Hey! Excited to post my new story! There is a banner, made by WO17, is on my profile page.
Huge thank you to Nicoconsd for taking the time to pre-read for this story!
I'm so excited that Jessypt and Whatobsession17 are back again to beta this new story. Thanks guys!
While pandemics have happened and are predicted to happen again, H6N2 is totally made up by me. I've done a lot of research for this story, and if there is any information I have found in the story there will be a * next to it, with credit from where I found it below. If not, you know I made it up for the sake of this work of fiction.
This story will contain mature themes. Please read with caution.
"An influenza pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus appears against which the human population has no immunity, resulting in epidemics worldwide with enormous numbers of deaths and illness." *
"Mmmm," I moan, slipping my shoes off when I walk in the door. My heels feel like they've been stabbed all day, and my toes scream from being stuffed into pointed stilettos. I pull my arms out of my coat and hang it on the rack by the front door where I deposit my umbrella.
Walking into the living room I shuffle through the mail as I turn on the lamps and light my candles, leaving the room in a soft glow. The hardwood floors shine, and the soft, white rug looks perfect taking up the center of the room. I dig my toes into it and hum at how amazing it feels against my sore feet before moving on and adjusting the bright green pillows on my cream couch and move the magazines on the side table. I walk to my bill organizer and place my mail in the appropriate slots. Now that everything is as it should be, I take in a deep breath and finally feel relaxed in my space. Even though it's dark and rainy outside, my house feels like a spring afternoon.
Work was hell and just walking into my safe place, my home, makes me feel better. As I walk up the stairs, I start to unzip the back of my skirt, anxious to get out of my stiff work clothing. I open my closet doors and make sure to place my skirt back with the rest of my gray items, so I can find it easily again. My white sweater slips over my head and goes straight to its home in the bin for dry cleaning. Once I shed my work wear, I step back and appreciate the color-coded hangers I organized my closet with last weekend. I had a hard time choosing what to do with my clothing that had patterns but decided plain black hangers would be best. Looking at them again today, I'm happy with my choice.
I lie on my bed, enjoying how the soft comforter feels on my bare skin. I'm looking forward to a quiet weekend and plan to start it with a bottle of wine. Once, I have my contacts out and my yoga pants on, I slip an oversized sweatshirt over my head and my glasses on. I shiver hearing the noises outside. The rain and wind make it sound like there's a battle. I pull the sleeves of my sweatshirt over my hands, thankful for the sanctuary of my home.
I take a pre-made meal from the freezer and heat the oven. "Mmm lasagna."
I notice it's the last meal in the freezer and grab a paper and pen to start a list for next week's meals. Hitting play on my kitchen stereo, I sit with my glass and a bottle of white wine and start my shopping list for the next day. My sister-in-law usually comes over Sunday and makes baby food for the week, while I cook all day. I freeze everything as meals for the next week. The shrill ring of the phone interrupts the soft Jazz coming from the stereo's speakers causing me to jump.
"You're home. Good."
"Yeah, I got home about twenty minutes ago. What's up?"
"Big pile up on I-5, and you weren't answering your cell," she says, sounding relived. "She's fine, Emmett!" I hear her shout to my brother.
"Sorry, Rose," I sigh. "Today was hell, and I turned it off right when I left the office."
"Ugh, Cheney being a dick weed again?"
"Always." My boss is known as one of the hardest people to please in Seattle. I work at Cheney & Crowley accounting firm and hate every second of it.
"A man that nasty shouldn't be allowed to work around people."
"I don't want to talk about him; it's my weekend."
"Wine bottle already opened?" she guesses, laughing.
"You know it." I don't tell her that this phone call is keeping me from it. Static fills the line before I hear my brother's voice.
"Why the hell weren't you answering your phone?"
"Emmett, get off the damn line! She had a bad day at work and didn't want to talk."
I laugh as the two bicker. I feel like the child who's elderly parents talk at the same time from two different phones.
"I don't care; keep your phone on, Bella."
