Her heart was pounding like crazy.
‘What the fuck is going on?’ She sat upright, anxiously looking around the room. Small droplets of sweat started slowly rolling down her face and she let out a deep sigh as if she had been holding her breath for five minutes straight. She was still in bed; half covered by a woolen blanket Maria had given her a few weeks back.
She didn’t quite know what had been the reason for her abrupt awakening but she figured it was best to move and find out. Her flight instinct was still acutely alert due to all the shit that had been happening over the past twelve months. Ellie found it wasn’t as easy as she had hoped to grow accustomed to this much safer lifestyle she and Joel had been enjoying for a while now.
Living in the ever-growing “City of Jackson” (as Maria insisted they call the accumulation of shacks and self-built houses in the valley) had been nice and quiet – just the opposite of most of Ellie’s life up until now.
She shook the painful thoughts that tried to nag on the edge of her consciousness aside and tried to ignore the spasm in her stomach. ‘Just nerves’, she tried to calm herself with no real effect.
Ellie got up and went to the window looking out into their backyard (or more likely the little patch of weeds that they had started working on to transform into a nice garden only yesterday). It was still a little dark outside and she couldn’t quite make out if there was something to worry about out there or not. She tried focusing on her hearing instead, but failed to find any disturbing sound reaching her ears. Quietly she walked over to the door of her room and opened it so she could peek into the hallway of their house. Joel’s room was just two doors down, only the bathroom separated their private quarters.
She wasn’t sure if she should be grateful for this since Joel sometimes snored loudly for no apparent reason. Though, Ellie couldn’t remember ever really being bothered by it (except maybe in the beginning of their journey, when she had loathed his guts), but now and again the snoring seemed loud as gunfire in this shitty silent little town. At other times, it had been the most soothing of all noises – especially after last winter. She smelled something burning and started shivering immediately.
‘Just a memory’, she tried to calm herself.
The hallway was dark and silent as well. No snoring, no light, no nothing.
‘Weird’, Ellie thought and turned to go back to bed. She definitely still had some more hours until she needed to get up and report for duty. A yawn fought its way up to her mouth and she nestled down in her comfy blanket once more.
As she closed her eyes, a scene popped into her head. Strong hands were hugging her and caressing her back. Soft, long strokes made her skin tickle and her hands found their way around the other person’s body to reciprocate the embrace. Somehow, Ellie felt like having seen these images before and - opening her eyes again – realized that this image was exactly, what had made her wake up in the first place. Although the dream could – from an outsider’s perspective – seem innocent, Ellie felt a slight prickling sensation between her thighs and a mild spasm in her lower abdomen. This reaction she assessed to definitely not being innocent at all!
For the second time she wondered, what the hell the matter was. These last few days had most certainly been the strangest ones in her short but adventurous life. And this dream was a pretty good example. Only two days ago, she had watched some of the men at work building another home for who-knows-who and Joel and Tommy had been supervising and helping. Everyone was sweating under the gleaming September sun and soon enough they had all gotten rid of their shirts/flannels/tees (you name it), pearls of sweat glistening on each one of their torsos and backs. Ellie had suddenly felt her heartbeat quickening and her breath catching in her throat, before she had coughed and shaken her head in confusion and the moment had passed.
It seemed to her that all of a sudden, totally normal situations or actions of other people turned her into this weird reacting human being. Maybe she was falling ill? The camp doctor (a former veterinarian) had told her about all these different kinds of diseases humankind (and animals) had worried about before this damn fungal apocalypse. She may be immune and not turn into a clicker any time soon but that didn’t mean she couldn’t get the flu or something.
Going back to sleep proved really difficult. Every time she closed her eyes those strong arms would pull her into a hug again and that was just distracting as hell. So she lay in bed till sunrise and got up with a strong intent to go see the camp doctor that very day.
When Joel went down to the kitchen to prepare some breakfast, Ellie had already disappeared to who knows where. He had heard her close the door on her way out while he had been getting dressed. Now he wondered, if he should prepare breakfast for her as well or not. Might as well…
It was strange, to not see her in the morning. He didn’t like to admit it, but he kind of missed sleeping next to the little bugger. It had been some time now, that every one of them had claimed their own room, ‘cause some of the town folk would have deemed it ‘inappropriate’, as Maria kept on reminding him, till he couldn’t take her shit anymore. Not one of them really knew, what the two of them had been going through, yet alone how safe one felt knowing the person who usually got your back slept right alongside you.
He didn’t want to think about the events of last winter, but of course they sprung up right next to his memories of killing clickers and runners.
‘Fucking asshole…’, Joel thought while picturing David’s remains (all bloody with a deep cut from ear to ear, stab wounds in his eyes an thorax etc.). That offered him a little comfort at least. Joel had never really asked Ellie what had happened while he was blacked out and she never seemed to want to share neither. As he himself hated prying as much as it gets, he thought it better to just wait for her to open up. Though that left him to his own imagination, which as sure as hell wasn’t comforting at all.
For sometime, Ellie had flinched at every touch (although Joel wasn’t the touching type to begin with). Only a hand on her shoulder would make her jump or dive away from the hand as if it were on fire. That had led him to believe, fucking David might have touched her, you know, in a really bad way. He shook his head in order to loose the images forming involuntarily: Ellie in a cell, Ellie tied down, Ellie being hit in the face, Ellie getting stripped and screaming ‘NO!’, Ellie struggling for her virtue and life…
“Goddamn it!”, he grunted.
