When we reach Alex’s house, I’m not surprised to see that it’s been vandalized. With no residents to defend it, it was easy pickings. The front door’s been kicked in and the frame is splintered so it won’t close properly. A couple of the windows are broken, too. Once we’re inside, I’m relieved to see that most of the damage is limited to the kitchen. Whoever came here was looking for food and not much else. The presence of a rotting, stinking corpse on the kitchen floor probably made them hurry up and get out.
I leave Ares and Elaina to gather up any dog food and supplies they can find as I make my way down the hall to Alex’s room. Stopping in the doorframe, I grip it hard to keep myself upright. The memories and the grief come fast and hard, threatening to overwhelm me. The hospital bed is still in the room, as is most of the medical equipment that kept him alive those last few days. No one’s made the bed, so the sheets are still rumpled from Alex’s body.
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.
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.”
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