Fri, 19 December 2008 - 7:28 pm

One of those days

I almost called him today.  It was reflex – I’d had a crappy day and I wanted someone to talk to.  A friendly ear and a warm voice on the other end of the line.

 

It was one of those days today.  The supervisors at the bookstore were all stressed out because today’s delivery was late.  All of their carefully prepared schedules were out, and of course they took it out on us. Never mind that this happens at least once a week.  Never mind that we had the delivery sorted and out on the shop floor in record time.

Of course, the store was packed, which made it impossible to get any books actually onto the shelves.  It seemed like all the nasty customers were on the prowl today, too.  Like this one lady who pushed her way down to the self-help books and nearly knocked an old man over.  I went to see if he was okay, and he gave me this look as if I’d just suggested something disgusting, or I had forgotten to put my shirt on this morning.

He had only just got done looking like he wanted to scrape me off his shoe when the pushing lady came steaming up again.  She missed him this time – she was after me, apparently.  She stood there in the middle of the store and tore strips off me because the books weren’t in order and she couldn’t find what she was looking for.

And you know why?  Because of people like her.  Because customers pick up books and shove them back on any handy shelf.  At this time of year, it’s all we can do to keep the books off the floor and chairs and other books.  Does she have any idea how long it takes to re-order a shelf after the store has been open for a couple of hours?  We’re not miracle-workers, y’know.

 

Yeah, I didn’t say any of that to her.  I apologised for the state of things – it tasted bad to let that pass over my tongue, but I was hardly going to have a go at a customer.  No matter how tempted I was.  Instead, I offered to help her find what she was looking for.  And of course, the book was exactly where it should have been, if she had bothered to use her alphabet.  I didn’t say that to her, either.  She went away happy, or at least quiet.

Then one of the managers walked up and asked me why I hadn’t shelved a cartload of books yet.  I almost but my tongue bloody so I didn’t say something we would all regret.

So I just took it.  Sucked it in and took it.  They really don’t pay us enough to take that kind of crap, but I can’t just leave.  I need the money.  I need this stupid job if I’m ever gonna get out of where I am and start my own life.  I don’t like it, but there it is.

 

On the train home, I had to talk to someone.  I had to say all of those things I had bottled up all day – all of these things I’m splurging here.  Otherwise, I would burst or break down.  I’ve done way too much breaking down lately.

I found myself staring at his name on my phone.  I had scrolled to it automatically, a habit so deeply ingrained that I didn’t realise I was doing it until his name slapped me in the face.  Cocky little electronic sucker.

His name.  I have to stop doing that.  He has a name.  He’s not one of those people who Must Not Be Named.  He’s no scary, undead, noseless bastard who just won’t quit.  And I’m not one of those limp girls who goes to pieces at the sound of his name.  It’s Cody.  His name is Cody.

I used to call him on the train home all the time, almost every day for two years.  Just to hear his voice.  Just to have someone care about my day.  But that hasn’t happened for about a month now.  He used to be my boy with the beautiful hands and I can’t get used to thinking of him as the ex.

 

I called Matt instead.  Matt and I have been friends forever, since we were kids.  I hadn’t realised how long it had been since we talked – six months, almost.  Wow.  I guess I neglected him while I was with Cody. 

It was good, talking to Matt.  We caught up as though no time had passed at all, sailed right over the gap without even noticing.  He caught me up on his latest exploits – he’s a regular at a gay bar downtown, and it’s pretty much drama central there.  All of a sudden, my life didn’t seem so bad.  He’s good at that.

Maybe I’ll go see him soon.  Catch up properly. 

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Sun, 21 December 2008 - 12:33 pm

Oh boy oh boy

You’ll never believe where I woke up this morning.  Hell, I don’t believe it.  I kept stopping and looking at the bed, and then hurrying on with getting dressed.

I guess that stuff with Bree yesterday upset me more than I thought.  Seeing her again, seeing her smile in my face and be so offensive about it.  We’d been a team for three years, and in all that time, I’d never seen her go all-out for someone like this.  I can’t help but wonder why, but there’s no point asking her.  She’d never give me a straight answer; she’d just twist me up into a tiny, crying heap and leave me bleeding inside.  Again.

