Aleea Davidson’s Picture Choice: Both
Title: Wither Part 11
Mara wrapped her sweater tightly around her body, staring out the window, a cup of steaming tea in her chilled hands. The brew was weak—she’d taken to steeping the bags multiple times in order to make her small supply last longer—but the warmth was a blessing. The weather was damp and cold, a brisk wind tossing and tumbling dead leaves into every crevice and corner of the yard. They ended up huddled in unappealing brown clumps, as soggy and colourless as the dishwater gray sky. It was only mid October, yet already the trees were nearly bare, and the temperature of the air held that distinct icy bite normally reserved for the winter months.
She sipped lightly, ignoring the lack of taste in favour of letting the warm liquid settle her tilting stomach. Watching Glen gave her butterflies, and though he’d been a guest in her home for nearly six weeks, the sensation wasn’t going away.
He’d discarded his own sweater at some point—an old fisherman’s style cable knit Mara had found in the attic amongst a box of her father’s clothes—and worked only in a form-fitting t-shirt that hugged his shoulders. The soft fabric rode up at his waist each time he swung the axe at the wood he chopped. Taking advantage of a rare hour where the electricity actually worked without sputtering on and off, he’d gathered logs close to the back porch light and begun the tedious task of cutting them small enough to burn efficiently in the house’s two fireplaces.
He was ridiculously handsome in a rugged masculine way. Lean and fit with a light stubble of beard across his chin and jaw, he could’ve easily graced the cover of some magazine dedicated to outdoor life.
It was a half hour past twilight, and the last of the fading daylight caused a slew of shadows to dance and writhe against the back fence. The sight of them was disconcerting, making Mara miss sunlit days and summer warmth more than ever. She felt a sudden overwhelming urge to smell freshly mowed grass. To lay on the warm ground on a blanket with dandelions gone to seed disintegrating in a warm breeze. Glen by her side, holding her hand and reading to her from that ridiculous romance novel he’d taken from her the first time they’d met…
There were dozens of chores waiting on Mara, yet here she stood, daydreaming and taking advantage of the one window in the entire house that wasn’t boarded up to ogle a man who’d made it abundantly clear the physical attraction she felt wasn’t reciprocated.
Six weeks and he’d kept his distance perfectly, always a gentleman. He worked diligently around the house doing tasks she herself would’ve found nearly impossible. Firewood was cut and stacked. The loose roof shingles were replaced. Leaky faucets no longer leaked and gutters no longer banged against the eaves when the wind blew. He’d even repaired the rusted out mailbox, despite the fact she doubted there would ever be a reason to require such an accomplishment.
Her brothers adored him, following him around the house whenever possible and hanging on his every word with rapt attention, awarding him a level of respect and admiration Mara couldn’t help feeling slightly jealous over.
So far there had been no sign of the government men who supposedly searched for Glen, and she couldn’t deny that despite that threat she felt safer having him there. He made her feel a dozen different things, not all of them positive, frustration most prevalent among them.
Sighing, she leaned closer and breathed out a puff of air to fog the cold glass. She drew a heart in the mist then wiped it away, instantly mortified by the childish action. Heat gathered in her cheeks, unwelcome and frustrating. She found herself blushing a lot lately, like a silly teen with a crush.
The incongruity of her feelings and her situation crashed down on her suddenly, and the flush left her skin leaving it feeling colder than before. She looked away from Glen and up. Despite the darkening sky, she could still make out the thick column of smoke that rose from the town center.
For weeks after she and Glen returned from town, the riots had continued to rage. Sporadic local news found on the two remaining running radio stations they could tune into on a battery operated radio painted a dire picture. The small military force still present in the city rallied at first, attempting to keep peace. Apparently it had been a spectacular failure, their dwindling numbers no match for those consumed by desperation and grief. Eventually they quit trying and fled the city. The rows of townhouses they’d stayed in as makeshift barracks were reported to be abandoned completely.
People had supposedly exhausted themselves shortly after that, or ran out of food and supplies to fight over, or both, and the rioting ended. The fires that had been lit were kept under control by the frequent rain, but Glen speculated a large part of the town center had to be gone, and many buildings still smoldered with low fires waiting for a dry moment to erupt anew, creating a threat that made Mara shiver despite her sweater and the hot tea.
The last radio broadcast had been three days ago, and the news hadn’t been heartening.
If the wind changed direction…
If the rains quit…
One stray spark in the wrong place…
Closing her eyes, Mara fought back a wave of anxiety. Her entire world balanced on the precarious edges of chance and luck. She had no idea where they’d go if the fires got out of control. Worse, she had no idea how. There were two cars in the garage, but no gas to power them. And even if there was, how could she protect the boys from UV light out in the open?
She opened her eyes and watched Glen bury the axe in a stump, leaving it there as he stretched a kink out of his back. Her heart gave an odd little flutter.
Disgusted with herself, she heaved a deep sigh and stepped back to close the shutters. Downstairs she heard the boys arguing over something inconsequential. She left the room, careful to lock the door so curious little souls couldn’t come across any stray beams of poisonous light, and headed downstairs.
She needed to get her head back on her shoulders. She couldn’t afford daydreams and silly infatuations.
It was time to make plans for the future, with or without Glen.
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Aleea lives in her imagination most of the time. It's an interesting place to be... Occasionally she can be coaxed out to chat on Twitter, though she finds it akin to torture to stick to that absurd 140 character limit. (@Aleeab4u)