The rest of the group took the news of their little “watcher” much like Hunter had. They were all terrified that the store, if not the entire mall, could be booby trapped.
Like Oakley Ty-Ty, Rainbow, and Tink were incredibly worried about the kid. A little boy was still a little boy, no matter how long he’d been alone. No matter how crazy he might be.
The group stayed huddled in one spot the rest of the night, no one wandered off alone. By the next morning the men had decided that traps were unlikely. They had been through the entire store already and no one had even seen the slightest indication that anyone had been there for months before they got there. It was an agreed theory that the boy lived aloft, only coming down when he needed something.
Oakley was curious as to what he’d been eating. If there was an easy source of food close by that would be wonderfully handy. She couldn’t see a small boy killing, skinning and cleaning an entire deer or anything like that.
Unless … he wasn’t alone.
When she’d pointed that out it caused the group to fall silent, then look up to the roof all at once. A group like theirs living over their heads was a worry for sure.
Oakley and Sawyer were tasked with burning the bodies of the creepers out on the patio space. A quick search of the store turned up a partially-full box of lighter fluid bottles. They carried one out to the patio with them.
“Ugh,” Oakley muttered, pulling the neck of her shirt up over her mouth. The smell was overwhelming, but at least the wind wasn’t blowing towards the side of the building.
“I think they actually smell better when they’re completely dead,” Sawyer mused, pulling out a box of wooden matches.
“I guess I never noticed,” Oakley replied as a lit match was thrown on the pile. It caught the accelerant immediately and with a whoosh the pile was engulfed.
As Oakley suspected, they were sheltered out of the wind so the flames behaved themselves. They’d both still watch to make sure the breeze didn’t change directions. A long-expired fire extinguisher sat on the concrete at their feet at the ready.
“We gotta find that kid,” Sawyer said, which brought Oakley’s attention around abruptly.
Sawyer hadn’t been one to speak up out of concern while the group had discussed the boy. Sawyer had a cold practicality to her that Oakley strived to maintain herself; with Sawyer it was built into her personality, and if situations were different Oakley suspected Sawyer would be a terrifying person to run into on the street.
Her blue eyes were very pale and incredibly cold-looking. When she pulled out the dead stare it was enough to make a person shiver, and she was known to glare down more than one man who had intended her harm. And she was strong, incredibly strong. Oakley was no slouch herself – made it habit to be fit of body to climb, fight, and run. But Sawyer carried a lot of muscle on her body and arm-wrestled men for fun. Her worry for a child was out of character, but then again, Oakley really didn’t know her that well. They’d always had an uneasy truce which held them arms’ length apart.
This felt like an olive branch; Sawyer knew Oakley was worried and she shared that worry.
“I know,” Oakley said softly, allowing a small smile. “He’s made it this far but …”
“He’s not living,” Sawyer finished. “Just surviving.”
“Exactly.” Oakley sighed, rubbing the back of her neck. “For now I think we’re okay. We’ll let the boys clear the mall, prove to us how tough they are.”
“I’m helping them,” Sawyer interjected. “I don’t care what they have engraved in that macho bullshit rationale of theirs.”
Oakley’s smile grew. “I don’t think anyone’ll tell you to stay behind, Sawyer. They know you.”
Sawyer just snorted as they both stared at the rising flames, now starting to smell like so much cooking meat. “What … what do you know about Tap?” she asked casually. Forced to sound casual, actually.
Oakley raised an eyebrow. “Hunter knows him really well, trusts him. He’s funny. Kind of a smart ass but it’s part of his charm. I trust him, too. I’ve always felt safe around him.”
Another pause. Oakley fought down the urge to tease her.
“When Memee let us … associate with the men he’s one of the ones I spent time with.”
That was a stunner. Oakley knew Sawyer had partaken in that, she remembered that it was a surprise at the time. She hadn’t kept track of who did what, other than Hunter of course.
“I didn’t know,” she said lamely, filling the silence.
“He is funny,” Sawyer agreed, and that was another surprise. Oakley tried to remember Sawyer laughing ever. “He’s kind. And I used to hate that lumberjack tough-guy look but …” she shrugged one shoulder. “But how do you even do that anymore? Get attached? It’s such a waste if …”
“Living, not just surviving Sawyer.” Oakley cheekily returned Sawyer’s own logic. “It’s nice to have someone care about you. I don’t need him looking after me but I like that he cares. And I like that I care about him. It’s what separates us from,” she gestured to the pile, “them. It’s one thing that still feels normal.”
They fell quiet again as the fire crackled. “This could take all day,” Sawyer muttered. “I’m getting a couple of lawn chairs.”
POLL CLOSED – NEW CHAPTER SATURDAY!