This is #24 of Endangered and is titled You Can Never Change. It is the finale of Volume 2 and was released December 24th, 2014. In an issue centered on James, we explore the depth of his relationship with his late sister, Zoey. Through flashbacks we will learn why Zoey and Sarah are so important to him, while in the present, James has a heart to heart with Sarah, while also feeling misplaced without a job to bury himself into. Meanwhile, Vicky and Ethan try building a relationship, and Walsh throws a dinner party to celebrate the success of the zone.
AUTHORS NOTE: Heyyyooo it's a me, Danny. Now, before you go on reading the issue, I wanna mention some thangs. First off, I know the pacing has been very slow as of the past few issues, that was only because I wanted to dive into the lead character's backstory and motivations before I get into the second half of Arc 2, which will be more fast paced. Second, I wanna apologize for such the long wait (this includes Sin City). During September - November I had a long football season, made even longer by us entering the playoffs. Due to 3 and a half hour practices, homework, dinner, washing up after practice, I was barely able to write and I am sorry. To make matters even worse in early November my laptop broke, leaving me without anything to write with. Now that I have a laptop I plan to write much more and get stuff out quicker. Thank you to my readers for reading and I am very sorry for the agonizing wait. Hope yall forgive mah. Also, MERRY CHRISTMAS!
You Can Never ChangeEdit
It was a dark, gloomy night in Philadelphia. Ginormous, dark clouds covered the skyline above, not allowing any of the moonlight to get past. It seemed like it would rain, and while the air certainly smelled like a rainy night, no rain was hailing down from the cloud’s mouth just yet.
The city seemed just a little bit ‘cleaner’ right now. There weren’t as much drugs being passed around on the street, not as much drug busts, and overall a less presence of crime and corruption. It actually seemed like a decent city.
Currently, driving down one of the many streets, was an old, rusty red car.It wasn’t exactly a nice looking car, not by any means, but it got the job done, and that’s really all that mattered. The driver of this certain vehicle was a young woman, no older than twenty-three, with flowing blonde hair and dark blue eyes. She was naturally pretty without the use of makeup and jewelry, but she wore them anyway.
She glanced back to a young boy sitting in the back seat, who stood dumbfounded out the car window. The kid, only eight years old, was very identical to her in various ways, including the color of his hair and eyes. The woman, who was clearly the boy’s mother, watched with a gleeful smile as he stared out the window and into the night’s sky. “What you doing back there?” She asked curious.
“What do you think?” He gave her a look like what he was searching the skies for should be painfully obviously. “I’m looking for Batman!”
“Yeah!” The boy smiles widely whilst going back to the frantic search to the skies. “I saw his flying thingy go by.”
“His flying thingy? You saw it?!” The child nods enthusiastically. “What’s he doing outside of Gotham?”
“Getting the bad guys, duh.”
“Of course. What was I thinking?” The mother looks back to the road, which was shockingly empty tonight. Normally they wouldn’t be out this late, but alas her son begged her to see the Batman film, and she couldn’t just say no to that cute little face. So she went out of her way to scrape up money and get them tickets to the newest flick. However, she made the mistake of letting him out of a soda, and he’ll probably be up for hours now. “Are you tired, Jimmy?”
“No. How could I be after seeing the greatest movie ever?” The child version of James Robinson, or as he is known as in the future, James Benjamin, responds. His enthusiasm about the simple movie couldn't help but make his mother, Meghan Robinson, smile. Being a rare combination of a high-school drop out and single mother didn’t make it easy on their economic situation, so whenever she could do anything worthwhile for her son it made her heart jump for joy. He hasn’t had the best childhood in their fatherless, one room apartment, poor life, but she always went out of her way to make him happy, including taking a few extra jobs to get him a Nintendo Entertainment System.
“Thank you, mommy.” James thanks her for the trip to the movies.
“Anytime, sweetie.” Meghan returns the thanks. In that moment Meghan notices lack of gas in their vehicle, probably not enough to bring them another fifteen minute drive. She sighs in annoyance. “We have to make a quick stop, Jimmy.”
“I’m sorry.” She apologizes before turning on her turn signals, changing her direction from their home to the nearest gas station. After a short, mere minute she drives the car up next to the closest filling station. Performing a quick check of her purse Meghan finds just enough money to fill half a tank of gas. “I’ll be right back, okay baby?”
“Okay, mommy.” James says with only half-attention as the other half is still searching for Batman in the sky. Meghan giggles at this before departing into the gas station to pay the lazy clerk, who instead of outside and fills the cars’ tanks himself, he sits inside on his ass reading Playboy who hit on any young woman who came in.
Meghan enters the store and takes her spot in the back of the short line. She stands there impatient, and takes occasional glances at James to pass the time, who was still searching for his non-existent hero. She smiles upbeat at her son. No matter what happened he was always just so damn happy and optimistic, a trait she wishes she had. Her life may not matter, but she can say with full assurance that her son is meant for great and wonderful things.
It was in that moment she notices a sullen man walk in, his face concealed under a hood and glasses. She pays no attention to him as he storms up to the counter, cutting off the other people in line. However, once he arrives at the front of the counter she immediately notices him pull something out of his pocket. A small, but dangerous handgun. In one quick motion he whips out the murderous weapon with fury, aiming it directly at the cashier’s head. “Hands up!” He howls out, switching his aim between the cashier and the customers, including Meghan. “I said hands up!”
“Take it easy, man.” The cashier reasons while raising his hands, followed by the rest of the customers. The robber doesn’t compromise his firm stance, instead he just takes a firmer grip on his pistol. “Just take it easy.”
The robber tosses a paper bag on the counter. “Put the money in the bag.” The cashier complies and opens up the cashier, where he begins to take out the small amount of money in there. “Hurry up!” The robber hoots again whilst turning his attention toward the customers. “Put your wallets on the ground!” He demands once more with fury, and judging from the way his finger itches to pull the trigger, he means business.
The four other customers aside Meghan immediately dig for their wallets and toss them onto the floor. Meghan, on the other hand, is a bit more reluctant. She couldn’t just give up this money, it was all she had. The robber, after picking up each and every wallet, notices that Meghan’s isn’t in the mix. “Did you not hear me?” He asks in annoyance while holding out his hand. “You’re wallet. Now.”
“I can’t. I--need it.”
“Put it in!”
“I have a young boy.”
“Money in the bag!” The robber demands once more, and in that moment, Meghan notices James look into the gas station window, curious to what is going on.
“Okay. Okay.” Meghan gives in, digging into her back pocket, while the robber keeps his pistol aimed on her.
“Calm down man.” The cashier tries to calm him down once more, and as the robber turns his head to yell at him, Meghan raises up her arm with the wallet just a little to fast. The robber, mistaking it as a punch, impulsively pulls back on the trigger. A bullet is quick to tear into her neck, splattering her blood in multiple directions as her now lifeless body falls onto the floor. The robber, in panic, makes a run for the door, completely ignoring the wallet he once wanted so bad. As Meghan chokes on her own blood the cowardly customers of the store run for it too, leaving only the cashier, who was to busy calling the cops to say anything.
“Mommy!” Little James Robinson wails while dashing into the store, arriving at his mother’s dead body in tears. In tears he kept shaking his mother’s body and screaming her name, but she didn’t respond, having drown in her blood before James even got in. Still, James kept trying to wake her up.
When the cops arrived five minutes later they saw a boy covered in his mother’s own blood, frantically screaming his mother’s name through his tears.
It was a sunny, near perfect day in Philadelphia. No clouds were found in the sky that day, allowing all of the sun’s precious light to extend down into the city. The sky itself looked more of an orange shade that day instead of a blue one; it was truly a beautiful day in Philadelphia.
Currently driving down the street was a fancy, slick black car. It was a stand-out compared to the other cars driving, and upon further inspection, one could tell that this wasn’t just any normal car. It was a car belonging to a detective. The detective driving was an older fellow with a scruffy white stubble and ‘old man’ glasses.
In the back seat sat James Robinson. Today he wasn’t looking out his window in search for Batman, or anything of the sort. Instead his head hangs solemnly, to tucked into his thoughts and fear to speak, or make eye contact for that matter. The detective sighs in the front, trying to muster the words to encourage this kid, but can’t seem to find any.
It’s been a week since the incident with his mother. The image of her body still flashes repeatedly in his mind. The way she laid there motionless, the way her blood soaked all over him, and the way that her dead open eyes stared at him. Her dead body image would always still burned in his mind.
After the incident he stayed at this Child Care place, where they kept him until after the funeral, which just so happened to be a few hours ago. After seeing his mom get buried the detective placed him in a car with the final destination being the adoption home. It was the only place they knew where to send him, since his mother had cut ties from the rest from her parents and didn’t hold much friends. The friends she did hold weren’t exactly ‘parent’ material.
“You okay, kid?” The detective asks from the front seat, but James doesn’t respond at first, instead keeping his head pouted. The detective doesn’t pressure him to answer.
“I’m fine.” James croaks out after some hesitation. It was barely audible but it was a start to getting him talking again. He hasn’t said much since his mother’s death, and the words he did speak were barely audible.
“Good. That’s...good.” After that very short, awkward conversation the atmosphere turns silent once more. Luckily for them, however, that James’s new home was just around the block. It was a fairly normal looking structure. It was about six stories with brick walls and many windows that ran up the floors. James stared at it for a cold minute before finally stepping out, a small suitcase in hand. Like expected there was a woman on the steps appending his arrival. “Are you James Robinson?” The woman asks, to which he only gives a slight nod. “Come here, sweetie.” She tries to act like one of those generous aunts and motions James to come up the stairs.
Before James can head up the detective speaks to him one last time. “You take care of yourself, kid.” With those words said, James watches with no emotion as the detective drives off into the night, before he emotionless follows the woman up the steps. All emotion that once filled this young boy have been stripped from him the moment he watched his mother die. Now, he’s practically a cardboard box with a name.
The next half hour went by fast, mostly because James didn’t pay attention to a word she said. She bought him around the whole adoption home, told him the rules, schedule, some info on other kids, and the whole time James didn’t hear a word she said. He wasn’t even deep in some thought, he just dazed out of reality. By the time he entered reality again he found himself sitting on the bed of his new room alone.
It was a small room, smaller than he wished. The room only contained a single bed, a dresser, and a window that’s barely bigger than his head. It wasn’t exactly home material. No where near the quality that his old room held.
The thought of his old room forces James to lower his head. Not long after the thoughts of his mother began pouring into his damaged little mind. He missed her so, so much. James grew up without the presence of a father, as he ditched his mother the moment he found out she was pregnant; in fact, he never even had any significant father figure growing up. His mother played the role of both his mother and father, and so he loved her twice as much.
For the next few minutes James sat there in his own despair, wondering why it had to happen to him. Why did the world have to take the only person that he loved. The young James couldn’t help but silently weep to himself in despair. While weeping the sounds of children having fun crept up into his room, and curiously, James got up from his bed and walked to the door, where he poked his head out.
Down the hall he watched as the other children ran around and played with each other, with some toys that James would have loved under different circumstances. Instead he watches them but refuses to go toward them. He’s scared, shy, and to depressed to even think about playing.
It’s only been under a hour and he already feels like an outcast.
“A beer, please.” James asks the bartender while he sits himself at the bar. It’s been at least twenty minutes since his little chat with Walsh, that didn’t end exactly as planned. In all honesty, James might have come off as a jerk, but he just couldn’t understand Walsh’s mindset. He wishes to protect people from the infected, but refuses to allow actual protection? It was almost like the mindset of a five year old.
“What kind?” The bartender asks from behind the counter.
“..I don’t care.” James sighs out. He’s never really been the beer type. He would one at dinner sometimes, and only drank more than one on special occasions. Still, he didn’t know the difference between beers. So, when the bartender slides him a cup of beer, he doesn’t know which kind it is nor does he care.
While taking his first sip of the cold, refreshing drink, he digs back into his thoughts. At first he thinks about the so called leader Walsh. He was nothing more than a blind idealist who only believed in his ideal plan. Pathetic. If this zone were to prosper it can’t be led by a man like that.
On the subject of protection his mind drifts over to the most important thing James must protect: Sarah. His mind lingers about the argument they had earlier. All he did was protect her, and that is all he will ever do. He won’t stop protecting her and she just needs to understand that. In fact James believes that she will, in time. Right now she’s angry but once she comes to her sense she’ll be fine.
A thought of doubt begins to invade his mind, however. Just one, simple seed of doubt. What if she didn’t forgive him? What if, for whatever reasons, decides that she is done with the overbearing James and ruins their relationship? But worse, what if she ditched him for Michael? He probably wouldn’t be able to stomach that.
He can’t lose Sarah. In his lifetime James has lost everyone he’s ever cared about. His mother, Zoey, his adoptive parents….even his once so-called lover. Sarah is the only person he has left in this world. He wouldn’t even know what to do with himself if he lost her, since it’s not like he had anybody else to lean onto.
Now that he thinks about it, it’s been over an hour since he last saw her. She can’t be ditching their relationship already, right? He attempts to reason that she isn’t, but that doubt keeps eating him up.
“Excuse me, bartender.” James calls over to him once more. “Do you need any help or something?”
“Nah, buddy, I got it all held up here.”
“Are you sure?”
“Positive. Thanks, though.” The bartender thanks before going back to his own business, leaving James slightly disappointed. It felt weird to not have anything to do, and personally, James hated the feeling. For half of his life James dug himself into work, no matter it be school, his job, to even cooking, James loved to keep himself occupied. The more he worked the more he could keep his mind distracted. James hated not having to do because it gave no distractions for his mind, and as so, he was forced to think about his life, and more importantly, his own flaws and mistakes.
Sarah would always ask why he dug himself so deep into work and time after time he wouldn’t give her a response. The truth is it was the only way for James to escape himself. Now, here he is, with no work, no responsibility. He was powerless to himself.
“So...how is the sandwich?” Ethan asks awkwardly from across the table, while he himself chews down on a burger.
Vicky, who sits across from him, lowers down her sandwich and slightly scratches her chin area. “Oh. It’s...good.”
“Like, good good?”
“Yeah. Good good.”
“Yeah. Yeah, it is.” Vicky confirms while going back to her ham sandwich, thus leaving the silence to take over again. The silence between the two was visibly awkward as both were at a loss of words. They didn’t really know what to talk about. Since they never really talked before they don’t know a lot about their respective interests, and it felt to awkward to start talking about it now.
It sounded like a good idea when Vicky suggested they get lunch together, but now that it is happening, Ethan wonders if they should of done it. Ethan was a natural loner so talking personally was one of his main faults; he even had the same problem with Lynn. She was always the talkative one, not him. “So….how do you like the mall?” Ethan asks as a last resort question.
“It’s alright, I guess. It keeps us safe from those things so that’s a plus.”
“Yeah.” Ethan rubs the back of his temple. “You said you got here with Lara?” Vicky nods. “How is she doing?”
“She is….well, being Lara.” Ethan has met Lara only a handful of times, but each time ended the same way: Lara being her wild self and putting Ethan off. Sure, she matched up well with Vicky but he always felt as if she was keeping secrets. Still, it wasn’t his place to question her so he never did. He did understand that ‘being Lara’ meant being an outgoing girl so he simply nodded.
“Is she the only person you came with?”
“No. Two other guys from UPENN.” The way she states it forms an raise eyebrow from Ethan.
“Guys?” Vicky nods. “You weren’t doing anything……..you know?”
