The Girl's Guide to the Apocalypse (10 page)

BOOK: The Girl's Guide to the Apocalypse
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“You heard?” I asked. “From where?”

“Lots of people come through here,” she said. “I’ve heard about it more than once, so that makes me think there’s some truth to the rumor.”

“I don’t think that’s how fact becomes established.”

“You want to hang around and wait for another attack?” Robert asked.

“Not really—”

He leaned forward. “Listen,” he said. “There’s a priest over in the east section of the quarantine.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“Rebecca says that if we’re married,” he said. “Officially married, that is. We get a pass to travel into any government sanctioned roadway where it’s safer.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “How does she know—sorry, how do you know all this?”

Robert shrugged. “You hear things. Like that thing with the guy who lost a kidney. Woke up in a tub full of ice. And now we all know what to do when people steal our kidneys.”

I shook my head, got to my feet. “This is all nonsense—”

“Rebecca and I,” he said. “And you. You’ve been so loyal and helpful. I wouldn’t dream of leaving you behind at this point.”

I balanced myself on the shoddy tables. “Wait, you and Rebecca are getting married? What has it been, like, a hot minute?”

“Don’t be judgmental,” he said. “Our current changing times are changing social morays. And when you know, you know.”

“Shouldn’t you two go on a date or something?”

He stroked her cheek. “What we shared last night was worth ten thousand dates.”

She giggled. He turned to me and beamed.

“He read me this beautiful passage. Something about risk management I think,” she said. “Those words went straight to my heart.”

I raised an eyebrow. “So you’ve met each other’s parents, gave each other a clueless gift for Christmas, accidently called each other the wrong name at a bad time. Ever had a miscommunication on what time to meet each other at the movie theater?”

“What are you doing?”

“You said it felt like a ten thousand dates,” I said. “I’m wondering if all this happened last night.”

Robert shook his head. “That’s ridiculous and you know it. This is the real thing. You’ll see.”

I stared at him.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he said, getting closer to my face and standing over me.

“Don’t even start,” I said. “You’re single, time is going by, and it’s the Apocalypse. But if you think I’m going to sister wife you—”

He profusely shook his head. “Sister wife?” he asked, confused. “What are you talking about? I don’t want to marry you too.”

“Oh,” I said, confused. “That’s not what this is about?”

He shook his head. Rebecca looked at me with pity.

“W-Well then,” I stammered. “Sometimes I get mixed signals. Like when you give a girl a fancy Brookstone meat thermometer.”

“When did that happen?” he asked.

“Last Christmas,” I said. “I won the gift raffle and got to pick out of the bag you had, but…” I let my voice trail off.

“But what?” he raised an eyebrow at me. “Did you think it meant something?”

“Oh no, of course not,” I said. “I thought maybe it was a little more deliberate, but I’m not begging for it, and I’m certainly not desperate.”

I smiled awkwardly as he put a hand on my shoulder.

“You’ve been through a lot,” he said. “We all make bad choices. Sometimes late at night when you’re sitting in a bar in Philadelphia. You can either make conversation with that brunette waitress with the weird limp or you can go back up to your room and see what’s playing on the hotel’s specialty channels.”

“Robert—“

“If you’re lucky, that waitress will never learn your last name or which conference you were there for.”

“Okay, you’ve made your point.” I took a step backward. “Congratulations,” I said. “I hope you’re both very happy. Mazel.”

He opened his arms to me. “Want a hug?” he asked.

A man passing by stopped in front of us. He opened his arms to Robert.

“I’d like a hug.”

Robert waved him away. “Keep moving.”

The man sadly dropped his head and did.

“I appreciate the pity,” I said. “And thanks for these last memories of you.”

I slid off the table and walked away.

“You’ll be back!” he shouted.

Chapter 7
There is No Peace on Earth

I WENT
BACK
to the food line to see if they had any dinner rolls left. I didn’t wait my turn. Instead, I perused the line and found it long with lots of ill-mannered people waiting for something that didn’t smell appetizing at all.

The woman in the short, dark bob and the stink face approached me. “Hey there,” she said sweetly aggressive. ”You’re looking a little lost.”

