The discovery of the body unsettles everyone. For two days the search for resources is suspended, taken over by the search for more bodies. One more is found, though this one is familiar. The old man had owned the quickie mart near the highway. No one knew he was still around until his skinny, weathered body was found crumpled in the covered bed of a rusted-out pick-up.
Josh doesn’t understand why I haven’t taken the pills. I’m not sure I do either, but just looking at them makes me nauseous. His frustration comes to a head on the third night. There’s still no evidence as to who the man in camouflage was or what he was doing in town, and tensions are high. Deputy Winston wants to resume our normal scavenger hunt; the others just feel hunted. Josh is no different.
“How can he act like nothing happened?” He fluffs a pillow aggressively. “What if it’s the army? What if they have a base nearby? Better supplies? Or what if they’re just here to steal ours?”
I sit on the end of the bed, turning the pack of birth control over in my hands, and don’t say anything. My head hurts, my hands are trembling, and my mouth’s dry.
He drops the pillow. “Come on, Amy. Just take them. You probably only need a week’s worth, right?”
I rub my forehead. “I don’t know.”
“What’s there to know? We can’t do this. Especially not now.” He crouches in front of me, his hands on my calves, cajoling now. “I know we talked about it, before. But things aren’t the same.”
I just feel tired. I don’t sleep, I’ve barely eaten. “They aren’t.”
The agreement encourages him. “See? Let’s not make this any harder than it has to be. One problem at a time.”
I’ve always wanted kids, though what I imagined that would be like and the reality of this pregnancy are two very different things. But even I know that isn’t the real problem right now. “Do you still love me?”
He hesitates. Maybe it’s because the question surprises him. Maybe not. “Of course I do. Amy, that has nothing to do with this.”
“I don’t want to take the pills. I don’t want to do anything.” I don’t want to argue anymore. I don’t want to find any more bodies. I don’t want to get up in the morning with nothing to look forward to.
“Amy, we’re out of options. This isn’t a game.”
I give him the pack and stand, pulling the top sheet and a pillow from the bed. “I’m going to sleep on the couch.”
The annoyance on Josh’s face only deepens. “How’s that going to look?”
For a second I stare at him. I want him to read my mind. I want him to pull me in his arms and tell me everything is going to be okay, and when he does it, I want to believe him. But he’s right. The world isn’t the same anymore. We’re not the same.
“Good night, Josh.”
The next morning, when the groups divide again, I request to go along. The Deputy frowns, but I tell him the truth. “I need a distraction. Just don’t put me with Josh.”
“Is everything okay between you two?” Nobody missed the separate beds move, although it was nice to wake up to Melanie’s snuggling. Nice, and achingly sad.
“I don’t know.”
Deputy Winston nods, and shrugs. “Adrian is going with a couple guys from the Reid basement. I don’t have to tell you to stay close, right?”
I smile. “Of course not.”
We pick our way towards the park. It sits near the waterfront, and its variety of buildings and outhouses provide for plenty of cover and storage. It won’t be a food run, but there may be rope and other tools, and if they can find signs of new activity, even better. One of the Reid men is older, taciturn, but the other is thirty-something and chatty. The small talk is almost soothing, as if some things never change. He learns that I’m not carrying a gun, and when I request it, shows me how to use his. Just in case.
Adrian does his best to keep an eye on me, probably due to the Deputy, but when the older guy calls for help with something heavy, he leaves.
“Maybe you should go with him,” I suggest. “Three pairs of muscle are better than two, right?”
He hesitates, but I smile and go for the kill. “I’ll be safe. Just leave the gun with me, and I promise I won’t shoot myself in the foot.”
“All right. The safety is on.” He hands it over and jogs away.
It’s easy to slip deeper into the park. There’s debris everywhere. With no one left to maintain it, branches are scattered by storms, old papers are turning to mush on the ground, and the grass is overly long. It’s strange to see swing sets look so barren. I head towards a secluded spot that Josh and I liked to picnic at, before everything happened. I don’t pick it for its particular meaning; I just know it’s isolated enough to give me the time I need.
My hands are shaking again, but I tell myself this is the best solution to everyone’s problem. I won’t have to care anymore, Josh will have one less problem to deal with, and no one will be hassled by an unexpected, unwanted pregnancy. I sit, cross-legged in the long grass, and study the black steel. It’s funny that once upon a time, I thought guns were the biggest threat in our world. Now it’s just one more way out.
I switch off the safety, and consider the most effective way to end it. Do I swallow the bullet, or train it against the side of my head? Neither is going to look pretty afterwards, but that hasn’t been a consideration of mine in a long time.
I’m still studying the gun when Adrian finds me. He doesn’t say anything right away, just sits next to me. When I don’t object, or make any move to leave, he takes the gun from me gently and clicks the safety back into place. “I have to be honest,” he says, wiping the sweat from his brow with his arm, “between you and Josh, I thought you were the smarter one.”
“Getting out seems pretty smart.”
“You had plenty of time to shoot.”
That’s true. As miserable as things are, it’s a lot harder to make that plan a reality than I thought. I keep thinking of Melanie, and what it would do to her. Tricia, who has been nothing but warm and motherly to me. The Deputy, who doesn’t need another crack in his walls. I think of Josh, too, but I think about myself most of all.
“I’ve heard you in the mornings,” Adrian says. “Is that why?”
I pull my knees up. “Isn’t that enough?”
“I guess that depends on who you ask. Just because a handful of guys think having a baby is stupid, doesn’t mean it is.”
“It’s pretty stupid.”
“I don’t know,” he said, and we’re both silent for a second. Adrian glances at me and ventures, “Honestly? Life is shitty enough. It’d be nice to have something to rally around.”
“Babies don’t fix things.”
“People fix things,” he counters. “This isn’t the way, Amy. Josh will get onboard or he won’t. You’re stronger than he is. Life should mean more than this.”
I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s nice to hear. “I want to believe that.”
“Maybe that’s enough for now.” He gets up, and offers his hand to me. As I slowly take it, he says, “It’s gonna be all right.”
I do like the sound of that. We head back to the building where the Reid guys are, laden with ropes, buckets, and other odds and ends, and split the load before trekking back to the McDonald’s.
Just outside the square, a voice tells us to halt. A man in camouflage steps around an abandoned car, rifle in hand, and eyes our laden hands. “Same group of survivors?”
We’re silent with shock. It must show, because he gestures for us to continue and falls in line behind us. In the McDonald’s parking lot there’s a Humvee, with more military men administering water and chocolate bars to those of us who stayed behind. The kids are already a mess, melted chocolate smeared on their faces, but their grins are heartachingly large. Deputy Winston sees us and waves us over. Others are still trickling in. Melanie runs up to me and shows me her half eaten chocolate. “Look! Better than frosting!”
Adrian asks the Deputy, “What’s going on?”
Deputy Winston grins. “Get out of jail free card. They’re looking for survivors. These are just the scouts. They’ve got an airtight operation in an old underground NASA facility nobody knew about. It’s a couple days’ drive away. It’s risky, but…” He doesn’t have to explain. It’s everything.
“Do they know what’s going on?”
The Deputy shrugs. “They said they’re working on it. My guess is no, but strength in numbers, right?”
Adrian glances at me. I take Melanie’s hand and squeeze it. Strength in numbers. “Right.”