Chapter Two

Veronica looked at the boy who stood in front of her, and shyly offered him her hand to shake. He surprised her by taking it and kissing the back of it, looking up at her while he did.
"Hi...I’m Veronica. Um...General Fitzgerald said I was supposed to hang onto you like there was no tomorrow..."
Taylor snorted.
"Knowing him, he was probably serious...come on, follow me. I have about an hour before I have to be in my bunker. We need to talk things over before this gets you in deep...I believe you’re in my bunker anyway, but lights out is lights out. Very strict.”
She took his hand and followed him out of the building, wondering how he got away with wearing jeans and a shirt in the army building, even if he wasn’t on duty.

“Veronica...why did you want to do this? If you had such a potentially great career ahead of you?”
When Taylor asked that, she sighed softly.
“You know, everyone asks me that. The day all this started, I was babysitting my cousins. They’re such sweet little kids...they asked me why it was so dark out, and why the people on the TV said that over two million people in England alone died. They didn’t understand. It was that day that I decided I had to give up the ballet shoes and drag my old Doc Marten ankle boots out of the closet. So many little kids don’t need to grow up like this...I suppose you could say I’m one of them...only fifteen. I turned fifteen two weeks ago, Taylor. And it was only five months ago, when I was fourteen, and thought my world was never going to end. I was a normal teenager. I was in ballet school, almost finished. I was about to be Princess Aurora in our production of Sleeping Beauty. I had a best friend back home, and we used to stay up so late at night, talking about guys and makeup, and what we were going to do when I got a boyfriend. We used to fantasize about meeting you and your brothers, used to think I had a chance at going out with she told me in a letter that she stays up at night listening to Middle of Nowhere, wishing we were innocent kids again. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I was with a guy named Taylor Hanson...she would have cried. She would have cried so hard...I know she would have. I remember...I used to write Internet stories about Hanson. Everybody knew about my stories, and everybody loved them. And I thought my life was going to stay like that forever.” Veronica’s eyes began to well up with tears, as the sentiment and nostalgia kicked her own ass. Taylor suddenly reached over and held her hand between his, not wanting to put an arm around the girl he’d only known for three hours. She looked up at him through tears that hadn’t begun to fall yet. His hair was pulled back in a ponytail that had little grease marks at his temples where he’d wiped his forehead earlier, and there were bruises all over his neck and a few on his cheeks. A cut ran from his right temple to his ear, and his face looked tired and worn. His hands, too...his fingernails had ten years worth of grease and dirt beneath them that he’d acquired in only three months, and his fingers and palms were rough and callused from working on his plane and reloading his gun too many times to remember. They were warm, though, and his touch was gentle.
“Here...come here,” he said softly. She moved over until she was sitting beside him, and let him put an arm around her shoulders.
“Honey, you don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into. This is a rough game we play here, and we have all kinds of players...every race, age, and personality. We don’t have many girls, though...most of them are too young to fight, and they make our weapons. We always need more soldiers, though. You’ll last awhile, I know you will. But this isn’t easy. It scarred me for life...I’m never going to forget the sounds of people dying...and the looks on guy’s faces as they die...I lost my best friend this way. I watched him die. And that’s never going to leave me. You’re strong, Veronica. You can handle this. But you need to know what this is like.”
Not especially aware of what she was doing, Veronica laid her head on Taylor’s shoulder and let the tears slide down her face. They were silent, and Taylor didn’t notice that she was crying until he felt her breathing get ragged and she trembled all over.
“Hey...come on, honey, don’t cry. I didn’t mean to scare you,” he whispered. She shook her head.
“It's not your fault, Taylor. I just wish I were back home, staying up late with Dawn, watching South Park and writing inserts for my story about you. I don’t think I’m ever going to get that back.”
Taylor pulled her into his lap and held her, hating the feeling of how she was shaking in his arms. She cried softly, not making much noise at all. When he couldn’t feel her shaking anymore, Taylor turned Veronica’s face to look at him.
“I’m gonna call you Ronnie from now on, okay? Veronica seems so formal...”
Veronica smiled slightly, tears still running down her cheeks.
“Everybody else’d feel a lot better if you did.”
Taylor brushed a lock of her hair from her face tenderly, gazing at her as though he’d known and loved her for years previous to this. “Ronnie it is,” he mumbled as he looked into her eyes...and a beautiful friendship began.

"Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them."

- William Shakespeare

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