Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fifty-Second Entry: Keep Your Expectations Low

July 19th

I was awakened this morning by a sound that I've not heard in so long that it took me a minute to recognize it; a doorbell. I was the only one at home, Pippa was in school, Beth was on duty, and I don't know where Gerry was, he's not on a run again yet. I got out of my makeshift bed and went to answer it in t-shirt and shorts.

I was surprised to find that it was not Tara at the door, but Bishop. He was holding a somewhat scuffed up black Nintendo DSi, “Morning!” he greeted me, and promptly stuck the handheld into my hand.

“Bishop? What are you doing here? Where's your mom or Tara?”

“They're back the house. Mom said I could come alone to give this back to you as long as I stayed where she could see me,” Bishop pointed as he spoke.

I stuck my head out the door and could see Toni standing on the porch of a house on the next block. She waved to me. I waved back a little hesitantly, as I was not fully awake yet.

I flipped the system open, and turned it on. True to his word, the system had a full charge. I started flipping through the system's contents with my fingernail, “Bishop, you can keep this. I don't think the home office is going to be asking for a manual inventory anytime soon.”

“Mom said I should offer to give it back since you only loaned it to me.”

“Well you can tell Toni that I said for you to keep it, along with any games you managed to hold on to.” I opened up the camera, and saw that he had pictures saved on the memory card I had given him with the system, “Did you take pictures with this?”

“Yeah,” he said, seeming proud.

I opened up the pictures and started looking through them. There was a picture of his mom surrounded by hearts and flowers from the graffiti function, a picture of Bryan with his face warped. There were pictures of the inside of Insert Coin, and of Mallville.

“Wow, you took a lot, huh?”

“Yeah. They're all I have of my dad now,” he said evenly. I feel sorry for the kid; he's lost just as much as I have but saeems to be keeping himself together so much better than I did.

“I'm sorry about that,” I said, unsure of what else to say.

“It's okay. I know that we're all going to die eventually. They'll get us all eventually.”

I didn't comment on that, but instead kept flipping through the pictures. There were pictures filled with smoke; I am guessing these are from Christmas Eve. Then there were pictures taken outside, pictures of a house, and of people I did not recognize, although I did see Chris and Molly Trevor in there. They had made it out of Mallville at least.

Some of the pictures were a little disturbing. There were pictures of zeds, some alive and some dead. There was a picture of a puddle of what almost certainly was blood, “Why did you take pictures of all of this?”

“It's what happened,” he said, “Even the sad stuff happened, so it should be remembered.”

If I was stunned by the pictures of the zeds, and bodies, I was amused by pictures of Toni smiling for the camera, or Tara holding a mop handle like a lightsaber. My jaw dropped when I saw a picture of a naked woman holding a washcloth and a bottle of water; the head was cut off, but I knew who it was, “Is this Tara?”

Bishop blushed, “Yeah. You're not mad are you?”

I laughed, “No, but I hope you don't let her find out about it. When did you even take it?”

“She thought I was asleep,” Bishop answered, his cheeks flushing red.

Tara was slim when we were together, but in this picture she looked too thin. her ribcage was visible against her flesh, and the tips of her long brown and silver hair were visible near her breasts. I can only imagine how bad things were for them out there on the road.

I kept going through until I saw one that made me stop. Mixed into Bishop's little photo journal of the end of the world was a picture of Oliver and Tara with their arms around each other. They were smiling and looked happy. Tara's hair was about the same length it is now, and had the same amount of silver in it, ”When did you take this?” I asked, showing him the screen.

Bishop gasped, “I'm sorry! I told Tara I wouldn't tell you about that!” Bishop sounded scared, “Don't be mad.”

“I'm not mad, I just want to know, is this recent?”

Bishop looked down at his shoes, “It's from last week.”

“Are they a couple?”

“Tara said she was lonely without you. She said that you wouldn't want her to be lonely.”

“She was right,” I said, trying to disguise the disappointment in my voice, “I would want her to be as happy as possible.”

“They were arguing last night though. Ollie left before I got up this morning.”

I sighed, and turned off the DSi, “Here, Bishop, you keep this, and don't worry, I won't tell Tara about the pictures, any of them.”

“Thanks,” Bishop said, taking the DSi in both of his hands, “Don't be mad at her, okay?”

“I'm not,” and that was true; I'm not mad at her, just a little sad even though I have no reason or right to be, “Tell your mom I said she should take you to the bookstore across from the park. You are probably dying for something new to read, right?”

Bishop smiled and nodded.

“Okay. It's good seeing you, man. Don't be a stranger, okay?”

I watched Bishop walk down the to the sidewalk back towards where Toni was still waiting. I felt a little dizzy. I was wondering if that was what Tara was coming over to tell me, that there's really no place for us anymore.

I want to think that I would be okay with that, but I don't know. I feel like I'm regressing into the me that Beth doesn't want me to be. I don't want to be that me again either, but Beth is right, it's so much easier when you think you know they're dead.

Tara came over about an hour later. She looked better than yesterday, now dressed in a simple but clean light blue t-shirt and jeans. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and she looked at the same time beautiful and pathetic; so thin and sad looking.

“Hi,” Tara said when I answered the door, now dressed in a t-shirt and jeans myself.

“Hi,” I said, hoping I did not sound as nervous as I felt, “Do you want to come in?”

“Yeah,” she smiled, and leaned in to give me a quick kiss on the cheek. I let her past me into the house, and looked down the street in time to see someone disappear into Tara's house; it had to have been Oliver.

We sat on the couch, and even though part of me wanted to, I did not try and put my arm around Tara. We talked a little, going over how each of us survived again, and how we, at first at least, thought the other hadn't made it.

“You look good,” Tara commented.

“So do you,” I said, and I meant it, mostly. The streaks of silver in her hair do make her look older, but they don't make her look old.

Tara blushed, “I look horrible. I look like an old hag, but you really do look good.”

