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.

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