Aaaaaaand back to Peter.
We're in a town, about three quarters of the way to the car. We've found a pretty hospitable squat, and we're setting up for the night. We're prepared for a fight. No-one's sleeping tonight. There are movements outside, in the dark.
Today's walk was long. We only decided to head here last night and had to get up early, and walk until late. It was the longest walk we've done in the time I was here. And every time I found myself faltering, I hear Natalie yelling at me that I better keep going or they'll leave me to straggle, maybe buy them some time. That maybe if I'm gonna be such a pussy, I shouldn't even be with them. That if I'm beaten by my own body, maybe I shouldn't be worrying about the proxies.
So I kept walking, and we reached the squat in the last hour of sunlight the summer evening was going to give us. We were all exhausted - Steven looked like he was going to collapse, and even Roland was breathing heavily - and I felt someone fall against me, their arm over my shoulder. I half expect Natalie to scream directly into my ear, but instead she says, softly, "You did well today."
I look around and she's grinning. And maybe it was the fact that it's hard one way or the other to notice someone's looks when they're yelling at you, or the sunlight setting behind her, or maybe it's that the only other females I've talked to in the last five days were a woman almost twice my age, a fairly emotionally damaged waif and a survivalist hardass, but Natalie is...kinda gorgeous.
And this sucks because I've never been able to talk to gorgeous girls. Or even pretty girls.
In fact, you know what? Girls as a whole? Not my specialty.
So I choked on saliva a little. Audibly.
She fell away, laughing so hard she doubled over. "Oh my god," she practically wept inbetween wheezes, "you are really super-easy to get wound up!"
And then Rachel and Roland and Lianne were laughing too, and I felt my face turn red.
And then Roland pushed me out of the way and drew his knife. Suddenly, Natalie and Shannon and Lianne were by his side, faces stony, weapons drawn.
We got inside the squat. No-one's put their weapons away since.