Friday, July 22, 2016

Our Choices - Episode 10

“Don’t let him in.”

Nathan’s frown deepens but he takes a step back and Ezra exhales slowly, throwing me a grateful look. Both men remain near the door, but none of them opens. We do not look at each other, listening while the minutes go by agonizingly slow.

Outside, Jim has fallen silent. 

Very silent.

“Shit…” Nathan finally rasps. He looks like he might become sick, his face gray, and braces one hand against the wall next to the door.

Lucy whines lowly and I put my hand in her neck. What have we done? What have I done? “You better have a real good explanation,” I say to Ezra, my voice shaking. “A damn good one.” 

I took Ezra’s side because I trust him, because I believed that there is a reason why he does not want to let Jim inside and save him. I shudder. What if there is no good reason? Then we have just all committed murder.

Ezra remains silent, swiping his hands over his thighs without looking up, and then turns the wheelchair to push past us back into the kitchen. Nathan and I follow him, numbly.

Ezra places small glasses and a bottle of clear liquor from one of the lower cupboards on the table. Nathan grabs and downs his as soon as Ezra pushes it toward him and sinks onto the bench with a low groan.

I keep standing, holding the glass tightly in my hand. “Well?”

Ezra empties his glass, stares at it and places it back on the table. “Remember I told you about the guys who set the house I lived in on fire?”

Nathan and I both nod.

“You know that I did not live there alone, Dad,” Ezra says, running a finger over the rim of his empty glass, then turns to me. “I occupied the first floor. An old lady, Mrs. Simmons, lived on the second. What would I do with a second floor anyway?” 

I nod curtly, because sure that makes sense.

Ezra sighs to himself before going on. “When Jim and the others locked the zombie in they did not expect her to be still inside. I guess she was napping, she liked to do that. It was Jim’s idea to set the fire and when he was just about to do it…” 

I shiver, dreading what is coming.

Ezra briefly closes his eyes. “She screamed. You could hear it on the other end of the damn street. God knows what happened in there with her and that zombie, both locked-in...” He visibly suppresses a shudder. “They all knew that she was inside then, but that did not stop them. No one fucking--” Ezra relaxes clenched fists and rubs the gash on his forehead. It has started to heal and scab over, but it still looks bad. “I tried to get to her, wanted to help her, but Jim prevented me from even opening the main door.” Ezra refills his glass and drinks. “They burned the house down with her inside.”

Nathan shivers. “Jesus…”

“That’s why he had to die?” I ask, lowly.

“Serves him right,” Nathan growls. “I know Mrs. Simmons. She was an innocent woman. I always thought there was something wrong with Jim and his friends.”

The room starts turning around me. I place the full glass back on the table, liquor sloshing over my fingers. “This was… a revenge?” I clench one hand around the table’s edge. “Self-justice because he… deserved it?” Acid bubbles up in my stomach and I swallow hard. “He searched for refuge in this house! We fucking let him die on the doorstep, right there!” The last words have been louder than intended. I am fuming. “We straight up murdered him! How does that make us better than him?”

Nathan avoids my gaze but Ezra does not flinch away.

“I don’t think Jim is dead,” he says. He does not look completely sure but he seems much calmer than Nathan or I am. “I don’t buy that he was followed by zombies. They have my car. Why the fuck should he be out, alone and on foot?”

I can imagine a number of scenarios in which he would be alone, the car crashed or his friends fled without him, who knows… But I keep silent. It is easier to pretend we did not kill him. Alas…

“If you are right and he is still alive…” I straighten and turn toward the black window. “Then we just made an enemy out there.”

Ezra follows my gaze. “Yes,” he rasps and fills my glass to the brim.

***

The next morning is a bit brighter than the preceding days. The air has a definite hint of spring and the sun glimpses from behind the white clouds from time to time, warming our skin. I take Benjamin outside, Lucy at our heels, to take photos of the house and the apple trees close to the house. I have recharged the batteries with the bit of power I got from my mobile solar panels and Ann has allowed me to take some energy from their stationary ones. It is not much but it will be enough. I put the camera on automatic and show Benjamin a few tricks.

“What about lying down here and taking a photo of the tree from there?” I ask him and we lie on the hard ground, looking up through the branches at the sky. The naked trees are almost black against the bright sky and the branches look a bit like ghostly hands on the photos.

