[ ** Haven’t read Shelter: chapter 1? Check it out here: https://www.gayauthors.org/story/comicality/shelter  **]

Waking up the next morning was a breeze for me. In fact, I was so excited to reconnect with Alex again that I’m surprised I got any sleep at all. Not that the discomfort of trying to adjust to the idea of sleeping in this makeshift hostel of ours was going to allow me much of a good night’s sleep anyway, but it wasn’t hard to ignore the sore and stiff limbs for a while as I prepared to be bathed in the glow of his golden presence once again.

My big brother, Cain, had already gotten up and wandered off somewhere by the time I was able to rub the fatigue out of my arid eyes. I looked down and saw a small wet spot on my pillow. I have a tendency to drool a lot when I’m uncomfortable. It’s embarrassing. I wish I had a mirror so I could check my face for chalky white drool stains before anybody caught sight of me. The last thing I needed was for Alex to see me waking up like this. You know… looking all disheveled and ugly and stuff.

I felt a gnawing ache in both of my shoulders, my arm… numb from having laid on it in an awkward manner for most of the night. I miss my bed at home already. Even sleeping on the living room couch was better than this hard linoleum floor. Even with a thin, raggedy, mattress between us.

I managed to get to my feet, stretching out, my bones popping and snapping as my muscles tried to warm up for their daily function. I attempted to smooth my hair out, and reached into my small travel bag, looking for my toothbrush and wash cloth to take with me to the high school bathroom down the hall. I was groggy, but gaining balance as I forced myself to move around a bit more. Shuffling down the school hallway, I walked into the boy’s bathroom to see a few other men in there trying to clean up as well. All adults. It was a strange thing to bear witness to. I’m SO not used to seeing adults in the boy’s bathroom like this. The place looked like a truck stop now, blaring white lights and all.

I found myself an available sink and a mirror over by the wall to brush my teeth. Surprisingly, outside of a few rusty marks in the corners of my eyes and a little spittle on the side of my mouth… I didn’t look all that bad. My hair was a mess, but it’s the freakin’ zombie apocalypse. Give me a break.

I heard some of the men talking to one another, saying that more convoys were already heading in to bring more survivors into the school today. Some of them worried that we were filling up with way too many people, way too fast. Others worried that we’d run out of supplies much faster if we had a larger populace to watch over and take care of. And some of the men there just… stared blankly at their own reflection. Not saying anything at all. Still unable to digest the horrors of what was really going on out there. Perhaps thinking back to a friend or a family member that they lost trying to survive themselves. So far, I’ve been lucky in having my mother, father, and brother, all spoken for. Safe and sound. I can’t imagine what I would do if they weren’t.

Maybe I’d end up staring blankly at an unrecognizable reflection myself. Always wondering… what comes next?

I cleaned up as best as I could and hurried back to my stuff where I was sleeping last night. I was getting more alert by the minute, and looked through my crumpled up pile of clothes to find something… I don’t know… alluring. Or at least ‘less wrinkled’. I think that’s the best I can hope for at this point. It’s funny how you can get totally infatuated with a complete stranger, and immediately all of your habits become about them and their perception of you, instead of your own lazy attempts to be neat and tidy for ‘neat and tidy’s’ sake.

It wasn’t until I put my shirt on that I actually noticed Alex standing right there next to me! Green eyes shining like the most exquisite jewels in the crown of a true king.

I didn’t ‘jump’ when I saw him, but he did catch me by surprise. I suddenly found myself wishing that I had something to hold on to. “Hehehe, hiiii…” What the heck am I giggling for? Wow, he made me so weak in the knees. I thought he was beautiful before, but in the daylight, he was… he was just like…. wow.

I am SO glad that I got a chance to clean up first!

“You didn’t forget about me, did ya?” he smiled. “Alex. Remember?” I was frozen, I think. Unable to really process any of my thoughts into physical action. Not unless you count the craving to smash him up against the nearest wall and start kissing him, hard, on the lips until my lungs collapsed from a lack of oxygen. “We were gonna go get some breakfast this morning?”

