{ dol — sam (meeting chris pt.4) }

Morning came fast, the sunlight shining in through the display windows woke me up almost instantly. I didn’t want to get up, but it made it hard to sleep. I tried covering my head with a pillow, but it was useless.

I yawned as I sat up, looking around the store. Alex and Eric were still asleep in their chosen beds, but I didn’t see Chris anywhere. I started to wonder if he had left, so I got up and wandered around the store a bit. It didn’t take long to find him sprawled out on a large, cushiony sofa.

I was curious as to why he didn’t just take a bed until I realized there were none left for him to take. Had I known there were only three, I would have given him mine, since he deserved it.

“Is watching men sleep a favorite pastime of yours?” He mumbled, not opening his eyes. How the hell did he even know I was standing there?

“I was just — I thought maybe you had left.” I sat down on the recliner adjacent to the sofa.

“Oh. That’s sweet.” He rubbed his eyes.

“What?”

“You were worried that I left.” He opened his eyes and smiled at me, squinting against the sunlight glaring in behind me.

I scoffed. I mean, what would I even say to that?

“Look, Chris. I want to be straight with you.”

He sat up haphazardly, lazing about the sofa. I noticed now that his gun and over shirt were on the floor. In the light I could finally make out how he really looked. The green eyes, I remembered from when he approached me the first time the night before, but now I could see he had short brown hair, and was slightly muscular. The black tee he had on made them stand out even more. I turned my gaze to focus on something else before he noticed me staring. He’d probably have another wisecrack for that.

“Okay, let’s be straight.” He raised his eyebrows, waiting for whatever it was I was going to say.

“Um… so, here’s the deal. Me and Alex, we’ve kind of got a long journey ahead of us, and I don’t expect you to want to come along. And I definitely don’t want you to feel obligated to — ”

“Where to?” he interrupted.

I looked up at him, my mouth still open from stopping mid-sentence.

I had to think about it for a second, not really knowing how to respond.

“Well, I’m going to LA, and she’s going to — ”

“What’s in LA?” He interjected again.

I groaned. Why did he keep doing that? It was getting on my nerves.

“My sister.”

“Your sister?” He sat up straight now, leaning his elbows onto his knees and staring at me.

“Yes…”

“Okay. That’s not so far from here. We should look for backpacks before we go.”

We? He was going to go, just like that?

“But that’s not the only place we’re going.” I looked over and could see Alex rousing from her bed. She must have heard us talking.

“That’s fine. It’s not like I have any place better to be.”

“But…”

He stood up and stretched his hands over his head, moaning the achy muscles out.

“But what?” he looked at me again, amused.

I stood now, facing him and ran a hand through my hair.

“Nothing. Let’s go find some backpacks.”

I really just wanted to talk to him, to find out more about his motives for helping us. I couldn’t find a logical reason that he would help us if he were a bad guy. I didn’t know anything about his past except that he was a soldier, but that should be enough to trust him, right?

I imagined that’s what everyone thought when they saw the group of soldiers approaching them. Trust them, they’re the good guys.

But then they would — what? — steal, rape and kill? I was extremely curious as to how Chris ended up with them, but right now I was too afraid to ask.

He grabbed his overshirt and put it back on. It was just the standard long sleeved, army shirt that buttoned up in the front. He didn’t bother buttoning, though. I wasn’t really sure how he could even wear it, with it being so hot out lately.

Just then, Alex walked over lazily, rubbing her eyes. She smiled at me, and I returned the gesture.

“Good morning, sunshine.” I told her as she approached.

She walked straight up to me and hugged me. It surprised me, to be honest. And from the look on Chris’ face, it shocked him too. I expected him to walk away, to excuse himself, but he only stood there, waiting, I guess.

She pulled away finally, and took my hand into hers.

“I just wanted to thank you properly for saving my ass — literally — yesterday. And for the food. I couldn’t believe even after all that shit you still went out and found all that food. You seriously amaze me.”

