Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Copyright © 2014 A. American
Being home felt good, even if it wasn’t our home, per se. The house next to Danny and Bobbie was as good as we were going to get, considering our own home was trashed. The guy who owned this house had left it during the mortgage crisis, lucky for us. We tried to make the best of a less-than-perfect situation, and so far, so good. Mel and the girls took it all in stride, which I was thankful for. Little Bit hardly commented on the change in location, and Lee Ann and Taylor didn’t grumble, a teenager’s way of saying they were okay with it. Just being back in the old neighborhood provided a sense of normalcy and familiarity we hadn’t had in months. For that, I was grateful. Our little community had grown so much in the past few weeks, with the arrival of Fred and Jess, who were slowly getting settled. Now that there were plenty of bodies willing to help with the cleanup, progress in the neighborhood was moving along nicely. Everyone pitched in without being asked. We’d been at it for a couple of days now and things were really starting to come together, particularly in our house.
Danny’s house was another story entirely. He and Bobbie always kept an orderly home, unlike mine, where everything had a place, and that place just happened to be wherever I laid something down. Seeing their home in such a condition was hard on them. They never said much about it, but I knew otherwise. I could tell from some of Danny’s exasperated looks and Bobbie’s sighs that the never-ending cleanup of the house was getting to them. Given that, I tasked everyone to pitching in one summer day. It was a hot day—the days were getting hotter and hotter as summer began to stretch out into longer days—but everyone took it in stride. I was in charge of dragging out what was left of their shattered lives and dumping it in the truck.
Turning the wheelbarrow up, I dumped another load into the bed of the little red truck—the same one Reggie had acquired from the kid. We’ll never know for sure if he had anything to do with Reggie’s niece or not: both of them are dead now.
Thad had gotten the little rig running and backed it up against Danny’s back porch as we cleaned. Watching the dust settle, I thought about Reggie and how we discovered the truck. It seemed so long ago that I’d walked to the dry bed of Baptist Lake and found those bodies, or what was left of them. I can still see Reggie’s face when he said he had to “take her to her momma.”
Now the truck was being used around the neighborhood, albeit sparingly, as gas was a premium worth more than gold. As I worked, I could hear the voices of my friends as they helped clean out the trash from the inside of Danny and Bobbie’s place. We had been at it for a couple of days, sorting out what was worth saving and what was beyond salvage, and hauling the latter out. The truck made life easier, but we still had to figure out what to do with all the debris. The trash man certainly wasn’t coming on Thursday and there was no way to get to the dump, so we had to divide the haul into what could be burned and what couldn’t. If it wouldn’t, we hauled it off to a pit on the back of Danny’s property.
A hand landed on my shoulder. “Break time’s over.”
I looked over to see Thad standing beside me. “Yes, sir, boss!” I said with a smile and wheeled the barrow back into the house. Thad smiled and shook his head as he followed me inside.
It was quite a scene inside. Mel, Taylor, and Lee Ann were going through the kitchen, putting broken dishes and various electric kitchen appliances in stacks along with the silverware and cooking utensils that were scattered all over it. Bobbie was kneeling down on the floor, wiping her forehead with the back of an oversized work glove. Danny pushed a shovel into the pile in front her, and she used her hands to push more into it and it was dumped into the bin.
When we began the cleanup, the floor was littered with everything from broken dishes and furniture to general dirt and grime. The house had been thoroughly trashed, searched from top to bottom. Whoever had gone through the house had ransacked every drawer, closet, and cabinet. In most cases the contents were tossed onto the floor, then walked over repeatedly. The worst was the malicious destruction of furniture and other household items. It made me mad to think about someone coming into another person’s home simply for the sake of destruction.
“What’d you guys decide to do about this sofa?” Jeff asked, lounging on the torn and slashed settee.
“Take it out—we’ll burn it,” Danny said.
“If we put a sheet over it, we could still use it,” Bobbie said.
Danny shook his head. “I don’t know, it’s pretty torn up.”
“What else are we going to sit on?”
Danny shrugged. “I guess you’re right. Let’s keep it, at least till we find something better.”
Jeff jumped up. “All right, so the sofa stays, but I gotta say, man, this recliner has seen better days. Let’s toss it. Thad, wanna grab the other end of this chair?” he said as he made his way toward Danny’s beloved recliner.
With a smile I looked at Danny. “Should we observe a moment of silence?”
“I can’t watch. Just get it out of here.”
Thad laughed as he and Jeff hefted up the chair and waddled toward the door. With most of the floor now swept clean, I grabbed a bucket and filled it at the sink, marveling at having running water again. Using a crusty mop that was lying in the kitchen I began to mop the floor, starting at the front door.
“I don’t want any footprints on my clean floor!” I shouted as I swept the sopping mop back and forth.
“So should we use the back door, then?” a voice asked from behind me.
I turned to see Jess and Fred on the porch. “Hey! How’s it going in your new place? Getting settled in?”
“We’re getting there. Fred wants a favor,” Jess said.
Fred asked with pleading eyes, “Can you take me to the camp, please? I want to go see Aric.”
“Uh, sure, just let us finish up here and we can take a ride over there. Are you going to stay there or come back?”
Fred nodded her head. “Oh, I’m coming back. Hopefully Aric can too.”
“All right, then, just give us a bit to wrap this up here and we’ll head out.”
“Thanks so much. I really appreciate it, Morgan,” Fred said with a smile.
