The world outside Ellie's boarded-up window is still and blue when she wakes up the next morning. Her mouth tastes horrible, she's hungry, and she still doesn't know where her jeans are. She rolls off the bed and searches her bedroom, but her only other pair of jeans are totally stiff with blood from last week's hunting trip. Fuck.
She opens her door as quietly as she can and searches the bathroom, but her jeans aren't there, either. She wanders down the hall, trying to decide between checking the living room and David's room-
David is crouching in front of the fireplace with two skewered squirrels. Ellie walks in and spots her jeans lying across the coffee table, soaking up heat from the fire. She grabs them and pulls them on, and they're blissfully warm.
"Thanks for putting these by the fire," she says.
"No problem. Did you sleep well?"
"How does your head feel? Are you as hungover as I am?"
Ellie doesn't know what a hangover feels like, but she doesn't think she has one. "I guess not."
She doesn't answer.
David takes a sip of water from his metal cup. "Is everything okay, Ellie?"
"I just-" She sits down on the coffee table and folds her arms on her knees. "I feel weird about last night."
"It was a weird night. Tell you the truth, I was so drunk I don't remember most of it. Do you want to talk about it?"
She does, but she doesn't know what she wants to say, and even if she did she probably shouldn't trust him, so she just shrugs yet again like a fucking idiot.
"I'm sorry, Ellie. I shouldn't have had so much to drink when I'm supposed to be taking care of you. I'm supposed to be the adult here."
"I told you, I don't need anyone to take care of me!" she snaps. "I might as well be an adult, for all the adult responsibilities I have. I can take care of myself."
"So why are you mad at me?"
She presses her lips together, trying to think of a way to explain it that doesn't suck. "Because... because you're a lot older than me. And you said I reminded you of your baby sister. I wasn't expecting you to get me super drunk and then fuck me."
"I'm getting mixed signals here, Ellie. You say you want to be treated like an adult, and then you get mad when I treat you like one. Are you angry with me for drinking? For letting you drink? For trying to make you feel good to make up for getting your ribs hurt?"
She's mad at him for all of those things, but it sounds too ridiculous to even consider when he says it out loud. Being mad at him for doing what she agreed to (or even begged for) isn't just stupid, it's basically five-year-old logic. It wasn't like he was being malicious about it, or anything.
"I'm not mad," she finally says, even though she sort of is. "I'm just confused. I'm not used to seeing you in that light."
"Drunk, and, you know, having sex with the fourteen-year-old you're taking care of."
He hands her a squirrel-on-a-stick. "But you can take care of yourself, right? That means I just take care of you because I'm nice. It's not like I had sex with a fourteen-year-old who was dependent on me for her survival. Doesn't that make it different?"
Ellie stares at the impaled, skinless squirrel, which is steaming a little in the cold air. She's not sure she would still be alive if not for David's generator and his clicker-watch patrols and his company. Even if she had made it this far without him, she definitely wouldn't be enjoying warmed-up jeans or a hot squirrel-kabob right now.
"You know what?" She blows on the squirrel. "It's not important. Just, never mind. We had sex- whatever. I don't want things to get weird between us. We're friends, we got wasted, we fucked by accident, and now we need to get on with the rest of our lives. We have way more important things to worry about."
"So no regrets?"
"Life's too short for that bullshit," Ellie says, mostly to convince herself. "No regrets."
"That's a very adult response." David sits down next to her. "Very mature."
They eat in silence. When Ellie is done, she sets her stick and squirrel bones by the fireplace.
"What do we do now?" she asks. "I don't have a whole lot of experience with this stuff. Do we just pretend like it never happened?"
"If that's what you want."
That's exactly what she wants, but pretending won't give her back yesterday's illusion of David as one of those adults who's oblivious to the existence of Ellie's sexuality. Pretending won't make her forget how much it hurt to wake up with him on top of her. She hugs her arms around herself.
"No, fuck that," she says. "Like I said, it's just sex. It's no big deal."