I blinked a few times, not really knowing how to respond. It wasn’t all me, last night. I mean, if it hadn’t been for Chris, we’d probably be dead right now.

Chris was looking at me with an amused smile on his face, probably wondering how I was going to handle it. He probably thinks I would take all the credit if he weren’t standing right next to us. He’d be wrong, though.

“Well, actually, Alex, I really didn’t do much — ”

“You stabbed that guy in the side! What do you mean you didn’t do much?” she rolled her eyes playfully.

Why did people keep interrupting me?

“No. I mean, yes. I did stab that guy but the reason I was able to was because of Chris.”

“Chris? Oh… soldier boy?” she turned to him now, finally acknowledging his presence.

He smiled. That kind of smile you show to someone when you really aren’t fond of them, but you smile to be polite. It was quite obvious, but I guess Alex didn’t notice.

“Well in that case. Hi, Chris. I’m Alex.” She extended her hand to him and he took it. They shook firmly and he greeted her the way anyone would greet someone the first time they had met. With a nice, i-don’t-really-care-but-nice-to-meet-you type attitude.

“Nice to meet you, Alex. And you’re welcome for saving your literal ass.”

She giggled, then turned to me again.

“Well, looks like you got a free hug, then.”

“Yup, no take-backs. Sorry.” I grinned. In the background, Chris was rolling his eyes, overly exaggerating.

“Well, I’m gonna go wake that lazy ass and get some food. I’ll inform him of the plan and he can come along. Well, as long as you’re okay with it.”

“Um, sure I guess. Even though I have no idea who he is — ”

“I’ll tell you later. I promise.”

She started to walk away.

“Okay. I’m trusting you. I just hope he’s not an Axe murderer or something.”

She waved her hand around, dismissing me as she left.

I turned my gaze back to Chris. He was looking at me with this, are you kidding me? kind of stare. I shrugged.

“What?”

“Is that your girlfriend?”

I scoffed. “No. Why would you even ask that?”

“Because I was curious.”

I rolled my eyes and started to walk away. He followed close behind.

“So, across the river there’s a scout shop. They should have backpacks there. We’ll probably find a lot of useful things there.”

“Okay, you’re the expert. Lead the way.”

While Chris moved the furniture away from the entrance, I walked over to where Alex was and tapped her on the shoulder. She was grabbing some canned food for breakfast. She turned around to look at me, while using the can opener to open her food.

“Hey, so here’s the scoop. Me and Chris are going across the river to some sports store to get some backpacks and resupply.”

“You sure are trusting of him. Didn’t we just meet last night? Are you sure it's okay to be alone with him for so long?”

“He saved our lives, Alex. I think I can trust him. Why would he want to hurt someone he risked his own life to save?”

“I don’t know, but I also don’t know why he was with those creeps in the first place. Just keep that in mind.”

“Trust me, Alex. I’ve been thinking about all that. But right now, we need him. He knows his way around Sacramento, and he has a fucking gun. He’s useful, right now.” I shift my weight, turning to look at Chris, who was waiting for me, watching us talk.

“Besides, who’s this Eric guy? I’m more concerned about him than anything. Are you sure you’re okay alone with him?”

She sighed. “Yes, Sam. He’s fine.”

I stared at her for a while, but finally nodded. I couldn’t make him leave, but I didn’t have to trust him.

“Okay, well. Block the door when we leave. We’ll be back in a couple of hours. Try not to eat all the food.”

“Ha. Ha. Very funny.”

I smiled and turned to leave.

“Sam, be careful.”

“I will.”

I knew she was worried, not only about the purgs — which we hadn’t seen much of lately — but she was also worried about Chris. I could understand. There was a lot of unanswered questions that made me wary of him, too, but right now he was on our side. At least I hoped.

It took us a little over half an hour to cross the bike bridge and reach the scout store. Amazingly enough, it was untouched. I guess most people wouldn’t even think to check a boy scouts store. Who knew they even existed?

