Hollowmen, p.18
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       Hollowmen, p.18

         Part #2 of The Hollows series by Amanda Hocking
 
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Page 51

  34.

  The morning light spilled in through the sheer curtains, but for the moment, the house was silent. It wouldn’t be that way for much longer, because the kids would be up soon, demanding breakfast and entertainment.

  Boden stirred next to me, and I rolled over to face him. He was lying on his stomach with the sheet pulled up to the middle of his back. His face was buried firmly in a pillow, so I could unabashedly admire the strong counters of his back.

  And after the last few days, I fully appreciated how strong he was. He could carry me like I was nothing, and he pinned me down effortlessly. Admittedly, I never really fought him, not even when he held me down. But if he ever turned into a zombie, I would be in serious trouble.

  Lying with Boden like this, sometimes my thoughts would drift back to Lazlo. I cared about him, even loved him still. But I didn’t know if he was alive or dead, and I honestly didn’t think I’d ever see him again. That hurt, but that’s the way it was.

  And it didn’t change the fact that I was starting to feel something real for Boden, something almost overpowering. I wasn’t going to deny it either or pretend like it wasn’t happening. I was falling for him, and I was letting myself.

  I needed to let myself actually enjoy things and be present in my life, instead of trying to be an autonomous robot. I’d been working hard on that, and not just in the moments I shared with Boden. When I was playing with Max and Stella, I tried to really play with them. Even when I talked to Serg, I tried to laugh and have fun more.

  Stella’s laughter pulled me from my thoughts, and that meant it was time to get up. I sighed and got out of bed.

  “Hey. ” Boden pulled his head out from the pillow and squinted up at me. “What are you doing?”

  “Stella’s awake,” I said and pulled on one of Boden’s sweaters that was draped over the chair. It was way too big for me and made of something scratchy and warm like wool, but I liked it anyway because it felt cozy.

  “Serg can take care of her. ” He rolled onto his back and patted the empty spot next to him. “You can come back to bed. ”

  “Serg has gotten up with Max and Stella the past three mornings,” I reminded him. “I can’t make him do it every day. ”

  “Stella and Max can handle being on their own for fifteen minutes. ” Boden grinned wickedly. “Come back to bed. ”

  “Boden. ” I gave him a look as I put on a pair of pants. “You know my rule about not doing anything when the kids are awake. ”

  “I know,” he sighed. “But since we’re sleeping together now, don’t you think maybe you should stop calling me by my last name?”

  I raised an eyebrow. “You want me to call you Charlie?”

  “I don’t know. Maybe. ” He shrugged. “Try it. ”

  I crawled onto the bed so I could lean over and give him a kiss on the lips. “See you downstairs in a little bit, Charlie. ”

  “No. ” He wrinkled his nose. “I don’t like the Charlie. I did like the kissing part, though. We can do that again. ”

  I gave him one more quick kiss, and he tried to wrap his arms around me, so he could pull me back into bed, but I squirmed out of his embrace. He was laughing as I left the room.

  When I got downstairs, Stella was sitting on a kitchen stool eating oatmeal. The other stool had been destroyed in the fight with Bruce, so Serg was forced to lean against the counter and eat.

  We didn’t have real oatmeal, not in the traditional sense. The house had come with a few canisters of plain Quaker Oats, and we soaked them in warm water from the lake for a few minutes. Then we smashed up berries into it. The berries I’d tried had never made me sick, so we’d taken to eating them, and we all seemed to be doing fine.

  “What’s this?” Serg asked, pretending to be shocked to see me. “It’s morning, and you’re getting up? You’re not going to spend all day in bed with Boden?”

  “It’s not all morning,” I said, but I blushed a little at his accusation.

  A pop bottle of “clean” lake water sat on the counter, and I poured myself a glass. We could never be certain that it was fully clean, of course. We strained out dirt and bigger particles, and we boiled the water to kill any germs. That was the best we could do.

  “So … is this like a permanent thing?” Serg asked between mouthfuls of oatmeal.

  “I don’t know. ” I shrugged and took a drink of water. “Why?”

  “Me and Max are going fishing this morning,” Serg said. “But he asked me after that if I’d help him do stuff to his room. He hates the stupid beige walls, so I thought we could try to come up with some way to make it cooler. ”

  “So you wanted to know if that’s going to be his room from now on,” I said.

  He nodded. “Yeah. ”

  Boden had been sleeping in the master bedroom with me, so Max was sleeping in Boden’s room down the hall. Max seemed to enjoy it, though, because he liked having a room all to himself.

