That We See or Seem
Local Scientists Call
Heat Wave 'Normal'
Story by Robin Tully,
Robin ran her finger
over the byline and tried not to grin like an idiot. She didn't care
that her finger was turning black from the newspaper ink.
"Ah, your first official
byline, huh Tully? I vaguely remember what that was like."
Robin smiled at Marc
Salazar, her officemate and friend. They had joined the newspaper the
same June morning, two years before. They didn't have a lot in common
at the time. Robin was straight out of journalism school and Marc was
straight off the streets. But they were both the new "cub" reporters,
and were thrown together on a lot of projects.
They learned from each
other more than the senior members of staff, and soon became best friends.
Marc helped Robin toughen up a little, so the heartbreaking stories
wouldn't hurt so much. Robin helped soften some of Marc's rough edges.
And from the first day they met, they teased each other unmercifully.
"Your memory must be
pretty bad, Salazar," she replied with a cynical smirk. "That was only
six months ago."
"Well, I've had so many
bylines since then, it's hard to remember them all."
"Yeah, like the hard-hitting
story about the cat that crawled into the airplane wheel well and flew
"Hey," Marc replied defensively,
"people love stories about animals and
Robin rolled her eyes.
The action caused a stab of pain behind her eyes, and she rubbed them
with the meat of her palms. Her eyes had been bothering her all morning.
That, combined with a scratchy throat and stuffed sinuses, was warning
her that a cold was on its way.
"Do you mind if I close
these blinds?" Robin interpreted Marc's shrug as approval and stood,
reaching up to the plastic wand that opened and closed the blinds. She
stopped her motion, waiting until the world stopped spinning.
"Are you OK?" Marc asked.
"Yeah, just got up too
fast," Robin replied. "Head rush."
Marc peered at his friend
and noticed for the first time that her green eyes, which were usually
vibrant, were dull and bloodshot. Her cheeks were flushed, hiding the
light freckles, and her red hair hung limply across slumped shoulders.
His forehead creased with worry, but Robin flashed him a reassuring
She could feel the heat
coming in waves off the glass, and touched it tentatively with her fingertips.
She gasped and pulled them back quickly.
"Shit, it's hot out there!"
"It's called a 'heat
wave', Tully," Marc replied, as if talking to a three-year-old. "That
means it gets very, very hot outside."
"Oh, right." Robin carefully
avoided rolling her eyes again. "Thanks. I was a little unclear on the
Robin turned the blinds
so that they tilted upward, and then returned to her desk. She listened
as the air conditioning creaked, pinged and wheezed, fighting valiantly
to keep the heat at bay. She was starting to feel as sick as it sounded.
"Well, I'd love to chat
some more," Marc said, turning to his PC, "but I have to finish writing
a fascinating story about can you guess? The heat wave."
"Oh really? I can't wait
to read it."
"Believe me, it's going
to be a lot more interesting than your respectable, local scientist
angle. I talked to a true scientist. Everything he knows, he learned
"They do make the best
teachers," Robin drawled.
"You got that right.
Anyway, he's on his way to Australia. Says that big rock will be the
only safe place when the world melts."
"Ayres Rock." Robin took
a sip of ice water, and felt it claw its way down her throat.
"The big rock in Australia,"
Robin croaked, and cleared her throat. "It's called Ayres Rock."
"Oh, right. Anyway, he
says there's some kind of cave system in the rock, built by aliens."
"And no one's discovered
these caves before?"
"The guy's a nut, Tully.
If you try to use logic with a nut, your head will explode."
"I think it's too late."
Robin rubbed her temples.
"Are you sure you're
all right?" Mark watched as Robin turned toward him. The movement looked
as if it took every ounce of her strength.
Robin stifled her reply
when she smelled cheap cologne coming toward their cubicle.
"Hey guys, hot enough
It was too hot, and Robin
felt too sick, to deal with Norm today. She was usually able to put
up with the photographer's sexist jokes and inane comments, but it was
a struggle under the best of circumstances.
"Why do people ask that?"
Mark replied with a scowl. Robin sighed, thankful that her buddy was
willing to run interference.
"Huh?" As always, Norm's
mental acuity was on a par with a guppy.
"I mean," Marc continued,
throwing his arms up in the air in disgust, "do you really expect me
to say, 'No, Norm, it's not hot enough for me. I'd rather it was ten
"It's just an expression,
Norm moved to the window
and turned the blinds so that the sun cut streaks across Robin's face.
"Shit, Norm, keep those
closed!" Robin put her hands over her eyes. The heat from her face was
starting to feel as hot as the glass.
"Tully, why don't you
head home and put your feet up?" Marc suggested. "You could read your
article another hundred times or something."
"Yeah, you look like
shit," Norm said. "You should put a cold cloth on your face or something.
I just got back from taking pictures of the dead bodies lining up in
the morgue. Do you know how many people have died in the city since
this heat wave started?"
"Let Robin guess," Marc
suggested. He grinned, enjoying an opportunity to play his favorite
"OK." Robin applied her
brain to the problem and considered the statistical probabilities.
"She won't get this,"
"Yes she will," Marc
said after a final calculation.
"Shit!" Norm cried in
amazement. "How do you do that?"
"She's a witch, Norm,"
Marc said seriously. "All of her mental powers are from Satan."
Norm smiled, but Marc's
face remained serious. Norm looked toward Robin, who met him with an
equally steady gaze. Slowly, the smile left Norm's face and he shifted
his feet uneasily.
"Yeah, well, I gotta
go," Norm announced, moving rapidly away from their cubicle.
Only after the last wisps
of cologne had faded did Marc begin to chuckle.
"You know, he believed
you," Robin said.
"Yeah, and he'll stay
away for a day or so until he realizes that witches probably put out
more than mere mortals."
"Oooh, gross." Robin
groaned. "Don't say that."
"OK. But don't say I
didn't warn you."
"Salazar!" The sub-editor's
voice blared over the cube wall. "Where the hell's that story about
Marc winced. "Just putting
the finishing touches on it, boss!"
"Hurry up! Before a cold
snap hits and we have to trash all of these goddamn heat wave stories."
Robin gave Mark a sympathetic
look and he shrugged.
"Why don't you go on
home?" Marc suggested again, this time more forcefully. "You really
do look like shit."
"Thanks, buddy, you say
the nicest things."
"I'm serious." He crossed
his arms over his chest and glowered, hoping his macho act might actually
work for once.
Robin smiled at Marc's
macho act. Then she sighed and felt a chill creep its way up her spine.
She looked up at the clock. It was 11:42. Maybe if she took a nap, had
a little something to eat, and then had a good night's sleep, she'd
be ready to come back to work the next day.
"OK," she conceded. "I
guess going home might actually be a good idea."
"Good. And stay there.
I'll see you tomorrow night, if you feel OK by then."
"Tomorrow night?" Robin
stood up and the world shimmied around her.
"Yeah, the Hallowe'en
party. Remember?" Marc rose and crossed the cubicle. He placed a hand
on Robin's shoulder, peering into her bleary green eyes. "Are you going
to be able to get home OK?"
"I'm all right." Robin
patted Marc's hand. "Just coming down with the flu or something. I'll
be fine by tomorrow."
"I'll call you." He wasn't
convinced that she'd be well in time for the party, but was pretty sure
she could manage the bus ride home. "And you don't need to worry about
a costume. Not everyone dresses up."
"Well, my costume isn't
too complicated anyway." Robin grinned. "I'm coming as a witch."
Marc laughed and waved
her out of the room. He moved to the window and watched until she boarded
the 51 bus and headed home.
Robin stepped up into
the oven on wheels, cleverly disguised as a city transit bus. The heat
from the interior made her reel, and she clutched at the fare box, quickly
depositing her dollar. She stumbled to the first available seat as the
bus lurched away from the curb. She landed awkwardly on the hard plastic
bench and moved closer to the window as a large woman sat next to her.
She scrunched over even farther toward to the side of the bus to avoid
the woman's thighs, which overflowed onto her seat.
She wondered why the
buses could have heating systems that nearly melted her shoes to the
floor in the winter, but no air conditioning. Even a fan would be better
than nothing. She tried to pry open the window a few more inches, but
someone had shoved a fist-sized wad of chewing gum into the windowsill,
and the glass would slide no further.
She briefly entertained
the idea of walking the three miles home, but her legs had felt wobbly
just walking out of the newspaper offices. So she sighed deeply, blowing
her sweaty bangs off her forehead, and tried not to think about the
heat or how horrible she felt. She turned her attention to the conversations
going on around her. She loved to eavesdrop. Often, she used other people's
conversation and stories in her own writing. Some of her best ideas
for articles came from overheard conversations. She sighed and leaned
her head back against the window, closing her eyes and letting the voices
wash over her.
"It's the ozone layer,
man. It's toast. Completely gone."
"We're all being zapped
with radiation. The heat is nothing. It's the radiation that's gonna
"It was this hot when
I was twelve. I remember I was a ghost for Hallowe'en and when I got
home, the sheet was dripping with sweat."
"It's El Nino. Means
we're gonna have a freezing winter. In a few months, you'll be praying
to feel this hot again."
"Do you think Dion likes
me? Paul told me that Kara told her that he does. But I don't know if
I can trust them."
Robin dozed, listening
as the voices faded in and out like a distant radio station. She was
eventually jarred awake by the railroad tracks, which meant she'd missed
her stop. She opened bleary eyes and grabbed at the wire that rang the
bell to request a stop. She smashed her fingers against the window before
managing to hang on and pull the wire.
As the bus slowed, Robin
clamored over the woman next to her, who barely moved her legs to the
side, then stumbled down the aisle. She pushed the back doors open the
minute the bus stopped and the green light flashed, and she used the
door lever to help her balance down the steps. The wave of heat off
the pavement felt like a slap to her face. She pulled at her pink cotton
blouse, which was sticking to her chest. She couldn't wait to get it
and her chinos off and soak in a cold bathtub.
