The apocalypse has hit Monument, Colorado, and Jake Simonsen, captain of the football team, is caught in the middle of it. A series of escalating disasters, beginning with a monster hailstorm and ending with a terrible chemical weapons spill that affects people differently depending on blood type, has torn the world as he knows it apart. Now Jake has to decide how to pick up the pieces. “Jake and the Other Girl” is set in the world of Emmy Laybourne's Monument 14. The next book in the series, Monument 14: Sky on Fire, is available now.
This short story was acquired and edited for Tor.com by Feiwel & Friends editor Holly West.
Missing toddler, please help!
Grandma, I went to Denver. God save us all.
Doreen, I am sorry—I couldn’t wait no more.
And photographs. Photos of the missing and the found and the dead.
The Lewis Palmer Hospital of Monument, Colorado, was papered in flyers.
He got upset, looking at those walls. Anyone would. It was a small town and there were people he knew up there.
Jake saw a kid from the JV team. His biology teacher in a photo with her small children. That suspiciously cheerful waitress from the Village Inn. There was Dean and Alex’s family: We didn’t die. Stay safe or get to Denver.
And there was Lindsay Morrow.
There she was, in a family snapshot, taken at the beach. A 5 x 7 pulled out of a frame, taped onto a piece of notebook paper. Along the bottom was Lindsay’s handwriting with an arrow pointing to the middle-aged woman in the center of the shot: If you see this woman please call—then her phone number. And: Mommy, come home!
He shouldn’t linger on the photo like this. Alex had strapped a video walkie-talkie to his chest and all the kids were watching his every move and listening to his voice.
Astrid could be watching.
The kids were all watching “Jake TV” and waiting for him to come back to the Greenway, where they’d been holed up since the spill.
They’d given him a mission—find out if the hospital was open. It wasn’t.
Nothing was open.
The town had been divided and conquered. If the government wanted any proof that the chemical warfare compounds they’d been cooking up at NORAD worked, well, here it was, papered on the walls of the hospital.
The compounds attacked people differently depending on their blood types. Type As blistered and died, Os turned into bloodthirsty savages, ABs suffered from paranoid delusions and Bs, like Jake, were fine. Showed no effects. Except that they became impotent and infertile.
Jake brought Lindsay chocolate every time. It was their thing. Not like payment, of course. That would be gross. It was just a little gesture, is all.
He’d leave school at the lunch bell, or maybe a little before, and stop at Walgreens. A Hershey’s King Size, or, even better, something seasonal—a Cadbury Creme Egg or a marshmallow Santa or a Valentine’s assortment with Timmy Traindawg on it or something. He’d bring the chocolate to her house and she’d take the chocolate and they’d do it.
Lindsay was only a sophomore, but he didn’t feel like he was taking advantage. She was the one in charge, no question. She was in control at lunchtime.
Sometimes she’d smoke, after, which he found kind of shocking, actually.
“Ever heard of lung cancer?” he’d joked once.
“Ever heard of loser?” she had shot back, one eyebrow arched in a way that made him feel stupid and little-boyish.
Her fifteen was a lot more jaded than his eighteen. Well, so what, let her be cooler than him—he was getting laid. He’d put up with any amount of drama or scorn, if a girl would let him in.
He remembered laying on her bed, it covered with some kind of white cotton material with these little designs in it, punched out and in a pattern. Real pretty.
She was pretty too, really pretty, with her long black-brown hair falling all over the pillow and her shoulders and on the creamy lines of her neck and bare chest.
He was supposed to turn around now and go back to the Greenway.
The thought of trudging back there, crossing the black parking lot with the car corpses rusted and molded over, climbing back up the chintzy metal home fire escape ladder, trudging back into the store to tell the bad news to their small, tense, dirty faces—it made Jake feel like cutting his wrists.
Their disappointed faces. Always disappointed.
Jake removed the video walkie-talkie and dropped it on the ground.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, guys,” he told them.
He started ripping off the wires from the front of his jacket.
“I’m not . . . I’m not coming back. I can’t do it anymore.”
It was true.
One more day in there would kill him. He was sure of it. That feeling of being trapped, penned in, everyone so freakin’ responsible all the time and Astrid watching him. Her eyes telling him he was a failure.
“Tell Astrid I’m sorry,” he said, and that was that.
He was free.
