My hand went up to my mouth. “No. Oh no! Both of them?”
He didn’t answer. He didn’t have to.
“What about Logan and Maddy?”
“That’s what took me so long. I wanted to make sure they weren’t alone somewhere.”
“Did you find them?”
His eyes lost focus, the image in his mind troubling him. “Yeah.”
I took in a staggered breath and covered my face. I sat down hard onto a chair next to the kitchen table.
“What?” Halle said, not understanding.
I shook my head, got myself together, and wiped my eyes before smiling at Halle.
“I’m just glad they got to where they were going,” I said, turning to walk over to the stove. I stirred the ravioli in the pot, forcing the sadness away.
Dad walked up behind me and kissed the crown of my head. “You can give your mom the note yourself.”
“I found the keys to a Taurus with gas, but it had a bad alternator. I’ll look again tomorrow. I’m going to put up these boards this afternoon. I need you to watch my back.”
“Okay,” I said, pulling the pot from the stove.
Dad washed his hands and face. Then, he took one of the bowls I’d poured the ravioli into and set it on the table in front of Halle. “I have something else for you, Pop Can.”
“What?” she asked, turning to look up at him.
He held a pair of white Skechers in front of him. They were slip-ons with bungee-cord laces.
Halle gasped and used her toes to kick off her shoes. Then, she pulled the Skechers onto her feet. She walked toward the living room and then back. “They fit!”
I clapped and gave Dad a high five. “Yay!”
Dad went back to the kitchen for our bowls of ravioli, and after I took my bowl from him, we each sat down on an end of the table.
“I found out what the smoke was from,” Dad said. “The gas station is in ashes. Looks like someone hit it with a car. That explains the huge explosion.”
“Man. Bad way to go out,” I said, chewing.
“A lot of the infected are charred, too. That’s what the smell is from.”
“You called it,” I said.
“But the silver lining is, you can smell them coming, even more than usual.”
“This is nice,” Halle said, kicking her feet back and forth and chewing with her mouth open. “All we need is Mom.”
Dad and I craned our necks in Halle’s direction.
“What?” she asked.
Dad spent the next day looking for keys to cars with gas, and Halle and I played hide-and-seek in the big house with promises not to scream when one of us found the other.
I caught the man making another trip to the red brick house again, and he brought out more guns. For the last week, he’d done this every day around mid-morning, and then he stopped. I was beginning to wonder how many guns were in that house. From my reports, Dad had learned when not to be on our road, so he wouldn’t cross paths with a man who obviously had a lot of firepower.
A few days after the man had stopped making trips to the brick house, I saw him again. This time, he was heading north. When the gunfire began, I panicked, worrying that Dad had run into him, but Dad returned quickly after, worried that it was Halle and me who had had the run-in.
After that, I would watch the man walk north every day. The sporadic gunfire would go on for an hour or two, and then shortly after, he would return home. It didn’t take long for me to figure out what he was doing. He was slowly clearing the infected from the town, but I still didn’t trust him enough to introduce myself.
A week had gone by, and I vowed to be patient.
Halfway through week two, that patience was waning.
At the end of week three, I began to feel resentful. Dad had stopped going out every day, and even though I tried really hard to trust him, he hadn’t talked about a plan in quite a while.
One evening after dinner, I saw a group walking down the road. My eyes bulged. It was three men and a woman. They looked like they’d been on the road for a while.
“Dad!” I called as quietly as I could to the lower level. “Dad!”
“What?” he said, quickly climbing up. He looked out the window and then pushed me to the side, out of sight. “Who are they?” he asked, his back to the wall.
He was turned just right to keep an eye on them, and I mimicked his stance.
My eyebrows pulled together. “Why are you asking me?”
Dad shrugged. “Because you called me up here.”
“Because there are people, new ones. That’s worth mentioning, isn’t it?”
We watched them while they hacked and stabbed at the infected. They seemed pretty adept, and I felt strangely drawn to them. The men were all dark-haired—one, tall and buff; one, very tall; and the other, short but clearly athletic. The woman was slender, her face hidden beneath a ball cap. Her hair was either very short or tucked up into the hat. The only way I could tell it was a woman was by her prominent…chest. She must have been tough to run with those three guys. One of the taller ones looked like a serial killer—albeit, a cute one. He reminded me of that actor who always played a soldier in movies.
“It’s dark. They’d better find some shelter,” Dad said.
“I think that’s what they’re doing. Oh no.”
“What?” he said, leaning against the window to get a better look.
“They’re going into the neighbor’s house. He’s home.”
“Well, if we hear gunshots, we’ll know they didn’t get along.”
The streetlights went out—all of them.
Dad went into the bathroom and flipped the switch. Nothing. He scrambled to the bathtub and began filling it with water.
I walked over to the doorway, staring at him. “What are you doing?”
“Go downstairs and do the same. When the electricity goes, so does the water! Go!”
I did as he’d commanded. I rushed down the stairs to the other bathroom and turned the tub faucet, opening it all the way.
After his tub was full, Dad ambled downstairs. “Well, that’s it, I guess. Easy days are over.”
“It’s been easy? I think I’ll go kill myself now.”
Dad scowled. “Not funny.”
“Sorry,” I said. “You didn’t really let us use the electricity anyway.”