One Month Later . . . .
In the weeks we've been apart of the Community I had my hair cut short just above my jawline and gained thirty pounds. My ribs were no longer visible and my pelvic bones didn't jut beneath my skin. My stomach was beginning to develop a bit of flab to it. I didn't care too much because being able to eat until I was full was a gift that I wasn't going to take for granted again. The kids were beginning to fill out with their faces no longer gaunt. Each of them needed a new set of clothes to fit them.
I wish I could say that each of the kids acclimated well, but Emmi still wouldn't socialize with the other inhabitants and refuses to come to Church or Group. Sunny was doing alright, however she was nervous and didn't want to leave my side. I tried to make her go to school with the other kids, but each time I spoke to her about it, she would start to cry and begged me not to make her go. Finally, after three weeks, I firmly took her by the hand and walked her to the Central Building. After assuring her that Emmi would pick her up from school and that nothing would happen to her and she would have a good time at school, I left her there despite her tears and pleas. I was afraid that I had been too harsh, but after that day she insisted on dressing herself and walking to school by herself. Michael fit in the best. He was already playing basketball with the other teens and hanging at with them in the picnic area just before curfew.
Meanwhile, I've been getting to know Riley Kyles. It started out as smiles and flirting before and after Group sessions, but then we would drift away from the others to speak privately. Before the Apocalypse, he had been a part time mechanic and on and off handyman. When his sister's family showed up at his door when the meteors fell, he was the one who took them into his cramped trailer and left with them when it became too dangerous to stay. He didn't go into too much detail of what they did in the early days, but eventually they found a small group of people who were staying out in an isolated manor in Middle America.
During one of our late night conversations, he told me of what occurred in the manor.
"We had beds and a room over our heads, but there was no food or medicine," Riley told me while we sat apart from each other at a picnic table away from the barbecue going on several yards away. "The leader was this big man in his fifties. He was older, but he had muscle. I think he part of a biker gang because he always wore this beat up leather jacket and had tattoos on his arms and shoulders. He was an asshole and his wife wasn't any better. They were in charge of rationing out what little food, water, and medicine, but they did it by damn lottery."
"Lottery?" I could see his face harden and held his hand tightly to let him know I was there for him.
"Yeah, it was stupid as hell. They took everyone's name and put it in a fishbowl," he raked a hand through his hair as he trying to erase the memories from his brain. "Each day they would draw a number of names from the bowl based on how many supplies we had. The people whose names were drawn got to eat and drink and got medicine if they needed it. Everyone else had to wait and hope that their name was drawn the next day. A lot of people would go days without eating anything."
"Shit." That sounded horrible. I remembered the days before we met Emmi and Sunny that Michal and I had gone without food. That gnawing at your stomach and you looked at anything and wondered if it was safe to swallow just to keep the hunger pains away. My deepest secret which I never shared at Group or with Michael was that I found a can of cat food with a removable lid. I devoured it all with gusto and hid the can, not wanting Michael to know I ate something without sharing it with him. Guilt weighed heavily on me when Michael stayed up that night, unable to sleep due to hunger pangs. "With there being eight of you, that must have been rough."
"Yeah, whenever one of us won the lottery we would spread among us it, but after dividing it eight ways, it was enough to feed a mouse. Two of our names were called once and that was a feast for us that day." Riley said.
"The other families wouldn't have been happy about that either," I said.
"No, they weren't, but there wasn't much they could do. It was safe at the manor with beds and no one wanted to go back out there with demons. Anybody that complained, Mr. and Mrs. Bastard would say that we should work harder at hunting and scavenging so there was enough for everyone." Riley's eyes became dark as his thick brows furrowed. "I told those bastards that I wasn't going to do any hunting unless I was guaranteed that whatever I got my family got a part of it. I like to say that we came to an agreement peacefully, but I got a black eye and the bastard got a bloody nose before we did came to those terms."
"What made you finally leave?"
"We just had enough of it."
I noticed that he was no longer looking me in the eyes and I knew he was keeping something back from me. "You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."
"Naw, it helps." he gave me a small smile. "It ain't no worse than any other sob story we've heard at Group."
We sat there in silence with the coming night over us. I glanced up at the sky. The stars were slowly making their appearance as if timid and shy. Fireflies were coming out much to the kids delight. Sunny was squealing with the other girls her small hands outstretch to catch a glowing dot. Here I was able to forget about the hell beyond the walls. Here, I was able to sit quietly with a nice handsome man without fearing for my life or wondering where my next meal was coming.
"We can forget about all of that now," I told him. "This is a good place to start over and forget."
"Yeah, it is. Isn't it?" He gave me one of his warm stares that sent warm tingles through my body. "Do you . . . want to have coffee sometime? There isn't any cafe or coffee shops around, but I have a coffee maker I can wrestle a cup out of."
