As soon as I was faintly conscious, I woke up. I was feeling the most excited I had been since this whole mess had started.
I sat up quickly to find an empty tent and the distant sound of laughing a little further away. Smiling, I scrambled to my feet and scampered out of the tent in search of Alex.
The sun made me squint and I yawned, feeling incredibly tired. I hadn't slept properly that night, making mental lists of what I needed to do. I didn't get to sleep until the moon had started to drift away. But I wasn't going to let it ruin the day.
I spotted him by the fire with an odd look on his face. I walked towards him, the spring in my step fading.
"Alex, are you okay?" I asked as I sank next to him.
"I just spoke to Dale. He told me the date. It's supposed to be my birthday, Sam." He sighed, hanging his head sadly.
While his head was down, I snapped my head around to make sure everyone was around. When Daryl finally jogged up with the rucksack with Alex's boots in it, I put my hand under Alex's chin and lifted it up. I smiled at him as Helena began to sing happy birthday, his eyes widening.
I chipped in too, and soon enough, everyone was singing. I let my hand slip from his face and smiled as I sung along. A grin grew on his face as he looked at each person with complete surprise and excitement. He even looked a little teary. It didn't seem to matter that we were all horribly out of tune, or that his family and older friends weren't here to celebrate with him. I guess we were his family.
"Thank you all. It means a lot." He spluttered, meeting each person's eyes.
"How old are you, Alex?" Carol asked with a smile on her face.
"Twenty-seven? Yeah, twenty-seven. Woah." He gasped.
"You're so old!" Helena said in awe, to which people laughed.
The group fell into happy chatter and I soaked in the atmosphere. The camp was buzzing. We weren't expecting anything, and there was nothing planned for that day. There wasn't anything really hanging over our heads at that moment. We were all just caught up in the excitement of Alex's birthday. Something to take us out of reality for a bit.
I flicked my eyes around the group, but was stopped by Daryl flicking his head back in a motion to talk to me. Confused, I silently got up and walked around to him. I had a weird sense of deja vu as I walked towards him, but shook it off, along with the plummeting in my stomach.
"Is everything okay?" I asked quietly, meeting his eyes.
"Yeah. Hope it's alright..." He said, pulling the bag off his shoulder and opening it up for me to see. I tentatively too a step forward and looked in the bag to see a lot of newspaper.
"Wrapped some paper that I found in town round tha box. S'not great, but..." He trailed, his face turning slightly red.
"Oh my god." I muttered.
"Ya can take it off-"
"Daryl, that's brilliant. Honestly. Thank you so much." I smiled, trying to meet his eyes but he avoided me.
To make a point, I gently rested my hand on his arm. His head snapped toward me, but he didn't pull away. Not wanting to push my luck, I stepped away from him, taking the bag with me. I had nearly got back to my seat when Helena tip-toed up to me, beckoning me down to her height.
"Sam, can I give the present to Alex?" She asked, her eyes shining with hope. I smiled.
"Of course. And make sure you give him a cheesy grin when you do!" I laughed, holding out the bag for her. I had told her about Alex's birthday the previous night, and about what I got for him. She managed to keep the secret the whole night, which was great considering how excited she was.
"Is everyone here? Okay, good. Alex. Happy birthday from all of us." I grinned, watching as Helena handed him the bag.
He gave us all a wary look before delving into the bag. Upon grasping the box, he slowly pulled it out of the bag and looked at it. With a giddy-looking grin, he pulled off the paper and opened the shoe lid. Upon seeing it, he guffawed.
"Oh my god, they're so nice!" He grinned, quickly kicking off his own shoes to put the boots on.
I had a quick look around the group to see everyone with genuine smiles on their faces. There's nothing like a bit of happiness to shine some light on other people's faces.
He laced the shoes as fast as he could, got to his feet and ran circles around us, giggling as he went. Even Daryl had a smirk at seeing the glee on Alex's face.
He got back to his seat after producing a few laugh, and slumped with a happy sigh.
"I didn't expect it to be my birthday, let alone you all actually get me something. So thank you all, so much." He stifled.
