Ruth Long’s Picture Choice: Two
Title: Blue Jean Regime - Part Four
Autumn afternoon. Blue skies. Empty roads.
Their route down River Road might have been a lovely lazy country drive, just a couple of kids holding hands, listening to the radio, and daydreaming about the future. Instead, it was a quiet sober detour on the outskirts of town designed to avoid hordes of zeds.
The countryside appeared strangely removed from the chaos and destruction in town. The Flannery's two-story colonial looked as regal as it had every day for a century. Horses paraded in their paddocks out front and crops swayed in the breeze beside the barn. Made it easy to believe what they’d seen in town was just a bad dream.
Another couple of miles and they'd be safe, surrounded by friends and tucked away in their own quarters, where she could nurse the fussy baby, get some much needed rest and relaxation, and maybe begin coming to terms with life, or rather, what had become of life.
Jonas turned onto the gravel road that led to the back of the gym. “Let’s go over it one more time before we get there. Soon as we get out of the truck the guys will lower the ladder. Head for it, haul ass to the roof, and move to the side quick as you can so I can get up there and the guys can retract the ladder."
She shifted in the seat to look at him, taking comfort in his relaxed posture. “You said there will be plenty of people on the roof to help, right? Because I’m still a little shaky on my feet and you'll be carrying Eden.”
“Jay and Donovan will be up top with a handful of others. I’m sure my sis will be there too. Quit making that face. I get that you’re nervous about meeting her and yeah, she’ll probably play the hardass card but soon as she gets her hands on Eden, she’ll settle down. If not, I’ll set her straight, okay?”
It was so not okay but what was she going to do? Only option was to suck it up and trust Jonas to handle it if things went south. Damn it! She was on the verge of tears again. She could deal with the weariness and ache of delivering Eden but the fluctuating hormones were a bitch.
There weren't as many cars as she expected when they pulled up to the brick building. Certainly nothing like when there was a ball game or even Saturday practice. Where was everybody? Were there other bases throughout the town? The county? The state? So many questions she hadn't thought to ask before now. Something else there'd be time for once they were safely inside.
Jonas lifted Eden from her car-seat and buttoned her into his coat. “Remember, no matter what, keep climbing. Don’t stop. Don't slow down. Don't look down. And soon as you get to the top, get clear of the ladder and stay where they put you. Ready?"
Climb fast. Get clear. Stay put.
She nodded, dropped to the pavement, and headed for the ladder descending from the roof but something in her peripheral vision diverted her attention and her foot slid off the first rung. A crowd of zeds came from around the library, a dozen or more of them, moving fast, chasing someone who appeared headed for the ladder.
Jonas’ hands around her waist steadied her as she tried connecting with the first rung again. This time she got traction and hurried up the rungs. Jonas was so close behind that her heel connected with his cheek a couple times but she kept moving.
As she reached for the last rung, the ladder swung sideways and hers wasn't the only scream. Hands reached down, grasped her wrists and yanked her to the roof. One of the rescuers wrapped an arm around her waist and rolled her clear. She scarcely had time to register Donovan’s face before he was up and gone.
She started to get up but a heavy knee crashed into her spine, a powerful body pinned her to the roof, and a gruff voice said, “Stay put, cupcake.”
Donovan reappeared just long enough to thrust Eden into her arms and the knee eased up, waited for her to get the baby tucked against her chest before reapplying its considerable pressure.
The discomfort of being held down was nothing compared to the assault on her ears. Metal scraping brick. Frantic shouts. Screaming. A strange incomprehensible rasping. Conflicting instructions. And then a pair of gunshots echoed across the cement and sky and only a hushed murmuring remained.
Movement at the edge of the roof caught her attention and she watched as a body was stretched out on its side, shirt so bloody the skate logo was hardly visible. Skate logo. Jonas. "NO!”
Securing Eden under one arm, she tried crawling to him but the imposing knee was joined by a second one, stopping her progress before it began.
Suddenly, Donovan was there, face so close his breath stirred her eyelashes. "You don't want to go over there, Haley. Please. Listen to me. He wouldn't want you to see him like that."
She couldn’t catch her breath. "Like what? Oh god. Please. Jonas! Jonas!”
Once she started screaming his name, she couldn’t stop. Moments later, Eden joined in, her wail so shrill it was like a sharp needle puncturing eardrums.
Jonas’ body began to twitch and a strange guttural sound emanated from his chest. Was this how it happened? The change? How long before they - would they shoot him or just push him over the edge?
This couldn’t be happening. Not now. Not after all his careful planning. Not when they had a second chance to make things right.
He moved again, surprising her by getting to his feet and coming to her. No one shot or tackled him. Maybe he was going to survive? Maybe some people were immune to the virus or whatever it was, right?