I called Matt on my way home again and he cheered me up.  He convinced me to go to a party, and I thought, why the hell not?  I’m not going to let her stop me from living my life, just because she’s a heartless bitch.  Screw her; screw both of them.  They’re not going to make me sit at home on a Saturday night.

 

The party was great.  Full of very drunk gay men, but that’s okay; they’re good fun.  Matt dragged me into a quiet spot when I got there and fixed my hair up for me – the advantages of being mates with a hairdresser.  I think he was making sure that I was all right, too.  He’s a sweetheart like that.

With the cocktails on hand, it wasn’t long before I was just as drunk and giggly as the rest of them.  I wasn’t the only girl there; a few were wandering around, enjoying the chance to party without having a hand fall on their ass at every turn.  Even so, I’m fairly sure that I saw one of them kissing one of the guys later on, and a dark-haired fella tried to come onto me on the dancefloor.  Matt is always telling me about how easy it is to pick up girls at gay bars; he’d go home with either, given the chance.  Nothing wrong with getting lucky, right?

Lucky.  Right.

I told the dancing guy that I wasn’t interested – he reminded me a little too much of Cody.  Then I went to get another drink and things started to get a bit fuzzy.  I remember getting dizzy and too hot; I wobbled outside to get some air.  Took in great gulps of it and closed my eyes so the world would stop wavering.

Then Matt was there and we chatted for a while.  Before I knew it, I was crying all over him; alcohol makes me emotional, and it hadn’t exactly been a stressless day.  Apparently, drinking also makes me stupid.

I don’t know how it happened, but then we were kissing.  Me and the friend I’ve had forever.  There’s never been anything like that between us.  Never.  I listen to his exploits; I’ve never been one of them.  But it felt good, and it felt right, and I guess I needed someone right then.

I don’t remember getting to his place, though I do remember being with him there.  I hadn’t felt like that in such a long time.  Oh, god.

 

It was still bewildering to wake up there this morning.  The hangover didn’t help.  He was still asleep, his carefully-gelled hair all scruffed up, and I didn’t wake him.  I couldn’t.  I had no idea what I would say to him; I still don’t.

I’ve known him since I was six.  He knows everything I’ve ever done.  I kept looking at him and getting terrified about what he’ll think of me when he wakes up.  What the hell have I done.

I don’t ever do this kind of thing.  I don’t pick up guys and let them take me home.  I don’t have one-night stands.  I don’t sleep with friends.  What is wrong with me?

I don’t know how I’m going to face him now.  I ran out of his place pretty quick.  I’m such a coward.  I feel like I’ve lost him. Is there any other way I can screw up my life and be more pathetic? Can we pretend that it never happened?

I don’t know what to do.  Maybe I’ll just crawl into my bed and wait for him to never call me again. 

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Sat, 14 February 2009 - 1:42 pm

Alive

Today has been strange. On one hand, more awful violence. On the other, I feel more hopeful than I have for a long time. I want to get outside, but it’s raining again. I want to run around and hug everyone, but we’re all hurting. 

 

I should start from the beginning. It was this morning, when we were packing ourselves up and scouting for the last bits of useful equipment from the shops here. Dillon came running in, calling for us, shouting that there were people on their way. They were armed, he said.

It seems that those couple of stragglers who tore off yesterday weren’t running for cover: they were running for help. This morning, they came back with a number of friends, enough to match us. And we were spread out across two levels and several stores.

It was a mad scramble to try to get back together. Those of us without any kind of weapon or defence grabbed something nearby; I ended up with a broomhandle. It was light enough to swing easily – that’s not something I ever thought that I would consider when picking up an object. Even Sally picked up a weapon, though she had a rabbit look around her eyes. I didn’t think she’d stick around long if fighting started.

They were in the mall before we could regroup. I told Dillon to find Nugget and hide, to keep her safe. Then it was all about running for the others.

They had a cruel look about them, these attackers, like sharks that can’t help but show their teeth. All young men, they whooped as they swarmed in over the debris of the collapsed ceiling and split up to go for each of us.