Thad and Jeff were on the back porch, having unceremoniously dumped Danny’s chair in the truck. I glanced over to see Thad hugging Jess. It brought a smile to my face, remembering when we all first met.
“Careful, Jess, how do you know you can trust that guy?” I shouted, still swinging the mop back and forth.
She turned her head and stuck her tongue out at me, which made me grin.
Fred was looking around the living room. “Wow, you guys have really made a lot of progress in here.”
Bobbie had gotten to scrubbing the floors on her hands and knees. She looked around the house. “You should’ve seen it before all this happened. It was spotless. Danny and I worked so hard to get it in shape. It’ll never be the same again.”
“Hey, at least you’ve still got your house,” Mel said, examining a blender sitting on the counter. “Besides, we all know that you and Danny will have this place spic and span in no time. Y’all are like Martha Stewart.”
Danny looked up slyly. “Except for the insider-trading- and-going-to-prison part,” he said, getting a laugh from me and Thad.
Fred chuckled. “Whatever I can do to help, I’d be happy to. Mel, how’s your place working out?”
“I like our new house, Fred!” Little Bit said brightly.
“Me too, my room’s bigger. You should come over and see it soon,” Lee Ann said. In the past few weeks, the older girls had been getting along with Jess and Fred. Lee Ann’s mood had improved considerably since they had become part of her community. It was nice to see her connecting to girls closer to her age.
“Oh, I think it’s a little early for visitors, but soon enough, you and Jess should come through. We are neighbors now, after all. Speaking of neighbors . . . have you guys seen Brandy and Tyler today?” Mel asked.
“Yeah, we saw them on our way over here. They’re doing the same thing you guys are—cleaning up,” Jess replied.
Little Bit jumped. “I want to go play with Edie! Mom, can I go?”
Mel chuckled. “Go ahead, you can go play.”
Little Bit leapt up in the air, pumping her fist, and took off at a run for the gate. Jess and Fred laughed at the sight of her little legs running.
Fred was shaking her head. “Where does all that energy come from when they’re so young?”
Bobbie looked up from her scrubbing. “I want to know where it goes as you get older.”
Thad laughed. “If you figure that one out be sure and let me know.”
We worked for another hour or so. The extra hands helped to move the process along more quickly. With all the damaged furniture and trash removed, the place looked a lot better— almost back to normal. Danny looked around the living room, nodding to himself approvingly. Bobbie was still hard at work scrubbing the counters, a frustrated look on her face. It would take a little longer for her to feel at home.
Seeing how things were coming together, I figured it would be a good time to run to the camp. Sarge’s plan to take the camp without a fight worked out, almost. He’d been wounded by Aric in a terrible mistake that he’d paid for in return. With the Guard now in control of the camp I wondered about the fate of the DHS troops now under their control. It seemed to me unlikely that they could keep them locked up for too long. Having to feed and care for them as well as the possibility of an uprising made for a very touchy situation. It was an issue I hoped Sheffield and Livingston were working on.
“Danny, you want to go up to the camp with me?” I asked.
He looked around again. “Nah, I’m going to stay here, there’s still a lot to do.” I could see him doing a mental check-list of everything that needed to be done.
“I’ll go with you,” Thad volunteered.
“Right on, brother,” I said. “Let’s head out of here in five,” I said, nodding to Jess and Fred.
“How long will you guys be gone?” Mel asked.
“Not long, we’re just going to check on Aric, maybe bring him back here if he’s up to it.”
“Which one is Aric, again?” Mel asked.
“He’s the DHS guy that helped Jess and Fred get out. He was trying to bust them out of the jail when Sarge and the boys showed up. I guess Fred’s got a thing for him.”
Bobbie pursed her lips. “Just what we need, someone else to feed.”
I looked at her and smiled. “We’ll be fine—we know how to make do. But speaking of food, how are we doing on it? How much do we have left?”
“Not much,” Mel said. A worried look crossed her face. “Morgan, I know you want to help people out, but the more people we bring in here, the less food for everyone else. You gotta remember that.”
I sighed. “When I get back, we’ll do an inventory of everything and see where we are.”
“That won’t take long,” Bobbie said sarcastically.
I smiled sweetly at both of them. “Ladies, we’ll be sure to have everything covered. You ready to go, Thad?”
He nodded and picked up his shotty from the table, heading toward the door. I kissed Mel on the cheek and followed him out, cutting through the fence to my place. Rolling toward the gate, Thad said, “Mel and Bobbie are right. We’re going to have to do something about food.”
I nodded in agreement. “We need to try and get a garden started here with what seeds we have left. It’s a shame we planted some already at the river,” I said.
“They won’t go to waste, at least. Sarge and the guys will take care of them.”
“I know they will, but that doesn’t help us much right now. We gotta think of some alternate means.”
Thad snorted. “Alternate means. Story of my life.” I punched him on the shoulder. “We’ll get that garden going ASAP. There’s only so much to hunt. Plus, I think the cold weather is pretty much over,” Thad said.
I nodded. “It’ll take some time, but it’s worth it. In the meantime, we use what we have. And we’ve got the pigs and chickens. There’s fish in Danny’s pond, but they won’t last forever if we press it too hard.”
“You still ain’t answered my question: What are we going to do?”
I looked at him. “I guess we’re going to have to get used to being hungry,” I said with a halfhearted laugh. “Seriously, though, it’s going to be tough. It’s going to take a lot of work to keep everyone fed.”
“I think we’re up to the challenge.”