As Julia lies there in bed, arms at her sides and the thick quilt pulled up to her chin, she glances at the clock on the nighttable. 11:45 p.m. She takes a deep, pained breath and forces herself to stay calm.
It’s been ages since she paid attention to the time. The sun disappeared when the bombs fell, and words like ‘day’ and ‘night’ have no real meaning any more. Rather yield to perpetual darkness, the others in the safe house treated clocks like mechanical Messiahs, depending on the hour and minute hands to provide structure in the heart of chaos. Not Julia. For a young woman who once loved the daylight hours and their brilliant promise, clocks are a tragedy.
Now, for her, it’s changed. Time is of the essence.
Beside her, Connor rolls onto his back and yawns. He squints at her before reaching out and squeezing her shoulder. “You OK, Jules?”
“I will be,” she whispers. She sounds so frail that Connor braces his elbows against the mattress and sits up. She winces as the movement jostles her slightly.
“Hey, you don’t sound so hot. Are you sick? Is it the baby?” He reaches for the bedside lamp, but she stops him.
“No, no, it’s fine. Just a headache. It’s taking a long time to go away.”
“Ah.” He sounds both sympathetic and relieved. “Is that why you asked Sarah for some painkillers before you came upstairs?”
“Jeez, Jules, that was over two hours ago.” Connor reaches out and gently brushes her dark hair from her forehead. When she doesn’t protest, he keeps stroking her cool skin. “I take it they didn’t work.”
“They have taken the edge off the pain, actually,” Julia replies. “It still hurts, but not as sharply as before.”
“Oh, man. I wish I could do something for you. Can I?”
“Just keep doing that to my forehead. It feels nice.”
Connor complies, eager to be of service. He knows that he was a jerk this morning, and wants to make it up to her. But God, what they’ve been through in the last few weeks have driven stronger people to insanity or death. If he were to get out of bed now, cross the room, and stare out the rain-lashed window, he would see Gil’s grave. Gil had chosen to hang himself rather than wake up to one more black hole of a day. When Julia had commented over breakfast that maybe he hadn’t been so stupid after all, Connor exploded at her. He called her selfish. Told her that all of them must have been spared for a reason, and wanting to reject that gift like a sweater that no longer fit was idiotic.
The argument brought the others on the run. Sonny and Joel had taken Connor up to Skylab to work out his anger in a wall-punching session, while Sara and Caroline sat with Julia on the living room sofa, perched on either side of her like those stone lions that guard library doors. They were concerned for her, but also worried about the baby. The life in her womb represented hope after so much death and devastation, and the thought of it being extinguished by a badly-timed fight horrified them.
Connor had apologized afterward. He’d kissed her, even shed tears, and she’d told him that it was all right, she was all right. She’d been lying at the time, but not now. Now she was calm, knowing that she would indeed be just fine.
"You're cold," Connor murmurs.
“It’s only side effect of the pregnancy. I’m okay. I just need to lie still and let it pass.”
“Yeah, of course.” He massages her temples, alternating between one and the other. When she sighs in contentment, he adds, “Jules, I’m sorry again that I was a dick today. It’s not you, please believe me. It’s-“ he gestures toward the window - “this. All of it. Sometimes I’m okay. I can forget how it was and hope that things will be good again.”
“But you know they won’t,” she says.
“We have to believe they will,” he insists. “Otherwise, what’s the point?”
“What’s the point indeed,” she echoes. A few seconds later, she asks, “Connor, what’s the time? I’m so tired I can’t even lift my head any more.”
“I hear that. It’s ten minutes to midnight. You want to try sleeping now?”
“I’m so far gone I don’t have a choice any more,” Julia murmurs. Her voice is so low he has to strain to hear it.
“I’m wiped too.” He lies back down and pulls up the covers. “Good night.”
He doesn’t say, “I love you”, Julia notes. But she doesn’t care any more. It’s good to lie here in these comfortable blankets, feeling the world slip away.
By morning, her worries are gone, drowned in the blood that flowed all night from the slices on her wrists.