Sun, 28 December 2008 - 8:25 pm

Together until we’re not

Been trying to focus on things lower than the sky.  Thoughts about that go nowhere useful.

The south side of the river fared better than the north.  There aren’t so many high-rises here, less for the shockwave to catch hold of and topple over, but things are still pretty wrecked.  There’s no power now – it only stayed on long enough to make things worse – and no running water.  Shattered glass everywhere, cars tossed into each other and the scenery.  Buildings in various stages of collapse and creaking.  Some fires have already burnt themselves out; others are struggling on.

We didn’t push on today.  After seeing the sky, no-one really wanted to; I think shock is setting in for all of us now.  Carter decided that we should take the chance to rest and recoup, and no-one argued.  We’re all so used to listening to him that obeying is reflex now, as if we’ve all grown into extensions of his fire crew.

 

I’ve been trying to find out people’s names.  We’ve been struggling on alongside each other for days, but there haven’t exactly been many opportunities to stop and shake hands.  I think I’ve got almost all of them now.

I don’t know Carter’s first name.  He’s forty and strung out, and there’s a wedding band on his finger.  He has a strange momentum about him, as if he’s afraid to stop.  I look at him and it’s familiar.  I guess that’s part of why we don’t mind him being in charge; he seems to need it.

Sally is strung out for an entirely different reason.  I keep catching sight of her rubbing at her arms, as if she’s trying to drub something from them.  Or into them.  She’s pale and sickly; I think if the rest of us hadn’t bullied her into moving, she would have stopped and curled up somewhere in the city’s rubble days ago.  I assumed before she was just very shocked, but now I think it has a more chemical cause.

Liz must be about fifty.  She’s one of the stronger runners of the group – she has an iron determination in her spine.  Most of her attention is focussed on the two little ones she has hanging off her – they can’t be more than six or seven years old.  They’re not related – unless they had very different fathers – and I don’t think they belong to her.  Or they didn’t before all this started.  She doesn’t let them out of her sight now.  One of them – the only name I could get for him was ‘Nugget’ – has a head injury.  He’s been carried by one or other of the group for most of the time, in and out of consciousness.

There’s Dillon, of course.  My shadow, though he’s latching onto one of the firemen as well now.  I guess because I’m injured and can’t be out there doing so much stuff.  He’s thirteen.  I don’t know who he was in the city with; he won’t say and I didn’t want to push him.  Whoever it was, they’re gone now.

The fireman he’s attaching himself to is Thorpe.  I haven’t spoken to him much, but he seems like a sensible kind of guy.  I know he carried Nugget across the bridge last night; I remember seeing the kid flopping about like a broken ragdoll over his shoulder.

Another of the steadier rocks is Sax – he got called by the instrument he’s carrying.  It’s dented; I don’t know if it will play any more.  But he’s keeping it and that’s that.  He’s a big round-shouldered fella, and older than I thought now that I can see the grey in his hair.  It wasn’t until we stopped that I recognised him; I used to walk past him every day in the mall, playing his saxophone, dressed like a blues player from the ’20s.

Delaine is a born whiner.  Nothing is good enough, he’s hungry, he’s thirsty, he’s tired, he’s sore.  He’s the voice of all the little urges inside of us, the ones that the rest of us are too drained or too considerate to let out.  He has no such compunctions.  I hit him in the back of the head with a bottle of water earlier.  Not hard, but enough to get his attention.  I told him that I’d rather go thirsty than listen to his bitching.  I guess my nerves are getting a little bit ragged. Not bad for a left-handed throw, though.

Ben came over and gave me some of his water after that.  He’s the quietest of the fire crew.  He was one of the first firemen I saw; I think he’s been with us the whole time.  He’s the one who helped me climb off the bookstore after Harry.  He’s limping but he won’t let me check out his leg. 

The last of the firefighters is Trevor.  He keeps trying to crack jokes.  He even got Sally to chance a smile earlier.  I caught him worrying at the ring on his finger earlier.  He didn’t notice me; he just sighed and then rubbed his face, as if trying to dislodge a thought from the inside of his skull.

The woman in the heels who came out of the law firm is still with us.  She’s having a lot of trouble with all of this; she has to be chivvied to eat and drink.  She’s vacant, like her driver has taken a break and others need to step in to guide her.  Trevor has been keeping an eye on her, but even he hasn’t been able to get a name out of her.