Her knees ached, as if
she'd done two hours on the Stairmaster, and she grimaced as she started
walking the two blocks back to her apartment building. She wondered
whether a cold bath was a good idea if she had the flu. Maybe she'd
just turn the air conditioner on full blast and collapse in front of
By the time Robin reached
the front steps of her building, her head was throbbing and her legs
felt like over-cooked spaghetti. The steps loomed before her and she
felt like crawling up them on her hands and knees. But she managed to
ascend them with her dignity intact, only having to pause once to wait
for the world to stop ebbing and flowing around her.
Once she reached the
top of the front steps, she realized grimly that she'd only reached
the metaphorical base camp to Mt. Everest. She lived on the top floor
of the three-story building and there was no elevator. She stopped to
check her mail and catch her breath. She discarded the junk and tucked
the two magazines and letter from her parents into her pocket. Then,
without dwelling on the daunting climb before her, she took firm hold
of the sturdy wooden banister and stepped up onto the first stair.
Halfway up the first
flight, she was struggling to get air into her lungs. Chills were gripping
her, causing her muscles to spasm and her entire body to shake. She
felt intensely hot and cold at the same time. At the second floor, she
began to see flashes of light in her vision. She forced her body into
autopilot and focused on how good the air conditioner was going to feel.
"Hi. Do you know if the
mails come yet?"
Robin climbed three more
steps before the question made it past her ears and into her brain.
It took an inordinate amount of strength to raise her head so that her
gaze lifted from her shoes to questioning blue eyes. It was even harder
to identify the eyes as those of her next-door neighbor and to try to
come up with an appropriate answer.
" Robin stuttered.
Her voice sounded like a scouring pad on a metal pot. "Yeah."
"Thanks." The woman didn't
move, just continued to examine her. Robin couldn't remember the woman's
name. She'd moved in just a few weeks before and introduced herself
the previous Tuesday when they'd met over the garbage chute. It was
too difficult to try to recall now. Robin had a much tougher job: completing
her climb of the final six steps. She turned to stare at the top, taking
a deep breath and reattaching her hand to the banister.
"Are you OK?"
Robin turned back and
met the concerned eyes. The flashes of light returned to her vision,
like fireflies but growing brighter. They mixed with the crystal blue
eyes staring at her - sparking, strobing.
world went dark and she succumbed to first illness and then gravity.
The last thing she felt were strong arms catching her before she tumbled
down the stairs. The last thing she thought was, "I've felt these arms
She was trapped. An immense
weight was pinning her to the ground, crushing her. The heat was unbearable.
It was burning her skin. Her eyes were boiling. Sweat poured from her
like blood from a fatal wound. She tried to cry out, but the weight
and the heat stifled her. She tried to breathe but managed only a gasping
She couldn't keep fighting.
It was too hard and she was too tired. She was dying. She was alone.
Then she felt the whisper
of fingertips, brushing against her face. Something cool placed upon
her forehead. The weight eased a little and she took a breath, murmuring
She heard humming. The
song was familiar not a lullaby or nursery rhyme, but something
she'd heard a long time before. She chased the memory, floating with
it down into dreams.
When Robin woke again,
the weight had returned. But she shifted and realized it was just a
sheet. She moved her arms, untangling herself from the soft cotton.
She took a hesitant breath and was pleased when her lungs cooperated.
They felt heavy though, and when she swallowed, she winced at the scratchy
She opened her eyes and
looked around. She was in her bed. It was dark. She was wearing nothing
but a t-shirt. It smelled of lavender.
The humming returned,
and she felt disoriented, as her dreams melded with reality. She was
in her apartment and someone was humming. Therefore, someone was in
her apartment. Humming. She congratulated herself on her brilliant deduction.
The humming stopped suddenly.
"Hey. You're awake."
The voice was a smooth contralto.
"I think so," Robin croaked.
"And you're talking.
A definite improvement."
Robin peered into the
shadowed room and waited as the woman drew near and then knelt by the
side of the bed. The concerned, crystal blue eyes of her neighbor examined
"I'm sorry." Robin didn't
know what else to say. Reality was shattered into jigsaw puzzle pieces,
spread out before her, and she had a feeling a few of the pieces were
"You were very ill,"
the woman said. She reached out a hand, and Robin felt a sudden yearning
to feel her touch, but the hand hesitated and then fell to the edge
of the bed where it fussed with the sheet.
"You helped me." It was
more a statement than a question, as Robin's mind started working again.
"I couldn't leave you
on the stairs." Lips curled into a faint smile.
"And once I got you inside,
like I said, you were very ill."
"I thought I was dying."
Robin remembered the weight and the heat, not being able to breathe.
She looked at the blue eyes and saw a glimmer of terror. It faded slowly.
"You had a fever. You
were dreaming. You just felt like you were dying." The woman nodded,
and Robin wondered if she was reassuring herself more than her patient.
"Now I just feel like
a dried up cow patty that's been run over by a tractor."
"That good, huh?" The
smile returned. "By the way, my name is Sloan."
"That's a beautiful name."
The puzzle pieces chose
that moment to slide into place. She carried me into my apartment,
Robin realized. She undressed me, put me into bed. She took care
of me through who knows what. She spent most of the day here. And I
didn't even remember her name. One of the thoughts stubbornly returned:
she undressed me.
"What was that song you
were humming?" Robin pushed the obstinate thought away.
"Song?" Sloan looked
puzzled for a moment. A small crease developed between her brows, and
then disappeared. "Oh, right. It was just a song my mother used to sing."
She seemed embarrassed
and stood suddenly. Robin watched her return to the far side of the
room and the task she'd been doing when Robin woke.
"You're folding laundry?"
Robin looked around her bedroom and realized something was very different.
"You cleaned my room?"
"Well, I was just straightening
up a little while you were asleep."
"Will you marry me?"
Robin winced as the unanticipated question echoed through the otherwise
silent room. Sloan's expression was unreadable, and Robin heard herself
emit an embarrassed giggle, which made her cringe inside.
"What, no romantic dinner,
dozen roses, engagement ring?" Sloan moved back toward Robin, this time
sitting on the edge of the bed.
"Sorry, I guess I should
have planned a little more." Robin relaxed as she saw a twinkle in Sloan's
"Tell you what," Sloan
said, "what if I scrounge up some soup? That's as close to a romantic
dinner as we can get, I'm afraid."
"I'd rather have scrambled
eggs." Robin's stomach began to rumble. "And toast."
"Well, I'd love to make
that for you, but I'm afraid both of our cupboards are a bit bare."
"We could go out."
"You're ill." Sloan raised
an eyebrow, but sounded more indulgent than surprised. Robin smiled,
knowing that she had gotten her way.
Now all she had to do
was get dressed.
They walked down the
block arm in arm. It was more or less a necessity, since Robin's legs
were still wobbly. Robin could hear a few cars on the expressway nearby,
but other than that there was no sign of life. She longed for a breeze,
but the air was heavy and still, as if the earth was tired of breathing.
Robin peered around the
city. She loved this time of night, when the world was like an old black
and white movie. Everything was washed in shades of grey. The buildings
seemed to loom over them; their dark windows were large, unblinking
Sloan led Robin down
an alley between two buildings. Robin felt a moment of panic as they
entered the darkness, but Sloan's step was steady, her grip firm. They
made it to the end safely, and then turned up a one-way street, crossed
through a parking lot, and walked down and across one more street. Robin
wasn't paying attention to their route; she was too busy reveling in
the feel of the corded muscles in Sloan's forearm, which danced as she
walked. Robin felt hot and sticky, but Sloan's skin was dry and soft,
like a baby's cheek.
"Here we are." Sloan
opened the door to the diner and a blast of cold air hit them. Robin
closed her eyes and breathed deeply. Her stomach growled at the smell
of frying bacon.
"I didn't even know this
place was here," Robin said as she slid into an empty booth. The red
vinyl seat squeaked as she scooted over.
"Oh, I've discovered
all the good diners in the neighborhood," Sloan replied. "I'm a big
fan of breakfast food."
"Me too," Robin said
with an eager smile. She gazed around the diner. It was clean and brightly
lit. The light and color was such a change from the grey world outside
that Robin blinked several times until her eyes adjusted.
The diner looked like
something straight out of the Fifties, even though it wasn't full of
fake Fifties kitsch. She realized it was the little things which made
it seem authentic: red and white paper straws in glass straw holders,
an old-fashioned jukebox that looked brand new playing 45s that looked
even newer, and several signs on the walls. One sign claimed the ice
cream and milk came from a dairy she knew had gone bust several years
previously. A Pepsi-Cola clock was perched in the middle of the far
wall. Robin was surprised to see that it was only 11:42. The streets
had been so quiet and it wasn't even midnight.
The diner was as quiet
as the streets outside. A song played on the jukebox Teenager
In Love but it was turned down low. The only other occupant in
the diner looked like he was in a time warp, too. He sat at the counter,
eating a piece of cherry pie and drinking coffee from a heavy, white
mug. He wore a brown and tan bowling shirt, dark blue Levis rolled up
at the ankle, and brown penny loafers. His hair was greased back and
a cigarette was tucked behind his ear.
"I think they do about
seventy-eight different kinds of omelets here," Sloan said, gazing at
the menu she'd grabbed on the way in.
mused, drawing her attention back to her new friend.
"Well, maybe not that
many." Sloan's lips curled in the small smile that Robin was growing
quite fond of.
"There are probably more,
actually," Robin replied, watching the dancing spark in Sloan's blue
eyes. "If there were only six items to choose from, you'd have 64 possible
combinations. Which includes not having an omelet at all, of course.
