyone keep bringing that up?"
"Cold move, dude."
"Yeah, well, it's a good thing we don't have to explain shit to each other if we don't feel like it, huh?"
"Whatever you say. I just think it's gotta suck being in that big house by yourself."
"Yeah?" Campbell picked the sausage off his sandwich and tossed it onto Harry's plate. He smiled, taking a bite and leaning forward. "Hey, how are things going with Kelly these days?"
Harry lifted his hands in a gesture of peace. "Point taken, okay? Damn." He let out a long, slow sigh. "But if you actually care, I don't know. We haven't talked much. I keep thinking maybe she's just pissed and will come around when she's done being pissed."
"Good luck. Chick knows how to hold a grudge."
"Don't be rude. She's sweet."
Campbell shrugged. He felt the familiar, possessive spark burn to life; he didn't want to talk about Kelly. She was smart, she was gracious. She was polite and elegant and the perfect sort of woman for a politician. Senator Bingham and his lovely wife. They really would have made a pretty picture. But did she know him? Did she see him as he was, and love him anyways? Of course not, but still, he chased after her.
The bell above the door jingled. Speak of the devil, Campbell thought as Kelly walked in. Her eyes were cold when she noticed him, but she still strode over. "Could I get a coffee?" she asked, turning her gaze to Harry. "If you're not busy."
Harry's spine immediately evaporated. "Oh, sure. Yeah."
"I had to get going anyways," Campbell added. He stood and pushed between them, heading to the door. Campbell paused at the door and flashed Harry his brightest smile. "Lemme know when you find those balls you were missing."
There was no point waiting for an answer. Campbell headed out, wandering the streets and trying to figure out what to do. He could break into the arcade, steal the quarters, and start a lucrative career in 8-bit gaming. Grizz and his crew were out on the football field. He probably could weasel his way in with them, especially since Grizz seemed almost friendly. Or maybe he could go convert the golf course outside of town into a community garden; Cassandra hadn't taken him up on that whole screw-grass-plant-food idea yet. He just felt itchy, and he knew that meant trouble if he couldn't find a productive outlet.
He stopped, pulled from his thoughts. Elle was behind him. She was in a nice black and white dress, hair gleaming and just a touch of make-up on. Campbell tilted his head. "Hey, Elle. Going somewhere?"
Elle pursed her lips. "I was thinking about it. Helena's speaking at the church."
"I don't know what I am anymore."
"Would you like me to walk you? I was heading that way."
"Yeah?" That managed to get a small smile from her, anyways. "I'd like that."
Campbell held out his arm, and Elle took it. "Cute necklace. Ballet slippers?"
"Mhm. My mom got it for me when I had my first solo."
"A solo is kind of a big deal in ballet, isn't it?"
"How old were you?"
Elle blushed a little. "Oh, about seven or so. But then I got the part of the Sugarplum Fairy in my old school's production of The Nutcracker."
"Well, I'm no Lauren Cuthbertson, but I try."
By the time they got to the church, Campbell had been well-schooled on London's Royal Ballet. Elle gave him a curious look when he stopped at the church steps. "You're not coming in?"
"Nah, I kinda get hives around the Bible. I'll wait for you here, okay?"
Elle shook her head as she went inside. Campbell mulled around for a moment, before noticing Kyle Jasko sitting on the sidewalk nearby. He was in a wheelchair thanks to a bad accident when he was young, but he never seemed too down about it before; now, he looked like he hadn't been getting any sleep, either.
"Hey, Kyle," Campbell called out in greeting. Kyle's head snapped up. He didn't say anything back. "How's it going?"
Kyle eyed him for a moment. "Fine. What do you want?"
"Nothing. Waiting for someone?"
"Yeah. The guys in the Guard help me into the church, but I guess they're late."
Campbell looked from Kyle to the church steps. That wasn't something he'd thought about before. They were basically in a half-hearted apocalypse situation. What was that like for people like Kyle? He knew for a fact that most of the stores had small doors, narrow aisles. A lot of places only had stairs. Navigating the world was a pain in the ass as it was. With wheels, it had to be even harder.
The church doors opened, and one teen wandered out. A few seconds later, Cassandra followed. For a second, Campbell was surprised to see her; it had been a good five years since Cassandra had gone to anything resembling a sermon. Then again, people were doing all sorts of desperate things these days.
Cassandra startled a bit when she saw him, but then kept walking, eyes far away. Distracted. She didn't really look at him, but she slowed her walk so that he could keep up. "Hey. What are you doing here?"
"I walked Elle over." He peered over at her, trying to read her face. She had her mask up, though, and even he couldn't figure that out. "Message not for you?"
"Yeah, oddly enough I'm still not into church services. Not a lot of people are buying what Helena's selling. They're starting to lose hope."
"I think people are doing pretty well under the circumstances, don't you?"
"For now, but we both know that won't last. Once reality settles in, I'm worried what they're going to start doing." Cassandra frowned. "People who are scared and alone can do terrible things."
"Well, at least we're not alone. You and I are some of the lucky ones. You've got Allie and I've got Sam."
"You had Sam."
Campbell stopped, lightly grabbing Cassanda's arm. She looked at him, finally, and it was cutting. So, that was it. She was pissed off. "He told you what happened."
"Of course he did." She yanked her arm out of his grasp. "Campbell, how could you?"
"You know I'm not going to be able to play by the rules you want everyone else to play by. If I get Sam out of there now, if people think I turned on him, no one will question why I'm in a home by myself. Besides. I care about Sam, but I can't take care of him. I can't give him what you can."
"Fine, but I hope you realize you can't get through this all on your own."
"I've got Harry. Elle, maybe." Campbell hesitated. Hard to tell where they stood, at this point, but he was willing to hedge his bets. "And I've got you."
Cassandra crossed her arms. She let out a little, irritated breath of air, but the look in her eyes had softened. "You do have me."
"You're right, anyways. We can't go on like this. We have to figure some things out. Make some rules."
"You almost had me fooled, that night in the church."
"C'mon, as if I'd really hurt you. I did what I had to do. You know who's with you and against you, now."
"True enough." Another kid left the church. Cassandra led them to the bench nearby; they sat back to back, like then did when they were younger, leaning against each other. "So, you're on board, then?"
"Idle hands are going to be a big problem eventually. The thing is, who's gonna decide the rules, you know? Who has all the power? That'll be interesting."
"No," Campbell chuckled. "Fuck that. No, I'm just the idea guy."
"And what ideas do you have?"
Cassandra's tone turned incredulous. "Lawns."
"We're gonna need food sources. Lawns are useless wastes of space and water." It was a rich people luxury that they couldn't afford. Not anymore. "Rip them up. Get seed packets from the stores and start planting. Also, Kyle really needs some ramps for his wheelchair. Just saying."
Bringing out her phone, Cassandra tapped something out. "I'll talk to Grizz and the others about it. It might be too late to plant anything, but Clark and Jason were in wood shop. They must be able to use a hammer."
"Cool." Campbell closed his eyes, soaking up the feeling of the sun on his skin and breathing in the smell of flowers. Waiting. But she didn't say anything else. She was waiting, too, and she was never the first to cave. "How is Sam?"
"Mm. He's hurting. He misses you, I think, but he'd never admit to it." Her tone turned dry. "It's something you two have in common, as it turns out."
"So, we both got the stubborn gene. What the hell am I supposed to do about any of this, long-term?"
"Why are you asking me?"
"Because you think it's a bad idea. You have that vibe."
"I do not."
Cassandra shifted, sitting up and pulling away so she could turn to face him. "Fine. I think there are other ways we could keep you both safe. But if you really are going to do it like this, just... Don't come around for a while. I think you both need time to think things through."
Campbell opened his mouth to argue, but then people started coming out of the church. "Looks like Helena's lecture is over. I better go get Elle."
"Of course. Thanks for the suggestions."
Nodding, Campbell turned and headed towards the small crowd of people gathering on the front steps of the church. His eyes found Elle. She was at the edge of the crowd, eyes down and face drawn. She looked lost. Sad. Still, as he approached, she looked up; her hair shone gold in the sunlight, and her blue-green eyes sparkled faintly. Absolutely gorgeous. Campbell smiled at her and offered his hand. She took it, and they began to make their way back towards Elle's home.
"Bleak service," Elle muttered. "Maybe the other kids are right. We're gonna die here."
"Maybe, maybe not. Doesn't do much good to worry about it, though, right? Like Cassandra said. We need to just focus on preparing for the long haul."
"How do you keep yourself from freaking out?"
"Lots and lots of distractions. Speaking of which, Harry said there's a game of Fugitive tonight. Wanna come? Might take your mind off things."
Elle cocked her head. "What's Fugitive?"
"Like tag, with cars." Campbell grinned as she shot him a worried look. "No, you don't run people over. Fugitives run on foot towards a safe zone, and cops hunt for them in cars. One cop drives and the other cop is the runner. The runners chase down and tag fugitives. It's whatever, but it's something to do."
"Maybe. Sounds a little too intense for me."
"I'll text you the location, if you change your mind. We're starting at ten."
Campbell sent her the information, but his phone buzzed with a new text a split second after. Sam. He bit his lip at the preview. Can we talk? Maybe Cassandra had said something, but that seemed unlike her where Sam was concerned. Sure, Campbell finally texted back. Where are you? A few moments later, and Sam sent a picture of himself posing with a pair of deer antlers. So, their dad's office. "Jesus christ."
"Sam wants to see me. I should go."
"I thought you two were fighting?" Elle shrugged as Campbell glanced up at her. "Gossip travels fast."
"Figures. I bet the town is having a field day with it."
"That you're a homophobic dickbag that kicked out your deaf brother? Yep."
"I deserve that, I guess. It's just not the full story."
Elle curled her arms around herself. She studied his face a moment, then gave a small nod. "Maybe you can tell me about the full story after Fugitive."
It was a chance to explain. Campbell reached out and touched her shoulder; she didn't pull away. "Thanks. You gonna be okay By yourself?"
"Oh, I've managed before. Good luck with Sam."
Hopefully he wouldn't need much luck. It was a long walk to the office, which meant a lot of time to think about all the possible scenarios and ways things could play out. When he arrived, though, Sam was surrounded by boxes and up to his eyeballs in paper. Campbell flopped down in one of the office chairs. Sam jumped at the sudden movement, nearly dropping a folder, and for a split second Campbell almost felt bad. Maybe it'd teach the kid to be more aware of his surroundings, anyways.
"You rang, Sammy?" Campbell asked. Sam stared at him, shoulders hunched a little. He didn't answer. "Seriously. I'm not gonna bite. What are you doing here?"
Sam still didn't answer right away, but then he swallowed hard and let out a long sigh. "I'm trying to figure out why we're here. In this place."
"First one is a letter from some guy named Pfeiffer demanding $1.5 million for the smell removal." Sam picked up two papers and handed them to Campbell. "The other is a response, refusing to pay, signed by dad and Uncle Rogers. It's dated the day before we were taken."
Campbell took the papers and skimmed. It was actually worse than that; they had payed, but then they'd cancelled the check. They had purposefully screwed the guy over. "What do you think it means?"
"The smell, us being taken on the buses. It has to mean something. They have to be related some way. Maybe, I don't know."
Interesting, and definitely suspicious; it reminded Campbell of something, though he wasn't sure what. It didn't matter. Campbell focused on the inevitable outcome if those letters were ever discovered. "You have to destroy those papers."
"Fucking destroy them. Don't you get it? We're going to be blamed for this."
"What does that mean? We just want to know the truth."
"You're a fucking dipshit if you think it's that simple." Campbell ignored the way Sam straightened and clenched his fists. He just get the hell over it. "You and I may hate each other, but we still share our father's last name."
"You think things aren't gonna get bad around here? You think it's all just gonna be one big happy camping trip?"
"Is that why--"
"Look," Campbell interrupted. He knew what Sam was going to say, and there was no way they were gonna have that conversation yet. "If we're stuck in this place, things are gonna get so bad so fucking fast. And you want to tell people that our family had something to do with this?"
Sam looked down at the papers, then handed them over. Campbell took them, ripping them into tiny pieces and tossing them into the metal trashcan by the office window. One little flick of a match, and the scraps were up in flames. There was a chance Sam had copies on his phone, but Campbell chose not to push it. Sam's phone needed his fingerprint to get in, anyways. Whatever was there was probably safe from prying eyes.
"No one else knows," Sam signed. "Not even Cassandra."
"Good. Keep it that way, for now."
"What are we going to do?"
"Keep our heads down and play along until we can find a way home."
As much as Campbell loved being away from their parents, away from the pointless day to day social rules, it wasn't sustainable unless they found some sort of civilization besides their own. Campbell met Sam's eyes, and pondered saying something. Even just an apology. But Sam was the protagonist of If You Give A Mouse A Cookie-- if Campbell apologized, Sam would want an explanation, and then he'd want to talk.
