Zoe’s Tale PART III Chapter Twenty

Zoe’s Tale PART III Chapter Twenty

“Admit it,” Enzo said, through the PDA. “You forgot.”

“I did not,” I said, with what I hoped was just the right amount of indignation to suggest that I had not forgotten, which I had.

“I can hear the fake indignation,” he said.

“Rats,” I said. “You’re on to me. Finally.”

“Finally? There’s no finally,” Enzo said. “I’ve been on to you since I met you.”

“Maybe you have,” I allowed.

“And anyway, that doesn’t solve this problem,” Enzo said. “We’re about to sit down for dinner. You’re supposed to be here. Not to make you feel guilty or anything.”

This was the difference between me and Enzo now and then. There used to be a time when Enzo would have said those words and they would have come out sounding like he was accusing me of something (besides, of course, being late). But right now they were gentle and funny. Yes, he was exasperated, but he was exasperated in a way that suggested I might be able to make it up to him. Which I probably would, if he didn’t push it.

“I am in fact wracked with guilt,” I said.

“Good,” Enzo said. “Because you know we put a whole extra potato in the stew for you.”

“Gracious,” I said. “A whole potato.”

“And I promised the twins they could throw their carrots at you,” he said, referring to his little sisters. “Because I know how much you love carrots. Especially when they’re kid-hurled.”

“I don’t know why anyone would eat them any other way,” I said.

“And after dinner I was going to read you a poem I wrote for you,” Enzo said.

I paused. “Now that’s not fair,” I said. “Injecting something real into our witty banter.”

“Sorry,” Enzo said.

“Did you really?” I asked. “You haven’t written me a poem in ages.”

“I know,” he said. “I thought I might get back into practice. I remember you kind of liked it.”

“You jerk,” I said. “Now I really do feel guilty for forgetting about dinner.”

“Don’t feel too guilty,” Enzo said. “It’s not a very good poem. It doesn’t even rhyme.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” I said. I still felt giddy. It’s nice to get poems.

“I’ll send it to you,” Enzo said. “You can read it instead. And then, maybe if you’re nice to me, I’ll read it to you. Dramatically.”

“What if I’m mean to you?” I asked.

“Then I’ll read it melodramatically,” he said. “I’ll wave my arms and everything.”

“You’re making a case for me being mean to you,” I said.

“Hey, you’re already missing dinner,” Enzo said. “That’s worth an arm wave or two.”

“Jerk,” I said. I could almost hear him smile over the PDA.

“Gotta go,” Enzo said. “Mom’s telling me to set the table.”

“Do you want me to try to make it?” I asked. All of a sudden I really did want to be there. “I can try.”

“You’re going to run across the entire colony in five minutes?” Enzo said.

“I could do it,” I said.

“Maybe Babar could,” Enzo said. “But he has two legs more than you.”

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll send Babar to have dinner with you.”

Enzo laughed. “Do that,” he said. “I’ll tell you what, Zoe. Walk here at a reasonable pace, and you’ll probably make it in time for dessert. Mom made a pie.”

“Yay, pie,” I said. “What kind?”

“I think it’s called ‘Zoe gets whatever kind of pie she gets and likes it’ pie,” Enzo said.

“Mmmm,” I said. “I always like that kind of pie.”

“Well, yeah,” Enzo said. “It’s right there in the title.”

“It’s a date,” I said.

“Good,” Enzo said. “Don’t forget. I know that’s a problem for you.”

“Jerk,” I said.

“Check your mail queue,” Enzo said. “There might be a poem there.”

“I’m going to wait for the hand waving,” I said.

“That’s probably for the best,” Enzo said. “It’ll be better that way. And now my mom is glaring at me with laser eyeballs. I have to go.”

“Go,” I said. “See you soon.”

“Okay,” Enzo said. “Love you.” We had started saying that to each other recently. It seemed to fit.

“Love you too,” I said, and disconnected.

“You two make me want to vomit so hard,” Gretchen said. She’d been hearing my side of the conversation and had been rolling her eyes the whole time. We were sitting in her bedroom.