After some short uncomfortable small talk Tara finally got down to it, “So you and Sharon, huh? Was it what you had hoped it would be?” she sounded sad, but genuine.

“If we had known you were alive we would have looked for you. The only other survivors we saw before leaving Covenant were a couple of guards who wanted to kill us,” I said, leaving out all of the gory details and avoiding the question.

“It's okay, hon, you don't need to explain it to me. I chose to stay with Alex, I couldn't leave him to die alone. I told you to go... I felt so bad for that. I thought I sent you to die,” she started crying.

“I thought I left you to die, so I guess we're even on that.”

“We are even,” Tara looked at her feet as she spoke, “in more ways that one.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, playing dumb.

“You already know what I mean,” she looked up at me, and tears flowed down her face, “I was with someone else too; I felt so alone without you there, I didn't think I would ever find you again, and he said I was beautiful even though I know I'm not.”

“You are,” I said quickly.

Tara smiled through her tears, “I'm not though, I never was beautiful; no butt, no boobs, you were the first man to ever make me feel beautiful since high school, but now I look like a fucking Dachau refugee, and my hair....”

I reached out hesitantly, and placed a hand on her shoulder, “I still think you're beautiful, and I'm sure he meant it too.”

This is exactly how I always ended up in the friend zone with women. I always defend their boyfriends to them, which was never too big a deal with girls other than Sharon. The jerk of the week would end up in her bed, but it was me that ended up screwed.

Okay, she doesn't deserve that.

Tara decided to jump to the chase, “So what do you want to do? Are you seeing someone else?”

“I'm not seeing anyone.”

“Would you want to try again? Do you still have any feelings for me?”

That was a good question. Do I still have those same feelings for her? Was I just hung up on the idea of her, on some idealized memories of her? If she's still with Oliver, would it be right of me to even say I want to try again? Do I want to try again?

Yes. I do.

“I still love you, yes,” I said.

Tara smiled, and wiped her face with her hands, “Even though I'm so old?”

“Pippa didn't mean it like that.”

“She doesn't like me, I could tell.”

“She just needs to get to know you, and, assuming that you still have feelings for me, she will get to.”

“Yes!” Tara practically yelled, “I have thought about you everyday. I have never stopped loving you.”

“But what about...”

“I told you, I was lonely, but I was thinking about you. I wished it was you, I wanted to to be you. Please don't hold that against me.”

Pursuing this line of discussion was going to do nothing but get u into a fight. If she's choosing me over Oliver then there's no reason for me to make it any harder on her than it already is. Bishop said that she and Oliver had been fighting, so I'm sure this is hard enough on her as it is.

“I have something for you,” I said, and got up from the couch.

I went to my bedroom, and opened the cabinet where I had hidden Tara's presents, Sharon's glasses, and the plastic ape, and got the tattered Christmas present and the plush Death Note out. I returned to the living room where I found Tara trying to dry her face against the sleeve of her t-shirt.

“These are for you,” I said, handing her the presents.

“What are these?” Tara asked.

“They're for you; I've been saving them.”

Tara looked at me, and the tears started flowing again, “You've been carrying these with you the whole time?”

“It was like keeping a piece of you with me; I didn't have any pictures or anything. Open them.”

The wrapping paper on the mangas practically fell apart in Tara's hands, and she gasped when she saw the A New Hope books, “Where did you get these?”

Sharon gave them to me for you, she got them when we went to that bookstore; the run where we came back with the coffee. Open the other one.”

Tara set the mangas aside, and started turning the Death Note over in her hand. It took her a few seconds to find the pull for the zipper. She unzipped it slowly, and opened it to reveal the little pewter Vader helmet.

“You need to start rebuilding your Star Wars collection, right?” I asked, smiling at her surprised look.

“You've really been holding on to these for this long just for me? Just to remember me? I don't have anything for you.”

“Being able to actually give them to you is enough,” I said.

She moved the books, tattered paper, plush, and helmet to the coffee table, and stood up. Tara came over to me and put her arms around me, “I love you so much,” she said, and kissed me.

Despite how frail she feels in my arms, she is still pretty strong, and practically threw me onto the couch, where we made love for the next little while. I wish I could say it was magical and that it was like no time had passed since we had last shared a bed, or that it was cautious yet passionate like our first time together but it was neither of those things. It was rushed and desperate, awkward and brief, but it was still kind of magical. It felt good to have Tara in my arms again.

I suppose that part of why it was awkward was that if Sharon was still here, it wouldn't have been happening. Then there's also the fact that someone else who aims for Tara's affections lives just down the street; lives with her. When she went home, she went home to him. Is she still sleeping with him?

When it was over we held each other for a long time. It's amazing how I can, at the same time, feel angry at myself for not being faithful to Sharon while not wanting to ever let Tara out of my grasp again. For her part Tara was clinging to me like I was a life preserver and we were in the middle of the Pacific.

When I was young, I wanted to be more Vulcan and not be controlled by emotions. I thought emotions sucked, and I wanted nothing to do with them. I understand again why I thought that. Emotions do suck and I hate being ruled by them

“Things weren't supposed to be like this, were they?”Tara asked as we lay there.

“What do you mean?”

“We weren't supposed to be serious. We were just together until Alex and Sharon broke up. We were just supposed to be friends, maybe with benefits. I didn't want to fall in love with you.”

“I'm sorry. We don't have to-”

“No, that's not what I mean,” Tara interrupted me, “I just mean I didn't plan on falling for you; I didn't want to be alone. You know that, that was what we agreed on, and it's what happened. I did end up with Alex, if only for a few minutes, and you ended up with Sharon.”

There was a moment of silence. I don't know if she expected me to respond to that, or if she was just gathering her thoughts.

“But now here we are together again, and... and it feels right,” Tara said, “I missed you so much out there, and someday, when I'm ready to, I'll show you how much. I love you.”

“I love you too,'' I said, and that felt right too, even though there was a stab of pain in my chest reminding me how much I love Sharon too.

