Hey guys! Thanks for all the love the last chapter. This one's a little longer for you!
Huge thanks to Jessypt, WO and Nico! Thanks for all your time ladies! All mistakes below are mine.
A vaccine would not be available for a number of months after the pandemic started, and there are very limited stockpiles of antiviral drugs. Plus, only a few privileged areas of the world have access to vaccine-production facilities. Vaccine would have no impact on the course of the virus in the first months and would likely play an extremely limited role worldwide during the following 12 to 18 months of the pandemic.
Peter and Edward rush into the house, and Charlotte is coming down the stairs.
"Is it on?" Edward asks, sweaty and flushed.
I'm crying and laughing. I can't answer but nod my head frantically and jump into his arms. He spins me around, and the four of us have a celebration in my living room. We have no champagne, but Edward gets his bottle of Jack—just seeing it still makes my stomach turn—and the three of them toast to the power while I drink a bottle of water. We all laugh when Charlotte sips her shot and shudders with each one. Edward turns the CD player on, and we spend the next ten minutes toasting and dancing, until it all stops and we're left in the silent nothingness again.
"Ah fuck," Peter says, dropping Charlotte's waist and limping back to the front door. "God damn it."
"Oh no," I say, looking up to Edward.
"Nah, I think we've figured it out. It's just testy."
"What is it?"
"Hell if I know. I'm learning as I go. From what Peter explained it's kind of like when you steal your neighbors cable. Now that the city is up, it's just a matter of linking our lines with them... or something. I don't know," he laughs. "I'm going to help Peter."
I'm encouraged by the fact Edward's mood doesn't falter, but it's still upsetting to lose the power so fast.
Then it's just me and Charlotte, and she's not letting any negativity in this space.
"None of that, sweat pea," she says, linking her arm with mine. "We're going to go scrub that tub of yours, get your laundry together, and we'll be ready the second the power comes back on. Then it's soaking time for you." I try to protest, but she shushes me and pulls me along. "When I was pregnant, I lived in warm baths. It's a right you get, and you're not missing out on it." She winks, and I'm out of arguments.
We strip the sheets off the bed and gather towels and clothes, piling them up in order of importance. My body vibrates and my fingers and toes tingle at the thought of fresh scented, clean clothes.
Edward was right. After fiddling with things for a bit, they get another hour of electricity for us. It's enough time to bathe and get a load of towels and sheets done. The bath—I can't even describe it. The luxury of it. The heat and comfort. I stay in until my body is a wrinkled mess and the water slinks closer to room temperature. I could kiss Charlotte when she hands me the pile of sheets hot from the dryer. I promise myself I will roll in them naked, absorbing the scent and soft clean feeling that can only come from a dryer the second Peter and Charlotte leave.
Once we're alone for the night we sit in the living room in silence. I know Edward and I are thinking the same thing, because we both keep eyeing the phone. I want to check those messages so badly, but I'm scared.
I don't want more bad news.
"I know, me too." Edward reaches over and grabs my hand, obviously understanding my internal struggle.
"I just can't handle... If something happened..." Tears bully their way into my eyes no matter how hard I fight them.
"Shh, I know. We have to face it though."
Television, email, phone... all these things I've longed for I now fear.
We check our computers, but there is no internet.
We start slowly with Edward bringing the television back into the room and plugging it in.
"Do you think the cable will work? I haven't paid the bill."
Edward turns and smirks at me. "They didn't send a bill, so fair game."
I laugh. The time when I paid bills and checked the mail feels like a past life, or a story I was once told about.
He sits next to me and we both hold our breath when he hits power. The electric buzz of the screen firing up hits my ears, and I can almost feel the static energy from the television. The screen is on, but it's still black. Edward leans forward and starts pushing buttons. Blue screen, fuzzy, black then a message.
"Stop!" I shout.
A message from the Emergency Broadcast System. The county quarantine is still in effect. Citizens are encouraged to remain in their homes and have limited contact with others. If you or a family member experience symptoms of the virus, do not leave your home. If you are in need of body collection, please call 206-515-5525.
I shiver at the message.
"Okay, keep going."
Black, blue, fuzz... Fuzz, blue, fuzz... Black, black, fuzz... Blue, black, a woman.
Good evening. This broadcast was recorded on June 28, 2012.
I look at Edward, and he shrugs his shoulders. It's been over a month.
With quarantines still in place, all citizens are asked to stay in their county of residence, and where possible, in their homes. Now that the vaccines have been released, authorities predict the quarantines will be lifted within a years time.
