Cody gave a surprised “Mmmf,” but made no attempt to break off the kiss. He let go of her arm and pulled her closer; she shifted his way. Cody had hoped this would happen, but he was used to suppressing that kind of hope. There were two girls left in the world more or less his age; the first showed no interest but the second seemed to understand him and showed plenty of interest. All the assholes are gone, he thought, and now I’ve got a girlfriend. It only took the end of the world to make it happen.
Still kissing, they leaned back onto the bed. A crackling noise stopped them. “The chips,” Cody whispered. “Let’s put everything on the floor.”
They got the bed cleaned off and were about to resume when a pounding at the front door interrupted them. “What the —”
“I hope everything’s okay,” Sondra said; they hurried to the front door.
Max stood there in the dusk. “What’s up?” Cody said. “How did you find the place?”
“Tina gave me directions,” Max said with a shrug. “Once I turned onto the street, the only house with a generator running and lights on had to be you.”
“What are you doing here?” Sondra let go of Cody’s shoulder. She crossed her arms and glared.
“I was going to ask you that,” Max said, stepping just inside. “You took off, and didn’t tell anyone where you were going. Just because we’re in suburbia doesn’t mean we can stop being careful.”
“Well, if you’d have thought about it you could have figured it out,” Sondra snapped. “Everyone else was at Tina’s, and I don’t have my own house here yet, so logic should have told you we’d be here.”
“You didn’t answer me.”
“If you want to blame someone, blame me,” Cody cut in. “Sondra said this would be a perfect day if she could pig out on junk food and play video games. I have both of them here, so I invited her over.”
“You can stay out of this,” Max snapped. “I wasn’t talking to — shit, don’t tell me you’re wasting gas just to play video games — of all the irresponsible —”
Cody swelled up and stormed right up to Max. “The hell you say! I don’t know how you roll downtown, but out here my place means my place. The HOA all drove off, so there’s nobody left to tell me what I can or can’t fucking do in my own damn house! I ain’t letting anyone I just met today tell me my business!”
Max opened his mouth, shut it, stopped, stepped back. “Are you using gas just for a damn video game?”
“Duh. I’ve got a refrigerator and a freezer full of meat and fish and stuff. I guess we’ll have to start hunting when that’s gone, so I run it a few hours a day to keep it all cold.”
“Yeah… so what were you playing?”
“Grand Prix Racing,” Sondra said. “I suppose you’ll want to see the paused game on the screen to prove it.”
“I don’t guess that’s necessary,” Max said. “When are you coming back down?”
“I might just stay here,” she said. “There’s — how many bedrooms?”
“Three,” said Cody, stepping back next to Sondra.
“Three bedrooms. I’m sure I can find a place to sleep.”
“Yeah. Just make sure you tell him about Philip before you ‘bed down’.”
Sondra’s eyes grew wide and she swelled up. “That’s low!” she barked, slapping her right side; Max’s eyes grew wide at the gesture. “Get out, you queer son of a bitch!” She kicked the door; it hit Max and bounced back, staggering him onto the porch. She slammed it shut and started crying.
Max raised his hand to open the door, then lowered it. He shook his head and turned away.
Cody stood stunned for a moment, then thought: She’s my girlfriend now. I’ve got to do something. “Hey. It’s all right,” he said. She let him lead her around the coffee table to the couch in the living room. He held her while she cried, stroking her hair and whispering “it’s all right,” over and over. He thought it sounded dumb, but couldn’t think of anything else to say.
Sondra grew quiet, and finally wiped her eyes with the bottom of her t-shirt, giving Cody a brief glimpse of the bottom of her bra. “Asshole. Max, I mean,” she said. “Comes to check up on us, and brings up Philip —”
“My ex-boyfriend. He broke up with me about a month ago, then he disappeared Wednesday evening. We think he drove off. I’ve really felt bad about that. I wouldn’t sleep with him, that’s why he broke up with me.”
“What does Max care?”
“Philip was his nephew. I think he blames me for him driving off. He doesn’t know. Sometimes I blame myself for him driving off anyway.”
“You shouldn’t. You know what I think?”
“The drive-offs. They were the ones who wanted everyone to be like them, or who wanted to be like someone else. That’s why all the preps and jocks drove off first thing. This Philip asshole wanted you to be his idea of a girlfriend. Not too many people want to just be themselves, or let other people be themselves. That’s us. We live, we let live, we ignore the call of the pickup.”
Sondra thought about it for a few seconds. “That sounds… logical, I guess. But what does it mean?”
He took her shoulders and gave her a ferocious grin. “It means we’re free! We can be ourselves, and nobody’s around to try to make us be different! Makes me wonder how Max didn’t drive off.”
“He was probably upset. Tonight, I mean. He’s right about not letting our guard down… I know you heard Charles talk about what happened over the weekend, but maybe you had to be there to really understand.”
“Yeah. The only people we met before you guys was Tim and Sara, and Tim had a run-in with a looter. But other than that, we haven’t seen anyone else.”
“Hm. If your theory is true, maybe all the other suburbanites drove off. They mostly seemed like the cookie-cutter type.”
“Some are. The HOA people, definitely. There’s probably more real people, people like us, holed up here and there. We just need to find them.”
They held each other on the couch, in the darkened living room, for a long while as dusk became night. The generator hummed in the background, chugging occasionally as the refrigerator or freezer kicked on. Cody finally spoke up: “Sondra? Have you ever… you know…”
“Had sex? No.”
“Neither have I.”
“So neither one of us knows what to do, right?”
Cody chuckled. “I don’t care. Tonight, just having a girlfriend is enough. If you want to sleep with me — I mean sleep — I wouldn’t mind, though.”
“I’d like that, Cody.”
“I was okay being by myself before, but now I’d rather have you with me than be alone. I guess things are different.”
“Yeah. So which bed do we get? Yours?”
“The master bedroom is more comfortable. Besides, if we change our minds about the sex, there’s condoms in the nightstand.”
Sondra laughed. “Always planning ahead. How long do you let the generator run?”
“Another hour or two. Do you want to go back to the race?”
“I’ve got a better idea,” she said, and kissed him again.