The last fella is Simon.  He was trapped near a fire and has the worst burns I’ve ever seen.  There’s not much left of his shoulder and one side of his face.  We’ve done what we can for him, but he needs a hospital.  He moans a lot, but no-one dares to mind.  Except Delaine, but even he only mentioned it once.

 

So that’s us, that’s our bunch of survivors.  Is that what we are now?  Our label?  Survivors, refugees?  All I know is that we’re alive and together until we’re not any more.

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Thu, 1 January 2009 - 4:06 pm

Days Gone By

2009.  Happy New Year.

 

New year, new start, resolutions, parties and poppers and fireworks.  It’s supposed to be such a time of hope, but the world is broken.  A part of me is scared that the world ended with 2008 and that there is nothing else now.  I’m trying not to listen to that part, but its voice is there, niggling at me like mouse teeth.

There were no fireworks last night, just acid rain falling from a scorched sky while the sun retreated.  All the familiar things have melted away, although a few of us did raid the café’s bar and get quite drunk.  To forget, to numb ourselves, to blur the mental images of dissolving people.  It was anything but a celebration.

 

Today, everyone was quiet.  Even Simon; he has slipped into unconsciousness now, I think.  His fever is worse and he’s not moaning any more.  I think we’re all missing Delaine’s complaining, too, as annoying as it was.  He said what none of us felt brave enough to.  He made us stronger by giving us someone to argue with.

No-one wants to do anything.  Without Carter, we have no direction, no-one telling us what we need to do next.  The dregs of us are left here, looking at each other or at nothing at all.  It was like some strange staring competition, and I think I lost.

It was Dillon’s face that did it.  He was looking at me for direction again, like he did that first day up in the city.  Thorpe is lost in his own world; he hasn’t spoken to anyone since the rain started and took his friends away.  Ben keeps trying to talk to him, but he’s having no luck at all.  Sally won’t stop rocking and rubbing her arms; they’re almost raw now.  Sax is cradling Nugget like she’s a favourite childhood toy. 

So I sent Dillon off on an errand. The first thing I could think of: fetch as many bottles of water and soft drinks as he could find and carry.  With strict instructions not to stray away from cover and to keep an eye on the sky. 

Then others were looking at me with Dillon’s eyes.  I remembered then why I was so grateful for Carter’s presence, I remembered how relieved I was when those fire trucks first turned up.  It was so I didn’t have to do this any more.  So I didn’t have to take responsibility, so I didn’t have to shoulder up the weight of all these people.

The only things I could think of to do was sort out food and water.  Dillon was on the water, so I sent Sally and Ben to go look at the food situation.  I didn’t know what to do with the others, or myself.  I don’t know what I’m doing at all.  I’m floundering, grasping at whatever scraps of sense I can.  All I can think of to do is carry on with the path that Carter had set us on – get together a plan to get to the hospital.

 

The stuff that Carter and Trevor had collected was lying out in the street, next to their clothes.  I didn’t dare to touch their clothes.  It’s hard to say why; I think I was afraid of what I might find in them.  Would it be worse for there to be something left under there, or nothing at all?  I wanted to look just so I stop wondering, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  And more than that, it seemed disrespectful to go peeking in there.  They were people.  They were friends, as little as I knew them.  It just didn’t seem right.

The rain hadn’t scorched the things they had been bringing back for us, apart from what I think used to be paper.  It had all dried overnight and didn’t carry any acid (I tested that very nervously with a stupid finger), so I brought it inside.  We’ll look at it tomorrow and go from there.  I don’t think I can get us moving today.

 

It started raining again about half an hour ago.  I lost it a little bit, running around and making sure that everyone was inside.  Checking we were all right, looking into everyone’s faces for a trace of the lawyerlady’s eyes.  Dillon was back by then; we were all here.  They probably all think I’m crazy now. 

Then all there was to do was wait and listen to it hissing down.  I tried to think of things we could busy ourselves with, but there’s nothing.  My mind won’t work like that today.

So here I am, trying not to listen to the rain, trying not to wonder how many were caught out in it yesterday, trying not to wonder how many strayed out into it today.  Trying to forget about the ache in my arm and the sore lip where Thorpe punched me.

I keep coming back to the fact that it’s New Year’s Day today.  It makes my hands shake and this aching lump twist in my chest.  The date has changed and the past is gone now; we’ll never get it back.  None of it.

