Just kill me now, I think as I sit across from Gen and Carl.
We are all eating dinner, MRE’s tonight. Wes and Grace flank me on either side. Hel is beside Wes and Sam is beside Grace. I don’t look up from my plate a lot, too focused on my half satisfing meal on my paper plate. Water and wine are to beverages tonight.
Judith is sitting on a few pillows in Rick’s lap so she can clutch food in her hands, then after she puts it in her mouth, Rick cleans her hands off with a wet cloth. The process repeats multiple times.
“So, where y’all two from?” Rick asks Hel and Sam.
“Chicago. We got out because of an early heads up. It was bad up there, fire and blood and messed up shit that still wakes me up sometimes.” Hel replies quietly.
“Have you been in a group before?” Glenn asks.
Sam nods, not comfortable around all these new people yet. There is silence after that, apart from the silver ware, the distant moans, and Judith’s babbling from the head of the table.
“I’ll take her.” I say when I see Judith getting fussy in Rick’s lap.
I guess I said it too quickly because when I pick her up, I catch sadness in Rick’s blue eyes. I walk into the living room and pace around. I hold Judith close to me and let a tear fall, a leak in a inward dam that hold my concoction of sadness and anger. Why? Why would he do this?
The only other person besides family that I was close to and he slams me on the cold harsh ground, letting me sink in the endless sea of betrayal and untrustworhiness. No, I will float. Hell, I will swim against the strong tide and reach the shore. I will not sink.
Ploosh goes the big rock as it plops under the glass like surface of the murky green water of the lake.
“Whoa! That was awesome!” Todd exclaims beside me as the water ripples.
I laugh and crouch on the bank, scanning the sand/rocky terrain for more rocks for us to throw into the lake. Todd and I have a competition. Whoever can make the biggest splash gets to have twice the dessert tonight. The loser gets no dessert. I grasp a black rock in my hand and throw it in the lake.
“Watch this!” Todd grunts as he side steps to the short dock, bent over with a massive rock.
From that moment, I knew I wouldn’t get dessert. Sure enough, I was right. Later that evening at our grandparent’s house which over looks the lake on a high hill, Granny serves my favorite dessert, her famous banana pudding. I gasp mentally as I painstakingly push my bowl of banana goodness to Todd.
He grins mischeviously as he takes a big heaping on his silver spoon and slides it into his mouth. I pout and look away.
“Psst.” I hear beside me.
It’s Kit. In his hand is a small serving of banana pudding. I smile and secretly eat his bowl under the table while Todd is too preoccupied with his double large servings to notice. I savour the taste as my tongue registers the smooth underside of the banana piece that Granny always puts on the top of the banana pudding.
We put our plates in the sink along with our small blue plastic cups of what once held milk. Todd has a milk mustache and I smile as we race up the stairs to our individual rooms.
“You were so strong today Toddie. ” I compliment him, spitting out the mint green toothpaste into the sink.
“You were too. Remember Lottie, always stay strong for me and you, no matter what.” he says mirroring my actions.
“Charlotte?” Grace asks, pulling me out of the sweet summer memory.
I realise Judith is whinning in my arms. I set her down and sit on the couch.
“Yeah?” I ask, dazed from the sudden memory of my brother.
“Here. Maggie found some powder desserts in one of the MRE’s downstairs.” she says, handing me a bowl.
“What is it?” I ask, not bothering to look down at the content.
“Banana pudding.” she replies with a smile on her face, sitting down beside me.
The dam broke. I barely remember the sound of the bowl shattering and Judith’s shrieks. My breathing gets faster and shallow. I hear heavy footsteps. I register someone scooping up Judith and leaving.
“Look at me. Hey, hey.” Grace says, her hands on my shoulders.
Her blonde curls blur as my vision does, tears flooding my cheeks at a rapid pace. She presses my chin to her shoudler and my hands ball up the back of her jacket. My whole body quakes with trembles, I hear myself sob and scream one word on repeat. Todd.
