Needs (short fiction)

She didn’t want to go out tonight. She never did.

“You could stay with me,” he said.

Snow swirled outside the window. It was a cold, dark night, but she’d seen colder and darker. They both had.

She started getting dressed.

“They’re waiting for me,” she said.

“One of these nights, you won’t make it back,” he said.

He was right.

“They need me.”

“I need you too.”

She closed her eyes. “I can’t have this conversation again.”

“Then stay. You’re just delaying the inevitable. You’re not doing them any favors.”

He was right. She hated him for it. She hated him. In a different world, she’d have had nothing to do with him. But that was the old world. Things were complicated now.

He took her hand and kissed it. “Stay.”

“And what about them?” she asked.

“What about them?”

She wished she could bring them here, but it would never work out. They weren’t welcome. He’d made that clear.

She pulled away. “I have to go. Don’t make this harder.”

He shrugged. “Okay. When will I see you again?”

“I don’t know.” She eyed her bag of scavenged canned goods. It’d last a week. Maybe ten days if they rationed properly.

He rolled over and went to sleep.

God, she wanted to stay. It was warm. He wanted her, but he didn’t need her. He could survive on his own. He was a luxury. Not a responsibility, not a lost cause. Everyone measured survival in days now, but with him, there were more days ahead. She was being stupid, throwing away what little was left of her life for them.

She couldn’t leave them.

She bundled up and trekked through the endless winter. It didn’t snow much anymore, but the snow never melted. She trudged through the gray, making it back to her home. It wasn’t as warm as his. The roof sagged. It’d fall in one of these days.

She opened the door, and the three dogs came running up to her. They danced around in circles and yipped. They needed her in a way he never would.

She shared a canned of corned beef with them by the dying fire.

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