It hurts to look back, to think about the past week and everything that has come tumbling down.  Trying to look back at what came before that is worse, because it feels like a dream.  This – all of this – should be the part that feels like a nightmare (and it does), but it’s the normal stuff that’s slipping away from me.  I don’t want to look backwards any more.  We’re supposed to be raising a glass to days gone by today.

My glass is hollow; the bottom has fallen out of it.

 

For auld lang syne, my dear,

For auld lang syne,

We’ll take a cup of kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

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Mon, 5 January 2009 - 9:25 am

Catching up

I’m so behind on everything.  It took us half a day to get out of the café, between getting the truck working, collecting supplies and packing them into it, and then squeezing everyone inside. 

It was slow going.  I hadn’t really noticed before, but there are vehicles all over the road.  Some crashed when they were fried, some just stopped, some were obviously picked up and tossed.  I suspect some of them used to be in different streets entirely; they were carried to their resting places by the blast, like toys, like Dorothy’s house.  In amongst all of it is a hefty serving of debris from shattered buildings.

We had to inch around the obstacles, and a couple of times, the guys had to pile out to shove a car out of the way and open a path.  I lost count of the times we had to backtrack to find a clearer way.

At one point Ben just gave up and scraped past a car, exchanging paint and teeth-edging screeches.  We winced and he shrugged – why protect a paintjob anyway?  It’s not like aesthetics matter, and now it seems strange that we had been so careful before.  It’s silly when I stop and think about it, and yet it was second nature to us. 

I don’t know if this is really faster than walking.  It still feels better to be driving, though.  To not be kicking at the ground any more, to feel like we’re actually making progress.  To give our feet a rest and be going somewhere at the same time.  To not be holed up somewhere like rats who have no idea what to do about the sinking of the ship.

 

We stopped about mid-afternoon and looked for somewhere to take shelter.  The sky was thickening – it’s still orange, still huddling low above us.  It seems to be some kind of cloud cover, but one that the wind isn’t able to tear apart.  I have yet to see a glimpse of blue, and as a passenger in the truck, I did a lot of looking.

The sight of that sky still makes me nauseous.  It taints the sunlight and it robs us of the moon and stars at night.  No blue, and no clean, spangled black either.  It glows red in the mornings and seeps everything ruddy.  It makes me want to scrub my eyes, but they’ll never come clear.

There’s less smoke-scarring up there now; I think the rain has put out the fires.  So it’s good for that much, at least.  We had only just settled down in our shelter when the rainfall started again.  It seems that the cluttering up of the clouds into a thicker, darker mass is a sign to take cover, after all.

 

The next day – yesterday – was more of the same.  Painfully slow chugging, shoehorning our way through the mass of debris.  We’re making our way westwards along the river – we looked at the bridges to the east, but the one we came over on is broken, and the next one is too close to the CBD – it’s the one we fled over to get out of there.  If it’s still standing, it’ll be near impossible to get to. 

West is the bypass tunnel under the river.  We didn’t know if it was open, or clogged, or collapsed in on itself like a broken windpipe.  It was the best one to try, so that’s what we did. 

We were about a block away from it when we got caught out by the rain.  It was spotting on the windscreen before we realised that the clouds had thickened, and Ben yanked the wheel around.  The truck bounced off the road and right through the front of a clothes store.  A mannequin bounced off the bonnet, its head ricocheting into a rack of pants.

I think that shook him up a bit.  For a heartbeat, it looked like a person, ploughed through like tissuepaper.  A couple of us cried out in horror at the sight of it – I think I was one of them.  We almost laughed when we realised what it was.  Ben didn’t look like laughing, though.

 

There’s not much chance of us getting the truck running today.  We’re not going to get it out of the store, and the roads here are too thick with dead cars to have room to bump-start it.  It was almost out of gas anyway.  We’re close to the tunnel, so we’re going to take a look before we try to find another vehicle.

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Tue, 6 January 2009 - 3:54 pm

Acid bite

We all knew that there were rats down in the bypass tunnel, but none of us had a clue that there were people down there.  We must have walked right past them.

My heart is still beating way too fast, and we got out of there hours ago.  We haven’t stopped since then, not until now, not until the sky started weeping its broken tears.  Now we’re holed up again, hunched and braced and waiting for the next thing to be thrown at us.  It seems that there’s always something.

Ben’s hurt.  There was no hiding it from anyone this time, not like that limp he had.  I can still hear him screaming.  He’s quiet now – we gave him half a bottle of whiskey so he could sleep – but I can still hear that moment when the acid bit him.  It’s imprinted on my eardrums.