I set down the PDA and whacked her with a pillow. “You’re just jealous Magdy never says that to you.”

“Oh, dear Lord,” Gretchen said. “Leaving aside the fact that I so do not want to hear that from him, if he ever did try to say that to me, his head would actually explode before the words could even get out of his mouth. Which now that I think about it might be an excellent reason to try to get him to say it.”

“You two are so cute,” I said. “I can see you two standing at the altar and getting into it right before saying ‘I do.'”

“Zoe, if I ever get anywhere near an altar with Magdy, I authorize you to make a flying tackle and drag me away,” Gretchen said.

“Oh, fine,” I said.

“Now let’s never speak of this again,” Gretchen said.

“You’re so in denial,” I said.

“At least I’m not the one who forgot her dinner date,” Gretchen said.

“It gets worse,” I said. “He wrote me poetry. He was going to read it to me.”

“You missed dinner and a show,” Gretchen said. “You are the worst girlfriend ever.”

“I know,” I said. I reached for my PDA. “I’ll write him an apology note saying that.”

“Make it extra grovelly,” Gretchen said. “Because that’s sexy.”

“That comment explains a lot about you, Gretchen,” I said, and then my PDA took on a life of its own, blasting an alarm sound from its speaker and scrolling an air attack notice on its screen. Over on Gretchen’s desk, her PDA made the same alarm sound and scrolled the same message. Every PDA in the colony did the same. In the distance, we heard the sirens, posted near the Mennonite homesteads, alerting them because they didn’t use personal technology.

For the first time since the defeat of the Conclave fleet, Roanoke was under attack. Missiles were on their way.

I rushed to the door of Gretchen’s room. “Where are you going?” she asked. I ignored her and went outside, where people were bursting out of their homes and running for cover, and looked into the sky.

“What are you doing?” Gretchen said, catching up with me. “We need to get to a shelter.”

“Look,” I said, and pointed.

In the distance, a bright needle of light was tracing across the sky, aiming at something we couldn’t quite see. Then there was a flash, blinding white. There was a defense satellite above Roanoke; it had fired on and hit one of the missiles coming for us. But others were still on their way.

The sharp pop of the missile explosion reached us, with not nearly enough time lag.

“Come on, Zoe,” Gretchen said, and started tugging at me. “We’ve got to go.”

I stopped looking at the sky and ran with Gretchen to one of the community shelters we had recently excavated and built; it was filling up quickly with colonists. As I ran I saw Hickory and Dickory, who had spotted me; they closed in and took either side of me as we got into the shelter. Even in the panic, people still made room for them. Gretchen, Hickory, Dickory, about four dozen other colonists, and I all hunched down in the shelter, straining to hear what was going on above us through nearly a dozen feet of dirt and concrete.

“What do you think is happ – ” someone said and then there was unspeakable wrenching noise, like someone had taken one of the cargo containers that made up the colony wall and peeled it apart, right on top of our eardrums and then I was tumbling to the ground because there was an earthquake and I screamed and bet that everyone else in the shelter did too but I couldn’t hear it because then came the single loudest noise I had ever heard, so loud that my brain surrendered and the noise became the absence of noise, and the only way I knew that I, at least, was still screaming was that I could feel my throat getting raw. Either Hickory or Dickory grabbed me and held me steady; I could see Gretchen being held the same way by the other Obin.

The lights in the shelter flickered but stayed on.

Eventually I stopped screaming and the ground stopped shaking and something similar to my hearing came back to me and I could hear others in the shelter crying and praying and trying to calm children. I looked over at Gretchen, who looked stricken. I disentangled from Dickory (it turned out) and went over to her.

“You okay?” I asked. My voice sounded like it was pushed through cotton from a distance. Gretchen nodded but didn’t look at me. It occurred to me it was the first time she’d been in an attack.

I looked around. Most of the people in the shelter looked like Gretchen. It was the first time any of these people had been in an attack. Of all these people, I was the one who was the veteran of a hostile attack. I guess that put me in charge.

