I blinked long and hard to rid myself of the clinging images, and pulled out my cigarettes. I offered them to my fellow survivors, and we all lit up. I blew smoke towards the ceiling in a sigh, still lamenting the loss of two fellow humans. It made it worse, somehow more unjust, that I had come close, so close to saving them, but I’d failed. It made me feel… guilty. I heard Mandy say something to Frank, but I was too wrapped up in misery to listen. A few moments later, Mandy planted a sweet little kiss on my lips. It brought me back more effectively than anything else could have done, and I appreciated the feeling behind the gesture.
I stiffened a little when she began kissing her way down my neck. “Frank…” She smiled. “Is sitting in the kitchen area with the door shut and his iPod on. Very loud.” She said. I swallowed as her hand crept inside my top. “Are you sure you want-” I started, but she cut me off with a kiss. “I’m sure. You need this, I need this, we need to stay close, and this is the closest any two people can get.” She said firmly as her top vanished, leaving me confused and licking my lips. “But-” She looked at me, her eyes pleading with me to understand. “I need this, I need to be close to you.” I shut my eyes, trembling as she inched my zip down. I had to lick my lips before I could reply, “I need it, too…”
I realised how right she was afterwards, when she was lying wrapped around me, with a blanket found in a cupboard wrapped around us, every inch of skin pressed to mine. I gently stroked her face, brushing her unruly hair out of her eyes, just inhaling her scent. I smiled as I realised that, although it had had been a matter of days, hours, really, I was definitely in love with Mandy, despite her age, despite the fact it was hell on earth, despite the fact that I had absolutely nothing to offer this girl except myself. She already had my heart, she may as well have had the rest of me.
“Will?” She spoke, breaking the silence. “Mmm?” I responded, lulled into relaxation by the gentle pressure of her breathing against me. “I need to…tell you something.” She said haltingly. I opened my eyes and turned to look at her. She propped herself up on an elbow, the blanket slipping over her pale skinned shoulder. Her eyes looked worried and scared and sad, all at once. There was something in her face- around her eyes- that told me this was serious.
“Will- you should know, before we get any deeper, that I’m- I’m not a good person. I do bad, stupid things, and they… They hurt the people around me.” She swallowed. “I mean, really, really hurt.” I waited, hoping she could see in my eyes that I wasn’t going to stop loving her. I don’t know if she saw it, but she decided to continue. “A few months ago… A year, really…I got pregnant.” I waited, careful not to show any emotion, while inside my head, I was shocked as hell. Pregnant! I knew, however, that this story was not going to be a happy one. There would be no happy ending here. “I never realised how much I… How much I wanted kids, until it happened.” She said, her eyes on mine. Once again, I had to school my face to show none of the surprise I felt. I would never have put Mandy down as maternal in the least.
“My boyfriend at the time-” Here I felt a pang of jealousy, quickly damped down by pity. “-He wanted it, just as much as me. I was only a few weeks gone but I could f-feel that something had changed, I had every symptom in the book, and I just knew… We talked about it… But then I… I…” I knew that this was the part that hurt her, which was confirmed as she let out a tiny gasp and buried her face in the crook of my neck “I had a headache… And I d-d-didn’t think… I t-took some…” Her voice broke; she had to stop for a moment or two. “I took some painkillers.” I could hear the pain, and self loathing in her voice.
I lay very still. I knew what painkillers did to pregnancies. “The next day… I started… Bleeding. Badly. When I wasn’t m-meant to be- And oh god, the pain was like- It was like nothing I’ve ever felt.” She paused again. “I knew that something was wrong.” She was silent for a moment, tears coursing down her face like they would never stop. “I did a…P-p-pregnancy test…” She gasped again, like she couldn’t breathe past the words in her throat. “It was negative.” I finished softly for her. She nodded, her teary face hot against my cooler shoulder. “I wanted it s-so bad Will… I made the m-mistake of thinking about it…like it was…a baby-” She wiped her face on a corner of blanket. “It hurt as much as it would have- If it had b-been nine m-months in…” She bit her lip, and squeezed her eyes shut. “It felt like I’d lost my baby even though it was cells, if it was even that…” I didn’t know how much more I could hear before I began to cry myself. “I l-loved it s-so much!” She began to cry, hard, every emotion pouring out of her eyes. “I was so f-fucking s-stupid Will- Every-fucking-body knows that y-you d-don’t take painkillers wh-when you’re p-p-pregnant…” I couldn’t do anything but hold her, rubbing her back in those useless circles that mean everything and nothing. “I killed my b-baby, Will.” She wept, that one statement showing how much she was hurting, and how guilty and responsible she felt… Then another piece fell into place.
