We walk through the building’s double-doors, past Aiden and the others. As I pass “the guy,” as I will call him, we make eye contact – I get a thrill being this close to him, this mysterious person. But within seconds I’m past him and am being directed up a flight of stairs.
“Do you know him?” Paul says from behind me.
“Nothing, he just…I don’t know. He looked like he recognized you.”
“I can’t think where from.” I avoid eye contact. “I certainly don’t remember him.”
“Alright, well, just stay close. Don’t go talking to him.”
We climb the rest of the stairs in silence, up to the sixth floor. Apparently the other group has the fourth floor – their floor acts as a barrier between us and leaving.
Paul, JJ, and I take a room together, and Laura comes in later to join us; the under 35 but over 20 club, I guess. My parents go with Paul’s mom and sister, plus Dottie and June. Dylan and Kara go across the hall with Sophie and Ken. We start to settle in for the night as best we can, and I try to put my own bed – now ashes – out of my mind. We’ve been living like nomads for a year already, even though we were technically settled in my house; we didn’t leave anything too cushy behind, but it was familiar.
I’m just unpacking the food bag when there’s a knock on the door. I look up and see a woman, mid-30s, smiling weakly in at us.
“I’ve been sent to invite you all down for dinner,” she says.
“Oh…thank you, but that’s-” I start, searching for words.
“If you’re worried about Aiden, he feels really bad about before. You have to be protective nowadays; look out for your people. He’s a nice guy, really.”
I look over to Paul, who nods at me as he pushes himself up to stand. “Thanks, we’ll be right down. That’s nice of you.”
She smiles, disappears, and then comes back again. “I’m Georgia, by the way.”
“I’m Paul, this is my girlfriend, Anna, and JJ and Laura.” Paul points to each of us in turn.
“It’s a pleasure,” she smiles sincerely before disappearing again. She reminds me of an even more gentle and warm Snow White.
“Are you sure about this, Paul? After that guy – Aiden – almost shot you?” I whisper in his direction after I’m certain she isn’t coming back.
“Anna-” he sighs.
“In the head?”
“Anna, it’s fine. And what are we going to do, refuse them? Come on, let’s go.” He walks over to me, offering a hand to help me up.
We head down the two flights of stairs to our captors’ floor. Some of our group is already down there, and others are yet behind us. They use one of the apartments as an extended living room, for eating and hanging out, and that’s where we are directed for dinner.
I see “the guy” leaning against the wall. Next to him is the redheaded girl. I start thinking about how pretty she is and how much I’ve always wanted red hair, and then I realize I’m staring. They’re obviously together, I note, as she never leaves his side.
“Here, sit in here,” Georgia calls for us, directing us into one of the side rooms as she bustles into the kitchen area, where two people are scooping warm food into bowls. We follow her direction and sit in a large circle on the floor. I try to take stock of the members of the other group – the old guy is already sitting in here, as is another man, maybe mid-thirties, who is very tall and lanky. Georgia and another woman, who looks about Georgia’s age, come in with food.
“Johnny can you bring some water in?” Georgia calls, and a teenage boy appears with a few pitchers. I try not to smile as I notice Dottie’s eyes following him.
Aiden’s figure fills the frame of the door as he walks in. He looks around and then smiles. “Our honored guests!” he says, opening his arms wide like a zealous Greek host. We all smile, albeit weakly.
My dad shakes his hand. “Thank you, Aiden, for letting us stay the night, and for sharing your food with us.”
The pitcher of water makes it around to me and I fill my water bottle, never taking my eyes off my dad and Aiden.
“Sorry for my behavior earlier. Can’t be too careful these days, you know?”
Aiden sits down next to the old guy. The redhead and “the guy” come in. He sits across the circle from me and I can feel Paul tense – “the guy” must be looking at me again.
“Shall we do introductions?” the lanky man says. “My name is Link, and that there is my wife Catherine.” She comes and sits down next to him, and he pats her knee. I recognize her as the woman who had been helping Georgia get dinner ready.
“Gus,” the old guy huffs. He’s not that old, I suppose, but older than most people these days – he looks like he might be in his sixties, maybe June’s age.
“Well you already know I’m Georgia, and this is my son Johnny.” Georgia looks young to have a teenage son. She is beautiful, with chocolate brown hair and eyes to match. Her son is the same.
“My name is Kennedy,” the redhead girl says.
“Jamie,” the guy says, looking right at me. I can’t help but smile at him, I don’t mean to, and I’m not entirely sure why I do, but I just do. Finally – a name! Jamie.
“Paul.” I can tell he’s pissed. “And this is my girlfriend, Anna.” My cheeks turn red – not because I didn’t want Jamie to know about Paul and I, I would have told him myself. I love Paul, I’m proud to be with him. But for God’s sake I can introduce myself, there’s no need to be territorial. I wonder if Paul can tell that Jamie and that girl Kennedy are together; he doesn’t need to be threatened. Jamie was the one that talked Aiden down anyway – he should be more gracious to the guy that saved his life.
We go the rest of the way around, and it feels like we’re all at summer camp the way we introduce ourselves, it feels juvenile. But then we eat – mac and cheese and peas. This group is living in heaven.
“Where do you think you’ll go?” Catherine asks us.
“Don’t think we know yet,” Ken says, glancing at a few others to confirm we are directionless.
“I don’t see a good reason for them burning our neighborhood – makes me think they might be looking to clear the whole place out,” my dad says. “So we might need to travel a bit before we settle back down.”
“You don’t think Portland is safe?” Aiden asks.
“Is anywhere?” He pauses, as if for a response. When he receives none, he just shrugs his shoulders. “But I think our neighborhood today may have just been the start for Portland.”
I eat in silence as they discuss this. The warm food is so good, I can’t be bothered to participate in conversation. Paul fills my Nalgene, which I wasted no time in emptying after it was filled by the water Johnny brought in before dinner. I am again embarrassed. I know I’m overreacting, he was just being nice, but I must look so dependent, so submissive.
“Well you’re welcome to stay here as long as you need,” Catherine says, and I see Aiden shoot her a glance, confirming my belief that none of us have yet forgotten the confrontation that unfolded just an hour ago. These are not our friends.
I think my dad notices it too, because he tries to politely decline. “Oh, we couldn’t ask that of you – it was very kind of you to have us tonight, and to share your food with us, but we don’t want to be a bother. We understand your worry about too many people in one place.”
No one argues with him.