Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Twenty Third Entry: Teasing the Piranha

November 17th

Alex has made no headway on his idea about electing a new leader for Mallville, but lets face it, that wasn't legit anyway. He just wanted to use the idea that Kaur would not allow an election to be a shit-disturber. Kaur has not made any sort of public response yet, but I'm sure he will soon; he pretty much has to.

It went down like this; Alex led a small group of supports into Hashmir's office. The group consisted of me, Gerry, Maria, Sharon, Tara, Benny, and Rosa. We marched straight past his assistant, a short little Asian woman named Holly Tanaka who we used to see following him around in her crisp little uniform with a clipboard like an obedient puppy.

“You can't go in there!” Holly yelled at us, rising from her desk. She didn't pull her sidearm, she didn't need to, there were two other security officers flanking the door to the office, both were armed with what I am pretty sure from my years of playing video games were MP5s, although I couldn't tell you what variation they were.

Interesting note, it was not Hashmir's Head of Security office that we were entering; Hashmir has taken the old president's office for his own. Dennis Henry was the president of operations and the head of the council, but his name was already gone from the door, and had been replaced with Kaur's

Alex did not let the gun-toting officers even slow him down, he opened the unlocked office door, and led us all right past them without even the slightest thought that they might actually shoot us. I was not so sure, but he was right.

The president's office puts Alex's to shame. It's almost three times the size, and actually has windows. It's located right over Mallville's main entrance, the one at the center of the shopping area, and it looks out over the public parking lot. I have to say that this is a bit of a dumbshit move on Kaur's part, as he would be easy pickings for a sniper, but then Kaur does seem to excel more in deviousness than he does in actual smarts.

Kaur's new desk also put Alex's to shame; it's this big heavy thing made out of dark wood as opposed to the flatpack Ikea-style desk that Alex uses. In front of the desk were three chairs for visitors, made from the same dark wood with burgundy cushions on the seats and seat backs.

There was a big couch along one wall, upholstered in dark brown fabric, with bookshelves on either side. I noticed that any actual trace of Mr. Henry was gone, as the bookshelves now held framed pictures of Hashmir with and without his security officers, as well as one of him with the governor. There were also various certificates, the kind that businesses give to employees instead of any real recognition for the work they do.

Across from the desk, next to the door to the outer office, was a big plasma screen television mounted on the wall with a small cabinet under it, no doubt containing at least a DVD player. There were a couple of doors on one wall too; I'm guessing a closet is behind one of them, and probably a bathroom behind the other.

“Hello there, Mister Sigler, I was not aware we had an appointment today,” was how Kaur greeted us, looking away from the flat screen monitor on the top of the desk.

“You know, we don't, but this seemed like such a gosh-darned good idea that I had to share it with you,” replied Alex with much fake cheer.

“I have a few free minutes,” said Kaur, in equally fake cheer. He clicked his mouse a couple of time, and then reached over to turn off the computer monitor, “Let us hear this great idea of yours.”

“Thank you, Mister Kaur,” replied Alex, “So it's been a couple of weeks since you have officially installed yourself as our leader-”

“I was the obvious choice,” interrupted Hashmir.

“Well now you see, that's the thing. Not everyone thinks you are the obvious choice. In fact there seems to be a large number of people who do not think there actually is an obvious choice. I should think that so much uncertainty about you being our leader would make eventual dissension a possibility.”

“It seems to have already made it self known once,” replied Kaur.

“No doubt. Which is why I have an idea on how to make sure the leader of Mallville is not a matter in dispute, but is someone who everyone can acknowledge is the leader the people want.

“And let me guess, that leader would be you?”

“Not necessarily.”

“Stop wasting my time, Sigler, get to the point,” Kaur's cheerful facade dropped to reveal some naked annoyance.

“Well, this is still America, and the way we decide our leaders around here is by open and free elections. We should hold a vote and let the citizens of Mallville pick our new leader.”

“I suppose you would run?” asked Hashmir.

“ I would, but I am sure others will too.”

“So with the world being overrun by flesh-eating corpses, you want us to put aside all work towards surviving this to start campaigning for votes? And who would run things while we are all fighting it out, who would be making decisions?”

“You would, of course. You would be our interim leader until the election, and then, provided you win the election, you would truly be the leader of the people,” explained Alex, already knowing what answer he would get.

