IT HAD been a week since the incident at Gael’s office, and I hadn’t seen Colt around. Lois once mentioned of the guards and Colt happened to choose the night shift, so he’d been sleeping at day time.

I shared lunch with the group every day and been able to meet some of them; Darick, a wounded Asian guy. He questioned his value to the group when his skill as a computer geek was no longer needed. I heard that a group of hackers created a virus and that the entire technology especially the Internet collapsed with half of the world.

Then, I met the blonde named Cora who had an attitude problem, and damn, she hated me. I didn’t know why, but she said something that I didn’t deserve a place in this camp, and that I was not a part of their group or their family. Lois advised me ahead of time to ignore her because she thought everyone was a threat to her for Colt.

But the thing was, I envied her body even though she had an attitude to loathe for.

“Hey, Iris! How’re you doing today?” Dr. Hull spotted me from his cabin. He was the doctor who treated me when I was out. He was on his late fifties who had a small clinic back in his small town.

Yesterday, I went to see him, and he gave me some multivitamins and did a brief check-up. He had pots of herbs and medicinal plants at the back of his own cabin where he spent most of his time.

“I’m great, Dr. Hull. Thanks!” I smiled and waved at him.

I was able to sleep without thinking of what would be my death wish. Months of being paranoid and cautious made me sleepless, but this place had been the safest I had been for a long time.

I poke the softened soil and tossed dry tomato seeds. I didn’t have any idea about gardening, but I couldn’t just sit there, watch them, and be useless, so I asked Anna, who cooked for them to teach me. For the past week, I took over the garden from her.

I plucked some decaying leaves off and cleaned the soil of carrots and white radishes when a shadow towered over me.

“Iris.” And that voice made me stiffen. My heart thundered in my chest.

“Twig is fine,” I grunted.

“Not a good time to be sarcastic.”

“So, the sleeping beauty is finally awake? I wonder who kissed you from your deep slumber, Colton? Is it the princess Cora, or the evil witch Maleficent?” I lifted my chin, still, I couldn’t meet his gaze. He was just so tall.

“Will you just stop it?” He sounded annoyed, and that made me snort.

“Then what do I owe the pleasure of your visit to the garden, Mr. Colton?”

He clenched his jaw in irritation before he spoke again. “We’re going to scavenge some gasoline, I thought we might find shops or grocery store along the way. Do you need anything?”

Dusting my hands from the dirt, I stood up.

Colt was strikingly handsome despite his unshaven beard covering his sharp squared jaw. He is the definition of gorgeous and raw.

His stare alone was deadly, but I knew there was some humane deep inside him. I could feel it. Whatever made him like this—it was a part of his survival, or he might lose someone close to him.

I pushed that thought back to the recycle bin in my head. I could think of it later, but not when he was here in front of me.

He had an amazing physique, and I would bet he had ripped muscles underneath his dark shirt and jeans. He looked dark and broody with his midnight black hair, long lashes surrounded his sharp gray eyes that were always filled with doubt and anger.

Yeah, he definitely has trust and anger issues.

“Are you just gonna stare at me or tell me what you want?” I blinked at his irritated voice.

“Lois got it covered,” I replied shortly.

“You might want something other than what Lois had.”

I sat down again and plucked some dying leaves. “For someone who doesn’t belong to your group and or any family, I can’t be choosy, can I, Colton? So, I’m good.”

“You can’t be serious right now. Self-pity doesn’t suit you. They’re waiting for me in the car. How about for monthly thing?”

What did he just say?

I tried hard not to burst into laughter. “For monthly thing? You mean tampons?” My comment made him uncomfortable.

He shifted in front of me, shoving his hands to his pockets. “Yeah, something like that. We don’t have the luxury to bring for you the brand you like, but we might find something... like that.”

“I will share with Lois. Thanks though.”

“Stubborn,” he muttered, and I knew he intended to let me hear it. “Suit yourself.” His thuds of footsteps faded as he walked away.

I couldn’t help but feel grateful that somehow someone came to me and ask me what I needed despite survival became everything for humanity, or was it an order from Gael? Probably the latter.

Anyhow, I took a deep breath and continued working. The sun started to get prickly against my skin, but there was no way to be choosy and applied sunscreen lotion.

I missed beaches.

What mattered to me now was that I was still alive, had a roof above my head, food for my hungry stomach, and the people started to grow on me.

Before I could withdraw my hand from the cucumber vines, a boot stopped me, and I knew who owned it. I hissed in pain when I felt the heel dug into my skin. My thumb fidgeted as she crushed my fingers deeper into the dirt.

