Thom came back to our cubby after dinner that evening bare-chested with damp hair, face ruddy with sunburn. He smiled faintly at me as I looked up copying over a list of books we’d salvaged from the library, and I smiled back. “Clean?”
He nodded, shuffling over to the mattress and sinking down next to me. Most of the bruises on his chest had faded to sickly brown and yellow, but a few were still dark at the center, deep and painful-looking. “Cold, but clean. I think I just made the bath house a bigger priority than previously anticipated.” He reached for the blanket that was half underneath me, tugging on it pitifully until I grinned and moved over. He pulled the blanket around his shoulders with a slight shiver. “What’re you working on?”
“Book inventory.” I slid my pencil through the clipboard’s clip and smiled at him, setting it aside. “But it’s nothing that can’t wait until another night.”
Thom grunted as I eased closer to lean against his shoulder. “There a lot of books left to pull out of there?”
“Another four of five days’ worth of work, I think. But we’ve got a lot of it out, which is good. Using all of the cars to store them was a good idea; I’m glad you thought of it.”
He shook his head a little. “None of them seem to be working, god only knows why. Might as well get some use out of them, right?”
Davon had cursed a little bit about that when he tried to get one of the engines started the other day. He tried almost half of the cars left in the lots and found that he couldn’t get any of their engines to turn over—that came in the wake of the last of the generators crapping out. The flatbed was still working, but we’d all been eying it warily ever since, wondering when it, too, would give out on us, just like everything else.
“Right,” I agreed, sliding my arm around his waist. He smiled at me and brushed some hair out of my face.
“What’d you and J.T. wander off and talk about earlier? He okay?”
I hesitated for a bare moment before I nodded. “Yeah, he’s all right. He’s…less worried about you than he was before, which I think is probably a pretty good thing.” I grinned up at him and gave him a slight squeeze, which he answered by putting an arm around my shoulders. Just ask, Marin. It’s as good of an opportunity as you’re going to get. “He did mention something, though.”
“Oh?” Thom arched a brow, stretching his legs a little and not quite looking at me. “And what did my brother from another mother see fit to mention about me that’s got you bothered enough to mention it?”
Either he’s in a good mood, or he’s being flip to hide the fact that he’s not in a good mood. I exhaled silently. Too late now, anyway. “He said Kira wrote you a letter before…things happened. He didn’t think you ever read it. Did you?”
Thom stiffened a little, looking away, but didn’t recoil. His arm tightened around me instead, fingers digging into my shoulder almost painfully for a moment before he realized it and loosened his grip. “Sorry,” he murmured in apology, then fell silent again.
I rested my head against his jaw. “Are you okay?”
He shook his head slightly. “I’ve just been trying so hard not to think about it. That’s the one that really hurts, you know? She’s…she was my best friend, the closest person I had in the family, even if I did spent about half the time teasing the shit out of her.” Thom rested his head against mine, eyes bright with gathering tears. I reached up and ran my fingers through his hair and he sighed. “She’s gone like the rest of them. Everyone who wasn’t here with us when it happened…they’re just gone.”
“Maybe not,” I whispered. “You never know. There’s no way we can, not until we go looking ourselves, or other people come looking. We can’t know.”
He looked at me for a moment, eyes brimming. “You really believe that?”
My thumb brushed against his cheek, catching a tear that escaped from his eye and erasing it. “I have to, Thom. There’s more than just us out there. There has to be.” I offered him a brave smile. “We can’t lose hope.” There has to be more than just out there. There has to be. Nothing makes sense if we’re the only people on the planet left alive. That’s just not even possible. “Right?”
Thom was quiet for so long I thought he wasn’t going to answer, or that he was trying to find a way to tell me I was wrong without shattering us both. Finally, his head just dipped and he nodded slightly, staring at our knees.
“Yeah,” he whispered. “Yeah, you’re right. You’re right. We can’t possibly be alone.” He rested his forehead in the crook between my jaw and shoulder, against my neck. “Do you think she’s maybe alive?”
“I hope so,” I whispered. For your sake, above and beyond anything else, I hope she’s alive. I hope she’s okay, and I hope you get to see her again. I rubbed his back gently, holding him close. “And if she is, I know we’ll see her again.”
I nodded. “Promise.”
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