“You are absolutely insane, do you know that, Sigler?” asked Kaur.

“I've been told that before, but I do think this is one of my saner ideas.”

“I can only imagine what other ideas you are comparing it to. There will be no election; we cannot waste our time bickering with each other and making campaign promises that cannot be kept. You yourself should be too busy for this nonsense, what with supplies in Covenant itself becoming scarce.”

“Oh yeah!” exclaimed Alex, as if reminded of something, “ I wanted to talk to you about those little secret runs you're doing with your little soldiers? Scavenging is really my department, and if you're going to be doing your own little separate runs, I think you should be doing them through me. What if I send a group to someplace that your security forces have already scavenged? Then I will have wasted time, fuel, and put lives at risk for nothing.”

“That is not a discussion that I am prepared to have in front of an audience.”

“Speaking of scavenging,” It was clear that Kaur was starting to tire of Alex's antics, so I decided now would be a good time to assert myself, ”You know, Sharon, Maria, Gerry, and I would like permission to transfer back to Scavenging. I think any punishment you wished to inflict for our insubordination before has been more than appropriate by now.”

“We've learned our lesson,” contributed Gerry, “ We will be good little boys and girls from now on.”

“While I am glad to see that you have come to understand why you need to follow orders, I am sure that Mr. Montoya cannot spare you, especially not with the recent losses that the clean up division has suffered.”

“No,it's fine actually,” replied Benny, “There has been a drastic drop in the number of undead as it has gotten colder, and it's easy enough to recruit new people if the need arises. Plus I think that their skills are better suited for scavenging anyway, and as you said, Hashmir, supplies are becoming harder to find, so the more people looking the better off we all are.”

“Fine, whatever. Work it out with Sigler,” exclaimed Kaur.

“So We've been asking around, and there seems to be a large segment of people who like the idea of an election,” Alex started back in.

“A lot of those same people do take issue with the legitimacy of your role as our leader,” added Tara.

“There will be no election!” Hashmir yelled, pounding a fist on his new desk, “Anyone who wants to question my role as leader will be dealt with! Anyone who does not like the way I lead can get the hell out. All of my decisions will be based on what is best to keep Mallville strong, and anyone,” he looked directly at Alex when he said this, “and I do mean anyone, who interferes with that will be dealt with appropriately.”

“What if the people really want an election though?” asked Sharon.

“The general populous of this community don't know what they really want.”

“But you do?” I asked.

“Of course. They want to feel safe and secure. They want somewhere to sleep and food to eat. Anything beyond that is a bonus,” explained Hashmir.

“What about freedom? This is still America,” asked Benny.

“This stopped being America when the government lost control, not that the freedom so many of us took for granted was real, or even deserved, in the first place. We were a decadent society of fat lazy whiners, watching our television, eating our McDonalds, only bothering to notice the problems of the world around us when it interrupted American Idol, or meant we had to pay more for gasoline to put in our big road behemoths,” Kaur was practically frothing at the mouth at this point; I think he must have been running this through his head for quite some time, just waiting for the right time to bust it out.

“I think you're selling Americans a little short,” said Alex, taken aback by the sheer ferocity of Kaur's rant.

“Like hell I am! Look at them!” he exclaimed, motioning first to me, and then to Sharon, “They were the future of this country; people with no motivation, no drive, sitting around eating junk food, playing video games, and watching damned cartoons, and it was our generation that let it happen. We allowed this country to become so weak that when something happened we were completely unable to respond to it.”

“Excuse me for not memorizing 'The Zombie Survival Guide',” spat Sharon.

Alex recovered his composure again by this point, “So are you saying that we should tell people there is to be no election?”

“You are to tell people nothing. You are to do your jobs as you are instructed by me. There will be no election, and anyone who has a problem with that may leave and try their luck out there, “Hashmir motioned to the window behind him, “ Now you will get out of my office, and if you ever come in here again without my permission I will have my officers shoot you! Do you understand?”

“Well yeah, if that's the way you feel,” started Alex, “but-”

“Get out of my office!” bellowed Kaur, pounding a fist on the desk and overturning a cup of ballpoint pens, Some of the pens rolled off the desk to land softly on the office's beige carpeting.

