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Issue 6 - HomecomingEdit
The sky was starting to grow a bit brighter, but the thick clouds clearly didn't want any sunlight. It remained a dark blue-ish hue. Julius was driving, with Alice to his side. They were headed for his parents' house, which was still some miles away.
The streets were surprisingly silent; aside for the plague passing by it, there were no signs of danger. The occasional walker did turn out, but they were rare. Julius was so relaxed, it was as if he just took a power nap.
He's been driving for five minutes, quiet the whole time. He was looking for the right words to start with Alice.
Through some unknown force, the apocalypse pushed them to see each other again, after three years. The last time they'd see each other was during the high and confusing times of high school.
Julius passes a glance at her. She was looking through her passenger window, as if she was waiting for something. The gray sky's lighting on her created a calming image that settled him, and made him stare longer. He had to face the road though, since there were still plenty of turns to be made.
"So..." Julius finally starts. Alice blinks, but maintains her position. Her chin rested on her hand, while her elbow stood next to the car seat's window.
"I'm still a little bit confused. I seriously didn't expect you to be running in the same place I happened to be in."
There was a brief pause.
"I don't know," Alice finally replies. "Fate's weird. I bet it's acting weirder now that the world's ending."
Julius smiles at the thought. "I thought you left. Gone off to a different state."
There was a pause again. Alice must have been admiring the view too much.
"Yeah, well..." she sighs. "... a little bit."
Julius looks at him as if she did something different. Did her friend really lie to him about her just leaving?
"So Carol lied?" Julius replies, refering to one of her closest friends, the only person he could talk to after they broke up.
"Well... yeah, sort of. She was a bit angry too, y'know."
Julius recalls how close they were as friends. He hopes that at this moment, she's still alive.
"I went to live with her for a while, then I moved... for probably about a year."
Julius felt happy. Why? The thought of Alice moving, talking about her future. It was confusing, but he wanted to hear more.
"Then I came back... here. It's on and off."
"What did you do around those times, exactly?" Julius replies.
Alice looks to him, as if she noticed the sudden change in his interest.
"Well I went to the college I was telling you about then."
It was the college, so far away from his town, that was probably a factor in their break-up.
"Couldn't afford it. So I got stuck, working at a bookstore. Then a cafe. Then I was back to school again."
Julius was starting to feel a bit embarassed, mostly because his story already didn't match up with hers. She clearly moved on.
"Then... money got tight. I moved back with my mom here. Then I tried coming back... but I always ended back here."
Julius's hands were cold, from the chill of happiness he was feeling. He started to question himself. "I'm so weird," he thought.
They were nearing the freeway, after passing by a few walkers. Julius treated them as part of the surroundings, since he was too busy listening to Alice's life, clinging on to every detail. He had time to deal with them later.
"Attended the community college for a bit. My mom was disappointed."
The community college? The only one in the town? The same one he attended, for years?
"Really?" he asks, turning to her for a while.
"You know I've been attending that college for about... two years now?"
Alice wears a curious expression. "Well, I was only there for a semester. But I was there everyday."
She continued looking at him. "How could I have missed you?"
Then Julius recalls it... a very familiar sight he'd periodically see in the college. A woman who strikingly resembled his ex-girlfriend.
"I thought you were my imagination," he told her, out of amazement. This gave Alice a small chuckle.
"I swear. I've seen you around, but I always dismissed it as someone else."
It was during the time when his second girlfriend made him forget the first. It was as if the memory of their bitter break-up was easy to move away from. But as they were talking about it now, and as Alice was sitting in the same place he was, it was coming back.
"I'm still a bit amazed," he adds.
"About what?" Alice replies.
"Us, ending things just like that. Abruptly. We never got to talk about it."
The sky's grayness started to lighten up a bit, as the sunlight tried to force its way through the clouds.
Alice fell back in her delayed replies again, taking time to come up with a response.
"Isn't that a thing of the past? I mean... admit it. We were high schoolers," she finally says, after what seemed like forever to Julius.
He used to hold his high school life dearly, since it was more eventful than his vacations. But as a year passed by since graduation, he's moved on with it. The first year of his college life paled in comparison with his high school years, but it eventually got better.
"Yeah... but, I thought everything was so serious. I thought it'd last longer than that."
Julius realizes what he just said. It's the first confession he had in this relationship, after a long time. He turns to Alice, who looked blank.
"I'm sorry... I mean, that's just what I thought back then."
He'd recall how they broke up. She was, after all, the closest friend he's ever had in high school, even closer than his male friends. He would be there to tell her his more personal problems, even though he knew she would be bored out of her wits. Still, they persevered, until things became more serious.
They weren't clear on their futures; Julius didn't want to be controlling, so he left her whatever choice she wanted. When she proposed to move to a different college, that's when things got worse. Conversations turned to fights. Julius was more emotional than before, afraid of being abandoned. He even cried in his room.
Boy, how he wanted to punch himself back then.
