Jade only knows the ocean from pictures.
She’s never stood on the shore, staring into infinity, waiting to see something rise up over the horizon – knowing there are things past it, knowing the world isn’t flat, but having no proof. She has never felt the water drowning her feet, taking the sand from between her toes when it recedes, pulling the very ground she stands on out from under her.
But she knows the feeling.
She stands outside, toes in the grass, staring at the skyscrapers that surround her, staring down the streets and alleys that stretch on forever, trying to find something beyond the expanse that is the City. Maybe it goes on forever. Maybe the concrete is a living thing, maybe a virus. Jade read once that after the Leveling the trees and the grasses forced themselves through the cracks in the streets and the sidewalks when there were no people left to fill them. So maybe the concrete is vengeful. Outside of Jade’s home, she’s never seen anything that isn’t the City.
Jade’s home, the tiny plot of land that they haven’t been able to touch, is an island. So far, she’s been safe from the storm surge, but the water’s getting rougher, and soon the tide will come in and carry her out to sea.
“So, can I get at one of those apples or what?”
Dave is leaning against the No Trespassing sign, and his feet are so close to the wall it makes Jade nervous. It’s pretty obvious where the wall is – exactly at the spot where the grass and the concrete meet – so Dave has to know, and he’s not a complete idiot so he knows exactly what will happen when he touches it. Jade just does not feel like dealing with morons knocking themselves unconscious outside her wall.
Jade is a little worried that she might drop her basket if she has to stand around listening to this guy for much longer. Her arms are starting to ache. “Look, you can’t keep – I can’t – I can’t feed you, okay? I can’t go out, and you can’t come in. You’re – you’re just being downright obnoxious!”
“I didn’t wanna resort to seduction, but you leave me no choice, miss.” He pulls the neck of his shirt into a V, leans forward and wiggles his eyebrows, and Jade just wants to laugh but stifles it. It’s strange, she notes, trying to read someone’s face when he’s wearing sunglasses. Jade has never seen him smile, even when he tries to be funny. All of his expression is right there in his eyebrows. He’s a mess and Jade feels bad for him – his shirt was probably white at some point, but now it’s roughly the same color as the alleys he hangs out in and way too small. It looks like he’s owned it since pre-puberty and outgrew it about a foot ago.
Jade wants to help him, but he’s lived this long without her help, and if she feeds one street urchin she’ll have to feed all of them. Still, he seems more desperate than the last time – last time he had moved on after a few minutes of idle chatter made him realize she wasn’t going to budge. But charity is stupid, and she needs to set these apples down somewhere, so she starts walking back towards the house.
“Hey. Hey, where are you goin’? Don’t be like that, I know you could use the company.” The apples are only getting heavier, so Jade walks faster. Ignoring Dave makes her feel terrible, but she has to keep her priorities in order. “Look, I just wanna-”
Thud. Jade groans. Is he really that stupid? Reluctantly, she looks over her shoulder, and yes, he is that stupid. Jade sets the basket on the ground and walks back toward the wall, digging in her pockets. She is definitely going to kill this guy when he wakes up.
When Dave wakes up, he’s lying on what appears to be an actual bed, and he kind of wishes he could go back to sleep to appreciate it a little bit more. But the farm girl is sitting across the room and that’s a really interesting development, so Dave’s brain prioritizes figure out how the fuck I got here over enjoy sleeping in a strange girl’s bed. He’s slightly ashamed of himself when he remembers – banging on a weird electrified invisible wall is probably not the best idea he’s ever had. There are other places to get food, it wasn’t that important.
Sometimes he gets hungry enough to get desperate. He’s usually a master of self control, but sometimes food is hard to come by and he lets his nerves get the best of him and electrocutes himself yelling at a teenage recluse with a basket of apples.
He did not think his tactics through very well, but he’s inside and he knows there’s food in here. Mission pretty much accomplished.
“Hey, you’re awake! Are you feeling okay?”
Dave is starting to enjoy the bed more and more so he doesn’t sit up. “Yeah, I’m good. Wait, shit, where are my-“
“Your glasses are on the floor.” Dave notices for the first time that the bed is not so much a bed as a mattress with no frame. Still, it’s better than what he’s used to. “Didn’t think you’d want to sleep with them on! Of course, I don’t know, you might. But since you’re okay, I just want to ask-” The girl walks over and kneels by the bed. “Are you a complete moron?”
Dave reaches out his hand and feels around for his sunglasses. “Not always. I dabble a little.”
“That wall is dangerous, Dave! What if I had just decided to leave you there unconscious? Where would you be now? Somehow I doubt the hospital would want to deal with you, they’d probably just throw you in jail for the hell of it! You’re lucky you weigh as little as you do, or I’d never have been able to drag you in here!”
“Oh God, can you stop that?” Dave finds his shades and puts them on, still lying on his back on the mattress. “Also, how do you know my name?”
“You told me last time you were here, remember? We talked for a while – you don’t remember mine, do you?” She walks away for a second and comes back holding the most gorgeous red apple Dave has ever seen. She puts the apple in his hand. “It’s Jade. It’s kind of weird to me that you don’t know. I’m kind of a tourist attraction at this point.” Jade laughs, but there’s no warmth, no sincerity to the sound.