“Well, I can tell where I'm not wanted,” said Alex in mock indignation, but with a grin on his face, “Let's go!”

Alex led us all out of the office, past the scowling faces of the two MP5-toting security officers and a very pissed looking Holly Tanaka, and out into the hallway.

“Well that went well,” commented Gerry once we were a little ways down the hall.

“It really did though,” said Alex.

“How's that?” asked Maria, “He threatened to have us shot.”

“The way I see it, there were two possible ways that could have gone that would be in our favor,” explained Alex as we walked, “The first would be if he had actually agreed to an election, in which case he would almost certainly lose as long as he did not have his opponents killed.”

“And the second?” I asked.

“The second would be for him to flip out, start making threats, and generally act like the homicidal motherfucker that he is.”

“I fail to see how that is a positive outcome, man,” said Benny.

“It's simple. Rather than let us go around talking crap about him refusing fair elections, he's going to almost certainly make some announcement himself. Once he does that, it's just a matter of figuring out who's against him, and getting them to side with us.”

“It sounds like you're planning a coup,” commented Rosa.

“Coup is such a nasty term,” said Alex, still grinning, “I prefer the concept of undermining his leadership until he has no choice but to step down. Besides, he has most of the guns, a coup would probably be short and foolish, at least right now.

“So what do we do now?” I asked.

“Well, you guys can go clean out your lockers since you are not my problem anymore,” said Benny in a not unfriendly way.

“And after that, we wait and see what Kaur does. If he reacts the way I think he will, it should at least be a laugh,”

“Are you sure that teasing the piranha is a good idea?” asked Gerry

“No, not really, but I don't have any better ideas that don't result in us getting shot, do you?”

“No, but I'm not convinced that this is not going to result in our getting shot.”

“Better dead than red.” quipped Alex. He was in front of me, but I'm pretty sure there was a grin on his face when he said it.

“What?” asked Gerry.

“Are you implying that Hashmir is a communist?” asked Maria.

“No,” answered Alex, ”I'm only saying that it may be better to risk our lives for what is right than to cower under the blankets hoping the bogeyman will go away. I don't want to die, and I certainly don't want any of you to get hurt, but we just sit by and let him be in charge that is what will happen. He's a sick man-”

“And you are the picture of mental health?” I asked,

“By comparison, yes. He will get us all killed. He may look at everyone here as helpless sheep, but they're not. Even with the end of the world going on around us, Americans still want to be free. If he keeps cutting that freedom away things will come to a head with or without my help.”

“But you intend to help it along anyway?” asked Rosa.

“I intend to make sure that people like us at least have a fighting chance. If we do not act, then what'll happen will be like to the villagers attacking Frankenstein's castle with clubs and pitchforks; only this time the doctor has an army of machine gun-toting soldiers protecting him. I would like this to be peaceful, but if it can't be, then we need to have a realistic possibility of victory.”

“You may be just as dangerous as he is,” I said.

Alex stopped, turned, and winked at me, “Maybe, but I'm likable.”

“That's arguable,” I replied

After arriving back at Alex's office, we all went our separate ways. It wasn't a bad day overall, not only did we not get shot, but Tara and Sharon managed to not attack each other.

I went back to Tara's apartment with her, and you know what? It's starting to smell up there. It smells like something died in the hallway outside her apartment. Of course my worry is that a zed is up there somewhere; Tara agreed that she has been worried about it too, so we went door to door checking on everyone. Surprisingly, we caught everyone in, and while they all admitted to smelling it, they all stated that they did not know the source either.

We'll have to bring it up with Alex, I would say that this is a Facilities issue, at least until we actually figure out what it is. Once we find out what is causing the smell, it may very well become Benny's problem, which makes me glad to be a Scav again. Until the smell starts getting into Tara's apartment I'm not going to stress over it too much I guess.

Tara and I have managed to come across a bunch of decks of cards, and we're going to try and get the Rogers and the Trevors into an epic game of Spite and Malice. I'm actually looking forward to this.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Twenty Second Entry: Who Died and Made You Boss? Oh!

November 1st

At the very center of the first floor of the shopping area is is this big rotunda area with a huge fountain. The floors above it are open in the same circular shape with walkways around it. If you stand at the fountain you can look up through the other two shopping levels, up through the three residential levels there, and to a big circular skylight in the mall's roof.

