They're at lunch when it happens, grabbing a slice of pizza at Cugino's. Pam excuses herself to go to the restroom while he sits gamely at the table, drinking a coke and waiting patiently for her to return.
As she's washing her hands, she hears and feels an earth-shattering explosion. It cracks the tiles under her, knocking her off her feet. The overhead lights go dark, leaving the room blacker than midnight. Gasping, she finds her feet and runs to the door, tugging it open with wet hands to find the restaurant is in shambles. Parts of the ceiling are caved in, chunks of the walls have fallen down, some diners are bruised and bloody, others are dead.
And she's screaming his name at the top of her lungs, feeling her sanity start to crack around the edges, because the booth where they'd been sitting is crushed beneath an enormous pile of crumbled brick that's almost as tall as she is.
She picks her way over, careful not to trip on the mounds of debris, pulling her phone out of her pocket and calling 911. Busy.
She calls her mom. No answer.
She calls her sister. It doesn't even ring this time.
She tries to dig the bricks away from the booth. She has to give up, exhausted and sick to the depths of her soul, after half an hour of making no progress. Her fingernails are broken, her fingertips are raw. Everyone else is too wrapped up in their own problems to help her, and he hasn't responded to any of her attempts to call his name. How could he be anything but dead?
She sobs and vomits. She's been hearing sirens in the distance continuously, but none near enough to help. She looks through a gaping hole in the wall and pays attention to what's happening outside for the first time. People are screaming and running. Buildings in every direction are demolished, or nearly so. She has no idea how the roof didn't collapse in the bathroom. The streets are jammed with cars, not moving at all. She puts her hand in her pocket and pulls out her keys. She looks back and forth between them, the traffic, and the pile of bricks crushing her fiance.
Ex-fiance now. She crumples to the ground as the thought pummels her relentlessly. He's dead. The love of my life is dead. Another thought occurs. I would be too, if I'd been sitting across from him. She feels a spasm in her throat and vomits again, or would. There's nothing left so she's just retching pointlessly, helplessly, painfully.
Eventually she regains a sliver of rationality. Swallowing hard, she buries her face in her hands, tries to ignore the screaming and death all around, and wonders what to do. Where to go. She tries to call a few more people. Isabella, her father, a few friends, the outside line at work. She finally has to give up. She figures the towers are out, because it's not ringing no matter who she calls.
She wants her mom, but her parents live in Carbondale. It's not far by car, about half an hour, but she has no idea how long it would take on foot. Hours, surely. And she has no idea how to get there without taking the highway. Seeing as how local traffic is this bad, she's sure the highways are literally impassable. She guesses she should go home, to see if she even has a home left to go to. She'll need to pass near the office along the way, though, so she decides to go there first. She's thinking she'd do just about anything to see a friendly face right now.
Seeing how little progress traffic is making, she decides to walk and gets her things. There's not much inside the vehicle, but she grabs a spare sweater and throws on her Keds, sniffling and crying the whole time, feeling more alone than she's ever been in her entire life.
She begins the trip, trying not to make eye contact with anyone, trying to ignore the endless screaming. Once she gets out of earshot of one screaming person, there's another--or two or three--to replace them.
A woman grabs her, begging for help. She takes one look at the collapsed building the woman says her baby is trapped in, then looks around at all the other collapsed buildings and crying people, and keeps walking, apologizing, sobbing, her heart breaking, but what can she do? She couldn't dig her own fiance out of a four foot tall pile of bricks, what use is she going to be against an entire building of rubble?
She aims for back streets, trying to avoid the risk of that happening again. Then she sees a pack of teenage boys robbing an elderly woman in an alley. She feels her stomach drop and runs, veering sharply and quickly back to the main drag.
She's nearly there after about twenty minutes on foot and no further incidents. She rounds the final corner and, suddenly, she's shaking and sick to the depths of her soul. She used to have to look up at it. Now it's flattened, shorter than a single story. There isn't a sound coming from inside of it, no indication that there were any survivors. She's certain that anyone inside would never have had a chance.
The whole way over, she'd avoided thinking about the reason she was coming to the office first. Because, even though it wasn't strictly speaking out of her way, it would have been faster to go straight home. She'd avoided thinking about him, but she can't avoid thinking about him anymore. She bends over to vomit again, knowing there's nothing left. She's just dry heaving at this point. But although her stomach is in knots and her throat is raw, she can't stop because he's gone.
He's her best friend.
Was her best friend. Because now he's dead.
He was probably in the kitchen eating his ham and cheese sandwich.
He probably didn't feel a thing.
It was probably over in a heartbeat.
The best friend she can admit now that she liked way more than an engaged person should ever like a friend of the opposite sex.
She curls up in a ball in the grass, as close to the building as she can get. Wave after wave of grief pummels her relentlessly. As lonely and upset as she'd felt at the realization Roy was dead, she's heartbroken now at the thought of going on without Jim in her life.
Her chest hurts.
She can't breathe.
She doesn't want to breathe.
The last thought she has before losing consciousness is how much she wishes she'd been inside, too.