Ken gripped the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles turned white and his nails dug into his palms. He sucked in a breath and released his grip slowly, placing his palms flat onto the dashboard while exhaling.
His gaze lingered on the many pockmark scars caused by practically endless injections that spread from his arms to his chest. He couldn’t even physically feel the needle puncturing his skin anymore. But he never stopped thanking his stars every time he opened his eyes and found himself not staring at the ceiling of a lab. A sharp rap at the car door made him jump.
“WASSUUUUUUUP,” I obnoxiously crowed, sliding into the passenger seat.
“Hey Sarah,” he greeted me with a weak smile. I grinned brightly back. “You’re chipper today. Did Johnny french you?” he leaned back in his seat and stuck his tongue out slyly.
“What? Ew. No. A little,” I descended into giggles. “Good to know,” he gazed distantly at the ceiling of his car. “I take it you’re still not really talking to Ruby,” I cringed slightly. “Not something I wanna talk about today,” he makes eye contact with me.
“Becauuuuuuuuuuse today is YOU DAY!” I practically screamed and presented a silver tin can with a sparkler duct-taped to it out of my jacket pocket. “TA DAAAA. Wait!” I moved the can away from his reach and lit the sparkler. I set the can on the dashboard and let the little firework shine out to the dusk atmosphere outside of the car. We sat in silence for a while, appreciating the little pyrotechnic.
Ken’s hand slid into mine and entwined my fingers with his, a support habit we developed growing up together. When the sparkler fizzed out, we were left in the semi-dark. A fire-light from outside indicated that prep for the night camp had begun successfully and we could see the other survivors gathering around.
I didn’t need to look at Ken to know his gaze had settled onto Ruby , who was dishing out the day’s rations. She glanced up briefly and looked in the direction of Ken’s car, but looked away immediately when she realised we were both looking out.
“See? It’s not just one-sided,” he flatly pointed out. He let go of my hand and reached for the can, but I slapped it away. “OW?” he turned his palm upward in a outrageously questioning gesture.
“Sorry! It’s just that I got Johnny hunting a rabbit to go with those peaches and nooooow I gave away what’s in the can,” I deflated in my seat.
Ken gave a short, tired chuckle; but the smile on his face stayed. “Thanks. This has been… one of the better birthdays in a while,” he exhaled in relief.
“One question though. Where did you get the can?” he tilted his head at me. “I… got a stash,” I hissed out.
“A stash? Are you planning to high-tail again? Dammit, Sarah, I’m trying to cut down my dependency. We talked to Marlo about this. You do not have to keep raiding every Gaia base for antigen I’m starting to produce in my own body,” he turned to face me.
“RELAX. The rations are fine. This stuff’s mine; and I keep it for Johnny since he’s pulling a little more weight. Hunting. For us,” I let my mouth hang open. “Besides, you might be developing immunity instead so I’m not taking chances,” I added on in a low mumble.
“Nothing,” I crossed my arms. “Just- Happy Birthday, kay?” I pulled out my bowie knife and handed it to him. “What? I have to open it myself?” he stuck his tongue out cheekily again.
I smirked and tore the burnt recesses of the sparkler off, tossing it out of the window.
A few seconds later, Ken held out his hands worryingly. “Careful. Careful!”
“I know what I’m doing!” I argued, sawing away at the lid of the can with the tip of the knife.
“You’re gonna cut yourself, gimme that!” he tried to grab the can away.
“Ah AH AH AH AH!” I protested and held the can out the window.
“And the bunny is here, skinned, sliced and seared!!!- what’s going on?” Johnny held a pan in front of the window I was leaning out of to get the can and knife away from Ken. I turned to him, a frozen grin plastered on my face. “Give me the can, Rambo,” Johnny placed the pan on the hood of the car.
I snapped my jaws at Ken but handed the can with the big knife to Johnny. With a swift flick he opened the can and speared the slices of peach, adding it to the pan. Ken and I watched in full awe.
“Oh and I found some wild mint and sorrel. Don’t know if it’ll make a good game sauce, but I think the peaches will balance it out nicely,” Johnny rambled, almost offhandedly.
“My god. Marry me?” Ken leaned across the roof of his car.
“Considered,” Johnny shot me a cheeky look. I responded with a naughty slap to his pecs.
“Happy Birthday, bro,” he presented Ken with the pan of a wonderful dinner. Ken slid out of the car and fawned over the dish, going so far as to coo mockingly at me.
“Jokes on you, I get to french him,” I tried to comeback. Blinking at me, Ken and Johnny leaned slowly at each other, lips pouted. I bit my lip, daring myself not to break eye contact as they began to show signs of discomfort at being so close to kissing each other.
But I lost it when their foreheads touched and they gazed into each other’s eyes without getting the giggle shakes. “DON’T YOU DARE,” I snapped. Johnny and Ken withdrew, smug smiles spreading across their faces.