Authors: Brenda L. Harper
She leaned into him for a second, laying her head gently on his shoulder. He slid his hand over her back, his hand caressing the curve of her hip before he pulled away. “I better go find another source of water,” he said. “I guess we’ll have to stay here for a few days.”
The javelina turned out to be a feral pig, the meat similar to the heavy roast Cook made on special occasions. They began to cook it in huge chunks, planning to eat their fill and dry the rest in thin strips to carry with them in their bags. Wyatt showed Dylan and Stiles how to cut and prepare the meat so that they could help keep the supply coming.
Ellie slept most of the day. It was shock, Stiles told them. Sam slept as well, his color slowly coming back as the day progressed. Wyatt found some kind of plant that was fibrous and provided the thread to close his wounds. He used one of the long, slender thorns from the low, green plants—cactus, he told her—as a needle. It only took Wyatt a few minutes to make the repair. He would have done well working in the laundry at the dorms.
Late in the afternoon, Wyatt came to Dylan where she was sitting beside Sam and held his hand out to her. “Let’s go for a walk,” he said.
Her eyebrows rose. “We haven’t walked enough this past week?”
He smiled, a crooked smile that she decided she really liked. “Come on.”
She took his hand and let him lift her to her feet. He gestured to Stiles, who nodded, though the frown that marred his features suggested he didn’t like the idea of half the healthy part of their party walking away.
“What do you know about this girl?” Wyatt asked as soon as they were out of earshot of the camp.
“She’s from Genero, like me,” she said, stooping to pick up a blade of grass so she could chew on it. She had discovered the grass had a lovely herbal taste to it that helped calm her desire for water. “She wasn’t in my dorm, though, so I didn’t know her well.”
“And the guy?”
Dylan shook her head. “I’ve never seen him.”
Wyatt took a few dozen steps without saying anything else. Dylan reached for him as his strides began to grow longer, pulling him farther from her. He felt her finger snag his sleeve and he stopped, holding out his hand to her. She took it gratefully, entwining her fingers with his as though they touched in this way all the time.
“I’ve never seen people from Genero make it this far.”
“He isn’t from Genero. Maybe he had some skills that helped them. Like you and me.”
Wyatt glanced at her. “Did you see his clothes? His boots?” He gestured vaguely toward their camp. “He’s from Genero.”
“There are no men in Genero.”
Wyatt shook his head. “There is so much you don’t know,” he said in such a low tone that she almost missed the words.
She stopped, forcing him to stop and face her. “What do you mean?”
He looked at her, his eyes moving everywhere but over her face. “Have you ever wondered why your dorms are only lettered through half the alphabet?”
“How do you know—“
“Or why you are not allowed to leave your dorm compound?”
She reached up to touch his face, but he grabbed her other hand with his free one.
“There are a lot of secrets in Genero,” he said simply.
“If there were boys there, why wouldn’t they tell us?”
Wyatt finally met her gaze, his eyes moving slowly from her eyes to her lips to her rounded breasts moving a little too quickly because of the hitch in her breath from the intensity of his stare. “They don’t want what happens naturally between boys and girls to happen.”
He kissed her, his lips soft and moist against hers. She moved into him, pushing against his grip on her hands to rise up on her toes so that she could close the small gap that continued to exist between them, between their bodies. He groaned deep in his chest as he deepened the kiss, tasting her with the same slow enthusiasm that was burning through her body, that made her want to force him to release her hands so she could touch the heat of his skin, feel the gentleness of his touch on hers.
After a moment he pulled back, groaning again as he pressed his forehead to hers. “This is what I mean,” he whispered, his breath brushing like a tender touch across her skin.
“Why wouldn’t they want this to happen?” she asked.
“They have plans for most of the girls in Genero,” he said. “Some of the boys, too.”
She pulled back and looked at him. “How do you know so much about Genero?”
“My father.” He smoothed a piece of hair away from her face. “He’ll explain it all to you when we get there.”
Dylan nodded. “So we go to your city.”
“Yes.” He kissed the top of her head lightly. “But I don’t know if we can take the rest of them.”
