He laughed. “No. I like that you always tell the truth.”
“I don’t really see the point in lying.”
“That’s very cool.”
“Thank you,” I said, a warmth spreading through my chest and all the way up to my cheeks. At least he didn’t seem alarmed by the fact that we had no idea what we were doing. His optimism was comforting, and I reached for his hand as we walked.
As the sun began to rise the thick trees gave way to open land, the green and brown grass spreading out in front of us. We were still a good ten miles or so from Austin, and we’d be easily visible to any passing HARC shuttle.
I ran a hand over my face as I stopped. We should have run. If we’d run we’d already be there, and we could have found food more easily in Austin.
“Should we rest for a while?” Callum asked.
“I think we have to until the sun sets,” I said, turning to trudge back to a thicker area of the trees. I plopped down against one, stretching my legs out in front of me. Callum stayed where he was, turning his head as he surveyed the area.
“How far from Austin are we?” he asked.
“We’re about halfway. Ten miles or so.”
“I’m going to go look for food,” he said, facing me. “You want to wait here? I won’t go too far.”
“Look for food where?” I asked, casting a baffled glance at the trees around us.
“I’m going to go that way,” he said, pointing. “Uh . . .” He turned around a few times. “East. Right? That way is east?”
I nodded. “What do you expect to find out there?”
He quirked an eyebrow at me. “They do have food outside a cafeteria, Wren.”
I tried to hold back a smile, but it tugged at the corners of my mouth anyway. “I have heard that. You really think you’re just going to find food?”
“I worked the fields. I know what to look for. And me and some of the others used to scrounge on the walk back to the city when the HARC farmers weren’t looking.”
I started to get to my feet, but he shook his head.
“You can rest,” he said. “I won’t go far. There’s no one around here anyway.”
I looked up at the sky. He was right: It was blue and clear and there wasn’t a shuttle in sight. If I was being honest, my body had no interest in walking anyway.
“Just don’t get lost,” I said, leaning my head back against the tree. “Yell if you run into trouble.”
He nodded and turned to walk away, tossing a smile in my direction even though his pace was slow and heavy. He must have been tired as well, and just as hungry, but he was hiding it better. I had to admire his ability to keep that smile on his face, even when things sucked.
I squinted my eyes as the sun peeked out from behind the leaves, my head beginning to droop to one side. I wanted to keep my eyes open, but they kept falling shut, and eventually I let them stay that way.
I woke with a start, my legs jerking against the dirt as my eyes flew open. A leaf was tickling my arm, and I pushed it away, quickly turning to look at the sun. It was higher, up above the trees now.
“Callum?” I called softly, getting to my feet. I turned in a circle, but I was alone, the only sound the flapping of wings as a bird took off from somewhere nearby.
I pulled my jacket tighter around me, glancing at the sun again. Where had it been before? I couldn’t have slept that long. Maybe an hour. Less, probably. It had been dumb to let him go by himself. Getting separated was the worst thing that could happen to us right now, and I had let him wander off in the middle of the wilderness by himself.
The bird overheard screeched and I jumped, stuffing my cold hands into my pockets. Escaping from HARC in the summer would have been a much smarter plan. Actually, any plan except for this one would have been a much smarter plan.
I swallowed, trying not to panic as the minutes stretched out with no sign of Callum. I shifted from foot to foot as I pushed back the urge to run into the trees and find him. He was fine. If I kept repeating it to myself it had to be true.
A rustling noise made me turn, and I tensed, my hand flying to my gun. Callum’s triumphant face appeared a moment later and I exhaled, returning his grin.
“Sorry it took so long,” he said. “I went a little farther than I thought I would.”
He was holding his shirt out in front of him, and I frowned as he dropped to his knees and emptied the contents before me. I knelt down and picked up a small, black, round object.
“A squishy black thing?” I asked, eyebrows raised. I looked down at the hard brown balls mixed in with them. “Are those ones nuts?”
“Wren,” he said with a laugh, scooting over and taking the nut. “It’s a pecan. You’ve never seen a pecan?”
“Oh. Never in the shell, I guess.”
He glanced around and selected a rock, placing the pecan on the ground. “We’re going to have to get a little creative, since we don’t have a nutcracker.” He smashed the rock down and the shell shattered. He picked out the pieces of the nut and plunked them into my free hand.
“Thank you,” I said, blinking at them in surprise.
“And that’s a persimmon,” he said, pointing to the black fruit. “You just kind of squeeze it into your mouth. Not my favorite, but it’ll do.”
I ate a couple pieces of pecan as Callum continued cracking them on the ground, then I squished the persimmon with my fingers and held it over my mouth. It was sweet and messy, and my hands were black with juices as I tossed the skin aside.
We ate in silence and I wiped my hands on my pants when we’d polished everything off. Callum scooted back against a tree, opened his arm up, and I gladly crawled over next to him.
“Thank you,” I said, resting my head on his chest.
“You’re welcome.” He rested his chin on top of my head as he trailed his fingers down my arm. He was quiet for a long time, and I closed my eyes as my head moved up and down with his breath.
“Did you always intend to go to Austin?”
“What do you mean?” I blinked my eyes open, startled at the sound of his voice.
“When you promised Leb you would go get his daughter. Did you really mean it? Or were you thinking about just running away?”
“I didn’t know where I’d go,” I said. “If the reservation is real I’d like to know where it is. Clearly I’m not exactly equipped to survive in the wild.”
He chuckled. “I think you’d do fine.”