The backroom door was locked. It’s morning. There were people around, and some of them were even wide awake. He should not be afraid now.
Enteng stared at the ceiling and frowned as though he’s staring into the light.
“That’s why I’ll protect all of you, huh?”
He rested his back on the couch. He labored for his next breath as both his arms burned. Still, he wasn’t sure why he said those words in front of those people. He didn’t have to do it. He chuckled to himself. He was convinced that he would follow someone else to his death. Taking charge should not even be his first option. And now, he’s thinking about killing everyone else that would stand their way to protect what he had.
He seemed like he calculated this, but he taught Physical Education solely because he sucked at math. The only thing that he could boast of was his slightly better stamina and superior kicking power.
He had some level of authority to work with. He should be able to at least calm the others down if need be. Cheering them on was easy. He was trained for that.
And now, he couldn’t even close his eyes.
Even if it’s morning. Even if the back door could not be used. Even if no one of those jacked folks could fit through the window or sneak past through their front door.
The wind haunted his ears.
Maybe at that moment, or in the next moment, the next second he closed his eyes, someone would run through the door, bash his skull, kill Uncle by the bathroom, and kill the rest outside. No one knows. No one would know. Maybe, they’re getting attacked right now, and he’s just warming up the seat.
He didn’t want to think about it.
He didn’t want anything else.
He smiled at George. His only solace was him. It brought him peace, but he sighed. If he could only keep his eyes open, he really shouldn’t pressure the kid. He’s doing his best.
“You look ridiculous,” Uncle said, giving him a half-full bottle of water.
“I heard that two times today. The first one came from a cute girl that I could consider my daughter. Yours hurt me more.”
“Is it because you love me?”
“It’s because you look ridiculous.” Enteng chuckled and rubbed his brows. “How’re you feeling?”
“I felt like I got ran over by a dozen of busses. Why aren’t you resting?”
“Coffee worked too well.” He lied. “I’m also holding down the fort to protect the ones upstairs, you know. So that the people outside would have at least a home to return to before we relocate.”
“We’re fine…” Joey entered the house, heaving. “The rest are still foraging while lowkey searching for survivors, so we can’t deal anything with that. We’ve been stealing food and probably salt from nearby houses. And now, I’m waiting on…”
Enteng furrowed his brows. “On?”
Joey rubbed his palms together and sat in front of Uncle and Enteng. Sweat drenched his glooming face and trembling lips. He seemed frigid as he looked at them, begging.
“Do you guys think you could cover for me?”
Uncle sighed. He petted George and crossed his arms. “Greater Persuasion.” He mimicked the sound of his body getting boosted.
“Cover for what?” Enteng asked.
“We’re getting ready to hit the compound because you know… higher walls. There are also gates that we could utilize for defense.”
“What, you scared?”
Uncle scoffed. “Pussy.”
“I’m not like you, people!”
“Yes, you are.”
Enteng placed his hand on Uncle’s shoulder to calm him down. “You’re our comrade. You survived. You fought with us. You saved everyone. You’re the same as us.”
“No,” Joey laughed helplessly and held his head. “I’m not like you two at all.”
“Even after all of that villain speech?” Uncle said.
“I froze, okay?” Joey glared at both of them. “When Enang told me that everything was ready and that place wasn’t crawling with monsters… I acted like it was normal for me to command them. It’s like it was okay for me to send them to their deaths—”
Uncle smiled. “And you’re absolutely right.”
“That’s not the point!” Joey looked down as silence held their throats. “I don’t want them to die because I told them to do something. That’s not me at all. That’s wrong.”
“And it’s okay for you to die for them?”
“What?” Joey frowned at Uncle.
“And…” Uncle smiled. “You turned to us because it might be okay for us to send them to their deaths. I mean…”
“I get it.” Uncle laughed. “At least it’s not you, right? It’s alright as long as we’re the ones that are suffering and you’re the one cheering us on, right?”
Joey didn’t say anything.
Uncle’s forced calmness suffocated them like a wet, heavy carpet. No one said anything yet. Enteng found solace from George, somewhat seeing him squirm to calm everyone down. The boy was right, at least. He leaned forward and positioned his head to be at least near the space in between Joey and Uncle. He could stop a fight from breaking—if he really needed to.
“No… I don’t know… I’m scared. I want out.”
Uncle looked at Enteng, probably for guidance. Enteng shook his head. Uncle jumped on his feet, blew the dust off his knuckles, and punched Joey in the face.
Enteng closed his eyes and sighed.
Uncle grimaced and watched Joey fall to the floor. He shivered at the grating memory of Rayan sending him to the ground. The only difference was that he stood up, to all odds, like a true hero, and this bastard in front of him kept himself in place. A ragdoll. He clicked his tongue. He wanted to spit, to be cool, but his mouth was too dry. He punched Joey’s face again. No reaction. He sighed, ignored the pain stabbing at his sides, and picked Joey from the ground by his collar.
“Look at me, you bitch.”
Joey’s face stiffed as he braced for impact. His body should be begging for him to run or fight back, but he let out a long breath, looked down, and let his arms hang by his shoulders. He’s used to this. Sure, it would hurt for a bit, but it would be over, and soon, they might as well take the situation for him. That’s the thought that pissed off Uncle the most.
“A lot of people died yesterday. We’re all scared. I’m scared.” Uncle pushed him down and pointed him to the bathroom. “I fucking puked my heart out earlier.” He spat. “I can still taste the fucking rancid sardines I ate in my mouth. I brushed my teeth, and that fucking taste of mint is still in there. I ate a fucking chocolate bar. What ended up was a fucking taste of sour taste of fucking chewed fish, mint, and chocolate. That all happened right after fucking Enteng told me that my mom was so fat that they had to hit her head to even have a chance of killing her.”
Uncle breathed and looked at Enteng. He broke, and both of them laughed.
“That was fucking terrible,” Joey bit back.
“I know, but the point is, you’re the same as us,” Uncle screamed. “Do you think that anyone would talk to your bitchy ass? I’m going out there, and yet I’m supposed to be the fucking shut-in. More people would be dead if you weren’t here.”
“I would be dead if you didn’t help me,” Enteng added with a pure smile. “Uncle and I would’ve been killed if you didn’t move.”
“People now depend on you. We’re the fucking trio now.” Uncle turned to Enteng. “He’s the dad.” He thumped his chest. “I’m the fucking superstar.” He faced Joey. “And you’re the fucking bitch that understands people. This is a fucking heavy responsibility. We don’t have the time to question if we could do things.” He looked at Enteng again. “They might fucking attack again because we took down a whole lot of their sorry asses and killed a boss. People would die regardless. I’ll listen to you bitch about it, sure, but don’t you dare quit when you have people depending on you. So…”
“So, are you going to continue bitching, or do you want us to go with you and occupy that compound?”
There was pride, but there was no hint of anger on his face. Enteng was the same. Joey cracked a smile, and they grinned back. It scared him, almost, but their determination glowed brighter, even more so when Joey pulled himself up with the help of Uncle’s bruised hand.