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When You've Gone
“It’s ok, don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine,” she says through her tears.
“But I won’t be!” I tell her. “I need you.” They’d Requested her sooner than we’d thought. The Seize never happened this quickly. I thought we had more time. I still have things to say, too many things to say.
“Tori, listen to me!” she begs. “I promised Wren you’d be ok. Don’t let me be wrong!”
“But she’s gone! They took her! They took my sister!” I remind her. It’s all too easy to replay that horrifying day in my head. At least that time we knew they would Request her. She was so far gone… but Juno is fine, showing no symptoms of Morbus. The disease is so obvious in some; I didn’t even know Juno had it until she told me just days ago.
“I know Tori, I know,” she sobs. “Just please, tell me you’ll be okay. Let me know that once I’m gone… you won’t end up like Rowan.” Just the mention of his name makes me feel as though I might crumble. It reminds me of how much I’ve lost since Morbus rampaged its way through the city, the one place untouched by the Great Floods. It brings the image of him lying lifelessly on the floor, his note addressed to me beside his head with blood spattered on the page. He’d written that he had lost everything and didn’t see the point of sticking around. He told me to tell Juno how I felt about her before she was taken away. He had been my best friend for years; if it hadn’t been for Juno I probably would’ve ended it.
“But you’re all I have left,” I tell her. “Without you everything I had before all this, the stupid disease, the floods, all of it will be gone.” I can’t stand the thought of being all alone.
“I’m sorry Tori.”
“Juno,” I say, sliding down onto the floor next to her and the letter. The letter with her name on it, stating that she either get on the bus for the infected tomorrow, to be driven off to Exilium where the diseased are sent to live out their days, or try and hide, an offense punishable by death if they find you. And they always find you. “You have nothing to be sorry for. Getting Morbus isn’t a decision, it’s inevitable.”
“But I don’t want to leave you.”
“It isn’t your fault. It’s their fault. You and I both know that the Idols could’ve stopped Morbus from getting out.”
“I- I’m scared.” She admits. Hearing her confession makes me break inside, and the tears I was trying to keep in for her sake pour out. I slide even closer to her and wrap my arms around her. I try and give her all my strength, all of my courage through my embrace.
“I know Juno. But look at me,” she turns her face up towards mine. Her bright blue eyes don’t seem as bright as they used to be which destroys me even more. “I promise you, I will do everything in my power to keep you from The Seize. I won’t let them take you away from me. Not you.” I see the smile returning to her eyes and I pray to the Idols that I can keep my promise even though I no longer am a devout follower of them. They caused all this in the first place, but I don’t know what else to do.
“Thank me when we are free of this city.”
“But there’s nowhere to go. We both know that the Great Floods destroyed everything outside the city.”
Just a year ago everything had been ordinary. But then they weren’t. Surging floods destroyed everything, Morbus ravaged what was left, invading the brains of the weak, driving them mad within a matter of days. At first, the disease wasn’t controlled at all. The streets that were once flooded with water were now flooded with the infected; some screaming at nothing, some roaming the street in groups, killing anything or anyone that crossed their paths. After a while, the Idols came and attempted to make things better by Requesting everyone with symptoms of Morbus and shipping them off to Exilium. I’ve lost so much, so many. It’s only a matter of time until I am gone too.
“I don’t know what to do. All I want to do is protect you, and I don’t even know how.”
“It’s okay. Tori… maybe I should just go. I could go to Exilium, I could get on that bus tomorrow and leave knowing that I didn’t hurt anyone,” for the first time I see a spark of crazy in her eyes. “I don’t want to go out of control. Tori what if I hurt you! No, I can’t, I won’t. I’m going.” She gets up and paces around the apartment.
“Stop Juno. Stop talking like this. You won’t hurt me, or anyone else. We’ll figure something out.”
“But what if I go crazy?” she asks me. I look at her and I can tell that at this moment she has a clear mind, but I can also see how scared she is.
The last time I saw someone this scared was when I told Wren she had been Requested. Her mind had been clear, she had known exactly what was happening even at her young age. She had held onto me and cried all night until the daylight finally came and I brought her to the bus. I hadn’t cried until the bus left, but when it did I cried for days. Wren had made me feel like I had a purpose, someone to look after. Much like after Rowan died, Juno was what got me through it. That’s when she had come to live with me because she was scared that I would kill myself just like Rowan had.
