I woke with a jolt, my movement stirring Jay but not quite waking him.
Unsure how long we’d been asleep, I ran my fingertips along Jay’s arm, quietly murmuring his name. He shifted, muttered in his sleep, but didn’t wake.
“Jay. Wake up. Come on.” I raised my voice to normal levels, anxiety spiking my stomach.
Slowly he came to and even in the dark, I could see how terrible he looked. His entire face was gaunt, tense, his eyes sunken and bloodshot with exhaustion.
“Jesus,” He muttered, “what happened to you?”
I knew my face was a reflection of his own – exhausted and filthy, a mess of blood and dirt. “You don’t remember?”
He paused. “Fuck. Those things got in here – ”
“We got them.” I interrupted, pulling myself to my feet and offering him a hand up. “How are you feeling? You got hit pretty hard.”
“I’m okay, I think… Just feel like I need to lie down.” He took my hand and we managed to get him, shakily, to his feet.
“Take the water and go back upstairs. We fell asleep. I’m going to make sure there’s no more out there.”
He picked up a half full bottle of water, kicking an empty one. It rolled noisily along the floor between us.
“Is there more water?” He asked.
“Yeah – leave the packs, I’ll bring them up.”
Satisfied, he dragged himself towards the stairs and slowly made his way to the top. I watched him disappear to the shadows, afraid that he might fall.
I hadn’t been completely truthful about the water – I was pretty damn sure he had the last of it. With all our fear and exhaustion, even that became an issue to worry about later.
I grabbed one of the packs, making sure every empty bottle was in it, and slung it over my back. I opted to leave the table where it was – protecting us against the door – and slid a window open.
Outside the world was still and quiet, and I only waited a moment before wriggling my way through the window and dropped down on the outside of the house. I crept my way around the perimeter, zig zagging through what was left of the previous occupants where I could. At one point I tripped over what sounded like a watering can, and found myself shrinking back against the house, heart jumping around in my chest.
The quiet marched on after its pause at the racket I’d made, and I found my feet and kept moving.
By all accounts, the only things that had followed us were now dead. The night felt safe around the house, and I stopped to look up at the stars.
They were glorious, spread impressively over us as far as I could see in any direction. The moon hung overhead, bathing everything in a soft light.
Caught in the beauty of our now uncivilised lands, I revisited the water problem and decided to put it off until tomorrow. Lost in unfamiliar peaceful thoughts for a moment, I turned to head back to the house, feeling content and just wanting to be with Jay.
Behind me, nothing followed.
I dropped my through the window and followed it, sliding it shut with a final, careful look around outside. The feeling of peace stayed with me, but fear was seeping into the edges now as I made my way upstairs to find Jay.
I found him in a small bedroom off the top of the stairs, standing at the window, his outline highlighted by the moon. I watched him for a moment, wondering if he felt the same peace I had.
He turned at my voice, and I was surprised to see him smiling.
My question turned his smile into a broad grin. “I think I’ve worked it out.”
“Worked… What out?”
He left the window and sat on the edge of the bed, patting the spot beside him. I dropped our packs and sat next to him, my mind racing with a dozen curious thoughts and possibilities.
“Jay?” I prompted when he kept his silence.
“Annie. Us. All of it. This.” He gestured out the window into the night. “This is our world now, and it’s not going to change. Not unless we make it change.”
I waited, unsure what he was thinking or what he might need from me.
“Harvey’s not the only one who can rebuild. Come here…” He laid down, pulling me back with him, until my head was resting on his chest. “What if we rebuild, Charlie? We’ve just been kind of floating from place to place, barely making it. What if we find a base, get organised?”
He was talking fast, his excitement for the idea turning his words into a slight ramble.
I sat up. “You want us to be like Harvey?”
“Well – no.” He paused. “I want us to be better than him. He has the right idea – rebuild, provide. We go back for the others and we find somewhere to settle properly. We can get our shit together and we can provide everything for Annie that he is – just without being fucking assholes.”
He’d sat up now too, and we stared at each other in silence in the dark. For the first time since the beginning, it was like the deep-etched worry had eased from his face. I felt a tremor of hope, of excitement as my mind caught wind of his suggestion and ran with it.
“And then we get Annie back?” My voice was quiet, hopeful.
“And then we get Annie back.”