It was cold as we stepped out into the morning light. There was a thin layer of slush all around us. It was cold enough that the slush wouldn’t melt, but not cold enough for it to turn into ice. Darren and I immediately pulled our jackets around us tighter. I slid my gloved hands up and down my arms in an effort to get warm. Our breath came out in little puffs in the cold air. Hunter seemed unbothered by it.
The streets were quiet except for the occasional moan in the distance. The sky was a clear blue except for a few sparse clouds drifting away. I hoped my sister didn’t freeze in this weather. They had been out in it all night, not sheltered like we had been.
“We should get some winter wear somewhere,” Darren said as he hugged himself. “And enough for everyone back at camp.”
“And I still think we should get some bikes,” Lily said, “even if we can’t get enough for everyone. We can pack more on the bikes.”
“Okay,” Darren agreed, “since we are already here,” he waved to the bike store. “Although, I don’t like being this close to…that other place.” He purposefully turned his back to the sign that said RU in?
The glass door had been knocked off the hinges of the bicycle shop. Shards of glass were splattered everywhere. Bikes were knocked over and it was clear that some were missing from their displays. While we looked at the bikes, I said, “Did you know who those people were, Hunter?”
“No,” he said. He crouched low inspecting the wheels on one of the bikes. “Why?”
“You seemed to know what to say to them – how to protect me and Darren.”
He stood up and went to the next bike, but both myself and Darren were watching him. “It was instinct,” he said.
Darren and I exchanged a glance.
“Let’s get these ones,” Hunter said and began to pull bikes from the racks. “We should also get some bike repair supplies while we are here.” He pointed to an area across the store. I left Hunter and Darren as they retrieved the bikes. I grabbed a duffle bag from a display stand and began to fill it with supplies – an air pump, extra bike chains, wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers, duct tape, zip ties and anything else I thought we might need. I also put in some extra water bottles and some trail mixes. The bag was heavy when I was done.
When I got back to Darren and Hunter, they were tying their packs with the weapons we had gathered the day before to the bikes. Hunter took the heavy duffle bag from me and began to tie it on one of the bikes. I began to tie down the bag I had with the guns and ammunition.
We took the bikes one at a time out to the empty street until all six bikes that Hunter had selected were on the street. We could each ride a bike, use one hand to steer it and the other to guide an extra bike.
“Do you know where we can get coats?” Darren asked quietly.
“We passed a place on our way here,” Hunter said. “Let’s go.”
He led the way back behind the weapon store. It wasn’t easy to ride the bikes through the slush and grass. It was slow going. My muscles tired quickly, but I kept going. There were less zombies along the streets than the previous day. I wasn’t sure why that was. Maybe because of the slush – except the few we had seen didn’t seem bothered by it. Maybe because Hunter and I had killed some on the weapon store. Maybe other people killed some too. Or maybe they were drawn elsewhere.
Hunter stopped behind one of the buildings. We got off the bikes and leaned them up against the building. Hunter tried to open the back door, but it was locked.
“Let’s go around to the front,” Darren said.
“What if someone steals our bikes while we’re gone?”
It wasn’t that far from the bike store and we could always go back, but we had already strapped our supplies to them. We had spent so much time away from our group. I was worried about Mackenzie. It was dangerous for them to stay in one place for too long. The zombies had more chances of coming upon them the more they stayed in one spot.
“You two stay here,” Hunter said. “I will go in through the front and let you in.”
“By yourself?” I asked. “You need to take one of us with you so you can watch each others backs. There might be zombies in there.”
“But what if whoever is left out here encounters zombies?” he asked. “You’ll need to watch each others backs.”
“This is an open space where we can run away from zombies,” I said. “Inside you might be cornered. You need to take one of us.”
“I’ll go with you,” Darren volunteered.
And I remembered how Hunter reacted when he had to hold Darren back earlier. I wasn’t sure before if the rumors about Hunter being gay were true. I did know that he never looked at me the way I wanted him to. He never looked at me the way he had looked at Darren not too long ago. I wasn’t 100% sure, but I was pretty sure. And it hurt. A lot. More than I was willing to admit.
Hunter looked between me and Darren before he sighed and said, “Fine, but Lily, at the first sign of trouble, run.”
I nodded. They rounded the building together and I was alone with the bikes. I leaned back against the wall. I already knew Hunter wouldn’t look at me the way I wanted him to. It was better to let my feelings go. It was better to focus on getting back to Mackenzie and then getting to the diner where we could reunite with Tanner. But feelings were not so easy to change even if I knew Hunter couldn’t love me. Stinging tears moistened my eyes. I blinked them away.
I turned my focus to listening for any sounds coming from inside the building or outside it. It was quiet. I gripped the handle of my ax tighter. There was a metallic click and then the door beside me opened. Darren opened the door. He came out and started to pull in a bike.