“Juno, you won’t go crazy. I promise.”
“How could you know that?” she yells, the crazed look returning to her face. “That’s how the disease works! I’m going insane! I can feel it!” She grips the sides of her head. “IT HURTS, TORI!”
I grab her and hold her, not knowing what else to do. I can feel her sobs, her shoulders quaking against me. All I can do is hold her tighter. I’m beginning to realize that Morbus is really going to take her away from me, if not physically then mentally.
Suddenly her crying stops and she looks up at me, she seems to be clear headed for the moment. “Tori, I can feel it eating away at me.”
“I know, I can see it.”
“Will you help me? I can’t live like this. I just want you to know, while I’m sane, I want to go. I want to get on that bus and go to Exilium. Maybe I’ll find Wren, we can be crazy together.” This makes her smile, but not a crazed smile, a sad one. “I really miss her you know. I always thought of her as my own sister. I know you thought that I moved in with you because you needed me, but I never told you how much I needed you.”
“If you find her… tell her that I love her. And that I miss her so much every day.”
“I will, I promise.”
“But I still don’t want you to go. I want you to stay here… with me.”
She looks at me, eyes full of sorrow. “I know that Tori.”
“I- I love you,” I tell her. Not until I say it out loud do I realize how true it is. I love Juno so much, and I have for as long as I can remember.
“I love you too. I love you so much.” She leans her forehead against mine. “I love you Tori,” she whispers. She starts to cry again, but this time there is no lunacy in her tears. “I didn’t want this to happen. I wanted us to outlive all of this craziness and, I don’t know, maybe start over. I know that it isn’t realistic but I have prayed to the Idols and I haven’t given up hope until now.”
I figure there is no point in restating the fact that her hopes have been crushed, so I lace my fingers with hers and give her hand a squeeze. “No one wanted this to happen, but none of this is your fault. I want you to remember that.” She nods.
I look out the window and notice that the sun has dipped below the horizon, leaving us a pool of moonlight. “How about we get some sleep. We can figure out what to do in the morning.”
“Okay,” she says, getting up and striding over to the mattress on the floor in the corner of the room. Instead of going to my own bed I follow her and lay down next to her. She grabs the blanket and pulls it over us, resting her head on my chest. With Juno in my arms, I fall asleep, hoping to remember what it feels like to have the person I love in my grasp, with the fear that this could be the last time.
When I wake up, Juno must already be awake because she isn’t next to me. I look around the apartment, but when I don’t find her I start to worry. Once again in the front room, I notice a small piece of paper folded up with my name on it. It reminds me too much of the letter from Rowan and I unfold it apprehensively.
There is only one sentence on the paper, but never in my life has one sentence made me feel so empty.
I’m sorry but I had to go, I love you
I can’t. I cannot and will not process the words on this page. Maybe if I pretend I didn’t see it then it won’t be real. I will go back to bed and when I wake up she will be there next to me.
But she’s gone. I saw it. I can’t go back to bed. I can’t do anything. I have to live without anyone. Nobody that I love is still here.
But am I really living? What is the point when you’ve lost everything? That’s what Rowan said, and I know exactly what he meant. I can feel what he must’ve felt…
I used to have everything: loving parents, a little sister, great friends, good grades… I have nothing left, nothing keeping me here.
There is only one thing for me to do. I take Juno’s note and shove it in my pocket. I find myself practically sprinting to Rowan’s house. I don’t know why I feel so rushed, maybe I just don’t want to second guess myself, but running through these streets that were once so full of life makes me more sure than I’ve ever been.
I run up the stairs to Rowan’s apartment and open the door with the key that I’ve had since we were in seventh grade. As I walk in, tears flood down my face. I rush to where I found Rowan that day and pick up the gun still laying on the blood-covered floor. I lift it to my head and look out the huge windows in his front room. Juno was the only good thing left in this city. Everything is gray and broken. I never thought it’d end like this, but it has. Maybe Juno will find Wren, and I’ll find Rowan… maybe we’ll all live our own twisted happily ever after.