Omigod, how long have I been standing here staring at him like an IDIOT???

“YES!!!” I shouted it out so loud and so abruptly that Alex was startled by the sound of it.

He held his hand to his heart, and I was terrified of what he might say next. I felt so STUPID! But once his pulse slowed down a bit, he wrinkled his brow and smiled, a fit of giggles following shortly afterward. “Give me a heart attack, why don’t ya?” he laughed.

“I’m sorry! I’m being… I’m weird. That was totally weird,” I said, embarrassed, but giggling right along with him.

“Can you wait until after the zombie cannibal thing to be so spontaneous?”

“Obviously, I can’t.” I grinned. “But, what lies therein is the very definition of ‘spontaneous’,” I said.

“Don’t be a wise ass. Hehehe! Let’s get some shitty waffles and runny eggs in your mouth before you start a full blown ‘panic’ around here with the others. Geez!”

We got in line for breakfast. A very long line, mind you. But as I tried to keep a casual coolness about me when making small talk with Alex, I couldn’t help but to look around and take notice of all of the sullen faces around me. Familiar faces. People I went to school with. People I knew from the neighborhood. People that used to deliver mail to my house, or coach junior soccer at the local Rec Center, or bag groceries for my mom at the corner store. People that I passed every day in the street, and never really paid much attention to. Now that we’re all here under the same roof, all dealing with the same problem… I guess we’re all forced to pay attention now.

Breakfast was…. err… ‘edible’, I suppose. That’s the highest grade I could give it as far as taste is concerned. I was almost a little disappointed that Alex chose to sit on the opposite side of the cafeteria table instead of being right here next to me, but… I guess it was a blessing. Because I could look at his pretty face now and gaze into his eyes as I sipped out of my orange juice cup.

Alex made the most adorable ‘yucky’ face as he munched on some of his scrambled eggs, even had to pull a small piece of eggshell off of the tip of his tongue. It made me laugh to see him try to bury the taste by taking a bite of bacon… which he expected to be crispy, but instead was stringy and soft. He was so CUTE though! I couldn’t help but to chuckle to myself for watching him put on such a brave face. “Well, at least someone is getting a good morning kick out of this breakfast,” he grinned.

“Don’t worry, hehehe, I know this sucks. We might as well make faces at each other instead of trying to pretend it’s something better,” I said.

“I suppose that’s a good way of looking at it,” Alex wiped his mouth and said, “But if this is gonna be as good as it gets, I might just side with the zombies and go see what they’ve got on the menu for this morning.”

“Umm… I think we’re on the menu for this morning, dude,” I joked.

“Hehehe, well, makes sense,” he said. “You look pretty tasty to me.” Was he flirting with me? Omigod, he’s flirting with me, isn’t he? I took a deep breath as rosy blush took over my face and forced my eyes downward to avoid the grace of his smile.

I wasn’t really good at being witty when it comes to this kind of thing. I had a sense of humor, and definitely loved the attention, but I was never the kind of guy who could snap back with a funny or affectionate comeback after hearing something like that.

“Thank you…” I sighed softly.

We had already shared a kiss. Mostly because I lost control and basically attacked him, but… I mean the actual kiss still stands, though. Right?

There was an awkward silence between us for a moment, where we both looked like we were getting ready to say something. Then, Alex started with, “You know, Jake… about last night… by the window? I mean, I didn’t just dream that up right? That was real?”

Omigod! He’s been thinking about it too! SCORE! “Uhhh… nope. That was definitely real.”

“Ahhh, ok.” He nodded. Then I nodded. Then he started to sport a boyish blush of his own as we giggled about it together. “Say… once we’re done trying to survive off of this well prepared ‘road kill’… how about you and me… well… maybe we can…?”

