The next day, we set out on a foraging trip. My idea paid off. I knew which of the locals used a compost pile and we checked those places. Jackpot. We found quite a few pumpkins and squash. Even some green tomatoes and small cucumbers, which I could use to make relish. We left some to reseed for the next year, though I planned to get seed packets from the feed/farm supply store. Since the apocalypse happened in the spring, it was stocked with gardening supplies and seeds.
We had been making our way to town and when we got there, we got the items we wanted. I decided to get as many dry packaged goods (rice, pasta, beans etc.) as I could and get plastic containers from the dollar store to keep them in, in order to keep rodents out. So far, it looked like they had left the food stores alone but that could change come winter. I found some covered bins in the back of one store and put as much as I could into them to keep them safe for now.
The electric carts the store had for people who can’t walk still had a charge in the batteries, so I was able to do most of it without being on my feet. Jude wanted to take one home to charge, but there wasn’t room in the bed of the truck. I said we could come back with the U-Haul truck another day and get one or two of them.
He wasn’t able to find a room divider, but I told him not to worry. There was no sign of other people anyway, and once my foot healed, I would get some lumber and drywall and make that living room into two rooms. “This way will be better.”
“You can do that?”
“I think so. I’ve helped build barns, I should be able to. It’s just a couple walls, not a whole building.”
When we got home, Jude took most of the pumpkins and squash downstairs to the basement, where they’d keep for a good part of the winter. I got busy cutting up a couple pumpkins to cook and freeze. Tomorrow I’d put the dry goods we’d brought home away. Fortunately, I had a good sized pantry, but some would likely have to be stored in the basement. Those, I‘d put into the plastic containers just in case a mouse got in and avoided the trap I kept permanently set. We had pumpkin as our vegetable for supper that night, as well as some fried green tomatoes. Jude had never eaten pumpkin as a veggie, only in pies. “This is really good”, he admitted. “And I know it does have lots of fibre, which is good for you.
“Julia, after supper, I’d like to take the stitches in your arm out. It’s time.” He’d taken the ones in my leg out a few days ago.
“Sure, Jude. I’ll be glad to be rid of them.”
After we’d done the dishes, he went to get his supplies. I went to the fridge for the wine. “Julia, do you really need that?” I heard from the doorway. I turned around.
“Definitely not.” I closed the door without taking the bottle out. “Why not make a pot of decaf or some tea instead?”
“All right, Jude. Do you want some?”
“I’d like some coffee.”
“I will put a pot on.”
He took my stitches out while we waited on the coffee pot. I was not happy with the big scar, but what can you do? It’s not like I was looking to date or anything, so so what if my arm looked like a railroad track? Afterward, we took our coffee into the living room, where I started a fire.
“Julia, I’m concerned about your drinking.”
“There’s no need to be, Jude.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.” His voice had a very stern tone to it.
I stood up from my squatting position and turned to face him, giving him a stern look of my own. “You’re treading on thin ice, Jude.” I was not in the mood to be told I was drinking too much.
Jude walked over to me and put a hand on each of my shoulders. “Julia, please listen to me”, he said in his normal soft voice. “You yourself told me you only have a drink occasionally. This is more than ‘occasionally’, you’re drinking almost every night. I know you only have one but I suspect that’s because I’m here and you know I’ll throw it out given the chance if you have more than that in a night.
“I know it’s not easy, this new world of ours. Besides trying to survive, you’re trying to live without your beloved husband. You haven’t really had a chance to mourn him and it has to be hell being here in the home you shared and him not being here anymore. Believe me, I understand. I had to leave my home, I couldn’t stand being there without my kids.”
“Jude, I’m sorry. Losing your kids has to be the worst thing someone can go through. And here I am, feeling sorry for myself.”
“This isn’t a competition, Julia. It’s not a matter of which is worse. We’re both in the same boat, we’ve lost all our loved ones.
