Author's Note: First chapter! Look at me writing chapters like a real person. Also, I think you all can figure out what's going on, so I'm not going too say too much. Have at it.
"I feel miserable…" Jackie moaned, pressing her face into a pillow. It was cool and felt nice against her skull, which threatened her with a headache as she felt distinct pressure behind her eyes.
"I think you just need some soup and sleep. That's what I feel."
"Your sentiments are appreciated, Tom, but that's not gonna make me any less nauseous."
"No, no…it's fine. Look, I'll be fine. I'll be okay. I'm feeling better already." Jackie forced a grin on her face and sat up straighter on the couch though her insides rebelled. Tom was fixing her hard with his stare, but he didn't speak. He looked worried, and that was a look the woman had never liked seeing on his face. It aged him in such a distinct way. He felt so fully that she sometimes just couldn't believe it. "Really, I am," she repeated hoping it would take that damn worry off his face.
"I don't know…" Tom frowned not dropping the concern much to the woman's dismay. "I could tell Sebs I can't hang out. I don't mind. I'll tell him we can hang out tomorrow or something."
"I'm fine," the woman insisted ignoring a sharp lurch of her stomach. Acid burned her throat a bit, but she wouldn't let it win. "Now, go have fun or I'll kick you out myself." Tom furrowed his brow for a moment, but eventually the look softened. "Get out, please?"
"Ok, I'll be back…at some point. You're sure you're okay?" Jackie glared back at him, and he backed off. "Right. Getting out. Bye." Quick as he could Tom was out the door after grabbing his coat and scarf before giving the woman on the couch a quick kiss before she swatted him away playfully. Once he was out Jackie flopped back on the couch, swallowing back nausea as it climbed back up again. A few moments passed before she practically hopped onto her feet and ran to the bathroom, only just making it before losing it in the bowl, resting her head on the edge once she was done. The edge was colder than the pillow had been, but it wasn't nearly as soft or as comforting.
"Stupid stomach bug," she grumbled, pushing herself back into a sit, rubbing her head and reaching for a towel to wipe the edges of her mouth. Her stomach was still sloshing around as if she was at sea, but she didn't have it in her to ask Tom to stay. He was missing his friend, and she wanted him to enjoy himself. It was just a stomach bug. She could handle herself. She was sure of it.
Tom couldn't push away his anxiety as he walked, pulling his coat tighter around him and fidgeting with the tail of his scarf. It was cold, but that was no surprise. November in the city was always freezing, but it wasn't the cold that was bothering him. Not this time. Jackie could be just as stubborn as he was, but she usually didn't push him away. Not like that. Occasionally she'd jokingly give him a shove or try and tackle him (always unsuccessfully), but this wasn't like that at all. She'd wanted him out. Out of the house and out of the way. Tom scrunched his face up against the cold and ventured on.
Sebs had told him to meet in a coffee shop between Jackie's place and his own, and as usual Tom arrived first having practically sped down the sidewalk. Well, it was cold after all, and he'd never been fond of the cold.
The coffee shop was a familiar one but with a name he could never remember and never thought to look at each time he went. What did it matter anyway? Warm earth tones and sweet smells that wafted through the air, and that was the most important part. It was comfortable and dark, almost womb-like in the way it tempted you to drift off into sleep. Deciding that he wasn't quite in the mood for a hot drink or an overpriced pastry just yet, Tom settled into one of the huge cushioned chairs, annoyed for a moment or two by the softness of it and how small it made him feel. Like it was going to eat him up. A giant chair monster.
However, his mind soon rounded back on his concerns. What had he done to piss her off? Usually she had no problems telling him when he'd messed up with what most would consider insulting detail. Still, it worked well that way since Tom had proved time and time again that he was far too dense for the subtle trick or the silent treatment. No bullshit. He tapped the arms of the chair idly, only picking up his head when he spied a familiar shape enter the warm building.
"You already eat?" Sebs asked, giving his friend a teasing poke in the shoulder.
"Haven't even bought anything," Tom shrugged.
"Honestly?" Sebs asked with mock surprise. "You? The human garbage disposal. I can't believe that."
"I've just got stuff on my mind. That's all," Tom muttered, still not meeting his friend's gaze. He scratched his head and shrugged again. What was there to say about it?
