Daniel

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DANIEL


He looked up from his spot on the couch when he heard the rattle at the front door. His heart rate accelerated until he saw Lenore’s familiar features enter the apartment, a large water bucket in her arms.

“Need a hand?” he asked, leaning forward to place the novel he was reading face down on the coffee table, the glass surface holding his spot in the story.

“I’m good,” she told him as she made her way to the bathroom to deposit her post-rain delivery. It was time for a stretch anyway, so he stood and extended his arms over his head, slowly twisting his torso from side to side.

When she reemerged from the bathroom, his movements halted and his heart rate accelerated for a completely different reason. “Well, shit,” the words tumbled from his mouth before he could catch them and reel them back in. Though her shirt was baggy, there was nothing unusual about that, the precipitation had caused it to hang straight down her sides while clinging to her skin, collecting in folds against her sides. The rain drenched fabric was notably see through, and she clearly had not had the opportunity to put on a bra before the start of her assignment when the rain began.

“What?” she asked, and he realized she must not have heard his exact words from her position across the room.

“Do you need a jacket or a coat?” he asked, trying to backtrack his thoughts from where they were inevitably heading, but it was obviously too late, and he cursed himself. The image burned into his mind, and now he couldn’t focus on anything but that image, her image. The rain soaked top also made painfully aware just how skinny she had gotten. If possible, she was even thinner than the last time he had seen her.

“I’m okay. It was a little chilly on the roof but actually feels kind of refreshing. At least until it starts to dry and the denim begins to chafe.”

He wondered if she knew that he could see almost completely through her shirt. He wondered if she even had an inkling of an idea what her appearance was doing to him right then. A darker, more mischievous corner of him mind wondered if she had shown up intentionally looking like that in order to see what kind of reaction she would get from him.

“Have you seen Hayley at all this week?” she asked. The abrupt change in conversation, at least from his train of thought, threw him. He had to retrain his focus to concentrate on what she had asked. Hayley. Ah yes, the constant topic of debate between them now.

“I haven’t,” he told her honestly. “But you know that doesn’t mean anything for certain.”

His response clearly frustrated her. She moved so she stood opposite the coffee table from him. Flipping the bucket upside down, she set it on the floor and used it as a stool to sit on. “Can I just go ahead and say what neither one of us wants to admit?”

“You can say it, but it won’t change my opinion.”

“No one has seen her in over two weeks, Daniel. And when I went to drop off water just now, not only would Nathan not let me check in on her, but he wouldn’t even let me look into the apartment. I even offered to get him some medicines - anything she might need - and he turned me down flat.”

“Circumstantial, Lenore.”

“Oh please,” she snapped. “She’s infected, Daniel. You know it. I know it. Nathan sure as hell knows it. And if William and Anna don’t know, then they need to be told. So do Davidson and Sebastian.

“I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, but another week at least has gone by and he hasn’t said anything to anyone and no one has seen her. He isn’t going to come forward until it is too late and the dam has already burst.”

“If she is infected, how did she get it? Anna and Sebastian are the only ones who have been close to others who were infected, and neither are the ones we’re talking about right now.”

“We don’t know how it spreads! And that’s part of my point! If she is infected, then every single second we waste breathing the same air as her could be putting our own lives at risk.” She had leaned forward while talking, and her hands now rested on the surface of the coffee table. She became so intense when she got worked up that it was almost worth arguing with her to catch a glimpse of this side of her, to see her show signs of life when she usually stood so introverted and quiet.

“Do you realize what you are suggesting when you bring this up? Do you really comprehend what you mean when you say you want to protect ourselves from a potential threat?” They had danced around the subject before, but neither had had the balls to call the spade a spade.

“Of course I do. But that doesn’t change the fact that it needs to be done.”

“I think you’ve been hanging out with Davidson too much if you can just casually mention it like that.”

She literally rolled her eyes at his comment as she rose to her feet. “Nothing about this conversation is casual. I know it’s life or death we are discussing. But if she’s infected, and she has been for a couple of weeks, than it isn’t killing someone. Then it’s no different than what Anna and Sebastian did when they initially swept the building. And if she isn’t infected, then we can all help her get better, instead of Nathan keeping her locked up in that apartment 24/7. Either way she’s only going to get worse without help.”

He took the break in dialog to rise to his feet as well. “And what if we can’t tell if she’s infected or not?”

“Then that is a decision we will have to make when we find out.”

“It won’t work that way with Anna and you know it. If we go bursting in there with guns blazing, and it isn’t obvious that she’s infected, but she’s clearly not healthy either, then we both know what Anna will do. Are you honestly telling me that you would be able to live with yourself if she just has a cold or the flu but we send Anna knocking on their door? Would you be able to live with yourself, knowing what that would mean for Hayley? What that would mean for Nathan?”

Their eyes locked and the argument suddenly became far too personal for his taste. The coffee table was a welcome barrier between them to help keep the distance. “Why is this personal for you?” she asked suddenly, and the air was sucked completely from his lungs. Perhaps he took his logic too far, but it only felt moral when he thought it.

“It’s not,” he insisted, “but I already have trouble sleeping at night. If we tell someone and it turns out we were wrong, then there is no going back on that. Then I’ll never be able to close my eyes again.”

Her hands went to her face, and she wiped them across her eyes, stretching the skin tight as she pulled the skin towards the corners of her skull. “I’m tired of having this same fight. At the end of the day, what happens isn’t just up to us, Daniel. And if we reach that point, it is a decision we will all have to make together and it is a decision we will all have to live with.” Bending down, she picked up the bucket in one hand, her fingers curling around the lipped edge.

“Just don’t go making any rash decisions right now. Promise me you will sleep on it.”

At this comment she let out a sad laugh. “Sleep on it? Daniel, I haven’t slept in days. I can’t sleep, knowing what might be just down the hall from me.”

“Think about it. Really think about it, Lenore, before you do something that you can’t take back.”

“I always think things through, that much I promise you.” She turned to leave, and he felt like the conversation needed to end differently. He had the haunting feeling that if she left now, he would lose this argument, for he clearly hadn’t changed her mind. He wondered if she had come here looking for him to talk her out of it or if she had come to let him know her mind was already made up. He still didn’t know, and it irritated him. It took all his self control to fight the urge to smash his clenched fist against the glass coffee table.

Her name hovered on the tip of his tongue, but he had nothing else to say after it, so it hung there. As the door swung shut behind her, a dreadful unease settled over him.

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