“Why the hell are you still here, bitch?” she hissed in anger.

“You know why.”

“Gael feels pity for you. That’s the only reason why you’re here. Now, you can stand by your own two skinny feet, I want you gone before we came back. Did you understand me?”

“You don’t decide if I stay or not, Cora. The last time I checked, you were just like me who were lost and pitied by Gael. So don’t feel so comfy yourself because you never know you might be gone before me.” I blinked, trying to hold the tears that stung my eyes as she increased the pressure of her boot against my hand.

“You’ll regret this. Do you think you can fool everyone here with your damsel in distress drama? You’ll be gone once I find out who you really are, Iris Clayton.”

“Good luck then! I’m sure the corpse of CIA, FBI, and M-16 could help you dig into my past,” I countered.

“You, bitch!”

“Shit!” Once she was gone, I shook my hand, and hissed as the broken skin on my fingers started to throb.

I went toward the cabin I shared with Lois. I just didn’t know why where ever I go, I couldn’t get rid of people who wanted to harm or threaten me. I cleaned my hands with the water from the bucket, then kicked off my shoes, lied down on my bed, and thought of the gray-eyed angry dude.


I MUST have fallen asleep until a soft hand nudged me on my shoulder. “Iris, wake up.”

I stretched and instantly stilled, blinking as my pupils assaulted by the halogen lamp. “Oh, we have electricity?”

She laughed softly. “You sleep for the whole day. Again. And you missed your lunch and dinner.”

“And you’re back safe. How’s the run?”

“Pretty good. That’s why it took us a few hours. We’re lucky today that we did not encounter looters.”

“Thank, God. You’re all safe.”

“I talked to Gael earlier. Maybe next time you can come with us. I don’t like going when Cora. The annoying and demanding bitch came with us today.”

I chucked. “Figured.” I looked at the two plastic bags on her bed.

“Colt wanted to see you.”

“Why?” I eyed her suspiciously.

“I don’t know. I guess you have to go and find it out yourself. His cabin’s the last on the left.”

I stood up from the bed and took a deep breath. “Okay.”

“Relax, Iris. He’s a good guy. You still didn’t tell me what happened at Gael’s office last week though.” She had been insisting that something happened back there, but I kept on denying just to honor my promise to keep Colt’s secret.

After washing my face and brushing my teeth, I led my way to the lion’s den.

I let out a sigh before knocking, and I could hear faint of voices from the inside. If I guessed it right, the other voice was Frost.

“It’s open,” Colt yelled from the inside.

I pushed it open only to find Frost was grinning at me. Blond was not really my thing in a guy, but it was hard to ignore how handsome Frost was. He had the same body and height as Colt, but he had this overconfident and cocky grin that amused me instead of getting turned off.

Lois told me that he was pretty popular and playboy and the only son of the billionaire. Frost was traveling around the country when the virus wreaked havoc.

“Hey, Iris. Wanna join me hunting tomorrow?”

“No, she won’t. Now, out,” Colt quickly interrupted before I could reply.

He smirked. “Man, she’s safe with me. I promise to keep my hands on the hunting gun all the time.”

“Even if you’ll ask Gael, he won’t allow her.” His unwavering gaze bounced between me and Frost.

“I am here, you know. And I can decide for myself. I don’t mind going, and I can ask Gael to join you.”

“Good luck with that,” Colt dismissed me.

“I got the message, man. Some other time, Iris. Oh, wait.” He opened his plastic bag, pulled a shirt, and offered it to me. “This would be perfect for you.”

“You’re giving me that?” I asked in disbelief, smiling like I just received the best gift ever.

“This is a ladies' shirt. So, it’s definitely for you.”

I took it from him—a shirt with a strawberry print. “Thank you. That’s so kind of you, Frost.”

“You’re welcome.” He then asked Colt, “You’re off tonight?”

“Yeah, and I badly need some sleep.”

“Night, man. Bye, Iris.”

“Bye.” I watched him as he closed the door. I wandered my eyes around. The same style as ours, but he had a double-deck that served as a divider, and a six drawer dresser. I guessed Colt like his own privacy. His room smelled crisp of paper, deodorant, and manly.

My breathing suddenly turned shallow when I could feel his gaze on me. My heart started to pound in my chest when seconds stretched to a minute and none of us talked.

I cleared my throat. “Why am I summoned, Colton?”

“Come over here,” he said softly, and I could tell that that was the less deadly voice I ever heard from him.