Suddenly, we were interrupted by a loudly spoken voice from the front of the cafeteria. A well built man, dressed in camouflaged army fatigues. Creases so sharp that it almost looked like you’d cut your finger if you touched them. His voice was calm, but firm. And it echoed throughout the entire room with hardly any effort at all. He had this incredibly overpowering strength of character that intimidated you from a distance, and steel blue eyes. Scary.

“Ladies and gentlemen, if I may have your attention for a few brief moments,” he said, and everybody else in the room seemed to be just as captivated by his level of authority as I was. “Thank you. I want to take a moment to introduce myself to you all. My name is Sergeant Brower. I’m one of the commanding officers in this particular program. I am one of the men who has been given the responsibility of keeping you all safe during your stay here.” He looked around the room, but it always felt like he was speaking to you directly when he said anything. “Safe. The word… it takes on a whole new meaning now, concerning what we’re dealing with at the moment. I want you to know that I intend to protect each and every single civilian life that enters this facility. That is my job. I happen to be very good at it. But you will only make things worse by not being a supportive part of the effort that I am willing to put forth on your behalf. Cooperation is going to be key in all of us surviving this viral outbreak… and hopefully rebuilding things in a way that will one day restore our way of life. This will take time. This will take patience. And yes… this will take sacrifice. On all our parts.” Scanning the room again, he took a few steps forward to address the crowd with a bit more intensity. “There will be more civilians arriving today. More tomorrow. And more the next day. It is a known fact that everyone who can’t be saved from the infection is another soldier added to the enemy’s numbers. NUMBERS… is their advantage, people. Their advance is relentless, and they fear… nothing. If we’re sloppy about this… it will put us at a great disadvantage. But if we’re smart… we can see them coming. Until we get a better idea, this is our best method of fending off the enemy threat, and maintaining a stronghold that we can hopefully consider… ‘safe’.”

I don’t know why I felt the urge to peek back over at Alex, but I did. He seemed to be completely invested in what Sergeant Brower had to say. His lips slightly parted, his eyes focused forward. I almost regretted having to share my green eyed beauty with the unfathomable tragedy surrounding us.

Sergeant Brower began to slowly pace back and forth in front of us. “Safety. There’s that word again. Safety.” Then, he faced the inquisitive crowd and made eye contact with us all. “We’re in a very serious position, people. We are huddled together in a secure location for the moment, but make no mistake…we are hiding, ladies and gentlemen. We are ducking our heads in the sand, and hoping that we get enough of a chance to regroup and formulate another plan for coming out of this alive. This room… this school… is temporary. Those… ‘things’ out there… they’re waiting at the gates. Waiting for us to slip up. Waiting for us to get comfortable, so we can leave ourselves open. I don’t think that I have to tell you what horrors await us if we allow this to happen. We need you all to stay vigilant. Be aware of what’s going on around you at all times. The armed forces here will do their jobs, and do them well. But we will need your help as well. It’s the only way that we can ever hope to get through this.”

Alex looked over at me, and he seemed a bit disturbed by the news. “It’s still so hard to believe this is happening…” he whispered. I think it was more for himself than for me, but for a brief moment, his blank stare almost resembled the ones I saw in the boy’s bathroom earlier this morning.

Sgt. Brower went over a few bits of safety protocol with the rest of us, the entire room listening while our breakfast got cold and even more tasteless by the minute. However, he really grabbed my attention when I heard him say, “I’m going to be honest with you all, right now… and I want you to remain calm. This is a time when I believe that full disclosure is necessary in order to keep us alive. So full disclosure is what I’m giving you.” With a stern look and a steady voice, he said, “Earlier this morning, around 4 AM… three of our soldiers found a small group of the infected shuffling around within our borders. This was less than four hours ago, people. They were here. Inside the gate. Inside this building.” There were gasps heard all around the room, and you could almost feel the muscles tensing and getting wound up to the point of wanting to snap. But Sgt. Brower assured us, “Don’t be alarmed. We dispatched the enemy and made certain that the situation was handled immediately. The problem is… we have no idea where these entities came from. We don’t know how they got into the building, and we don’t know if there are any others walking around in places that we may not have sealed off from the immediate threat.” He shocked me by saying, “This is obviously our number one priority. And this is why we are going to need the help of all the teenagers in this building right now. Preferably the ones who attend school here.”

