“What if we don’t make it?”
“...hey, don’t think like that.”
“I’m serious, E— that was close. Too fucking close. How many more close shaves can we fucking get away with?”
“I… I dunno. Enough?”
“I know. Fuck, babe, I know… I know. I’m sorry, I… I didn’t—”
“No, it’s not your fault— I should’ve been more careful, just… Eth, we can’t just keep… pretending that we’re gonna get to Cali. There’s probably not even a Cali left to get to. There’s barely even a Hatchetfield…”
“...c’mere. Lex, fuck, c’mere…”
“...I’m just scared that next time, it’ll be something we can’t get away from. That we’re gonna be stuck here for… for fucking ever. ”
“Don’t think like that. I mean, fuck, ya never thought you’d get away from home, right? And here ya are, away from—”
“In a fucking apocalypse, E!”
“So what? S’close enough to freedom, and once we figure out how to take care’a them zombie fuckers… we’ll be fine. It’ll just be us, us an’ Hannah, an’ the road… we can go out somewhere. The three of us in the jalopy, with no music playin’. Sound good?”
“...I want it. I want it so badly, I just… it doesn’t feel like we’re gonna get there— and if you hadn’t found the fucking bat—”
“I found it. I found it, okay? We ain’t gonna think about all the what-ifs right now. We’re just… gonna stay here. Always wondered what it was like to sleep in a movie theater.”
“Okay, you can like, totally make fun of me for this— but when I were a kid, I used ta think that if ya fell asleep during a movie, you like, were stuck in the theater.”
“...holy fuck. You… you actually—”
“—Ethan Green, you’re a dumbass.”
“And Lex Foster, I’m your dumbass. Who has also saved your life once, now.”
“Fine. Guess I owe you one.”
“Oh, for sure. Next time I’m in mortal peril, I’ll just shout for ya, and you have to be there.”
“...can we… not talk about you in—”
“Fuck. Fuck, sorry, y-yeah, I… fuck, Lex, you’re shakin’... you’re shakin’...”
It took Lex less than a week of living at the camp to remember why she fucking hated camping.
That was because it took it less than a week to rain , and while Lakeside hadn’t been good in the slightest , at least it’d had a proper roof. Even when her and Hannah had been holed up on the rooftop of the mall, they’d had the staircase’s entryway to to huddle up under on the bad nights, and on better ones, they could risk creeping down to the security office, locking the doors up tight, and sleeping under the desk with a few pilfered pillows and blankets, and while it wasn’t warm , at least it wasn’t this.
Which was fucking freezing.
Like, weirdly wet— though that might’ve been because a few minutes ago, she was fairly certain she’d heard the catch of their tarp being torn off of the tent by the wind.
Hannah seemed to have dodged most of it, sleeping in the middle of their limited space— but since Lex had been stupid enough to fucking roll in her sleep to a point where her face had been all but pressed up against the outermost wall of the tent.
Which was why she’d woken up damp.
And why she was no longer curled up in her sleeping bag, because that was also damp.
Instead, she was standing just under the cover of the halfway dislodged tarp with a too-big jacket wrapped tightly around her and a cigarette dangling from her fingers. The zipper of the tent’s door was pulled open just enough for her to blow smoke out into the night without disturbing Hannah— and as she raised it to her lips and took a small drag…
Almost like she could pretend she was okay, which was close enough. She could pretend she’d just borrowed the jacket to step outside for a moment. She could pretend that they were out camping, that Ethan had talked her into the trip and Hannah had been excited enough to trap her into saying yes to something she loathed more than fucking anything . She could pretend that she was mostly dry, but slightly damp rather than fucking soaked . She could pretend that everything was… boring.
She could pretend that her tent held another person alongside Hannah.
She could pretend that it hadn’t poured rain.
Shakily, she blew out a thin stream of smoke.
When she took another puff, she held it for longer, long enough to feel her lungs sting before she let it all out in a sigh.
...wish you were here.
Maybe it was broody. Maybe it was cliche. Maybe she shouldn’t have been thinking about him, but it was hard not to.
Her free hand found the zipper of the jacket she wore, pulling it upward in an attempt to further surround herself in the comfort the beaten thing provided. It wasn’t a lot , seeing as the leather was cold and the smell that she’d grown accustomed to breathing in when she wore it had nearly worn out of it entirely, but if she just held herself tighter and took a heavier inhalation…
When her lungs stung, again, she held it in— held in the feeling of warmth, held in the burning sensation—
“He’s a fucking lost cause.”
—it flooded from her lips in a rush.
