I pressed the red button on the shower wall, causing steaming hot water to cascade down onto my body, rinsing my skin of blood, dirt, and decay. I could smell it in my hair, combined with the familiar smoky aroma always present after being so close to fire.
I’d been in the bathroom for an hour, fully expecting Bloodhound or someone else to complain, but no one had disturbed me yet. Which was good because I had spent the first twenty minutes, sitting on the lidded toilet with the water running, crying my eyes out.
I added some shampoo to my hair, and began to scrub, I did the same to my body with the soap. It seemed impossible to wash away the dirty feeling, as if my soul no longer felt clean after the day’s events. I cried again, as I began to rinse my hair and body, I couldn’t help it. Those people probably would have died eventually, they were just so naive to the awful truth of the new world, you had to become stronger, wiser, and willing to do whatever it takes.
They were weak, but Kahlil, he was a survivor, that kid had earned the right to live, the right to survive.. we could have helped him. Suddenly there was a knock on the door, interrupting me from my musings, so I bellowed out rudely.
“What do you want?!”
“Sorry Loki, but I have to use the restroom..” Serafi answered softly, it sounded like she’d been holding it awhile, and I immediately felt guilty about my selfishness.
“Oh, didn’t know it was you, just come on in.. promise I won’t look if you don’t.” I joked, trying act somewhat normal.
“Thank you, thank you!” She said, quickly entering and slamming the door. “I swear, I just have to pee.”
I heard the toilet seat go down, and her, muffle a groan as she relieved herself. I wondered how she was faring with her impairment, and fought the urge to peek through the curtain out of curiosity, it seemed she was coping well enough.
“So how are you doing?” She asked, her tone low in case there were eavesdroppers.
I didn’t answer at first, as she had me for a lack of words, here I was evaluating her ability to move past her burden, when my own was just as visible as her missing limb. How was I? I was a fucking wreck, I was tired and weary.. I felt like giving up.
“Don’t lie to me, they told us what they did, it was fucked up but you know you can’t really blame them.. They’re soldiers, they follow orders, and all of your lives were in danger.” She spoke with a wisdom, I hadn’t expected, and I knew she was right. “Maybe they didn’t kill that kid, they might be keeping him alive.”
“That’s what I’m afraid off.” I replied, shutting off the water, she handed me my towel over the curtain. “They could be torturing him for information, or something unimaginably worse.. Trust me, death would be preferable.”
“Let’s hope for the best then..”
After she left, I threw on a leather jacket, over my black tee and dark denim. My hair was another casualty, ruined from my crafty escape in the mall, my mutation couldn’t repair such damage thou. I found a pair of scissors I kept in the medicine cabinet and started chopping into my dreadlocks, ending up with a shoulder length asymmetrical bob of sorts, with one side longer than the other. My head felt lighter, I felt the coolness in the air more, and slightly out of my comfort zone. I had always had my hair long, ever since I was a preteen, this was definitely a new look for me, one I kinda liked. When I stepped out of the bathroom, I got a couple of shocked looks, and a warm smile from Sera as Buster ran to me barking.
“Hey boy, how ya doin Buster?” I asked him, as I scratch his favorite spot behind the ears causing him to bark excitedly, and as I expected, Tzar was the first to comment on my new cut.
“Chile, what did you do?! You had so much hang time, and after growing it out for all these years!!?! I’m sorry to say, but bitch.. I think you gone crazy.”
“It’s not that bad, I like it.” Patience replied, smiling at me, it was so infectious I couldn’t help but return one of my own.
“Me too!” Serafi chimed in, adding her support, Tzar just looked at us like we’d lost our minds.
“Well it was this or a buzz cut, I settled on this.” I said, giving him a shrug.
“I guess, Rapunzel.” He decided to drop it, for lighter conversation. “Anyways, I know you’re hungry, and I just made a little something light light to hold us over till we find a safe place to camp..”
As I sat to the bar, he passed me a plate of his ratatouille concoction, with Ritz crackers on the side. It was delicious, I knew it would be, my cousin could throw down in the kitchen, even with bare scraps he could make a delectable meal for twenty people. Once finished, I grabbed a bowl of the delicious stew and headed for the front cabin.
On then way I saw Granny still sleeping, I still regret dosing her so strongly but she would have slowed us down, especially with what happened at the mall. I don’t know how she held on so long, it spoke to the strength of her mind and its lucidity, but there had to be something that was keeping her centered. I checked her vitals, they were fine for the most part, and I could hear the Doctor was sleeping soundly, as well, in the adjacent cubby. I eyed her slumbering form suspiciously, while Sera hadn’t mentioned anything cagey, I still didn’t trust the woman.
I continued on down the narrow path, making my way to the passenger seat, I watched the Wolf as he kept his eyes on the road. This scene felt all too familiar, though in this case, instead of sets of blue eyes avoiding me, they were an earthy shade of brown.
“How about I take over the wheel, while you get something to eat? I brought this for you..”
