The IV still hangs on the pole next to the bed, and the oxygen tank is on the floor under the bed. The needle and tubing for the IV and the cannula for the oxygen rest on the mattress where I dropped them the night I took Alex away from here to die in peace. The book we were reading together lies facedown on the mattress, open to the page where we left off. Everything is frozen in time, except the most important part. Alex is gone and he isn’t coming back.
Alex’s bookcases still droop alarmingly, although they aren’t as orderly as they once were. It appears the looters rifled through them, probably looking for stray cash tucked in the pages of the books. I force myself to cross the room and scan the shelves for anything that might indicate where Emily has gone. I also check the desk, but find nothing in either place.
I cross to the bed and can’t help myself. Picking up the pillow, I hug it to my chest, burying my nose in it. I catch the last whiff of Alex’s shampoo, the same fruity-spicy scent he always used. I’m aware this isn’t good for me and it’s not helping us with our mission, so I reluctantly put it down. But I can’t resist one other thing. Grabbing the book, I fold down the corner of the page we were on and tuck it in my waistband next to the gun. It’s sentimental and dumb, but I want to remember our reading time.
When I turn to leave, Ares is standing in the doorframe, watching me with an expression that is both pitying and concerned. I can stand the latter, but I don’t need his pity.
“Don’t say anything,” I warn as I push past him and head down the hall toward Emily’s room.
“I just came to see if you’re okay. I figured this would be hard for you.”
“Just getting up in the morning is hard for me, but I do it,” I say. “I’ll be okay.”