"Huh?" Sloan's dark eyebrows
contracted over her dancing eyes. Robin was momentarily distracted by
those eyes, and then remembered what she was saying.
"There are probably more
than six items to choose from, though," she continued. "If there are
eight items, there would be 256 possible combinations."
"Wow," Sloan's eyebrows
lifted in surprise. "How do you do that?"
"Witchcraft." Robin tried
to smile enigmatically, but was distracted by the approaching waitress.
Her enigmatic smile became a happy grin when she realized food was imminent.
"Would you like something
to drink while you decide?" the waitress asked. The woman was another
Fifties throwback. She wore a red dress that would have looked perfect
on June Cleaver, as well as a white apron and little white cap that
rested on top of a hair net, which gathered her brown hair into a neat
bun. She wore beige nylons that looked strangely heavy and black shoes
with thick crepe soles.
"That's OK, we know what
we want," Sloan replied with a friendly smile. "Two orders of scrambled
eggs, toast, and hot tea mint if you have it. Oh, and two large
"OK," the waitress said
as she wrote down the order. "Coming right up."
"I haven't had someone
order for me since I was five," Robin said when the waitress was out
of earshot. She raised an eyebrow, but smiled to show she wasn't upset.
"Sorry, I had a feeling
you were going to do something you'd later regret."
"Well, your stomach may
be growling and begging for omelets, bacon, pancakes, and a cinnamon
roll the size of your head, but you're still not feeling well," Sloan
"And I'd be feeling a
lot worse if I ate what my stomach says it wants." Robin finished the
thought, but didn't look convinced. "Whatever happened to feed a cold,
starve a fever?"
"You have a fever." Sloan
lifted her hand and gently brushed aside Robin's bangs, then placed
her palm against Robin's forehead. She scowled as she drew her hand
away. "I shouldn't have agreed to bring you out here."
"I'm feeling a lot better,"
Robin said, thinking that she would feel even better if Sloan kept her
hand on her forehead. She smiled at the thought, but pretended that
she was only smiling at the waitress, who approached with their drinks.
"Good," Sloan replied,
pushing her water to Robin's side of the table. "I want you to drink
all of that water."
"I'm not even thirsty.
I feel like I'm floating away." She frowned when Sloan held up a hand
to stop her complaint.
"Well, I've been forcing
you to drink all afternoon and it obviously helped. So you just keep
"Yes, Mom," Robin said,
pretending to pout.
Sloan let out an aggrieved
huff, but then smiled back. Robin had a sudden feeling that they'd had
this same conversation hundreds of times before. It was more than déjà
vu. The intensity of the feeling left her trembling and she took a drink
of water to calm her nerves.
"This is so strange,"
"What? Your water?" Sloan
reached out to grab the glass, but Robin pulled it away.
"No," Robin replied,
"I mean this." She waved her hand back and forth between them. "I mean
before today I'd barely exchanged a dozen words with you. I couldnt
even remember your name." The admission made her blush.
Sloan smiled and waved
her hand dismissively. "Like I said, I couldn't just leave you on the
stairs. Anyone would have done what I did."
"Well, I personally doubt
that very much. But it's more than just taking care of me."
"More?" Sloan said. "Like
forcing you from your sick bed, dragging you several blocks to my favorite
diner, and allowing you to eat only scrambled eggs and toast? And I
probably didn't mention you're paying."
"I'm serious," Robin
replied, chuckling as Sloan tried to keep a straight face. "It's more
"Oh?" Sloan interlocked
her fingers and rested her chin on her hands. She looked steadily into
"I feel like I've known
you for years," Robin said softly, meeting the gaze. "For longer than
years. Like we
. as if you and I
" She sighed
and looked down at the tabletop. "I can't even describe it."
"Sometimes people meet
and just click," Sloan said. She spoke slowly, choosing her words carefully.
"Maybe it's chemistry. Maybe it's two souls reuniting. Souls that have
been apart for a very long time. It happens."
"Not to me," Robin said,
raising her eyes to dive once more into blue depths. "Never to me."
"Here you go, ladies."
Robin jumped and turned to the approaching waitress. She put her hands
on her lap, as if she was a child caught with her hand in the cookie
jar. The waitress deposited their plates on the table, then grabbed
a water pitcher and refilled their glasses.
"Can I get you anything
else?" She asked, pushing wearily at a strand of brown hair that had
escaped from her hairnet and cloth cap.
"No, we're fine, I think."
Sloan looked in question at Robin.
"Yes, fine," Robin agreed,
smiling at the waitress, who smiled back and left them to eat.
Robin stared at her eggs
and felt her stomach twist as she thought about what she'd been saying.
Poor Sloan had just tried to be a Good Samaritan, she mused,
and she ended up with a lovesick freak on her hands.
"I'm really sorry, you
" Robin blushed again, too embarrassed to continue.
She began to sprinkle pepper over her eggs to give her hands something
"I feel it too."
Robin stopped sprinkling
pepper and just held the shaker tightly in her hand. She was afraid
to move, to breathe. She had a sudden memory. Her father was talking
to her on the phone. She was seven. 'I can't be home for Christmas,
Sweetie, but I'll make it for your birthday. I promise.' It was the
last time she had felt such a deep and intense desire for truth.
"You should eat," Sloan
said, stirring honey into her tea. The heavy teaspoon clinked melodically
against the side of the cup. "Don't tell me you're not hungry now."
"I am," Robin said hurriedly.
She picked up her fork and began to eat her eggs. They were strangely
tasteless, but she knew she needed to get something in her stomach.
Sloan stopped stirring
her tea and reached for the bottle of Tabasco sauce tucked between the
napkin holder and the ketchup. She removed the lid and sprinkled the
hot sauce over her eggs with short, firm shakes of the bottle. Robin
stared at the small, red drops. They reminded her of blood. She shivered
but was transfixed, unable to shift her gaze.
"Hey." Sloan craned her
neck to make eye contact with Robin. "You OK?"
"Sorry," Robin replied,
slowly tracking to Sloan's face. "I guess I'm a little tired."
"Well, as soon as you've
finished eating, we'll get you back to bed."
Robin nodded and took
a sip of her tea. The mint cleared her head a little and the honey eased
her throat. Bed sounded very, very good.
"There's no place like
home," Robin announced at the front steps of their apartment building.
"So they say," Sloan
said with a cynical smirk.
Robin lifted her hair
off the back of her neck, where it stuck in sweaty tendrils. After the
air-conditioned coolness of the diner, the heat outside seemed even
more oppressive. To top it off, her fever seemed to be returning with
a vengeance. She looked up at the six steps that led to the front door
of the building and wondered how she'd manage. Then she thought about
the other twenty-eight.
"Something strange has
happened," Robin said, taking deep breaths, trying to fill her lungs
with enough oxygen to make the journey.
"What's happened?" Sloan
turned worried eyes to Robin and placed her hand lightly on the smaller
"Our apartment building
has turned into Mt. Everest. Have you seen any Sherpas nearby?"
"Relax." Sloan's little
grin returned. "I come from a long line of Sherpas."
Before Robin could protest,
Sloan picked her up in strong arms, cradling her like a small child:
one arm supporting her back and the other under her knees.
"Sloan! You are not going
to carry me up those stairs."
"It's no big deal. I
Robin blushed as the
implication of her comment sunk in.
Sloan smiled affectionately
at Robin. "I'll let you know if I get tired."
Robin decided to enjoy
the ride. She had little choice in the matter. There was no way her
legs would take her to her apartment. It was heaven to be off her feet,
but the movement made her dizzy. She closed her eyes and rested her
head against Sloan's chest. She could hear the air moving steadily in
and out of Sloan's lungs, and Sloans heart beating rhythmically
"Here you go," Sloan
murmured. Robin sank into her bed and felt soft cotton tucked lightly
around her. The smell of lavender filled her nostrils. She opened bleary
eyes in confusion.
"What?" She had been
in Sloan's arms, moving up the stairs. Now she was in bed. She struggled
to fill in the missing time.
"It's all right," Sloan
said, brushing Robin's bangs off her forehead and placing her palm against
the hot skin. "You fell asleep on the way up."
"Sorry," Robin replied.
"You were going to tell me if you got tired."
"I didn't." Sloan frowned,
concern causing a line to form in her forehead. "Your fever's back."
"Guess I didn't drink
enough." Robin smiled and tried to lift her hand to smooth the crease
in Sloan's forehead. But her hand was too heavy.
"You didn't," Sloan replied,
moving away from the bed. "I need to get you some more."
"Don't leave me," Robin
said, struggling again to reach out her hand.
"It's all right." Sloan
came back and sat on the edge of the bed. She ran her fingers lightly
down Robin's cheek, then through her hair, scratching lightly against
Robin calmed and closed
her eyes. Sloan's fingers were leaving trails of tingles across her
head and face, and it felt wonderful. She smiled as Sloan began to hum
the tune Robin had heard when she'd woken earlier.
"I know that song," Robin
"You caught me humming
it before. My mother sang it to me when I was a child. And her mother
sang it to her. It comes from the Old Country."
"Don't leave me," Robin
repeated. "Please stay here."
"I will," Sloan promised.
"Will you watch over
me?" Robin persisted. She opened her eyes again and felt hot tears spilling
out. "Will you hold me tonight?"
Sloan wiped Robin's tears
with the tip of her finger, then leaned down and placed a tender kiss
on her forehead.
"I'll watch you," she
said. "I'll hold you."
Robin sighed as she felt
the bed dip and strong arms wrap around her, pulling her close. She
relaxed into the embrace, knowing that everything would be all right.
She felt like an innocent bystander, witnessing her soul's surrender.
Robin was pleased to
feel the arms around her when she next woke. She lay still, keeping
her eyes closed, and absorbed the feeling. She felt as if she'd been
living in a cave. The world outside was growing colder and darker. But
now, a fire had been lit. She had warmth and light and protection.