“I’m now going to speak as a cardiologist. You have a serious heart condition. Yes, it’s mild at the moment, but you still should not be drinking. Having one every now and then is fine, but not every night and certainly not more than one in a day. You don’t want to make your condition worse, especially when I can’t give you what you may ultimately need - which is a heart transplant. That day is going to come a lot sooner if you continue to drink. If you back off on the alcohol, there’s a good chance you will be fine for many years to come.
“I’m saying all this not only as a cardiologist to whom you’ve entrusted your care, but also hopefully as a friend. I know we have only known each other for a very short time, but I like you and consider you a new friend. I’m starting to care about you a lot, but I feel that you have a barrier up. You are friendly to me, but there‘s a wall that won‘t let me get closer than arm‘s length. I hope you consider me a friend, even if a distant one.”
“I do, Jude”, I said in a quiet voice and with a tear in my eyes. “It’s just so hard. I miss Ben a lot, and I really felt his presence here when we arrived, but it seems I feel it less every day and I can‘t deal with that.”
“Come here, Julia.” He pulled me into a hug. I couldn’t help it, I started crying. “It’s okay to cry.” He hugged me for what seemed like forever, then said “Let’s sit down.”
I went to the bathroom and splashed water on my face, then re-joined him. “I’m sorry, Jude. I didn’t mean to do that.”
“Cry? You have nothing to apologize for.” After a moment, he said “Julia, perhaps we should look for somewhere else to spend the winter if being here is so upsetting to you.”
“No, Jude. I’d rather be here. We have what we need to survive, well almost. We need to get more wood.”
I laughed. “Yes, and apples. Oh, and hay.”
“Ok, if you are sure you are comfortable staying here. I would like to ask one thing of you, if you will do it.”
“Go two weeks without wine or any other alcohol.”
“I want you to see that you can do it without drinking. If, at the end of those two weeks, you want to drink again, I won’t say another word as long as your cardiomyopathy remains stable.”
“All right, I will do that”, I said reluctantly. I didn’t want to go two weeks without wine, but if it meant he’d lay off of me after that, it would be worth it.
“Tomorrow, I’d like to go to the hospital in town and get another Holter monitor to try. You don’t have to come with me, I know my way around now. You stay here and rest.”
“I was planning on trying to milk Mama.”
“How do you expect that to go?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been handling her a lot, brushing her, running my hands over her udder and touching her teats, just to get her used to being handled and touched there. Hopefully, she will be fine.”
“You be careful, Julia. I don’t want to get back and have to treat you for more broken bones.” He winked to show he was teasing.
“I will, Jude. I think I’m going to go up to bed. I’m really tired.”
“Don’t worry about the dogs, I will let them out. And I’ll put the fire out.”
I went to the bathroom and brushed my teeth before getting into my night gown. Just as I was getting under the covers, there was a knock at the door. “Come in, Jude.”
My new friend entered carrying a tray with a teacup on it. “I made you some tea, Julia.”
“That is sweet of you, Jude. Thank you.”
“First, I want to take your blood pressure and listen to your heart. I should be doing this every day and I haven‘t been.”
“Why every day? I didn’t go to the doctor every day before the end of the world.”
“No, but you’re very stressed right now. And your blood pressure isn’t where it should be. I’m just being cautious. Of course, I can’t force you to submit to it, nor would I try. Do I have your permission?”
“Yes, Jude. You may.” He wrapped the cuff around my arm and inflated it. When he was done, he said “It’s 160/110. I don’t like this. It could be stress from our chat earlier and from not having your wine. I’m going to check it again in the morning.”
He undid a few buttons on my nightgown and began listening. To get to the mitral area, he had to slip his hand into my nightgown and under my left breast. This stirred up a feeling in me that I hadn’t experienced since Ben died. I let out a small gasp. “Are you okay?” Jude asked as he looked up at me.
“Yes”, I answered, conscious of the fact that I was most likely blushing.
“Your heart rate is high, Julia. Are you sure you are okay?”
“I think I’ll bring a cardiac monitor upstairs and put you on it for the night.”