"That's a good attitude to have," David says. "You're right, though- sex is just a way for people to feel good and keep warm, to keep the species alive. It's a spiritual experience, sometimes, but there's no sense in getting hung up on it. Our bodies were designed to crave sex just like we crave food. I'm just glad your first time could be with someone who cares about you. Lots of people would take advantage of a pretty little girl like you, Ellie, especially when you offer yourself up like a drunk little present."
Ellie digs dirt out from underneath her fingernails, which desperately need a good clipping. "But not you, huh?"
"No," David says. "I stick around to take care of your hungover ass the next morning. How was your squirrel?"
"Good," Ellie says. "Hey, it's probably best if I get some experience before I get to Salt Lake City. Who knows what'll happen once I'm there? For all I know, maybe they'll have to do something that turns me into a vegetable, and they'll keep me alive on a breathing machine so they can harvest my blood once a week to cure people or something."
"Jesus, Ellie! Don't talk like that."
"What? It'd be cool."
"It would be awful. I don't want to think about it." He hugs her tightly from behind, crushing her sore ribs.
"Ow. Ow!" Ellie sucks in air through her teeth. "Watch the ribs!"
"Sorry." David releases her. "I forgot you were hurt. Let me look."
"Do you have some kind of fetish for ugly-looking bruises?" Ellie jokes as she lifts her shirt. "Oh, holy fuck. It looks so much worse than yesterday."
"Told you." David presses gently on Ellie's ribs, making her wince. "You're okay, though. We're both going to take it easy today. We've got enough food to last us at least two days. You want to read some Savage Starlight?"
Ellie shrugs. "I guess."
By some miracle, he picks up on her hesitation. "I only suggested it because I thought you'd have fun with it," he says. "If you'd rather get out of the house for a while, Becca told me to tell you that you're invited to come over for hot chocolate any time."
"No way," Ellie says. "Bullshit. Where did she get hot chocolate from out here?"
"I have no idea," David says. "But that's what she said. You can go ask her yourself."
Ellie is at least as eager to try hot chocolate again as she is to get the fuck away from David for a while, so she bundles up and visits Becca. James opens the door, and he huffs and grumbles until Becca sends him out to fetch something from Leah.
"That should buy us a few minutes of peace," Becca says as she closes the door.
"No boys allowed," Ellie jokes. "Ever."
"Oh, I don't know, I think I'd be lonely without James," Becca says. She opens the back door and pulls a bottle of milk off the patio. "We've been together every night since we were in the womb. It would be strange trying to fall asleep without him. I just like it better when he's gone most of the day. It's hard to get any reading done with him around."
"I like to read, too!" Ellie says, thrilled to find a common interested with someone so much older and prettier and cooler. "What do you read?"
"Jane Austen is my favorite," Becca says. As she talks, she pours milk into a pot and sets it on a ledge over her fire. "I've re-read her books probably a hundred times by now! But my second favorite is probably the Dawn of the Wolf series."
"Oh, yeah! There were movie posters for the movie all over Pittsburgh."
"The books are definitely better," Becca assures her.
"I wouldn't know. I've never seen the movies or read the books."
"Do you want to?" Becca takes three books off the shelf and hands them to Ellie. "I have the first two movies, but we have to wait for a day when the generator is guaranteed to hold out for a couple of hours to watch them. There's nothing worse than getting to the climax of the movie and having the lights go out."
"Honestly, I'm more excited about geting some new books to read!" Ellie says. "Thank you so much! I'll bring them back in good condition. Seriously, thank you!"
Becca smiles at her. "No, thank you. I'm desperate for someone to talk to. James read the books to make me happy, but he doesn't have much to say about them."
"I'll read these if you'll read Savage Starlight," Ellie says. "If you like comics, I mean."
"I've never had the chance to read any," Becca says. "But just like you, I'm pretty excited to borrow new books. What other books do you have?"
By the time Ellie takes her first sip of the hot chocolate, Becca's cat, Meowzart, is purring on Ellie's lap and Becca is laughing at the joke book. For the first time since the college, Ellie isn't desperate to get to Salt Lake City.