The large wooden door creaked open to reveal a spacious, well-furnished living room. James slid in behind me, carefully closing the door behind us. He put his finger up to his lip, motioning for me to quietly assist him in checking the house.
“I didn’t see anyone when I peeked in the windows,” He whispered, “But just to be safe.”
He split off, heading to the back of the house while I checked the boot closet and kitchen attached to the living room. After opening all the spaces that I thought a person could fit into, I was confident that we were alone. I returned to where James and I had split up to wait for him.
After a few seconds, I decided my time would be better spent helping him search, so I set off, tiptoeing towards the back of the cabin. I reached for the knob of the door at the end of the hallways, but it began to turn before I could touch it. This caused me to jump back in surprise as I suppressed the urge to scream. James appeared, grinning at me as he spoke in a normal voice, “All clear!”
“So, where are we?” I asked, taking my place at his side as we stepped on the creaking floorboards in the hallway.
“We are at a buddy’s house,” He explained, motioning to a few photographs hanging on the wall, “About 20 miles from the compound we left Silen, or what is left of him, at.”
I stepped forward, studying the pictures as I traced the wooden frames that held them. In it there were a man and a woman preserved in time, not much older than James and I. They looked happy together, all the pictures revealed toothy grins and personal displays of affection.
“They look happy!” I said cheerfully.
“They were in love.” James affirmed, taking a step towards me to look at the pictures himself.
“That was his fiance,” James added as stood behind me, “I heard a lot about her.”
“Was?” I asked sadly, “Did they break up?”
James was quiet for a moment and a spun around after several seconds of silence to check if he was still there.
He stood with his head hung and his body crumpled to the floor. I could see through his strands of hair that he was crying.
“Are you okay?” My voice was filled with concern as I knelt in front of him, gently pushed his hair back and held his head up.
“He’s dead.” James’ voice was a low rumble.
“I’m so sorry.” I offered, looking away to give him some emotional privacy.
He was silently weeping and I wondered what the best course of action would be. I didn’t want to interrupt his grieving, but it hurt me to see him so wounded.
“When I worked as a medic, they were always careful not to assign me to people I knew. But there was one time…” James swallowed hard, “We were short-staffed because of a compound transfer that took a lot of people in the medical bay.”
I stood wide-eyed, nodding sympathetically as he spoke.
“They brought me a patient with severe, unidentifiable wounds all over his body, but they kept a sheet over his face with an oxygen mask strapped to him so I couldn’t tell who it was. I operated for twenty minutes trying to stop the bleeding, but it was no use.” Tears streamed down as he choked on them, “I pulled back the sheet and saw his pale, lifeless face staring back at me.”
“I’m sorry, James.” I whispered, braving a moment of touching his shoulder to comfort him.
“There are a lot of people I haven’t been able to save.” He looked at me solemnly, “But he is the last person I will ever lose.”
The backpack he carried began to slip as his shoulder heaved and I took it from him and placed it next to us on the floor.
He sniffled as he stood up, mumbling that we should go back to the living room.
I trailed behind him, backpack in hand as we walked to the front door to deposit the backpack and our shoes. As I pulled my shoes off, I let out a yelp. We had hiked through some land with sandburs, and I had just managed to find one lodged in my ankle from the lace of my shoe.
James knelt down and accessed the situation before pointing out a decoration on the wall. I followed his direction to look.
“Ouch!” I yelled, realizing he’d been distracting me so he could pull it out.
“Sorry Princess.” He gave me a sheepish smile as he held up the sandbur, “I got it out though!”
He jumped to his feet, excited to explore the cabin a bit.
“I’m hungry,” He told me, “What’s for dinner?”
I laughed, chiding him, “You think I know how to cook?”
“I hope so,” He joked, “Otherwise we are going to starve.”
“Well….” I teased him as we walked to the kitchen, “I guess I know how to cook a few things.”
“Oh?” He raised an eyebrow with a flirtatious smirk, “Macaroni and cheese doesn’t count.”
“Hey!” I acted offended, “Macaroni and cheese is awesome.”
We laughed together as we rounded the corner of the kitchen.
The kitchen had black marble countertops, white cabinets, and stainless steel appliances. A wooden bowl filled with snacks sat on the counter next to a knife block. We quickly gravitated towards it and found packages of dried fruit, trail mixes, beef jerky, and candy.
A bright red wrapper caught my eye and I lifted up a package of Skittles, remembering that my mom had cried when they were discontinued, “How’d they get this?”
“He had connections and loved to spoil her,” James explained, “She had a sweet tooth.”
I put the package back and moved to the pantry to see if I could find some real food to cook us.
“Hey look!” I said with a beaming grin as I turned around, pulling a box out of the cabinet, “I know what we are having for dinner!”
James hit his face with his palm as I held up a blue and yellow box of a generic store brand macaroni and cheese. Despite his earlier protests, he pulled out the pots and pans from above the stove, enabling me in fixing us food fit for a kindergartener for dinner.
I was excited to have an actual meal with someone who wasn’t one of the clique girls from the compound. James pulled out two turquoise dishes and silverware and placed them on the kitchen table. He meticulously arranged the silverware around the dishes and retrieved cups from the cabinet before place them in what appeared to be a dedicated spot next to the dishes.
“What are you doing?” I asked as I stirred the macaroni noodles.
“Setting the table.” He answered distractedly.
“How do you know how to do that?” I dropped the spoon onto a colorful fish-shaped holder before joining him to look at what he’d done.
“A book I read once.” He turned red as my jaw dropped.
“One,” I said with surprise,”I didn’t know you liked to read and two, where did you find a book on this?”
We were rarely allowed to have books, even our school books stayed in the makeshift classrooms when class was over. We had to study during our allotted hours and pray that we would retain all the information for tests. Our superiors claimed that books were dangerous and as a result, restricted our access to most books and limited our time to read the ones that were available.
“It was a tiny, pocket-sized book on manners and etiquette, “James disclosed,”It fell out of a patient’s pocket in the medical bay.”
“Wow!” I spoke with envy, “What else did it say?”
“I didn’t get to read much,” He admitted, “It was taken from me pretty quickly when I was caught reading it in my room.”
I ripped open the package of cheese flavored powder and waited for James to finish draining the noodles before pouring it in.
“Maybe some day we will get to read any book we want together!” I said hopefully as I stirred the pasta for all I was worth.
James laughed as he watched me shake back and forth trying to mix everything.
“Is that your idea of a date?” He said in a husky voice, “Reading a book together?”
“Maybe it is.” I bit my lip as he turned around and walked to the table with the pan full of macaroni and cheese, “What of it?”
The light in his eyes danced as he smiled, “Maybe it is mine too.”
I blushed as I walked to the opposite side of the wooden table from him and sat down in the chair he’d pulled out for me. He put food on both of our plates before sitting down himself.
“Only for you,” He winked at me, “Would I eat macaroni and cheese.”
“I hope you are proud of yourself.” James added.
“Oh, I am.” I grinned as he took the first bite and tried to pretend to gag.
“You like it.” I teased him, taking a bite myself.
“I like something in here,” He joked, “But macaroni is not on the top of the list.”
Part 1: The Words Unspoken, Part 2: Secrets, Part 3: Embers, Part 4: Titanium, Part 5: Scar, Part 6: Capture, Part 7: In Your Eyes, Part 8: Reflection, Part 9: Running, Part 10: The Cabin, Part 12: An Open Door and a Squeaky Floor, Part 13: Interruptions, Part 14: Origin
Love what you see? Join the community!
Sign up for the Rebecca Lemke Newsletter to be in the loop about important announcements and community updates!
Thank you for subscribing!
Something went wrong.