I didn’t feel like buying or begging the from the man who owned this farm, so as much as I would have loved a cup of hot coffee and a bite to eat, I saddled Flecha and we headed on our way. We were getting a late start, and I had a small bag of piñones that would tide me over until I could get some real food.
After the adventures of the last two days, most of today was uneventful. Flecha and I traveled toward our rendezvous point, and I was thankful that the weather was good—clear blue skies and warming temperatures. We didn’t run across a lot of people on this path, which appeared to have once been a road people used to get to their houses. Some buildings had collapsed, others burned. Time and again I would see the remains of stone foundations and fireplaces, the only things remaining to indicate where someone’s home had once stood.
As I neared the town, I searched the sides of the road for signs of Marisa and Dr. Ruston. I was nearly in a panic, thinking they weren’t there, until I remembered that I was on a little-used side road that they wouldn’t have known about. I got back onto the main road, got my directional bearings, and sure enough, we soon found each other. The doctor had pulled the wagon and animals off to the side of the road and was pretending to fix a breakdown while Marisa warmed herself over a fire and kept an eye out for me.
They were as delighted to see me as I was relieved to see them, although the doctor made a show of checking me for signs of relapse and seemed to think I felt a little warm.
“I’m fine,” I assured him. “As fine as anyone could be under the circumstances.”
He didn’t like that answer, but Marisa silenced him with a hand on his arm, and the single word, “John.”
The doctor nodded, as if they had some kind of secret agreement. It was obvious to anyone with eyes that my absence and the stressful circumstances had worked some kind of magic on them. I suppressed a smile and covered for my curiosity by asking for some food.
Marisa gave me a couple strips of venison jerky and a cloth bag of dried apricots. “I’m sorry I don’t have anything better. But we thought we’d try to pick up something in town. They have a hotel with a restaurant.”
I looked at my clothes in dismay. I was back in my own clothes, no longer wearing the rags I had worn to disguise myself yesterday, but that didn’t mean I looked good.
“Don’t worry,” Marisa said. “We have things in the wagon. Remember our disguises?”
Of course. I didn’t feel particularly tired and scatter-brained, but I must have been, to have forgotten.
We went into town, and I wasn’t too impressed at first. The houses seemed mostly boarded up, and the old main street looked deserted.
But the doctor and Marisa had already scouted it out, and we turned off the main road onto a street that took us into an area that seemed in better shape. Here there were a few shops open, with people and animals moving about. There were even a few intrepid people on bicycles, although the mud and patches of ice made for rough going.
We pulled up in front of a building that was a little bigger and fancier than most of the others, and Dr. Ruston climbed down from the wagon. “This is it,” he said. “Not much, compared to the bigger towns, but it’ll do for one night.”
And it did. In spite of being in such a dilapidated state, the town was blessed to be the only place for miles around where travelers could stop. Only the depredations of the pandemic and civil war had brought things to such a sorry state, and there was a clear entrepreneurial spirit at work in what was left of the town and its inhabitants.
Dinner was surprisingly good, considering that it was winter and this place wasn't on the rail line. Or maybe it was my own hunger that made everything so tasty. They probably could’ve served me an old shoe and I wouldn’t have complained. The three of us talked a long time over food and cheap local fruit wine, and I thought I noticed a gleam of real approval in Marisa’s eyes when I told how I had given the message to Robert and gotten away afterwards.
And then I went to my room. Yes, a room all my own! It was novel and exciting, but not so much so that I didn’t notice that Marisa and the doctor were sharing a room. Once again, I had to suppress a smile and pretend I saw nothing at all unusual.
But now that I’m alone, I can say freely that I’m happy for them. It’s fun to see people in love, even though I have no confidence that I myself will ever be ready for a lasting commitment. Maybe some day, once I’ve gotten my head together. . .
But enough of that. I’m tired, and maybe Dr. Ruston is right. I do feel a little warm. I don’t want to relapse, so even though I still have a lot on my mind after yesterday, I’m going to try to get some sleep. I’ve got the whole rest of my life to try and figure things out.
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