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Page 55

“He was excited that you were coming. If you weren’t nice to him, he obviously didn’t notice.”

“I wanted to hug him.” I sniffed, turning my head so the sleeve of my zipup hoodie could catch more tears. “Getting here and being safe meant him being here to protect us. I don’t know where my mom is, and my dad is dead. Leah’s dead. I have no one.”

Bryce propped his head up with his hand. “You have Ashley, and you have me.”

Those words should have offered more comfort than they did. I lay there until the rain began to patter on the roof and Bryce’s breathing turned deep, and rhythmic. The lightning cast quick flashes and shadows on the wall, including my own as I quietly snuck to the door and into the living room.

Scarlet was asleep on the couch, a rifle nestled in her arms like a child. She’d always been kind to us, and her little girls were so sweet. Once when Dad made Ashley and I help him burn brush, Jenna and Halle helped, too, entertaining us so much that by the time we were finished, it barely seemed like we’d started.

I crept over to the front door and twisted the knob.

“I wouldn’t,” Scarlet whispered in the dark.

I jumped, and then when my nerves stopped trying to jump out of my skin, I sat on the rocking chair adjacent to the couch Scarlet was resting on.

“That was smart. The cans, I mean. I would have never thought of it.”

She didn’t raise her head, and if she hadn’t spoken to me moments before, I would have thought she was still asleep. Lightning lit up the room for a second, and I caught sight of a tear dripping from her nose.

“They’re probably worried about you, too,” I said. Trying to comfort someone else made me feel better. It kept my mind off the fact that I was practically an orphan.

“Probably,” Scarlet said, sitting up. “I worry about them being outside in this weather. I worry that Andrew was hurt or killed and they’re alone.”

“Worrying won’t help them.”

“I know,” she said quietly. “You shouldn’t go outside. I’ve watched out the window at night. Sometimes I catch glimpses of shufflers in the fields. They’re not that fast, and not that smart. Getting caught off guard is how they get you. That, or getting caught in a big group of them like on the highway.”

“By Shallot?”

Scarlet nodded.

“We’ve been staying there. In Shallot. They were all on the highway, but now they’re in town.”

“You sure about that?”

“Someone ran their car into the gas station. Blew up. Drew them all back in.”

Scarlet’s eyebrows pulled in, and she closed her eyes. “Was it a white Tahoe?”

“Huh?”

“The car that hit the station. Was it a white Tahoe?”

“No. Is that what your ex drives?”

Scarlet opened her eyes and sighed.

“So they’re with him.”

After a short pause, Scarlet rested her elbows on her knees. “I hope so. Andrew picked them up from school. By the time I got off work and everything went to shit, they were in Anderson.”

I waited, watching her eyes search the darkness for something.

“I tried to get to them,” she said. Her breath caught sharply. “I snuck into town. They weren’t home. The town was overrun. I didn’t know what to do.” Her voice broke, and she covered her mouth with a trembling hand. “So I left them a message to come here. I’m not sure it was the right decision . . . to leave. Did I abandon them?”

“I saw you,” I said. Scarlet’s head jerked up to meet my eyes. “In that Jeep. I saw you heading toward Fairview on the highway. How did you get past them?”

“Past who?” Scarlet asked.

“The kids with the guns. On the bridge.”

“Yeah,” she said quietly, looking down. “I got past them.”

“You’re lucky,” I said. “We were stuck under the overpass. They opened fire on everyone.”

Scarlet offered a small, tired smile. “I guess you were lucky, too.”

“Who shot at you?” A deep voice said. I turned to see Joey standing in the dark kitchen.

“Jesus, you scared the shit out of me,” Scarlet said, blowing out a quick breath.

“Men—kids, actually—at the Anderson bridge had guns, shooting at anyone trying to get in,” I said, watching Joey sit on the carpet next to me.

“Good thing we ran out of gas. We were headed to Anderson. Dana’s dad lived there.”

“Small world,” Scarlet said, her smile fading.

Joey sighed. “Even smaller now.”

We sat in silence for a while, listening to the thunder rumble and the lightning crack across the sky. The sky opened up and rain poured down, drenching the farmhouse until it moved slowly toward Shallot and then Fairview. I thought of the dead ones, if they even noticed the storm, and of the small children in Shallot with the milky eyes that just a few days ago might have been terrified of thunder and lightning. They were now ambling outside, impervious to the rain, the wind, and the monsters walking alongside them.

“Dana liked storms,” Joey said. “She would have wanted to go outside and dance in the rain.”

“Dana is your wife?” Scarlet said.

“She was going to be.”

“You lost her,” Scarlet said, more a statement than a question.

“A couple of times.”

Scarlet’s eyebrows pulled together. I thought about explaining, but it wasn’t my story to tell.

“You saw my father?” I asked.

“I saw him at work,” she said. “He was really excited about you girls coming here for the weekend. It was all he talked about.”

Tears burned my eyes again.

Scarlet continued, “We were busy, so I didn’t get to talk to him much. Mostly just that morning . . .” Scarlet seemed to get lost in a thought, and then she looked up. “Joey?”

“Yeah?”

“You said your girlfriend’s name was Dana?” Joey nodded and Scarlet shook her head. “Was she at the hospital Friday?”

Joey nodded.

“I met her!” Scarlet said. She smiled and touched her chest. “I did her exam! She met Miranda’s dad!”

Scarlet’s smile seemed so out of place for the discussion, but I was waiting for Joey’s reaction. At first, he just stared back at her blank-faced, and then a small smile turned up the corners of his mouth. “She was beautiful.”

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