"Thinking and you is a dangerous combination," Sebs replied calmly, taking a seat in the chair across from his friend. Though his tone was casual Tom found himself resenting it. "You wanna tell me?"
Tom picked his head up, opening his mouth slightly, but no sound came out. He took a deep breath and tried again. "I think I did something to make Jac mad at me."
"Well, what'd you do?"
"Thanks for having so much faith in me…" Tom mumbled, shooting a half annoyed look in Sebs' direction. "You already assume I messed up?"
"You have a bad habit of getting on people's nerves, and you know I'm kidding."
"I don't know anything." Tom shifted forward in his seat, resting his chin on his hands and his elbows in his legs. "I don't know what I did. I don't know why she seems annoyed at me. She's not feeling well, and I offered to stay. You know…just wanted to be helpful. She got really annoyed though…she usually doesn't get annoyed."
"Is that all?" Sebs asked.
"Is that all?" Tom echoed, sounding mildly offended. "I'm paranoid about this kind of stuff. She gets annoyed with me, and I'm all nerves, which only annoys her more, but…I don't know. She's never really kicked me out before though…"
"I think you're looking too much into it. It doesn't sound like she really kicked you out all that much," Sebs shrugged. "Maybe she knows like I do that you've got a skull made of metal, and you have to be forced to get out more from time to time. Ever think of that?"
"I don't know…" Tom pouted. "I just-"
"No, you don't just anything," Sebs cut him off suddenly. "You are going to stuff your face full of overpriced pastries and drown yourself in hot chocolate like I know you want to, and we're going to hang out. No stressing or I'll stuff your scarf down your throat. Ok?" Tom sank down in his seat, and stared at Sebs for a moment or two, assessing just how serious his friend was being. Sebs tried to keep a straight face, but he couldn't hold it long, a smile cracking his façade and giving him away.
"Alright," Tom laughed, sitting back up. "But you're paying for those pastries."
"Yeah, you keep telling yourself that."
Jackie pulled her legs up close to her chest and changed channels idly, but there was not a single thing interesting to be seen. It didn't help that her stomach was still playing games and tying itself up in knots. The vomiting had passed, but something still didn't sit right. That and her head had started to pound with more intensity. She'd had her fair share of stomach bugs, but this didn't feel the same. Of course the more she thought about it the more an answer eluded her. She thought to check the web to see if there were any new bugs going around, but she knew she'd just end up paranoid and a hypochondriac if she bothered.
She'd end up with some rare monkey-virus for sure. Yeah, no thank you.
Shifting on the couch she rubbed her back and tried to focus on the words coming out of the group of "perfectly diverse" women on the screen. Something about some fancy new type of birth control that didn't have to be taken every day. Jackie could only shake her head. If she didn't have to take it every day then she was certain she'd forget-
Hopping up, though regretting it soon after as her insides moved along with her she walked to the bathroom and pulled out the all too familiar package. She felt her heartbeat pounding in her ears as she scanned until she found that there was…nothing wrong. She wasn't behind on her pills. She wanted to be relieved, but it was hard to feel better with back pain and nausea. She tapped her fingers on the edge of the sink and stared into the mirror.
"You don't honestly think…" she began, addressing her reflection and pushing back a lock of brown hair. She shook her head. "You're crazy. You know that right?" Her reflection said nothing and only stared back at her looking just as frazzled and unsure as she was certain she must have looked. "It's a stomach bug, and you've been sleeping weird. Tom keeps sticking his cold ass feet on your back. Your schedule's always been a bit irregular. It's nothing, right? Right?"
Taking a step back she frowned and crossed her arms over her chest. Maybe she was crazy for entertaining this idea, but it persisted in her mind and wouldn't leave despite the mean looks she was giving herself, as if it'd scare the thought away. Still, what harm could a little curious investigation do?
A lot actually if her suspicions were correct.
It wasn't a likely prospect, but it wasn't impossible. Nothing was one hundred percent effective, but still, one would think the odds were pretty stacked. Still, someone had to make that other slim percentage on the box…
She stood there for a few minutes more before finally moving to put on her shoes grudgingly. She'd made up her mind, but it didn't mean she was terribly enthralled by that fact.
"Jesus, you look like you're gonna puke."
"That's my default expression when I have a solid wad of muffins and coffeecake in my stomach. I think I'm gonna explode. Why would you do this to me?"
