Authors: Chad A. Clark
"You do?" he asked, finally making eye contact with her. "You want things to be okay between all of us? You know, we'd all
everything to be okay, too. The problem is that you can't just wave a wand and make it all better. It may be inconvenient, but you can't just make our problems go away."
"That's not what I'm saying. I just don't understand why the two of you are so hell bent on taking everything out on me. What was I supposed to do differently? What would you have done? Please, I want to know."
"You won't hear anything that I have to say."
"That's not fair."
about what we are experiencing is fair. But it also isn't fair for you to ask us to shut down our feelings just because they make you sad or uncomfortable to be around. I can't fix that for you."
"Then what am I—"
"Just be patient, Sophie. You have to be patient. Surely we deserve at least that much?" He turned to leave before she could respond. Every time she tried to fix things, or smooth over the problems between them, it just seemed to make things worse. She was used to dealing with problems, seeing to it that things were fixed. She didn't know how to fix this. For the briefest moment, she thought about chasing him and carrying on, but she knew that he wasn't going to listen to anything she said.
From the corner of her eye, she saw two others standing over by the trees, carrying on in hushed conversation. It was the woman from earlier, the angry looking blond. She was in the middle of her own heated conversation with another younger woman. The fight looked like it was starting to escalate, and she felt heat rising up her neck as it occurred to her that the argument with her father probably had looked about the same as this. She was about to approach, when the blond yelled and stormed off, leaving the other behind.
"Blow it out your own prissy ass then, for all I care. I can't control what other people think about me!"
As she marched away from the scene, Sophie could see that the other one was clearly upset as she carefully made her way over.
"Hi," she said. The girl jumped at being spoken to, but quickly covered up the reaction.
"Sorry. Hi. You're one of the new ones, aren't you? Just showed up yesterday?"
"Right. I'm Sophie." She held a hand out and the girl took it, shaking it slowly and gingerly, as if she was handling something fragile.
"I'm Nairi. That was Fiona," she said, nodding back over her shoulder at Fiona's retreat back towards camp. "I'm sorry about that, she just gets a little heated sometimes."
"No need to explain, it's all right."
They stood there, awkwardly trying to decide between the two of them who should speak first. Sophie finally decided to take the first step.
"Where are you from originally?"
She smiled, evidently relieved at having the pressure off. "Small town you've probably never heard of. Madrigal. About two states over." She gestured back towards the group again, evidently referring to Fiona. "She had come into town just before the first bomb went off. My boss was giving her some hours at the restaurant I worked at. When things started to fall apart..." Her eyes misted over, likely remembering the faces of everyone they left behind. Sophie had seen this look on any number of people, trying to find their way in a new world without their support system.
"What about you?" Nairi asked.
"St. Louis. That was my father I was talking to just a few minutes ago, and you've probably already met Corrine. Rowen joined up with us after we were already on the road and..." She faltered as her mother's lifeless gaze began to intrude again, the taste of blood that she still sometimes had trouble getting rid of. "Sorry," she said.
Nairi nodded. Sophie saw the smile on the surface, but it also seemed like underneath there was a vague fragrance of sadness as well, mixed with regret and fear for the future. It seemed anymore that you just had to settle yourself with the possibility that any day had the potential of being your last.
She needed to change the subject. "Sorry. I don't want to take up too much of your time, I didn't have the chance to introduce myself yet. Maybe I'll meet Fiona another time."
Nairi glanced back over her shoulder nervously, as if suddenly afraid that Fiona would materialize out of thin air at the mere mention of her name. "Yeah, just a heads up? She's not the easiest person to get along with. She's a bit of a loner, and she can get a bit snippy when she thinks people are invading her privacy."
"Oh," Sophie said as she tried to smother the impulse to judge, to take offense. Adam's face floated before her again, the horrible misjudgment she had made, and there was no going back to repair how she had treated him. It would not be the same with Fiona. She needed to learn to treat people more fairly.
"Yeah, to be honest, I would just wait and let her come to you," Nairi said. "If she feels like things are happening on her terms, she'll be a lot less likely to be hostile with you."
Sophie nodded. "Good to know. Thanks."
Nairi smiled and turned to head back. Sophie gave one last thought to Fiona before turning back to the problems of her present. In the end, she was never going to be able to make friends with new people if she couldn't even heal the wounds between her and what was left of her family.
It didn't take long before the realities of the world reached them, even within the safer confines of their greater numbers. Sophie heard shouting and saw Fiona being helped into the camp. Sophie hadn't even realized that she had been gone. Everyone around them whispered frantically to each other, and she kept hearing the name "Ty" uttered on all of their lips. There was a sudden wave of cries of dismay that radiated out, as Fiona was helped towards to the center of camp. Clearly someone had been killed. Lot came running out to meet them, taking Fiona from the others and talking urgently to her.
Still, something about Fiona's manner seemed off. Was she sincere, or was she putting on some kind of a front for their benefit? Or had Sophie just gone back to her inability to trust?
Sophie marveled at the focused urgency that took over the camp as everyone immediately dropped what they were doing and began to go to their responsibilities, preparing to be mobile. Rowen stood next to her, also taking in with no small amount of respect the efficiency. Several of the community members led Fiona into an RV. Sophie started to worry about taking up space, standing around like this. She wanted to help, but these routines were clearly so practiced that she didn't want to be in the way. She placed her hand on Rowen's elbow and nodded toward the vehicle. It would be better if they didn't have to make someone stop mid-stride in order to give them instructions.
