Too Cool for You


No matter how hard Nicole scrubbed, she couldn’t seem to wash off the increasingly familiar smell of death. Blood soaked dirt felt like it caked her skin from the mass of bodies she and the others had buried during the day, the palms of her hands worn and red from all the shoveling.

Rubbing shampoo into her scalp, Nicole grabbed the nearby bucket of water to pour it over her head. She stood unmoving for a moment before picking up the dipping ends of her hair from where it clung to her body, inhaling deeply to discover that death still lingered there. Releasing her breath, Nicole let her hand come to rest on the cool steel wall of the shower cubicle, goosebumps forming across her skin as she let the fresh water trickle from her body, her mind consumed with the events of that day.

Graves had been dug in silence all afternoon, with Glenn and Maggie joining her and Daryl after she had dug only a few inches of dirt. The couple had worked apart from each other, the silence between them only increasing the tension in the air, enhancing the moans of the dead that surrounded the fences. Rick’s disgruntled figure had appeared minutes later, catching everyone’s attention as he called for Daryl. He seemed to pause for a moment, distress clear in his features as his blue eyes inspected everyone. Nicole had tried to listen to what Rick said, as Daryl rubbed at his face a little rougher than necessary, dread filling her entire being as her mind conjured every possible scenario she could think of. Still, no one had dared to ask anything.

“Nicole?” A familiar voice echoed through the empty bathroom, bouncing off the steel walls around them. “You in here?”

Nicole’s lips drew a small smile, thinking about the numerous times she had told everyone to call her Nicky and not Nicole. A time when she still cared about that. Like that was important. “Yeah,” she called back to Beth, pausing for a moment before standing straight to collect her towel from its hook, stepping away from the wet floor to dry herself. Hesitant footsteps moved through the room, the other girl pulling herself up onto the basin. Nicole watched her curiously as she dried off. “You’re not supposed to be near me.”

“I know,” Beth almost whispered, her eyes glued to the wall ahead as Nicole slipped on her top over damp skin. “Keeping away from everybody… It’s harder than I thought.” The bathroom fell silent, her eyes dropping to her lap. “I’m scared.”

Leaning up against the cool steel, Nicole considered the notion. It was strange how, despite being older than Beth and Maggie, she always found herself feeling younger than the sisters, their braveness something Nicole knew she still didn’t possess. She knew she was scared too, more than she could ever admit, but to hear it from Beth, to see it in Rick and Daryl’s face earlier that day, made the feeling all too real.

Nicole nodded, a sad smile forming on her lips. “Me too.”

“What if you all get sick? What if by the end of the week, it’s just me and the little ones left.” Beth looked back to her hands, her voice shaky. “You, Rick, Daryl, Glenn, Sasha,… You’ve all been exposed.”

Nicole’s entire being begged her to move to her friend, to tell her that everything was going to be okay, when in reality nobody could know for sure.

“I don’t think I could do this without you all. We all have jobs to do, and we’re supposed to be okay, but what if we’re not?” Beth slipped from the basin, her eyes looking just as conflicted as Nicole felt.

“Were going to be okay.”

“How do you know that?”

Nicole just shrugged, working hard to not close the distance between her and the younger girl. “Because we have to.”

Neither of them said another word as Beth stared at her hands, finally nodding as she turned to leave, her gaze lingering on Nicole for a moment longer. It wasn’t until she was sure that the footsteps had completely disappeared that Nicole let herself sink down onto the cool floor. The rest of the room around her felt too warm, her limbs too heavy as she tried to ignore the way Beth’s words chanted over and over again in her mind, as if to taunt her. You’ve all been exposed. Tears started to pool in her eyes and with shaky hands, Nicole reached out for her boots, pulling them over her worn thin socks.

Pulling herself up from the floor with aching muscles, Nicole moved towards the exit, attempting once again to shove Beth’s words from her mind and, instead of taking the usual turn down the corridor, towards the cell block, Nicole moved towards the closest exit, craving fresh air.

The courtyard was eerily quiet, with the entirety of D block either sick, in quarantine or heading that way, the usually crowded space was empty, completely silent. Nicole took in a deep breath, letting the fresh air wash over her body, reveling in the coolness it bought. Stepping down into the courtyard, her eyes went to where Hershel moved towards the cell blocks from the upper fence, Glenn in step beside him, lost in conversation. Looking up to the sky, Nicole realized that they would probably be running late to the council meeting that Hershel had organized overnight. The pair was making a move for the administration block when Sasha appeared from behind the heavy cell block door, her hand at her mouth and face pale as her aggressive coughs filled the space around them. Though she all but stumbled down the steps, she remained true to her independent nature, extending her hand shakily to stop Hershel as he moved to help her.

