After days and days of it, driving could get awfully boring. She never would have believed that something she'd anticipated fifteen years could become so dull, yet it did. It was one of those big milestones, like saying one's first words and turning twenty one- it opened up new freedoms. Yet, after the nomadic lifestyle they'd been living the past three days, it was starting to downright suck. They were on the run, doing their best to stay out of sight and alive. After spending a great deal of the last few days doing so, the hours all seemed to swirl together into one big, boring blur.
Shay felt as if the seat had been molded to fit her figure after sitting in it so long- they'd wasted yet another day driving down a highway that seemed to go on forever, yet somehow never left the state. Subconsciously, that was her plan- she didn't want to leave just yet, even though she knew it would be best to hightail it out of Missouri. She didn't want to be in completely unfamiliar terrain- it would make them more vulnerable.
About five minutes ago she'd taken an exit, not really sure of her motives, and began to drive down a back road. She didn't really have any intention or purpose in doing so, but was more so just curious. She was fully aware of the fact she was wasting valuable, and rather expensive gas, yet it didn't come as much concern- she just needed a break from the interstate.
"I need to get out of this goddamn truck," she hissed to Carson, who was sitting nonchalantly in the seat beside her, gazing out at the blurs of nature as they sped past.
"I figured I was the only one," he muttered. "It's like being stuck in a coffin," he continued, mumbling. She couldn't agree more.
"Yeah, but where would we go? After what happened today I'd rather not stop at a rest stop again," she replied, looking into the rearview mirror for a moment to observe her busted lip. The swelling had gone down some and the dried blood had been wiped away, but it still looked awful.
"A bar? Don't count on me to drink, but I know you and Marena could use one. Don't act like you've never had any before, I know you guys both took ten shots at-"
"Okay Carson, you promised not to mention that," she snapped back, tone high. Truth be told, she'd been to parties, and had obviously had her share of alcohol. Despite it being against the law, she couldn't be concerned less with a little bit of illegal activity. Drinking under the age was the least of her concern anymore- she'd broken far more important laws than the drinking age recently.
"Look, I'm just saying. It might be good to get everyone's minds off of it. You know, let your hair down."
"I never wear my hair up unless I'm playing," she shot back. "So your argument is invalid."
Carson rolled his dark eyes and shrugged. "Just making suggestions, I don't want to see you get the shit beaten out of you again, either."
If she hadn't been in the middle of a road with a car behind her, she most likely would have slammed her foot down on the brake. She most certainly did not get the shit beaten out of her. One strong, well-aimed blow to the face didn't classify. Her anger bubbling over, she gripped the steering wheel hard beneath her hands as she tensed, blowing hot air out of her nostrils in an effort to release some of her fury.
"She punched me once."
"In the face," he responded, grinning. "I won't be kissing those lips any time soon!"
"Asshole!" She shouted, playfully punching him in the shoulder. Without warning the vehicle swerved- she'd broken her rule of keeping two hands on at all time. The U-Haul swerved off the road with a bump, jostling the two in their seats as the tires began to speed over grass and rock. The wheel spun out of her hands and she screamed, struggling to regain control of the vehicle.
Trees began to blur past the windows, branches extending out to smack the windshield. Each little bump sent the teens bouncing in their seats, Shay still struggling to maintain control. Both of them were cursing loudly in a staccato rhythm as they were jostled in their seats.
After maybe fifteen seconds of being tossed around by Mother Nature the U-Haul came slamming into a tree. The force of the impact threw Shay and Carson forward into the airbags as they deployed, the only thing keeping them from going through the windshield were their seatbelts. The windshield was shattered, cracks in the glass spreading out like the intricate weave of a spider's web. The front of the vehicle was warped around the tree, smoke curling up from beneath the hood.
Resting her head in the airbag she sighed slowly, thankful nobody was hurt, in the driver's compartment at least. She ran her hands through her hair, pondering on all the cruel things the others would say. She'd totaled the truck.
"Shit, Shay," Carson muttered as he unbuckled his seatbelt with a click. She raised her head up from the airbag, ashamed. All the time she'd spent driving like an OCD woman and the one time she slipped she'd crashed. Some people would be more forgiving than others. She too unbuckled her seatbelt, forcing the dented door open and slipping outside, grateful to be resting her feet on grass.
"Shay, what the hell happened?" Marena asked, a little ruder than she should of, as she rounded the corner. She looked up to see her best friend was pursued by the rest of them, some looking scared, others battered, others pissed. She bit her lip, expecting this. Katrina leaned up against a tree, rubbing a growing bump on the back of her head. Nobody seemed to be seriously injured.
