“What do you think?”
Ryan felt her mouth open and close, a look of uncertainty on her face. She was being offered safety, food, a home. Something was holding her back, something persistently worming about at the back of her mind.
Her stuttered reply was cut off by a loud banging, giving her a welcomed excuse to stand from her stool by the counter, shooting Owen an apologetic smile as she ran to the front doors, his faltering expression burned into her vision. She felt a sense of guilt overcome her, but it was outweighed by her obligations.
“Help! Please, someone!”
Ryan sprinted the rest of the way to the doors upon hearing the muffled voice, excited at the thought of another survivor. She could see someone through the wooden boards, clearly agitated. Her fingers fumbled with the lock a moment, but had the door open within seconds.
Moving back as someone almost fell in, Ryan shut the door and locked it again, trying to catch a glimpse of-was that a ferret?-poking its head out of the boy’s jacket. Weird.
He looked up, out of breath, green eyes wild.
“Yeah.” he muttered, tightly gripping the straps on his backpack.
Owen chose that moment to appear, emerging from a nearby aisle.
“What’s going on?”
His enthusiasm had dissipated, replaced with another serious look. Ryan felt another wave of guilt hit her.
“Looks like we’ve got another survivor,” she started, gesturing towards the kid, “A certain mister..?”
The kid looked up again, voice just as quiet.
Ryan tried to smile at the new arrival, hoping it didn’t look as fake as it felt.
“Well, Mitchell, I’m Ryan. This here’s Owen.”
Owen nodded as she said his name, turning and heading off into the store.
“I’ll be in the pharmacy if you need me.”
Turning back to Mitchell, Ryan let her arms fold naturally across her chest.
“I guess I’ll be off too, then. Make yourself at home.”
McRoe nodded, easing his bag off of his shoulders. Wasn’t much of a talker, looked like.
Ryan let her legs carry her around the store, mind wandering. Floating snippets of memories came and went, punctuated by emotions and thoughts. Most of them soaked in regret of some form.
“You sure about this?”
Alford glanced up at Ryan, grinning slyly.
“Of course I am. This is the championship we’re talking about, Rye. Use that play and you’re in the finals.”
Ryan let her gaze return to the ring, wishing she could reflect her coach’s enthusiasm. Her opponent sat across from her, balanced on one of the ropes. She looked nervous, but eager. ‘Dragonfly’ they called her, young and spritely. Dragonfly was good, really good, but that was about to come to an end. A screeching, grinding end.
A bell clanged nearby, making both boxers spring to their feet. Ryan hopped about the ring, hands in front of her face and eyes fixated on Dragonfly.
“Come on!”she called out, voice taunting. The bug took the bait.
Dragonfly leapt at her, trying to catch her with a hook, but Ryan jumped aside and got her jaw with an uppercut, kicking her heel discreetly into the girl’s shin. Dragonfly let out a cry of pain, collapsing and grabbing at her leg. Ryan looked at Alford for reassurance, seeing him smile and nod even as medics swarmed the ring.
The crowd went mad as Dragonfly was carried out on a stretcher, whooping and cheering. The referee held Ryan's hand up to the bright lights, clearly not noticing how limp her arm had gotten. It was all she could do to keep her eyes from the young girl being carted out, face contorted in pain. She'd just had surgery-there was a chance she would lose the mobility in her leg. Lose her future.
Ryan leaned her head against the cold window a few minutes later, watching the lights whizzing by.
"I actually did it." she muttered flatly, making Alford glance at her in the rear-view mirror.
"Of course you did, Rye. You were great."
Great. She was great. Killed someone's future, and she was great.
"Stop the car."
Alford complied, confused.
"What? Where are you going, Rye? Rye!"
Ryan was already out of the car, running on the pavement. The rain blurred her vision, but barely impeded her speed. She could hear Alford calling out behind her, hear the car's horn. She wasn't going back. Never.
Ryan stopped, midway through the electronics department. A nearby TV suddenly found itself smashed in, glass flying everywhere. Letting her bloodied hand fall to her side, she strolled on, tuning out from the drone of her mind.
The pharmacy suddenly caught her eye and, realizing that a discussion was in order, Ryan walked in. This would be quick.