If she hadn’t killed this motherfucker, he would have. And to be honest, that would have probably been best, considering Ellie’s mental state after the incident. She was as quiet as shit and that just wasn’t right.
Joel tried to get rid of all these thoughts and get back to reality. She was alright now. Happy as a clam, so to speak.
“It’s not the flu, that is all I can tell you Ellie.” The camp doctor Paul looked at her reassuringly with a smile on his face. Or was it more like a big ass grin? Ellie was confused. He had hardly examined her and just listened to her describing the normal situations that had made her feel so weird.
“Don’t you need to check my temperature or something?”, she asked disbelievingly.
“Nope. Pretty sure it’s nothing serious. Let’s just say nature is kicking in.” Was he fucking kidding her with this? Did he honestly believe that would make her feel any less anxious? This fucking vagueness and stupid smirk on his face?
“What d’you mean by that? Am I finally turning into on of those monsters, cause I can tell you, you are fucking gonna be my first stop!”
“Whoa there, calm down. It’s nothing like that. I’d rather you talked to Maria about this though. I don’t really feel comfortable having ‘the talk’ with you.” He enunciated the noun so strongly that Ellie couldn’t possibly miss that there had to be a hidden meaning to it. But what exactly did he mean?
“You are a fucking nightmare of a doctor”, she grunted and walked off toward Maria’s home.
She had to still be home having breakfast with Tommy. They only lived two houses down from her and Joel’s. She guessed, Tommy might have had something to do with it. Not everybody had welcomed Joel and Ellie back with open arms, when they had arrived after the whole Firefly-Seattle-debacle. He probably wanted to keep them close in order to keep them safe.
Before she knew it, she was standing outside their home, knocking – rather franticly – at the wooden front door. Ellie could hear sounds of a commotion inside the house and wondered for a second if intruders had made their way into their village. The moment it took for her to weigh her options (a: storming in ready to shoot or b: running to her home and get Joel) was enough for Maria to answer the door clearly distracted and looking like she had just been in a fight. Her hair was all messed up and she was panting slightly. The red blouse she was wearing was buttoned up all wrong and the fly of her jeans was undone.
“What up, Ellie?”, she asked trying to be nonchalant, leaning against the door frame.
“Er… is everything alright? I thought I heard some fighting or whatever…”
“Everything is just peachy. Just redecorating, you know, moving some furniture around with Tommy” – she turned towards the kitchen and yelled louder (and a little shriller) than was necessary – “Hey, Tommy, Ellie heard us moving the furniture, we should really keep it down!”
“Hey, Ellie!” Tommy replied curtly but didn’t emerge from the kitchen. In the meantime Maria had turned her head back to watch Ellie curiously.
“So, what’s up?”, she asked again.
Ellie shook her head in confusion. She got the feeling there was something going on, that had nothing to do with furniture. But she tried to focus on her problem and what the doctor had ordered her to do.
“I have been feeling weird since a few days and Paul said it’s not the flu and that I should have ‘the talk’” – she mimicked quotation marks with her hands – “with you because it would make him uncomfortable and I am just plain confused as to what is going on with me lately.” She felt like she had just pulled the plug on her thoughts and babbled on without interruption from Maria about the strange things that kept happening to her heart and breath and perspiration and belly.
A knowing smile crept on Marias face as Ellie continued, retelling the sighting of bare chested sweating men and the repeating image of being hugged tightly. Suddenly, Maria pulled her into a firm but soft embrace and planted a kiss on the top of her head. Then she took Ellie’s hand and pulled her inside the house. The girl followed her into the living room and they sat down on the old yet comfy sofa.
“It’s hormones, darling”, Maria said simply as if that would explain everything.
“What hormones?”, Ellie asked.
“The ones that sometimes go overboard when you really hit puberty.”
What the fuck? Ellie remembered the conversation she had had with Marlene when her breasts had started growing and the time her period had started. She knew she could get pregnant now and that bleeding into your pants every four weeks wasn’t abnormal (although it was fucking disgusting and definitely not the best part of every month). She sort of knew of the concept of puberty but what the hell was the involvement of so-called hormones in this matter and how did they connect to her feeling weird?
Looking at Ellie’s face, Maria contemplated whether to dive into a full-blown version of ‘sex ed – post apocalyptic style’ or test her little protégé as to what she knew.
“You have your period already, right, Ellie?”
“Yeah”, she responded shyly. That was definitely not something cool to talk about.
“And did you ever talk with somebody about… sex?”, Maria asked tentatively. Ellie nodded slightly. A blush rose to her cheeks and she looked down, suddenly overly interested in the structure of the cushion lying next to her.
“Well see, your body is kind of ‘awakening’, if you will, and wants to introduce you to the possibility of having sex. The hormones I talked about earlier are responding to different triggers – like seeing hot nude men sweating from labor. It is kind of in our genes. It’s like nature’s way of telling us to go procreate and prepare our body for the pleasures to come… Sorry, I’m terrible at this.”
“But, but… I don’t want to be a mother. I am still a teenager!” Ellie exclaimed in a scared tone. Maria put her right hand on Ellie’s arm, calming her down.
“That’s not what I am saying. Your body is just telling you that you can start exploring a little. I think it definitely told you that well build guys with strong arms are a turn-on.” She smiled broadly and patted Ellie’s arm reassuringly. Then she suddenly stood up and pulled the girl up on her feet with her.
“You just go home and think about what I said. If you have any questions, you know where to find me”, Maria said in a sort of rushed tone “…just be sure to knock!” – she added quickly. “And now excuse me, I have some more redecorating to do.”
And with that the village leader ushered Ellie out the door.