Lucy enjoys the freedom, running in circles around us, her ears whipping and panting happily. She sniffs at Benjamin’s face and the boy giggles and takes a few photos of her from upside down, laughing when her nose nearly fills the entire picture.

It is surreal but I laugh with him, the day is nice and I feel something resembling happiness for the first time in days. For a split second I wish I could stay here, hide from the zombies behind the strong walls of the main building, eat the delicious creations of Ann every day and just forget about everything else going on around me.

But I cannot. I need to find Frank.

Ezra and his father have decided to go strengthen the fence. Nathan has already doubled the height of the fence on the left of the buildings and they want to close the loop around the houses today.

“That should hold more of them off,” Nathan has said as he carried wooden planks and a few tools out of the barn and over the court.

When I return from our photo trip with a happy Benjamin we meet Ezra in the court in front of the main building. He is sitting at the buzzsaw and cutting wood into smaller planks. The position from the wheelchair is a bit too low but he manages, pushing the planks across the table with strong arms. He has shed his pullover and is only in a white undershirt that he wore underneath, sweat forming a dark patch between his shoulder blades. I swallow watching him from behind, the play of his muscles strangely hypnotic.

Ann appears in the entrance to the main building and waves at us. “Benjamin? Do you want to help with lunch?” she calls.

I smile at her and wave back. Benjamin runs inside and Lucy follows him, probably in the good hopes that there will be something in it for her as well.

Already a considerable heap of wood is stacked next to the generator that emits a steady hum. I assume that it is fueled by the gas I have seen in the barn and my heart grows a bit heavy. I still need to ask Nathan about borrowing gas from him. I have waited for a good opportunity to do so.

“Hey…” Ezra says when I approach and stops the saw. He wipes his forehead with his underarm, the tiny wooden particles clinging to his skin coloring it a bit darker.

I hand him the bottle of water that he has placed on the other side of the table. Ezra takes it, puts it in his lap and releases the brakes on the wheels, turning to me. “Thanks.” He takes a few gulps from the water, grinning at me when he places the bottle back in his lap. 

He watches me watching him. “What?”

I shrug, hoping I am not blushing. “Nothing. Do you need help?”

Ezra shakes his head. “No, I should be finished soon. But you could help my father. He is over there, building the fence.” Ezra nods to the side.

I spy Nathan working on the other side of the cow barn, hammering nails into wood to increase the height of the fence. It is already too high for Ezra to reach, I notice.

I nod. “Sure.”

Ezra smiles a bit, then gestures at me. “What’s your plan? Are you leaving today?”

“Yeah… if everything turns out well, I’ll leave after lunch.” I got an idea what I can offer to trade Nathan for the gas. “What is your plan, are you staying?”

Ezra nods, frowning slightly. “Yes… I think Benjamin is safest here.” He dries his hands on his thighs. “Yes, for now I'll stay and make sure everything is all right.”

He does not elaborate and I do not push. I guess he cannot drive the truck and where would he go? It is not my business, anyway. 

Ezra rubs his chin. He has shaved it clean, exposing a strong jawline and making him look so much younger than before. “Okay, great. I will give you a map of the area and driving instructions. You should be able to make it to Lesdale on your own.”

I nod. “Yes. Thanks.”

As I am about to pass him he catches my hand in his. I stop in my track, surprised. His fingers are warm around my wrist but dry.

“Thanks, again. For everything. You’re… quite a woman, you know?”

I laugh shortly. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Ezra grins a bit, then grumbles “You’re tough and… real smart.” He rubs his neck. “I wish you the best, okay? That you find your brother and… that you two manage to flee from all this…”

His thumb caresses the soft inner side of my wrist and sends goosebumps rippling up my arm. But then he lets go of it suddenly, putting his hands in his lap and looking sheepish. “Maybe… we will meet again, one day, who knows?”

“Uh… yes… maybe?” I say, flinging my hair out of my face, and smile down at him. I have managed to take a shower today and even changed my clothes, I feel like newly born. “I wish you the best as well.”

Ezra has a strange expression on his face as I finally leave him. The spot on my hand where he touched me still tingles and my head is swimming a bit. Geez, Caroline, get yourself together. You do not really like him, do you? But I have to admit that under the gruff facade there seems to hide a more vulnerable Ezra, who can say beautiful things when he likes. We have gone through a lot, I guess, that bonds us together in a way. But I do not fool myself. When I leave tomorrow, this will probably be the last time I see Ezra. No one knows what will happen to us in the next weeks or months. No one knows what will happen to the world until then, indeed.