But then Sam seemed to give up, shuffling his foot on the hardwood floor. "Is that it?"
He'd take the out. "I need a car. Can I have dad's key?"
Sam hated their dad's car. He took the key off the ring and handed it over, a tiny hint of relief on his face. "What do you want the car for?"
"Game of Fugitive in an hour." Campbell fiddled with the key for a moment, thinking. "You wanna go? I could use a rider."
It was no surprise that Sam shook his head. "I need to keep looking."
Well, whatever. Campbell headed towards the door. He stopped just outside of it, looking over his shoulder; Sam was still watching him, a mournful expression on his face. It sucked, but it wasn't enough to make Campbell budge. Campbell signed one last thing. Be careful. It was the best he could, or would, do.
The faces at the Fugitive start point were a lot less somber. People were bouncing, laughing, chattering among small groups. There was one group hanging out near Harry, comprised of some of the people he'd known back in their real home. He hung around the edges there while he waited for Harry to show up; they were always Fugitive partners, and now that Kelly was out of the picture, that sure wasn't going to change this time around.
One face Campbell didn't see was the one he wanted to see most. Elle wasn't there, not yet. Maybe she wouldn't show, after all.
But then Harry was hopping up onto the hood of a car, yelling at the growing crowd. "Okay, okay, we're gonna... Hello!" People settled, listening. Harry grinned. "I got some texts saying more folks are coming. We're gonna wait a few minutes before we divide up sides, see who else shows up, so just hang out."
"You look chipper," Campbell said as Harry jumped off the car and sauntered over. "Extra strong coffee?"
"What? I'm my normal self."
"Your normal self isn't chipper."
Harry opened his mouth to reply, but Campbell slid his arms around Harry's waist before her could. "Woah, what the hell? Campbell, you can't just--"
Campbell's fingers closed around a small baggy in Harry's back pocket. He pulled it out and sighed. "Really? This stuff again?"
"Don't be a hypocrite. You slipped me pills plenty of times. And besides, it's not like there's an endless supply. Just one last little party before it's gone."
"You know how I feel about you getting into the harder shit." It was bullshit. The occasional painkiller or little bag of weed wasn't the same as a cocaine addiction. "This is the last of it, right?"
"Well... No. I have one more at home."
Whatever fight was about to start, it was cut short by the arrival of Allie. She smiled at Harry, and Harry smiled back. Campbell stared. No. No, no fucking way. "What's she doing here?"
"I invited the town. Besides, I asked her to come with me tonight."
Campbell kept his mouth shut. Harry's eyes were locked on him, almost daring him to say something. What was there to say? Harry hated being alone. Of course he moved on to another hot body before his own got cold. "Don't do anything stupid and get her hurt. I don't need to hear about it from Cassandra."
"Yeah, okay," Harry answered. Campbell was viciously pleased that the bounce had gone out of Harry's step, just a little. A hollow victory. "Whatever."
Clark came zooming up in an actual cop car, crowing about how the keys were still in the ignition. For some reason, no one found that weird as fuck; Campbell refused to get near the damn thing. They were stuck in some parallel world. A cursed car didn't seem quite that far-fetched anymore. But Clark, of course, claimed it for himself and picked someone else as his rider anyways. Good thing about everyone thinking he was evil-- less people roped him into their terrible ideas.
Harry had stomped off, dividing up the crowd and explaining the rules. Campbell tuned him out and scanned the players one last time. He didn't expect to see Elle, but he caught sight of a small figure along the outskirts of the group, talking to Grizz. She'd shown up after all. Campbell felt some spark of happiness, even if it was dimmed by Harry's bullshit.
The starting horn let out a shriek, and the fugitives took off. Elle froze, looking over at Campbell; he grinned as one of the guys yelled at her to get moving, and she bolted down the street with the others. The evening suddenly looked a lot more fun.
"Nice car," Grizz said as he wandered over. "Need a partner?"
"Would have thought you'd be someone's rider, Mister Football."
"Pulled something playing with the guys. I can still drive just fine, though."
Campbell considered the offer, then tossed Grizz the key. It'd be a chance to prod at Grizz about Elle. They climbed into the car to wait for the three minute head start to be over; he watched Grizz familiarize himself with the car, wondering how to approach the situation. The three minutes ended and they were out on the road when Campbell decided to just go for the throat. Just a matter of finding the right opening...
"Hey Campbell, how many miles per gallon does this thing--"
"So, interested in anyone?"
The car jerked forward a bit as Grizz's foot slipped and hit the gas. Grizz glanced over at Campbell for a split second, before focusing intently on the road. "How do you mean that?"
"You know. Romantically. Sexually. Philosophically."
"Uh, that's kind of... Why do you ask?"
"I saw you chatting to Elle in the parking lot, so I just wondered."
Grizz visibly relaxed. "Oh, oh thank god."
Squinting, Campbell eyed Grizz but decided to let it go. "So, you're not interested in Elle?"
"Nope. I don't really know much about her, besides the fact that her family's from Ireland. Hey, I think I spotted someone down that way. Wanna go?"
The shift in topic was obvious, but Campbell got the information he wanted. Time to focus on the game. They peeled down the street, and Campbell jumped out and raced after a fugitive who was trying to go through a locked fence. Easy. They gave the fugitive a quick ride to the gazebo-- the 'jail' for the night-- and then headed back out. Five more captured fugitives later, and they took a quick break.
Grizz sipped a water. "You're good at this."
"Eh, I was super into maps and history when I was younger. I know pretty much every street here like the back of my hand. Useful for this, anyways."
"Yeah? Where'd the best hiding place be?"
"Hm. There's an alley back behind the old video rental store. There's some bushes and a few other buildings that kind of hide it from view. We could check it out."
When they pulled up, it looked like an alleyway from a horror movie. It was dark, and utterly silent. Campbell opened the door and headed in, despite the fact that Grizz looked like they were in the Upside Down and he was expecting the Demigorgon to pop out. Sneaking down towards the back of the store, Campbell paused when he heard a twig snap; he stopped, watching and waiting.
A shape moved from the shadows and into a single beam of light from the streets. It was just enough that Campbell could see a bit of blonde hair, and the glint off a necklace chain. Campbell couldn't believe his luck. Elle was right there, mere feet away, and she hadn't seen or heard him yet. He held his breathe, waiting until her back was to him. Finally, he moved, grabbing her shoulders.
Elle yelped, jumping and spinning around. When she saw Campbell, she began to laugh, pressing a hand to her chest. "You scared the shit out of me."
He couldn't help but laugh a little, himself. "I'm sorry. Are you gonna make it?"
"I suppose." Elle smiled and held out her wrists. "Okay, you can take me to jail."
"I can take you someplace better than jail."
Elle's smile faded. She leaned a little closer. "Well, we did plan to talk after the game. Your place or mine?"
"That's entirely up to you."
"Your place, then."
Campbell brushed a lock of hair from Elle's face, taking her hand and leading her back to the car. They both hopped into the back seat. "Hey, Grizz. Mind playing chauffeur?"
Grizz peered into the rearview mirror. "Not at all. Clark called to say the game's over in ten, anyways. You two going to Harry's party?"
"Nah, just take us to my house."
He began driving, without asking for directions. Any other night, Campbell would ask Grizz how he knew the way, but it didn't matter. Elle was still holding his hand. She was looking at him like she wasn't sure yet if she actually forgave him or not, but she was coming home with him and her fingers were laced with his. It meant he had a chance to make things better.
Grizz parked in the driveway, hopping out and handing the key back over. He smiled, and gave Elle a little wave. "Thanks for the game. Have a good evening."
"You, too," Campbell replied. "Night."
Feeling nervous usually wasn't something Campbell had to worry about, but he did feel a small flicker of uncertainty as he let Elle inside and watched her look around the house. She inspected the books, the art, the furniture and fixtures. Whatever she saw must have passed the muster, because she was smiling again when she came back.
"I don't suppose a lady could ask for a beer?"
Campbell snorted. "I've got enough stashed away to last a year. A lady most certainly can have a beer."
She followed him into the kitchen and perched on one of the stools, resting her elbows on the countertop. "Well, I'll know where to come in a drought, then." Elle accepted the beer Campbell fished out of the fridge. "You really do have a beautiful home. Awfully big for one person though, isn't it?"
Popping open their drinks, Campbell let out a rough exhale. "Yeah, I guess I should try and explain that."
"It's complicated. I know I shouldn't have said what I said, but..." Campbell ran a hand through his hair. "You don't know Sam. Our parents doted on him. He always was the center of attention, especially when he got sick. Our parents just acted like I was a nuisance. I was always a problem to get rid of."
"What do you mean?"
"Like... Sam got all the attention. The newest toys, treats, birthday parties. Mom and dad were too busy for me, because they had work or because of the baby or because Sam needed them. And they never really got me anything, because they said I'd just break it. I couldn't have parties because I was rude to the other kids."
Elle tilted her head. "Yeah? Did you actually do those things?"
"Well. Yeah. But they never asked why, you know? I broke things because I got frustrated, and they just didn't care. I got into fights because it was the only time I felt like I could let the anger out."
"So, what does that have to do with Sam?"
"It made me hate him. And I know it's their fault, not his, but it fucked things up between us. I felt like I was always fighting over every scrap of anything with him. And when we got here, I just... I don't know. I wanted my own space, my own time. And then they start talking about sharing homes, and I just... I would hurt people. And I didn't want one of those people being Sam."
Elle rested her chin on her hand. "You could have just explained that to him, you know."
"No, because then he'd think that we could just work it out somehow. Even if he left, everyone else would wonder-- why me, and not them? Why do I get my own place?" Campbell shook his head. "Then anyone could just claim to be crazy and get their way. No, I had to actually do something. And most people love Sam and hate me, so it was the best way to prove I was the monster they thought I was already."
"Well, I don't think you're a monster. A little crazy, maybe," she added with a half smile, "but not a monster."
"Yeah, but it's not the cute kind."
"Then what kind is it?"
Campbell downed the rest of his beer. He wanted to tell her, warn her off or whatever, but he could remember Cassandra telling him not to let anyone know. Still. When he looked at Elle, something in him made him think he could trust her. And if she did react badly, who would she tell? They were both the town social pariahs. No one cared what they had to say.
But... He couldn't say it. He opened his mouth to try, but it didn't want to come out. Instead, he just shrugged and tried to smile. "The kind I don't talk about until the third date."
"Two more dates to go, then."
"Yeah?" Campbell blinked. Maybe it was the alcohol, but he could swear Elle was looking at him a bit warmer than before. Who was he to question it? He stood up and offered his hand. "Wanna go up to my room? It's comfier than the kitchen. We could watch a movie or something."
Elle finished off her beer and accepted his hand. "Only if you bring that bottle of wine I saw in the fridge."
It was just some cheap Barefoot Moscato, but he dutifully grabbed it from the fridge before heading upstairs. Elle followed him into the room; besides his family and Harry, no one else had ever been inside, and he was suddenly thankful that he kept his space clean and tidy. She explored with the same intensity that she had downstairs, not touching anything but studying everything.
"Did you take these?" she asked, pointing to the black and white photographs above his desk.
"Yeah. 7th grade photography class."
"They're very good. Have you considered getting into photography?"
"It was a thought. It'd give me a chance to see other countries."
Elle looked to his desk and lightly grazed her fingers over a small globe, the stamps he had out to sort through, a small collection of old books on world maps. "I guess I expected you to be more into video games and posters of women in bikinis than nature shots and world travel."
"I mean, I could whip out Super Smash Bros if you're disappointed."
But then Elle was right there, curling her arms around him and kissing him. Campbell froze, just for a split second, before kissing her back. Her lips were soft and tasted faintly of strawberry; when he brushed his fingers along her cheek, her skin was warm. Campbell had never allowed himself to get that close to anyone. It had always seemed just out of reach, but Elle was right there in his arms. His other hand rested on her hip, and that was when she yanked back. Moment gone.
"I'm going home. This was a mistake."
Campbell lifted his hands. "Woah, woah. Hey. I didn't mean to upset you again. I thought we were having fun."
"I don't want to have fun."
"Elle, I don't understand what's going on here. I promised I wouldn't do anything you weren't comfortable with, but you kinda seemed into this."
"Yeah, well I'm not just some skank, okay?"
"Okay, okay. I know I made a mistake at the church, but I didn't mean anything by it this time. It's just where my hand rested. I don't think you're easy or anything."
Elle brushed past him and headed towards the door, but then she stopped and turned back. "Why did you pick me? Why do you keep picking me? You barely know me."