Teenagers? Like me? I mean… excuse my shock, but even in times of crisis… adults never seem to really respect or need us for much of anything. Is it any surprise that I half expected the military to huddle us all together in some stupid ‘nursery’ somewhere and ask us to sit tight while the big boys figured out how to stop a global takeover by an army of the dead?

Instead, Sgt. Brower said, “That’s right. I’m speaking to you youngsters in the audience right now. This is important, so listen up.” He certainly had my attention. “We have a ‘leak’, people. Some how, some way… those horrible monsters outside the gates are getting into this building. We’ve only had one incident so far, but considering that we haven’t found the breach in our security yet… we can expect more of these things to wander in under our radar. I don’t think I have to tell you how potentially dangerous it would be if we were caught unprepared.” Now directing his harsh gaze at all of the teenaged boys and girls in the room, he said, “This is where you come in. We need your help.”

I heard the voice of another boy on the other side of the cafeteria ask, “But… what can we do?”

To which he answered, “You kids know the ins and outs of this building better than any of us. You’re here every day during the week. And, having been a teenager myself once… I know that you all have secrets. Secrets that no longer count when it comes to fortifying our position and making sure that those monsters don’t find their way in here. Do you understand what I’m saying to you all?” He began pacing, and he told us, “The time for secrets is over. I was honest with you, I need for you teens to be honest with us. I want to know every nook and cranny of this place the same way that you do. I need to know what side doors you use to ditch classes. I need to know where you go when you want to smoke. I want to know every janitor closet and every hidden space under the bleachers that you use to make out with your girlfriend. I need to know every dark corner that you run to when you need to hide from the school bully. Our very existence may depend on you all stepping forward and helping us find the weaknesses in our defenses before it’s too late.” He looked at the rest of the crowd, and said, “This is a very real threat, folks. And I realize that you have all been through a great deal of stress. Some of us have had to make some very tough decisions at the spur of the moment. Some of us… have lost those dear to us along the way. But right now, our main concern is finding the most effective ways to defend our perimeters and safeguard our position here in THIS building. We need to find the leak before more of those things do. And we need to work together to make sure that we’re all on the same page as far as security goes. If you see something strange or out of place? Report it immediately.” Before ending his announcement, he said, “It only takes ONE break, ladies and gentlemen. One bite. One loss of focus. And it could endanger the lives of everyone sitting next to you. Remember that.” Followed by a mumbled, “Enjoy your breakfast.”

I still felt as though the sudden morning announcement had been poured over my shoulders like a thick and heavy dose of wet cement. but I was hoping that Alex would be able to brush it off with a grin and get back to flirting with me over what we might get up to later on today. Hehehe!

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

I saw Alex looking at his cell phone and checking his messages and stuff. Apparently upset that he hadn’t gotten any.

Seeing the distress in his face, I asked, “Is everything ok?”

He whimpered, “My mom still hasn’t gotten back to me yet. I don’t even know where she is.”

I said, “I’m sure she’s ok. She might just be out there somewhere… looking for a way to talk to you. Cell phones are shit right now, anyways…”

Alex suddenly stood up from his seat, his breakfast half eaten, and with a trembling voice, he said, “I’m gonna try her again. She’s got to be worried to death. I just want to make sure she’s alright. I just want to hear her voice. That’s all.” And before I could say anything to comfort him, he turned and walked away from the table.

I totally understand. I’d be a basket case too if I was separated from my mom and dad during all this. Maybe I should call them too. You know… just to make sure they’re alright…

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