The 5th Wave
Page 23

 Rick Yancey

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Three hours of rehab in the morning. Thirty-minute break for lunch. Then three more hours of rehab in the afternoon. Working on rebuilding my muscles until I felt them melt into a sweaty, jellylike mass.
But I still wasn’t done for the day. I asked Evan what happened to my Luger. I had to get over my fear of guns. And my accuracy sucked. He showed me the proper grip, how to use the sight. He set up empty gallon-size paint cans on the fence posts for targets, replacing those with smaller cans as my aim improved. I ask him to take me hunting with him—I need to get used to hitting a moving, breathing target—but he refuses. I’m still pretty weak, I can’t even run yet, and what happens if a Silencer spots us?
We take walks at sunset. At first I didn’t make it more than half a mile before my leg gave out and Evan had to carry me back to the farmhouse. But each day I was able to go a hundred yards farther than the day before. A half mile became three-quarters became a whole. By the second week I was doing two miles without stopping. Can’t run yet, but my pace and stamina have vastly improved.
Evan stays with me through dinner and a couple hours into the night, and then he shoulders his rifle and tells me he’ll be back before sunrise. I’m usually asleep when he comes in—and it’s usually way past sunrise.
“Where do you go every night?” I asked him one day.
“Hunting.” A man of few words, this Evan Walker.
“You must be a lousy hunter,” I teased him. “You hardly ever come back with anything.”
“I’m actually very good,” he said matter-of-factly. Even when he says something that, on paper, sounds like bragging, it isn’t. It’s the way he says it, casually, like he’s talking about the weather.
“You just don’t have the heart to kill?”
“I have the heart to do what I have to do.” He ran his fingers through his hair and sighed. “In the beginning it was about staying alive. Then it was about protecting my brothers and sisters from the crazies running around after the plague first hit. Then it was about protecting my territory and supplies…”
“What’s it about now?” I asked quietly. That was the first time I’d seen him even mildly worked up.
“It settles my nerves,” he admitted with an embarrassed shrug. “Gives me something to do.”
“Like personal hygiene.”
“And I have trouble sleeping at night,” he went on. Wouldn’t look at me. Not looking at anything, really. “Well. Sleeping period. So after a while I gave up trying and started sleeping during the day. Or trying to. The fact is I only sleep two or three hours a day.”
“You must be really tired.”
He finally looked at me, and there was something sad and desperate in his eyes.
“That’s the worst part,” he said softly. “I’m not. I’m not tired at all.”
I was still uneasy about his disappearing at night, so once I tried to follow him. Bad idea. I lost him after ten minutes, got worried I’d get lost, turned to go back, and found myself staring up into his face.
He didn’t get mad. Didn’t accuse me of not trusting him. He just said, “You shouldn’t be out here, Cassie,” and escorted me inside.
More out of concern for my mental health than our personal safety (I don’t think he was completely sold on the whole Silencer idea), he hung heavy blankets over the windows in the great room downstairs so we could have a fire and light a couple of lamps. I waited there until he returned from his forays in the dark, sleeping on the big leather sofa or reading one of his mom’s battered paperback romance novels with the buffed-out, half-naked guys on the covers and the ladies dressed in full-length ball gowns caught in midswoon. Then around three in the morning he would come home, and we’d throw some more wood on the fire and talk. He doesn’t like to talk about his family much (when I asked about his mother’s taste in books, he just shrugged and said she liked literature). He steers the conversation back to me when things start getting too personal. Mostly he wants to talk about Sammy, as in how I plan to keep my promise to him. Since I have no idea how I’m going to do that, the discussion never ends well. I’m vague; he presses for specifics. I’m defensive; he’s insistent. Finally I get mean, and he shuts down.
“So walk me through this again,” he says late one night after going around and around for an hour. “You don’t know exactly who or what they are, but you know they have lots of heavy artillery and access to alien weaponry. You don’t know where they’ve taken your brother, but you’re going there to rescue him. Once you get there, you don’t know how you’re going to rescue him, but—”
“What is this?” I ask. “Are you trying to help or make me feel stupid?”
We’re sitting on the big fluffy rug in front of the fireplace, his rifle on one side, my Luger on the other, and the two of us in between.
He holds up his hands in a fake gesture of surrender. “I’m just trying to understand.”
“I’m starting at Camp Ashpit and picking up the trail from there,” I say for about the thousandth time. I think I know why he keeps asking the same questions, but he’s so damned obtuse, it’s hard to pin him down. Of course, he could say the same thing about me. As plans go, mine is more of a general goal pretending to be a plan.
“And if you can’t pick up the trail?” he asks.
“I won’t give up until I do.”
