I dunno what to say. I guess that protective older brother streak I have is a lot stronger than I used to think; all that was on my mind as we sat in the back of that car watching the others digging Richard’s grave was that someone had to look after this kid. But who was gonna do that? I mean, I would while I was still recovering, but once my head was sorted out and I stopped flipping out and panicking every time I saw a zombie so much as look at us, I was gonna have to start pulling my weight again. And that wouldn’t leave much time to be looking after a five year old, would it?
Maybe we’d find a way around it when we got to this camp. Thinking about that, I let out a long, tired sigh. I didn’t really want to go to another camp – we’d all seen how well I get on in those places. If someone found out I’d gotten out of those vaccine trials alive and with a possible cure in my blood, it’d all go to shit again. I lost Rayn that way, I wasn’t gonna let something like that happen again.
I suppose that was my fault, though. If I’d just put up with it, we would never have ended up in a massive fight in the middle of Atlanta. It didn’t matter that I was too fucked up to think of it at the time, I should’ve just done it.
The sound of a shovel cutting through dirt and Alicia’s sniffles felt distant. I stared absently out of the window at David and Eloise digging. All I could think about was how I’d buried Rayn alone, in the middle of fucking nowhere. I’d had to dig Rayn’s grave with my hands. It was shallow and he only just fit in it, but it was better than leaving him to rot out in the open somewhere.
Thinking of Rayn made my eyes sting.
When Richard had been lowered into his grave, I got out of the car, carrying Alicia with me. Yes, we were burying the last of her family, but it made sense to me for her to see it. If she saw it, it would hurt more, but she would know. She would know that would be the last she’d see of her dad, it was her last chance to tell him that she loved him or whatever. I’d comfort her if she got upset again, but besides that, I was just gonna call it tough love. I couldn’t be dealing with her asking when he was gonna wake up like Rayn did when his hamster died. She was growing up in a world where death was around every corner and was coming after us all. I wasn’t about to coddle her and pretend that everything was okay.
Joe looked uneasily from me to Alicia as we got closer. I said nothing, just standing there with everyone else by the side of the grave. I think they got the idea. As David scattered soil over Richard’s body, Joe looked up around at us.
“Does anyone want to say a few words?” he asked tentatively. I clamped my mouth shut, resisting the urge to say what I thought of him.
“He died protecting his daughter,” Eloise started, quickly realizing that whatever was about to come out of my mouth was not going to be in any way nice. “I guess he wasn’t always a laugh to have around, but I think that was just because looking after Alicia was his main priority. He took it so seriously. No one could ever fault him on his parenting.”
“Richard was quiet, but smart. He was a dedicated father, and a valued member of the group. At least he’s in peace now, wherever he may be,” David said, holding his dirty army cap over his heart.
Carol was next, and of course, she was the only one that couldn’t stop herself saying something shitty; “I think it’s safe to say we’ll all miss him. Well, most of us will,” she looked straight up at me, her point obvious to just about everyone. I opened my mouth to yell at her, but Joe cut me off before I could even take a breath to get started. I had to bite my tongue to stop myself from shouting something over him.
“Rest in peace, Richard. We’ll take care of Alicia,” he added more quietly, like an afterthought, “I promise.”
I nodded, silently agreeing. No kid deserves a shitty childhood; I was a first hand example of exactly why you should look after a kid. So, yeah, I was gonna help look after her as much as I could, but because I wanted her to grow up okay, not because I felt bad about Richard dying.
“D’you wanna say anything?” I asked her quietly. She didn’t look so sure – her eyes were all shiny and her face was going red from the effort of not crying in front of everyone. Eventually she nodded.
“Why did you have to go away, Daddy?” she sniffled, “They said that you’re a star in the sky now and Cancer said you can see me and I can see you when it’s night and that makes me feel a bit better,” she sniffled again, not looking much like it was making her feel any better at all. “It makes me happy that you’re happy too. I love you, Daddy.”