As soon as he’s in earshot Kevin shouts, “Damn, girl! Where have you been all my life!” Which is ironic since I’ve actually known him my whole life—since we were babies. Alex, Kevin, and I were in the same Mommy and Me learn to swim class, and his older sister Meredith and I swam together for our club team before I quit. But old family history aside, Kevin and I didn’t have much to say to each other when we were in high school and I was dating his best friend. We still don’t have much to say to each other. He’s swaggering towards me in full military gear—he surprised everyone, especially me when he got his GED and took the ASVAB to enlist in the military, but now he’s a Marine, and he seems to like it. Although, it’s just my luck, since we’ve been assigned to work together every Tuesday and Thursday, and leave it to Kevin to turn being a Marine into some big awesome game. I know it won’t make a difference, but I yell back. “You’re already running late!” Correction, we don’t have anything to say to each other that has any substance. He talks a lot of shit my way, and I complain a lot back to him. “You’re late, again,” I say under my breath as climb into the passenger side of the supply truck. I slide into the middle seat next to Pete, as Kevin gets in behind me. “I had a late night last night. A good one,” Kevin says with a laugh, shutting the door. “Why you gotta hate?” Pete, who’s in the same unit as Kevin, just shakes his head and starts the engine. He’s used to us by now.

“My night wasn’t exactly early either, and here I am,” I say. “The other truck is probably halfway there by now.” That’s a total lie. The other supply truck did leave five minutes before us, but we’ve got a half hour drive before we get to the Mira Mesa Albertsons. Kevin, of course, knows this, so he just smiles his annoying smile and says, “Nah, don’t worry, we’ll totally get there in time. We’ve got Pete.” He reaches over me and punches Pete’s shoulder. “This dude drives at Nascar speed. We’re golden.” Shaking my head, I lean back. Wednesdays are rations days, and teams of two trucks, four Marines, one member of the FBI and one member of Red Cross, all have designated routes. Ours is Black Mountain Road. We hand out food and bottled water to each person who shows up at the Albertsons parking lot off Black Mountain at Mira Mesa Blvd, the Vons parking lot in Rancho Penasquitos north of the 56 and then the Albertsons off Camino del Sur. It’s the route that caters to my old neighborhood. “You decide if you’re gonna celebrate my birthday with me yet?” Kevin asks, putting a hand on my knee. I knock his hand aside, and Pete laughs. “I’d say the outlook is doubtful.” “Nick’s been asking about you,” he adds. I picture Nick’s almond eyes and I almost wish we were still talking, but I tried having a conversation with him once at Qualcomm—after Ben had left. I just had nothing to say to him. We’re too different. Whatever I thought Nick and I had before I died, it’s completely gone now. If Ben doesn’t come back, I wonder if I’m ruined. Even if things get better, even if civilization makes a miraculous recovery, I wonder if I’ll ever be able to fall in love again.

Ben was someone I could talk to—someone I could tell anything and everything to. He didn’t judge, he just listened. And he looked out for me, not matter what was going on in his life and even when we didn’t even know each other, when I didn’t give him the time of day. I think of Ben, of how we sat on a blanket and ate burritos, guacamole and chips looking out over Sunset Cliffs. The ocean, the richness of colors, the heat on my skin—it was like we were looking out into the edge of the earth. We drank grape soda and kissed for the first time, and it might have been the best moment of my life. I wonder if he’s ruined me forever—if another guy will ever live up.


