'Are you his girlfriend?' Little Matt asked her once, as she sat on an old crate, cleaning her weapon. Karen looked up to see him standing a few feet away from her, studying her with an intense look of concentration.
'Who?' She asked with a smile. She knew very well who Matt was talking about. Her question was part play along, part avoidance.
'Hal.' Matt said, keeping his steady gaze on her. 'Are you his girlfriend?' He repeated. Karen smiled even more. Just the thought of being able to answer yes to that question filled her stomach with butterflies. But the sad truth was, saying yes would be a lie. For now anyway.
'I'm his friend.' She said instead. 'Who's a girl.' Hal's little brother squinted his eyes at her even more, as if trying to catch a detail that was eluding him. 'Why do you ask?' Karen said, putting her gun aside.
Matt carried on studying her in silence for a moment, as if deliberating whether or not to answer. 'You're always together.' He finally said, making Karen smile again, and then he began to scuff the ground with the toe of his sneaker. 'And he talks about you. A lot,' he added, imitating the tone of voice Hal sometimes used when he was annoyed.
Karen laughed out loud. 'Does he? What does he say?'
'Dunno.' Matt shrugged. 'Stuff... But you're not like the others. That's why I asked.' He explained quietly. His remark made her pause, and she frowned at him in confusion.
'What do you mean, not like the others?'
'The other girlfriends...' Matt said. 'Your hair is different.' Karen ran a hand through her hair almost unconsciously. The kid was walking on thin ice, here. She had always hated her hair. The way it felt, the way it looked, the way the only thing she could do with it was pull it into a ponytail. And the colour. God, she hated the stupid colour most of all. 'They always look like...' Matt began, pulling her out of her own thoughts. He was looking around now, and curious to know what he was looking for, Karen imitated him. 'Like that!' He exclaimed excitedly, pointing at a brunette girl a good few feet away from them. Karen followed his line of sight, and her stomach somersaulted when she realized Matt was pointing at Lourdes, who was currently in an animated conversation with none other than Hal himself.
Karen looked away, her heart pounding in her head. So what?She asked herself. She and Hal had gotten pretty close, so close that sometimes Karen was sure that even though neither of them had said anything, they both knew they were together.
But then there were moments like this, when the fact that neither had made a move, spoke louder than every night spent lying on the grass, gazing at stars, or the lingering fingers when their hands brushed, or the way he looked at her when he thought she hadn't noticed him, and...
Karen shook her head and looked up. Matt was gone, most likely bored with her unresponsiveness. Even though she shouldn't, Karen stole another glance at Hal and Lourdes, who were still talking.
Like she had said only moments ago, she and Hal were nothing more than friends. He could talk to whoever he wanted. She ran a hand through her hair again. Even though he had a preference for brunettes. Brunettes like Lourdes. With one last glance at Hal, Karen picked up her gun and walked away.
Karen had been digging through the latest boxes of toiletries and cosmetics acquired by the raiders for more than 10 minutes now, and her patience was wearing thin. Yes, so this was kinda, sort of an apocalypse, but would it have been too much trouble for the raiding parties to grab one or two boxes of hair dye?
She threw the two tubes of toothpaste she was holding back into the box she's finished searching, pushed it away, and began to dig through another one. She went through two more boxes before she caught the glint of familiar gold lettering.
'Bingo!' She exclaimed, pulling the box of hair dye out into the open, and inspected it. Burnt Auburn was brown enough. After all, her grandma had taught her not to look a gift horse in the mouth.
'Wotcha doin'?' Asked a familiar voice behind her, startling her. She spun around, hiding the dye box behind her back, away from Hal's eyes.
'Just... Looking.' She said, feigning nonchalance.
'Really...' Hal closed the space between them with three, slow steps, a handsome, devious smile playing on his lips. 'Did you find anything interesting...?'
Karen would have answered, but Hal was standing much too close, and his warm breath on her face prevented her from thinking about anything else. Taking advantage of her distraction, Hal reached behind her and pulled the box out of her grasp before she even realized what he was doing.
'Hey!' She protested. She tried to take the box back, but he held it out of her reach.
'Hair dye? Whose hair are you dyeing?'
'No one's...' She said quickly, and Hal raised his eyebrows at her. 'Mine...' She confessed quietly.
Hal chuckled at first, but, realizing she was serious, sobered up. 'Why?'
Karen shrugged. 'Because... It's ugly.' She whispered and looked away, trying appease the sudden, burning wave of embarrassment.
He stood there staring at her, and for a moment Karen was reminded of Matt and his silent scrutiny. After what felt like a lifetime, Hal put the dye box aside. 'Take that back.' He said, almost in a whisper.
'Take it back,' he insisted.
Karen pulled her gaze from his, choosing to look down at the t-shirt hem she was twisting around her fingers instead. Hal sighed, and lifted her chin with a gentle hand, so that she was looking back into his eyes.
'I love your hair.' He said, burying his other hand into it. 'It's soft, and... It always smells good. Even when we've run out of shampoo.' He added, with mock suspicion, which made her laugh. 'And when it catches the sunlight?' He held out a strand in front of her, putting it in the path of a single ray of light filtering in through the dirty window behind her. 'It sparkles like... Like golden diamonds. How can that be ugly? It's nothing short of breathtaking.'
Hal held the strand of hair between them for a long second before letting it drop, never letting his gaze waver from hers. Karen herself was speechless. What can you say to that? Nothing. There was nothing she could say. But there was one thing she could do, something she'd wanted to do for a long time.
She slid a hand behind his neck, and pulled him to her, pressing her lips to his. She felt only half a second of resistance from him, long enough for him to resister what was happening, before he returned her kiss. She only pulled away from him when they were both out of breath. She rested her forehead on his chest as he wrapped his arms around her.
'Finally,' she heard him whisper, as he ran his hand through her hair. Karen smiled, once again thinking of little Matt. She hoped he'd ask his question again, because now she knew she could say yes.