The 5th Wave
Page 24

 Rick Yancey

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No, not my bedroom. Val’s bedroom. I don’t have a bedroom anymore. Probably never will again.
Oh, screw self-pity. The world doesn’t revolve around you. And screw guilt. You aren’t the one who made Sammy get on that bus. And while you’re at it, screw grief. Evan’s crying over his baby sister won’t bring her back.
I have you. Well, Evan, the truth is it doesn’t matter whether there are two of us or two hundred of us. We don’t stand a chance. Not against an enemy like the Others. I’m making myself strong for…what? So when I go down, at least I go down strong? What difference does that make?
I slap Bear from his perch on the bed with an angry snarl. What the hell are you staring at? He flops over to his side, arm sticking up in the air like he’s raising his hand in class to ask a question.
Behind me, the door creaks on its rusty hinges.
“Get out,” I say without turning around.
Another creeeeak. Then a click. Then silence.
“Evan, are you standing outside that door?”
Pause. “Yes.”
“You’re kind of a lurker, you know that?”
If he answers, I don’t hear him. I’m hugging myself. Rubbing my hands up and down my arms. The little room is freezing. My knee aches like hell, but I bite my lip and remain stubbornly on my feet, my back to the door.
“Are you still there?” I say when I can’t take the silence anymore.
“If you leave without me, I’ll just follow you. You can’t stop me, Cassie. How are you going to stop me?”
I shrug helplessly, fighting back tears. “Shoot you, I guess.”
“Like you shot the Crucifix Soldier?”
The words hit me like a bullet between the shoulder blades. I whirl around and fling open the door. He flinches, but stands his ground.
“How do you know about him?” Of course, there’s only one way he could know. “You read my diary.”
“I didn’t think you were going to live.”
“Sorry to disappoint you.”
“I guess I wanted to know what happened—”
“You’re lucky I left the gun downstairs or I would shoot you right now. Do you know how creepy that makes me feel, knowing you read that? How much did you read?”
He lowers his eyes. A warm red blush spreads across his cheeks.
“You read all of it, didn’t you?” I’m totally embarrassed. I feel violated and ashamed. It’s ten times worse than when I first woke up in Val’s bed and realized he had seen me naked. That was just my body. This was my soul.
I punch him in the stomach. There’s no give at all; it’s like I hit a slab of concrete.
“I can’t believe you,” I shout. “You sat there—just sat there—while I lied about Ben Parish. You knew the truth and you just sat there and let me lie!”
He jams his hands in his pockets, looking at the floor. Like a little boy busted for breaking his mother’s antique vase. “I didn’t think it mattered that much.”
“You didn’t think…?” I’m shaking my head. Who is this guy? All of a sudden I’ve got a bad case of the jitters. Something is seriously wrong here. Maybe it’s the fact that he lost his whole family and his girlfriend or fiancée or whatever she was and for months he’s been living alone pretending that doing really nothing is really doing something. Maybe he’s cocooned himself on this isolated patch of Ohio farmland as a way of dealing with all the shit the Others have ladled out, or maybe he’s just weird—weird before the Arrival and just as weird after—but whatever it is, something is seriously twisted about this Evan Walker. He’s too calm, too rational, too cool for it to be completely, well, cool.
“Why did you shoot him?” he asks quietly. “The soldier in the convenience store.”
“You know why,” I say. I’m about to burst into tears.
He’s nodding. “Because of Sammy.”
Now I’m really confused. “It had nothing to do with Sammy.”
He looks up at me. “Sammy took the soldier’s hand. Sammy got on that bus. Sammy trusted. And now, even though I saved you, you won’t let yourself trust me.”
He grabs my hand. Squeezes it hard. “I’m not the Crucifix Soldier, Cassie. And I’m not Vosch. I’m just like you. I’m scared and I’m angry and I’m confused and I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do, but I do know you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say you’re human in one breath and a cockroach in the next. You don’t believe you’re a cockroach. If you believed that, you wouldn’t have turned to face the sniper on the highway.”
“Oh my God,” I whisper. “It was just a metaphor.”
“You want to compare yourself to an insect, Cassie? If you’re an insect, then you’re a mayfly. Here for a day and then gone. That doesn’t have anything to do with the Others. It’s always been that way. We’re here, and then we’re gone, and it’s not about the time we’re here, but what we do with the time.”
“What you’re saying makes absolutely no sense, you know that?” I feel myself leaning toward him, all the fight draining out of me. I can’t decide if he’s holding me back or holding me up.
“You’re the mayfly,” he murmurs.
And then Evan Walker kisses me.
Holding my hand against his chest, his other hand sliding across my neck, his touch feathery soft, sending a shiver that travels down my spine into my legs, which are having a hard time keeping me upright. I can feel his heart slamming against my palm and I can smell his breath and feel the stubble on his upper lip, a sandpapery contrast to the softness of his lips, and Evan is looking at me and I’m looking back at him.