It’s when we’re at Albertsons off Camino del Sur, that I see another doppelganger. This one looks just like Taylor Barclay. Kevin and Pete are on line control, and Cecily is checking off names, while I hand out a jug of 32 oz of water and a brown paper bag filled with rations for the week to each person. By now I’m good at playing deaf to the pleas for more, which is why I took charge from Cecily weeks ago. She was so apologetic, it just offered more hope. The begging and bargaining was bad enough, and after Kevin had to put his gun on someone and threaten to shoot them if they didn’t leave, I couldn’t take it anymore. I’m stone faced and unapologetic as I pass out the food. When people ask me for more or for something different, I look them straight in the eye and respond with a terse, “No,” and ask for the next person. That first week I took over, a few people cursed at me or declared I would be the death of their family, but I know things will get worse before they get better. I know that doing this now might save them later. If we run out of supplies before winter is over, it will be the death of everyone. When I announced that, it was pretty much the end of the complaints. Some of the same people grumble each week, but we haven’t had any more fights. It’s when I’m dealing with a grumbling woman in her forties, who swears she needs a second jug of water for her daughter, that I look up and the “No” on my lips falters. Because I see Agent Taylor Barclay hanging out near the back of the line. “J?” Cecily asks. I refocus on the woman. “One jug per person.”

“But my daughter—” “You know how it works,” I say. “You need to bring your daughter with you in order for her to get her own rations. Next, please.” Pete steps forward to herd her along, and I look back to the end of the line. Barclay is still there. And I’m pretty sure it’s him and not a lookalike. He’s clean shaven, wearing aviator sunglasses and a worn Red Sox hat. He’s maybe a hundred yards away now, leaning one shoulder against a tree in the parking lot, just far enough from a clump of people waiting in line for rations for me to notice him. It’s like he wants me to see him, which makes me think he’s the Barclay I know. He’s like that. I also think it’s him because this isn’t the first time I’ve looked up and done a double take. A month ago, a few miles east a house, unbroken from the quakes, was up in flames. We tried to help, but it ended up being too late. And when we were getting into the truck to head home, I swore I saw a guy who looked just like Barclay, standing in the crowd of people watching the house burn to the ground. Then I thought I saw him once on the base. We were about to have a bad rain storm for us, and Struz called a meeting to implement the best ways to “catch” as much water as we could. I could have sworn Barclay was in that meeting. And once at the school, I saw him. My work-day was over, and I’d gone to the school to pick up Jared, and there he was only about ten feet from me. Or I thought so at least. A group of kids came out and I lost sight of Barclay in the shuffle, and when people had cleared out, I couldn’t find him anywhere.

I can’t think of a single reason Barclay would be waiting for rations and water on my world. He’s not exactly the most compassionate person I ever came across, and there’s a hopeless desperation that weighs heavy on your shoulders here. We survived, we refused to lie down and die—yet it’s becoming increasingly apparent that we’re not about to pick up and get back to what we were any time soon. It’ll be years before civilization recovers. If ever. I’m pulled out of my thoughts when the monotony of passing out rations is interrupted. A young girl thrusts a baby in my face. “Feel his forehead,” she says, and I recognize her. She was a freshman at Eastview. I think she was on the dance team. Cecily reaches over me, feels the baby’s forehead and then pulls back before whispering, “Fever,” in my ear. I open the lock box at my feet and pull out a bottle of aspirin. I offer the girl in front of me four of them. “Cut them in half, and if he doesn’t get better, take him to the clinic at Pomerado.” “What? Just walk there?” she says. But she doesn’t expect an answer, which is good. Because I don’t have one. When the girl turns to leave, I look at Cecily. “Do you see that guy in the crowd, sunglasses and baseball cap, near the back of the line,” I say. She turns and in typical Cecily fashion is the absolutely opposite of stealthy. Panic shoots through me because suddenly I don’t think letting him know that I see him is a good idea. What if it is Barclay, and I’m tipping my hand? But then Cecily says, “If by guy you mean that cluster of trees, sure. Otherwise no…” and I look up to see he’s gone. The tree he was standing close to is just an empty planter. I scan

the rest of the lot, looking towards what’s left of highway 56 and toward the old It’s a Grind, but I don’t see him anywhere. Cecily laughs. “Please don’t tell me you’re hallucinating, or at least, if you are, at least tell me he was hot.” She’s smiling, eyebrows raised. “He was kinda hot, I guess, but not a red head.” “Then he couldn’t be that hot.” She laughs. I look back at the end of the line, but either I was seeing things or Barclay is gone. I’m not sure which should scare me more.


