It had been about two months since I met and started teaching Samuel how to read. I was impressed by how quickly he picked things up, though it was surprising that no one in his old community wanted to teach him this stuff. History is the one thing we can learn from, thus a necessary thing to remember. But maybe it was that they did not see the reason to since so much of the population had been wiped out. Maybe they had lost hope for the future of humans, and learning to read and write was the last thing on their minds.
I could understand that, especially since my father had almost given up when my mother died. I sighed as I reviewed his handwriting. It was scribbled at best, but a definite improvement over when he started. Feeling eyes on me, I turned to find him staring at me with a serious expression on his face. I tilted my head curiously, wondering just what was on his mind. We were still staying in his old family home and would go out once a week to check new parts of the run-down city he had not cleared yet. We slowly began to stockpile old canned food making food easier to access as well.
Since I never really stayed anywhere after my father died, it felt weird to be in this place that had a sturdy roof, especially in this world where almost everyone died. It sometimes felt like we were the only two in the entire world, but thinking like that often made me feel depressed. Refocusing my attention on him, though I could see the gears turning in his head. We went out on a specified day every week and that day was not today, and if he was hungry, he could just grab something. I sighed before opening my mouth to talk.
“Is there something on your mind, Sammy?” I asked, watching his shoulders droop slightly. “You’re acting weird.”
“No…it’s just…I’m glad you’re here,” Samuel stated plainly, causing my heart to pound hard in my chest. “Our world is just…so quiet.”
That was very true. Often, I gazed out of the window at night and thought about everything my father taught me. Like how the cities used to be full of people, all lit up at night. Father told me you could hear the neighbors through walls in a city like this, and that music would often play from somewhere when you were in stores to shop. His eyes would always take on a wistful look, as though he missed all of the people that used to surround us. To be honest, I never considered how lonely our existence was because it had always been like this since I could remember.
“That…yeah.” I started, hesitant. “I know what you mean. Father used to tell me that in cities like this, there were so many people that it was loud. He always looked wistful when he said it though.”
“I could see that. He was used to life before the virus.” Samuel replied, stepping closer. “Amazing that if we had been a few years older when it happened, we could have seen what your father was talking about.”
I nodded, tensing slightly. Even though we had worked closely together for our survival, I was still wary of his intentions. It was forever ingrained that I would need to be cautious around men especially, but I could not help but think back to a time when my father let me read one of my mother’s romance novels. Truthfully, I had always wanted to find something similar to what the book depicted as love, but I had never expected to. I thought I would live and die alone, much as my father had. Just thinking about it made my heart squeeze painfully.
“That’s true.” I countered but looked back at the table where his papers sat.
“Then again, I probably never would have met you if that was the case.” He stated simply, chuckling. “So, how is my progress with writing? I know reading has become a lot easier, especially the signs around town.”
“You’re definitely progressing.” With a smile, I turned to look back up at him. “Pretty soon, your writing will be as neat as mine!”
He seemed to sink into thought at that and went to sit back in his usual rickety chair. Once he was finished learning, I had planned to leave. That was the goal I set for myself when I agreed to teach him. I did have a few regrets about leaving behind the only person I had come across in a year, but that was the world we lived in. I sighed inwardly, before turning back to focus on his writing. I would even let him keep all of the food we gathered, since I would be moving on. He would not have to worry about food for a few years if he was careful.
Four months later, in the middle of the night, I rose and made my way over to where my pack was. I sighed lightly, trying to remain quiet so that I did not wake him. This was the day I decided to leave. I wanted to make things as easy as possible, so I made sure to leave well after he fell asleep. I at least owed him an explanation and I wrote out a quick note to him, since I did not plan on coming back. It would take him a few hours to wake up, which left me several hours to get away from the city. When I turned to the door, I heard shifting behind me.
“I thought you might want to leave.” He sounded tired, as though he had been awake the entire time, but was having a hard time staying that way. “Hah, you don’t let people in easily, do you?”
“I…” I swallowed as I turned to look at him. “Um…”
“I know you’ve not met anyone in a year, that your father told you not to trust men, especially…” When Samuel came to a stand and our eyes met, I felt frozen. “But it isn’t my intention to hurt you or use you. We’ve had a lot of fun together…and I can’t forget that. If you really want to go…”
I watched as he hesitated slightly, his eyes falling to the floor. The air around us felt stifled similar to someone turning on the heat. From his tense posture, I could feel how strained he was, like a bowstring ready to snap. It occurred to me at that moment that he was worried about me. For my sake, especially in this lonely world. It took a year for me to even find him, so it was possible there was no one else out there. As I considered this, he turned to look back up at me.
“Take me with you…” He said softly, causing my jaw to drop. “This place will not survive the next major storm that comes through. If I hold onto a past from before, I’ll never move forward.”
“Sammy…” I started, ready to reject him, but he stopped me with a hand up.
“You are the only person I’ve seen in two years. If you leave now, I’ll be alone again.” Then Samuel turned to look away, somewhat shyly. “Plus, I want to be with you. Where ever you are, whatever you're doing, I want to be right there with you.”
I took in a deep breath before exhaling and swallowing. Often, I thought of that as well, but I did not want to force him to leave this behind. Samuel could be stubborn, to the point that I was annoyed with him at times, but he was kind and never did anything untoward to me. We often talked late into the night, laughing and having fun. I knew I would miss it when I left, and now that I was face-to-face with him, the thought of leaving this behind had my heart clenching. I wanted to be with him too, especially when we found another place to look over.
“Fine,” I replied, placing my pack back on the floor. “Then, we’ll be leaving in a week. You should prepare anything you can’t bear to leave behind, but try to keep it light.”
“Um…Chloe?” He stated, looking back up to me. “I love you.”
My heart gave one loud pound, hard in my chest, and I felt my cheeks heat quickly. I knew what that meant because my father told me that he loved my mother much like the man from that story I once read. Part of me wondered if Samuel knew what it meant to say that to someone, but I could not help but hope that he did. I had, of course, known my own feelings for a while, and dreaded this day coming, but I never wanted to say anything to him about it. That would make leaving that much harder. Smiling softly, I nodded.
This was where we stood now. I would not leave him behind, so hopefully, things would work out to where we could remain together. With a laugh, he stepped closer and smiled down at me, his hands clenched into fists at his sides until they relaxed. Then, suddenly, he reached up to cup my cheek. Somehow, I could sense his intention and my eyes fluttered closed. This was the start of our end of the world love. Where we went from here was up to us, but that was okay. Who knew what tomorrow would bring, after all?
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