Chapter 25: Buddy
"What took you so long?" Lyndsay asked, getting up off her bed to greet me as I came through the basement door. I knew it had taken me longer than it should've to get food, but I kind of got lost on my way back to the apartment.
"Sorry, pal," I replied, "But hey," I held up the blue grocery bag, "I got us some food!" A smile broke out onto Lyndsay's face and she ran over to me, reaching for the bag. I beamed with pride, but Lyndsay's expression showed just the opposite.
"Hot dog rolls?" She asked, holding up the 12-pack of fluffy buns.
I shrugged, "The guy at the grocery store said that we'd need to ration the food for however many days. So I got just enough to last us for a week!" Lyndsay sighed and I could see with dismay that she was holding back an insult. "Where's everyone else?" I asked, trying to change the subject.
"Esma went out, she said she was 'looking for something better,'" Lyndsay replied with a slightly confused expression, "I think Kyra went into the suburbs and I don't know where Brandi went. Oh, and Natalia's in some Council meeting, I think." Lyndsay sat back down on the bed and tore open the package of hot dog rolls.
"Wait, wait!" I ran over hastily and sat down beside her, taking the rolls before she could reach into the bag, "There are five of us, 12 rolls, and seven days. That means we should each have about ¼ of a roll a day," I said, reaching into the bag and pulling out the first bun. As I ripped into quarters I could feel Lyndsay's stare boring into the side of my head. "I'm sorry," I said as I handed her her quarter, "But there's a lot of people in the city! We can't just live off of the scraps we find in peoples refrigerators forever! Besides, now that people have figured out what's going on, the fridge's have all be horded anyway," I took a small bite of my roll, "Mmh," I reacted to the test of fresh bread, "That's a good bun,"
The corner of Lyndsay's mouth lifted and she took a bite of her own piece of bread. We sat there chewing for a minute, savoring the taste of food. "Getting back to what you said earlier," I broke the silence, a thought suddenly occurring to me. "When you said Natalia was in a Council meeting- that reminded me to ask you; why don't you two get a long?"
Lyndsay paused in her chewing, swallowed, then sat in a silence for moment before responding, "What do you mean?" she asked.
"Well," I said, not sure how to put this, "I've never seen you two act like…I don't know, friends? I mean, you guys are two of the greatest people I know- I would think it only natural that you'd enjoy each other's company." Before Lyndsay had a chance to respond we both heard two steps of quick footsteps coming down the stairs.
Esma and Brandi came into view and before she even came to a halt, Esma announced, "We're moving." Lyndsay and I just sat in silence for a few seconds.
"Why?" I finally asked, trying not to sound relieved.
Esma scoffed, "Are you serious? Look at this place, peasant! It's falling apart! Do you really expect me to live here?" she replied. "We won't be taking anything," she continued, "Feel free to spread yourselves out amongst whatever is in the basement." Those were the last words uttered before she and Brandi left the basement for good.
"Haha, yes!" Lyndsay laughed, "Finally, they're gone! And we get more hot dog rolls now!"
"Yeah, but-" I said, trying to get back to the conversation we were having about her and Natalia. But before I could continue, Natalia herself found her way down the basement steps and entered our little room.
"Hey guys," she greeted us as she sat down on my other side, "You won't believe what I found out today." Her face looked a little flushed and she was constantly feeling the scar on her cheek.
"What?" I asked, now curious.
"We got an anonymous tip saying that if you get scratched by a rake or something, you get infected. That basically means that you become insane, consumed with rage, and then you try to kill whoever's around you."
"And you think you're going to kill us?" Lyndsay asked, a bit of a challenge hidden in her tone.
"Well…" Natalia placed a finger over her scar, "Since my scratch was healed a week ago, I don't think we have to worry about me. Just..other people. Maybe." Her brief explanation was met with a faint static noise emanating from the first floor.
"What's that?" I asked, my heart beat beginning to pick up.
"Oh, that's just the Council's walkie-talkie. Remember those things that Walker passed out?" A shadow crossed Natalia's face when she asked, but she quickly dismissed it. "I think they're just going to announce what I just told you," she said casually.
"I'll go listen in," I volunteered, "Just to see if they'll say anything else." Leaving Natalia and Lyndsay alone, I ventured upstairs and glided over to the walkie-talkie. I squinted as I came near the window, the filtered sunlight bothering my eyes. Why did we stay in the basement so often anyway? This floor would be just as good, if not better. I picked up the walkie-talkie and held it up to my ear. As Natalia had predicted, Justice was just talking about possible infection, as well as some minor adjustments. Something I just labeled "minor adjustments" was Svetlana's new management of Saper's. Normally I'd say this would cause a panic, but so far she'd actually be doing stuff to help the city and abolish hunger.