"This can't be happening."
She had meant it as a thought only, but she murmured the words softly,
and felt Sloan tighten her hold.
"What's wrong?" Sloan
asked, her voice a soft burr.
"It's all right," Robin
whispered. "Go back to sleep."
"What time is it?"
Robin peered at the clock.
"Ten past five."
Sloan stretched. Since
she didn't move her arms from their position, Robin was lifted and moved
along with the stretch.
"I'm just your cuddly
toy, aren't I?" Robin joked.
Sloan seemed to suddenly
realize where her arms were and began to pull them away, but Robin grabbed
them. She was weak, but determined, and managed to hold on.
"Don't. Please," Robin
"I should go," Sloan
"Why?" Robin turned in
the embrace and peered at Sloan, their faces only inches apart.
"You need to get some
more sleep," Sloan replied. "Your fever's down, but you need to take
it easy today."
"OK," Robin agreed with
a slow grin. "Then let's go back to sleep."
"I think you'll sleep
a lot better without me hogging your pillow."
"I don't think so," Robin
said matter-of-factly. "In fact, I know I won't."
Sloan looked as if she
was going to argue, but then her face went still. Her eyes widened and
she peered intently at Robin. Robin kept her gaze steady. She didn't
say anything; her face spoke the words that needed to be said.
Slowly, Sloan lifted
her hand and ran her fingers down Robin's face, tracing her cheekbone,
her jaw, her chin.
"Yes," Robin replied,
knowing the answer without understanding the question. She felt Sloan's
fingers tremble as they ran through her hair. "Don't be afraid," she
Sloan smiled. "Never
when you're beside me." She leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on
Robin's cheek. Robin leaned into the tender contact, and Sloan continued
to lightly kiss where her fingers had earlier traveled.
Robin hummed in pleasure
as lips pressed against the pulse point in her neck, and then groaned
as the pressure increased. She surrendered to the sensations that assailed
her, letting them wash over her like a wave from a storm-swollen sea.
A hand gliding over the
curve of a hip, leaving behind a trail of goose bumps.
The rustle of a sheet;
the sigh of a pillow.
A drop of sweat running
between breasts, captured by a wandering tongue.
The softness of a wrist;
the straining hardness of a nipple.
Mouths exploring and
discovering and claiming.
Soft moans of pleasure
turning into guttural moans of desire.
The salty taste of sweat
and tears and sex.
Hands trembling, grasping,
Nails clawing down a
Licking, sucking, thrusting,
Two souls standing on
a cliff edge, fingers interlocked.
Falling, crashing, rushing
An affirmation, called
out and echoed.
A tear, falling slowly
down a cheek, captured by soft lips.
"I love you."
It was dawn when Robin
next woke. The early light was already glaring, no fog or morning clouds
to filter its intensity. Robin listened to the chirp of a few brave
birds. They sounded grim and resigned to facing another day of heat.
Sloan slept next to her,
turned away so that Robin had a view of her long mane of ebony hair
and wide shoulders, which tapered down to slim hips. Sloan's dark hair
contrasted beautifully with the flawless, alabaster skin of her back.
Robin's hand seemed to have a will of its own, and she reached out and
ran her fingers through the smooth, thick hair.
"That's nice," Sloan
"Mmm." Sloan didn't appear
motivated to move, and Robin kept toying with her hair.
"Your hair reminds me
of a piece of obsidian I had when I was a kid."
"Obsidian?" Sloan asked.
She turned her head to look at Robin.
"I used to hold it against
my lips to feel how smooth it was."
Robin pulled a lock of
Sloan's hair, holding it against her lips. She closed her eyes and moved
it gently back and forth. "Beautiful," she whispered.
Sloan pulled her hair
from Robin's fingers and replaced it with her own lips. Robin sighed
at the feather-light kiss, opening her eyes as Sloan pulled back.
"Beautiful," Sloan echoed.
Their lips met again.
This time, Sloan's lips were hungry, insistent.
"Slow down, love." Robin
pulled back, gasping at the intensity of Sloan's touch. "We have our
A glimmer of sorrow flashed
in Sloan's eyes. "I know," she whispered.
Robin shivered, feeling
a bitterly cold wash of panic flow through her. She drew Sloan toward
her, holding her tightly.
"It will be all right,"
she vowed firmly.
"Make love to me," Sloan
It was an easy request
"What time is it?"
Robin looked up at Sloan,
who stood looking out the window. Sloans body was tense, as if
poised to jump or dash or fight. It thrummed, like a tight bowstring
right before the arrow has been released.
"Sometime between seven
and eight," Sloan said without turning around. She was dressed in chinos
and a pale blue silk blouse. The blouse was sheer, and Robin could see
the outline of her breasts in the light streaming through the window.
"Still hot out there?"
Sloan didn't reply. Her
knuckles were white from her grip on the curtain.
"Sloan, are you all right?"
Robin asked, her voice cracking with worry.
Sloan turned quickly.
Her eyes blazed with anger, and Robin instinctively pulled back. Sloan
saw the movement and with an obvious effort, she gentled her eyes and
"I'm sorry, Robin," Sloan
said, moving to the bed and sitting on the edge. "I have to go out for
a little while. I'll be back as soon as I can."
"Tell me what's happening."
Robin reached out and wrapped her fingers around Sloan's wrist.
"You try to get some
more sleep," Sloan said, ignoring the request. "You're doing a lot better,
but you need to rest some more. And drink." She pointed to bottles of
water and Gatorade on the bedside table.
"Are you trying to drown
me?" Robin asked with a grin.
Sloan leaned down and
kissed Robin. The contact was brief, but intense, leaving Robin's breath
ragged with desire.
"Mouth to mouth," Sloan
said with a little grin.
"Do you have to go?"
Robin asked. Her seductive smile disappeared when Sloan's jaw clenched
and the ice returned to her blue eyes.
"I'll be back soon,"
Sloan said. "Don't leave the apartment."
"I'm not planning to."
"Promise me." Sloan cupped
Robin's cheek and stared intently into her eyes.
"I promise," Robin repeated
She let Sloan go, watching
her stride purposely out of the bedroom, then listened to her leave
the apartment. She could hear the stomping of feet as Sloan headed down
the stairs. A few moments later, the front door of the building slammed
Robin buried her head
into her pillow, breathing in the scent of lavender and the lingering
traces of their lovemaking. Without knowing why, she began to softly
"Wake up, sleepyhead."
The voice was so gentle,
it almost sent Robin deeper into sleep. But Sloan shook her shoulder
gently until she managed to keep her eyes open and focused.
"I'm awake," she mumbled.
"How are you feeling?"
It took a moment for
Robin to assess her body enough to answer. "Good." She stretched and
yawned, then added in a surprised voice, "Great, in fact."
"Think you're up to going
"I was thinking more
along the lines of staying in bed all day making love," Robin replied,
raising her eyebrow suggestively.
"Well, as much as I'd
love that, it might get a little uncomfortable after awhile without
Robin looked confused
for a moment, and then realized that her air conditioning unit was no
longer humming in the background. She looked around the room and noticed
the dark display of her digital clock.
"Nope," Sloan confirmed.
"I think they're turning it on and off in grids so it doesn't go out
completely across the city."
"I hope you're right.
I should call into work. They may need "
"No," Sloan interrupted,
sitting down beside Robin. "You need to rest and get better. You can
afford to take one day off."
"OK, yeah." Robin shrugged.
"I guess one day won't matter in the grand scheme of things."
Sloan froze, then nodded
and smiled fondly at Robin. She reached out and ran a finger down Robin's
cheek, where the earlier tears had left tracks of salt.
"If you had one day left
on earth, what would you do?" Sloan asked, leaning back against the
bed's headboard and pulling Robin toward her. Robin nestled into the
crook of Sloan's arm.
." Robin considered
for a moment. "What would I be dying of? Because I'd probably be in
a drug-induced haze if I'm lucky."
"You're not in pain,"
Sloan clarified. "Forget about the dying part. What would you do?"
"I'm not really sure."
She began to consider her options. "I only have a day to do something?"
"Yes," Sloan replied,
and then added, "not even a full day just a matter of hours,
let's say. You need to make a snap decision."
"Well, I would have wanted
to do all the things I never did, like cross the Australian Outback
on a camel or bike through Vietnam."
"So you would go somewhere
"No, that's not my answer,"
Robin said quickly. She considered a while longer. "First, I would tell
everybody I know how much I love them. Then I guess I'd do something
for someone that would change their life give them all of my
money, my belongings. Of course, I don't have much to give away. I'd
give blood, make sure my organs would be donated
Robin's musing was interrupted
when she felt a kiss on the top of her head.
"Get dressed," Sloan
said gently. "You've only got one day left on earth."
Robin climbed into Sloan's
truck, thankful that the seats were cloth. Her shorts would have provided
little protection against the searing heat of leather or vinyl. As it
was, she was covered by a sheen of sweat right after entering the sweltering
interior of the cab, causing her cotton blouse to cling to her back
and chest. She was thankful when Sloan quickly turned on the ignition
and blasted the AC.
The radio was on, and
Robin listened to the end of a weather report as she adjusted the vents
to blow into her face.
in the valley," the weatherman reported, "as well as by the water and
in the mountains. It's not getting any cooler folks, so make sure all
those trick-or-treaters have plenty to drink tonight and take lots of
Sloan turned the radio
off with a flick of her wrist, sneering at the dashboard.
"Maybe it'll be cooler
tomorrow," Robin said.
"Oh, I'm sure it will,"
Sloan replied with a sigh.
She smiled enigmatically,
and then reached over Robin's knees, opening the glove compartment.
