“So, Gwen.” Chris said once he had settled down with some food after reporting to Victor. By now, there weren’t too many people left and those who were left were just about finished eating and didn’t seem to be too interested in what the others around them were doing. “Tell us your story, where were you?”
She swallowed, not exactly sure how to tell it; and if she should include the whole truth. If she started the story with ‘I got infected’, they would put her down quickly without giving her a chance, and she wasn’t quite sure how explaining the whole cure thing would go down.
She wasn’t even sure that coming back had been a good idea. Sure, she’d at least survive here and be with her friends but that didn’t mean that she wasn’t sick. She ran the risk of infecting them and she didn’t want to watch one of her best friends die again because of her. She didn’t think she could handle that.
She didn’t even know if she should tell them about Ryan or not, or if he should just be her secret. They obviously thought that he had gone missing, that he had gotten lost and they couldn’t find him. Wouldn’t that be better for them to think, rather than them knowing that he had died; sickly and bordering on insane?
She opened her mouth, the words catching in her throat slightly. “It kind of started the day before we left for the coast. Jared, the guy who had been infected if you remember,” the two boys nodded, “he’d been with me that day. I’d been asked to take him out to show him some of the jobs we did, and I had laundry duty that day. He had started to panic about the water being bloody, and that there was something wrong with the water. He was…” She hesitated. “He was insane. He’d lost it, and he grabbed me. So I cried out and Victor and Ryan,” her voice hitched the slightest bit, “they heard my scream so they came running. They saw Jared harassing me, so Ryan put him down at Victor’s request, and everything was somewhat okay even if it kind of wasn’t, until the day after that when we were leaving.”
She paused, unsure if she should go on. But now, it was too late to go back, she had to tell them and face whatever consequences. They could kill her, but she wasn’t sure that she minded all that much. Though she was happy to be back among friends, retelling the story made the pain come back up, and the empty feeling of loss would threaten to consume her.
“I had fallen asleep in the car, and when I opened my eyes, everything was different.” Here, she paused for the slightest moment, readying herself. “I saw the colour.” There was silence. She had expected shocked gasps or even screams, but when she looked at her two best friends, she saw sadness on James’ face and pain on Chris’.
“I knew that I couldn’t stay. I didn’t want to be put down like a sick dog, but I didn’t want to risk the entire camp, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. Then Victor sent me to go do laundry, and Ryan had taken me there. Said he didn’t want to risk me getting lost, and we talked. When I’d finished with the laundry, he saw my veins and found out that I was sick. He said that he couldn’t take me back to camp so I told him that I would put myself down in a matter of days and I ran. But, a few days later I was just getting water and Ryan had showed up. I told him I couldn’t do it and begged him to, but he couldn’t either. So he said that we could go to the City, that we could try to find a cure.” She laughed bitterly. “So we left, made it seem like we were missing, and we tried to make our way to the City.”
She sighed, not wanting to continue.
“Where’s Ryan now?” James asked, and she shook her head. She didn’t want to say the words, didn’t think she could, but James got what she meant.
“Shit.” He said under his breath.
“How?” Chris asked quietly, a solemn tone in his voice.
“The disease.” She said, her voice shaking the slightest bit. “When we were making our way to the city, he got infected, and for some reason, it affected him quicker. He got… real sick when we got to the City, and by the end, he was just weak. He was tired, and he was ready for death.”
“You’re holding something back.” James told her, and she bit her lip, not sure if she should continue. A nudge from Kel forced her into speaking.
“We found a cure, and we gave it to him and it made him better, but it wasn’t permanent. We had to run from The City because we had stolen the cure. I don’t know why, but he got better and then he got sicker and sicker, and then he just…” She swallowed. “It was as if everything inside of him was glass and he shattered.”
There was silence following that, no one really knowing how to reply to what she had said, so she took the time to compose herself. She felt shaky, but proud that she had held herself together. She figured that she might as well bite the bullet now when she thought that she could.
“Where’s Zeke?” She asked. “He has to know.”