One of them grinned when he saw Sally with the stamp of a victim on her. She was closest to me, so I ran over to swing at him. We managed to drive him back, then someone grabbed me from behind. He pinned my arms to my sides, so all I could do was kick. There were so many voices shouting that mine was lost in the din.

My captor let go suddenly and staggered, blood in his hair and down his face. Ben pulled me out of the way and hit him again. We shouted for the other guys. Sax was a short distance away, fending off two of them. I don’t know where the others were.

It was over very quickly. Two of our number were down on the ground, struggling to defend themselves, before the rest of us drove the sharks off. As soon as they lost the upper hand, they turned tail and fled, teeth grinning. Masterson chased after them with a metal pipe in his hand and an unsettling look in his eyes. I think he relished the action a little too much.

 

The sharks laughed on their way to the door. They weren’t bothered by their friends’ injuries, the blood and the bruises; they had enjoyed themselves. A new one stepped inside only to be shoved out again so that they could leave.

I went down onto the bottom floor to send Masterson back up to the others; there were injuries he needed to tend to. He grumbled when he turned to head up there and I should have gone with him. But that new arrival, there was something about him. I had to get close enough to glimpse his face before I realised what that something was. I stopped dead and stared.

Matt. It was my Matt.

 

I called his name, loud enough that he looked around. He saw me and I knew it really was him. My best friend is alive. He’s okay. It felt like my heart was trying to lift me right off my feet.

But the sharks were pushing and dragging him off with them, and he was going. I went to run after them, but arms around my waist from behind stopped me. I shouted at them to let me go, but they didn’t.

It’s too dangerous, Faith. They’ll eat you alive. It’s too dangerous, stop.

 

I don’t care. Matt’s alive. He’s alive and I’m going to find him again.

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Sun, 15 February 2009 - 5:39 pm

Finding Matt

Sneaking out didn’t exactly go as planned. The actual sneaking away part wasn’t too bad – I managed to get all the way out of the mall before anyone came looking for me. I waited out there for a few minutes, just along from the door, to see if anyone had spotted my exit.

I was expecting Ben to be the one to follow me out, but it was Dillon who stuck his head outside the mall’s doors. I had to talk him into going back inside, and made him promise not to tell Ben where I’d gone. He was unhappy, but he’s a good kid. He keeps his promises.

Once that was dealt with, I had no idea where I was going. I set off in the direction that I saw the sharks go in, keeping to the walls as much as I could. It was quiet, as if the buildings were all holding their breath, and I went a couple of blocks before I heard anything that sounded like people.

I headed towards it, cautiously, without really having a plan for what I would do when I got there. I just hoped that Matt would be with them, and that they wouldn’t attack me on sight.

As it turned out, he wasn’t. On my way towards the voices, a hand grabbed my arm from out of nowhere. I almost jumped right out of my skin, spinning around and lifting my broomhandle to fend off whoever it was (I wasn’t quite stupid enough to go without a weapon).

“Mac?” He flinched back, but I didn’t hit him. It took me a moment to recognise my own name – no-one has called me that since the bomb went off. Only my friends called me that. And here was one, right in front of me.

I couldn’t help grinning at him. “Matt.”

“Are you crazy? Come on, get out of the street.” He wasn’t grinning.

He ushered me into a nearby building that had had all its windows smashed. We stood behind the curtain that shielded the display mannequins from the rest of the store while the voices neared us. He watched the street tensely, but I couldn’t take my eyes off him. It was really him, he was really here. My Matt, alive and in one piece.

 

It hardly looked like him, standing with hunched shoulders and a scowl. He was always so neatly turned-out before, took real pride in his appearance, and there he was with torn jeans and a stained shirt. Stubble shadowed his jaw. His bleached hair was growing out, turning shaggy, all dark roots and blonde tips. I haven’t seen him without hair gel since we were twelve.

But I’d know his face anywhere, and I’d know those hands of his, the way they moved, even when they clenched uncertainly.

The last time I saw him, he was naked and I was sneaking out of his bedroom. I was so scared that there would be weirdness between us. Now, seeing him again, I tried not to think about that night (and morning). I was just so glad that he wasn’t dead – I’d even take the weirdness and be happy.

