“Hey!” I shouted with a giggle. The strength behind Lin’s bite surprised me. She sometimes got a little too into the moment. We both giggled some more before rolling back under the blankets. Sunlight filtered through the thin curtains as we lay in each other’s arms, the golden rays warming our flushed faces more. We were fortunate to be here. Not everyone was as lucky as us. She pulled me closer and I nuzzled into her shoulder. Our luxury didn’t last long. A loud bell chimed through the house, startling us out of bed. We quickly dressed, Lin in her usual shorts and T-shirt, I in sweatpants and a crop top.
Lin reached the door first, she grasped the silver knob and let the bright light flood in. Before us stood yet another fortunate couple, willing to wish us welcome to the neighborhood.
“Goodmorning!” the woman tried her best to be bubbly, but we all knew there was little left to rejoice in, “I’m Shelby and this is Garret, we just wanted to introduce ourselves and give you this.”
She handed Lin a wrapped package, I assumed it was yet another mirror. As far as housewarming gifts went, mirrors seemed to be the new fruit basket.
“Thank you so much,” Lin put on her well-practiced “customer service” voice, “I’m Lin and this is Ginny.”
I never understood the relevance of small talk and was thus, not good at it. So I let the three of them converse for a while, certain that Shelby and Garret only showed up to snoop. Like everyone else, they only wanted to check us out, make sure we were normal. Once they left, Lin and I unpacked the gift. Yup, it was a mirror. I appreciated where the overabundance of caution came from. I felt safer than I had the past year now that we lived in Sunvale. Yeah, the name of the settlement was cheesy, they all were. But people were frightened.
Lin somehow managed to find a place for the new mirror. Pretty soon, our collection would move from tastefully placed decor to a paranoid clutter. I didn’t mind though. Lin coasted through the whole disaster like it was only a minor inconvenience. I knew, though, that she took it as seriously as I did. She just didn’t let it show. It was for me that she hung all the mirrors, bought sheer curtains, no blinds, and even changed careers so we could move into Sunvale. I owed her so much, but she’d never made me feel in her debt. I guess that’s just how love worked. I determined to make it up to her nonetheless.
We went about the rest of our day as usual. Our week of “vacation” neared its end. We spent the entire week setting up the house, making sure everything sat in its proper place. By the end of the day, Lin’s body ached from arranging and rearranging everything, and the massive amount of cleaning products left my hands red and dry. After our first year of dating, we moved in together and decided we needed to cook more, eat less fast food and generally be healthier. Mostly we stuck to it, but this week had been absolutely exhausting. We decided one more delivery meal wouldn’t kill us.
For all our differences, we both loved pizza. Melty cheese, extra sauce, basil, sundried tomatoes, and a generous portion of garlic. We psyched ourselves up as we waited patiently - well, sort of patiently - for the deliciousness to arrive. Finally, our doorbell rang and Lin popped out of her seat without hesitation. Lin took the pizza as I paid. The sun sat dangerously low on the horizon. We’d lost track of time and our pizza had to be the last one the kid delivered for the day. I noticed the slightly nervous look on the kid’s face and truly felt bad. I added a generous tip, and bid him a speedy return home.
Lin already had the plates out and sitting next to extraordinarily full wine glasses. We ate like ravenous pigs, joking about how horrible our breath would be. But we were happy. I didn’t care if she tasted like garlic, and she didn’t care I was still on the chubby side. None of it really mattered in the end, as long as we kept each other close.
Afterward, we cleared the table and did the dishes together before sitting down to watch some TV. Nothing terribly interesting caught our attention, so Lin put on the news. I hated watching the news. For the past year, it told the same story. I hated it, but I knew it was also important to be informed. The reporter, with a long face and dark eyes, read the death toll. He updated us on the progress of a vaccine - there was none. Then, he reiterated all the precautions we were legally bound to take. Though we lived in the safest place we could, we were well aware of how many people weren’t living in guarded neighborhoods. We went to bed that night feeling grateful for all we had, and sorrow for all those who still lived in the open.
Lin woke up and left for work before I even left the bed, as usual. I rolled back over, snuggling under the blankets, but my brain refused to go back to sleep. By the time my alarm buzzed, my aching head, soar throat, and sensitive skin told me I was definitely calling in sick. After calling work, I called Lin. She promised to be home with smoothies and medicine as soon as she finished work. My puffy, oversized robe and I meandered down the hall. Before I plopped onto the couch and parked my ass in front of the TV for the whole day, I nearly fainted.
I stumbled over my feet, tripping until my back thudded against the wall and I slunk to the floor. I wanted to throw up. But it wasn’t the sickness, it was what I saw in the mirror. It couldn’t be true though. My fever created it, an illusion. Slowly, I rose on my wobbly legs and peeked back into the mirror to ease my mind. My mind did the opposite. As I stared into the reflective surface, only our hallway wallpaper stared back. My hands shot out behind me, bracing me before I fell back again. This is the newest one! Maybe this was the neighbor’s sick attempt at humor. Prank mirrors had become a thing, for some dumb reason. I didn’t understand the type of humor. Probably because tricking people into thinking they harbored a deadly disease wasn’t funny.
I moved as fast as possible to the next mirror, then another, and another. I didn’t stop until I’d looked in every mirror we owned. The same nothingness stared back at me in every single one. I managed to crawl onto the couch, fighting back tears. A sinking weight filled my stomach, ice numbed my limbs, and my thoughts ate away at themselves. I couldn’t stay here, this was only the first stage. But I couldn’t go anywhere either. Not without risking death, either at the hands of the police or hunters.
I wracked my brain trying to figure out how or where I’d contracted it. We’d spent the whole week in our home. We used the approved food delivery services and our only visitors were neighborhood confirmed residents. After what seemed like hours of fervent overthinking, I decided to call Lin. She needed to know. Shaking, sweaty hands grappled for the phone as I clicked on her name then dial.
Lin sat in her faux leather office chair staring at the list of neverending tasks on her computer. She badly wished that after-lunch naps were acceptable. She took a long sip of her icy water and prepared to push through the second half of the day when her phone rang.
“Hello, this is Lin,” she answered automatically in her business call voice.
“Hi Lin, this is Dr. Oren,” the caller surprised Lin. It took a moment for her to register who the man on the line was.
“Oh, um, is there something wrong?” She was completely in the dark as to why anyone from the CDC would be calling her. She and Ginny tested negative as both infected and as carriers before they could move into Sunvale. They mailed her results the day she applied for residency. She still had the letter on her desk.
“I’m afraid so,” his tone was apologetic, “unfortunately there was a mix-up with our records. I have to inform you that you are a carrier of the Vampirus Morbus virus. You need to disclose this to your residency, it will not affect your eligibility, and immediately start following the guidelines for carriers. I cannot stress enough, that you are only a carrier, not infected...”
“Thank you,” Lin's soft words cut him off as the phone slipped from her hands. She would have stricter guidelines to follow. They would require extra work and planning but would be not a problem. If she hadn’t accidentally bitten Ginny the day before.