A thud and a scream from downstairs made me drop the walkie-talkie and run down to the basement. As I made my way down the steps I could hear struggling and groaning, along with a raspy, gravelly voice. I flung open the "bedroom" door to reveal Natalia on top of Lyndsay, both girls lying on the floor. Lyndsay was frantically trying to stop Natalia's fists from connecting with her face. I saw a red mark on Natalia's cheek along with a small trickle of blood coming from her scar.
"Natalia!" I yelled, "What are you doing?" Natalia's head snapped up to allow her to look in my direction. Her pupils were small and crazed and I found myself finding it hard to look directly into her eyes. Using this moment of distraction to her advantage, Lyndsay shifted all of her energy into pushing her assailant off of her. Natalia stumbled back and growled, landing on the floor. As Lyndsay got up, still tense, the other girl looked up at her with a look of pure hatred. She looked ready to lunge again, but I ran over and grabbed her. "Natalia!" I shook her a little.
Natalia blinked a few times and her body began to relax. She looked angry for a second, but more at herself than anyone else. Finally, she spoke up, "I'm sorry, Buddy," her voice was back to normal.
"What was that?" Lyndsay asked, breathing heavily, "Are you sure you weren't infected?"
"I'm not!" Natalia replied defensively, "It's just-"
It was obvious she uncomfortable. "Lyndsay?" I spoke up before Natalia could continue.
Lynday's face instantly became softer, "Yeah, Buddy?" She asked.
"Could you…leave us alone for a couple minutes?" It pained me to ask this, especially as a lock of pure shock crossed Lyndsay's face. With her mouth slightly gaping, the blond girl left the room and quietly closed the door behind her. I sat down on the bed and looked up at Natalia, patting the side beside me.
She tentatively sat down and rested her head in her hands, sighing. We sat in a silence for a few minutes and I began to wonder if she was mad at me. Finally, she spoke up, "I'm sorry about what you saw," she said softly, "That wasn't me."
I looked at her sympathetically, "What do you mean?" I asked.
Despite the clear difficulty of the conversation, Natalia replied, "I kind of have another person living inside me."
I stared at her for a few seconds before responding with, "What do you mean?" I asked again.
"Kia," Natalia said, "Kia's my…companion. She's a great friend, but she comes out whenever I'm hurt. I know this'll make you think less of me and I understand," she hung her head, allowing her brown bangs to fully cover her eyes. I could almost feel the defeat radiating off of her. I rubbed her back gently, trying to comfort her.
"You said she only comes out when you're hurt?" I asked. Natalia nodded. "Then why did she come out just now?"
Natalia lifted her head and pointed to the faded red mark on her cheek, "Lyndsay slapped me," she replied, "After you left she was all frustrated about the hot dog rolls. Then I guess she just… took it out on me." It was my turn to be shocked now. I began to feel something I didn't feel very often: anger. I got up off the bed and thrust open the door. Lyndsay was sitting on the bottom basement step and looked up when I made my presence known.
I was speechless. Speechless, until; "Why?" The question was out there, and I had asked it.
"Why what?" Lyndsay asked, although her voice lacked the certain confidence it often carried.
"You know!" I gestured toward the bedroom, "Why did you hurt K- Natalia?" I asked, almost slipping up.
"I'm sorry!" Lyndsay said, suddenly becoming flustered, "I don't know what came over me, honestly I don't!" she said, "And I never hurt her!"
"But she said you did!" I replied, confusion accompanying my anger.
"Did she say anything else?" Lyndsay asked. I thought for a moment and shook my head. I guessed that Natalia wanted to keep Kia away from Lyndsay, for now. I could see the defiant girl visibly relax as she shook her head. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she said, "I really am." She did sound genuine. "Natalia?" she called out.
I watched as Lyndsay made her way across the room and entered the bedroom. "Natalia," she gave the other girl a hug, "I am so, so sorry. I never should've slapped you like that." There was something off about the apology, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Natalia cautiously returned the gesture, but her body was stiff as a board. Lyndsay pulled away, smiling a sympathetic smile. I could tell Natalia's smile was fake, but I was the only one who knew. Aside from Kia, I was probably the only one in this room who knew Natalia well enough to know when she wasn't telling the whole truth.