This spot is one of the few places in the entire community where you can see the sky from the ground floor. It's not only the centerpiece of the shopping area, but a sort of centerpiece of Mallville itself. Back when Mallville held its grand opening, a stage was set up over the fountain, and the press conference was held there.

Rumor spread around the 'Ville today that the stage was being put up, and that a big announcement would be made this afternoon. After the events of yesterday this was hardly surprising.

I only slept for a few hours last night, and was up before Sharon this morning. I got dressed and went down to the site of yesterday's attack., but found the doors blocked by armed security officers. These would be the same doors I found myself locked on the opposite side of yesterday.

“I'm sorry, sir,” said the man with the shaved head who was guarding the door, ”This are is locked down. You'll have to go around another way,” he adjusted the M-16 in his hands in a way meant to seem both casual and threatening at the same time.

“What is being done about the hole?” I asked.

“It's being attended to.; Commander Kaur will make an announcement later.”

Commander Kaur? Did he get a promotion? He was just Security Chief Kaur last time I went by his office, which has been a while actually. I generally try to avoid him at all costs nowadays... this might be easier if I stopped hanging out in Alex's office which is located right there in administration.

I was able to get upstairs to Alex's office, only the ground floor was sealed off. He confirmed for me that there would be an announcement in the afternoon about yesterday's attack, but that he was not in on it, none of the department heads were, not Benny, or Mike, or Rosa, or anyone. It seemed that it was all between Hashmir and the council, but that is getting a little ahead of myself.

The meeting was at two in the afternoon. I watched from the railing on the shopping level's second floor, looking down on the fountain with the stage covering about two thirds of it in the center, leaving just a strip of visible water at the front and back of the stage. Alex made sure that Tara, Sharon, and I were able to get through with him.

A huge crowd had gathered; certainly nowhere near everyone in Mallville, but as many people as could fit into the rotunda on each floor. I noticed that, save for a single microphone stand, the stage was empty. No chairs for anyone, not for the department heads like Alex or even the council members themselves.

“Why aren't you on the stage?” asked Sharon as we waited for the speech to start.

“Same reason I wasn't in on the planning of this little presentation, I guess,” ?Alex explained, “I talked to Benny and Mike, and they were not asked to be on stage either. Let me tell you, they're just as pissed off about it as I am.”

From our vantage point we could see a path opening in the crowd behind the stage (the fountain is circular after all. So the front is only designated by where the microphone is). I could see a clump of white shirts moving through the crowd; I could also see people being forcefully shoved out of the way.

The gap in the crowd moved up to stage right, and formed a double line. The uniformed Mallville Security officers marched on stage with Hashmir Kaur at their center . There were a total of nine officers aside from Hashmir, each carrying an M-16. Hashmir himself had a large handgun, which Alex identified for us as a Desert Eagle, holstered on his waist. All of the officers wore riot helmets with the face shields down, even Hashmir had one (but he still stood out from the other officers due to his being a few inches shorter than all of them, and a bit wider through the middle), making him look more like Darth Vader than ever.

Five of the officers formed a line behind Kaur, looking menacingly out at the crowd gathered behind him. The other four flanked him, two on each side, giving that same look to the people at the front of the stage. To be fair, I don't know for sure that they were trying to look menacing, but I'm not sure you can look like anything else while wearing a riot helmet and holding an automatic rifle.

“Citizens of Mallville!” Kaur began, his voice booming through the shopping area's public address system so that even those at the back of the crowd would be able to hear him perfectly, “I come to you today with news.”

“As you all know by now, Mallville was attacked yesterday. A large number of the undead breached the building, and some of our fellow community members were lost. As I speak, that breach is now being sealed, but that does not mean our enemy will not try to attack us again. As long as there are living people who would, out of jealousy at what we have, try and destroy us, it cannot be said that we are safe.”

“To further drive home the hazards that we find ourselves facing, I must now relay to you something that has broken my very heart,” Hashmir paused here, as if he were trying to regain his composure, “The Mallville council... our leaders... perished in yesterday's attack.”

I looked over at Alex in time to see his eyes widen as a wave of gasps swept over the crowd.

“I thought you said-” I started to ask.

