I had never really gotten used to the quiet, the contentedness of the farm. I’d found my place easy enough the camps makeshift medical staff had quickly taken me in when they learnt how good I was but it still seemed weird. 3 years without a single incident, no walkers, no attacks. Of course, we’d lost people to supply runs but I could almost forget the fear of the rotting corpses that chased people now. Almost.
Hope had never needed to worry about that, I’d made sure she understood the danger as much as a 3-year-old could, she knew she was never allowed to stray away from her mum. I watched as she played happily just outside the tent with a couple of dolls one of the girls had picked up on a run. Every day she looked more and more like her father, a bittersweet reminder of what I’d left behind. A day hadn’t gone by where I didn’t think of Luca and Joe, even little Arriane who I’d barely even known. I blinked back tears, trying to pull it together. Hope knew about her father a little, she loved bedtime stories about how he’d saved mummy from the monsters and I’d promised that one day we would go to look for him. Of course, she asked every night and every night it became harder and harder to say when you’re older. Hope was so much older than her 3 years, she’d had to be really. There were next to no other children around that had been her age really, because who would be stupid enough to get knocked up during an apocalypse? And whilst there had never been an incident, I had always made sure Hope knew what to do in case anything did happen.
I thought about what might have happened once Luca had found out I’d gone. I was almost certain he would still be alive no matter what, he was never one to give up but apart from that? Maybe he’d moved on, not just from me which I had no doubt he had, but moved to a different area, gone back to being a loner, left Joe and Arriane with the first group he found and cleared off. I shook my head slightly to myself, he may have ditched Arriane but he’d bonded with Joe, maybe in the same way as he had with that kid from back home. Ryan? Rayn? I couldn’t remember.
“Hey Soph.” I jumped, Stuart’s voice pulling me out of my tangled web of thoughts. “Oh hi Stu,”
“I didn’t mean to make you jump, sorry.” He smiled at me apologetically, clearly curious as to where my head had been.
“That’s okay, what can I do for you?” It hadn’t taken me long to learn how to shield my thoughts here, long gone was the open, overly trusting young girl that I’d been with Luca. I was 20 years old now and a mum and whilst I’d grown to trust some of the people within the camp to an extent, I was still pretty guarded.
“Oh nothing really, just checking in, seeing how the little princess was doing,” he smiled out at Hope.
Stuart had quickly taken to both Hope and myself. I knew full well how he felt about me but I made it clear I was in no way emotionally ready for any of that. Stuart said he understood but it had in no way put off his advances and there had been many a night in camp where he’d gotten a little too drunk on Molly the cooks home brew and attempted to make a pass at me. I smiled, ensuring to keep it at a friendly level. “We’re fine thanks Stu.”
Hope wandered inside and her face lit up when she saw him. “Uncy Stu,” she exclaimed brightly, arms raised she tottered over to him. I watched carefully as Stuart lifted her into his arms and gave her a warm embrace. “Hey there little princess. Have you been behaving for mum?” He placed her back on the floor carefully.
“Yes, I’m always good. Tell him Mummy’” I grinned. “Of course you are sweetheart. You’re mummy’s best girl.” She grinned up at Stuart as if to say ‘see uncle Stuart’ “why don’t you go and put your dollies away so we can get you ready for dinner?”
“Can’t dollies come to dinner?” Hope sulked a little. I gave her the look, the same look my mum used to give me as a girl, the one that said ‘do as I say or there’ll be no dollies for the rest of the day’ and she reluctantly went and fetched them to put them into her little box of toys.
“She’s doing good,” Stuart commented, watching Hope pack away. I nodded, I’d been worried given how pig headed and short tempered Luca had always been but it seemed she’d inherited my personality which I was very grateful for. She toddled back over to me and I lifted her up. “We’d better not be late for Molly’s cooking,”
“I’ll save you guys a seat,” Stuart called as I took Hope over to the wash stations.
I felt bad, Stu was a good guy and I’m sure he’d make a great dad figure to Hope but I don’t think I’d ever really be able to get over Luca. I guess I was just a sucker for the broken ones.
Hope skipped over to the fire pit that was at the centre of the camp site I could see Stuart sat with some of the younger lads, smiling and laughing. He picked Hope up as she reached him and sat her on his lap, he looked over at me and smiled, his goofy boyish grin and his bright eyes twinkling under a mop of blond hair. He was handsome no doubt and he was good with Hope but I knew if anything happened, if we were attacked, he wouldn’t have a clue. I sighed and went to sit down, helping myself to food and making sure Hope had plenty to eat. I stayed quiet while the others chatted amongst themselves all the thinking about the past had left me feeling tense and upset and I didn’t want to let on to Hope.
Dinner passed quickly and Hope started getting sleepy. She said her good nights and was demanding a bedtime story, I smiled as I carried her to our tent. “Which one would you like little princess?”