“I’m sorry Todd.” I hoarsely whisper as my sobbing slows down.
It felt like forever and a year. All my sadness, all my fear, all my confusion, all my anger, this ball of messed up and tangled emotions flood out of the dam. Nothing bright in this dark sea. This poison had settled in. Now it’s pouring out. I vaguely remember Grace shutting a door as my eyes closed, darkness wrapping me up tight in warm blankets, crackling wood in the winter silence.
Grace and I are put on dishes tonight. Fairly easy, just the silverware, cups, and any pots or pans used to cook and prepare the food. I shift my sagging shirt sleave and scrub the inside of the pot vigorusly.
“What happened?” I ask, killing the silence that lasted when we began washing the dishes.
“I think I said something that triggered something in her to break.” she says, uncertain.
“She kept saying she was sorry to some guy named Todd.” she adds, putting a wine glass on the kitchen towel to dry.
I stop washing and look at her, “Who do you think it was?”
“A friend? Boyfriend?” she guesses.
“No. Not boyfriend.” I say, shaking my head.
She ignores me and goes on, “Maybe she met someone while she was away. Maybe before she met you. Yeah, it was probably before she met you and-”
“Stop! Okay? Just stop!” I snap, throwing the wash cloth into the suds in the sink.
We are facing each other.
“Why are you so touchy about her having someone else huh? You clearly moved on, why shouldn’t she?” grace accuses.
“Because I loved her!” I say.
“I can’t imagine her with anyone else but me! So whoever this Todd kid is, I’M GLAD HE ISN’T HERE NOW!” I yell, getting louder with each word.
“How an you say that? Did you see how broken she was when she saw you and Gen! HOW CAN YOU BE SO IGNORANT! ” Grace screams
“What’s going on here?” dad asks.
Grace puts her last piece of silverware, a knife onto the towel.
“Nothing. I’m done for tonight.” she says in a cold tone, leaving to her room.
I finish up the pot and go upstairs to my room. I pass charlotte’s room and my footsteps falter. Did I really miss her reaction to Gen and I? I was too busy talking to Gen and the others at dinner to notice her either. I shake my head and open my door. Gen is already in bed, sitting up and fluffing her pillow.
“Hey.” I smile, slipping my shoes off.
“Hi.” she greets.
I walk over to my side of the bed and place my hat and gun on the table beside the bed. I close the curtains and take off my clothes except my boxers. I pull her close to me and nuzzle my head in the crook of her neck. She shivers at how cold I am.
I kiss her neck, “Night.”
She sighs contently and echoes my response.
I fall asleep quickly.
The next morning I wake up. A fireplace is in front of the queen sized bed I’m currently sitting on. I rub my eyes and tug the covers over my legs, my feet planted on the solid floor. The coldness of the wood floor reminds me of what’s real and what isn’t.
I spot my green backpack on the floor beside the door. The fire crackles good morning to me. I feed the fire a couple more logs stacked beside the brick fireplace and leave the room. I hear something frying in a pan or skillet. Smells like meat.
I follow the rug down the stairs and go to the kitchen. Daryl is gone, so is Glenn and Michonne. Only Rick, Wes, and Gen are here. Gen has Judith. Wes strides up to me and wraps me in a tight hug. He presses a quick kiss to my temple and squeezes my shoulder.
“Morning.” Rick greets me as I sit across from Gen and Judith.
I nod to him, glancing at the plate of bacon set in front of me. I feel empty, with no desire to fill up the emotional space in my head and heart. Scars have been etched onto my soul, and these in particular run deep and sting hard and long. I wince at nothing.
“You okay?” Wes asks.
I shake my head, my face set in stone as fat tears roll down my cheeks.
“What’s wrong?” Gen asks.
“I know. I’ve seen it before and I have been through it.” Rick replies sadly.
He grimaces, “She’s lost someone very close to her.”
“She’s still trying to process it. Something about last night must have triggered a reaction.” Bob adds.