“Bullshit!” yelled Alex as loud as he could.

Hashmir looked up at us, as did most of the crowd, and the four security officers facing our direction. They did not exactly point their rifles at us, but they were certainly in our general direction now.

“I beg your pardon, Mister Sigler?” replied Hashmir

“I said that is bullshit!” Alex yelled again,” I was there yesterday, you tried to lock me in with the fucking zombies, remember?”

“My men locked the doors on both ends of that section to prevent further incursion by the undead forces while a plan of attack was formulated. It is all in the situation report which I can forward a copy of to you.”

“Then I guess it's too bad that they forgot to secure the stairwell, huh?” bellowed Alex.

“It is also too bad that you led the enemy to the stairs. Your cowardly attempt to save yourself led them right to the council.”

“More bullshit! I tried to check on the council during the attack, and found the door both locked and unguarded!”

More gasps from the crowd.

“Have you stopped to think that the council was not in chambers at the time? That is why the door was not guarded.”

“No, I just figured it was another sign of how bad you are at your job,” Alex retorted, “I want to see the bodies!”

“The bodies have been destroyed to prevent them from spreading the infection further, the council would not have wanted to rise again, ” replied Kaur, “And I suggest that if you are finding my performance as a leader to be not to your liking that you leave.”

I really didn't like where this was going. I don't know if Alex realized what Hashmir was hinting at or not, but he bit.

“Leader? You're only the fucking head of security, you know?”

“You bring me to my next announcement, Alex, thank you,” Kaur stopped focusing on Alex, and looked back out over the crowd in front of him, “Since the council had chosen to only deal with me over the past weeks, and only I am familiar with what they were planning-”

“Oh God, no,” muttered Tara under her breath.

“I have decided that it would only be right that I take charge and continue the work that they were doing. With your faith and support I know that I can keep Mallville a strong and secure place.”

I would not have thought it possible, but Alex's eyes got even wider than before; he was struck by a realization, “You killed them!” he yelled.

Kaur looked up at us again, “I suggest you watch yourself, Alex.”

“You fucking killed them! How long ago?”

“I will not stand for that sort of accusation. It does us no good as a community to spread lies and rumors.”

“It does us no good to murder our leaders!” howled Alex, “And what about the bikers? Why was your name on the side of that truck yesterday? What did you do?”

“You are getting very close to treason, Mister Sigler.”

“Treason? Are you kidding?”

“You are either with us, or against us.”

“Us?” yelled Alex, “What 'us'? There's you and your pseudo-soldiers, and that's it. No one is going to actually follow you. You are a murderer! You are the reason the Hell's Postmen have been attacking us. You probably set up the attack yesterday!”

“Alex, “ Hashmir began, “I understand that, like many of your fellow citizens, you are upset and shocked by the information that I have shared with you today. Because of that, and because of your record of service to Mallville. I am willing to overlook what you have accused me of thus far. However, if you value your freedom, I suggest you leave now, and cool off,”

“For too long people like Alex have been allowed to spread lies and rumors around our community,” says Kaur, talking to the assembled group again instead of Alex directly, “For the sake of strength and unity this can no longer be tolerated. If you are so dissatisfied you may leave, but know that you will not be allowed to return. If you choose to stay and spread your lies, you will be dealt with,” He looked directly at us again as he spoke the last sentence.

“You fat motherfucker!” Alex yelled, but before he could continue, one of Sharon's slim pale hands clapped over his mouth.

“Let's get him out of here,” said Sharon.

“Good idea,” replied Tara,” before he gets us shot.”

The three of of grabbed Alex, and started to drag him back. The crowd of people opened to let us pass as Alex squirmed, kicked, and struggled to get free from us. I had gotten a hold of his left arm, and as we dragged him away farther back into the second floor of the shopping area he managed to elbow me right in the face.

I could feel the blood starting to run down my face from my nose, but I did not let Alex go. Tara was right, if we allowed him to continue the way he was, Kaur would have us all killed. I didn't even bother to try and stop the bleeding at this point; if I bled on him, it served him right.

He fought us all the way to the elevator. Once we got him in there some of the fight seemed to go out of him, but certainly not the anger. He tried pacing during the short elevator ride, but that is not an easy task in an elevator with four people in it, so he punched the wall instead. The sound of his fist impacting with the wall in the elevator car was enough to hurt my ears.

