"Are you kidding me?" Bernard snapped, kicking a trash can that was lying in the middle of the street across the sidewalk. "I'm so sick of driving! Let's just forget it, Olivia. I am not going all the way to Utah."
I stared at the spray paint on the road and sighed. "You can stay. I don't care if I have to drive for a thousand years. If there's even a one percent chance that there are other people at the end of this journey, it's worth it."
He didn't say anything, just wandered off amid the debris, kicking things and glaring at the sky.
We'd found each other about a month ago. I was wondering around the docks on the coast of Maine and he was sitting there at the end of one, fishing for his supper. I thought I was imagining him at first, some trick of the light. His salt and pepper hair glinted with water droplets by the waters, his gray coat and deep brown skin almost camouflage in the fog. I remembered shivering and thinking 'zombie apocalypse,' but I forced myself to shake it off and approached him. He fell in the water when he saw me, shocked. At that time, he'd had a messy beard- I remembered thinking how gross it was as I threw him a rope and helped pull him out of the water. Strange how my first thoughts were so silly upon meeting the first human I'd seen in so long. As if beards mattered!
Thankfully, though, he shaved it, and we formed a friendship of sorts, as much as two people thirty years apart can connect. After a few days of getting to know each other, we concluded if we still roamed the earth, others might, too. We packed up some stuff and hit the road. After a few days of driving around, we came across a poster in a rat infested Walmart. He snapped a picture of it with a self-developing camera and grabbed a map, heading straight for MoMO, our silly- well, my silly name for the town.
Bernard got frustrated easily, so I gave him some space and let him punt his little heart out. After about twenty minutes, he'd wandered far enough that I had to follow the sound of cursing and thumping to find him. He'd managed to bruise his foot and was limping around, trying to make his way back to me through a collapsed pile of house.
"Idiot," I muttered, climbing over a crumbling roof to help him. "C'mon, old fart, let's get going."
"I told you to stop calling me that," he grunted as we headed back to our little motor home.
When I finally got him calmed down and seated at the table with a hot cup of cocoa, we pulled out the map and charted the quickest route to Utah.
"Looks like it'll be about a full day and night of driving to reach Bluff," I estimated. We can take shifts," I suggested. "Assuming they have directions posted somewhere nearby, we could find them in a few days after we take a break there."
"Fine, fine, girly. Let's find something to eat and head on over to Utah." He finished his hot chocolate and stood up, wincing when he put weight on his foot.
"Why don't you take your shoes off and put your feet up? I'll go find us something good, maybe some beef stew and fresh bread."
He threw a smelly sock at me. "You like to torture me, you want to see me go gray," he barked.
"What's left to go gray?" I called back as I ducked out of the doorway.
I came back about an hour later, a couple bags in my arms with a few canned goods and bags of chips and jerky that hadn't been damaged or lost their air. We ate quickly and then hit the road, him relaxing in the back and giving me directions from his little bed. I was on a 165 mile stretch when he fell asleep. I didn't wake him up for his first shift- he was the grumpiest git to wake up, I swear. Instead I stopped to check the map, parking in the middle of the road every once in a while to reference it till I got to the next stretch- over 550 miles straight. When I started to drift off and swerve, I stopped and shook him up.
He made himself a big cup of black coffee, listening to me catch him up on where we were. When he pulled out, I curled up in my bed and passed out.
I woke up and looked out the window to see us parked outside a nice hotel. Bernard wasn't around, so I got up and went inside to check it out. He'd left a note at the front desk with his room number on it and directions to leave him the hell alone for the day, so I grabbed a few keys, found a clean room, and scribbled my number on the back and left it for him before I settled in, helping myself to the spirits in the minibar and wandering around buzzed. I aired out the dusty sheets and opened the window to let in some fresh air.
I finally got tired of the minibar and dozed off on the bed. It wasn't long before Bernard pounded on my door, so I stumbled over half asleep and half drunk to open it.
"Whoo!" he said, waving a hand in front of his face. "You been in the liquor, I see. I wanted to tell you I found an address at the local grocery store, along with some smoked salmon that probably won't kill you. Let's go. It's about a five hour drive to get to the address they left, so let's get going. I guess I'll be driving, even though it's your turn," he grumbled.
I would've protested, but I started hiccuping and he walked away, shaking his head.
Mildly wasted or not, I was so effing excited as we started off. I ignored his dark predictions about chasing ghosts around the country, finding another address, never seeing anyone else. I drowned myself in energy drinks and water, determined to be sober when we met whoever awaited us at our destination.
"Please be a cute guy, please be a cute guy," I chanted as we rounded a bend before the last turn to the road the house was supposed to be on.
"Please be a sane person, whoever you are, and deliver me from the company of this nutter butter," Bernard prayed.
