My apologies to the men reading this at this point. This is a chapter for the ladies somewhat, but I promise to kill some zombies in the next chapter.
Her Airstream trailer was parked in a far corner of the compound, at the meeting of two sections of fence. The position gave her a triangular back “yard” of sorts, and she’d let a creeping plant of some kind climb up over the chain link as wildly as it wanted. When she looked out the rear-facing windows she could almost convince herself it was a yard.
There was a crude walkway to the door made up of limestone chunks, grass growing between the pieces and not really anywhere else in the front yard. It had been someone’s RV parking stall at one time, so there was a gravel bed under everything that allowed weeds, chamomile and the odd tuft of grass to grow here and there.
Technically Oakley was living in the backyard of a two-story adobe Spanish-style home Greenwater Gates, one floor occupied by Tink and Jess, the ground floor shared by two other very shy, quiet sisters. Grace was supermodel beautiful, but was so startled by everything she rarely left the house. Oakley could only guess where that fear came from; heaven knew before Memee had found her Oakley’d been scared of living, breathing people more than creepers. Grace’s sister, Delilah, preferred to be called Sawyer. She was the talker, the take-charge half of that particular family unit. She was head of the supply security team, and she and Oakley had a strained but polite relationship.
Sawyer wanted Oakley to help get the essentials. Oakley preferred to go outside of the walls only worrying about herself. Having to take care of others was dangerous.
Either way, it appeared Sawyer was going to get her wish granted.
Oakley nosed her bike through the adobe’s driveway, though the backyard gate, and slowly coasted to her parking spot at the front of the Airstream. Even this late in the year the aluminum siding reflected the sunshine hot and intense, making her wince as she removed her sunglasses and engaged the kickstand before climbing off the Harley. It was likely the reflection that made her miss Rainbow sitting on the rocking chair Tink had set out next to the trailer for whatever reason she had at the time.
Rainbow got her name from her hair. She was a cornflower blonde, but she preferred to run streaks of wild colours through it, perhaps to get rid of the All-American Girl vibe she had. Because she wasn’t, in truth Rainbow was a supreme bitch of the highest order.
Now her hair was a mass of aquamarine blue and royal purple. The candy-coloured dyes were sought out and sold to Rainbow by Oakley herself, usually for favours of the leave me alone and stay out of my way variety. Rainbow was in Memee’s ear most of the time, and Oakley couldn’t afford to have Rainbow gunning for her.
Rainbow smiled, rising to her full substantial height, tilting her head in mock affection. “Oakley, you’re back. So good to see you.”
Oakley felt her teeth rot from the false sweetness. She didn’t react, didn’t smile back. “Rainbow,” she said with indifference. “What brings you to my little hovel?”
Rainbow shrugged. “I was just checking on Sawyer. She’s taking the loss of Tanya and California pretty hard, as you can imagine.”
Oakley just nodded. That was why she worked alone; so she wouldn’t have those problems.
“That was nice of you,” she replied, setting her helmet on the bike’s seat. “See you around.”
“Oakley, wait,” Rainbow stopped her before she got to the door. “Listen. Matilda is young and naive. You have to go to her and tell her why she can’t try for this baby thing.”
Oakley frowned. “I’m not going to do that. It’s no more my business than it is yours.”
Rainbow’s smile faded and she crossed her arms. “Don’t bullshit me, Oakley. All I’d have to do is tell Matilda about you, Hunter and your little sex-pad in the woods and she’d change her mind. But she’ll also be heartbroken.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Rainbow halved the distance between them in about three strides. “Don’t insult my intelligence. I know about this relationship you have with him. It’s not against any rules, so I’m not sure why you insist on keeping it quiet. But whatever your reasons, you’re only fooling the sheep, not those of us who have half a clue.”
