Date: January 30st
Something odd happened with Ben today. We had taken a trip to the mall to get out of the house and had spent several hours shopping. Exhausted, we had stopped to get some snacks.
I sat in the food court licking absently at my ice cream cone. Ben sat across from me nibbling at some noodles he had bought. I hadn't said anything yet, but I noticed that while he picked at it and moved it around, he had yet to eat much of it.
His thoughts seemed to be far away and he looked worried.
Alex never leaves the house, does he?" I asked, trying to make conversation. Ben shook his head in response and picked at his food again. I watched him and wondered what could be on his mind. He hadn't been like this all day. In fact, it had started as a very nice day. It only took a downtown when we had started talking about life before we were Infected.
"Are you okay?" I asked him after I decided he had been silent for too long.
Ben gave me a weak smile and assured me that everything was fine. He was lying, I knew it.
"You can talk to me," I told him earnestly. "I'm here for you. Everything that's you're going through, I am, too."
He looked at me as though he didn't believe me, but just smiled again and looked away. "It's fine."
"Ben," I chided.
He took a deep breath and pushed away his food. "I'm just… regretting some stuff." He looked up at me and held my gaze for a while, his big, bright eyes looking so miserable. "You're a good friend."
After that, he wouldn't talk about it anymore and asked if we could go home.
Date: January 31st
"Leave!" Was the first thing I heard when I walked into Ben's lab this morning. I had been wandering aimlessly around the house for a while and had figured that Ben might have something that I could work on.
"Why? Whatever it was, I didn't do it," I told him but otherwise ignored his command. I trudged into the room and looked for something I would recognize.
"Carlos said you've been leaking those glowy bombs all morning," Ben said in a voice that was accusatory for him. He watched me carefully of the top of his computer monitor.
"Who's Carlos?" I asked, thrown off by the name. If there was an extra person that had been running around the house all morning, I had missed him.
He gave me a look of disbelief. "Our butler?"
"From Mexico," Ben finished for me. He stood from his chair and walked over to examine something in SE microscope.
I frowned. "How do you know so much about everyone here?" I asked him.
He shrugged. "I do more than just piss people off when I talk to them."
I narrowed my eyes at him as I went to take a seat, but he pulled the chair out of my reach. "No- go…please. Aleksander wants to talk to you anyways."
I paused, my hand stretched out for the chair. I let it drop, knowing a mixture of fear and… something else was evident on my face. "Why?"
"I don't know," he shrugged. "Another mission? When you're done, though, I've got some more data sets for you to look over. And by that, I don't mean tossing them in the trash."
"Fine," I said and backed out of the room. "I'll take a look." I found Alex sitting on the stone picnic table in the backyard, the demon cat curled up in his lap. He petted it absently as he looked out over the flowers.
"What are you doing out here?" I asked. In nearly a month since I've lived here, I don't think I've ever seen him step outside the house. I know he had… issues with it, but now, he looked completely comfortable out here in the sun.
"Clearing my mind," he surprised me with his honesty. "When I was little, we used to keep an Amazonic garden where I would hide when I got in trouble."
I frowned and wondered if this meant a new mission. I already lost the high of the last one. "Are you in trouble?"
He chuckled, and his eyes caught the light of the sun. He grinned happily and I felt like nothing could tarnish his mood. "Always, but that isn't what I have on my mind. I have to talk to you."
Oh no. I didn't know what this was about, but those words never preceded anything good.
He reached out and touched my hand, instinctively, I drew back.
"Why don't you like to be touched?" He asked. I knew that couldn't be what he had to talk to me about, he was procrastinating. Dammit, this couldn't be good.
"I don't know what you're talking about," I told him. "Why are you procrastinating? Is it really bad? Please tell me it's not something that's really bad."
He gave me a dry look that said he wasn't going to let me change the subject so easily. "You hate being touched. I so much as lean in and you jump away."
I scowled and turned away. I didn't like talking about me. "You don't even know me."
"You make it pretty obvious," was all he commented.
"You're hallucinating," I told him indignantly. "Why are we even talking about this?"
"I have to touch you to show you," he stated.
I sincerely disbelieved that, but I put my hand over his. I gave him an expectant look.
He looked me with surprise. His bright green eyes widened and met mine with hesitation.
"It's a control thing," I told him. "The more chaotic I feel my life is, the less I like to be touched."
"I don't understand," he said, closing his hand around mine. I stiffened but forced myself to keep it there.
"For the most part, you can control when and how people touch you, and you can choose to let them or not," I told him, not really knowing why. I know he was only prying to procrastinate, but he did seem earnestly curious. Something about the way he looked at me, and the gentle way he held my hand, that told me he wasn't going to use the information to make fun of me. "To me, I feel a little more in control when I choose not to let someone touch me."
"Ah," he said and let go of my hand. He looked away, as if embarrassed, and clasped his leather-clad hands together.
I gave him a dirty look. "I thought you needed to touch me?"
"I was going to do something to your hand, but I think it's better if it show you first." He was looking thoughtfully at his hands, as if wondering whether or not they were his. An odd thought, but I recognized the combination of slight confusion and deep-thought that people wore. After a few quiet moments where I watched him watch his hands, he began pulling off one of his leather gloves. "Please… keep calm."
