Neither of them knew that Dad was trying to help them find something more secure if we couldn’t find a vehicle for everyone—and we hadn’t yet.
Summer was in full swing. By mid-morning, we would be sweating. By some miracle, we still had electricity, but April was afraid to turn on the air conditioning. She was worried that when the outside unit kicked on, the noise would draw the infected. She was right, but with no air conditioning and no open windows, the house had become stuffier with each passing day. Dad had scavenged several box fans and a single tall oscillating fan, which helped with the heat.
The younger kids were becoming depressed, getting turned down every time they’d beg to go outside and play. We were all afraid their giggling and screams would attract the infected, and if we took the kids away from the house, we would get into trouble and be too far from safety. Dad and I would try to bring back a new toy every time we went out to keep the kids busy and happy.
I was more worried about the food situation. April’s once-packed pantry was looking sparse. The adults had talked about rationing. Dad and I would rummage through the houses in the tiny town every day. We only had a few houses left to search, and a lot of the food we found had spoiled.
“Are you going out today?” Connor asked, watching me fold towels with a bored look on his face.
“For food? I don’t know,” I said. “Dad hasn’t mentioned it.”
“I’ve gotta get out of this house. I want to go with you next time.”
I looked over at Dad, who was sitting on the floor with April, Nora, and Tobin. Jud was walking around them, patting their heads, while calling each of them a duck.
“Goose!” Jud said when he patted Dad’s head.
Dad scrambled up and tried to catch him before Jud got to his spot, but Dad wasn’t trying very hard.
Tavia was napping in the recliner, in and out of consciousness.
“It’s dangerous, Connor. It’s not an errand.”
“I know. I was thinking maybe…that maybe your dad would teach me how to shoot a gun.”
I snorted. “He won’t even teach me.”
“Maybe he should.”
I stopped folding towels and watched as Dad tapped April on the head and called her a goose. They ran around the circle as the kids laughed hysterically.
“I’ll talk to him,” I said.
“Good.” Connor went back to his window, watching the world go on without us.
April clapped once and stood, directing all the kids to the bathrooms to get ready for bed.
Within the hour, the candles were blown out, and the kids were tucked in. I sat next to Halle while she lay in bed next to Tobin.
“Do you remember how we used to find songs on the radio when Mom picked us up after school, and we would sing them really loud?” I asked. “Mom would roll down the windows and sing with us, and people would look at us like we were crazy.”
Halle giggled. “And we would bounce our heads and dance! That was fun. I miss school.”
“Me, too,” I said. Mostly, I just missed Chloe.
I waited for Dad to kiss her good night, and then I followed him into April’s bedroom.
She was taking a shower. We were alone.
“Connor made a good point today,” I said, watching Dad turn down the covers.
“About what?” He had a smirk on his face. He already knew I had an agenda.
“He mentioned you taking us out and teaching us how to shoot.”
Dad’s face twisted into confusion, like I’d just spoken a foreign language. Whatever he had expected, it wasn’t that.
“It’s a reasonable point. If you’re taking me out with you, I need to know how to use a gun—not just to defend myself, but to also keep from shooting anyone I don’t want to shoot.”
“No, Jenna. You’re not old enough.”
“I’m old enough to go out scavenging with you. I took out that zombie a couple of days ago.”
“That was your second one.”
“So? What does that have to do with learning how to shoot?”
“It’s a gun,” he said, already getting flustered, “and you’re thirteen.”
“Why does it matter how old I am? Dead people are walking around outside.”
Dad glared at me. “You’re not ready.”
“You’re not ready.”
“No, I’m not.”
“That’s an emotional response, and emotion is irrelevant.”
“Says who?” he asked. “And stop talking like you’re a forty-year-old psychologist. It’s creeping me out.”
“Connor needs to learn, too.”
“He’s Halle’s age, Jenna! You think Halle could handle a gun? Or should?”
“You’re not listening. It’s been a month.”
“Not this again.”
“You said we were going to find Mom. You said, if we didn’t find a vehicle as of a week ago, we would leave. That was supposed to happen yesterday. Why are we still here?”
“Because we’re not ready. Your sister is not ready.”
“She’s waiting on us,” I said, a ball forming in my throat.
“You’re starting to sound like a CD on repeat, Jenna, and I’m getting really tired of the song.”
I rolled my eyes at his analogy. Nobody used CDs anymore.
“When we’re out there, I might need more than a baseball bat. What if something happens to you? You can’t always be there to protect us. You have to teach me how to protect Halle.”
Dad’s face flushed. “Enough, Jenna.”
“And Connor. If he’s going to be the man of the house once we leave, he needs to know how to use a gun.”
“You’re leaving?” April said from the doorway. A yellow towel was wrapped around her, and water dripped from her hair.
Dad looked like he’d been caught, and he stuttered, “She’s…she’s just arguing.”
“You’re going to leave us here?” April said, her eyes wide.
“No!” Dad said, but his lie face betrayed him.
“Just you and the girls? Is it because you want to be with Scarlet?”
“April, honey, that’s not it,” Dad said, walking around the foot of the bed.
“Then, why would you need to leave us behind? I don’t understand,” she said, her voice cracking.