I pull back just enough to speak. “Don’t kiss me.”
He lifts me into his arms. I seem to float upward forever, like when I was a little girl and Daddy flung me into the air, feeling as if I’d just keep going up until I reached the edge of the galaxy.
He lays me on the bed. I say, right before he kisses me again, “If you kiss me again, I’m going to knee you in the balls.”
His hands are incredibly soft, like a cloud touching me.
“I won’t let you just…” He searches for the right word. “…fly away from me, Cassie Sullivan.”
He blows out the candle beside the bed.
I feel his kiss more intensely now, in the darkness of the room where his sister died. In the quiet of the house where his family died. In the stillness of the world where the life we knew before the Arrival died. He tastes my tears before I can feel them. Where there would be tears, his kiss.
“I didn’t save you,” he whispers, lips tickling my eyelashes. “You saved me.”
He repeats it over and over, until we fall asleep pressed against each other, his voice in my ear, my tears in his mouth.
“You saved me.”
CASSIE, through the smudged window, shrinking.
Cassie, on the road, holding Bear.
Lifting his arm to help him wave good-bye.
Good-bye, Sammy.
Good-bye, Bear.
The road dust boiling up from the big black wheels of the bus, and Cassie shrinking into the brown swirl.
Good-bye, Cassie.
Cassie and Bear getting smaller and smaller, and the hardness of the glass beneath his fingers.
Good-bye, Cassie. Good-bye, Bear.
Until the dust swallows them, and he’s alone on the crowded bus, no Mommy no Daddy no Cassie, and maybe he shouldn’t have left Bear, because Bear had been with him since before he could remember anything. There had always been Bear. But there had always been Mommy, too. Mommy and Nan-Nan and Grandpa and the rest of his family. And the kids from Ms. Neyman’s class and Ms. Neyman and the Majewskis and the nice checkout lady at Kroger who kept the strawberry suckers beneath her counter. They had always been there, too, like Bear, since before he could remember, and now they weren’t. Who had always been there wasn’t anymore, and Cassie said they weren’t coming back.
Not ever.
The glass remembers it when he takes his hand away. It holds the memory of his hand. Not like a picture, more like a fuzzy shadow, the way his mother’s face is fuzzy when he tries to remember it.
Except Daddy’s and Cassie’s, all the faces he’s known since he knew what faces were are fading. Every face is new now, every face a stranger’s face.
A soldier walks down the aisle toward him. He’s taken off his black mask. His face is round, his nose small and dotted with freckles. He doesn’t look much older than Cassie. He’s passing out bags of gummy fruit snacks and juice boxes. Dirty fingers claw for the treats. Some of the children haven’t had a meal in days. For some, the soldiers are the first adults they’ve seen since their parents died. Some kids, the quietest ones, were found along the outskirts of town, wandering among the piles of blackened, half-burned bodies, and they stare at everything and everyone as if everything and everyone were something they’ve never seen before. Others, like Sammy, were rescued from refugee camps or small bands of survivors in search of rescue, and their clothes aren’t quite as ragged and their faces not quite as thin and their eyes not quite as vacant as the quiet ones’, the ones found wandering among the piles of the dead.
The soldier reaches the back row. He’s wearing a white band on his sleeve with a big red cross on it.
“Hey, want a snack?” the soldier asks him.
The juice box and the chewy gooey treats in the shape of dinosaurs. The juice is cold. Cold. He hasn’t had a cold drink in forever.
The soldier slides into the seat beside him and stretches his long legs into the aisle. Sammy pushes the thin plastic straw into the juice box and sips, while his eyes fall to the still form of a girl huddled in the seat across from them. Her shorts are torn, her pink top is stained with soot, her shoes caked with mud. She is smiling in her sleep. A good dream.
“Do you know her?” the soldier asks Sammy.
Sammy shakes his head. She had not been in the refugee camp with him.
“Why do you have that big red cross?”
“I’m a medic. I help sick people.”
“Why did you take off your mask?”
“Don’t need it now,” the medic answers. He pops a handful of gummies into his mouth.
“Why not?”
“The plague’s back there.” The soldier jerks his thumb toward the back window, where the dust boiled up and Cassie shrunk to nothing, holding Bear.
“But Daddy said the plague is everywhere.”
The soldier shakes his head. “Not where we’re going,” he says.
“Where are we going?”
“Camp Haven.”
Against the grumbling engine and the whooshing wind through the open windows, it sounded like the soldier said Camp Heaven.
“Where?” Sammy asks.
“You’re going to love it.” The soldier pats his leg. “We’ve got it all fixed up for you.”
“For me?”
“For everyone.”
Cassie on the road, helping Bear wave good-bye.