Sinful Longing(8)

By: Lauren Blakely



He whispered, “Go.”

In three minutes, she was on the road, rushing to return home to her son.





CHAPTER FIVE


Her mother’s head was bent over the kitchen counter, her fingers swiping in a wild blur across her phone screen.

“Gotcha, flesh-eater!”

“Saving the world, Mom?” Elle asked, as she closed the front door to her apartment.

“Somebody has to fend off the infected,” her mom said with a final slide before she looked up and closed the game.

Elle laughed. “I thought you were giving it up. You said it was giving you video game thumb or something.”

Her mother shook her head, her bouncy ponytail swinging with her. “I tried. Oh lord, you know I tried. But your son… He plays a mean game of Dying Light, and he challenged me. I can’t back down.”

“You’re going to need to work on State of Decay next. Alex and his buddies are moving on in the apocalypse gaming world,” Elle said, dropping her keys on the counter and giving her mom a peck on the cheek. Her mother wore green scrubs with Snoopys and Woodstocks on them. “How was he tonight?”

“Fine. Just fine. I plied him with pizza and schooled him with my survival skills.”

“No easier way to the heart of a fourteen-year-old boy, is there?” While there was plenty of truth in her statement, for her son, video games weren’t just the snack-food-and-candy path to winning his teenage heart—they were essential to his emotional survival. They were the difference between him talking and not talking.

Between speech and a complete breakdown.

Some parents might worry that their kids played too many video games, and while Elle set limits, she also knew what they meant for him. Because the time before? It was the end of the world. Black, empty, cold. A true pit of despair. In those dark days, she’d have given anything—a lung, a kidney, a limb—for him to talk to her. He’d shut down after his father died, completely withered, barely able to utter a word except for the essentials—yes, no, I don’t know.

Understandable, given what he’d witnessed in their home on that night three years ago.

Somehow games, zombies, and post-apocalyptic stories became a portal for him. Elle never would have predicted it, but on the days after school when Alex would come by the center, he was drawn to the gaming room, and to the raucous energy of the boys shouting at the screen. After a year of being so traumatized by what he saw he’d gone nearly mute, video games reconnected the voice inside him to the rest of the world. They unlocked the part of him that he’d kept quiet, and how she loved to hear him shouting with his friends.

God bless the living dead.

And The Walking Dead, too. Alex’s favorite show had become a key part of Elle’s lexicon, since she had to stay up to speed with Sheriff Rick Grimes in order to converse with her son again. Zombies. Who would have thought zombies would rescue her son from the near-catatonic state that the death of his father had sent him into?

Her mother tucked the phone into her purse and gathered up her keys. “How was the benefit? Did you meet your goals?” Her mom held up her hand and twisted her index finger around her middle finger. “I had ’em crossed all night for you.”

“We did. It was amazing,” Elle said, and quickly gave a recap of the night. Well, the pre-pool-deck portion of the night.

Her mom beamed, then pumped a fist in the air and did a victory dance in the kitchen. “I knew it, I knew it, I knew it!”

The woman had amazing energy.

Elle’s mom was pretty much the youngest grandma around. Like Elle, she’d started early when it came to baby making. Her mother was only eighteen when Elle was born. Barely fifty now, her mom poured her ample energy into her two grown daughters, her grandkids, her job as a nurse, and even her new boyfriend. She’d put herself through nursing school when Elle and her younger sister were toddlers, shuttling back and forth between day care and class, struggling to make ends meet with two little kids all to herself. She’d wanted different things for her daughters, and she’d achieved that with Camille, who’d wisely waited ’til she was out of college and married before getting knocked up.

Not Elle.

The bun unknowingly went in the oven on the night of high school graduation, when the condom broke with Sam, the guy who became her on-again-off-again boyfriend, then eventually her husband, then her nearly ex-husband, since she’d been separated from him the last few years of his life while he was on-again-and-off-again in all sorts of ways. On drugs. Off drugs. In rehab. Out of rehab. Like a merry-go-round that gave her whiplash and nothing else but heartache.

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