"I ran into a tree," she stated blankly. All other conversations fell silent; the only sound the rustling of the sunset breeze between the leaves.
"Well that's pretty damn obvious. How did you run into a tree?" Laylia spat, the rudeness in her voice starting to piss Shay off. After Carson's revelation to her at the rest stop, she could easily kick Laylia from the group if she pleased, yet she remained hesitant. Why? For the one reason that none of them would last on their own with their faces on national television. Despite the burning hate she felt towards the girl, she did not want any more blood on her hands.
"Look, the wheel slipped from my hands, I wasn't paying attention-"
"Give her a break Laylia. She's been through a lot today," Marena warned, taking a step towards her best friend.
"Well now what are we supposed to do? We can't go anywhere," Laylia retorted, crossing her arms across her chest.
"Oh lord, sounds like you might have to walk somewhere! God Laylia, it just sounds awful," Carson spat, putting emphasis on awful. Laylia's face contorted in disdain.
"Go fuck yourself," she seethed before she stalked off. Jaycee's round eyes swept the scene before she followed, both of them slipping into the back of the truck, leaving Carson and the others in laughter.
"I don't need to go fuck myself, I have Shay for that," Carson snickered under his breath, although it was loud enough for her to hear. She shot him a look and his laughter faded instantly.
"Not happening," she warned. He rolled his eyes.
"So, what are we gonna do about this?" Marena asked as her eyes took in the damage to the the truck. Shay bit her lip, not entirely sure how to answer, yet the familiar pressure of everyone looking to her for an answer was pushing her to just hurl one out. She was responsible for their predicament, why not fish their way out of it, as they expected her to do every time?
"Carson suggested we go to a bar to relax a little, but there's no way we can get to one." She informed them, voice devoid of emotion.
"Actually, there's one just down the road. I saw a sign for it," he spoke up.
"Like walking distance?" Marena asked. Carson nodded.
"Let's go for it then. I don't think they'd look for fifteen year old kids at a bar." Shay said, perking up at the idea of getting to let loose a little. Carson was right, after all- they needed it.
After applying stolen makeup she almost felt presentable again. She loathed showing her face in public without her makeup on, yet had put up with it the previous two days due to the circumstances. Now that she felt secure again, as did the other girls, they could be on their way.
The six of them weaved their way through trees and rocks until they found themselves on the shoulder of the road, continuing to trek alongside it. The amount of daylight was shrinking with each passing minute, the inky colors of the night beginning to seep into the sky. A car would speed past from time to time, evoking her to tense a little when one did. They could never be sure it wasn't a threat.
She hoped the bar would be dank and dark, just like back road ones had been made out to be in movies. She had a few reasons to hope for this, after all, unless the patrons of the bar had been living under a rock they would be fully aware of who she was and what she looked like, and she still wasn't one hundred percent confident with her appearance at the given moment, as she couldn't help but meddle with her hair and clothes as she walked.
"Quit messing with your hair," Carson told her, taking note of her hassles. "You look fine." Fine, Shay thought. Fine? That's all he could say was fine! Not pretty, or gorgeous or beautiful? She felt her mood take a little hit. She could easily blame it on him being next to a rock when it came to his vocabulary despite his brains, but her pessimistic personality made her look deeper. Maybe she did really just look "fine." It wouldn't be too hard to believe.
"Aw, thanks Carson," Kyleigh giggled. Shay shot her a glare. Kyleigh, in return, flashed her one of her looks and cocked her head to the side. Pretty sure he wasn't talking to you.
"Actually, I was talking to my girlfriend," Carson retorted, evoking Kyleigh to shoot him a look as well. He responded with an "I don't care" smirk and that was the end of things.
It took maybe around five minutes to make it to the bar. A few cars were dotted across the parking lot, giving the place a very empty and isolated feel, which, for some reason, comforted her. The less people the more the promise for an uneventful night. After all the bickering and accidents that had gone down, the murders she committed had been pushed to the back of her mind. Every time she allowed herself to think about it again her mood took a huge hit, so she did her best to not think about it. It was a battle she struggled to win, but for now she was.
The music was radiating through the brick walls and reaching her ears, hinting at what was to come. She'd heard whispers about what went down in bars from sneaky seniors in the hallways as well as stories from her parents' younger days, and now she was about to step foot in one for the first time. Just by being in the presence of one made her feel older. She straightened out her posture and walked with her usual confidence, forgetting about the fact none of them had any clue on how to get in.