The sharks passed by and he relaxed. When he looked at me, I couldn’t help it – I just about jumped on him. I hugged him hard enough to make us both wince and had to apologise when I let go again. I was smiling too brightly to be truly sorry and blinked back tears without too much success.

“What are you doing here?” There was a sign of the softie, in the eyes as damp as mine, though he was trying not to show it.

“Looking for you.”

“You’re insane. Don’t you know what they’ll do to you if they find you?”

“I… yeah.” I shrugged. It was hard to care when he was here and I was fine. “What are you doing here?”

“I was coming to warn you. They’re heading back to the mall.”

“They’re… what?” The smile was gone all of a sudden. The sharks were heading back to the others. “Oh god.”

I was going for the door before I had time to think about it. I had to get back, I had to warn them, help them, anything. Matt grabbed my arm again before I made it out onto the street.

“You’re going back to them?”

“Yeah, of course. They’re my friends.”

He looked at me and let me go. “I’ll take you the back way. Come on.”

We tore off towards the mall, Matt leading me down alleys and right through buildings with broken doors. I could hear the sharks, but he kept me away from actually seeing them. We finally broke into the loading bay of the mall and made our way up a set of access stairs to the first balcony. I couldn’t get across to where the group was holing up – the caved-in roof had taken out the walkway around to that side. Downstairs, the sharks were just starting to dribble into the building.

I could get over to the group, so I opted to make noise instead. I banged my broomhandle on a railing and shouted until the boys came running out. I pointed until their expressions turned grim and they went to meet the sharks at the head of the stairs. Matt hissed at me to be quiet, but I ignored him. A couple of sharks peeled off and tried to get up to where I was, but all of the stairs on that side had been knocked down by the fallen ceiling.

I’ve heard that higher ground was an advantage, but I didn’t realise how much until I saw the fight across the mall. It was so frustrating – I wanted to be over there helping, not wincing in sympathy from such a distance. I caught myself shouting out directions – look out, over there – as that was all I could do. The sharks definitely came off worst this time around – the others drove them off without too many problems.

 

After they were gone, Ben came to the gap in the walkway to call over to me. I told him I was fine, not to worry; he was unconvinced. Matt coming out of hiding behind me didn’t make his expression any more forgiving. I told him we’d make our way over to the other side of the mall and to wait there.

That was easier said than done. Matt took me out another back way, in case the sharks were still lurking around the front, and we wound up having to hide a couple of times while stragglers wandered past. It took a lot longer than it should have.

He found a way into the right part of the mall, and then I had to deal with the where-the-hell-were-yous and what-the-hell-were-you-thinkings. I pointed out that if I hadn’t gone, we might not have had any warning about the attack at all. And Matt had just taken me into a part of the mall where they couldn’t get to me – why don’t we go there in case they decide to come back again?

The injured needed more time to recover, but they were well enough to go that far. So we packed up and followed Matt through the back corridors and alleyways into the cut-off part of the mall. We were just getting settled into a new store when the rain started, and Matt looked uncomfortable, like he had wanted to go once we didn’t need him any more. But now he’s stuck here with us for the night.

Everyone is upset with me right now. Ben’s furious, Dillon looks hurt, Matt isn’t talking at all and the others aren’t saying much of anything. I couldn’t take their looks any more, so I’m sitting on my own at the moment. I suppose I deserve it, but that doesn’t make it easier. 

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Mon, 16 February 2009 - 5:16 pm

Catching up

I found Matt being questioned by Thorpe and Dillon this morning. Asking about his group – meaning the sharks – and what they’re after. I almost intervened, but I didn’t need to.

“They let me live, but they don’t feed me or anything,” he said. “I’m not one of them. They’ll attack you because they can. They like it. Then they take what they want and leave.” He shrugged, understanding and liking it as little as we did.

As answers went, it seemed to appease the others. From the way he talks about the sharks, ‘letting him live’ doesn’t mean ‘safe’ or ‘untouched’. No-one has said anything about that, but no-one really needs to. I don’t think Dillon quite understands what it means, and that’s a good thing.