"They found a vaccine?"
My wide eyes find his. Questions bounce in my mind, and I can see them in his eyes. Did they really find a vaccine? Did we hear that right?
Edward turns the volume up and the woman on the screen has our full attention.
Health and government officials will be among the first to receive the limited supply. Once the vaccine is available to the general public, the quarantine will be lifted roughly six months later. People should not take any risks after the release, however. Officials from the World Health Organization warn it could take 3-5 years for the death toll to stabilize. The manpower and resources to mass produce the vaccine are not available. Officials are pleading with survivors to be patient and guaranteeing the vaccine will reach everyone eventually. While the quarantine will be lifted, people are still being asked not to leave their counties if at all possible.
So the good news is there is finally a vaccine, and the bad news is it could take years to reach us. The news leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The dates are not solid and when do things ever work out on the timeline planned anyway? I look at Edward, and I can tell we're both thinking the same thing; there's no way we can wait that long to look for our families.
Monsanto's fall into bankruptcy last month has contributed to the nation's dwindling supply of food, since they were relied upon for most all processed items. For those unfamiliar, Monsanto controlled the majority share of crop and seeding growth in the United States, therefore corporations such as, Kraft, Nestle, Kellogg, Pillsbury, General Mills and many more have shut their doors. Those with freezer-equipped warehouses are being used for morgues and others have been left for looters and squatters. Because of the virus and lack of food to feed cattle the meat and dairy industries have also fallen. Most grocery stores around the country report it's been weeks, if not months, since they've received a delivery.
This is like no news programming I've ever seen. She's not in a news station but in what looks like a basic office. The microphones are visible, and the video breaks and pauses throughout the broadcast. It reminds me of the videos released in hostage situations.
Southern Coast - The hurricanes that battered the region have raised the death toll and due to hazardous conditions, aid has been unable to reach the area. Citizens from the region are being encouraged to evacuate as quarantines have been temporarily lifted.
Edward's hand covers his mouth, his eyes wide. Images of destruction, bodies piled up almost building high, and people of all ages massacred by nature flash by the woman's head. There's no such thing as a weather team in our new world, no warning sirens. I imagine the people being blind-sided in their homes, having survived the virus, only to be taken down anyway by nature. There is no Red Cross, and FEMA is a distant memory. No one came to these poor peoples' aid. Capitalism has fallen. We truly see that every government entity, every corporation... they are all made up of people, and people are dropping each day.
She pauses, as if she's allowing her audience—whoever is still alive to watch her—absorb this horrible information. Like a robot with no emotion she continues.
The East Coast and North East -
My ears perk up and my hand grips Edward's thigh.
I almost reach forward and shut the screen off. I don't want to see the pictures or hear the horrible fate my brother might have faced. Edward pulls me close, and tears leak out of my eyes before I even hear her speak.
Quarantines are still in effect. Much of the region is still without power from the winter storm, but crews have started to mobilize and power is slowly being restored. Food delivery, which was stopped due to crime and hijacking, is rumored to be returning to big city stores by fall, however, by that time officials say there will be nothing to deliver.
The food supply was stopped? How could they do that? She's speaking of a huge region, and I pray she's not speaking of the entire thing. How long has it been cut off? My stomach sinks.
"Emmett is smart, Bella. It's not a hurricane or a tornado..."
I nod my head and give him a watery smile. Now, I'm itching to check my phone messages.
Little news is coming from the Midwest. The heat wave is still battering the region, and it is unknown how many heat exhaustion deaths are adding to the virus' numbers. There is rumor of farms still running and people organizing new forms of government. Mexico and the southern border have blended despite efforts from officials on both sides. Rumor of revolution spreads throughout the region and most of the Nation's military is being sent to maintain country and state borders.
My mind immediately wonders if this means the patrol on our borders will lighten or lift all together.
The Northwest is still struggling with the effects of last year's quake. While power in the larger cities has been restored, most of the suburbs and citizens outside the city limits are still without power. Quarantines are still in effect in this region and all citizens are being asked to honor it. We continue to receive reports of continued food shortages, in some places having stopped all together.
She's about to move on to news around the world, but I'm anxious to get to my phone. I can tell this plays on a loop and we can come back to it later. It's almost like Edward can read my mind as he leans forward and turns the television off, silencing the room.
"Let's check the messages."
I nod my head, and we pull two stools up to the phone I have hanging on the wall.