“What? Oh, no. No.” Vicky blows off his suspicion with a small chuckle. “Nothing like that.”
“Good, because you shouldn’t do that kind of stuff.”
“I know, Ethan.” Vicky breaks eye contact from him and proceeds to eat her sandwich again, while he just sits there silently. She didn’t do anything like that with McCoy or Dre, but oh God she didn’t want to discuss any of that with Ethan. “You said you came up here with some people?”
“Yeah. I did.”
“How were they?”
“Okay. One of them didn’t really talk much and another one is…..suspicious. The third guy was okay. He came up here searching for his daughter.”
“Did he find her?”
“That’s good. I couldn’t imagine if I lost my kid.” It’s ironic. The very man she feels happy for is the man who took some of her happiness. The man she feels happy for is Michael Nicholson, the man she would very much punch in the face if given the chance. Hey, you never know, she may get that chance soon enough when the time comes.
As the two ever so awkwardly try to talk, Vicky’s mind keeps going back to one thing. Lynn. Her mother. She knew Ethan was thinking the same thing. It was practically painted and written all over their faces. “I….have to ask you something.” Vicky perks up but is visibly nervous to the ask the question, for both their sakes.
Vicky takes a short breath before answering the long overdue question. “How did mom die?” The question hits Ethan like a sack of hammers. “I know earlier I said I didn’t want to know, but I need to.”
Like expected Ethan didn’t respond at first, instead lowering his head in shame. Vicky knew very well how much Ethan loved her mother. The love for their mother was one of the only things they shared in common. It took a few seconds but Ethan managed to muster up the words of how to describe it. “The night it happened, during all the chaos, I went out to work. I thought it could get me a better understanding of what was going on, and I was a cop it was my duty to help out during these type of situations. To put it simple, it all went to shit.” He decides to skip over the helicopter crash he was involved in. This story was about Lynn’s death, not about how he survived the crash like a badass, after all.
“The next day I was trapped in the city so I got ahold of her over the phone. As we talk she said she heard someone at the door. There were infected…..right there. She tried to run but…..those bastards…...they….ripped her apart.” Ethan goes silent, letting that dreadful sentence make it’s course through Vicky’s mind. “I went back home and found her body. At that point, though, there was barely a body left.”
Vicky doesn’t respond, instead takes in the story. She couldn’t even imagine the image of those beast tearing into her like nothing. She could barely imagine how much that would hurt. How would it feel to have the infected’s icy, boney fingers slowly claw at you as their sharp teeth dig into your skin? She shutters at the thought.
“Your mother was torn slowly apart and I wasn’t there. I chose to leave her alone and she died because for it.” Ethan laments on. “I could have protected her but I wasn’t there. I failed her.” Ethan, rubbing his anger filled, yet pitiful, eyes, looks up to Vicky in despair, like he is begging for forgiveness. “I failed you. I’m sorry, Victoria.”
“You didn’t fail me, Ethan.”
“Yes, I did.” Ethan corrects her sharply. “Before it all went to shit, and the ‘cannibals’ were just rumors, I was assigned the case to find out what they are and stop them. I didn’t do enough then to try and stop this. Maybe if I did more than I could have….I don’t know I could have done something!”
“Ethan,” Vicky interrupts his rant about his failure, “you couldn’t have done anything. Even if you did study the case more, this thing still would have happened. I don’t blame you for her death, and I know she wouldn’t blame you.” Vicky tries to give him a smile, but can’t find the energy to produce one. “You shouldn’t blame yourself, either.”
Ethan gives a simple nod to her advice but doesn’t fully believe that he couldn’t have done something. He made so many mistakes in his life and now look at him. If only he had more time in the past. God, he would give up all of his tomorrows and go back just to do the stuff he needed to do. Work on this case more, spend time with Lynn, protect her. If only he had just one yesterday.
Deep down he knows that he can’t dwell on what he should have done, but instead on what he needs to do now. He has Lynn’s child, his step-daughter to think about. Being so shallow and dwelling about his mistakes will get him nowhere. But, yet, he just can’t seem to let it go.
Vicky, on the other side of the table, is dealing with her own problems as well. She feels completely horrible right now, and is even angry to some degree. She won’t physically say the words but she is furious right now. Her mother is dead. The woman who raised her and stuck by her side even when Vicky was a bitch is dead. Of course she feels horrible and angry at the world that her mother is dead, but this anger goes beyond that.
A small part of her is angry at the infected and blames them for her death. They did, of course, kill her, so she has every reason to hate them. Those foul beast just kill and kill and kill. Why did they have to kill Lynn? Any theory of them having humanity on the inside is now dead to Vicky. They’re mindless beast and Vicky will always hate them for that very reason.
But a larger portion is angry at herself. No, she doesn’t blame herself for Lynn’s death, but that’s not where the angry stems from. It stems from the fact of how horrible she treated Lynn. After her father’s death Vicky pushed Lynn away. After...another incident she pushed Lynn away then ran off. Even in recent years when they repaired their relationship Vicky still kept her distance.
Vicky always assumed her problems were worse than everyone else’s, and when bad events happened, she always thought about how the problems affected her. Just today she was called out on that by Lara, and Vicky just blew it off. It wasn’t until after hearing that Lynn died that she really began to think about it. All the problems that happened to her also affected Lynn. When Vicky’s father died, Lynn’s husband died. When Vicky ran away, Lynn lost her daughter. During the incident when Vicky was ten, Lynn thought her daughter was dead. Vicky never once thought about it from her perspective.
During all those horrible events Vicky never once comforted her mom. Throughout all the years Vicky never spent nearly enough time with her. Did Lynn know that Vicky loved her? Maybe. Maybe not. Vicky hopes that she did...but she honestly has no idea.
Vicky was so fucking selfish and she realized it all too late.
A now ten year old James sits like a quiet mouse in the orphanage classroom. He has his head buried in the math book, refusing to make eye contact with a single soul, and silently does his work. The other kids talk with each other and goof off while the teacher tries to shush them from time to time, leaving James the only one not talking. Even after two years of living here James is an outcast. He was to shy to talk, and when people did try to talk to him his anger filled tone scared them off. Overtime, the despair that filled his bones slowly turned angry. He didn’t even know what he was angry at. It could have been the world he was angry at it, but he wasn’t sure.
At the door of the classroom stood three people, two women and one man. The first woman we already recognize as the leader of the girl in charge of the orphanage, with a nametag that reveals her name as Mrs. Gilmore. The other two, however, don’t work there. They were a married couple who might just be interested in children.
The man stood at about 6’1 with latino skin, dark hair along with a dark stubble, and his appearance was finished off with a pair of dark, yet soft eyes. His wife had caucasian skin, stood at 5’9, and had beautiful brunette hair with dark, yet soft eyes like her husband. The couple dressed themselves nicely with a suit and dress respectively, although it no way reflected their income. This was Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin.
“James is a shy young boy.” Mrs. Gilmore informs the parents. “He rarely talks with the other kids, and when he does he just scares them off.”
“Why is that?” The father, Santiago Benjamin, asks.
“He is full of anger. I mean, he never flips out or anything, but you can tell he is full of it. He just has...that look in his eyes, but he’s respectful enough not to let it loose. Surprising, actually, since he almost can’t stand the other children.” The parents look at her, expecting an explanation. “He envies them. You see, he was a witness to his own mother’s shooting.”
The mother, Paula Benjamin, gasps. “The poor baby.” She explains her sadness toward the boy, while the father watches him curiously.
“How is he educational wise?” Santiago asks. The boy looked smart, and Santiago would love a smart child.
“Spectacular. Highest of all the children. Straight A’s.”
“Interesting..” Santiago tubs his stubble in thought. Mrs. Gilmore sends glances between the two parents out of mere curiosity.
“Do you mind if I ask why you chose adoption?” She asks. She is curious and she wants to know that her ‘children’ will be taken care of.
The parents looked down in shame as if they had some sad secret. Santiago rubs the back of his head, trying to think of words to muster that don’t give away the full story. “We wanted to have another child but the doctor said it wouldn’t work out….”
“That’s horrible, I’m so sorry.” Mrs. Gilmore apologizes for her outburst of curiosity. “It must be hard.”
“It is.” Santiago rubs his eye briefly. The subject has brought great...disdain on himself. All his wife wanted was another child to raise and he can’t even give her that privilege. He curses himself, internally, before turning his focus back to Mrs. Gilmore. “This James, he sounds like a good kid.”
“I believe he is. All he needs is some guidance, something I unfortunately haven’t been able to give him.” Mrs. Gilmore lets out a deep sigh of regret. She always tried to help the poor child but he dismissed her efforts. She couldn’t imagine what it had to be like for James, to just lose everything all in one night. Mom shot, forced out of neighborhood, stuffed into a new environment, all the while not having a father to guide him. “Would you like to speak with him?”
Santiago and his Paula turn to privately discuss meeting the child. It’s not that they don’t want to meet him, but how would he feel if they met him and didn’t adopt him? They wanted to make sure they were sure about this, and more importantly, how would he treat their already seven year old daughter?
After a conversation that spanned over the time of five minutes, Paula turns around with a confident smile. “We would like to meet him.”
Young James sits silently against the dark wooden chair, his hands stuffed deep into his pockets while his agonizing eyes dodge any that come their way. He lightly bites his lip, not forcefully, but shly. He doesn’t like new people, they frighten him. New people to him as are the burgerler was to his mother. They could kill him right on the spot.
He was told by Mrs. Gilmore that a couple want to speak with him. Parents want to speak with him. Why did people want to speak with him? He clearly doesn’t want to be adopted, but every other week he is bought out to speak with parents, and it all ends the same. They say the famous lines “We will be in touch” then, ‘surprisingly’, they never do. He was getting tired of the same old game, but more importantly, he can not just replace his mother. That would be worse than what the robber did. Meghan is his mother and it would be a disgrace to call someone his mother; but yet, that is what the orphanage wants him to do.
Within the next few minutes he gets the first looks of the people who claim to want him, and the Benjamins get their first up close look at the child they wish to adopt. For a few seconds it is almost like a standoff as the child and the parents stare at each other, until Paula takes the first strike at conversation. “Hi, my name is Paula Benjamin.” She smiles energetically, hoping to make a good impression on the young boy. “This is my husband, Santiago.”
Santiago gives James a friendly nod but speaks no words, leaving the more friendly Paula to do the talking for now. “You are James, yes?” She goes on, now taking a seat on the chair next to him. The agonizing eyes of James take a quick look at her before ducking away, but nethertheless, he nods in answer to her question. “That is a very beautiful name.”
“Thank you.” He says softly. “I...like your name, too.”
“Thank you. It was my grandmother’s. Were you named after someone too?”
Paula awaits eagerly as James thinks for a moment. “I think I was named after my daddy.” James says with a slight smile, but not even a second later a look of hurt flashed across his face. “I never met him.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. I’m sure he was a great man.”
“I wrote him letters but he never wrote back.” James mentions to the woman. “I don’t know why he didn’t. I heard someone say he was ‘sick’ though, so maybe he is just really sick.” As James says this Paula and her husband exchange glances, both knowing that his father wasn’t sick. Well at least, not the sick that James thought he was. “My mommy would….” James began to say but stopped shortly after, soon resorting back to his silent ways. Memories of his mother began to pour into his damaged little mind.
Paula sees the pain in his face almost immediately. The emptiness, pain, anger and agony all blend into two mere eyes, and it almost pains Paula to see a little boy like that. “It’s okay, sweetie.” She smiles at him. Paula knows fully well that a smile won’t do anything for him, but it is all she can do right now. “You can let it out.”
James gives the shake of his head at her response. For the two years that he has been there he couldn’t let it out, and he won’t now. It just wasn’t that easy for James to let his feelings show. It was a whole lot easier concealing them. “Do you play any sports, James?”
“No.” James never got into sports. Maybe once and awhile he would play baseball with some kids during recess but that is about it as far as James went with sports.
“Me neither. I always enjoyed books.” Santiago smiles, not ashamed of his non-athleticism. “How do you like school?”
“I….like it, I guess. It’s fun.”
“Really?” Santiago is intrigued by this. Santiago has always dreamed to have an educated young son to groom into a successful man. He is practically jumping for glee when James answers his questions with another silent nod. “That is wonderful.”
“What else do you enjoy, James?” Paula asks, hoping the silent boy will spill some beans about himself.
“I don’t know.” James admits with a shrug. “I don’t really know what I like.” Paula and Santiago once again exchange a glance, before turning their attention toward James once more. “You are here to see if you like me, right?”
“Yes.” Santiago answers bluntly in contrast to Paula, who wanted to say something less blunt. “We are.”
“Most people don’t like me.” He refers to the constant times he has been through this process. He talks to parents, they show sympathy, they ask questions, then leave.
Paula, albeit reluctantly, grabs his small, cold little hand. “We are not most people.”
A few, short weeks later James has switched from sitting in his room to sitting in the back of a car, which at the moment drives him toward his new “home”. In the front seats of the vehicle sat Santiago and Paula, who like they said, were not most people. After their little chat the two began the process to adopt James, who was actually indifferent on the subject.
Sure he was happy to get out of that orphanage, but he can’t just replace his mother with two new parents. He saw the way the Benjamin’s acted, like James was now their son, but he wasn’t. Even now, striped of the title ‘Robinson’ and glued to ‘Benjamin’, he refuses to being their kid. They just took him in, nothing more. Nothing less.
“We are almost there.” Paula says to him from the passenger seat. “You’re gonna love Zoey. She is so excited to meet you.”
Zoey. According to the Benjamins Zoey was their seven year old daughter who loved to draw and play dolls. Like every other typical seven year old, although he wouldn’t really know. To make matters worse he wouldn’t be able to blow her off like the others back at the orphanage.
He sighed to himself, bracing himself for the new life he will receive once he steps through the front door of the home.
Sadly that moment came in only two short minutes when their car pulled up into the driveway of the suburban area. It only took one mere glance from James to see that the area was dull, quiet, and overall colorless. Just the way he liked it!
“Ready to see the house? We were cleaning it all night.” Paula casually brags whilst exiting the car, while Santiago carries in James’s bag. Paula looks back at James, who still sits in the back seat, afraid to enter the small little home. Paula bites her lip, pondering on what action to take. She could understand James’s fear, but she didn’t know how to subdue it.
Paula, in act of love toward the boy, opens up the backdoor, where she seats herself next to the scared child. Generously she grabs his hand once more with one of her grand smiles. “Don’t be scared. It will be okay, I promise.” She encourages him.
James looks at Paula in the eyes, and at the sight of her warm smile, nods. Taking a deep breath, James exits the small vehicle where he slowly approaches the home, Paula right behind him. The house wasn’t shabby at all, but James was hoping for something more. It was a simple one story house with a plain white exterior. Nothing fancy. Although, it did have a nice big lawn, and while the grass was a little bit overgrown, it still looked nice.
Walking up the steep steps, James stood nervous at the door, before taking one last breath and accepting the situation for what it was. His new life. With a sigh he opened the door and stepped inside the Benjamin household. Like he expected the house was very nice, with each and every room reflecting each personality trait from the Benjamin’s. The living room was mellow, with relaxation at every corner with a long, soft couch that went with the beanbags scattered across the living room. There was a study across the hall that was stacked with desks, books and ‘boring’ stuff. Then of course the lovely dining room and kitchen, with the former being filled with famous art and pottery pieces. Down yet another hallway were the three bedrooms and a bathroom. James figured the door all the at the end of the hallway would be his bedroom.