 

The differences in Matt are more than skin deep. There’s an easiness missing from him, and the lightly-dropped quips have dried up on his tongue. He doesn’t smile the same way he used to. He used to be the brightest personality in a group, greeting everyone, all smooth exchanges. He had a knack for making everyone feel like a friend right away, for sliding into a situation and making it his own. Now, he’s closed in on himself, trying not to draw anyone’s attention. The way he moves reminds me of Sally.

We caught up today. Swapped stories of what we were doing when it all came down, and what we did after. He was on his way home from a friend’s place when the bomb hit. He tried to carry on towards home at first, but got held up by the need to find food. Then the rain came and the sharks gathered, and it has been too dangerous to go anywhere since.

He didn’t offer details and I didn’t ask. He’s usually an open person, especially with me, so I wasn’t going to push him. I can fill in the blanks enough for myself.

I look at him and see someone who is more taken from than taking. He was always a generous guy, but this is different; this isn’t about giving. This is about power.

He asked about my arm, and I told him a building fell on it. He looked shocked until I explained that it was only a bit of the building and most of it missed me. It’s almost healed now; I can probably take the brace off it soon. He asked about the group as well, and I told him how we found each other. He seemed surprised that we were getting along so well. If only he knew.

 

While Matt and I were talking, Sally came to ask me what we were doing about the food situation – after losing half our supply to the river, we’re running short now. We had checked the other side of the mall – there was still this side to go through.

Matt said he knew where there was some food we could have. He showed us to a hidden cupboard at the back of a sports store where there was more than enough to fill our bags up. I took him aside and asked him if this was his stash, what he’d been living on. He didn’t answer; he just looked at me.

He’s staying with us today. He’s not going to stay here after we go, though. I don’t plan to let him.

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Wed, 18 February 2009 - 4:03 pm

Nine-tenths

The sharks didn’t bother us again until this morning. It was early – barely light outside, an orange glow eking in through the gaps in the roof. Sally was on watch and rushed in to wake us.

We all piled out of our night’s hideyhole and assembled at the edge of the balcony. The sharks were already inside, but this time they couldn’t get to us; the advantage was on our side for once.

They stopped below us, looking stiff-jawed and angry. One of them was missing his forearm; from the ground-meat look of his elbow, he lost it to the rain. He looked pale and sweaty. One of his more capable cohorts took up the task of talking to us.

“You took somethin’ of ours.”

We looked at each other, wondering what the hell they were talking about. Thorpe was the one who made a guess, hefting his favourite bit of heavy pipe in his hand. “Your pride?”

I had no idea that Thorpe could be funny. I almost laughed in surprise.

Of course, the sharks didn’t think it was funny. “No. Him.” The speaker pointed at Matt, who was standing at the edge of our group, and my stomach tightened. Of course that’s what they were talking about. “We want him back.”

“He doesn’t belong to you.” I couldn’t keep quiet; their attitude and that idea made me angry.

“Actually, he does.” There was something smug about the smile the speaker gave me that I wanted to slap right off his face. I had my broomhandle gripped tight and wished for a second that he would come within reach.

Matt touched my elbow lightly and said, “Mac, I don’t want to cause trouble.” I met his eyes and couldn’t let him do what he was about to. He was trying to hide it, but he looked scared. That knot in my stomach knew that he was scared of them, and not for my sake.

“You’re not,” I told him firmly and turned to face the sharks again. “If he wants to go with you, he can. Otherwise, he’s welcome to stay with us.”

“And if you want to take him, you’re welcome to try.” Again, Thorpe’s words surprised me. I’m not used to his support, especially when I just invited someone to stay with the group without asking any of them. But what was I supposed to do? Just let him go when he didn’t want to? To them?

The sharks eddied about beneath us, growling to each other, as if their feet might chew at the cracks in the floor and undermine us. Then one of them flinched and turned to glare at one of the stretches of balcony. Another small object was launched over and at them – the bobbly head of a doll, taken from the toy store nearby. The sharks shouted, which only prompted a stream of plastic heads, hurled by little hands over the balcony. Dillon and Nugget both had pretty good aim.

Outnumbered, outgunned and with no way up to us, the sharks snarled a few threats and backed off. After a few steps, they turned tail and ran off, arms lifted to fend off the decapitated rain.

