The rest of the day passed in a blur of disconnected scenes. When I wasn’t watching Evans I was apparently consigned to be the entertainment director for the SS Pilbos.
Sometimes Evans would try to speak but really not make any sense. I could tell he was in the here and now despite his closed eyes because I felt him squeeze my hand to get my attention. When he wanted something we’d play twenty questions with him squeezing my hand when I got close to what he wanted. When he made sense I knew he was not really there, at least not mentally. It was also the only time he seemed to open his eyes and I could tell he was watching a scene in his head, past or imagined, by the way his eyes moved and focused on things that weren’t really there. His periods of true wakefulness became fewer and fewer and the strength of his hand squeezes diminished as the sun went down.
Between Evans’ moments of lucidity and disconnect, Pilbos took up the rest of my time. I think if my mother had been there she would have laughed her head off and told me I was getting my just rewards. I would never admit it to another living soul but it was like looking at a male version of myself as I was a couple of years earlier. He was a nice kid and likeable in a I[m-going-to-have-to-kill-him-if-he-doesn’t-shut-up kind of way but I’d have been a lot happier to have dealt with him in smaller doses.
I also finally met some of the other women as they came in and out checking on him. Chuckri’s mother was also named Vika, like her granddaughter, though I could never bring myself to call her anything else but Mrs. Chuckri. Ludvig’s wife’s was named Joan, she wasn’t Armenian but apparently it was no scandal. Elsapet was the eldest sister of the clan. The other sisters were Anoush, Markrid, and Shoushan. Anoush’s son was the cousin that had been killed, Markrid’s husband had been an immigrant that could never acclimate to the US and left her to return to his homeland, and Shoushan’s fiancé had been a pilot whose plane fell from the sky the night of the EMP. Bedros’ wife was a tiny woman named Ani who preferred to be her husband’s shadow. Ani was Mrs. Chuckri’s sister and apparently it was a case of sisters marrying brothers. All of them seemed to have some sorrow that had hardened them but not hardened their hearts.
The matriarch of the clan was Bedros’ mother. She was even smaller than Ani and seemed ancient but one look at her face and you could see where Bedros got his presence from. I don’t think I ever heard the woman mutter more than a few words but she could send everyone running with only a glance. She wasn’t scary she just … she just seemed more there than most people did. Lines of suffering etched her face but instead of making her look sad or forbidding, it gave her power and character. It was a word from her, must have been in Armenian because I didn’t understand what she said, that finally shut Pilbos up.
Evans jumped awake a moment later. “Huh?! What?! Why’s it so quiet?” Of course it came out all garbled but I understood what he meant.
“Easy,” I told him trying not to laugh. “Everything is OK.” But then I had to explain what had happened. He fell back asleep with what looked like a half-smile on his face.
That was the last time for hours that he made a sound. He barely even moved. I slept by his side but it didn’t seem to register with him, at least not that I could tell. Sometime in the dark of the night I woke to find myself in Thor’s arms.
I jumped and tried to pull away but he held me fast. “Now why’d you want to do that? I was having such a good dream,” he murmured quietly so as not to wake up anyone.
“What … wha … is that my tarp?” I asked finally noticing that I couldn’t see anything above me.
“Yeah. I pulled it out to keep the dew off of us. The older folks are in the guest cabin and everyone else is spread out between here and there. You worried me when you didn’t even move as I put it up. You … you better now?”
“Thor … I … I’m not sure this is … OK, this is going to sound stupid after all the things I’ve done but I’m not sure this is exactly proper.”
“Ask me if I care. I’ve had to put up with listening to that kid flirt with you all afternoon.”
“Flirt? We were talking about football most of the time.”
“Yeah, he was trying to prove you two had a lot in common. You should have heard him when you went to grab some fish that Soghomon and Tovmas brought in and cooked. ‘I want me one of those.’ @#$% annoying kid.”
“Then just shoot me now and put me out of my misery. On second thought, maybe you should just run because if I’m like him you’ll be insane in short order.”
I must have surprised him because he suddenly got still and then he moved around getting more comfortable and then folded me up close to him again. I could feel his smile in my hair. “Is that right? If I had known you needed rescuing …”
“I didn’t need rescuing. I needed ear plugs. He’s nice enough but really, if I’m like that I wonder that you even imagined that you might … um …” I was embarrassed.
“That I might? Might what?”
“Never mind,” I asked refusing to sound as silly as I felt.
“Well, listen here Rochelle Charbonneau, there’s no might about how I feel. I know I promised not to push you but cut me some slack here. I thought you liked all of that flirting that kid was doing.”
“Well, if I had known that’s what he was doing I would have told him to stop. No one has ever flirted with me before, pardon me for not recognizing it.”
