They sat together, the three of them, sipping coffee in the empty restaurant. John, the owner, looked at his two remaining employees.
"You two can leave. No pressure to stay. I'd understand. People are heading south, you know? They're heading south so they can survive the winter if the power and gas go away."
Rich looked at his boss. How he'd hated him before the flu came. He was such a grumpy old fucker, who could never be bothered with a "good morning" or "have a nice night." But the flu did come, and John lost his wife and two daughters. Rich lost his mom and brother, and still wondered about the father he'd never met. Elaine, an only child, lost her mom and dad.
John, Rich had decided, was a man of substance, grumpy fucker or not. The boss that Elaine and he had tolerated to make a little money for college had proven made of iron.
Rich glanced at Elaine, who just rolled her eyes and smiled.
"John, if we leave, who will you have to pick on?" Rich said. "All of our customers are cops or military now. You mouth off to them, somebody might shoot your ass."
They all laughed. "You have a point there," John said.
The three of them finished their coffees. John said, "Well, we'd best start prepping for dinner. That National Guard unit from Stockton is coming into town tonight." He looked down for a moment. "I'm serious, you two. They say the winter will be a bitch this time around. The major promised me he'd get us out of here if everything winds down, but what if something happens to him?"
Rich had a quick, smart-ass retort at the tip of his tongue, but felt himself tearing up. Dammit. He looked at Elaine for help.
"John, we're not leaving you. You'd fall apart without us," she said.
John smiled. "You two are such a pain in my ass. I should have fired you both months ago."
Rich said, "Too late now, boss. You're stuck with us."
John went back to prep the kitchen while Rich and Elaine set up for dinner. John put on some of his old college-era disco music. As usual, Rich and Elaine yelled in protest, and as usual, they heard John's pirate laugh in response.
They moved about to the beat of the music, lost in the rhythm of their movements, a new family thrown together in a sea of death, waiting for the sharks to circle, or a drifting lifeboat.
Prompted by Thom G.'s Three Word Wednesday.