Aleea Davidson’s Picture Choice:
Title: Wither Part 16
Glen was right. Mac was going to be a problem.
He added another log of wood to the fire blazing in the living room fireplace, singing a finger in the process, though it wasn’t pain that had his jaw clenched so damn tight he thought his back molars might crack under the pressure.
He jammed the poker into the center of the burning stack, shifting a few pieces so the new addition caught its fair share of the flames, and tried to think objectively.
Mac was out of the house. That was a good thing. Twenty-four hours in the man’s presence was enough. The guy was an abrasive, opinionated loudmouth with a sly demeanour. Glen had quickly discerned Mac saw Mara and the boys—and more specifically the house and its stockpile of essentials—as something he had a right to.
Snatches of his conversation with Mac the night before skipped through his head, the accusations the man had hurled making his temper flare hotter than the air puffing out of the chimney flue.
“Mara’s my niece. As her uncle, I have a responsibility to look out for her. I show up, find you here, all moved in, nice and cosy, taking advantage of a girl barely even a woman. You got what? Ten years or more on her? And you somehow think you can tell me how long I can stay? This ain’t your house. This is my brother’s house!”
It had taken every ounce of willpower Glen had not to punch the man in the throat. It didn’t help that Mac’s words pricked at a sensitive spot, making him wonder if there wasn’t some truth to them. He was a lot older than Mara. He had taken refuge here after finding out Government men were staking out the place he’d been living. By invite, yes, but still...
His plans originally had been to stay a few days, wait for whatever trail he’d inadvertently laid to grow cold. He’d seen less and less of the Government men in their black vans in the last year. Their numbers, like the rapidly declining general population, seemed to be depleting. It was unlikely they’d stick around for long. Their resources—gasoline, food, medical supplies to run their clinics—had to be running as low as their manpower. They couldn’t afford to spend weeks looking for one UV Tolerant man, no matter how few there were left in the world.
Whatever plans Glen had to move on once he felt it was safe were derailed by his growing feelings for Mara and the boys, the sense of responsibility he felt for them, the desire to help in any way he could.
He wanted to think his decision to stay was based purely on those altruistic motives, the truth, however, was he’d been lonely a long time...
So no, he couldn’t say there wasn’t a selfish side to his choice, but it wasn’t about taking hold of a house on the safer outskirts of town. It also wasn’t about the cache of food and supplies he’d personally helped scavenge to create the decent stockpile that would see them through the winter.
It was about Mara and the boys. Three people he’d grown to care deeply for...hell, he loved them, and no way was he going to allow Mac to take a single thing beyond the few essentials Mara felt beholden to give him before showing him the door.
Glen laid the poker down and stood. His knee joints popped in protest, making him feel every one of his thirty-two years. He splayed his hands out to the welcome heat from the built up fire, half listening to Mara as she read quietly to the boys on the sofa behind him. His thoughts were turbulent; a riotous mixture that wouldn’t settle.
Mac had left grudgingly after sunset, but he hadn’t gone far. He’d come back an hour after he left to inform them he’d decided to stick around, at least for the rest of the winter, and that he’d claimed squatter’s rights to an empty house a block away.
The Grant’s house.
Glen bit down a slew of curse words. Remembering Mara’s face turning a shade of white better suited to a corpse when she’d realized where Mac planned to stay, made his blood boil all over again.
He knew Mara continued to struggle with discovering the Grant’s and their young son dead in their backyard. A macabre picnic taken in the full light of day had purposely ended their lives, the scene leaving a scar on Mara’s heart that still hadn’t healed. Coming on the heels of witnessing a butcher in the town square put a bullet in his brain, Glen doubted it ever would.
He’d helped Mara bury the family at the sight of their final moments, the checkered blanket laid over their forms, the little boy’s toy action figures at his side, before they covered them with dirt. They’d said no words, offered no eulogy. It all seemed hopeless and sad, and so they’d simply returned home and tried to bury themselves in the day to day task of survival.
Mac hadn’t cared one iota when Mara told him about the family. He’d callously shrugged then let out a harsh bark of a laugh that made him sound like the ass he clearly was. “Well, that’s a good thing. No one is going to be showing up trying to kick me out, right?”
Glen’s fists curled, the memory of those cold words making him itch to commit violence. He didn’t like the feeling and tried to tamp it down. Funny. He used to consider himself a peaceful man. A professor. A scholar. Sure, in his younger years he’d been in a physical altercation or two...but that had been testosterone and reckless youth, not a true facet of his personality, or so he’d thought...
Day by day, the old him was slowly eroding away. He felt a coldness growing within that was disconcerting yet oddly welcome at the same time. He was beginning to realize to survive in this new world, he might just need it.
Closing the glass doors on the fireplace front, Glen turned and watched Mara settling the boys for bed. In their upside down world, dawn lurked right around the corner, signalling a backward end to the dark hours that made up their ‘days.’
Teddy and Jeremy had spent hours building a fort with blankets and towels around the couch, and they planned to sleep there tonight. With temperatures plummeting as winter looked to take a stronger hold, it made sense to transition them from their bedroom down the hall to this room. The usable living space in the house would shrink as the weeks got colder. There was only so much space a fireplace could heat.
Glen watched as the boys scurried inside, smiling slightly, feeling some of the anger dissipate as he listened to them squabble over who got to sleep on the “better” side of the fort. It hurt him to see the way Teddy’s bowed legs and stiff joints made the action clumsy and uncoordinated, but it also cemented the protective feelings he harboured. Mac—relative be damned—wasn’t going to get his hooks into this family. Glen’s family. It was just that simple.
He joined Mara, helping her fold a few of the discarded, unused blankets as the boy’s resolved their argument with a game of paper, rock, scissors and quieted quickly. She looked up at him when he took the last one from her hands and tossed it on the couch unfolded.
All night a weight of expectation had hung over them, Mac’s intrusion and subsequent behaviour further cementing Glen’s desire...no need...to take things with Mara to the next level. As if she’d sensed this, she’d been quieter than normal, watching him, waiting.
Glen was through waiting. He was certain she was too.
She looked at the blanket fort, biting her lip, a light pink tint to her cheeks as Glen took her hand and gave a gentle tug to bring her closer. He dropped his head and found her mouth, her taste a sweet explosion to his senses. She smelled like wood smoke and vanilla mixed with the faintest hint of female sweat. He wanted to touch her, make love to her, more than he wanted his next breath of air.
“They’re fine,” he told her when she darted another glance at the fort. He smiled. “Come to bed, beautiful nymph.”
As Glen led her to the bedroom, he didn’t miss the flash of nervousness that briefly showed in her expression. She wasn’t alone in the feeling, though he didn’t allow it to show. Her innocence was a gulf between them he’d have to cross with care.
Ignoring his nerves, and the worry that he didn’t have the sexual skills required to make her first time as close to perfect as physically possible, Glen let go of Mara’s hand long enough to light a few candles. A brief image of his wife momentarily threatened to break into the forefront of his thoughts. He pushed it away, ruthless in his resolve.
He’d loved Jen. He still loved her. A part of him would always love her. But she was gone, and he was here, and if the fucked up present time had taught him anything, it was this - happiness of any kind could not be squandered. He had to grab what he could and hold tight. Time wasn’t guaranteed to any of them, and the uncertainty of tomorrow only made the moment they lived in all the more precious.
Glen took Mara to bed, and he did his level best to make the world and its problems go away for a little while.
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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)