"Because I like you." Campbell sat on the bed, gesturing at the air between them. "Alright, so I don't know you super well, but we're not strangers. I think that we've got a bit in common."
"I like you, too, but I... Look, I don't like being touched like that."
Campbell bit back the urge to ask. It wasn't his business. He nodded, raising his right hand. "I swear, I won't touch you without asking. Okay? But I need you to tell me I'm making you uncomfortable. I'm kind of new to this."
Crossing her arms over her chest, Elle looked up at the ceiling, her eyes blinking rapidly. "Can we watch a movie still?"
"Hey, of course. C'mon. You can pick whatever you want. Our DVD collection has thrilling titles like Lord of the Rings, Top Gun, and Frozen."
"Don't hate on Frozen. It's a beautiful movie about familial love and self-acceptance."
Elle sniffled and laughed at the same time, coming over and sinking on the bed next to Campbell. They were cuddled up and halfway through Let It Go when the thunderstorm rolled in; the lights flickered, and Elle pressed a tiny bit closer, and closer still when the power went out completely.
"Don't worry," Campbell tried to assure. "They'll be back on by the time the movie's over."
"How do you figure? Who's gonna fix it?"
"We've been here two weeks without anyone at the power plant. Wherever we are, whatever this is, I have to believe that it'll right itself."
"I wish I was that confident."
Campbell looked over at Elle, the glow of the DVD player illuminating her taut, worried expression. "You're safe here with me. I want you to know that. I won't let anything hurt you."
Her eyes shone as she turned her face to him. "Do you think I need someone to protect me?"
"I don't know. I need someone. I think maybe you do, too."
"Maybe." Elle rested her head on his shoulder. "Can I have some wine?"
They passed the bottle back and forth for a little while, until Elle shook her head when he offered it back. He set it aside; it wouldn't do any good to get drunker than her. Not again. "Pleasantly warm" was a good place to stop. What wasn't pleasant was that, by the time the movie was over, the rain was still pouring and the power wasn't back on. He tried not to think of what that meant in terms of frozen and refrigerated food, and focused on the fact that Elle had fallen asleep against him.
"Hey." He gently nudged her with his elbow. "It's late. Do you want me to drive you home?"
Elle stirred, but didn't move. "Can I stay here? I don't wanna be alone."
"Yeah, no problem. You can stay here and get comfy. I'll use one of the other beds."
"No. Don't go."
"Are you sure?"
Campbell felt torn. Elle was half asleep, and probably a little tipsy. Was she making a choice she'd normally make? But if she really didn't want to be alone, then he didn't want to make her upset. Waking up to find someone gone didn't sound like anything he wanted to put someone through. After a few moments of deliberation, Campbell carefully lowered Elle to the bed and tucked her in with a quilt. It was warm and a bit muggy from the storm, so hopefully a light blanket would be good enough.
Stretching out on his side of the bed, Campbell kept his distance as much as possible. He was just about asleep himself when a loud crack of lightning rang out over the house, rattling the windows. Elle mumbled something, shifting around until she was curled up at Campbell's back, one arm slung over his waist.
Never pictured being the little spoon, he thought to himself as he closed his eyes. But for someone like Elle, he could see himself getting used to it.
Campbell woke to the sound of his phone beeping.
It was early. Sunlight filtered through the window, bright and shining as if nothing had happened the night before at all. It would have seemed like any other morning except for the fact that Elle was snuggled under the covers and snoring quietly. He considered waking her up, but she looked so peaceful that Campbell couldn't bring himself to do it. A few extra minutes wouldn't hurt.
He eased out of the bed and tiptoed downstairs, glancing at his phone. Voicemails. Texts. Two missed calls. What the hell had happened now? Campbell opened his phone and read over everything. Cassandra and Harry had texted and called him. Sam had texted. There had been bunch of robberies, and a fight had broken out at some point. Cassandra wanted to know if he and Elle were okay; Sam, to Campbell's surprise, also wanted to know if he was okay. Harry, as per usual, was just freaking out in general.
Yes, Campbell texted back to Sam and Cassandra, I'm fine. Are you?
Harry could wait. Campbell wasn't ready for that mess, not until he'd had some coffee; he turned the ringer on his phone off and let out a breath of relief. Luckily, Grizz had sent out a mass text to everyone saying the power had only been off for a few hours, and that Will said all the food people had stored should be safe to eat. Cool. It meant Campbell could cook breakfast. Fifteen minutes later and he was heading back upstairs with frozen waffles, eggs, bacon, and two cups of coffee. Elle was awake by the time he got back, stretching and yawning just as he came through the door.
"Good morning, sunshine."
Elle rubbed her eyes. "Mm. The power came back on?"
"Just in time to save our bacon, literally. I didn't know what you liked, so I kinda just went with the staples... Unless you're one of those free-range asparagus water types, then I can't help you." When Elle didn't reply, Campbell set the tray down and sat next to her on the bed. "Hey. No judgment, if you want free-range asparagus water, I can get you some."
"No, no. I like all these things. It's just..." Elle shook her head. "School here is almost as bad as ballet. There's so much pressure to be so thin and pretty. And people here just hate me, even when I look like they think I should. If I didn't..."
"If you didn't, you'd still be beautiful."
"Yeah. And you know what else is beautiful? A big stack of waffles with fancy butter and real maple syrup."
"I can't argue with that."
They both ate in silence, knees touching; Campbell tried to think about how to bring up the night before, but Elle seemed content, and he didn't want to act like it was some big deal. After all, they'd just slept. But what if he'd fucked up again? What if she was upset, but just wasn't saying anything?
But then Elle's phone buzzed. She glanced at it and sighed. "Cassandra's holding some sort of no-men-allowed meeting at the church. I should go and see what's going on." Elle inspected Campbell over the top of her phone. "Maybe you could go see Harry in the meantime? He's called twice in five minutes."
She wasn't wrong. More than that, there was another slew of text messages. Campbell sighed, giving Elle a spare toothbrush from the cabinet and walking her to the church once they were both freshened up a little. He waited until she was inside before moving on to Harry's home; he probably should have messaged first, but of course Harry would be home. He didn't really have anywhere else to be. Not anymore.
"Fuck. Where've you been?" Harry slurred, not even bothering to get up. He was sprawled in his bed wearing not much more than a sheet. "I thought you got beat up."
"Your concern is noted."
"You didn't come to my party, Cam."
"No, Elle and I went back to my place."
"Ooh, fun. I had some fun, too. Think I might be in love with Allie, for real. She's like... gorgeous." Harry pushed himself up off the bed, stumbling towards the bathroom. He didn't even try to cover up; he was acting like he was still half drunk, and hell, maybe he was. "Is that weird for you?"
Campbell ignored the comment, kicking some beer cans towards the trash. He very suddenly wanted to be anywhere but in Harry's presence. "You've gotta pull yourself together a little bit. It looks like a dumpster in here."
"Don't be ridiculous. Your mother wasn't much better than this."
When Harry came back out of the bathroom, at least he had on some underwear. "What's gotten into you this morning? Would've thought you'd be in a better mood."
"Since when do you get to make comments about my sex life?" Campbell snapped. "Life isn't about screwing everything with a pulse, you know."
"Don't be mad at me just because you don't get any."
Campbell felt a surge of anger. His fists balled, and oh god he wanted to punch Harry so hard his ancestors would feel it. "Keep your fucking mouth shut, Harry."
Something in Harry's expression shifted, as if he'd become at least somewhat sober the moment he heard Campbell's tone. "I'm just playing around, Campbell. Seriously. What's with you?"
"Maybe I don't want to play."
"Are you... are you jealous?"
What had been rage mere seconds before guttered and went cold, turning into something hollow. Campbell's shoulders dropped. Their eyes met, and Campbell wanted to just say it. But it was too goddamn late. "I gotta go. Elle needs me."
"And I don't?"
"I'm sure Allie's available. Call her."
Harry stared at Campbell like he'd been slapped. Campbell turned on his heels and walked out the door, slamming it behind him. What the fuck had that been? Campbell fumed at himself the entire way to the church; Elle was waiting on the sidewalk, and though she smiled when she saw him, he couldn't bring himself to smile back.
"What's wrong?" Elle asked. "Is Harry okay?"
Campbell kicked a rock into the road. "Yeah, peachy. He's slept with damn near everyone in this town, and finally got around to my cousin."
"Surely you don't mean Cassandra."
"No. Allie. Cassandra, I could understand. Allie? I don't know what the hell she's thinking, getting involved with him."
"I didn't think you and Allie got along."
"We don't, but she's still family, and I'll end up having to hear about it either way. And Harry... he's just confused. Latching onto anyone he can for a distraction. But in the end he'll get left, and I'll have to clean up the mess."
Elle was silent for a couple blocks. "It's gonna get worse, isn't it? All of this. Cassandra said it's only a matter of time before men start attacking women. That's going to be a worse mess, if she's right."
"She isn't wrong. Did she say what she wants to do about it?"
"There's going to be a meeting in a few days. She told us to talk to the rest of you, see if we could get the men in town to agree to some ideas. Not taking anything, a work schedule, that sort of thing."
It wasn't going to go over well, Campbell knew. Even if all the women in town agreed to it-- and they wouldn't all agree, that was clear from the night several were prepared to walk out of the church-- that didn't mean everyone else would. "She'll have to get the Guard on board. A lot of people look up to them. Grizz and Luke probably will be easy to convince. Clark's an asshole, but Helena is tough. She'll crack him."
"I'm always on her side."
Elle stuffed her hands into her pockets. "It just feels so pointless. At some point, we're gonna run out of medicine. Someone will get sick and we won't have doctors. Electronics will wear out. Gas will run out. Power, water. Aren't we just delaying the inevitable?"
"Hey." Campbell stepped in front of her. "Don't talk like that. Yeah, we're stuck right now, but we can survive this. I will dump these fucks off a bridge if they try to hurt you. Okay? We'll be alright."
"You don't know that."
"There are a lot of people here who know what they're doing. Cassandra, Gordie, Bean. They're smart. So's Will, and he knows how to survive. Grizz is like a weird bag of cool special interests, and I can do anything that needs to be done that they won't do. Trust in us a little."
"Trust isn't my strong suit."
"Me, either. But I trust them, even when I don't like them."
Storm clouds were rolling in again. Elle looked up at them and shivered. She didn't say anything, but she stepped around Campbell and kept walking towards her home. By the time they got there, rain was starting to fall. Campbell watched Elle stand in the front entrance; the place was oddly sparse, for having been lived in for years, and Elle looked so small and pale among the stark white walls and hardwood floors. Suddenly, he understood what she'd meant by one person being alone in such a big space. It didn't feel quite right. Not at her home, or his, either. But...
"Can I stay over at your house for a few days?" Elle asked, interrupting his thoughts. "I just really don't like the thought of being alone."
"Yeah, of course. Estás en tu casa."
It didn't take long for Elle to pack some clothes, her make up, and a few other belongings. Campbell left and got the car, coming back to pick her up; there was no point in walking in the rain and having her stuff get damp. He helped her unpack in his parent's bedroom. He wasn't about to ask her to stay in his room. It was a huge assumption, and besides, he knew the value of having one's own space.
Elle was hanging up her clothes when she saw him stop, looking at a framed picture. "That's me, after that first solo I told you about." In the photo, she looked even smaller, with a big toothy grin and flushed cheeks. Her parents were darker blonde. Pretty. "We didn't get ice cream often, but we did that night to celebrate."
"They look like nice people."
"They tried, I think. I'm an only child, so they went all in on me I guess."
"What's that like?"
"Intense." She took the photo from him and set it on the bare nightstand next to the bed. "They gave me a lot of love, but they expected so much from me all the time. I guess it's an immigrant family thing, you know? Parents want a better life for their kids. They gave up everything back home to make sure I'd have a good future. It was hard, but I know they mean well."
Campbell tried to smile, but it didn't really stick. "That sounds nice. It must suck to be here without them."
"I do miss them. What about your parents? Do you really not miss them?"
"No. I know I'm supposed to, but all I feel is relieved."
Elle examined the room, her gaze falling on another picture. It was his parents' wedding picture, sitting on the dresser across from the foot of the bed. "I noticed they have a lot of pictures everywhere, too. It must suck, being in a place surrounded by them."
"I guess so. I try not to think about it."
"Have you ever considered just getting rid of it?"
Eyeing the picture, Campbell stood up and walked to the dresser. He lifted the picture off the wall, took it to the trash basket, and dropped it in. "Yeah, that does feel better."
They went through the house together, with Elle holding a big, black garbage bag. Campbell dumped in all the photos of his parents, and everything else that reminded him of them. He avoided Sam's room, and left the photos that were just him and Sam together. There was no telling what was going to happen between him and Sam, but he didn't want to bother Sam's stuff, in case they smoothed things over eventually.
