My hands shook as I knocked on the door. I hadn’t visited Shelby in far too long. I wasn’t sure if I should run before she got to the door or stay in place, stoic and brave.
It turns out, I didn’t have a lot of time to begin with. Shelby opened the door before I had finished my thoughts. “Hello,” she said.
“Hello,” I replied in kind, “Do you mind if I come in?”
“Not at all. I was just going to make dinner. I could make more for the two of us.” Shelby guided me in, and had me seat myself at her table.
“You looked incredibly stressed a couple of days ago. Are you doing alright?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Superior is just running me up the wall. What about you? We haven’t talked in awhile.” Shelby was cooking a couple of things within a pan.
“I don’t know, if I’m going to be honest. A few things have been concerning me,” I told her. “I just find that I don’t know where I should be going next.”
“Why might that be?” She asked.
I leaned back in my seat. “Well, did you hear about the last house we tried to burn down?” Shelby shook her head. “It didn’t go well. Famine didn’t plan ahead very far, and the house had a security system. Everyone had to flee, and many of us were put at risk.”
“Hm. Famine has never done anything like that before. Odd.” Shelby tossed some seasonings into her pan.
“Odd is putting it lightly. We got into an argument afterward about it. Claire had to split us up.”
Shelby sharply turned to look at me. “Claire split the two of you up? Well. That’s new. She would barely speak up to anyone before. You’ve sparked confidence in her. How’s it feel to be a parent?” Shelby chuckled to herself.
“That’s just another thing, though. I’m being confused by more now than before.” I said.
Silence hung in the air for a moment. Shelby broke the silence. “Well, go on, Ren.”
“Oh, right. Well, let me think about how to put this.” I leaned a little further back to think. “Well, people have been treating me different recently.” I stopped to give Shelby a chance to respond. She didn’t.
“People haven’t been giving me general fear and distaste. I’ve been receiving respect, and… Something else. I think people around are starting to legitimately care about me, including you.” I finished my statement, then waited for some response.
A few seconds passed before Shelby sighed and spoke up. “Yes, I care about you. So does Claire a bit. So do Zoe and Annabelle. Don’t worry, I heard about that from Zoe. Your secret is safe with me,” Shelby winked at me, “but my point still stands. We do care about you, for various reasons. Claire cares because you gave her the will to be confident. Zoe cares because you are helping take care of Annabelle. Annabelle cares because you’re the first person to give her a real meal in weeks, without getting angry,” Shelby lifted the pan off of the fryer, and smelled what was cooking. She put the pan back down.
Without saying anything else, Shelby turned off the stove, served two plates, which she brought over to the table. I waited for her to say something else, before it became clear she wouldn’t.
“Okay, so I can believe you when you tell me why all of those people care. But why do you care? You never told me why and I still don’t understand,” I said. Shelby put down her fork, and held her head in her hands.
“Ren, you aren’t going to understand everything. You don’t need to understand everything. Hell, if that were the case, you would be incredibly underqualified for the things you do. Let me put it this way: I care about you, and at some point you may figure out why. If you never do, then I’ll move forward with my life, and you can try the same.” Shelby picked her fork back up and took a large bite.
“Right. So what does that mean? You care, but I don’t get to know why? Everything you just said seems very contrive. Maybe I don’t need to understand it, but never explaining it won’t help me learn anything. I- nevermind. I don’t know how to follow that up,” I poked my fork around in my food, then took a bite myself.
Shelby sighed a heavier sigh at me than any of her previous sighs. “Renegade, you need to think about yourself and where you are going before you try to worry about me and where I’m going. You might have reason to be concerned over me, but I have a million more reasons to be concerned over you. Take a few steps back from where you are, and look at the bigger picture.” Shelby had already prepared her fork before finishing that statement, and had it in her mouth immediately after finishing.
We ate for a while longer in silence. I was unsure. I ate my food, but I also spent a decent amount of time chewing it for longer than I needed to. Shelby was finished by the time half of my plate was gone.
“Ren,” Shelby began, “You should go home tonight, and just sleep. You need a bit of time to think about yourself, and I can’t help you do that, even if I try. What I said about understanding goes for me, too; I don’t totally understand you. That’s something we’ll have to work on and live with, both.”
I spent a second in silence, thinking about her suggestion. “You might be right. But, I think you might also be wrong,” I said. I hoped she wouldn’t deny my next suggestion. “You care about me, and I don’t know why. Sitting alone and trying to think about those sort of things just creates paranoia.”
Shelby nodded in acknowledgement.
“I think I want to stay with you for tonight.”
Shelby leaned back in her seat. “Why do you think you want to stay here tonight?” She asked. She had a sly smile on her face, as if she knew something I didn’t.
“I, erm…” I began. I needed to think about it. If this didn’t matter, why would I care about being alone tonight? Clearly it did matter to me. Our relationship was confusing, but I didn’t want to let it go.
“I know,” I began, “I think I care about you, Shelby.”
She grinned at me, a wide grin. “I know you do. You can stay.” She kissed me, then rolled over.