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“Excuse me, miss, can I help you?”

It was the first person who’d noticed her entrance since she stepped into the place. Of course, she couldn’t blame anyone for not stopping to ask her what she was doing there. The place was bustling with people and action; nurses and doctors in which coats and scrubs pushed gurneys of bleeding people down the hallway that wrapped around itself in a huge cylinder. The man outside was wrong about this place: it wasn’t church. It was a hospital for sick people, not a place where she could find the information she was looking for.

“Excuse me, miss, did you hear me?”

Rosemarie turned to the voice. It belonged to a young man, probably a few years older than her, holding a clipboard and dressed in a lab coat. His voice sounded impatient, but his eyes betrayed the care that he felt.

“Yes, I wanted to…” Rosemarie realized she didn’t know what she wanted. Why had she come in here? She couldn’t remember, only that she wanted to get off the streets, away from the terrified mobs running…where?

“I am sorry, miss, but if you aren’t sick, and if you don’t have anyone in here, you are going to have to leave.” His comment reminded her why she had come inside.

“Please, sir, I need to stay somewhere safe. I saw one of them, a few blocks away from here.” Her voice drifted. Rosemarie was still trying to process the dark, decaying mass of flesh that had once been Omar.

The man frowned and glanced at his clipboard. “You saw one of what?”

“I don’t know.”

He sighed. “Again, I am sorry miss, but you have to leave from here. We can’t let you inside if you’re not a patient, or a relative of one of our patients.”

“I have to get home,” Rosemarie said. She knew she sounded desperate, but she was desperate. She needed to get home, and she had absolutely no resources to get there. If this were a fairy tale, she’d be the sleeping princess, desperately in need of a prince to swoop in and wake her up.

And it sickened her. She hated feeling utterly helpless, a damsel in distress waiting for someone to come and save her. But she understood enough of her situation to accept the reality of it.

“Home?” The young man was doing a poor job of kicking her out, but she accepted his inquiries.

“I was…” she hesitated before continuing with her story. She knew that saying she had been kidnapped and then killed her captor after he turned into a strange creature would make this man think she was crazy. But, as she stumbled with her words, she knew that she could trust him. There was something in his eyes that told her it was safe.

He didn’t blink or change his facial expression throughout her entire story. When she finally closed her mouth, he cleared his throat.

“You’ve been through a lot,” he said softly. He offered her his hand, and gave her a solid, firm shake. “I didn’t introduce myself to you. My name is Jace.”

“Hello, Jace. My name is Rosemarie.”

“Listen, Rosemarie I want to help you.” He held up the clipboard he’d been holding. “This here is the list of patients we are transporting to our Homestead Branch.”

“Your Homestead Branch?” Rosemarie wasn’t sure she was hearing the words correctly. There was a chance she might be able to go home? “Why are you transporting them all the way to Homestead?”

“Well, you’ve been out there. You see how crazy it is. And they’re saying that Homestead is the only area safe from whatever this is. We’re putting together a shuttle to send out the healthiest patients, just to get them away from all of this.” Jace paused and looked behind her. A nurse was approaching them.

“Jace, we need to get moving,” she said, completely ignoring Rosemarie’s presence. The woman was sweating and had pulled her hair up in a quick bun that did little to keep the strands of hair out of her face.

“I know. I’m getting things ready.”

The woman was gone almost as quickly as she’d come.

Jace turned to Rosemarie, and she saw him clearly for the first time. He had no facial hair to speak of, and the hair on his head was cut low on the sides but swept across his forehead on top. Underneath his white lab coat, he wore a blue button down shirt and fitted khaki pants. Rosemarie didn’t even need to see his shoes to know that they were gray, suede boat shoes. This guy was one of those trendy/fashion types that she’d never gotten along with. Despite the fact that they wanted to be different, they were all just like each other.

But it didn’t matter what he was wearing, or what kind of person he was. There was a chance that she would be able to go home, and she was willing to follow that chance anywhere.