Oakley’s stomach flopped over, but she kept her face blank as she took another step in Rainbow’s direction. As expected, Rainbow backed up. “Rainbow, I’m tired. I need a bath. I need to change my clothes. Matilda’s an adult, Hunter’s an adult. If they do this they do it, if they don’t they don’t. Either way, all I want to do is get inside my trailer and try to feel like one of the living again, okay?”
Rainbow narrowed her eyes, and it was surprising how ugly that could make her. “Fine. But you and I both know what a bad idea this pregnancy thing is.”
“And you know very damn well it’s not your call or mine. Now get out of my way before I get pissed off.”
After a couple of reluctant blinks, Rainbow walked away like it had been her own idea. Oakley watched her to make sure she left the yard, then unlocked her trailer and her home welcomed her.
As expected, it was stuffy and stale inside, everything just as she’d left it. She opened a few of the small windows to get the cross-breeze moving through, grabbed a bar of soap from next to the kitchen sink, then walked out the door and circled around to her back yard. The vine on the fence was higher than when she’d left, and a few of the leaves were already blood-red from the approaching autumn.
Oakley grabbed the huge washtub in the centre of the triangle of grass and flipped it over right-side up, then moved to the cistern in the backyard, yanked on the hose and plopped the nozzle into the iron tub. At the cistern she turned the tap on, touching the plastic. It was warm from sunshine, meaning she was in for a luke-warm bath today. Fantastic.
The tub filling, she yanked off the sheath wrapped around her thigh that held a long, dangerous-looking hunting knife. The knife itself she stuck in the ground next to the tub, close enough to be grabbed easily. The holster was set on a workbench along the back of the trailer. Her machete joined it, and she made a mental note to give it a sharpening and a good cleaning.
Her tank top and jeans were tossed to the grass. They would get the same treatment as she was, but she got first crack at the rain water.
It wasn’t terribly warm, but as she climbed in she sighed anyway. The sweat and dirt washed away with the soap, and she felt damn near human again as she climbed out. She stood naked in the sun, the bright rays drying her skin quickly as she hand-squeegeed herself, then she plucked her clothes off the ground and tossed them in the bathtub with water still beading up on her skin.
Bless Tink, there were three towels hanging from her clothesline. Oakley stole one, wrapped herself up, then set about soaking and rubbing her clothes against an old-fashioned washboard.
It was then an arrow hit the grass on the opposite side of the tub from her, cutting through the air with a whizzing sound before planting itself with a thunk. She jumped, then her surprise turned into a smile. She yanked the arrow out of the ground, seeing the slip of paper tied around the shaft. As Oakley untied the bow and uncurled the note her smile grew.
Have I ever told you I love your bathroom? It’s got a great view, babe. At dusk. Usual spot. I’m glad to see you cleaned up for me.
Oakley cast her gaze up at the fence surrounding her trailer, but there was no point. The trees on this side of the compound were thick and mature, the forest virtually untouched. Hunter could see her but there was no way she could see him. So she just smiled, knowing he was still watching, then hung her clothes up to dry and returned to her trailer to put on a fresh outfit for supper.
When the men had first shown up to help with Greenwater, there wasn’t a single woman in the compound that didn’t take notice of Hunter. He was the leader of the ragtag team he’d pulled together, but he wasn’t a prick about it. He was just smart and knew how to deal with people and conflict. A male version of Memee, really.
While most of the women went on hospitality duty when the men started working, making sandwiches and handing out glasses of water when needed, a few like Oakley helped with the hard stuff. There were two reasons for this. One, no one had ever in her life given Oakley the impression that works done by hand was so-called “men’s work.” Plus she hated spending her entire day in the kitchen.
The second reason was Memee’s extreme paranoia. She was sure the men would build some kind of secret way inside to pillage and sack Greenwater while the women were sleeping. Oakley had voiced her opinion that if that was what Hunter and his men wanted, they’d had ample time to do it before the fence went up. Memee’s reaction had been a stone-faced glare.
While building the fence Oakley had met Hunter.
