Out on the road, Chrissy felt stronger than she ever had in her life.
She was actually stronger than she used to be. Eating only what she and her companions could find, catch, or kill, she had grown lean and muscular; she became able to climb trees and hop fences like she never could as a child.
But her heart was not growing as strong.
Her heart was weakening and giving in to what she knew it wanted, which was Jeff.
It was always Jeff.
They’d known each other their whole lives and had been together on the road since the collapse. From their original gang of twelve that walked out of the city alive, besides Chrissy, he was the only one left.
Incredible how much things could change, and how many people could die in only a few short weeks.
They were with new people now. Nice people who allowed Jeff and Chrissy to fold into their midst and walk on with them, walk on to where exactly, she didn’t know. Wherever the radiation would kill them more slowly than near the big cities.
The group walked all day and only stopped when the sun began its daily dip toward the horizon. Then, they would move off the road and into the woods to make camp. Some had the jobs of pitching the tents and building the fires, and others had the jobs of going to forage and hunt for dinner. This group didn’t raid houses or loot stores anymore – they had lost too many of their own fighting for what was not rightfully theirs.
Chrissy’s job was to forage. She looked for berries every day but hardly found any that were edible. She picked up acorns that they could boil and blanch to eat later, they were a great source of nutrients and protein. That night, she got lucky and found a clearing full of clover and dandelions and it took her almost until dark to pick the clearing clean of them all.
She heard shuffling in the woods around her and spun around to see a bunch of hunters, Jeff among them, passing by her as they made their way back to camp.
“Find any deer today?” she called out to them.
“Sorry, but it’s not on the menu,” Jeff answered, and held his arm up for her to see his spoils.
“Tonight, we’ve got squirrels. And more squirrels. And one raccoon.”
“Ooo,” she said. Raccoons were delicious, turns out.
She followed the hunters back to the camp. The tents were all erect, a few fires burning, and Chrissy went directly to the fire tended by her friend Julia.
“Water is already boiling,” Julia said, and Chrissy passed her the bag of acorns.
“Great, we’ll only have to boil these things five times before they’re ready,” Chrissy’s voice dripping with sarcasm.
It was full dark, and Chrissy wandered around the edges of the camp, looking for Jeff.
They had been friends for so long, she wondered if Jeff would ever think of her the way she thought of him. She wondered whether he missed sharing a tent with her now that they were with this group and he was sleeping in a tent with the single hunters and her among the single women. She had to know; she needed a sign.
She found him washing his hands in a bucket of water, scrubbing away the blood from whichever squirrel he just prepared for their dinner.
“Hey there,” he said to her and smiled.
“Hey,” she smiled back.
“I have a surprise for you,” he said. “Hold on.”
Chrissy waited and a moment after stepping into his tent, Jeff was before her again, holding something behind his back. He swung his arm around to show her with a flourish.
A bouquet of white and yellow daisies. Their stems were sagging and their petals drooped toward the ground, but Chrissy didn’t care, she took them when they were held out to her.
“Thank you,” she said, taking the mangled and wilting beautiful thing from his hands. “What are they for?”
“Then let’s share,” she said.
They stole away into the woods.
“I have a surprise for you, too,” she said and led Jeff into the clearing where she’d picked all the clovers.
“So, what’s the surprise?”
Chrissy pointed up and looked with him at the magnificence of the constellations above them – Orion, the Pleiades, all the other stars shining brighter than they’d ever seen in their lives, ever since the power went out for good.
“Aren’t they beautiful?” she asked him.
“I guess they’re okay, but they’ve got nothing on you.”
This piece was written for Yeah Write using the prompts Pleiades, and “Sorry, but it’s not on the menu.”