Suddenly, in only a seconds notice, a young girl pops up in front of him. She has a wide, enthusiastic smile similar to Paula’s, except this girl is missing her two front teeth. Her eyes were dark, chocolate brown that were full of life; her hair, currently in ponytails, had the same beautiful color. This little girl stood there with that smile, hands folded behind her back, wearing a cute little dress. James just stared blankly at the girl who was none other than Zoey Benjamin. “Hi!” She says with such a passion and force that James flinched a little. “I’m Zoey!”
“Hi.” James sounds like an ant compared to her. “I’m..James.”
“I made this for you.” Zoey removes her hand from behind her back and holds out a small piece of paper. Reluctantly James takes the piece of paper that was filled with different colors that was each connected to one picture. Red, blue, green, purple, almost every color filled up this picture of a house with four people in front of it. In front of this house of colors were four stick figures who James soon figured out where meant to represent him and the Benjamins. “Do you like it? I made it at schoooool today.”
James stares blankly at the welcoming gift with mixed emotions. It was nice of her but it….was weird to him. Looking up back at Zoey he sees her staring at him awaiting an answer with the same smile planted on her face. He nod. “I like it.”
“Yay! I knew you would!” Zoey rejoices with a clap that gains the “awws” from her parents. Then, in yet another touching moment, the little girl wraps her scrawny eyes around James and gives him one of the warmest hugs he has ever had. “Welcome.”
“We are going to play toys, and drawl, and run around, and play dolls!” Zoey rambles while separating from James. She was definitely to energetic, maybe too energetic for James’s type. “And then we are gonna--”
“Zoey, why don’t you let James unpack?” Paula asks her energetic daughter, seeing the daunting look that sits in James’s eyes. “I’m sure he wants some rest.”
“Oh. Okay!” Zoey turns her attention back to Jams once more. “We can play after dinner. Okay?”
“Yeah. Sure.” James says while picking up his bag and heading off to his new room, leaving Zoey behind to plan out what they’re gonna play later.
His new room wasn’t anything spectacular, nor anything abominable. Simple light blue paint filled the walls, along with a few posters that filled the otherwise boring wall. The only furniture in the room were a bed and small desk tables. A few action figures and toy cars were scattered across the floor, presents from the Benjamins.
Dropping his bag on the floor, while placing Zoey’s drawing on one of the desks, James soon collapses down on the bed, which was much softer than he thought. Much better than the crappy mattress at the orphanage. So comfortable that James had no qualms of shutting his tired eyes for a nap without unpacking. Not like the stuff is going anywhere.
“Do you like pizza, James?” Santiago asks from across the table while chowing down on some hot, fresh pepperoni pizza, that was topped with just enough hot sauce for some extra taste. Santiago loved spicy food such as hot sauce and put it on his food whenever he got the chance.
“Of course he does.” Paula answers for him, while she chows down on her piece. “Who doesn’t love pizza?”
“I love pizza!” Zoey states while eating her chopped up, small pieces of pizza, as cheese sits around her mouth. She looks at James expecting the same response.
“Yeah. I like pizza.” James simply states while eating his slice. He absolutely loved pizza but he wasn’t the most enthusiastic person like the others. So he just eats his piece silently as the others go about of talking.
After dinner, and after Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin started cleaning up the table, James took a seat out in the living room, placing his attention on the small television. He didn’t know what was wrong nor did he care. He was just happy that it took his mind off things.
Unfortunately for him his mind wouldn’t be able to stay like that for long. Not even a few minutes later Zoey came running out with a handful of barbies, more than half of them were girls with maybe one or two guy dolls. She quickly gives half of the dolls to James, who like any other ten year old boy would, gave her a stare of confusing. “What are you doing?” He asks, to which she giggles to herself like a cartoon character.
“You said we can play after dinner.” She places some dolls in his cold dinners. “Who doesn’t like playing dolls?”
“Come on. You know you want to!” Zoey picks up her one doll, her personal favorite. “This is Sarah and she loves to have tea parties.” She points to one of the ones that James currently grasps. “That’s Miss Penny and she loves money!”
“I’m not really a--” James attempts to excuse himself from this incident but as he does he gets a good look at Zoey’s face. She is so full of life, love, energy, kindness….if he just blew her off she would be upset; he doesn’t want to be the one to make that cute face upset. So, like a true man would do, he sucked it up and did what was best for her. “Who is this guy?” He holds up one of the male dolls.
“That’s Michael. He is the cutest doll.” She blushes at the doll. “He likes to play sports.”
“He sounds cool.” James puts on a fake smirk, but luckily Zoey buys it, and as so she smiles wide at her new brother.
“This place is looking very fine. Don’t you agree?” Walsh asks as he cleans one of the many tables scattered around the mall’s cafeteria. At the table across from him stands Sam, who like Walsh, washes down one of the tables.
Currently, the two were cleaning up the cafeteria and make it spectacular for the dinner that night. Due to the mall’s growing ‘success’ over the past four days Walsh found it within himself to have a dinner that celebrates that very success, where he would come up and make a wonderful speech that gains the admiration of others. In short, Walsh wanted to have a fancy dinner that fueled his ego.
“Yeah, it’s looking great.” Sam agrees while brushing some of her hair away from her face. To be honest, Sam was a little tired, considering it’s only been half an hour since she smoked some weed. Still, she couldn’t just deny Walsh’s request for help. So she rubs her eyes and pushes back the tiredness. “So what is with the dinner?”
“Like I said, Miss Collins, to celebrate our success here. We’ve been keeping people safe for days now. That is worth a dinner, no?”
“Yeah. Yeah, it is.” Sam looks around the cafeteria, wondering how they’re supposed to make this a big ‘fancy, amazing eyesight’ of a place. It wasn’t exactly a bad looking cafe but it was old and slightly dirty. It would take more than a few hours to make this amazing, but Walsh didn’t care one bit. “So how did you get ahold of this place anyways?”
“My father owned the place, actually. I worked here, too, at one of the electronic stores.”
“Oh. That’s nice.”
“Was not the best job in the world, but I practically grew up in this mall. It was like a second home. I wasn’t just going to leave it behind.” Walsh starts laying a cloth over the table. “Once this outbreak started, I figured I could make this place to others what it was to me. A safe haven.”
“That is really nice of you.”
“I know. Now, unfortunately, my father got...ripped apart by one of those things as we were securing this place.”
“Ouch. That sucks. You seem to be handling it well, though.”
“I think I am.” Walsh shrugs it off, but at the same time, tries putting on a sympathetic face. Truth be told Walsh was never close to his old man. In fact, his old man practically hated him. He saw Walsh as a complete and utter failure, always berating him for not being good at sports, or academics, or anything. Walsh was just a failure to him who lived in the shadow of his older brother, who literally could do anything. His whole life Walsh would live in his shadow and everyone always had high expectations for him, but when it didn’t work out, they would treat him as a nothing. Walsh began to think that himself. He’s thirty seven, no full job, no kids, no wife. He only had a fiance who ran off with a richer man a few years back. “Handeling it to the best of my abilities.”
“That’s good. There are lots of people in bad shape because of that stuff. It seems everyone’s lost someone these days.” Sam laments the losses that has been going on recently. Even Sam lost people, or at least she thinks she did. Last she talked to her parents they were traveling across the city but after that riot she lost contact with them. They could be alive, dead, or….maybe even traveling around as infected. “Hopefully this thing ends soon.”
“We can only hope so.”
“Have you heard the recent rumors?”
“I have not.”
“Apparently, the army is making a stand against those things.”
“Yeah. I heard they’re in the process of taking back New York.” Sam begins to lay down one of the basic, soft cloth sheets across a table. “I mean, they got tanks, planes, heavy guns. This thing might be over by next week.”
“I am not too sure about that.” Walsh scratches his head, causing a look on Sam’s part.
“Just not too sure. That’s all. Where did you hear these rumors anyway?”
“Radio. Some people around the mall.” Sam goes on to explain some of the resources, but as she does this, Walsh lowers his head and goes off into his thoughts. The army probably could take back the States but he doesn’t want them to. This outbreak transformed him from nothing to a hero in the eyes of others, it made him more than a waste of space. If the outbreak was to stop….then he would just go back to being nothing. He will would no longer be a hero. He wouldn’t be special.
“You shouldn’t believe rumors, Miss Collins.” Walsh reminds her, but his response only causes a chuckle on her part.
“Well, I believe they will come.” Sam smiles as she moves onto the next table, preparing to put yet another cloth over it. “I think you should too.”
Walsh stands there for a moment with zero response, instead just thinking about if he became a no one again. There was no way in hell he could go through that again. He grunts to himself and rubs the back of his temple, while at the same time, taking a deep inhale. However, as he does, he smells a particular smell. “Do you smell something?”
“It smells like marijuana.” Walsh takes another breath to see if his senses were fooling him. Sam, at the mention of it, grows wide-eyed and blushes a little.
“Nope. I don’t smell anything.” Sam turns from him and goes back to her work until Walsh shrugs it off and continues his.
Deep down below the mall’s main floor there was another room. One where no one has went yet. It was a dark room with only a few remaining lights working, added with the sheer amount of useless items in the room and a few cracks on the wall, made the room look like a living dump. This was the mall’s basement, the shitty basement actually. “Wow,” Haruka says from the bottom of the staircase, her arms folded and a slight frown on her face, “this place blows.”
Next to Haruka stands Sandra, who like usual, doesn’t say much, instead standing with her arms folded, but with a keen eye that inspects the basement. Slowly but surely Haruka makes her way around the basement, inspecting everything she can. Despite what the large amount of stuff may make it look like, the basement was large. A good sized basement for them to do any work they have to do. Still, it needed some work. “It’s big.” Haruka observes. “But full of crap.”
“Maybe some of it can be useful.” Sandra shrugs, but Haruka just chuckles to herself. “What is funny?”
Haruka picks up a random magazine off one of the empty boxes and holds it toward Sandra. “Do you think Time magazine can help us?”
Sandra shrugs. “Maybe we can use it to give infected papercuts.” Haruka gives her a look of disbelief. “Death by papercuts, you know?”
“I...I think I’m in total shock right now.” Haruka gasps out loud, almost stumbling while doing so. “You…..you...Sandra Dufraine just...told a joke. This is impossible.” Haruka leans against the wall, holding her head. “I think I need an aspirin. This is just too much.”
Sandra chuckles lightly at her response but says nothing more, instead looking around the basement. “Maybe if we clean this pace up we could….I don’t know, work something out.” Haruka suggests as she looks more around the room. “Move some of this junk around, fix up those lights, and put a little of our ‘fashion’ around here, we can make it look nice.”
“That is a lot of work, though.”
“It’s gotta be done, woman.” Haruka remarks. “It will be hard, though. Considering we’re both twigs.” It did have to be done, there was no denying that. Haruka was completely determined to find the origin of this virus, and to do that she needed a place to work freely. This basement was the best she had, and she intended to make it the best lab a person could ever ask for.
“Should this be the time where we….I don’t know, talk about a plan?” Sandra pipes up.
“We have a plan.”
“The only plan we really have is to ‘study the infected’. I think we should really expand on that a little bit.”
“How do we plan to study them? Where do we get equipment to do that. How are we going to make a lab?”
“You ask to much questions.” Haruka smirks, but she isn’t fully denying her questions. Haruka was never the one to ask questions on how to approach stuff, instead she just did it and asked questions later.
“We should probably discuss this before we start something.”
“Or, we can start something and figure out the minor details along the way.”
“I wouldn’t exactly consider them minor…”
“But we got the main purpose, right?” Haruka reminds her with a smirk. “How about we just focus on cleaning up this basement, alright?”
Sandra simply silently nods to her agreement and makes her way over to Haruka as she begins moving a small box.
The fifteen year old James walks steadily down the halls of a private high school, whose name has gone bad. It wasn’t exactly the best High School in the city, but it was the closest to the Benjamins so he just put up with it. Besides, the education wasn’t that bad.
James looks just as any other teenage loner would. He has shaggy blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and already has some facial hair growing in. He obviously isn’t the fancy lawyer just yet, as aside from his physical appearance, he wears some worn up clothes. With his hood up and head down it is easy to spot that he is not the most social person, preferring to hang out with textbooks than people.
It has been five years since he moved in with the Benjamins, and surprisingly, it isn’t going half bad. Sure, he can be a bit of a rebellious brat from time to time, but he is not a bad kid by any means. His grades are through the roof with straight A’s, his kind behavior has got him much praise from the staff, and all in all, he has never disobeyed the Benjamins. Still, despite the hope that his future holds, James is filled with anger and pain. Luckily, he has managed to consume it deep inside to the point where he doesn’t even think about it.
He has completely buried himself into whatever work he could find to keep his mind distracted. Instead of focusing on himself he focuses on Math, Science, History, English, and whatever else he can add onto his schedule. Some people appalled the idea of working to appease their mind but it was what helped James the best.
Walking out of the school and into the fresh opening that was the school’s front yard, where he took a nice deep breath. It was a cool autumn’s day in Philadelphia, and as it was his lunch period, he planned to take a nice walk over to the deli and get some good lunch.
As James walked through the front yard he couldn’t help but notice a large commotion over by the yard’s center. A large circle of students surrounded the area chanting and screaming at the event going on in the center. It was none of James’s business, but he was curious, like anyone would be. Making his way over to the chanting students he saw a fight in the middle, like he expected. Still, this wasn’t just another normal fight. The lead attraction of this particular fight was the school’s quarterback Sebastian Medvic, one of the toughest kids in school. However, his victim was not so tough. His victim was a spoiled rich freshman who was weaker than weak.
The victim was Daniel Brown. Not the Daniel Brown known today, but the nice, meek Daniel Brown before the death of Isabella Ryker. In fact, this was even before he met Isabella. “Please, man. I’m sorry!” Daniel begs, with one hand in the air pleading for mercy, while the other holds a bruised cheek. “I didn’t mean to cause offense!”
“You think you can just rat me out, huh Brown?!” Sebastian screams at him, giving him another punch in the gut. As it so stands Daniel ratted Sebastian out for cheating on a math test, and he is obviously pissed off about it. “Do you?!”
The crowd cheers on as Sebastian gives Daniel yet another punch, but James just watches in disdain. Sebastian soon takes notice of James, who just so happened to be a member of the photography club. “Hey, Benjamin!” Sebastian shouts over with his cocky smirk as he grips Daniel by his sweater. “Take a picture.”
“No, man I’m not gonna get a picture.” James says softly, barely audible with all the chanting going on. “Just put him down, man.”
“Take the picture, Benjamin.” Sebastian says more stern.
“Put him down, Sebastian.”
“Take the picture.” Sebastian says annoyed, all the while Daniel rubs his bruised cheek while trying not to cry of embarrassment.
“Just put him down, man.” James says once again, to which Sebastian finally complies and tosses Daniel away, where he hits the ground with a thud. James makes his way over to Daniel slowly. “Hey, you okay?”
Quickly, before James had any time to react, Sebastian swung his meaty, powerful fist directly at James’s face. The fist connected hardly into James’s face, forcing him back in shock. Sebastian was quick to swing at James again, all the while Daniel hopped up onto his feet and sprinted off, leaving James to be pummeled by Sebastian. He knocks James down onto the ground where he gives a powerful kick to the teenager’s gut. James grunts in absolute pain, but it wasn’t enough to stop Sebastian from kicking him again. “Still not taking the picture.” He croaks out.
