Things changed after the CDC, after Jacqui and Jenner made the choice to stay behind and die in the quick flare of the buildings self destruct system. A sense of shock had fallen over their small group and it was sheer dumb luck that they stumbled over a gas station on the outskirts of the city that still had some gas in the underground tanks.
Andrea had entered the small convenience store with Rick, looking around at the half cleaned shelves. The others were gathered around the vehicles as Dale and Daryl set up a siphon to get at the gas. Shane and T-Dog were on look out and, though everyone assumed the store would be picked clean, Rick found some spark of hope and decided to check it out.
Not wanting to be left to her own thoughts, Andrea had followed him.
In this new, post-Zombie Apocalypse world, what they found would have, on any other day, be cause for celebration. Canned goods, crackers, bottled water, beef jerky…a feast.
Today, it was enough to help hold back utter despair for a moment.
Slowly, they moved through the aisles, checking for any signs of walkers before really looking at the supplies. Picking up an incongruous bottle of Hershey's Chocolate Syrup, she stared at it blankly and nearly missed Rick speaking.
"Andrea," he said, beckoning her over to where he stood by the checkout counter. Wondering what had caught his attention, she joined him and let out a small gasp.
The counter had once been white, but was now covered with dust and writing, done with the Sharpie markers that still lay on the surface. Clearly, the main block of text had been written first:
You're not alone. There are other survivors. We've left Atlanta and are headed north. Stay away from urban centers, they're lost. Good luck and God bless. ~ Katie Kelly, Sarah York, Bill Thomas, Ellen Wilson, John Joseph, Sean Frost & Lauren Watts.
After and around, other signatures had been added in small groups. More survivors making their mark as they passed through. A sign that others were alive…or at least had been when they'd been here.
For a moment, neither of them spoke, just standing there, letting the tiny threads of hope spark to life. After what they'd been through, any hope was water to a man dying of thirst.
In the silence, she felt Rick's fingers brush her wrist before wrapping around her hand. She glanced at him and saw the glassy sheen of unshed tears in his eyes.
He's a good man, Andrea thought tangentially. Still managing to cling to the shreds of his optimism.
She hoped he didn't lose that when he found out about Lori and Shane. That wasn't going to be a pretty revelation and it was going to come out sooner or later. Every adult at the camp knew, it would have been impossible not to, though they had thought they were so stealthy.
"There're others," he said softly, plucking a roadmap from the small display. "Heading North."
"Not like we had any particular destination in mind," Andrea replied, then turned to him and asked, "Do you think they're still alive."
Rick paused for a moment before replying. "I have to."
"How can you?" She had to ask. She had to know how he and the others still had the will to live, had desperately fought to escape painless death at the CDC. Only Dale's intervention had kept her from that fate and, to be honest, she was a bit angry about that.
Rick breathed slowly, then spoke in that low, ponderous way he had. "I think we have to hold tight to hope so we can keep going. We owe it to the folks we've lost. We owe it to kids like Carl and Sophia. All this death, imagine what they're thinking."
Carl and Sophia were little more than babies. She couldn't imagine living through this nightmare at and age when things seemed so intense, nightmares and dreams as real as life.
Of course, some nightmares were real…but maybe the kids could still dream.
"I think they'll be thinking about candy tonight," she said softly, pointing at the candy bars scattered on one shelf.
A small smile tugged the corner of Rick's mouth and he nodded to her. After all they'd gone through, they needed to shut down and rest. Not think, for just a while.
Except the chocolate. They could think about chocolate.