Fuck, someone’s up.
The comfort she’d found from the cig faded immediately. Although a bedtime wasn’t enforced, nor suggested, it came as a reflex of sorts, taking a final, heavy drag before quickly unzipping the tentflap, dropping the still-burning thing to the grass, and stamping it out like she was at work, smoking out of the window.
Fuck, fuck, fuck—
Her fingers fumbled with the zipper.
The voices drew closer— and just as she managed to get the damn thing almost all the way shut—
“He isn’t singing , Linda— that’s something .”
Lex’s heart stopped dead. Her grip on the zipper tightened.
“We could be using that space,” the voice continued— Linda — the tone in her words enough to make Lex’s skin crawl.
It was one she’d heard time and time again, after all, when the high and mighty queen bitch of Hatchetfield made her way down to ToyZone— usually to complain about how one of her beautiful blond boys had injured himself with one of the dangerous products they were selling.
And that’s Becky.
That… was interesting.
They sure as fuck aren’t friends.
They butted heads at every turn, and while Becky was normally understanding and patient— something seemed different tonight. Different in her tone. Her diction.
Dropping into a crouch, Lex cocked her head, trying to listen in as Linda began to speak again.
“I don’t know? But some of us could sure use some more legroom…”
Oh, you bitch.
Lex’s hackles raised.
She could hear them more clearly, now— their footsteps, though muted by the sand, seemed to have stopped right outside, though she dared not lift her head enough to check if that were true. Instead, she stayed frozen as the conversation continued, hissed out just above a whisper.
“You have a tent. Your own tent— which none of the rest of us have the luxury of— and we have Xander’s jeep for supplies. If anyone needs to give up space, it’s you, unless you’d rather be one of them. ”
...didn’t know Becky could get mad.
“ Becky Barnes , you are just as unlikeable as you were before this all started.”
Lex couldn't bring herself to shift her weight. She was starting to lose feeling in her legs, but couldn’t move— couldn’t risk it. Silence fell after Linda’s absolute venom , and it was nothing short of completely deafening.
“I... I’m unlikeable?” Becky breathed, tone dangerously soft.
Linda didn’t seem to hear it.
“ Well ,” she spat, “in so many words, yes! ”
“ Me , the one who’s trying to cure him? To fix this whole thing— I’m unlikeable?”
“You’re a cardboard cutout of a person.”
Again, silence fell— one that made Lex’s anxiety rise— one that reminded her of too many losing fights she’d had at home, verbal sparring matches that had earned her countless shiners, and the tone Becky was taking was cold enough to make the already frigid temperature drop another ten degrees.
“... excuse me?”
“You, Becky Barnes, are a cardboard cutout. You’re just…you’re with your highschool sweetheart, you went to nursing school — all you want is for things to get better … it’s exhausting. You’re optimistic to a fault . Even with your husband—”
“ He has nothing to do with this!”
Through the fabric, Lex watched as Becky’s silhouette stiffened. Her hackles raised— though before she could say a word, Linda was speaking again— creeping closer to the redhead with what Lex could only imagine was a fearsome snarl.
“You only help people because your own life spiraled out of control. You’re grasping at the one thing that you think you can fix , because you desperately want to do anything worthwhile—”
“You’re the exact same person you were in highschool, you know that? I’m not going to deny what you said, Linda, but I’m going to say that at least what I went through made me come out stronger . But you? You’re out of your depth, Linda Monroe. You don’t have anybody here that you can manipulate .”
“I do not manipulate—”
The dread pooling in Lex’s core grew heavier.
I didn’t know Becky had it in her.
They were good points, but they felt like points that were supposed to have been made in private —
“You’re one to talk— taking advantage of Tom while he was mourning his wife’s death? ”
Holy fuck, that was definitely supposed to stay private.
“I...that wasn’t manipulation. He needed a shoulder to cry on—”
“Oh, ha! He did so much more than just cry onto you.”
Lex’s head lifted— one eye peering out through the teeth of the zipper in search of the two women. She didn’t have to look far.
Becky looked to be on the verge of tears.
“You’re a child ,” she growled through her teeth— jaw clenched hard enough that Lex could see it twitching. “People are dying , Linda, and this is what you’re focusing on? It’s unbelievable. You’re unbelievable. I was just trying to say that if we move him, there’s a huge risk that he’ll get out and take a bite out of anyone he finds . That’s the last thing we need!”