"Yes, dad," I say, rolling my eyes, wishing I had the wine in my system about now. Emmett had always been overprotective. After dad died when we were young, Emmett assumed the father-figure role in my life. Having a mother who wasn't interested in our lives made Emmett and me very close growing up. I'm waiting for him to continue when I hear my niece start to scream in the background.
"Shit, Clair is up. We're still on for Sunday, right?"
"Sounds good," I say before her end of the line goes dead.
"Another bad day at work?" Emmett asks once we're on the phone alone. His tone is much softer now that he's not worried I'm in a fiery car crash on I-5.
"It's always a bad day," I say honestly. I not only hate my boss, but I hate what I do. I'm his personal assistant. I didn't go to school for four years to become someone's bitch, but it's the exact spot I've found myself in.
"You need to quit. You've saved more than most people at retirement age, and you know Rose and I will help you with anything you need until you find something else."
"I know... I'll think about it." I think about it every second of every day. The problem is getting the backbone, and he knows it. I fantasize about what I'll say when I quit, but every time I get around the man I can't even make eye contact. Easily intimidated, a wave of nausea rolls through me when I think about having to apply for new jobs and meet new people. I don't like change - I never have.
"I need to help Rose with Clair. Call if you need anything."
"All right. Night," I say, hanging up the phone.
Emmett and Rose got married young but had a hard time having a baby. At thirty-four, after nine years of marriage, Clair finally came into the world. In the past five months she's been on this earth, she's captured the adoration of every adult in her life. Since my mom is MIA and Rose's parents live back east, we're all each other has.
After I finish my list and dinner, I move my one-person party to the living room. Wrapped tightly in my favorite blanket, I pick up my latest book from the library and am immediately sucked in. I'm about to finally pour myself a glass of wine, content to read all night but am interrupted by the phone again. Unless it's Em, Rose or my friend Alice - who's on a date - there's no reason someone else should be calling me.
"Who now," I mumble, making my way back to the kitchen.
"Hello?" I ask, my hand ready to hang up quickly if it's a telemarketer.
"Hey." The sullen voice of my best friend is on the other line.
"I thought you had a date tonight?"
"Two hours I've waited. No sign from him at all. You have wine?"
"Come on over."
She hangs up without saying goodbye. Alice is petite, gorgeous and has never had a problem getting men, so I'm surprised to hear she's been stood up. I decide to wait to open the wine for her to get here. Within fifteen minutes there's a knock at my door. I open it without looking through the peep-hole, expecting Alice but am greeted by Mr. Cope, the old man from across the street instead.
He has an old fashioned hat covering his bald head, but his coat is soaked from the rain. "Isabella," he greets me gruffly with a nod.
"Hello, Mr. Cope. Come in," I say, opening the door wider. "Is everything okay?" His wife had a heart attack a few months back, and I try to check on them when I can.
"Not quite, dear. You see, Mrs. Cope is not feeling well, and I'd like to take her to the hospital... just to have her looked at."
"Of course," I say, not understanding why he needed to come to my door and share this.
"There's a car there, blocking the drive." He points behind him without looking back. "And I wondered if it belonged to a visitor of yours?"
I lean around him and see an obnoxiously large truck blocking his driveway. When I get a little farther onto my porch I can hear loud music coming from the house next door. My new neighbor moved in last month and has caused quiet the raucous in our once peaceful neighborhood.
He looks to be around my age, maybe even Emmett's age, but the house resembles more of a frat house – loud music at all hours, cars coming and going, and now, his friends blocking his elderly neighbors' driveway. Disgusting.
"I think I know whose it is. Just give me one-second." I pat Mr. Cope's shoulder and make my way next door. The anger I feel makes me brave enough to confront my neighbor. Rain pelts down on me, smearing on my glasses making it hard for me to see. When I get to his front porch almost all my resolve is gone. I can see people inside through the window and can hear the music loud and clear from outside.
If it were just for me I'd have already turned around and gone back home, but when I see Mr. Cope waiting on my porch, I straighten my back and knock on the door. The worst is over; I knocked, now I just have to wait - and wait I do. Steeling myself, I knock again - hard.
Now I'm just pissed and bang on the door. What an asshole.
