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“I’ve seen shit, too,” Boden said, his eyes grave and sincere. “I’ve seen the worst the world has to offer. And it can be a truly gruesome and ugly place. But there’s beauty in it, too. There’s moments of actual joy. And you’re refusing to experience any of it.”

I bristled. “I’m not refusing anything.”

“You are,” Boden insisted with a wry laugh. “I don’t know if it’s guilt or what, but you are absolutely refusing to be happy.”

“It’s not a choice.” I shook my head. “I can’t be happy. Not with people constantly dying and being afraid of dying and trying to protect everyone and make sure everything is safe.”

“Well, exactly. How can you be happy when you have the entire weight of the world on your shoulders? When it’s your job to save every person you come in contact with? When you can never ask for help on a single thing?”

“I – I – I don’t even know what point you’re trying to make,” I said. “I’ve done everything I can to protect Max and Stella and you. How is that a bad thing?”

“It’s not bad, but you never relax.”

“I never relax?” I scoffed. “This is so ridiculous. You’ve known me for a few weeks, and we’ve been on the run from zombies the entire time. How is that relaxing?”

“We’re not on the run from anything right now,” he said. “And we’re safe.”

“We just killed three people!” I laughed incredulously. “How is that safe?”

“Nobody is breaking down the door right now. The kids are sleeping soundly. You’re drinking tea,” Boden pointed out. “This is about as safe as it gets. And you still have your guard up.”

“My guard?” I set my tea on the table and stood up. “You don’t know me. You don’t know anything about my guard.”

Boden leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees. “Really? Because I think you’re getting all worked up because I’m getting it exactly right, and you know it.”

“I’m not worked up!” I snapped, then realized I’d raised my voice.

I don’t know why his accusations had me so frazzled, but something in the truth of it was getting under my skin. He was right, at least partially.

“You’re so determined to persevere, but because you’re trying so hard to not feel anything, to deny any emotion or connection you have with people, you don’t even know why you want to persevere.” Boden stood up. “You don’t even know what it means to be alive.”

“I …” I started to speak but my voice cracked.

So much of life hurt, so much of it had been lost. The only way I knew how to survive was to shut everything off, or at least try to. To bury everything I felt down deep inside me, hiding the happiness along with the sadness.

But it was killing me. I was exhausted from fighting it, from trying to keep everything inside me inside. And as much as I’d tried to do this all on my own, the one thing I knew for sure was that I couldn’t. I needed people. I needed Max, Stella, even Serg. And I needed Boden.

“So what I am supposed to do?” I asked finally.

“Let go.” Boden stepped closer to me until he was right in front of me, his chest nearly touching mine. “Stop trying to have control, because you don’t. Stop trying to save the world, because you can’t.”

“You’re saying I should do nothing? I should just let the zombies come and kill me and everyone else?”

“No, of course not. What I’m saying is fight when you have to, but laugh every chance you get. And enjoy the moment you’re in.”

His chest was touching me now, strong and warm against me, and he pushed me back, pressing me against the wall.

I swallowed hard. “You mean like this moment now?”


I expected him to kiss me, since his lips were nearly brushing against mine, but he didn’t. He reached down and grabbed both my wrists and pinned them above my head. With his body pressed against mine and my hands above my head, I couldn’t move.

I felt powerless, and even though I trusted Boden, I felt strangely terrified. Deep down, I knew he’d never hurt me – not on purpose. But something about being like this made my heart race, and I involuntarily began to tremble.

“Let go,” he whispered, and then his mouth finally found mine.

He kissed me passionately, almost roughly, and I closed my eyes, focusing on nothing else except how wonderfully warm his mouth felt. And the heat of it – of him – pushed away my anxiety, and all I could feel was him.

When he pulled away from me, I tried to follow him, to keep kissing him, but he kept me pinned to the wall. He used one hand, holding both wrists together, while his other hand worked its way down my pants, pushing them and my panties down.

Once he’d gotten them to my knees, I helped the rest of the way, moving and kicking my legs until my pants were on the ground and I could step out of them.

He kissed my neck, and now his lips felt cool on my skin. I was flushed with warmth, with excitement and anticipation. A hungry heat flowed through me, radiating from my belly down to my thighs.

I didn’t even know he’d undone his pants until I felt him thrust inside me. I cried out in surprise and pleasure, and he was kissing me again, silencing my moans. I wrapped my legs around him, and then he let go of my arms, letting me hang onto him as he pushed me harder against the wall.