It would be a walk. Lindsay lived near the high school. It was what had made their noontime forays feasible. But if there was anyone who could get him up again, it was Lindsay Morrow. Just seeing her body in her bathing suit on the photo had almost done it for him.
Astrid had always been on to him and Lindsay, anyway, probably. Astrid was the one who said their thing was an open thing. She had insisted on it.
He did feel bad about leaving Brayden, when he was injured, but Niko would take care of him. Niko knew first aid. Brayden would understand. If Brayden had been with him, no way would he have wanted to go back to the store, with the stupid rules and the heavy atmosphere. The heavy freaking everything.
Jake put his hand to his pocket, checking. Under the four extra layers of clothing Niko had insisted he wear, he could feel the bulge in his back pocket. Obezine. Extended release. Thank God for Pharmaceuticals.
Yeah, he used them to brace him up somewhat. They made him feel good. In such dark times, who couldn’t use some extra lift?
Jake turned off his headlamp. No need to draw attention to himself. Could be a type O lurking anywhere, and type Os were monsters. He headed up Highway 105. Kept to the middle, when cars weren’t in the way. But he had to go over the overpass. It was wedged solid with cars.
Edging sideways along one, he brushed up against the weird white mold growing up from the tires on one of the cars. What was this stuff?
It covered the tires of every car and then blew up and over, like a snowdrift.
A side effect of one of the compounds, or maybe a different compound that had been released at the same time as the blood type one and the blackout cloud. Ate up car tires so no one could get anywhere.
Jake pressed his finger into the foam blowing up over the hood of a Toyota Venza, maybe 2019? Silver.
He rubbed it between his fingers and it melted into an oily stain on his glove. Then Jake saw past the foam, inside the car, and he couldn’t look away fast enough. Brown streaks of blood crusted to the windshield and driver’s window. A corpse there, old meat and bone. Type A. He edged past the side window, rolled down, and maybe, maybe there was the dried-out form of a baby strapped into a car seat but who could know for sure. He got away and fast.
Edging, edging, edging sideways past the cars with their dead until he was off the overpass and then he ran.
It felt good to run and it was safer, right?
He didn’t need the fleece balaclava ski mask Niko had made him put on. It was stupid—the OTHER blood types needed protection. For type Bs the damage was already done.
He took off the stupid fleece job and could see a bit better in the darkness.
He had worn the five layers of clothing they had recommended on the news because Niko insisted and because it had made Astrid and the little kids feel better about him going out. Now he realized he didn’t want those things either.
Jake stripped off the sweatpants, the sweatshirts, throwing them onto someone’s dead shrubs and getting giddy with the freedom.
He didn’t need to be safe and cautious. Didn’t want Niko’s suffocating motherly BS. Down to his jeans and his sweater, he shouldered the backpack and he ran.
He ran in the street, for the most part. On the lawns when the street was blocked. The white foam made the road slippery in places, but when he fell, he whooped with delight. He was running offense and no one could stop him.
God, it felt good.
He was free again and he was moving.
God made him to move.
He felt the black junk in the air in his lungs after a few blocks. He wondered if inhaling the blackout cloud would have long-ranging effects, but who cared?
Alex said the blackout cloud hung over the detonation site, magnetized to stay there. Maybe he was inhaling tiny magnets. Felt like secondhand cigarette smoke, though. Itchy.
But he ran on.
By the time he got to Bowstring Road, his chest ached. Maybe he should have kept the stupid fleece face mask.
Some of the houses he passed were junked up. Some were burned. There were some bodies on the lawns, some spilling out of cars, some who died crawling out the windows, but he wasn’t going to think about them, not again, not for a second.
Because he was huffing now, every time he stopped. The shadows moved with his breath—in, out, in, out.
Better to keep moving. He was spooking himself out.
Coming around the corner of Bowstring Road, there had been a massive crash. Three cars rammed into one another, all snarled together. A pickup truck on its hood. All windows spiderwebbed. And the whole thing mossed over with the white foam.
Who’d hit who? You couldn’t even tell and then Jake felt hands on his shoulders and heard a horrible sound right on his neck: breathing and snarling.
Jake whipped around and there was a man. God, the stench! Jake pushed him and the man fell back.
The guy was big—taller than Jake, but he was slow.
“Get back!” Jake shouted.
He had to be type O—he had that deranged expression on his face, and looked like he wanted to kill, not rob.
