Anybody with basic observation skills could have detected the anguish that emanated from Chris. He was normally the one who didn't care; he did what he had to and he got on with life. It was the way he was raised and it was the way he had been comfortable with. Things had changed recently, probably even before the entire world went up in flames. He started to feel things a bit more intensely, emotions that hadn't been there before. He thought before that his apathy was advantageous and that confusing feelings just got in the way of everything. Now though, he spent his time useless, too many dark thoughts plagued his mind and the guilt... The guilt was the worst thing of all. He tried to not let it in, but he couldn't help it.
'Chris!' Someone shouted him from the lobby and he returned to his blank state; eyes clouded over and mouth set in a firm line. He got up to see what they wanted
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Joe watched Chris enter the room, looking for signs of remorse but he couldn't detect any, despite the conversation they had shared a couple of days before. He shook his head in disgust, no longer wanting to associate himself with the man.
Jed had the group gathered round the large oak desk at the front of the room. There were panicked stances among the group; Rob had his arms crossed tightly, Jed was blinking ten to the dozen and Andrew and Eleanor Hartness were stood closely together, casting worried glances at their unsuspecting son who was still glaring at Chris.
'What is it?' Chris drawled, the nonchalance seeming only a little forced.
'Supplies,' Jed stated. That one, simple word seemed to have an effect on everybody else, but it barely cracked Chris' cool composure.
'What about them?'
'We're running low. We need to do a run.'
'I'll go,' Chris shrugged his shoulders like it was no big deal.
'You can't go on your own.'
'Worried something bad will happen to me?' Chris grinned.
'No,' Jed glared. 'We need more people so that more supplies can be collected.' He looked around at the group. 'I don't normally force people to do things they don't want to, but we need some volunteers.' He looked pointedly at Joe's dad. Eleanor gasped a little and clutched her husband’s hand tightly.
'It's okay Elle,' Andrew turned to face his wife. 'I'll be okay.' He smiled at her, a little unsteadily, and nodded at Jed.
'Well if you're going, I'm going,' Eleanor demanded.
'Absolutely not!' Andrew fumed. 'We need you here, in case -' He looked at his son, trailing off. Though the words were unspoken, the intention was clear: in case they both died, who was going to look after Joe?
Joe imagined the panic-stricken look on his face convinced his mother just enough as she calmed herself down and pulled her husband towards him, kissing him fiercely. 'You be careful. Don't you dare get yourself hurt out there, you hear me?’
‘Yes ma’am,’ Andrew smiled shakily.
‘Count me in,’ Rob sounded resigned. He uncrossed his arms slowly. ‘The more bodies the better, right?’
‘Right. You know the drill, don’t you? You’ve done this before.’ Jed went into another room for a few moments before returning with a large plastic sack. ‘These should keep you covered.’
Joe peered out, interested.
The bag was filled with various items; rucksacks, pieces of clothing and a lot of leather. Jed picked out a couple of flashlights and tossed them over to Andrew and Rob. He pulled out a biker jacket. Andrew’s face fell at the sight of it; it was a far cry from what he normally wore, but right now he wasn’t exactly going to protest to the extra safety.
‘This should keep your arms well covered. You might get hot in it, but rather be warm than infected.’
Andrew pulled the jacket on and Joe had to stifle laughter at the sight of his father, despite the grim situation he was faced with.
‘Oh my god,’ Joe snorted. Andrew flashed a look at his son which immediately shut him up. Somehow, Chris and Rob looked better in the other jackets.
‘Fill the rucksacks as best as you can. Use the flashlights only if you have to and do not use guns. Knives only.’ Jed instructed them. ‘Andrew, stick with Rob and Chris, they know where they are going and for god’s sake don’t split up. If you think you see or hear anything unusual you get the hell out of there.’
A grim silence fell on the group as it dawned on them that this could be the last time they’d see each other. The Hartness’ shared a tight hug, Rob took a hold of his friends shoulder and Jed patted them both on the back. You’re gonna be fine, he mouthed at them.
All too soon the farewells had ended and it was time to set off. They started off down the long winding corridor, resembling a funeral procession, until they came face to face with the emergency exit; one of the few windows kept active in the entire hotel. Storm clouds had gathered above and there was a rumble of thunder in the distance.
Andrew hugged his family one last time before climbing out of the window. Rob and Chris followed wordlessly and Jed shut it after them, turning to face Eleanor and Joe.
None of them said anything.