We stepped out of unrelenting daylight and into the shadows where, underfoot, tall grass and dirt coexisted with cheap carpet and shards of broken glass.
"What is this?"
Circumstances always contrived to remind me of her relative youth. I had been sixteen on The Day, and my family had taken vacations, so I remember hotels. This one was five stories tall and relatively well-preserved. The fires had spared it, and although the lobby was open to the elements the rest of the building was undamaged, pristine.
"Holiday Inn, maybe. Maybe a Days Inn? I don't recognize the color scheme."
She stared at me.
"A hotel. People from out of town would pay money for a safe place to sleep."
She wore the face that said, you are making very little sense right now, but I will let it go because you are older and know things. All she actually voiced was, "Oh." It was quickly followed by, "Will there be food?"
We found the kitchen, but the pantry had been thoroughly looted long ago. There were a few items that no one in the early days would have bothered with: spices and other non-perishables. I gathered some of them into a like-new saucepan complete with lid, and slid it into my pack. She looked impatiently at me. "Old Bay. You'll like it, trust me, next time we catch a fish."
"If you say so."
We made our way back out to the lobby and I went behind the front desk. If the hotel had used door cards they wouldn't work without power but... there: the key cabinet, and there were plenty still there. "You still have the sack? The big one?"
"Yeah. For what?"
"Blankets. Sheets. Pillows. We'll check the linen room but we may have to go room to room."
"Oh. Oh... there's beds." Now she understood what the building was.
"Show me!" She was excited, wide-eyed. In the village, there were only three beds: the Mayor's; the Mayor's son's; and the infirmary bed, which was occupied either by the Doc, late-term pregnant women, or the very ill.
The first room for which he had a key was 127. He handed her the shotgun and took the fireman's axe from across his back. Holding it in his right hand, he used his left to quietly slide the key into the lock and turn the knob.
The room was clear, clean, frozen. It was a time capsule. The beds were made and the sheets turned down, the gossamer-thin white curtains were closed but the blackout curtains were open enough to let light spill across the room. There was no dust. The bathroom was equally immaculate, with tiny soaps wrapped in paper, small drinking glasses wrapped in plastic.
He gently closed the door behind them. She stood halfway into the room, waiting. "Well, go ahead," he said.
She grinned, laid the shotgun carefully on the desk beside the little card detailing what the television channels would have been, and then moved to the foot of the nearest bed.
"Take your boots off."
He started to answer, caught himself, and then chuckled. "No reason. It's just what people used to do. Keeps dirt from your shoes off the bed." Her boots were filthy, but there would be no maid coming tomorrow to clean the room and think them slobs.
"Oh." She was used to doing as she was told — it had kept her alive more than once — and she did so now.
He moved to the curtains, checked outside: the room faced the pool area, which was clear of zombies. At least two exit points. Safe enough. They could stay here a while, if they needed to. He pulled the chord, closed the blackout curtains almost completely, and when he turned back, she was sitting at the foot of the far bed, pushing her hands down into the softness of the comforter. "It's wonderful."
He smiled. "I'll bet." He dropped his pack into the armchair by the window, and climbed onto the other bed, kicking off his shoes as he went. The bed seemed to envelop him as his weight settled onto it; gather him up, cradle him. He closed his eyes, but only for a moment.
When he opened them again the room was dark. She was in his bed, next to him. As soon as he stirred, she whispered. "Why haven't you ever tried to have me?"
His mind was foggy. "How long did I sleep?"
"It's dark, so, a while. Why not?"
He swung his legs off the bed, went to the window, peered out; still clear, still safe. He opened the blackout curtains a bit more, to let light into the room. "I'm sorry I fell asleep. That was stupid of me."
"It's fine. Why not?" She hadn't moved from his bed, her head propped up on one hand, staring at him, the moonlight flickering in her eyes. "I know you want to. So why?"
"You're too young."
She snorted. "I'm the oldest with no babies. The younger men won't touch me because they think I'm yours."
He answered instinctively, "You don't belong to me; you don't belong to anyone: you belong to yourself. Don't ever—" It was all too strident. She never took too well to that. "Listen, you don't owe me. I saved you because it was the right thing to do. I've kept you with me because, I don't know, that was right, too. You don't understand: people used to look out for each other. At least, sometimes. Especially kids, even other people's kids. You were just a kid."
"I'm nineteen. I counted."
"That’s not so old."
He couldn't think of anything to say. He sat down, with his back to her. She was in his ear, whispering again: "You're smart, and careful, and deadly. You've taught me to be the same. Let's have smart, careful, deadly children and one of them can be Mayor."