Marie tugs on her sleeve as Jess stares frozen at the figure across the street. She has a healthy, warm color to her skin, no blood stains on her clothes, and her smile is more than just showing teeth.
“It’s okay. We’re friendly, and you look like you haven’t eaten in days.” the woman shouts over, repeating her invitation once more.
“C’mon.” Marie mouths at her and tugs on her arm again.
Jess exhales sharply and pulls her sister closer to her side, then crosses the street, approaching the stranger. The smell of cooking food has her stomach churn angrily.
“You’re holding a cookout during the end of the world?” is her first question, eyeing the woman warily. She’s not alone either, various others are with her, taking part in her food drive.
“My friend and I snatched an abandoned house with an intact garden, so I thought we’d share with those who weren’t so lucky.” she explains, her chipper tone in harsh contrast to the situation they all found themselves in “I’m Cassie, this is Mabel. You are...?”
“Jess.” she responds, following Cassie’s gesture to sit with her and help herself to a plate. “This is Marie.”
“You were lucky too, huh?” Mabel, the ginger, asks, nodding downward, to the handgun holstered at Jess’ belt.
“Yeah.” Jess responds, unwilling to divulge that she’d owned the weapon long before the apocalypse. Her eyes follow Marie, who gleefully loads up her plate and digs in. “Why are you helping me?”
The two exchange a glance.
“We saw you had a kid with you.” Cassie says.
“Actually,” her companion adds, before she can continue. “If you want, you can come back to our base with us. It’s secure I barricaded it with the furniture I found inside.”
Jess looks past the two, to Marie who is smiling, probably for the first time in weeks.
“What do you get out of it?” she then asks, not quite on board with the good samaritan spiel.
“Noth-...” Cassie begins, but again, Mabel cuts her off.
“Cass and I can’t handle ourselves in a fight.” she bursts out. “You clearly can. So, you get food and shelter for yourself and your sister, we get your protection.”
Jess feels the weght of her gun and the knife she keeps strapped to her leg, and again, she looks over at her sister, feeling as though the world is closing in on her, to rip her apart.
Then, she forces a smile.
“You know what? Deal.”
“One of the upsides of this place.” Mabel exclaims as she lights the fireplace. “I think this place might’ve been abandoned, and the backyard space was used communally as a vegetable garden.”
“Mhm.” Cassie agrees. “It’s still dusty as hell in here, and Mabel ripped up most of the furniture to barricade the windows and stuff.”
“Mighty shame, too. Most of those were antiques.” Mabel hums and turns to sit on one of the inflatable matresses.
“It ain’t the presidential suite, but I thank you for taking us in.” Jess responds, now much less reserved. They haven’t tried to kill her yet, after all.
“Ah, ‘course.” Cassie says. “You seem like a good gal. Woulda hated to see you torn apart out there.”
“We’ll give you the grand tour tomorrow, but I think you should get some rest for now.” Mabel suggests. “We have these two beds and a tent in the backyard. It’s fenced in, so don’t worry about the chompers.”
“I’m taking advantage of your hospitality enough as it is, Marie and I will sleep in the tent.” Jess offers, then slaps her thighs and gets up. “In fact, I’m gonna go set it up for the night. You go brush your teeth, okay?”
Marie nods vigorióusly, then spins to the other side of the bed, once her sister’s gone.
“Sorry about earlier. I know she can be really rude.” she bursts forth, as soon as Jess isn’t in hearing range.
“Sweetie, you don’tneed to apologize for your sister. I get it. There’s bad people out there.” Cassie deflects her apology. “She’s trying to protect you.”
“Mhm” The little girl sheepishly looks up to her. “She does. But I think you’re not bad people at all.”
HI! This is my first time posting a story on this forum, so I'm very excited! I have a pretty long backlog of material, so expect frequent updates!