“What do they do?” I asked. I hadn’t thought rich people did anything, but if Callum worked the fields, his parents must have had jobs.
“My mom’s a teacher and my dad works in the food-processing plant. But they fired my mom when I got sick, so I don’t know if she still teaches.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Risk of infection,” Callum said. “She got one of the lighter strains of KDH when I got sick. They don’t risk infecting children with anything here.”
“Maybe they gave her the job back after she got well.” The little homes had backyards with wooden fences, and I caught glimpses of gardens and flowers. Everything seemed cheerier here.
We rounded the corner and Callum came to a sudden stop, his face scrunching up with unhappiness.
I followed his gaze to a small white house with blue shutters. A stone path led up to the front door and the little windows facing the street gave it a cute, quaint look.
But in front, on a wooden sign in big, black letters, were the words: Quarantined until November 24. Auction on December 1.
I looked at him quickly. “Auction? Does that mean . . .”
“They lost it,” he said, his voice catching.
“Lost it? How?”
“They had a lot of debts. They spent everything they had trying to save me and they must . . .” He swallowed and I took his hand.
“Did they have friends?”
“Yes, but no one would have room. And they wouldn’t be willing to take on three extra mouths when everyone is already in bad shape.”
“So where would they go?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Over there, I guess.” His gaze went east, to the slums. “HARC shuttles the homeless over there. They don’t want that sort of thing here.”
A man a few doors down wandered out of his house, banging the screen door behind him as he headed for his flowers.
“We shouldn’t stay in the open like this,” I said. Callum still stared in the direction of the slums, and panic rose up in my chest at the prospect of going there now. I thought I had more time.
“Let’s go in,” I said, tugging on his hand. “At least until the sun sets. No one’s going to set foot in a quarantined house.”
“We could just go to the slums now.”
“It’ll be safer at night.” I tugged on his hand again, and he finally looked down at me. His expression softened. Perhaps the panic I felt was splashed across my face.
We walked up the stone steps to the little white front door. It was locked, but a hard kick from Callum knocked it open.
At first glance, the house looked bigger than it was. The rooms were sparsely furnished and open, the floors a shiny wood I had never seen before. There was no table in the kitchen, nothing but a dingy couch and a television in the living room. It was as if the place had been cleared out by thieves.
Sunlight poured in from a side window, bouncing off the floor and dancing across the bare cream walls. Whatever had been there before was gone, the small nail holes all that remained.
“I guess they let them take the pictures,” Callum said, walking toward the back hallway.
“And some of the furniture?”
“No, this is all we had.”
I dropped my eyes from his, embarrassed, even though his parents had far more than mine ever did.
“Come on,” he said.
I followed him down the dim hallway, the gray carpeting plushy under my feet. He took a quick glance into the first door on our left, which was a small room, empty except for a few posters of comic-book characters on the wall. He walked through the second door on the left.
It was his room. It looked like it hadn’t been touched since the day he died: the bed unmade, papers and books scattered across his desk, pictures and electronic equipment I couldn’t identify littering his bookshelf.
The wooden furniture was old and chipped but the room was fairly neat. Cozy, even. The thick blue comforter at the end of the bed looked nicer than the thin blanket I’d had at HARC, and the sun streaming in through the sheer white curtains made the room warm and open.
“They should have sold this or given it to David,” he said, running his fingers over what I thought was his school reader. We often used old paper books at the slum school, but I’d seen a few readers.
“They couldn’t. When you die and Reboot all your previous possessions become property of HARC.” The cost of safety, they said.
He sat down on his bed, flipping on the radio on his nightstand. The sounds of a fiddle and a man’s voice filled the room.
“I miss music,” he said, his eyes on his lap.
“I did, too, at first.”
“I shouldn’t have let them pay for treatments,” he said, rubbing his hands over his face. “I knew the survival rate. I knew deep down it was pointless. I was just so scared I would Reboot. I was so terrified I made myself sick at the holding facility.” He looked up and smiled at me. “Until I saw you. I remember lying on the ground staring up at you thinking, If girls that cute are here, it can’t be all bad.”
I turned away, trying to hide my smile as heat spread across my face. The bed creaked as he rose and planted a light kiss on top of my head.
“I’m going to check and see if the water still works. Maybe we can shower.” He turned to grin at me as he left the room. “Separately, of course.”
My full-body blush hadn’t faded in the least by the time he returned. He went to his closet and pulled down a towel, black cotton pants, and a green T-shirt.
“It works,” he said, holding the clothes out to me. “These are going to be way too big, but I figure you’ll want to change.”
“It’s the next door over.”
The white-tiled bathroom was clean and private. I’d forgotten what a private bathroom felt like. I stripped off my clothes and carefully stepped underneath the stream of water. The shower was warm and glorious, the water red as it circled the drain. I was covered in blood, evidence of the numerous gunshot wounds I had suffered.
I emerged from the shower clean and smooth, my mangled chest the only blemish on my skin. I pulled on Callum’s clothes and eased a comb through my hair. I gathered up my own clothes in my arms and dropped them in the corner of Callum’s room.
He was putting new sheets on the bed, gray and so soft looking that I immediately wanted to crawl in.
“I thought you might want to sleep,” he said, putting on the last pillowcase. “Feel free to get in; I’m going to take a shower.”