As they boarded, she heard Lot snapping off orders at everyone. "Pick up those loose tools! Get the cans stowed away under the RV and make sure it's locked this time. Get the kids inside, I want to be on the road in ten minutes!"
It was like watching a controlled storm. Nobody seemed to acknowledge hearing him, but still managed to do exactly what he told them. Lot watched everyone going about their tasks before pointing at several people to join him, where they leaned in for hushed conversation. Sophie carefully positioned herself nearby, trying to not be obvious but straining to hear what was said. She remembered meeting one of the other two men and thought his name was Clive.
"Are we sure we want to take off like this?" Clive asked. "Just turn tail and run away? We can't let something like this go unanswered."
Lot shrugged. "What are we supposed to do? It isn't like we know who did it. Fiona was pretty vague about what happened, and I doubt she'll be able to give us a better description. Three rovers attacked them. That's all we have to go on. Besides, what are the chances that they're actually alone and aren't just scouting out supplies for a larger group somewhere?"
"We don't know there are more of them," Clive insisted.
"We don't know there aren't, and that's enough for me. We don't know who these guys are, what they look like, or whether or not they have friends. We'd be walking into a situation that we know nothing about."
"Do you think Fiona's telling the truth?" the other one asked.
Lot didn't seem at all surprised by the question as he considered it. "It's harder to trust her, what with how withdrawn she is all the time and how stand-offish she can be, but I have a hard time imagining she would ever actually hurt anyone here, do you?"
"I guess not."
"I think that there's more to what she's telling us, but I don't think this is the time."
Clive suddenly looked up sharply at Sophie, as if he had sensed her listening in. She looked away for a moment, until she stopped feeling the scrutiny baking into the back of her neck. When she looked again, they had resumed talking, but more quietly and Clive positioned himself with his back to her to prevent her from hearing them as easily. She looked at the other RV and thought she could see Fiona, leaning against the window and sullenly staring off into space.
Sophie looked at Rowen as he followed James and Corrine up the steps and into the other vehicle. She would do whatever was necessary to protect them, even though what was left of her family pretty much despised her existence. All she could do was continue carrying on through their routines and hold on to the hope that one day the ice would thaw, and things would get better.
Fate had made that choice for her.
It was hard to tell from the back of the RV, but based on how fast they were driving and how long it had been, Sophie guessed that they had gone about twenty miles. They pulled off into a small roadside park. Everyone unloaded and began milling around while the RV's were moved into a thick grove of trees.
"We'll keep an eye out for anyone on the road," Lot said, and began heading in that direction with two other people. For the first time, Sophie noticed the revolver he held loosely, tapping it against the side of his leg as he walked.
Lot saw the look in her eyes and followed her gaze down to the weapon as she turned away.
"Sorry if it makes you uncomfortable," he said, "but we need to stay safe out here. We've got families that we're looking out for."
"I know. It doesn't make the sight of them any easier though."
"Sophie, I hope you don't think that—"
"I know that you all mean well. It's just that sometimes it's hard to tell the difference from any other groups wandering around and waving guns around."
She walked off towards Rowen before Lot could respond. He looked up at her and frowned inquisitively, wondering what was bothering her. She shook her head and crossed her arms as she came to a halt in front of him.
"You all right?" he asked.
She ignored the question. "How long do you think we'll stay here? They seem to have their routines down pretty well."
He shrugged, apparently choosing to not press his original question. "Who knows?"
It felt like it had been hours, standing there awkwardly when Sophie spotted Lot, emerging from the grove with a garbage bag full of gas cans. He dumped them out onto the ground and held his hands up to get everyone's attention.
"It's been a while but we need to go out on another run. The RV's are both getting low enough that it's better to stop and try to find more, before we actually do get stranded somewhere."
The crowd seemed reluctant to accept the news. Sophie imagined that it would be getting progressively harder to find the supplies they needed and that anyone volunteering would be signing up for a lot of walking and a lot of time, given up for very little return.
"I know that no one likes to get stuck with this detail, so I'm not going to force anyone," Lot said. "I'd like to send at least eight people out. There's a town a ways off to the west that I think we should check out first."
People were already starting to shuffle up towards the front to pick up a gas can or two. Rowen poked her and nodded off to her left. James and Corrine were making their way towards the group of volunteers. She wanted to run over and grab them, shake them until they came to their senses. She didn't have anyone else left and couldn't lose them on top of everything else. She wanted to do all of these things, but knew full well that there would be no point. They wouldn't listen to anything she had to say.
"What the fuck am I supposed to do?" she hissed at Rowen. He shrugged, his answer clear that there wasn't really anything she could do. They were adults, and had to make their own decisions. She shook her head and spun to march away, not really sure if she was angry at them for risking their lives or if she just felt resentment for being kicked out of their inner circle. It made her stomach clench at the thought, as if she was actively ingesting poison of her own making.
"You've got to let them go," Rowen said. "You could try and stop them, but chances are you'd just end up convincing them to go. I know it's frustrating."
"It's not frustrating, I want to knock their God dammed heads off."
Rowen smirked at the comment. "Yeah, well I understand that too. There's nothing wrong with feeling that way. They haven't exactly been making things easy for you. But maybe being around all these other people will help."