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Together Forever

The sun reflected off a silver pendant, a four-leafed clover, that swung from the rear-view mirror. It blinded Leah, who sat low on the passenger seat with her bare feet dangling out of the car window, a shotgun in her lap in case of an ambush. Not that she expected one, not after so much time had passed since they had run into another human being. But better safe than sorry.

She lowered her sunglasses from her head to her nose, colouring the greenery on both sides of the road with a bluish hue. It was a lovely summer day, perfect for a drive outside.

She turned aside, leaned more heavily on the redhead sitting behind the wheel. He glanced at her, giving her a wide grin and as always her heart flipped at the sight of it and a gentle smile appeared on her face. Adam.

He quickly pressed a kiss on the top of her head before he focused on the road. The smile disappeared from his face and the car slowed down. “We'll be there soon.”

Leah swallowed and straightened, pulling her legs into the car. From the backseat she hauled a backpack and from it took a fistful of cartridges, the only ones left. She filled the empty pockets attached to the strips of leather that criss-crossed her chest over her tank top.

Next was her belt with hooks that held her weapons. Lifting her hips, she buckled it around her waist. And then she saw them. The skyscrapers that rose over the clouds of green, a view that still made her hands tremble and her mouth feel like she just finished chewing sawdust. She wished they could have made a detour around the city. To bypass it and its inhabitants on their way to the northwest coast, to the harbour where the Assembly was gathered, the exit out of this hell hole, but their stock of food and ammo was running low and without those they were sitting ducks. Hungry sitting ducks.

Adam stopped the car on the hill, not to admire the view of the suburbs and the concrete jungle behind it, but to study the wrinkled, half-torn Road Atlas, which they had found in a camper they used three cars back. He turned the music down. “Did you find it?”

“Yes.” She nodded, already scrutinising the map of the city that nestled in the valley before them. They were always on the lookout for shopping centres and malls, but, unluckily, except for the restaurants and bars, not many stores had natural light. “The shopping district in the southwest part looks promising.”

“Southwest, then.” They drove down the road and onto the bypass. There were abandoned cars on the shoulders, some with raised hoods, but almost all had their doors closed. A car had to have its doors gaping wide for them to stop at it; people who had time to close the door also had time to strip the car of anything valuable. But if a vehicle was on the larger side, they did stop and check it for gas.

Leah took the binoculars from the glove compartment and her eyes slid over the visible roofs, searching them for the reflection of solar panels -- the Solar Power Plants. They needed electricity for all the small gadgets they carried around. And then she could check to see if the internet was still working. The last time, a month ago, she had even been able to use Google, though it gave out few hits, and the signal was funky, going in and out like she was using dial-up, one of the things her mother liked to reminiscence about.

Her mother.

She blinked away the wetness that gathered in the corners of her eyes, focusing on the roofs again.

In the movies the end of the world always came swiftly, with a big bang, but in reality... it had come slowly, so crushingly slowly that before they realized what was going on it was too late. She could still remember watching the people as they changed, not knowing what was going on. Nobody did, not until the first transformation. Then the army had started to hunt the sick and drive them off in their trucks. Quarantine, they said. It hadn’t helped, the quarantine; more and more people got infected, and day by day the number of healthy people decreased. The Virus spread by air and they got sick so quickly. Not Adam, though. With her mom and dad gone, she probably couldn't have survived losing Adam too. The goofy, nerdy boy next door she had known all of her life and loved since kindergarten. And she hadn’t lost him. They were together when the army closed the local power plant and when their city became a danger zone. They were together when men dressed in protective suits came and took them and the rest of survivors into the Medical Institute of V.I. at the outskirts of the town, which they hadn’t known existed and which was like a fortress. Their new home. A place where Adam, with his interest in biology and physics, was as at home as a fish in water --

“Hey!” Adam's voice pulled Leah out of her musings. “Where did you wander off to?”

She sighed. “Just remembering.”

“Don't.” His hand found hers and he interwove their fingers. “You know what we said; that we will always look forward --”

“Never turning back.” She finished for him.

