Wednesday 31st March 2027: Richie and Sarah

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Sarah was lost in her past again, a coping mechanism that made her feel better only for a few minutes before the harsh reality of the present pushed its way back into her mind.

"They give out antibiotics for everything, you know, even to people who are sick with things antibiotics can't fix. They shouldn't, but it's expected. You go to a doctor, you leave with a prescription. Even with all these warnings about how they'll stop working, how these little microscopic beasties will get away from us one day. All these dangerous wee things everywhere, getting better at surviving while we get worse, and I don't think anyone really believes any of it."

"Why not?"

"Because no-one ever really believes anything bad'll happen. Even when bad things are already happening. People are too distracted. No-one listens. Just wait a few years, love. All hell will break loose."

Her grandmother, never one to sugarcoat the truth, had been born in a different time. Things were not perfect then, and worse for some than others, but at least she had not lived to see the beginning of the end. Sarah was both blessed and cursed with a precision of memory that often left her languishing in conversations past, reminding her how much she missed the people who no longer walked beside her.

No time for this, she scolded herself as a slight wisp of grey fur and delicate bones wound around her ankles, hopefully. She bent to scoop up Little Cat in her arms and buried her face in the animal's soft body. "We'll bring food with us later, when we come back. And water. I promise."

She set Little Cat down gently on the concrete floor and reached the can of deodorant up under her sweater because it was a better option than getting washed in ice cold water. She was still carefully rationing her supply of gas, especially as it was now being shared with two other people, and was happy to sacrifice a warm wash now for hot food later. She tied back her hair, wrapped herself in her battered old jacket and checked for the keys in her pocket before walking out the door, striding with purpose across the yard.

The Silver Bullet felt like her lucky charm, or it would have if she believed in that sort of thing. It still gleamed in understated perfection along one side but was badly scraped on the other where Marj hadn't got around to repairing the cosmetic damage.

"Just a scratch. One day, when this is all over, I'll finish fixing you up and we'll make Marj proud," Sarah said as she rested a hand on top of the car and wondered at what point she started talking to inanimate objects. Then she heard a whistle.

Richie.

She turned around to see him heading towards Evan's car, which now had one headlight missing since the only time Richie had been allowed to drive it. That incident had not helped Evan's concussion, but at least he'd been fortunate enough to incur a head injury in a shop stocked with medical supplies, so he had fewer reasons to complain than he could have had.

As Richie reached up to close the boot of the car, Sarah noticed how loosely his trousers hung on his hips. Hers were getting the same way. She stood a little over five feet tall and had always been slender, but lately she had been reduced to something more resembling gaunt, looking considerably younger than her twenty-seven years.

"You ready to do this?" she asked.

"Yeah. And we'll look for cat food too."

"Aww, it's so sweet of you to think of Little Cat," said Sarah.

"I wasn't," replied Richie. "I just figured at least it's in tins so it won't have gone off. And the meaty flavours smell pretty good. You know, if things get really bad." He winked.

"Eww. Gross," Sarah shuddered. "My car or yours?"

"Mine. Well, Evan's technically, but you should drive it. It can carry more. You know he actually gave me a list. A fucking shopping list. Seriously. Can you believe it? I am not getting him cigarettes, even if I could find them somewhere."

Richie was, as usual, sparkling with bravado, but Sarah silently registered the deep sadness that clouded his features no matter how hard he fought against it.

She was worried. His reaction when Evan fell had shocked her. She had known Evan was hurt, but it didn't even cross her mind that he might have been dead. Richie had immediately gone to pieces though, assuming the worst.

Even after Evan had regained consciousness and they'd ascertained that the split in his scalp wasn't as serious as the bleeding suggested, even after they'd washed the blood from his hair and skin, Richie had been silent, shaken, pale.

Sarah had patched Evan's head up as best she could with surgical staples found in the pharmacy they'd been looting at the time, trying to stop her stomach from lurching, trying to keep her hands from shaking, trying to smile reassuringly and pretend she had at least some idea what she was doing.

She had made sure she tucked the staple remover carefully into her pocket, not looking forward to the experience of using it, or to Evan's inevitable reaction when she did. Richie had simply watched, quiet, withdrawn.

On the drive home, Sarah sat in the back seat with Evan, checking his pupils and keeping him awake. Richie was driving but kept glancing in the mirror. "Is he OK?" he asked Sarah.

"I can hear you," said Evan, his voiced slightly slurred. "And will you both stop talking? My head is fucking killing me."

"Don't say that!" said Richie, voice on the verge of cracking. "About killing you. Just don't, OK?"

"OK," replied Evan, blinking and struggling to focus. "Richie?"

"What?"

"Sorry."

"Evan Myers, did you actually just apologise?" Sarah asked.

"No. Shut up, staple-girl."

"You did!" said Sarah. "You said the word 'sorry' like an actual human being with functioning emotions. You should fall on your head more often."

"Sarah, don't!" said Richie. "No-one should fall on their head. No-one should get hurt. Everything's going to be fine, OK?"

Because the universe has a cruel sense of irony, and also because Richie had never been the world's most careful driver, that was precisely the moment the car mounted the pavement. It was only out of control for a split second, just long enough for a lamp post to get in the way. "Fuck! Sorry! Fuck!" said Richie, shaking.

"Everything is not going to be fine if you do that again," slurred Evan.

"Deep calming breaths, everyone," said Sarah. "Richie, eyes on the road. Evan, don't be an asshole."

Evan had been on supervised bed rest since then, munching on the painkillers that he'd pulled down around himself as he fell, politely tolerating Richie's anxiety about his well-being and Sarah's compulsive practicality.

Little Cat had taken to sleeping next to him, glad to have found a human source of warmth that didn't move very much. At first, Evan had ignored Little Cat. Too cool to notice, too tough to care. But he wasn't fooling anyone.

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