“I can try to make room for you on the shuttle, but we have to move quickly.” Jace led her by the arm around the hallway. “I am going to go upstairs and let our staff know who they can start loading on to the bus. You can wait here until I get back.”

They had stopped in front of what appeared to be a kitchen. A few people bustled inside the kitchen, carrying trays and preparing what appeared to be some kind of pasta. Rosemarie looked at Jace.

“I’m sorry, but I’m not really comfortable just waiting over here by myself.” The memories of the men pulling her off the road and stuffing them in their backseat were still fresh.

But how do you know you can trust this guy?

Jace nodded. “I’d forgotten.” He pulled a phone from his pocket and began to type. He waited a few seconds, then typed again. He put the phone away and looked at her.

“Okay, I told one of my friends. He’s going to start loading people onto the bus.” Jace pointed to a door on the opposite side of the kitchen. “We’ll wait a few more minutes, and then we’ll go out there, where the bus is parked.” He put his hand on her arm. “I won’t go anywhere.”

It was strange, but that hand gave her a comfort she didn’t think she needed.

“Thank you,” she said quietly.

Jace nodded. “So where do you live down in Homestead?” He asked, trying to make some kind of conversation while they waited.

Rosemarie sighed. “Well, I live very deep in Homestead, but I’m currently staying with my parents in Goulds.”

Jace raised an eyebrow. “Goulds? I heard on the radio that Goulds was one of the only contaminated areas down there. I hope your parents are going to be alright.”

“No, they aren’t contaminated,” said Rosemarie. “They were just quarantining the area when I left, because they said it was one of the only areas that wasn’t contaminated. That’s why I was heading down to Homestead. I was going to make sure that my boyfriend was doing okay.”

“I see.” Jace crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. “Have you managed to make contact with any of your family? Or with your boyfriend?”

Rosemarie blushed and looked away. “No. I…I don’t know any of their phone numbers.”

Jace’s laugh was friendly enough that she didn’t take it to heart. “I’m sorry. I know what that’s like. I don’t think I’ve memorized any number other than my own since I was a kid.”

“So what is this place? I thought it was a church, but…” Rosemarie let her sentence taper off.

Jace nodded and picked up where she left off. “But it looks more like a hospital than anything else, right? If you think about it, isn’t that what they say a church is supposed to be anyway? A hospital for the broken?”

Rosemarie frowned. “Well, if you think about it, the church is not really a place where we come to be made better. When you come to church, it’s to celebrate what God’s done, to worship him, to hear from his word, and to connect with other believers.”

Jace grew quiet.

“You didn’t think I knew anything about this, did you?”

“No, that’s not —”

“It’s okay. I’m just tired of those cliches, and I’m tired of people treating church like it’s just a place for them to come and get healed from Jesus. Because, sometimes, he doesn’t heal you.” The last sentence slipped out before she could stop it. It had always been there in the back of her mind, but she’d never been able to get it out, not in the dozens of talks she’d had with her pastors, not in the long conversations she’d had with Soren, pouring over scripture and spending time in prayer.

And, yet, it had surfaced, in the presence of a complete stranger, at that.

“Are you a Christian?” He asked.

She was confused. “Of course I’m a Christian,” she said. “Why would I be talking like this if I wasn’t?”

“I don’t know,” said Jace, slowly. “You sound a little bitter.”

Rosemarie pursed her lips. “Well, I can be bitter and a Christian. No one is perfect.”

And, just like that, her confession disappeared behind a wall of defense. If she had any luck, he’d forget about her comment. She didn’t need to wait for long for the tide of the conversation to turn elsewhere. A tiny buzz from his pocket caused his to pull out his phone. He read the message quickly.

“Okay, they are bringing them right now.”

Finally. Thank you, God.

Everything was going so well. Things were falling in place, and she didn’t even have to do anything. This was a rare thing for Rosemarie, especially since a few hours ago, she was tied up in a basement, about to be sold into slavery. Things didn’t just “go well” with Rosemarie. That was a fact of life that she had come to accept.

So when the first screams started coming from the kitchen, she had a sinking feeling that something much worse was on its way.

And she was right.

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