"Raise your arms a little bit higher."
I did as Rick said.
"Now line up your shot, and shoot."
I pulled the trigger and staggered back as the loud noise rang in my ears.
"Don't worry, you'll get used to it," Rick assured. He walked down to the same tree that my brother had practiced on the day before. He studied the red target and came back to me.
"Well?" I asked.
"You just need some more practice," he said plainly.
I figured it had to have been really bad so I decided not to ask. I just raised my gun and tried again.
This time I didn't stagger back. Rick went up to the tree and laughed.
"At least you hit the tree this time," he said.
I practiced shooting with Rick for the rest of the morning and by the end of it, I had hit within the target twice. I'm glad I made progress, but I knew that it wouldn't be enough to go on a run.
I would've asked Rick, but I already knew what his answer would be. So I just committed to more practice over the next few days.
Walking back from the woods, I felt proud. I was about to go run and tell my brother about it when Rick stopped me.
"Holly, I think you know the importance of a weapon, and I think you know its not a toy. So I'm gonna let you hold onto this." He reached into his belt pocket and took out the hand gun I had shot with earlier.
"But," he started. "I don't want you actually using this until you have had more practice shooting. It is only for emergencies. Clear?"
I nodded happily. I took the gun from him and examined it. My very own gun. I took it back to my tent and stashed it away.
I slept well that night. I went to bed right after dinner and woke up earlier than usual.
When I awoke, I turned over to find Maggie sitting on her pillow, loading her gun.
"Mornin," she said with her heavy southern accent.
"Morning," I replied with a scratchy voice. "Are you going somewhere?"
"Rick asked for me and Glenn to go on a run today. We are running low on medicine so we were gonna check the local hospital for anything that might be left," she said.
I winced with jealously but tried not to let her see it.
"I see that you've gotten your very own gun," she said smiling.
I nodded and peered over at the gun that I stashed in my backpack.
"It's exciting," she said. "Pretty soon you will be loading your gun and coming with us."
I smiled at her.
I watched as she put the gun in her belt pocket and grabbed her backpack. She checked to make sure she had water and at least one granola bar. When she saw that she did, she crawled out of the tent.
"See you when we get back," she called from outside.
I laid there for a second, thinking about how much I wanted to be her right now. Then I rolled out of bed, dressed myself, and left my tent.
The sunshine was hot today. I already felt an urge to change out of my tight jeans. I walked over to Carol who was making breakfast.
"Hey Carol, do you think anyone would mind if I borrowed their shorts? I didn't bring any with me..." I said sadly.
Carol pointed at the clothes line.
"I have a few pairs," she said. "Feel free to take any you like."
"Thank you," I said gratefully. I walked over the clothes line and looked at her selection of two pairs of shorts. They weren't the most stylish shorts I have ever seen but I just wanted to relieve my legs of the heat. I grabbed the baggy khakis and went to my tent to change.
I immediately felt better. A part of me just wanted to frolic in the sunshine but I had to be productive.
"Holly?" Carol called.
I went back over to her. She was holding a battered red bowl that looked like it had cooked fish in it. She gave it to me.
"Could you take this to Beth please?" she asked. "I'll get one for you going."
Then she reached down at her feet and picked up a baby bottle.
"Take this to her too please."
I nodded and turned around to go find Beth and Judith. I figured they would be in Rick and Carl's tent. That's where her crib was. Her crib consisted of a cardboard box with blankets in it but she seemed to find it comfortable.
I called to Beth before I entered.
"Hey Beth? You in there?" I asked.
"Yeah come on in," she said.
I crawled through the opening with Beth and Judith's breakfast. When I went inside, I saw that Carl and Beth were sitting together, playing with the little toddler.
"Oh hi Carl," I said smiling.
"Hey," he replied, looking at the bowl of fish I brought.
"Oh..." I said. "I don't think Carol knew you were in here. I can just go back out and ask her for another one." I said quickly.
"No no, it's okay," he assured. "I have granola bars."
He opened the front pocket of his backpack and showed me the handful of granola bars. I also saw a big can of pudding.
"Just pretend you didn't see that," he said chuckling. "That's dinner."
I winked at him and turned to Beth. I handed her the bowl and the bottle.
"Mmm, Judith, you must be hungry," she said to the baby.
Judith looked at the bottle and started reaching for it. Beth put the bottle in her mouth but Judith could hold the sides of it with her little hands.
"Could you hold her while I eat?" Beth asked me.
"Oh, okay," I hesitated.
I picked the baby up and held her while she drank from the bottle. I watched as Beth dug into her breakfast.
With a mouthful of fish, she started explaining how low we were on baby formula.
"Tyreese and Sasha found another box yesterday, which was a miracle. But we need a lot more," she said.
"Could she not be breast fed?" I asked. "Then you wouldn't need formula at all."
I saw Beth look over at Carl. He looked down. There was a pause, then he spoke.
"My mom died giving birth to her," he said, still staring at the ground.
I immediately felt bad.
"I'm sorry," I said sadly.
"It's okay," Carl said. He looked at Judith, still laying in my arms. "We're lucky to have her."
I nodded sadly to him.
"Can I ask where?" I asked.
"Well," Beth started. "There was a prison."
"A prison?" I asked confused.
"Yeah... we found it after we left my daddy's farm. It was safe for a while... but then that one-eyed psychopath blew it up and we all got split up. But most of us found our way back to each other here. This is what's left of the group," Beth explained.
I had no idea what half of that meant but at least now I knew their story. They thrived for a while but then everything was taken from them.
It's a scary thought, but I feel safe with them knowing that they've made it through a lot of bad times. Maybe that means I will too.
That afternoon, I practiced shooting on my own. I made good progress and called it a day. Then I sat awake in my tent, waiting for Maggie to return.
I asked Beth if it was normal that they weren't back yet. She explained that sometimes it takes a few days for them to return.
I pictured Glenn and Maggie trying to camp out somewhere downtown. I shuddered at the thought of them being exposed to the walkers.
I guess I'd have to get used to the thought though. If I wanted to go on runs too, that's exactly what I would be in for.