"I was only kidding about you stuffing your face before."
"Yeah, but I felt I'd been issued a challenge."
"You're an idiot. You know that right?"
"I'm not just any idiot. I'm the idiot," Tom grinned, smiling like a Cheshire cat and holding his last half eat muffin into the air as the pair walked down the sidewalk. The coffee shop had gotten too stuffy for them, filled to the brim with brooding artists and businessmen, so they'd decided the venture back out to the streets, pointing out interesting people and making asses of themselves just like they always had and likely always would.
"Feeling better?" Sebs asked, taking particular care not to step on an ugly crack in the cement for no real reason other than that he felt like it.
"About what?" Tom replied, shifting his attention almost instantly from his partial muffin before stuffing the rest of it into his mouth still looking at Sebs expectantly. Seemed he was willing to risk exploding.
"I'm taking that as a yes."
"Whatever. I'll race you to the end of the block."
"What?" Tom didn't stay to explain but bolted, showing an impressive amount of agility for someone whose depth perception occasionally still gave him trouble and who was full up on baked goods. "The hell? Get back here!" All pretences of being an adult forgotten, Sebs followed after, brushing up against a few more people but not caring all the much as his friend looked back at him and stuck out his tongue.
"You're getting slow in your old age," Tom chided as Sebs caught up with him on the corner where he'd stopped. He breathed slowly but deeply, chest rising and falling visibly.
"I'm not that old," Sebs countered. "Besides, you're older."
"Barely. Well, at least I'm not as anal retentive."
"At least I'm not a spazz."
"Fair enough," Tom shrugged and started walking again. "Now, c'mon, there's a park this way that I haven't disrupted yet. This simply won't do."
"Yeah, yeah, I'm coming."
Aisles, aisles, and more aisles. The walls of the drugstore were lined with a multitude of pills, magazines, quick fixes, and junk food. Of course those things were not on her list, but their presence drew her attention and all the fine print and colors on white made her head hurt more than it already was. These places were always the same color. Other than the rainbow hues of their products these places tended to be white with either blue or red accents, sometimes both. Close to being as colorless as a hospital, but it sold soda, and the carpet always looked like it had never been properly vacuumed.
Somehow she found the proper section, but instead of grabbing a box of (don't say it) pregnancy tests she just stared blankly at them all. The shelves were stocked full and somehow that was entirely more threatening.
No one else was having this issue. That's why everything was in stock. Choices, choices, choices. And all for her. Dammit. Burdened with a horrid over-abundance.
Turning quickly, Jackie made for the pharmacy, but the people sitting in their chairs waiting for their medication were watching her. Well, they probably weren't, but Jac couldn't get it out of her head that they were, so she kept walking. Past the school supplies, pencils, pens, coloring books. Past the hair products and birthday cards and then back to that aisle. Letting out a sigh she turned into the aisle and restarted her staring contest.
Why was she even here? This was all probably just nothing. A stupid set of coincidences lining up in just the right way. That was a whole lot of coincidences. The sickness. Stomach bug. Awkward spotting. Well, that's what it said to expect on the package for birth control pills. This was nothing. Why was she even here?
Because maybe, just maybe, the entire idea was exciting. Well, maybe exciting wasn't the right word for it. It was something different. Horribly different.
Whatever. Grabbing one of the name-brand packages, early detection and everything, might as well go all out, Jackie pulled it close to her body and headed for the counter. It felt so strange having just that one thing so she grabbed some gossip magazine without looking at the title and a box of saltine crackers from over by the brightly colored snacks. Her stomach was still bothering her anyway, and what harm would their be in it? She contemplated grabbing a ginger ale but decided that she didn't feel like carrying it around.
There was only one register open, and of course there was a line. Lines only ever showed up as soon as you were ready to leave. One of the few things on Earth she swore must have been a sign that Satan himself was in fact alive and well. Sighing, Jackie leaned back on one foot and tried to tune into the soft pop music that played over the speakers. Some singer or group she didn't know narrating her adventures in the surreal world.
"Trying for your first?" came an almost overly feminine voice from the distant plane of reality.
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"Nah, it's fine. I wasn't paying attention."