“I find that hard to believe.” Thor was turning into a real distraction. His hands kept wandering. They didn’t go where they weren’t supposed to but he still managed to make me feel like I might not mind it if they did.
“OK, stop that and behave,” I told him.
“I’m not doing anything wrong,” he said, adding a wicked chuckle that chuffed air in the general direction of my ear giving me the shivers.
“See, that’s what I’m talking about. If you don’t stop I’m going to get up. You’re turning me upside down.”
“Then I’m not doing good enough. My goal is to turn you inside out.”
“Argh,” I said as I tried to wiggle free.
“That’s not a good idea. Remember what I told you that your wiggling makes me feel?” he said in this intensely husky voice.
“Yeah, well in case you haven’t noticed I’m too big to be a mouse. I’m serious Thor, I’ve never played in the deep end of the pool before. I don’t know these games and … and things are too messed up for me to know whether you’re serious or not. I mean I know you’re serious about saying you … you like me and all … and I guess … OK I guess I feel things for you too … but this other stuff … uh uh … I’m not sure how serious I’m supposed to take this or if it is some kind of game. And either way … I … I …”
He was suddenly serious and pulled me close again. “I keep forgetting how young you are. Hit me with a rock the next time.”
“So … there’ll be a next time?” I asked, playing with fire just a little bit to learn how to do it.
“Lots of next times,” he said and then it was my turn to smile.
Then it was like all of the silly just went out of both of us. “Thor, can I ask what the plans are? I … I feel so out of everything?”
He ran his hand through my hair. “Have you always had short hair?”
His question was no answer but I told him anyway. “No. Actually I’ve always had long hair. I didn’t cut it until I decided to try and be a boy. It was one long braid. Believe it or not I used to be able to sit on it.”
“I wish I could have seen that,” he said playing with the curls that were starting to form near my ears.
“Stick around long enough and you will. My hair grows really fast, like the rest of me. Now that I don’t have to keep it short I’m not going to bother anymore. It’s a pain to have to keep trimming it all the time.”
I realized then what I had said. “Oh … oh I didn’t mean to … um …”
“Could you stand me being around … long enough?”
I could feel myself go hot all over. Unsure exactly how to answer him I said, “I’m not the kind of girl that would just … um … cuddle up with just anyone. In fact … I’ve done it exactly … um … never. So … you know … you can take that and … and think about it.”
He paused, “No one? Not even … Jonathon?”
I sighed, “Jonathon was my best friend. We did a life time of stuff together. He seemed to think we should … er … add another layer to that but … but I was less … certain. I just wasn’t ready to lose my best friend over it. But of all the things we did … cuddling wasn’t one of them.”
He was quiet and I was about to ask him my question again when he said, “I’m going to get you a big stick. Something like a club.”
I was wondering if I’d missed a whole conversation in there some place. “Huh?”
“My skull’s thick. You’re going to have to beat me off with a stick.”
“O … kay?”
He kissed my forehead. “Rochelle, I don’t mean to rush you so if or when you need me to slow down tell me. I can wait. I plan on being around to see your hair get as long as you claim it does. I plan on a lot of things. And I’m a patient man. So just tell me. But don’t shut me out. Or run. We’ll work everything else out to our … mutual satisfaction.”
I swear that man is lethal in more ways than one. I may have been inexperienced but I wasn’t stupid. The way he talked made me feel like a moth and he was a bug light. I wondered briefly if the bugs felt any pain when they got zapped as I turned and kissed Thor somewhere between his whiskery chin and his mouth.
He didn’t need much encouragement but then it was his turn to sit up gasping for air. “Ok … you sit there and I think I better go get some air.”
“But you didn’t tell me about what the plans are,” I complained mildly, secretly pleased to find that he wasn’t the only one with some power to stir things up between us.
I could feel him looking at me in the dark and trying to decide just how far he could stretch his will power. “Humph. I guess I did kind of get distracted.” However, rather than us lying back down we sat up to talk. It seemed the safer thing to do for both of us.
“Ludvig and Joan own some property in western Kentucky. It already has quite a few improvements to it, including an old house that is dried in although it was used as a storage building by the previous owner who lived in a trailer on the land. It’s eighty acres; half of it fields with the remainder in woodlot, orchard, large animal barns, a couple of old tobacco barns, and I stopped listening after that. When they bought the property they went out of their way to get to know their neighbors and to take care of the fence line and their part of the road maintenance first so they don’t expect any troubles moving their full time, assuming they’ve got any neighbors left. The family has agreed to move there. The winters are milder and the growing season longer than what they’ve got in this part of Missouri.”
“So, the crew is going to help them get there?”
“That’s the general idea. Get them there and then help prepare for the winter. It’s only the beginning of July but that doesn’t leave much time.”