Chris used the same method of opening this door as he did the night before — taking his overshirt and using it as a buffer as he punched through the glass. It didn’t help much as for as sound goes. The glass shattered to the floor and we walked through. He had his gun and I still carried his knife. At least if anything did hear us, we had the means to protect ourselves.

There were all sorts of supplies, from flashlights to backpacks, clothing and water canteens. It was the perfect place to gather from.

“This place is awesome. I don’t even know where to start.”

Chris went straight towards the backpacks and I followed. It was smart to get those first so we could feel them up with stuff.

He stopped and looked them over. The entire back wall was covered with all different kinds, shapes and sizes. Chris held a finger up to his chin, as if he were trying to decide.

I waited patiently, not wanting to interrupt his concentration.

Finally, with an “Ah,” he stepped forward and grabbed a large one from the top hanger. It was a hiking pack, complete with an area to tie your sleeping bag to.

Great idea. I looked around the store from where I stood, wondering if they had sleeping bags too.

When I turned back to Chris, he threw one of the packs at me. I caught it, almost dropping it and glared at him. It was like he never really paid attention to what was going on, or maybe he just didn’t care.

He grabbed three more and started walking up and down the aisle, collecting things he thought was useful and shoving one of each in each backpack.

I followed behind and did the same, shoving the items into my own pack.

Flashlights, water canteens, and other such camping supplies. And yes, they even had sleeping bags. We tied the sleeping bags onto the backpacks and each carried two out, one over each shoulder.

On our way out, I finally saw some purgs down the road, wandering around a vehicles whose alarm was sounding off. One of them must have bumped into it, setting it off. Now it was attracting all the purgs in the area. They gathered around it like a bunch of bugs to a light bulb.

We decided to avoid it, naturally, because there were at least thirty of them so far and there was no way we were going to take on thirty purgs.

We cut around the long way, taking an alley and then another main road back towards the river. Instead of crossing the bike bridge, this time we would be crossing by highway.

“Is your sister alive?” he suddenly asked me, while we walked along the bridge. I stared off into the water before us, wondering the same thing.

“I don’t know.”

“Hm.” He adjusted the backpacks and things got quiet again.

“What about your family?” I asked him. Any info about him would be nice to know. Especially since he was going to be following us to LA and beyond.

“Don’t got any left.”

“Oh. Did they…?”

“That’s actually why I was here.” He looked at me.

“In Sacramento?”

“Yeah. I was sent back on leave to attend my father's funeral.”

I didn’t know how to respond, so I simply murmured, “Oh.”

“It’s okay. You don’t have to feel sorry for me. We were never really that close anyway.”

“Damn. So you had no idea about the virus?” We were more than half way across the bridge now. I wished we weren’t. I had a feeling that I could probably milk him for more info as long as we were alone and walking. But we’d be back at the furniture store in less than 30 minutes at this rate.

“Well, I had some idea. But I thought it was like the flu, or H1N1. Nothing super serious. Of course, I realized the severity while attending the funeral.”

“What do you mean?”

I stared at him as we walked but he only looked straight ahead. He was lost in thought, thinking about that day. It must have been shocking, whatever happened.

He went silent.

We stepped off the bridge and I was lost in thought, trying to imagine that day. Coming back to the US, just to bury your dad and see that the whole country was falling apart. He probably wished he never came back.

After awhile of silence and walking, I could see the furniture store in the distance. I really didn’t know what to say to him. I felt pretty bad for him. At least from what I’ve heard so far. The guy has no family? No loved ones? How lonely must that be, in a world like this?

“I’m sorry.” I finally managed to say.

He smiled. “I told you, you don’t have to feel sorry for me.”

“I don’t feel sorry for you. I feel sorry for what you’ve had to go through.”

“Everyone has gone through something.”

“Yeah but at least most people have someone to go home to at the end of the day.” I couldn’t believe I had said that out loud. I just hoped he didn’t take offense to it.

“Well, maybe they did. But not anymore.”

