Ginger nodded. "Okay, but it's nasty in here. There's mice droppings and stuff."
"We'll clean it up. I'll have to make runs through the house to get food, and mattresses, and stuff like that. I'll bring a broom first thing. But you have to say put. Understand?"
She looked at him with a funny expression. "Why you? We can both get that stuff."
"I'm not going to risk it."
He sighed. "Ginger. I hate to be the one to break the news, but you're a girl."
She took in a breath, ready to do battle.
He put his fingers on her lips. "And because you're a girl, you've got all the egg cells you're ever going to have already. And I don't want them damaged by radiation. I make new sperm cells all the time. It's less of a risk for me. Understand?"
She didn't like it. But she nodded. "Okay, but you be careful."
"Oh, I will be! I hate going through the laundry room. With it's window to the outside, it's already unhealthy in there. I want to zip through there in a flash."
She leaned close, and they kissed. With his heart beating fast from all the activity, it notched up still higher. He'd had hopes for some making out time on the picnic, and her bikini had been all that he could have wished for. But everything had changed. How they'd feel about each other after this ordeal wasn't something he'd want to put money on.
He gave her a squeeze. "Okay. Broom. Then bedding to make this concrete floor less deadly on my knees, then what?"
She smiled. "Another flashlight? Food, I didn't get lunch. Something to drink."
He nodded and headed out.
He wasn't kidding about the laundry room. The house was limestone brick, so windows were the most dangerous places. He was sure it had been a good idea to have a nice window, so the room was well lit while working, but for the next few days, he'd not be doing anything there.
With a broom, sandwiches and cokes, they took a lunch break. Clark checked the radiation with the door open and closed and there was little difference when they were both sitting. The warehouse boxes filling the garage probably made a nice radiation shield from that direction. While they ate, with the door open for lighting, he tried to visualize the house. For one thing it kept him from dwelling on just how tasty Ginger was, dressed in nothing more than a man's shirt.
Nothing was coming through the ground, obviously. To the south, the clutter in the garage was good protection. In the opposite direction, there were four interior walls and the exterior limestone, plus whatever furniture was in the way. The west had two interior walls, limestone, and a very cluttered closet protecting in that direction. The east was a problem, as was the attic. He knew there were storage boxes up there, but he didn't know if it was enough. There was a metal roof, but it probably wasn't as good a shield as the limestone walls.
So east and up are the major risks. He looked up. That was the stairway.
He finished up his sandwich.
"Are you done sweeping?"
"Well, in a few minutes, I'll be bringing in a mattress and we'll be putting it right here, under the stairs."
"Why there? There's more headroom here where we're sitting."
"Because before I'm done. That's going to be the safest spot, and that's where I want to be spending most of my time."
"Oh? You're going to be on the mattress? And where will I be."
He grinned, "Right there beside me--for safety sake, you understand."
It took more trips than he liked through the laundry room, but soon they had a mattress and pillows and a couple of sheets. It was summer time with no air conditioning. They'd not need anything more than that. He'd also collected a couple of days worth of canned and bagged food from the pantry and jugs of water.
Then came a marathon job that left him exhausted. He transferred boxes from the garage and stacked them five or six feet high on the steps to the attic. As he'd said, under the steps was soon the place with the fewest clicks.
"I need a rest." He leaned up against the hot water heater, which had already cooled down to the tepid room temperature.
Ginger nodded and took one of the towels she'd brought and wet it. She began washing him down. "You're covered in sweat. If we're sleeping together, I'd rather you didn't stink quite so much."
He grinned at her choice of words. "When we headed out this morning, I had my hopes..."
"Don't go there, Buster."
He shut up. But he still grinned as he relished the feel of her washing his body.
When it grew dark, so did their thoughts.
"I'm worried about my folks."
He tried not to think about his.
"You live near that school. They probably went there for shelter."
"You think so?" she sounded hopeful.
"Probably. With a little common sense, they'd be okay. Thick walls, well stocked cafeteria. As long as there's someone to crack the whip and make everyone behave, it would be the best place to wait it out."