I was silent, thinking again of home. Things were turning a lot more complicated than I had ever expected them to. I told him, “That’s a lot of miles. How are we going to manage to move this many people?”
I stiffened. “I … I …”
“Because if you really meant ‘we’ and weren’t just saying it because I wanted to hear you say it, I’d be a very happy man.”
I swallowed, “I … guess I meant it.”
“You guess?” he asked getting tense himself.
“Thor, can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” he answered though he really didn’t sound sure.
“Do you have a home someplace? I mean, you keep talking about helping Chuckri’s family but I’ve never heard you say anything about a place of your own.” And suddenly a thought struck me. “I don’t even know what your real name is.”
He reached over in the dark and though we didn’t lay back down he pulled me towards him so that my back was against his chest. After a moment that left me wondering if he was going to answer me he said, “Thoresen … Gunnar Thoresen … but I haven’t been called anything but Thor in years.”
“Um … Gunnar?” The name just didn’t fit him as far as I could tell.
“Yeah, my father was the only one that ever called me that though. Mom called me Erik, my middle name which was also her father’s name. Neither name has anything to do with who I am today. I’d really prefer if you just continued to call me Thor.”
“About the way that I asked you to call me Rocky?” I asked.
“OK, I deserved that. But I doubt I would even think to answer you if you call me anything but Thor. You answered when I called you Rochelle.” I felt the smile against my ear.
“Ha ha. What about … you know … family, home, relatives?”
“Anyone that ever meant anything to me or cared is gone. Home disappeared even before that. I’ve got a storage shed full of gear outside of Clarksville, Tennessee but nothing that I can’t live without if it’s gone.”
After a moment of silence he asked, “Now can I ask why you were asking?”
I sighed. “I so do not want to mess things up. Thor, I … I can’t stay with Chuckri’s family. I need to go home. I just … I just need to. And I want to do it before winter sets in.” I hunched my shoulders waiting for him to tell me all of the reasons why it was a stupid idea or impossible.
“We worked a map up. It’s going to take a good five hundred and fifty miles to get Chuckri’s family where they are going. I can’t say how much further it would be from there to your home because you’ve never told me where it is.”
I tried to listen for Evans’ breathing in the dark. It was still there but sounded a little more labored than it had earlier in the day. “Evans said he would come with me but now look at him. What if I ask you to come with me and something then happens to you?”
He was quiet and then said, “You don’t think … tell me you don’t think Evans’ injuries are some … some kind of jinx.”
I sighed. “When you say it like that it sounds stupid.”
“As I recall the story you saved Evans from those gamblers that did him the injury that put him here.”
“But the greenies …”
Impatience entered his voice. “You’re being ridiculous. Those people are crazy and if they weren’t looking for one excuse they’d start looking for another.”
“I’ve heard so much …”
His shaking head brushed his chin against my ear. “Listen to me. People like that … that’s what they want. They want to … to demoralize whatever target they’ve chosen as enemy. They want to leave a lasting impression that makes them seem better, stronger, smarter and more than everyone else. But they aren’t. They’re just fanatics and that’s all they are. They don’t have super powers and neither do you.”
I tried to explain, “I’m a GWB ...”
“And I’m a pain in the @#$. Those people were a whole ‘nother level of crazy but their insanity isn’t your fault.”
“Lord I want you to be right. It just seems that my whole life they’ve always been waiting to finish the job they started before we were all born. They also attacked anyone associated with us. And if it wasn’t the greenies directly it was other people that bought into their lies about us and what we were. You should have heard some of the rumors about us that were eventually traced back to them. They … or their mindset … were everywhere.”
“Rochelle, listen to me. The GWBs aren’t the only bad things the greenies have done. They aren’t the only group of people they attacked or tried to manipulate. They aren’t the only cause they ever had. The umbrella organization ran from cause to cause. The only thing consistent about them was how inconsistent they were. They did a horrible thing to you … and others … but the more power you give them, the more you make yourself a victim, the more the balance gets tipped in their favor. Frankly it wasn’t until they got mixed up with the Twelvers that had access to the kind of organization and control that could pull off some of the things they did. Try and remember that and not take everything so personally.”
He sounded like my dad the few times I’d spoken of my fears growing up. That had to be a good thing.
“I’ll … I’ll try. Mostly I think because I want to believe your version of history.” Neither one of us said anything and I grew nearly too sleepy to open my eyes but I had one last question. “Thor?”
“Hmm?” he asked sounding as tired as I felt.
“Would you … would you come with me? To see if my home is still there? If it is … it’s a good place to live.”
I felt him smile against my ear again as he gently lay back so that we could go back to sleep. “I thought you’d never ask.”