“Where’s Hunter?” I asked.
“He’s looking at the coats in the kids section. There are four kids in our group who will need them. You should go look in the women’s section. I’ll finish pulling in these bikes and then go to the men’s section.”
“Have you checked the entire store to make sure it’s clear?” I asked. I helped to pull in the bikes.
“Yes,” he said. “We killed two zombies. It sounds like there is one in the back office, but the door is locked so we just left it there.”
I nodded and headed in. He could pull in the last few bikes. The lights were off, but the large windows at the front of the store and the smaller windows high on the walls everywhere else provided enough light that I easily found my way to the women’s section.
The women’s section and child’s section were directly next to each. Hunter was at the edge of the aisle looking at preteen girl’s coats. He had two coats draped over his arms that would fit the two little boys. I went to the same aisle, but browsed the women’s coats. I pulled off a pink one that would fit Maria.
“Hunter,” I said.
“What?” he asked. He pulled off a white, puffy coat and slung it over the boys coats draped over his arm.
“Can I ask if that rumor about you being gay is true?”
He stopped and looked at me. I avoided his gaze as I pulled a gray coat from the rack that I thought would fit Darren’s mom.
“Will it change things if it is?”
I finally looked at him. “No,” I said. I would still have my crush on him that I couldn’t seem to get rid of. He would still be my friend. He would still be my companion in this zombie apocalypse.
“It’s true,” he said. He turned back to the coats and pulled a red one from the rack. “Do you think this will fit Mackenzie?”
“Yes,” I said. I grabbed a light blue coat for Monica. “Can I ask you another question?”
“Might as well,” he said.
I grabbed a green coat for me in my size before I turned to Hunter. “Do you have a crush on Darren?”
“Yes,” he said quietly. “It doesn’t matter though. He has a crush on you.”
I wasn’t sure how to take this news. I had never thought of Darren that way. I wasn’t sure I could. “But I have a crush on you,” I said equally quiet.
“I know,” he said.
There was a noise to my left. I looked with my hand already on the handle of my ax, but it wasn’t a zombie or a stranger. It was Darren. Had he heard our conversation? I hadn’t meant him to. I had only wanted it to be a conversation between me and Hunter.
There was a long silence. “I was going to the men’s section he said,” and pointed a hand beyond the two of us where the men’s section was. “I didn’t mean to hear.”
I looked at Hunter worried he would be mad at me for revealing his crush to his crush. Hunter’s eyes were only for Darren, waiting for judgement or hate or disgust or something.
“So . . .,” Darren said, “if we all have unrequited crushes on each other, what are we supposed to do?”
“Nothing,” Hunter said. “We just remain the friends we already are. What else can we be?”
Darren nodded at that. “Okay,” he said. “I’m just going to start getting coats for the men.” He walked in between me and Hunter and continued down the aisle.
“It doesn’t bother you that I like you?” Hunter asked Darren.
Darren turned back around to face us. “It surprises me,” he said. “But it’s flattering. You’re really cool. I don’t know why you would like me. Does it bother you,” he said to me, “that I like you?”
“No,” I said. “I’m sorry I don’t feel the same.”
Darren shrugged sadly. “It’s okay. I know you know how it feels. We all do. If you two are done getting your coats, you can help me get the coats for the rest of the group.”
It didn’t take us long to get coats for Richard, Grant, Grant’s dad – I still didn’t know his name, but I didn’t like him so I wasn’t even curious – Hunter and Darren. Hunter of course chose a black coat. We grabbed thicker gloves for everyone and scarves, ski masks, snow boots, and thick socks. We loaded them to the bikes and continued on our way along the back of the buildings.
We were able to avoid any zombies we saw from a distance and made our way back to the ramp to the freeway. There were zombies groaning as we neared the camp. We froze. My heart went numb. My sister. Then my body tingled as my only thought was to save my sister. Hunter grabbed my bike handle as I tried to speed passed them. He brought a finger to his lips urging me to be silent. Then he slowly, carefully got off his bike, lowered the kickstand on it and the other bike he had guided and then motioned for us to do the same.
Darren and I immediately complied. Hunter led the way silently through the woods towards our camp. He had his hunter’s knife in his hand. Darren had his kitchen knife in his and I had my ax out and ready.
We stopped when we saw the zombies shuffling ahead of us through the trees. The zombies hadn’t spot us yet. Hunter motioned for Darren and I to stay put. Then he took a step forward. I grabbed his wrist and shook my head when he looked back at us. I motioned for all of us to stay together. Hunter shook his head. Darren reiterated my movements that we should all stay together. Hunter sighed and led the way closer. We didn’t get too close, just close enough to see that none of the zombies were our group.
Darren gasped and pointed to the ground across the camp. Mixed with the slush was red. Blood?