Numbers Page 10

Mourn\s brow furled.

’’Most people buy what they call a starter home, and later upgrade to a house they wished they could have afforded the first time. Tommy inherited money from his family and he owned his own business. He sold it after he realized his health issues were serious, but we were always financially blessed. It wasn\ a problem.’’

’’I understand.’’

The silence stretched and Dana realized Mourn wasn\ much of a talker. She\d have to gently prod him. ’’Do you want to talk about her?’’

He looked away. ’’No.’’

That\s going to make conversation tough, she decided. ’’What do you want to discuss? Do you want to ask me questions? You can.’’

’’What is the one thing you miss most about your mate?’’

It was a complicated question. She pondered it. ’’I can\ really say it\s just one thing, but if I were to list a few, first I\d have to say the laughter.’’ She smiled at the memories that filtered through her thoughts. ’’Tommy was very funny. He could make me laugh no matter what.’’ She sobered. ’’I miss him when I climb into bed too. I felt safe and right snuggled up to him before I fell asleep.’’

Mourn turned to face her directly. She looked up into his eyes, awestruck by the tears she saw in them. The blue and autumn hues seemed to brighten, and it took her breath away.

’’My mate gave me purpose, and now I have none.’’

Dana could understand that. ’’What was her name?’’

A muscle along his jaw jumped and the tears cleared from his eyes. ’’I can\ say her number. It hurts.’’

’’Number?’’

’’She never chose a name. Mercile assigned us numbers. I refused to take a name until after she died since she wouldn\ .’’

It was horrific to Dana and heartbreaking. The woman Mourn had loved had been ill when she\d finally gained her freedom and had probably never enjoyed any of it. A mental image formed in her head of a gravestone with just a number engraved on the face of it. It was beyond tragic. ’’I\m so sorry.’’

’’It\s not your fault. Not all humans are alike. I know this. You had no part in her death.’’

’’I\m still sorry for what both of you endured. Call it a general apology for all the assholes in the world. Life isn\ fair.’’

’’It isn\ .’’ He reached toward her, but didn\ make contact.

Dana clasped his hand and held on. ’’Things are going to get better. I thought about Tommy nonstop when he died. It was constant agony. Time passed and it eased. Some days can go by when I don\ think of him at all.’’ She allowed her thumb to caress the side of Mourn\s fingers, hoping it would comfort him. It did her. ’’Then I feel guilty.’’ She smiled. ’’You wish for those days, but when they come, go figure, you feel crappy about it. I\ve been assured that it\s part of the healing process.’’

’’I try not to think of her.’’

’’That\s normal too.’’

’’I have guilt.’’

She nodded. ’’Survivor\s guilt. That\s the term they call it.’’

’’I hate being alone.’’

’’You aren\ . I\m here, and you\ e surrounded by other New Species.’’

’’You know what I mean. Sleeping alone. Eating alone. The utter silence is horrible.’’

Dana nodded. ’’It is.’’ She inched closer to him. ’’You should try to make friends. They do help. I lost a lot of mine after Tommy\s death. Some of them avoided me because they couldn\ face his death, or maybe they just didn\ know what to say. Some people I avoided because I couldn\ take the way they looked at me. Pity sucks.’’ She paused. ’’Or some people acted as if the loss of someone is like a contagious disease they can catch from you. It\s a reminder to them that their own lives can come crashing down around them. I was exhibit A.’’

He turned his head and peered at her. ’’Exhibit A?’’

’’Proof that it could happen to them, that they could lose the person they love too.’’

’’Some Species use me as an example of why they shouldn\ take a mate or want one. It makes them vulnerable to pain.’’

’’Exactly. You\ e exhibit A too, for them.’’ She smiled. ’’I made new friends who didn\ know Tommy. They weren\ comparing the before- and after-me. It helped. I was just Dana to them.’’

’’Everyone knows me here and at Wild Zone.’’

’’You still made a new friend.’’ She leaned over a little and bumped his arm with her shoulder. ’’Me.’’

He smiled, and it was devastating. It transformed his features and she had to avoid gawking a little. He was good-looking before but a happy-looking Mourn proved that he wouldn\ remain single for long, if other women could help it.

’’I\m glad you annoyed me.’’

’’Me too.’’

’’I looked forward to talking to you today. It gave me purpose.’’

’’I thought Paul and Becky were never going to go to bed. I was looking forward to talking to you too.’’

’’What is your life like outside the gates?’’

’’I went back to work about nine months ago. I took an office job that keeps me busy. It gets me out of the house five days a week. That\s where I met new friends. I\ll go to a movie with a few of them on the weekends from time to time. That gives me purpose and it beats sitting in my home staring at walls, feeling sorry for myself. The pity party was over. I did that routine far too long.’’

’’Pity party?’’

His confused look amused her. ’’It\s a saying. It means I was feeling sorry for myself, and that I didn\ do much to change that for a while. I just wanted to immerse myself in my pain. Even I got sick of it eventually.’’

’’I\m not assigned duties at Homeland like other Species are.’’

’’Maybe you should be.’’

’’I\m not sure they\d trust me. They know I\m unstable.’’

’’So don\ be. Tell them you need something to do. It helps you start keeping track of what day it is again.’’

’’I know what you mean.’’

She figured he would. ’’It\s Saturday. At least, at the end of it.’’

He chuckled. ’’Thanks. I didn\ know that.’’

’’I\m sure the NSO will do whatever you need. Paul can\ say enough great things about them.’’


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