When he was done, Elle hefted the bag into the middle of the living room floor. "What do you wanna do with it all? Take it to the dump?"
"I'll take it to the basement." Campbell dragged it away. "Thank you for helping me. It's better, not having their blank eyes everywhere."
"Also less weird seeing your parents' underwear in the room where I'm sleeping."
Campbell shuddered, taking the crap downstairs and sticking it in the darkest corner of the basement. Why shouldn't he? Until the adults came back-- if they came back-- it was his house. What did he owe them, really? He hadn't asked to be born. They had only done the bare minimum his whole life. Most of everything he had, he'd worked to get for himself. They weren't around to appreciate the crap, anyways. Campbell shut the door to the basement and put it out of his mind. Time to start looking forward.
They were making dinner when Campbell's phone buzzed. Harry. He hit the decline button, going back to stirring the tomato sauce he had on the stove; he wasn't in the mood for more drama and whining. Elle looked up from the salad she was working on the second time the phone went off. She didn't say anything, but Campbell saw the question in her eyes.
"I need a night to cool off," Campbell muttered. "I know he's probably drunk or high or both, and I just can't deal with him like that."
"Do you get into fights often?"
"Every now and then. We know each other too well."
"You'd think that'd help you fight less."
"Maybe. For us, it just means we know how to hurt each other."
Elle turned her attention back to the salad, but not before he saw the troubled expression on her face. Well, it wasn't any secret that his relationship with Harry wasn't healthy. Still. Harry depended on him, and he knew Harry wouldn't actually leave, no matter how ill-tempered Campbell got. Which was why, after he and Elle had their nice spaghetti dinner and headed to their separate bedrooms, Campbell read the texts Harry had left.
I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. Please call me?
Campbell, I'm sorry. Pick up.
I need you.
Ah, and there was the sweet spot. Campbell smiled at those three little words, opening the message and tapping out a reply. Heading to bed. I'll call you in the morning. It was a cruel reply; he knew Harry wouldn't sleep well after that. It'd do the guy some good to think about being an asshole to his few, true friends. Campbell turned off the phone, rolled over, and immediately fell asleep.
The next morning, Campbell woke up to Elle sitting down at the foot of the bed. "Cassandra texted. She wants everyone to meet up at the church." Elle had dark circles under her eyes. "I didn't wanna wake you up, but she said it was urgent."
"It's okay. How long?"
"An hour and a half."
Campbell nodded and stretched, rolling out of bed and into the shower. He was half dressed when he popped downstairs, his shirt slung over one shoulder. "Why don't you go on ahead? I'll have to go drag Harry out of bed and haul him down by the ear, probably."
"Sure. Good luck."
He wasn't sure he needed luck, but by the time he shrugged on the rest of his clothes and got to Harry's house, Campbell had thought too much about the whole situation. This was a new world, one they were going to have to likely fight to survive in. Harry was going to need some tough love, if he was gonna make it. Right? Maybe Allie made him feel good, for a little bit, but Allie was also gaga over Will; in the end, she would leave, and Harry would fall apart again. It wasn't something that Harry could afford. It only made sense for Campbell to be hard on him, didn't it? It was pretty clear Harry's mental health was going down the pipes already. Once the booze and drugs were gone, how was Harry going to survive? Maybe Campbell was being too harsh, trying to put their friendship between Harry and Allie, but it was the only way to toughen Harry up.
The point was proven when Harry answered the door, looking like he'd gotten mowed over by a tractor. When he saw Campbell, his eyes lit up, if only a little. "Hey. I didn't expect to see you."
"Surprise. Jesus christ, have you taken a shower since the party?"
Campbell stepped inside the house, shoving Harry towards the bathroom. "I'm not talking to you while you smell like a garbage disposal. Go."
Harry sighed, but did as he was told. When he came back out, his hair was combed and still a little wet, and the asshole looked like some sort of model that you'd see posing next to the ocean with some expensive, organic wine or some damn thing. Campbell scowled and threw him an apple and a bottle of water.
"What's this for?" Harry asked.
"Something for you to eat while we head to the church. Cassandra texted, she's calling for a meeting of some kind."
"Is that the only reason you're here?"
"No, but we can talk on the way. Get your shoes on."
They could have taken Harry's car, but Campbell chose to walk. Fresh air would do Harry a little good, and it gave them time to talk about whatever it was Harry thought they needed to talk about. It was quiet for a long while. Harry kept glancing over, but he just rubbed his neck and kept his mouth shut.
"What's going on between us, Cam?"
Campbell paused for a step at the sudden question. Fuck. Fuck, that was not the conversation he was expecting. Time to play ignorant. "What are you talking about? We had a spat. Whatever. There's nothing going on."
"Come on, you know what I mean. You've got to." Harry looked at him again, eyebrows knit together in worry. "First you hated Kelly..."
"Kelly wants me dropped into a volcano because I stole her pizza rolls in the 4th grade."
"...And now you're jealous of Allie."
"Okay, so why would I be jealous of Kelly and Allie?"
"You tell me."
Grabbing Harry's shoulder, Campbell spun Harry around to face him. "What do you want me to say, Harry? Huh?" He stepped closer, until he could feel Harry's breath on his face, and then a little closer still. "That I want you? Is that what you think this is?"
Harry swallowed hard. "Is that what this is?"
"It doesn't matter, either way."
"No, just stop. Even if it were true, you had years to figure this out. Years. But you slept around, and then you settled down with Kelly. Now, you have Allie. I have Elle. Whatever could have happened here, it's not happening now."
"I just..." Harry trailed off. Oh, Campbell had hit a nerve. The hurt in Harry's eyes was almost enough to make Campbell take it back. "I just want us to stay friends, okay? I don't want anything to come between us."
"We're still friends. That's not going to change. Alright?"
But it wasn't whatever. Campbell could tell that from the way Harry pulled away, moving like he was trying not to jostle some sort of wound. Well, what was Campbell supposed to do? Harry might not have known specifics, but he knew Campbell was a roller-coaster. He knew Campbell had trouble with feelings. If he'd wanted something more out of their relationship, he should have said something sooner. Why sugarcoat the truth?
They had other people, and unless Kelly and Elle were interested in polyamory, nothing was going to happen. It sucked, but it was true. It still forced Campbell to look at those goddamn emotions, and that wasn't something he'd counted on having to do any time soon. Of course Harry was handsome. Most of the male-attracted population of the school agreed, even if they hated him. And of course they knew each other well, to the point that they could look at each other and know what the other was thinking. That wasn't even mentioning all the times they'd flirted under the pretense of a joke, and everything else remotely sexual that had ever happened between them.
But did Campbell want to be with Harry? Hadn't it all just been a little bit of a game? A phase? Some weird hormonal thing? Harry hadn't ever really seemed interested in guys, beyond Campbell. Maybe Harry was just confused. Campbell had already accepted being a little bit bi, even if he'd only ever told Harry. But Harry had never confessed anything like that to Campbell. Not until now, and even then, he hadn't actually admitted anything.
The rest of the trip was just as silent as the first part had been, thank whatever higher powers existed. By the time they got to the church, they were late; the entire church was packed, and Campbell couldn't even really see Elle in the giant flock.
"There's practically no seats left," Harry mumbled. "Damn."
Campbell shrugged, smiling a bit at Cassandra as she stood at the front of the church. She certainly had stepped into the leader role. "She called, and they came."
They found a seat, and Campbell listened as Cassandra began to speak. It was hard to focus, though, what with Harry hunched up and radiating irritation. Christ. He was already on edge, and a quick glance around the room revealed he wasn't the only one. Hopefully Cassandra was going to be careful. She was an expert on the debate team, and knew politics well enough. She was the best leader they could have. But... she wasn't popular, so much as infamous. They both were. He knew better than anyone that she had to be careful.
And at first, she was. Cassandra spoke of making an inventory of resources. A good idea, but then she followed it up with the words food rationing. Logical and another good idea, but Campbell could feel the tension in the room growing. Communal eating earned a few groans, but it was the sharing houses idea that shut the room down. Campbell felt a slight jab of disappointment. He'd told Cassandra it would be a bad idea. Yes, it would save resources if they were limited-- potentially-- but people would grate on each other. Even friends who were stuck together against their will could turn on each other. Strangers? Enemies? It was asking for trouble.
She continued on. Work rotation lists, good. Sharing the work load, good. A committee, excellent. There was a murmur of excitement when Cassandra announced a committee on finding out how to get home. That would be something to help keep people hopeful, for sure. They'd put up with things much better if they thought it was temporary. And, likely, they'd be used to the new way of things by the time the geeks inevitably came to the conclusion that they were trapped.
"I think we should take a vote," Cassandra concluded with a smile. "All in favor, raise your hand."
A large portion of people raised their hands right away. A few more went up, slower. More uncertain. A few women hissed at their partners, and another small group of hands went up. There were still plenty of holdouts. Campbell watched Harry from the corner of his vision, waiting. Harry didn't budge. A lot of people didn't budge.
Cassandra scanned the room. Her smile faded. "I don't think we can do this unless it's unanimous."
A bad move, that. What was the point of putting it to vote, if those who expressed dissent were going to be pressured into agreement? Wasn't a majority of the vote good enough? If she could convince them... but it didn't matter, it seemed, because those begrudging hands went up after a long pause. Cassandra glanced towards Campbell, who in turn looked to Harry. Harry stared back at him. Don't do it, that look said. Campbell smiled and raised his hand. Gritting his teeth, Harry raised his, too.
When the meeting was over, Harry cornered Campbell by the door. "What did you do that for?" he seethed. "Those rules are bullshit."
"They're not bullshit. It's common fucking sense."
"Easy for you to say. No one's gonna want to share houses with you."
"Elle already is."
Campbell almost felt bad at the note of upset in Harry's voice. "I mean, you were in bed with Allie, so maybe you didn't hear. She asked to stay at my place for a few days. But honestly, with these new rules, I don't think she'll be leaving again any time soon. We're both kinda high key social rejects."
"I guess that makes sense, then." Harry studied his hands. "I better get going. Lock up all the valuables before these assholes move in and wreck everything." He stood, heading towards the exit, but then paused. "Would it have made any difference, if I had said something sooner? Would you have felt anything?"
A lie, but Harry took it at face value. He shook his head and kept walking. Campbell leaned back in the pew and sighed. Whatever was going on in Harry's head, hopefully it would blow over now. Campbell wasn't going to abandon Elle, and Harry needed to see his thing with Allie through. Even if it ended-- and of course it would-- he wasn't going to be the reason for it. Allie already loathed Campbell, and it wouldn't be a good idea to make that whole thing worse.
Footsteps came closer, and there was a whiff of jasmine in the air. "That bad, huh?" Elle asked as she sat down next to him. "I see you managed to get Harry down here."
"For all the good it did. This is all going to explode."
"I don't know. A lot of people seemed open to it."
"They did. And they will be, for a while. But..." Campbell rubbed his face. "Cassandra is a good leader. She's tough and she's fair. The issue is, she's a total goddamn extraterrestrial when it comes to feelings. Give her a puzzle and she can solve it, but this isn't just a puzzle. People are going to get upset, and she isn't going to know how to fix that."
Elle rested her hand on his knee. "Maybe it'll be alright. Sometimes people can surprise you."
Campbell wanted to argue, but he just smiled instead and placed his hand over hers. "Yeah. I'm sure you're right. What are you gonna do about your house, though, now that we're all getting sardined together?"
"Well..." Tucking her hair behind an ear, Elle hesitated. "I've never even really gone out for sleepovers or anything. The idea of living with someone else is kind of terrifying. I thought maybe I could stay with you. I know we're not serious or anything, but..."
"If you want to stay with me, you can. I'd be happy to have you there."
He gave her hand a little squeeze. "I seriously like you, regardless of whatever this is or where it's going. And like I said, I think maybe I do need someone there with me. Keep me from staying in my head too much."
Elle smiled, and Campbell felt that little flutter of warmth reserved especially for her. They headed back to her house, and she packed up the rest of her things. The rest of the day was spent moving; it was an interesting feeling, seeing her possessions slowly replace the traces of his parents. For the first time, the house started to lose that cold, hostile chokehold it always had whenever he walked through the door. It was inviting, instead. Comfortable.
They had some cheese pizza rolls and a couple beers, the closest thing they could get to the American moving-in tradition. Elle still slept in the other room, but Campbell didn't care.
Someone else there, someone who seemed to want to be around him. Someone safe to love. That was good enough.
It was week one of the new rules.
The first day, a group text went out saying that food people already at home could be kept, but anything still in stores would be rationed immediately. People had three days to pack and move homes. Work schedules were posted at the church. Campbell felt relieved at getting clean-up duty; it would keep him busy and give him something constructive to do. Unfortunately for Elle, she got stuck with meal prep for lunch. She sighed, but gave him a little wave and made her way to the cafeteria to start.