I saw a PDA on the floor; someone had dropped it. I picked it up and activated it and read what was there. Then I stood up and waved my hands back and forth and said “Excuse me!” until people started looking at me. I think enough people recognized me as the daughter of the colony leaders that they decided I might know something after all.

“The emergency information on the PDA says that the attack seems to be over,” I said when enough people were looking my way. “But until we get an ‘all clear’ signal we need to stay here in the shelter. We need to stay here and stay calm. Is anyone here injured or sick?”

“I can’t hear very well,” someone said.

“I don’t think any of us can hear well right now,” I said. “That’s why I’m yelling.” It was an attempt at a joke. I don’t think people were going for it. “Are there any injuries here besides hearing loss?” No one said anything or raised their hand. “Then let’s just sit tight here and wait for the ‘all clear.'” I held up the PDA I was using. “Whose is this?” Someone raised their hand; I asked if I could borrow it.

“Someone took ‘in charge’ lessons when I wasn’t looking,” Gretchen said when I sat back down next to her. The words were classic Gretchen, but the voice was very, very shaky.

“We were just under attack,” I said. “If someone doesn’t pretend like she knows what she’s doing, people are going to start freaking out. That would be bad.”

“Not arguing,” Gretchen said. “Just impressed.” She pointed to the PDA. “Can you send any messages? Can we find out what’s happening?”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “The emergency system overrides usual messaging, I think.” I signed out the owner on the PDA and signed in under my account. “See. Enzo said he sent that poem to me but it’s not there yet. It’s probably queued and will get sent once we have the all clear.”

“So we don’t know if everyone else is okay,” Gretchen said.

“I’m sure we’ll get an all clear signal soon,” I said. “You worried about your dad?”

“Yes. Aren’t you worried about your parents?” Gretchen asked.

“They were soldiers,” I said. “They’ve done this before. I’m worried about them, but I’m betting they’re fine. And Jane is the one running the emergency messages. As long as they’re updating, she’s fine.” The PDA switched over from my mail queue to a scrolling note; we were being given the “all clear.” “See,” I said.

I had Hickory and Dickory check the entrance of the shelter for any falling debris; it was clear. I signed out from the PDA and gave it back to its owner, and then folks started shuffling out. Gretchen and I were the last to head up.

“Watch your step,” Gretchen said as we came up, and pointed to the ground. Glass was everywhere. I looked around. All the houses and buildings were standing, but almost all the windows were blown out. We’d be picking glass out of everything for days.

“At least it’s been nice weather,” I said. No one seemed to hear me. Probably just as well.

I said good-bye to Gretchen and headed to my house with Hickory and Dickory. I found more glass in surprising places and Babar cowering in the shower stall. I managed to coax him out and gave him a big hug. He licked my face with increasing franticness. After I petted him and calmed him down, I reached for my PDA to call Mom or Dad, and then realized I had left it over at Gretchen’s. I had Hickory and Dickory stay with Babar – he needed their company more than I did at the moment – and walked over to Gretchen’s. As I walked to her house, her front door swung open and Gretchen burst through it, saw me and ran to me, her PDA in one hand and mine in the other.

“Zoe,” she said, and then her face tightened up, and whatever she had to say was lost for a minute.

“Oh, no,” I said. “Gretchen. Gretchen. What is it? Is it your dad? Is your dad okay?”

Gretchen shook her head, and looked up at me. “It’s not my dad,” she said. “My dad is fine. It’s not Dad. Zoe, Magdy just called me. He says something hit. Hit Enzo’s homestead. He said the house is still there but there’s something big in the yard. He thinks it’s part of a missile. Says he tried to call Enzo but he’s not there. No one’s there. No one’s answering there. He said they just built a bomb shelter, away from the house. In the yard, Zoe. Magdy says he keeps calling and no one answers. I just called Enzo, too. I don’t get anything, Zoe. It doesn’t even connect. I keep trying. Oh God, Zoe. Oh God, Zoe. Oh, God.”

