Georgia was cute, as always, in her nicely styled clothes and she bounced out of her house when he pulled up. “Hey!”
“This is just such a stupid waste of time.”
“As opposed to laying about playing video games all day?”
“Yeah. Dad’s going to really divorce her this time.”
“What’s set her off now?”
“Oh, they’re going to quarantine the whole state this afternoon.”
The smile dropped from Georgia’s face. “What?”
Noah shrugged. “She said they told them at the hospital because they’ll get a wave of people who aren’t sick thinking they are because of it.”
“But…they whole state?”
“That’s half the country away.”
“Yeah but…God, Noah, maybe I should call my dad?”
“And say what? Noah’s crazy mom is freaking again because the CDC is being a bunch of pansies? I had the news on, it’s only a few thousand sick and no one’s reported dead. How bad can it be? I mean, at most they’ll ask people to stay home for a few days if they’re not feeling well.”
“But a whole state?”
“Mom said I shouldn’t tell anyone. That means she knows she’s overreacting.”
“Yeah, I guess. It sounds bad though.”
“Sucks to live in Arizona. That’s what they get for not having snow.”
“Yeah, but having a loony mother makes up for it.” He grinned but didn’t tell her about the tone of fear he’d heard from his mother, or the large amount of cash she was having him withdrawal from the bank.
Georgia pushed the wide, deep cart down another aisle as Noah tossed a case of toilet paper in. “Think that’s enough?”
“After the zombies attack, toilet paper will be the only real currency left.”
She laughed. “Yeah, wouldn’t want to chafe. Anything frozen?”
“Mom said staple stuff that won’t go bad.”
“This would be amusing if she wasn’t so sad. You’re going to be eating macaroni and cheese until you’re thirty.”
“And Spam.” He made a gagging sound. “We ate Spam once a week for years after her Y2K mania.” He dropped a package of a dozen cans of tuna into the cart and followed it with oversized packages of canned chicken and the dreaded Spam. “Beans and rice too, pasta and sauces.”
“Geesh how much are you getting?”
“She said enough for us for a couple of weeks.”
They wove around the long aisles of bulk packages of food and other items. Noah added in a large bottle of painkillers and various other medical and first aid supplies. They made a game of it, weighing the merits of what they could fit in the car and what would actually be useful if their fictional zombies did attack.
“No, come on, Mom will kill me.” Noah pulled the oversized box of condoms from the cart.
“What?” Georgia smiled sweetly. “You don’t know, she said to get necessary supplies. Maybe we’ll be shut down next and you’ll have to sell your pretty ass for bread.”
Noah laughed. “Seriously.”
“Besides, your mom might thank you. Don’t want to find out you’ve a new sibling in a few months.”
“Ew, shit, Georgia, don’t put that mental picture in my head.”
“Condoms stay? I mean, do you think she’s going to look at the receipt? Put them in your car and you use them.”
“I’m not getting this much action.” He waggled the huge box at her. “Maybe you’re just asking for it for yourself, for you and Riley.”
Instead of blushing she shrugged. “I could do worse than Riley for my first.”
“Are you serious?”
She shrugged. “If he wants to. I know, such a cliché, but he’s hot and I wouldn’t have to worry about, you know, dating him.”
“You cheap slut!” He laughed and tossed the box in the cart. “What kind of friend would I be to allow you to go beyond virginity without the proper protection?”
“Aww that’s sweet.”
They were still laughing as they made their way toward the front. “Hey, wonder if Mom would be pissed if I got a new game?”
“Doubt it, but all the games here are stupid.”
As the turned the corner they saw a growing group of forgotten carts and people gathered around the big screen televisions. Someone had turned off the repeating loop of whatever the newest family movie had been released on dvd and put the news on instead. From a dozen televisions the same man, in a suit and standing in front of a small sea of microphones, was speaking. He looked tired with a blank emptiness to his eyes that almost seemed like a further mocking of their ongoing zombie joke.
“As of right now, we believe we have this virus contained to the state of Arizona. The mandatory quarantine will remain in effect for the next week as we evaluate the situation before we are able to lift it. We have the best medical minds in this country and around the world working on isolating this pathogen, and we’re confident we’ll be able to isolate it shortly. Until that time, we’re asking anyone that has been to Arizona in the last month to please contact the CDC at the toll free number given earlier. This isn’t cause for alarm, we simply want to make sure this virus has been contained. Due to the contagious nature of this virus, we’re asking everyone to help by remaining calm and cooperating with authorities. To be safe, if you have traveled to Arizona in the last four weeks, we ask you to remain home, simply as a precaution. If you’re experiencing flu like symptoms, fever, body aches, chills, sore throat, a cough, things along that line, please call. The incubation period makes it highly unlikely you have anything to worry about, but in case it is this strain calling the CDC will allow you to start antiviral treatment right away.” Below the man the news ticker scrolled across the screen and Noah focused on that. It reported a current reported infection rate of 5,346 confirmed cases and 672 deaths.
“Georgia?” Noah tugged at her sleeve but her eyes were as transfixed by the dozens of big screens as everyone else. “Georgia.” He hissed and pulled on her arm harder. She stumbled away. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Not here.” He started to push the cart to the check out lanes with one hand and drag her along with the other. She didn’t snap out of it until he was loading things onto the check out lane.
“I think I should call my father.”
“Meet you at the car?”
As he was checking out one of the cashiers stood to the side fighting with a manager. He caught bits of their conversation, words about children at home and stupid jobs and threats about being fired and each word felt surreal. He watched as the cashier shook her head and walked off in anger toward the break room. The manager glanced after her and over to Noah but the man’s eyes were worried and dark.
