“That kid saved our lives,” Hunter mumbled, and Oakley wrapped her arm around his waist tighter.
The group was assembled in their make-shift campfire around a few glowing camp lanterns. Hunter was reclining against a bedroll propped up against a shelving unit. Oakley was snuggled next to him, tucked under his arm while his fingers trailed patterns along her upper arm.
Across from them sat Tap, cross-legged and staring at the lantern, expressionless. Oakley frowned, then asked softly, “Tap, are you okay?”
Hunter gave her a squeeze, and she looked up in time to see him shake his head as though telling her to just let it alone. But Tap spoke anyway.
“I’d known that kid for five years,” Tap said, voice husky with emotion. He must have been talking about the young man they’d lost today. To her surprise, that slight indication of emotion was enough to make her tear up, too. “Found him with his mother. She was selling him. Offered his … services for some food. I gave her everything I had and took him away from her. She didn’t even hesitate to give him up. I could have been anyone.”
Oakley inhaled deeply, hating how close that story was to how she met Tink and Jess. Hunter’s arm tightened on her again and she snuggled her face into his chest, closing her eyes against memories she’d rather leave buried. She heard sobbing, knew it was Tap, and did her best to keep her eyes shut and let him have that moment in as close to private as possible.
She was physically beat, but unsure why exactly. Yes, it’d taken hours to dispose of all the bodies and burn them outside the garden centre gates. But really, she’d rested well the night before. She should have been fine.
“You did great today honey,” Hunter’s voice rumbled close to her ear. She smiled, eyes still closed, and she hugged him tighter.
“So did you,” she said, then opened her eyes and rested her chin on his chest. “Are you okay?” she asked.
Hunter brought his hand up to play with her hair. “Yeah. It’s been a while since we’ve lost anyone. Well, since Boulder. Not as used to it as we used to be, I guess.”
She watched his face closely, seeing the sadness in his eyes. “He was a good guy?”
Hunter nodded. “Yeah. Well, he didn’t stay with Hawk. So that should tell you a lot right there. He was a quiet guy. We called him Jack, some of the guys thought he looked like JFK.” Hunter chuckled suddenly. “If you knew who JFK was …”
Oakley smiled. “I think I remember that name,” she said sarcastically.
“That little boy saved us today,” Hunter repeated again and she tilted her head with concern for what was in his mind. “He had a hell of a throw, amazing aim. That’s a skill.”
Oakley nodded. “It was pretty uncanny.”
“We owe that kid. We should try and bring him into the fold.”
Oakley gasped. “That’s what I said I wanted to do. You said no, you were scared of him.”
Hunter scoffed. “I wasn’t scared.”
“What?” Oakley was incredulous, mouth hanging open, and that’s when he cracked a grin. “He helped us,” she said, softer. “That says a lot, too.”
Hunter nodded. “We should leave food out as a bait. Trap him.”
She shook her head. “No, we’re not trapping him. He’s not a rabbit.”
“We have to show him we mean him no harm.”
“By tricking him?” Oakley sat up next to him. “No, Hunter. He comes to us on his own terms. You said it; he saved us today. He’s not going to hurt us unless we hurt him.”
Hunter nodded, and just then Sawyer shocked the entire group by starting to sing. “Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waiting for a train, I was feeling just as faded as my jeans,” she sang it very softly, but it sounded so melodic Oakley fell still.
“What song is that?” she asked.
Tap was staring at Sawyer, tears forgotten. “Me and Bobby McGee,” Tap said, almost breathless. “When I met the kid he didn’t know his name so I just called him Bobby.” Tap swallowed. “I love that song.”
“Bobby thumbed a diesel down just before it rained,” Sawyer kept going, eyes on Tap now. “It rode us all the way to New Orleans.”
Suddenly under her cheek Hunter’s voice joined Sawyers. “I pulled my harpoon from my dirty red bandana. I was playing soft while Bobby sang the blues. Windshield wipers slapping time I was holding Bobby’s hand in mine. We sang every song that driver knew.”
Now everyone was singing except her, Jess and Tink, and Oakley wished she knew the words so she could sing this song in honour of Bobby. But she didn’t, so she listened to how the words rumbled out of Hunter’s chest and gave a small smile for lovely moments like this; the sad and relevant ones that made you appreciate that you were still alive. Her friends were singing, Tap was staring at Sawyer like she was an angel, and Hunter’s arm was warm and strong around her.