What would have happened if Sharon hadn't been infected? If Sharon was still here, would Tara try to get back together with me anyway, or would she stay with Oliver? What if she hadn't stayed with Alex? What if she had been with us this whole time? Would things have been better? Worse? Would Toni and Bishop still be alive?

Beth would tell me not to dwell on these things, but as I sit here alone in the night, I cannot keep my mind from drifting to them. Beth would also say I'm being whiny, and that's probably true too. I need to live in the now, not in then, or in what could have been.

Tara and I did get dressed again, but we still lay on the couch just holding each other for a long time. What finally got us up was an air raid siren.

“What's that?” Tara said, suddenly serious.

“I don't know,” I said, and disentangled myself from Tara's thin arms. I rushed back to my room, and grabbed my laptop from where it was sitting plugged in on the desk. I also grabbed the TV tuner and antenna from the top desk drawer, and rushed back to the living room.

I woke the computer from its sleep state, logged in, and plugged in the TV tuner. While the entertainment center software started up, I plugged the antenna into the tuner card. I selected “Television” from the entertainment menu, and an image of the KVMS, channel five news desk appeared.

“-you're hearing are because Doctor Evelyn Byron has issued a city-wide alert,” said the pretty blond anchorwoman, “and she will be speaking with us momentarily.”

“Maybe it's the zeds,” I said absently.

“What?” Tara asked.

“Gerry told me that when he was on his last run, he's on Acquisitions here like he was back home, they had to abort it because they found the biggest single group of zeds he had ever seen, he said it was like a whole city worth of shamblers.”

“For those who are just joining us,” the blond started again, “The sirens you are hearing are because Doctor Evelyn Byron, our town administrator, has issued a citywide alert. We have not been given any details yet, but Doctor Byron will be speaking with us-,” the anchorwoman stopped, and put her hand up to her ear, “We are now going live to the office of Doctor Evelyn Byron.”

The image on my laptop screen changed to shown Doctor Byron, dressed in her white lab coat and an ivory colored blouse, sitting behind her desk in her office, “Hello, citizens of Lovelock. I apologize for startling you all with the siren, but there is something very important that you all need to know about.”

“Many of you already know what I am about to say, but it is important to explain this to those of you who do not.. I was not the original administrator of Lovelock; I took over for a doctor named Xavier Grimm. Xavier was not a bad person, but he made some very dark choices, choices that would not have allowed Lovelock to prosper as it has. This is why he was removed from this office, and I am here instead.”

“Grimm?” Tara asked.

“I've heard about him, not a great guy.”

“Sometime last night, Doctor Xavier Grimm murdered his guards, disabled portions of the underground laboratory security system, and escaped,” Doctor Byron explained.

“He had guards?”

“I think they were to protect him from the people in town as much as to protect us from him,” I said.


“No, Beth would have said something is she had a detail like that, I know she would.”

“Unfortunately, the guards that Xavier killed reanimated, and attacked three more members of Genetitech staff before they could be put down. Xavier Grimm is now being sought for the murders of these five people. He may still be in town somewhere, if you see him, do not approach him, he is armed, instead notify a member of Genetitech Security so that he may be apprehended.”

Doctor Byron disappeared from the window on my computer and was replaced with an image of a severe looking man with longish greasy brown hair. He looked a little bit like Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings movies. He also looked like he wanted to kill someone, which I suppose he did since he had.

Doctor Byron replaced the still photo of Grimm, “I want to emphasize to everyone that they should not attempt to apprehend Xavier on their own, and I do not want him dead. I will not tolerate any vigilantism! He will be made to answer for his offenses, please trust me on this,” she pleaded, “Do not confront him, do not talk to him, just notify security so that we may take him back into custody before he harms anyone else. Thank you.”

The blond anchorwoman appeared on the screen again, now identified as Marigold Fields (that can't be a real name, can it?). As she started to recap what Doctor Byron had just said, I got up from the couch.

“Where are you going?” Tara asked.

“I'm going to make sure all the doors and windows are locked.”

“Is he really that bad a guy?”

“He killed five people, so I'd say yeah. I was told that he wanted to use people like us in experiments to try and find a cure for the Zed Virus. He wanted to intentionally infect outsiders; I don't know if you've seen what happens to someone who's infected, but it's horrible,” I realized I was on the verge of tears as I said this, so I stopped talking, and left the room.

“I've seen it,” I heard Tara say quietly, just barely audible over the sound of the laptop.

Aside from locking the door, and checking around the house to see that everything else was locked, which unfortunately meant I had to go into Pippa's pigsty of a room. How has she acquired so many clothes? I'm not sure there is even a floor under all of that.

I also took the shotgun we keep in the front hall closet, and placed it next to the door; maybe I'm being paranoid, but no one questioned it when they came home. I know it's somewhat foolish to think that Grimm is going to just knock on the front door and hope we invite him in.

I walked Tara home a short time later, I know that it's only a block, and that I can see her house from mine, and that she is quite capable of taking care of herself, but I couldn't help it. I had to act like the dominant protector male for my own conscience as much as anything else.

I noticed her limping again, something I had forgotten about when we were in the house, “What happened to your leg?” I asked.

“I had a bad fall awhile back,” Tara explained, looking down at her right leg, “and I've been like this ever since. It doesn't hurt anymore, but I still walk like a gimp. Doctor Ellis said I should make an appointment to get it looked at to see if there's anything that can be done for it, but I think the time for fixing it is long past.”

“You should go,” I said, but she didn't respond.

When we arrived at her doorstep, she gave me a quick kiss on the lips, “Thank you for being here for me,” she said.

“Thank you for coming back to me.” I said.

“So don't shoot me when I come over next time, okay?” Tara smiled to show she was half joking.

“I'll try and remember what you look like so I don't confuse you with Grimm.”

Tara kissed me again, and then turned to open the door and found it was locked, “Huh, I guess you're not the only one who's paranoid,” She knocked on the door, and after a few moments we heard movement behind it.

