Bitter it was. With John concerned about being trailed, the trio had opted on not setting a campfire, which meant that no one got any sleep. Though shifts were designated by John as to who would stand watch, the aforementioned fact made it an exercise in futility. All three were conscious throughout the night, save a few micro naps brought on by sleep deprivation. The suffering didn't end when the sun came up over the valley hills. Waiting for them in the morning twilight was an onslaught of mosquitoes that rivaled the first two nights Michael had spent in the forest. Having little to protect themselves with, the insects had themselves a feast.
John left camp to refill his water skin while Andrea prepared food. On his return he offered some to Michael simply on principal. A dehydrated man would do nothing but slow them down and contrary to what John wanted at the moment, they needed Michael alive.
Andrea washed her face with what Michael assumed was a wet wipe, after which she tried to retie her cluttered hair; with not much success.
Finally, they gathered what gear had been laid out for a measly trail breakfast and got ready to step off.
As she fastened the waistband strap of the backpack she was carrying, Andrea turned to Michael. “We should be near a main supply route in a couple of hours. From there we'll catch a ride, hopefully, to a temporary base.”
“And what if our hopes don't pan out?” asked Michael.
“What? You mean, what if the vehicle doesn't show up?”
“Yeah. I guess we continue on walking?”
Andrea laughed. “You guessed it fly boy.”
Michael hung his head, laughing a little on the inside about the ignorance of his question. He also thought briefly about how long it had been since someone had called him fly boy. Then he thought a lot less briefly about it. It's then that it hit him. The last person to have called him that was Cassandra, his wife. His eyes widened.
John looked at him and cocked his head. “You alright?”
“She was my wife,” Michael uttered.
“What?” John said, looking past Michael to Andrea. “Hey, your boy's having a seizure or something.”
Andrea dropped her shoulders and looked up at the sky, then turned around and came back to Michael. “Hey, what's the matter?”
“She was my wife,” he said again, a tear breaking over the cusp of his eyelid and tumbling down his cheek. “And now she's dead. She was the last person to call me fly boy,” he said, looking now to Andrea. “Eighty or so years ago,” He continued, another tear racing down through the path the other had broken along his dirt covered face.
Andrea sighed, her heart breaking for the man.
John watched Andrea's features soften and shook his head. “We don't have time for this crap.”
She looked at him, as if scolding him with her glance, then returned her attention to Michael. “Listen, I understand, as much as I can, that you're going through some rough emotional terrain here Michael. Unfortunately, if we don't get a move on, really bad things will start happening. Things that I can promise you will supersede the painful memories of your lost loved ones.” She took his hand, “I need you to put this away for a short while, so we can get out of here safely. When we're back at the shop, I'll make sure you're given time to sort through your feelings.”
Michael looked down at her hand, she was unintentionally holding the bruised hand that had been holding the spear when John removed it from his grip. The pain seemed to help him replant his feet in reality and assess the situation with a clear mind. He nodded. “Sorry,” he said, shaking his head and wiping his tears. “Just a little messed up, that's all.”
“Aren't we all?” Andrea said, smiling.
John sighed. “Speak for yourself.”
Andrea let go of Michael's hand, and patted him on the shoulder. “Ok, let's go.”
Michael laughed. She had patted him on the sore shoulder. He turned and followed behind her. Looking over his shoulder, he inadvertently made eye contact with John in the rear, who glared at him with all the hatred of a vengeful Shylock yearning for his pound of flesh.