April handed him a bowl.
“Thank you. Smells great.”
“Here’s a glass of juice,” Tavia said, offering it to him.
“Thank you,” he said, taking the drink and his bowl to the table.
As he sat down to eat, it occurred to me what a hot commodity he was. He wasn’t ugly. He wasn’t attached. He could shoot a gun and build things. Except for the fearless rifle-wielding widower who had been multitasking, taking out the undead while burying his wife, there was a very good chance that my dad was the only non-dead single male within miles. He might as well be Brad Pitt.
I tried not to throw up my breakfast. April and Tavia needed him, and they would make it really hard for him to want to leave. I had my work cut out for me, and I needed Halle on my side.
“IT’S NOT THAT FAR,” Brad said, trying to whisper. “We’ll probably run out of gas halfway there. We’ll walk the rest of the way.”
I rubbed my eyes and blinked until my vision wasn’t blurry anymore. All the adults were standing near the French doors in the back with Madelyn and Logan. Darla had worry in her eyes, but she was smiling.
“Brad,” Dad said with concern in his voice, “I’m not trying to tell you what to do, but what’s the rush? Let’s try to get together some more gas for you, so you can make it the whole way—or at least most of it.”
“What’s going on?” I asked.
All heads turned in my direction.
Dad took a step toward me. “Nothing, honey. Go back to sleep.”
I leaned to the side to look at Darla. “Are you leaving? You found a car?”
Her lips formed a hard line. She knew I’d be upset. They were trying to sneak out in the early morning with just enough light to be safe, so I wouldn’t know.
“Jenna—” Dad began.
“Let’s go with them,” I said, suddenly wide-awake. “We can go with them!”
Dad shook his head. “The car they found is small. They only have enough room for them, and the more people they try to pack inside will take up that much more gas. They have less than a quarter of a tank, and they want to get to Darla’s parents’ house.”
“But…” I looked at Darla, and she looked away. “Maybe…” My mind spun, trying to think of something. “Just take Halle and me. Take us as far as you’re going, and we’ll wait for Dad. When he gets there, we can figure out how to get the rest of the way.”
“Jenna!” Dad scolded.
“I’ll get our stuff together. Five minutes!” I said, turning on my heels.
Dad grabbed me. “Jenna, you’re not going. You’re staying here.”
“But they’ve got a car. They’ll be maybe five or ten miles from Mom!”
“We’re sorry, sweetie. We just don’t have room,” Brad said.
I took a step back, holding my stomach. It felt like he’d just punched me there. “You can’t leave without us,” I begged. “It’s been four days. She probably thinks we’re dead. Please?”
“C’mon,” Brad said, gathering his family.
“Good luck,” Dad said.
“Wait!” I yelled, running into the kitchen. I ripped a piece of paper from one of the coloring books and wrote Mom a note in crayon.
I handed the note to Darla.
She glanced at it and then threw her arms around me. “I’m so sorry!”
“Just…please give her the note if you see her. She might come into town for supplies.”
Darla’s lip trembled. “I…” She looked to her husband. “Brad, this is wrong. We should try to find a way.”
Brad shook his head, sad. “You asked me to get you and the kids to your parents. This is how it has to be.”
Darla looked down at the paper in her hand, folded it, and put it in her back pocket. “I will, Jenna. I promise.”
I yielded, taking a step back, and watched them walk out the door. Blinking and looking up didn’t stop the tears, and once they’d started, they wouldn’t stop. I retreated to the bathroom, shutting myself inside. My entire body shook as I sat on the floor and sobbed into a folded towel. I didn’t want to wake anyone. Halle didn’t need to feel this kind of frustration and disappointment, too.
Thankfully, no one bothered me until Halle knocked on the door, needing to use the toilet. I washed my face with cold water, grateful it was still running, and I opened the door with a smile.
Even without her glasses, I couldn’t fool my sister.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
I sighed. “I just miss Mom.”
“Me, too,” she said, throwing her arms around my pelvis.
I wasn’t quite Tavia’s height, and she was fairly short, probably five feet five inches. But Halle’s forehead barely hit my belly button, and if I didn’t bend down, she’d always end up hugging my butt.
I squeezed her back and stepped to the side, deciding to stay behind and help her get ready for the day. We hadn’t left April’s house, and it was easy to stop caring about things like showering or brushing our teeth. But I would keep reminding Halle that we should do it while we still had soap, shampoo, and toothpaste because one day very soon, we would miss them.
After breakfast, Dad slipped his backpack over his shoulders. When he went out, he’d typically keep his pack light, just enough to get him by if he were caught somewhere. I could tell more was inside the bag than a few bottles of water, a sandwich, and extra ammo.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Get your pack. You’re coming with me.”
“Why?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Okay, if you don’t wanna go.”
“I wanna go!” Halle said.
“I wanna go!” Tobin echoed.
I stared at him with a blank face. “What are you doing?” I asked again, emphasizing each word.
He glanced at April and Tavia, seeming nervous. They were making breakfast in the kitchen, peeking at him from over their shoulders. They didn’t know either.
I picked up my bag, put two bottles of water inside with a package of crackers and a knife, and quickly threw it on. “Fine, let’s go.”
I grabbed Jud’s aluminum bat sitting by the back door, and then we walked outside to the center of the fenced-in yard. I squinted from the bright sun. It was already hot.