He hadn't known what to expect when he got to the hardware store, but it was bad. Broken out windows, a burned out car, lights smashed out. There were some other guys already there, passing out tools and making lists of what needed to be done. Grizz showed up with an SUV to tow away the burned car; Campbell helped him hook it up, before moving on to some poor sucker who was looking at a ladder like it was going to bite him.
"Here, I've got it. It's alright."
The boy looked cautious, and a little confused, but then he offered a weak smile of gratitude. "Thanks. I don't do well with heights."
"I don't mind." Campbell shimmied up and eyed the lights that needed to be replaced. "Have someone send me up some bulbs, yeah?"
Everyone worked until a text went out that it was time to eat. Lunch was almost a nightmare. Campbell had known from the start that, at some point, he was going to have to face the fact that avoiding meat was no longer an option. It had been ten years. It still made his stomach turn thinking about it, but well, there wasn't going to be a lot of room to be picky. Lucky for him, this time, there was a vegetarian option.
"I convinced them to make a plain marinara," Cassandra said quietly as she sat next to him at a secluded table in the corner. "But we won't be able to do that forever."
Campbell stabbed a piece of pasta, pretending it was his uncle's face. It was their family's fault they were in this mess to begin with. "Thanks. We should gather up a list of people with allergies, though. They're gonna matter more in the long run."
"True. Lily has been asking about gluten, and I don't think it was just a fad diet thing. We can't have what happened to Emily happen to anyone else. Maybe we could have a dedicated space in the kitchen for people with allergies. Or even use a kitchen in another restaurant."
"You're also gonna have to figure out what to do for people who are diabetic or just need different meal times."
"Yeah. Well, this is just the first day; it's going to take some time to get it perfect. We'll figure something out."
"Of course." Campbell glanced up from his food. "How's the ticker going?"
"I have enough medicine to last me a while. Longer, if I take the bare minimum. Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere any time soon."
"Good. What are you doing over here, anyways? You're just starting to get some good PR."
"Mm, I actually have a question for you. You know that I've formed a committee to help figure things out around here."
"I was wondering if you wanted in." Cassandra held up her hand when Campbell opened his mouth to object. "I asked Harry, but he said no. If you were there, I don't know, maybe he'd feel less bitter."
"Oh, I highly doubt that. We're having a little not-exactly-lovers quarrel at the moment."
"Please, Campbell? You're realistic, you're brutally honest when it counts, and we need someone who can be objective. It'd be good for you."
"Why don't you ask Allie?"
Cassandra hesitated. "She and I already had a fight over that. I told her the town would see us as the same person, but..." She let out a slow exhale. "Allie is too impulsive. She doesn't listen."
"And you think the relationship between you two will smooth over if she knows you picked me over her? No, Cassie. Hard pass."
"You said yourself, you're the idea guy."
"Then write my ideas down and pass them off as someone else's ideas, if you want anyone to agree to them. No one will take you seriously with me there, and then we'll all be fucked."
Biting her lip, Cassandra leaned back in the plastic chair and examined her hands. "Fine. But still, Harry is going to be a problem. You know that, right?"
Of course he knew it. Harry wasn't a bad person, not really. Like most guys their age, he was young and foolish and had a mouth he never really knew when to shut. He was avoidant, insecure, and took things way too personally. He was still pissed Cassandra won class president, and that had been months ago. Yeah, he was gonna be a problem. Campbell munched on his garlic bread while he considered the options, not that there were many. "I'll see if I can talk some sense into him. Get him to join the committee."
"I'm sure he would, if you said something. He listens to you. He trusts you."
"Maybe he trusts me, but he doesn't listen to me. Harry's a frightened puppy who falls behind whoever he think can protect him. But he doesn't listen to anyone."
"But you'll try? For me?"
She smiled, and then she was gone, off to go do leaderish things. Campbell sighed to himself, finishing his lunch and heading back to work; he didn't get to see Elle, but they were all busy and trying to get used to their new lives. There'd be time to talk later. Him, he had an entire street of shops to help repair. With them all working together, the hardware store was almost completely cleaned up by the end of the day. They still needed to fix the other stores, but it was slightly less of an eyesore, and Campbell was too tired to think about what was in the stuff Will's crew served for dinner.
The days oozed by, and Campbell settled into the routine of it. He really only got to see Elle in the mornings and after the work day was over, but at least there was always enough time to cuddle in and read or watch a movie together. It was quiet. Peaceful. She never asked much of him, and he didn't expect anything from her. Was that what it felt like, to have a normal life? Whatever it was, Campbell found himself slowly, very slowly, starting to relax.
"You're in a better mood," Cassandra commented the next day at breakfast as she hung up prom posters outside the cafeteria; Elle and a few others gave them a long glance as she walked by. "I think you might be the only one."
"Who knew that all I needed to get my head right was to ditch the assholes making me miserable? I don't know, like all this sucks in a lot of ways, but there's no snotty soccer moms looking down their noses at me."
"Mental health symptoms often improve with a decrease in stress."
Campbell reflected on the last few days. Any time he walked around town, before, he felt like people were staring at him. Whispering about him. Paranoia? Maybe, but Campbell knew plenty of times he'd entered a room of chattering people and had it go silent. West Ham didn't take kindly to oddities. Since they'd arrived at this strange clone of West Ham, though, that sort of thing had eased up. He still wasn't eager to be around people or associate too closely with Cassandra, just in case, but a sort of uneasy truce had fallen over the town. People were trying to get along. Those who couldn't manage to be civil to Campbell just left him alone. It didn't seem a coincidence that Campbell's temper had mellowed at the same time.
He didn't expect it to last. If there was one thing he'd noticed over the years, it was that his best behavior came and went on a regular basis. It's not like he ever stopped being what he was. ASPD, anxiety, depression, OCD, whatever people had going on in their heads, it didn't just disappear, even when things seemed better. It just meant people were coping. But it was still a break from the constant screaming inside his head, and the ever-present anger was just a dull simmer. He'd take it, even if it wasn't permanently gone.
Will passed out little cards to everyone, asking about dietary requirements. All anonymous. Elle managed to join Campbell for lunch, filling out her little card next to him. He let her peek over at his, and she let out a little hum. "I noticed that you didn't eat meat. When did you become vegetarian?"
"When I was little. Saw a dead animal, never got over it."
"At least we have someone who'll eat all the tofu we've got in the freezers."
"Yum, yum. Love me some bean curd." Campbell leaned over and kissed Elle lightly on the shoulder. "I did wanna ask you something. I saw you looking at the prom posters. Wanna go with me? It might be fun."
Elle's eyes brightened. "You want to take me to prom?"
"Of course I do."
"I thought you didn't like crowds?"
"Well, if it's for you, I can handle one evening of socializing."
The thought turned his stomach a little, but Elle let out a happy sound and tugged him into a tight hug; her curled his arms around her and breathed in her scent, smiling. He knew he wasn't a great person. He'd fucked up more times than he could count. But things were looking up, and he wanted Elle to be happy. If that meant a night of dressing up like a yuppie and swaying around to bad music, Campbell would suck it up for her.
He sneaked a look at one of her dresses that night when she was in the shower. Cassandra allowed the clean up crew to take one item they wanted or needed as payment for a job well done, so Campbell chose a royal blue dress from one of the fancy shops downtown. It was more revealing than anything else Elle had, but Campbell had seen the kind of magazines Elle read, and would see her fawning over the super skinny models with sexy clothes. Maybe she was just too scared to buy something like that for herself.
In all the way things were changing for the better, one thing had changed for the worse. Harry was ignoring Campbell. He'd ended up with dinner serving duty for the next three weeks; the algorithm was random, according to Gordie, but Campbell wondered if someone hadn't fudged it a little to teach Harry some humility. It didn't seem to be working. Instead, Harry was withdrawing into himself, and completely brushed past Campbell at dinner to go sit alone, slumped over and picking at his food.
Maybe most people didn't notice or care, but Cassandra picked up on it five or six days after the big argument. She tugged Campbell aside at lunch, crossing her arms over her chest. "What did you do to Harry? He's acting like he's been kicked."
"Ever considered maybe it's the fact that he went from being a rich pretty boy on his way to law school, to dishing out slop and having his home become the opening scene from Home Alone?"
"Seriously? That's it?"
"I told you some people were gonna take it hard, being forced to share spaces. We're not the only people here with problems, you know." Campbell glanced over to where Harry was sitting. Harry looked back at him for a split second, then turn away. "Some of us have lost more than others."
Cassandra pursed her lips. "I'm not changing the plan. If we run out of water or electricity, he's going to be in even worse shape."
"You asked. I answered."
"And that's really it?"
"Yeah," Campbell lied. "Yeah, that's it."
Cassandra didn't look convinced, but she let it drop. Thank fuck for that. Campbell didn't know what he was supposed to do. Their fight must have been part of the problem, considering Harry was avoiding him like the plague, but Campbell had been as nice as possible about it. And what did Harry expect, anyways? Right place, wrong time. It wasn't that Campbell had magically moved on. There was still a familiar longing in the back of his mind. At the end of the day, though, Campbell was going home to Elle. He was cooking snacks for Elle, playing Scrabble with Elle, practicing Spanish with her and listening to her sing in French while they cleaned the house. She didn't know Campbell's deep, dark secret, and she didn't ask; they just existed together, and damn it, Campbell was happy.
Sometimes you had to give up on one love, to keep another. Even if it hurt like hell.
Whatever heartache Campbell had left faded the night before prom. He folded the dress he'd gotten Elle up and placed it in a box, presenting it to her at dinner. "I hope it's okay," he said. "I kinda had to guess what you'd like."
"What's in it?"
"Just a little something for prom."
Elle perked up, pushing aside her dinner of lettuce and water to take the box. She lifted the lid and pulled the top of the dress out, her eyes going wide as she examined it. A light blush crossed her cheeks. "Oh! Campbell, I don't know if I can accept this."
"Don't worry, I didn't steal it or anything like that. I got it for cleaning up downtown. You don't like it?"
"No, I... I love it. I do, thank you."
Campbell took her hand and brushed his thumb across her skin. The stammer in her voice didn't lie. "There's something wrong."
"I really do like it. It's just..." Elle frowned. She squeezed his hand, looking over to the pile of plain lettuce on her plate. "I've been trying to lose some weight, and it shows a lot of skin. I don't know."
"There's nothing wrong with your body, Elle. You're gorgeous just the way you are."
"Say that to every major magazine."
"With the models who are airbrushed to convince you that you need to buy all sorts of expensive junk, and every other week there's some new bullshit miracle diet?"
"Campbell, that's not--"
He shook his head, cutting her off before she could defend those trashy rags. "Just try it on. If you don't like it, we can raid someone's closet and find something more conservative, but you deserve to feel as beautiful as I think you are."
"Fine." Elle leaned in and gave Campbell a chaste peck on his lips. Their first kiss. She smiled a little and pulled away, before Campbell could kiss her back. "Thank you. I guess I really would rather have a bagel with this."
"Then we shall go home and find you a bagel."
"And cream cheese?"
They got up and were heading towards the door when they passed by Harry's table. He was sitting with one of the majorly unpopular kids, whispering something about offering up his expensive cars in exchange for... something. Campbell paused. Trading workshifts? It was against the rules. It'd be easy enough to just let Harry go ahead, get caught, and get who knew what sort of punishment. But Campbell knew Harry wasn't just being lazy. He was struggling. Getting punished for having a hard time adjusting didn't seem right.
"Are you okay?" Elle asked.
"Yeah, I just need to talk to Harry. Can you go on ahead and I'll catch up to you?"
"Sure. I'll be outside."
The first kid had turned Harry down, so he'd moved on to some poor ginger who looked like he'd never had an ounce of fun in his life. "Move!" Campbell barked at him. The kid picked up and scrambled away without a single glance back. Harry glared at Campbell as he sat down, but Campbell barely blinked. Harry could just be mad about it. "What are you doing? Trying to get out of work is just going to make things worse for you."
"This is fucking humiliating," Harry snapped. "The others talk down to me like I'm a child, or haven't worked a day in my life. Nineteen people moved into my house and no one even bothered to see if they were people I'd get along with. They don't pick up after themselves, they make messes everywhere--"
"Hey, hey. Breathe. Let me talk to Cassandra about it after prom. Everyone will be in a better mood then."
"I don't care. I'm done."
"What do you mean?"
Harry opened his mouth, then shut it again. "Nothing. I didn't mean anything. I'm just frustrated, okay?"