 

The tunnel seemed like such a good idea at the time.  It was choked up with vehicles, crashed and abandoned, and there was a huge crack across the access road.  As if it had disengaged itself from the regular run of things.  But there was no water in it, and that seemed important at the time.

We had to climb our way into and through it.  A few metres past the gap-toothed maw, the weird orange light didn’t have the strength to do anything useful.  We felt our way, we murmured to each other, we linked hands, we stumbled and clambered.  We lost time in the darkness, and only once did we lose each other.  It took some frantic calling, but we found our scattered pieces again.

There were so many little noises in there, so loud and bouncing off concrete. They made us jump, made my skin crawl like a thousand spiders.  Rats the size of horses, cockroaches bigger than the silly white dog; that’s what it sounded like. We didn’t look for the sources of the noises; we just kept moving, trying to find a way through to the other side.

Oh, god.  The dog.  Dillon is still crying about that.

 

They came at us from the edges of the tunnel, as if the rain had washed them out of the shadows.  We weren’t even alarmed at first – I mean, they were just people.  We hadn’t seen many others since the rain started, so it was a bit of a relief.  A couple of us even smiled at them.

They weren’t smiling .  They were armed and they didn’t like us there in their tunnel.  They were dirty and lean, and demanded that we get out.  And we would have if it hadn’t been raining.  But what were we supposed to do?

Then one of them grabbed the dog.  It was just a little scrappy thing – no match for an adult who knew how to grab it by the back of the head.  He had a knife – not even a knife, really, just a jagged, twisted scrap of metal.  Sharp enough to gut the poor little thing, sharp enough to make it squeal.  The dog tried to cut its awful fate into glass by sound alone.

The next thing I know, I’m grabbing onto Dillon as he’s lunging past me, headlong towards that man with the knife.  He flung the dog’s body past us and into the rain.  It hit something on the way down – a pipe, maybe, I’m not sure – and then something was falling and splashing rainwater at us.

That’s when Ben got hit with it.  He was closest and took the brunt of the spray, right across his chest. 

It was chaos, then.  We were all shouting, Ben was screaming and trying to tear his shirt off, Thorpe was punching someone in the face repeatedly, Sax waded in with a pole, Sally curled up in a corner.  I lost Dillon in it somewhere and wound up yanking a teenaged girl off Sally on my way to Ben.

 

The tunnel-dwellers ran off eventually.  I didn’t even see them go; I was busy trying to get the damned rain off Ben.  I lost my shirt that way; it disintegrated, as did his and the one I was using to protect my hands.  I used up most of our water trying to rinse the acid off without washing it all over him.

That was probably stupid, but I didn’t care right then.  I just had to make it better, had to stop it burning him.

It looks so awful.  Holes pitted through his skin, exposing raw muscle beneath, great long gashes of it.  It didn’t go very deep, but the damage is still terrible.  It was all I could do to make up some kind of dressing to cover it all up.

 

It was dark by the time the rain stopped, and between the puddled water and the darkness, we couldn’t go anywhere.  We slept in shifts, and those standing guard armed themselves with something heavy and swingable.  I barely slept at all, between the ache in my arm, holding Dillon while he cried, and listening to Ben trying not to moan.  Every little noise made me flinch, made my heartbeat ratchet up a notch.

As soon as it was light enough to see, we picked each other up and headed out of there.  We heard them through the night, the tunnel-dwellers, and we didn’t wait for them to see us off.  We just grabbed everything and everyone and made tracks, and we kept going until the sky thickened again.

And now here we are.  Here comes another night, and I think we might have to keep guard again.  Just in case.

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Fri, 9 January 2009 - 4:44 pm

The van

We got trapped in the van today.  We’re still in it now, huddling, while the rain patters down on it.

 

It used to be such a comforting sound.  That wonderful noise put me to sleep as a child: the delicious rhythm of water on a roof; the rich drip of it off gutters and eaves and the boughs of the tree outside my window. 

I would close my eyes sometimes and listen to the hammering of it, beating at a world that cheerfully wouldn’t submit.  A world that would drink it up and turn it into something green and lush.  And sometimes, just sometimes, when it was hot and heavy out, I would go outside and stand in it.  Let it fall on me, prickling and thick.  And I would dance in it.