 

We all laughed, quietly so they wouldn’t be tempted to turn around again. I glanced at Matt, and he looked unhappy and apprehensive. He’s safe, though, and that’s what matters.

Since then, we’ve been too busy getting our stuff together to move out. Time to go again.

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Fri, 20 February 2009 - 2:42 pm

Ten in a boat

Matt almost didn’t come with us. We were clambering carefully into the boat, pushing and pulling each other up onto the prow so that we didn’t have to step into the water. There was just him, Ben and Thorpe left on the sand, and it was Matt’s turn to be handed up. He stood back, though, and just looked at us. I was kneeling on the boat’s deck, holding out a hand to help him up.

My heart shifted uncomfortably in my chest when he met my eyes. He wasn’t going to come. He flicked glances between the rest of us and looked like a puppy that was expecting to be kicked.

“You guys don’t need me any more,” he said. As if we had only let him stay with us because he had been useful. And he had been useful – more so than any of us would have asked. More so than most of us in the group, actually.

“If we only kept the people we needed, Thorpe wouldn’t keep trying to leave the doctor behind,” I told him. I was trying not to sound desperate, even while I was eyeing the ground in case I had to jump down again.

“And we wouldn’t keep that damn cat with us,” Ben put in. I was so grateful that I sent him a smile. “Speaking of which, where–”

Jones chose that moment to appear and wind around Thorpe’s ankles, making the big fella sigh. “Better hand him up before he tries to climb you again,” I pointed out.

To my surprise, he scooped the cat up and did just that. “Got enough scratches for one week, thanks.”

I handed the cat off to Nugget and looked to Matt again. He was still uncertain, an expression that slid into something else when there was noise from up the street. We had been spotted and the sharks were coming to see us off.

“Matt, c’mon. We have to go.” I didn’t want him down there when the sharks arrived. I didn’t want anyone still on the shore when that happened.

There was helplessness in the look he gave me and it felt like I was losing him. “They won’t let me go, Mac.” Experience weighed heavy in his voice, and now he’d given up trying. But that wasn’t good enough.

I glanced towards Ben and Thorpe for help, feeling the seconds trickling away as the noise up the street resolved into footsteps pounding towards us.

“Time’s running out, kid,” Thorpe pointed out. It didn’t help; Matt only looked more uncomfortable, like he was ready to bolt.

“It’s not up to them!” I wanted to jump down, but I had to be on the boat to help him up. All I could do was stretch my hand out towards him and try to give him the will to take it. “Come with us, Matt, please.”

Ben stepped up to Matt’s side, and I could barely hear what he said. “Now’s your chance to get away from them. Take it, while you can.”

Matt looked between us and I could see him slip into the decision. He hesitated, but he stepped up to grab my hand, just as the sharks were coming into sight on the edge of the sand. The boys boosted him up, and he got a quick hug once he was on deck. He even smiled a little bit.

The sharks shouted and pelted across towards us. Ben and Thorpe were already pushing the boat out into the water and hauling themselves on board. Rocks followed them, pinging against the boat’s deck, as the sharks yelled and rained their frustration on us.

It didn’t matter; they were too late. Matt’s one of us now.

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Sun, 22 February 2009 - 6:02 pm

Glad it was you

Today has been strange. I miss Sax’s bulky presence, the width of his shoulders in amongst us. I kept looking to the back of the group to make sure that Sally and Masterson were keeping up, but they’re not here either. I even miss Masterson’s biting comments in the background, sniping at everything. We feel smaller without them. I hope they’re all right.

 

Matt has been an ‘official’ part of the group for a couple of days now. He seems to be fitting in all right, though not as vivaciously as he used to. He’s just shouldering the backpack someone found for him and walking alongside us. He lagged behind a bit towards the end of the day – I don’t think he’s used to this much walking. I can barely believe I keep up as much as I do; I guess I’ve just got used to it.

I caught up with him as we settled down for dinner in an empty house. The rain had just started falling outside – it seemed lighter today, and it had let us keep walking until much later than usual. There hasn’t been a day without it since it started; maybe it’s finally starting to dry up? I can hope.