***

I can hear Nathan swear loudly at the fence already from a distance.

“What’s wrong?” I ask him when I have approached.

Ezra’s father turns around to me and mops his face with his sleeve, breathing heavily. “Nothing,” he grumbles and stealthily rubs his back with pain written on his face.

I grin as I realize that the both of them have much more in common than they want to make me believe. It makes me hopeful that I will manage to convince him to help me.

I fix one side of the plank while Nathan hammers nails into the other and then I take the hammer from him and do the same with my side. When he realizes I am good at this he lets me put on the rest of the planks myself, only assisting me with holding them up. We both work concentrated and barely exchange a word.

“I could use help here during the upcoming summer,” Nathan says gruffly, eying me as we walk back to the main building after Ezra calls us to lunch.

I force myself to smile at him. “Thanks for the offer,” I say. “I appreciate it. But I need to go search for my brother.”

Nathan shrugs. “Yes, Ann told me. Anyway, should you ever reconsider…”

I nod.

After lunch, a delicious onion soup and freshly baked bread, I follow Nathan outside again, Lucy at my side.

“Nathan?”

Nathan has picked up a few planks and I take the other side.

“Yes?” He sounds impatient and I swallow.

We load a bit more wood on the stack and walk over to the fence together. The planks are heavy and the muscles in my back and shoulders protest.

“I am going to leave today…”

“Hmmm…”

“But I am running low on gas.”

“So?” Nathan stops in front of the fence and lets his end of the planks fall on the ground, rubbing his back again.

“Uh… so I thought maybe I could borrow gas from you. Just enough to get me to Lesdale. I hope there will be more gas there.”

“Hmm…” Nathan says, lifting one plank up to start fixing it to the fence. I help him.

“And… I thought since Benjamin likes the camera so much… I would give you the camera in return.”

“Huh…” Nathan hammers the nails in, not looking at me.

“What… uh… what do you say?” I ask, fidgety. 

It took me a long time to decide on this step. The camera is the most precious item I have and I never intended to part with it. To be frank though, it will be of not much use to me now, not without electricity at least.

Nathan turns to me. “I understand that you would like to see your brother. I would really like to help you, Caroline.”

I nod, hoping that this is a good sign.

“We need the gas ourselves, for the truck, for the generator to keep the machines running. It is worth more than every camera on this planet, you understand?” Nathan leans against the fence, facing me.

I feel like someone kicked me in the guts. “Yes… yes, I understand,” I whisper.

Nathan sighs. “You’re really concerned about your brother, aren’t you? You would do everything to get to him, right?”

I nod, my throat tight. I would give everything.

“I don’t want the camera. It is nice of you to offer it but it does not help.” Nathan rubs his hands on his pants, dust floating through the air. “There is something else I would trade the gas for, though…”

I stare at him, hope kindling. “What is that?”

Nathan does not say anything. I follow his eyes to Lucy who has taken a rest on the grass near us.

“No!” It is out before I have even thought about it. “No way.” My heart beats fast and I move between Nathan and my dog as I speak. I will not separate from Lucy. It is impossible, she is a part of me. I cannot give her away, as much as I cannot give one of my legs away.

Nathan shrugs, his expression grim. “Then I’m sorry but I cannot help you.” He turns back to the planks. “Think about it,” he adds and takes the hammer in hand again.

I stare at his back, blood rushing in my ears. It is all I can do not to burst into tears right there and then. Is that it? Will I never see my brother again? After all I went through with Ezra and Benjamin, will I be stuck now? 

Lucy senses my turmoil and approaches me slowly, leaning against my leg, looking up at me. I turn away from Nathan and walk a few steps into the field, sit down on a tree stump and scratch her behind the soft ears. I press my face into her fur, inhaling the familiar smell of her. I cannot leave her, can I? But if I don’t, I have no means to ever get to my brother.

“Oh god, Lucy…” I whisper into her ear and close my eyes.

A hand lands on my shoulder and I flinch. I have not noticed how long I have been sitting here. Ezra has approached, leaning forward in his chair to look at my face.

“Are you all right?” Ezra’s frown is worried.

