Aleea Davidson’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: Wither Part 17
A draft worked its way around the room. The flames on the candles bobbed and danced, and Mara shivered. She wound the heavy knit shawl that once belonged to her mother across her shoulders. For a moment, she swore the scent of her mom’s favourite perfume still lingered in the intricate weave.
Mara brought a corner of the fabric to her nose and inhaled, but all she could smell was a mixture of wood smoke and the faintest tinge of soap from the hasty scrub she’d given herself this morning.
Mara shivered again, still feeling the lingering chill from those early ablutions, hastily done with a bowl of cold water and a washcloth. God, she missed steamy hot showers and long soaks in luxuriously warm bubble baths.
She missed a lot of things, if she was being honest. Her parents were number one on that list. A life with possibility, potential, and a future that didn’t terrify her, was a close second.
Was it really only a year ago she’d indulged in long walks in the park with her mom, a canopy of trees over their heads, the dirt path beneath their feet packed down and dry, sending little clouds of gray-brown dust up around their ankles with each step? It felt longer; a lifetime perhaps. Back then, their biggest worries with the sun had been wrinkles and the vague fear of melanoma. Mara could still remember her mother ordering her to slather on sunscreen. If only they’d known then what they truly needed to fear.
Pushing the melancholy that threatened to swamp her back down, Mara focused on her reflection, dim as it was. The weak lighting emphasized the shadows under her eyes and the hollowness beneath her cheekbones. Her hair was limp and needed a good washing. She’d have to warm water for a proper scrub down tomorrow. The boys and Glen probably needed one as well.
Mara sighed. She didn’t look forward to the task. Glen had dug an outdoor fire pit and scavenged several metal grates and bricks, creating a place to boil water and cook food. It was crude yet effective, and she was grateful to have it. Still, lugging water in and out of the house in heavy cast iron pots was hard, back-breaking work. She’d never realized how much water it took to fill a bathtub. Yet one more thing about pre-UV Intolerant days she’d taken for granted...
Maybe she and Glen could share the tub, lessening the amount of water they’d need to heat.
Warmth flushed her cheeks at the thought, part desire and part embarrassment. Intimacy was still new between them. It’d been a week since the night he’d finally taken their relationship to the next level. She guessed that’s what you’d call it. They hadn’t discussed it, nor had they defined what was between them with words.
And, oh, such lovely touch...
Mara pressed her hands to the sudden hot flush on her face, simultaneously warming her icy fingers and cooling the skin stretched a bit tighter than she was used to across her bones. Her eyes fell closed, remembering the night he’d led her to the bedroom.
He’d been so careful, maybe even nervous. His hands, big and solid, rough from endless chopping and stacking of wood, had trembled a bit as he’d undressed her.
It hadn’t been like the romance books she loved to read. She wasn’t sure if she’d expected it to be or not. It was better in some ways, she supposed. He’d made her feel cherished, important, desired. She hadn’t expected him to be so gentle and careful.
In between the glossy covers of her paperbacks, sex tended to be rushed and frantic, a little rough and crazy. The hero and the heroine desperately fired up and racing paragraph by descriptive paragraph toward a shattering mutual fulfillment.
Glen had showed her something quite different. Desire could be slow and crafted, nervous and fumbling, with giggles and awkward moments punctuated by the most delicious sensations. Smiles and caresses and yes, there, there, there...
Mara smiled, eyes still closed. She was much warmer with the memories playing out behind her eyelids, the chill of the air welcome as her body eagerly remembered each second.
There’d been a little pain, though not much. No fireworks, just the sweet closeness of holding him as he shuddered and groaned her name. Such an incredible feeling to give another human being that kind of pleasure—it hadn’t mattered to her that the sensations he felt had escaped her.
Fortunately for her, it had mattered to Glen. He’d held her for a little while afterwards, and that had been wonderfully nice, too. Then, with a determined look on his face, he set about to—in his words—“do better.”
And, oh, he had done better. Way better.
She opened her eyes in time to see the sly smile tugging her lips up at their corners. She bit down on her bottom one, remembering that those romance books hadn’t gotten it all wrong. There was sweet and tender and lovely, and then there was the shed in the backyard where they’d stacked extra firewood. Cold air and hot breath that fogged the one tiny window. Clothing shoved aside in only necessary places to save skin from freezing. A door that rattled in its frame as Glen pressed her to the wall and showed her that there was a time and place for desperate, fired up, and shattering mutual fulfillment.
Mara exhaled a breath she barely realized she was holding and shook her head at her reflection. She really shouldn’t be sitting here, indulging in memory. The boys were up. She needed to get them fed and doing something productive, like working on their math or reading. They’d want to help Glen instead, which meant she’d have to bribe them somehow.
She closed her eyes again, only this time for a different reason. From the other room, she heard the sound of Teddy coughing. A deep wracking, chest rattling sound that created a tight knot in her stomach, pinching off any desire she might have had for breakfast.
He sounded worse as she rose and hurried out into the living room. She found Glen, kneeling in front of Teddy, holding a cup of water and encouraging him to take small sips. Teddy was pale except for two unnaturally bright spots of pink on either side of his nose.