"What about your folks? And your uncle? I expected him to show up."
He was slow to answer. "They all went into Austin together. A baseball game."
"Oh. Maybe they found some place safe too."
"I hope so." He didn't really believe it. Downtown, close to the blast, with survivors suffering from burns as well as direct radiation, roads gridlocked--their chances were slim. He didn't want to think about it. If he was pleasantly surprised, he'd be grateful then. Until then, he wanted to keep his mind on keeping the two of them safe.
"I think we forgot something."
"I, ah. I need to go."
"I didn't forget. Outside the door, about five feet down, there's a five gallon can with a toilet seat sitting on it. Do your business and then tie off the plastic bag in the can with the rubber band. It'll keep us for a couple of days. After that, with the radiation lower, we can use the house toilets. We can fill the flush tanks with a bucket."
She reached over and kissed him. "You think of everything." She slipped out the door and after a bit, she was back, wiping her hands with a towel. "Toilet paper and everything. I think I love you."
He turned off the flashlight. "We need to save batteries. I'll go look for candles tomorrow. But for tonight, we'll just have to do without."
"That's okay. Do you want to be against the wall or closest to the door?"
"I'd like to be closest to the door, if you don't mind."
"I'm not claustrophobic. No problem."
He didn't want to mention his worry, that in spite of the fact that the radiation was deadly outside, there could be looters who just didn't know or care that they were killing themselves. He wanted to be ready, just in case.
Uncle Jerry had some guns, but he didn't know where they were, or even if there was any ammunition. He hadn't been a hunter. They were mostly antiques, hand-me-downs from his father and grandfather. Clark hadn't even looked for them.
If there were intruders, their best bet might be to close the door and hide.
"Okay, I'm in bed. Watch your head. That step is low."
Moving by feel, he found the thick lumber of the utility staircase and eased down on the mattress. She touched him as he settled in beside her. It was the most natural thing in the world to pull her into his arms. They kissed.
"You know, you've got me at your mercy," she whispered.
"I know." He kissed her forehead. They just held each other. She was shivering again, and he didn't think it was from the temperature. It was still over 90.
"I think I like taking care of you."
She gave him a squeeze.
In spite of the close quarters, and his strong suspicion that she was wearing nothing under that shirt, he was too exhausted. "I think you're probably safe for tonight."
"Oh?" she sounded a little disappointed.
"But tomorrow, I'm probably going to ask you to marry me."
She laughed. "Isn't that a little sudden?"
He pulled her closer. "Yeah, but still, give it some thought."
The temperature separated them a few minutes later, and before he had a chance to change his mind about getting frisky, he dozed off.
Daylight, even allowing for the reflections it had to take to get to the cubby where they lay, was bright enough for him to admire her sleeping form beside him. The shirt she wore was not an adequate sleeping gown. She was curled around a pillow, and what he saw had his blood pumping. It took a strong will to stay put.
I've got to get up. Moving slowly and carefully, he rolled off the mattress and found the Geiger counter. He tiptoed out the door and sat on one of the storage boxes, just outside.
He checked the reading, more to get his mind off her than for any other reason.
It was slightly lower. The radioactive dust created in the blast had been burning off energy from the moment it came into being, but the dust was also settling out of the sky, building up on the ground, and on the roof, and on the porch outside. There was more of it now, but it was less energetic. If it rained, the equation could be scrambled again, but for now, it was safer than it had been when they had been building their nest.
But not safe enough. He should really be back inside.
Back inside with her.
Back inside her. No. Don't go there. He was her protector. He had to take care of her, and that meant more than just keeping her from being fried by radiation.
I wish I'd thought to bring my cell phone inside. The system was down, and might be down for good. But if the authorities were on top of things, the'd make an effort to bring up some kind of service. Maybe just SMS texting, since it had the simplest infrastructure. But he wouldn't know without his phone. And right now it was on the back porch in his pocket, getting irradiated. Semiconductors didn't like radiation either.
There were enough things to worry about that by the time Ginger stirred awake, he'd gotten his urges under control and came back into their cave for a breakfast of granola bars and cold pop-tarts.