She still felt a tremor when she remembered how he’d appeared to her that first time. He didn’t so much look like a cowboy as a bounty hunter from some old western movie. He wore a long, oiled duster, a straight-brimmed hat, jeans and a long-sleeved work shirt. Not that the shirt stayed on all day.
It was him taking that shirt off in the sun that made her stop what she’d been doing and stare. She still honestly couldn’t remember what she’d been in the middle of. But Hunter shrugging that thing off his shoulders froze her in place, made her stop breathing.
If the Reckoning, the Rapture, or the Event or whatever had never happened, Hunter would have been a striking man. But with how life changed in the aftermath, he was absolutely the essential man’s man. His hair had been left to grow long and wavy. His beard was kept trimmed somewhat, but it still darkened his jaw and neck. He was tall, six two at least, and like everyone else he’d grown lean from living thin. But his genes meant he still packed on muscle, and his biceps were bigger than she could fit both of her hands around. His chest was padded with strength under a carpet of dark hair, and his hips arrowed to a V that a girl couldn’t keep her eyes off of.
It wasn’t just Oakley staring. Everything with ovaries was tracking the movement of his chest and shoulders as he tossed the shirt to the ground and fixed his hat back in place. But it was Oakley he noticed staring.
She’d dropped her eyes back to whatever he hands had been doing, but it was too late. She was pretty sure she was blushing now, and she knew damn well her mouth had been hanging open too. Idiot. Complete idiot.
He’d said nothing to her. She couldn’t decide on whether to be angry or happy about that, but she just pushed it to the back of her mind.
That is, until Memee announced the deal she’s brokered, essentially pimping out the willing Greenwater citizens to the help.
At first the thought made Oakley’s skin crawl. Then she remembered Hunter and his heavy jaw, striking eyes, and those shoulders …
For the first time since the Happening she found herself wanting to be with a man.
It took a lot for that to happen, admittedly. The years before Greenwater had been very grim for most of the women now secure here. But a few of them had been feeling the … urge. Oakley being one of them.
Reporting for service had been awkward. The women picked who they wanted, no one was going to be forced into sex with someone they weren’t comfortable with. They drew straws to determine the order.
Honestly. Drawing straws.
Oakley never got first pick. Not that she’d minded; Hunter’s crew wasn’t a band of marauding madmen, they were more like an army unit really. The two men she’d been with had been … well, eager for certain. Too eager for the experiences to be particularly enjoyable, but they definitely hadn’t hurt her. And they’d been respectful and kind before, during and after.
She would have loved to have been able to select Hunter, but he’d only shown up for one of the three occasions, and she didn’t have first pick on that occasion.
Hunter had actually come to her.
He’d shown up at her trailer, not a word said, just pegging her in place with his silver-grey eyes, so bright in contrast with his weathered skin. She’d only been able to stare back before he’d pushed his way into the Airstream, wrapping her in his arms and kissing her hard.
In all her life she didn’t know a man couldn’t feel, taste and smell so good. She didn’t miss candy, didn’t miss booze when it ran out. But a day after every time he left she missed Hunter so much it hurt, and it didn’t stop until he was back. Or she was fighting for her life; that tended to focus her energies as well.
Ever since then if his group was close, he snuck away to a hunting platform in the woods behind her trailer, obscured by tree limbs and dense evergreen. He’d send her a note by bow and arrow (because romance wasn’t dead after all) and Oakley would meet him when he specified. They’d spend one night alone together before the group of men would announce their arrival, and until right then Oakley had been sure no one knew about it.
He’d been away three months now. Not knowing how Rainbow wised up was going to make her bonkers. And now that Matilda had her hopes up on the whole baby angle, Oakley felt her excitement at his return flicker just a bit.
In clean clothes once again, Oakley strapped the hunting knife to her leg. Not having some kind of protection made her feel naked.
Then she set off on foot to Ty-Ty and Maine’s for supper, conflicted with the silliness that seems to come when you think the world is safe and predictable.
Poll now closed! New chapter coming soon!