Tuesday, 3 February 2009 - 4:38 pm

Different strides

Yesterday, I was up on the roof for a long time before anyone came looking for me. I don’t know if they kept on fighting after I left or if they just glared at each other. In truth, I was terrified of the aftermath of my outburst.

I stopped crying after a little while and calmed down into staring bleakly off the edge of the roof. It’s mostly residential here, apartment blocks and townhouses neatly laid out in concrete chunks. The roads are a haphazard mess of vehicles, as they seem to be everywhere, but things don’t look as broken here. Except for the yawning, hollow quiet – that’s the same everywhere.


When I heard footsteps on the stairs up to the roof, my heartbeat spiked painfully in my chest. What if it was bad news? What if things had gone horribly wrong after I left? What if, right now, some of the group were packing up and leaving? What if they’d already gone? What if they were furious with me and were leaving me behind?

I hoped that it was Ben, whatever the news was going to be. I wanted to see him, to have him squeeze my good hand and tell me that we’ll work it out. But when I turned around, it was Thorpe pushing out through the access door. My stomach instantly plummeted through my feet, while the rest of me braced for a fight. I don’t like that that was my reaction to seeing him, but it’s reflex now.

He looked at me like he didn’t know what to say, and I thought that at least we had that much in common.

“We should head out soon,” he said eventually. He was right; the day was crawling up the sky towards noon and we had to make some progress today. We were closing in on the first dot on our map, slowly and surely.

I nodded and tried to find some words. “Is it settled?” It was the only thing I could think of to ask, the only question that seemed to matter right now.

I saw his expression darken and knew what the answer was before he voiced it. “For now.” Which meant no. Which meant the whole thing wasn’t over yet.

I swallowed the things I wanted to say and looked out over the edge of the roof again. All of a sudden, I felt so tired of all of this. How long was I going to have to fight just to keep this group together, to keep us all going? How long was my stubbornness going to hold out?

“Look, I’m sorry that I don’t like them, but that’s just the way it is, all right?” Thorpe was getting huffy.

“You don’t have to like them,” I told him. “You don’t even have to talk to them if you don’t want to.” I closed my eyes. “I just want you to stop fighting. All of you.”

“Oh, is that all? What about when she–“

Thorpe isn’t prone to letting things slip when he doesn’t mean to, so his abrupt halt made me look up at him. His face wasn’t giving anything away, though, except that he regretted saying more than he meant to. “When she what?” I asked him. “Did Sally do something?”

He flicked me a glare. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Clearly, it does.” He wasn’t going to tell me, though. I tried to think of what Sally could possibly do that Thorpe wouldn’t throw back in her face publicly, that Thorpe wouldn’t want anyone else to know about. And when? We’re all together all of the time, except for last night when we spread over several rooms in the apartment.

I’m not sure what it was that made me think of it. The shuffles in the darkness last night, or Sally’s tears this morning and the way she had looked at him like a kicked dog. Maybe it was the look of distaste that crossed Thorpe’s face when he thought about it.

“She didn’t– she came onto you?” I could just imagine how well that would have gone down. Of all the things she could have done, she had to try that? I think that the last straw on the proverbial camel’s back that brought the tidal wave down on us finally.

“She thought it would change my mind.” He spat the words out as if they tasted disgusting.

“But she used the wrong bait.” I didn’t flinch when he sent me another glare. “Come on, you can’t be surprised? She’s scared, Thorpe, and she’s desperate. How’s she supposed to know that she’s barking up the wrong tree?” Poor Sally. She had meant to fix things and wound up making them worse.

He was unmoved, just shrugged and stared at the other rooftops.

“Look, I’ll talk to her. Make sure she doesn’t do that again.”

I could feel him coiling up next to me at that idea, all ready to get angry again. “Don’t–“

I held up a hand to stop him. “I won’t tell her why you hate it so much. All right?” I looked him in the eye and felt helpless all over in the face of his closed anger. There was a tiny tremble just under my breastbone. “Dammit, I’m not your enemy. Why do you always do that?”

“Do what?”

“You get defensive at everything! No-one here is out to get you. We’re supposed to be looking after each other. We’re supposed to– I just want to help, okay?”

“You just want me to be okay with them staying with us.”

“Yes! What’s so bad about them being with us? They haven’t hurt anyone.”

“Not yet. But they will. And what happens then?”

“That’s different! Then we kick them out. But we shouldn’t kick them out for something they might do. Any of us might do that.” I threw my hands up and felt myself getting upset again.

He gave me a look like ice, as if I was talking about him all of a sudden. As if I meant the bruise on my cheek. “That was an accident.”

“I know! I know, I didn’t mean– I’m not angry with you about that.” I was getting tangled in it again and tried to wave away that expression on his face. A part of me was aware that I was moving my hands around to stop them from shaking, but I couldn’t help it. I could feel my control slipping and that only made it worse when the words started to tumble out of my mouth.

I really wasn’t angry with him about being hit. I didn’t want him to go. I didn’t want anyone to go. Thorpe, this group, these people, they’re all I have now. They’re all I’ve got left. And I don’t want to lose that. I don’t want it to fall apart. Yes, we might be heading towards my dad’s place, we’re going to look for him, but come on. It’s been over a month already – a whole month. Anything could have happened to him. The bomb, the rain, the violence of desperate people. What are the chances of him still being there? What if this is it for me? This could be all I have in the whole world now, a group of strangers that don’t like each other. I don’t want to lose that too. I’m so scared that I’ll end up alone.

I started crying again somewhere in the middle of it all. The tightness in my chest snagged at the words that wouldn’t stay inside; they fell onto the rooftop, but I don’t know if any of them made sense. They stopped when Thorpe put an arm around me – poor guy, he looked bewildered in the face of a girl’s tears, hardly seemed to know what to do with himself. He rubbed my back awkwardly and let me lean on him while I wept. It made both of us uncomfortable; I pulled away when that feeling started to outweigh my need for comfort.

He apologised to me – not for the fighting over Sally and Masterson, but for hitting me. For this time and the one before – he hadn’t forgotten that part of the day the rain came. I should probably mind more than I do about all that, but for some reason he’s easy to forgive. I know it was an accident.

We didn’t talk any more after that. I’d spilled everything I had and the crying had given me a headache. Thorpe isn’t exactly one to over-share, so it went quiet.

We went back downstairs once I’d recovered myself. There were a few expectant looks, but no-one asked. Not even Ben – he barely glanced at me. We just picked our everything up and headed out. Put our feet on the bare concrete and trudged on, each with a different stride.