Losing your temper is foolish; ignoring an insult is smart.
- (Proverbs 12:16)
The door banged open and then shut, but Immer didn’t look up. The air had gotten suddenly colder, so it could only be Michael.
“I’m working, Michael,” Immer said, putting a pistol in place on a shelf. Frowning, he counted them again. There were only thirteen. He had ordered fifteen revolvers, six sniper rifles, and thirty shotguns. “Damn it! They stiffed me again!”
“Dealing with thieves and vagabonds?” Michael asked.
“Michael, I don’t want to do this right now.” Finally, Immer turned. Michael wasn’t even paying attention. He had grabbed a semi-automatic from a shelf, and stroked the barrel with a thoughtful expression. After a glance at Immer, he put it back, and thrust his hands in his pockets. “I’ve already told you, we’ve got to keep everyone safe.”
“From what, Immer? The Reformists have moved on. Italy was never their main target. They’re demolishing the United States of Canada, not Britain. The only threats left in the city are vigilantes and guerillas like you.”
“I’m no such thing. Sandra made the mistake of thinking that the only threats are the invaders. I’m not letting anyone else come to the same end as her.”
“What happened was an accident! No one was trying to kill her, or the other people who died that day. There was nothing any of us could do.”
“Maybe not then, but there’s something we can do now. Prepare.”
“Look around!” Michael shouted, and Immer flinched. Michael, as the leader of Modern Musical, had once been intimidating. But that was a past life. Immer stood a little taller and took a step forward. Michael didn’t back down, so Immer grabbed a revolver, and was pleased when Michael took a step back.
“You look around, Michael. The world is falling apart. What do you think will happen to you when everyone finds out about your favoritism? About that last pill?”
“When they find out, it will be a good excuse to finally start having some honesty around here!”
“I’ve had about enough of you.” Immer took experimental aim, his finger resting on the trigger. Michael threw up his hands automatically, but quickly lowered them again, striding toward Immer.
Balking, Immer found he could not pull the trigger. Michael snatched the revolver away, throwing it to the ground. “Everyone has had enough of you, Immer. We don’t need to be starting a war here, too.”
With a shove, Immer sent Michael sprawling next to the revolver and grabbed a pistol.
“Why can’t you just be on my side for once?” Immer yelled, cocking the pistol. He took aim again, hands shaking. Though before he had only been speculative, now he knew he would really do it. It was for the best. They couldn’t function with Michael constantly stirring up trouble.
As he rose to his feet, the door behind Michael rattled. “This has really turned you inside out, Immer. You pretended to be this good Christian, but now everyone sees you for what you really are. What you’ve always been.” Michael favored the leg he had landed on, but he lifted his chin in determination. “And I’m not going to let you turn innocent people into murderers like you.”
He dove for the gun, Immer fired, and the door opened.
The scream pierced Immer, and he had to make sure the sound wasn’t coming from him.
For a moment, Selonee was a tableau framed in the doorway, her mouth open as she stared at Michael, a scream coming from every particle in the air. Then, as a pinprick of red appeared over her left breast, she collapsed like the house made of straw.
Immer thought he heard Michael say her name. As he fled into the hallway, he couldn’t be sure.
“Selonee? Selonee, open your eyes!”
Nothing. There was nothing. The room closed in on him, and the universe was suddenly so much smaller. He had never realized that it contained only one person.
She opened her eyes, and though they were cloudy with pain and fear, she smiled a little when she saw him. “Wow, Michael,” she whispered, wincing. “I don’t think we’ve ever been this close before.”
A tear rolled down her cheek. When he tried to smile back, he realized it had fallen from his own eye. “Just hang in there, okay? Immer went to get help. You’re going to be okay.”
She shifted uncomfortably, and cried out again. “I don’t think so,” she whimpered. “What happened to me?”
“I just opened the door, and then there was this sound…” She closed her eyes again, and Michael grabbed her face in desperation. “I think…I think Immer shot me. But he wouldn’t do that, would he? What happened to me?”
She didn’t even sound like she was talking to him. Her head rolled back and forth in his hands, her eyes dipping in and out of focus. Where was Immer? Michael wanted to scream. But he had seen the look in Immer’s eyes, as he bolted away. It was the look of the hunted. Michael would be surprised if he ever saw Immer again. And Immer had better run for his life.
Her shirt was turning red. Michael ripped off his sweatshirt and balled it up, pressing it to Selonee’s chest. She screamed and thrashed, which hurt more. “Somebody help!” he bellowed. “Okay, Selonee, I have to go get the first aid kit myself.” Not that he really knew how to use it.
Her cold hand snatched his wrist. “Don’t leave me!” she begged.
“I have to, Selonee! I have to save you!”
She smiled at him, her eyes completely lucid. “No you don’t, Michael,” she replied hoarsely, placing her other hand on her heart, right over his. “Just stay with me. I’ve always been with you. Please don’t leave me.”
He felt like her hand was tying him to his own life. “I know, Selonee. You’ve always been here for me. I’m sorry. I – I’m so sorry.”
She sighed, closed her eyes again. “Just stay with me…” she whispered dreamily. Her lips grew paler and paler. His sweater was soaked now with her blood.
“Stay with me, Selonee. You’re going to be okay,” he ordered. “Help!”
She murmured something, and her hands loosened their grip.
“What did you say? Selonee?”
“Can you do something for me?” she asked in a voice heavier than cement.
“I will do anything for you, Selonee, if you promise me you will keep your eyes open.”
They did open, but they were lost. Like she was feeling through the dark, her hand reached up uncertainly, shakily, and touched his chin. The hand crept around to his head, and she buried her fingers in his hair.
Understanding what she wanted, he leaned in. She gasped as his hand put too much pressure on her chest. Trying to make his shaking hand gentle, he pushed back her hair, touching her eyebrows, her nose, her lips. Her entire face was wet with his tears. How had he never noticed how beautiful she was? She had never been the crazy stalker fan that everyone said she was. She had argued with him, made fun of him, even tried to stab him once. She had always stood by him, and listened to him when no one else did, even when he didn’t listen to himself. She was his best friend, and suddenly he wished that he had thought to be hers.
“I’m right here, Selonee.” Carefully, he pressed his lips to hers, keeping hold of her gaze. Her hand tightened in his hair, her nails digging into his ear. “Selonee…” I need you. Please stay.
A shuddering sigh tickled his lips, and he imagined that his name was on it. She never took another breath, and her hand slipped from his hair.
Her eyes were still open though, holding him a captive of the universe.