His face was gaunt, his eyes huge and his teeth bared. He was bald and had tattoos everywhere. Jake could see he’d been exposed for too long. Spill had been almost two weeks ago.
“Leave me alone,” Jake said.
The man snarled in reply.
Jake remembered he had the gun. He reached back, slipping the bag off his shoulder. The gun was at the top.
What was that smell? Maybe the man’s clothes, which were covered in dark stains that had to be blood. But maybe they came from his mouth. The stench had a rotting sewage smell to it and Jake wondered what the guy had been eating.
His mouth was open, and Jake saw a slick patch on his chin.
Jesus, the man was drooling.
Jake backed away and slipped on the foam from the car crash.
The man threw himself at Jake, falling towards Jake, hands in claws, reaching for Jake’s face.
Jake kicked him.
Hard, in the center of the chest.
The guy’s breath came out in a rank OOF and spit got on Jake, too.
Jake scrambled to get up. He was shaking. The man was trying to get up, reaching for Jake with one hand.
He could’ve beat the guy to death. Kick his head until he died or, even better, just take out the gun and shoot him through the heart.
Weird feeling, to know you could kill someone and you wouldn’t get in trouble for it.
It would have been a mercy, even.
People would praise him, even.
But it was easier to run.
Over his shoulder, Jake saw the guy turn his head up and wail.
Focus now and just get there, Jake told himself.
He ran up Bowstring and turned onto Leggins Way.
The guy was nowhere to be seen. Maybe being type O and staying outside that long made you stupid. Maybe the guy’d forgotten about him, or just knew he couldn’t keep up.
An O who’d been exposed since the spill was not as big a threat—knowing this made Jake smile a bit.
Made his chances of making it to Denver better, if that’s what he ended up doing. Too soon to tell, and he would go wherever he wanted.
17285. 17325. Yes—17355.
Lindsay’s house had a broken window, but he saw plastic sheeting fluttering near the hole. The sign had said, Mommy, come home, right? There was a chance she was there.
He went around to the back, turning on his headlamp now. If there was anyone hiding around back, he’d rather get a glimpse of them before being attacked.
“Lindsay?” he called softly. “Linds?”
In the backyard, their love seat swing thingy was overturned. Jake stepped on something, a broken rake, and it swung to the side and hit the house.
Then he heard Barksly. Jake smiled. He had forgotten Lindsay’s giant, dopey labradoodle.
Barksly loved Jake and Lindsay loved Barksly and, somehow, that she put up with a dog so sloppily enthusiastic had made Jake feel more confident around her.
The barks were coming from inside.
Jake stepped up onto the back porch. It looked exactly the same as he remembered it, down to the scuffed soccer cleats and shin guards discarded next to the door.
“Barksly,” Jake called. “Where are you, boy?”
Inside, the dog went nuts.
Jake knocked. No one answered. Duh. He tried the door and the knob turned easily. That seemed very bad to Jake and he prepared himself to be about to find Lindsay dead with her family.
If that was so, he’d rescue the dog and be off to Denver, then. No need to go to his own house. His dad would be long gone already—he worked in Denver. Would have been there on the day of the spill.
Would be good to have a dog. Would warn him when monsters like that O guy came out of nowhere.
“Lindsay?” Jake called, entering slowly. “Barksly?”
The dog was in the basement. The door was right in the kitchen. Jake could hear the dog scratching at it and trying to throw himself at the door—but tumbling down the stairs in between hits.
“Take it easy, Barksly!” Jake called.
The handle was locked.
Jake looked around. He’d get the dog out first and then explore the rest of the house. If there was anything horrible, the dog would find it first.
He opened a drawer and found a meat tenderizer—the kind with a big metal cube that was flat on one side and covered with little pyramids on the other.
Didn’t take Jake more than three strikes to knock the handle clear off.
Barksly was going insane.
Jake stuck his finger into the hole from the door handle and pulled it open.
Here, he realized he’d made a mistake, because as Barksly tried to push through to Jake, Jake realized the door had been sealed in sheets of plastic.
“Get back,” he told the dog. Instead of letting the dog come out to the kitchen, Jake pushed through, pulling loose the tape on the side of the plastic.
He entered the basement and grabbed the dog’s collar and tried to pull the door closed as quickly as he could.
He had breached the air.
That could be deadly for anyone downstairs, if there was anyone alive downstairs.
Barksly was all over Jake. “All right! Down, boy. Yeah, it’s me, but get down.”
