I was stuck. How do you tell a teenager that she can’t do something because you’re afraid she’ll take full advantage of that thing and kill herself (or you)? She seemed legitimately insulted that she didn’t get a gun while Maybel did, and I had no idea how to broach the subject without incurring the associated wrath that came with telling a teenaged girl, “no.” It wasn’t something that I wanted to deal with, and I could tell that Maybel wasn’t keen on the idea either. And in the ten seconds that my brain processed the best response, I decided to be kind of blunt- indirectly speaking.
“I’ve known Maybel longer, and she’s more or less proven that she won’t stab me in
There. Succinct. Direct. To the point (without coming to the point). I should have seen the response coming from a mile away, but in my hubris I forgot the obvious.
“You’ve known Maybel for three days?!”
Damnit. She could tell time. That wasn’t fair. Not really surprising (even with the education system at the time SHTF), but still.
“You can learn a lot about people in three days,” replied Maybel. “Sometimes, you have to go on faith.”
“And why should I trust him,” Tammy said, pointing at me.
“Has he tried to do anything to you,” asked Maybel.
“Has he done anything that would show that he, you know, might be an upstanding guy?”
“Really? He didn’t rescue you and me from some sleaze balls?”
The aggravation that had been apparent on Tammy’s face began to falter, to be replaced by confusion. I felt a little better about myself, and simultaneously sorry for Tammy. Things had gone south for her in a way that made what happened to me seem relatively tame. I didn’t know her full story, yet even so, I knew she had it rougher than I.
“Yeah,” said Tammy after a moment, glancing at me, then at the ground.
Maybel walked over to Tammy, and draped her arms over her shoulder. Tammy looked Maybel in the eye.
“Dan is who we’ve got right now to keep us safe. I know I sound crazy, but I trust him. Not because he’s all we have, but because I know- somehow- that he can be trusted.”
“How can you be sure,” asked Tammy.
I suddenly felt like I was a fifth wheel on a motorcycle, and so decided to grab my rifle, and give them some space. I walked into the tall grass across the tar, and toward where the old man had come from. Beyond the grass was a gas station- this much I knew. Maybel was armed, reasonably skilled (HAH! Right. One day of dry fire wasn’t even close), and I could be back in a flash if need be. Privacy for the two was a good thing. Just before I entered the tall grass, I looked back and saw Maybel nod at me- understanding on her face. Izzy made a snap decision to come along, so I waited for her to catch up.
“Where we goin?”
“The gas station.”
“Ok, Buckaroo. Can we get candy?”
I smiled. Kids were so easy to please. “Sure, if there’s any left.”
She smiled back, took my hand, and we started making our way through the field. After a minute of walking, we emerged in the parking lot of the gas station. The door to enter the store portion was on the opposite side. I released her hand and motioned for her to be quiet. She got the hint, and grabbed my pocket as I brought the rifle to my shoulder (what can I say- I’m a born tactical junkie). As I rounded the corner, my spider senses began to tingle, but I couldn’t figure out why. There was a truck sitting next to the pump, the doors hanging open, one light shot out. I glanced toward the door, and saw a foot leading to the old man behind the ice box.
I let my guard down a touch, and walked around the box to greet him, and what greeted me instead was vacant eyes atop a slashed throat. I managed to stop Izzy just before she saw him as I scooped her up in my free arm, and made my way (as quietly as you can carrying a toddler starting to ask every question under the sun) back toward the grass. I glanced back just before we hit the grass, and saw the perpetrator come around the corner. He saw me, and recognition crossed his face.
“It’s that shithead from the farm! HEY!”
I turned and ran toward the Wallyworld as he turned to go back to the truck. We had just been made.