The crowd cheers at his pain while Sebastian begins showing off, shouting stuff like “who's the man!” and “nobody can touch me”. Sebastian, after the brief showing off, returns briefly to James. “Get up, Benjamin!” Sebastian taunts him. “C’mon, get up!”
Once again James walks down the school’s hallways, except this time he holds a pack of ice over his black eye. Sebastian got bored of the ass beating he gave James after five minutes and left him out there in pain with no remorse. After regaining his breath and struggling to get on his feet James headed down to the nurse and got this handy ice pack. Sure, he may be beaten right now, but he did not regret stepping in there to help someone in need. Even if the kid did run away.
It took only another minute for James to arrive at his class, where after giving his proper pass to the teacher, took a seat in the back. The current class was World History 2, one of his favorite classes, but today he just wasn’t in the mood to learn, so he buried his head into his hands, keeping the ice right on the eye whilst doing so.
As he sits there James looks to his left to see the young woman next to him staring at him, her big, yet soft gray eyes showing compassion and respect at the same time. She was very beautiful with her blonde hair, gray eyes, almost flawless skin; James recognizes her as Emily Wright, one of the smartest people in their grade, just behind James himself. “That was really brave.” She whispers to him. “What you did back there.”
“..Thanks.” He croaks out shly. He wasn’t good around pretty girls. His slow speech and confusing force Emily to raise an eyebrow.
“How many fingers am I holding?” She asks whilst holding up four fingers on her left hand.
“How many fingers are on this hand?”
“What is your name?”
“James….Benjamin.” He says confused on why she is asking him questions, but his response gives her a smile and she puts her hand down.
“Just wanted to make sure you didn’t have some sort of concussion from...you know.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“I mean, you did get hit in the head a few times.”
“I know. I remember.” James smirks slightly before getting a headache and putting some ice on his head. “Gonna take...more to take me down.”
“Oh yeah. I could definitely tell.” She plays along with his statement with a sarcastic smile. “Still, like I said, that was brave.”
“You know my name?”
“Well...yeah. I mean, you know mine.”
“Well, I didn’t tell you mine.”
“Well...I mean….we’re in the same grade and--”
“Relax, I’m just messing with you.” She glances back at their teacher, who was just finishing up his ever so interesting speech about how important math was to the world. “We should probably shut up before Mr. Zimmerman has our throats.”
“Yes, ma’am.” James already had a headache and a lecture from Mr. Zimmerman would just make it fifty times worse. So Emily turned back to face the front, but yet, James still kept his eyes on her, mystified by her beauty. He would be lying if he said he didn’t have a crush on her.
If only he knew what would happen if they started dating. He would save himself so much pain.
A few hours later James walks the path home, luckily only living a few short blocks away. The short walk continues to hurt his aching head, however. On the other hand it was better than taking that loud bus. Even luckier he lived in a quiet neighborhood.
Crossing the street over to his house James thinks of the possible excuses he could use to cover up his bruises. Maybe he could say he was playing sports? No, they wouldn’t buy that. Bike accident? No, he didn’t even have a bike. The only thing they would buy is that he accidentally slammed his locker into his face.
Walking in the door James soon walks down the hall, where like expected, the Benjamins were in the kitchen discussing dinner matters. Like usual Santiago wanted to have some meat while Paula wanted something vegetarian. “I just want a steak. Is that so bad?” Santiago asks with a smile, but Paula just rolls her eyes.
“You want to eat some poor, defenseless animal?”
“If they taste good, yes.”
“That is barbaric.”
“It is good for you.” Santiago counters. “We been having this same fight for….how many years?”
“Too many.” She chuckles. “You just refuse to listen to me.”
“No. You refuse to listen to me.” Santiago continues to argue with her until he soon notices James walk in. “Hey, buddy.”
“Hey Jimmy.” Paula calls over, and like he expected, it only took her one moment to discover her black eye. “Oh my God, what happened?!”
“Nothing, relax.” James grabs himself a tasteful apple. “It was just an accident.”
“Some accident. Come here, boy.” Santiago ushes James over, where once the young James arrives, he inspects his swollen and bruised eye. “It’s nothing a bag of ice can’t handle.”
“A bag of ice? His eye is black! Who did this?!”
“It was an accident.” James corrects her. “I had a bit of a struggle to open my locker, and I ended up slamming it in my eye.”
“How the hell did you do that?” Paula panics while grabbing a small bag of ice. She has always been the panicky type of mom.
“I sorta….pulled it too hard and it hit me...here, like I said.”
“Paula, relax. If the boy said it was an accident then it was an accident.” Santiago assures her with his stern, serious voice. Santiago, while a loving father, never looked into things unless asked. He would trust the kid’s words. “Just get some ice.”
“I am, I am.” Paula rushes over to James with a small bag of ice and pushes it against his blackened eyes. “Does this hurt?”
“Are you sure?”
“It’s fine.” James assures her with a smile, hoping that she would buy it. “Believe me, alright?”
“Fine, fine.” Paula stops her panicking to appease her son. “I’ll just go back to making the dinner.”
“...with meat?” Santiago jokes, but her death stare turns him down. “I think the poor, injured Jimmy boy would like some meat.”
“I wouldn’t mind some meat.” James backs up the old man, and like expected, Paula gives him her famous death stare too. “Or not. It’s cool.”
“Just, go do your homework.” Paula politely kicks him out of the kitchen, which he politely accepts and makes his way out of the kitchen, allowing them to bicker over food more as he heads to his room.
Upon taking a seat in his comfortable room, James lays down on his bed, letting out a deep sigh as he places the ice on his eye. For the next few minutes he would just lay there and ponder on his day. Sure, he got his ass handed to him, but he helped a defenseless kid and he got to talk with a pretty girl. He would call it a good day.
“So what really happened?” The voice of Zoey calls over from his bedroom door, prompting him to look over and confront his now twelve year old sister. While no longer being the cute little child, she was still very much the same, and at this point in time, James loved her like his real sister. “I overheard you all in the kitchen.”
“Like I said, just an accident.”
“Oh come on. I’m not like mom and dad.” Zoey chuckles, strolling over at the same time. Still, despite her chuckle, she was still very much worried. “What happened?”
James bites his lip in reluctance. “A fight.”
“A fight?!” James nods. “What happened?”
“It was nothing, really.”
“James,” She calls out to him in such a loving voice that he couldn’t lie to her, “what happened? I’m your sister. I won’t tell.”
James sits up from his bed, offering Zoey a seat next to him, which she gladly takes. “I saw that dude, Sebastian beating on some defenseless kid, and I mean beating. So I--”
“You didn’t..” She sighs, knowing very well what James would say next.
“--stepped in there and kindly told him to stop. He did, and then found it within his heart to beat on me instead.”
“James..” Zoey sighs, rubbing her eyes while doing so. “You can’t just do that.”
“You just don’t. I’m twelve and even I know that.”
“Exactly, your twelve. You don’t understand, alright?”
“Then help me understand.” Zoey may have only been twelve, but she was more mature and collected than most of the other students in her grade. “I’m tired of seeing you like this.”
James looks at her, but instead of giving a straightforward answer, he is reluctant to let it flow out, instead letting the words sit on his tongue. “I...I just can’t sit back and watch as something wrong goes on. I can’t.”
“Because why not, sis? Everyday people are berated, beaten on, robbed, and God knows what else. But know what? Nobody ever steps in to help. Sure, they will all share their hatred on the subject and spread their gossip, but to actually get in and get their hands dirty? No. It’s like a plague. People would much rather care for themselves instead of doing their civil and humanitarian duty of helping each other out. Honestly, is it so bad to help out another person?” James’s words are filled with pure rage and despair, he himself having a strong view on the subject of the simple act of helping people out. Gradually, year by year, people become more scared about helping others, and the city just goes downhill. If no one honest stepped up to guide these people and protect them then, one day, this city might be damned.
“I get that people are getting hurt but….why do you have to help them out? You came home hurt for months now, sooner or later Mom and Dad are gonna find out. Imagine how they will feel knowing that you willingly get beat on? You have a family who loves you, Jimmy. Don’t risk your safety for...this.”
“For this? What do you mean?”
“You know full well what I mean. This...crap about wanting to be some superhero. You’re just a dude, James.”
“Well, guess what, I’m the only one who does step up! I’m the only one willing. If I didn’t, who would? I don’t care if I get hurt or not, Zoey, if someone is in trouble then I’m going to help them. End of discussion.” James doesn’t mean to come off as an asshole, not by any means. He was like a tank when it came to his opinions, and if he thought something had to be said than he would be the first one in line to say it. He was never one to butter down the truth. If it had to be said or done, than it had to be said or done.
Zoey continued to stare him down with her puppy dog eyes, hoping to get through to him. She couldn’t stand seeing any of her loved ones in pain, even at the extent of putting the pain on others. She wasn’t trying to be selfish, but every time her brother came in hurt she felt a knife tearing at her big heart. “Is...this about what happened about your mom?”
James never spoke about Meghan. Never. The only detail she knows about his mother is that what her parents told her: she got shot during a robbery. She has always been afraid to ask about her, but for some reason she felt urged to do so now.
“Don’t….please don’t bring her into this.”
“Whatever happened to her, wasn’t your fault. You do know that, right?”
James doesn’t know how he is able to muster up words right now. It has been years since anyone has bought up his mother, and now out of the blue, her demise is brought up. “I sat there and watched as that bastard put a gun up to her and fired. I sat on my ass and watched as her killer ran away. She died right in front of me and….I could of done something.” He started speaking his words in rage, but as he got toward the ending, he spoke with despair. The despair of a child still missing his mommy.
“James, you were like eight. You couldn’t do anything.”
“Yes I could of.”
“What could you have done?”
“I don’t know. Anything but sitting there watching!” James scratches his head in anger. “Do you know that her killer never got caught? He never got to pay for his crimes, nope. He is still out there! Who knows, maybe he is shooting more moms in the head. I failed to help my own mom, Zoey. The only thing I can do to honor her memory is make sure I don’t screw up again.”
“You can help people without physical force, you know.” These words mean nothing to James at the moment, but little did she know that these very words are what caused James to become a lawyer. “And if you want to honor her then live your life.”
“Please, I ain’t gonna do anything special with my life. I’m just….James Benjamin. I got no purpose, or destiny, or whatever you want to call it.” James, in an attempt to change the subject, smirks and nudges her shoulder. “Not like you.”
“Yeah, like you. You are smart, artistic, funny, sweet, creative. You set the bar up high when it comes to traits.” Zoey chuckles a little, embarrassed by the compliment, as James smiles at her, with some hope in his painful eyes. “I don’t know about me, but you are meant for some great things.”
“No, I’m serious. You got yourself a good life ahead of you.” James pats her on the shoulder, and she can’t help but smile back at him. “Now, do you mind if I take a nap. I’m beat.”
“Sure thing. Good talk, big bro.” Zoey pats him on the shoulder right back and makes her way out, allowing James to rest his heavy head down on the soft, comfortable bed. “Oh, and by the way, I think James Benjamin has great stuff planned for him too.” She flashes him a smile before walking out of the room, allowing James to lay down on the bed, thinking about the conversation he just had. He thought he was meant for absolutely nothing, while Zoey would become some big hero to everyone.
If only he knew this roles would be switched around.
“I can’t believe it. My baby is graduating high school!” Paula exclaims from the dinner table, with her smile spelling pride and excitement, but her eyes filled with tears. Not tears of despair, quite the opposite actually. Tears of joy. Still, despite the joy, her gut clenched at the thought of him leaving, but she will accept it in time. “Look at you.”
James sat across the table wearing a rather stunning outfit. He outdid himself today, with his hair combed, a blue button-up dress shirt, some dark dress pants and dress shoes to top off. The reason for this was James was had graduated high school only four hours ago, where much to the pleasure of his family, he was the valedictorian. He had 100’s in every single class (except Band, because fuck the trumpet), and now, his future had multiple paths. After almost half a year of deciding what to do, he decided to get a degree in law, and hopefully become a lawyer. It was a way for him to help him the less fortunate without hurting himself. He settled on attending the University of Pennsylvania alongside close friend his now close friend Emily.
“Still can’t believe I’m actually graduating?” James asks smirking. Paula has been crying all day, and he teased her every moment he could. “I mean, I’m gonna be leaving the house and heading off to college…”
“Stop it.” She shushes him to stop, blowing her snotty nose in between her tears while doing so. “I just...I can’t believe it. It was just yesterday that you were this little ten year old boy. What happened?”
“There is this thing called time, Paula.” Santiago bugs her. Unlike Paula, he hasn’t been crying at all, nor been overly emotionally. He was a man, so naturally, he kept his feelings inside. Still, he had the same feelings Paula held, but refused to show them. “You know what that is?”
“Both of you shut up, please.” Paula lets another tear escape her eye. “But, really, look at you. You were the Valedictorian for God’s sake. Your….your mother would be so proud, James.”
“Yeah.” The mention of his mother does slightly bring down his mood, but by this point in time, he doesn’t let it hold him down anymore. “I guess, she would be.”
Paula flashes him a warm smile, proceeding to tap his shoulder softly. “If only Zoey was here to see this.”
If only she was indeed. For the past five months Zoey has been getting ill frequently for some odd reason, not to mention the increase in body weight she has gained. He had no idea what was wrong with her, neither did her parents; she has kept dodging their attempts to go see a doctor though, saying it was just a bad cold. Sadly, even today, on James’s special day, she started puking and couldn’t make it to his graduation, but made it her mission to make sure her parents don’t miss it. “I wish she was here.” James admits.
“She is just sick, James. She didn’t want to miss this.” Santiago assures him, but he honestly doesn’t know. Besides being sick she has been acting weird the past few months, especially around him and her parents. “So, can you believe that you’re done high school?”
“No, I can’t, actually. Hard to believe. Quite sad, actually.” James smiles lightly as he thinks about his time in school, and what will come of his future. “Man, I am old.”
“You’re old? Don’t you start with that.” Santiago counters him. “You can say you’re old when you have a kid in high school.”
“Good point. At least I’m not as old as you two.” James fabricates a smile and jokes about his age, but truth is, he is nervous. He is a legal adult who is out of high school, and to be honest, he is scared about his future. He just keeps asking himself all these ‘what if’ scenarios for the future.
For example, will he be able to raise a child?
In the midst of the dark Philadelphia skyline was a small, black bird, who soared over the ruined city. The bird didn’t seem to notice, nor care, about the ruined city that was directly below it. Smoke rose up until the air, damage to the streets were almost beyond repair with dozens of bodies laying down in the street, with just as many infected feasting on them. People still ran through the streets, hoping for safety, but met their demise not long after setting foot outside. The city was hell, but yet, the bird just flew right over it. The bird even flew threw any cloud of smoke that blocked its path.
After minutes of soaring the safe skies, the bird swooped down and took a rest on the rooftop of none other than the Franklin Mills mall. It walked around on the edge of the roof, pecking it’s beak at anything he even remotely thought was food. After a moment it appeared to finally spot a small worm hiding from it’s presence, and within seconds the bird swooped over and devoured it.
After it’s tasteful snack, the bird spun his head over to find Reyes sitting on a beach chair, and at the same time, staring at the bird. Reyes’s eye color seemed to match the birds, and for a moment, it was almost like their dark eyes met as they stared each other down. Reyes stared at it. It stared at Reyes. Their staring contest ended once the bird spread it’s wings and flew off into the sky again, leaving the sad little Mexican alone on the rooftop.
