Dad was taken aback. He thought about that for a moment. “Good call, kiddo. Just…be careful. I’m going to have a coronary before we get to Red Hill. Do you know what your mother would do to me if I showed up without you?”
“Let’s just not do that, okay?” I said with a smile, still breathing hard.
Dad hugged me tight. He took in a deep breath and then kissed my hair. “I’m glad you’re with me, kid.”
DAD IMMEDIATELY BEGAN CHECKING THE LOCKS on the front and back doors, and then he looked for materials to fortify the windows. We searched every room for something, anything to keep the infected from breaking through. We had no luck with wooden slats like the ones on the church or plywood sheets like the ones at April’s. So, we used furniture and made sure all the curtains were drawn.
“No flashlights or candles unless absolutely necessary,” Dad said. “Keep your voices low. We just need to keep them out for the night.”
“I don’t like this house,” Halle whined.
Dad gently touched her cheek with his fingertips. “We’ll just sleep upstairs. I’ll put breakables at the top and bottom of the stairs. If anything knocks into them, we’ll hear.”
Halle’s bottom lip trembled.
I went into the kitchen to look for food, and when I opened the pantry door, I gasped. “Dad!” I whispered as loud as I dared. “Dad!”
He rushed in, dragging Halle with him. Surprise brightened his face. “Whoa!”
The pantry was stocked with cans of fruit and vegetables, rice, potted meat, potato chips, peanut butter, pickles, and bottled water. There were two loaves of moldy bread and rotted fruit as well, but I couldn’t stop staring at the potatoes. I reached in and gave one a squeeze.
“They’re still good!” I picked up a package of powdered gravy. “Mashed potatoes and gravy!”
Dad opened the refrigerator. “I don’t believe it. They still have electricity!”
“Then, I bet Mom does, too!” Halle pushed up her glasses and showed off her oversized teeth.
We spent the evening cooking and whispering, discussing how Mom would react when we showed up the next day at Red Hill. Dinner consisted of mashed potatoes and Spam, both drenched in dark gravy, and green beans. We hadn’t eaten this well in weeks.
“I wish we could take this pantry with us,” I said. “We don’t know what they’ll have left at the ranch.”
Dad paused. “Maybe I should go get her, along with anyone else there, and bring them back here. We can come back to get you and load up on supplies.”
“You don’t think they do that once in a while anyway?”
Halle’s eyes bulged, and her mouth formed an O. “What if they did that tomorrow, and we didn’t have to walk to Red Hill alone?”
“That,” I said, “would be the best luck we’ve had in a long time.”
Dad snorted. “If they have a scavenging party, I don’t think your mom would be on it.”
“Why not? I’m on yours,” I said.
“Your mom’s not really the type,” Dad said.
“Neither am I.”
“Okay, okay,” he said. “I just can’t imagine her bashing in skulls on her way to Shallot to pick up supplies. But you’re right. We’re in different times.”
Halle’s grin faded. “Is that what we’re going to have to do? Bash in skulls to get to Red Hill?”
“No, honey. I’m sorry,” Dad said, realizing his mistake too late. “I was just teasing Jenna about your mom. I wasn’t being serious.”
But that was our reality now, and we all knew it was a possibility even if Dad didn’t want to admit it.
“There are so many infected in town. Shallot’s even smaller than Fairview. I don’t get it.”
“I don’t know,” Dad said before shoveling a bite of potato into his mouth.
After dinner, we all pitched in to clean up, and then Dad and I moved a desk to the bottom of the stairs before covering it with drinking glasses and some jars I’d found on the top shelf of a cabinet. We dragged two nightstands from one of the bedrooms to the top of the stairs before covering it with decorative vases and figurines.
I looked in all the closets for clothes my size, but I had no luck. I thought I found Halle a pair of shoes, but when I called her in to try them on, they were too big.
“I don’t want to put my shoes back on,” Halle said, disappointed.
“You don’t have to tonight. Just be sure to keep them together by the bed in case we need to put them on fast.”
She looked longingly at the bigger shoes. I felt so sorry for her. I pulled off her socks and began rubbing her feet. Her big toes were red and angry. We would have to find her new shoes sooner rather than later.
She leaned back on her hands and grinned. “You are the bestest sister ever.”
“You’re not kidding. Your feet don’t smell the greatest, and they’re…moist.”
Halle giggled, and I giggled with her.
Dad stood in the doorway, smiling at us. “All right, let’s get showered and in bed before dark. No lights, remember?”
We stood and made our way to the bathroom. The situation struck me as funny. Five weeks ago, Halle would have pitched a fit and begged to stay up. But without a television or toys to play with, there was nothing to stay up for.
I scrubbed my body and then helped Halle. We rinsed off a day’s worth of road dirt and sweat and then dried off before getting dressed again. I hated getting clean and then putting on my smelly clothes, but without the windows boarded, it was too risky to try to wash clothes and hang them to dry.
I collapsed on the queen-sized bed next to Halle. Dad had pulled a twin-sized mattress from the other room and laid it on the floor next to our bed. Dad wanted us all to have plenty of room while we slept, so we would be well-rested the next day.
We all lay in the dark, waiting to fall asleep. It was too quiet again. The old house creaked and made noises we weren’t used to. Every time something cracked or knocked, Dad would hold his breath and listen before relaxing again.
Halle was too exhausted to worry, and she fell asleep within minutes. She began to snore, and I turned on my side to face Dad, bunching up the down pillow under my arm. The bed was much more comfortable than April’s couch.