Enzo Paulo Gugino was born on Zhong Guo, the first child of Bruno and Natalie Gugino. Bruno and Natalie had known each other since they were children and everyone who knew them knew that from the first moment they laid eyes on each other that they would be together for every single moment of their lives. Bruno and Natalie didn’t argue with this idea. Bruno and Natalie, as far as anyone ever knew, never argued about anything, and certainly didn’t argue with each other. They married young, even for the deeply religious culture they lived in on Zhong Guo, in which people often married early. But no one could imagine the two of them not being together; their parents gave their consent and the two of them were married in one of the best-attended weddings anyone could remember in their hometown of Pomona Falls. Nine months later, almost to the day, there was Enzo.

Enzo was sweet from the moment he was born; he was always happy and only occasionally fussy, although (as was frequently explained, much to his later mortification) he had a marked tendency to take off his own diapers and smear the contents of them against the nearest available wall. This caused a real problem one time in a bank. Fortunately he was toilet-trained early.

Enzo met his best friend Magdy Metwalli in kindergarten. On the first day of school, a third-grader had tried to pick on Enzo, and pushed him hard down to the ground; Magdy, whom Enzo had never seen before in his life, launched himself at the third-grader and started punching him in the face. Magdy, who at the time was small for his age, did no real damage other than scaring the pee out of the third-grader (literally); it was Enzo who eventually pulled Magdy off the third-grader and calmed him down before they were all sent to the principal’s office and then home for the day.

Enzo showed a flair for words early and wrote his first story when he was seven, entitled “The horrible sock that smelled bad and ate Pomona Falls except for my house,” in which a large sock, mutated by its own horrible unwashed smell, started eating its way through the contents of an entire town and was thwarted only when the heroes Enzo and Magdy first punched it into submission and then threw it into a swimming pool filled with laundry soap. The first part of the story (about the origin of the sock) took three sentences; the climactic battle scene took three pages. Rumor is Magdy (the one reading the story, not the one in it) kept asking for more of the fight scene.

When Enzo was ten his mother became pregnant for a second time, with twins Maria and Katherina. The pregnancy was difficult, and complicated because Natalie’s body had a hard time keeping two babies in it at once; the delivery was a near thing and Natalie came close to bleeding out more than once. It took Natalie more than a year to fully recover, and during that time the ten- and eleven-year-old Enzo helped his father and mother to care for his sisters, learning to change diapers and feed the girls when his mom needed a rest. This was the occasion of the only real fight between Magdy and Enzo: Magdy jokingly called Enzo a sissy for helping his mom, and Enzo smacked him in the mouth.

When Enzo was fifteen the Guginos and the Metwallis and two other families they knew entered a group application to be part of the very first colony world made up of citizens of the Colonial Union rather than citizens of Earth. For the next few months every part of Enzo’s life, and the life of his family, was opened up to scrutiny, and he bore it with as much grace as anyone who was fifteen and who mostly just wanted to be left alone could have. Every member of every family was required to submit a statement explaining why they wanted to be part of the colony. Bruno Gugino explained how he had been a fan of the American Colonization era, and the early history of the Colonial Union; he wanted to be part of this new chapter of history. Natalie Gugino wrote about wanting to raise her family on a world where everyone was working together. Maria and Katherina drew pictures of them floating in space with smiley moons.

Enzo, who loved words more and more, wrote a poem, imagining himself standing on a new world, and titled it “The Stars My Destination.” He later admitted he’d taken the title from an obscure fantasy adventure book that he’d never read but whose title stayed with him. The poem, meant only for his application, was leaked to the local media and became something of a sensation. It eventually became sort of an official unofficial anthem for the Zhong Guo colonization effort. And after all that, Enzo and his family and co-applicants really couldn’t not be chosen to go.

When Enzo had just turned sixteen, he met a girl, named Zoe, and for some reason that passes understanding, he fell for her. Zoe was a girl who seemed like she knew what she was doing most of the time and was happy to tell you that this was in fact the case, all the time, but in their private moments, Enzo learned that Zoe was as nervous and uncertain and terrified that she would say or do something stupid to scare away this boy she thought she might love, as he was nervous and uncertain and terrified that he would do something stupid, too. They talked and touched and held and kissed and learned how not to be nervous and uncertain and terrified of each other. They did say and do stupid things, and they did eventually scare each other away, because they didn’t know any better. But then they got over it, and when they were together again, that second time, they didn’t wonder whether they might love each other. Because they knew they did. And they told each other so.