Ha squeezed her hand. “Together forever.”

“Yeah.” She nodded. Together forever.

Adam steered the car down from the bypass at it southwest exit and in the distance they could see a large red sign advertising the shopping centre. Adam followed the instructions on the sign and soon a large, four-storey building with a top-to-bottom triangular glass front came into view. When they got closer she could see the broken glass and garbage covering the entrance, which in the past must have been protected by a sliding or revolving door, but now was just a hole.

Adam drove alongside it, wasting precious gas, but they were looking for another entrance. When they found one, smaller and in slightly better condition than the main one, he parked the car a step away, between two abandoned vehicles. The city looked deserted but that didn't mean that there were no people around; the last time they had left their belongings in the open in front of a mall entrance, they had ended up without them.

Leah checked the shotgun and clicked it closed.

“You should take the bat. Or the katana,” Adam proposed. “We don't want to aggravate them with the sound, do we?”

“You are better with the sword than I am,” she said, but from behind the seat she pulled out a bat, a holster with two loaded guns and an empty backpack. He was also better with the bat than she was. Which he should be, since he was the one who always went out into the darkness while she waited for him in the light.

She put on the holster and backpack, got out of the car and stretched while watching him run to the entrance, peek into it and run back.

“We are in luck. It has a glass roof,” he said as he busied himself with the trunk. He opened it and started to pull out plastic place mats covered with pieces of silver-grey strips, putting them on the roof of the car. “A little help would be appreciated.”

She hesitantly walked over to him, hooking the bat onto her belt on the way.

“Stop making that face.” With his free hand he cupped her cheeks.

“I can't help it.” She leaned into the touch, her fingers sliding up his chest.

He bent over her, closing the distance that separated them and pressed a kiss on her lips.

Like that would ease her worry, she thought, but she wrapped her arm around his shoulder anyway. She melted against him, against the caress of his mouth and tongue, and the hand resting against his chest glided upward over the fabric around his neck then to his nape. She buried her fingers in the mass of red strands. She couldn't imagine her life without him; just the thought of it tossed her into an abyss of despair. But every time she secured the plastic sheets around his limbs and torso with duct tape, she risked losing him.

He ended the kiss, but she refused to let him go. His fingers brushed down her cheek, jaw and then neck, playing with her scarf. “You always worry too much. Everything is going to be okay. It’s always been before, right?”

She nodded, but she took a few more moments to hold him close before helping him suit up in the home-made armour, created from place mats, pieces of plastic and hockey equipment. Next, she hung an empty bag across his chest and unzipped it, then put a katana in his hand.

A deep breath before they strode to the entrance of the complex and into it. Broken glass, twisted metal from the shopping carts and pieces of wood lay with other rubbish scattered on the floor of the hall. The mouldy smell mixed with acid assaulted them, and she pulled the scarf tied around her neck over her lower face.

They passed what used to be a newsstand, then a row of shops that to her looked like a row of black interrupted by a wall or a beam of light coming from the broken roof. They searched for the grocery store, careful to always stay in the light.

From the corner of her eye she could see a hint of movement in the shadow. Dread dampened her hairline and she stepped closer to Adam.

As if he could feel her fear his hand found hers and he squeezed it to reassure her. “Here.” He pointed to her right where at the end of the semi-dark hallway stood what looked like the silhouetted remains of checkout counters, the light coming from the roof not enough to reach them.

She turned to Adam. Tested the face cage attached to his helmet and the plastic that covered him, then turned up the flashlight he had glued to the helmet.

“Okay, then.” He grinned at her, bumping his mask gently against her forehead.

“Be careful.”

“Always.” Another touch of their foreheads then he turned toward the grocery store and walked into it.

