Episode Seventeen

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It was a long, tedious afternoon as we all worked hard to collect every dead body on the property. Twenty-two bodies in all.

We burned bodies for the rest of the day while we cleaned up the land and moved all the vehicles to the cabin. We were all exhausted, and in dire need of showers as we drove back.

Our observations of the virus had been our only topic of discussion during the cleanup.

"I think healthy humans trigger some receptor in the brain that's connected to addiction, or maybe it's the receptor that provides instant gratification." Eli rolled down his window. "We know they need our flesh to survive since they can't keep down food. That's probably why our scent is so appealing to them."

"I think if they aren't around fresh blood, the virus evolves much slower than what happened at the bonfire." I leaned forward to look at Eli. "Jeremy's group changed after three days, and our group changed at the end of one night, but they were all around a lot of blood. Jeremy's group wasn't around fresh blood, so I think they just changed naturally."

Nico nodded in agreement. "That's true. That means the hunger is more important than anything. So, when they smelled blood, it pushed them over the edge, which made them change faster. They just weren't screaming yet. I think that comes later after they die from the full transformation."

"I wish I had some good input, but all I can think about is how bad it stinks in here. I think I might barf if I don't get out. I never realized humans smell so bad when they burn." Jasmine climbed out of the vehicle, and sniffed her shirt, scrunching her nose. "Gross. I should burn this shirt too. I don't think I'll ever be able to get rid of that stench."

"You want to take a shower?" Eli didn't take his tired eyes off of me as he slammed his door and walked to my side.

Wrinkling my brow, I nodded as I slipped my fingers through his. "Yeah, showering sounds like heaven."

"Dibs on the first shower." Nico appeared next to us with his sniper rifle.

"No." Eli elbowed him in the chest before slowly leading me toward the cabin. "Lilly's first, ass wipe."

"Why do girls always get to go first?" Nico feigned aggravation.

Jasmine drilled her finger into Nico's chest. "Girls rule and boys drool. That's why."

Nico squinted at her in disbelief as a strange expression took over his face. He'd been throwing odd glances at her all day.

Jasmine grinned and walked away.

"Holy shit. It finally came to me. I can't believe I didn't recognize you," Nico held his gun tight as he rushed to catch up with Jasmine. "Your dad used to bring you over to my house, and you used to follow me around everywhere. I remember we used to call you Minnie."

I tugged on Eli's hand, silently telling him to slow down. I wanted to hear this.

Jasmine stopped and let out a harsh laugh as she crossed her arms. "You finally figured it out, huh? Well, good for you."

"My dad and your dad..." Nico glanced over at us, unsure if he should say anything else. "Uh... were good friends."

Jasmine threw her head back and groaned. "Oh God, here we go. Are you going to tell me how much fun we used to have together too?"

Nico's brow pinched. "No. I just wanted you to know I remember you."

Jasmine patted his chest, mockingly. "Aw. Do you want a gold star, Nicky? Well, forgive me if I don't give a shit if you remember me or not. Those were the worst days of my life, so do me a favor and forget you know me."

Nicky? That was a new one.

Nico's blue eyes roamed her face. "What the hell happened to you? You used to be nice."

"Life!" Jasmine yelled at him, throwing her hands in the air. "Life is an asshole just like all drug dealers, Nicky. Oh, but you know that better than anyone, don't you?"

Nico's face drained of color. He looked at Jasmine like she'd just slapped him. "You're a fucking bitch."

"You finally caught on. Good. Now we can move forward without speaking because the last thing I want to do is talk to you." Jasmine huffed angrily and headed toward the barn.

I glanced to Eli for help, but he was watching Jasmine like she was the best television show he'd ever seen.

Nico stood dumbstruck at Jasmine's words. She'd obviously hit a nerve.

"Jasmine," I didn't want her to walk off by herself.

Jasmine spun, and I swear I could see tears in her eyes. "What?"

"It's not safe to wander off on your own," Eli spoke for me.

Jasmine folded her arms tight to her chest. "I'm not going far. I just need time to think. If I die, it's my fault. You guys don't need an extra mouth to feed anyway."

"I'll go with her." Nico's voice was soft. "Save us some hot water."

"Stay alert, Bro." Eli tugged me toward the cabin as Nico trailed behind Jasmine, giving her plenty of space.

"What was all that about? She called him Nicky." I whispered as we ascended the porch steps.

