Dropping the flowers on the couch's padded arm, she left the den, giving him a good look of her departing posterior in its short shorts. Her flipflops made slapping noises as she went into the kitchen next door. Corwin glanced down at his own heavy sandals with their thick soles. Wearing enclosed shoes, even plain sneakers, made his feet feel like they were on fire. Yet it was nearly impossible to go barefoot anywhere anymore. Even inside one's own home.

            He looked around while he heard her fetch the glasses from the kitchen cabinet. The room was barren of any decorations, even with the holiday approaching. Like most everyone else, Sadie must have thought there was no sense in going to the trouble since Christmas wouldn't come this year. Or any year afterwards.

            She brought back two glasses and handed him one before sitting on the opposite end of the sofa. They each took a sip of their water. Like she'd said, it was tepid, but it was wet. He poured a little of it in his hand and spread it over his face. The temporary coolness felt good.

            "How do you still have water?" Corwin winced. It wasn't a spectacular opening line, but at least it was something.

            "I filled up the bathtub in the front bath before they shut off the water."

            He nodded. "Smart move."

            They took another sip to cover up another momentary silence. Sadie spoke next. "Do you live nearby?"

            "Over on Banning Way."

            Her eyes widened. "That's got to be at least a thirty minute drive."

            He tried to be nonchalant about it. "Traffic was pretty much nonexistent. I made good time."

            Her eyes darted back to the door. "I didn't see a car outside."

            "I ran out of gas down at the corner, so I hoofed it the rest of the way."

            "Wow. No wonder you're so flushed."

            They drank in synchronized movements again. His earlier glance around the place had confirmed his suspicions. She didn't live alone. Which meant there was the possibility that someone could be in one of the back rooms. Rather than ask her outright, he tried to figure out a way to get around to the topic.

            "How are you getting along? Got enough food?"

            "Oh, yeah." She bobbed her head up and down, making her ponytail swing from side to side. "Shelly works at the Blue Moon Cafe downtown. When all this shit started going down, she loaded up her car with a bunch of these huge cans of food and brought them over here." She scrunched up her nose, and Corwin was captivated by the expression. "You know, I like peaches and chocolate pudding, but after a while you kinda get sick of eating it. Know what I mean?"

            He smiled and chuckled lightly. "Yeah. I found a case of pork and beans day before yesterday, and I wasn't particularly fond of pork and beans in the first place! But, hey, beggars can't be choosers."

            They laughed and drank more water. If he didn't know any better, he swore her initial fear and uneasiness that had shadowed her when he'd first arrived was melting, allowing her to feel comfortable around him.

            "Have you seen anyone else from the office since...you know?"

            "No." He noticed she had picked up one of the flowers and was rubbing the petals between her fingers. "Have you?"

            "No." She took another sip of water before setting the glass back on the floor. "I take it the electricity's off all over town."

            "Yeah. It feels weird, not having any traffic lights or anything. I have to use candles for light at night. I was using flashlights, but batteries are getting scarce."

            "Same here."

            At the mention of candles, he finally noticed the numerous half-burnt stubs sitting about the room. "But the worst part has to be all this heat," he continued. "No air conditioning. No fans." He gave a half-hearted chuckle. "How did people in the olden days survive?"

            Sadie sighed. "Well, for one thing, it's probably a safe bet to say the temperature didn't go over a hundred and twenty in those days."

            "You're probably right." He drained his water, parking his glass next to hers on the floor next to the sofa. "I don't know about you, but I think I miss not having a phone more than anything."

            "Even if there still was service, the lines would be jammed with people calling their loved ones, especially those they couldn't get to see personally before..." Her voice died away, but he knew what she meant. Before everything comes to an end.