I knew he was right. Now people didn’t even have homes to go back to, let alone loved ones waiting happily for them. Most people were dead or dying, and that was the sad truth of it. It made me think of Alyssa, and I just hoped she was okay. I don’t know if I could even carry on knowing she was gone.

We finally reached the furniture store and we knocked, 5 times just like before. Alex and Eric let us in and we divided up the backpacks. Chris gave a lowdown of what he thought was a good idea to bring, including how much food, blankets and water.

Despite him being new, we all listened and followed his directions. He was in the army, so he must know a thing or two about surviving.

After we had packed our backpacks, we all sat down in a living room display area to eat lunch. Everyone had a can of food in hand, and water nearby. It was a bit awkward considering 2 of the people were new and one I knew absolutely nothing about aside from his name. But he seemed fairly close to Alex, and knew her well. They talked among themselves the entire time, and I frowned. A day ago, Alex and I were inseparable. Now she found an old friend and it was like we didn’t even know each other anymore.

Occasionally she would look over at me and smile, but then she’d go back to her secretive mumbling with Eric.

It was irritating.

When I glanced over at Chris, he was watching me, a small grin on his lips.

I furrowed my brows and took a bite of my food. Why did it always seem like he was watching me?

He scooted next to me and turned to sit facing me. I didn’t budge or look over, but I felt like I was in the spotlight when it came to him.

“Still no idea who that guy is?” he spoke quietly, so Alex and Eric wouldn’t hear him.

I shook my head. I was already annoyed. Did he have to rub it in?

“I have a feeling they’ve been in a relationship before.” He mumbled, slurping down some beans.

“I doubt it.”

“Why is that?” he looked at me again, awaiting my reasoning.

“Because she told me she had only been with one person and that person was dead.” I looked at him to see his reaction. He gave none.

“Well she could’ve lied, you know.”

I took in a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“Why would she lie to me?”

“Who knows. Why do people lie in general?”

“Lot’s of reasons, actually.” I put the empty can down onto the coffee table and took a drink of water.

“That’s true. I suppose everyone is a liar at some point in their lives.”

“Does that include you?” I shifted in my seat, moving slightly away from him.

“Probably.” He smiled.

I hated how enigmatic he could be.

After we all finished eating, Chris finally left me alone long enough so that I could confront Alex. She was in her bed area, arranging things into her backpack. I approached and sat down on the end of the bed, flopping down onto my back. I turned my head to look at her and she seemed to be deep in thought about something.

“Hey there, O.C.D.”

She looked up, perplexed.

“O.C.D.?”

“Yeah, because you keep rearranging your pack.”

“Oh. Ha ha. I just don’t like the way the cans keep stabbing into my back when I put it on.”

“Whatever you have to tell yourself.” I smiled at her, but she sighed. I guessed she wasn’t in the joking mood.

She put the pack onto the floor and crawled onto the bed, next to me. She lay down beside me and took a deep breath.

“Sam, Eric is my husband.”

I turned onto my side with a jerk and she groaned. She knew what was coming.

“What are you talking about? You told me he was — ”

“Dead. I know. But he’s not. Obviously…”

“But I don’t understand. You said — ”

“I said he left and never came back. I never actually said I watched him die, Sam. You just assumed.”

“Well of course I assumed! You made it sound like he was eaten alive!”

I sat up, feeling annoyed. I hated being lied to. And I hated it even more when it came from someone I thought I could trust.

“What’s the big deal, Sam? This doesn’t change anything!” She sat up too, throwing her legs over the edge of the bed, her back facing me now.

“How does this not change anything? Do you think he’s going to follow some random GUY to fucking LA to save his sister just because?”

“Well maybe this is your chance to go on alone! You won’t have to concern yourself with traveling all the way to Colorado for my sake!”

We both stood from the bed and turned to each other, staring one another in the eyes.

“How could you even want to be around him after — after everything you said he did to you?”

She huffed, jerking the blanket up, fixing the bed. Why did women do housework when they were pissed off?

“It’s none of your business, Sam.”

“None of my business?” I took a deep breath. “You made it my business, Alex. Remember?”

