“Donovan?” Vicky exclaimed, pushing Noah’s hands off of her hips. “You’re alive! You’re healthy!” The two friends crossed the room and embraced while Noah and Jasper simply tipped their heads to each other.
“Oh great, you’re all acquainted,” Lila said, devoid of emotion. “I shouldn’t have to break up any fights then.” She disappeared through the door, leaving the friends to reunite.
“I told you I wasn’t bitten. It was just a cold.” Donovan averted his eyes as he spoke, then turned back to his friend. “Wait, what are you doing here? What about going home? What about your daughter?”
Vicky felt a thick fog in her memory. She shook her head, as if the motion would clear her mind. She narrowed her eyes at Donovan and considered his words. Right, her daughter, her shining star. How could she have forgotten? “I’m still going,” she insisted, despite her deplorable--if brief--lapse in memory. Had she been thinking clearly, she would have been with her daughter days ago. Had she been thinking clearly.
At the judgmental look plastered on Donovan’s face, Vicky said, “Lila’s teaching me how to protect myself--and Jessica! Charles says when I’m ready, then I’ll go.” She was aware of the airy tone she adopted as she mentioned Charles’ name. Like she was talking about some well-respected grandfather.
“Really?” Donovan sounded confused. “I thought there was nothing in this world more important to you than getting back to your daughter.”
“Yeah,” her blush deepened. “I just... I have to do this first... Lila’s a good teacher, okay? And Charles is--” Her blush turned into a wave of emotional fever. How could she possibly express the way he made her feel? The sense of safety and belonging he emanated at all times, the reassuring tone he spoke with, everything was so indescribable. Without knowing what else to say, Vicky resorted to defending herself, as per usual. “Look, I’ll go when I’m damn ready, got it?”
“Okay,” Donovan looked too weary to try to wrap his head around what was happening. He took one slightly shaky step, and then another before flopping down on the couch. For the first time Vicky noticed Cynthia, huddled at Donovan’s side as she shuffled with him into the room.
“Donovan, who’s this?” Vicky said as she swooped in, kneeling in front of the girl.
“This is Cynthia,” he said. “We found her in my neighbours’ house.”
“You were in your neighbours’ house?” Vicky cocked a brow at him.
“It’s a long story.”
“Well, you must be so hungry. Come with me!” Vicky pulled Cynthia into the kitchen and started looking through cupboards. “I’m sorry we don’t have much to offer, but we should be having dinner downstairs soon.”
“Dinner?” Donovan asked. He perked up and reached for his stomach. “I haven’t eaten in days.”
“Yeah, we eat most of our meals as a group on the eleventh floor,” Vicky said as she pulled a can of tuna from the top shelf of the cupboard. “Most of the food in this apartment was left by the people who ran out of here, but we’ve raided the grocery store below for our group meals.” She pulled the tab on top of the can and opened it before handing it to Cynthia who started scarfing down its contents with her dirty fingers. “Careful, you’ll get a cramp!” Cynthia seemed to ignore Vicky’s warning. She made ferocious sounds of hunger and pleasure as she gobbled up the canned fish.
After resting for almost an hour, a knock rattled at the door. Joshua, one of the elevator guards who had accompanied Lila, pushed open the door from the dark hallway and shined his flashlight into the room. “Dinner time,” he said
“So this is our escort?” Jasper asked as he gently shook Donovan’s shoulder to wake him.
“Dinner.” Vicky repeated Joshua’s announcement with a little more excitement and watched as Donovan scrambled to his feet. Everyone quickly followed the guard into the hall and then toward the stairs.
“Not gonna work,” Jasper said. “The stairwell is full of shopping carts!”
“Just the first two floors,” Vicky said, rolling her eyes as if she were explaining something to him for the millionth time. She could have happily spent the rest of the apocalypse without that man’s idiot voice ringing in her ears. “It’s an alarm system. The sound echoes up to us if someone slips past the snipers and tries to get in.”
“Snipers?” Donovan piped in, but Vicky ignored it.
They made their way down to the eleventh floor with only the light from their escort’s flashlight to guide them. Without power, the stairs were just a black hole. Vicky refused to acknowledge her own feelings of anxiety, but she could see that the darkness terrified Cynthia as she shuddered at Donovan’s side.
“Are you afraid of the dark?” Vicky looked down at the girl while she spoke and rushed to open a door that led to a hallway similar to the one upstairs. The dim light of dozens of candles poured into the stairs, providing a minute amount of extra light. “Is this better?”
“You know you’re quite lucky that Donovan found you, he’s a really nice guy.” Vicky smiled between her friend and the girl.
The escort opened a door to their left. The apartment that lay on the other side had been almost completely hollowed out, aside from load bearing columns here and there. A line of mismatched tables rested lengthwise in the room. Vicky burst into the room first, then turned to see the shocked looks on her friends faces as they took in the number of people about to enjoy their meagre dinner. There must have been close to fifty survivors. Some were clearly military but most were just dirty, hopeless civilians.
“Ah, Donovan!” Charles said from the head of the table as he motioned to an empty chair on his left. “I saved you a seat. There are some people I’d like you to meet!”
Donovan turned to look at Jasper. Vicky smiled and laughed at Donovan’s hesitancy. “Go for it,” she said to her friend with a smile, “Charles is... Charles is...” She was beginning to feel warm just at the thought of the man. “Well he’s just a swell guy.”