 

Now, it hisses on contact, turning to snakes even on impenetrable metal.  The ribbons of it are faintly green-tinged; I can only tell by watching it slither down the windscreen a few inches from my face.  It makes me tense just listening to it.  It brings to mind the faces I watched melt, how they barely had time to scream before sound was robbed from them.  How they looked at us before the acid took their eyes.

Today, it started without warning.  The first thing we knew, Sax was shouting in pain because he had had an arm propped on the sill of the passenger window and spots on his elbow and forearm were dissolving.  Thorpe was driving and nearly panicked, but we’re in a residential street – no store windows to plough through this time.  He didn’t risk a crash, and I’m glad of that. 

I dread to think what might have happened if he had tried to put us inside a building by sheer force alone.  Broken windows, buckled metal and sprung seams, thrown bodies sprawled everywhere, and the rain seeping in over all of it.  I have a mental image of a crash test dummy bent, bleeding, melting, and bearing all of our faces.

 

Thorpe took a breath and stopped the van instead.  We rolled all the windows up and double-checked the doors, shut ourselves tightly inside.  It was all we could do, even though it made the van suffocatingly hot.  We would all rather put up with the heat than the acid.

Of course, the van leaks.  The doors at the back are not well sealed (despite this being a plumber’s van), and there’s a crack along one side of the roof that has rusted through.  We have moved everyone away from that side of the van – the rain doesn’t seem to be pooling much, thank goodness.

Ben started to shake when the rain came inside – he was trying so hard not to freak out, but he was almost hyperventilating.  The cab seems waterproof, so we helped him scramble into the front.  He’s calmer now, though he’s still watching the rain with taut horror.  He had a deathgrip on my hand for a while.  His burns are still bright and painful; I wonder if seeing the rain that caused it is making them itch with familiarity.

Sax’s arm isn’t too bad, though it still looks like something slathering chewed on it and tore small, dripping chunks off.  It’s bound up now as best we could make it.  Everyone’s waiting for it the roof to come down on us and wash us away into nothing.  I know that all eyes behind me will be fixed on that place where the rain is coming in and making sickly tracks down the van’s side.

It’s so quiet in here.  I just realised that my typing is the loudest thing in here.  Now I’m all self-conscious about it.  Time to do something else.

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Sat, 10 January 2009 - 10:59 am

Because I need it

I don’t like the silence.  I don’t like thinking about the far-off noises I can hear, or what is out there in the shadows.  I don’t like thinking about everything that brought me here to this place, cramped up in a rusty van with six stranger-friends, hoping that the rain won’t come back ever again but knowing that it will.  I don’t like thinking about the things I’ve seen, the faces I know I’ll never see again, even the ones I didn’t know that well.

 

I apologised to Ben when I stopped typing last night.  I should have been trying to distract him, to make him feel better.  It feels so selfish and self-serving, to huddle myself down and focus on something that’s just for me.  To type away my thoughts and my feelings, set it down so that I can make sense of it.

But he said that it was all right.  He was glad that someone was making a record of this.  He said that no-one minded the time I spent doing this, because they understood that it’s my way of coping.  Because I don’t let it get in the way of anything else.  And because they know that it’s not just me in here.  They know that I’m telling their names and their actions too, and one day someone will know that we were here, that we lived, that we were scared and we were brave, that we carried on regardless, that some of us died awfully and some of us died in our sleep.

 

And he’s right.  I suppose it’s not just for me. 

I might not want to think about all those people we’ve left behind, but a part of me wishes that I could have taken pictures of them.  I wish I could have recorded them all, like I’m writing this down, so that there is a mark of them left in the world.  So that someone might know what happened to us, so that our story might not be forgotten.  So that all of this might mean something.

I feel like, without this, we might slip away into the dirt and water and darkness.  And that’ll be it.  The world will digest us and move on, and it’ll be like we were never here.  It’ll be like it was all for nothing.  And that thought – right now, it’s making my hands tremble.  This has to mean something.  There has to be a point to it all, even if it’s only so that someday someone will make an effort to never let it happen again.

 

I felt like crying after he told me that.  I couldn’t speak for the weight on my chest.  That time, he held my hand because I needed it.

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Sat, 7 February 2009 - 3:33 pm

All about us

There was another internal explosion today. It held off until we were out of the Stripers’ territory, which is lucky. I don’t know that they would have been so accommodating two days in a row.