Robin moved her knees to the side and watched as Sloan withdrew a thick,
"Here," Sloan said, handing
the envelope to Robin.
"What is it?" Robin lifted
the flap with her index finger and took a peek inside.
dollars," Sloan replied. "It's what was left in my bank account."
"I don't understand,"
Robin said. She peered at the crisp, green bills stuffed into the envelope,
and her forehead wrinkled in confusion. She looked up to meet Sloan's
clear blue gaze.
"Change someone's life,"
Sloan said, raising an eyebrow.
"OK," Robin said, continuing
to meet Sloan's gaze. "Drive toward the lake. I'll tell you when to
The city was nearly as
silent as it had been the night before. Despite the quiet, however,
there were many more people. Everywhere they passed, people sat or slept
in whatever shady spots they could find: on porches, under freeway overpasses,
in the shaded sides of buildings. The parks were thronged with people,
but no one was playing ball or having a picnic. They all sat, staring
at nothing, or slept, some with hats or clothes pulled over their faces.
Robin spotted a family
sleeping under a pine tree beside a fast food restaurant. A man, a woman,
and three children. None of them were moving, not even the infant that
slept between the two grown-ups. Robin thought of the bodies in the
morgue, and wondered how many of the people she had seen lying on grass
or dirt or concrete were already dead. A shiver clawed its way through
"It will be all right,"
Sloan's reassuring expression
calmed Robin instantly, and she sighed in relief. She smiled her thanks,
then turned to gaze at the city streets. They were nearing a group of
tall office buildings that were clustered around a square courtyard.
A fountain took up a large portion of the courtyard. Normally, it would
be shooting streams of water into the air, but without electricity,
the water was still. Several children, as well as a few adults, had
been drawn to the cool, clear water. Some had their legs dangling in
the fountain; others were all the way inside, treating it as their own
personal swimming pool.
"Stop over there." Robin
indicated a parking spot in the shade and Sloan pulled in against the
Robin scanned the courtyard.
She spied an old woman sitting next to a shopping cart loaded with belongings
stuffed into black garbage bags. Sitting across from the woman, a man
held out a hand for change, oblivious to the fact that no one passed
him by. On the far side of the square, a thin, dirty woman searched
through a trashcan. She pulled out a discarded cup and took quick sips
through the straw, then threw it back and searched for more.
Robin heard a shrill
cry and looked back toward the fountain. A little boy had fallen on
the slippery tiles and held a bleeding knee. He rocked back and forth,
his body trembling with sobs. A teenaged boy got up from a shady alcove
and approached the child. The older boy leaned down and picked up the
younger one, carrying him back into the shade. The teenager fussed over
the scrape and leaned forward to whisper reassuring words, then sent
the child back to the fountain.
"I'll be right back,"
Robin said, having reached her decision. She picked up the white envelope,
and Sloan simply nodded.
Robin held on to the
door handle of the truck until she was used to the heat and her head
stopped spinning. Then she crossed the sidewalk and walked down the
granite steps that led to the courtyard. She felt a few eyes track her
progress, but they soon lost interest. Curiosity required too much energy.
She approached the teenager
slowly. He raised suspicious eyes as she neared.
"Here," she said, tossing
the envelope. It landed against ragged Nikes.
"What is it?" he asked
without moving or looking down.
"See for yourself." Robin
turned and walked away slowly. Before she was out of earshot, she heard
the rustle of paper and a short, sharp inhalation.
"Why did you give it
to him?" Sloan asked when Robin climbed back into the cab of the truck.
"Because it will change
his life," Robin replied.
"He's a teenaged boy;
he'll spend it on games, CDs, and junk food."
"Maybe," Robin said thoughtfully.
"Or maybe he'll give it to his mom to pay the bills and the rent, or
he'll put it in the bank, or he'll buy a computer. His whole life is
in front of him. There's a world of possibilities."
"And if he still blows
it on toys and candy?"
"Then he'll learn a lesson,"
Robin persisted. "And in a few years, when he's grown up and struggling
to make ends meet, he'll remember what happened. And the next time he
has a chance at something, he'll hang on to it. He'll understand its
"Sometimes it's easier
to appreciate something once you've lost it," Sloan said softly.
"You sound like you're
speaking from experience."
"I am." Sloan turned
to Robin, and Robin saw the sparkle of tears in her eyes. "I lost something
very precious to me. Let it slip through my fingers. I've been searching
for a very long time, and I've finally found it again."
Robin looked curiously
at Sloan, but the dark-haired woman turned to stare out at the crowded
"Let's go to the ocean,"
Sloan suggested suddenly, starting the car and pulling quickly away
from the curb. "It might be cooler there."
"Cooler sounds good,"
Robin said. She leaned her head back against the seat's padded headrest
and prepared herself for when Sloan would be ready to talk.
Robin felt like they'd
been stuck in traffic forever. She leaned her head against the back
window. The glass was hot and burned her scalp through her hair. She
jerked away and twisted her body around. She had removed the seat belt,
deciding she was safe going three miles an hour.
They passed an overheating
car, smoke and steam gushing from the raised hood. The occupants were
resting several yards away under a tree. Sloan inched around the abandoned
vehicle and sped up a little. Robin was surprised to see the speedometer
hit nearly ten miles per hour.
"Maybe this wasn't such
a good idea," Robin said.
"I know a short cut."
Sloan grinned at her tired companion. "Just a little bit further and
I'll turn off. It's a private road, and it climbs a hill then descends
to a private beach. No one else will be on the road or the beach."
"Sounds like heaven."
Robin yawned, and then breathed deeply to wake herself up. Her nose
twitched. "Do you smell smoke?"
"Fires," Sloan said simply.
Robin peered out the
"Nowhere near here,"
Sloan reassured her. "We're safe, sweetheart."
Robin smiled, savoring
"Put your seatbelt back
on," Sloan requested as she turned off on the private road she had promised.
She pulled to a stop in front of a locked gate, and hopped out of the
truck. She unlocked the huge padlock and pulled the heavy chain off
the gate, then swung it open. It squeaked loudly on rarely used hinges.
Sloan drove through,
then hopped out and relocked the gate.
"We'll be there soon,"
she said as she climbed back into the truck.
Robin nodded, wondering
whose private property they were on and why Sloan had a key.
The road ended at a low
cliff, with a trail down to the beach. Sloan parked the truck and got
out, grabbing towels and a cooler from the back of the truck.
"I didn't see that before,"
Robin said. "What's in the cooler?"
"Water," Sloan answered.
She grinned at Robin's loud moan. "You may be feeling better, but your
body is still recovering."
"Well, the only liquid
I want to see right now is that big body of water out there." Robin
pointed toward the ocean and headed to the trail that led to the private
"I see the sea and the
sea sees me," Sloan said as they hiked down the trail.
"When I was a kid, my
mom used to say that every time she saw the ocean," Robin said. "It
scared me. The idea of the sea looking at me."
The trail passed through
scrub and then opened up to a small, pristine beach. Driftwood dotted
the shore. Small birds darted in and out of the water, pecking their
long beaks into the wet sand. A seagull flew overhead, screeching its
displeasure when it didn't spy food.
Robin picked her way
across gravel and then hot sand. When she reached the tidemark, she
kicked off her sandals and sank her toes into the blissfully cool sand.
She looked up and down the beach, then back at the cliffs and trees
behind them. Satisfied that no one could see, she stripped off her shorts,
shirt, and underwear and ran naked into the ocean. She dove into a wave,
and then surfaced, screaming her pleasure. Sloan grinned, then quickly
shucked her own clothes and dove into the water.
They played in the water
like frisky sea lions chasing each other, body surfing, diving
for shells. The water was so refreshingly cool after the stifling heat
that it took Robin a while to realize that the normally freezing Pacific
was much warmer than normal.
"It feels like playing
in the bathtub," she pointed out, as she relaxed and let a wave bob
her like a buoy.
"El Nino," Sloan replied.
Robin tried to remember
what the scientists had said when she interviewed them for her story.
A professor with kind eyes and a stubbly beard had spoken calmly to
her about global warming. A young graduate student had shown her a chart
mapping volcanic activity in Alaska, and then asked her if she wanted
to go for a beer. Someone had said something about El Nino.
"Do you have any food
in that cooler?" Robin eventually asked. At Sloan's answering grin,
Robin swam to a wave and let it carry her to shore.
Sloan caught up to Robin
and took her hand. Robin smiled at the simple gesture. They walked hand
in hand back to the towels and cooler, which Sloan had left in the shadow
of a large rock. Sloan spread the towels on the smooth, warm sand and
opened the cooler. She passed a large bottle of water to Robin first.
"Have something to drink
and I'll let you see what else is in the cooler," Sloan said. She threw
her body between Robin and the cooler when the smaller woman lunged
"Oh, come on, Sloan,"
Sloan simply raised an
imperious eyebrow until Robin conceded and took several large gulps
of the water. Robin had to admit that it did make her feel much more
"OK, I feel better,"
Robin said. "Where's the food."
Sloan sighed dramatically
and pulled out an apple.
"Do you want some fruit?"
Robin grabbed the apple
and bit into it. "I'd rather have double fudge ice cream, but this will
do as an appetizer."
Sloan grabbed an apple
for herself, and then stretched out on her side, leaning her head on
her propped up hand. Robin stretched out behind Sloan and watched the
play of muscles as Sloan munched her fruit.
"I love the ocean," Robin
said, reaching out and running a finger across Sloan's shoulder blades.
"I don't think I could stand to live far from it."
"You could if you had
to," Sloan replied.
"Well, I hope I don't
ever have to."
Sloan stopped chewing,
and Robin felt a shiver beneath her fingertips.
"We don't always get
a choice," Sloan said softly.
Robin's stomach clenched.
"What do you mean?" She tried to keep her voice neutral. Inside her
head, she screamed: Don't tell me you're leaving.
