The ConnectionHands rummaged in toppled and singed garbage cans; eyes searched frantically for anything that could be called edible, but all in vain.
“There can’t be no food,” Natalya complained.
“We’re going about this wrongly. We need to scour the forest or something if we’re hoping for something to eat. I could find a couple of berries. We could eat insects.”
“Natalya, it’s our only option.” David’s grey eyes tried intently to convince her, and
I followed them slowly, lingering behind while David talked about some of his adventures. For some reason, I didn’t really want to hear. If he’d been talking to me, I would have been all over him, trying to remember every word he told me because I loved the sound of his voice.
But he wasn’t speaking to me.
The sound of Natalya’s laughter drifted towards me, and I was confused as to how they could even smile in their situation. But then again, they weren’t a soul without a body, longing to be seen again. I would reverse Justin’s experiment, no matter the consequences. If David knew I was alive, life wouldn’t be so bland anymore.
I finally let myself catch up to them.
“…never understood you and Justin,” David was saying.
Natalya blushed in the heat. “Right,” She whispered.
I reached out to her mentally, trying to express my concern. What could she be going through? I knew they had been close. What had Natalya been suffering as she had to listen to David complain about losing me? What could she be thinking, with Justin out of her life forever? They’d been close…
“You don’t have to say anything, if you don’t want to,” David said.
Natalya’s smile looked forced. “I don’t mind. Justin was… something of a mystery to me when I first met him. We were kind of forced to hang out at first, what with you and Rose always wanting to be alone. And then… I don’t know. It happened so gradually that I didn’t even realize I was falling for him.”
“How long?” David asked, mirroring my thoughts.
“Just a few weeks. We weren’t sure what was going on, but we had planned to tell you the night you got back… That is, before the world…” Natalya shrugged painfully. I couldn’t help the sorrow rising in my imagined chest, and the hurt I would feel in my throat if I had been in my body.
David nodded in understanding and brushed his hand against some plants. “I would have thought the plants would be more… destroyed, if you know what I mean.”
“They withstood the wrath of the human race,” Natalya said, a hint of melodrama in her voice.
David laughed and plucked a berry from a nearby tree, popping it in his mouth. “This is good. Try one.”
Natalya looked skeptical as she took a few, chewing slowly. “A little bit sour… But good enough. There’s not point in complaining.”
“Let’s go back to the school.”
“Back?” Natalya looked a bit frightened at the prospect.
She gulped visibly, and I wondered why she would balk at the idea, especially since she was so sure there were survivors. Natalya shrugged. “Okay. Let’s go.”
“Wait, I want to know why you don’t want to go.”
“It’s… I mean, think about it. I don’t want to face it. It’ll just remind me. Here, it’s so much more unrealistic. I know it’s stupid. Don’t judge me. I’m just not ready.”
David looked relieved, but he said softly, “We’re going to have to face it eventually.”
Natalya nodded. “Let’s just not make that day today.”
With their bellies somewhat filled, Natalya and David went back to perch atop their rocks. I longed for the day they would be ready to go back to the school. They would need to enter the exhibition, and they would need to understand that my body still lived.
Only then would I be satisfied.
I wanted to travel to the exhibition myself, as if I were living in the world of a computer game and I needed to turn back to reality, to my real self, my body. But I didn’t feel ready either. Besides, it wouldn’t do me any good.
So I stayed some more and let myself watch Natalya and David, the two people I cared the most about in this lost and lonely world.
“If anyone should have survived the blast, it should have been Rose,” Natalya said.
I always perked up at the sound of my name. It seemed to come up in every conversation. With a shake of my invisible head, I wished I could knock the backs of the two survivors’ heads. “I’m alive!” I said. “What do you think I’m doing here?”
Natalya went on, “It’s almost as if I can feel her, you know? And I can feel her judging me. She was my best friend. She knew me better than I did, and I just… I don’t want to disappoint her.”
“You’re not disappointing her,” David said. “Why do you even think that?”
The words caught in Natalya’s throat; I could tell by the way she seemed a bit flustered and had to clear her throat before continuing. She was right, though. I did know her well. “I feel like she knows my every thought. It’s just… scary to think about.”
David gave her a tight smile. “Don’t worry too much.”
Natalya giggled to herself and swung her hair over one side. “So much for our freshman year at college. How did you enjoy yours?”
“Um… I loved every moment of it.”
“So did I. It was much more different than I thought it would be.”
“In what way?”
Natalya gave David a look as if to say, really? I actually need to explain this to you? But she said anyway, “You watch all those old movies about people finally going off to college, and they get drunk and party and do stupid stuff. I guess I thought it would be like that for me. Only… it wasn’t.”
“I think I see what you mean.”
“Yeah. It was more of a wake up call,” Natalya said, her excitement growing. “My parents… Well, I love them, but they could be a bit much. They didn’t approve of my choices. They always told me to never choose sports over grades. But I did. It was my passion. When I was in high school, my parents had more control. They almost made me change my mind.”
“About choosing sports over grades?”
Natalya nodded. “Then I came here. Everyone has goals, you know? My love for sports only got challenged with the competition, but I got to love it even more because of that. I think I would have liked to join the Olympics one day.”
“That’s a pretty good goal,” David said. I wasn’t sure if it was out of kindness or because he was simply speaking the truth when he said, “You would have won first prize all the time.”
Natalya put her face in her arms and shook her head. “That’s why my parents were so annoyed.” She looked up again. “They knew that, for me, it was always about the glory of being the best. And I can’t just deny it. They’re completely right. But I just can’t help it.”
“It’s nothing to be ashamed about. I mean, look at me. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. At least you had a goal. At least you had somewhere to go.”
“You don’t see it, do you?”
“See what?” David’s confusion almost astounded me, even.
Natalya explained, “You didn’t have a huge goal to follow, one that you’d envisioned about every night to put yourself to sleep. I did. And now, that dream is shattered. It’s gone forever, because the world is over. There may be survivors, but until we find them, we’re stuck. Do you see what I mean?”
“My loss isn’t as great as yours,” David admitted reluctantly.
Natalya looked a little bit sheepish, as if she hadn’t meant to bring up any hurt, but I understood where she came from and even I had to say to myself quietly, “Perhaps my loss isn’t as great as yours either, Natalya.”
Natalya lifted her brown eyes to look at me. Or, rather, through me, and it was as if, in that split second, we came to an understanding. And then her puzzled eyes dropped to stare at the ground and our connection was lost.