It started off as a normal hand, but just under his wrist, his skin began to change, growing darker, scaly, and slightly purple. His hand was still shaped like a hand, fingers and knuckles in their proper place, but it all looked wrong. His nails were thick and black and curled under at the ends. The combined effects made his hands looks like something closer to claws than hands. I felt the blood drain from my face.
"That's going to happen to me?" I asked.
He nodded. "Sooner or later. It's one of the few things the virus absolutely refuses to let you control. You can hide it," he explained, and as he spoke I watched his hand change into something more normal, "but it takes a lot of energy. More than is worth it, in my opinion."
He slipped his glove back on and the action seemed to drain away some stiffness in his body that I hadn't noticed he'd been holding.
"I see," I said softly. My thoughts were far away. The fact that my hands wouldn't be completely my own scared me, but not nearly as much as how it had crept into my mind a while back. The visual changes I could handle, as long as I was still in control of my hands, it was the mental changes that bothered me.
I was still staring down thoughtfully at my feet when he reached for my hand again, but slow enough where I could know what he was doing. My eyes followed the path of his hands, remembering what was under the leather cases. Since he was being so nice, I let him take it.
"This," he said, a ball of light emerging on cue as he looked at my palm. "however, can be controlled easily." He grabbed the ball of light and it disappeared in his hand. My eyes widened, but he didn't seem to think much of his action.
Of course, I told myself, he was the one who had infected me. Everything I could do, he should be able to do as well.
I let out a relieved sighed. "That's good, because I was really getting tired of jumping on them."
He chuckled and looked longingly at my hand. "It comes from storing too much excess energy. Are you eating?" He began to massage the plump of my palm with his thumb. I sucked in a breath and thought about saying something. But the absent look in his eyes made me wonder if he was even aware of his action. In the end, I decided to ignore the small, but somehow immensely distracting action.
I nodded. "Like a horse." I wasn't sure if that was a saying, but it felt accurate. Since I found out that I could eat as much as I pleased and not gain an ounce, I had been stuffing my face.
He nodded and I almost expected a "well, there's you're problem". "Our bodies are self-sufficient now. The Virus generates enough additional energy within our bodies that allows us to avoid eating and, on occasion, sleeping. Unless you run marathons every morning, any energy you expend through daily activities can be replaced by resting or sleeping. Eating simply creates a surplus of energy."
I groaned and my heart sank deep into my stomach. "So I have to go on a… diet?" I grimaced at the last and evil word.
He laughed, startling the cat awake. "Unless you take up something more energy intensive, yes, you do."
I muttered a few very unladylike curse words. "You don't know how much you just killed my day," I grumbled.
He squeezed my hand and I jumped as I realized he still held it. I pulled it back and dug it into my jacket pocket. This news had upset me more than the bit about my hand and I didn't feel like being touched.
"Ah, well then you won't like what else I have to say," he continued.
"Seriously?" I asked and dropped my head. There was more? I hadn't learned enough for the day?
He nodded solemnly. "In addition to these physical changes, you might begin to feel a little differently as well. I've noticed already how you've become a little more aggressive."
I narrowed my eyes at him, having a nagging feeling he was hinting about the study. But I didn't feel like dredging that up as well. I had already talked about enough depressing stuff for one day.
"It doesn't change who you are- at least, not any more than you let it," he explained. "Just take a moment every now and then and ask yourself if what you're doing is something you would normally do."
"That everything?" I muttered, talking into my jacket. I just wanted to go back into my room and hide for another four days. I had already figured out what he had told me, and had employed it on occasion so far. It was getting a little harder to figure out what was and wasn't me, though.
Alex nodded and set the cat on the table. She mewed in protest and he gave her a soft pat. He slid off the picnic in one graceful move.
"Uh-uh," I told him in a voice too soft to match my words. "You ruined my day, sit your ass back down."
He looked surprised, which might have been the only reason he listened to me.
"Yes?" He asked and looked at me curiously.
"Why don't you ever leave the house?" I asked.
He scoffed and stood, ready to leave.
"I answered your prying questions," I reminded him. "It's only fair you answer one of mine."
He turned away from me and for a minute I thought I was going to have to throw a fit, but he turned back around a few moments later.
"I have no desire to live in a society that does not want me," he said emotionlessly. But the look of sadness in his eyes betrayed him.
I stayed quiet because I knew his words were true. America would want nothing to do with him. Beauty aside, he was still the man that released a virus that cause the deaths of over 30 million people in America alone.
As I watched him walk down the brick path and toward the maze, I realized that he and I weren't very different. Whereas I locked myself away in my room, he lost himself in the gardens.
I stayed in the garden for a little while longer, soaking up the rare winter sun, until our maid/cook/butler- the older Chinese gentleman who was apparently named Carlos and was born in Mexico- called me for dinner.
I remembered Alex's words on how all my eating was the cause of the glowy orb things and actually considered turning down dinner for once, but my stomach growled angrily in protest. Without further delay, I hopped off the stone picnic table and skipped happily off to dinner.