Sat, 5 December 2009 - 9:02 pm

Holding the baby

We’re out of the area that the foraging party has scoured now, so we’ve been stopping to look for supplies again. We managed to siphon enough fuel out of abandoned vehicles to keep ours going, and there’s a gas station down the road from where we’re staying tonight that we’ll try in the morning.

We managed to find some food. Not much, barely enough for half a meal each, but it’s more than we’ve had to share around for a while. We thought about rationing it more strictly, watering it down, but it’s been so long since any of us had a decent meal that we couldn’t do it. I’m not the only one feeling the effects of hunger, with exhaustion that comes on so easily and tremors in my limbs. Jonah’s bike was wavering badly this morning, and I’ve been getting dizzy every now and then as well. It’s only a matter of time before someone gets hurt.

So now we have our bellies working on a plate of preserved meat and beans. It was pathetically small but the best thing I’ve seen for a while. There was even a handful of smiles around the fire tonight.

I sat in front of Matt while he fiddled with my hair, combing his fingers through it and patiently working out the knots. It’s the sort of casual intimacy I missed in Haven. There, this kind of thing carried a weight of shame with it, because dedicating this sort of attention to one person wasn’t allowed. Even if you were in love with them. Tonight, I could close my eyes and feel Matt taking quiet care of me, and it was easier to believe that everything would be okay.

 

Sally is still resting up in bed in the campervan. Those who have seen her say that she’s doing better; I haven’t dared Masterson’s wrath by trying to visit her myself, but I trust the others are telling the truth.

This evening, Janice brought the baby out to the group to give his mother a chance to sleep. He was a fretful thing, but he didn’t howl as he was passed around the circle. Most of the group took a turn with him, even Jersey. She liked it more than she let on, I think.

He’s tiny. I didn’t really appreciate that until I held him. I felt big and clumsy, so afraid I would drop or hurt him. Then he made an odd sound and I was abruptly more worried about him throwing up on me. I didn’t want to hand him on – it felt good, cradling the little body against my chest, more than I had expected. I haven’t had a lot to do with babies before but I guess it’s true what they say about maternal instincts.

The boys were the funniest ones. Kostoya was open about being a big sap, cooing and tickling. Matt grinned and looked like the proudest thing in the whole world. Dale peered at the baby curiously, like he’d never seen one before, and then started making little baby-noises. I wasn’t the only one laughing at – and along with – him. He handed the little one on to Thorpe, who promptly went all rigid and disapproving, only partly because his hands are bandaged. The baby fit snugly in the crook of his arm and he looked like he didn’t dare to move in case he shook it loose.

That was the perfect time for a noise to go off further inside the parking garage we were sitting in. It was only a small structure: two levels and ramps with viciously sharp corners designed without offroaders in mind. Immediately, most of the group were on their feet and grabbing for something weapon-like, and Jonah and Bobby led the charge to see what it was. The bulk of the group moved towards the noise, forming a protective barrier between it and our vulnerable ones. Mira had the kids herded back and Bree was sending Iona in that direction too.

It was nothing. It took us a while to confirm that it was nothing – we were all imagining shamblers hiding in the shadows, I’m sure of it, but all we could find was a puddle of acid on the concrete. We think that something in the ceiling must have given way, letting the rain leak through, and something had fallen when enough of its housing had disintegrated. There was no sign of anything worth worrying about, so after some milling around to double- and triple-check, we headed back to the fire’s circle.

Thorpe hadn’t moved. He looked like he wanted to get up and see what was happening, but all he could do was screw his head around and scowl after us. Other than that, he hadn’t dared to move himself. He had one hand hovering above the baby, just in case, and he kept glancing down to check that his charge was still there. The contrast between his gruffness and carefulness was endearing.

He hissed at me when I passed by his shoulder. “Faith, can you take him?”

I looked down at the pair and couldn’t help it: I smiled at the sight. Thorpe was being so protective, and the tiny one had his eyes closed in perfect trust. “Why? He likes you. Look, he’s gone to sleep.” That was the first time I’d seen the baby sleeping. They really are much cuter when they’re asleep. And quiet.

“Faith, please.”

The others were almost on us and I think it was the first time he has been close to begging me to do something for him. I took pity on him and gathered up the little one, who woke and promptly started crying. I rocked him, feeling deaf and clumsy again, and gave Thorpe a sigh. “See? I told you he likes you.”

That’s the only time I’ve ever seen him look helpless. He has no idea what to do with something like a small baby’s preference. He’d be the most protective, devoted, and clueless father in the world, if there was ever a chance of him sleeping with a girl. I think it might be good for him. Children soften men’s edges. Except for Masterson. His defences are still firmly in place.

 

A couple of the girls are asking about sanitary supplies; they haven’t found any new ones in a while and it sounds like Mira just got her period. As if it isn’t hard enough to keep clean in the After. I’d better go help out; I have plenty in my pack, left over from my last cycle.

Wait. Oh, shit.

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