He had to get off the stairs or the big, dopey dog would make him break his neck.
He came down the stairs and saw, now, that the space was inhabited, for sure.
Jake had been in the basement before. It was a big room with a mirrored wall running on one side, some exercise equipment, and one of those highly padded leather sofa sets for watching the bigtab that hung on the opposite wall.
No windows = a good place to hole up.
Now there were candles lined up against the mirror, and dark plumes stretching up the glass from candle soot. The exercise equipment was all pushed to the side and on it, and on the floor under it, Jake could see boxes of food, canned stuff, and a few dishes and cups. Some trash.
“Lindsay?” Jake called.
There was a laundry room off to the side. Lindsay had insisted on washing his sweats during lunch one day. She’d said he smelled like a goat. They’d gone at it on the floor of the laundry room, carpeted, and then he’d got her up on the washing machine during the spin cycle.
Barksly was acting strange now. Moving toward Jake, who was at the bottom of the stairs, and then toward a pile of blankets in the corner, stuffed in the square of empty space between the couch and the love seat.
Jake’s heart was pounding. Was he about to find the corpse of his lunch buddy in the corner?
Maybe Barksly had been gnawing on her. That would be hard to take.
And then Jake heard music.
In the light of his LED headlamp, the pile of blankets moved. A hand came up. Then the music got louder. Jake got it—earbuds coming out of ears and the music pouring out.
“Linds?” Jake called. “It’s me, Jake.”
And then her head popped up, her black hair falling away from her face.
“Yeah! I came to check on you.”
“How’d you get in?” Then, “The air!”
She scrambled out from her nest of blankets and groped for a fireplace lighter. She started lighting the candles.
And then BAM!
A hollow bang, coming to Jake’s left.
“WRAAUGH!” from the laundry room.
BAM! BAM! BAM!
Barksly whined and slunk behind the love seat.
“Help me!” Lindsay said. She threw Jake the lighter. He tossed his backpack down and started lighting any candle that had wax left in it.
“It’s my dad,” Lindsay said.
Lindsay picked up what looked like a bundle of twigs and lit it off a candle.
“Smudge stick. It cleans the air,” she told Jake.
Grunts and howls of rage came from the laundry room.
She brought the lit twigs over to the door.
Behind it her father raged. BAM! BAM! BAM!
“I think he’s got an old piece of pipe from the boiler. He keeps hitting the door,” she said by way of explanation. “But the door is metal.”
She waved the smudge stick along the space at the bottom of the door.
“I’ll check the seal,” Jake offered. He went back up the stairs and patted the duct tape holding the sheeting down around the door. It only held so-so. He pressed the tape down hard.
“Do you have more tape?” he asked.
He pressed down harder.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“It’s okay. I have to open it once in a while anyway because the air gets really skanky with me and the dog. I take out the trash. My dad goes crazy. Then he calms down after a while.”
Even now, Jake could hear that the curses from the laundry room had turned to moans and weeping.
“It’s okay, Dad,” Lindsay called. “It’s going to be okay.”
Lindsay looked at Jake and put her finger to her lips. Shhh.
Jake nodded okay, though he didn’t know why he was being told to shush.
He dropped onto the stuffed chair. Barksly jumped up on his lap. Jake scruffled the dog’s neck. The dog loved it.
Lindsay came over and reached behind Jake, into the nest of blankets.
She took out an old-fashioned boom box, the kind that played CDs, and unplugged her earbud jack. The room filled with the sound of Bruno Mars.
“I don’t want my Dad to know you’re here,” Lindsay said. She took the boom box and put it in front of the laundry room door.
“You don’t think he heard me already?” Jake asked quietly.
“He’s not himself when he’s O. But he’ll get back to normal soon and I don’t want him to know.”
She looked up at him, pleading with him for some reason.
“Sure,” Jake said. “I’ll keep it down. Fine.”
She was wearing a sweatshirt he remembered. It was cut so it would hang off her, showing neck and shoulder and that little bit of fat next to her breast. That delicious part of a girl between the armpit and the tit.
There it was. Lord almighty, she was maybe the only girl in the state of Colorado who could get his blood up.
“I brought something for you,” Jake said. He grabbed his backpack and rummaged through it. Every stupid thing was jammed in and in the way.
He took out the handgun and put it to the side.
He heard Lindsay gasp.
“Don’t mind that,” he said. “That’s not for you. Obviously.”