“Don’t worry about me,” I said.

She gave me a cloying smile. “Love your Batman shirt,” she said. “So cute. Wish I had one.”

“Thanks,” I said. “You waiting in line for food?”

She shook her head. “I like my figure the way it is. I don’t need food to make myself feel better.”

I fought the urge to roll my eyes. “I enjoy food for the way it keeps me alive. Amongst other things.”

She looked me up and down. “But you enjoy that.” She grinned with an obscenely wide grin that would have rivaled the Joker’s. “What’s your name?”

I looked at her and tried to size her up. “Verdell,” I said.

“Oooh,” she said. “Such a vintage-sounding name. Love it. I’m Destiny.”

I nodded. “Destiny,” I said. “Nice to meet you. This is kind of a weird conversation, so I’m going to go.”

She got right in my face and stabbed me in the shoulder with her finger. “You don’t know the half of it. So if you don’t want any trouble, stay away from me, stay away from Jake. In fact, you should probably just leave.”

A man passed by with a bowl of soup. Without missing a beat she grabbed it, then dumped it on the front of my shirt.

“See ya later,” she said before walking away.

“Hey,” said the man. “I really wanted that.”

“Sorry,” I said and looked around for a way to help. “Stay there.”

I cut ahead in line and went to where there were rolls. I grabbed two and looked around for Soupless Joe. Normally, I would have had qualms about cutting in lines, being impatient, but there was a social contract I felt I should uphold. If Priscilla could sacrifice her life to feed people that couldn’t remember her name, then maybe I could do something nice for a guy who just got jacked out of a bowl of soup and a roll. Unfortunately, the same twelve-year-old kid who I had stopped from stealing my bag the other day spotted me and immediately pointed at my rolls.

“Hey!” he said. “You’re stealing that.”

“Oh?” I asked, bending down to match his line of sight. “Now you’re telling me the right thing to do?”

The kid blanched at my tone. “Why would you tell me not to steal if you were going to do it?”

I took a bite of one of the rolls. “Apparently, everyone’s making up their own rules these days.”

He stared at me. “There’s not going to be enough rolls left,” he said.

“One’s for someone else,” I said. “Seriously.”

He genuinely looked sad, and immediately I felt stabs of guilt.

“Do you want the other?” I asked. “I’m sorry I took a bite.”

The kid took it, turned around and immediately tossed it to the side.

“Now we’re stealing food from children?” Destiny asked, coming up behind me. She was now accompanied by three other women, who stared me down as if I had just spent their retirement fund on nothing but soft shell tacos from Taco Bell.

Destiny put her hand on the kid’s shoulder. “Where’s your mommy?” she asked.

“Get bent!” he yelled, then stormed off.

“You guys,” I said. “I offered him the roll—”

“You took two rolls?” Destiny asked. “You must be really depressed to eat your feelings like that.”

“Ladies, I’m sure there’s been a misunderstanding,” said a voice behind me.

I turned around and saw Jake.

“Thank you,” I said. “I was trying—”

“Remember what we talked about during our morning affirmation meeting?” he asked. “There are three sides to every story. Yours, mine and love.”

The women nodded in agreement. “You’re right,” Destiny said. “Girls, Jake is always right. Let’s never forget that.”

Destiny threw her arms around him. “I’m sorry. You’re so wise.”

He took my hand. “Come with me,” he said.

“Baby,” Destiny protested. “But I miss you!”

He turned and touched her lightly on the shoulder. “Give me a second.”

The girls pouted as I gave them a knowing look and took Jake’s hand. He led me outside and up the stairs to the roof.

“What is this place?” I asked.

“Just a little spot I have to get away from the madness of stuff,” he said. “Really gives you perspective to look out at the horizon.”

I looked out where he pointed. In front of me was the decimated cityscape, covered in smoggy, green haze.

“Well, that’s just depressing,” I said and shook my head.

“No,” he said, putting his hand on my shoulder. “That’s just the thing. If you really try, you can see God’s beauty in everything.”

