Getting By
Chapter 24

Copyright© 2010 by Shakes Peer2B

"So you do know this young lady?" General Lee asked, curious.

"Yes," I answered, taking her in my arms, still a bit stunned by her showing up here, and not sure of my own feelings. "Jack, this is Camille Vandenberg. I was engaged to her older sister before the sickness. Will you excuse us, please? It seems we have a great deal of catching up to do."

"Of course," Jack replied graciously. "The circumstances notwithstanding, I'm very pleased to meet you, Ms. Vandenberg."

Camille wiped her eyes and managed a smile as she said, "Likewise, I'm sure."

"The timing is awkward," I told Camille as we made our way up the mine shaft. "My wife had a rough time, and I need to be with her."

"What?" Camille started away from me, and then relaxed. "I mean, of course. You couldn't have known, and, well, it just surprised me a little to hear that you were married."

"Oh," I said, realizing that the last Camille knew I was engaged to her sister. The realization brought with it vague feelings of guilt. "I ... When I couldn't reach Melinda, with all that had happened, I just assumed..."

"I understand, Gavin," Camille said, leaning her head on my shoulder, "and you were right. I just ... Well, it was stupid of me to think you wouldn't move on. Is your wife okay?"

"I'm not really sure," I answered. "Physically, she seems okay, but mentally, I don't know. She was captured in the initial attack. It was only by luck that we got her back."

"That was your wife? That tiny Asian lady?" Camille asked with a shudder. "No, Boris would not have been easy on her. I should know. I've had the misfortune of being his chosen 'companion' on more than one occasion."

"I really should be with her, Camille," I said, even as I realized that she, too, was going to need a lot of moral support. I wasn't sure I could handle seeing both of them through this. "As much as I want to hear your story, I think Amanda's needs have to take precedence. I'll see to it that you and the other women are taken care of, and then I'll come find you when I have a little more time."

"I understand, Gavin," Camille said with a sad smile that looked much older than her eighteen years. "I would like very much to meet her sometime, though. While Boris' men were celebrating, they told stories about the 'little Chinese girl' that killed and wounded so many of them before she was captured."

"I'm sure that chance will arise soon. We're a pretty close-knit community and everybody knows everybody."

We walked on in silence as others rushed by, still busy with the cleanup and recovery from the battle. My mind was in turmoil. I wanted to do something more for Camille than just treating her like a refugee, but I couldn't leave Amanda. When we reached the living quarters near the mouth of the mine, I asked Camille to wait while I went inside to see how Amanda was doing.

Cora was with her, and Carmen stood by to help. Amanda, though more subdued than I had ever seen her, was sitting up in bed and conversing with the two women.

"Hey, baby," I said. "How are you holding up?"

I took it as a good sign that Amanda looked down at her boobs, then answered with a well worn joke, "Pretty well for an old married woman, I guess."

I grinned and gave her a kiss, then, not sure how she would react, asked. "Sweetheart, do you remember me telling you about my fiancée, Melinda?"

Amanda nodded, puzzled about why I would be asking that question now.

"Well, her little sister, Camille, was one of the women on the bus," I said, "and I told her I'd get her settled. Let me do that, and I'll be right back, okay?"

"You'll do no such thing, Gavin Thompson! Where is she? Poor thing! You didn't just leave her standing outside did you?"

A bit startled and confused, I answered, "She's waiting for me right outside the door..."

"Well, invite her in, for God's sake!" Amanda said. "Then you get on about your business. You have a lot of cleaning up to do after this afternoon."

"I don't have anything more important to do than to be here with you, Amanda." I told her.

"Don't be foolish, Gavin," she scoffed, "of course you do. Your people need you. I've got enough people fawning over me. You go send that girl in here then get on about your business. You started this mess, now do what you need to do."

I showed Camille in and made the introductions, then Amanda shooed me out. I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not, but I was encouraged by her attitude, at least.

General Lee had already posted sentries and asked some of the People to scout around for stragglers from Boris' group.

While not part of the main battle, the People had done their part in the fighting. They had crept up behind the invaders who were watching for us to try to escape from the lower outlet of the mine. The invaders, not expecting an attack from behind, tried to flee into the mine and were caught between two fires as the unit we had posted at that entrance opened fire and drove them back into the guns of the People. Needless to say, none of that group of invaders survived.

Cleanup was a bitch. First, there were the bodies. I put several crews to work hauling corpses out into the desert. They would feed the insects and desert creatures and the cycle of life would continue, while their bones served as a stark warning to others.

Our own dead were bagged and a work party hastily put together caskets. The fly population had finally fallen off to a bearable level, but in the desert heat, it wouldn't do to leave them above ground too long. We would bury them in the morning and have a memorial service later in the day.

It was sometime in the wee hours of the morning before the last of the work parties knocked off for the night, the most immediate tasks taken care of. There would be plenty of work tomorrow, but for tonight, everyone needed rest. Watches were cut to two hours to minimize the chances of someone falling asleep on watch, and two officers were left on duty so one could make rounds continuously and keep the sentries on their toes.