It didn’t exactly make sense, what he’d said, but she always made him feel nervous and awkward. Maybe it was the way her big, dark eyes watched him. Like they were watching him now.
“Here it is!” And he brought it out. A Snickers bar. Sized to share. How awesome was it that he’d chucked one in his backpack before leaving the store?
Sweet coincidence. Seriously.
“Oh, my God,” she said, and she started to laugh. She laughed and Jake’s face went red. Then she kept laughing and laughed so hard, she crossed over to the boom box and cranked it up all the way.
She wiped the tears from her eyes. The last spasms of laughter leaving her giggling, then serious, then giggling again. She collapsed onto the couch,
“God love you, Jake Simonsen. You braved the apocalypse for a booty call.”
Now that she was smiling at him, a grin on her face, Jake could chuckle, too. He knew he was still blushing. Probably blushing all the way to the scalp.
“You know my Dad’s in the next room,” she said.
“Yeah, well. I know now. I didn’t . . . obviously I didn’t, when I came. I mean . . . I didn’t know whether you’d be alive or dead or what.”
Lindsay drew up her knees onto the couch with her. Her sweatshirt fell off her shoulder just a little more.
Yeah, she did it for him.
Look, everyone knew that Jake lived for sex. It was his thing. He was handsome and popular and he talked about it—how sex ruled his life. People liked him for it; Jake knew they did because everyone laughed when he talked abut it, and not an uncomfortable laugh either, but a loosening-up, warming-up laugh.
He’d have rather had O type rage or be an A type who might blister up if he went outside. He’d have much rather been AB.
But no, the chemical warfare compounds that had leeched into the sky when the earthquake cracked the hull of Mount NORAD had taken Jake’s most important joy away—his ability to get it up.
Now, here was a girl who kindled that fire and that fact was reason enough to celebrate.
Jake threw the Snickers bar at Lindsay. She caught it.
“Eat your chocolate,” he drawled, with his lopsided grin, and she laughed. Jake plopped down on the easy chair. Barksly put his two front feet up on the chair and buried his face in Jake’s crotch.
“Down, Barksly, down.” Jake said. “Lord, this dog does not know the meaning of the word ‘down.’”
“I know it,” Lindsay said. “I’m glad to see you Jake. I can’t tell you how glad I am.”
She got up and went to the corner, where she had three plastic milk jugs filled with water. She poured a cup and brought it to him.
“We have a well,” she told him. “I get it from the laundry room sink when my dad’s asleep. It’s pretty yummy.”
It was pretty yummy. Had a cold, mineral taste. Jake gulped it down.
He had a feeling like a golden wreath around his heart. It was good he had come.
It was right he had left the others. They didn’t need him and this girl did.
Now came a sob from the other side of the door and a different kind of bang.
Lindsay got up and crossed to the other side of the room. She turned down the music.
“You okay, Dad?” she said toward the doorframe.
“I’m sorry,” he wept from inside. “You have to leave me, Lindsay. You need to go.”
Lindsay flashed a look at Jake. What was the look—maybe seeing how this looked to him? Jeez, he had no judgment about it.
“I won’t leave you, Daddy,” she said.
“You have to go!” he shouted.
Lindsay jumped, tears coming into her eyes.
“Please . . .” he pleaded. “Please leave me.”
“Shhh. You should sleep now. Go to sleep.”
“I’m kind of hungry.”
“I’ll put in more food when you’re asleep,” she said, checking again to see Jake’s reaction.
“What happened, anyway?” her father asked.
“I just had to take out the trash,” she lied. “I’m sorry I didn’t warn you first.”
“You have to give me time to get myself tied up while I’m still in control.”
“Sorry, Daddy. The plastic around the door got loose," she told him. “But I fixed it.”
“The next time you go out, look for a chain and a lock. I’m not satisfied this rope will hold.”
Lindsay was looking at the floor.
“If I got loose, Lindsay . . .” his voice trailed off in a kind of a sob.
“It’s okay, Daddy,” she said. “I’ll be able to protect myself, even if you get loose.”
And here she caught Jake’s eye and held it.
“I got hold of a gun.”
Lindsay changed the CD in the boom box. Old-fashioned rock and roll.
Jake couldn’t place it.
“Thanks, sweetie. That’s nice,” said Lindsay’s father.
Lindsay turned it up pretty loud.