I quickly try to mop away tears that are lingering in the corners of my eyes.

“I’m fine,” I say curtly, looking away.

Ezra scoffs. His hands return to the handrims and he tries to wheel closer. The wheelchair creeks as it is forced over the uneven ground.

“Make way,” he mumbles and I scoot a bit to the side.

Ezra lines up the wheelchair with the tree stump and leans down to put a hand on it. He transfers to sit next to me, pulling his legs in with his hands. I try not to stare as he arranges his limp feet in the boots on the ground.

“He wants Lucy,” I say, voice constricted.

Ezra nods slowly. “I thought he would.”

I wrap my arms around my upper body, shivering even in the sunlight.

“What are you going to do?”

“She’s all I have,” I say. “She’s as good as family.”

Ezra keeps silent.

“But if I don’t give her to him… if I-- then I am stuck here for the time being. And Frank… What is he going to do without me?”

Ezra awkwardly scoots closer, his legs falling to the side, and puts his arm around my shoulder. “He’s going to be fine. How old is he?”

I lean my head against Ezra’s strong shoulder, fighting against the emotions trying to overwhelm me again. “He’s 28. But… he’s more like Benjamin’s age mentally, he’s not… he won’t survive long on his own.”

Ezra hums understandingly and rubs circles on my back. And in that moment I let myself break down, let myself go weak for the first time in days. It feels better than I thought it would and as soon as I have started crying I cannot stop anymore. Ezra wraps both of his arms around me, rocking me back and forth as I sob into his chest, the fabric of his pullover soft on my skin.

Hiccupping, I emerge again after some time, feeling empty and safe in Ezra’s arms. I push back a bit and Ezra watches me, his dark eyes still concerned.

“Sorry,” I mumble, trying to move away.

“Hey…” Ezra says, his voice a low rumble, pushing hair out of my face with tender fingers. “It’s okay. This isn’t easy for anyone.”

He lets go of me to rearrange his legs. “Tell me about Frank,” he says after a while.

I blink at him, one hand gripping the edge of the tree stump, the other moving into Lucy’s fur. She has her head on my knees, watching me with big eyes.

“He’s…” I shrug, “My little brother,” I say. “My parents died when he was still very young… We lived on a farm with our grandparents most of the time anyway because they were away often. He’s… Frank is disabled. He had a brain bleeding when he was a kid, cause unknown. But… to me he was just always my brother and I adored him.”

I shake my head. “He cannot walk very long distances, he has difficulties speaking and he cannot live alone. He’s the most kind, gentle person in this world that I know. He does not know friend from foe. He would walk into a zombie with open arms and his stupid, stupid grin.”

I nearly start crying again at the image.

“Where does he live?” Ezra asks.

I force myself to breathe evenly. “When my parents died we continued living with our grandparents. I moved out to work when I got old enough and when my grandparents died as well… Frank got into a nursing home.”

The guilt hits me with full force. I should have taken Frank in, I know. But having my disabled brother living with me, a man who needs help around the clock, would have been impossible with my current job.

Ezra’s hand finds mine, holding it, squeezing lightly.

“He’s all right. You are going to find him,” he says. “You are going to see him again.”

I shake my head. “I don’t even know if he is still alive.”

Ezra gently cups my chin and tilts my head to face him. “What do you think?”

I swallow and try to locate that feeling inside me. “I… I think he is,” I finally whisper.

“Then he is and you are going to be with him soon,” Ezra says and when he smiles I want to believe him.

Ezra squeezes my hand one last time before letting go. “Would you like to join my mother in preparing more apple sauce? There’s a load of old apples to peel and cut.”

I hesitate and look over at Ezra’s father working on the fence in the distance.

“Let the old git get a taste of his own stupidity,” Ezra mumbles lowly.

“Okay…” I say and breathe for a bit. I could really use some good company and light work to keep me distracted. I particularly have taken a liking to Ann, she reminds me of my grandmother. “Okay… Good, let’s go. Thanks, Ezra…”

I squeeze Ezra’s knee. Only when Ezra looks at me strangely do I realize that he probably did not feel it.

“Sorry,” I squeak, mortified.

To my surprise, Ezra laughs. “No, that… that was nice.” He shrugs and looks away.

