“Jocelyn?”, the girl asks. Her face twists with disbelief, “Jocelyn!”
She runs over to me and pulls me into a warm embrace. Under her arms, I am frozen with shock. I finally close my mouth when I hear sobs on my shoulder. She is crying.
Didn’t she leave with her parents?
“How are you…“, I begin, “Where are your..”
I hug her back. My throat aches as I struggle to swallow, a gurgle come from my mouth.
“Amy,” I sigh.
“Ahem. Sorry to interrupt, but we really should be going,” George says finally.
We pull away from each other, but I am still in a state of numbness. I can feel Ethan’s eyes peer at me, obviously concerned.
“Talk later. We need to get some meds,” Ethan interjects coldly.
Amy and I sit next to each other. Ethan and his father proceed in talking about a trip.
“There are fewer of them in Sycamore Lake,” Ethan says as he pulls a folded paper from his back pocket.
His finger traces down a red line and stops, “We are about here. Of course, everybody basically left Sycamore. We are the only ones here, I think. I mean, that man looks everywhere. And he still didn’t find a soul.”
I shudder at his words. The same, messed-up man broke into my house this morning or last night.
“So, fewer people, fewer supplies. Everyone gathered what they could and shipped out to local refugee camps down south. I was thinking maybe we can go out to Millbridge,” Ethan continues, then bites his lip and looks around for approval.
“Millbridge,” George repeats as he rubs the stubble on his chin.
Although I hear and understand everything that is being said, I still can’t comprehend that Amy, my dear friend, stuck it out. Her parents died trying to find a refugee camp. How did she survive? I peek at my friend curiously. Her hazel eyes are rimmed in red, most likely from sobbing. Her face is blotchy. Her clothes are timeworn and stained.
In the back of my mind, I remember the pretty, popular girl she once was. Her parents were well-to-do, very similar to my former lifestyle. Although she had everything, she had a kind, generous heart.
“…so it’s a deal. We head out tomorrow morning, then,” George clasps his hands together enthusiastically.
I snap back to attention. What were they talking about again? Oh yeah, Millbridge.
Eileen stumbles in from the kitchen and puts her hands on her hips, “What’s tomorrow?”
She pouts and wrinkles appear at the sides of her mouth.
Amy answers this time, “We’re heading out to Millbridge for supplies tomorrow morning.”
“Who will be here with me?” Eileen crosses her arms, clearly frightened.
Why can’t she come with us?
George clears his throat, “Ah, Jocelyn will, dear.”
Ethan’s jaw tightens. Everyone looks at me.
Eileen looks at me bitterly. I could literally see the disdain in her dark eyes. What’s wrong with me?
I give a strained smile.
“Okay,” she sighs, “At least it’s not that crazy man.”
After a few more minutes of listening to them plan their great mission, I get tired and head back to the room. I lie on the old bed and notice a beam of light peeping through a crack on the boarded-up window. I scamper to the dresser and grab the frame. With the aid of the little bit of light I had, I look at the picture.
There we stand, Amy and I. Arms holding each other, wide smiles spread across our faces. We are wearing light clothing. A body of glistening water sits behind us.
“I remember when we took that,” a voice sighs.
I jolt. Amy is at the doorway, leaning against its frame. Relieved, I set the frame on the bed.
She walks over in two, long strides and sits opposite of me.
I sadly look down at the picture.
Amy chuckles faintly. I look up to see a small smile on her light skin.
“It’s just that…like…everything was so happy back then,” her voice wobbles. I pat her knee tenderly.
I pull in for a hug. Her parents are gone. They were torn apart by teeth.
She has suffered through so much. But I, too, know what it feels like to be without parents. I wish my pride would allow me to sulk and cry every second of the day. But it doesn’t, and I guess that’s okay.
She pulls away and says, “At least I have you, now. It was getting horribly boring here.”
I laugh, and she does the same.
Time to wake up.
This time, I don’t call my mother’s name. I just sit up in the bed.
Amy allowed me the bed tonight. I looked at her sleeping body sprawled out on the thin mat of the floor. Her face was facing me. Her lips were parted, allowing sounds of faint snoring to fill the room. I tiptoed past her and through the door.
My throat was parched. I could really do with a glass of water. I find the kitchen down the hall. As I turn into the kitchen’s entryway, somebody was leaving. We bump each other’s shoulders. I look at up at the person’s face. Ethan.
“Sorry,” he mumbles. When he looks at me, his eyes light up almost.
“It’s fine,” I croak. My heart begins to race.
“Do you need water?” he asks.
“I was thirsty, too,” he adds.
He backs into the kitchen, opens a cabinet, and pulls out a glass. He pours water from the filter thing. When he hands it to me, he smiles sweetly.
I smile back, and graciously take the cup and swallow the cold water.
I feel awkward. He stands there and watches as I gulp down the entire glass.
“Thirsty?” he giggles.
“Yes,” I nod.
I put the now-empty glass into the sink.
I feel his eyes burning into me, watching my every move.
“Jocelyn?” he says quietly. I look at him, my cheeks burning.
“I bet you’re wondering why you have to stay with my mom tomorrow,” he says, his head is bowed down, “It’s because my mom, she’s sick. She needs someone to stay with her while we go out. My dad wasn’t trying to imply that you’re not qualified or strong enough. Because you are, I mean-“
“Its fine,” I insist, “I’d rather stay with her than risk my life.”
He shrugs, “Either way, you are risking your life.”
I think about that statement for a few long moments until I say, “You better get some rest, tomorrow is the ‘big day.’ I can’t really sleep right now. Too much thinking.”
I poke my temple to gesture to my mind.
Before he walks away, he silently adds, “You know, if you need anything, I’m right at the end of the hall. Opposite of yours.”