When I asked, Matt said he was doing all right. And for the first time, I believed him. He seems calmer lately, his taut edges lowering. He’s not better, not completely, but he’s not as unhappy as he was. It’s such a relief, knowing he’s pulling out of the place he was in, and I don’t mean just the sharks’ territory.

“So, this Ben guy,” he said. Ben was sitting with Thorpe, far enough away that they couldn’t hear us. “You really like him?”

That was more like the Matt I knew, checking up on who I was with to make sure he’s what I want. There was a solemn concern behind the question, and a trace of distrust that wasn’t so much like my old friend.

“Yeah. Yeah, I do.” Putting it into words like that made it more real and I looked over at Ben. “He’s a good guy. Been really good to me.”

Matt nodded and fell quiet, apparently satisfied with that answer. I wasn’t so ready to let it drop, though. There was something we hadn’t talked about yet, and I felt it hanging in the air between us. Especially now, talking about this.

“Should we, um, talk about the last time we saw each other before… all this?” I felt like a silly little teenager, not even able to say ‘that time we had sex’. My mouth wouldn’t form the words; they morphed on my tongue into a lame euphemism. There’s still a part of me that can’t believe we actually did it.

He shrugged. “Is there anything to talk about?”

“I dunno. I… freaked out and ran off. Thought you’d never speak to me again.” Of course, now I felt stupid for running out on him, but it’s not every day that I sleep with my best friend.

“Yeah, well, you’re an idiot.”

I’ve never been so relieved to hear someone call me an idiot. I bumped his shoulder and thanked him, and we both relaxed a bit. He even smiled for a second.

“So how come they call you ‘Faith’?”

It was my turn to shrug then. “They just… started with it and I never got around to correcting them. I’m kinda used to it now, I guess. And Mac… seems like a different person.”

“You want me to stop calling you that?”

I hadn’t thought of it like that and looked at him with surprise. “No. I don’t mind. It’s– you haven’t called me ‘Faith’ since we were kids.”

He nodded, and grinned as he recounted the memory of when I asked him to stop calling me ‘Faith’. I was eleven years old and my mother and her friends had been cooing and tormenting me in my pretty dress. By the time I escaped to see Matt, I had been ready to explode with the indignity of it all. And Mac was born out of my rebellion.

Now there’s no-one left to rebel against and things are changing again. I’ve been fighting that, fighting against becoming what this world is turning people into, but not what name I’m called by. It seems like such a small detail.

Matt and I talked for a while longer, about little things, unimportant things. It felt good to be able to do that. When I got up to go find someplace to lay my blanket down, he caught my hand and looked awkward. It’s not an expression he wears often, or well.

He said, “I’m glad it was you, you know. That found me.”

He got a hug for that, and he squeezed me tightly in return. If I had any lingering worries about our friendship, they were chased away when he did that. It made me all warm inside; that feeling reminded me of cold evenings and curling up in front of a fire, comfortable and secure. Loved. “Me too,” I told him.

Ben got a big hug after that, too, but he got a kiss along with his. He was nonplussed and starting to look troubled, so I thanked him for trusting me. I thanked him for trusting me enough to help Matt be here with us – without Ben’s involvement, he might not have come along at all. That moment on the riverside might have gone so differently. I might have lost my best friend.

But I didn’t. He’s here, and Ben’s here, and we’re doing okay. Right now, at this moment, I feel like the luckiest girl to survive the end of the world. We’ve lost so much, but not everything. Not quite everything.

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Fri, 6 March 2009 - 4:55 pm

Making peace with old ghosts

Things are a different in the group. During the day, while we’re travelling, we don’t talk much. With the shadow of the Pride on us, we’re sticking to the edges of the streets and being as quiet as we can. It has settled on us like fog, all clammy hands and a vague discomfort in our clothes as it creeps all over us.

Without the lowgrade chatter to distract me, I’ve been watching the others more. Thorpe walks up front, as stolid as always, with Dillon on his heels. The kid is a highly alert terrier, eager to be the first to spot trouble. He seems to want to prove himself, though I couldn’t say why. I think he wants Thorpe to approve of him; the big fireman is making him work for it, giving as little away as always.