It was the talk about yesterday’s encounter that sparked it off. Nothing to do with Sally and Masterson this time; this was all about Thorpe and me. We had stopped for a snack and a rest, and the talk turned to how we had been so lucky with them.

It was Ben that went off. He has barely said a word to me for four days, but as soon as he heard that the boys had left me with the other group, he tore into Thorpe. Didn’t he know what might have happened? How could he leave me alone like that, how could he put me in that kind of danger? Yes, it turned out all right, but it might not have. Anything could have happened, and none of it good. We weren’t supposed to split up! He was supposed to be looking out for me, he was supposed to be protecting me. Instead, he abandoned me – that’s the word that Ben used. Abandoned.

I was too surprised to do anything at first. I tried to speak up, to say that it was me who told Thorpe to go with Sax, but they weren’t listening. Thorpe was recovering from his shock at the sudden attack, getting defensive, and that couldn’t end well. I tried to separate them, and Ben snapped something about me defending Thorpe that I didn’t understand.

Then he stormed off. I made to go after him, but Thorpe held me back and told me to let him cool off. I’ve never seen Ben so wound up about something – hell, he has only raised his voice once before in all this time. That was in defence of someone else, too.

Since then, I’ve tried to stay out of his way. Things are tense enough at the moment – we’re skirting around the bottom edge of the Stripers’ zone so that we can head west. We don’t want to attract any more attention; we’re waiting until we’re out of earshot before we risk starting a car.

I’m touched that he would stand up for me like that. I’ve never had anyone do something like that before. But now he won’t even look in my direction and I have no idea what to think of that. Did he only do it because he believed it was the right thing to do, or does he really care?

I’m worried about Ben. I miss talking to him. I wish I knew what was going on inside his head.

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Mon, 9 February 2009 - 7:51 pm

Soft beds and closed doors

We finally settled down for the night spread across three apartments.  Sally and Masterson took one, which we were all grateful for. They can be… obvious, shall we say. They don’t make much noise, but a little carries a long way in the darkness.

Sax and the kids took up residence in the apartment at the other end of the floor. There was a bed for each of them, and I’m fairly sure that I caught a glimpse of Dillon bouncing on one of them. Nugget was watching, her arms wrapped around the cat, as usual. Sax has been more distant from the littlest one since he visited his daughter’s empty home, but he’s still keeping an eye on her. I’m hoping that she’ll draw him out again.

So that left the last poky apartment on the floor for Thorpe, Ben and me. I asked if someone should keep watch – we usually try to have someone awake for most of the night, just in case. Ben said he would do it, walked into one of the bedrooms, and closed the door behind him.

It was so abrupt that I stood there blinking at the door for a few seconds. Thorpe asked me what the hell had happened between us, and I had no answer to give him. I have no idea what to think about Ben’s moodiness.

Thorpe offered me the last bed, probably because of all of this. I told him that I fit on the couch better than he did, so he might as well take it. Now I’m sitting here in someone else’s living room, lit only by this laptop screen, wondering where my friendship went.

If I’m honest, Ben’s attitude hurts. Thorpe seemed to think that whatever it was has something to do with me, and I’m starting to think he’s right. This has gone on for too long. I had hoped that he would unbend and talk to me again, but it only seems to be getting worse.

He’s still awake – I can hear him moving about. I’m going to talk to him, to see what this is all about. In a minute, when my heart stops beating so fast at the idea.

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Tue, 10 February 2009 - 2:41 pm

Stories straight

Ben didn’t want to let me in last night. I knocked because it’s polite and he said that he was busy. Busy doing what?

It had taken me so long to screw myself up into knocking in the first place that I wasn’t going to be turned away so easily. I was determined to at least find out what the problem was. So I let myself into the room, insisting that this would only take a minute.

It was very dark in there. The curtains were open but with no stars or moon, no streetlights or headlights, there wasn’t much out there to help. He turned on a little camping lamp, wasting a little battery power so that we could see each other.

Of course, I had no idea what to say to him. He looked at me, full of expectation, and words died in my throat. He looked so angry and I didn’t know what to do with that. Options fell away like flaky skin, and I asked him the first one I held onto long enough to put into my mouth.

“What happened?”

“Nothing happened.” He sounded bitter.

“Something must have. One minute we’re okay and the next you won’t talk to me.”

He hesitated and turned to look out of the window. “I found out your secret.”