  “Go ahead,” I said at length. “Decorate Max’s room. ”

  Serg raised an eyebrow approvingly. “Sounds good. ”

  “I think I’m going to do laundry today, so I’m going to go out and get some lake water,” I said. “If Max gets up and needs help with his breakfast, I’ll be out back. ”

  “Thanks, but I think I manage,” Serg smiled.

  We’d found several large plastic buckets in the garage, and I took two of them out with me to the lake. Doing laundry was tedious. I had to fill up several buckets and use the strainer to get out any dirt. Then I filled up the bathtub with the water, and I got on my hands and knees and scrubbed the clothes with a bar of soap. It was an all-day thing, so I wanted to get a jump on it early.

  I was bent over the lake, reaching out as far as I could so I wouldn’t get so much mud mixed in with the water, when I heard a familiar sound.

  I turned around to see a zombie a few feet behind me, making a retching noise.

  35.

  I grabbed the empty bucket and swung at it. The zombie narrowly ducked out of the way, which I didn’t appreciate at all. I wasn’t used to zombies dodging attacks, so right off the bat that was a bad sign.

  The zombie was grayish and clearly a man. He’d been turned long enough that he looked as though his eyes were going to fall out, and his lip was torn off, revealing his broken and crooked teeth. But he was young enough where he still held human form, and he was fast.

  Page 52

  He ran at me, and I swung the bucket again. This time it connected with his face, but it only stunned him for a second. He didn’t even lose his balance.

  “Great,” I muttered. “The first zombie I see here, and he has to be a super zombie. ”

  Boden had left an ax outside for chopping wood for the fireplace. It was sticking out from a tree stump right behind the garage, so I ran for it. The zombie gave chase, naturally, and I’d just wrapped my fingers around the handle of the ax when the zombie caught my sweater, yanking me back.

  Fortunately, the ax came with me. The zombie had knocked me off balance, though, and I fell to the ground. It jumped at me, preparing to devour my face, and I swung the ax at it. The blade hit the middle of the zombie’s face, slicing through his skull just below his eyeball. I drove it all the way through the other side of his nose before deciding that was enough.

  It collapsed on me, dripping it’s horrible thick blood all over my favorite sweater of Boden’s.

  “Dammit. ” I pushed the dead zombie off me and got up, wiping the blood off on the already ruined shirt.

  I pulled off the sweater, stripping down to a tank top, and tossed Boden’s shirt on the grass. I’d have to throw it away later, but for now, I just wanted to get back in the house and put on something warm.

  Ripley came around the side of the garage, swishing her tail.

  “Now you come,” I told her. “I’ve already killed it and don’t need your help. ”

  She lic
ked her lips when she saw the zombie and sniffed the air. It’d been awhile since she’d eaten, since there weren’t many zombies up here. I think I saw her eating a squirrel once, but I couldn’t say for sure.

  “Go ahead. Eat up. ” I waved her on, and then I turned to go back in the house.

  Max was up, and he’d already gotten the fishing poles out. He and Serg were excitedly talking about their plans to catch impossibly large fish.

  “If you’re going fishing, be on the watch for zombies,” I said as I walked by them. “I just saw one in the backyard. ”

  “Really?” Serg and Max asked in unison.

  “Yeah, really. ” I gave Serg a meaningful look. “You be careful if you take my brother outside. ”

  “Wait. What?” Boden asked.

  He’d gotten out of bed in the time I’d been outside collecting water and wrestling with the zombie. He sat on the couch with Stella curled up underneath one of his arms. From where I stood, I couldn’t see, but I imagined that he had a copy of Oh, the Places You’ll Go open on his lap. That’d been Stella’s favorite book since she’d found it here, and she had us read it to her ten times a day.

  “There was a zombie outside. ” I walked around the couch and flopped down next to him. “I got it, but I ruined your shirt. ”

  “It’s okay. You liked the shirt more than I did anyway. ” He closed the book on his lap and turned away from Stella a bit to check me out. “Are you okay?”

  “Yeah, I’m fine. ” I settled down next to him and sighed. “I guess I should be grateful that it took the zombies this long to find us out here. It’s been warming up, and we knew they’d start coming. ”

  “We did,” Boden agreed. “So what do you want to do? Should we go?”

  “No. ” I shook my head fiercely. “This is our home now. ”

  “You sure?” Boden asked.

  “Yes,” I nodded. “There can’t be that many zombies around here anyway. And summer only lasts a few months before it gets cold again. We can hold off zombies for that long. ”

  “Okay. ” He grinned, then leaned over and kissed my temple.

  He opened the book back up, and I rested my head on his shoulder and listened to him reading to Stella. For the first time in so long, I felt like I finally had a home, a family. And I wasn’t going anywhere.

 
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