Jade sits down on the floor beside the mattress, and the room is silent except the sound of Dave eating. He isn’t even bothering with table manners, but then again he doesn’t eat at a table very often and this is a mattress anyway so it doesn’t really matter.
When Dave finishes eating every bit he can scrape off the apple, Jade takes the core from him and throws it away. She asks him if he’s thirsty and brings him some water. She brings him more food, asks him over and over how he feels. Dave isn’t sure he likes this, this being waited on like a sick child thing, and he’s fine, really. There’s not going to be any lasting damage. He’s tired more than anything, and that’s not a new development.
What’s new is that Dave is getting enough food to actually quell his hunger for the first time in a very long time, and at some point, no matter what Bro says, food is more important than dignity. He doesn’t ask for more after he realizes that, shit, this is what she eats – she doesn’t leave, she doesn’t have anything else. He finishes the food he has with a twinge of guilt.
“It must, uh, it must get pretty lonely. You know, being here, by yourself and all.” Dave hates touchy stuff, feelings stuff, but he thinks at the very least Jade deserves his genuine interest. She really is interesting, anyway. It must be so strange, being a spectacle. Dave may not be able to watch the news on television but he knows of her, he’s seen how people crowd around the wall to watch as she tends her garden. Like she’s living in a life-sized diorama in a museum or something. It makes him kind of angry, which is weird, he’s not used to this much empathy at one time. He thinks maybe it has something to do with that evolutionary phenomenon that makes you want to protect small cute things. Like kittens.
“Well, it’s not all bad. I have Bec, at least.”
“He’s my dog! He’s really great, if slightly rascally.” She surveys the room. “I don’t know where he is right now. I think he’s outside.”
“That safe? I mean, with the wall and everything.”
“He’s really smart, I swear. He’s the smartest dog ever.” A pause. “Not that I’ve ever met another dog.”
Somehow the conversation turns to other things. Jade talks about her family, how they’ve all either died or vanished, how it ended up being just her and her grandpa until he got stabbed by some thug while out trading in the city. How she’s alone. And Dave bites his tongue, his life is kind of shitty but far less singular and strange and he knows she’ll appreciate someone just listening.
There’s a really big bar of chocolate in the cellar that would be perfect for this occasion, Jade thinks. She never has guests, so she may as well enjoy this while she can. She excuses herself and heads downstairs.
Jade is a little surprised by how little food is left.
It’s certainly enough to last her for a little while. She’s not going to be starving to death any time soon, but for the first time she realizes that she can’t live off of these food stores forever. The garden will always be there, but it doesn’t seem realistic to live off of fruits and vegetables forever. She’s going to run out of baking ingredients before long, and then she won’t have any bread. God, she thinks, it would be so nice to be in the city – to drink milk and sodas and eat three-course meals.
She can’t do that. She has to be strong.
Jade doesn’t realize how long she’s been standing there, her stomach aching with nostalgia for city food, until she hears Dave’s footsteps down the stairs. “Sorry, I got… distracted.”
“I thought maybe you’d been eaten by mutant cellar rats or something, but hey, good to know I was mistaken.”
“No rats here,” Jade says, with a half-hearted laugh. She suddenly remembers why she came down in the first place and starts to look for that candy bar. When she finds it, she turns around to face Dave, who’s still standing at the foot of the stairs. She waves the chocolate at him. “Look! Candy!” When she breaks off a piece and moves to hand it to him, Dave just stands there.
Jade frowns. “Take it! I can’t eat it all myself.”
Dave takes the chocolate, but he just holds it until Jade can see it melting in his hands.
“This is all the food you have?”
“It’s- It’s plenty.” Jade tries to conceal her anxiety. She doesn’t need Dave to worry – why should he worry about her? He has problems of his own. Even if it’s feigned concern, she doesn’t want it.
“For how long?”
Jade sighs and tries to walk back up the stairs, but Dave blocks her way. “Dave, come on-“
“Let me help you. I’ll bring you food from outside, I’ll-“
“What? Steal bread for me? Are you gonna be my thief in shining armor?” This time, Jade pushes harder and breaks Dave’s barricade. She’s already made it to the top of the stairs before Dave follows.
“Jade, Jade, come on.”
Jade turns around, arms folded. Dave is standing a few steps down, and Jade can see the red in his eyes when he looks up at her from behind his sunglasses. It’s really the first time he’s made eye contact with her willingly, and it seems to her like a gesture of good faith. “If you really want to help me out, I think we can make a deal.”
Soon, Dave is cradling a bag of apples in his arms as Jade walks him outside. “I promise I won’t be angry if you don’t come back with much. Sometimes there’s no one willing to make a trade.” There’s nothing left for her to tell him; she’s scrounged up every note her grandpa left, every name she can remember him mentioning.
“I know how to barter, Harley.” Dave looks out at the City as Jade presses the button on her remote. “I’m not about to get knocked the fuck out again, am I?”
Jade pushes him through the gap in the wall. “See you soon.”
Dave, hands full, just nods as he walks back into the City. “Later.”