Smiling for his benefit, though she felt sick herself, she sat beside him on the sofa. She could feel the rolling heat radiating off his small body as he huddled deeper into the blanket draped across his shoulders. Glen had built up the fire so the room was toasty in comparison to her bedroom. The downside, unfortunately, was no matter how efficient the flu on the chimney, tendrils of smoke still managed to seep into the room, tainting the air that Teddy desperately needed to be clear.
Her gaze met Glen’s, and they shared the concern etching lines around his mouth as his jaw muscles clenched. He turned and forced a smile for Teddy as well. Jeremy hovered, looking equally small and concerned.
“There you go,” Glen urged, forcing the same fake smile as Teddy took a few more swallows without coughing. “Good job.”
Teddy grimaced slightly then turned to Mara. A genuine grin lit his face, his voice slightly rasped as he spoke. “Guess I’m too sick for math today, huh?”
Mara managed a laugh, hoping it didn’t sound as fake as it felt. “Well...” She pretended to think, and Teddy’s hopeful smile fell.
Part because she desperately wanted the smile to come back, she said, “Yes, I think we can take a break from lessons today.” At the resurgence of his smile, she quickly added, “Only till you feel better, though, okay?”
He nodded happily, then, as if the small interaction had sucked the energy out of him, he slumped back against the cushions and picked up the comic book at his side.
Mara rose and headed into the kitchen, telling them she’d get breakfast started. Glen followed. As soon as they were out of earshot of the boys, she leaned against the counter giving Glen a panicked look.
“He’s getting worse,” she stated. The cough had come on suddenly two days ago. She’d thought he seemed a little better yesterday. Apparently not.
“I think you’re right.”
“It’s pneumonia, isn’t it?”
Glen shrugged, but his expression gave away his worry. “We can’t know that for sure.”
“It’s something that can happen because of never getting out in the sunlight, Glen, you know it as well as I do. The vitamin D supplements aren’t enough. No sunlight. No fresh fruits or vegetables. No red meat. They’re getting weaker. More susceptible to illness.” She tried to keep her voice steady and failed. She swallowed hard, trying to resist an urge to bawl.
“Do you know...is there...a doctor out there, somewhere? The medical facility they set up when UV Intolerance first broke out had dozens of doctors. Surely someone, somewhere around here is left. They can’t all be dead, can they?”
Glenn stepped close and took her by the upper arms, squeezing gently. “Mara, shhh.” He glanced over his shoulder. As she took a grounding breath, reaching out to put her hands against his chest, she could hear the boys arguing amicably about their favourite comic book heroes.
“Listen to me,” he continued when he was sure the boys weren’t eavesdropping. “Finding a doctor is going to be nearly impossible. Maybe there are a few around, I don’t know for sure, but I wouldn’t know where to start looking now that there are no medical facilities running. You know how it was. The medical professionals and rescue workers took the biggest hit in the early days. They weren’t always careful enough. They fell sick in droves.”
She nodded. “I know.” She felt hopeless and fought against hysteria. “He needs antibiotics,” she said. Stating what was obvious made her feel better. It was a goal and she’d always been the type of person who needed goals. She refused to consider his illness might be viral and therefore beyond the help of medicine.
Glen drew her close, and she fell into him, relishing his warmth and the solid, grounding feel of him holding her tight. She was so glad not to be alone in this anymore.
“What do we do?” she asked
“We do what we have been doing,” he answered quietly. “We go out. We scavenge. There has to be some antibiotics somewhere in this town.”
She nodded, her head pressed to his shoulder.
“I’ll go now.”
Mara pulled back. “I’m going with you.”
Glen started to refuse, but she cut him off. “I know what you’re going to say. I should stay here and keep an eye on Teddy. And I’d agree, except I know this part of town better than you. Which houses are empty or most likely to have supplies. Where people might be alive or...gone.”
“You’re not going to do this without me, Mara. It’s nearly full dark. Survivors will be out soon, doing exactly what we are. You know what it’s like. Remember the town square.” Glen’s tone was firm, his grip on her getting tighter to the point of almost being painful.
“I know,” she said, smiling slightly when he looked surprised at her easy acceptance. “We can cover more ground together anyway.”
She glanced at the doorway to the living room. She hated the idea of leaving Teddy and Jeremy alone, especially right now. The choice, however, wasn’t acceptable. The sooner they left, the sooner they’d get back.
“We should ask Mac to help.”
Glen grit his teeth, clearly not liking that idea at all.
“I know you don’t trust him, Glen. Neither do I to be honest. But he’s been doing a lot of scavenging himself. Maybe he knows where we might find what we need.”
“Fine. We ask him.”
Mara nodded. “Okay. I’ll get the boys something to eat. Make sure they’re settled and then we’ll go.”
Glen stepped back and let her do what she needed. She instantly missed his body heat and the way he made her feel secure.
Taking a deep breath, she grabbed some bowls and the powdered milk, all the while praying they’d find what they needed, fast. The sound of Teddy having another coughing fit filled her with determination.
As long as there was breath in her body, she wasn’t going to stand around and let another member of her family slip out of her grasp.
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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)