When the door opened, it was only a crack, and I could see Oliver Black looking through it, “Thank God, Tara, where have you been? I've been worried about you.”

“Just let me in Ollie, okay?”

“There's some killer loose in town,” he said, opening the door all the way, and glaring past Tara at me, tried to grab her arm.

Tara dodged his hand, “I know, that's why I have an escort,” she turned to face me, “You be safe, okay?”

“Of course. I'll see you later. I hope you all are comfortable here. Tell Bishop and Toni hi for me.”

Tara smiled at me, and I turned to walk back to the sidewalk. As soon as my back was turned the door slammed shut; by Oliver, no doubt. I could hear the two of them talking through the door, but decided to leave it alone; I don't want to get involved in anymore drama than I already am.

Everyone else did make it home safe; Gerry first followed later by Beth and Pippa, whom Beth had picked up from school in that ridiculous Xebra car. I guess it beats walking though, right?

We grilled Beth for details, but she didn't really have any. She knew one of the guards who had been killed, and was a little upset about that, “If I'm the one who finds that son of a bitch they're going to be taking him in feet first,” she had said.

I ended up having to walk into town to get a ride out to the gate. Beth said she would let me take the Xebra, but that she didn't know if there would be enough battery life to get me home again. I told her that it was okay since she needed it to get to work in the morning herself.

Town was quieter than normal, and Bacchus was closed. There were a lot more Genetitech Security cars driving around too, as if Doctor Grimm is going to be caught just walking down the street like a normal resident. Doctor Byron is really taking this guy seriously.

I wouldn't describe myself as afraid of Grimm, but I'm certainly being more cautious. What if he kills more people, and they rise back up? Can we take on an outbreak in town? Logic says yes, but logically we should have been able to take these things without bringing about the end of the world.

My shift at the gate was uneventful. Samit was not mad about last night, but everyone wanted to know what the relationship between myself and the newcomers is. Barbara even gave me a hug and told me she was happy for me. She's nice, but she is a bit odd.

Time to get some sleep.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Fifty-First Entry: Hello Again

July 18th

Every time I think I start to get a handle on my life, the world changes things for me. Sometimes the changes are good, most often they are not, but sometimes I'm not sure what to make of them. I know what I should think, and what I should feel, and what I would have felt six months ago, but now....

I'm feeling this mixture of relief, love, anxiety, guilt, and worry. Everything I had gotten under control seems like string flapping in the wind again now. I want to be happy, but I feel like a betrayer. I feel like I'm betraying them both, and I don't know what to do about it. Thankfully Beth, Gerry, and Pippa are kind of staying out of it, and letting me figure out how to handle it, although if one of them laid everything out plain then I could just deal with those consequences and move on from there. If only life were that simple, right?

It was at the end of last week; Gerry had just come home early from an acquisition run that had to be aborted due encountering what he described as “a fuck-ton of zombies”. They were working a few towns over, and they ran into a solid wall of roaming shamblers heading straight for them.

“It was like an entire undead city was marching towards us,” Gerry explained to me.

“We could send some of those test weapons out there,” I said.

“We should nuke the entire site from orbit, it's the only way to be sure,” Gerry was trying to be lighthearted about it, but he was clearly rattled. After the fight last Halloween, I don't blame him, just thinking of that hallway full of zeds makes me uneasy, but a whole street full?

I wonder if the scientists are working on nukes, The ultimate price seems like it would be too high; fallout, radiation poisoning, turning the world into Fallout 3, etc. What would be better, death by zed or death by nuke? Some choice.

It was late evening when my world was turned upside down once again. I was at the West gate with Samit, Ciaran, Barbara, and a few others. Ciaran had spent a lot of the evening trying to chat up Barbara, who kept shooting him down mercilessly much to the amusement of the rest of us.

“Why won't you just give me a chance, Barbara? I'm really a great guy if you get to know me.”

“Well,” said Barbara dryly, “You seem like a nice guy, but every guy I've ever met whose told me they are a nice hasn't been. Plus, you don't know how to take no for an answer, and that never ends well.”

“But-” Ciaran decided to try again, but was cut off.

“You might want to give it a rest, Ciaran,” Samit cautioned him, “she has a mean right hook.”

Everyone laughed at that, including Ciaran and Barbara, although Ciraan did flush a bit under the harsh work lights around the gate.

“I think I see something,” called down one of the tower look outs, a guy with the unfortunate name of Jacob Black,” Maybe headlights.”

“Okay, everyone take positions,” said Samit as he walked over to pick up his megaphone from where he had left it on one of the construction walls.

Barbara took cover behind the same wall as me, to the right of the gate, and we both leveled our rifles on the top of the wall.

“Well this is a bit of excitement, isn't it?” Barbara asked me, grinning, “Being on the other side of the ambush and all.”

“I'd hardly call it an ambush,” I said, “We're not really hiding for one thing.”

“Somehow I think you felt differently when you were on the other side of it.”

I shrugged, “Probably, but we have to make sure they're not hostile, you know?”

“You'd shoot?” Barbara asked.

“If it seemed necessary, hell yes.”

“You'd kill another person?” she asked, and I was not sure if she was just surprised that I would do it, or if she found the whole concept repulsive.

“I have had to shoot someone I love,” I said, more sharply than I really meant to, ”so shooting someone who thinks they are going to threaten my family and my home won't even require me to think twice anymore.”

Barbara shrunk back a little, “Wow,” she said, “I'm not judging you, you know? You just don't seem like the Rambo type.”

“You've been hanging out with Beth and Gerry whenever they're free, how do you not know that I've killed people? They didn't tell you about the Postmen?”

“We don't talk about the past much, it's not one of my favorite subjects, and they haven't volunteered a lot.” Barbara said a little sadly, and then, “You killed mailmen?”

Before I could answer, Samit started calling through the bullhorn. I was so busy talking to Barbara that I hadn't noticed the car's approach, which I really should have as it was a loud old beige Oldsmobile that looked like it had been driven through a wall.