"The sun's about to set."
Sloan sat up and motioned for Robin to sit in front of her.
Robin frowned at the
change of subject, but crawled in front of Sloan, sitting between her
legs. She leaned back and trembled at the feeling of Sloan's breasts
on her bare back. Sloan placed a kiss on Robin's shoulder and then began
to comb her fingers through Robin's hair.
"Feels nice," Robin murmured.
"Good," Sloan replied.
They sat silently watching
as the sun crept slowly toward the horizon. It seemed to linger above
the waterline, turning crimson. Robin felt sudden, intense panic. She
felt Sloan's hands leave her hair and wrap around her, comforting her.
She wanted to turn around in Sloan's embrace and lean her head against
her breast, but she couldn't tear her gaze away from the setting sun.
The sun was like a bullet
wound, and it was expanding, seeping across the sky. As it touched the
horizon, Robin felt the world stop. The birds overhead were silent;
the waves stopped their climb to the shore. She forgot how to breathe
or speak or feel. The moment lasted until the final sliver of the sun
slithered below the horizon. Then a sound began, like a great wind.
Robin felt movement all around her, as if everything was rushing toward
the place where the sun had descended. She felt her ears pop as the
sound grew louder and the feeling stronger. She opened her mouth to
scream, but the sound was sucked from her mouth and joined the rush
toward the sun.
And then it was over.
The waves completed their tumble onto the shore. A seagull cried out
overhead. She took a breath. And then another. She felt a tear trickle
down her cheek.
"We need to go," Sloan
whispered, her breath hot on Robin's ear.
"Tell me what's happening,"
Robin said. Her voice cracked and she took a deep breath before demanding
in a firmer voice, "Please, Sloan, tell me what's going on."
Robin tried to remain
as still as possible, breathing shallowly. She felt as if she were approaching
a wild stallion, her hand outstretched. If she were very careful, Sloan
might not shy and bolt away.
"I'll tell you," Sloan
finally said, "but you have to promise to listen and not interrupt.
Listen until I'm finished and don't think about what I've said until
I've explained everything."
"I promise," Robin said
carefully. Sloan removed her arms from where they were still wrapped
around Robin, but kept her hands resting lightly on the smaller woman's
shoulders. Robin wanted to turn around to face Sloan, but decided that
Sloan needed the distance.
Sloan took a deep breath
and then said, "It's the end of the world."
The statement hung in
the air like a partially inflated balloon. Robin couldn't look at it
and concentrated instead on the feeling of Sloan's fingers on her bare
"I can't explain the
scientific facts," Sloan finally continued. "I just know that was the
last sunset you or I will ever see. I've been told things
hesitated and blew out a disgusted breath. "I'm sorry, this sounds incredible
and insane and
" She trailed of and Robin could hear her taking
quick, panting breaths.
"Go on," Robin whispered.
There was no response
for a moment, just more of the harsh, rapid breaths. Finally, Sloan
responded. "I just know that it's true. The world will end tonight.
But I have a way out. I've been given an opportunity to leave the earth.
another thing I can't really explain because I haven't
been told exactly how
Sloan trailed off again
and Robin waited.
"I want you to come with
me," Sloan said, her fingers digging into Robin's shoulders. "I love
you and I couldn't bear to be without you."
Sloan brushed her face
against Robin's shoulder, and Robin felt hot tears run down her back.
"Don't cry," she said,
feeling tears pool in her own eyes. "Please don't cry."
"I'm sorry," Sloan said.
She stood quickly and moved down the beach, gathering their clothes
with savage motions. She marched back to Robin with the clothes and
shoes in her arms and dropped them down on the towels. "We need to go."
Robin dressed quickly,
thinking about what Sloan had said, trying to make sense of it. Then
a memory surfaced: Marc telling her about a madman. "If you try to use
logic with a nutcase
She hurried after Sloan,
who was halfway up the trail. By the time she got to the top, Sloan
was starting the truck's engine. The dashboard light illuminated her
face, and Robin could see that her jaw was set in anger and frustration.
"I'm sorry," Sloan said
as Robin climbed into the truck. "I'm sorry I had to tell you like this.
I tried to come up with a better way. If only I'd had more time. It
just took so damn long to find you. I've been searching for a lifetime.
"It's all right." Robin
interrupted the jumble of words. "I just "
"No," Sloan said sharply.
"Don't say anything. You don't need to say anything. Just think about
what I've said. Just
shit, I've never been any good at words."
Sloan put the car into
reverse, shifting with an angry jerk of her arm, and backed away from
the cliff. The truck's wheels tore at the gravel road, skidding for
a moment before gaining traction. She turned the truck around and drove
back up the road toward the locked gate.
When they turned back
onto the highway, they found that the endless line of cars was gone.
Only an occasional pair of headlights cut through the growing twilight,
always moving in the opposite direction, toward the sea. Robin leaned
her head against the window, staring at the passing countryside. The
trees huddled at the side of the road like dark, lumbering beasts.
"None of this seems real."
Robin finally broke the silence.
"It is real." Sloan gripped
the steering wheel so tightly her knuckles were white. "It's not a dream
or hallucination. No matter what you
" she paused and took a deep
breath, then said firmly, "no matter what happens tonight, know that
I love you and that this is not a dream."
"OK," Robin whispered.
"Nothing else matters,"
Sloan continued vehemently. "Promise me you'll believe in our love."
Sloan looked quickly
at Robin and then back to the road.
Robin paused. She felt
like she was adrift, not knowing where she was or how to get home. She
stared at Sloan's profile, backlit by the fading sun. The light was
a halo around her ebony hair.
I love her.
The thought was a crystal
knife, and it pierced Robin's heart with violent clarity.
"I promise," Robin vowed,
nodding her head with certainty.
Silence descended once
again. Sloan continued to hold the steering wheel with a death grip,
concentrating on the road, as if expecting someone to jump in front
of her on the lonely highway.
Someone or something,
Robin mused grimly. She peered out the window, and thought she saw the
occasional movement of large animals or people. She was ready to dismiss
it as her imagination playing tricks on her when the headlights reflected
back from eyes six feet off the ground.
"What the hell was that?"
She asked, instinctively moving away from the window toward the center
of the cab.
"It'll be all right,"
Robin laughed bitterly.
"I don't think so," she said.
She felt anger bubbling
inside. In a far off corner of her mind, she knew her response was a
defense mechanism. She was too angry to care. She was angry at the situation,
whether real or imaginary; angry with Sloan for handing her a pure,
simple love and making it complicated and conditional; and angry with
For falling in love
with a madwoman? She mused. Do you really believe she's mad?
She glared out the window.
They were in the outskirts of the city. There was more movement
normal movement. Except
she jumped as a wolf-faced boy ran down
the sidewalk beside the truck.
"Shit!" She cried, but
then relaxed slightly as she saw more children, wearing masks and shorts,
running between houses.
"Trick or treat!"
The shouts should have
calmed her, but they were jarring to her nerve-rattled ears. She wondered
how people could possibly celebrate Hallowe'en under the circumstances.
Because of the heat
wave? She asked herself, or because the world is about to end?
They stopped at an intersection
and Sloan reached over and rested her hand on Robin's leg, just above
the knee. Robin's muscles quivered as she fought not to pull away from
the warm touch. She couldn't look at Sloan, so she peered out the windshield
instead and thought about Hallowe'en when she was a kid. Bobbing for
apples and slumber parties. Parties.
"Sloan, will you please
drop me off somewhere? It's near here." Marc's house was only a slight
detour from their route.
"Sure," Sloan said, pulling
her hand back and driving forward when the light turned green. "But
"I have to think," Robin
replied. "How much time do I have?"
"Midnight," Sloan said.
"I can't wait any longer than that."
Robin checked the clock
on the dash. It was five minutes past ten.
"There's time," Robin
said. "Please. I need to do this."
"OK." Sloan nodded her
head. Her face was stark, her eyes a dark indigo. "Tell me where to
Robin complied, and in
ten minutes, they pulled up to Marc's house. Robin looked at the restored
Victorian and watched people moving past the front window, some dressed
in costumes, most with food or a beer in their hands. She saw some people
dancing, some just talking. People just hanging out, having a good time.
"Will you be all right?"
Robin tried not to laugh
at the incongruous question, but another bitter chuckle slipped out.
"I'm sorry," Robin said.
"I'm the one who should
apologize. If there was any other way to "
"Where will you be?"
Robin interrupted. She was the wild stallion now; she wanted to bolt,
to run as far and as fast as she could go.
"Do you know where First
Street hits the bay?"
"The old cannery? The
one they've turned into shops and art galleries?"
"Yeah." Sloan nodded.
"Turn right there and drive along Bayview. There's an abandoned warehouse.
It's got the name 'Fisher and Sons' painted on the side."
"I covered a dock worker's
strike down there a few months ago," Robin said. "I know where you mean."
"There's a door marked
'Deliveries'. It'll be open."
"OK," Robin said, gripping
the door handle.
"Before midnight, sweetheart."
Robin looked at Sloan.
The face that looked back at her was full of desperate uncertainty.
Robin wanted to say she'd be there, that everything would be all right.
But she had always been honest with Sloan. She couldn't start lying
"OK," she repeated. She
opened the door quickly and jumped out. She didn't look back. As she
climbed the steps, she heard the truck shift into gear and drive away.
She turned then and watched the retreating red taillights. The elm trees
that leaned over the quiet street seemed to swallow the truck in their
She shook the image off
and rang the doorbell. She was pleased when the door opened and Marc
stood in the entryway. He was dressed as a vampire - his dark hair gelled
back, plastic fangs protruding from his lips, and a trickle of fake
blood dripping down his chin. But his dark eyes twinkled with pleasure
and a smile worked its way around his phony teeth.