"There's a lot more to Nico than he lets people see. Nicky is what his dad called him. His dad was a big-time dealer back in the day, but another drug dealer killed him. It's a long story." Eli said offhandedly.

"Really?" I squeezed Eli's hand. "Then why doesn't Nico have any money for tuition? I thought drug lords made bank."

"Nico's older brother, Kevin, has a major gambling problem. Kevin lost all their dad's money, and when he needed more, Kevin pawned all of their valuables, leaving Nico with nothing. That's why Nico keeps his stuff here. He doesn't want his brother taking anything else." Eli frowned, opening the cabin door.

"Right on time," Miss Gina greeted us with her wonderful toothy grin. The kitchen smelled amazing as she whisked batter in a mixing bowl. "Oh my, you two dears look worn out. Thank you both for keeping us safe. And I must say, Lilly Flower, I'm so glad you saved my Elijah."

As if there was any other option. Saving Eli was the only thing I was proud of today.

"I would do anything for Eli." I glanced at Eli who sent me a small smile.

"You're such a treasure, dear. I just love you both so much, and so does my George. He's been dancing the dust out of the rugs since we won the battle, and it just tickles me to the gills when my George is dancing." Tears welled up in Miss Gina's big brown eyes.

Eli glanced toward the living room and laughed as he placed a kiss on Miss Gina's cheek. "What are you cooking?"

"I'm baking my famous banana bread for my Nicholas, and some nice blueberry muffins for my Minnie Bear. They're her favorite you know. I'm so glad she decided to come to live with us. She could've died in her small room at the college, but she wanted to spend her life with my Nicolas. I'm so excited I finally get to meet her." Miss Gina's arm worked double time as she whipped the batter.

I had no words. Miss Gina's psychic abilities were mind-blowing.

Eli glanced at me. The look on my face must've given me away because his eyes softened as he pulled me into his arms. "Gramma's incredible, isn't she?"

Nodding against his shoulder, I couldn't help but wonder how far Eli's abilities went. Was he just like her or was he different?

Eli pulled back from our hug and gestured for me to follow him. "Gramma, we're going to get cleaned up."

"Alright, Dear." Miss Gina didn't turn to watch us leave. "I'll save you some bread."

Following Eli into our room, he shut the door and started gathering towels and clothes. I turned to get my clothes from my bag.

"Do you want to shower with me?" Eli asked just above a whisper.

I froze.

"Hey, it's okay to tell me no. I was just asking." Eli walked to my side just as he softly grabbed my chin to twist my face toward his.

My eyes met with his. "I don't know. I..."

The corner of Eli's lips tugged up. "Another time?"

I nodded a little too fast.

Eli's lips spread into a grin. "Okay. You go first. Here's a towel."

I took the towel from him and nearly ran to the bathroom. Of course, I wanted to take a shower with Eli, but with everything we just went through, I needed some time to myself. I wanted to scrub off this bitch of a day.

When I finished showering, I could hear Miss Gina, Nico, and Jasmine in the kitchen. They were laughing and talking about blueberry muffins.

I guess Nico and Jasmine made up. Too tired to make conversation, I silently walked back to our room, hoping to snuggle up in bed.

Opening the door, I found Eli passed out on top of the bedspread. I shut the door quietly and tiptoed closer, studying him. When Eli was asleep, his rough, dark exterior was non-existent. Now his face reflected only calm innocence.

Damn. Eli was gorgeous, and for some reason, he wanted me. I'd won the lottery with him. I crawled into bed as slow as I could, careful not to wake him.

Eli didn't budge as his deep breathing kept the same pattern, which told me all I needed to know. He was just as exhausted as I was.

Rather than get under the blankets, I rested my head on his chest and closed my eyes.

Sometime after I fell asleep, Eli's warm arms scooped me up. He placed my head against a soft pillow and pulled the blankets up over me before he left.

When Eli climbed back into bed next to me, the musky aroma of soap was thick in the air. It was comforting and pleasant.

A small groan of appreciation stirred in my throat as I turned over, trying to cuddle with him again.

Eli chuckled when I rested my cheek on his bare chest. He moved my hair out of my face and wrapped his arms around me.

I was nearly back in dreamland when I thought I heard Eli say, "I love you, Lil."

When I was sure I had to be dreaming, I whispered, "I love you more, Eli."

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