As a kid Reyes always admired birds. They fascinated him, and sometimes, he would like to watch them fly around. Fly. Reyes envied their ability to spread wings and fly away to a new home. Nothing held it down, it would just fly away. Sometimes, on the loneliest nights when his mom was out overdosing, Reyes would just look out his window, hoping that one day he could do the same thing as birds: to spread his wings and fly away from his shithole of a life. But, alas, he could not.
Even to this day Reyes envied them, wishing that he could spread some wings and fly away from his life stained from illegal deeds. Murder. Drugs. Betrayal. He was led astray during his time back home, and he thought that by coming to Philadelphia, he could have a fresh start. But, for Reyes, the past just never seemed to go away, and not long after arriving in Philadelphia he was dragged back into ‘the game’. Even after leaving his home the game caught up to him and forced him back in.
C’mon, I want you to do it! Prove to me who you are! How we’re not different at all, how we’re just the same. Even after his death, Joel’s words continued to taunt him. Reyes denied it as much as he could, but the truth was, he was no different from Joel. He was no different from a common thug. He tried to fight it, but during that fight with Joel…..he gave in and shot him. Reyes gave into his demons, the very demons that have been haunting him since his childhood years.
Can he ever change? Better yet, on second thought, can anyone ever change; or are people marked by their past deeds? It was a question that Reyes has been asking for years, and it was certainly a question debated amongst people. Sometimes Reyes liked to believe that yes, people can change. Other times, however, he believed that people are born who they are and there is no escape from it.
“Don’t think like that, Reyes.” He told himself in an effort to stop his pessimism thoughts. He was truly attempting to convince himself that people could change. “I can change. I know I can..”
Luckily, this rooftop was silent and deserted so Reyes could talk to himself and think heavily without being interrupted. Standing to his feet, Reyes walks around the deserted rooftop, until finally, he catches a glimpse of the city in the distance. The ruined city that was devastated by riots. Riots that he caused. It was because of him that the military and people clashed. All those lives were on him and him alone.
It begins to hit him in that moment: Reyes’s name wasn’t on that list with the other criminals. His record is completely erased, and not only that, but the only people to know who Reyes was are dead. Joel, Oscar, those hitman, Daniel Brown (no way that playboy could survive this shit, Reyes told himself) are all gone. Maybe this outbreak….maybe it can finally allow him to escape the game.
Before the outbreak it was almost impossible for people to run from their past due to the internet and contacts people had throughout the world. Now, the internet is gone, and it is a challenge to even keep in communication anymore. Now, no one truly knows who Reyes is. Sure, he made his mistakes during the outbreak, but maybe with this new clean slate Reyes can live a normal life and prove to himself, prove to his parents, that he isn’t a monster.
Maybe now he can actually change.
It was just dawning on the time of six thirty p.m., the perfect time to have a feast, in Walsh’s mind anyways. The self proclaimed zone leader stood at a self-made podium in the cafe, looking out at the skylight that was above him, watching as the sun finally begins to set, allowing for the beautiful moonlight to take it’s shift. He smiles at the sky’s beauty in the process of orbiting his eyes toward the crowd that has gathered in the cafe. Many people were there. Some sat at the tables, some walked around, some just stood in the background watching…..but all of them were there. He smiled at the sight, of all these people there to listen to him because….the look up to him.
“Testing, testing.” Walsh taps the microphone that Sam had set up for him, which luckily works. “Welcome everyone to this fabulous dinner. Does it not look nice?” Nice indeed it was. Walsh and Sam had managed to turn the shabby cafeteria into a well groomed place. He was proud of it. “I know what you may be thinking. Why have a feast in such time of pearl? Well, because frankly, why not? We have all made it here safely, we are all alive. That is something worth celebrating, no? So let us all have a feast in this fabulous mall to celebrate...us.” Walsh smiles at his crowd, but quickly notices Sam at the exit of the podium, smiling at him like the rest. “Now, none of this could be possible without Samantha Collins, a fantastic young woman.” He notices her blush a little. “In fact, I think she would like to say a few words.”
The smile immediately goes away, instead transitioning to Sam shaking her head. However, by this time, eyes have already fallen on her. “Come on, Samantha, give us a few words.”
With tons of eyes rolling onto her and Walsh expecting her to come forward, Sam had no choice but to comply. Slowly, but surely, she makes her way up the podium and takes the microphone in reluctance. Walsh smiles, gives her a firm pat on the shoulder, and leaves her alone on the stage. “So….hi.” Sam greets the audience with a nervous smile. “I’m Sam.” Sam contemplates on what exactly to say. “So, I gotta admit, I didn’t expect to come up here. Honestly, I don’t even know what to say.”
Sam rubs the back of her head. “So...we have seen some pretty messed up stuff, haven’t we? I mean we got zombies running around, the city up in flames, military shooting up the place….it has certainly been an interesting past few days. Not just for us, either. Everyone is going through this. Think about it. The whole world, all of us, are reduced to...this. One day we’re living our lives, the next we are running around horrified of our own shadows. Like I said, it certainly is something.”
“My Dad always used to tell me that there is always light at the end of the tunnel, and I think he was right. Sure, the world is in some pretty deep shit right now, but we as humans have been into deep shit before, haven’t we? The flood, wars, pandemics, civil unrest, Justin Bieber.” She heard a few muffled laughs in the audience, and she herself chuckles lightly. “Sorry, sorry, couldn’t help it. But yeah, as I was saying, we have been hit with punches countless times, and yet, every single time we have gotten back up, stronger and better than ever. Yes, the world is in peril right now, but hope is not gone. Like my old man said, there is always light at the end of darkness.”
“Are we in danger? Yeah. Are more people going to die? Absolutely. Are we going to do things we thought we had to do? Of course. But, is civilization gone? Of course not. As long as we are alive and kicking then those zombies will never win. They are gonna try their very best to kill us, but be damn sure that we will fight back.” Sam swipes away a piece of sweat off her forehead. “Wow, I have really gotten ahead of myself here, haven’t I? Well, I don’t wanna waste your time any further, so let me finish this up. Ready? No matter what may happen, civilization is not gone, and life will go on. So, let’s have a toast.” Sam picks up the water bottle she had with her. “To humanity.”
“So, you thirsty?” Dre asks McCoy as the two sit at respective sides of a round table. Unlike others who were actually going around talking and sharing drinks, Dre couldn’t find it within his heart to go out there just yet, not when he had a perfectly good friend to talk with. Dre, looking over to McCoy, holds up a Coke can. “I’m not really thirsty.”
“You’re willing to just give up a can of Coke?” McCoy smirks lightly, to which Dre shrugs.
“Not really much of a soda drinker. I mean, look at this bod.”
“Then I would be most glad to take if off your hands.” McCoy extends his arm and takes the soda from Dre with glee. “Thank you very much.”
“Anything for a brotha.” Dre smirls lightly before going back to rubbing his sore head. Right about now he was experiencing a splitting headache, a side effect from taking some good ol’ weed. Considering it has been only a few hours since the fun incident, he figured this headache would be bothering him for the rest of the night. Glancing over to McCoy he notices how he is often silent with his head buried in his hands. “You got a headache too?”
“The worst one I had in my life.”
“Yep. That is a side effect of getting high, my friend.” Dre smirks slightly, only for McCoy to roll his eyes. “First time?”
“First time with drugs.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Well, I mean look at you, MC. You look horrible.” Dre leans backward on his char, whilst still rubbing it lightly.
“I look that bad?” Dre nods in response to McCoy’s question. “Well, yeah. First time.”
“How’d you enjoy the pleasure?”
“It...was okay, I guess. After all the fuss it was a bit of a letdown, not gonna lie. And, no one bothered to mention the aftermath.”
“You get used to it.”
“Pfft, I ain’t doing that crap again. One and done is enough for me.” McCoy remarks as he caps open his can of coke, before taking a sweet, refreshing drink.
“I can officially say that I took drugs, and that is all I need.”
“Whatever you say.” Dre leans back once again, stretching out his arms and soothing his mind all at once. He has to admit, he doesn’t even know why he came to this dumbass dinner. Maybe for the free food? He wasn’t to sure.
Meanwhile, as McCoy drinks his soda, he can’t help but eye Dre in a sign of weariness. Recently, it had drawn to him that Dre’s parents had died only two days ago….but yet, Dre seems so fine. Like, nothing ever happened. It worried him, then again, McCoy shouldn’t really be talking now, should he? Unlike Dre, McCoy doesn’t the know of his parents. They could be alive, dead, infected...he hadn’t really thought about that until now. So much has happened in the past few days that he sort of just forgot about his parents. Does that make him a person?
He shakes the thought out of his head and turns toward Dre. “So, how you holding up man?”
“I told you, man. This damn headache is…”
“I wasn’t talking about the headache, Dre.” Dre stares at him confused, clearly not getting what McCoy was saying. “I’m talking about you.”
The statement rings inside of Dre’s head over and over again, but yet, he can’t seem to conjure up an answer. No matter how hard he searched Dre just couldn’t find out how he felt. He personally had no idea how he was feeling. Yes, it sounded weird, not even he knew how to explain it. After arriving at the mall Dre pushed the thought of his parents aside, instead distracting himself with McCoy and the girls, but now, it comes back to dawn on him. “I don’t know. I...don’t know how I feel.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“As in I don’t know.” Dre sighs. “I been trying not to think about it.”
“Because my parents are fucking dead, man. You really think I wanna think ‘bout that shit?”
“No. But it’s not about what we want, Dre. It’s about what’s real, and reality is…”
“Okay, I get it.” Dre cuts him off firmly, agitated by the conversation. “Why do you even talking ‘bout this in the first place?”
“I just want to talk with you. You know, friend to friend.” McCoy smiles towards him. “I just wanna let you know that I’m here for you, that’s all.”
Neither would admit it, but emotions were where the two differed. McCoy, having been by himself working for months, is a little bit more emotionally hardened than the emotionally immature Dre, who has almost lived a perfect life growing up. Still, both had many of their faults, and they needed someone’s back to lean on from time to time, especially since are barely adults.
Dre looks at McCoy and gives only a simple nod, and afterwards comes an awkward silence between the two. It wasn’t until Dre begins to dwell on it more that he feels compelled to say something. “It’s hard to describe. A part of me feels so empty and depressed, but at the same time, a part of me feels so free. Do you know what I mean?”
“No, I don’t. But, I don’t have to, only you do.” McCoy reminds him, but the answer only frustrates Dre more.
“Then what’s the point of talking about feelings?”
“I don’t know. It’s just good to let them out, I guess.” McCoy shrugs, indifferent on the whole emotion thing. “Just know that I’m here for you, alright?”
“Likewise, man.” Dre throws him a small smile. “So, how are you doing with….yourself?”
“Don’t worry about me, man. I...haven’t spoke to them in a long time.” McCoy admits attempting to use a confident smile.
The next minute is that of a silence, but not uncomfortable like the previous. Instead, it’s a good silence, that is until of course Dre stands to his feet. “I’m gonna get some food.” He announces as he walks off, thus leaving McCoy alone at the table.
Dre looks up and down the long table of food, pondering which one he should take. There was sandwiches, some pizza, some wings. It was like a giant feast, and Dre loved it more than he could say. Maybe he could just have one of each?
However, before a choice could be settled upon, a familiar figure steps into view. Immediately he recognized her as Lara Drake, who was looking fine, must he say. A pair of tight, dark jeans, dark pink shirt, a loose leaf pink jacket and Ugs make up her outfit for today. “Mind getting out of my way?” He playfull demands her, but she only scoffs him.
“I’m sorry. Is there a problem?”
“Yeah. You cut right in front of me.”
“Pretty fucking positive.”
“I think you’re lying.”
“And what would I gain from lying?”
“Maybe you just love torturing girls, I don’t know.”
“Well, maybe you’re a bitch.”
“Well, maybe you’re a bastard.”
“Maybe you’re an asshole.”
“Maybe you’re a dick.” Lara teases him, and as he is at a loss of words, trying to figure out another insult, she laughs right in his face. “Boom, I win.”
“What? Win what?”
“The insult game.”
“What’s the insult game?”
“What the hell do you think, Sherlock? It’s right in the name.”
“Oh. Who invented that stupid game?”
“Lara fuckin’ Drake, that’s who.” Lara brags, showing off some fake gang signs while doing so. “You’re just jealous that I won.”
“I bet that I am.” Dre sarcastically remarks with his charming smile that could even warm the hearts for the coldest souls. Afterwards he gives up and allows Lara in front of him to get food, much to her happiness.
After getting their fair share of food, the pair take a seat back at Dre’s previous table, although McCoy had left to get some early shut eye (Dre figured the headache had started to become more unbearable). So, Dre and Lara sit there, munching down on their food, consisting of wings, chips, and other tasteful foods that will add some weight to the waist.
“I see you’re enjoying the food over there.” Dre smirks as he himself eats a wing. Usually he didn’t lots of junk food, but with the world ending, he said ‘fuck it’.
“Was it that obvious?” Lara asks, licking the sauce off her fingers as she does so. Dre can’t help but to chuckle at this.
“Yeah, it was pretty obvious.”
“Well, for one, you’re shoving it down like a mule. Second, you’re licking the freakin’ sauce off your fingers, girl.”
“What can I say? I love me some good food.” Lara, after getting all the sauce she could, wipes her hands on the napkin near by, whilst forming a smile. “I have no idea how I’m not fat.”
“Me and you both.” As Lara looks around the room, Dre smiles at her. Not just a normal smile, however. No, it was like a blush. “How did we like never meet back at the university.”
“Didn’t we meet at some club?”
“I mean like at the actual university, not that one time.”
“Probs cause I was a senior, while you were a tiny, tiny freshman.”
“True, true.” Dre shrugs. “Speaking of which, what did you even go to college for?”
“Why you ask?”
“My major was Fine Arts. It was really the only thing at that hell-hole that sounded remotely interesting.” Lara laments, kicking up her feet onto the table to show off her relaxed state. “Minored in architecture, though. That class was boring as fuck, but I took it to keep the old man happy.”
“I saw you more as a fashion kind of girl.”
“Hell-hole didn’t have any classes on that. Only thing close to that was the ‘Gender, Sexuality and Women's studies’.” She speaks in a mocking tone, mimicking that of a feminist. “God, that place was so full of bullshit.”
“Then why did you go there?”
“I got no fucking idea.” Lara smirks. “What about you, freshy?”
“Didn’t chose yet.” The smile that previously made Dre’s face faltered. Dre, like so many people in the world, had no idea what he wanted to do in life. He didn’t even know what the point of his life was sometimes, and most times he just felt as if he was drifting along. There were many moments where he would sit there and wonder why he was even alive. Not like he was significant in any way. “I had an interest in music, though.”
“Not shocking, considering you’re like the most badass DJ.”
“Aw, I’m blushing.” He cracks a joke, and in that moment, takes notice of the big empty spot in the middle of the room. It looked like a spot where Walsh expected people to dance. The small radio playing classical music next to this spot also added to the idea. An idea assembled in Dre’s head. Standing on his two feet, Dre extends his hand towards Lara. “Wanna dance? I mean, this isn’t the best kind of music, but anything is better than sitting here.”
“You know this is a slow dance kind of song, right?”
“So you’re fine with slow dancing?”
“I mean, if you are. I mean, like….I don’t know, I just thought it be fun.”
Lara can’t help but chuckle at Dre; not in a mocking way, but in that of a sweet way. She smiles and accepts his hand. “Show me what you got, Dre.”
