This is the next installment in the post-zombie-pocalypse story of Evie and Owen. The previous posts can be found here.
Evie shifted in her blankets, wishing she drank enough to pass out. She never liked spiced rum or the cottony taste it left in her mouth. A hang-over would be even worse in the morning with Vanessa’s screeching. She closed her eyes, wishing for one of Thad’s warm beers and the oaky smell of the bar mixed with stale tobacco smoke, the sunlight filtering in through the grimy windows, and the faint buzz of the neon signs on the wall.
Evie remembered sitting at Thad’s bar when she was no older than sixteen, her worn tennis shoes swinging as she perched on the tall bar stool. He gave her ice cold coca cola in a frosted beer mug and chased off any creeps that tried to bother her. Sometimes, along with the coke, he gave her a damp rag or a cup of ice–letting her nurse a split lip or a bruised cheek. She remembered the way the dim bar lights shone off the top of his balding head—like wet mud, she always thought. His round face was seamed with lines, almost black in his dark face and his crooked teeth always flashed white in a big smile for her. She hoped he was doing okay—that he was still holding down the bar.
She stared at the dark ceiling above her; sleep fled in the wake of her reminiscing. Her gaze wandered over to where Owen sat at the very edge of the circle of firelight. It smoothed the new lines creased the corners of his eyes, the dirt, and the way his cheekbones were more prominent. It glazed his skin bronze as he tapped his machete idly against his thigh, keeping watch in case any tweakers surprised them again. She rolled over, hoping that hiding her view of him would silence her thoughts. She thought she heard a rustle and risked another glance over her shoulder. Vanessa prowled across the stage to Owen.
“You should get some sleep,” Owen said quietly, before she spoke. “You’ll need it tomorrow when you three move on.
“Move on? We just got here!” She said. “You’re not really worried about the stumblers are you? They’re all practically deadened by the cold, they’re easy to avoid–easier to kill. It’ll be better with us with you,” Vanessa said.
“You and your body guards?” the smirk was audible in his voice.
“Hardly,” she laughed.. “Edgar was in LA working on a script when it all went to hell. He thought of me for a part. Jessamy found us along the way. He was alone—on vacation and lost his family or something,” she waved her hand in the sleeping boy’s direction.
“You’re real broken up about the kid.”
“You’re exactly the same as I remember,” Owen turned to face Vanessa.
Evie, now wide awake and unashamedly eavesdropping, perked up her ears. Here it was. She tasted salt and rust, realizing she was biting the inside of her cheek.
“Oh?” the single syllable sounded obscene.
“You don’t care ’bout nobody, never have, never will. Alls you want is someone you can use up,” Owen said evenly.
“You know exactly what I mean. Don’t think for one minute I give a damn,” Owen shifted again so his back was to her.
“Time was when you gave more than a damn,” Vanessa didn’t bother to keep her voice low.
Evie could see, even in the dim light the muscle that jumped in his cheek. Rolling over, she looked into the fire. Across the dancing flames she met a pair of dark eyes. Jessamy was awake, too.
There was no way to tell it was morning—the only illumination in the windowless club came from the faltering fire. Evie could hear the wind wailing outside as the blizzard continued. She knew it was morning because she was awake—her body trained after months of light sleep to wake at daybreak. She sat up, groaning as she cracked her stiff neck and rubbed a sore spot on her shoulder. The blankets provided little padding from the wooden stage. She ghosted out of her blankets and prowled around the room, looking for anything she could scavenge. When that failed, she opened her pack and sorted the contents, careful not to rouse any of the other sleepers. Owen must have stayed up most of the night, but the bottle of rum that lay beside his lax hand was nearly empty. She started when he snored–a familiar sound–and shook her head. A soft step behind her made her turn, a knife leaping to her palm. Jessamy held up his empty hands.
“Sorry, habit,” she said, turning back to the pack.
Jessamy sat down, watching as she sifted through the debris of found objects at the bottom.
“You’ve a lot of stuff,” he said, his accented voice soft.
“Some of this has gotten me out of some tight squeezes,” Evie said, surprised that he spoke. She kept her eyes on the tangled twine in her hands.
“Why won’t you tell us your real name?” Jessamy’s eyes looked very young in his hollow face.
“How old are you, kid?” she asked.
“Seventeen. Why don’t you like your name?”
“Who said I didn’t?” Evie put down the twine–it only snarled further.
“I don’t like mine,” he offered, looking at her expectantly
Evie rolled her eyes, and relented. “It’s a silly name. Someone watched too many soap operas.”
“Evie,” he tested it on his tongue. “It’s nice.”
“Less nice than when it’s shouted at you all day,” she pressed her lips together.
“Before you get hit,” Jessamy nodded.
Evie stared at the too thin face, the circles under dark, hungry eyes. She nodded, once. Jessamy looked over her shoulder and she knew where his eyes would go. She didn’t follow his gaze.
“I won’t tell them. Our secret.” He paused, “Vanessa’s trouble.”
Evie didn’t answer as he stood and walked back to the fire where the others were just beginning to rouse.