He was inviting me over. God, I wanted to go with him, but I glanced over at Sunny. She was still sleeping with me each night even though she had her own bed. Could she do without me for one night? Would it be selfish of me to think about my needs instead of hers for once?
"I . . .I would like to, but tonight isn't good for me. Sunny started school recently and it's a big adjustment for her." God, that sounded like a flimsy excuse even to me. I liked him, and I wanted him to know it. "Maybe another time?"
Before I could hear his response, Sunny ran up. "Katie peed!"
I glanced up to where Katie Thornton was playing. The five year old was a younger version of her mother as were her older sister Mary Anne. At the front of her pants was a large wet stain. Becky went forward quickly to collect the girl and take her home.
"Bless her heart," I said drawing Sunny onto my lap.
"She's been having problems too. It wasn't kind on her out there," Riley said watching his sister take his niece home.
"I pee peed in my pants once. Just once!" Sunny stoutly held up one finger. "Katie pee pees in her pants all the time!"
"Don't make fun of her," I told her firmly. "Are you ready to go home?"
"Alright, let's go."
She scooted off my lap and I stood. I turned to Riley and said, "Another night, I promise."
Yemina was taking Sunny home and Emmi was no where to be seen, again. What did she do all the time? At least she wasn't causing trouble or getting us kicked out of here.
I was sitting on the edge of a picnic table with a near empty can of coke beside me. The other kids my age were already packing it in with their parents except for Rex. Rex Bitsby was seventeen years old and likes to sneak beer from his dad's cooler and shares it with us.
Rex dropped into the table bench and plopped his can of coke on the ground at his feet. "Checking out your milf?"
"What?" I looked at him confused.
"Ya know. Mother I'd Love to Fuck. What are her titties like?"
He was drunk. I could smell it on his breath and I knew if I smelled his coke can that was where it was. He would pour out the soda from the can and fill it up with beer so he could drink without the adults finding out. "Jeez, man, I don't know that shit."
"C'mon! I know you and her were out there alone together for months. You're tellin' me ya didn't get a piece of that ass?" He shoved my shoulder.
I shrugged off his hand, "Look, it wasn't like that! I was too scared out of my mind and hungry to think like that."
"No matter how scary demons are, I never stop thinking about pussy and titties." Rex snorted. "If I had been you, I would have been gettin' pussy every night!"
Rex's family was one of the first ones to be here when the Community first started. He hardly spent anytime hiding from monsters and starving. When I first got here he and his buddies bugged me to tell them stories. They expected me to tell it as if it was an action movie or an adventure. I told them enough to make them not want to hear anymore.
"Don't talk about her like that. You don't know what it's like out there. She really helped me out just like I helped her out." I was squeezing my coke can enough to indent the sides.
"C'mon, you can tell me the truth. Ain't any kids around here. What did her pussy taste like?"
I didn't know what I was doing until my fist connected with his face. He fell off the bench with blood rushing from his nose. He stared at with wide eyes. I got off the picnic table and stood over him with both fists clench. "I can't stop you from thinking about her like that, but I sure as hell can stop you talking about her like that around me. Each time you do, I'll knock your teeth down your throat and you'll be shitting them out for a week."
Rex stared at me and then nodded. I turned and walked away tossing my can into the trash bin. Shit, I may have gotten us kicked out of here, but I don't think that Rex is going to run to his parents with beer on his breath.
My fist hurt like hell though.
I waited behind the Central Building by the basketball court. I got up half an hour earlier than Sunny and Yemina and dressed and grabbed a bagel to eat on the way out. I hung out around the Central Building while the kids showed up for 'school'. Then Sunny showed up in denim shorts a white tee with her backpack on her back. She trotted toward the basketball court and beamed at me happily, "Can we watch Wizard of Oz with Ashley?"
"Sure, why not?" I took her by the hand and led her away from the Central Building towards the apartment where Ashley lived.
The first day Yemina forced Sunny into the school, I found Sunny crying on a bench outside of the Central Building begging me to take her home. I knew if I took her home Yemina would get mad so I took her to the pool. Ashley didn't seem to mind so I left Sunny with her and let the teacher know where Sunny was and that she needed more time before she came to school. Each morning, I wait out by the basketball court and take Sunny to Ashley's. She started dressing herself so she could wearing her bathing suit beneath and swim at the pool. Ashley's pool was pretty secluded so I didn't worry too much about someone seeing her out of school.
Once we got to Ashley's I asked her if she had Wizard of Oz.
"Sure, one second." She grabbed the humongous dvd sleeve book and flipped through it until she found the right dvd and popped it into the player.
We pretty much had the apartment to ourselves because Ashley said her Dad did guard duty on the walls all day and came in at night. While the dvd started I got out a couple of cokes and some juice for Sunny. She didn't handle carbonated drinks well, they made her very hyper. "Ashley, do you want Sprite or Dr. Pepper?"