“That’s not necessary, Jude. I’m fine.”
“Can I be the judge of that?”
“Jude, I’m fine. I don’t need it. Really.” I knew there was nothing wrong, that I was involuntarily reacting to him being so close and touching me in such an intimate place, even though it was for a medical reason, but I did not want to tell him that.
“Ok, Julia. I’ll back off. I don’t want to argue and stress you out. Drink your tea, luv.” He set the tray down over my knee and sat on the bed while I drank it, like he had done the first night at the farm. When I was finished, he put two fingers on my wrist and checked my pulse. “It’s much better.”
“See? I’m fine.”
“You aren’t ‘fine’. Your blood pressure is still higher than it should be. I’m going to find a pharmacy tomorrow and get you some medication for it.”
He gave me a puzzled look. “Julia? What’s that all about?”
“Nothing, Jude. I’m just tired.”
“I see you are finished your tea. Let me take the tray and I’ll tuck you in.” He put the tray on the dresser and I layed down, then he pulled the blankets up over me. “Get a good sleep, Julia. Sleep as late as you want to in the morning, I’ll take care of the animals.”
“Thank you, Jude.” He turned the light off and picked the tray up and left the room.
I closed my eyes and tried to get to sleep, but I couldn’t stop thinking about my reaction to Jude being so close to me and having his hand under my breast while he was listening to my heart. I was totally taken by surprise at how my heart sped up and I didn’t know how to feel about it. On one hand, it was a bit exhilarating, Jude was such a nice and gentle man and I found him quite attractive, even though he was about 13 years older than me. On the other hand, it had only been about seven months since Ben had died of the virus that wiped out most of mankind and I wondered if I should even be looking at another man yet.
After tossing and turning for a while, I gave up on sleep and got up, not even bothering with my crutches. I quietly made my way down the stairs and went to the bathroom. I had not wanted to use the upstairs one, as I did not want Jude to hear me. Next, I went to the kitchen. The moon was shining bright so I didn’t need a light. I went to the cupboard, got a wine glass and filled it from the bottle in the fridge. I closed the door and turned around. Suddenly, the room was bathed in light. Jude stood in the doorway. Fuck! I thought to myself. I was not in the mood to be chastised about having a glass of wine.
“Breaking our agreement already, Julia?”
“Yes.” I figured there was no point in lying, I was caught red-handed.
“I feel like it.” I walked toward him, intending to go out to the living room. He made no move to get out of the way. “Excuse me”, I said in an effort to politely get him to move aside. He didn’t budge.
“I’m not moving until you pour that wine out.”
“Fine.” I turned around and walked to the table, sat down and took a sip of the wine. “I’ll drink it here.” I took another sip and set the glass on the table, keeping my hand around it.
Jude walked up to the table and tried to take the glass from me. I held on tight. “Julia, let me have the glass”, he said in a quiet but firm voice. His fingers were over mine, as we each held on from the opposite sides of the glass. Once again, I felt my heart speed up at his touch.
“No, Jude. This is my house and you don’t get to make the rules. Now, kindly let go.”
“Yes, this is your home, but there is no society anymore, so your deed is worthless. If you want to be rid of me, you will have to leave. I am not going to walk out on you.” He gave a tug on the glass. I tried to lift it to my mouth to take another sip but he was stronger than me. “Why do you want the wine so badly, Julia?”
“I like the taste.”
“I don’t buy that.”
“I can’t sleep.”
“Why can’t you?”
“You tell me, you’re the doctor.”
“You felt it too, didn’t you, Julia?”
“That spark - or whatever you want to call it - when I was listening to your heart.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yes, you do. I heard your gasp and heard your heart rate increase. It’s okay to acknowledge it.”
“I know you miss Ben. It’s okay to miss him. It’s also okay to feel something for someone else.”
“Jude, please. Please take your hand off the glass. I need a drink.”