Then she came and sat close to Jake, on the love seat.
“Who is this, again?” Jake whispered, leaning in to her.
“U2. My dad’s favorite band.”
“What does that thing run on, anyway?” Jake asked.
“Good old-fashioned D batteries. Luckily, my mom kind of hoarded batteries. Along with candles. She had a fear of blackouts.”
Jake didn’t know what to say, exactly—with the blackout cloud over the area, Lindsay’s mom was flat out of luck.
Lindsay shrugged. “She never came home after the hailstorm. I think she must be dead somewhere.”
The lead singer of U2 was singing about a beautiful day.
“My dad killed our neighbors,” Lindsay said, looking at her nails. “The Cruzes. He would have killed me, too, only I got a rope around his neck and I choked him until he blacked out.”
“God,” Jake said.
“He wants me to leave, but I won’t. I go in there when he’s asleep or tied up and leave food for him. But sometimes he still attacks me, even when the air is okay. Something’s wrong with his head, I think.”
Honestly, Jake was waiting for her to start crying so he could comfort her. He couldn’t wait to get a hand under that sweatshirt.
But she didn’t cry.
“We’ve just always been really close, me and my dad. I used to shave with him, in the morning, when I was like five. I used an old toothbrush. He’d lather up my face and we’d both stand there, towels around our hips, shaving.”
The one song ended and another came on.
Lindsay slid off the couch, scooting towards his backpack.
“Let’s see what else you brought me.”
After she brought her Dad some food (“Are you tied up, Daddy? Okay, here I come.”); and after he told her his story (“So they told me to come out and see what I could find. And of course, I thought about you. I’d been thinking about you the whole time, so I came here to see if I could find you.”); and after she told him her plan (“We have enough food to last at least ten days more. I heard somewhere by two weeks the chemicals will be gone so it should literally be any day now.”); Lindsay finally, finally, determined her dad was asleep for the night and climbed onto his lap.
Even with her taking her top off, straddling him and biting on his ear. Biting on his ear hard, because that’s what she was like, he couldn’t get it done.
“Do you have any cigarettes?” she asked him, after she rolled off and got dressed.
Jake shook his head.
He was fumbling with his pants, looking for the foilpacks of Obezine he had stashed there.
“No,” he said. “Oh, no!”
“Shhh!” Lindsay warned, putting her hand on his arm. “My dad can’t know you’re here.”
Jake brushed her hand off and then shook his pants out, knowing it was stupid, knowing already that they were gone.
He thought back and could almost see himself on the street, shedding his layers with such stupid elation.
Somewhere on the street lay three foilpacks, each with a ten-day supply of Obezine.
Jake kicked the love seat and Lindsay jumped.
“I gotta go,” he said.
“What?” Her eyes were big, surprised. “You just got here!”
“I lost something I need. On the street.”
“Jake, don’t go. Please.”
She was crying now. Perfect.
“At least stay the night,” she said, pointing to the clock on the wall. “Stay until morning. Please, Jake. I really, really like you and I really don’t want to be alone anymore. Please?”
It occurred to him suddenly that she had been playing it cool.
That kind of broke his heart. Maybe he’d come back.
Maybe he could find his meds and raid some food on his way back and he could stay with her here.
Barksly looked up from his dog bed and thumped his tail on the floor once, like he was reading Jake’s thoughts and approved.
Fine. Jake was tired.
He felt like he could sleep forever.
The foilpacks would be there in the morning.
And if they weren’t, he could go back to the store.
They slept on the couch together.
She cuddled into him and soon her breath came heavy and soft.
Jake lay there, holding a hot girl in his arms and he didn’t have sex with her and he couldn’t believe that this was how it was going to be.
She got up before him and made him breakfast. A plate of tuna with crackers on the side.
“Jeez,” he said, eying the dry tuna. “This what you’ve been eating?”
She looked away.
Jake felt dumb. Obviously this was the best she could do. Why didn’t he ever think before he shot off his mouth?
“Looks good,” he told Lindsay. “Thanks.”
In the corner, Barksly was licking the pouch the tuna had come from.
“Look,” Jake said in a quiet voice. “I lost something on the street. Something I need. So I gotta go out and get it.”
“You’ll never come back,” she said. She kept her head low, so her hair hung down and he couldn’t see her face.
“Don’t be like that,” Jake said.
“It’s okay. We’re doing okay. We don’t need you.”