On the day Enzo died he talked to Zoe, joked with her about her missing the dinner she was supposed to have with his family, and promised to send her a poem he had written for her. Then he told her he loved her and heard her tell him she loved him. Then he sent her the poem and sat down with his family to dinner. When the emergency alert came, the Gugino family, father Bruno, mother Natalie, daughters Maria and Katherina, and son Enzo, went together into the attack shelter Bruno and Enzo had made just a week before, and sat together close, holding each other and waiting for the “all clear.”

On the day Enzo died he knew he was loved. He knew he was loved by his mother and father who, like everyone knew, never stopped loving each other until the very moment they died. Their love for each other became their love for him, and for their daughters. He knew he was loved by his sisters, who he cared for when they were small, and when he was small. He knew he was loved by his best friend, who he never stopped getting out of trouble, and who he never stopped getting into trouble with. And he knew he was loved by Zoe – by me – who he called his love and who said the words back to him.

Enzo lived a life of love, from the moment he was born until the moment he died. So many people go through life without love. Wanting love. Hoping for love. Hungering for more of it than they have. Missing love when it was gone. Enzo never had to go through that. Would never have to.

All he knew all his life was love.

I have to think it was enough.

It would have to be, now.

I spent the day with Gretchen and Magdy and all of Enzo’s friends, of whom there were so many, crying and laughing and remembering him, and then at some point I couldn’t take any more because everyone had begun to treat me like Enzo’s widow and though in a way I felt like I was, I didn’t want to have to share that with anyone. It was mine and I wanted to be greedy for it for just a little while. Gretchen saw I had reached some sort of breaking point, and walked me back to her room and told me to get some rest, and that she’d check on me later. Then she gave me a fierce hug, kissed me on the temple and told me she loved me and closed the door behind me. I lay there in Gretchen’s bed and tried not to think and did a pretty good job of it until I remembered Enzo’s poem, waiting for me in my mail queue.

Gretchen had put my PDA on her desk and I walked over, took the PDA and sat back down on the bed, and pulled up my mail queue and saw the mail from Enzo. I reached to press the screen to retrieve it and then called up the directory instead. I found the folder titled “Enzo Dodgeball” and opened it and started playing the files, watching as Enzo flailed his way around the dodgeball court, taking hits to the face and tumbling to the ground with unbelievable comic timing. I watched until I laughed so hard that I could barely see, and had to put the PDA down for a minute to concentrate on the simple act of breathing in and out.

When I had mastered that again, I picked up the PDA, called up the mail queue, and opened the mail from Enzo.

Zoe:

Here you are. You’ll have to imagine the arm waving for now. But the live show is coming! That is, after we have pie. Mmmm…pie.

BELONG

You said I belong to you

And I agree

But the quality of that belonging

Is a question of some importance.

I do not belong to you

Like a purchase

Something ordered and sold

And delivered in a box

To be put up and shown off

To friends and admirers.

I would not belong to you that way

And I know you would not have me so.

I will tell you how I belong to you.

I belong to you like a ring on a finger

A symbol of something eternal.

I belong to you like a heart in a chest

Beating in time to another heart.

I belong to you like a word on the air

Sending love to your ear.

I belong to you like a kiss on your lips

Put there by me, in the hope of more to come.

And most of all I belong to you

Because in where I hold my hopes

I hold the hope that you belong to me.

It is a hope I unfold for you now like a gift.

Belong to me like a ring

And a heart

And a word

And a kiss

And like a hope held close.

I will belong to you like all these things

And also something more

Something we will discover between us

And will belong to us alone.

You said I belong to you

And I agree.

Tell me you belong to me, too.

I wait for your word

And hope for your kiss.

Love you.

Enzo.

I love you, too, Enzo. I love you.

I miss you.