“I think you’ll be very impressed.” Dre guides Lara out to the dance floor, where once out there, reluctantly puts his arm around her waist. Before he even knows it the two are moving around the floor, dancing perfectly in beat to the song, as they stare into each other’s eyes. “By the way, I should mention that my mom was a professional dancer.”
“Really? You’re parents were musicians and dancers? What the fuck.”
“No need to be jealous.” Dre smiles at her, both of their deep brown eyes meeting at the same spot.
Ethan leaned up against one of the cafeteria’s walls, his mind off in hell as his eyes just gaze around. His arms were folded up against his chest, as his head banged up against the wall behind him. He grunted from time to time but did nothing major.
For the most part Ethan thought about Vicky; how he failed her. He wanted to punish himself for doing so, but he didn’t even know how he could punish himself at this point, he didn’t have anything, anyways. So, instead, he thought about how he could make it up to her. The first option was obvious: to protect and guide her. Of course Ethan had to do that, but could he? Did he have the strenght to protect her? If he couldn’t protect Lynn how could he protect her?
Those questions invaded his head, with each one attempting to rip down his confidence. As each minute went on his self confidence hit an all time low.
Ethan rubbed his bitter, strong fingers across his forehead, attempting to calm down his splitting headache. It didn’t work and Ethan bit his lip in annoyance. What was he to do? More importantly, how was he going to protect Vicky? He couldn’t even carry a gun around for God’s sake.
His mind switched gears onto the mall after that. Not long ago James and him had to fight infected single handedly, since Walsh confiscated all their guns. What if infected swarmed the mall and they didn’t have any weapons? They would all get torn apart; Vicky would get torn apart. Hell, what if any people come up shooting the place? Violence may not be good to humanity, but it was sure as hell needed.
If he can protect her, than the first step needed to do so is to get rid of this useless ‘no violence’ rule; and to do that he was going to have a nice chat with Mr. Jonathan Walsh. Standing straight up, Ethan scans the whole area until his eyes spot Walsh sitting in the corner of the room, a smile planted on his cowardly face and a cup of wine in his weak hands.
Ethan walks over with no hesitation, determination in his eyes. Upon reaching Walsh’s table he immediately takes a seat across from him, taking Walsh by surprise. “Oh, good day, sir.” Walsh greets him. “You scared me there for a moment.”
“We have to talk.” Ethan gets straight to the point.
“Oh, then by all means, go on Mr…”
“Ethan Brash.” Ethan doesn’t bother to handshake him. “We need to talk about security.” The phrase makes Walsh sigh deeply. Not this again; this is the third time that someone has been trying to talk to him about changing his policy.
“Look, Mr. Brash, I don’t really wanna talk about this..”
“I know that you don’t, I get that. But sir, this is a subject that has to be discussed.” Walsh refuses to look at Ethan at first, but the next words Ethan say manage to convince him. “I don’t want this to be a one sided talk, alright? You can say your opinion, I can say mine, and we can do it peacefully, alright? Just, please, man. Let me talk with you.”
Walsh looks over at him, and in that moment, already respects him and likes Ethan more than James and the women, who only seemed to care about their opinions. “Alright, Mr. Brash. Speak your peace.”
“You have a rule against violence, yes?” Walsh nods. “Why do you have that rule?”
“Why? Well, obviously, I don’t want people fighting here. If two men fight, that will just lead to another fight, and then another, and then this whole mall is in shambles.”
“You may be right, but do you honestly think making a rule will stop that? Sadly, that is just apart of human nature, and it has been ever since Cain and Abel. We may not like it, but it’s just the way it is.”
“Humankind is not evil. People who are assumed to be so are misunderstood.”
“Misunderstood? So, Hitler was just misunderstood?”
“He thought he was doing what was best for humanity. Was it wrong and twisted? Of course it was. But he didn’t just wake up one day and do that because he was evil.”
“Let’s say a man walks in, right now, grabs a little girl and shoots her right on back the head. Then, lets say, this man goes around and kills all of us. Is he just misunderstood?”
“I doubt that would happen.” Walsh counters with a scoff. “I think you need to stop being such a cynic.”
“I’m not a cynic, I think I’m just misunderstood.” Ethan sarcastically snaps back, promoting Walsh to roll his eyes. “You know, I am a former Marine vet. I have seen a lot of things out in the world. In fact, I got a story to tell. One day I’m walking around my base, having a drink with some buddies, acting like nothing bad could ever happen as long as we were there. Like we made that area immune to shit. So, imagine the surprise on our faces when we’re called out to this town about some sort of attack. So, we go there, and...it wasn’t just no attack. It was a goddamn massacre.”
Walsh averts his eyes from the pain that sits in Ethan’s eyes. “There were damn bodies all piled in a pile, thirty at least. Naturally, we wanted to know what happened. Turns out this was a God following village, and so a group of men came in, and draw a cross in the middle of the street. Anyone who stayed behind the line were the ones who would deny God, but those who crossed, were the ones willing to admit they followed him. At first no one crosses. Not a single soul. But, then, this little girl walked over. She couldn’t have been more than seven and she was more brave than any man there. You would think they would let someone that brave and innocent live; but no. This man took out a small pocket knife, no bigger than a letter opener, and used it to cut off her head. After that the whole village walked over that line, and they all met the same fate.”
“We tracked them down,” Ethan continues, “to this small base not far from the town. We go in there, guns blazing, shooting down all those not willing to surrender. But then, we walked into the leader’s home and we found outback, drinking a beer like he was watching a football game. We walk over there to see what he was watching and it was no damn game. He had that little girl’s head on a stick and he was smiling at it, like it was some big piece of art.”
“That….is horrible. That must have been the worst thing you ever saw.”
“That, Mr. Walsh, was only my third month in the Middle East; it was only the beginning of what I witnessed there. Point is, Jonathan, is that once you see what we are really capable of you can never go back.” Walsh can’t seem to comprehend the story, how horrible people are, and feels his stomach twist and turn like he was on some roller coaster. “All of that could have been avoided if the town just had some sort of defense instead of relying on luck.”
Walsh can’t muster up any words and so Ethan beats him to it. “I get where you are coming from, I really do, but there are some fucked up people out there who want nothing other than to see the world burn. We need to be ready for that.”
“So what do you suggest we do? Just rile everyone up and train them? We can’t do that.”
“I wasn’t suggesting that at all.” Ethan pulls out his police badge from his pocket and slides it over to Walsh. “I’m suggesting that you have me do my job as a cop. All I would have to do is walk around, check up on people, and when the time comes, be able to protect us. So what do you say?”
Walsh looks up to Ethan, and in a moment of defeat, nods. “Do what you have to do.”
“What the fuck?!” James practically explodes from in his dorm room. “Did I hear you correctly?!” James screams at Zoey, who stands across from him, her head held up high but her eyes full of insecurity.
“Yes.” She chokes out softly, afraid of her brother.
“You. Are. Fucking. Pregnant?!” James’s question of fury rings cross the room, and after a short hesitation, Zoey once again nods her head, only confirming his fear.
“Yes, James. I’m pregnant.”
“You are fourteen fucking years old! How….Why are you pregnant?!”
“It just happened, okay?! We didn’t plan it but..”
“It doesn’t matter that it ‘just happened’! How...stupid are you?”
“No, really? I always thought you were smarter than this, but I guess I was mistaken.” The anger in James is beginning to take fold. James may be the kind to usually keep his emotions in, but this topic just bought it out. He remembers exactly just how difficult it was for his mother to raise him and he won’t let that fall onto Zoey.
“James, I thought you of all people would be more understanding about this.”
“Understanding?!” As James gets more and more angry, Zoey gets more and more hurt. Tears even begin to flow down her face, but James was to much into his anger to even notice. “How could anyone be understanding about this? You had this future ahead of you and you’re just blowing it away…”
There is a slight silence between them for a minute as James wonders how to put the following words. “You need to abort the baby.”
“I said you need to abort this baby.” The anger that once filled James’s voice is gone, but Zoey can tell it is hidden behind him right now. Now, he speaks sincerely, but Zoey can’t handle this. She thought of all the people in the world James would never be the one to flip out on her, and especially want her to do such an appalling act. “It will be quick and--”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Zoey cuts him off with a fierce attitude. “I am not going to abort this baby.”
“Why? Did you seriously just ask me why? Because it is a living, breathing thing and it is my job to protect it.”
“You have such a good future in front of you! What do you think colleges will say when they find out you had a child? What do you think your high school teachers will say? Imagine the struggle between school and raising a--”
“They will just have to accept it.” Zoey once again cuts off her older brother. “I am not aborting this baby.”
Once again for another minute the two just stared at each other, their opposing eyes meet. Zoey was stern and fierce, while James was impulsive and angry. Two siblings at odds over the mistake of one. “Get the fuck out.” James finally mutters, shocking Zoey.
“I said, get the FUCK out!” James screams at her as he walks over to the door and opens it. “Get out and don’t you come back until this baby is gone.”
“What the--James, c’mon.”
“Get out!” James once more screams at her, this time Zoey complies and begins to head out. “I never been more ashamed of you.”
Before Zoey can say another word James swings the door shut, completely locking her out of his life. He could hear her crying from outside the door, but yet he did nothing. The only thing he did was pick up the remote and toss it across the room in anger.
“She delivered the baby?” James asks from over the phone, to which his horror, his parents confirm.
“Yes. She delivered it just moments ago and….she is absolutely beautiful.” His mother speaks with such admiration, only for James to roll his eyes. He hasn’t spoken to Zoey in months, and the only reason he is speaking about the baby right now is only because his parents called him.
“She misses you, James.” His father now speaks over the phone. “She has been asking where you are.”
“She should have thought about that before she ruined her future.”
“No, she should have. I’m not speaking to her.” Silence enters the phone over James’s pride and arrogance. “She should be ashamed of yourself.”
Silence enters the phone once more as they try finding a way to respond to James. “We are going to go see our granddaughter now, and we hope that you join us someday.” Santiago tells him, before walking away from the phone, leaving only Paula.
“Her name is Sarah.” Paula tells James, who once again seems not to care. “We hope that you come.”
With that said Paula hangs up, leaving James alone once again. He should feel bad about all this, but he doesn’t. Zoey ruined her life and she deserves to feel the effects for it. Still, James knows how hard it is going to get. His biological mother, Meghan, had to change her whole life for James and missed out on so many opportunities, and he doesn’t want Zoey to do the same. She has a whole life ahead of her and she damn deserves to live it.
James once again sits down on the couch in his college dorm, with now him burying his head into some textbooks and notes. Due to Thanksgiving break coming up next week the finals are soon and James needs to study, for multiple reasons. Like usual he would rather be a good student then hang out with all the people at clubs.
He groans slightly as he turns one of the pages, pretty hungry and tired but not wanting to go get food. Mostly because doing that would involve James taking his head out of busy studying and being reminded that thanksgiving is next week, where he would have to see Zoey. Where he would have to see Sarah. Fortunately, he probably doesn’t have to talk to her, but he knows that Zoey will try her hardest to make James talk to her.
He does miss her a little bit, but his stance has not changed. She ruined her life with that baby and she needs to know that.
As he thinks that over his phone rings. Dropping his books James hurries over and picks up the phone, interested on who it could be. “Hello, James Benjamin, here.”
“Hi, James. It’s me.” Zoey’s voice comes in from the other line, causing James to freeze in his place. It’s been so long so he heard her voice. So long. “How are you?”
“Fine.” He mutters like the prideful son of a bitch he is. “Just fine.”
“Good.” Zoey smiles. “It’s been a while, huh?”
“It has been.” James still speaks emotionless. “I wonder why it has been?” Sarcastically he mocks.
“I know you’re mad at me--”
“Mad at you?! Of course--”
“I didn’t call to fight.” She cuts him off before he can go on one of his famous angry rants. “I just want to talk.”
“Because you’re my brother, James! I miss you.” Finally, the pain comes audible in her voice. “I want to invite you to dinner, over at the house.” James refuses to respond. “Sarah is excited to meet you.”
“I think I’ll pass.” He turns her down. “I’ll see you next week.”
“Wait!” She cuts him off before he can ever so rudely hang up. “James, I miss you. I miss you so much. You’re my brother and….you’re treating me like a nobody.” Emotions of pain, hurt, and despair fill the phone line, with this tone of voice getting the attention of James. “I know you hate me right now, I get it. It hurts more than you know, but I get it. But, please James, just come. This is my life, James. My life. I choose how I want to live it, and I chose to live it with Sarah. You always had these expectations for me, but guess what James, you don’t control my life. I am so sorry I didn’t turn out into the girl you wanted, but I am happy with my life right now; and I just wish you were too.”
Regret finally reached James’s skull as Zoey spoke with such despair. His actions are ruining her life more than that child ever could. “Please come.” Were the last words Zoey spoke before hanging up, leaving James to think about how much of a monster he was. He tried controlling her life, and when she broke out of his plan, he just ditched her. How much of a jerk was he?
He looks like he could cry as he thinks about this. How much he misses her, and especially how much he ruined her life. He was so caught up in trying to stop her from ruining her life that he did it for her. Luckily he can still fix that.
Walking up the stairs of his old home James was quick to open the door, finally entering his home after months of ignoring it. Ripping off his coat James walked over into the living room, and to his absolute joy, found Zoey sitting there on the couch. She was quick to notice him, and upon doing so, quickly sprung up and hugged him tighter than she ever has before. James hugged back even tighter, realizing just how much he missed his baby sister.
“I missed you so much..” Zoey said, only adding onto James’s pain.
“I’m so sorry.” James exits the hug, now looking at his baby sister in the eyes. “I am so sorry. I was--an asshole, I admit.”
“Yeah, no duh.” She smiles, teasing him over his actions. She could care less about what he’s done, she is just happy that he is here now. “You don’t gotta apologize to me, I’m your sister. Just,” she punches him right in the stomach softly, “don’t do it again.”
James chuckles before looking past her shoulder to see a beautiful baby girl sitting over next to the couch. Light latina skin, a few sprouts of hair sticking out of her head, the same amazing brown eyes that Zoey has. It was his first ever glimpse at Sarah, and she was the best baby he ever saw. “Do you like her?” Zoey asks, with James confirming this by nodding his head. “Go ahead, hold her.”
James walked over to her, slowly reaching his arms down, hesitating to pick her up. He never held a baby before, but due to Zoey’s persistence, he picked her up. She smiled as James lifted her off the ground and high into the sky, with James smiling at her the whole times. Then, he lowered her down right to his face, and looked right into her amazing eyes, while the baby Sarah did the same. Then, in a moment James will always remember, the baby reached out her tiny little hand and grabbed James’s nose. “She is beautiful.”
“Isn’t she?” Zoey joins them, watching with a smile as James held her. “I--I wanted...to ask you to be her godfather.”
“Are you serious?” Zoey nods to his question. “Even after how I been treating you?”
“You’re my brother. Besides, if you look after her the same way you looked after me, she should be fine. You know, besides the occasional snap outs.” James chuckles at the last sentence while keeping his attention zeroed in on Sarah.
“I’ll do it.”
Michael sat quietly in one of the cafeteria’s chairs alone, and personally, he doesn’t even know what to do. He has no plans at the moment, and none of his friends (aka only Tate and Sarah) were nowhere to be found, leaving him to just sit there, staring out into the crowd of what seemed like a sea of people. More particular, the women in the sea. The young women, whose youthful appearance only intensified his interest towards them.
