Light in the Darkness

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We ride until nightfall. The uphill rides are the worst, but after the initial mountain, the little rolling hills seem like a joke. My calves and thighs burn; my blonde hair sticks to the back of my neck. When I wipe my sweat off, it's ashy gray from the fire. When Stephen says we should stop, Isaac jumps off so fast he trips, stumbling to catch himself.

"We will take turns guarding in pairs," Stephen says as Isaac and I sit down to rest. "Clare and I will go first, so you two can sleep."

Neither of us argue.

As we spread our stuff out, I notice that no one brought a sleeping bag. Clare has a blanket, a change of clothes, a jacket and some food. Stephen's pack is even lighter. He carries a pack of matches, a change of clothes, a canteen of water, and a picture of a woman and Jackson. My sleeping bag is back at the Al-Ma, crammed full of food.

Already, the temperature is dropping.

"Anyone know how to build a fire?" I ask, shivering, "We might freeze if we don't. We aren't very prepared."

"I can," Isaac says, walking off to the line of trees beside us.

My stomach growls, and I clamp a hand over it. The three granola bars that Clare has stashed will not be enough for all of us; so I just need to get over it.

"We were gonna leave tomorrow," Stephen says, watching me eye the food. I glance up at him, raising my eyebrows. "Some people didn't want us to send you back. Said there wasn't any point in and tryin' to save everyone. They said that we made it this far survivin' on our own, we would make it through this too."

I take a deep breath as he pauses, picking at a blade of grass.

"But just this morning, we voted to leave tomorrow. We were making a list of supplies you would need when Ollie called a break. I wasn't supposed to come. We were gonna send Mandy, Justin, and Clare. I was supposed to stay with Jackson."

The tone in his voice is full of remorse and loss. There's a little bit of anger, but it isn't aimed at me. Staring up at him, I breathe deeply, sucking in the cold air from around me.

"I'm sorry we brought you into this," I mutter as Isaac returns, arms full of scrawny twigs.

"You didn't do this," Stephen continues, handing Isaac his matches, "This ain't your fault, kid."

Isaac lights the fire then, and automatically, the air around us heats up. We fall into silence, watching the sun set behind us.

"Sleep, Jay," Stephen continues, walking off to sit by Clare on the edge of the pavement. I spread my jacket out over the ground, laying down with my hands behind my head. The fire beside me is warm, and my eyes droop in a matter of seconds.

"Will you be my pillow?"

My eyes pop open, looking shocked at Isaac who is sitting beside me.

"Excuse me?"

"Can I use you as a pillow?"

I laugh.

"I thought that's what you said. Sure, whatever."

He smiles back at me, stretching out perpendicular to me with his head propped up on my thigh.

"I'm hungry, Jay," he whispers, eyes closed.

"Yeah, me too."

"I think I've been hungry since we left the compound," he continues, breathing deeply, "The food was terrible, but at least we got enough."

My hand moves to his head, stroking his hair with a smile.

"You'll have to be hungry a little longer," I say as I pet him, "There's not enough for all of us. I want Clare and Stephen to have it for the trip back."

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