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You've been counting stars, now you're counting on me
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Thank goodness for positive moments, however small. A new boy turned up, bulky enough to be mildly menacing, with long blond hair and a beard, but he didn't want trouble. In fact, he was one of Phil's teammates. One of the people they had been looking for. As Phil greeted him and introduced Jennifer, thankfully clarifying her identity and sparing any potential embarrassment, she watched the two. They seemed instantly at ease. Comrades. Comfortable with each other. It was strange that bonds from the past could hold true even at a time like this. Jennifer wondered whether anyone would trust her based on her actions at school. Probably not. Maybe Maf, but certainly no one else.

Didn't matter. Phil was explaining how he and Jennifer had come to travel together. And, more than that, he was asking about Guthrie. She swallowed, buying a second to collect herself before responding.

"Um, well, uh, Nick... killed him. He, um, beat him, and, uh, and I moved the body out... outside, because it was smelling, but, um, but it didn't really help much."

That was a pretty fucking awkward thing to say, wasn't it? While you were passed out, a boy beat another boy to death. I hid the body. Lovely. No way to frame it to sound better now, though. And, one thing this entire experience was teaching Jennifer was that people weren't nearly as quick to judge as she'd always imagined. Bill hadn't shot her. The boys in the bar hadn't attacked her. Even Bounce had been no more than wary.

Was she the only one who had knee jerk negative reactions? Or was everyone else just keeping them down too? That was actually not a very reassuring thought, not after she'd lost control.

Further musings were cut off by the sudden appearance of another person. A girl, stumbling towards them. Jennifer squinted. The newcomer looked unarmed. Also looked to be in pretty bad shape, judging by her use of trees for support and her uneven gait. Rhory, that was her name. And Rhory wanted water. Didn't everyone? It was the thing Jennifer and Phil were going to have to deal with here soon. They'd be forced to find a stream or a well or something of the sort. If Rhory was in this bad condition, maybe that wouldn't be so easy.

So Phil told her to beat it. Jennifer blinked. It was the smart call. The right call. The choice that would help them survive. But she couldn't back it.

"Um, hang on," she said, digging into her pack. "I think, um, I may have a bit left. And, uh, it's okay, Phil. She won't hurt us."

Time to hope, to hope with all her heart, that she had spoken the truth.

Jennifer took her last remaining water bottle, barely half full, and walked over to Rhory, holding it out. She hoped this wouldn't upset Phil. Hoped this wouldn't end their alliance. After all, he now had Marco. He didn't really need Jennifer anymore, and she couldn't fault him for ditching her, especially after the fucking idiotic choice she had just made.

It would happen or it wouldn't, though. Nothing could change it now, short of yanking the bottle away from Rhory and laughing in her face, and Jennifer wouldn't do that.

"Um, once you're done, we can all, um, look for more together, maybe. I'm sure we could all use a refill."

That's the way. Unite everyone with a common goal. Teamwork would bridge the shaky beginnings.

At least, that was the hope.
Juliette Sargent drawn by Mimi and Ryuki
Alton Gerow drawn by Mimi
Lavender Ripley drawn by Mimi
Phillip Olivares drawn by Ryuki
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Still Going Strong · The Woods: Coastal