The realization that the only other person on the planet would rather be alone, didn’t exactly boost her ego. Heather might have offered up some colorful expletives for his blunt rejection but it wasn’t a normal situation. Diplomacy was called for. Up until that point she had survived on her own because she had to. She wasn’t particularly good at it but there was no other choice in the matter. Once she became aware that there was a less solitary option, the thought of returning back to the hermitic lifestyle was intolerable.
“Please stop for a minute so we can talk, ok? I’m sorry for the things I said earlier. It was just the incredible shock and relief of finding out that there is another living person to talk to. Being alone is so depressing. I’ve just forgotten my social graces and manners. I haven’t spoken to another soul in six weeks! Just like with animals, we lose our civility very quickly. It’s going to take me a short period to get it back. Bear with me, ok?”
James stopped in mid-stride and sat down his box of supplies. He folded his arms in uncomfortable frustration. Even when she was practically begging for his attention, she was still trying to control the situation. Some people never change.
“I’ve been alone far longer than the collapse of the world so little of this is new to me.”; He began. “If by some odd quirk of luck there were other people left, you’d abandon me the moment you discovered them. That’s why I have no desire to ‘hitch my wagon to your rising star’. You have no loyalty to me or anyone else. I’m just a desperate partnership of last resort to you. No thanks.”
His words stung. Hard. For a person of very modest expression, he summed up her life strategy succinctly. She just didn’t realize he was aware of it. Somehow, it seemed ok as long as the other person didn’t know. Pangs of conscience and ‘the human factor’ came into play when they understood. It served to shine an unflattering mirror at her motives and agenda. That gave her a long pause to think honestly and deeply about her lifestyle and what she wanted for the bleak future.
“Why do you think there is no trace of anyone else? Where did they go? What happened to the bodies?”; She posed to him. “Or a much better question is; of all the people in the entire universe, why were we spared from the calamity? What’s so special about the two of us? Don’t those questions haunt you, James?”
“Yeah. I’ve pondered those same puzzling questions. I think anyone in our shoes would.”; He remarked. “But only we have the unique circumstances which allows us to do so. I think that’s very telling. We are somehow linked together though our acrimonious past. It’s like some sort of cosmic ‘life lesson’ to tether two people together until they learn to get along. Perhaps we are dead and this is our ‘Hell’. Maybe every other soul on Earth has a parallel existence with their very own ‘life lesson’. If so, the gods must have a sadistic sense of humor.”
Heather eyed him with amused suspicion and awe. His response was both poignant and profound. “Acrimonious? Tether? Life lessons? Who the hell ARE you? The James Oppenheimer I knew back in the day would have beat the person who just said all that and then demanded their lunch money. I’m really impressed!”
He blushed at her sincere but backhanded praise. “I took some philosophy and vocabulary classes in high school. I guess they eventually paid off. It served to impress ‘the great’ Heather Akers.”
“I’m not so great. We both know that. I’ve taken advantage of people in the past and looked down upon them. I can be a language snob and fiercely sarcastic. I suppose it’s all been to mask personal insecurities but you obviously saw right through that. Maybe I can let all that go now. I’m going to turn over a new leaf, James. I promise. Can we please just start over?”
James set down the heavy box and extended his hand sincerely. “Hello, I’m James Oppenheimer. Pleased to meet you.”; He volunteered.
With that earnest gesture of good will and second chances, Heather began an eternal, loving relationship with ‘the last man on Earth’.