“Fine.” He replied, his tone was hard, like granite.
We seamlessly switch seats, and I hit the gas, leading us on. He silently ate his food, like I wasn’t there, he didn’t even give instruction on where to go so I just continued on the same path. I kept glancing over to him, waiting for.. I don’t know, just waiting on him to do or say something, I waited till I couldn’t wait any longer.
“So what happened while we were inside? Balthazar said you and Caiden were arguing..”
“We were.” He replied sternly, continuing to eat.
“And what was said to have you acting like this?” I asked, gripping the wheel just a little bit tighter, he sat his food on the dashboard like he’d lost his appetite. “Just tell me what happened.. I can tell there’s something more.”
“He told me he was in love with you, he said you guys had kissed, He said..” Wolf paused a moment, and I couldn’t help but notice that as he told me this he hadn’t faced me one time, like if he took a gander at me it would all be over for him. “He said, if I wasn’t around, you would love him back.. It would be the two of you together in all this.”
It was my turn to watch the road in silence, this time it was I who couldn’t meet his eyes, because now he was looking at me with an intent stare. The energy in his gaze was so intense, I could feel heat flush the right side of my face, leaving the ebon skin of my cheeks with a rose tint. I couldn’t truthfully deny anything Caiden had said, no matter how indelicate he put it, if I profess differently it would be the first lie I would ever tell to the man before me.
“Those are ifs, ands, or buts.. THIS is reality.” I answered, finally able to look at him, his russet colored eyes were on fire and his gaze was deep. “You ARE here, so it’s unfortunate for him, that I’m having those feelings for you. So no matter what I feel or felt for him, and even with all those truths he mentioned, here I am wanting to be with YOU.”
He didn’t say anything, and that left me feeling so vulnerable, I focused back on the pavement of the road ahead. The sun had set maybe two hours before, and many of the street lights were out on the mostly clear freeway, so the darkness was thick. I turned back to Wolf, and was met by lush tender lips, as he quickly kissed me. It felt longer than it was, and the sensation even lingered a moment after, I suckled my bottom lip to see if I could still taste him. A slight moan escaped from my mouth when I realized that I could, It was also hard to miss that his eyes still burned through me, I don’t how he could restrain himself.
“Take this next exit, we should find somewhere to camp out for the night..” He instructed, and after a few more turns, I noticed a sign that said we were heading toward the town of Bidwell.
“Have you been here before?” I inquired, because he seem to know his way well through these pitch black side roads.
“I’ve been through here once or twice..” He replied with one of his toothy grins, I gave an eye roll, but I was glad to see it cross his lips once again.
“Is this one of your old girlfriends or boyfriends? Warn me now..”
He never answered, but couldn’t wipe the smile from his face at my jealous tone, I sucked my teeth and kept my eyes on the road as I push my foot harder on the gas pedal.
It was a thirty minute drive from the main road, that I could see consisted mostly of farmland, forest, and field. He gave me further instruction, and we came upon a gate to the estate, I was kind of shocked to see it was literally a mansion in the middle of nowhere. It looked so out of place and untouched by the horrors of this world, yet there was only a meager ornate iron fence that surrounded the property. I suddenly felt nervous, where the fuck were we? Where was the security?
When we pulled up to the front of the house, all the lights were on like any normal winter night in the world before the dead had risen. I stopped right by the front door, and could see the red mustang following my lead, in the Betty’s side mirror.
The Wolf jumped up and went to the side door, asking all of us to follow him outside, I noticed he had woken Doctor Jhedav up as well. I told him not to disturb Granny, we couldn’t know what kind of state she was in, we should get settled first. Sera, Patience, and Balthazar followed him and the Doctor off the bus, while I waited for Caiden. He was soon to appear, after a minute or so, his brow immediately furrowed with one look at my hair.
“What happened? Who did that to you?” He sounded upset, like I was wounded or something, I thought about what Tzar had said.
“It was last resort, after a run in with a grabby dead bastard..” I replied, self consciously playing in my hair, Hunter had preferred my hair long too, they were so alike it was a wonder why they had such a tumultuous relationship.
“It’s not so bad once you get used to it, but talk about a shock!”
“Your face was priceless!” I said, laughing with him for a moment, but just as quickly I flip the script. “Just like mine, when the Wolf told me what you said about us.”
An awkward silence cut into the laughter like a scratch on a record, I wasn’t smiling anymore, neither was he.
“Was it a lie?” He asked, his tone so serious for once.
“Did you tell him that?”
“It was mentioned..” I confessed, unable to meet his eyes, their color like the daylight sky.
“Yes.. Still.” I answered knowing it would crush him, I was right, he smashed his fist into the wall as rage filled and overflowed from him.
The sound woke Granny, and brought the Wolf running onto the Betty, he looked ready to fuck something up. I didn’t realize he waited for us, I didn’t know he cared so much, I had to hold him back as the restraint he had earlier was long gone.
