Sarah was tired. Teaching Matt to swim had been exhausting. But it had been worth it. Matt was more confident now, and she had given Ben something to do for a few hours that didn't involve a gun. She liked the idea of the teens being comfortable with guns and knowing how to fire them. She just wasn't sure about putting them on patrol.
"What's up with you Red? You usually work faster than that." Pope was cooking the chicken as she was opening boxes of noodles. Well, he was cooking the last of the chicken and a couple of doves. Tector had used the last of the bird shot yesterday to bag four doves. There would only be enough meat for the soldiers, but at least there was plenty of Alfredo sauce for everyone.
"I'm a little tired today. I've spent the last two days teaching Matt to swim." Pope looked rough, but he could cook and he could carry a conversation. Seeing as how it took three hours to make dinner for everyone Sarah was glad she had someone to talk to.
"You mean the littlest Mason?" Pope asked. He was across the kitchen at the stove.
"Yeah. He's a cutie. And a good kid." Sarah smiled as she spoke. She had liked Matt before, but when she found out that he had looked out for Connor while she was gone, she decided she liked him even more. Of course, he came from good stock.
"Too bad he's a Mason." Pope grunted. Sarah wasn't sure exactly what it was that made John Pope hate Tom Mason so much, but she had accepted that it was the way he felt. She tried to steer the conversation away from The Masons when it was her turn to help Pope in the kitchen. They seemed to be on her mind a lot lately.
"So is that the last of the meat? There's nothing else?" Sarah asked Pope. "Yep."
"Hhmmm..." Sarah was thinking. "I wonder how far out I'd have to walk to see some deer? I know they have been seeing rabbits but no one's mentioned deer."
"That's because they're too loud. You got to be quiet to sneak up on deer. Rabbits are dumb and too trustworthy. It's not hard to get within shooting distance of them." Pope was convinced he was smarter than any of the soldiers. The bad thing was, he might be right.
"How do you know they're too loud?" Sarah asked. "You've not been out with them."
"They were loud enough that we heard them while making our daily rounds." Pope said with a raised eyebrow.
Sarah nodded. He was smart, there was no getting around that.
"Don't give me that Weaver. You can spare me three bullets." Tom was walking into the classroom that Dan Weaver was using for his command center, when he heard Sarah's voice. He wondered what she was up to now.
"The sound of a rifle shot carries for miles. You go out there shooting at everything that moves, and you'll draw Mechs down on us." Tom didn't know why Weaver argued with her. She always had good intentions and she usually got her way.
"I know for a fact that you haven't seen Mechs within ten miles of us for a week. I talked to Tector this morning." She also did her homework. Tom was just inside the door, trying to go unnoticed when Weaver asked for his opinion.
"Tom, one of your civilians wants to go hunting by themselves. She only asking for three bullets and a hunting rifle, but one shot is all it might take to get the enemy's attention. Things are quiet right now. I don't know that I want to do anything to jeopardize that." Weaver thought Tom would agree.
"Normally I would agree with you." Started Tom. "But the civilians haven't had meat in a week and now there's no meat for the soldiers either. We're going to have to do something."
"That something would be me. I'm a good shot. I can go by myself if Tom, or someone, will babysit Connor. I'll take one day, maybe less, and I will bring back something to eat. Otherwise, you may have a riot on your hands." Sarah was not relenting. People were hungry, and since she was one of the main cooks they had complained to her.
"First of all, Tom is not a babysitter. Second of all, can you even carry a deer by yourself?" Sarah paused for a moment, she hadn't thought about that, but she wasn't going to back down now. "Deer are not that big. And after it's been field dressed I can carry it."
Weaver gave her a doubtful look, so Tom spoke up. "Well then, how about I go with her and help her carry whatever she kills? I will keep an eye out for Mechs and Skitters. We can walk 10 miles out, and if we do attract trouble, we can hole up and lay low. We won't bring it this way."
Weaver just stared at Tom. His Second in Command was supposed to back him up, not make him second guess himself. "Do you really want to go off on a wild goose chase?" Weaver asked, giving Tom a chance to back out.
"We need meat. People are going to start to get weak without protein. So unless you've got a crop of tofu that I don't know about, I think I'll go out with Sarah tomorrow. Hal and Maggie and Ben can watch Connor and Matt, we'll come back late tomorrow night."