Finally, I felt that I could catch a few winks without looking like I was wimping out on my people, and dragged my tired body back to our quarters. The lights were off, but someone had left the light on in the closet, and Amanda seemed to be asleep, so I stripped in the semi-dark, and with a towel around my waist, made my way to the nearest shower. There were a couple of others in other stalls but we were all so tired we barely nodded greetings. Back in our quarters, I hung the towel up to dry, then went to turn off the closet light. As I reached for the switch, a voice stopped me.

"I'd appreciate it if you'd leave that on, Gavin," Camille's voice came softly from a camp cot I hadn't noticed in the dark. "I'm not as familiar with the layout of this place as you are."

"I'm sorry," I said, self-consciously covering my bare crotch, "I didn't realize you were sleeping here."

"Oh, don't worry about me, Gavin," I could hear the amusement in her voice. "You don't have anything that I haven't seen many times before."

"Uh, yeah," I mumbled, edging back toward Amanda's and my bed. "Well, good night, Camille."

"Good night, Gavin," Camille replied.

To make matters worse, Amanda's voice came from our bed. "Are you showing off for that young lady, Gavin? I'd think you'd have had enough excitement for one day."

"I was ... I mean ... Oh, hell, woman! I wish you'd let me know if you're going to invite house guests!"

With that, I slipped under the covers and sought Amanda's lips. It was a practice that had become habitual. I made a point of kissing her when I came to bed, no matter what the hour, and she had grown to depend on it to the point where, on the rare occasions when I forgot, she would remind me. Tonight, her lips were hungry, but not for sex. I don't know how I knew this, but I did. I kissed her with passion and tenderness, and then held her close to me as she sobbed quietly, unwilling to share her emotion with our guest.

I held her while her soul emptied itself through her tear ducts, then held her some more as she finally quieted. I was still awake when the rhythm of her breathing finally changed to her sleeping pattern, but my left arm was fast asleep. Gently, hoping not to wake her, I rolled us far enough to get my arm out from under her. To my relief, she just snuggled closer and went back to sleep.

The next thing I knew, I was being awakened by a soft moist sensation in a most sensitive area. Looking down, I saw, by the daylight that filtered through the mine entrance and into our window, Amanda's black hair moving slowly over my lap. Lying back, I started to relax under her ministrations, when my memory from the night before shot me bolt upright.

"It's okay, baby," Amanda laughed, "I sent her packing early this morning. She's out with the others trying to put things back together. I played the poor rape victim card so I could have a little time alone with my husband."

"And how is my poor rape victim this morning?" I asked, trying to keep it as light as she was.

Amanda looked me soberly in the eye and answered, "Determined not to be the victim any longer than it takes me to get a good, slow, sympathy screw from the man I love."

"Sorry," I told her, "I don't do sympathy screws. If you'd like a nice, gentle roll in the hay from someone who loves you, however, I think I can probably manage that, if you're up to it."

"I feel okay, physically," she replied, "and Cora says there's no serious damage. I mean the guy was big and strong and liked to use his strength, but his 'equipment' was barely average size, so there's only a little abrasion and some tearing around my rectum. He treated me roughly, but he didn't have the tools to do the job he was trying do. I'm okay, but I really would like to be reminded what it feels like to be loved."

"You've got it, sweetheart," I told her.

I took over an hour to please her as gently and lovingly as I could, orally and digitally at first, then, only when she was very near the edge, joining with her as gently as I could. It was not the most earth-shattering sex ever, but it was good enough, and earned another bout of tears from my lover. These, however, were somewhat different in character than those of the night before.

Finally, we could put off our responsibilities no longer. Showered and wearing clean fatigues, we went to see what was up with the cleanup.

General Lee had work parties organized to tow the hulks of the ruined trucks and tanks out into the desert. They wouldn't take them very far. Like the bones of the dead, those burned out, blasted, bullet riddled carcasses would serve as a warning to anyone else who might want to attack us, but they would be left far enough away that they wouldn't provide cover for any would-be attackers. Eventually, they would be cut up and melted down in the smelter we had set up in the next little mountain range to the east. Until then, they would still serve a purpose.

To my surprise, the house that would replace Archie's was already framed except for the roof, and I could see Jamaal directing some others in the installation of new plumbing.

We had debated this long and hard when we were making our defense plans, but, in the end, Amanda and I had won out. That house, as the original had been, would be the most inviting structure in the compound, and anyone who got far enough to drive us into the mine was bound to occupy it, if for no other reason than the shade it provided. That was why it made such a good trap.

The house would also provide an anchor for our children - an example of how people used to live, and how they might live again. I hoped we wouldn't have to blow it up anymore.

I took Jackson Lee aside and asked him for a list of the names of our dead, then went over to where Ruth had laid out a veritable luncheon feast for the work parties under a temporary canopy. The People who had been involved in the fighting were already there, and the work parties began straggling in as they reached stopping points in their various tasks.

Amanda had stayed with me through all this, but remained quietly in the background. A few people stopped by to drop well-intentioned platitudes, but, except for the women who had experienced their own rapes, few had any clue about what to say that would be of any comfort to her. Amanda took it with good grace, understanding that they meant well.

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