Most of these youthful women wore tight jeans that riled up on their backside, maybe even sometimes getting a peek at the lingerie when they bent over. Others rolled on by with their big breast, so round and soft, just meant to appease others. There Michael sat, watching these women with perverted eyes, just thinking how he would treat them in the bed. Those vile thoughts corrupted his head while Michael could feel himself getting harder by the second.
Stop it. Michael tried fighting his inner demons over and over again. It was a battle of his will and temptation, each throwing their own knockout punches. He knew full well that his thoughts, his sexual desires, were absolutely wrong, but he couldn’t help himself. These temptations just seemed to creep up on him every aching day. Most people would brush it off with saying stuff like “Oh, I’m only human” or “Who doesn’t think about that?”. Sure, even the best men have dark thoughts, but they know how to control and defeat temptation. It isn’t enough to blame human nature anymore.
Michael had done his best to stop with his sexual deeds, especially after the encounter with Victoria that showed him girls are more than just his play thing, more importantly, men’s playthings. In a world where where sexual advances towards females are high, especially with modern age technology, not many think about how they feel.
Michael respectively grips the chair’s side and takes deep breaths in an effort to defeat his tempting thoughts. Slowly, but surely, his inner strength pushed out the thoughts. He may not be able to get rid of them, but he can sure as hell try to fight them.
As Michael overviews his thoughts, the seat next to him is taken by Tate, who gives Michael a small smirk. “Hey.” He greets.
“What’s up man?”
“Nothing much. I was just walking around and saw you over here.” Tate rubs his hands through his mildly brushed hair. After taking a nap following his long day, Tate looks much better. “I been out for hours, so excuse me if I seem a little out of it.”
“Hey, no worries, man. I don’t judge.” Michael was the last person who should be judging anyone, especially Tate. “So how you holding up?”
“I don’t know. Okay, I guess.” Tate shrugs his shoulders. “Is it bad if I don’t know how I feel?”
“Not at all.” Michael encourages. “So what’s on your mind?”
“Oh, come on. Yeah there is.” Michael scoots his chair closer. “I know we haven’t known each other for a long time or anything, but I’m here for you, man.”
“I just been wondering…..what do you think about religion?”
Michael bites his lip, reluctant to give an answer. It was a heavy subject, especially for him. “I never knew what to think. Christians, Jews, Muslims, I don’t see the difference between them. They all worship the same mumbo-jumbo. They’re all weird to me.”
“So I take it you don’t believe in a God?”
“I can’t disprove of one, but no, I don’t.”
“Can I ask why?”
“...I don’t know, it was always just weird to me. They always seemed like a Children’s Fantasy book. I don’t believe in that evolution shit either, though. That whole Big Bang theory and what followed is just as stupid to me.”
“So how do you think we were created?”
“I don’t know, and honestly, I don’t care. Whatever happened, happened. We are here everyday because of it, everyday going through this game, and that’s all that matters.”
“To each his own.” Michael can sense the confusion echoing from his scratchy voice, equaling the confusion in his mind. “Destinee started to fancy religion before she died. A few months ago we were on a trip to Miami and we met this priest, Terrence. He kept yapping on and Destinee took an interest to it, but I wasn’t so interested. Still, as I think about it now, if there is a heaven, then Destinee is there; sadly, I feel happy about that. I mean, it must be better in paradise then here, especially now. Right?”
“Of course, just don’t get your hopes up.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I know. I’ve just been thinking about it and all. I keep thinking how much I miss her, but then I try to remind myself that she is in a much better place.” Tate attempts to smile but it shatters almost instantly. Michael honestly feels bad for Tate, more than he has for some people. He had such a promising life ahead of him, full of hope and joy, only to have it ripped away; Tate didn’t even deserve it. He is just a poor victim of this game people call ‘life’. “I miss her,” Tate admits, “I try not to think about it, but I can’t. I miss her so much.”
“Of course you do. Any sane man would, it has only been a day.”
“I can’t stop thinking about the life I almost had. For fucks sake, I was gonna be a father. A dad. I was gonna officially marry Destinee on December 15th, we were gonna be husband and wife. We were gonna raise our baby right, with morales and compassion.” Tate chokes out. “Not long before all this a record company signed me, did you know that?”
“Well, they did. I was gonna make a few hit songs and get enough money to take them around the world. To where I was born, Greece, and Paris, Destinee always wanted to go there. It was supposed to be the trip of my life. But--but now I can’t. I won’t be able to hold my baby in my arms, or watch her blossom into a beautiful girl, or even walk her down the aisle at her wedding. I can’t hold Destinee’s hand again, or stare into her beautiful eyes. I..can’t grow old with her.” In a quick instance anger flashes in Tate’s eyes, forming ever so bigger as he tosses his bottle across the room with disregard as to whom it may hit. “I had a fucking life ahead of me, Mike. A whole life! And now….” The anger that just filled his eyes disappeared just as quickly as they came and now the agonizing pain returned, “..and now I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do without her. Destinee...she was the key to my whole life…”
It only took another few seconds until tears finally escaped Tate’s eyes, forcing the young man to bow his head in shame, attempting to hide the ever so obvious tears. The tears became cries for help as he realized he didn’t know what to do with his life. The sight tugged at Michael’s heart strings, and even he felt his eyes water up at the sight. Michael never could give advice right, but he had to try, for both their sakes.
“Let it out, man. Let it out.” Lightly he patted Tate’s back, until Tate shrugged his hand away.
“I just...why did this even have to happen?” Tate asked aloud. “Did fate just want to ruin me? Is it my damn destiny to die like this? Alone, scared, broken. Was it hers to die like an animal?!”
“Stuff just...happens, man. It’s out of our hands.”
“But why?! What is the point of all this?”
“I learned a long time ago that, sometimes, there is no point to stuff. It just happens. There is no fate, or destiny, or anything like that, don’t go fooling yourself. Life just happens, and yeah there is a lot of shit, but we just have to deal with it.” It was a bit hypocritical of Michael to speak these words, since he hasn’t dealt with the affects of life yet, but somehow he believed it. “I mean, I’d like everything happens for a reason, but from my experience, I’m not really sure. But who knows, maybe I’m wrong.”
Looking back over at Tate, and still seeing just how crushed this young man is, Michael feels responsible for him, like this is a chance to stop Tate from being like him. So, grabbing Tate by the wrist he helped him onto his feet. “C’mon mate, lets go get some sleep. I think you of all people need it.”
There James stood, side by side with his parents and Sarah wrapped up in his arms. The family stood there, watching with such pain, as Zoey laid in a coffin. The once lively skin was pale, and the eyes everyone adored were far gone. James almost couldn’t handle the sight of her dead body, but stayed strong for Sarah’s sake. Everything had gone to shit. One moment Zoey was the joy to all their lives, and now she is gone.
She was killed in a car crash by her boyfriend, who wasn’t even at the funeral. His parents sent him off to military school, but yet, James found it inexcusable that he would miss the funeral to the girl he killed, especially if it was his girlfriend. Hopefully that punk learns responsibility and knows just how much he ruined their lives.
James’s parents were already crying as James kept strong. Sarah, however, had no idea what was going on, and instead was smiling about something in her own little world. Still, even she saw how weird her mommy looked. “Where is mommy going?” Sarah barely asks, while James simply holds her closer.
“She is…..going to a better place, don’t worry baby girl.” James mumbles out in his pain filled voice. James looks over to the baby Sarah, into her eyes, and only sees Zoey in her. In that moment it felt like a blessing and a curse.
If one thing was clear it was that Sarah is now his to care. With no godmother, James is now in charge of her. Sure, it may be difficult to raise her in college and law school, but Sarah is now his life, just as she was Zoey’s. Plus, if he ever needed help, Santiago and Paula are right by his side. However, the two might be moving to Boston unfortunately, due to the city holding to much pain for them.
Once again James stands at Zoey’s grave, with once again having Sarah in his arms. He was a year older now, and much stress has entered his life in the recent months. Sarah, school, money, Emily...all of it. However, there is something else different about this day as well. Zoey is no longer the only person in that gravesite, because as of today, Paula and Santiago joined them. Dead. Paula and Santiago died.
They were going on a trip to California for their wedding anniversary, to spend a weekend alone on the sunny beaches. Instead, on the day of September 11th, terrorists boarded the plane and crashed it right in New York City. Two of the best people on the planet died pawns in the game of terrorism. Zoey, Santiago, Paula...the family that took him in when he had none, that raised him into the man he is today, are all gone. Gone. The Benjamins are gone, and now James is forced to carry on without them.
Next to James was a woman, a very pretty woman actually. Emily Wright, his current girlfriend and future wife to be. She reached her arm him and rested her head on his sore shoulder. “Are you okay?” She sincerely asked, worried for her lover.
“I’m fine. Really.” He lies to her and himself, but it manages to trick them both. “You can head back to the car. I’ll only be a few more minutes.”
“It’s fine. Go.” He smiles at her, and in return, she gives him a quick passionate kiss.
“Take your time.” With that said Emily departs, allowing for the last two Benjamin’s to say goodbye. Sarah Benjamin. She is the last blood descendant of the family that raised him. The last Benjamin. James, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek, knew that he had to protect her from this day on. He wasn’t gonna let another love one leave him due to death. Meghan, Zoey, Paula, Santiago, but he will not let Sarah or Emily go. The only way to repay those who died is to make sure that he doesn’t lose his path, or allow Sarah to go down a dark path.
Starting on this day, James will make sure Sarah will be the best women that she can be.
Vicky positions herself up against the wall in one of the mall’s many deserted hallways. Most people are probably at that dinner, but Vicky found no reason to get up yet, so there she stayed. Hands and knees wrapped up in her arms. After her lunch with Ethan, Vicky took a random seat and got lost in herself. She can’t stop thinking about her mom, especially how Vicky mistreated her all those years. She is such a bitch. Vicky is such a damn bitch.
She lets out another weep and rubs away the now running eyeliner, without a care to her current appearance. However, as this happens, she heard someone actually coming down the hall, but didn’t bother to see who it was. Instead she kept to her pitiful thoughts. “Hey Vicksters, that you over there?” The friendly voice of Lara rings from down the hall. Vicky gave no response to her best friend and instead remained frozen in place. “Vics, you okay?”
Another wordless response from Vicky prompted Lara to worry, and in instinct, she sat right down next to Vicky. “GIrl, you okay? I was looking for you at the dinner.” Vicky looked up at her and this is when Lara got a glance at Vicky’s watery, bloodshot eyes. “What’s wrong?”
“I found Ethan.”
“Wait. Ethan as in your step-dad Ethan?” Vicky nods. “Then why you upset?”
“Because it was just Ethan.” Lara progressed the meaning of the sentence after a few seconds and put her arm around Vicky. “Lara, my mom is dead.”
“Oh my God. Vicky, I’m so sorry” Lara uses her other hand to lift up Vicky’s chin, proceeding to move Vicky’s head onto her own shoulder. “It’s okay. I’m here.”
“Please, don’t feel sorry for me.”
“What the hell? Of course I’m gonna feel sorry for you, your mom just died!”
“Feel sorry for her, Lara. Don’t feel bad for me, not even a little bit.” Vicky whimpers. “I don’t deserve to have sympathy.”
“For so long I made it my mission to ruin her life. I tormented her, and ignored her, and almost never gave her the love she deserved. I treated her like shit, ran away, came back to leach off her, then just went off to college.” Vicky lets out the anger toward herself. “She put up with me all the time and I never paid her back. I’m such a piece of shit.”
“Hey!” Lara spats in. “You are nowhere near a piece of shit.”
“How could you say that? I treated you like shit just earlier today.”
“I’m your best friend, you’re allowed to treat me like a shitbird.” Lara smiles, failing to lighten the mood. “You’re a good person, Vics. One of the best I know.”
“What I am is a girl who always put herself above others. I put my problems above everyone else, because in my damn mind I thought I was more deserving of sympathy. That I was more important than everyone else on the planet. Like you said earlier, this isn’t Vickyland and it is about time I accepted that.”
“So..what are you saying?” Lara looked at her friend, worried about her strange behavior. She was glad Vicky accepted her faults, but this whole situation had a tense aura to it that Lara didn’t like.
“After our talk earlier, and after my talk with Ethan, I realized that I am still that selfish little girl I was all those years ago, I just hid that behind a new appearance. It’s about damn time I grew up and realized the world doesn’t revolve around me.” Vicky whipped away the running eyeliner with a fierce attitude this time. “The old me was weak and now I have to be strong.”
“Well, we made about zero progress now, didn’t we now?” Haruka paints as she drags over a big box into the corner, where afterwards she goes back for another. “Who knew moving stuff was hard?”
“We moved a good amount.” Sandra counters her, as she herself pushes a smaller box out of the center of the room. “Just not as much as I thought we would.”
“Ugh, we’re weak.”
“We are not weak.”
“Girl, we are weaker than….a weak person, I don’t know.” Haruka rubs off the small amount of sweat on her head. “I bet if we were guys this would be over by now.”
“You honestly want to be a guy? Really?”
“On second thought, no. If I was a guy my dad would have made me study all day.” Haruka chuckles. “You know those asian dads. Study, study, study. But, since I was a girl, he let me off….slightly. My poor brother though, whooh. Daddy worked him hard.”
“And I’m guessing your brother is now the richest man in Japan?”
“Not the richest, but he is up there.” Haruka chuckles, but unknown best to Sandra, there is much more emotion behind that chuckle. A feeling of sadness and regret. It has...been awhile since she talked about her family, even longer since she saw them. She misses them everyday, but of course if she ever set foot in Japan again they would die.
As Haruka thinks about that, Sandra sits down on the stairs to take a small break, while Haruka goes back to pushing boxes out of the way. “You’re really not tired?”
“Of course I am, but I am definitely not a giver upper. Giver uppers are losers…..no offense.”
Sandra chuckles under her breath and stands to her feet, ready to help out Haruka again, until she notices her violin bag right by the stairs. After that another thought formed into her mind. “Lets take a break.”
“What? No, breaks are for losers. We can finish this.” Haruka knocks it off. “Besides, what would you rather do? Go be social at that dinner?” Sandra immediately shakes her head at that suggestion. “That’s what I thought.”
“I got something else in mind.” Sandra fires back, then pointing over to one of the boxes. “Take a seat.”
Haruka and Sandra stare at each other until Sandra’s cold stare cracked a smile from Haruka, which is when she proudly took her seat. She watched as Sandra grabbed her violin, proceeding to sit next to Haruka with it. “Woah, woah, woah. What is this?”
“On our journey up here I offered you a lesson.” Sandra plays a few notes on the violin, with only those few notes mesmerizing Haruka into the beautiful sound that is music. “Do you accept?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think I can live up to your standards.”
“No student ever does.”
“Good point. Alright, ginger, teach me your ways.” Haruka gripped the violin carefully and listened to Sandra’s instructions, where for once, she had a genuine smile of fun and joy. Music truly was Sandra’s softspot, and it was cute to Haruka. She had who knows how many days in front of her to study the infection, she can take a small break.
As Sandra taught her the basic notes, she realized that Haruka was honestly the first person she spoken to so much in years, more importantly she was Sandra’s first student; and the most important of all, Haruka was the first friend Sandra had in such a long time.
James looks around the bar he is in, which is now half empty. While some have went off to that diner, James stayed behind to think about his life; and he sure as hell came to a conclusion. He was to demanding of others, had to much expectations. He always thought that he was right by being hard on people and denying them free will. He missed Sarah’s birth because of this, pushed Zoey away, and eventually drove Emily away. He can’t drive Sarah away because of that. By convincing himself that he was honoring the Benjamins’ memory by shielding Sarrah from the world, he almost ruined her.