“Hi Bob.” Gen greets him.
“Hello.” he says.
“As I was saying, it’s bad to keep shit like this inside for so long, to let it simmer until you can’t keep it in any longer.” he say.
“I knew a lot of people who went through this process, only a few made it out.” he adds.
“Stop talking like she isn’t in the room.” Wes snaps at the three.
The trio stop.
“Come on, let’s go somewhere else.” Wes whispers to me.
I nod and stand up, Wes’s arm around my shoulder as he guides me to the sun room.
“What happened last night?” Wes asks me gently after he closes the french styled doors firmly and sits beside me on the dark brown leather couch.
“Memories. I guess it needed to be let out. I guess I should tell someone about this now.” I say slowly, my eyes never leaving the painting of a sunset across the room.
“It all started a few days after my third group had scattered...”
Trees fly by as we speed out of the base we were at, which has been over run by a big herd of eaters.
“They never listen!” Kit scolds, his grip on the steering wheel tighening.
“Too bad.” mom replies quietly.
He mumbles an agreement. Todd is pressed against my side, a stranger’s blood splattered across his face. He tries to control how loud he sniffles, trying to be strong for me.
“I’m scared.” he confesses, his breath brushing softly against my neck.
“Me too Toddie.” I whisper back, pressing my lips to his temple.
After a long time, after todd and mom fell asleep, Kit pulls into a driveway.
“Where are we?” I ask once he turns off the engine.
“Somewhere safe for the night.” he says, opening his door and going around to the bed of the rusted green truck.
“Stay here, I’m gonna check for any eaters inside.” he says.
I nod and flash him my pistol. He half grins and walks around to the back door. I lock the car and look around for any eaters. It’s almost dawn.
The base was attacked around five last night. Kit grabbed us and ran for the truck. It wasn’t ours, but it didn’t matter at the time. It never does.
He taps on the window and gives me a thumbs up. I get out and carry in all the backpacks and duffles. Kit carries mom and I wake up todd long enough to get him to wrap his arms around my neck.
I piggyback him to the back door and sneak up the stairs to the second bed room. I dump him on the bed and tuck him under the covers. I kiss his head and go back downstairs.
“What do you want me to do now?” I ask, awake and ready.
“For now, get some sleep. Tomorrow you hunt and I will find somewhere that has water,” he says, messing up my hair and sending me off to sleep.
“Goodnight.” I call down the second floor hallway.
“Night,” he calls back.
I wake up to shaking.
“Up and at ’em hon.” Kit greets me this early fall morning.
I sit up and rub my eyes. He tosses me a few granola bars.
“Breakfast. It five minutes you will be out the door with your bow and arrows.” he instructs.
I nod and eat fast. He leaves and I brush my hair back into a high pony tail, then brush my teeth and lace up my boots. I rush downstairs and grab my weapon for hunting.
“See you later kido.” he calls when I’m at the edge of the forrest.
Mom and Todd were asleep, but they knew what to do. Mom scavenges and Todd gathers anything useful in the house. I shiver and slowly walk through the trees, careful for fallen branches and crunchy dead leaves. By the end of the day, I caught a few squirrels and set up seven snares.
A few months pass by, winter was gone and we were still in the house. A bag of squirrels in one hand, my silenced gun in the other. I use snares and bring my gun just in case the eaters came upon me. Sound attracts them, we learned that last month.
I walk up to the back door, the one that we use, when I hear, “Lottie!”
“Todd had told me that Kit and Mom were dead. Someone had stabbed mom and Kit was too in love with mom to put her down. Todd, he was right behind me when the bitch ripped a chunk out of his throat. I was too late to save him. I didn’t keep my promise to him.” I say.
Wes wraps me in a hug.
“Hey, it’s going to be alright, Charlotte Hiddle. Don’t you worry.” he whispers, kissing my head as I slowly drift out of consciousness with Wes on this leather couch on a winter day.