“Why?” I asked in wary.

“I did not ask you to come over to hurt you.”

“Then why am I here exactly?” I walked closer to where his voice was coming from.

His bed was covered with a dark blue sheet, two pillows, and a small nightstand with his 9mm pistol, a holster, and a knife. Three plastic bags and a backpack on the floor.

He grabbed the first plastic bag and offered it to me. “I picked things that I thought you might need them so that you don’t have to share with Lois.”

“I don’t think I can take that.” I pushed back the plastic.

“But you accepted from Frost.”

“Because I don’t feel it was a charity case,” I told him honestly.

“Jesus! A little gratitude would be nice,” he said dryly. “And we brought for everyone if that makes you feel better.”

I sat on the empty bed across his. “I just don’t wanna be a burden to all of you.”

“You would be if you keep on rejecting what we offer to you. You deserve a place, and as far as I know, you’re a part of the group already. Just take it.” He placed the two bags beside me, lied down on his bed, and crossed his legs.

“Why so many?”

“Just check  them out, and you’re welcome,” he answered harshly.

I watched him close his eyes. He must have been so tired from the run. I checked the first bag. There were two boxes of toothpaste, three toothbrushes, bars of soap, razor, a big bottle of shampoo, lotion, face cream, hair remover cream, a pack of tampons, and... condoms? My eyes widened. I took it out and threw it to him. “I think this is yours.”

His jaw clenched upon seeing the box and pressed his lips in a thin line. He tossed it in his drawer. “Damn him!”

“This is too much, Colton.” The other plastic were shirts, tights, shorts, and jeans, I pair of shoes. I burst into laughter when I pulled out the panties and brassieres. “Don’t tell me this is Frost’s idea?”

His dark brow rose. “What? Don’t tell me that’s not essential.” Why does he always have a say?

I sighed. “I missed my brother. He used to bring me things while we were on the run.” I put everything back inside. “He was like you, never asked what I wanted, and just brought things to me. He tried to be strong for my sake, though deep inside, I knew the situation was killing him.”

“What was he like?” Colt seemed to put an interest in my brother.

“He was three years older than I am, and he just came back from the Middle East. He came to pick me up from our apartment for a weekend camping— just like we used to do during summer. He used to be funny, but his job destroyed him mentally and emotionally. He laughed less, always awake in the middle of the night, and became overprotective of me. He was the reason why I’m still alive though.” I met his sympathetic eyes. “That’s why when you took this necklace away, it felt like you stole my soul and my life away from me. I did not get a chance to meet my parents again, Colton. This is the only thing that connects me to my family.”

“I’m sorry. I was just cautious. I thought of it as collateral since it means a lot to you.”

“It’s mom’s gift. It was odd actually, but this is the only thing that reminds me of them.”

Colt stood up and opened his drawer. He came back with shirts nicely folded on his hands. “I want you to have these.”

“Why are you giving me your shirts?”

“These aren’t mine. He liked long sleeves, and I think these will fit for you.”

“Then whose these belong to, Colton?”

“They belonged to Colton.”

My brows furrowed. “W-what do you mean C-Colton?”

“My brother.”

“Oh, my God! I’ve been calling you Colton where in fact there’s actually a real Colton?” My breath caught in my throat. Silence overtook the atmosphere as we stared at each other.

He nodded. Strength seemed to withdraw from him. “Was.” He took my wrist and placed the shirts on my hand.

Oh god! No wonder he hates me.

“Why didn’t you ever stop me?”

“I don’t know. That’s what was bothering me actually because I like how you call me Colton. I corrected you once, but I thought it was your way of pissing me off.”

“I’m sorry. I thought Colt was short for Colton or maybe your Surname. I’m so sorry.” I stepped closer to him, meeting his magnetic gray eyes.

He shrugged. “Don’t be.”

“Are you sure you want me to have these?”

“You make me feel he’s alive, and I see him in you.”

“I don’t mean to make you feel like that. I don’t have any intention of bringing back the pain of losing someone. I know how it feels. It still hurts, like it all happened just yesterday.”

“I know.”

“I promise to take care of these.” I ran my hand on the shirt, feeling I just took the responsibility of keeping the real Colton’s memory in me.

“What happened to your hand?”

“Huh?” I lifted my gaze, meeting his'.

Concern immediately filled his eyes. “The last time I saw, it didn’t look like that.”

“Oh, uh. I was cleaning and accidentally—”

“Don’t lie to me now, twig.”

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