There’s always another day to fix your mistakes...until there’s not. Another dawn, another sunset, another minute to spend with the people you care about. One day all of that is just gone, stolen before you’re ready to give it up. No more relaxing on the couch making fun of television shows. No more trips to Disneyland. No more time with the one you love. It’s not fair. Nothing in my life has ever been fair. Not when my dad left for three months without so much as a postcard, and certainly not after meeting the most wonderful person in the world only to be ripped from her so soon. The world around me slowly fades away from black to muted grey, and I wish it wouldn’t. As the world returns so does the pain, a dull ache that builds into a throbbing constant. Something has been wrong for a while now, I just couldn’t admit it until I saw that blood. It wasn’t much, but it was enough. I groan, clutching my stomach instinctively as a sharp pain makes my insides curl in on themselves.
“I’m here,” Mia says from somewhere close to me. I can’t bring myself to look towards her. “You passed out and I-I didn’t know what to do- I didn’t know anything. I was so scared,” Her brittle voice trails off as she tries to compose herself.
“You know everything,” I mutter in a small voice, clutching my stomach tighter as the familiar nausea takes root again.
“I brushed your hair like you asked me to, but…” she pauses audibly swallowing. “But a lot of hair came out while I was brushing it. ”
“You know what this is,” I manage a bit louder than last time, clamping my mouth shut as my body threatens to rebel against me more than it already has.
“What? What is that supposed to mean?” Mia asks laying a hand on my shoulder. I shake my head, untrusting of my own mouth right now.
“I don’t know what’s going on!” Mia denies, gripping my shoulder in her tightening grasp. “I don’t know what you’re expecting me to understand!” I turn further away from Mia as bile makes its way up my throat. It splatters towards the ladder with a sickening sound, almost like sloshing, that threatens to make me vomit again. I can tell it’s blood before I touch my fingers to my lips, that same copper taste permeates my mouth.
“Why do you wear a hazmat suit?” I ask wiping my mouth, deliberately refusing to look at Mia.
“Wha-what?” Mia stutters, probably staring at the puddle that now lays in front of the ladder.
“Why do you wear a hazmat suit?” I ask again, making sure my words are understood.
“To protect myself,” She manages weakly. She understands… she has to.
“From…?” I prompt, making an effort to turn myself towards Mia without a repeat of the events that have just transpired.
“Radiation,” She states, her voice falling flat. She looks utterly defeated, but unimaginably angry at the same time.
“You already knew it was-”
“NO!” Mia yells, interrupting me. Her muscles tensing, tears forming at the corners of her eyes. “NO! You can’t die, you are not allowed. I don’t give you permission to do that.” She’s staring at me as she speaks, her eyes a mix of anger and desire.
“I don’t want to.” I manage meekly. Saying anything against her intense gaze is challenge enough. “It’s not like I asked for this.”
“Then don’t.” Her muscles relax at the statement, her shoulders folding in on themselves and her fists going limp.
“If it were that simple-”
“We’ll make it that simple!” Mia bursts out, tears pouring from her eyes. “You can’t leave me alone!”
“I don’t want to!” I yell, before clutching my head at the loud outburst.
“We’ll just stay down here until you get better,” Mia suggests, a glimmer of hope lighting up her wondrous eyes.
“It’s too late for that.”
“How do you know that! You can’t know that!” Mia cries, her eyes boring into my soul, pleading with me to heal myself...to make it better. Her words are desperate and her logic flawed, yet, I want her to be right.
“I just vomited blood for christ’s sake! I doubt I’m just fine!” I groan, still regretting my choice to yell. No one says anything for a while. Mia just sits there looking at me, or through me, refusing to accept this reality.
“Besides even if I could get better-”
“You can!” Mia interrupts but I keep going, because if I don’t I won’t have the courage to.
“Even if I could get better, I just got shot, not just a graze this time, I got shot. A bullet went through me. We don’t have the tools to fix that.”
“I already sewed it closed!” Mia interrupts again, and I push forward, my resolve already barely hanging on.
“You may have sewn the skin back together, but I’m hard pressed to think there isn’t internal bleeding, and we have nothing to deal with that.”
No one says anything for a while again. Mia still just sitting there looking through me, refusing to accept the absolute truth of this reality. Of our reality.
“You don’t have my permission,” She states again flatly, clutching my bloody shirt with one of her free hands. “You can’t leave me alone, not again.”
“Again?” I ask curiously, staring at Mia’s face. It contorts in pain at the slip of her tongue, her eyes misting over briefly.
“Back before this...before the nukes,” Mia pauses before sighing, raking a hand across her tired face. “I had a girlfriend. She was wonderful and funny, and she didn’t judge me for the run down house I lived in because my parents kicked me out.” Mia pauses, taking a moment to think back, or compose herself, either way I didn’t interrupt. “She liked me for me.”