“Stop the car!” Samit bellowed through the speaker when the car was a few hundred feet away.

The Oldsmobile creaked to a halt.

“Turn off the engine, and step out of the vehicle! Keep your hands where we can see them, and you will not be harmed!” Samit commanded.

There were a few tense seconds where nothing happened, and then the car's engine died. The driver's door creaked open, and a woman's voice called out faintly in the renewed stillness of the night.

“We're getting out! We have a child with us, don't shoot!” the voice called, and it was one I knew.

“I'm not a child!” I heard a boy's voice say.

The other three doors of the car opened with similar creaking as the first, and four figures got out of the car, They were all thin, and one of them was indeed a kid, just on the verge of his teenage years. Two of the people were women, and the last was a man who was muscular despite his thinness, and I realized that I knew three of them.

I lowered my rifle, setting it against the construction wall.

“What are you doing?” Barbara hissed.

My heart was pounding in my chest, “They're alive,” I whispered.

“I should hope so. The day the ghouls learn to drive we're all fucked.”

“I thought they were dead,” I turned to look at Barbara, “I know them, well three of them.”

I stood up, and walked out from behind the wall, “Where are you going? Get back here!” Barbara said.

I started walking towards the car, “Tara?” I called, “Bishop? Toni?”

“Get back in your position,” ordered Samit, his mouth away from the bullhorn's mouthpiece.

“I know them!” I told him as I passed, now at a gentle jog, “Don't shoot, I know them.

The driver, Tara, my Tara, thin, her hair now streaked with silver, and wearing a denim shirt that I would never have imagined her in, called my name questioningly in return, and started forward from the driver's door of the Oldsmobile. She was limping with her left leg.

“Cover him, but don't shoot!” Samit ordered the others as I moved away from them.

Tara met me about three quarters of the way to the car, “Is it really you?”she asked, and then threw her arms around me before I could answer.

I was afraid to hold her too tightly. She felt so fragile in my arms, but also so familiar. My mind was racing; I had cheated on her, but I had thought she was dead. What happens now? Do we pick up where we left off? Do I tell her Sharon and I got married? Do I push her away? Is she even still interested in me like that?

Tara answered the last question for me by pulling out of my arms and then kissing me full on the lips. I won't lie, her breath was horrible, but her kiss brought memories flooding back to me, and the first time in longer than I can remember, I started to cry.

Tara saw the tears start to pour out of my eyes, and her eyes started to water up too. She grabbed me in another hug, and together we wept. In that moment I was not crying just because she was still alive and in my arms again, but because of everything I should have cried about in the last eight months.

I cried about losing Tara, and Sharon, and Maria I cried about losing Mallville as my home. I cried about killing Merritt Sokolenko. I cried for Milton, and Rupert, and Alex. I cried for Sharon's illness, and her recovery, and her telling me she loved me, and for shooting her in the head, and for burying her.

I cried for all of the pain, and fear, and misery I've felt since last Halloween; I cried for all the happiness and love I've felt since then too, and in those couple of minutes of crying it was like a lead weight that had been implanted in my heart was suddenly gone. A heaviness I have felt for so long now that I had pretty much forgotten was there was suddenly gone, and even though I now face a new series of problems and questions, in that moment I felt like my old self.

“I thought you were dead,” I said, breaking our embrace again, “I thought you died in the explosion.”

“I was still upstairs when it happened,” Tara explained, “but I knew you guys made it out, I just never thought I would find you.... Are you all here?”

I shook my head sadly, “No, Maria and... and Sharon didn't make it. It's just me, Gerry, and Beth.”

Tara wiped the tears from her face, “Oh God,” she said, “I'm sorry.”

Behind Tara I could see Toni and Bishop Rogers standing with man I did not know. It looked like Bishop wanted to come join us, but Toni was holding him back.

“Did,” Tara swallows hard, and started her question again, “Did you and Sharon ever...?

I could have lied, but I know that would just have caused more problems later. Besides, Tara deserves better than that from me, “Yes,” I said quietly, “I didn't know you were alive, we both thought you were dead, and Sharon was sick, and she got better, and it just sort of happened,” I rambled, hoping she wouldn't ask for details.

Tara looked hurt for a moment, and then took my right hand in hers. She was thinking for what seemed like an eternity, but what must have only been seconds, with my hand clutched in hers, “I don't-” she started and stopped, “I... Is... Do...?”

She was crying again, and I knew what she wanted to ask, but I couldn't say it either. I was speechless.

Finally Tara managed to form a full question, “Is there still room in your heart for me? I know I'm not her, and I know it was our agreement that if you ever got the chance, you could, but is there anything left of us? Do you still love me?”

“If you had been with us, everything would have been different,” I told her, “If I had even know you made it out, things would have been different. You have always been in my heart.”

That was no lie; I can only begin to imagine how things would have been different, but they certainly would have. I try not to think about stuff like that anymore, there's nothing to be gained by it.

“So... you want to try again?” she asked, as if we had broken up for a short period of time instead of each thinking that the other was dead.

At that moment I didn't know what I wanted. God had answered a prayer, and I didn't know how to react to it. Would I be disrespecting Sharon's memory? One thing I now knew for sure was that all of those dreams I had were just my own subconscious bullshit, not messages from beyond.

“Yes,” I said, “I would like that.”

She pulled me to her again, and we held each other for awhile longer before Samit, apparently tired of being ignored, interrupted us with the bullhorn.

“I'm glad you guys are reunited and all, but if we can follow standard procedure, you'll have plenty of time to catch up later,” Samit sounded a little annoyed, but also embarrassed to be witnessing the whole thing.

Transport was summoned, and our escorts turned out to be Justin Lassit and a female officer named Melissa Elroy. I was allowed to ride to the hospital with Tara, Bishop, Toni, and the man that was with them, who I learned was named Oliver Gusteneaux. Oliver, or Ollie as he prefers to be called, is also from Mallville.