"I just assumed since you were buying a pregnancy test that you and your husband must have been trying for kids." Jackie's eyes fell on an older woman, mid or late forties she figured. Or maybe she was one of those people her age that looked old. Jackie really couldn't tell and wasn't trying to hard. Angular features and about her height. A little taller perhaps. Bright blue eyes that almost rivaled Tom's. Almost.
She already didn't like her, but that was not reason not to be civil.
"No, no, it's fine," Jackie smiled. "I uh…I'm just being on the safe side is all."
"I see," the woman drawled out, and Jackie suddenly felt all the judgment behind the woman's eyes. All the disapproval they held, realizing now why her instincts had gone off just looking at her. "So, you don't have a husband?"
"Well, not really," Jackie replied feeling oddly compelled to explain and defend herself.
"It's a yes or no question, dear," the woman smiled, putting on a friendly face. Jackie frowned and knew there was no point in trying to talk reason and relativism. "So do you have a husband or…?"
Or do you go gallivanting around like an irresponsible person? Oh, yes, yes of course…
"No, I don't have a husband," she replied narrowing her eyes. "And if you really want to know what this all is then let me tell you that it's none of your damn business."
The woman's eyes went wide, and her mouth opened, most likely to tell Jackie that she was being "rude" or "unladylike", but Jackie had already taken a step away, noticing a new register being opened. The woman uttered something, but it made no difference anymore. Dropping the stuff on the counter she scanned the shelves of gum and grabbed a pack to add to her collection of drug store miscellany.
"Hm?" Jac looked over at the cashier. A friendly enough looking girl with tight curls and dimples the size of Texas. "Oh, yeah, thanks. Sorry, I was just a little distracted."
"Nah, it's fine," the girl smiled. "I was actually just about to leave, but I heard what that woman said to you so…"
"Thanks," Jackie smiled, paying.
"Hey, gotta look out for each other," the girl laughed.
"Militant," the girl quipped her smile not fading.
"Should have known," Jackie smiled back. "But yeah, thanks again. Don't know what I would have done if I'd had to stand next to her much longer. Probably knock her out or something."
"Don't worry about it. She was being rude. Good luck with that by the way."
"Thanks. I think I'll be fine."
Jackie paused as she took her bag. "Yeah," she nodded. "Real good guy." Waving she headed out, feeling like a Jedi as she walked through the automatic doors. Like a fucking Jedi.
The bench was hard, and one piece wiggled under his weight, but Tom couldn't be bothered to care as he stared up at the gray, November sky. Normally the gray made him feel depressed, but with his system currently more sugar than blood and Sebs staring up with him he found the view to be rather nice. Calming in fact.
"No one's really in the park," he observed bringing his head down and scanning the area. There were more leaves on the ground and people,, but at least it meant he could shuffle through them to hear them crunch without the threat of people looking at him weird.
"That's because it's November, and most people are doing indoor things."
"But it's so nice out."
"I thought you hated the cold."
"Well, it's not so bad right now. It feels nice," Tom shrugged. "Clear, I guess. I also like how the trees look like they are either on fire or the ground around them is…like lava or something. Makes it feel warmer, you know?"
"Feeling thoughtful?" Sebs asked, relaxing his neck as well. "Don't think I have the brains today to deal with you being thoughtful."
"Nah, I'm done. Don't worry."
"Awesome, but my hands are still freezing."
"Then sit on them, dumbass."
"I have been. Maybe we should start heading in the direction of my place? I hear that there's a marathon of monster movies on," Sebs offered. Tom thought on it for a moment before nodding.
"Alright, I'm game."
Three minutes. Three long minutes. Jackie sat crossed legged on the bathroom floor and flipped through the magazine she bought and ate saltines as she skimmed over stories about this celebrity and that celebrity. She normally didn't care about these things, and she still didn't, but the section on who was pregnant and with who caused her to stop flipping and scrutinize.
Smiles. Every last one of them was all smiles and radiant and tan and happy and just so damn perky with their expensive sunglasses and hundred dollar haircuts. What about the nausea? The back pain? Where was all the unpleasant stuff other than "Gosh! I've had the worst craving for pickles wrapped in bacon!" Jackie ended up tossing the glossy magazine to the side and standing up to look at herself in the mirror once more.
Indifference over a smile. Skin showing signs of staying homebound during the winter months. She figured her boobs were pretty perky, but whimpered as she poked them. Tender. Damn, she was a wreck. Or at least she felt like one. Nothing like the saturated women on the pages.