"Robbie!" He cried, moving
forward and wrapping her up in a bear hug. "I've been worried sick about
"Sorry, buddy, I should
"Hell yeah, you should
have," Marc admonished. "I got so worried I went over to your place
this afternoon. You were nowhere to be found."
"We went to the ocean.
It was cooler there."
"We?" Marc pulled back
and Robin blushed under his scrutiny.
"I was really sick when
I went home yesterday," Robin explained. "My neighbor helped me out.
" She trailed off, unable to explain the last twenty-four hours.
"And?" Marc prodded.
"And we hit it off,"
Robin finished lamely.
"You fell in love?" Marc
smiled broadly. "You took off work for the first time since I've known
you, I thought you were dying, and the whole time you were making a
love connection? You dog!"
"It's not like that,"
"Yeah, yeah." Marc grinned.
"I know. You're the first two people who ever fell in love. What you
have is unlike any other love on the planet. You've met your soulmate.
Blah, blah, blah. Come on, let's grab a beer and you can tell me all
Marc took Robin by the
elbow and led her through the house. She smiled and nodded as she passed
people she knew, but Marc didn't pause until he reached the kitchen.
He stuck is hand in a bucket full of ice and Coronas, pulled out two
bottles by the necks, then opened them on the counter. He stuck some
lime slices in the bottles and then led Robin out the back door. He
sat on the wooden steps that led out to his little backyard, motioning
for Robin to sit next to him.
Robin sat and put the
cold beer bottle against her forehead, rolling it back and forth. She
had almost forgotten about the heat, but now it was pummeling her, punishing
her for her inattention.
"So, what's her name?
What does she do for a living? Where's she from? How many brothers and
sisters does she have?" Marc tried to take a sip of beer, but realized
that his plastic teeth were a problem. He spit them out and put them
in his pocket.
"Her name is Sloan,"
Robin answered. She paused, considering the simple questions that Marc
had asked. She had a sudden, intense longing for a simple, uncomplicated
relationship. "I don't know the answer to the rest of your questions."
Robin watched Marc open
his mouth and expected another jibe. But he caught her eye and seemed
to sense her mood.
"Tell me about her,"
Marc said. He smiled in encouragement, but he looked concerned and ready
to help, and Robin knew she'd been right to seek him out.
"I love her." Robin began
with the one thing she was sure about. "She's gentle and beautiful and
considerate. She took care of me when I was sick even though we hardly
knew each other. I've never felt so connected to someone before."
"Sounds good." He paused.
"What's the problem?"
Robin looked up at the
night sky, as if the stars held the answers to all of her questions.
The sky was clear, the stars white pinpricks of light. She started to
pick out the constellations, but her eyebrows drew together in confusion
as she watched a tendril of blue light creep across the sky. It grew
and was soon joined by other arms of light, which streaked and floated
through the air.
"What is that?"
"Aurora Borealis," Marc
responded. "They said we might get that tonight."
"Yeah," Marc peered at
the sky. "I suppose. But you're changing the subject."
Robin sighed. "It's complicated."
"True love is always
complicated." Marc smiled sympathetically. "Tell me what's going on."
Robin sat for a long
time, watching the amazing lights in the sky and trying to come up with
a way to put into words what had happened and what she was feeling.
She knew Marc would wait for as long as it took.
"My life has always been
normal," Robin finally said. "It's been ordinary and safe and vanilla.
But since the moment I met Sloan on the stairs yesterday, it's been
and definitely fudge swirl." Marc continued Robin's thought.
"Yes, that about sums
it up." Robin smiled and took a sip of beer.
"And how do you feel
"Sick to my stomach,"
Robin replied quickly. "And it's not because of the fever."
"Did you ever ride a
really scary roller coaster when you were a kid?"
"Yeah," Robin replied,
wondering where Marc was taking the conversation.
"Do you remember how
you felt when you were standing in line? And then when you first sat
down in the car and pulled that big bar across your shoulders?"
"Terrified," Robin said.
She remembered when she was twelve and just tall enough to get on the
old wooden roller coaster at the beach amusement park.
"Terrified," Marc repeated.
"And sick to your stomach? Is that the way you feel now?"
"Yeah. Exactly the same."
"Right. And how did you
feel when you finished the ride?"
"Wonderful." Robin smiled,
remembering the feeling. "Euphoric, like I could do anything."
"Was it worth the sick
"Yeah," Robin said. "Definitely.
"But this is a much scarier
ride," Marc interrupted. "I know it is, buddy."
"You don't understand.
She's said things that just don't make any sense. She wants me to follow
her to places I don't think even exist."
"Listen, buddy, you're
a very intelligent woman. I wouldn't let you be my best friend if you
weren't." Marc smiled and Robin grinned. "Your head is full of facts
and numbers and all sorts of important things. But you need to forget
all of it. In this one area of your life, your head won't help you.
Follow your heart instead. Your heart will tell you what to do. You
just need to listen."
Robin nodded slowly,
letting her friend's words sink in.
"Think about it," Marc
said. He stood up and stretched, then drank the last of his beer. "I
better go make sure we haven't run out of chips and dips."
"Thanks, Marc. I'm just
gonna hang out here for a while and think."
Marc leaned down and
squeezed Robin's shoulder, then re-entered the house.
Robin leaned back and
watched the lights dip and weave across the sky. She saw Sloan's eyes
in the light the dancing sparkle when she laughed, the smoldering
cerulean when they made love. She closed her mind and just felt. She
remembered Sloan's touch against her face, Sloan's breath against her
neck, Sloan's heart beating in rhythm with her own.
"I've been a fool," she
said, sitting up and knocking her beer over. The bottle rolled down
the steps, spilling the remaining golden liquid. Robin ignored it and
rushed through the kitchen door.
"Marc!" she shouted,
running around and between the crowd in Marc's house. She looked for
her friend and a clock as she raced through the house. She had no idea
how long she'd been sitting on the porch steps. "Marc!"
"Whoa. Where's the fire?"
Marc smiled as Robin nearly crashed into him.
"I need to borrow your
car," Robin said in a rush. "I've been an idiot. She's going to think
I don't love her, that I left her. You were right, I can't believe I
ever doubted "
"OK, OK," Marc interrupted,
putting his hands on Robin's shoulders.
"Sorry." Her friend's
hands grounded her a little and she took a deep breath. "Can I borrow
your car? I need to go down to the warehouse district. I'll
leave it there for you. It'll be by the old Fisher and Sons abandoned
warehouse. You know where I mean?"
"Sure, no problem," Marc
said. "The keys are on the little table by the front door."
Robin turned, but Marc
"Robin," he said seriously.
"Be careful out there. We lost power in the newsroom this afternoon,
but before we did, all sorts of strange shit was coming over the wire.
Drive carefully and
just be careful."
"I will," Robin said
with an affectionate smile. She leaned forward and kissed him tenderly
on the cheek. "I love you, buddy."
"Love you too, Robbie."
Robin felt a tear escape
from her eye and she brushed at it impatiently. She didn't have time
for this. She wanted to say so much more, but there were no words. So
she turned and walked away. She grabbed the keys and stumbled down the
front steps. She climbed into his old Honda Civic and prayed it would
start. She knew it was a good omen when the engine turned over on the
first try. The dashboard light came on and she checked the clock. 10:51.
There was plenty of time.
She spared a glance back
at Marc's house, and saw him silhouetted in the front window. She waved,
knowing it would be the last time she saw her best friend, and drove
The air conditioning
didn't work in the car, so she rolled the window down. Noises filled
the night screams and shouts and fireworks. No, not fireworks.
Gunshots. She could smell smoke again, but this time it wasn't from
forest fires. She'd covered enough fires to recognize the sickening
smell of a burning house.
As she crossed through
downtown, she began to see crowds of people, still huddled in the spaces
they'd found during the day. They were no longer sleeping, however,
and as she drove past, she saw and felt dozens of eyes following her.
They were like a pack of predators eying their prey, waiting for an
easy target to move within reach.
The power was still out
in a lot of sections of the city, and when she reached areas with no
signal lights, she was forced to slow and crawl through the intersections.
She passed accidents where people were careless or didnt want
to take their turn. At one, the drivers were fighting, taking wild swings
at each other. She drove around quickly and kept going. She watched
in growing desperation as the numbers on the clock ticked forward.
She was only a few miles
from the end of First Street, stopped at a red light, when a man ran
up to her car.
"Miss, please, miss."
His voice was a whine of desperation. "You have to help me."
"What's wrong," she asked
warily. Her eyes flicked down quickly to make sure the door was locked
and she grabbed the steering wheel tightly, her foot ready to slam on
"It's my little boy.
He's really sick and I don't know what to do." Sweat trickled down the
sides of the man's face, one drip chasing the next.
"Did you call 9-1-1?"
Robin looked at the clock. It was 11:42.
"I tried. They don't
answer. I called everywhere. The phones don't ring, or just keep ringing."
He clasped his hands together and moved from one foot to the other.
"Please help me."
"OK. Where is he?"
Robin tried not to think
of Sloan, waiting in a factory seven blocks away.
The man pointed and then
ran, assuming Robin would follow. She turned carefully down the side
street. It was dark and she wasn't sure where she was. She rolled up
her window and checked the locks again. Her gut told her that the man
had not been lying. But she still needed to be careful.
She lost the man for
a minute, but then saw him standing in the doorway of a liquor store,
waving his arms frantically. A desperately small bundle lay at his feet.
She looked closer, and saw a small bare foot and realized it was a child.
She pulled the car against the curb and climbed quickly out, rushing
to kneel beside the child. Her knees connected painfully with the sidewalk,
but she barely felt it as she began to examine the child. The boy seemed
to be drifting in and out of consciousness.
"What's his name?" Robin
asked. She picked up the little boy's hand and felt for his pulse.
