Many people were uncomfortable with the silence that had become the norm when life as they knew it came screeching to a halt. Though the quiet was preferable to the screams, they felt compelled to fill the silence with inane chatter that was even more useless now than it had been before.
Andrea was not one of those people. She'd never been afraid of being left alone with her thoughts and, after Amy's death and her own unwilling exit from the CDC, she just hadn't had it in her to attempt to bond. Slowly, she regained a sense of self, a will to live and found a new purpose in the group. Weapons training with Shane and Rick had revealed a certain, innate talent with a rifle and, after one near disaster involving Daryl and a thankfully missed shot, she'd applied herself to learning that craft.
After finding no one at Fort Benning, there had been a discussion as to where they should go next. Rick wanted to head north, while Shane wanted to keep going west. The group had been split as to who had the better plan, that is until Daryl had spoken up in that 'Lord, y'all are morons' way of his. "I say north. Maybe those undead fuckers'll freeze."
That made as much sense as anything and they'd set out. Along the way, they'd thought they'd found safe haven, first in D.C. and then in Pennsylvania, but oh, how wrong they'd been.
Before they'd reached New England, they lost so many. Shane, Lori, Carol, Hershel, Jimmy, Patricia…and many more they'd met along the way. Those who survived were holding themselves together for the sake of Carl and Sophia, but even the kids were feeling the strain.
It had been pure luck that they'd stumbled upon a group of young men and women scavenging for supplies in New Hampshire. At first, both groups had been understandably wary of each other, but the tension had been broken by Glenn, who made an offhand comment about the faded t-shirt one of the rifle wielding girls had been wearing.
"Dude, a Night of the Living Dead T? A bit meta for me."
The girl had snorted, smiled and, just like that, it seemed silly that they were holding weapons on each other. Jesse, the nominal leader of their new friends, had invited them to accompany them back to Maine, and, having no other destination in mind, they'd agreed.
The campus of Unity College in rural Maine was a surprisingly peaceful and untouched place. Sometime in the past few years, the men and women who had made the school into a safe haven had erected a tall, barbed wire topped fence that surrounded more than one square mile of land. They had gardens and a nice, clean stream and there was good hunting in the surrounding woods. Some of the buildings even had power, thanks to a large number of solar panels and wind turbines.
In the event of a Zombie Apocalypse, a college campus that offered majors in Sustainability Design & Technology, as well as Agriculture, Food & Sustainability was the place you wanted to be.
When the dead rose, many students and faculty had fled, but those who remained had turned the place into a haven. Some families had made it to the school and other locals had drifted in over time. There were some who were total strangers when they'd arrived, but had become part of the community, the little slice of safety found there.
Carl and Sophia were delighted to find other children their own ages and even seemed to enjoy attending the school the education majors had set up.
T-Dog had quickly found a place within the small group who tried to make sure everyone ate well and didn't become bored with the food. His pre-ZA (as the students were calling the Zombie Apocalypse) career as head chef of a trendy Atlanta restraint came in handy.
There was a small, tough band of men and women who routinely left the safety of the school to forage for supplies. Maggie and Glenn fell into that crowd, though only one of them went out at a time, so Beth wouldn't lose both of them if something tragic were to happen.
The hunters who regularly disappeared into the forest and came back with all manner of protein embraced Daryl as one of their own immediately. Andrea was fairly sure she'd overheard him flirting awkwardly with Cassie Lopez, one of his fellow hunters, by complimenting her skill with the compound bow she favored.
Andrea, with her affinity for the rifle, had drawn sentry duty on the watchtower, while Rick had been welcomed by the Conservation Law Enforcement majors, who functioned as the de facto security force. On the rare occasion a lone walker or two showed up by the fences, they dealt with it…as well as handling theoretical internal spats.
When they'd first arrived, they'd wondered how the housing situation would be handled and it was almost funny that the college's original housing officer still held his job. Most single men and women (as well as childless couples) were housed in the dorms, plenty were still empty, while families (blood or those who'd bonded on the road) wound up in the tiny cottages or the suite style apartments.
Each of the suites had four small bedrooms surrounding a common sitting area with a kitchenette and ¾ bath.
Compared to RV living, it was heaven.
Glenn and Maggie, who'd taken to looking after Beth following Hershel's death, moved into one suite with Beth. In a strange turn, Daryl had taken little Sophia under his wing when she was orphaned, and they took the final two rooms, as the group wasn't quite ready to be split up. Rick and Carl had been assigned the neighboring suite, with Andrea and T-Dog filling the empty rooms.
At least, until T-Dog fell for Rita and moved in with her.
It wasn't the life Andrea had imagined for herself, but it was good.
Earlier that evening, sitting on the couch beside Rick, each of them reading something from the library (history for her, something by Shakespeare for him) while Carl did homework at the table, she'd been struck by the hominess of the situation.
"I hate math," Carl groused, causing Rick to smile over at his son.
The expression brightened his eyes and softened the leanness of his face. Not for the first time, she'd thought him handsome, though that wasn't why she knew she'd stay with Rick and Carl until…well, until she died.
She stayed because he was an intrinsically good person, something that seemed rare even before the ZA. Despite the horrors they'd seen, the hardships endured, the loss, the pain, the despair…Rick kept trying to do what was right. Sure, he didn't always succeed (no one did), but the intent was there.
That was more than could be said about most people who'd walked through hell and survived.
"Let me see what they've got you doing," Rick said, setting down his book and rising to move to the table.
Pushing the paper toward his father, Carl said, "Fractions."
Rick grimaced. "Math wasn't my strong suit, bud, but I think it's all about finding the common denominator."
Giving his father a look that only a child could manage, Carl replied, "Yeah, but I can never remember which one that is."