On the van ride to the hospital Tara gave me a quick overview of what happened on Christmas Eve. She stayed with Alex until he passed, and then decided that she should at least try to save the Trevors and the Rogers. Insert Coin wasn't far from where Alex had been shot, so she started that way, and then the explosion happened.

Tara told me that the explosion knocked her off of her feet, and when she looked back, the area where our firefight had happened was nothing more than a blazing inferno. She thought that we had all been killed in that explosion. She was shocked when I told her that Jimmy did it.

Continuing on to Insert Coin, Tara found that the fighting had passed on from there, and that the Trevor's, the Rogers, and a few others had closed themselves up inside the store to try and stay out of it, but Bryan had been shot; he didn't make it.

They stayed inside the store overnight, and Tara led the other survivors out in the morning before getting completely overwhelmed by the zeds, picking up anyone they came across on the way. They fled Mallville on foot through an out door that had had its gate rolled up by someone for some unknown reason.

“We hid out in Covenant during the winter. We stuck mostly to the suburbs, because I knew we hadn't done much scavenging there,” Tara explained to me, “There were almost twenty of us at first, but some wanted to go their own ways, and some... some didn't make it.

“We ran into your friend with the chainsaw, Ash. He said that he had seen you guys, that all of you had made it out, and were heading north, but he couldn't remember where you had said you were going. I was afraid I'd never see you again.”

“I suggested we try for here,” Toni told me, “I mean, we didn't know what to do, but once it started to warm up and the zombies came back in force; well, we had to leave. I knew that Genetitech would have a disaster plan if anyone did, and was hoping that maybe there was still something here.”

That's why the name Lovelock sounded familiar to me! Toni and Bryan had told me they were from here. She had been the meteorologist on one of the TV stations. I wondered if it was the one that was still running.

“It seemed like as good a place as any to try for in any case, so we've been on the road until tonight,” Tara said, “Is this place really safe?”

“Safer than Mallville was,” I said, “Doctor Byron, you're going to be meeting her, she's odd, but she's really nice, and she really seems to care about everyone in town. I'm sure she will welcome you guys.”

When we arrived, Justin escorted us up to Doctor Byron's office. Polly's desk was vacant due to the hour, but Doctor Byron's door was sitting open, light streaming out of her office.

“Please, come on it,” Doctor Byron called, as if she psychically knew that we were there. I took me a second to realize that she must have been following our progress through the hospital on the security cameras.

Justin led us into Doctor Byron's office, and just like the first time I met her, she was sitting behind her desk in her lab coat (although she wore a dark blue blouse under it this time, making her pale skin seem even paler) as if it were perfectly normal for her to still be working this late in the evening. Then again, maybe it is; there's no reason she couldn't play Seventh City from here.

“Thank you, Justin,” Doctor Byron said once we were all inside her office, “I will escort them from here.”

“Yes, Doctor,” Justin said smartly, and turned to leave.

“So these are friends of yours?” Doctor Byron asked me.

“Yes, Doctor, they are from Covenant as well.”

“From Mallville?” She asked.


“That is marvelous!” Doctor Byron exclaimed, “This is the first time we've had anyone be reunited here. Well, let's get on with what we need to, and then we can get you all to our physicals, and to your new home, provided of course that you want to stay.”

“I'll wait out here, if that's okay, Doctor” I said motioning to the outer office.

“Of course, I wouldn't expect you to leave,” Doctor Byron said in her normal dreamy voice, “but I still wish you would call me Evie outside the game as well.”

Tara gave me a questioning look, but there'll time to explain that later.

I took a seat on the couch in the outer office by the window. It seems so amazing to me to look out over a town now and see it lit up like the world used to be. It's not the same as the view from Alisdair's bell tower, but it is just as beautiful in its own way.

I took off my sword and satchel, pulled out my journal, and have been writing since then. When food was brought up for the rest of them, the nurse that brought it (I did not see her name tag) brought me some as well.

“Doctor Byron thought you might be hungry as well,” the nurse explained.

It was the same tofu salad that we had when we first arrived, and it brought back the memory my first night here, and I started crying a little again. I hope I'm not going to be all weepy like this from now on. I think I may have liked being unable to cry better.

They've been in there for well over an hour now, but I guess we were in there for a long time when we first arrived too. I hope someone told Pippa, Beth, and Gerry where I am so they don't worry; I should actually have been home a little while ago.

I think I'll play some solitaire while I wait. To think, people used to mock me for keeping playing cards in my bag. You should always be prepared because you never know when nothing is going to be happening.

So thirty minutes of playing solitaire later, Doctor Byron leads Tara and the others out of her office. I quickly put on my sword and satchel and followed them out into the hallways and down to the same part of the hospital that she took my group to when we first arrived.

Maybe he was just tired, or maybe it's just because he doesn't know me, but I noticed Ollie kept looking at me oddly as we walked. Tara walked next to me, but she did not try to hold my hand or anything.

“I've still got your DSi,” Bishop told me, “It's in the car, and it still works.”

“How have you been using it?”

“I charged it up when we were driving in cars. I took one of the car charger kits before we left the store. Is that okay?”

I almost facepalmed. Why hadn't I thought of that?

“Yeah, that's fine. It's not like I'm ever going back to the store again,” I said, “You keep it, just take care of it, okay? “

The curly haired Doctor Ellis was waiting for us at the same nurse's station as before, but instead of waiting with Doctor Selznick, she was waiting with Doctor David Phillips, a broad shouldered doctor with short black hair. The two of them were playing cards.

“Well it's about time,” Doctor Ellis said in what had to at least be partly mock annoyance.

“You pulled us out of poker night for this,” Doctor Phillips added, also seeming to be at least partially joking.

“I will leave you to your examinations, and arrange for your new living accommodations,” said Doctor Byron, “I assure you that you are in capable hands.”