Standing back onto his feet, James makes his way out of the bar, determined to find Sarah and apologize. Knowing Sarah too well, James knew that she wouldn’t be at that dinner, so he instead headed back to their tent. Jogging down the halls he soon reached the location of his tent, where like expected, Sarah sat right outside it, reading a Time’s Magazine.
Making his way over, James quietly sat down next to her, and she acknowledged him right away. With no hesitation she put down the magazine. “I’m sorry for earlier.” She says immediately. “I shouldn’t have said all of that.”
“No, you were right. Everything you said was right.” James denies her apology. “I’m the one who should be saying sorry.”
“You saying sorry? I’m shocked.” Sarah smirks lightly, while allowing James to put his arm around her.
“I have way to much pride. I always thought about my emotions, not yours.” James admits. “Even more so, I’ve always been the one to hold grudges. So as far as Michael goes….you were right. Maybe he has changed, and I’m just didn’t want to see it. You can do what you want. If you wanna see him, see him. It’s your life, not mine.” James pulls her closer to him. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. You were just looking out for me, and I thank you for that. You are a great Dad, don’t forgot that.” Sarah reminds him, and being the great daughter she is, kisses his cheek. “I love you.”
James can’t help but let out a giant smile toward her. “How did you become such a nice girl.”
“Because of you, duh. You raised me right, surprisingly.” The last two Benjamins sit there smiling and joking with each other, like nothing ever happened. That’s how family works. No matter what may happen, or what you may say, you always forgive them.
“Truth be told, I’m just not ready for you to grow up.” James goes down to his heart to speak now. “I don’t want to lose you. I raised you, you’re my child. I don’t wanna let you go just yet. You’re...fifteen, no matter how much I deny it. You’re practically an adult. I’m just afraid that you’re gonna leave me, or even get hurt. That’s why I always was over protective. You, Sarah Benjamin, are all I have left, and I don’t wanna lose you.”
Sarah blushes at his heartfelt speech. “Are you crazy? I’m not gonna leave you. Where would I be without you? Yeah, I’m growing up, but my place will always be next to you. I need you, Dad. I could never leave you.” In that moment James holds back his tears of love. She truly is one of the greatest people he has ever met, and he is sure as hell proud that he raised her like that. Maybe Sarah does want to be with James forever, but from what he sees now, she will be sure fine on her own. She could honestly change the world.
Having put Tate down for a nap in the tent, Michael now sits calmly outside the tent, his head rested back and his hands in his warm pockets. It was a calm night and he certainly felt good at the moment. Michael took a nice deep breath and listened to the people talking at the dinner nearby. With that, him finding Sarah, and the lovely speech that Sam girl gave earlier, Michael thinks that hope is not lost. Just maybe everything will be okay.
He still can’t believe just how lucky he was. He found Sarah, and she wants to be with him. His life honestly couldn’t get better. After years of messing up she finally accepted him; it’s a fact that can’t help but make the struggling father smile. However, that very smile soon goes stale as in the distance he sees James approaching, and due to previous confrontations with James, he guessed it may not go good.
“Can I sit?” James asks upon getting close, to which Michael allows him to. So, just like that, James sits next to his biggest rival in peace. A shocking moment, right?
“Is everything okay?” Michael asks, curious on why James would ever approach him. “Is Sarah okay?”
“She is perfectly fine, I just wanted to talk.”
“When you say talk do you mean an actual talk or a fight?”
“An actual talk.” James confirms, tired of the endless rivalry between the two. “I think it’s about time we did that.”
“I’m all ears.”
There is a slight awkward silence between the two. “Sarah’s fifteen. Can you believe it?” James finally speaks.
“No, mate. She’s getting old. I wish she could just be a tiny kid forever.”
“I know right. One day she will be an adult, off in the world being her own person.”
“Oh God, don’t even say that.” Michael sighs. “Good thing she is a good kid, though.”
“Yep. One of the best kids out there.” James confirms, as Michael sighs in agony.
“She has had it hard, harder than most. No thanks to me.” James doesn’t respond while Michael rubs his head, trying to think of how he can talk to James. “She looks a lot like her mother, don’t she?”
“Definitely. The eyes are a striking resemblance.” James agrees with him. “Sometimes it scares me how much I see resemblance between the two.”
“I know what you mean.” As this conversation slowly edges toward Zoey, Michael grows nervous and hurtful.
“You ever think about her?” James brings the conversation directly onto Zoey, just as Michael feared.
“Every day. You?”
“Every day.” James nods as memories of his little sister flow to him, even thirteen years later. “She was a great woman, wasn’t she?”
“One of the best. She was the love of my life.” Michael smiles at her memories. “She was the only person who ever understood me.”
“She understood everyone. It was like a magic trick of hers.”
Michael turns to face James directly for what he prepares to speak next. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry about her, about ditching you guys, and for any other fuck up I ever made. I mean, I fucked up, I admit it.” James choses not to respond just yet, but softly nods his head to Michael’s apology. “I don’t expect you to forgive me, I mean I don’t even forgive myself for half the stuff I’ve done. But I just need you to know that I am sorry and I know I messed up.”
James doesn’t respond, worrying Michael, but luckily Michael keeps a poker face. While his facial expressions may not show it, James was thinking about Michael at the moment. James felt his sorrow, his pain, and could see just how much it has taken a toll on him. Sarah was right, Michael has changed. James was just to blind to see that. “I came here for two reasons, Michael. For one, I want you to know that you can see Sarah anytime you want. It’s her life, and if she wants to see you, she can.” Michael seems to smile at that reason, but before he can say anything, James continues.
“I also came to talk about us.” James continues. “We are the two most important people in Sarah’s life. I raised her, you’re her father. I mean, yeah, we have our differences for sure, but we can both agree that we love Sarah.”
“And, as such, we need to stop this fighting between us. For Sarah’s sake we need to be on the same table. She needs us, so we need to stop fighting and put our differences aside. You agree?”
“Good. So truce?” James extends his hand toward Michael, to which Michael grips immediately and gives him a firm handshake.
“Do you like the wine?” Anahi asks Lisette with a look of disgust on her face. “Because I think it might be the worse wine I ever had.”
“Oh, it’s absolutely terrible.” Lisette admits. “I can agree on that.” Lisette tosses the wine cup right into the trash can, followed by Anahi. Both chuckled at their shots.
“I think I can say that we are both basketball champions, here.”
“Yes, yes we are.” Lisette remarks as she takes a seat at one of the nearby tables, followed by Anahi. For a moment both women sit there, taking in the surroundings around them.
“So...what do you wanna do?” Anahi asks, honestly bored with the underwhelming party. “There isn’t anything here to do besides eat.”
“We could be social and go make new friends?” Lisette suggests, and almost immediately afterwards, the two girls chuckled at that very thought. Neither of them were social people, not by any means. The only reason they are friends is because they got stuck together during the night of the initial outbreak. Anahi played hero and saved Lisette from one of those beasts, and after that they just got along. Still, the two didn’t know each other on a personal level, and still held many skeletons in the closet.
“Eww, being social.” Anahi reveals her distaste for being social. “I’d rather just go take a nap. Nothing is better than a nap.”
“Yeah, naps are certainly fun.” Lisette chuckles. “And it is probably the most entertaining thing to do at the moment.”
“Considering this place is dull as crap I wouldn’t be--” Anahi starts off saying, that is until a stray person catches her eye. Across the room a familiar face sits. A face that brings many different memories to her. An older man sat, drinking a beer, with a dull look on his face. She immediately recognized him as Ethan Brash; and just like that the whole night just went to shit.
Anahi stood center in a dark room, where she wore her police uniform. It had to be a few years ago, as she looked younger, but was overall the same girl. There she stood, in the center of the room, with her police badge planted firmly on her belt, while she held a pistol directly in her hands. She had a look of fear in her eyes.
“Anahi, you okay?” Lisette asks, but Anahi remains panicked. “Anahi…?”
Anahi pointed her pistol at something in this dark room, but it is hard to see who. But it must be horrifying as the fear in Anahi’s eyes grow by the second. She is hesitating.
“I..I gotta go.” Anahi gets up from the table, quickly and with a panic. “Don’t wait up…”
“Anahi where are you--” Before Lisette can finish the question Anahi was already halfway down the hall, where she soon turned right out of sight Anahi ran down the empty hallways, with that same look of fear planted in her eyes. They were almost teary like.
Anahi burst into a random room, where upon seeing how empty it was, she let out a panicked scream, quickly falling onto the floor as she does so.
“Anahi!” Ethan’s voice screams somewhere in the darkness. “Anahi, do it!” Anahi remains focused on her object, and as she does this, screams become much more prominent in the background. Screams of innocent civilians, as Anahi still refuses to pull the trigger.
Anahi curled up against the wall, burying her head in her hands. She tried taking deep breaths but the panic attacks were taking over. She feels like screaming her head off, but more importantly she feels like driving a hammer through her head.
Lisette sits at the table, curious on just exactly what the hell happened. One minute everything was okay, the next Anahi runs out. It wasn’t exactly normal, but then again, Lisette had her own little secrets that she is refusing to spill.
Biting her lip, Lisette prepares to just get up and head back to her tent, but a familiar face stopped her too. Daniel takes a seat right across from her, a beer in hand and a sly smile planted on his face. She can almost sense the slyness behind his eyes. “Mr. Brown,” she greets, “I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”
“Ah, but how could I just leave alone Ms. Lisette Arroyo.” Daniel laughs, drinking a cold sip of beer as he does so. “So how are you?”
“I am fine, but something tells me that you have something say to me.”
“Oh, I do.” Daniel, laughing as he does it, puts down his beer bottle and leans right over the table. “I know your secret.”
“I know who you are, Lisette.” Daniel smirks. “I must admit I almost didn’t know. Your name sounded so familiar, but I couldn’t piece it together. However, as I walked past one of the art stores around this damned place, it struck me.”
With every word Daniel speaks Lisette’s friendly smile turns into that of a glare, and for a moment Lisette looks like a force that shouldn’t be reckoned with. “I must admit I was shocked, yes, but it soon made sense. You’re Lisette fucking Arroyo, the biggest thief in Spain.”
Lisette refuses to speak, instead her eyes glare at the laughing Daniel, savoring this moment. “What did they call you in Spain? Catwoman? Oh no no, that was Anne Hathaway. You were ‘The Artist’, right?” Daniel smirks. “You stole over a hundred noble, well guarded, expensive items from museums all over Spain. For over ten years you remained uncaught. No one had your dna, your face, no nothing. You were like a damn ghost. But of course that all changed, right?”
“Go to hell.” Are the only words Lisette says to him, the only harmful words she had said to him so far. In fact, Daniel smiled at her insulting words.
“I’m sorry did you say something mean to me? Holy shit, I finally got under your skin. I think that calls for a beer, no?” Daniel reaches to drink a beer, but in a quick moment Lisette whips the beer off the table, allowing it to smash all over the ground. The attack on his beer bottle forces Daniel to jump in shock. “Damn.”
“What do you want?”
“Oh, you know, nothing really.”
“Do you just wanna find some way to torture me, is that it?”
“I am appalled that you think that me.” He acts offended, but quickly gets over it and continues on. “I just wanna offer you advice.”
“I think I’ll pass on advice from you.”
“Nah, I think this is some advice you wanna hear.” Daniel stands to his feet and approaches Lisette, where he leans right up to her face. “You can change your name. You can change your appearance. You can change almost anything about yourself, but you can never change who you are. So do yourself a favor and stop this whole ‘nice girl’ act.” Lisette’s glare grows more stern by the second, and in return, Daniel winks at her. “You have yourself a good night now, Ms, Arroyo.”
With his advice given, Daniel turns around and heads back to the beer table, all the while Lisette watches him go. Lisette usually didn’t hold grudges, but Daniel just made her an enemy that’s for sure.
It was a slower night than most, something Ryker noticed as he walked down the nearly empty penthouse halls, hands calmly behind his back. Currently it was only about midnight, and a beautiful midnight it was. The bright, smooth light of the full moon was like a blanket over the city, adding so much more depth to the otherwise ruined city. All the skyscrapers and buildings of the city stood straight and allowed the moonlight to echo off it, while the lack of street lights allowed a much clearer view of the night sky. For a moment, Ryker simply stared at it. It reminded him of pleasant memories of his life, back when life was much simpler. Having been raised in a farm outside of town there were no lights around, allowing for more stars to be visible. His family and him would watch the oceans of stars, although Ryker and his brother never really cared for it, instead more interested in fighting each other. After he moved to the city he hadn’t seen an ocean of stars since, but this moment was close.
Ryker quickly turned around to continue his pacing of the penthouse, With his baby boy and most of the guards asleep, he had some peace time to think. One of his immediate thoughts was to how the penthouse was structured. In no way was it structured to act as a center of command. While it may be high up, it holds a large amount of breach entrances, and if infected were to ever reach the upper floors there would be no way out. The sheer amount of windows calls for sniper abilities also, This place would serve better as an outpost, but definitely not a central command. He needs to start thinking about other locations.
Proceeding down the hall Ryker glances into the library, surprised to find two guards in there. Two of his favorites, actually. he first was Gabriel Parker, the silent, stern right hand man. Gabriel wasn’t a man of words, or much of a team player, but he sure got the job done. He had no limits or drawbacks about the job, some nights being able to kill multiple men and still have a good nights sleep. Besides that, Gabriel didn’t seem to have much of a personality, being focused on the job and job alone; he sure did love to read though.
Ryker recalled when he first met Gabriel. It was only three years ago when Gabriel was hired to kill Ryker, but in a strange twist of fate, Ryker saw his skills and offered him a spot at his organization. His past is a secret, as is his personality, but his loyalty is where the power is at; and Ryker always had that. Still, Ryker trusted Gabriel for some odd reason. Maybe he just saw himself in the lad.
The other guard as a more recent recruit, having been picked up a year ago. Jason Fizpatrick was the name. Only about twenty four years old, frizzled hair, and a look of madness buried behind the sadism in his eyes He was much more silent and weaker, but he bathed in the pain of others. It was adorable to Ryker. Like Gabriel, Ryker didn’t know much about him but Jason mentioned that he was betrayed by all of his loved ones. Seemed good enough to Ryker, so he gladly took the deranged man under his wing.
Gabriel took notice of Ryker, putting down his Catcher of the Rye book to meet up with him. “Sir,” Gabriel greets, “would you like any watch tonight or no?”
“We’re more than ten stories up, I think we should be good.” Ryker informs, no walking side by side with the man. “Tomorrow, however, I need you to lead a team out into the city.”
“No, I want the immediate area cleared of those infected. I doubt we will get any attacks, but we don’t need the risk” Ryker commands.
“Very well” Gabriel acknowledges. “Anything else?
“That will be it for now.” The pair arrive at the doors of Ryker’s bedroom. “Well, you have yourself a good nights sleep, Gabriel.”
“You too, boss.” Gabriel wishes him a good night, and gives him one last nod as he enters his bedroom. However, as Ryker entered the bedroom, Gabriel couldn’t help but notice something strange. He noticed a poster hanging right above his bed, containing a sign that the whole world fears. The sign was bloody red on a black, horrifying poster. What was the sign?
Hanging above the bed was a swastika. A swastika that Ryker smiled at before he got ready for bed.