We did not head for Alex's office, since he was possibly even more likely to get us all shot mouthing off in administration as he was at Kaur's speech. Instead we headed for my apartment where Alex proceeded to kick over my coffee table, sending the small stack of mangas sitting on it flying, and then pace back and forth in what passes for my living room.

“What the fuck, man?” I asked him.

Alex wheeled around on me, “Don't fucking start with me,” he yelled, “That fat Paki fuck just pulled a coup, don't you realize that? If the council is dead, he is behind it. He's probably behind the attack yesterday as well.”

“Alex, honey,” Sharon said trying to sound soothing.

“I don't think Hashmir is Pakistani,” offered Tara, “and I don't think he would have the Postmen use his name specifically during the attack. There would be no logical reason to single him out unless he did something to them, and most people did not see the truck before he did whatever he did to get rid of it during the night.”

“It doesn't matter if he's a fucking Martian, he's a murderer, and he needs to be stopped.”

“And I suppose you're going to be the one to stop him?” asked Tara.

“If I have to, yes. We can't let him take over, he's dangerous.”

At this point Sharon slipped away into the bedroom.

“What can we do? Even if we were some group of commando assassins, he's got himself pretty well guarded.”

“Then I guess we need a plan,” replied Alex, a sinister note in his voice.

“I think what you really need is a drink,” added Sharon as she came back out of the bedroom with a bottle of Baileys in her right hand.

“Irish cream?” asked Alex, spotting the black bottle in her hand.

“It's what you gave me, take it or leave it.”

“I've got a bottle of Jack at my place,” offered Tara.

Sharon glared at Tara as the calm that she had been displaying over the last few minutes broke, the truce that allowed us all to get Alex out of the shopping area without him being shot now seemingly forgotten. The tensions of recent weeks suddenly rearing up again. Isn't it funny how we are able to work as a team when our lives are in immediate danger, and not so much when they aren't?

“So why don't you go get it, and take your time about it,” said Sharon, her voice dripping with venom, “and you can take your boyfriend with you while you're at it.”

My heart, having just slowed from the excitement of a few minutes earlier, started to beat faster again, but I fought down the urge to jump into a fight with someone who I still consider to be my best friend.

“She's just trying to be helpful,” I said in, what I think at least, was an even voice.

“Is there a problem between you guys?” asked Alex, seemingly oblivious to the love triangle (I guess it would actually be a square, wouldn't it?) that he has been one corner of for the last couple of months. I don't know if this was an act or not, but at least he was no longer plotting to assassinate Hashmir.

“She can go be helpful somewhere else. I can take care of Alex,” replied Sharon, ignoring Alex completely.

“Don't talk to him like that!” snapped Tara.

“I've known him most of my life, grandma, and I'll talk to him the way I want,”

Alex seemed to have completely forgotten about his thoughts of Mallville's liberation now, but I still don't see how he could have not known what was going on around him like this, “Okay, what's happening here?” his question was directed at me.

“Grandma?” replied Tara indignantly, “Who are you calling grandma, you little cow?”

“A catfight, I think,” I answered Alex.

“We can't all be members of the Itty Bitty Titty Club!” spat Sharon.

I think my apartment actually got about ten degrees cooler, and all of that was coming directly from Tara. Rather than laughing at Sharon's comment (which was funny, even if it's not really true), I grabbed Tara's arm before she could respond. I think one more round of insults would have resulted in fists flying rather than words.

“Why don't we go down to the store, and give them some time to talk,” I suggested.

“Alex is right, we need to do something about this. We just need to plan,” Tara said to me.

“Yes, but I do not think any of us are thinking exactly straight right now.”

“Some people never think straight. That's why they end up in the circumstances they end up in,” Sharon directed that one at me.

I bit at that one, “Oh that's real subtle! Why don't you-”

“You're right,” interrupted Alex, taking a deep breathe before continuing, “We need to think this through, and we need to make sure wherever we talk is secure as well.”

That snapped the ladies out of it, “So we do what then?” asked Sharon.

“We go about our business like normal. Hopefully I don't get in too much trouble for my outburst, and then we can start talking to people we trust. Maybe we can organize and election.”