My heart beats overtime as I reach for the phone. I feel the beginnings of a panic attack as I lift the phone from the receiver, but my then I feel my heart sink when there is no noise on the other end. No dial tone, no beeping. Nothing.
"Phones must be down," Edward says mostly to himself as he checks to make sure it's plugged in.
After we got the first round of power, I plugged my cell phone in. I glance at it, hopeful, and walk over, thrilled to see it is fully charged. Before I check any messages I dial the numbers that are so familiar to me, only to hear nothing on the other end. Apparently along with no food, we have no phone service either. I see old text messages but ignore the ones before January, as I don't think I can handle reading anything from Rose. I plan to save those when I have a moment to myself, so I can cherish each one. The most recent message is from April and it's from Emmett.
I miss you
I smile. I smile so hard my face hurts.
He was alive in April.
Only a few months ago.
I read the rest of them after January and they are all alike, short messages of him missing me, asking me if I'm okay and begging me to contact him.
I laugh when I come across one from February "So bored. I'd even watch American Idol :/ " it says. I can feel his humor and it feels like home. I'm irritated and disappointed though that there's no update on him or Claire. No real information.
I'm about to check my messages when the power around us fades again. The lights dim until we're slowly left in the dark.
"It's okay. Check your messages then I'll look at the power."
I skip the one's from Rose but make sure I hit save each time. Reading her messages, listening to her voice... it will be my funeral for her, my final goodbye.
I feel sick when the last message I have from Alice is in December. There's nothing after that. I remind myself that she's in the same area we are and has no phone service. She's probably worried about me for the same reason. I push four and listen to her message again - I listen more closely hoping for some clue as to where she is.
"Well, this sucks!"
I laugh because it's so her.
"I'm in the middle of nowhere eating tuna straight from the can. Merry freaking Christmas, right? I'm with Jasper and a group of people we met up with. Some of them brought their instruments so we spend the days playing music. I think about you all the time. You're okay, right? God, I hope you're not alone. Did you go stay with the Copes?
My throat tightens at their name. I feel guilty when I don't have the urge to cry anymore.
"Oooh, or did you shack up with that Lilac Killer guy next door? Huh? Huh?" She laughs at her own joke, and to her it's nothing but a joke because the girl she knew would never have done that. I can't wait for her to meet me now.
"God, I don't know about you but I'm bored and hungry. I can only paint my nails so many times and stare at the wall before I start hallucinating. I feel like I'm going crazy some days."
Her voice gets quieter and I can hear the emotion behind it.
"Well, I really miss you and I hope you're having a good Christmas. I have a gift for you when we get together again. Love you, bye."
"Bye," I whisper, wiping tears away before I push any buttons, so I make sure I hit save.
There's no more messages from her after that. We checked my home phone messages from Edward's phone in April and there wasn't anything from her there either. A rock of disappointment the size of Mt. Baker sits in my stomach.
When I hear a message from Emmett, same time as the last text—April, I hold my breath.
"Hey, Sis. My phone is shot, so I can't call anymore. This is a neighbor's; they let me use the phone, but I don't think it will be a regular thing. It's just Claire and me now... I assume you got my last message..."
His voice sounds like he's aged a hundred years and is carrying a thousand pounds.
"Yeah, so... we're trying to find a way to get to you. Do anything to get back. It's just us now, and I miss you like crazy."
Tears stream down my face, and I want so badly to reach through the phone lines and hug him.
"Okay, I'm hurrying," he says to whoever is telling him to get off their phone. "I've got to go, but don't worry, we'll be together soon. Keep your doors and windows locked. I hope you're safe. Love you."
I don't even realize I'm crying as hard as I am until Edward takes the phone from me and saves the message before wrapping me into a hug.
"He's okay, Bella. You have to believe that. It was April; that wasn't so long ago."
I nod my head and wipe my snot on his shirt.
He pulls back, rolling his eyes. "Thanks." The look on his face makes me laugh, and I bury my head back into his chest, letting him comfort me.
"That was the last message," I point out, a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.
"Maybe everyone is out of phone service?"
"Maybe," I say back.
We check Edward's phone next, but there's nothing new since the car charger broke.
A haunting look comes over him. Hope fades each day we don't hear from our families, but the unknown will eat us alive if we let it, so we move on for the night. We pretend we're not dwelling on our empty message boxes, but there's no point. We know each other too well.
