At the high school we stock up on all notebooks, pens, and pencils, and an old lock on the janitor’s closet had finally rusted enough to allow us entry. It’s not a goldmine, but the untouched cleaning supplies are still a good find. The old guy who’d worked there had also hidden away some adult magazines and a couple cigarette packs. Best of all, there was an unopened case of AAA batteries.
Back at McDonald’s, we share our loot with the rest of the basements. I shake the birth control at Josh and toss it in the pile. I’m afraid if I don’t, Allison will talk, and I definitely don’t want to start some sort of civil dispute about sharing among the rest of the survivors.
He grins and throws his arm around my shoulder, so carefree compared to last night. “Hon, I think we might need those.”
There’s laughter, and then the other groups begin to contribute their finds. The daycare yielded extra blankets, pillows, toys, diapers, and enough chewable vitamins for every household. No one disputes the need for linens or the vitamins, but Conner makes a snide remark about the diapers.
“None of the kids need ‘em, do they? Who’s stupid enough to get pregnant right now anyway?”
I don’t know what is bubbling in my throat, exactly – laughter, tears, the urge to start screaming and never stop. My skin feels hot, my stomach queasy, and Josh’s arm suddenly feels heavy where it lays across my neck.
Tricia gives him a long suffering look from where she sits on the curb. “It’s absorbent, Christopher,” she says, first-naming him to drive his ignorance home. “We can use them for anything. Sponges, pads, bandages.”
“There’s no such thing as a small find,” Deputy Winston agrees. “Beggars can’t be choosers.”
“Conner’s got a point,” Mark says. He’s from the Reid basement, and though he hasn’t opened his bag yet, it looks like there was a hefty haul from the condos. “Maybe we should come back to that.”
More than one person glances towards me and Josh. There are other flirtations that have started since this all began, but the fact remains that we are the only long-term couple from Before and to all appearances are still going strong.
“Tomorrow,” the Deputy agrees. “That should give everybody time to think over their piece of it. Let’s finish with the goods. What did you guys find?”
“We had to break down a few doors, but…” Mark opens his bag and gestures for the other three he went with to do the same. From them comes a veritable cornucopia of goods: canned food, instant coffee, half a dozen bottles of hard liquor, clothes, a screwdriver, two hammers, more batteries, and a whetstone.
“There’s tons of clothes in some of those places still,” one of the others offers. I think her name is Lauren. “We should hit it again tomorrow.”
It’s the kind of news we all want to hear. We all pick at the finds and then the heads start to divvy it up, with input from the rest of us. Our routine is working. Days like this, I can almost believe things might work out, that maybe the fog will just go away on its own and we can just start over.
Except that I can’t forget for a second that my monthly still isn’t here, or that the nausea is not going away. I’m not even sure how long it’s been. Tomorrow’s open discussion is going to be one needle after another, burrowing into my body. I don’t know what I’m going to do.
As we start back to our basement, Josh takes my hand. For a second I feel pleasantly warm, reassured, and then he slows down. “We should talk about this.”
“The pregnancy thing.”
The others realize we’re lagging behind and pause. Josh raises his hand. “We’ll catch up,” he promises, and Deputy Winston nods. They keep going, though Tricia’s backward glance is more pitying than I’d like to see.
“Where do you stand?”
I feel like a coward. I’m angry that I feel this way, and I’m desperately afraid of what will happen when he learns the truth. It’s not my fault, any more than it’s his, yet I can’t help but feel like the weight of this will hang around my neck. I watch the others disappear around the corner of Fifth Street and exhale slowly. “I haven’t had my period in a while.”
His fingers go lax in mine, and I let his hand drop away. His eyes search my face, for what I don’t know, and then he turns and runs both his hands through his hair. “Fuck, Amy. You aren’t just late? Are you sure?”
“I’ve been sick,” I say. “Off and on. Twice today. Tricia knows.”
“Tricia knows? How the fuck does she know before me?” he asks, wheeling around. “We used condoms! Hell, we haven’t even had sex in almost two weeks–”
“I was sick,” I tell him. “I didn’t tell her, she just found me puking my guts out this morning and knew! I can’t explain it any more than you can!”
“Well if she knows, the others will very shortly,” he said, gesturing angrily in the direction they’d gone. “Great. Fucking great.”
I think I knew I wouldn’t get the hug-and-kiss reaction, but this still hurt a lot more than I thought it would. “You’re being a jerk,” I say, and start walking. I’d rather deal with the others now than let him make me feel even more miserable about this. It’s not my fault. It’s not.
“Wait a second. We have to figure this out.” He walks after me and takes my arm to bring me back to his speed. “Amy, we can’t do this. How the hell are we supposed to do this? We don’t have anything. There aren’t any hospitals anymore, there aren’t nurses. There isn’t anything left!”
I’ve barely said a word and yet my throat feels raw. “I can’t exactly get out of it, Josh.”
“We’ll find something,” he says, and squeezes my arms, like this gesture might give me comfort right now. “We’re going back to the condos tomorrow. I’ll make sure I’m in that group, and I’ll find something.”
I think of all the ways women have died in childbirth in the past before sanitation and medicine. “Sure.”
“I’m sorry I yelled at you. We’ll figure this out.”
He tries to take my hand, and I let him, still clinging to that little bit of reassurance. But it’s just not the same as before. The warmth is gone.