“No, you do not need a drink. You just think you do.” I tried to pull away from his grip on the glass, but he held on and tried to get it away from me. I gripped it tighter, but then it shattered in my hand.
“Great. Thanks a lot, Jude!” I said in an angry voice. “YOU can clean up the mess.”
“I will - after I look at that hand.”
I looked down. My hand was bleeding. “You will not touch my hand.” I got up from the table and went over to the counter, where I pulled a bunch of paper towels off the holder, wadded it up and pushed it into my palm. I turned to my left, intending to walk out of the kitchen and go upstairs to the room I was sleeping in. Jude was beside me, blocking my way. I tried to step around him, but he moved with me, staying in front of me.
“Jude, I am really, really not in the mood. Please let me by.”
“No, Julia. I know you are mad at me right now, but I have to look at your hand. Besides the fact that it probably needs stitches, I need to make sure there’s no glass in the cut.”
“I will take my chances. Now, kindly move.”
“Julia, I can’t let you out of this kitchen until I’ve looked at it. If there’s glass in there and I don’t get it out, you could end up with an infection. Worst case scenario, if I couldn’t get it under control, you could lose your hand or worse. Please don’t let being upset with me compromise your health.” He reached out and took my hand and guided it over the sink, then he removed the wad of paper towels and looked at the cut. I glanced at his face and saw a very worried look. He reached over the sink and turned the tap on. “Put your hand under the cold water, see if that stops the bleeding.”
It slowed it down but didn’t stop it. Jude had me hold another wad of paper towels to my palm while he cleaned up the mess from the broken wine glass before the dogs got into it and got hurt. I tried to sneak off out of the kitchen while he was preoccupied with that, but it didn’t work. “Julia! Do I have to tie you down?”
“I’m just going to the bathroom.”
“No, you aren’t. You were planning on going upstairs. Now, sit down at the other end of the table while I finish this.”
By the time he was done, my hand had stopped bleeding. “I’m going to put some freezing in this before I poke around. That way, you won’t feel it as much.” A few minutes later, he was pulling a decent sized piece of glass out of the cut with his tweezers. “See, Julia?” he said. “If that had stayed in, you could have ended up with an infection.”
He didn’t find any more glass, so he stitched it up, then bandaged it before giving me a couple pills for the pain, which he said I’d feel when the freezing came out. “Okay, you can go to bed now. I‘ll let the dogs out again.” I got up and went to the ground floor bathroom. After relieving myself, I got a blanket out of a closet and took it to the living room, where I started another fire before sitting down on the sofa. Jude came in. “I thought you were going upstairs?”
“I’m sleeping down here.”
“Can you move over a bit so I can sit down?” I got up. “Where are you going?”
“To sit in the chair.”
“Julia, please.” He took my uninjured hand. “Sit back down. I don’t bite.” I sat down beside him. “I know that what happened earlier really upset you, but you don’t have to be afraid of me. I’m not going to come on to you, even though I felt it, too.”
“No. If there is ever anything to happen between us, it will not be unless and until you are sure that is what you want. I don’t want you to be constantly afraid that I’m going to make a move on you and make you uncomfortable. You need to be ready and only you will know when that is. I will ask you this, Julia. What you think Ben would want for you?”
“He told me before he died that he wanted me to find someone else.”
“There you go. Do you think that maybe you not feeling his presence as much might be because he is pulling away? Maybe he feels that as long as he stays here, you won’t move on, and he wants you to move on and not just exist from day to day, but to really start living again.”
“You might be right, Jude. It makes a lot of sense. It just seems so soon.”
“Only you will know when you are ready to love again. But there’s no need to feel guilty about what happened upstairs tonight. I hope we can live here as good friends trying to survive in a very changed world, even if it‘s never anything more than that. Do you think we can?”
“Good. Now, come here.” He pulled me to him. “Put your feet up on the sofa and relax.” He arranged the blanket over my legs and body. Sherlock and Molly made themselves comfortable, using my legs as their own personal pillows. I layed my head on Jude’s chest and was soon fast asleep.