You could see how much it meant to him, and it made me feel pretty emotional. I laughed a little, wiping my eyes. I was glad he was happy. After everything he had been through, we had been through and the strain we had all felt, this was great. It did my heart good to see him laughing. He seemed genuinely happy, as did the rest of the group. It was what I had wanted to achieve. Pretty soon, my eyes got a little watery. Alex chuckled and stood up, before shuffling forward to me and hugging me tightly. I let out a laugh, although I was annoyed that I let a few tears escape. I'm going to look so weak.
"Thank you, Sam. I know you did this." He whispered in my ear, and I chuckled, shaking us with the rolls of my shoulders. I put an arm round him and hugged him close.
He then stood back and I smiled. He then proceeded to thank everyone. I snuck a glance at Daryl who looked at me, confused. I shrugged and wiped my eyes. Whatever.
"Run along Alex, break in those boots!" I chortled, watching as he stood near me awkwardly after slapping Daryl appreciatively on the shoulder.
He nodded and began running, touching Helena's shoulder and shouted 'tag' and telling Carl to get running. I watched with a big grin on my face as Alex feigned a slow run, letting Helena catch up with him. Their laughter rung loudly in my ears.
Carol put an arm ground my shoulder from behind, hugging me. I covered her had with mine, giggling.
I let her go and got up, picking up the paper and bag and walked to Daryl.
"Again, thank you." I smiled.
He looked at my face for a while before he gave me a quick nod and sped away to his tent.
It wasn't long until the sun was about to set that I decided to pull out the piece de resistance; the cookie dough.
I excitedly walked up to the house and tried to contain myself as I rapped hard on the door. I had managed to calm myself a little before the door finally swung open. Patricia answered with a towel over her shoulder and a tired look on her face. My enthusiasm dropped a little.
"Patricia, are you okay?" I asked, holding myself back from stepping forward and touching her face.
"Oh, I'm fine. Helena was a little hyperactive for our lesson today, but it wasn't too bad. Anyway, can I help?" She smiled.
"Oh, I'm sorry-"
"Don't be. She's a little ray of sunshine." She smiled, but also stifled a yawn.
"Is Maggie here?" I asked.
"Yeah. Come in, I'll just grab her." She said, holding the door open as I walked through.
She walked away and into the hall while I stood awkwardly in the middle of the room, playing with the short strands of my hair. minutes ticked by, and my gaze began to wander around the sitting room. After a few minutes and having studied everything pretty closely, Maggie showed her face.
"Hey." She smiled as she walked towards me, rubbing her eyes sleepily. I felt a little bad, wondering if I had just woken her up.
"Hey! I was wondering if it would be okay to do the cookie dough now?" I asked meekly.
"Sure. I've already got some of the ingredients for you - the hens laid a few more eggs than expected today." she chirped, walking towards the kitchen as I followed closely.
She got out the things I had brought her, as well as a few more items. And the chocolate. Sweet goodness, the chocolate. She handed me a bowl and I began to prepare and mix it all, the smell of it all making my mouth water.
"Wow." Maggie laughed, and I chuckled too.
"There's a lot of mix here. If I make some into cookies, you all can have some, too." I smiled, halving the large bowl of dough.
We made small balls on a tray for the cookies and put them in the oven, and I also put the dough in just for a minute so the outside went a little crisp. I could just imagine Alex's eyes.
Just watching them cook as the minutes ticked slowly on held all my attention. I was virtually sat in front of oven, watching the cookies bake. Cookies...
Soon enough, the batch had nearly finished resting, and the smell was driving me wild. I almost disappeared into a fuzzy cookie-induced haze when there was a knock at the door. I looked out the window to see who it was, but realised it was pitch dark outside. I hadn't even noticed.
"Oh, hey." I heard Maggie say.
"Sam here?" Daryl asked. Confused, I walked out of the kitchen and raised an eyebrow at him.
"Everything alright?" I asked warily.
"Alex's asking bout ya. Wonderin where y'are." He grunted, shifting awkwardly.
"Okay, give me two seconds." I said, before spinning on my feet and jogging to the kitchen.
I looked at the cookies on a rack they were cooling on and saw that everything was ready. I grabbed a plate that Maggie had put out for me and placed half on the plate. I then grabbed the bowl of cookie dough and making sure I had everything before leaving the kitchen, arms full.