The two boys shared a glance, both looking unsure. “He’s out, at the moment.” Chris said finally. “Won’t be back for a while.”
“Where is he?”
Another moment of hesitation was enough to make Gwen feel uncomfortable. “He’s looking for Ryan.” James said, “But I guess that’s kind of a lost cause.”
“Don’t say it like that.” Gwen snapped before she even realised. She muttered an apology, but James shook his head.
“No. You’re right. I’m sorry.”
She gave him a half smile, not sure what to say now.
“So, this cure…” Chris said. “You said that Ryan got better and then sicker?” At Gwen’s nod, he continued. “What if it had just been too late for him, and that the cure was too weak?”
“We think that it might have something to do with how quickly Ryan deteriorated.” Riley said. “His body was too weak to fight the disease and the cure wasn’t complete, it still required altering. It works like chemotherapy works, a poison against a sickness.”
“You didn’t tell me that!” Gwen snapped, whirling around to face him. Riley stared at her, looking frustrated.
“Because you wouldn’t listen to a word I said! ‘Oh! There must be something in that building! I must find out what’s in that building! There has to be a cure!’ What was I supposed to do? ‘Oh, Gwen, there is a cure but it’s not complete yet, so just tell Ryan to hang on and we’ll get a cure to him as soon as possible’? You know as well as I do that you wouldn’t stand for that, and you’d be in this exact position that you’re in now, but you’d be on your own.”
Gwen opened her mouth to speak but shook her head, not knowing how to reply to that. As much as she hated to admit it, she knew that he was right.
“You guys have the cure, right? We can try to alter it. There’s a town not far from here, and only a few of the infected. There’s a hospital there you can work to make it a proper cure with no side effects if there’s the right tools, yeah?” Chris asked, leaning forward.
“The problem is that none of us are like the scientists. We’ve all worked around the scientists, watched what they were doing, but we’re not chemists.” Riley said.
“But you can try, right? If you know how to recreate the current thing, you can duplicate it so you can test it, right?”
Riley went to reply, but Kel interjected. “I think I know how to recreate the cure for the most part.”
“And I might not be one of the scientists, but I know my way around a lab.” Isabelle told them, giving a small, yet proud smile. “Conveniently, I was studying to become a chemist when I was still in school.”
“And we might not have any idea how to do any of this, but we can help.” Isiah added. “Whatever we can do to help, we’ll do it.”
“So, it’s decided then?” James asked. “We’ll try to fix this?”
Riley sighed, but nodded. “We can try.”
“You can use me as a test subject.” Gwen said quietly, and the group looked at her.
“Gwen-” Ariana started, but Gwen cut her off.
“No. I want to help, and there’s nothing else for me to do. Test the cures on me.”
“And what if you die?” Chris asked, and his voice sounded raw, like someone who had lost too much in too little time. It probably wasn’t far from the truth.
“That doesn’t matter.” She told them. “I don’t have much to live for anymore.”
She knew as soon as the words left her mouth that it was the wrong thing to say. She had lost Ryan, but she hadn’t lost her other friends. Her other friends who had thought she was dead, who were sitting right in front of her.
Chris stood up abruptly, shaking his head and running a hand through his hair, pulling at it slightly. “I’m gonna call it a night.” He said, before taking long strides towards where the tents were set up. James sent her a glance that looked too sad and didn’t quite fit on his face, and she felt her heart break even more than it already was.
“We lost you, Gwen.” He said, “And we just got you back. You meant everything to us, and we searched for you, mourned for you, every single day. Times haven’t been easy, for any of us. Stop acting like you’re the only one that’s lost someone or something, because we all have.” He looked as though he were about to say more, but instead, he sighed deeply, and followed after Chris.
She regretted the words. A short time with Ryan had felt like it had been so long, like a life-time of everything good. She felt as though her soul had just snapped under the weight of guilt and loss, but it didn’t mean that her life had ended. She hated that she felt as though she couldn’t continue on living without Ryan, hated that she had hurt her best friends, that she was still hurting her best friends.
She wondered if they still thought of her as their best friend, after everything.