"Neither, I want to show you something." Ashley stood at the door, "Will she be alright by herself?"
"Yeah, one sec." I squatted down beside her, "Sunny, listen, just sit here and watch Wizard of Oz. I'll be back soon with Ashley."
Sunny was already gone, her large eyes taking in the dreary black and white world of Dorothy's life before Oz. I stepped outside with Ashley and followed her around the building and then down the street. She wouldn't tell me what it was she found, but she seemed excited and walked urgently with me struggling to keep up with her. I trotted after her anxious to see what she was so excited about. There were hedges against the edge of the wall and she walked directly to them.
"Ashely, what is it?" I asked for fifth time since we left her apartment.
This time she finally answered me by brushing aside the bushes and showed me the hole. It was small, but she and I could easily crawl through on our stomachs. "We could go outside if we wanted to."
"And why would we want to?" I asked staring at the hole. I could see the grass on the other side for the first time in weeks.
"Because its boring in here." Ashley let the bushes slip back into place hiding the hole. "We wouldn't go far and this place is hidden so there are no demons out there to molest or rape us."
Dread crawled through me like a diseased worm. I remembered the demons at the cabin and what they had done to me. The terror of being held down and exposed and touched. I swallowed and felt cold sweat on my forehead. I must have gone pale because Ashley noticed my horror. "What is it?"
"Nothing." I shook my head.
"No, something happened to you. What was it?" She looked at my face intrigued.
"I said it was nothing." I turned away, "We better head back, Sunny will probably get worried."
"You were raped, weren't you?"
I spun around angry, "No! I wasn't raped!"
"Then they checked if you were a virgin since you're so young." Ashley tilted her head as her eyes studied me. "That's what happened wasn't it?"
I was amazed that she pin pointed what had happened so exactly. "I . . .I don't want to talk about it."
"Alright, that's fine." She shrugged her shoulders and walked by me with with so much as a glance.
I stood there watching my feet as if they held all the answers. I heard my teeth grind together in my mouth and I nearly chocked on the words that followed, "Y-yeah, they . . . they checked . . .but that was as far as it went."
"Then don't worry about it." Ashley stopped walking away without turning around. A light breeze picked up several dark strands of her hair. "So a demon gave you a little poke in the soft spot. No big deal. Just forget about it."
"Yeah, I'll forget about." Truth is, as much as I would want to forget what happened, it would still haunt me. Every time I laid down in bed, I would get a quick flash, just for one second, of ugly horrible faces leering down at me. Sometimes I would see them in my dreams and I would wake up kicking and hitting to get free from them. Thankfully, Michael was a heavy sleeper and my waking nightmares didn't seem to bother him in the least.
"Let's go by the store and get a pizza." Ashley suggested as we trudged back. "It won't take long and Sunny will be alright."
"That's fine," I said.
Emmi left with Ashley, leaving me all alone. I like Wizard of Oz, but the tornado with everything flying is scary. I'm scared that one day I'll get sucked up inside one and not see Daddy or Emmi or Mommy or Michael no more. I know where stop is on the remote so I press it and stop the movie. Emmi says I have to stay inside, but I don't want to cause I got my bathing suit on and I wanted to swim. I'm not a real good swimmer, but I know to stay in the part where my feet touch.
I get a big fluffy towel from Ashley's closet and go outside. The sun is really bright and shiny and it makes the water look shiny too. I really want to swim now. I outside, but there's an angel out there by the pool. He's really tall, taller than Daddy! He also has great big wings! He said he wanted to be my friend, he said that a Watcher was dangerous and wanted to hurt me. I think he was talking about Simon, but Simon has been nice and helps us bunches! I tell the angel so, but the angel looked sad and said I didn't understand. He said that I was too in-no-cent and too na-ive!
I got scared when he said that he knew I wasn't going to school as I should be. He said that he could protect me from Simon if I went to school everyday. I didn't care. I wanted Simon to come visit me. I miss him. Sometimes Simon say things that were funny without meaning to, even though he can say mean things on purpose. I know Simon, but I don't know this angel. I didn't want to be near this angel anymore, I thought angels were nice, but this angel was saying bad things about Simon. I tell the angel I was sleepy and I wanted to take a nap ( even though I'm too big for naps, I just wanted to get away from him). He said he could take me to Central Building for me to nap, but I tell him no and go inside before he could tell me anything else I didn't like.
I lock the door so he wouldn't come in. I peek out the window and he's still standing there watching me! I get scared and afraid, but then his big wings go woosh and he goes up in the air and goes away! I didn't like him, but I like seeing him fly away, that was neat! I play Wizard of Oz until Emmi comes back with her new friend. They don't bother me, they go into Ashley's room and talk about boring things until it's time to take me back home. They even brought back a pizza and let me have some!
Emmi always reminds me that me staying out of school was a secret. I know how to keep secrets! I'm smart and I'm a big girl!