“Come on,” said Doctor Phillips, abandoning his cards on the counter top, “Let's see how healthy you all are.”

Doctors Phillips and Ellis led the others down the hall to the examination rooms, and Doctor Byron pulled me aside, “We need to talk.”

I got worried, as it was the first time I'd ever seen her looking really focused and serious, “Yes, ma'am,”

“You're not in any sort of trouble, so calm down,” she said, reading the look on my face, “You and Tara had a relationship before, is that correct?”

“Yes, Doctor.”

“Does she know about you and,” she had to pause to think for a second, “Sharon, correct?”

“Yes, Doctor, her name was Sharon,” I answered, “and sort of. I told her that Sharon and I did have a relationship after we left Mallville, but I didn't tell her we were married.”

“Do you think the two of you will try and resume your relationship now?”

“I don't know... probably.”

Doctor Byron nodded, “Psychology is not my specialty, but I would suggest you get everything out in the open as soon as possible; both of you. I really don't have a lot of experience with relationships, but I do know that secrets will come back to haunt you later.”

“Yes, Doctor.”

“Don't look so worried, I'm sure you'll do the right thing. Your friends hold you in too high of esteem for you to not be that kind of person.”

“My friends?”

“Beth, Gerry, Pippa, even young Bishop there seems to have a high opinion of you. I think the only person you know who doesn't respect you is you, but it seems like you are doing better. I still think some counseling would do you good though,” Doctor Byron looked at me curiously, “However, I am still not going to force you. Now if you will excuse me, I do have a little more work to do before turning in today. I do like it when new people come to town.”

With that, Doctor Byron patted me on the shoulder, turned, and pressed the button for the elevator. When the doors opened, she turned, stepped in, pressed a button and a gave me a finger twiddling wave as the doors closed.

Left alone again, I went to the waiting area that I met Gerry, Beth, and Pippa in after our own doctor's exams. Did it take this long for our check-ups? Does this mean that there is something wrong with them? They did look thinner than we did when we got to town.

I'm at home now. Shortly after I wrote the last paragraph I heard footsteps coming down the hall towards me. It was Gerry, Beth, and Pippa.

“Is it true?” Gerry asked, “Is Tara really here?”

“Yes, she's been alive all this time,” I answered.

“Wow, that is great!” Gerry said, smiling wide.

“Are you okay?” Beth asked.

“Yeah, why?”

Beth looked at me like I said something stupid, “Why do you think? Your old girlfriend, one of the people you have been pining over since we got here, suddenly turns up and you wonder why I'm asking if you're okay?”

“I'm fine.”

“Did you tell her? About you and Sharon I mean?” Gerry asked.

“I told her that we were together until....”

“Bet you didn't tell her you got married,” Pippa said, almost a little cruelly.

“No, but I will when it seems right.”

“I'll tell her!” Pippa volunteered.

“You will not,” Beth snapped, “The three of us are going to keep our mouths shut, do you understand?”

“Yes, Beth, but-”

“No buts!” then to me, “You need to tell her, especially if you are going to try and pick up from where you left off,” she seemed annoyed. In fact, Gerry is the only one who seemed genuinely happy for me, but then he's also the only one who really was around me when Tara and I were together.

Before I could ask Beth why she seemed upset, a door opened down the hall, and Tara came out of one of the examination rooms, “Gerry? Beth?” she asked, seeing them, “You're really here!”

Tara tried to run down the hall towards us, but it was more of a fast limp. When she got to where we were all standing she gave both Beth and Gerry hugs, and stroked each of their faces.

“Oh my God,” Tara enthused, “It's so good to see you guys.”

“It's good to see you too, Tara,” Beth said, she looked and sounded genuine; all signs of her previous annoyance were gone.

“I'm sorry to hear about Maria,” Tara said to Gerry.

“She went out on her own terms. I can only pray that we all get to do that,” Gerry said. It was the first time I'd heard him say something like that. In fact it's probably the first time I've heard him mention Maria in over a month.

“And who is this?” Tara asked, looking at Pippa.

“This is Pippa Webster,” I said, “She joined up with us a few months back. Pippa, this is Tara Lafferty.”

“It's nice to meet you,” Pippa said in a voice far less convincing than the one she used a couple of weeks back when she said she wanted to meet Tara, but thought she was dead, “So you two were an item? You're like old enough to- Ow! What the hell?”

Beth had kicked Pippa in the shin. “Pippa sometimes doesn't think before acting,” Beth explained.

“That's fine. I'm sure I must look awful,” Beth had failed her saving throw; Tara had instantly gone into her ice-queen mode, and was looking at Pippa funny, “There's not a lot of hotels with hot showers and all-you-can-eat buffets open out there anymore.”

“You do look like you've had a rough time out there,” Beth agreed, trying to defrost Tara, “but I'm sure a nice hot bath and a few days of regular meals and sleeping in a bed will fix you right up.”

You know what I realized at that point? Beth was like the mom to our group. If I am Pippa's brother then Beth is our mom. She has spent so much of the last seven months trying to keep us all going, mediate fights, and just generally keep us from splitting up or killing each other, and I had never once thanked her for it. I am a real asshole sometimes.

Tara softened a little, “Yes, It'll be nice. Is it true that the whole town has power and water?”

“Yes, and local internet, and TV, and alcohol.”

“Doctor Byron told us about the TV station; apparently it's the one that Toni worked at. Maybe she'll be able to get her job back.” Tara said,

We talked while we waited for the others to come out. Tara made sure that everybody was introduced to everybody else, but she never fully warmed up, and she kept looking at Pippa, who didn't say much of anything the rest of the time.

Bishop was the next one out of his examination, followed by his mom, who gave me a hug when she joined us. I had to introduce her to Gerry and Beth as well as Pippa as she didn't know either of them from Mallville. Oliver was the last one to join us.