It was a complete lie. Campbell knew exactly what Harry was talking about. "Come spend a couple days at my house. We have room. There's some food left, too. You can get some rest and I'll make us lunch. We can play some video games or something."
"Harry, c'mon. Don't do this to yourself."
"That house is all I have left of my family, Cam. Maybe you don't miss your parents, but I miss my mom. I miss my sister. I miss my..." Harry's voice cracked. He shook his head and curled in on himself. "I'll be okay. Just give me some time. Please."
Campbell sat down next to Harry. Harry sighed, but didn't move as Campbell leaned a little closer. "I can give you time, but listen to me. Remember when we first met as Cassandra's party?"
"Yeah, I do."
"You told me that you'd decide for yourself what I was like. You didn't care what anyone else said. Have I ever done you wrong, in all this time?"
"No. You haven't."
"Then do what I'm telling you now. You think I like picking up trash? Cleaning up after the fucks that were at your party, after they went all apeshit on the town? No. But you need to play it smart until we get back home. Understand?"
"Did Cassandra tell you to say that to me?"
"In case you haven't noticed, Cassandra and I are related. We share the common sense genes. I'd be telling you this either way."
Harry gave a hollow chuckle. "We're not gonna get home, you know. Something's wrong here. The committee of hers won't find anything. We fucked up, somehow, and now we're trapped."
"Then the smartest thing you can do is smile, nod, and try to get along. I don't want you getting hurt."
"Yeah. I get it. Must be the apocalypse, if you're getting all worried about me." Harry looked to Campbell. He smiled, just for a split second, before it faded again. "You better get going. I know Elle's waiting for you."
Well, that was a dismissal. Campbell stood and left; Elle was waiting for him under the trees, the fading summer light making shadows from the leaves dance across her skin. He was lucky. Damn lucky. That's what he had to focus on. They went home and Elle tried on the dress, keeping the door locked so he couldn't peek; she came out in her pajamas, with a bashful smile on her face.
"It fits," she said. "I'll wear it."
"Aw, I don't get to see?"
"You get to see tomorrow night."
Campbell pouted, but laughed when Elle grabbed his hand and tugged him into his room for a particularly ruthless game of Battleship. He lost twice, but it was worth it. Elle had a cute little way she'd smile when she got a hit, and she'd throw her fists up into the air when she won.
"I guess you win the night," Campbell said as he plucked the little red and white pegs from his board. "Unless you wanna make this next game winner takes all?"
"What does the winner get?"
"Whatever they want."
Elle tapped her index finger on her lips. "Hmm." Her eyes narrowed, and she seemed to regard him with hint of suspicion, but then she shrugged and picked up her board. "I'll take that bet."
Sucked for her, because Campbell won the last round. Elle groaned and pretended to flip her board, before flopping backwards onto the bed. Campbell smirked. "Do you concede?"
"Never." Elle peered over at him. "What do you want for your prize, if I did?"
"Maybe you could stay with me tonight?"
He didn't want to be alone. Not after all the shit with Harry. Not that he'd admit to it, because he was trying to ignore it and trying not to look like a fool in front of Elle, but it struck a nerve he hadn't felt take a hit in a long time. He hated having useless emotions. And in situations like the one they were in, pining over your best friend when you had someone who liked you already was about as useless an emotion as you could get.
"Okay, but I get breakfast in bed tomorrow."
Campbell waited until Elle bounced off to take a shower, and then texted Dillon. He was a member of the committee, so Cassandra must have trusted him a little, and he was one of the least offensive people who was living in Harry's home. Hey, can you keep an eye on Harry? He's not talking to me and I need someone to call me if anything's wrong.
Sure I can do that, Dillon texted back.
Thanks. Drumming his fingers on the phone, Campbell opened his texts and scrolled down to Harry's messages. I was serious about everything I've said, okay? If you need me, call.
There was no reply. Campbell hadn't expected one, but he hoped it was because Harry was pissed still and not because Harry had gone and done something terrible. It was tempting to just go over there. He should have, he knew he should have, but Elle was standing in the doorway of his room in her cutest pajamas with a little smile on her face. It was late, and Campbell didn't want to run out on Elle. If something was wrong, Dillon would call.
Elle turned out the lights and curled up with Campbell in bed. resting her head on his shoulder. He drifted off first. The last thing he remembered was her kissing his temple, and tugging the blankets up around him. When he woke up the next morning, Elle was sleeping on his arm, and he couldn't feel his fingers. Campbell managed to wiggle loose without waking her up. A quick glance at his phone revealed no new messages, no calls. He sighed. Maybe no news was good news after all.
Breakfast in bed was the last of the eggs, done up as an omelette with cheese and the a scrap of ham that needed to be eaten before it went bad. Campbell stared at the inside of the fridge. Soon, they would have no choice but to just go to the cafeteria for all their meals. All that would be left soon was the stuff in the freezer or in tubs. Emergency provisions. If things went sideways and no one managed to figure out food, he didn't trust most of the populace to make sure he and Elle survived.
"Hey," Elle yawned as she came down the stairs. "That smells good."
Campbell closed the fridge and tried to look as cheerful as possible. "Morning. I thought you wanted breakfast in bed?"
"Kinda, but I wanted to come help more. Want me to make coffee?"
Watching her pad around the kitchen and make coffee was a joy in and of itself. She yawned again, rubbing her eyes and running a hand through her tussled hair. Campbell grinned as she loaded up the coffee pot and zoned out watching it. Precious. She was precious. There weren't many people that he'd felt he would do anything to defend-- Sam, Cassandra, Harry-- but he knew right at that moment that whatever happened in the future, he would do whatever it took to make sure she was okay.
She caught him staring. "What's wrong?"
Campbell opened his mouth, words right on the tip of his tongue. You're beautiful. You're important to me. I think I... But then his phone buzzed in his pocket. "Nothing's wrong. I'm just glad we both like dark roast."
"Drink of the gods."
He murmured an agreement as he pulled out his phone and checked the messages. He paused, blinked. It was from Sam. It was short and to the point, which was unlike Sam. Can I come over? Campbell frowned. It wasn't that he didn't want to see Sam. He wanted to. But what did Sam want? More of his things? Maybe he was worried Campbell had gotten rid of stuff. Who knew what shit their parents had convinced Sam that Campbell could, or would, capable of.
Campbell replied, curiosity getting the better of him. What time?
Now, came Sam's answer.
Okay. See you soon.
"Who's that?" Elle wondered as Campbell tossed the phone onto the counter.
"Sam. He's coming over in a few minutes."
"Oh? Is everything okay?"
Campbell shrugged, stroking Elle's shoulder as he walked towards the front door. "He probably just forgot something he needed or has something from Cassandra. I'm sure everything's fine."
Either way, he was about to find out.
When Sam arrived, he seemed surprised that Campbell opened the door.
For a moment, Sam just stood there on the porch like he'd somehow strolled up to the wrong house. He blinked at Campbell, eyes wide, and didn't even bother signing when he spoke. "Can I come in?"
"Yeah, sure." Campbell stepped aside and waved Sam in. Sam stood in the front hall, arms curled around himself as he eyed Campbell. "You okay? What's going on?"
"I wanted to get my dress clothes."
"Alright. I didn't move anything out of your room, so they should be there."
Sam nodded and walked to the stairs. He stopped at the first step, looking back at Campbell. "Will you come with me? In case I can't find them."
Strange. Campbell followed Sam to his room without question, but he was baffled at the request. He'd never sat on Sam's bed before, but that's where Sam pointed for him to go, and he began handing Campbell shirts and pants from the closet. They smelled like Sam, Campbell thought, like the faint scent of cedar and some sort of cologne. He remembered when they would hang out, and Sam would lean close enough that Campbell could smell that scent. It had been comforting, once. Familiar, loving.
Sam signed something that Campbell missed. He repeated himself once Campbell glanced up. "Are you going to prom with Elle?"
"Yeah, I am. You going with someone?"
"I'm going with Becca, as friends."
The nice thing to do would have been to invite Sam and Becca to hang out with them, but Campbell stayed silent. He held various clothing items as Sam sorted through what he'd picked, as if nothing was wrong and Campbell hadn't kicked Sam out. Just two brothers getting ready for a normal school dance. Except, Sam didn't quite look at Campbell, as if he did then the illusion would break. Instead, Sam focused on the clothes, waffling between two waistcoats.
Campbell held up the two-toned black and copper one, wiggling it a bit. "It'll bring out the blue in your eyes, on the off chance that you can brainwash some confused boy into dancing with you." He hesitated when Sam stared at him. "That was a joke. I'm sure there's probably some other guys in town who are secretly rainbow-flavored. One in ten, right? There's gotta be like, five of us."
Sam completely missed Campbell's us slip-up, and just got glassy eyed. The conversation shriveled up and died as Sam went back to avoiding Campbell's gaze. He dug through his ties, grabbing one and taking the rest of his outfit from Campbell's arms. "I should go. I have to help Becca get ready."
Just like at the office, Campbell knew this was a chance to say something. They needed to talk at some point. It had been almost a month since Emily died and Campbell had made same leave. Campbell didn't want Sam to think he was hated, at the very least, and Sam had been wanting some sort of answer since that day at the office. "I'll see you at the dance," was all that came out of Campbell's lips. "Say hi to Becca for me."
And then it was too late. Sam nodded, going downstairs without Campbell and slamming the door behind him as he left. Campbell stayed on Sam's bed, his fingers tracing the stitching of the fabric. Why couldn't he just say it? I did it for your own good. I want to be close again. They had been almost friends, once, and now that it was just the two of them maybe they could have been again. Maybe Sam would understand. Hell, maybe it could be even better than before, if only...
"That went well."
Campbell jerked his head up at Elle's voice, coming from the doorway. "I guess so. As much as can be expected, anyways.'"
"Do you miss him?"
"I don't know how I feel."
Elle wandered in and sat beside Campbell. She rested her hand on his and leaned her cheek against his shoulder. "There's no work for you today, right? How about you go see Cassandra?"
"It's an idea," Campbell agreed. Casandra might have answers for what the fuck he needed to do. "What will you be doing?"
"Helena invited a bunch of people over at three thirty for a spa day sort of thing, you know, get done up for prom. There's gonna be snacks and sappy movies and stuff. She actually invited me. Do you think I should go?"
"Why not? It sounds like fun."
"I should get ready to go, then. I have to be over there in an hour."
"Of course. I'll text you when I get home. Kiss?"
Elle tipped her head up, and Campbell kissed her forehead. She smiled and went to her room; he could hear the distinct sound of her going through her make-up drawer. At least she was finally getting invited to something. The genuine excitement on her face was almost enough to make Campbell forgive how horribly those snotty brats had treated Elle over the years. Maybe people were starting to change for the better, considering they were all stuck together. It seemed about as likely as pigs sprouting wings, but maybe he was just too cynical.
Campbell headed out towards his cousin's home. Maybe he'd catch her before she went to Helena's get together, if she was even going; it's not like either of them were social butterflies. It was a nice day for a get-together. Warm but not hot, with a low breeze and... and the sound of footsteps behind him. Small, strange footsteps. Campbell stopped and turned. Behind him was a dog. Medium sized, with a longer coat that was mostly black with some white. It looked like a border collie of sorts.
"Hey, doggo," Campbell called. The dog limped a couple steps closer, holding their paw up. "Got a hurt foot there? Where'd you come from?"
The dog looked at him. The hairs on the back of Campbell's neck rose at the strange way the dog stared, right into his eyes like they were... waiting for something. Campbell hadn't seen any pets anywhere, and the dog was clearly bleeding from a wound on it's paw. Maybe if he just went over to the dog, they'd come with him and he could ask Cassandra about them. He had a little beef jerky in his backpack. Dogs liked that sort of thing, right? But before Campbell could get it, the dog's ears perked, and they took off into the woods.
So much for that, Campbell thought with a sigh. Still, he should tell Cassandra; if there was a wounded dog running around loose, someone should try to catch them. He got to Cassandra's door and knocked, thinking of ways they could find the mutt when the door opened and he came face to face with an unexpected sight. "Allie. Hey."
Allie stood in the doorway, hands on her hips. "What are you doing here?"
"Is Cassandra home?"
"Do you know where I can find her?" Campbell waited for an answer, but Allie just stood there with that goddamn smug look on her face he couldn't stand. "This is ridiculous. Just tell me where she is and I'll go."
"Allie," Will called from a few feet behind her. His voice was stern, and she rolled her eyes and stomped away. Whatever. Will gave Campbell an up and down look, but his expression and tone of voice shifted into something more neutral. "Cassandra's at the prom venue helping Kelly and Grizz get it set up."
