After Sam hit me on the nose, I burst out of the bathroom, soaking wet, whereupon I smacked into Ben Parish’s chest. Ben was lurking in the hallway as if every little thing that has to do with Sam is his responsibility, the aforesaid little shit screaming obscenities at my back, the only dry part of my body after trying to wash his, and Ben Parish, the living reminder of my father’s favorite saying that it’s better to be lucky than smart, gave me that ridiculous what’s up? look, so stupidly cute that I was tempted to break his nose, thereby making him not so damn Ben Parish–y looking.
“You should be dead,” I said to him. I know I just wrote that I was going to kill Evan, but you need to understand—oh, screw it. No one is ever going to read this. By the time I’m gone, there won’t be anyone who can read. So this isn’t being written for you, future reader who won’t exist. It’s for me.
“Probably,” Ben said.
“What are the odds that someone I knew from before would still be here now?”
He thought about it. Or pretended to think about it: He’s a guy. “About seven billion to one?”
“I think that would be seven billion to two, Ben,” I said. “Or three point five billion to one.”
“Wow. That much?” He jerked his head toward the bathroom door. “What’s up with Nugget?”
“Sam. His name is Sam. Call him Nugget again and I’ll knee you in yours.”
He smiled. Then he either pretended to get what I said a beat later or he immediately understood what I said, but anyway, the smile morphed into a tight-lipped look of wounded pride. “They’re slightly larger than nuggets. Slightly.” Then click! the smile flashed back on. “Want me to talk to him?”
I told him I didn’t give a shit what he did; I had better things to do, like killing Evan Walker.
I stormed down the hallway, into the living room, still close enough—or not far enough away—to hear Sam yell, “I don’t care, Zombie. I don’t care, I don’t care. I hate her,” past Dumbo and Megan sitting on the sofa working on a jigsaw puzzle somebody found in the kids’ room, a scene from a Disney cartoon or something, and their eyes cut away as I barreled past, like Don’t mind us, we won’t stop you, you’re good, nobody saw nothin’.
Outside on the porch it’s cold as hell because spring refuses to come. Spring is never coming because extinction events piss it off. Or the Others have engineered another Ice Age just because they can, because why settle for doomed humans when you can have cold, starving, and miserable doomed humans? So much more satisfying that way.
He was leaning on the railing to take the weight off his bad ankle, the rifle nestled in the crook of his arm, wearing his uniform of a wrinkled plaid shirt and skinny jeans. His face lit up when he saw me banging open the screen door. His eyes drank me in. Oh, the Evanness of it all, how he gulps down my presence like a guy stumbling upon an oasis in the desert.
I slapped him.
“Why did you just hit me?” he asked, after racking ten thousand years’ worth of alien wisdom for the answer.
“Do you know why I’m wet?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Why are you wet?”
“I was giving my baby brother a bath. Why was I giving him a bath?”
“Because he was dirty?”
“For the same reason I spent a week cleaning up this dump after we moved in.” She may have been a supercharged, technologically enhanced alien-human hybrid with the looks of a Norwegian ice princess and the heart to match, but Grace was a terrible housekeeper. Dust piled in every corner like snowdrifts, mold growing on top of mold, a kitchen that would make a hoarder blush. “Because that’s what human beings do, Evan. We don’t live in filth. We bathe. We wash our hair and we brush our teeth and we shave off unwanted hair—”
“Sam needs to shave?” Trying to be funny.
“Shut up! I’m talking. When I talk, you don’t talk. When you talk, I don’t talk. That’s another thing humans do. They treat each other with respect. Respect, Evan.”
He nodded somberly. “Respect,” he echoed—which made me even angrier. He was handling me.
“It’s all about respect. Being clean and not stinking like a pig is about respect.”
“Pigs don’t stink.”
“Well, I grew up on a farm, that’s all.”
I shook my head. “Oh no, that isn’t all. That isn’t half of all. The part of you I slapped didn’t grow up on any goddamned farm.”
He left his rifle leaning against the railing and limped over to the swing. He sat. He gazed off into the middle distance. “It isn’t my fault Sam needed a bath.”
“Of course it’s your fault. All of this is your fault.”
He looked at me, and his tone was controlled. “Cassie, I think you should go back inside now.”
“What, before you lose your temper? Oh, please lose it for once. I would love to see what that looks like.”
“No, I’m not.” As I realized how badly I was shaking, standing in front of him in my wet clothes. Icy water dripped down the back of my neck and traced a path down my spine. I folded my arms over my chest and willed my (freshly brushed, very clean) teeth to stop chattering.
“Sam’s forgotten his ABCs,” I informed him.
He stared at me for a long four seconds. “I’m sorry, what?”
“His ABCs. You know, the alphabet, you intergalactic swineherd.”
“Well.” His eyes wandered from my face to the empty road across from the empty yard that stretched toward empty horizons over which there were more empty roads and woods and fields and towns and cities, the world one big hollowed-out gourd, a slop bucket of emptiness. Emptied by things like him, the whatever-he-was before he inserted himself into a human body like a hand up a puppet’s ass.
He leaned forward and shrugged out of his jacket, the same stupid bowling jacket he showed up in at the old hotel (The Urbana Pinheads), and held it out.
Maybe I shouldn’t have taken it. I mean, the pattern kept repeating itself: I’m cold, he warms me. I’m hurt, he heals me. I’m hungry, he feeds me. I’m down, he picks me up. I’m like the hole at the beach that keeps filling up with water.