I squinted, but I still looked at the ruins. “Ehh—maybe if there wasn’t such a bad smell. We really need plumbing back. Are there any plumbers left or were they all prone to the virus?”

He led me to a blanket already laid out. In the center was a basket of dinner rolls.

“This is very chivalrous,” I said.

“I’ve got great plans,” he said. “This is just the beginning—the way things used to be. The way they should be.”

“I don’t remember this much bread,” I said, sitting down and smiling. “But thank you. This is really nice.”

He smiled back. “Remember that time we went to the beach and you tried feeding the seagulls? They didn’t leave us alone.”

“Yeah,” I said. “That’s a good memory.”

That’s not actually how it went. We went to the beach as a fun day out, but he cried most of the day about an illegal cable hookup in his apartment. In hopes of distracting him from his journey into darkness I tried to salvage what was left of the day and tried to attract the birds with pieces of bread. It didn’t work.

“Just like you,” he said. “Always wanting to care for others. I’m going to miss you when you go.”

“No,” I said. “That’s really not what’s happening, but it’s okay.”

“You’re not leaving?” he asked. “Robert’s not taking you, is he?”

“He’d like me to,” I said casually. “But it’s time to work on me. You know the usual things.”

Jake drew back. “You should rethink that. Take whoever will have you and hang on to them like nobody’s business.”

“That working for you?” I asked. “Survival means just being desperate?”

He took my hand again. “This life we live now. It’s changed everything.”

“How insightful of you.”

“There’s bigger things we have to worry about. Let’s make sure people have enough to eat and let our natural human goodness rise to the top.”

“Nope,” I said. “That’s not the world I’ve seen. I watched people turn on each other over a bag of Cheetos and my boyfriend killed by cannibals. You want to save the world, then good luck, but the world doesn’t want to be saved. So there’s no point in trying.”

He withdrew his hands and looked shocked. “Um…” He paused. “Are you okay? You sound like you’ve been through a lot.”

I shook my head, trying to keep up the act. “I’m fine,” I said. “The world is too different for me to react to things the way I normally would.”

He drew back more. “You haven’t changed at all.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

He sighed heavily. “You were always so nonchalant about everything,” he said. “Bad news, good news, being unemotional was your priority.”

My windpipe tightened and there was a sickening stab in my stomach.

“I have emotions,” I said. “I just keep them more protected than other people do.”

Jake shook his head.

“I bring them out for special occasions,” I said. “Kind of like fine china. It’s appreciated more.”

I reached for a roll as Jake got up and turned to face the desolate landscape.

“Destiny was right.” He sighed. “You can’t go home again.”

He walked away and left me there on the blanket. A bird flew overhead, and I stared at it, marveling how I hadn’t seen one in at least a month. I went to take a bite of the roll, but he stopped me.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he asked.

“We’re having a picnic,” I said. “Didn’t you make me a picnic?”

He shook his head, took the roll from me and put it back with the others. “This is for those poor lost souls out there,” he said. “And maybe if they see what human kindness is again, they’ll be better people and stop scaring the shit out of us.”

* * *

When I went back inside, I saw people gathered around a large bulletin board. I fought my way as close as I could to the front and saw that they were taking turns posting things on the massive board—pictures, letters, objects that were of some meaning or other.

“What are we doing?” I asked no one in particular.

“It’s a Tweet Board,” a woman’s voice snapped. “We’re tweeting! We’re having conversation again, sharing memories, looking for loved ones! Get in line if you want to. No cutting.”

“Oh,” I said. “Sorry.”

I turned to see who the voice belonged to, only to be faced with Destiny. She narrowed her eyes at me and then smirked.

I gave her an awkward smile. “Thank you,” I said. “That was very informative.”

She smirked. “Did you want to put something on the board? Something about snaking other girls’ boyfriends?”

“Umm…” I looked around. “I’m really not sure what we’re doing.”

“We’re tweeting. It’s like manual social networking. Because you can’t just put anything up,” she said nastily. “You have to clear it through Debra. You can’t just steal whatever or whoever’s man you want.”

I let my patronizing smile fall and the comment go. “Debra who?”