"Paul. Mine's Dwayne."
"Paul," Robin said clearly,
chafing the boy's hand, "can you hear me, sweetie?"
The boy's eyelids fluttered,
but didn't open.
"I worked a twelve-hour
shift today," Dwayne explained. He knelt beside his son and stroked
the boy's arm. "He was indoors all day. We ain't got no air conditioning,
and the power was out most of the day, so he didn't even have a fan
on. When I got home he kept whining about being hot so I told him we
could go out and get an ice cream." The man's resolve suddenly failed
and tears began to roll down his cheeks. "He made it halfway down the
street, and he just fell to the sidewalk."
The boy's pulse seemed
normal, but his skin was burning up and there was a red flush in his
dark cheeks. Despite his temperature, he wasn't sweating at all. His
t-shirt was stained with sweat, but it was now dry. Robin wracked her
brain, trying to remember the first aid class she'd taken years before.
Heat stroke is the one where you don't sweat, she remembered. The one
when you need to get the patient to the emergency room right away.
"Has he had convulsions?"
she asked. "Did he shake all over when he collapsed?"
"No," Dwayne said, shaking
his head. "Is he gonna be all right?"
"We need to get him cooled
down right away," Robin replied. She picked the boy up. "Where do you
"Just right up the street."
Dwayne pointed to a rundown apartment building.
"Do you have a bathtub?"
"Take him and put him
in the bathtub and run cold water." Robin handed the boy to his father.
She looked in the window of the liquor store and saw what she needed.
"I'll be right up."
She rushed into the liquor
store and ran up to a man who was trying to pick out the cheapest beer.
"You," she said, grabbing
his arm, "I need your help."
She didn't wait for a
response, just pulled him to the freezer cabinet. She opened the door
and pulled out a bag of ice, and then handed it to him. He took it automatically.
She piled two more into his outstretched arms.
"What the hell?" He finally
"You're saving a child's
life," she said, her eyes blazing. She turned and grabbed two bags for
herself, then headed out of the store.
"Hey," the clerk shouted,
"that'll be fifty bucks."
"Fifty?" Robin was about
to pull out a bill from her wallet, but stopped short at the price.
"Yeah," the clerk flashed
a smug smile. "It's hot. You want ice, you gotta pay for it."
Robin looked at the stranger
behind her, who held the three bags of ice she had hoisted into his
arms. For the first time, she took note of his immense size. She looked
back at the scrawny teenaged clerk.
"Bite me," she said and
walked out the door. Her co-conspirator followed, a grin spreading slowly
across his face. The shouts of the clerk faded behind her as she hurried
up the street.
They were buzzed into
the apartment building and they rushed up the stairs. The door to the
apartment was open and they followed the sounds of running water into
"He started shakin' like
you said he might," Dwayne said.
"Shit." Robin dropped
the bags of ice on the cracked linoleum of the bathroom floor and ripped
open the first bag. "Help me get the ice in."
Dwayne reached over and
grabbed the other bag, and they poured the ice into the bath, where
Paul lay floating in the cold water. Robin motioned for the man from
the liquor store to move forward. He did, quickly adding his three bags
"It's probably heat stroke,"
the man said. "I knew a couple of kids get it when I played high school
"I know," Robin said,
moving the ice to cover the boy. "We need to get fluids into him."
"Try to get him awake
enough to drink," the man advised. "I'll get some water."
"Talk to him," Robin
instructed Dwayne. "Tell him it'll be OK." She moved so Dwayne could
get up close to the tub and take his son's hand.
"Come on, son. You have
to wake up and have something to drink. There's a nice lady here. She
wants to talk to you. You can show her your comic books. I bet she'd
like to see them."
Robin felt an abrupt
desolation swamp her mind. She knew without seeing a clock that it was
midnight. She buried the feeling deep down inside, and smiled encouragingly
at Dwayne when Paul finally began to stir. Their helper returned with
two large glasses of water and handed them to Dwayne, who encouraged
his son to take little sips.
After fifteen minutes,
Paul began to shiver from the ice water and Robin decided he could be
lifted from the bath. They continued to make him drink. After about
thirty minutes, he seemed back to normal.
"Do you want to see my
comic books now?" he asked shyly.
"Not right now, sweetie,"
Robin replied. "I have to be somewhere."
It's too late,
her mind screamed.
"You should take him
to the hospital, just to be sure," she told Dwayne.
"There ain't no point,"
the other man said. "They're turning people away unless they're dyin'.
And even then, folks are dyin' in the hallways."
"He'll be OK now," Dwayne
said, pulling Paul toward him. "I'll keep my eye on him."
"I'll hang out awhile,"
their Good Samaritan volunteered. "Just in case you need a ride."
Robin realized she'd
done all she could. She stood and pulled the car keys from her pocket.
"I don't know how to
thank you," Dwayne said. "You saved my son's life."
"I just did what anyone
would do," Robin replied.
Was it really worth
it? Her mind admonished. He'll be dead by tomorrow. Everyone
"Take care of him," she
whispered, and hurried out of the apartment and down the stairs, taking
them two at a time. For a moment, she forgot where she'd parked the
car. She finally found it, and climbed in quickly. It took three tries
before the engine turned over. She sped away from the curb, the tires
squealing on the pavement.
Her voice echoed in the
huge, empty warehouse. The only other sound was the lonesome swish of
waves rolling against the pilings below her.
"I'm here, Sloan. I came.
I love you. Please God, know that I love you."
She fell to her knees,
too bereft to cry. From very far away, she heard a growing sound. It
was like the roar from a crowded stadium when the home team has scored
the wining touchdown. It began to build and magnify, and Robin soon
realized that the voices were not raised in jubilation but in terror.
The sound grew and grew until it finally reached and engulfed her. She
screamed, her voice joining the multitude, and then she fell slowly
into dark nothingness.
Sloan tucked the sheet
around Robin and sighed. Robin had been sleeping peacefully for nearly
an hour, after a nightmare that had left her screaming and shaking.
Maybe I can leave
her for a minute and get myself something to eat, she mused. But
at that moment, Robin stirred and blinked open her eyes.
"Sloan?" She murmured.
"Yes," Sloan replied.
"You're OK. Just go back to sleep."
Those words had been
working to calm the sick woman, but this time Robin's eyes widened in
shock and then narrowed in confusion.
"Sloan?" she said, struggling
to sit up.
"Hey, take it easy."
Sloan sat down on the bed and stroked Robin's arms, trying to calm the
restless woman. "You're sick. You just need to rest."
"Sick?" Robin grimaced
as she struggled to understand.
"Yes, you collapsed on
the stairs. You have a really high fever and I've been taking care of
"I feel so strange."
Robin's eyes wandered around the room and then focused back on Sloan's
"It's the fever," Sloan
said. Robin's red hair and fallen in her face, and Sloan reached out
to tuck it behind her ears. "People don't generally feel normal when
they have a fever."
sprang into Robin's eyes. "I thought it was the end of the world."
"You were dreaming."
"Like I keep saying,
you've been pretty out of it."
"It was all just a dream?"
"That's right," Sloan
soothed. "Just a dream."
Sloan watched as Robin
seemed to roll the idea on her tongue, tasting it and deciding if it
was edible. The confusion in the green eyes suddenly faded, replaced
by a flashing resolve.
"What time is it?" Robin
asked, clenching her jaw in fierce determination.
The clock on the bedside
table was hidden by a bowl of water and a cloth. A bottle of lavender
essence sat next to the bowl. Robin reached for the clock, but Sloan
pushed her back gently.
"Take it easy," Sloan
said. "It's after eleven, I think."
"Good, there's still
time." Robin sank back wearily. The struggle to reach the clock had
left her weak.
"Time for what?" Sloan
asked. "I'm afraid you're too late for trick or treating."
"It's not Thursday?"
Robin became panicky, and she began to struggle again to sit up. She
wasn't having much success.
"No, it's Friday night.
You've been sick for over twenty-four hours. I was going to take you
to the hospital, but so many people are getting sick from the heat.
So I called the advice line, and they said you just needed to drink
plenty of fluids and take aspirin and stuff. I've been forcing you to
drink as much water as possible."
"What time is it?" Robin
"I told you it's after
"What time is it exactly?"
Robin grabbed Sloan's hand and held it in as firm a grip as she was
Sloan leaned over to
look at the clock.
"Help me up," Robin said,
moving the sheet off her body.
"What? No way." Sloan
shook her head firmly
Robin ignored Sloan's
protest. "There's a warehouse by the water. We need to get there before
midnight. Do you have a car?"
"I have a truck parked
in the garage. But you're not going anywhere. You're sick."
"Look, there's not enough
time to explain, and even if there were time, I wouldn't even know where
to begin. You just have to come with me. Please, Sloan, you have to
"Why don't you just try
to get some sleep now," Sloan said, desperately trying to think of a
way to calm Robin.
Robin reached deep inside
herself and with all of the strength she had, she pulled herself upright.
Before Sloan could push her down again, Robin reached her arms around
the dark-haired woman, pulling her close and placing a kiss gently on
"Did you feel that, Sloan?"
Tears gathered in Robin's eyes, and slowly dropped down her cheeks.
"That was your heart crying out. Listen to your heart. Believe."
Sloan felt the words
resonate within her soul. They danced and thrummed and grew louder.
They were warmth and light and effervescence. They sang.
She gathered Robin in
her arms, taking the sheet as well, and carried her toward the door.
She felt a warm head sink against her chest and felt tears soak through
"Don't cry, my love,"
she whispered as she started down the steps. "It's going to be OK. I've
The "inspiration" for
this story is a Twilight Zone episode called "The Midnight Sun" written
by Rod Serling. Rod Serling is one of my idols, and I hope this story
was a suitable homage to him.
to the Academy