“My what?” I have a secret? I tried to think of what it might be, what I could possibly have hidden that he might be upset about. But there wasn’t anything. I’ve never been one for keeping secrets. “What secret?”

He was silent for a moment, and I thought he was going to tell me that I knew exactly what he was talking about and to stop pretending. Which I wasn’t! Instead, he turned around and looked me in the eye, the sort of look that made my stomach shrivel up inside me. I was sure that I had done nothing wrong, but it still felt like I had.

“About you and Thorpe.”

I almost laughed. Almost. Of all the things he could have said, that one wasn’t on the list. It’s ridiculous for so many reasons. I think the nearly-laugh snuck into my voice, though I tried not to let it.

“There is no ‘me and Thorpe’, Ben.”

He was far from convinced, and I had to pry at him to find out where he got that from. He thought it was strange that I didn’t hold a grudge against Thorpe, even after all the arguing, which I made clear that I hate. He thought it was strange that I wasn’t more upset over him hitting me in the face. Ben touched my jaw just below the bruise, which is fading into yellow now, and he seemed more concerned than I had seen him before.

He told me something about the fight that I hadn’t known before. While I was trying to drive off Dillon’s attacker, the man with the spiky hair had gone for me from behind. Thorpe had laid into him, telling him to stay away from me. I had seen the end of the frenzy, but hadn’t known how it started. When I heard that, I wanted to go give Thorpe a hug, but right then was hardly the time for it.

Ben couldn’t look at me when he told me he’d seen us on the roof. He had come up to see if I was all right, only to find Thorpe already there with his arms around me. I had torn into him one minute and then leaned on him the next; I can see where the confusion might be.

Taken all together, I suppose it does look suspicious. Ben never knew about Trevor; obviously doesn’t know Thorpe’s leanings.

I explained what happened, I told him that I was crying, up there on the roof, and that’s why I was leaning on him. I don’t think that there are any hard feelings between Thorpe and me, despite all the arguing, but there certainly aren’t any warm, fluffy ones instead. This isn’t playground hair-pulling that hints at deep passion and wild sex while no-one’s looking.

I almost told Ben that I really wasn’t Thorpe’s type, but that’s not my secret to tell. Instead, I told him that it was the other way around – that Thorpe really wasn’t the kind of guy that I go for, and it would never be like that between us. Which is true; I don’t fancy him at all. He’s like a brother – an annoying brother that I put up with because he’s family.

I like that idea. I’m afraid I’ll get too attached to it, but for now it’s a warm glow in my chest. It makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time, and hug them all up. This broken, blessed, strange family of mine.

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Tue, 10 February 2009 - 3:39 pm

Kiss and make up

I told Ben that I wished he’d talked to me about his doubts sooner. I’d missed him. I’d missed talking to him and the feel of his friendship across the room. I’d missed the little squeezes he gives my hand when I need support, and his arm around my shoulders when I’m feeling down.

Of course, halfway through that, I realised why he was so upset by it all. I must be stupid or blind, but I just wasn’t thinking about it like that. I’m not used to this kind of attention. I missed how people might interpret things between Thorpe and me, and I missed Ben’s feelings, too.

He was jealous. Jealous because he thought I was with someone else. Which meant that he liked me, that way. I’ve never had anyone be jealous over me before. I’ve felt it – I remember how I felt when I saw Cody and Bree together, that sick, hot feeling that seeps all the way through my insides until I don’t know whether to scream or cry or set fire to something. I never thought that I’d make someone else feel that way. It’s the last thing I ever wanted or meant to do.

He really liked me. I stared at Ben and suddenly felt like crying and grinning, all at once. I didn’t even mind when he asked if I really wasn’t with Thorpe. I said no, I said never.

He went quiet for a few seconds, just looking at me. It felt like an itchy forever, so I asked, “Are we okay?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

I was so relieved that I almost hugged him. I remembered his poor burns and sore ribs before I actually grabbed him, though, and gave him a happily apologetic smile instead. He swapped my smile for a quick kiss, which both of us preferred, I think.

Of course, I had no idea what to say after that, so I went for a goodnight and an exit that was only mildly awkward. It was tempting to stay – to talk to him – but I needed to think about things. There’s a lot running around in my head right now, and this giddly feeling in my stomach that makes me smile when I’m not paying attention.

 

Today we walked together again, and we talked like we did before. I feel lighter. No-one has said anything about it.

I wonder if Ben was the only one who thought that about Thorpe and me.

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