We took the last turn around some thick trees hiding a beautiful big old house at the end of the long private road we were now driving down. It really was a marvel- huge white columns, solar panels, a few balconies off of upstairs bedrooms, livestock milling about the front lawn on the left, kept in by a hand built fence of wood and wire. There was even a porch swing!
We pulled up a respectful distance from the house and I leapt out, trying not to run like a crazy person up to the front door. Bernard limped out after me, his foot a little better but still troubling him, so I slowed down and we headed up to the front door.
We'd only made it about halfway up the long walkway when three women filed out, followed by three men. The first girl was tiny, barely over five feet with wild red hair that fell to her hips. She looked like a doll walking toward us, her feet bare, her bright green sundress flaring about her in the light breeze. The other two chicks were taller than me, and the first woman behind her looked like she belonged on stage with an electric guitar. She had long black hair, a perfect face, the legs of a Victoria's Secret model, and was pulling off a pair of distressed jeans and black crop top I wouldn't ever dare to wear. And why would someone that tall need 6-inch heels?
The last woman was older, not quite as ancient as Bernard's fifty years, but definitely the oldest of their group. She was still pretty beautiful for an older woman, the lines in her face soft, and she wasn't going gray yet. Her hair was wavy and just past her shoulders, over a flowing blouse that covered the top of her nice jeans. She didn't look like someone who would bake me cookies, she was too angular. Too bad. My grandma used to make the best chocolate chip peanut butter cookies ever.
The women were great, I was happy to see them, but when the men filed out, I almost started drooling. Pretty much any male close to my age would've got me going at this point, but for the last men on Earth, they were pretty good looking. The first one was the tallest, with very dark brown hair, fair skin, and a very sexy shadow of stubble darkening the angles of his face. But I saw him put a hand on the doll-woman's shoulder, so I dismissed him with a bit of disappointment. I hope they weren't all partnered up already. No way was I hooking up with the old fart.
The second guy was barely an inch shorter than the first, and definitely Asian. His skin was tanned nicely and he looked a little more solid than the first guy who was more on the graceful side of manly. He and the other didn't touch either of the tall women, so I had some hope there, too. Both he and the first guy were dressed in jeans and button-ups. Hopefully they weren't a last cult on Earth.
The last guy was the shortest of the men, and also appeared to be the youngest- and cutest. He had sandy blond hair, a big beautiful smile on his face, and freckles. He was also a lot sturdier looking than the other two and was dressed more casually in athletic shorts and a t-shirt.
The doll seemed to be their emissary- she came slowly toward us, her man trailing her at a distance like a guardian angel.
"Hello," she said beaming, stopping about ten feet back with her hands out, empty. "My name is Genevieve! I'm so happy you made it here, I can't believe there were more people out there!"
Bernard stepped forward, hand outstretched to shake. "I'm Bernard, ma'am, and this nut here is Olivia. It's nice to see this place whole. I was afraid we'd run into another natural disaster and have to keep tracking you guys."
"I was expecting just one person!" I blurted out. "I can't believe how many of us there are!"
"Alex and Kathy arrived just over a week ago, so we can all get to know each other together. Would you like to come inside and eat? We just finished making lunch."
Bernard beamed back at her. "That sounds pretty damn amazing," he said, and we followed her inside.
We got introductions out of the way while we ate the best lunch I'd had in years. Everything was fresh from the garden or livestock and I felt so welcomed by them all- they were so friendly and genuinely excited to have us here. They showed us the remaining rooms and we took our pick, moving the few things we had inside with the blonde's- Phineas's- help. He was flirting with me pretty heavily, but it was nothing compared to how Kathy, the older lady, and Bernard were acting. They kept making eyes at each other and referencing obscure things from past decades- it was nauseating. Yeah, I was happy they were getting on so well, but seriously, get a room.
Alex and Baxter were clearly in the early stages of an awkward, slightly mismatched coupling. They sat near each other, but stiffly, making sure not to touch. They avoided addressing each other during group conversations and looked away when they made eye contact, like they didn't want to label their relationship or admit they were together or something.
The most subtle of relationships seemed to exist between Everett, the fairest man, and Genevieve, the doll. They seemed connected even when they weren't touching, moving at the same time in some strange harmony, taking care of each other in the simplest ways. She needed a cup she couldn't reach, but he knew before she did, and she accepted it automatically- things like that. It didn't feel like some machine memorization of each other's routine, just an odd joint intuition, anticipation. I'd never seen two people work like that. You could almost feel their connection in the small glances they shared. I found myself grateful they didn't finish each other's sentences, and jealous of what they had at the same time.
We spent three blissful months in that house, it was unreal. I wish it had never ended.