23. Cut Back on the Partying

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Sleep that night kept me but fickle company. I was up before the sun scaled the sea, and I crossed our plateau to its edge, intent on finally seeing the ship that would save us and take us back to normalcy. Yet the Pacific's surface shimmered smooth and unbroken, all the way between the white surf to where the water met the sky.

At least, things looked their usual self—rational, explainable, predictable. Even the birds screeched their general irritation into the morning.

This world had no room for blood-sucking creatures with a lifespan of centuries, no place for vampires.

I took a deep breath to sample the morning air when I heard a noise behind me.

"Good morning, Megan." A woman's voice, low-pitched—Bruna.

Not the company I had hoped for right now, but I turned to give her a nod and a friendly smile. "Hey." I glanced towards the campsite and saw Farid watching us.

I returned my attention to Bruna. The top of her head barely reached my chin. The fine wrinkles around her eyes placed her in her forties—not in her hundreds. With her thin and wiry frame, I probably could have lifted her. She looked tough, in a mean fighter's way, but she didn't have the weight to win a brawl.

"Is something wrong with my looks?" she asked, pulling up the corners of her mouth, one more than the other. "I'm sorry, but I've run out of makeup."

"No, it's nothing." I raised my hands in a placating gesture. "I just had a rotten night."

"You look as if you've got a hangover. " She grinned. "Cut back on the partying, I'd say. Anyway, today's the day. We're going to light a campfire, you and I. And we'll make it big."

I shrugged in what I hoped was a noncommittal gesture and headed for another topic. "Are the others awake yet?"

"Farid is. And I saw Chris heading into the bushes a minute ago. He's probably taking a leak. Or he's rubbing his dick to make it match the size of his ego."

I smiled at the would-be vamp's joke.

No, she wasn't a vamp. Such creatures belonged to the realm of fiction and should stay there. And they wouldn't have such blue eyes, red hair, and gross sense of humor. Or would they?

"Or he takes a crap," I said. "He's good at crap."

Her laugh rang rough and smoky, matching her voice.

It stopped short when Nita emerged from the shrubs, her face drawn and pale.

For once she walked with her arms slack at her sides, not the usual balancing act to keep her naked feet from harm.

Her feet were still naked, though.

"Good morning, Nita," I said.

She nodded and stopped at my side, facing the sea, her gaze on the spot where we had found Yves yesterday.

I put an arm over her shoulders.

"See you later," Bruna said and left us.

Nita and I just stood there, saying nothing, until we heard Chris calling us.

"It seems our leader is ready for the order of the day," I said.

I helped Nita to get back to the camp. Tears glistened on her cheeks. It pained me that she didn't even bother to wipe them away.

Chris waited for us, a green pandan in his hand. Against my will, I glanced at his crotch, but there was no sign that would confirm Bruna's assumption.

"This is what we'll do," he said. He bit into the fruit. "Bruna and Megan will gather firewood and carry it to the south hill. You'll take along Nita, at least part of the way, and keep her in shouting distance."

"Yes sir," Bruna said.

Chris hesitated, his gaze on Bruna. Then he continued. "Farid and I will go hunting. We'll try the west coast. We only have a few more hours of low tide. The birds will be feeding in the tide pools there."

"We shouldn't split," Farid said. "Something is going on here."

"The island isn't that large," Chris said "And we should go hunting now while the birds are at the pools. But we also must not wait to light the fire... that ship might still be close by."

Bruna placed a hand on Chris' shoulder. "He's right. And Megan, Nita, and I will stay within shouting distance."

Chris eyed the hand on his shoulder, frowning. Bruna lifted one corner of her mouth and removed it.

Farid said something in their harsh language, his gaze on Bruna. She replied in words that seemed to mock him. The conversation continued, back and forth, and slowly its tone calmed down.

Finally, Farid looked at Chris. "Okay," he said.

"Good." Chris nodded. "With this out of the way, let's stick to English, and let's go. I'll get the spears."

The spears were wooden sticks that Chris had sharpened on a stone the evening before.

Bruna grinned at me. "And we'll gather the firewood." She turned and vanished into the shrubs.

Farid laid a hand on my arm. "She's promised me to leave you alone," he whispered. "But whatever you do, be careful."

His fingers were hot on my skin.

"And you trust her? Didn't she lie to you before?" The whole story of vamps was rubbish, but the thought of being with Bruna still made the hair on my back stand up. Even if Bruna didn't look strong, and we had Nita mourning close by.

He shook his head. "No, I don't trust her. But I said I'd kill her if she harms you."

With that, he squeezed my arm. Then he let go of me and followed Chris.

I went to gather wood. We already had used much of the dead branches around the campsite, so I had to foray up-valley.

She had promised him not to harm me. If she did, he'd kill her. What a strange thought—but still it scared the shit out of me. I had my arms full of branches when it dawned on me: She hadn't promised him not to harm Nita. Had Farid considered that?

Still clinging to my bundle of wood, I ran. The ground, treacherous under its layer of dead leaves and loose stones, made me stumble, and the shrubs reached out for me as I dashed through them.

When I finally arrived at the campsite, Bruna stood there, arms crossed, above Nita, who still sat on her rock.

When the redhead saw me, she grinned. "Finally. We've been waiting for you."

With that, she stooped to pick up a bundle of wood of her own, nodded at me, and started up the incline towards the south hill.


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