“Halle, if the neighbor comes back, I’m going to go out and talk to him.”
“What?” she said, frozen.
“I want you to bring Dad’s knife. If he tries to grab me and I can’t get away, you’re going to have to help.”
“You mean, stab him?”
Her answer surprised me. I knew that Dad’s death had changed her, but she was no longer the whiny, needy little girl that she used to be. She listened to me the way that she used to listen to our parents—without argument. She trusted me.
“Okay,” I said.
I heard a moan outside, and instinctively, Halle blew out the candle and rushed over to me. We hunkered down together beneath the window, and I wrapped my arms tightly around her.
“Whoa! Watch out!” a man yelled from the street.
Halle looked up at me. “The neighbor?” she whispered.
I held my finger over my mouth, listening to the exchange outside. It was dark, and we couldn’t be sure who was outside.
“There are even more than last time! It’s too dark! Let’s go! Let’s go!”
“Skeeter! Your eleven o’clock!” Two gunshots popped. “I’ll lead them away from the house and meet you there!”
Skeeter? The guy from Fairview who saved Connor? My heart boomed in my chest. Skeeter could be trusted. Skeeter would help us.
“Joey, come on!”
“I’ll be there in a second! Go!”
There was another moan, and this time, it was right outside the window. After a scuffle and a loud crack, I heard more moaning, and then the back door opened and closed.
A man stood in the living room with a baseball bat in his hand. He was breathing hard, drenched in sweat, splattered in dark blood, and staring down at us in shock.
“Hi,” he said.
Halle looked up at me and then back to the man. He had been with the group before, the one who had taken our neighbor. He was the big, tall one, the one who looked like the beautiful serial killer.
I leaned over to retrieve Dad’s rifle, and I pointed it at him.
He held up his hands. “Whoa, whoa! I’m not going to hurt you. Just trying to get away from the teds out there.”
“What are teds?” Halle asked.
I shushed her.
He took a step, his hands still in the air. “Are your parents here?”
“Where’s Skeeter?” I asked.
His eyebrows lifted. “You know Skeeter?”
“Where is he?” I asked.
“He’s with our group a few houses down.” He stared at Halle for a moment and then at me.
I moved to my knees, slowly pushing Halle behind me. “Don’t come any closer.”
“Okay. Would it make you feel better if I gave you my stuff and sat down?”
“Your weapons?” I asked.
He nodded once.
“Slowly,” I said in a firm voice. “Slide them this way.”
He rolled his bat over to us, and then he pulled a 9mm from behind him, holding it by the grip. He slid that over as well. “I have a knife in my boot. Do you want that?”
“Just keep your hands away from your shoes,” I said.
He lowered himself, moving slowly, until both knees were on the ground like mine. He placed his hands on his thighs, palms down. “Are you from Fairview, too?” he asked.
I stood, still pointing the gun at his face. “No,” I said, refusing to let my guard down. “Who else is in your group? Where are you from?”
“We’re staying in a farmhouse northeast of here. We have some kids there. One’s about her age,” he said, nodding to Halle.
“Don’t look at her,” I said. “Look at me.”
He blinked, surprised at my relentless suspicion.
“I’m really not going to hurt you. I can leave if you want, but…if you’re alone, I can’t really leave you here.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “Why do you keep trying to find out if we’re alone?”
He held up his hands. “Listen, we got off on the wrong foot. My name is Joey. We’re not criminals or anything. We’ve been clearing the road between here and our place for our friend. She’s got two daughters coming and…” His eyes danced between us. “No way. Oh my God. You’re not…”
I pulled my eyebrows together, watching him closely.
“Are you Scarlet’s girls?” he said, his eyes wide.
“Jenna!” Halle said.
Joey laughed once and covered his mouth. “Holy shit, you’re Jenna and Halle! Your mom is right down the street!”
“What?” I said, my eyes instantly tearing.
“Mommy!” Halle said, standing.
I gathered my composure and pushed Halle back behind me, repositioning my gun.
Joey held his hands higher. “I swear. We’ve been coming this way almost every day, helping her clear the teds to make it safer for you girls to get to Red Hill. Where’s your dad? Andrew?”
Once he said Dad’s name, I relaxed, and my gun pointed toward the floor. Halle threw her arms around my butt in excitement. I breathed out and began to sob uncontrollably.
“It’s okay, Jenna. Mom is just down the street!”
“It’s…it’s okay,” Joey said. “Can I…can I hug you?”
I didn’t respond. All I could do was bawl. So much relief and happiness came over me, two emotions I hadn’t felt in a very long time. It was too overwhelming.
Joey approached us slowly. He took the gun from my hands, clicked the safety, and then put it on the floor nearby before gently wrapping his large arms around Halle and me. My knees gave way, but he effortlessly bore my weight.
“Okay,” he said in a comforting tone, “we’re going to get you to your mom. She is going to…I don’t even know. I can’t wait to see her smile.”
That thought helped dry my tears, and I looked down to Halle. “Get your things. We’re going to see Mom.”
Halle ran to fetch her backpack, and I grabbed mine before slinging the rifle over my shoulder.
Joey picked up his weapons, shaking his head. “I can’t believe I found you. I can’t believe you’re both alive.”
“Does she think we’re dead?”
“Nope. She’s been watching the hill for you every day. She never gave up.”