Kyleigh took the lead, fluffing up her bright blonde hair before making a beeline for the bouncer, who was a young man probably in his late twenties. They had no IDs- the only thing close was a driver's permit tucked in her front pocket, but it was useless. There's no way they'd get in by flashing a permit- it wasn't even a license.
"ID please." the bouncer spoke sternly as Kyleigh halted before him. The others fanned out behind her, watching the scene intently.
"Uh, we forgot ours," Kyleigh responded, her voice high as she twirled a blonde lock around her finger, her arms pressed together to supply her with more cleavage. If she was trying to seduce the bouncer it was an embarrassing and low attempt, only it could be successful. It was a risk she was willing to take.
"Do you know how many times I've heard that one?" The bouncer shot back. Beside her Carson muttered something under his breath, but she couldn't form words from his whisper.
"I believe you, but I swear we're twenty one," Kyleigh continued, taking another step in the bouncer's direction. Whatever she had planned in her brain of hers, if the girl even had one, better start working in the next five seconds or Shay was going to give up. She felt as if she was beating a dead horse- there was no way to get in without IDs. It was laughable that they even tried.
Kyleigh batted her eyelids, still attempting to play the seductive card to work their way in. Why they let the airhead of the group take the reins she didn't know, but whatever idea she had was clearly a flop. She took another step forward and wrapped her hands around the man's wrist.
"Please…" she trailed off as his eyes bulged and he frantically shook her off of his arm, hands flying to his neck almost immediately. Was it intentional, what Kyleigh had done, or was it just a mere slip of the mind? It wasn't an accident that she touched him, obviously, yet she might have easily forgotten touching was off limits now. Either way the young man was now hacking into his elbow, leaving Kyleigh with her face buried in her hands as she shook it back and forth, notably shaking. Assessing the girl's body language, she believed it was her latter suspicion.
"What have I done?" Kyleigh wailed as Katrina rushed over to comfort her. The others stayed where they were, too stunned to do anything. Knowing the reactions that were bound to follow, she quickly rushed forwards and fastened her hand around Kyleigh's arm, yanking her firmly towards the door.
"It's best we get in while we can," she told her, coming across far more cold than she intended. Acting as if she didn't care about the man who just became infected or Kyleigh's emotional turmoil wasn't her intent, yet she saw an open window for them to get into the bar and knew it was best to take it. She still cringed with each cough he made, even if she hadn't infected him herself.
She pulled Kyleigh towards the door, the girl eventually swatting her hand away and shuffling inside herself. The others followed, whispers rippling through them as they went. The loud, pumping rhythm of the music eventually drowned them out as they stepped inside. The volume of the music and hum of conversation was so loud at first she covered her ears for a few moments, overwhelmed by it all. Kyleigh dispersed from the group, making her way to a secluded booth to mope. She understood- the first infection was always the most distressing.
"I need you guys to promise me two things," Shay spoke loudly, struggling to be heard over a song's loud chorus. All heads turned in her direction, beckoning her to go on. "One, don't touch anyone, and two, don't get drunk or do anything stupid." She said sternly, eyes locked on Katrina in particular, who was notably prone to the ladder.
"Technically, that's three," Carson pointed out. She rolled her eyes and sighed. He had some habits she wished he didn't.
"Maybe I should add don't piss me off to the list," she shot back. A smirk formed on his features, the mischievous glint in his eye returning.
"Nobody in their right mind would ever piss you off," he responded. After that morning, the truth in his words stung.
She turned around to find Katrina and Owen had already gravitated towards the bar. She sighed, knowing some of them were going to break the second promise.
"We'll probably be the only three people who keep our heads on straight," Marena muttered, slightly shaking her head as she did. She then filtered off into the minimal crowd, taking each step with caution, careful not to accidentally touch anyone. Remembering the stress of the day she found herself wandering over to the bar and taking a seat next to Katrina, who was currently ordering two shots.
"Make that three," she barked at the bar tender, who returned with three small glasses. Owen forked over the last of his money he'd had stashed in his pocket and took the glass between his fingers, observing it with his large eyes. Shay did the same, pondering whether or not to drink it. It wouldn't be her first time with alcohol nor would it be her first shot, but it was her conscious holding her back- if something went wrong and she was drunk, well, the situation could worsen significantly. She hadn't come here planning on shots, after all- maybe just a beer and then leaving. Showed how often she followed her plans.
"Together?" Katrina asked, grinning.
"Together," she responded, bringing the small glass close to her face.
"One," Katrina started.
"Two," Owen continued.