Except it was going to be a problem, if Allie decided to outright turn on Campbell; he kicked a rock down the road as he left, mulling the situation over. Should he have been nicer to her when they were kids? Yeah, no doubt there. He hadn't been terrible, because Cassandra would have kicked his ass if he'd been too rough, but he knew that-- like every other relationship in his life-- he'd fucked up a few times. Did that really warrant the silent treatment? Campbell didn't think so, but he'd worry about that when he had less problems on his plate.
His favorite cousin looked far more pleased to see him than Allie had. She was in the usual t-shirt and jeans, and adding to the pre-existing decorations, but she smiled brightly and came trotting over while everyone else was distracted. "You're early. Wanna help? It might help improve that bad boy image a little bit."
"Not a chance," Campbell answered. Cassandra gave him a look, so he picked up some streamers and tossed them where she pointed. "Do you know anyone who's missing a dog?"
"A dog? No. Why?"
"I was on my way over, and there was a black and white collie of some sort. Had a wounded foot, looked like."
Cassandra's lips pursed, eyebrows knitting together. "Lexie told me her mother's cats are gone. Gordie and Bean both had pets, and they're gone, too. I haven't heard from anyone who's pets are still in their homes. Where did you see it?"
"They were over on 8th and Dunn. Took off into the woods."
"I'll ask around. Maybe someone else has an idea. Maybe tomorrow we can get some people together to go looking for the poor thing."
"Sounds like a plan."
"Was that all you needed?" she asked.
"Not exactly. I need some advice. You like Gordie, right?"
"He's a good man."
Campbell caught the diplomatic tone in her voice. "So then... you don't."
"I'm trying to get used to the idea that we may never get home, and I don't want to be alone for the rest of my life." Cassandra sat down at a table and ran her hands through her hair. "What if there's never anyone else? No one who cares for me the way he does? I like Gordie. I feel affection for him. So, I think I love him. I can learn how to be what he needs."
"That doesn't sound healthy."
"Maybe not, but it's what we're looking at if we can't find a way back. And he likes me a lot, so... I figure I can be realistic, and still hold onto that little bit of humanity I've cultivated. You know? The little part of me that knows that if I were like everyone else, the things I'd say and do, and how things would be. Why not give it a try?"
Cultivated humanity. Growing something that didn't quite come naturally to them, that seemed effortless for so many others. He'd never be normal, but he'd worked hard to keep himself from becoming a nightmare. Cassandra had, too. Like little emotionally challenged bonsai trees, pruning away the branches that served no purpose or caused harm, and leaving behind something prettier. More palatable. More lovable. Maybe some didn't care about being loved, but Campbell wanted to be someone Elle could trust and care for; he knew that, like Cassandra said, how a good partner behaved. He just had to hold onto it and keep it alive.
Cassandra nudged him. "Wanna share what's going on? You didn't come here to ask about Gordie."
"I think I might be falling in love with Elle." And there it was, out in the open. It didn't feel as weird to say as he thought it would. "It hasn't been long at all, but living with her and seeing her all the time, I don't know. I really want to make her happy."
"Does she feel that way back?"
"I don't know. I don't want to say anything yet, just in case."
"In case what?"
Campbell felt a spark of irritation. She knew what, but she wanted him to say it. All his life, he'd been scared of only one thing. An idea, really. A concept. He hated being in crowds, he hated speaking in front of too many people, because he knew that most people hated him. Either he got them in trouble by offering alcohol or drugs, or because he'd stolen from them, or he'd gotten in a fight with them, or told them exactly what he thought of them-- or their dates, family, friends, shitty English essays, whatever-- to their face. Valid reasons, sometimes, though he didn't regret most of it. Especially not for beating up anyone who whispered about Sam or said mean shit about Harry's mom.
Now, he had a second fear. Somehow, this fear was even worse. "I'm worried she's going to end up seeing me how they all see me. A freak. A good for nothing troublemaker with no future."
"I'm not sure she'd be living with you if she already thought that, though. She must see something in you she likes."
"It's not just her. It's Elle, it's Harry, it's Sam, and I just--"
"Hey," Cassandra soothed. "Relax. Okay? I've seen how Elle looks at you. Hell, I've seen how Harry looks at you, too. Elle just needs time to warm up, and Harry needs time to cool down. Things will blow over eventually. Just be calm, give Harry his space, and eventually the chips will fall where they may. You're not a good for nothing troublemaker with no future."
"But I am a freak, huh?" Campbell half-teased.
"Of course you are, we both know that already."
They chuckled, and Campbell sighed. "Thanks, Cassie. I don't say it enough, but I appreciate it."
Cassandra stood up as he did, giving him a tight hug. "Don't worry about it, this isn't a Lifetime movie. You know I'll always be here for you." She rubbed his back and pulled away, some sort of knowing look on her face. "And, hey. Give things time with Sam, too. He looked sad when he came back from your house. Not angry, just... sad."
"I hurt him. I'm okay with him being angry."
"But he's not. He misses you."
Campbell tried to reply, but he shook his head and helped Cassandra with a few more decorations before she shooed him out. It was a distant sort of discomfort, knowing that. Anger was something Campbell understood and knew how to handle. Sadness? It just wasn't something he understood as well, like when he'd taken a year of Spanish as a freshman and tried to read ahead. Some of it was familiar, but he couldn't comprehend the entire paragraph. When the little bird had died, when Harry's dad had died, Campbell hadn't known how to fix that. What logic was there to help someone stop being sad? Anger was hot, active, passion. Sadness was just... empty. Even if Sam knew and understood why, that wouldn't make him happy again.
Still, he understood the basics. He'd said something terrible and done something terrible. Sam didn't feel safe, loved, or like Campbell wanted him around. Well, Campbell didn't want him in the house, not now that Elle was there. Not now that Campbell finally felt like he had some freedom. And Campbell could never really bring himself to declare himself safe to be around; he tried, but was there any assurance, with their history? Not exactly. Campbell preferred to protect Sam from a distance, even if the person he was protecting Sam from was Campbell. But maybe explaining what happened and why would let Sam know that, in his own fucked up way, Campbell did love Sam. Maybe that would be enough to heal some of their rift.
After prom. Definitely after prom.
When he got home, Campbell threw himself into the shower. He closed his eyes as the cool water streamed across his skin; maybe he could just stay in there forever, and not think about the outside world. Maybe Cassandra was right, though, and things would be fine. He just had to take it one step at a time. First step? Getting some of his mint-eucalyptus shampoo and make sure he didn't smell like a caveman when Elle came home. Once he was done in the shower, he wrapped a towel around his waist and sent a quick text to Elle, pulling up Google Play and blasting some music while he primped.
Shaving, skin care, nails. And, last but not least, the clothes.Their parents had dragged him and Sam off to fancy shit, sometimes, and luckily he had a tuxedo that still fit to perfection. Getting dressed up had never been his thing, though he could admit he liked to look good, and with a little polish he managed to look less like an aggravated trash panda and more like a gentleman. Campbell eyed the medicine cabinet in his bathroom, considering. He knew there was a bottle a Valium in there, and he knew that prom was going to be stressful, no matter how put together he looked.
It wasn't something he wanted to do, but well, better safe than sorry. Campbell buttoned up his suit, went in and fished a pill out of the bottle, and sealed it into his jacket pocket. He had just finished tucking it away when he heard the front door open. He gave his hair a quick comb and practically ran downstairs. Showtime.
Elle's voice echoed from the front hall. "Campbell, it's almost seven. We need to..."
She trailed off when she saw Campbell, and he stopped when he saw Elle. She was wearing the dress, her sunkissed skin bare along the shoulders and midriff, with her hair falling in a soft wave around her neck and over one shoulder. Her makeup highlighted her lips and cheekbones. She looked like an angel, he thought, standing there with golden light from the windows filtering across her frame. He tried to say something at the same time Elle did; he never thought he'd ever giggle in his life, but they both did then, and Elle held out her hand.
"Are you ready, handsome?"
Campbell took her hand and kissed it. "When you are, beautiful. Let's take the car so you don't have to hurt your feet."
Elle blushed and nodded as they walked outside. Campbell held the door open for her and made sure her dress wouldn't get caught in it. She gave a tiny smile back when he turned on the A/C instead of rolling down the windows. "Are you excited?" Elle asked as Campbell drove them to the venue. "About prom?"
"Yeah, I am. I wasn't back before all this. Never went before, and it just always seemed so loud and busy. But I don't know. Going with you makes me happy."
"Even if I beat you at Battleship?"
"Are you kidding me? Especially since you beat me at Battleship."
When they entered the room, most of the staring was at Elle; quite a few of them smiled at her, and a few very quickly looked away. Elegant, poised, shy Elle was finally getting a slice of West Ham's limelight; instead of withdrawing from it, she lifted her chin and took Campbell's arm, strutting towards the middle of the room like she was the next Kennedy. They were just in time to hear the tail end of Cassandra welcoming them all to prom; everyone applauded politely, and started to dance and mingle as the music kicked on. Despite the fact that the first song of the night was a peppy beat from the 1960s, Bean was a skilled DJ, and no one seemed to mind. A party was a party.
"Do you wanna find your friends?" Elle asked, swaying to the tune. "Or we could check out the bar."
Campbell shook his head. "A little early for the bar. What would you like to do?"
"Hmm. I think I want to go say hi to Cassandra. Can we? She wasn't at Helena's party, and I want to show her my dress."
"Sure. I certainly won't miss a chance to show off my date."
They found Cassandra standing off to the side, alone. She waved as they approached, brightening when she saw Elle. "Oh, look at you two!" she exclaimed. "I'm glad you made it. I think Gordie got lost looking for drinks and I was getting lonely. Elle, that dress is such a fantastic color on you."
Elle beamed back at her. "Yours is gorgeous, too."
"Do you think so? Coming from New York, you must have a better fashion sense than half the people here, I'm sure."
Campbell had to hand it to Cassandra, she knew how to schmooze when she wanted to make an effort. He'd have to thank her later for helping Elle feel welcome. He was happy to listen to their fashion banter until Gordie came back with punch. The four of them danced together for a few songs; Campbell stole Cassandra for a quick spin, knowing as soon as they touched that something was wrong. She was tense, distracted.
"You okay?" Campbell asked, leaning close enough for her to hear him. "What's up?"
Cassandra shrugged. "Allie is still mad at me from that committee thing."
"It'll blow over. Relax, or Gordie will think it's him."
"Yeah, you're right."
Gordie picked that exact moment to steal Cassandra back, laughing and hauling her off to the photo booth. Cassandra rolled her eyes and giggled, giving Campbell and Elle a wave as she disappeared into the crowd. Campbell swept Elle into another dance, and another, until they were both breathless and dizzy. Campbell led them to the punchbowl, and they flopped at a table nearby.
Elle propped her feet up on Campbell's leg, grinning as she sipped her drink. "I had no idea it would be this fun," she gushed. "It's already been over an hour, can you believe it?"
Campbell fanned Elle with a program from the bar mitzah-turned-prom. "I'm glad you're having a good time. It's better than the crappy dances from before, but that might be because everyone is buzzed."
"I don't know. I think people are just happy to have a distraction."
"Probably." Campbell glanced around the room, his gaze falling on Harry. He was sitting by the bar, alone, and staring off into space. "Well, most people, anyways."
Elle followed his gaze. "He looks sad. You should go see him."
"He doesn't wanna talk to me."
"I don't know. You wanna talk to him."
"So? I'm here with you."
"Go ahead. I'm not jealous." Elle slipped her shoes back on and stood. "I don't know what happened between you two, but he looks like he needs a friend. I can handle dancing on my own for a while."
Campbell wanted to protest, but Elle had already escaped, dancing in the middle of some other girls... and Grizz. That was that. Downing the last of his punch, Campbell headed towards Harry's table; he had no idea what to say or do, but Elle had a point. Harry looked like someone had suckerpunched him in the gut. Maybe Campbell could fix one relationship before the end of the night, if Harry wasn't already too wasted.
Harry didn't seem to see Campbell as he approached, shoulders hunched and leg propped up on the chair next to him. Even sad, he was still pretty, with his own suit and cute bowtie and hair slicked off to one side. Campbell paused, drinking in Harry's features before approaching. He patted Harry's leg, sliding his hand just a little up Harry's thigh. A hazardous move, but it worked. Harry snapped out of his fog, gaze shooting up to Campbell. He sputtered for a moment, but then smiled weakly and moved his leg off the chair.
A quick glance around the table told Campbell all he needed to know. A barely touched glass of wine, so it must have been a second round... or more. A cranberry vodka, with lime and orange. No food in sight. A one way ticket to Vomit Central, there. Campbell grabbed two namecards and held them up. "Think Alden and Celeste are happily or unhappily married?"
Harry smiled again, just a bit, but it still looked pained. "What's it matter to you?"
"Just making conversation. I'm worried about you."
