The crunch of fortune cookies enveloped the table along with laughter and the obligatory, ‘What did you get? What was yours?’
Johnny wadded his fortune up and flicked it across the table, ‘I got ‘A secret admirer will soon send you a sign of affection’. What a load of crap.’
‘What does yours say?’ Kelly leaned in to Matt, to get his attention. He had been distracted all through dinner hardly joining in on any conversation from the group.
He shrugged, ‘’Good luck is the result of good planning’.’ He crumpled it. ‘Yours?’
Kelly held the piece of paper up to him, ‘’Remember three months from this date’ complete with exclamation point.’
‘I can tell you now it’ll be raining just like today and nothing will have changed.’ Johnny raised his eyebrows matter-of-factly at her.
‘Twenty-fifth of July, you should write it down,’ Shannon laughed, ‘see if anything amazing happens to you. Maybe you and Matt will finally be living together.’
‘And maybe you and Josh will get hitched.’ Matt deflected as he motioned to their waiter for the bill.
After the bill was paid they bundled in to their coats ready to face the cold April night after the warmth of Yung Chow’s restaurant, their usual meeting spot when they were all in London. It had been nearly empty as people started to heed government advice and stay away from crowded places as an outbreak of flu, dubbed by the media as M-flu for Mammal Influenza, spread around the globe.
‘I can’t believe any flu could survive the winter we just had. Forget this stupid flu, will it ever get warm again?’ Josh grumbled as they walked down the silent, rain-streaked road.
‘July.’ Matt said offhand.
‘Three months from now.’ Shannon patted Kelly’s arm.
‘Ahhh,’ Kelly said with mock amazement.
‘Where to now? There’s a new club open on Church Street.’ Josh suggested.
Matt shook his head. ‘I’ve got an early start tomorrow.’
‘Usual excuse. We getting a vaccine for this flu any time soon, Government Science Boy?’ Johnny needled Matt about his job.
Matt ignored the jibe, ‘It was good to catch up. I’ll see you chaps and chapesses soon.’
‘Kelly, are you in or out?’ Johnny asked.
She looked from the group to Matt. He shrugged and looked away. Their ‘friends with benefits’ arrangement was casual but he was leaving tomorrow for the ‘science lab’ as he called Porton Down in Wiltshire, the hush-hush government laboratory where he seemed to disappear to every so often. Tonight was their last opportunity to be together.
‘I’m the one we’re celebrating here.’ Johnny reminded them, ‘Me, remember? Back from Afghanistan. I’m not taking no for an answer.’ Johnny put his arm around Kelly’s shoulders and eyed Matt. ‘I’ll have her back before dawn.’
Kelly watched Matt nod vaguely, preoccupied with whatever was in his head. He turned down the empty, dark street as they headed in the opposite direction.
Matt roamed the halls trying to find his way back from the men’s room to the meeting room where his group was outlining their strategy for handling the M-flu epidemic. He turned one corner, marvelling at the maze of rooms in this old building, and opened a door hoping it was a shortcut to the other side of the building. Voices coming from an interior room drew him forward where the door was ajar. Only one voice spoke, a voice he knew well from watching TV or listening to the radio.
‘We need to make sure the vaccine is in store and available immediately. We will need to keep a portion of the public supply back for government use in the event multiple vaccinations are required to keep the virus at bay. It is vital that we have what we need for the government to survive what lies ahead.’
‘Of course. I will make sure the government reserve is stored in the bunker lab with sufficient reserves to be diverted.’
‘Good, good. With the rapid spread of this flu worldwide we’re better off safe than sorry. We’re already seeing food distribution disruption across Europe with man power not available to keep the chain moving and talk of travel restrictions between countries. If the public need to go without vaccinations then so be it. We need to ensure we can keep this government running during this difficult time regardless of how long the flu may last. I know I can trust you, Christopher, and that this information won’t leave these four walls.’
‘Yes, of course, Prime Minister.’
Matt stepped back from the door, his head reeling from the words he’d just heard. His department had been working day and night to ensure that any kind of rationing to the public would be as minimal as possible but to deliberately hold back to keep government ministers healthy and working for an indeterminate amount of time?
Johnny sat forward in the chair covered in plastic sheeting. ‘Have you been vaccinated yet?’ His words were muted behind the face mask they all had to wear these days.
Kelly looked at him over Josh’s prone body. They had been waiting for him to come around after the first course of treatment but still nothing. ‘No, my doctor is vaccinating kids and old people, then people with immune deficiencies, then people in their 60s downward. I’m at the end of the vaccine chain. They’ve already run out before they even got to the immune deficient people. I’ve lost track of when I’m due for the vaccine. I think they said October the last I checked. Someone said it wouldn’t be until January because of the shortage.’
He nodded then stood up and sat next to her. He surprised her as he took hold of her hand, slippery as they both wore plastic gloves, and palmed her something. ‘My unit was vaccinated this morning and I took an extra vial. Put it in your bag. I can give you the shot back at your place.’
Kelly nodded numbly at this risky act of protection from Johnny. She looked at the clock on the wall wondering where Matt was. He had said he would make it to the hospital to see Josh.
‘He won’t show.’ Johnny said simply.
She wondered how Johnny could read her mind, ‘He said he’d be here. Josh is his best friend.’
‘Government Science Boy is too guilty. He must have known something way back when this started. We haven’t really seen him in months. Don’t you ever ask yourself why?’
‘He’s only junior. They don’t share that level of information with junior staff, I’m sure.’
‘He disappeared to Porton Down just before all this kicked off, Kelly. He knew back then what was happening. I didn’t expect any special treatment from him like the vaccine but he could have given us some kind of warning.’
She ignored the knock on the door. It became insistent and she heard Johnny’s voice, ‘Kelly? Jesus, Kelly, open the door now! Are you alright?’
She stared up at the ceiling not wanting to get out of bed. Yesterday had been Josh’s funeral, two days before that Shannon’s.
‘Kelly?’ The hammering on the door continued, ‘I’ll break the door down!’
She sighed and dragged herself out of bed. She opened the door and looked up at Johnny, ‘What?’
He pushed past her into the flat, ‘I want you to get some things together and get ready to go.’
‘What are you talking about? I can’t think straight after the past three days, Johnny. I don’t want to go anywhere.’
He turned back to her and held on to her arms. ‘Go pack now. I’ll get what I can from your kitchen then we have to go. I’m only about fifteen minutes ahead of Matt. He’s part of some group rounding everyone up to go to quarantine centers.’
The look in his eyes got her moving. She ran back to the bedroom as she heard him rummaging through the kitchen cupboards. She opened the wardrobe and pulled out a bag. Confusion hit her brain as she started randomly packing clothes into it.
What were quarantine centers? Why was Matt rounding them up? Things couldn’t be that bad? Nothing could be that bad, right?
Johnny appeared in her room, ‘Okay?’ he said with urgency.
‘How long am I packing for?’
He yanked another bag from her wardrobe and pushed some clothes in to it. ‘I don’t know. Take what you can. We need to get safe.’
He grabbed her handbag from the chair and shoved it in to her hands, ‘Cash, cards, passport. Get what ID you can in there.’ He picked up her bags, ‘Meet me in the car in two minutes.’
She found her passport in a drawer and dumped the contents of her bag out putting back what she needed.
A tiny piece of paper, mixed in with receipts and pieces of mint and gum wrappers abandoned from her bag, fluttered to the floor and landed text side up: Remember three months from this date!
The prompt was:
You get this fortune in a cookie – “Remember three months from this date!” What happens in three months?