I run back over to my house, trying to stay dry, but it's no use. My clothes are dripping when I get back to the safety of my porch.
"Are they going to move it?" he asks, wringing his hat in his hands. I can tell he's anxious to get his wife to the hospital.
"Uh, I don't think so." I run inside, grab my purse, leaving a note for Alice. She has a key, and she'll see it when she gets here.
"Lets pull my car up to your house, so Mrs. Cope doesn't have to walk in the rain, okay?"
"Oh, thank you, Isabella," he says, hobbling down the stairs as fast as his old legs can take him.
Once we get Mrs. Cope into the car we head straight to the hospital. There are now people smoking on the front porch next door; I spot my neighbor among them as I drive away. I scowl at him, even though I know the rain covering my window will keep him from seeing it. I worry the forty-five minute ride into Seattle about Mrs. Cope, who looks a little pale. While I don't mind driving my neighbors in, I'm annoyed at having to make the commute again.
Mr. and Mrs. Cope are back with the doctor, and I sit bored in the waiting room. In my rush to get out I left my phone and book at home. Oh god, I hope Emmett doesn't call back. He'd drive the hour from Bellingham to Snohomish; I know he would. There's a TV playing in the corner with no one to entertain, so I move to a closer seat to see what's on.
WBN Breaking news:
Cynthia here from World Broadcast News. We disrupt your regular programming to update you on the latest regarding the H6N2 breakout. Twelve are now confirmed dead throughout Asia. Authorities are not yet restricting travel to these countries but discourage it at all costs. The nation's best minds are working together to come up with a vaccine, but no successful formulas have been created yet. Stay tuned for more information.
H6N2, the new strain of the avian flu. We've heard about it a lot in the past few months, but everyone seems to shrug the warnings off. Every time I hear about it a shiver runs through me, but to be honest, all this virus talk is getting old. When the Swine flu threatened to 'take the world down', as some broadcasters were saying, I stocked up on canned goods to last me a year - and they did; I ate tuna until I felt like I was growing gills - but no flu ever came. Then it was H5N1 bird flu, and again, nothing ever reached the USA. I turn my attention back to the set when the commercials are over.
We have a specialist here from the World Health Organization (WHO). Should we be worried about this outbreak? Could this turn into a global pandemic? "Yes, there is a definite possibility that H6N2 could spawn the next pandemic. Many organizations responsible for world health, such as the CDC and WHO, have said the upcoming pandemic may be deadlier than the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919. It is not a question of if, but when the next pandemic will occur. H6N2 possesses many qualities that make it capable of starting a pandemic; it mutates quickly and tends to acquire genes from viruses that infect other species. In addition, evidence shows that between 1997 and 2004, H6N2 strains have become more pathogenic for mammals." **
A chill runs through me and I think about possibly stocking up just incase, but I'm quickly distracted when I see my neighbors walking back into the waiting room.
It's after two in the morning when I leave the Cope's home. Mrs. Cope was dehydrated but otherwise okay. I accompany them inside to make sure Mr. Cope is able to get her into bed; the two really shouldn't be living alone anymore, especially this far out. We live in a little town in Snohomish county. It's mostly rural, a lot of farms, but with old neighborhoods like mine spread throughout.
When I come out of their home, the first thing I notice is the truck, along with all the other cars, are gone and the house next to mine is quiet. The lights, however are still on, and I notice someone walk across the window. I feel my wet clothing uncomfortable against my skin - a reminder of tonight's events. I'm angry and march across the street.
Stepping over the empty beer cans, I stand on the large, covered porch trying to make myself knock.
I can't do it; my resolve lost again.
I turn around, giving myself ten seconds to work up the courage. "This guy's an asshole; he deserves it. Just knock on the damn door."
"Who's an asshole?"
"God!" I jump spinning around, holding my hand to my chest. My glasses slip off my wet face and fall to the porch. I didn't even hear him open the door. I look around and all I can see is a blur of flesh.
"Oops," he says, bending over - shirtless - to pick up my glasses. "Are you okay?"