"Thank you, Maggie." I smiled.
"Any time, and thank you!" She laughed.
She shut the door behind us, and I was greeted by the cold night air and the gaze of Daryl. Silently, he took the bowl from under my arm and started walking to camp. I caught up, hiding my surprise at his help. We walked mostly in silence until we were a few feet away from the camp.
"Ya got flour on your face." He said, his voice low.
Groaning, I lifted my free hand and batted at my cheek, and looked at him.
"Gone?" I asked, trying to ignore the slight embarrassment that was welling in me. I'd never been fussed about looking like a mess, but for some reason, this mattered.
He silently put his hand up and I shut my eyes. His hand brushed lightly over the cut on my cheeks, gently brushing the flour away. His hand then retreated, and it took me a couple seconds to open my eyes, only to be met by his piercing ones. My insides knotted, and his eyes shot away.
"Thanks." I croaked. I then turned on my heels and carried on towards the group, my face on fire.
Before I got in sight, I waited for Daryl to catch up before walking to Alex. He looked at me and nodded, and after a second's composure, I walked towards the group, a large smile painted on my face.
Alex looked up, and upon seeing the what was in our hands, he actually squealed. My smile became real as I presented him with the plate of cookies, and Daryl held out the cookie dough.
Carol grabbed some plates and we begun sharing out the cookie dough and cookies equally. Well, equalish. Alex and the kids got a little more, but you could argue that Alex was still a child.
He made no attempt to savour it, and thus shoveled his cookies into his face. Laughter erupted at Alex's gleeful giggling. I vaguely hear Shane grunting on top of the RV, but I ignored him totally. He didn't want to join in, so he was keeping an eye out. It was as simple as that. And he was still given a cookie.
I sat between Alex and was joined by Daryl. I looked over to him. And raised an eyebrow, surprised that he hadn't whimpered off to his little camp. He met my eyes for a second before digging in to a cookie.
"Oh wow, Sam." Lori chuckled, picking up another cookie.
"So good." Glenn yelped, a mouthful of food slurring his words. I laughed, before doing a mock bow to my appreciative audience.
"Well, for someone who can't cook, I have to say these are rather scrummy." I grinned.
It wasn't until people had finished eating ad slipped into an excited chatter that I began to feel the full effects of my tiredness. Being on the go all day and having had little sleep that night was finally catching up after I had managed to fill my stomach. Person by person, the group began to head to bed, thanking me for the food and giving Alex birthday hugs and wishes.
I leant my head on my hand, balancing my elbow precariously on my knee. My blinks were getting longer, and the conversations around me had begun to drown out. I wavered slightly, momentarily waking myself up. I sat back and lent next to me, curling up on the nearest person's arm.
"Err, Sam?" Alex asked. My name vaguely woke me, but I was still to groggy to function.
"Don't worry." Daryl grunted.
"Well, I'm going to bed." Alex said, and I could feel him squeezing my arm gently, as well as planting a kiss on the back of my head.
After a little bit longer, I felt the warm body from beside me move, making my collapse on myself. Too tired to care, I groaned and made myself comfortable on my lap. The warmth I felt in my face from the fire had gone, and the faint light that came from it stopped filtering through my eyelids.
Large hands griped me, but gently pulled me to my feet. I huffed, annoyed that I was woken from my sleep. I opened my eyes just enough so I could see the floor I was stumbling across. But thanks to the hands, I never fell.
"Crawl in." The voice grumbled.
"Yup." I said deliriously, popping the 'p'. It was followed by a throaty laugh.
Before crawling into whatever I was getting into, I turned and wrapped my arms round my guide. I reached in tiptoes and felt like I was level, and after wrapping my arms around them, let my arms drop. With that, I unceremoniously threw myself in the tent, curling myself up. It wasn't long until a zipping sound was heard and a small body shuffled towards me. Heavy trudges faded away, as did whatever consciousness I had left.
Hope you enjoyed! I know it's a little on the short side, but it came out okay, I think...
I'm sorry I haven't updated for a few weeks - deadlines and uni prep has really been kicking my arse. I should be back to a regular routine soon enough. :]
Thank you all so much for sticking with me, as well as reading, commenting, favouriting and following as ever. You're all just great.
- Loré. Xx