I sat on the scuffed wooden bench, watching the foot traffic at the checkpoint-cum-toll booth. It was a rare sunny morning, but the ground still stank of wet and mold. A scrappy young woman, beautiful but tough, stopped folks before they crossed the bridge into Dells, demanding either gas, alcohol, or other barter as a toll. Most paid, but grudgingly.
I was new in town, having left a tight sitch downstream. I hadn't eaten in a day and a half, and then it was only a piece of bread and a half a wrinkled apple. I needed food, but I also needed to save my barter.
I looked down at my shopping bag, one of those 'save the environment' reusable grocery things. I'd never seen a grocery store that wasn't trashed, but I'd heard the stories. Buy anything you want for paper. No one bartered, cash or credit.
I thought of them more as 'save the world' bags, specifically designed for the needs of the post-apocalypse remnants of humanity, so far fallen from our halcyon days. Nicely water-resistant, especially if you line it with a plastic shopping bag. In it, I had all my worldly possessions.
My spot was a good place to read folks, looking for a helpful soul with either food or barter or a job. I hadn't found a job, so food was a problem. I had a place to stay, an abandoned warehouse that still had water pressure.
The woman was lovely, but she had a dark attitude. Maybe it was the red hair, but I got flashes of fights and blood from her. I also couldn't keep my eyes off her lips. They were full and she had a way of pursing them when she accosted folks that made me melt inside.
"What'dya got Links? Gas or goods?" she said to a tall, lanky guy with light brown hair. His brown leather jacket was open for the unaccustomed heat and he had two bags like mine that looked full. Probably headed for the market.
"I don't have any of them, Mimi. I come across, do my business, and then I can pay you. You're usually on the afternoon shift, but the other guys know," Links said, a little exasperated.
She grabbed his arm and said, "Then you're not going across. No toll, no bridge. Max said himself this morning. Now pay up!"
Links froze in the face of Mimi's strong-arm tactics. When she reached for a huge knife on her belt, I stood up from my bench. Three steps brought me to her side, just in time to hear her say, "You wanna lose this instead?" as she poked the blade at his wrist. Links had a look of horror on his face. He sputtered, but nothing came out.
"Oh, Mimi. I'm sure that's not necessary," I said as I stroked the arm holding the weapon.
The fiery redhead turned on me, ready to fight, but softened visibly when she saw me. I can have that effect on people. It's hard to tell if I'm a boy or girl, and I can look as innocent as a bunny.
"Who are you? I don't recognize you from these parts," Mimi said, all the bluster out of her voice, replaced with curiosity. As she spoke, my eyes focused on her lips. Up close they were even more enticing than before.
"The name's Sundown. Used to live west of here. I got in this week after the raid," I said. I swallowed the lump in my throat, leaned in, and kissed her. I put my arms around her neck and slipped my tongue past her surprised lips. She tasted warm and sharp at the same time. There was a tang of alcohol. Then I tasted her mind. A glimpse of violence and passion on a knife's edge. I also felt a deep hurt that echoed in my own heart. I immediately liked her.
She broke the kiss to say, "Wow, I didn't expect that from you, mister." Her eyes smiled when she talked.
I decided the time for the truth has come. "I couldn't help myself, I couldn't take my eyes of your mouth." She laughed a good laugh with some dark undertones. She had also completely forgotten Links.
"Can I go?" he asked, as if on cue.
Mimi waved her hand and said, "Go on! Pay me in the way home!" Then she kissed me back. This time she grabbed a handful of my hair tightly in her fist and dipped me backward. I gasped into her mouth at the sudden sensation. Someone else walked past us to the bridge and Mimi didn't pause. They walked across.
I let her kiss me thoroughly, giving into the moment. After a week or a minute, I'm not sure which, she straightened me and said, "Hey, I like you -- you've got balls. I get off at six tonight. You should come by the militia barracks. I'll feed you. Look like you could use it." She poked playfully at my belly. I smiled at her. "Shall we call it a date?" she said.
"I hope so," I said. "Say, you wouldn't have anything to eat on you? It's been a spell since I had anything." I stroked her cheek.
Mimi smirked at me and winked, then rummaged in her pockets. "Sorry, this is all I've got." She held a piece of jerky and a half a roll. "I'm not sure what kind of jerky this is, but it's all I got."
I took them and stashed them in the shopping bag. I kissed her again, luxuriating in her flavors, and then broke it. "See you later, Mimi."
I walked across the bridge into Dells. Mimi didn't ask me for a toll.