Chapter 10: Mark Jones, March 2nd, Year 1

It was tradition to have a barbecue for all the SaLTs and their families in my backyard whenever a patrol had a good hunt. Most of my pre-Outbreak neighbors were dead. I was able to extend my backyard. There was plenty of room for everyone. It was early March so it was chilly at 9 pm. I had a bonfire up and gasoline powered outdoor heaters going outside. The best thing I ever did after the Outbreak was to rescue Mary Black and Hannah Redding. As soon as Hiram and his squad brought back the four deer they killed this morning (minus some meat they had grilled for lunch), Mary and Hannah had their staff put the meat in their barbecue smoker. Eight hours later the venison was so tender, you didn’t have to chew. There was plenty of beer and soda.

I made sure to invite Helen and her roommate Cecilia. I hadn’t seen Helen since she stayed the night. Helen arrived fashionably late. She was wearing her customary t-shirt and jeans. She usually doesn’t wear makeup or jewelry; she did tonight. As soon as I saw her I said, “Helen, we need to talk.” She nodded nervously. Cecilia smiled at us while I led Helen into the house.

“Helen I wanted to make sure that you and I are on the same page about what happened.”

“Yes, I guess we should do that.”

“So what are you thinking?’

“Mark, I have to tell you the truth. I don’t know what to think. We don’t have anything in common. I never expected…I don’t even know if we make sense as a couple.”

“I totally agree, Helen. In every way measurable you outclass me.”

“What? Mark!”

“Wait please Helen, hear me out. Don’t get me wrong. You know I have more than a healthy ego. I’m not faking humility. As a leader, as a Director, I know that there are very few men who can match me. I’m talking about me in a relationship. I’m inconsiderate and selfish. Worst of all, I don’t think I have it in me to be monogamous for very long.

You are an incredible woman. I think you know this. I don’t respect many people. I respect you. You deserve better than me.”

“Are…are you saying we shouldn’t be together?”

“No what I’m saying is that if get into a relationship, we have to both know that it’s not going to be equal. You’ll be getting less than you deserve and I’ll be getting more.”

Helen looked sceptical. “And that means?”

“It means that the only way I can be even partially be fair to you is to be honest. I want you Helen. But I’m not going to lie to you. I have a lot of flaws. You already know most of them. I’m not a liar. I need you to understand that I will take anything you want to give me. We can go back to being colleagues. We can be friends. For my part, I want you. We both know that I could never do better than you. You almost make me wish I could be a better man.”

Now Helen looked pissed, “You ALMOST wish?”

I put my hands out, “Helen I chose the word ‘almost’ on purpose. I’m 46. In less than two weeks I’m going to be 47. Men don’t change, especially men my age. If I thought that I could become a better man I would tell you. I don’t believe in promising anything I can’t deliver.” I made a wry smile. “If we end up together, you’ll have to get used to being angry with me.”

Helen looked completely confused. I don’t think she’d ever had a conversation like this before.

“Please Helen before you make a final decision, think about it. I want you. I want to be with you. But, I will not lie to get you.”

Normally when I walk away from a conversation like this I’m amused. This time was different; I felt regret, maybe even longing. I wasn’t sure why. It’s possible that Helen really made me wish I was a better man. When I’m amused or ice cold, I trust my instincts. When I feel other emotions, I have to remind myself that humans are full of shit and that I’m human. I looked at my watch. I had more important things to do than to waste time getting in touch with my ‘feelings’.

Chapter 11