It was like stepping into a cold shower. Dylan moved back, pulling her hands from his. “We can’t leave them.”
“But how can we know we can trust them?”
“How do you know you can trust me?”
Wyatt reddened slightly. “Dylan, you don’t understand. The fact that I’m out here, the things that I do, it could get me and my father in a lot of trouble.”
“Then why do you do it?”
“I have to.” He dragged his fingers through his hair as he stepped back, moving in a slow circle. “My city is not like yours. We are treated like dogs, forced to work until we simply cannot work anymore. There isn’t enough, not enough food, not enough tools to go around, not enough of anything. Someone has to go get things.”
“Like books?” Dylan swung her arm in the air. “That’s all I’ve seen you get.”
“I’m just the scout,” he said. “Others will come and collect things where I tell them to go.”
He turned toward the direction from which they had just come, as though he could still see Stiles and Ellie and Sam. “There are people out here looking for me, trying to prove that I’m doing things I am not supposed to do. If one of them—“
“I told you, Ellie’s from Genero, just like me.”
“But what about Stiles?”
Dylan shook her head. “You haven’t trusted him from the first day.”
“Because he’s a liar!” Wyatt turned toward her, his eyes flashing in the sunlight. “There are no cities east of here, Dylan.”
His gaze fell hard on her face. “What do you mean, you know?”
“I don’t know where all the cities are,” she corrected herself. “But I know Stiles isn’t from a city east of here.”
“How do you know that?”
“He told me.”
Wyatt made a face that twisted his handsome features, making them something close to hateful. “He told you?”
“He was afraid if he told you the truth, you wouldn’t let him travel with us.”
“He’s damn right I wouldn’t.” Wyatt slapped his hand against his hip. “Where is he from?”
“He called himself a wanderer. Said all his people had died and he was hiding in the ruins.”
Wyatt bit his lip, chewing it like it was a piece of grass. “And you didn’t tell me?”
She knew as the words fell from his lips that she had made a mistake. She wasn’t sure if the mistake was in not telling him immediately, or if it was in telling him now, but she knew it was a mistake. She took a step forward, reached for the front of his shirt, but he stepped back out of her reach, holding up his hands as though to ward her off.
“If there is one thing I hate more than anything else,” he said slowly, “it’s a liar.”
“I didn’t lie,” Dylan said.
“You didn’t tell the truth. Isn’t that the same thing?”
“No,” he stepped back even farther. “I thought I could trust you,” he said, shaking his head slowly. “But you kept something from me. That’s not trust.”
“He only told me last night.”
“And how many times have we been alone since then?” He shook his head again. “He’s not going back with us. If you don’t like it, you can stay here with him.”
He walked away.
Sam woke as the sun began to drift down over the horizon. Dylan held his head up off the ground and poured a little water down his throat. He groaned as it gurgled down to his stomach.
He closed his eyes. “Hasn’t slept much.”
Dylan remembered her first night outside of the dome and nodded in sympathy. “How long have you been here?”
“Since test day,” he whispered. And then he began to cough, the little bit of water he had taken coming back up. Dylan pulled him up to a nearly sitting position and smacked his back the way Davida used to do for her. After a moment he calmed down, the coughing subsiding. She lay him back down and ran a hand slowly over his forehead.
“He lost a lot of blood,” Stiles said as he came to kneel behind Dylan.
Dylan nodded. “I don’t know what to do to help him.”
“Just what you’ve already done,” Stiles said, touching her arm lightly.
Dylan glanced across the camp to where Wyatt was sitting by the fire tending the last of the feral pig. He moved just as her eyes met his, looking away as though pretending he hadn’t been watching her. It felt as though someone squeezed something vital inside of her as she watched him, almost like it had felt when she realized there was nothing she could do to save Donna.
“He doesn’t trust you,” Dylan said. “Me, either, I suppose.”
She wiped a layer of sweat from Sam’s forehead with the back of her hand and watched to be sure his breathing was normal before she sat back on her bottom, pulling her legs into a pretzel in front of her. She pressed her hands into the space between her thighs, closing her eyes for a second as she waited for the emotions to die down inside her chest.