“What happened to her?” I ask softly, not wanting to dredge up more painful memories. Even though I know I’m not going to be here much longer, I want to learn all I can about her.
“I killed her,” Mia mutters defeatedly, futilely wiping at the tears that continue to run down her face.
“I may not know you as well as I’d like to, but the one thing I do know, is that’s not true.” I reply adamantly while rubbing small circles at my temples. She couldn’t have done something like that, it isn’t her. I don’t have to know every single detail about her to know that she would never hurt another person knowingly.
“It was my fault!” Mia blurts out making me wince as the pain in my head intensifies. “I sent her the text that made her crash!”
“You didn’t make her look at that text,” I mumble, trying desperately not to snap.
“But I sent it…”
“And I didn’t save my mother from the fire that destroyed my house!” I say in the loudest voice I can muster, which isn’t very loud. “Does that make it my fault that she’s gone?” I question seriously, my shoulders shaking as a tear slips down my cheek.
“No, you couldn’t have known about the fire.” Mia defends, rubbing my arm comfortingly.
“Exactly.” I sniffle using her words to my advantage. “You couldn’t have known that she would look at that text. Or that she would crash.”
Mia sighs, not looking at me as my words sink in. As we sit in silence, I’m left to my thoughts.
“It’s not fair,” I blurt out. “I didn’t ask to be here. I didn’t ask to be left in the dark for a year only to be thrust into a world I could no longer live in. I didn’t ask to find the woman of my dreams only to be ripped from her grasp. I did-” my rant is cut short by my own coughs that steal my breath away. When the coughs don’t subside, I start to panic.
“It’s okay. I’m here, just breath.” Mia tries to comfort me, her voice cracking as she finishes.
My lungs burn and my head aches, but Mia is there trying against all odds to keep herself composed. In the beginning, I had hoped that I would grow up and become someone who can be proud of what they do. Even after I left home to go after what I wanted to do in life, I still hoped. When I heard about the nukes, I couldn’t think. I ran to the one thing...the one place that felt familiar and safe. I ran home. Against all logic, even when I was down hiding in my bunker, I had a sliver of hope that things could move on from what they were and that I would be there to see that. Now, I’ve come to realize that I won’t make it there. I won’t live to see myself succeed and be proud of what I’ve accomplished. I won’t live to have children and help them achieve the dreams they so desperately want to make a reality. I won’t be able to comfort them when they get hurt, or lecture them when they do something bad. I won’t even be able to name them. I can only look forward to when it all stops, and that thought terrifies me. The thought that one minute I’ll be here, alive and breathing, and then the next I won’t, churns my stomach and threatens to make me vomit again. The thought that this is all there is and when I close my eyes I won’t open them ever again. The thought that there won’t be a me anymore, there won’t even be something to be aware of, shakes me to my very core.
I don’t realize I’ve started shivering or stopped coughing until Mia puts a steadying hand on my shoulder.
“You find that food?” I ask trying to lighten the mood, completely ignoring the events of the past few minutes.
“All that, and you’re worried about food?” Mia chuckles shaking her head, “I have a feeling that this happens a lot with you.”
“You’d be right on that part,” I manage, a smile pulling at my lips. “You can’t judge me anyway,” I point out quietly as Mia gets up to retrieve the can opener. “I threw up the only food I’ve eaten in days.”
“Fair point,” Mia calls as the sound of moving objects makes its way to my ears. It takes a bit, but eventually Mia comes back food and can opener in hand.
“Well done!” I praise, smiling up at Mia, “Did you ever find my can opener?”
“It was in a small box that had managed to find itself inside three more larger boxes,” Mia playfully scowls at me as she sits down next to me cross legged.
“I have no idea how that got in there,” I feign ignorance, putting my hand to my chest. I look down as Mia drags her bag closer to us, and see blood staining my hand.
“Yeah, sure Miss Always Keeps Track of Stuff. That’s what they all say.” As Mia digs through her bag I quickly hide my hand, not wanting to give her a reminder of the inevitable.
“Who are they anyway?” I ask, bringing my eyes back up to Mia, as she continues looking through her bag.
“I don’t think anyone really knows who they are.” Mia answers back, setting a few more unlabeled cans on the ground. I want to laugh at the absurdness of it all, but I know it would only lead to another coughing fit. Keeping my head up at this point is an accomplishment in itself. Everything is heavy, and moving helps nothing.
“Could you grab me my journal. There’s something I’d like to write down,” I manage, letting my head fall onto my shoulder.
“Yeah sure thing. Just keep an eye on the food,” Mia assents pulling herself to her feet.
“I shall make sure it doesn’t try and make a run for it.” My eyes grow heavy as I speak, and my whole body is rebelling against me. The shivers are steadily growing worse and anything that doesn't hurt is numb, and I know that can’t be a good thing.