She pointed over to Debra—my Debra, who’d gone her own way—was now there, trying to kick start a bare bones and extremely limited social media revolution. She beamed next to her large bulletin board and waved index cards at all of us.

“Who wants to submit a tweet for consideration?” she asked as she strolled up and down the line. “And if you like it, you can draw an emoticon or retweet what someone else said.

“I already have one.” Destiny waved her card at me. “Wanna see? It’s about my relationship with Jake.”

I glanced down and saw Jake’s name with lots of hearts drawn around it. I gave her a nice smile.

“Boy,” I said. “Think about how much better your sense of design will be when you don’t communicate like an eighth grader.”

She rolled her eyes and then fought her way to the front.

Debra took another girl’s tweet card. “Ooooh, look!” she said. “Amanda really enjoyed the broth and rolls that were served at lunch today. That’s definitely going up on the board. Hashtag delish!”

“Nice to get back to basics,” someone said behind me. “It’s like the old Twitter, but we’re having an actual conversation face-to-face.”

Debra spotted me from the back of the line and rushed over to see me.

“You!” She gave me a huge smile and grabbed me into a huge hug. I winced at the obscene amount of perfume that covered days of body odor. “I didn’t know you were here.”

“Nice to see you too, Debra.”

She beamed. “I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve started a new career!”

She squeezed my hands, and I smiled back.

“That’s really great,” I said. “Although I’m confused at how one starts a career in an end-times job market.”

She shook her head, lips pursed. “I’m a lifestyle consultant.”

“Nope,” I said. “That wasn’t a job when things were normal and it’s not a job now.”

She ignored my comment. “Please enjoy the Twitter board. Everyone else is.”

I nodded. “Can’t wait for that.”

“Where’s Robert?” she asked. “In a meeting I suppose.”

We both laughed with fake volume at her joke.

I shrugged. “Possibly around here,” I said. “He got engaged, and they’re leaving for the north. Or something.”

Debra suddenly became a tad more reserved. “Engaged?”

“Please.” I folded my arms. “It’ll never last.”

“Engaged?” she said. “Wasn’t he already married?”

“Maybe.” I nodded again, slowly remembering. “I think her name was Sarah or Chantal or something.”

“How does this happen?” she asked. “I just saw him a few days ago.”

“Lots of conventions got thrown out while you were gone,” I said. “Like how cannibals are a thing.

Debra put her hands over her ears. “Why do you talk about that? Stop bringing that up. It’s upsetting!”

“Sorry.”

“It’s okay.” She put an arm around me and led me out of the group. “We should tweet about it.” She started to scribble. “We’ve never been close,” she said. “Maybe you’d like to tweet it?” She offered me a card. I smiled and took it. “Sometimes people start flame wars. We don’t support that, but we do encourage getting things to trend. Like ‘Cannibal.’”

“Let me think on it.”

“You were always so witty.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Although I never got into the whole social network thing.”

“You know what your problem is?” she asked and cocked her head to the side. “You’re just not willing to see the bigger picture. Make a people connection. This is nice for others, and you’re too worried about being in your own comfort zone.”

“Not the first time I’ve heard that,” I said. “At least not today.”

“Maybe if you thought of someone other than yourself,” she said in a low condescending tone. “I heard you beat up a little boy for his medicine.” She raised her eyebrow.

“I think of other people,” I said. “So many times at work, I’ve gotten you out jams. And that kid is a friggin’ liar!”

“Where’s Robert now?”

I thought for a moment, scanned the crowd.

“You don’t know, do you?” she asked.

“That’s hardly my fault,” I said. “He’s got a fiancée to worry about. He was going to leave. Maybe he’s already gone.”

“That’s it,” she said. “You’re banned from Twitter, but I can’t guarantee that people won’t talk about you.”

She turned away and walked into the crowd. “Attention, everyone, today’s trending topic is Verdell’s Useless.”

“Alternate hashtag is ‘Oh come on!’” I said. I looked around, satisfied in my joke and hoping someone else was too. Instead it was ignored.

BOOK: The Girl's Guide to the Apocalypse
4.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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