When we pull into Miramar, the sun has already gone down. Pete and Sean pull the trucks into their parking spaces—the only two open because again, we’re the last ones back—and we all unload the extra rations and take them into the commissary. We work in a mostly comfortable silence. Once each item is restocked, I have to go through the inventory lists and update them. “Cee, do you have the lists?” She doesn’t answer. Blond hair askew, wearing ripped jeans, and a hooded Padres sweatshirt and no makeup, her lips are just slightly upturned, almost like she’s trying not to smile, and she’s watching someone behind me. I turn—she’s watching Kevin. Who’s drinking straight out of a bottle of Coke. “What are you doing?” I blurt out. “I told you last week if you stole something else I’d report you. You can’t just take whatever you want!” “Oh, but J, it’s so good,” he says. Around me, the guys snicker, and Cecily bursts out laughing. “Kevin, I’m serious!” I want to hit him, I’m so furious. “What the hell?” “I haven’t had Coke in forever. Here we can all split it.” He offers the bottle to me and tries to give me a disarming smiling. The effect it’s supposed to have on me is ruined—not because I’m immune to Kevin smiles, though I am—but because his teeth and the entire inside of his mouth are black. “What?” he says.

I reach out and grab the Coke from him and look at it. It doesn’t look any different, I sniff and something smells just slightly off, almost like…ink. There’s blank ink in this Coke. Cecily’s completely dissolved into giggles, because this was her. Knowing he would take something, she took the Coke first. Somehow she got ink into it, and then handed it to him. I can’t even imagine how she did it, but she must have been planning this all week. Kevin rubs his teeth and some of the ink stains his finger. “Oh shit.” He looks so shocked, I almost smile. The way she played him—it’s brilliant. Except of course for one small thing. “We can’t afford to waste resources like this,” I say with a shake of my head. The laughter dies, but I keep going. “We just lost sixteen ounces of something people could drink if they were out of water. That’s—” “It’s a joke, Janelle,” Cecily says, taking the bottle of Coke from my hands. “Someone had to teach him from stealing stuff.” “Contaminating our food doesn’t help either.” Cecily presses her lips in a tight line, pissed that I’ve soured her joke. And maybe she’s right. It was a good joke. “Lighten up, J,” Kevin says, grabbing my shoulders. He’s in my face with a black toothy grin, and I can’t help but smile. “I got him good,” Cecily says, peaking over his shoulder. “I would have let you take some credit if you hadn’t ruined it.” “I know.” I suddenly feel like I’m too old. Not physically, but just that I’m too tired, too stressed, and too anxious. Even though there isn’t any danger of Wave Function Collapse and there’s no Oppenheimer counting down to the end of the world, I haven’t quite shaken the on edge feeling. It’s like I’m waiting for something else to go wrong.


Once Pete and Cecily have left to take the supply truck to Qualcomm, Kevin and his buddies to the water inventory and take off. Finishing my own inventory list, I look at the canned meat in front of me. There’s probably only enough tuna left for a week—maybe two. Suddenly I have that hyperaware feeling, like someone's watching me. Goosebumps prick my arms, and a shiver runs through the back of my neck. I glance around, but I’m completely alone. The commissary looks like a really picked over Super Walmart. I’m in the food section, which is now rows and rows of half-empty shelves. I’m the only person in here, and apparently I’m ridiculous. It’s not like this place is open to the public. But the feeling doesn’t go away. The commissary is quiet. Other than the sound of my own breathing, I can hear the hum of the generator and the dim lights. I pause and scan the aisles, but nothing is there. I take a deep breath and shake my head before continuing back to the office. But now my heart rate is ringing in my ears. “Kevin?” I call. My voice echoes slightly, but he doesn’t jump out laughing about how he scared me. Maybe I am losing it. It’s late enough that I can head out anyway. I make my way to the front door, listening carefully to the sound of my own footsteps. There’s no echo to them, but I still feel like someone’s following me.

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