"Elle looks like she's having a good time."
Avoidance. Campbell looked to where Elle was dancing. Gwen and her circle of friends had brought her in, all of them dancing together; Elle looked surprised, but happy, as she undulated her body to the beat of the music. He couldn't help but smile as Elle saw him watching, and did a little curtsy in his direction. Fucking adorable. Campbell glanced at Harry, then did a double take as he noticed the way Harry looked shattered by something across the dance floor. But what? He peeked over to see Kelly dancing with Will, and Allie watching Will with open jealousy. Well, shit. That explained everything.
Campbell took the Valium from his pocket and folded it into one of the name cards, sliding it across the table to Harry. "I was saving this for me, but maybe you need it more."
"It'll numb the pain."
Taking the pill, Harry downed it without question and headed to the bar. Not a safe choice, but Campbell didn't stop him. A split second later, Allie stormed by, heading the same direction. Oh, good. Campbell listened in, closing his eyes as he caught bits and pieces of the conversation. She shot Harry down and flounced back off , though Campbell called that a mile away; Allie was never interested in anyone but Will. Campbell opened his eyes again, just in time to see Harry heading towards the exit. Shit.
"Hey," Campbell called as he chased after. "Harry, wait."
There was no one in the courtyard of the venue. Harry didn't stop until the music was quieter, the sound of voices and laughter fading. He leaned against a tree, burying his face into his hands. He was making fast, ragged little gasping noises, and Campbell could see Harry's shoulders shaking. Stepping into Harry's space, Campbell reached out and tugged Harry to him. Harry burrowed his face into Campbell's neck and finally cried; Campbell held him, murmuring softly whatever calming words he could think of.
"I just... I can't handle it. My dad, here, us."
"Yes, you can." Campbell stroked Harry's back. "I'll talk to Cassandra in the morning about getting you help. We'll figure something out."
"What if it doesn't get better? What if it just keeps hurting?"
"Then you'll learn to adapt. I'll help you."
Harry clung harder to Campbell, his voice becoming a choking wreck of a sob. "I don't want you to leave me."
"I promise, I won't leave you."
They stood there for a long while, and eventually, Campbell could feel Harry's muscles relax. His breathing smoothed out, and the desperate whimpers softened into silence. The pill must have finally worked it's magic. Harry pulled back a little, his dark eyes huge and shining in the dim light. Campbell held still as Harry reached up, stroking Campbell's lips with his thumb.
"Please, Cam," Harry whispered. "Please."
Campbell ran his fingers along Harry's jawline, but then he stepped back and took Harry's hand. "Give me a little time to figure things out, okay? Come back inside with me. Dance with me and the others. We'll talk when you're sober."
Harry leaned into Campbell's touch. "Whatever you want."
It was easy enough to lead Harry back into the building, and no one really seemed to notice or care that they'd ever been gone. Elle was chatting with Madison, Gwen's slightly bigger and equally attractive friend with luscious curly hair and a long, tight taupe dress. They were trading dance moves, though Madison's cheerful expression cooled when she saw Campbell approaching. He tried to offer a friendly smile, but none of the girls even looked at him besides Elle.
"Hey, ladies," Campbell greeted. "Mind if Harry and I hang out for a bit?"
Gwen grimaced, but managed to keep her voice light. "The more the merrier."
Not that the girls really gave a shit; they apparently enjoyed having a tipsy Harry to pass around. Whatever. They all managed to dance together in peace, though Campbell was grateful when a slow song finally came on, and Campbell was able to sneak Elle away from the main group. Campbell caught sight of Grizz for a split second, who was dancing with a girl but staring longingly across the room at... Sam. Campbell tucked that info away in his mind for later. Looked like Harry wasn't the only guy in town getting his reverse Katy Perry on.
Elle curled an arm around Campbell's waist as they danced a simple box step, Aretha Franklin crooning over the speakers. "You never told me you knew how to dance like this. Who taught you?"
"Harry, actually," Campbell admitted. "I never exactly had women forming lines to dance with me when our families went to whatever rich people bullshit they took us to. He thought it'd make me more eligible."
"Not a bit."
"Hah! Well, good."
"It means I don't have to wait in line." Elle leaned closer, moving her fingers through his hair. "You liked watching me dance, earlier."
"Of course. You're radiant."
"I like you watching me."
Campbell stopped, his heart fluttering as Elle pulled him closer and kissed him on the lips. When he began to kiss back, she let him, and jesus christ he felt electricity pulse through every nerve in his body. They began to kiss harder when Campbell turned his head away, trying to catch his breath. "Should we, uh..."
Elle was already leading him towards the door. "We should."
Harry and a few others headed out with them, too drunk or high to really get home on their own. Thankfully, Dillon was one of those people, and he helped Harry get inside his house without much fuss. A couple more stops, and then Campbell and Elle were alone. Ten minutes later and they were safely home, kicking off their shoes and heading upstairs. Campbell hadn't given much thought to what would happen after the dance. Of course in the movies, everyone got laid, but sex wasn't a thing that Campbell had placed much value in. Now? Elle was giving him an intense look as she removed her jewelry, and Campbell wondered where the night was going.
He wasn't unprepared. When he'd first looted the stores, he'd made sure to stock up on condoms. Eventually they'd be like latex gold. He'd kept a couple in the drawer of his nightstand, just in case. But... wasn't it too soon? Were they too drunk? Neither of them had consumed much alcohol, but was any too much? Campbell didn't know the rules. Only the basic ideas, thanks to some hashtags on Twitter and a lot of gross stuff in the news. But Elle was already in front of him, pushing his jacket off his shoulders and kissing him again.
Campbell relaxed as they sank down onto the bed, almost pushing his worries out of his mind as Elle pressed closer. Her dress had hiked up, and her leg was hooked around his hip. "Are you okay with this?" he asked, tipping his head and kissing her neck. "I don't wanna pressure you."
"It's okay. I want this."
Shifting his weight, Campbell flipped them so that Elle was on top, straddling his waist. Elle grinned. She grabbed his wrists and pinned them over his head. He didn't fight it, hell, far from it; Elle leaned down and crushed her lips to his, drawing a whimper from deep in his chest. It wasn't anything he'd ever experienced before, but just when he felt like maybe something was starting to happen, Elle suddenly broke away. She rolled off him, breathing way too fast and holding her head as she stood up.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," she said, pacing. "I thought I was getting better, and I was super excited and I thought that if it could be with anyone it'd be you, but I just--"
Campbell sat up. He held his hands in a gesture of peace as he stood, taking a few steps towards Elle. "Hey, hey. It's okay. We can stop for now and wait."
"I didn't want to wait. I just... I wanted to be normal."
"Look, I don't know what's going on, and you don't ever have to tell me if you don't want to. But I get what it's like to not feel normal. It sucks. But normal, not normal, I'm okay with doing whatever you need to feel safe."
Elle moved towards him, resting her forehead on his chest. "I just wanted to be over it."
"Recovery isn't a linear process. That's what I've heard, anyways."
"Maybe there's hope, then." Elle sighed and sunk down onto the floor, leaning back against the bed. "Now I'm just tired and horny."
Campbell sat next to her, tucking his knees up to his chest. They were silent for a time, lost in their own thoughts. An idea swirled in his head; it was a little off the wall, but it was worth a shot. "We could play a game."
"What kind of game?"
"You dare me to do something, and I do it, or I have to tell you something I've never told anyone else."
"Simon Says meets Truth or Dare."
Elle snorted. "I see where this is going. Don't think I don't."
"Maybe. But I can't touch you, and you can't touch me. Those are the rules."
"And if I don't wanna play anymore?"
"Then we can stop."
"Well, we'll see how it goes." Elle turned her head to face him. She didn't even need a moment to think of something. "I dare you to eat those kinda fuzzy leftovers in the fridge."
So, it was going to be like that. Campbell rubbed his face with his hands. "Christ. No way."
"So, give me one of your deep dark secrets, then."
"One time, Cassandra and I went to the amusement park, and she wanted to ride the Spider. She had fun. I threw up and they had to stop the ride because it hit some old guy. They never knew it was me."
"Very. I dare you to take a shot of Fireball."
Elle glanced at the bottle of whiskey on the desk. "Fine, hit me." She grimaced as Campbell grabbed the bottle and passed it to her, but she took a swig anyways. "I dare you to touch your head."
He did as he was told. "I dare you to touch your nose."
"I dare you to touch yours with your tongue," Elle said as she placed her index finger on her nose. Campbell tried, and failed. "I call foul. You have to answer a question. Who was your first kiss?"
Campbell faltered, but he wasn't going to lie. "You."
"Really, and that was two questions, so I get a special dare."
"Fine. What is it?"
"I dare you to touch your knees."
She placed her hands on her knees, laughing. "I let you have a special dare, and of all things, you pick my knees?"
"I'm not going to take advantage of you like that."
"Good to know. I dare you to touch your knees."
Campbell mirrored her position. His heart drummed a bit faster as their eyes met; Elle had a look there, something a little darker than before. She was waiting for something to happen, but was that in a good or bad way? "I dare you to touch your breast."
A gamble. Elle searched Campbell's face, her lips parting just a little. After a moment, she placed her hand on her left breast, a defiant little smirk on her face. "Touch yourself."
"Where?" he asked, even though he knew. Elle arched an eyebrow. Campbell unbuttoned his slacks, lowering the zipper and sliding his hand under the fabric. His fingertips hit the band of his boxers. He went under those, too, fingers curling around himself. "Your turn."
Elle kept her eyes on his as she slid her dress up, hand moving between her thighs. She inhaled sharply, eyes fluttering. Campbell thought for a moment that she would say something, keep the game going, but her head tipped back and a soft moan came from her lips. He stroked himself as he watched her, shivering as pleasure curled up his spine. It didn't take long for either of them; Campbell tried to last as long as possible, but then Elle began to squirm and gasp as she came, and he couldn't stop himself from following.
They didn't speak. Not at first. Elle inched closer, nestling against Campbell's side and closing her eyes. He rested his chin on the top of her head, and for a while, they just stayed there in the warm, quiet afterglow. Campbell felt calm. The usual buzzing in his head had settled, for the time being. He felt whole, almost. Happy.
Still, as much as he wanted to stay there forever, he was the first to break the silence. "Wanna take a shower with me?" Campbell asked, kissing her hair. "We probably shouldn't go to bed like this."
Elle kissed him back on the lips. "I'd like that."
The shower in the master bath had two heads, so it was comfortable enough to use at the same time. They helped peel each other out of their clothes; Elle was blushing, and Campbell felt a little self conscious when her eyes raked over his body, but then she kissed the center of his chest-- right over his heart-- and it felt like some sort of reassurance. When they were done and ready to sleep, Campbell was surprised that Elle slipped into bed with him, still naked.
"I hope this is okay," she said. "I can go or put something on, if you want."
"Whatever is comfortable for you."
Smiling, Elle huddled under the blankets and wrapped her arms around her pillow. "Mm. Goodnight, Campbell."
"Goodnight." Campbell watched her drift to sleep, waiting until he was sure she wouldn't hear. "I love you."
No reply. Just the sound of crickets, coming from outside the bedroom window Campbell had cracked open to let in some fresh, cool night air. He wasn't sure he was tired enough to sleep-- it was only just after midnight-- but as soon as his head hit his pillow, Campbell dozed off. He'd only been asleep for about fifteen minutes when he was woken up by the sound of barking. Blinking, he sat back up and rubbed his eyes. Of course, the one time he actually wanted to get some rest, the mystery mutt had to make a reappearance.
Elle stirred as Campbell got up and got dressed. Her voice was thick, and not quite awake. "Campbell?"
"There's a dog outside. I'm gonna go check it out."
"Want me to come with you?"
"No, I'll be okay. Go back to sleep."
She mumbled something, and began to lightly snore. He paused in the doorway, smiling at her. For once, things felt perfect. Or at least they would, if he could figure out where the infernal barking was coming from. Campbell grabbed his phone and slipped on his shoes, heading out into the night. It seemed close, but then would become faint again; they must have been on the move. It seemed like the dog was heading towards the inn where they'd had prom. It'd make sense. The place probably smelled like food.
Campbell was getting close to the inn when the dog began to bark again. It was a five minute walk left. Hopefully the damn critter would stay put. He didn't want to jog around the town all night playing some two-man game of Fugitive. He glanced at his phone, turning on the flashlight and preparing to chase down the wayward collie. It sounded like the dog was just around the corner.
12:35, and a block away from the inn.
That was when Campbell heard the gunshot.
Thank you so much for reading, leaving kudos, and commenting. You all are amazing, and I'm so thankful that you've come on this writing journey with me. The story will continue in Part 3, which will also be updated on Sundays.
Stay safe, and have a wonderful week! <3