She laced her fingers and pressed them against her mouth. Yes, this was the part she hated the most; watching him as he marched into danger, and then waiting for him. She strained her ears; she could follow the sound of his steps, a moment later she heard the swish of his blade as he brandished it and the soft thud that followed. And she knew that they were out there in the dark. The Infected, as they media had called them, the people who got infected by the Virus and a week later became the living dead. She had always wondered why they didn't call them Zombies like they were called in fiction, comics and movies. Maybe because they didn't know what the sick would become, or perhaps to not alarm the public, but later, the name just stuck.

The sound of sliding feet came from behind her and she wheeled around. She sucked in the air and the beat of her heart that already raced inside her chest accelerated.

The Infected moved on the shadowed side of the line drawn by the sunlight. Slowly, with jerking motions, like it couldn't bend its legs, its arms hanging uselessly by its sides. Torn, dirty clothes exposed the thin, white-grey skin that peeled in patches from its greyish flesh. With its hunched shoulders and slow sliding steps, from a distance it was the image of an old man with an arthritis problem. It looked quite helpless.

In the days when they had still been trying to hold onto the illusion of normality and the streets had echoed with human voices, sometimes an Infected would wander out into the open. Those rare cases always went down under the blows of foolish teenage boys, who liked to use them as piñatas, acting like they were at a party, ignoring that they were a week away from ending up just like them.

She knew better than those boys. She knew how swiftly they could move when their hunger demanded it. And she knew that even though the Virus didn't spread through the air anymore, that no matter how resistant she and Adam were to infection, their resilience wouldn't protect them from an Infected's bite. So, when she waved a bat or a sword at them, she aimed only at their heads, determined to use only one blow to finish them off.

A wall stopped the thing, which now stood there, five steps away from her; its eyes -- the only feature that bore a hint of life -- stared at her, hungrily.

Her hand blindly searched for her bat and her fingers wrapped around its handle. She unhooked it from her belt. She could hear more of the sliding feet, and more Infected appeared at the edge of the darkness, their unblinking eyes fixed on her. She could smell them too, now. The sweetness of vanilla mixed with the foulness of gore.

She wanted to call for Adam whose path she could follow in the beam of light dancing among the overturned shelves. She wanted to urge him to hurry, but that would just distract him. So she waited, gripping the bat so tightly that her knuckles turned white.

The minutes ticked away slowly, long as hours, like she had stood rooted at the spot for days, her legs aching and her hands trembling. She should have told Adam that she was going to explore the upper floors. He probably wouldn't have let her, though; if it had been up to him, she would have waited for him in the car. And even though the Infected didn't know how to climb the stairs or even small things like turning doorknobs. Instead they slammed themselves against obstacles, over and over again, until they either forced their way through the obstacle or obliterated themselves into a pile of unmoving dry grey flesh. She had seen those piles personally, when the staff of the Medical Institute had gotten infected; the remains of the ones who didn't have the courage to end their own lives.

The light got closer and Adam strolled out into the sunlight, with a full bag and black liquid soiling his blade.

She ran to him. Her eyes scrutinised his 'armour' looking for holes in it; there were none, just a few bent corners. A sigh of relief left her throat.

“I told you everything was going to be okay, didn't I?” he said before he showed her the contents of the bag: a small assortment of canned food. “That should last for a few days.”

“Long enough to reach the harbour?” She turned off the flashlight.

“Maybe, if you don't gorge yourself on it like you usually do.” He grinned at her and sheathed his blade.

“Shouldn't I be the one saying that?” She gently slapped his shoulder then glanced past the eyes observing them down the hall. “We should check the other floors too.”

He lifted the edge of the plastic at his wrist to look at his watch. “It's one now. We have enough time.”

They went down the hallway and found the stairs that were lighted by the main entrance. They climbed up. On the third floor they found an electronics shop, where they grabbed all the batteries they could find among the trashed equipment in the semi-darkness. They also searched for products with solar cells, but since they weren't the first visitors to this deserted city and those gadgets were the most valuable, she doubted they would find anything.

She had just leaned over the side of an overturned display case when Adam's hand gripped her shoulder, making her flinch. She opened her mouth to ask what it was, but he put a finger over her mouth.

“Listen.”