I force myself to look up at him and find my voice. I know to make my point I have to make eye contact with his... throat - the closest I'll be able to get to eye contact tonight - and clear my throat. Once... twice... "Yes, I'm okay." I reach forward and take the glasses out of his grasp, slipping them back up my nose
"So..." he says and rocks back on his heels.
Oh, right; I'm pissed.
"I just wanted to say..." I sound angry; this is good.
"Why I came over at this hour - I'm sorry, by the way..." Shit. I'm losing it. Get angry again.
"Sorry... you know, for coming so late -" I stop my rambling and take a chance look at his face and step back when I do. "Oh, I'm sorry. Are you talking to someone?"
He has headphones on like we wear at work, with a mouth piece that rests along side his cheek.
He looks at me oddly then reaches his hand up to his head. "Oh, no, I'm playing X-Box with a guy in China." He points backward with his thumb.
I peer around his shoulder and see no one else in the room. For some reason this makes him laugh.
"No," he laughs. "X-box live."
Okay, that explains everything.
" Sure. Well, I'm sorry to interrupt your conversation but -"
"No, I wasn't having a conversation. You can play with - " He stops when he sees the lost look on my face. "Never mind. What can I do for you at this fine hour? Want a beer?" he asks, slipping one hand in his pocket and opening his door wider, revealing the mess behind it.
"A beer? What? No, I don't want a beer." This isn't going the way I had planned. In my mind, I marched over like an angry grizzly, bringing him to his knees. The scenario didn't include him smiling and offering me a beverage.
"What?" I ask, when he gives me a weird look.
"Me?" He places his hand on his bare chest. "Nothing. You're the one who came on my porch and started calling invisible people names."
I hang my head. I always do this. I always make a complete ass of myself, and no one can take me seriously. Water drips off my bangs and onto my glasses. I can only imagine how terrible I look. I don't care how long it takes me. I'm going to let this man know what I think of his actions tonight.
"Right. And the reason I came over is because of the Copes." I point behind me to their house "You see -"
"Are they the assholes?" he whispers conspiratorially.
"You were facing their house and calling them assholes."
"No! I was calling you the asshole!" I slap my hand over my mouth.
Again, not how I pictured this going.
"Have you already had a few beers tonight?" His voice sounds sympathetic, like this is something that happens to him often.
"No. I haven't had any beer." My voice is drawn and low. My chin is almost touching my chest - nothing could embarrass and frustrate me more than I already am. Because of the mess he caused, I couldn't even have my wine tonight. I think of Emmett and how he's always telling me to just spit it out. That what I have to say is important. I square my shoulders and look right into his eyes.
"Mr. and Mrs. Cope are our elderly neighbors," I explain slowly. He nods and looks vastly interested in the story I'm telling. "Mrs. Cope isn't well and they needed to get to the hospital but they couldn't."
"They couldn't?" he interrupts, asking as if I was telling the end of thrilling novel. I look up at him almost expecting him to have popcorn in his hands.
"No, they couldn't," I say slowly, looking at him sideways. I look away from his half naked form and try to continue with my guilt trip. "They couldn't, because one of your friends was blocking their driveway. When I came over to ask for it to be moved, no one would answer the door."
"Oh no. Are you sure it was my door you came to?" He looks to the houses on either side of his, one of them being mine.
I look at him with my mouth agape. Is he joking?
"Yes, I'm sure. You think I can't remember which door I knocked on?" The angry grizzly is coming with no problem now.
"Well... you seemed a little..." He shakes his head side to side. "Confused, when I found you on my porch tonight."
"I was not confused! I was trying - You know what? Never mind. Please just ask your friends not to block our driveways."
With that I turn on my heel - proud.
I did it. I told him.
My new found pride vanishes when my wet shoe, connects with the wet step, and I end up on my ass.
I hear his footsteps against the steps. His arms are around me and lifting me off the step, his body heat pressed against my wet clothing.
"Are you okay?" he asks once I'm upright. He starts to brush the wet mud off me and when he reaches my backside I spin to face him.
"Perfect." I force a smile. "Goodnight."
"I'm sorry for the trouble. I'll make it up to you!" he shouts once I'm half way across my yard.
*World Health Organization
**Biotech expos 2006
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