Captain Weaver shook his head. "Fine. But do not get killed, or call attention to yourself."
Sarah had managed to get her hands on the Model Five Remington again, and Tom had insisted on it being fully loaded. He took the AK that he normally carried plus the .45 in the holster on his thy. Sarah still had the pocket knife, but she tried to keep it a secret that she had it.
They had started out at 5am, hoping to get out away from camp and to get on a high spot to look for game around the time the animals would be bedding down or waking up for the day. Dusk and dawn are prime hunting times. Sarah's green shirt had dried and she was wearing it along with a dark green military jacket and blue jeans. He had on a black coat with a black scarf to hide his white shirt.
They hadn't talked much after they left camp. The whole point was to be quiet and sneak up on some game. They saw a rabbit around 10am but Sarah shook her head. "Let's walk further out and try to find a deer. We can come back for the rabbit." She said quietly.
Around noon they found a small stream. They were sticking to the wooded areas. They sat down under a tree, which roots stuck out of the ground and made for good seats. They had brought granola bars to eat so that they wouldn't have to make a fire. They each had a canteen.
They sat down together on one of the roots. Sarah had taken a few bites of her peanut granola bar when Tom broke the silence. "It's really quiet and still out here. I'd forgotten that quiet could be good."
Sarah smiled. "Yeah, with eight or more kids running around, and the soldiers practicing their drills it's not very quiet back at camp."
"I can see why men would want to hunt. It's quiet, you're doing something useful, and it actually takes some skill doesn't it?" Tom asked.
"Yeah, it does. Hopefully we can walk through the underbrush and scare up a deer this afternoon."
"I thought deer came out at dusk and dawn?" Tom asked through a mouthful of granola.
"Yes, but they bed down at noon, in the dense thickets. If we walk through those areas we might find one." Sarah explained, still being quiet.
"Oh. That's a good idea. I'm glad you're around. I mean, I'm glad someone's around who knows this stuff. I don't know anything about hunting. I can cook spaghetti though." Tom's rambling stopped.
Sarah took a drink from her canteen. "So you don't know how to field dress a deer?"
"Does that involve putting the deer in a camo colored dress?"
Sarah laughed so hard she almost choked on her last bite. "No. No, it does not involve dresses at all. It's the way you gut the deer so that the meat doesn't spoil before you get back to camp. To be honest, I had to ask Tector to remind me how to do it. It's been a while since I have been hunting with my Dad."
"We'll I appreciate the honesty. I was beginning to think there wasn't anything you couldn't do. I mean, you cook, you take care of the kids, you go on scouts. I keep looking for a cape under that coat."
Sarah was looking shyly at the ground. "Ha! If anyone's hiding a cape it's you. You find huge warehouses on your scouts. And kill Skitters barehanded. I was beginning to think those things didn't die. Then you drug one in. I will never forget that. Then you saved us all when Pope's gang tried to take the GTO. You're the one that's amazing."
Now Sarah was looking Tom in the eye. Tom was surprised. He had no idea that anyone looked up to him. Him getting caught by Pope had put them all in severe danger. But he wasn't going to point that out right now, not with the way Sarah was looking at him.
"You taught Matt how to swim. And you're good to Ben. You talk to him and include him when others won't even look at him. That matters to me more than anything else." Tom was talking in that low gravelly voice again, the one that made her shiver.
"He's just a boy. But he's a good boy. It obvious he still has human affections."
"Yeah, I think he may have a little crush on you." Tom smiled, but Sarah looked surprised.
"Oh no. I'll have to break his little heart." Sarah looked down at her shoes then back up at Tom. "He's not the person I'm crushing on."
At that point Tom decided there had been enough talking. He kissed Sarah, soft at first. When she leaned in and grabbed his shoulders he took her in his arms, and kissed her passionately. He had felt very alone since his wife had died. But maybe, just maybe, he had found a partner in Sarah. Someone he could trust with the kids, someone that could stand the hardships that this life would bring.
He put one hand in her beautiful hair and the other one on her hip. He realized that he could have sat there kissing her all day. He could have even done more than kiss her, but that would be moving a bit fast. So after a moment Tom suggested they get moving.
"Putting a deer in a dress isn't going to be easy and we need to start heading back." Sarah laughed. Tom slung his rifle over his back and took her hand. They held hands for quite a while.