“An election?” asked Tara, “Who are you, and what have you done with Alex?”

Alex tipped her a wink, “Yes, an election is the fair way to go about this. If Kaur wants to face something other than resistance, “he winked again at that, “he'll need to be elected as our leader. It's simple really.”

“But-” started Sharon.

“No, not right now. There seems to be some tension between the three of you, and you all need to calm down before we can talk about things. Why don't we split up for now, and all try and calm down. Maybe go out and talk to other people; maybe I”m just overreacting.”

I think I understood what he was getting at here, “Good idea. Let's go down to the store and see what Chris and Molly and the others think,” I suggested to Tara.

Tara put her arm around me, and gave me one of those passionless kisses like in the stairwell, “Good idea, sweety, let's go.”

As I walked Tara past where Sharon was standing, still clutching the bottle or irish cream in her hand, I heard Sharon say something under her breath that sounded very much like “Bitch!”

I then heard Tara reply with a barely audible “Skunt!”, and then we were out the door and into the hallway.

Tara pushed me and took the lead down the hallway towards the elevator, “Why do you let her talk to you like that?” she asked.

“She doesn't mean it; she's just under a lot of strain, we all are.”

“It's her fault things are the way they are.”

“You mean she caused the dead to rise from the grave?” I asked, “ I've been wondering who to blame for that.”

Now it was Tara's turn to round on me, “It's not funny!” She looked me in the eyes with a stare that could could freeze vodka, ”You waited for her to notice you for years! She could have had you.”

“And then you could have Alex.”

“I'm not talking about me,” she replied, the ice in her voice suddenly melting into dreary rainwater, “ I'm talking about you. You're not happy with me, I don't know that this is working.”

“So you're dumping me?”

“No....” she just let her answer hang there as we stood in the hallway.

I didn't say anything. I felt like running away and crying, if I am going to be perfectly honest, but I didn't. I knew this would come eventually, but it didn't.

Tara's eyes went a little watery, and when she spoke her voice sounded a little choked, “ I just don't want you to be unhappy.”

“So you think dumping me is going to make me happy?” I asked cautiously.

“I'm not dumping you, I'm... I'm giving you a way out.”

“I don't want a way out. I'm happy with you.”

A tear ran out of her eye, “Are you sure?”

I took her in my arms and hugged her, “Yes, I'm sure. Are you sure you're happy with me? That you wouldn't rather just wait and see what happens with Alex?”

“Yes,” she said softly into my shoulder, “I didn't think I would come to feel this way about you. I really thought that we would just be a relationship of convenience; just something to keep us both from being lonely.”

“So when you said you loved me...?”

Tara pulled back to look me in the eyes, “I meant it, really, but I didn't think I would come to love you more, but then you were acting so odd last night, I thought maybe you had changed your mind about me.”

Ah, here it goes. Yes, I was a bit stand-offish yesterday because the whole ice-kiss thing kind of bothered me. I had hoped she would just chalk that up to stress from our nearly dying, but apparently not. Time to reassure.

“Yesterday was kind of stressful, hon,” I explained.

Then it occurred to me; maybe this is a result of that stress more than anything else. Maybe this is all really starting to get to her, and she just hides it well.

“I know. I'm sure I'm just overreacting,” Tara took a deep breathe to regain her composure, wiped away the tear, and spoke again, “I shouldn't press you. If you tell me that you're happy, then I should believe you.”

And that's when I realized that Tara's actually pretty messed up inside. I know, the fact that an attractive woman is in love with me should have been a hint. I'm sure anyone reading this would point me to the whole Sith theme in her apartment, but I would do something like that too if I had the money.

“Would you mind if we just went back to my place instead of to the store?” Tara asked me.

So we went back to her apartment, and no sooner did we sit on the couch than she fell asleep. Is it selfish of me to have never really given any thought on how all of this has been effecting her? Up until today I've been viewing her as being like Alex and Maria, as one of the strong ones who haven't let anything get to them, but what if that's even wrong?

What if everyone is just as messed up people like me and Sharon? I like to think that I hide my fears pretty well (as long as no one gets a hold of this journal anyway), but I guess I've just taken it for granted that I was the only one faking it. I'm just self-centered like that, I guess.

I'm going to get some sleep.