“Because we lied to him.”
Stiles settled down beside her. “He doesn’t appreciate that?”
Dylan chuckled, but it was humorless. “He’s used to being on his own.”
Stiles looked out into the darkness, not really looking in Wyatt’s direction, or Ellie’s, but at something far away. “I can understand that.”
“He’s so angry,” she said. “I don’t know what to do about it.”
“Be patient. He has to work it out for himself.”
“Maybe.” Dylan began picking at the grass growing beside her. She pulled up big handfuls and let it fall slowly from between her fingers. “He saved my life. If he hadn’t come along—”
“How did he do that?”
Dylan shrugged. “I was alone. I found water, but if I didn’t have a new source of food in a few days, I would have slowly starved to death.”
“But if you found water…”
She shook her head. “I was alone. No one can survive completely alone. Not here, not like this.”
Stiles looked away, his gaze again moving to that distant point. “I suppose.”
Sam moaned in his sleep. Dylan touched his hand, and he wrapped his fingers around hers, as though reaching for someone who existed only in his dream. She picked up his hand and held it tight between both of her own. “We need each other,” she said to no one in particular.
Ellie cried out in her sleep. Stiles began to stand, but then he stopped. Dylan looked over to where Ellie had been sleeping and watched Wyatt kneel beside her. He whispered something to her, taking her hand between his, similar to the way Dylan held Sam’s hand. In a moment she settled down, rolling onto her side toward Wyatt. He smoothed the hair from her brow and whispered to her a second time.
“He’s a good man,” Dylan whispered.
“That remains to be seen,” Stiles said.
She looked at him, staring at him for a long minute as though seeing him for the first time. Something about what he had just said sounded familiar to her for reasons she didn’t understand. But then he slipped Sam’s hand from hers.
“Go rest,” he suggested. “It’s going to be a long few days. We should all get as much rest as possible.”
“Okay.” She touched Sam’s forehead one more time before she got up, patting Stiles on the shoulder. “Thank you.”
Dylan scooped her bag up off the ground where it was sitting at Sam’s feet, forgotten after the excitement that morning. She walked over to where Wyatt still sat with Ellie.
“Go watch the meat,” she said. “Stiles is going to watch Sam so I can sleep. I’ll lay over here with her.”
Wyatt nodded, but he didn’t look at her, didn’t say a word.
She dropped her bag in the place where Wyatt had been sitting, forcing herself not to turn and watch his progress back to the fire. There was no reason, she told herself. He was angry, but surely he would get over it. Wouldn’t he?
She lay down, imagining that the warmth seeping from the ground into her body was the residue of Wyatt’s body heat, not the heat of the excruciatingly hot sun. She looked over at Stiles and Sam, reassuring herself that Stiles would do as he had promised, before she closed her eyes and tried to let the tension of the day roll off her shoulders. It took a few minutes, but exhaustion slowly began to settle behind her eyes.
As sleep settled over her, words began to appear in her mind.
You can’t trust Wyatt. You have to leave him.
Dylan opened her eyes, expecting that odd breeze that seemed to follow her around, only her, to fall over her. But it didn’t. Nothing happened. She looked over toward Sam and saw Stiles still sitting beside him, still holding his hand. Wyatt was by the fire, turning the meat as it dripped its fat into the heat.
There was nothing unusual.
But the words came again.
Don’t trust him.
Ellie woke with a nightmare a little before dawn. Dylan sat up and pulled the girl into her arms, rocking her as though she were a small child instead of an adolescent taller than Dylan herself.
“It’s okay,” Dylan whispered over and over again. “Everything’s okay now.”
Ellie sobbed for a long time, but the sound slowly began to abate as she relaxed and allowed Dylan to hold her. Finally, she stopped altogether.
“Dylan?” she asked.
“Yes, I’m here.”
“I don’t know.” Dylan ran her hand slowly over the side of Ellie’s face. “I don’t know,” she repeated.