"Three," Shay said before she tilted her head back and took the shot, the liquid rushing into her mouth and down her throat. The taste instantly registered, resulting in her face contorting in disgust and spitting out what she hadn't already swallowed across the wooden bar. She didn't like the taste of certain beverages, and the shot happened to be one of them- vodka.
Katrina and Owen were having a loud bought of laughter at her expense, Katrina laughing so hard her face was on the bar as she clapped her hands together. Even the bar tender was laughing a little, although she struggled to remain discreet about it.
"I knew you'd hate vodka!" Katrina crowed, sucking in air before continuing to laugh.
"It tastes like rubbing alcohol!" She spat back, chucking the shot glass at her friend. It missed and sailed over her head, landing securely in Owen's lap. The next thing she knew she was laughing at herself with them, her face growing hot. The whole ordeal, although embarrassing, was rather funny in its own right. After a few moments she wiped dribbles of spit and vodka from her chin and made her way over to a booth, deciding she needed some time to relax. It was what they came there for, after all.
"Hey," someone said as they sat down beside her, filling the empty space in the booth. She looked over to see Carson, two bottles of beer in his hand. Finally, the drink I needed, she thought as he slid one down the table to her.
"Thanks," she replied.
"Welcome. I figured it was time I try one too."
Shay raised an eyebrow at him. "Wait, you've never tried one before?" Although he'd never been the type to go to the parties, she'd always assumed he'd sampled it before, as most kids their age had. "Well, you're not gonna like it the first time you try it," she chuckled. He just shrugged and continued to raise his bottle for a toast. Although the gesture seemed odd given the circumstances, she raised her bottle as well.
"To the Carriers," he muttered sarcastically.
"How about getting to see tomorrow?" She responded, not exactly believing the Carriers were worthy of toasting to.
"Well, Negative Nancy, I suppose that too," Carson shot back, a wry grin etched into his face. What's next, Pessimistic Polly? With that they clinked their bottles together before she took the first drink, gulping it down to eradicate the foul aftertaste the vodka had left.
Looking over she found Carson trying to drink down as much as he could at once and she started laughing. His face was scrunching up; making it obvious he didn't favor how it tasted. In a few more seconds he spat it out, liquid splattering all over the table before them. As he wiped it away from his mouth she only started laughing harder, back pressed up against the booth.
"You don't drink it all at once!" She coughed out between laughs, stomach beginning to hurt. She even heard him start to laugh a little.
"That stuff's disgusting," he said with a half-hearted laugh. "You can have mine."
One hour later two empty bottles sat before her on the table. She'd done exactly what she'd been telling herself the entire time not to do- drink away her worries. She wasn't drunk, thankfully, but slightly tipsy. At least her hovering thoughts were gone for the moment, pushed to the back of her mind. Carson had left a little while, going where she didn't know, but she decided it would be best to find him. It's time to leave before I have any more to drink. Or anyone else, for that matter.
She stood up, legs a little wobbly at first. The feeling was only momentary as she began to walk again, finding him, Marena, and some girl in a secluded corner. The girl's dress was tight, her hair overly-teased and makeup too dark, yet none of that mattered to Shay- this girl was flirting with her boyfriend. Jealousy pricked her skin, her sense of judgment slightly affected by her alcohol ingestion.
"You're hot." The girl stated to Carson as Shay made her way over to the trio. He wasn't returning the girl's advances, instead looking incredibly awkward and uncomfortable. He was trying to get as far away from her as the situation would allow, pressing himself up against the corner.
"Thanks, but I'm actually kinda cold," he responded, looking to Shay for help. Marena had the slightest grin on her face, hazel eyes locked on the scene. Why wasn't she reminding the girl her current target was her best friend's boyfriend? Because she thinks it's funny.
"Wow, you're sooooo funny," the girl replied, her words slurring. She was obviously drunk and beginning to lean towards Carson's shoulder to support her body weight. He inched away; knowing what would happen if they made contact.
"Hey, back off," she growled, approaching the girl, anger bubbling towards a dangerous point. She looked up, the heavy eyeliner giving her a raccoon-like appearance.
"Says who?" The girl replied, her voice high, nasal, and rude.
"His girlfriend," she spat before bringing her fist slamming into the girl's jaw, sense of judgment clouded by anger. The girl fell back against the wall; hand against the skin she'd punched seconds before.
"What the hell is your-" The girl was cut off as screams erupted from the area near the entrance. People backed away, parting to reveal several cops, fully armed and standing in the doorway.
"Nobody move- the Carriers here." Chaos erupted moments after.