She did. First she didn't hear anything, but then came the soft sound of dragging footsteps. But it couldn't be. They couldn't climb stairs and using the elevator was out of question. “How?” she asked in a whisper.

“I don't know,” he whispered back. “But.... nothing is impossible. Look at the Daywalkers.”

But Daywalkers were just Infected who were less sensitive to sunlight, and it wasn’t like they could tolerate it for long. They usually ended up as burned heaps, because they couldn't get back to the soothing shadows quickly enough. She had never seen one in person, but she had seen enough film clips in the Institute to believe in their existence.

“Give me a gun.”

She handed one to him.

“I'll be right back.” He pulled the sword out and with it in one hand and the gun in another he was out of the shop.

She didn't want to stay alone in the dark room, so she followed him outside, but stayed close to the electronics store while he tiptoed past a clothing boutique into what looked to be a large shoe department. She thought she heard a swish and a thud, but until he walked back she wasn't really sure. She went toward him, her mouth already open to lecture him, when just as she passed the entrance of the boutique something tripped her. She fell face first on the ground, catching herself at the last instant; her knives and the bat rattling against the ground.

The scent of vanilla and decay invaded her senses as something snatched her ankle and bit into the sole of her shoe.

She screamed and kicked. She rolled around, her widened eyes slid over the greyish skin and exposed part of the jaw, where the whiteness of bone protruded. She kicked again, hard. Then again.

Her eyes caught a movement and raised her gaze. She gasped at the sight of more greyish faces.

Adam was already there, he beheaded her captor.

Leah wiggled her right foot out from the grasp of the stiff fingers, losing the sneaker in the process.

There were more of them there, moving faster than before when they pounced on her, hands grabbing for whatever part of her they could reach. They tugged on her pants, trying to pull her deeper into the shadows.

Above her Adam's sword slashed at them, cutting off their arms.

Leah kicked at the nearest head, shivering whenever her socked foot made contact with flesh that felt like she was hitting a squishy surface stretched over a bone. With trembling fingers she fumbled with the clasp that held the bat at her belt, afraid that if she used a gun, she might shoot Adam. Finally she managed to free the bat and she swung it at the nearest Infected. A cracking accompanied the impact as she fractured its skull, droplets of black spraying over the legs of her jeans. Another blow and the hold around her ankle withdrew. She crawled away. Under the protection of the sun she curled up on the dirty floor, trying to calm her erratic breathing and the horror that threatened to overpower her.

She could see them; greenish silhouettes against the black, circling her and moving on her, she could see them so clearly through the night goggles. If she could just get past them and reach the light switch, the imitation of sunlight set in every room of the Institute would burn the leftovers of their skin and force them to either find a dark corner or turn to charcoal. The first of them reached her, touched her shoulder and she couldn’t move. She couldn’t move. Frozen in terror and with dilated eyes she waited for their teeth to cut into her skin. Then the whiteness blinded her --

“It’s okay, everything is okay.” A familiar scent enveloped her together with strong arms as Adam drew her into his embrace, gently rocking her. “Everything is okay.”

A half-sob escaped her throat and her rigid fingers dug into the plastic on his chest.

“You are safe. You are safe,” Adam repeated over and over again, patting and caressing her until her breathing slowed down and she was able to see beyond the memory that still hunted her in her dreams. “Together forever, we said, didn't we?”

A small smile for a second curved her lips.

“Can you walk?”

She nodded and let him pull her up, refusing to look past the safety of his arms.

They stumbled down onto the ground floor and then through the main entrance out into the parking lot.

He lowered her to the pavement and squatted before her, his hands cupping her cheeks. “Are you hurt?”

She shook her head. She didn’t think she was and there was no pain. But she had heard that that the bite didn’t hurt and that the bitten rarely felt it. Due to shock.

He pushed up her jeans and examined her legs. Then when he was satisfied he slipped the bag's strap off his shoulder and put the bag beside her. “Can you manage on your own?”

“Don't leave me.” She seized his hand, feeling like she was going to cry again.