“How about you mind your fucking business.. I ain’t gonna hurt the kid!” Caiden yelled, about to jump in the Wolf’s face, I pushed them apart, and tried to keep the peace but this had all come to a head.
“One of you needs to be the bigger man and walk away, I’m not worth all this, trust me!” I screamed, that’s when I caught sight of Granny just watching us with blank look in her eye.
The old woman had been eerily silent through all the fuss, it was then I notice she wasn’t really watching us per say, she was just looking straight ahead. The two men were still too busy assassinating each other with their eyes, neither could see the state she was in, it just wasn’t right.
“Stop, you two! Look, something’s wrong..” I said, pushing past Caiden to assess the matriarch of our group more thoroughly, she didn’t even seem to register or respond to any movement around her.
“She looks like a statue..” The Wolf commented, with a look of concern.
“Gran? Gran?!! Wake up, say something!” Caiden said, snapping his fingers in her face, he was about to shake her but I moved fast to stop him.
“No, you could worsen her trauma.. She appears to be in shock.” I gently took her hand and led her to the sofa, she followed like a zombie, and her blank stare remained. “Someone please grab a glass of water for her, Caiden come sit with her, she needs familiarity around.”
He looked afraid to touch her, like she would break if he did, I had to admit she looked so fragile in this moment, a word I never would have fathom to use to describe the spry woman. I took my key chain flashlight and checked her eyes, I checked her pulse, her breathing, and everything was fine, yet she still sat with that vacant stare.
“We have to go meet our host and get settled, then we can move her inside.. We’ll only be spending the night.” Wolf advised, and I agreed, Caiden was too focused on his grandmother to pay our words any attention, I don’t think he’d ever seen her this vulnerable either.
“Stay here with her, I’ll be back for you..” I said to the blonde, but I got no response, he was trying to get her to drink the water to no avail, I just turn and followed the Wolf off of the Betty.
Everyone besides the two were outside, some with concerned or curious looks on their face, I relayed to them the news on Granny’s deteriorating condition. Most of the group had some semblance of compassion for her, but I was furious at the blatant disregard in Jerry’s face, and how the Doctor looked so nonchalant as she fussed with her dingy ivory cardigan sweater dress. I was about to say some foul shit to them, but I held my tongue, this wasn’t the time or place. I just started toward the grand double doors in front of the house, it was like something out of the magazines my mother used to read about the rich and famous.. No, this person was wealthier than that.
The doors opened, both at once, light cascading through the widening aperture. The doors were so in sync, I knew they had to be automated, some of us were quite surprised when a stout but lovely Ebony skinned woman stepped forth. Decked out in royal purple and lace from head to toe, her only embellishment, a simple peach pearl necklace. Her smile was warm, seemingly coming straight from the heart, she was truly beautiful to look at when one factored the reality of the world around us. Hair perfectly coiffed, like she’d just been to the salon, it rippled in tight peppery ringlets that bounced as she walked.
“Greetings everyone, please do come in!” She said cheerfully, coming out to the steps in a short heel, waving like the perfect royal.
“Is mama struttin in a kitten heel during the apocalypse?” Tzar remarked in a low voice, earning a well deserved elbow to the ribs from me, I had to admit, mama was struttin’ thou.
“It’s so good to see you again, you are one beautiful sight to see, I tell ya!” The Wolf answered her with a smile, she gave him a deep motherly hug and kissed his cheek, the two clutched till they were near tears for a touching moment.
“You know you’re always welcome here hunny, you and all your frie..”
“Sandra Dee!” Karishma exclaimed, in her snobbish posh voice, she had cut the woman off so rudely. “Is it really you? Is THIS really you?! or are you just keeping house?”
She was referring to the gargantuan mansion, as she wrapped the woman in a hug as if they were old friends, while still polite, the woman had a pained look of distaste as she begrudgingly accepted her hug.
“Yes Darling, of course this is mine, you know the Boss takes care of those people TRULY important to him. He had it built from scratch, gave me the deed to damn near all the land in town in my retirement package. Haha!” Sandra looked up and down at her, while still graceful, the dusky indian woman was roughened around the edges a bit. “I see you’re doing well, considering what you’re worth.. It seems he’s decided to spare you.”
Balthazar and I caught eyes, our gazes wide with shock and glee, as Mama Dee read the last three chapters of Karishma’s life for filth. I could tell I liked her already, she was class with an edge, and I loved it.
“Oh no, just look at all of you, a mess.. please come inside, refresh yourselves! Think of this as an oasis, a sanctuary..” She saw a couple wary eyes, but she continued to smile softly, she turn to lead us in. “You are all safe with me, and I welcome you to this place I call my home with the most honest of intentions, there’s nothing to fear here unless you have a fear of each other..”
It was a joke, but she was the only one to laugh, the awkward silence that followed was tense, it sent goosebumps crawling up my skin as the automated doors slowly closed behind us.