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Kelsey sat on the hard ground in front of the cabin she shared with Paul and his daughter, Bre. It sat in a little clearing with three other cottages, all wood houses with cherry red or sunny yellow curtains peeking through the kitchen windows. A large, extended family had lived in the cabins before the AgFlu, but none of them had survived.

Aaron occupied the house across from the one Kelsey lived in, his brother Curt and his family lived in the one to Kelsey's right. The one to her left housed an older couple she didn't know well yet. The division of cabins at the new community on Cole's Mountain had been made in such a way that there would be strong people able to defend the houses in each area, but Kelsey's group was better than most, and she was happy about that. The months she'd spent in the city alone surrounded by the sick still haunted her.

Jesse sat across from Kelsey and Bre was to her side. Paul was steadily banging away at something on the inside of the cabin. Kelsey couldn't imagine what it could be. They had all been working for weeks fixing stuff up, she didn't think there would possibly be anything left to do.

Another round of hammering ended in an exclamation of pain and a wildly unusual series of curses that caused the young people a fit of giggling.

"Dad should really watch those fingers of his, he's the only surgeon we know of," Bre said as soon as she could catch some air.

Paul's feet pounded toward the front door, he pushed open the screen and quickly said, "Bre, get me some more nails from Aaron."

"Oh, boy!" Bre said under her breath as she rose to do as he asked. "He's on a roll with something now."

Kelsey and Jesse smothered more laughter as she walked away.

"And you too!" Paul said, "When I'm done here, we'll have another first aid class."

Being the only doctor didn't sit well with Paul, so he was giving some beginner medical instruction to all that were interested. Not only would that training be useful to everyone, but it was helping him figure out who had some skill in medicine, someone he could train in the more advanced areas.

His daughter, Bre, had been interested in medicine from the time she could crawl, so that was a no-brainer. But as Paul had told the kids more than once, the more people that knew medicine, the better.

Jesse and Kelsey nodded. Jesse turned on the cd player that Dylan had picked up for him on one of their scavenging trips. Kelsey listened to the song and tipped her head to the breeze blowing across the little glen, letting it pull her curly, brown hair across her face.

Here was so much better than there, she thought. There being Fenton, where Paul and Bre had found her, where her parents and three siblings had died. She tried to shut the door on the thought of there. Tried to pretend all of that never happened, that her life started the day that they had found her on that trash heap.

Sure, there are some scary people here too.

Her gaze followed Dylan and Wade as they entered the area and strolled toward her. The big, muscular men were loaded with weapons, as always. They carried their bows on their back, and their rifles in their hands. Her eyes grew wider the closer they got. They nodded at her, then squatted by Jesse, talking with him. Kelsey let out the breath she'd been holding.

But at least they're on our side.

She looked at the way Jesse easily talked with the two tough men. Jesse had said they were protectors and that he would know, so she needed to stop being afraid of them. To trust him and them. She was trying but coming from a place where she hadn't trusted anyone, it was hard to do. And honestly, her dad would've given these guys a wide berth even before Fenton went down.

Kelsey watched as Wade pounded Jesse's back and winced. She wondered why men do that and hoped he would never do that to her. She'd be flat on the ground with the first one. When Dylan ruffled Jessie's hair, the boy ducked his head as he quickly fixed it and gave Kelsey a look out of the corner of his eye.

Dylan looked from Jesse to Kelsey to Jesse again. He softened his gruff voices as much as he was able. "Hey, Kelsey."

Kelsey knew then she must look like a scared little rabbit. Even though she tried to shake off her nervousness, her voice cracked when she said, "Hey." In her defense, she didn't say much now anyway.

"Look what they brought us." Jesse leaned toward her and fanned out some new CDs to show her. "Lynard Skynard. Have you heard of them?"

Kelsey shook her head and started picking at the seam of her jeans.

"I'm sure their good though, if Dylan and Wade like 'em." Jessie put one of the CDs in the player. She nodded her agreement, wishing that everything didn't work so oddly for her now.

Before, she'd always had something to say. Words had flowed easily and in great quantities. Yet now, it was as if the words had to be ripped from her, if they came at all. Skye said it would get better, Kelsey just needed to give it time.

"You'll like 'em, girlie," Wade said as Kelsey peeked up at him. "All the best southerners do, and I'm sure your one of the best."

Kelsey smiled and uttered a quick laugh as Wade's laughter bellowed through the clearing. He was teasing her. He knew she was from Ohio.

"She'll like it anyway," Jesse said, "Won't you, Kelsey?"

She nodded and said, "Yes, I will," as the first few notes started playing.

"Yeah, we'll make a mountaineer of her yet, won't we, boy?" Wade said. Jesse laughed and nodded.

"You gonna come see Skye later?" Dylan asked. Kelsey had regular appointments with Skye to help her through her trauma.

"Yes," Kelsey said.

"I'm gonna to stay here 'til then," Jesse said, "Paul wants to do a first aid class. Then I'll walk Kelsey over."

"Alright, just remember, your momma has chores for ya to do."

"Yes, sir."

Dylan rose and went to ruffle Jesse's hair again but stopped short. "Okay then, see ya later. Watch what you're doin' out there."

Kelsey watched the men walk away then looked around the clearing. She took in the bustle of activity as people built, cleaned, cooked and gardened. This was a good place to be, safe.

Well, as safe as anywhere was anymore.

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