Chapter Seventeen

The remainder of a lonely, worrying Friday was spent making hurried preparations to leave home and attempt the difficult journey to Samantha and then, ultimately, to my family. I had thought that there would not be much I would need to take with me but, as is usually the way, once I had collected together all that I might possibly have needed, a huge pile of possessions lay waiting on the living-room floor to be packed tightly into my unsuspecting car.

The kitchen cupboards were empty and, as midday approached, I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to leave the house to make an inconvenient trip to the local general store. I had been loath to leave home until Samantha had called to let me know she was safe but this was an emergency. With the prospect of many scorching and dehydrating hours at the wheel of my car ahead of me, I knew that I needed to make sure that I had enough provisions to see me through. I ran to the little shop (it was only a few hundred yards down the road) and returned quickly without having bought anything. The shelves of the shop had already been stripped bare and the little food that remained on sale was so highly priced that I decided to wait and make do with what little provisions I could gather together for the journey.

In the unbearable heat, and with the safety of the ones I loved at the front of my mind, the day passed slowly and it was not until four o'clock, when the scorching sunlight had finally started to steadily fade away to darkness, that the telephone finally rang. I was loading my bags and belongings into the car when the shrill ring of the phone pierced the evening air and sent me scurrying into the house to answer it.

'Steve?' Sam's unmistakable voice asked, 'Steve, it's me, Sam. Are you all right?'

'I am now,' I replied as calmly as I could although I was breathing deeply and my heart was racing at an incredible rate. 'I'm fine now that I've heard from you.'

The relief I felt at having heard her voice was almost impossible to disguise and, for a brief moment, I was lost for words. In my mind I had rehearsed and prepared for the phone call throughout the day but, now that I was finally speaking to the girl I cared for so much, all of the questions I had prepared disappeared from my mind. After a lengthy, awkward silence, I was able to speak again.

'How are you?' I asked. 'Did you manage to get to your gran's place okay?'

'Eventually,' Sam replied. 'The traffic has been horrendous today, I've never known anything like it. Everyone who owns a car must have been out on the roads.'

'Everybody except me.'

'Haven't you been to work?'

'I did try to get there but it was a waste of time. I turned back before I got to the city and went over to your house but you'd already left. There was a lot more trouble in town after what we saw last night.'

'Tell me about it,' she said, her voice sounding strained and tired. 'We had to drive straight through. Christ, the Army's working flat out in there just trying to stop people from killing each other. It's been crazy in every city that we've been close to, and you make sure that you take care when you go through.' She laughed quietly. 'I want you to be in one piece when you get yourself up here.'

It was amazing just how much more relaxed I suddenly felt now that I had heard Samantha's voice. Now that I was sure she was safe and that she and her family had reached their destination, the journey ahead did not seem like such an impossible undertaking and the violence around me seemed trivial and inconsequential.

'I'm just packing the car now,' I told her. 'I'm going to set out in a couple of hours. If I leave it until dark then the bulk of the traffic will hopefully have got through and I should have an easy trip up.'

'Like I said, take care,' Sam said thoughtfully.

'It's going to take a lot more than anything the city can throw at me to stop me from getting to you,' I said with truthful, if exaggerated, honesty and confidence. I thought for a moment before speaking again. 'If that's what you want,' I added.

She replied without hesitation.

'Of course it is. Christ, I can't wait to have you here. I'm missing you more than I ever imagined I would.'

'I know what you mean. We've only really known each other for a couple of weeks, Sam, but I can't even begin to tell you how much you've come to mean to me already.'

Had I not been speaking on the telephone to Samantha, had we been talking face to face, then I might not have had the courage to be so forward and honest about my emotions and feelings towards her. Regardless, the things I told her were the truth and, in the short time we had known each other, I had come to love her. While we talked on the telephone, hundreds of miles apart, I felt as if a huge part of me was already up there with her.

Sam was quiet for a few seconds and, as I listened closely, I heard her crying.

'Hey, come on,' I said quietly. 'I'm trying to cheer you up, not upset you.'

'I'm sorry,' she sobbed. 'It's just that I want you here so much that it hurts.'

'And I want to be with you more than anything else. Give me a couple of hours and I'll be on my way.'

'Promise?' she said as she sniffed back her tears.

'I swear. I've got a few more things to get together and then I'm coming to get you. I'll be as quick as I can.'

'You'd better be,' she joked as her voice became calmer and slightly more composed.

'I love you,' I said simply and honestly and, before I had managed to say goodbye and hang up the receiver, I too was sobbing uncontrollably. As Sam said goodbye and put down her telephone, the metallic, impersonal click of disconnection and the steady drone of an unconnected line echoed around the emptiness of my home. Hearing those sounds served to emphasise the distance between us and I wished with all my heart that I could have been next to Samantha at that moment instead of hundreds of miles away and alone.

The feelings I felt inside were confusing. At the same time I felt both incredible, undeniable joy and heart-breaking, almost nauseating desperation. I knew that I had a difficult journey ahead of me - a huge undertaking in itself - but what was even more worrying was the ominous cloud of confusion which hung heavily over the heads of everyone. I had just about managed to come to terms with the fact that there was a chance the world would soon end but what I could not accept was the possibility that I might not be with Samantha when it happened. As I stood alone and sniffed away bitter tears of frustration in the quiet of my empty home, I felt like the loneliest person on the red-hot face of the planet.

By seven o'clock I was finally ready to leave. It was dark outside and I was surprised that it had taken me so long to prepare for the journey ahead. As I walked out to the car and locked the door of the house behind me, I felt as if I was leaving for good, that I would never return home again. At that moment, with the prospect of driving hundreds of miles along hot, dangerous roads ahead of me, I considered unloading the car and staying where I was safe (or safe as could be expected). I quickly cast such thoughts from my mind when I pictured Samantha's face once more. I knew that I had no choice but to leave.

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