"Eh, who needs over-priced flip flops and skin cancer," Jackie grinned, pulling her phone out her pocket to check the time. Three minutes in t-minus ten, nine, eight…
Letting out a deep breath Jackie looked down on the edge of the sink, holding her hand back as thoughts of "gross, I peed on that" crossed her mind along with thoughts of just throwing the stupid thing out because she was being stupid. This was stupid. Everything was stupid. Magazines, pregnancy tests, and nausea. All just stupid, stupid, stupid. Still, it couldn't hurt to just be safe. Take a quick peak and put all this to rest. Today had already been interesting enough without the answer to a mystery just sitting out in the open.
Dammit, just look at the damn thing! It's not going to bite!
"Alright, alright…" Jackie replied to her own thoughts picking up the test. A weird looking plastic thing that could be nothing else but itself. Just a weird looking plastic thing. Nothing to be afraid of.
"That's not gonna kill a zombie. You gotta either shoot them in the head, decapitate them, or set them on fire. Those are the only possible ways."
"Sebs," Tom replied calmly as if this was the most civil discussion in the world. "You have to remember that these aren't your standard model zombies. These are infection zombies. They're a whole other thing entirely. Yeah, those things will work on them, but you can shoot these ones like any other person 'cause they're still pretty much people. Bullet holes kill people, and if they don't you just gotta keep shooting. It's hard for them to attack you if they look like Swiss cheese."
"You've already prepared for a zombie apocalypse haven't you?"
"Would it be me if I hadn't?" Tom countered.
"No, I guess not," Sebs replied, eyes still focused on the screen. "This movie could do with more explosions though."
The movie went quiet as the protagonist's breathing became more and more clear as impending doom loomed closer. Silence then breathing. Tension building at its best, and both men leaned forward, expectantly awaiting the blood bath that was about to ensue. Zombies, guns, and blood drenched survivors. There really were few things better than that. God, the silence was almost deafening. And then…
The phone went off.
Tom jumped and jerked awkwardly as he was startled; practically off the couch by the time he was able to catch himself. Sebs had jumped as well, but he'd been able to keep his seat while Tom decided that it was just easier to flop onto the floor and then onto his back, looking up at the ceiling.
"Jesus fucking Christ…" Tom exhaled, somehow managing to talk over the sudden cacophony of gunshots, screaming, and zombie growls that erupted from the television.
"Struck down by a rogue dial tone. How tragic," Sebs teased.
"Ah, shut up and answer it. I'm trying to watch zombies being massacred."
"From the floor?" A pillow caught Sebs in the head, and he grabbed the phone. "Hello. Jac? Hi, yeah, he's here. Uh huh…yeah, I don't know where else he'd be either. Yeah, hang on." Tom picked up his head to see Sebs holding the phone out toward him. "It's for you." Sitting up all the way, Tom grabbed the phone, ignoring the smirk that was on his friend's face and covering one ear with his hands to block out the ruckus.
Sticking his tongue out quickly he brought the phone to his other ear. "Yeah'llo?"
"Hey, Tom…I uh…I'm sorry about bugging you especially since I kinda kicked you out earlier," came Jackie's voice on the other end.
"Don't worry about it," Tom answered shoving his hand in Sebs' face to silence the whipping noises the other man was making as he stood up and resettled himself on the couch. "You need something?"
"Yeah, actually," Jackie continued, an unfamiliar shakiness in her voice. Tom's expression turned to concern as he listened. "I…could you come home, please? I know you're hanging out with Sebs and all but…"
"You really sick?" Tom asked.
"Y-yeah. Could you please just get here?"
"I'll be there in a bit."
The phone disconnected, but Tom held the phone to his face for a few more moments.
"Something the matter?" Sebs asked, voice returning to its usual seriousness.
"I don't know…" Tom answered, handing the phone back over to Sebs. "I gotta go. It's probably nothing. I'll be right back. Keep watching the zombie stuff…" he continued as he got up though his tone seemed off and his voice petered out. It wasn't like Jackie to be like that. Nervous. Why was she nervous?
"You'll tell me what's up won't you?"
"Yeah, I will. Promise," Tom nodded as he grabbed his coat, stuffed his scarf in his pocket, and headed out the door.