He transfers back to the wheelchair, pulls his feet on the footrest and turns the chair to the main house. The wheelchair is not a good option on the grass, sinking into holes and getting stuck at branches. I walk next to him, slowing down my pace to match it to his. We are silent for some time.

“You are going to be a good surrogate father to Benjamin,” I blurt out suddenly.

Ezra quickly glances up at me. “You think so?” He asks, voice a bit strained as he fights to make the wheelchair move over a particularly thick branch blocking his way, tilting the seat back to lift the caster wheels over the obstacle, balancing on the back wheels.

“Uh yeah… He adores you and he needs you. You know, now that your brother... Well, you are a good pair. Don’t be too harsh with him. Or yourself.”

“I don’t know…” Ezra says, stops the chair and wipes his forehead with his sleeve. “I never saw myself as a father. I am not sure how I am going to do this.” He looks down at his knees.

“You are doing better than you think.” I stop as well. There are a few seconds of silence between us. “Would you like a hand with the chair?” I ask finally, hoping I am not overstepping.

Ezra considers for a moment and then nods.

I step behind him and wrap my hands around the handles on the back of the wheelchair. The back is low and since I am tall I have to stoop down a lot. I push Ezra over the grass and maneuver around a few more uneven patches. Still it is exhausting even for me. I am starting to get out of breath when we finally reach the graveled walkway again and Ezra returns his hands to the wheels.

We have a good time preparing the apples for the apple sauce. Benjamin is entertaining everyone with fun stories and Ezra and he are starting a little war, throwing pieces of apples at each other until Ann throws both of them out of the kitchen.

I have accepted that I will stay another day on the farm and so I help Ann prepare dinner. She makes a wonderful tarte with potatoes, carrots and cottage cheese that she ferments herself. Dinner is joyful, we all eat as much as we can and praise Ann until she blushes furiously and tells us to stop it already.

After dinner we go to bed early, tired from a day of work. 

I am on my way to Benjamin’s and my room and have reached the top of the stairs when Nathan steps around the corner.

“Caroline… did you think about it?” He asks me.

With a heavy heart I kneel down, taking Lucy’s head in my hands. She looks back at me with clear, trusting eyes, and tries to lick my face, wagging her tail. I know my decision will determine if I will ever see Frank again.



Decide!

“I won’t give her to you. I just cannot.”
“You can have her. I trust you to treat her well.”
Lie (+ try to steal gas and sneak out)
make surveys

10 comments:

  1. Maybe steal the gas, sneak out at night, lie...?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Damn! :) Voilà, you get your wish, I changed the poll (and added that one vote on the first choice by myself. No one else has voted yet, since this episode is not officially online yet... I was just being lazy and posted it early).

      Delete
    2. Haha, thanks! Makes it so interesting to play along:). Hope it won't divert the votes and make Caroline give up Lucy. It seems, it may, however. Honestly, I think sometimes you can form a stronger bond/love with your dog than with another human however wrong that may sound, and I feel Caroline loves Lucy very much. Tough choices :)
      Enjoyed the dev moments here, maybe next chapter something super devy - e.g. zombies or Jim damage Ezra's chair and while he fixes it, he has to rely on her for all the mobility - love that kind of helplesness stuff:). (Of course, that scenario works only if Ezra is in the next chapter... maybe he can steal Lucy and bring her to Caroline after she has left or smth like that.. If the voting leads to Caroline giving her away;))
      Laulu

      Delete
    3. Oh, I see what you mean. It may... but I guess there may also be people who would have given Lucy up and now rather decide to play dirty. We will see how this poll turns out, it is certainly exciting, definitely for me at least :)

      Delete
  2. Wow what a great and rewarding chapter. Finally they find together more and get a little privacy. I wish they would stay together somehow, but I get that this is not the typical romantic story and my hopes are probably fruitless.. Please continue this story for a long time (if possible). Thanks for now and I can't wait for next week!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha, thanks! Well, there is always hope!

      Delete
  3. Decisions, decisions! Tough one. I'd like some more knee touching ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Can I vote for everyone to just stay together on the farm and live happily ever after!?
    well... no.... I guess that would be boring. I can't wait for more.
    Thanks also for the Vikings advice. I needed to Google first and find out that it's a TV series. And than I needed to find out why the TV series would be interesting. Now I know and I need to start watching I guess :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm afraid the 'straight to paradise, please' option is out of order today :)
      Well, good luck with the series!

      Delete