Days come and go and we don't see Peter or Charlotte. It's not unusual for him to disappear for a while, so we don't worry. I miss Charlotte's company already after only spending one day with her. I hope he's got their power going, and if not, I wish he'd ask Edward for help. We don't know why, but it seems we can only get a few hours of power here and there. Sometimes Edward can coax the power on and other times it just pops on by itself. Neither of us truly understand how it works or why.
I'm sitting at the table cutting old towels and clothing to make diapers for the baby when the washing machine and dishwasher roar to life. The air conditioning kicks into action, and so do I. I jump up, my cleaning supplies all ready to go. I feel drunk on the excitement of getting my house truly clean again. The lights have only highlighted just how dirty things have gotten.
Edward walks in from chopping wood outside; he's trying to get enough supply to last us through the winter. Neither of us feel we can rely on this shaky power, and with the baby nearly here, we want to be prepared. I'm happy to see him walk in because I don't know how long the power will be on, and I need help to get it all done in time.
I'm on my hands and knees, scrubbing the floor with hot water when he finds me. He walks around me and gets a bottle of water out of the fridge. Sitting at the table, he props his feet up—where I just cleaned—and chugs the water.
Heaving myself off the ground I walk over and push his dirty boots off the table.
"What the hell?"
"I just cleaned all that."
"Here," I say, handing him a new rag and bucket, then move back to the floor and continue scrubbing.
"What do you want me to do with this?" He holds it out as if it will come to life and bite him.
Irritated, I stop my scrubbing and give him a hard look. "Clean, obviously."
Half assed he runs the rag across the table then moves to turn the television on.
"Are you kidding me?" I ask as he squats down in front of his gaming system.
"You're going to play xgame?"
"X-box and yeah. What's your problem?"
Every word that comes out of his mouth seems to make my blood boil. "My problem is we might only have power for a few minutes, we have a baby coming, and this house is a disaster!" My voice raises an octave with each word until I'm screeching.
"Chill out," he says exasperated, shutting the stupid game off. "Are you... hormonal or something?"
"I will not chill out! I need help, Edward." I don't get it; the power comes on and so does the old him? The night of our first meeting—the fight on his front porch—goes through my head. How clueless he was and how angry it made me. Realizing this now I set my stuff down and walk outside for some air before I say something I'll really regret.
I'm not sure if he's being a major ass or if I'm overreacting, so I figure it's best to take a breather. Sitting on the back steps I stare at the forest and take deep breaths, trying to calm myself down, but every time I think of the power in there being wasted I get mad all over again.
It's not long before I hear the sliding glass door open, and I actively go out of my way to ignore him.
"Aw, c'mon, Blaze. Are you really that mad at me? Is that high-strung, anal girl back again?"
I turn to face him, hurt and angry. "I don't know. Is that careless, clueless asshole back again?"
Both hurt and shocked at each other's harsh words we sit side-by-side ignoring one another. It doesn't take long for me to soften. I love him too much to feel this rage toward him. I watched him almost die and come back again. There's nothing he could do to make me not want him. I don't look at his face but study his legs and the hands that rest on them. I love those hands. I love everything about him, even the careless, clueless asshole part of him.
"I'm sorry," I say, looking into his eyes. Mine plead for him to understand.
We're so stressed out and both reverting to what we know is safe and comfortable. Instead of relying on each other, we went back to our old habits to comfort ourselves. We have no family around and no way of knowing if they're okay. We're about to have our first baby alone, and I think we're both terrified.
He puts his arm around me and I instantly melt into him. "No, I'm sorry." He kisses the top of my head.
"I just... panicked. We have this baby coming, and nothing's done and sometimes I feel like you don't get it."
He sighs. "I get it. I guess...I'm just freaked out, too, you know? Avoiding it all won't do any good though. I'll take the video games back today."
"No, you don't have to do that."
"Yeah, I do. You're right. We only have power once in a while and it needs to be spent productively. I just... I don't know."
"No, what?" I insist and I feel worse than I ever thought I could. I wish I could take back time and shut my mouth and allow him his little escape for awhile.
"Nothing. You were right. I should have been helping you."
"I didn't have to be such a bitch though."
"True." He smirks down at me.
I laugh and slap his shoulder. He kisses me long and hard. "I love you."
"I love you, too," I whisper, our foreheads touching.
For that night we just enjoy the power and relax. We shower together, which might be my new favorite activity, and he attempts to teach me how to play his game machine. He appeases me after and sits with me while I make a long list of what needs to be done. While I go through all the details he only falls asleep once.
"If you just place them on here—but make sure you cover them with the netting. You don't want the bugs eaten' 'em all up—then they should dry out in the sun and you can store them for as long as you need."