It was then that her eyes caught the big figure by the graveyard, Tyreese’s movement transpiring pain and anger as he dug new graves. Bob was next to him, looking almost as confused as Nicole was, now that she had walked a few steps towards them and could see Tyreese’s swollen face. Bob was talking to him and Nicole took another step in their direction, wanting to know what had happened, but stopped once she saw the menacing look Tyreese gave him. The bigger man continued to dig the graves, and the other joined him after a moment of silence.

Taking another deep breath, she moved towards the cell blocks. The Nicole from before would have asked them what was wrong, she would have meddled and insisted on knowing what was going on. But then again, everybody in her old life would have wanted to tell her their problems, they had always looked up to her. And these people didn’t.
Michonne and Daryl moved towards the makeshift parking lot, the still half packed truck now sitting alongside the other vehicles, after they had moved and begun to unpack it the night before. The trip they were about to make, hoping that the veterinary college 40 miles away would give them the medication they needed, required that they switched out the truck in favor of a car with better fuel efficiency, and possibly even one that had seen fewer miles.

“We’ll take Zack’s.” Daryl’s voice was low as he gestured to the black Dodge Charger, the one the boy had been excited to find on one of their runs.

“We should bring more people with us,” Michonne spoke as she transferred a crate of supplies into the trunk. “There’s Maggie, but she shouldn’t be in the same car as us, she hasn’t been exposed yet. There’s Rick, but he’ll want to stay here with Carl and Judith, keep an eye on them.”

“He’ll have his hands full with figuring out what happened to Karen and David, anyway.” Daryl nodded, biting at his lip as he straightened up from his leant position over the engine. “Who else we got?”

Nicole took a moment to process her thoughts, after hearing what had happened to Karen and David on the previous day. With arms outstretched to hold the open cell block door that led to the courtyard, she felt like she had been slapped with a cold wet towel, or someone had thrown her a bucket of iced water. How could someone have done that to them? Someone with who they had shared a meal and a roof over their heads. She didn’t feel safe inside those fences, not anymore, not without knowing who to trust and who to keep an eye on.

With the midmorning sun partially blinding her, she scanned the seemingly empty courtyard, eyes widening once she found Michonne staring back at her. Daryl was there too, with his back to Nicole, and after sharing a few short words he too turned to look at her.

She didn’t know if it was the news of Karen and David’s death that made her feel uneasy, or the way the two looked at her, a look that evidently told Nicole she was the subject of their conversation, but she quickly looked away, suddenly not wanting to be outside.

“She would only slow us down,” Daryl spoke, returning his attention to the car.

“Tyreese could probably use a change of scenery.” Michonne mused, stepping around the Dodge to scan the field.

“I’ll go find him.”
Nicole looked back to the cell block, her heart slamming against her chest, trying to reject the fear that welled within her joints. Doctor S. was sick and so were some of the kids now. Along with her, only a hand full of people that lived in cell block C hadn’t been infected by now. Despite everything happening, Nicole couldn’t help but smile at the image of Carl’s face when she had seen Rick giving him the news. The boy had refused to stay with the kids who weren’t infected, even if his father had told him she needed him to protect them.

“How’s Carl dealing with his new job?” There was a hint of amusement in Nicole’s question.

“Refuses to sit still, roaming the halls as if the danger can be shot.” Nicole could hear the smile in Rick’s voice as she followed him through the dark tunnels.

The light from his flashlight followed the blood trails on the cement and although she was with Rick, fear still crept up on her. He had come to her and asked for her help, but when Nicole had asked him why were they going to the tombs, he hadn’t answered.

Rick finally came to a stop by a door only partly opened, switching the flashlight off as he regarded her with curious eyes. “This is where we found the burnt bodies.” He crouched down to gesture at the door frame, eyes narrowing in on the crimson that painted the steel. Nicole watched as he lifted a single hand to the blood, hovering it there as he studied the marking before turning to nod at her own hand. “Hold yours up.”

Frowning, Nicole did as she was told, mimicking Rick’s actions somewhat carefully. It was only then, as she held her own hand up above the dried blood that she realized it outlined a hand very close to the size of her own. She dropped it quickly, as if she was in trouble, eyes darting to the stained floor in front of her and then to Rick’s eyes cautiously. “Do I need a lawyer, Sheriff?”
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I'm really, really, really sorry for taking so long to update. Vacations are always a bit chaotic, there's a lot of relatives to visit, things to do, and I always end up not having the time (or the will) to write. I know I should have update this earlier, as I had half of this chapter already written since early July, but I'll try to make it up to you and update more frequently from now on.