pot on the stove, "But I don't think I ever thought I'd be eating Spaghetti-O's in a mansion while a dead televangelist's girlfriend holds a gun to my head." He slid one bowl across the wide island to where she was sitting.
She giggled. "It's a crazy world, isn't it?"
"Crazier than it used to be, that's for damn sure."
Dawn put the .38 down on the counter next to his Glock and picked up a spoon. "So what's it like out there?"
"Totally crazy. I hear it's far worse outside the cities, where there were a lot more more people who disappeared, but it's like some people just gave up living, some people panicked, and some people decided to take advantage of the survivors."
"Which one are you?"
"None of the above," Rob offered a half smile, "I guess you could say I'm one of the runners."
"What are you running from?"
"A little bit of everything, I guess. It's a brave new world, I figured I'd be able to make a new start."
"Wherever. What's it like here?"
"Not so bad," Dawn shrugged. "Chicago's kind of taken everything over. But the mayor has managed to keep the power on and the gas flowing. Most of the time."
"Is he planning on starting his own little country out here?"
"No," she shook her head, "At least I don't think so. He's just trying to keep all the services going. The towns and counties are all pretty short staffed, between the disappearances, the people who aren't coming back to work, and all of the new people showing up out of nowhere. At least that's what I hear on the news. And they almost never tell us what's going on in the rest of the world."
"Some places are better than others," Rob said. "I hear the coasts are mostly okay. The government is still mostly up and running and I've seen the Army and National Guard out trying to restore order."
"Yeah. I talked to an Army guy in Missouri a few days ago, though. He says that the U.N. is trying to use this to leverage a One World Government thing."
"So? We don't hear from our own President. What's the U.N. gonna do?"
"Jack shit, probably. Isn't that what they always do?"
Rob shrugged. "Anyway, things are starting to come back. I hear most of the oil refineries and platforms down on the Gulf coast are back online. But the planes are still grounded, since most of the airports took heavy damage."
"There's been some bad weather, too," Dawn offered. "I did hear that we were supposed to be getting an aid convoy or something, but there have been blizzards out east."
"Couldn't tell you anything about that."
"Okay." She looked up at the clock. "Oh, it's time for the nightly news update." She picked up the .38 and used it to gesture towards another room. "Come on, the TV's in there."
He led her in to the next room and took a seat in an overstuffed chair. She plopped herself down on the couch and picked up a remote with her left hand. The gun stayed in her right.
The nightly news report was sparse. It was mostly a list of services which services were being restored and where, a weather forecast, and a reminder of the dusk to dawn curfew imposed on Chicago and the collar counties. There were no sports scores, no human interest stories, no lottery numbers. It ended with what the anchor called "A Moment of Hope."
That night's moment of hope was a quick story about how a group of neighbors in the north suburbs were taking it upon themselves to make sure that stranded Northwestern University students were getting fed and, in some cases, giving them rides home. "Remember," the anchor signed off, "It's all of our responsibilities to watch out for each other. So try to create your own moment of hope for someone tomorrow."
"It's not much," Dawn shrugged apologetically as she turned the set off, "But it helps make everything feel a little normal again."
"What's on the rest of the time?"
"Ah." Rob scratched his head. "So, uh, how did you end up here?"
"A lifetime of bad decisions, I guess," she shrugged. "I mean, I knew that all I had to do was pray that stupid prayer he was always talking about. I guess I thought...I guess I thought that he was just crazy and it would never happen."
"So you actually do buy that Rapture story?"
"What else could it be?"
Rob waved his hands helplessly. "I don't know. I've heard a lot of crazy theories. Seems like everyone's just sitting around trying to figure it out."
"Well, there's not much else to do. Just that and survive."
"I, uh, I met a guy on the road a couple days ago," Rob sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "I stopped because I saw him lying on the side of the road. He, um, he told me that he'd been clean for six years, that he'd stopped drinking the day his wife told him she was pregnant. Said his daughter was finally the thing he found that gave meaning to his life. When she disappeared he broke in to a liquor store, stole as many bottles as he could and just wandered away."
"What did you say to him?"
"What can you say? All I know is that isn't the answer. We can't fall apart and we can't just sit around and wait for the meaning to come back in to our lives. We need to move." He gestured towards the TV. "That guy on the news was right about that moment of hope thing."
"You know," Dawn dropped her head back against the back of the couch and looked at the ceiling as tears began to form at the corners of her eyes, "You know why I came here?"