For a moment, Rick scrutinized the paper. "Actually, this is multiplication, so that might not matter…."
Andrea was watching them, trying not to smile, when Rick turned to her with imploring eyes. He caught her amusement and grinned ruefully, saying, "What? I said math wasn't my thing…."
"It really isn't," she agreed, joining them in looking at Carl's assignment. "The numerator's on top, the denominator on the bottom. When adding and subtracting fractions, you find the lowest common denominator, but multiplying them is even easier. 2/4 x 6/9. Reduce them to…."
"1/2," Carl promptly replied, "and 1/3."
"There you go," she praised. "Now, multiply the top numbers, then the bottoms."
"1/6," he said, pulling the paper closer to scrawl his answer.
She nodded. "How about this one….."
The three of them spent another half hour going over his assignment and, after he finished, it was almost Carl's bedtime.
Rick spent some time saying goodnight, returning to the common room just as the lights were lowering. Though the solar cells provided power, no one really wanted to tax the reserves and it had been decided that power would be reduced to minimal levels at 9pm, except for in the infirmary. During the night, heat was left on, but nothing else.
Everyone was willing to use candles or crank powered flashlights during the later hours. After all, they all worked hard, so there weren't all that many night owls up and about.
Andrea lit one of the Mason jar candles and the flickering, golden glow filled the room. A group of residents made them in what was once one of the campus's art rooms. They were functional things, unscented and a natural waxen color, so unlike the expensive, cloying, decorative things that had become so popular in the years preceding the ZA.
Two cups of apple moonshine in hand, Rick dropped back down onto the couch with a sigh of relief. Andrea joined him, accepting her drink and taking a sip. Surprised, she coughed. "Stronger than the last batch."
"Daryl's friend Cassie's brother runs the still. I think they've been swapping recipes," Rick chuckled. "You have to admit, it's gotten smoother."
"Getting kicked in the head would have been smoother than the booze when we got here," she replied, sinking into the cushions and letting her head fall back, bumping into Rick's arm where it lay along the top of the couch.
Sometimes, when she really thought about it, she knew why she and Rick got along as well as they did. In this world, where death didn't mean what it used to, they'd each had and lost lives. They knew the emptiness and self-loathing, knew what it was to drag themselves back to the land of the living…such as it was.
Even here, where she actually believed they were safe, she felt a sense of distance from the other people in the community, those who hadn't been on the road with them. Many had little actual experience with Walkers, preferring to remain on campus, leaving the trips out to the hunters and gatherers. They didn't know what it was to look into the milky eyes that had once belonged to a loved one, didn't know what it was like to pull the trigger.
They were similar, loners, but not, and that thought made her think of something that had happened earlier in the day.
She'd been sitting in the cafeteria, having lunch with T-Dog and Rita, when two women, Grace and Annie, both teachers, sat down at the next table. Other than to exchange hellos, each group was immersed in their own conversations, but, due to proximity, Andrea couldn't help but overhear them.
"I can't take it anymore," Annie was saying, sounding frustrated in a way Andrea could relate recognize. "He picks his son up every day and it's all 'Thank you kindly, Miss Tyler, with the hat tipping and…I mean, does the man not know how to pick up on a signal? I haven't been subtle."
Andrea was fairly sure she knew who Annie was describing as Grace chuckled, "You got it bad."
"I can't help it! The whole southern cowboy thing just gets me. I think I'm gonna have to up my game…."
"Andrea, you squeeze that cup any tighter and you're going to dent it," Rita said, drawing her attention back to her dining companions. Rita looked sympathetic and T-Dog grinned knowingly as Andrea chose to pretend nothing had happened….
"You know Carl's teacher has a crush on you," she said into the quiet of the night.
Beside her, Rick let out an amused noise. "I'm pretending not to notice."
Smiling at his response, Andrea said, "Now why not? She seems like a nice girl."
"She's what, 20?" he huffed. "I'd feel like a dirty old man."
"Oh come on, she has to be 22," she teased, letting her elbow bump his ribs. "I overheard her talking about 'upping her game' today."
He groaned. "Peachy."
The exasperation in his tone made her want to keep on poking at him. "You could always imply that you're interested in someone else," she said in a very somber tone. "Say the UST between you and Daryl has finally gotten…ACK!"
Sometimes she forgot he had such fast hands, one of which was skittering along her ticklish ribs. He was laughing. "Me and Daryl…heh, that might give him the kick in the ass he needs to actually make a move on Cassie."
Squirming away from his fingers, Andrea set her glass down, overshooting a bit and nearly toppling over.
Huh. Guess the moonshine was a bit stronger than she realized.
Rick's hand closed around her bicep, tugging her back so she didn't wind up sprawled across the coffee table.
Instead, she crashed into his chest, causing them both to wind up in a heap on the couch.
Laying on his back, Rick grinned at Andrea, who rested her chin on his chest and said, "I think they finally found a recipe to keep."
"Damn straight," he agreed, then raised a hand to brush a lock of hair back behind her ear. It was an innocent gesture, but one that warmed her in a totally different way that the 'shine. For several minutes, they just lay there, in the dimly lit silence, comfortable together.
When Rick finally spoke, he said, "I'm not interested in Annie."
Meeting his eyes, Andrea said exactly what she was thinking. "Good."
He nodded and she shifted, resting her cheek on his chest, listening to the strong, steady thump of his heart. She smiled to herself as his arms came up, encircling her loosely.
This was different…good, but new. Maybe they'd talk about it, but probably not. It seemed right, so why overanalyze?
Both of them were far more comfortable taking action than talking things out…and she was not opposed to engaging in some non-life or death action with Rick.
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