He’s nodding a nod that says, I’m nodding, but I’m not nodding because I think what you’re saying makes sense. I’m nodding because I think you’re a total fool and I don’t want you to go all kung fu on me with a crutch I made with my own hands.
So I say, “I’m not a total fool. You’d do the same for Val.”
He doesn’t have a quick reply to that. He wraps his arms around his legs and rests his chin on his knees, staring at the fire.
“You think I’m wasting my time,” I accuse his flawless profile. “You think Sammy’s dead.”
“How could I know that, Cassie?”
“I’m not saying you know that. I’m saying you think that.”
“Does it matter what I think?”
“No, so shut up.”
“I wasn’t saying anything. You said—”
“I’m not.”
“You just did.”
“I’ll stop.”
“But you’re not. You say you will, then you just keep going.”
He starts to say something, then shuts his mouth so hard, I hear his teeth click.
“I’m hungry,” I say.
“I’ll get you something.”
“Did I ask you to get me anything?” I want to pop him right in that perfectly shaped mouth. Why do I want to hit him? Why am I so mad right now? “I’m perfectly capable of waiting on myself. This is the problem, Evan. I didn’t show up here to give your life purpose now that your life’s over. That’s up to you to figure out.”
“I want to help you,” he says, and for the first time I see real anger in those puppy-dog eyes. “Why can’t saving Sammy be my purpose, too?”
His question follows me into the kitchen. It hangs over my head like a cloud while I slap some cured deer meat onto some flat bread Evan must have baked in his outdoor oven like the Eagle Scout he is. It follows me as I hobble back into the great room and plop down on the sofa directly behind his head. I have this urge to kick him right between his broad shoulders. On the table beside me is a book entitled Love’s Desperate Desire. Based on the cover, I would have called it My Spectacular Washboard Abs.
That’s my big problem. That’s it! Before the Arrival, guys like Evan Walker never looked twice at me, much less shot wild game for me and washed my hair. They never grabbed me by the back of the neck like the airbrushed model on his mother’s paperback, abs a-clenching, pecs a-popping. My eyes have never been looked deeply into, or my chin raised to bring my lips within an inch of theirs. I was the girl in the background, the just-friend, or—worse—the friend of a just-friend, the you-sit-next-to-her-in-geometry-but-can’t-remember-her-name girl. It would have been better if some middle-aged collector of Star Wars action figures had found me in that snowbank.
“What?” I ask the back of his head. “Now you’re giving me the silent treatment?”
His shoulders jiggle up and down. You know, one of those wry, silent chuckles, accompanied by a rueful shake of the head. Girls! So silly.
“I should have asked, I guess,” he says. “I shouldn’t have assumed.”
He rotates around on his butt to face me. Me on the sofa, him on the floor, looking up. “That I was going with you.”
“What? We weren’t even talking about that! And why would you want to go with me, Evan? Since you think he’s dead?”
“I just don’t want you to be dead, Cassie.”
That does it.
I hurl my deer meat at his head. The plate glances off his cheek, and he’s up and in my face before I can blink. He leans in close, putting his hands on either side of me, boxing me in with his arms. Tears shine in his eyes.
“You’re not the only one,” he says through gritted teeth. “My twelve-year-old sister died in my arms. She choked to death on her own blood. And there was nothing I could do. It makes me sick, the way you act as if the worst disaster in human history somehow revolves around you. You’re not the only one who’s lost everything—not the only one who thinks they’ve found the one thing that makes any of this shit make sense. You have your promise to Sammy, and I have you.”
He stops. He’s gone too far, and he knows it.
“You don’t ‘have’ me, Evan,” I say.
“You know what I mean.” He’s looking intently at me, and it’s very hard to keep from turning away. “I can’t stop you from going. Well, I guess I could, but I also can’t let you go alone.”
“Alone is better. You know that. It’s the reason you’re still alive!” I poke my finger into his heaving chest.
He pulls away, and I fight the instinct to reach for him. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want him to pull away.
“But it’s not the reason you are,” he snaps. “You won’t last two minutes out there without me.”
I explode. I can’t help it. It was the perfectly wrong thing to say at the perfectly wrong time.
“Screw you!” I shout. “I don’t need you. I don’t need anyone! Well, I guess if I needed someone to wash my hair or slap a bandage on a boo-boo or bake me a cake, you’d be the guy!”
After two tries, I manage to get on my feet. Time for the angrily-storming-out-of-the-room part of the argument, while the guy folds his arms over his manly chest and pouts. I pause halfway up the stairs, telling myself I’m stopping to catch my breath, not to let him catch up. He’s not following me anyway. So I struggle up the remaining steps and into my bedroom.