This is a continuation of a story I started about two weeks ago. I am continuing to work on constructing complex characters, consistent narrative structure, and subtle-but-solid world building. Click here if you haven’t yet read part 1!
Our characters so far:
An expectant mother.
End of part 1:
“…I’ve been in love plenty of times. Soulmates aren’t real, though. I can tell you that for sure.”
She fiddles with the wedding band on her finger.
“Let me tell you why.”
Nurse brought a spoonful of canned soup to her lips, blowing on it not out of necessity, but out of habit. I wanted to laugh at the normalcy of it. While sometimes I managed to find a bunker whose owner had had the foresight to install solar panels, most of those had been stolen or damaged during or just after The Incident. I hadn’t had a meal cooked on a stove in almost a year.
She continued to chew the unidentifiable chunks slowly. The farmer, whose name I could never remember, seemed to notice her reluctance. I guess sharing a bunker for 6 months will help you start picking up on people’s cues.
“You know Nurse, you don’t really have to tell us about this love o’ yours. It was just a question to pass the time. If it helps, I don’t really believe in soulmates either.”
“I’m just trying to figure out where to start. It’s a long story.”
“How long can it be? Of course they aren’t real. How can you believe in such a joyful idea when we’re living in the middle of this hellscape? Do you think The Incident could have happened in a world that ran on magical ideas like soulmates? I mean, just look at Exhibit A over here!”
“You think she’d have come here alone if there were any such thing as soulmates? I mean, just look at–“
“Neil! How dare you say that?”
As his eyes land on me, my hand instinctively clutches my abdomen. He looks like he’s about to continue his rant until Nurse gives him a look that stops him. My eyes begin to well up as, once again, the wall I had been slowly constructing around me breaks down. Nurse comes over and puts and arm around me while the farmer looks like he’s just about ready to sink into the floor. He says in my defense:
“Fer all yer years of bankin’, you couldn’t calculate that that isn’t somethin’ you say to a woman?”
“I’m just telling it like it is. How could anyone have left you to fend for yourself in these conditions?”
“Neil, that’s enough.”
Tears are now flowing freely down my face. This is one of the many times within the eights years since The Incident that I could really use a drink. Turns out that fending for yourself, fighting for your life at Sources, and being stuck in bunker after bunker with strangers helps a lot with sobriety.
I am suddenly thrust back almost two years to when I first laid eyes on the bunker by the lake. Over five years post-Incident, a fully-stocked bunker was a rarity. Yet that’s what we’d found. When we managed to get the door open and go inside, we both burst into tears. Patrick picked me up, spun me around, and kissed me in a way he hadn’t kissed me since before The Incident. Since before we had to spend 5 years worried about staying alive, afraid that occupied bunkers would be much less inclined to open their doors to a duo. For that year, we lived an almost-normal life, keeping each other company and forgetting about the rest of the terrible world outside our bunker.
I’d only realized I was pregnant when I started showing. I thought the vomiting was due to the amount of expired food in the bunker. The missed periods were normal after 5 years of living ration to ration. When I woke up that morning, I went to open another can of food for our breakfast, as usual. I walked back towards the bed with the can on a tray, about to make a joke about giving us a romantic breakfast in bed, but the look on Patrick’s face stopped me before the words left my mouth. I could see a thousand thoughts running through his head all at once. He was looking at my belly. As I looked down, it all clicked into place. I was sure that I was pregnant, probably at about 12 to 16 weeks at that point, and Patrick knew it too. And we had no idea what we were going to do. We had gotten too comfortable in our little paradise. Raiding Sources and getting accepted into bunkers was hard enough when you were two people. Doing it with a newborn was unthinkable.
Each morning for the next four weeks, Patrick said to me the simplest words of encouragement. I’m sure it was all he could muster. Most days, before I even opened my eyes, I would hear him whisper to me:
“We’re going to be okay.”
Those words were all that kept me going through the sleepless nights that followed.
They kept me through daily tears.
Through the awful thoughts that constantly plagued me.
Through the hunger that I tried to control as I refused to increase my daily food ration.
Through the night that we were awoken by a noise that shook me to my core.
Through the walk towards the entrance of the bunker as I followed behind him.
Through the fear I felt as he looked out the peep hole and decided that he had to go outside.
Through the pain I felt when he shouted at me that I had to close the door to the bunker right now and wait for his knock before I let him back in.
Through the regret I have felt every day that I didn’t follow him out.
Through each and every day that followed as stood looking out the peephole and waited for his knock.
Through the day that I accepted that it was never going to come.
We’re going to be okay.
I suddenly realized that the farmer was still berating Neil and that Nurse still had her arms protectively around me. Neil was looking right at me. I guess that at some point in my daze he had had a change of heart, because he said:
“Look, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed. I don’t know your story.”
I took a shaky breath.
“Yeah, you don’t. And you never will.”
I knew that whatever Nurse’s story was, it was bound to give me a brief respite from the bottomless pit into which I felt myself falling. And so, silently begging her to forgive me for forcing the conversation back in that direction, I said:
“Can we just get back to talking about soulmates, please?”
To be continued.
Please let me know what you think! Are you interested to find out what happens next? All feedback is welcome and appreciated!