"I told myself it was for the food, the supplies. But what I really wanted to do was sleep in his bed." She lifted her head and looked at him, a combination of shame and defiance in her expression. "Really. How pathetic is that? The whole world goes to hell in a handbasket and all I can think is, 'Hey, maybe now I'll actually get to sleep in his bed.'"
"Did you love him?"
She thought about it for a moment. "Yes...no...hell, I don't know." She paused. "See? I'm pathetic."
"No, you're not." He took a deep breath. "You're human. We all do crazy things for silly reasons."
"You know what the real shit of it is?" she asked. The answer came before Rob even had a chance to open his mouth. "I don't really think he ever cared about me. I've been sitting here by myself trying to figure out what I miss about him and all I can think about is all the reasons I'm glad I don't have to see him any more. I was just a thing to him, a toy. I could see it in the way he looked at me sometimes." She stopped and cocked her head to one side as a sudden realization hit. "Maybe that's why I never prayed his stupid prayer."
She smirked. "He once told me that I should pray the prayer because it really wouldn't be Heaven if he couldn't bring 'his favorite lay' with him. I think I thought it was funny at the time, but it wasn't. He was just a selfish bastard. I couldn't imagine wanting to be in the same place as him for all eternity."
"So then why did you stick around with him?"
"I think," she closed her eyes for a second, then shook her head as if to toss a thought away. After a moment she looked back up. "I think I've always preferred to chase after things that I'll never be able to catch. It's easier, I guess, knowing that I'll never be happy but can always pretend I am than trying to hold on to someone I truly care about and knowing he might leave."
"Well," Rob shrugged, "You can't chase this Colin guy all the way to Heaven. And I really don't think you want to."
"Nope," she smiled, "I really don't."
"Give yourself a chance. Get out of this house. I'm sure you'll figure out that there's someone who's worth holding on to."
"We all are. It's okay."
She stared at him for a moment that seemed to stretch into eternity. "You might be right," she finally said, nodding.
"I am. Trust me."
"But you know, I'm kind of tired. I think I'll go to bed." She paused. "You probably shouldn't be caught outside after curfew, so if you want you can stay here. There's a guest bedroom at the top of the stairs."
"Aren't you worried about having me in the house at night?"
"No," she shook her head. "I'm not. Besides, if you want to steal this shit, it's not mine. I don't care about it. And as for anything else, well," she waved the .38, "I sleep behind locked doors with a loaded pistol under my pillow. Just so you know."
Dawn disappeared up the stairs. Rob went in to the kitchen, cleaned up the dishes and grabbed the Glock off the island. As he started to go upstairs he realized the front door was still standing open, so he closed it and secured the locks. Then he went to bed.
* * *
A soft knock awakened him some time later. His hand found the gun under his pillow before he'd even registered where he was. The guest bedroom. Everything was softly lit by the light of a nearly full moon, so he knew it was still the middle of the night.
"Rob?" he heard Dawn's voice through the door. "Are you still here? Can I come in?"
He took his hand off the pistol. "Yeah, what is it?"
The door opened and she walked in. "I'm sorry to wake you." She walked across the room and sat down on the side of the bed. "It's just that...well, it gets lonely here."
"I understand. I've been on the road by myself a lot, too." He studied her for a moment. She'd traded in the lumpy sweatshirt and baggy jeans she'd been wearing for a t-shirt and a pair of pajama pants. He realized that he'd been completely wrong. Dawn was definitely not a young girl. In the moonlight he wondered how he could have thought that at all.
"I, uh, I wanted you to know that I'm not scared of you."
"Good," Rob smiled, "You shouldn't be. I'm not going to hurt you."
"I also want you to know that, uh, well, it was nice having someone to talk to," she smiled shyly, "And I'm glad you didn't leave. Or turn out to be a psycho."
He grinned. "I'm glad I didn't turn out to be a psycho, too."
She smiled wider. Her eyes shone in the moonlight. "Um, I don't want you to think I'm, like, a slut or anything, but...well," she paused, "It gets kind of cold and lonely in this house at night..."
He nodded and pulled the covers back. "I've spent too many nights in an empty bed, too," he whispered. "I know what it's like."
She slid in next to him and pulled the covers tight. After a moment's hesitation she pushed her body up against his. "Don't try anything funny," she muttered.
He wrapped an arm around her and breathed a deep sigh. "I won't."
"Can you stay tomorrow and do something for me?"
"Take me out somewhere. Anywhere. I don't care."
"I'd love to."