“Huh? Oh, sorry.” He finished pushing the buttons he needed to push to finish paying. It seemed to take forever to get the receipt and, when it was handed to him, Noah snatched it away to hurry outside.
Georgia was pacing around his car, talking on the phone and looking upset. “Look, Daddy, Noah’s here, we’re going to load up the car and come right home. You sure you don’t want me to stop somewhere? Okay, okay, alright, yeah I’m okay. Bye.” She flipped her phone shut. “He says I’m overreacting.”
“You are.” Noah confirmed as the emptied the cart into his back seat. “Think about it, we don’t even know anyone in Arizona and yeah, this sucks, but the feds will lock it down and get it figured out. In a week they’ll have a shot to cure it. It’s going to be fine, they’re just being careful. Honestly? We haven’t seen something easily transmitted in forever and they have to justify their budgets every year.”
She looked suspicious. “You think this is all some CDC wet dream?”
“I’m sure people are really sick, but you saw the numbers, it’s not even that fatal. 5,000 infected? The percentage dead would be the elderly and, like, babies and shit. That happens with any bug that makes the rounds.”
“I guess you’re right.”
“Course I’m right, Mom just worries because she’s a nurse. Germs are her enemy. Catch.” He tossed the box of condoms at her. “Put that under your seat for me, would you?”
“Wannabe slut.” That made her smile again and he tried to ignore his own nagging worry.
“No, I can’t.” Noah half whispered on his phone. His bedroom door was cracked open and downstairs his parents were fighting.
“Noah, I need to see you.”
“I can’t. My parents are flipping out over this virus thing.”
“I know, the world is going to end and I want my last night to be with you. Come over and see me.”
He sighed. He wanted to go, but his Mom was really upset and worried. They may have turned a blind eye to almost anything he did, but if he tried to go out now she’d ask questions. The last thing he wanted to do was explain that he was sneaking out to meet his twenty four year old occasional lover. Just because he might be almost eighteen didn’t mean his parents would want to know that he’d been dating older men since he was sixteen.
“The world isn’t ending and that’s an awful line.”
“Not a line, come see me. Spend the night…”
“I can’t. Later in the week, when things settle down a little?”
“I’m dying here.”
“No one is going to die from a hard on.”
“You’re such a tease, at least have phone sex with me.”
“No, my parents are home…”
“When did that ever stop you?”
“I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow.” He hung up because he knew if Bobby stayed on the phone he’d find a reason to drive over. It wasn’t just his mother’s paranoia and his father’s frustration at her phobias that kept him home, he just wasn’t in the mood. The news had latched onto the story of the virus and kept repeating the same lack of information over and over again. He knew that even if he was right and it turned out to be nothing, it was a major news story, and while he tried to take it seriously his only thought was the same lingering one. Riley was, without a doubt, straight and he’d asked his best friend to the prom. He had known for years he had zero chance with the star swimmer, but Riley’s lack of dating and interest in a social life had left him some hope. Hope Georgia had crushed and he felt sick being happy for her. She would have been happy for him and he was trying, but it didn’t make him feel very amorous.
The microwave beeped and Noah reached in to remove the bowl of oatmeal that was now thick and steaming. He’d already nuked his coffee and was leaning groggily over the counter sipping slowly at it. His parents had spent half the night yelling at each other, and the other half loudly ignoring the other with door slams and stomped feet. It almost made him sorry he didn’t have solid college plans, a dorm room had to be better than listening to their drama. It hadn’t been the fighting that kept him up, he’d hunkered down with one of his games and when he’d looked up again it was well after midnight.
“Oh good, you’re up. Saves me from having to write a note.” Noah’s mother, Annie, rushed into the kitchen. She was dressed in her normal brightly colored nursing scrubs, her fading blonde hair pulled back into a neat pony tail and her handbag over her shoulder.
“Barely up. You going to work?” Today was supposed to be her day off.
“I have to, they’re calling everyone in who is able to come in. Stay home today. Okay? And don’t have anyone over.”
“You’re going out.”
“It’s my job.”
“Golfing, he’ll be back for dinner, hopefully.”
He shook his head. “He’s golfing but I have to stay in like some grounded kid?”
“Noah, don’t fight me, just stay home.”
“If you’re so worried about this bug, you two should be home with me.”
“I’m not worried about this outbreak, and you’re being difficult.”
“I’m not, and the thousands of gallons of water in the basement say you are.”
She sighed and put on her frustrated mother face. “The CDC is one of the best medical organizations in the world. If they say they’ve it contained, they’ve it contained. I’m not worried about this flu bug, but Noah, people get scared. Everyone with a child or parent or friend with a stuffed up head is going to be beside themselves and rushing to the doctors today, and there are plenty of people that are going to use this as an excuse to do bad things.”
“You make it sound like a lifetime movie of the week.”
“I’m serious Noah, stay home. People go a little nuts over things like this. If it gets bad I want us to be able to be safely tucked away in our own little home and not having to go out until level heads return. So you stay home and stay out of trouble, I’ve enough to worry about.”
She hurried to the door. “And keep your inhaler with you, the spring mold count is high today.”
“I haven’t had an asthma attack in two years, Mom.”
“Noah…” She said his name with the tone that meant she’d had enough.
“Yeah, whatever, I’ll dig it out of the drawer.”
“That’s a good boy, I’ll be home as soon as I can.”
“Okay.” But he was answering a closed door, his mother was already outside and gone. Noah was used to it, both his parents were busy and rarely did a weekend arrive to find them together as a family. He carried his breakfast into the living room and turned on a movie channel as he ate. Hours went by and Noah stayed where he’d flopped, happily on the sofa.