Craig grabbed a couple of candy bars he'd been saving from the kitchen and brought them upstairs to Joel. He entered the room and grinned at Joel as he tossed one of the candy bars to him, who caught it easily. Joel was sitting on the bed now, looking through a family photo album that Craig had brought up to his room a few weeks ago from downstairs.
“You're looking in a better mood. Must've been a good 'alone time', huh?” grinned Joel at Craig, his eyebrows waggling.
Craig blushed. Hard.
“Aha!! I knew it!” Joel said, laughing loudly.
Before everything happened, Craig would've been embarrassed. He probably would've become angry, felt attacked, put on the spot. He almost did this time too, for a split second. But then, finally, he just grinned back. “You're just jealous you didn't take advantage of your own alone time.”
“Who says I didn't? By the way, watch where you step.” Joel answered, giggling.
“Ewww! Eww! You turd!” Craig said laughing, and made an exaggerated big step around the room to sit on the bed beside Joel, who still had the photo album in his lap. The boys grinned at each other for a moment before turning to look at the album.
“Are these your parents?” asked Joel, pointing to a photo of a couple in their early twenties grinning into the camera in front of the Eiffel Tower.
Craig looked at the picture and felt a small smile on his face as he stared at their faces. “Yeah. That was their honeymoon. Mom once told me I was conceived about a mile from there, and that I was probably already in that picture too.”
Joel laughed and turned the page. This one held pictures of a week old Craig being held by each of his parents who were smiling widely into the camera. Love was plainly glowing from their faces. Both boys looked at the pictures, lost in thought.
“God I miss my parents,” Joel finally said, his voice barely audible. “I can't believe how much I took them for granted.”
Craig tore his eyes away from the pictures and looked at Joel. “I know. And I was such a giant jerk to my mom too, ever since we moved here. Really ever since Dad died, as if it was somehow her fault. I feel awful every time I think about it. She was hurting every bit as much as I was, and I was just a shit to her.” The ghost of a pained smile appeared on Craig's lips as he looked Joel in the eyes. “I guess I was just too damned self-absorbed. The last thing I remember telling her was some rude comment at the end of an argument before I went to bed.”
Joel nodded in response, and that was enough. Nothing more really needed to be said. The boys sat side by side, slowly leafing through the album, looking at pictures of people. Lots of people. Laughing and playing and sometimes frowning. Just people doing what people do in the typical settings where people take pictures. Birthday parties, holidays, weddings, and more.
Joel broke the silence a few minutes later. “You know we need to to find people. Somehow. Finding you, talking to you, spending time with someone again just makes it more obvious. I think I kinda blocked it all out for a while. But now it's just more real.”
Craig stood up, his legs a bit cramped from sitting cross-legged so long. He began pacing his room. Something he did when he was thinking hard, or anxious, or worried. “I know. I've thought a lot about that lately. And now, meeting you, that proves that there's at least two people left. There must be more. There must be. I mean, I've learned a lot. And I can tell you have too. But honestly, we're just a couple of kids. And sooner or later we're going to run out of easy to access supplies, or run across something we can't deal with. What if you got appendicitis or something? Sorry Joel, I'd do my best, but...”
“I know. Lights out.” Joel paused a moment. “And I want to see if I can figure out what happened. I mean, how is this even possible? I don't know if we'll get them, but I really, really could use some answers.”
“You know we probably won't get them, right? Before the internet died I did my best to try and find out something, anything, about what could have happened. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
“Well, at this point I'd settle for just finding a few more people. Maybe a couple of girls our age. Then we can settle down and work on re-populating the earth.” The last Joel said with a little smile and a waggle of his eyebrows.
Craig stopped pacing. He knew an opportunity when he saw one. He wondered what Joel's reaction would be, but he didn't feel he had much choice. “Well, umm, you might just have to work on that job by yourself. I mean, I guess I could if I have to, but...”
Joel looked at him with a puzzled expression for a few seconds, then the light came on in his eyes. “Are you telling me...You mean you're....”
“Oh.” Joel turned away looking at the wall, his face unreadable.
Craig sighed and resumed his pacing. He was frustrated at Joel's reaction, or lack of it, but not as much as he thought he would be. At this point he was just resigned to the reality of the situation. Whatever Joel would do, he would do. And he'd deal with it. Somehow. Joel was the first person he had ever told. Who knows, with that, maybe every person in the world now knew he was gay. And the only boy he knew, a cute boy his age, quite obviously wasn't. Craig was used to life sucking though. Whatever. He didn't care.
