Gail wipes at her mouth and looks over to Erica, whose eyes are closed. For a minute, she thinks she’s asleep, but considering that Gail’s become somewhat of an expert in all things Erica over the past couple years, she’s learned enough to tell the difference between her consciousness and unconsciousness.
“You good, hon?” Gail asks, giving her a pat on the thigh.
Erica lets out a content sigh, still not opening her eyes. “More than. Just give me a sec.”
They’re laying in the back of a VW Bus they’d found just outside the village. Luckily, it had had enough gas that they could drive just far enough away from the group to not have to be quiet. Thank the Lord, too, because Gail had missed the sounds Erica makes when she’s not worried about waking everyone up.
Gail reaches out, feels the fabric of Erica’s dress—which has ridden up to her midriff, now—in between her fingers. “You always had this?” she asks.
Erica smiles sleepily, turns onto her side to face Gail. She reaches out and runs her finger down the bridge of Gail’s nose, making it crinkle. Gail swats her finger away. “It’s new,” Erica says.
Gail smirks. “New, huh? You spend some money you didn’t tell me about?”
“Oh yes, sorry, sweetie.” Erica rolls her eyes and adds with a mocking tone, “I withdrew a couple hundred from the joint account.”
Gail can’t help but smile, and she pulls Erica into her. Erica kisses her neck, nuzzles in. “Yeah?” Gail asks. “Where’d you go?”
They do this, sometimes, the two of them; ask about days at work, how traffic was on the way home, whether or not one of them had remembered to pay the phone bill. Gail can’t pinpoint exactly when they started doing it—if she had to guess, probably on some rough night during Erica’s pregnancy. Either way, it offers them some kind of normalcy. Keeps them sane in the face of being two of the last remaining members of the merry band of weirdos stuck together post-apocalypse.
“The little boutique down by the beachfront,” Erica answers. “That one we drove by the last time we took Dawn for a ride in the Indy 500.”
“NASCAR, doll. Don’t insult me.” Gail hums. “I knew that jacket looked familiar.”
“You liked it?”
“I like everythin’ you wear,” Gail tells her. “And everythin’ you don’t, if you catch my drift.”
“You’re subtle as a flying brick, Klosterman.”
Gail just hums, runs her fingers through Erica’s hair. For the first time since Erica told her she was pregnant, it feels like she can breathe again. Ten months, three babies, one gunshot wound and a new country later—accompanied with a healthy buzz and the taste of Erica on her lips—Gail has never felt more content.
“You get anythin’ else while you were out?” she asks.
“A few… things.” Erica says. “I didn’t bring them, though. Don’t think my post-baby body is ready to be unveiled quite yet.”
Gail’s breath hitches. “You didn’t—“
“Jesus,” Gail mutters, rolling onto her back. She flashes forward to the inevitable day in the nearby future when she’ll get to see Erica’s “purchases”.
Ignoring her arousal for the moment, she asks, “Are you really that mad about Carol?”
“Not so much anymore,” Erica shrugs. “Honestly, I think half of it was just the fact that we hadn’t had sex since before the baby was born.”
Gail lets out a deep chuckle. “You minx.”
Erica raises an eyebrow in return. “Listen, talk to me when you’ve got pants on and your bra isn’t halfway backwards.”
Gail looks down. Huh, sure enough.
“And? What was the other half?” she asks as she sits up and unclasps her bra, throwing it in the direction of the driver’s seat. Erica’s hand is on her back, mapping constellations between her freckles. “Hon?” Gail says over her shoulder.
“Huh?” Erica replies, distracted. “Oh, yeah. Just that… I dunno. I went through losing Phil, then losing you, then the breech. Top that off with the threat of a nuclear doomsday, and my birth experience wasn’t exactly the smoothest of operations.”
Gail lays back down, pulls one of the nice woven blankets she’d packed from the house over them and puts a hand behind her head, staring up at the ceiling of the van. She knows better than to speak yet, knows Erica is just getting started. So much for being over it.
“I mean, Carol gets to wake up one morning—with her husband—to a perfect baby sleeping away under the covers.” Erica continues. “That baby doesn’t cry at all, by the way. Which is weird, right? That’s weird.”
Gail nods, eyes closed. “Mmhmm, weird.”
“Maybe there’s something wrong with her. Falling out of your mother during REM isn’t exactly normal. Are you sure she’s okay?”
“‘I definitely orgasmed this time’,” Erica scoffs. “Really, Carol? Are you sure you’ve ever even orgasmed in your life? ‘Cause something tells me Tandy isn’t exactly the King of Climaxes.”
“Bezequil? And Mike? For god’s sake, I come up with a beautiful, poetic name relating to the end of the world and Carol names her daughters Bezequil and Mike?”
“And now she’s going around with this humdrum attitude like, ‘oh, the miracle of birth is so beautiful, Erica! Wasn’t it wonderful? Don’t you just love motherhood?’ Meanwhile, my boobs hurt all the time, Dawn’s up every night, and I can’t even try on lingerie without crying—“
“Erica!” Gail stops her. “Hush up, would ya? You’re ruinin’ my buzz—both of ‘em.”
“Sorry,” Erica says, voice small.
“Don’t be sorry, just,” Gail sighs, feeling for Erica’s hand and taking it in hers when she finds it. “Listen, do you realize this is the first time you and I have been alone with no baby—in or out of your belly—since we got back together?”
Erica furrows her brow, thinking back. “It is, huh.”
“Yes,” Gail replies, “and I don’t know about you, but I don’t wanna spend the whole time talkin’ about my daughter and my grand babies. All I wanna be doin’ is spendin’ time with you, all to myself, for the first time since DC.”
Erica turns onto her side again, puts her cheek in her palm, watches Gail for a moment. She smiles.
“Oh, what now?” Gail asks gruffly.
“I love you, you grump.”
Gail just smirks, bites the inside of her cheek. “Ditto, baby.”
They lay there for a moment, the sunset coming in through the windows of the van and casting everything in an orange glow. For a moment, Gail wonders how it’s possible to be so happy in a world that’s so incredibly, horribly, irreversibly screwed up.
“Look, if it makes you feel any better,” Gail breaks the silence. “Everythin’ did turn out fine in the end. I mean, you—we—got a perfect little pipsqueak out of the deal. Plus, two babies? What would we even do with two of them?”
“Lose our minds,” Erica says with a tired laugh.
“Damn straight. So don’t be too jealous of Carol. Her real labor is gonna come tonight when she realizes Tandy is useless for midnight feedings and barely knows how to wipe his own ass, let alone a newborn’s.”
Erica, despite herself, tears up. “You’re really good with the midnight feedings,” she says, voice thick.
“Don’t you forget it,” Gail replies, and she tilts her head to look at Erica. “Ah, jeez, you cryin’ again?”
“Hormones,” Erica says in way of explanation. “I don’t know why—”
“C’mere,” Gail tells her, and she pulls Erica into her arms, places a kiss on the top of her head. “It’s not a competition, doll. Y’all are both fantastic mothers in different ways. Hear me?”
“I hear you.”
“Good.” Gail nods, running the tips of her fingers up and down Erica’s arm. Goosebumps follow her touch. “Now rest up, ‘cause I’m gonna wanna go again.”
Erica groans, laying her head on Gail’s chest, her hair fanning everywhere. “Oh, thank god.”