I wake up sitting on a cot. Tiffany is by my side, holding my hand. I groan a little and she smiles.
“It’s…only a flesh wound.” I say.
“Then they the hell did you pass out?” she asks me.
“No clue. Maybe the blood loss?”
“Well don’t do it again,” she says, smiling.
I smile a bit, and sit up. I feel my head, and I instantly pull my hand back. I’m burning up. I look over to Tiffany, and the smile fades from her lips.
“Well, the guy thinks you’re infected.”
“If the bullet traveled through one of the monsters, then he’s right,” I manage.
“Don’t. Just don’t.”
I look around the room to find myself in an open room. There are a handful of cots strewn about, and I find only one other person there. He’s an older gentleman, well into his 60s or seventies. He hasn’t fared as well in life as Milton did, and he was coughing into a dirty rag. I look back up to Tiffany.
“So we’re really here?” I ask.
“Yeah, we made it,” she says.
A smile crosses my face and I set my feet on the ground. Tiffany tries to stop me, but I wave her away. I stand completely, and rock back and forth. I can feel my vision jump around in my head, and I look back to Tiffany.
“Am I drunk?”
“No, just light headed. I tried to stop you.”
She stands up next to me, holding me by the arm.
We walk through the doors of workout facility and back into the cold. Looking into the daylight, I see a handful of people walking around. Some of them are carrying buckets or baskets filled with random items. I can hear the laughter of children are playing tag somewhere in the distance. Looking along the line of the apartment buildings, I see a couple of men with rifles walking with haste past the others.
A couple of minutes later, I’m sitting in a chair in the apartment complex’s front office. There’s a man, probably a bit older than John, sitting in the chair behind the desk. Patrick is standing on one side of him, and the Russian is standing on the other side of him.
“Welcome to Westmore Village,” the man says, “You must be Jarrod.”
I’m startled that he already knew my name, but I sat up as straight as possible, assuming that Tiffany or someone told him.
“Please, my father was a sir. My name’s Martin Leederman.”
“But everyone here calls him Leader,” Patrick chimes in, winking at me.”
“Please, let’s not perpetrate that.”
“Nicholi here says you and your group helped clean out the contruction site.”
I nod my head.
“Well, we greatly appreciate that,” Martin continues,”but Nicholi also says you might be infected.”
“There’s no way of knowing that,” Tiffany says, interrupting him.
“Well, I simply disagree.”
“It’s possible,” I say, “If your men hit one of them before the bullet went through me.”
“That’s what we’re afraid of,” he says, standing up.
“Now, Patrick has told me a good deal about you two, and I will say, it’s quite impressive what you’ve managed to accomplish with such a small group. However, we cannot provide any special treatment for anyone, given these particular circumstances.”
“What are you talking about?” I ask.
Raising his head slightly, Nicholi speaks.
“We’re kicking you out.”
“Oh nonsense,” Martin says.
A look of clear surprise shoots across the Russian’s face. He looks back to Martin immediately.
“As your head of security, I recommend that he not be allowed in the community. We have come too far to fall to a foolish outbreak.”
“I agree. However, these fine folks have come off of their mountain for the comfort of this community, and we will not turn them away. We can keep him under observation in the fitness center until we can be sure he isn’t infected.”
“That decision is mine to make, Nicholi, and I have made it.”
A smile stretches across my face as I see the scowl on Nicholi’s. Hew looks at me, and the expression deepens.
“Patrick, take Tiffany and her family to Complex B. Help them pick out a three apartments. Make sure they feel at home.”
“Nicholi, I want you to take Jarrod back to the fitness complex. Lock him in the racquetball court”
He looks at me, “I hope you understand that I’m going to have to chain you to the bed.”
Before Tiffany could protest, I nod my head.
As I’m being led back into the makeshift hospital, I stop the angry Russian for a second.
“I believe we started off on the wrong foot,” I say.
I extend my left hand to him. He looks down to my hand and looks back up to me.
“It would have helped if you hadn’t gotten shot.”
“Shot saving your asses from that horde.”
“That truck is used specifically for that purpose. That’s a champion derby truck. Those asshole’s aren’t going to get through that at all.”
“Even still, you don’t have to be a dick about it.”
“Keeping everyone in this complex safe is my job. It’s not my fault you’re a moron, running around with a machete chopping at zombies.”
The burly Russian leads me back to the fitness complex, back through the open floor into a solid white racquetball court. “I had no idea the people out here even knew what racquetball was” was the only though crossing my mind as I hear the clock click in to place behind me. Nicholi looks at me through the glass. I hear him say through the glass.
“If you try to escape. I’ll shoot you. If you turn, I’ll shoot you as well.”
“No shit. When do I get to see my family?” I ask.
“Patrick is taking them to their rooms. Once he does, he’ll bring your wife down to you.”
Without another word, he turns around and walks off hurriedly.
I press my head up against the glass. I take a couple of deep breaths, and try to focus. My head is throbbing due to the pain shooting through me. I squint my eyes, trying to straighten my vision, and I sink to the floor. I continue to breathe, and eventually I’m able to keep the lines in the world around me from wiggling.
About an hour passes Tiffany comes up to the window. Her eyes are red and she just stares at me for a few minutes.
“How are you feeling? Are you hot, cold? Are you still nauseous?”
“Calm down, honey. I’m fine.”
She stares through the glass window at me for a moment. I can feel her eyes scrutinize me as she looks up and down my body. I shift uncomfortably, feeling like an odd cross between meat in a butcher shop and a puppy in a pet store.
“I need you to take your temperature. Someone is coming with a key soon. I’m going to leave it here. You need to check it every hour or so. Keep track of it.”
“How’s your shoulder?”
“Still has a hole in it.”
Silence again. I shift back and forth and put my hand on the window. She places her hand on her side and I smile.
“Tiffany, I’m going to be alright.”
“I know. I’m just afraid. I don’t know what I’ll do if I lose you.”
“You’ve still got your mom and dad, and you’re safe now,” I reassure her.
“I don’t want to be safe. I want to be with you.”
A smile stretches across my face. I look away for a moment, and then back. I stare into her eyes for what feels like days. A jailor comes and opens the door eventually, but neither of us say anything. He sets a small pouch with a thermometer and a pad of paper to record temperatures. He walks away after we don’t answer his questions.
Eventually my eyes blur with tears and I take a step back from the window. Looking down to my watch, it’s almost 5:00PM. I walk over to the pouch and pull out the probe and place it under my tongue. A couple of minutes pass in silence until a small beep sounds.
“What is it?” she asks.
“98.8. I told you I’m fine.”
“Yeah,” she says, smiling, “I’ve got to go check on Doug. One of the medicals here has been trying to get him to take an antibiotic shot.”
“He’s a stubborn kid,” I say.
“That he is. I’ll try to be back tomorrow. Patrick told me they want to keep you here for 24 hours. I’ll come back later tonight.”
“No. You need rest. I’ll be fine here. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“But nothing. Get some rest. Spend the time with your parents. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Okay, but if the temperature changes, you scream until someone comes and you tell them to come get me.”
Her eyes are shimmering now. I can tell she’s trying to hold a flood back, and I smile as kindly as possible to reassure her again.
“Sure thing, honey. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”