“You should really get a new pencil,” Mia remarks, setting my journal down in front of me with my pencil resting lightly on the cover.
“Yeah I’ll just pop right down to the supermarket and get some off their shelves,” I mock, forcing my eyes open.
“What do you want that old thing for anyway?” Mia questions, resuming her earlier seat.
“That’s none of your business. Now open up those cans,” I mutter, opening my journal and flipping to one of the lesser filled pages.
“Oh so now I’m the can opener am I?” Mia jokes, digging into her task anyway.
“Yep, that’s the only reason I keep you around,” I joke, bringing my pencil to the page.
“What are you writing over there?” Mia questions, peering over as my hand makes its way across the page. It’s a struggle to keep my hand from shaking too much, but it’s worth it.
“None of your business,” I say, dismissively waving a hand in her direction. “Just get those cans open or I might turn cannibal on your ass.”
“Protective of our little journal are we?” Mia jokes as she sets an open can on the ground next to me. “You ever going to let me get a look in there?”
“Maybe someday,” I say as I rip a small portion of paper out of the journal, careful not to tear the words.
“And now you are ripping things. What has the world come to?” Mia jokes as she finishes opening another can, setting it down next to the other.
“It’s my journal and I can do with it what I please,” I defend, carefully putting the paper back into the journal, folding it over the top of a page, before closing it and setting it off to the side.
“Fine fine, I’ll let you do your crazy thing as long as you don’t eat all our food.” Mia sighs admitting defeat as she grabs another can.
I pull myself up enough to be able to eat without choking, but I doubt I’ll be able to keep anything down for long. I drag a can closer to me, it scrapes and screeches across the floor. The sound is harsh, and makes both Mia and I grimace as the noise seems to go on forever. As the can settles, I look up at Mia who’s scowling at me.
“What?” I say innocently as I lift the can off the ground and towards my mouth.
“Maybe next time just pick up the can to start with so my ears don’t start bleeding, yeah?” Her words are harsh but I can tell she’s not really angry.
“But then how will I annoy you?” I joke, tipping a bit of the contents of the can into my mouth. It tastes like peaches.
“I’m sure you’ll find another way,” Mia answers, finally putting the can opener away. “You always do” she mutters.
“Hmm?” I question as I chew, my mouth full.
“Nothing!” She answers quickly, grabbing a can at random. “Just keep eating your food and stop poking into other people’s business.”
“Why did you open so many cans anyway?” I question, suppressing a grimace.
“You have to keep your strength up,” Mia shrugs at me, her voice heavy with the implications of my question. I nod thoughtfully at her words, deciding it’s best to leave the subject alone. I force the rest of the peaches down, only to keep Mia from worrying, before speaking again.
“We should go to bed and decide what to do from there,” I declare from my slight upright position as Mia attempts to make the pile of boxes more organized.
“Oh now who’s being optimistic,” Mia responds, her voice taking on a light tone.
“I’m not being optimistic, I’m being realistic. We have to have a plan for what comes next.”
“Well then I am already doing that, can’t you tell?” Her voice is tense, at least more than usual from what I can tell. I just need to lie down. I’m so tired.
“How about you help me to bed, finish off these cans, and then clean the bunker some more?” I basically plead as sweat begins to bead up on my forehead.
“I could, or I could finish straightening up all of these cardboard boxes.” Mia’s words are light, but her tone is stressed. It’s like she’s trying to stay positive for me. Like if she acknowledged the fact I’m dying, she would completely break down.
“Mia!” I raise my voice sternly. My eyes pleading as she meets them with hers.
“Okay...” She whispers as she sets the boxes aside. The shivers aren’t going away, and keeping my thoughts together at this point is growing more difficult by the minute. By the time Mia lays me down on my bed, black spots have started to form at the edge of my vision.
“This has to be a nightmare,” Mia whispers sitting next to me on the bed, and my heart constricts. The pain in her voice is almost tangible.
“Mia,” I whisper stretching my arm out towards where I think she is. In seconds, her warm, soft hand is gripping mine. Quieting the shivers that still run through me.
“Yeah, what is it?” Her voice is soft now, so different from the hard standoffish tone that I met her with.
“Everyone has nightmares now and again,” I pause bringing in a shuddering breath, “But sometimes you have to accept when things are real.”
“When did you get so poetic?” Mia mumbles under her breath, emotion clear even at her volume. I lay there on the bed for a minute or so concentrating on bringing in air before I open my mouth to speak again,
“You are a good person, and I’m lucky to have met you,” Everything is so tiring.
“Stop getting sappy on me and get some rest,” Mia orders sweetly, pulling my blanket over my still shivering shoulders, tucking me in tightly.
“Aye aye Captain bossy,” I whisper as I set my head down on my folded arm, quickly falling asleep.