Matt is watchful, in a paranoid kind of way. He walks with a hand on the stick that’s lashed to his pack, ready to pull it out. Ready for someone to try to hurt him. I look at the bleached ends of his hair and see how much he’s changed.

Ben walks with me, his gaze turned outwards, but every now and then his hand checks that I’m still there.

Behind us, there’s Sax and Sally. Nugget is usually skirting around there somewhere, her little legs with far more energy than the rest of us. Masterson brings up the rear, barely even glancing around. He just puts one foot in front of the other and casts baleful looks at one or other of us as the mood strikes him.

The interesting thing is Sax and Sally. The old man hasn’t had much to do with Sally since she abandoned us at the hospital, but there’s a closeness to them now. The time they had on the boat seems to have done them good. And it’s not the way that Sally used to cling close to Masterson – there’s nothing sexual about it.

 

We retreated through a broken storefront when we stopped for a big of lunch, and I managed to speak with Sally. She seems more relaxed these days, too. The itch of the drugs is less now, I think, and she’s feeling more settled as part of the group.

She said that things had blown up between the three of them about two days after the rest of us had left the boat. They had all shouted at each other; it was vicious and brutal and over very quickly. Certain unspecified things tumbled out that shone light into sensitive places. Some time afterwards, they had talked. Not Masterson so much – he wasn’t interested in building bridges and kept to himself.

She and Sax managed to work out some of their differences. She found out why he took her actions so personally; she didn’t want to betray his confidence by telling me, but any fool can see he’s had someone he loved addicted to drugs. Someone he lost to them. Now, he’s making peace with that by making peace with Sally.

She seems almost scared by the attention. She likes it, this new understanding between her and Sax, but she has this way of letting her gaze dart off into a corner when she talks about it. As if she wants to run there and hide. But she talked to me more today than she has since we started out on this journey and she’s not shying away from his presence any more.

Whatever happened there between Sax and Sally, he’s walking forward again. I can’t say how relieved I am about that. He’s talking with the group in the evenings like he used to, and berating Nugget in that off-hand, put-upon way he has.

I’m taking every good sign I can and putting them down here, because I think we might need them later. It’s easy to gloss over the good parts and focus on the bad. On the blisters and the supplies that are running short. On the hard floors and the creeping hiss of the rain. No, here are some of the things that made today okay. The rest will still be here tomorrow.

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Thu, 9 April 2009 - 11:49 am

Boats and drunken sailors

It was strange, listening to the others sing last night. I got us going on a round of Row Your Boat – that was about as creative and complicated as I could manage. We were wheezy and thin, but our voices were there, pushing the silence away from us. Little things matter more than you think.

It was the rendition of What Do We Do With The Drunken Sailor that got everyone laughing. Matt started it, and when he saw us smiling, he hammed it up until we were all grins and giggles. He even got a glimmer out of Nugget and made her dance about with him. It made me tired just watching him, but I’d watch him in my sleep if I could, waving his sequinned pillowcases and turning a curtain into a cape. It made us forget for a while, and we all needed that.

It was quieter than usual when we woke up today. We had to send Alice out to check before we knew what it was: the rain had stopped. At last, the storm has blown itself away and the rain has stopped. That seems like a good sign.

 

Nugget had a nosebleed this morning. Masterson found splotches on her legs and has confined her to bed. She went quietly, hugging in next to Sally. I suspect her grip is tighter than her solemn face shows.

Coughs are tickling at Ben. He’s trying to hide it – or suppress it so that Dillon and I aren’t disturbed by it – but I know they’re there. He holds my hand a lot at the moment, gently because my fingers are taped but tightly when he’s not paying attention. I lean on him to let him know I’m here.

The Rats have poked their noses in here a few times since I fainted and we started becoming bed-bound. They didn’t come closer than the doorway, and when they realised what was happening, they threatened us, in case we pass this sickness on to them. I don’t blame them; I’d be scared too, in their position.

I’m scared enough in my own position. I’m so tired of thinking of everyone else. Is it someone else’s turn yet? I think I need to sleep for a week.

 

Masterson’s getting all excited. I should go find out what’s going on, but I can’t get up. Hopefully Matt will come and tell us what’s going on.

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