I walked around the bed and over to her side. She was trying to ignore me now but I wasn’t having it.

“You made it my business when you told me that he fucking hit you. Remember that?”

She turned to me, swift on her feet, and her hand flew up, slapping me across the face.

I was honestly shocked. I opened my mouth to respond but before I could murmur a word, Eric wandered in around the wall display. He stood at the end of the bed, a stupid look on his face.

“What’s going on?” he asked, directing his question to Alex.

I looked at him with the best stare of hatred I could muster, and walked away, out of there. Never looking back at either of them. I left the building, pushing the bookcase blocking the door forcefully onto the floor and ducking out the door.

I was so pissed I could have punched something. Or someone. I walked a few blocks away from the furniture store, and I could see the river behind the next building. I needed some air. Some time to think, and that would be a good place to do it.

I walked to the river bank and sat down, listening to the water lapping over the dirt and rocks.

I couldn’t believe after everything Alex had told me about that guy that she was over it — all that bullshit about him being abusive. About him leaving her behind and never coming back. And now he turned up out of the blue and she’s just totally fine with him again?

It infuriated me. I didn’t understand it.

I sighed. Tried to relax. The sounds of water were relaxing. The wind howled under the nearby bridge. I laid back onto the grassy bank and closed my eyes. Maybe I just needed to go on alone, like she said. Maybe Eric could protect her and take her to Colorado. And I’d just go on my merrily way to LA. I was sure he would do an excellent job of defending her against creepy men and purgs alike.

Yeah right.

I lifted my hands up and under my head to act as a pillow. After awhile I started to relax, the anger and adrenaline subsiding. Although thinking about her slapping me across the face really irritated me.

Just then I heard footsteps from behind. My first assumption was that a purg must had saw me here and was coming to get a bite to eat, but when I opened my eyes, ready to get up and run, I saw Chris standing over me.

I grumbled at the sight of him, and closed my eyes, relaxing back into my spot.

“Can I help you?” I asked him sarcastically.

I sensed him sitting down beside me and I just knew he had that cheesy smile on his face.

“No, I was just out for a walk and saw you laying here and thought I’d come over and say hello.”

“Well now you’ve said it.”

He laughed quietly.

“Sure is peaceful here.” He said, interrupting the silence again.

Why couldn’t he just go away?

After awhile of me not saying a word, I thought he would leave. But instead he lay down beside me, a couple feet away and took a deep breath.

“Guess I’ll take a nap, too.”

When I opened my eyes to peer over at him, he was staring straight up into the sky, watching the clouds go by, I guess.

I sighed and looked up too.

“You were right.” I said, finally.

“Oh? What about?” I could see him turn his head to look at me in my peripheral vision.

“About everybody lying.”

“Well, she didn’t technically lie.”

I sat up on my elbows and looked at him, annoyed that he overheard our conversation.

“Are you always so nosy?” I asked him.

“I wasn’t being nosy. You guys were just really loud.” He grinned.

I lay back down with a huff. He was right, we were loud.

“Even so, she told me things about him, like she was glad he was gone. That she never knew why she even married him. And now she’s okay with him being here?”

“Women are complicated.”

“You can’t just say that. You can’t just sum it all up to women being complicated.”

“Well what can I say? Assuming what she says is true, it’s classic battered woman syndrome.”

I sat up and sit crossed legged, facing him now.

“Which means what, exactly?”

He sighed and sat up on his elbows, looking out into the water.

“It means she feels responsible for his behavior towards her. As in, she feels like she must have caused his violent reaction. And as long as he’s trying to make it up to her, she’ll continue to be by his side.” He looked at me now.

“She must have a history of being controlled or abused. It’s what she knows. She can’t help it. She just wants him to love her.” He said, searching my eyes for my reaction.

I’m surprised he knows so much about it. Did he have someone in his life like that?

“So then, it’s obviously a bad relationship for her to stay in. So what do I do?”

“You can be her friend, and you can show her you care. And maybe over time she will see what real love looks like and learn to differentiate from the two.”