“Well...” Joel started quietly, still looking at the wall, before turning towards Craig, “I guess that just means you'll have to stay outside doing all the farm chores while I stay inside, in the bedroom, day in and day out, doing my duty for mankind with the two of them. You can bring us meals, in between.” Joel was smiling now, almost a grin, and he was once again looking at Craig's eyes.
Craig hid his sigh of relief and started breathing again. He hadn't realized he was holding it. So much for not caring. Apparently he still had some work to do with the whole self honesty thing. He found himself grinning at his new friend. “Fuck you, asshole. Nice try.”
“No, sorry, I'll be too busy fucking them,” giggled Joel in response.
Laughing, Craig launched himself at Joel, still on the bed, and they began wrestling, and giggling, and trading rude insults. It was suddenly all just so, well, so normal. Both boys seemed to realize that at the same moment and they half sat up and looked at each other, still smiling, but with a much deeper meaning behind their smiles.
Craig was suddenly conscious of something else. He was hard. Obviously so. His traitorous hormones had reacted to the wrestling. And Joel's forearm was resting across his crotch. Fuck.
Joel looked down at Craig's groin, then his eyes shifted to his own, drawing Craig's eyes with them. He, too, was hard.
“Well,” Joel said, “I'm not gay. But I am fourteen. And horny.” His smile at Craig seemed to contain more than just amusement. A question maybe, a suggestion.
Craig didn't want to assume anything, but as he was looking back at Joel he found himself starting to answer. “So, umm, you mean maybe you wanna...”
“Yeah. I wanna. Let's jack off. Now.”
It was a bit later, just a bit, they were fourteen, after they had cleaned up and dressed that they were continuing their conversation from earlier. Craig was pacing again, and he picked up a pen from his desk so he'd have something in his hands to fiddle with. “Where do we go though? What direction? We could really use a bit more information here. I'd hate to find out later there were people a hundred miles east of us and we wandered two thousand miles west before figuring it out.”
“Well, let's try and get more information then,” answered Joel, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“Yeah, but how? There's nothing on the radio, or TV, the internet has been down since almost right after the Disappearance, the phone network is down, both cell and landline. What do we use? Smoke signals? Just how did people talk to each other long distance without phones and the intern....Oh shit. Oh, fuck me. I'm stupid.”
“What?” asked Joel, curiosity and a bit of excitement in his voice.
“Short wave. I'm such an idiot.”
“You're not an idiot, and what are you talking about?”
“You know. Short wave. HF. Between 3000 and 30,000 kilohertz. 'Cause it bounces off the ionosphere. Amplitude modulation and single sideband is what we'll check first of course, and then we gotta check continuous wave for Morse code. If we can get it hooked up to a computer we can even check for digitally encoded signals...” Craig was talking excitedly now.
“Umm, anytime you wanna switch back to English, that would be OK with me, geek boy,” said Joel with a bemused expression on his face.
Craig didn't react to the insult, he already knew that Joel was just teasing. “Short wave radio, Joel! My friend Tim's dad before we moved was all into it. He taught me a bunch of stuff. It's been used for almost a hundred years! You can talk to people literally all over the world with it!”
“Ok, fine. Sounds great. But what do we do? I've never even heard of it. Do we just go to Radio Shack in the mall and grab one off the shelf?” Joel asked laughingly.
“Umm, actually, yeah, that's exactly what we do. To start with at least. We could at least listen. Then we'll have to figure out a bigger antenna. And if we want to broadcast we'll need more equipment.”
“Oh. Cool,” answered Joel, a bit non-plussed, obviously feeling a bit out of the loop.
“Anyway, it's late, and I'm absolutely wiped and need to sleep. Maybe tomorrow we can make a trip to the mall in Jamesville.”
“Ok. Sounds good. Umm. Where should I sleep?” asked Joel.
Craig blushed a little, being forced to articulate what he had been thinking, “Uh, well, my bed is a double. And company would be awfully, awfully nice. I promise, I'll stay on my side.”
Joel smiled a bit himself. “I was kinda hoping you'd ask me. I don't think I can spend a night alone tonight. And I don't promise I'll stay on my side.” He laughed as he saw Craig's eyebrows shoot up. “No, not for that, just for a bit of hugging maybe? If you don't mind?”
Craig grinned back at his new friend. “No, I don't mind. I don't mind at all.”