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Skip trailed her finger behind the boat and dipped it into the slowly churning wake. When she curled it, she snagged a clump of the plentiful purple algae that gave Lilac Lake its name. She lifted the curious growth out of the water and examined it for a moment.
"I guess I probably shouldn't touch this," she said, releasing the algae and swishing her finger in the water to clean it. "But it is kinda weird-looking, huh?"
Edgar grunted and kept rowing in long, smooth strokes.
He was clearly dialed in. Or just sick of her. Reclining as much as the canoe would allow, Skip let her eyelids sag and folded her hands over her belly. Finally, an easy one. She thought back to the nasty series of lakes they'd encountered over the previous few days.
There was Viscous Lake, a gummy mud puddle that had taken an entire day of rowing in shifts to cross and had thoroughly exhausted them both. There was also Rock Lake, a densely packed pit of gravel with water seeping from its surface. They'd had to carry the canoe over that one, each step on the jagged stones tenderizing their soaked feet, until they made it to the opposite shore. They lost two days to rest after that one.
And, of course, there was Gravy Lake, the watery cemetery where she'd seen her first dead body plus another fifty or so. Skip didn't like to think about Gravy Lake.
Lilac Lake was nice, though. Not exactly swimmable, but at least it wasn't dangerous. Skip allowed herself a slight, serene smile. I could spend the rest of my life here. Build a little hut on the edge of the water. Hunt for mutant fish every day and keep an herb garden in my yard. A flower garden, too. With real lilacs.
This reminded her of something. She sat up and eyed Edgar.
"Hey, what are you gonna do in L.A.?"
He frowned. "I told you already. Get you to your uncle's and aunt's, if we can find them. If not, find somewhere safe to stash you until you can work up some savings."
"But after that?"
"I dunno. Probably try to fall in with a cluster of good folks. I don't really know whether people are still working jobs in the traditional sense. Maybe I'll just need to carve out a piece of land for myself and live on it." He cocked his head. "I'll have to see once I'm there."
"Why are you bringing me along, then?"
"I've also told you that. I need someone to keep watch so I can sleep, to split up chores like rowing and cooking, and to keep me from getting too paranoid."
"And you're okay with the fact that I'm a young girl with no survival training? And I'm a weak rower, anyway. Don't you realize that I'm a liability out here? And even more of one once we make it to L.A.?"
Edgar's expression was inscrutable. "How's that?"
"You know what I mean. Do you think the police will care about me? Or you? How much can you really do for me in the city? What if - well, will I be safe without you? How long will you stick around?" She felt anger creeping into her voice but couldn't understand why.
The ensuing silence was broken by Edgar's low whisper: "I'll have to see once I'm there."
It was a long time before anyone spoke again. Edgar continued to row their boat across the lake, while Skip gazed vacantly toward the horizon. As usual, Skip was the first to pipe up.
"What's the next crummy lake, anyway?"
"Toll Lake," said Edgar. "I hope it's one of the less literal ones, since we obviously have no money."
Skip nodded and began to dig around for the map. Before she could find it, a sudden boom sounded in the distance, causing both of them to jump a bit.
"Was that -"
"Munitions of some kind," interrupted Edgar. "I'm guessing Toll Lake isn't especially forgiving when it comes to freeloaders."
Rattled, Skip settled back into her seat. The purple algae was thinning as the shore drew nearer. She missed it already.