“And in the meantime, Eric continues to abuse her?”

He shrugged.

“It is what it is, Sam.”

“Well it’s shit.” I rubbed my face, sweeping my hair back with my hand.

“I have never met a rational woman.” He tilted his head to the side, as if to say that explains it.

“Well, I definitely can’t let her go to Colorado alone with him, then.”

“Colorado? What’s in Colorado?”

I rolled my eyes.

“You know, if you didn’t interrupt me every time I — ”

“But you look so funny when you’re annoyed.” He glanced over at me, with that smile. He was going to drive me mad. I tried not to show him that annoyed expression that he seemed to enjoy, but it just irritated me so much.

“Her parent’s are in Colorado.”

“Oh, so everyone’s on a mission to save their loved ones.”

I suddenly felt sad for him. The fact that he had no family must be hard. It’s not like there was much to live for anymore, and not having someone to look after would be the loneliest feeling in the world. At least that’s what I thought.

“Chris, you don’t have to come with us.” I told him again. I just didn’t want him to feel obligated to help us for some reason.

“I know that.” He sat up, checking the lace on his boot. He was acting completely uninterested in what I was saying.

We fell silent for awhile. I was lost in thought about Alex, the journey ahead and Alyssa. Some many things to think about and try to keep track of.

Across the river there was a group of purgs gathering. They were looking straight at me and Chris. Probably heard us talking. I wondered if their senses worked better somehow.

I looked at Chris and he nodded, knowing what I was about to say. We both stood and started back towards the furniture store. Better safe than sorry, even though they were far across the waters.

“So I was thinking, when we leave tomorrow,” Chris looked at me, nudging my arm as we walked.

Why did he do that? It’s not like he didn’t have my attention already.

“I know of a gun shop on the way out of here. We should stop by and see if there’s anything left.”

“Sure, sounds good. We should also find a map, too, so we can plan our route.”

“Okay then.” We entered the furniture store and Chris helped me lift the bookshelf back up to block the door.

“See you at 0600,” he gave me a short salute and wandered off into the store, over to the electronic area. I had no idea what he was going to do over there but I was happy for the break. He seemed to follow me like a lost dog, but maybe I was just imagining that.

I could comprehend saving someone’s life and then wanting to get to know them, I guess.

I wanted to avoid Alex and Eric at all costs for the rest of the day. I was in no mood to deal with either of them. So that meant alone time for me, which was good. I liked alone time.

I wandered over to the bed displays and chose one furthest away from Alex. I glanced over at her as I walked by but she didn’t even seem to notice me. She and Eric sat on the bed together, talking.

I scoffed and looked away, entering my bed area. I liked it here because the fake wall blocked my view of them, so I didn’t have to lay here obsessing. I just needed to focus my thoughts on something else entirely. Not Alex. Not Alyssa. Not the long journey. Just something else.

The only other thing that popped into my head was Chris.

I groaned. I was trying to get away from him and now he was creeping into my thoughts.

But I thought about his story, the funeral and his dad.

Which in turn made me think about my dad.

And what I did to him.

I rolled onto my side and closed my eyes. I didn’t want to relive that. I didn’t want to ever have to see his face again in my mind. But he was there and he was overtaking my thoughts, and all I could see was that fucking face of his as I beat him into a bloody pulp. The gurgling of blood in his throat as he begged me to stop. The screams from Alyssa as she stood by and watched it all happen. And the scariest part: my growls of anger and hatred for him. There was no pity, no sympathy.

Just anger, rage. Blood. Screams, and cries for help.

I wasn’t myself then, and I’d never be the same after.

I swallowed and covered my head with my hand. I wanted to erase the memories. Rip them straight out of my head. Or at least never have to think of it again.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out Alyssa’s letter. Gently sliding it out of the envelope and reading it again. Her handwriting was comforting. Just knowing that she had touched the paper made me feel close to her again. I hadn’t seen her in months, and damn, I missed her. My baby sister.

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