I follow Charlotte's instructions and lay the tomato slices across the screen. We've spent the last week canning and drying food from the garden. Fall and winter will come sooner than we want, and we're trying to save all we can from our gardens. I've never canned a thing in my life, but Charlotte is a wealth of information and has walked me through the process. She loaned me some canning supplies and we found some more on our second pass through of the Clearwater's house. Edward broke into their attic and found some more baby clothes and toys, along with a bassinet. Unfortunately there was no other furniture, but boy or girl, this little one is set for clothing.
"Let me get another screen," I say, wiping the sweat from my forehead and waddling inside. The only screens we haven't used yet are in the baby's room, which is looking more like a nursery each day.
"You look tired. I'd really like it if you'd lay down for a while." Edward stops what he's doing and walks over to me, rubbing my stomach.
Kissing him on the forehead I say, "I'm almost done out there, then I'll lay down." I walk over to the window and start trying to wrestle the screen out.
"I'll finish for you," he says, moving my hands away, and effortlessly pops the screen out.
"No, you're busy up here. Seriously, just one more batch."
He eyes me but doesn't argue. Turning back to his project I follow him and see what he's doing.
"Oh wow, Edward." He's built a shelving system and made a makeshift crib and changing table from the furniture at his house. He fashioned his beloved entertainment center, the one that once housed his giant flat screen T.V. and video games systems, into a functional place I can change the baby's diapers. I run my hand across the surface, admiring how well it's put together. He even installed shelves underneath and folded the baby's clothes.
"You did all this?"
He stands and runs a hand through his hair, before placing it in his pocket and rocks back on his heels. "It's not much." My heart swells at the heat in his cheeks. "But, I figure you can use this to set the diapers on." He shows me a tray that slides out at the end, and I notice then it's a cutting board. "Then, down here I put the diapers and the clothes." He's moving around the table, and I'm amazed at his creativity. Key rings line the side as a place I can hang towels or clothing and there's an old bathroom garbage can fixed to the side where I can easily dispose of diapers or wipes.
My eyes tear up. This means so much more than anything he could have bought from the store.
"Please don't cry. I know it's not—"
"No," I stop him, shaking my head. It takes me a couple minutes to get my composure and when I do, I wrap my arms around him. "It's so perfect. It will be perfect for the baby."
His smile lights up the room, and his shoulders relax. Now that he's confident in my reaction he grabs my hand and pulls me towards his new project.
"I'm still trying to figure out what to use for the mattress but I figured out the bars for the crib." Rails from his staircase sit between two pieces of what look like some kind of fancy molding. Looking at it, you might not even know it was made from a mish-mash of pieces from Edward's house.
"The baby will love it - I love it."
He smiles. "Well, hurry up and finish that so you can lie down."
I nod my head, kiss him on the cheek and take my screen back down to Charlotte.
"You look a little tuckered out there, sweets. Maybe you should lay down a spell," Charlotte says when I get downstairs.
"We're almost done here, then I will."
August has melted into September. The power is still fickle and some days, even weeks, we can't get it on at all. Still it's amazing to have, and our lives have been better because of it. I've been blown away at the way Edward's jumped in and helped me. I'm guessing we're still a couple months away and we're about ready for this baby.
Charlotte and Peter live on the other side of the forest. We're their closest neighbor, we've learned. We've only visited once, for Edward to help Peter with his electricity, but they can't get it going. Apparently theirs is attached to ours, which explains why Peter was here in the first place, but for some reason theirs won't start up. Charlotte comes over and does some laundry, and she's showered here. Peter, the stubborn old man that he is, refuses to. We just laugh and let Peter be Peter. They insist they really don't mind that much, but when winter comes, Edward and I have already decided we'll insist on them staying here with us, or maybe at Edward's house next door if they can get his walls fixed.
I walk to the front of the house, truly ready to lie down. My belly has steadily grown, and it's gotten more and more uncomfortable. When I reach the front of the house I see the television on across the street at the Copes', which mean ours is on now, too. It's an eerie thing to see their lights and T.V. go on and off with our own power, but it's not like either of us are going to go back in there to shut them off.
I lay on the couch with my list and mark off a few more tasks. It's not long before Peter picks Charlotte up. Curled on my side I fall asleep to the rhythmic patterns of Edward's hammer upstairs and dream of reuniting with my family.
The next chapter will be out as soon as I can get it written!
kdc2239 on twitter