“Just for a little while.” He took her hand and pressed a kiss on her palm. “The shops aren’t completely stripped and we still have time.”

“But...” It wasn’t that she was afraid to be alone with the sun shining over her head. She knew that she was safe from them under the sun... it was just... what if anything happened to him?

“If we find everything we need, we might not need to go into another city again.”

She hesitantly let him go.

“When you can, go to the car, okay?” He waited until she raised her gaze and gave her an encouraging smile. “Nothing will happen, I promise.”

And she believed him and despite her fears gave him her backpack, then watched him return to the centre.

He returned after an hour, walking through the side entrance like a warrior coming from battle, the backpack thrown over his shoulder.

She hurried to him and threw herself around his neck, then when he shoved his bounty into the boot, insisted that he strip so she could check for any sign of bite marks. A burden fell from her shoulders when he stood before her in his boxers and only bruises marred his skin.

When he pulled his clothes back on, he pushed her into the backseat and playfully pounced on her, made her laugh as he wrestled her jeans off her.

“You already checked me.”

“But I want to be sure.” A crooked smile appeared on his face and he leaned over her to press a kiss on her mouth.

She loved his kisses, loved the way they made her breathless and slightly dizzy. And she loved the feel of him, the way the muscles moved under her hand as she slid it over his back or ghosted her fingers against his side or abdomen. She loved everything about him.

The kiss ended and the mischievous expression he wore faded as he examined first one leg then another. “You scared me.”

She lifted herself on her elbows.

“Up there, when they got you.” He bit his lip and averted his gaze for a moment before his green eyes were on her again. “I don't know what I would do if I lost you.”


#


The road again and with it the breeze in her short black hair and the feeling of freedom. The city and what had happened there became a memory shoved down into the depths of her mind, like all the other events she didn't want to remember.

They drove all night, taking turns behind the wheel, then slept under the bridge and after they woke they hit the road again. And later, when the night started to descend and they found a clearing not far away from the main road, after they set camp and secured the parameter, she washed out the physical remains of what had happened in the shopping centre in the nearby creek.

Adam came to the creek, clad only in his underwear, and threw himself into the shallow water, splashing her. He wanted her to join him, to bathe together in the cold water.

She refused, too shy, still, but she did scrub his back and then while they were still in the water she wrapped her arms around his shoulders. She wished it would always be like this. Carefree. Not worrying about food, where to sleep, about them. “Only two more weeks, huh?”

“More or less.” He covered her hands with his. “I will have to confirm it's still the same port.”

“You did that already, a week ago.” She rested her chin on his shoulder.

“Yes, and it's the same location as two months ago. It's weird. They used to change it every week.”

“I never understood why they did that,” she said. “Maybe they saw the pointlessness of it too.”

“Maybe.” A stroke of his fingers alongside her arm before he pulled her arm away. He stood up, pulling her up with him, then playfully slapped her butt. “You'll get cold like this. Go wash up, and I'll get you dry clothes.” He strode out of the water.

“You are such a sweetheart.” She made a loud smooching sound when she pressed her lips against her palm and blew a kiss.

He turned, caught it and pressed his palm against his heart. “Your little pumpkin.”

That's what she called him because of the colour of his hair. The mess that hung over his forehead was red now, but when they were children it had had an orange glow. “Yes, my big pumpkin.”

He chuckled, and when he took a step backwards he stumbled over a root, almost falling.

She giggled.

“Get out of those wet clothes, okay?” He narrowed his eyes, a smile twitching at the corner of his mouth, then turned on his heel.

“Yes, sir.” She saluted him. And when he disappeared from her sight, she obeyed him. She peeled her wet clothes off; leaving only her panties on and squatting in the cold water she started to wash herself. Somewhere in the middle of it she lost her balance and plopped down on her backside; she grimaced at the feel of hard stones underneath. But she didn't make an effort to stand up. She rubbed her right foot. It had felt for a while like she had a pebble in her shoe, but there was nothing there. A patch of skin on her sole felt different, thinner and dryer than the rest. She twisted her leg, trying to see it. And then she did.

