“I thought I was the last person on Earth.” She stood in the doorway, hand cupped over her eyes, blocking the sun and his entrance. The sun seemed to get brighter, hotter, every day. But maybe that was early on-set menopause talking. The menopause she’d never had the chance to confirm, thanks to the world taking a crap.
“You thought you were the last person on Earth yet the door was locked?” A faded green duffle bag rested on his dusty cowboy boots.
Boots that she hated on sight. He looked her over, eyes lingering on her breasts in that appreciative way certain men had. Her heartbeat sped up. Uselessly, she looked up and down the sidewalk.
The angry buzz of bees reached her ears, the far-off howl of a hungry dog and then….
She hadn’t seen another living person in six months, hadn’t heard another voice since the radio broadcasts quit six weeks ago.
She was well and truly on her own. With him.
She instinctively took a step back. He took a step forward. She stiffened her shoulders, looked straight into his eyes, piercing and the weird blue of Christmas lights. They made her throat tighten up, but she held her ground.
He wasn’t getting into her house without a fight.
“What do you want.”
He shrugged, the tiniest evil tilt to the corner of his mouth. “Just looking for a place to rest.”
“There are a million empty houses around.”
“Yeah,” he paused, looked behind him. He would see what she did. Nothing but the burnt orange glow of a melting world and a ribbon of blacktop lying still and flat as the river Styx. “But only one with company.”
She wrapped her arms over her chest and glared.
“Come on, it’s hotter than hell out here. Surely you wouldn’t deny a man a glass of water.”
It was hot, he wasn’t lying there. Hotter everyday and the days were growing longer. Summer in Alaska long. Last night, there had been all of about four hours of darkness. Sweat beaded on her brow, gathered under her tightly shielded breasts.
She didn’t know how he stood there looking so cool in jeans, boots and a long-sleeved t-shirt. Then she saw it, a bead of sweat roll down his neck, into the collar of his shirt.
He was wrong, it wasn’t hotter than hell outside. It was hell.
“This way.” She ignored his sigh of relieve as he stepped inside and shut the door. Once closed, the house was plugged into the murky darkness of twilight. The sun, once her joy, was now rigidly barred from entering.
“Sit.” She pointed at the small oak table as she walked to the sink.
“Yes ma’am.” He grinned. It wasn’t dark enough to miss it.
Luckily the water still ran cool and plentiful. She didn’t understand the how or why when there was no electricity, or propane but she appreciated it and didn’t want to jinx her good fortune by questioning too much.
She filled a clear plastic tumbler to the brim and handed it to him. Before she could slip away, he grabbed her wrist.
“Thank you,” he said, then drank until the glass was half gone.
She pulled away, the memory of his hand a brand around her wrist. She leaned against the kitchen sink, watched him watch her and take in the kitchen and small dining room.
“Spotless,” he said.
“It was,” she said looking at his boots.
“Christ, woman-“ he paused, finished his water. “I’ll take them off.”
“You’re not staying.”
“Why are you here?” She was tired of this game, whatever he wanted, whatever his intentions, she was tired of being toyed with like a doomed mouse.
“I was in the neighborhood.”
“Bullshit.” She stretched out as far as she could to reach his empty glass and put it in the sink. “You should get back on the road.”
He laced his hands behind his neck and leaned back, lazy and graceful and so, so loud in her tiny, tidy kitchen. The delicate spokes of the chair creaked in dismay.
“We’re the last two people on earth, I thought you might be more . . . hospitable.”
“You can’t-“ she swallowed and retreated, bumping into the counter, when he stood. He was tall. Taller than her by a foot, at least. How had she forgotten that? Sweat gathered under her hair, dampened her neck. The conversation at the open door had come at a precious cost. “You can’t stay here.”
“Why not? It’s a great house.”
Because she wanted to take a cold, or cool as possible, shower and walk around naked; let the tepid, dark air lower her temperature down to somewhere under lava. And she couldn’t do that with him here.
“It’s my house and I don’t want you here.”
“It’s my house.” He sauntered closer, leaned over so she had to look up at him. His blue eyes alive and so damn bright. How did the end of the world, the threat of eminent death, not dampen them a bit? And he smelled good, like man and rain and pine trees and all the things she had spent the last year trying to forget. “And I know how to get the generator running.”
She blinked, looked around the kitchen, she felt like she had stepped into someone else’s dream.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“The generator. In the little shed out back?”
“You’re out of you mind, there’s no generator.”
“Have you been in the shed?”
“Of course!” But only once, it was dark and spidery. The garden tools were now in the garage.
“All I need is some gas and an hour,” he pinched her chin gently, “and you’ll be cool until….” His voice trailed off as he stared at something over her shoulder.
She turned, he was staring at the cardboard covered window over the sink, at the peculiar red-orange light leaking through any breach it could find.
“Until,” he said.
To be cool, even temporarily, while they fell towards the sun, or the sun fell towards them, would be a miracle. To not melt into a useless puddle of regret and remorse, tears and sweat, to have the smallest modicum of control while whatever was happening, happened, would be the most precious of gifts.
She nodded. “It’s a deal, you get the generator running – if there is one – you can stay. Until.”
They stared at each other for longs seconds.
“It’s out there.” He walked towards the back door. “It was one of the last arguments we had.”
“You bitched that I messed up your garden and tracked mud through the house.”
“You are out of you mind.” She remembered the argument, the look on his face more than the actual words. How pointless and stupid and senseless it had all been, but mostly she remembered her pride. How she had broken her own heart because she couldn’t lay down her sword.
“Then you asked if I was sleeping with my secretary.”
“No.” he paused in the door way, turned back to look at her. The blue fire of this eyes never ceased to turn her knees to fluff. “It was always you, Sarah.”
“Oh.” She believed him. Lying now, at the end of the world, at the end of them, was beneath him. She didn’t know much these days but she knew that.
“I lied,” she said.
He raised an eyebrow, one hand rested on the door knob. She knew it would be warm, unnaturally warm and in the coming days it would get hot, then hotter still.
“When you left that day, I said I wouldn’t let you back in this house if you were the last man on Earth. I lied. You’re the only man on Earth I’d have in this house.”
A slow, satisfied smile eased across his face, he wiped sweat from his forehead with back of one arm and walked outside to war with a vengeful, dying sun. For her.
“Leave those boots in the garage when you come back in!” She called.
“And that woman,” he said and even through the barrier of the door she could see the blue flash of his eyes, the ease of his smile “is why we got divorced in the first place.”