"Back then?" Alice suddenly replies, breaking him from his trance. Now he regrets those words coming out of his mouth. Did she still feel the same way he did?
"I mean... y-yeah. I cried my heart out a lot during senior year." Alice had a faint smile.
"Really? And I thought I had it worse," she follows.
She then tells him how equally affected she was, but she never cried about it. She struggled to move on at first, but quickly forgot about it as she moved out of the state.
"I sealed it up with all of my high school memories. Thought it was a thing of the past, that you'd be a friend of mine when we meet again."
Julius was a tad bit disappointed. Friends? And here he was, hoping she felt the same way. He wanted to take back what he said from earlier.
"T-that's good," he replies. "I mean, I kind of did, too. Got a girlfriend in college, but we didn't last long."
This memory suddenly brings up another important question in his mind. How was Alice's love life after this?
"Had a boyfriend in my first year in the private school. We broke up soon, though. Then I had another one in the bookstore I worked in. He wanted to be serious, so it lasted for a whole year. Dumped him after a while."
Julius wanted to tremble, but he didn't want to show it while he was driving. Instead, he tried to balance what he was listening to and the view the freeway provided. The distant views of green landscapes, with blurry images of concrete slabs at a far distance. Peaceful, he thought.
"I stopped seeing someone for a while. Then a year ago, I met a guy."
"Oh no," Julius thought to himself. "This is it. The guy we need to rescue later."
"But, yeah... same story. We ended it soon."
Julius breathes out, trying to mask it as a normal breath, since it was actually a sigh of relief.
"And I think I knew why..." Alice added.
"I wanted to call you, Julius. That was partly why I came back here."
They were nearing the district in which his parents lived, as he was starting to make a series of turns.
Julius's heart raised, beating a hundread beats per second. He knew his cheeks turned red, as he started to feel warm all over. It was the best thing he's heard since he heard her voice back at the library. For a while, he thought he could take on a hundred walkers at one time.
"Call me?" he replies. Then the feeling of hopelessness returns to him. What if she just wanted to settle everything, like what they're doing now, to fix her love life again? So that she could move on, for good this time?
"Y-yeah... I mean, clearly we had some unsettled things."
This was it. She was going to move on. They'll just be friends, and this drive will be awkward.
"But ... it just wasn't that. I still kind of ... felt the same way with you."
Julius stepped on the breaks. He stopped, halfway to the turn that would lead closer to Winterburrow Heights. He leapt to his right, toward Alice, and gave her a kiss. A kiss that lasted for a few seconds, until he quickly took it back.
He assumes a more defeated posture, passing it off by looking at the road in front of him. He turned to see her reaction, much to his suspense.
She looked beautiful, in his eyes. The way she paused, looking into nothingness, her mouth slightly opened.
"Like that. That's how I remembered you," she tells him.
And again, confidence shot up through Julius in the form of chills resonating his insides. He resumes driving, awkwardly changing the speed.
"This world, Julius," she tells him. The change in subject kind of snapped him out of his nirvana.
"I don't know. Through some cruel twist of fate, it brought us together."
Was she only interested in him because this world needed togetherness more than ever? It was great for bringing them back together, but hopefully it wasn't the driving force for her reason to stay with him.
"I love you, Alice. Still."
Julius quickly takes it back, but then accepts it regardless.
"You're dumb, Julius. Still the dummy I remember," she replies, a smile on her face. Success.
They were finally gone from the open views of the freeway. They're back in the busy, enclosed spaces of the city. The view was still nice. Nature, in the form of numerous trees and patches of grass, didn't vanish completely from the urban setting. Buildings still stood here and there.
"Remember that night, Junior year?" Alice speaks.
Julius recalls many nights in the eleventh grade in high school. Some nights he'd spend with Alice, while some he'd spend with his friends.
"I remember too many nights," he replies.
"Well, there was this particular one. Homecoming."
Julius finally recalls it, as he passes a few buildings, and more trees.
Some cars were parked, but the streets were mostly clear.
"You promised to take me."
Julius turns to Alice, who was looking at her window again. He'd recall a very identical sight, a number of years ago. It was darker, since it was night. They were also younger, too. And the car wasn't the same.
He'd recall that instead of going to the actual dance, they skip out, on their formal clothes, and drive to Julius's house instead. He'd remember it was the first sleep-over Alice had with him.
"Best night. Ever," he adds. He didn't see, but Alice looked at him, smiling.
They were at the stop light to Winterburrow Heights, the townhouse complex he used to live in when he was young. Where his parents still lived.
And just like that, everything snaps back into place. That Julius was driving a car he didn't own. That he saw Alice, since the fates decided for them to team up, and fix some loose ends. That they were arranged to survive this new world, this apocalypse-ridden land.
He noticed it, from the flying bits of plastic and paper on the streets, and the lack of people. He noticed it, from the three walkers scattered on the street on the other side of the stop lights.
He'd forget about it for a while, because he was right next to Alice, the love of his life.