Her foot slipped out of her numb fingers and hit the stones, but she didn't feel any pain. Her heart stopped and the coldness surrounding her echoed inside her. She couldn't move. She couldn't breathe. She couldn’t breathe.

“Leah, why are you still in the water?”

At his voice tears appeared in her eyes. How am I going to tell him? She scooped up a handful of water and splashed her face, sucking in her breath at the cold, before she turned to him. “Washing. It's so cold.”

“Get out of it, silly. Here.” Holding a towel he stretched out his hands. “I won't peek, I promise.”

Normally she would have bantered with him, but this time, with her arms covering her breasts she stumbled into his outstretched arms, her head hung down.

He closed the towel around her and held her close. “You are shivering.” He guided her to the camp and sat her down on a pallet he had laid down in front of the tent. With another towel he started to dry her hair, then her arms. “I don't know what you were thinking, staying in the water for so long.” He draped the towel around her leg, sliding it down toward her ankle.

“It's okay, I can do it myself.” She took the towel away from him. “Could you make something to eat, please?”

“Sure.” He tussled her hair and went to browse through the trunk of the car parked two steps away.

She tossed the towel over her head then stared at her right foot. She needed to see it again. She hoped it was just a mistake, wished that it were just a figment of her imagination, and that her life hadn’t just ended. She sat cross-legged and twisted her right foot around, resting it on her thigh. Angry lines through the middle of C-shaped patches of dry skin the size of an adult jaw glared at her from the curve of her sole. The Infected's bite. The death sentence. Her death sentence. Her hands curled, the nails cutting into the softness of her palm as she blankly stared at it.

“Tuna and rice?” Adam yelled from where he had built up the fire.

She wiped the wetness from her face and hid her right foot under her left leg. “Sounds... sounds good.”

She could feel his gaze on her and when she glanced at him she noticed the frown. Of course, he knew something was wrong, and he would grill her about it later, she was sure. For now, he was just biding his time, giving her space and waiting for her to come to him.

She touched the sole of her foot and swallowed the sobbing that rose up. She always told him everything, everything, but how was she going to tell him about this? How, when she couldn't even wrap her head around it herself?

She thought that, after they rolled into the sleeping bags with his arms around her and her head against his chest, listening to his heartbeat, she would find the words. She opened her mouth, searching her mind for anything, anything at all, but there was nothing. How did you say, in five -- no, she had even less -- in four days, I'm going to die and become an Infected? Just four days, and then... gone. She buried her face in the fabric of his shirt.

His hand rested on her head, then down, following the curve of her neck and then her spine. “It has been hard for you... with what happened, in the Institute and then in the shopping centre.”

Her hands fisted and she wrinkled his shirt. “It...” Her voice broke.

“It will get better. Not right away, but like with the Institute incident... time will make it better.”

No, it wouldn’t, but somehow she couldn't tell him that, even if she could have spoken over the lump in her throat.

“We survived.”

But she wouldn’t, not as Leah, the girl he fell in love with.

“We got out of there and soon we will be out of here too.” He wrapped his arms tightly around her and spoke into her hair, “We will leave this nightmare behind us.”

That had been their goal since their departure from the Institute. No, actually even before that, when the evacuation plan had them scheduled to leave for the First Continent together with the last of the Institute's staff; they even had a certificate that they were Virus-free which they needed to enter the infection-free zone and which Adam now carried in the back pocket of his pants. But the outbreak of the Virus had contaminated the Institute staff and rendered the evacuation impossible. And now, when they were so close to their goal... She thought of the injury on her foot, of the patch of grey that had started to spread. Why didn't it work like gangrene, where cutting off the limb would cut out the disease? Because now he was the only one who could leave this nightmare behind him, while she was going to become part of it. “Adam...”

“What is it, baby?”