“I wanna hear about how you and daddy met,”
“Again?” I laughed and tucked her in and told her about how her daddy swooped in and saved me from the monster and returned me safely, I missed out the parts about Scott but I’d always tell her about how he had fought off the bad guys. It didn’t take long for her to fall asleep and I used the time to quietly slip outside. I sat just outside the tent, I never slept particularly well but tonight I felt more restless than usual. I guess all my experience from before had attuned me to when bad things happened because for the first time in 3 years, they came. Who knows what it was or who it was but something had finally drawn them to us. I was alerted to something being wrong by the screams that suddenly erupted from the front of the house. “Shit’” I muttered under my breath. “Hope it’s time to get up’” I opened the tent and shook Hope a little, waking her. “Come on sweetie, like we practiced ok?” She shot up and started putting her things into a bag. I pulled my weapons bag from beside my sleeping bag and strapped my guns and knives to myself. I grabbed the bag I’d always had ready for this as Hope finished hers. “Are we going for Uncy Stu?” She asked shakily.
“You know we can’t sweetie. He knows the plan, he’ll come find us. I didn’t really want to give her false hope but I couldn’t tell her that he was most likely dead. The screams were getting closer know, pierced through with gunfire. “Come on now.” I picked her up and we ran, we kept running until we reached the road on the other side of the woodland a good 20minutes away where I had to stop to catch my breath. We’d practiced this many a time so even in the dark I knew the way off by heart that and the drive of having a hoard of walkers behind me had pushed me on but I had to stop.
“Are you okay mummy?” Hope looked worried as I put her down to sit on the bonnet of a broken down car. I nodded, breathing heavily. “I’m... okay... sweet...” I panted. I stood up and stretched out taking a deep breath. I knew I couldn’t stop long so I lifted Hope off the car and took us along the road to the one I’d left especially for this. I slipped her into the back seat of the little black Citroën Cactus strapping her into the kids seat I’d managed to salvage from my searches up and down the dual carriageway. “Okay honey, you comfy?” I pulled the blanket across her. She nodded, eyes still wide with fear. “And what are we going to do now?”
“We go to the meet place to wait for uncy stu.”
“Well done sweetheart’” I closed her door and breathed out slowly to calm myself. It had been a while since I’d been in a situation like this but I knew exactly where I needed to go. It was time to go find daddy.
It took us about 10 minutes to get to the service station we had arranged to meet Stuart at. He wasn’t there. I set my digital watch to time for 30 minutes, it was one of those ones with a little solar panel like a calculator so it never ran out of power. “When’s Uncy Stu getting here?” Hopes little voice trembled. I chewed my lip anxiously, a habit I thought I’d lost over these past few years. “I don’t know sweetie, I don’t know.” I kept checking my watch, nervous. I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage this on my own, I’d made sure to scavenge enough petrol for the journey back and we’d stock piled food in the back for the journey but I’d never really thought about having to do it alone. I sighed and rested my head back against the headrest. 15 minutes had past. I was already beginning to think he wasn’t got to turn up. No one was going to turn up. Hope starting to hum a little tune, something I didn’t recognise. “That’s pretty sweetheart, what is it?” She shrugged, “Uncy Stu listened to it. Something about killing a bird... a fire bird,” I frowned a little, pretty sure that wasn’t something a three-year-old should listen too.
I checked my watch, not that it had been any time since I’d last checked it. I ran my hand through my hair anxiously. Checked my watch. Looked through the glove box. Checked my watch. Got out of the car and scavenged some things from other cars. Checked my watch. “Where are you Stuart?” I muttered. It had been 25 minutes. Suddenly a loud crash sounded from the other side of the car park. I scrambled back to the car, carefully shutting the doors trying not to make any noise. I lifted my gun, holding it steady and gripped a knife in my other hand. It wasn’t until the scruffy, blood covered figure looked up and called out for me that I relaxed.
“Soph?” Stuart half called, trying not to make too much noise.
“Stu. It’s okay, we’re here.” I let out a long breath and couldn’t help running over and pulling him into a hug which took him entirely by surprise. “Come on Hope’s been asking for you,” I pulled him over to the car and let Hope out to hug him.
“Uncy stu, uncy stu yaay,” she cheered. I smiled. Allowing myself the briefest moment of happiness before pulling out the map I’d prepared and laying it on the bonnet. I knew the planned route off by heart. Stuart put Hope back in the car and came around to me.
“So what’s the plan?”
I glanced up at Hope who was playing with one of her toys from her bag. “We’re going to her Dad.” Stuart looked at me, clearly concerned as he saw this as competition. I ignored him. “This was where he was last but I don’t know any more.” He nodded, still clearly trying to work out the whole finding Dad thing. I folded up the map. “We’ll drive in shifts, it shouldn’t take us too long,” He nodded again.
We both got in the car and started up, finally Hope would meet her Dad.