Of course if Pippa and Tara kept trading odd glances at each other, then Oliver, who was also kept pretty quiet, was trying to drill a hole through me with his eyes. Is there something between him and Tara? Is there nothing, but he wants there to be something? I have no right to be jealous or suspicious, but that doesn't stop me from being a bit of both.

It doesn't help that Ollie is blond haired, blue eyed, handsome, and well-muscled as opposed to my rather less impressive build. I may not be fat anymore, but even as thin as he is he looks like he stepped out of a lifeguard calendar, as where I look like I stepped out of the Think Geek catalog.

Shortly after the examinations were over, a blondish Genetitech Security officer, who Beth greeted as Ben, arrived to take Tara and her group to their new home. He led them back towards the elevators.

Before leaving, Tara gave me a hug and a quick kiss on the cheek, “Can we talk tomorrow?” she asked.

“Of course,” I said, “I'm sure we have a lot to catch up on.”

Tara smiled, “We do. I missed you so much, you don't know how it feels to find out you are here and still alive. I keep expecting to wake up from this dream,” she hugged me again, “You have a good night then, I'll see you tomorrow.”

Once Tara, Toni, Bishop, and Oliver were gone, Beth let out a weary sigh, “Okay, lets go home.”

“Beth got a car!” Pippa said happily.

“A car? How did you do that?”

“Don't be so impressed. I just filled out some forms and was issued one. Trust me, it's nothing to be impressed by.”

Beth was right. The car was anything but impressive. It looked like an older white 4 door compact car, except that it only had three wheels in a tricycle configuration. The markings on it identified it as a Zapcar Xebra, and that it was property of Genetitech Laboratories. I had seen a couple of them around town, but never paid them too much attention.

“Umm, wow,” I said, trying to not sound underwhelmed.

“Yup,” Beth agreed, “She's fully electric, has a top speed of about 38 miles an hour, and barely enough battery to get us home with. See why I said not to be too impressed?”

“I didn't know these things even existed outside of shows on The Discovery Channel before we got here.”

“I don't think most people knew, but hey, if it gets us around Mayberry, right?” Gerry said.

I shared the backseat with Pippa, cramming my satchel in my lap, and my sword on the floor between my legs. Not all that comfortable, but it beats walking home; it was kind of cold tonight.

“You dated her before Sharon?” Pippa asked as we drove.

“Yes,” I said, “Sharon was seeing a man named Alex, who was Tara's boss. Tara and I started hanging out, and things went from there. You know all of this.”

“But she's old!” Pippa exclaimed.

“She's a few years older than me, yeah, but she's not old.” I said.

“She has gray hair!”

“She didn't then,” I explained.

“She's too old for you, you should find someone your age.”

“She's the same age as me, Pippa,” Beth commented from the front seat.

“No way! She looks like she's in her forties! You still look young.”

“What about me, do I look young?” Gerry asked, trying to keep things light.

“Be nice to her, Pippa,” I said.

“I liked Sharon better.”

That hurt me. I turned to look out the window as my newfound tears threatened to break free again. I wanted to say a lot of things; things like, “You don't even know her.” and “Well Sharon's gone!” and “Shut the fuck up!”, but instead I didn't say anything.

“Pippa, leave it alone, please,” Beth said, “Don't make me stop this car.”

“I'm just saying-”

“Pippa!” Beth snapped.

The rest of the trip was made in silence.

When we got home, Beth pulled the Xebra into the garage, and plugged it in while the rest of us went into the house. Pippa went to her room without a word, but Gerry stopped to talk to me.

“What are you gonna do?” he asked.

“I don't know; just wait and see what happens, I guess.”

“If you want to get back together with her, don't wait. You already know what happens when you wait.”

“Yeah, Gerry, I do.”

Gerry patted me on the shoulder, and then went to his room. I waited for Beth to come in.

“Beth?” I said as she tried to pass me on the way to her bedroom.

“What?” she said, sounding tired and annoyed.

“I just wanted to thank you.”

Beth's expression changed to one of puzzlement, “For what?”

“For being there for me.”

“For coming to pick you up? It's not a big deal, I wanted to see her too.”

“No, in general. I realized tonight how much work you put in to keeping us all together, and thought I should thank you. You seemed like you needed some attention.”

Beth smiled, “You guys are my family. You're all I have, and I know you understand that. I'm sorry if I seemed a little short earlier, Tara just worries me.”

“Why? You don't like her?”

“I like the her I know, but none of us are the same person we were last year. What if she's changed? What if she hurts you? What if you hurt her? You got married while you thought she was dead, so what was she doing during that time? How is she going to react when you tell her the details about you and Sharon?”

“I'm just happy knowing she's alive; I'll be fine whatever happens.”

“Will you?” Beth took a breath, steeling herself for what she would say next, “This is going to sound bad, so please forgive me. The person I lost in all of this, back at the start, it is easier for me to know that they are dead than it would be if... this person was up walking around, living in this town, and weren't with me anymore. Now you're a strong person-”

“No, I'm not,”

“Stop that! You are strong, but I don't know if you're that strong. Whatever happens, just please don't go back to the way you were in June.”

“I will be fine, I promise you.”

Beth nodded, “Just be careful with your heart and hers. I'm going to get some sleep. You should too.”

“I will soon,” I said.

“I know, after you write it all down in your diary,” Beth gave me a quick hug, ”I'll see you in the morning.”

So is Beth right? Have Tara and I changed too much to be compatible anymore? Is she in a relationship with Oliver? Is that why she was shooting daggers with his eyes? Am I just setting myself up for more pain?

I'm on the late shift again tomorrow, so I guess I'll have all day to talk things over with Tara. Whatever becomes of it, I will not go back to being mopey and depressed. Things are as good as they are ever likely to get for me again right now, and I am not going to squander that.

Even here in Lovelock I could still die tomorrow, or next week, or next month. I may not see another Halloween or Christmas, and I am not going to spend anymore time feeling sorry for myself; I am not going to waste even one more day being miserable.

Whatever happens tomorrow with Tara, I will survive.

Hey, hey.