She glanced up at him in the dark that ruled in the tent and she became aware of what would happen if she told him. Aware that as soon as she spoke up about what was going to happen in four days’ time, the sadness, the discouragement and despair would press down on them. And she couldn't take it. Their last days together should be filled with love and happiness; days worth remembering, and that's what she would give him; that's what she would give herself. “Can we stay here a little longer? A day or two?”

He shifted her up. “Why?”

“It's not like we are in danger here.” The trees didn't offer enough shadow for them to survive outside of the cities and the small bells strung on nylon threads zigzagging through the clearing would warn them if anything got too close.

“What about other people? You know what happened the last time.”

They had lost their car and all the equipment they brought with them from the Institute, except a half-broken tablet with solar cells and a Kevlar shirt, one size too small for Adam and two sizes too big for Leah. But that was at the beginning of their journey. They had gotten new equipment in one of the institutes that were scattered across the country and they had gotten smarter since then. They made wide detours around groups of people, not that they had seen many. “It’s been weeks since we stumbled over anything that would indicate anyone else is around, and even if by some chance someone drives by we are too far away from the road to be noticed.”

“And what are we going to do here?”

“I don't know. Fishing, enjoy nature, the things you do when you go camping.”

“What if we run out of food?”

“In three days? You eat a lot, but not that much.”

“You said two days.”

“I changed my mind, I want three now.”

He chuckled and consented.


#


Two days filled with cuddling and frolicking around like they were on vacation, all the while Leah hiding the infection, now a parched greyness that covered her entire right leg and her left leg to the knee. Her body felt sore, like she had been exercising too hard, she was running a fever, and stiffness was already creeping under her skin, turning her knees wooden and making it difficult to walk.

Only one more day before her saliva would become contagious and her bite deadly. Two more days before her mind deteriorated and her skin started to peel off at the lightest touch. And three more days before she completely became the Infected. It was time to say goodbye.

She didn't have the courage to tell him to his face, so she wrote him a letter, which she hid in the car's glove compartment and then the next day... she would lose herself in the forest, with a rifle by her side.

Sitting on the pallet in front of the tent she glanced at Adam. He was busy organizing the stuff in the trunk and packing the things that they no longer needed, so that they could continue their journey as early as possible the next day. Staying in one place for such a long time made him edgy.

She leaned back on her arms and closed her eyes as she offered her face to the sun’s rays. A pleasure that would soon be unavailable to her. She still hadn’t resigned herself to what was going to happen, but she would have a whole day to feel sorry for herself, if she chose to. She heard the slam of the trunk and then Adam opening the car door, rummaging through something inside.

She felt sleepy and she lowered her back to the ground without opening her eyes. She had almost dozed off when a shadow veiled the sun. “Move, please,” she mumbled. When she received no reply and the shadows still blocked the sun she repeated her request and opened one eye.

Adam looked pale and his lips were narrowed into a line. He opened his mouth, his jaw working, but without a sound. He closed his mouth and shoved his fist toward her, white paper crumpled in it.

No! Her eyes widened and she scrambled backwards. She would have run away, but her legs wouldn’t carry her, and she stumbled, lost her balance and fell on the grass.

He stood there above her and because of the sun shining directly into her eyes, she couldn't distinguish his face. “Why?” His voice sounded weak like he might start to cry any moment now.

She closed her eyes and turned on her side, away from him. Why? The question sounded like it was her fault. She curled into a ball and hid her face in her hands. And maybe it was her fault; the result of her carelessness.

“Why?” He dropped to his knees behind her, she could feel his legs against her back and then his fingers on her shoulder. They dug into her skin, hurting her.

“I don't know,” she cried into her hands.

He pressed his cheek against the back of her neck, wetting the collar of her shirt as he wrapped his arms around her. “I can't... I can't lose you.”

She couldn't lose him either and as much as she resented, hated the situation in which she found herself, it would have been worse to be in his place. She couldn’t live without him. But she was counting on him to live without her.


* * * * *

The complete story is available as part of Short Story Collection on  Smashwords, its retailers and Amazon Kindle.

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