He crouched in front of her. "I need you and Eden to go inside now. That gorilla on your back is my sister, Mason. She'll take you downstairs, okay?"
She reached out and stroked his cheek. "Did you get bit?"
He kissed Eden's cheek, then hers, and helped her to her feet. "No, beautiful, but we just lost Jay and I'm going to need some time to deal with the situation. Go inside. Cuddle our daughter. And don't let my sis bully you too much."
She followed Mason through a door, down a stairwell, and into the gym office hallway. Through the open doors, she could see the basketball court was filled with rows of cots and people were huddled in groups across the bleachers. She started through the door but Mason redirected her.
"You and the baby are in here, in a private room," Mason said, pushing an office door open.
Well, she was a nursing mother and the privacy was welcome. "Thank you."
Mason blocked the doorway with a well-toned arm. "Don't thank me. I'd have put you in the gym but Jonas pitched a fit."
So much for niceties. Her body ached, was demanding that she save her energy for more important things than bitchy sisters but her hormonal emotions were boiling beneath the surface and it was about time she put them to good use. "You want to do this now, Mason, fine. But you better get it all out because it's the only time I'm going to put up with it. And soon as you're done, we're done, which means you can kiss any hope of a relationship with your niece goodbye."
Mason dropped her arm and stepped back. "I've been raising him since he was fifteen and I was nineteen, four years now, and then you came along and ... do you have any idea how that impacted our family? Damn it! Of course I want to be a part of my niece's life. Eden? That's her name, right? But I got all this shit I been daydreaming about saying to you. What am I supposed to do with it?"
She dropped into a chair and unwrapped Eden from her cocoon of blankets. "All I'm saying is that in the last forty-eight hours, I gave birth, found out the world imploded, and thought my boyfriend was dying, so you can understand how I don't have the energy to duke it out with you at the moment."
Mason leaned in and stroked her palm over Eden's head. "Well, you got me there. Guess we can call a truce. Just for tonight mind you, because I won't be able to keep it bottled up forever. I should go check on Jonas while you feed the baby."
Took some brass on her part, but she caught Mason's hand. "Hey, how about you stay here with Eden and let me see to Jonas."
Something softened in Mason’s face. "Really?"
"Yeah, really. Oh, while you're here, maybe you can take a look at her medical chart and make sure she's okay, healthy and all that, because she'd been moved to the NICU but we don't know why. We can talk that out when I get back."
She left Mason with a sleepy baby and wrinkled medical chart, and headed out into the gym. A couple of faces she recognized from the roof were hanging around and all too happy to direct her to the showers.
In another day and time, another world, she wouldn't have entered the boy's showers but this was now, and she was somebody else.
Donovan was standing at one of the sinks, dressed in sweats and shower shoes, slicking back his dark hair. "Jonas is still in the water."
She nodded. "Thanks."
"Hey, you got a minute?"
"Look, I want to clear the air about what went down this year. I'm not much for sticking around for people or hard times but Jonas and I have been running around since preschool and when it comes to him, I got his back on everything."
That was the most he'd ever said to her and there was no reason to interrupt him.
"What I'm saying it that some folks are going to give you shit about you and Jonas being back together but long as he's in it, I got your back. Now, get in there and talk my man out of his funk."
She rounded the corner to the shower stalls just as Jonas was coming out, towel wrapped around his hips. "Mason have the baby?"
"Yes, and the medical chart too."
He leaned up against the row of sinks. "She comes on strong but if you can hang in there, I think the two of you will get along."
"I guess we're going to find out. You, on the other hand, I'm worried about."
He looked away again. "Today I shot a kid I've known almost as long as I've known Donovan. A kid whose house we used to commandeer on weekends so we could play that damn zombie video game. A kid who was going to get a communications network up and running. It could have been me, Haley. Or you. Or Eden. But today, it was Jay."
She put her cheek to his. "How can I help you?"
He turned so that she was against the counter and lifted her so that she was sitting on it. "Just be here with me. Put your hands on me. Let me talk. Or not talk."
She sank her fingers into his scalp, massaging the skin, toying with his shaggy blonde waves. "Well,how about you let me use your shaggy mane to practice with the little pink barrettes you bought for Eden? Please?"
He kissed the tip of her nose. "Always. No matter the question, for you, the answer is always 'yes.'"
Like what you just read? Have a question or concern? Leave a note for the author! We appreciate your feedback!
A reader by birth, paper-pusher by trade and novelist by design, story-telling in my passion. If you enjoyed reading today's story, please consider checking out my blog bullishink.com, joining my creative community sweetbananaink.com or participating in the madcap twitter fun @bullishink.