She turned her back but it’s hard to hide you’re crying in a room with a mirrored wall.
“You’re a real piece of work, Jake,” she said.
She didn’t understand, about the pills. Without them, he wouldn’t make it. As simple as that. The despair would sit down on him again and he’d be done for.
But he didn’t expect her to understand. How could she? He hadn’t given her the information.
Didn’t want to.
Just wanted to get the hell out of there now.
Jake looked around, gathering up his things. He couldn’t let Lindsay have everything from the backpack. What if after he got the pills he decided to try for Denver? He left the chocolate, some gum, two energy bars. But he needed the rest.
“I don’t want your chocolate!” she yelled. “Just go. GET OUT OF HERE!”
“Who’s there? Lindsay, are you okay?” came her dad’s voice.
“It’s okay, Dad,” she called.
“It’s just me, Jake Simonsen, sir. I came to check on your daughter.”
“Jake Simonsen, from the football team.”
The captain of the team, he didn’t need to add.
“I remember you! I remember you!” Lindsay’s father said with rising agitation.
“He’s leaving now,” she said. “So that’s that.”
Jake was waiting for Lindsay’s dad to freak out. Start threatening to kill him, beating the door with his pipe.
Mr. Morrow’s voice got earnest and low, “You’ve got to take Lindsay with you.”
Jake could tell he had his face pressed up against the door.
“She won’t leave me and she has got to leave me,” her father said.
“I don’t even know where I’m going,” Jake said.
“It doesn’t matter. Son, please, please, you’ve got to get her away from me.”
“I won’t leave you!” Lindsay protested. “Stop trying to make me leave you! The air will be safe any day now, and who’s going to take care of you?!”
Jake had his bag packed now. Only thing he couldn’t find was his head lamp.
“PLEASE, SON, TAKE HER FROM HERE,” Lindsay’s dad shouted. “I am begging you.”
Jake put his hand on the railing.
He didn’t like to get to know the dads of the girls he hooked up with. It was too weird. But he remembered what Lindsay’s dad looked like. He was tall and thin, like his daughter, and stood in a way that made you feel he was a good guy.
Did insurance, or mortgages, or something like that.
He sponsored a youth league football team and Jake had seen him out with them, once. Remembered him waving over to Lindsay as she talked to Jake while he warmed up. Tykes crashing helmets on the field.
“Look,” Jake said, turning to Lindsay. “Do you want me to take you with me back to the store? I can take you there. You’ll be safe. Astrid is there, which will be awkward, but . . .” He shrugged.
He was willing to take the heat, to save a girl’s life. Of course he was.
“You think I should leave my dad?” came her voice, shaky and scared. Her brown eyes shining big in the dark basement.
Jake shrugged again.
“I can’t tell you what to do,” he said. “All I can say is that I probably can get you somewhere safe.”
Then BAM as her dad hit the door. “You have to go, sweetie!” The tone of her dad’s voice was rising, getting mad. “You have to GO! I’m your father and I demand that you go!”
Lindsay crossed to the metal door and put her hand on the center of it.
“But Daddy, I can’t leave you locked up, and if I let you out, you’ll go crazy when we leave.”
“You’ll leave me locked up. And that’ll be that.”
“Nooo!” Lindsay wailed. “Daddy, you’re asking me . . . you’re asking me to let you die!”
Lindsay slid down the door and sat, leaning onto it, on the floor.
“I’m sorry, Daddy,” she said. “But I can’t leave you. I just can’t do it.”
There were sobs, now, from the other side of the door.
“We’ll be okay,” she said. “We just have to hold out for a few more days, now.”
“All right,” he snuffled. “All right, Lindsay. You and me, we’ll stick it out.”
The whole thing made Jake uncomfortable. There was something about this kind of love. Not sick. But maybe deeper than he knew about.
And Jake decided, right then, to make the hike to his house, after he found the pills.
Just to check, in case his dad was holed up there, waiting for him.
“I should go. So . . . are you sure you want to stay?” Jake asked.
He didn’t get an answer.
Jake hoisted the backpack up onto his shoulders.
“Okay, then,” he said. “You want to get ready? I need to open the door.”
“Wait!” Lindsay said. “I do need something from you, Jake.”
She looked up at him.
“You’re leaving me that gun.”
“Jake and the Other Girl” copyright © 2013 by Emmy Laybourne
Art copyright © 2013 by Gregory Manchess