I had wondered how she hadn’t been able to kill that zombie baby- I knew now that it was guilt, and hope for what could have been. My heart hurt for her, so badly, but I had to hear it to the end. I knew that this would be the only time I heard this story. “What happened with your boyfriend?” I asked softly. She sucked in a breath and said “He stayed with me for a few more months, s-supported me for a while, but he was hurting too… I wouldn’t get any help, and I wasn’t getting any b-better-I was getting w-worse, hurting myself every way I could think of. I d-didn’t s-sleep. I spent all my time th-thinking about the b-baby, and thinking about how it was my fault. I felt so g-guilty, I still d-do…”
I pressed my lips against her forehead, feeling how hot it was. “You didn’t know.” I said quietly. She laughed, the most humourless sound imaginable. “Don’t tell me you don’t know that girls aren’t supposed to take painkillers when they’re p-pregnant.” I stayed silent. “Mandy… I don’t want to make it worse, but… I know that one in three pregnancies don’t ever make it. They just aren’t strong enough…” I stopped, wondering how I could make this any less insensitive.
“If it was a strong pregnancy, if it was meant to happen, it would have happened.” I said, holding her to my chest, feeling that same powerlessness as with Mikey, only this time, the damage was in Mandy’s heart, and I had no way of stopping it. All I could do was hold her as she cried, hard, racking sobs that shook her whole body. I didn’t know how to help her, so I began to rock her gently, as you would with a child, until she calmed down enough to breathe. When she seemed able to cope, I turned her flushed damp face towards mine. “Mandy, I promise you that it was not your fault, okay? And-” I stopped. But I knew it was right. “I’ll have a baby with you- if you, y’know, want one with me, that is…” I added uncertainly. I knew that I was doing the right thing
It didn’t matter that I hadn’t known her long, it didn’t matter that she was sixteen- She had been through things that nobody should have to, and they had made her older, more jaded, if you will. None of it mattered. I wanted to have a baby with Mandy no matter what, and it was such a powerfully strong urge that I was surprised. I had never had any ambitions to become a father, especially not at twenty two, but I knew, in my heart that it was what I wanted. I wanted to family, and I wanted one with Mandy.
She raised her face to me, shocked, and almost not daring to hope. “You mean it? You aren’t just saying that?” I smiled. “I’d never do that, love. I want this, and I want it with you.” I told her truthfully. Her face broke out into a smile, one filled with so much happiness it almost hurt to look at. Her smile dimmed, slightly, as she thought of something. “What about the, you know, zombie apocalypse? I don’t want to bring a baby into it.” She said worriedly. I smiled. “It can’t last forever, and when it ends, we’ll have a baby.” I promised. Her face lit up again. “Good.” She whispered. “Good thing I renewed my birth control before the outbreak.” I almost laughed. “Definitely.” She was silent for so long I thought she’d fallen asleep, until she said “Will? You know when we met, and I was being all…sex obsessed?” I felt a crooked smile spread across my face. “Oh, yeah…” She giggled, and said “That’s my way of dealing. If I act all confident and like I know what I want I can… I can forget that I’m a scared kid who feels totally lost.” I didn’t know what to say, and I guessed all the crying must have tired her out, because within seconds, she was sleeping against my chest. I pulled up the blanket to cover her, and wriggled myself into a more upright position. I fumbled for my cigarettes, tipping one out. I groped along the ground for my lighter, and had just lit up when Frank carefully opened the door to what I assumed was the kitchen.
“Hey, man.” I called softly, letting him know it was okay to come on out. It was dark by this time, so he lit a candle, one of the ones from the altar, to carry with him. I made sure Mandy was covered, then gestured for him to come and sit. He shuffled over, sitting opposite me. He lit one of his own cigarettes, his eyes looking almost green in the candlelight, through the smoke. “I don’t know anything about Mandy,” He started, “But I can see that she’s strong, and I think that she’s stronger than we’ll ever know.” I nodded my agreement, and we smoked in silence. I sat awake, long after Frank said goodnight, thinking over what she had told me, and thinking more and more that Frank was right, and Mandy was stronger than anybody knew.
Well... This was incredibly personal, and very very hard to write. The only difference between her story and mine, is the fact that my amazing boyfriend is still with me and still supporting me. Did I write it okay? Please let me know. XO