“You’re right.” Something about Linda’s tone— her stance — made Lex’s upper lip curl back just slightly. “We should just put him out of his—”
“ Linda Monroe , I don’t have to deal with this right now! Just… go back to your tent. I’ll discuss this with Emma in the morning, but for now, I… I just need to sleep. ”
The way in which Linda turned away made her look like a comic book villain.
Everything about her made her look like a comic book villain, but in the light of the moon with a tattered, black cape draped from her shoulders and streaky makeup applied to her face, she really fit the bill, and the words spilling from her lips only added to the sentiment.
“Fine. Run away from your problems. See if I care— why, if your little pet gets out, I hope he gets you first.”
Becky’s breath shuddered.
Linda didn’t acknowledge the goodbye with anything other than a harrumph before storming off, and as Lex watched her go, the second she was out of both eye and earshot...
Slowly, she pulled the tentflap back— and before she could talk herself out of it, she shimmied out of the fabric door, offering Becky as sympathetic a look as she could muster when their eyes met.
“...hey,” she greeted, softly.
The beginnings of tears were obvious on Becky’s face; there amid the confusion of realizing she wasn’t alone.
Fuck, maybe this was a mista—
“Oh, you’re… awake. I’m… sorry you had to—”
“She’s a bitch,” Lex stated, flatly. “And I’m not… gonna pry. Fuckin’ hated her before all this started, so…”
That got a weak chuckle out of Becky, though it was one that she quickly stifled. “...she’s… a lot,” she agreed, quietly. “But… I’m glad she’s alive.” Turning to Lex with a smile, when she laughed again, it sounded forced. “I’m glad that everyone here is alive.”
“Yeah, I… am, too.”
...except for the…
Was it worth asking?
Was it worth opening that can of worms this late at night?
...I should really know… I do happen to live here now…
“...so…” trailing into silence, Lex buried her hands into the pockets of the jacket and awkwardly shifted her weight, glancing up at the cloudy sky above them. “You have a blueblood? Here?”
“...he wandered close to camp, so we jumped him. He… doesn’t know where he is, so he can’t signal the rest of them... thinking he was a loner of sorts. Bluebloods normally flock to where they spent time prior to becoming… well, bluebloods , but… we found him in the woods— and from the slime that was… pretty caked onto the trail we found him on… we’re assuming that he spent a lot of time here. ”
A stone settled in her stomach.
I probably knew him.
She, Hannah, and Ethan had frequented the woods, after all— they’d probably crossed paths with whoever the mute-ish zombie had been.
“And he doesn’t sing?”
“Not properly. Not anymore— though his words have a weird… lilt to them. We’re… making progress. It’s not a lot , but… it’s something, right?”
It sounded like she was trying to convince herself of the fact, and the look on her face really only served to solidify that— a look of silent pleading.
...Linda did a fucking number on her.
Becky was, from what Lex had seen, strong and confident— optimistic despite everything — and if she needed reassurance… although she wasn’t qualified to give them...
Her fingers twitched along the worn seam of the jacket’s pocket.
“...do you think you’ll be able to…”
Becky gave a small sigh in response. “...I don’t know,” she admitted, a tone of sadness filtering into her words— though it was a tone that she quickly pushed down with a smile and an overly exaggerated straightening of her posture. “But I do know that it’s… late. You should really be in—”
Lex waved her off, stepping back as Becky began to turn away. “Yeah, I’ll… get on it,” she agreed, gruffly, though not before shooting Becky a knowing look. “You too. Ah. Goodnight, Becky.”
The nurse smiled over her shoulder.
“Goodnight, Lex. Sweet dreams.”
“What am I, six?” Laughing through the words, Lex watched as Becky gave a small shrug and a smile of her own.
“I think we could all use some,” she countered, at which Lex paused— midway through stepping back into the tent.
“...fair enough. Goodnight— for real this time.”
“I’m closing the flap now.”
Even the sound of the zipper pulling shut didn’t mute Becky’s soft laughter— and as much as she wanted not to join in, she couldn’t help it, though it didn’t last long.
What the fuck had just happened?
What was happening?
Linda dragging Becky wasn’t exactly breaking news, no, but...
If they had a blueblood… if they were curing one…
If they found him in the woods, alone, on a beaten up trail…
If bluebloods roamed where they used to spend time, then, maybe...
. She didn’t bother taking the jacket off to sleep.
Something told her she wouldn’t be getting much sleep, anyway, and as she settled beside Hannah— ditching the soaked sleeping bag— in the back of her mind, a small, feeble hope was flickering to life.
Maybe it was stupid, but fuck it.
Becky was right.
A sweet dream was something she desperately needed.