Kaylie nodded. “Everyone around here tells me to focus on being ready for the future, but they mean staying put in Eagle’s Nest to wait for our government to collapse.” She wrinkled her nose. “I think my dad has second thoughts about that ever happening.”

“How is that?”

She gave a teenage shrug. “Even though he preaches to me about how ideal Eagle’s Nest is, he doesn’t go help Grandpa the way he used to. They had a big fight about a year ago—I don’t know what it was about, but he’s stepped back from Grandpa’s community since then. I’ve seen him avoid phone calls and meetings.”

“I assume he still visits with his friends?” Mercy had a million questions, but she held back. She didn’t want to pull Kaylie into the divide between her and the rest of her family. She’d made good progress with three of her siblings, but knew she needed to take it slow.

Even though Kaylie had taken the first step when she knocked on her door.

“Some of them. But he’s been short tempered lately. I heard him tell David Aguirre to go to hell.”

“The minister?”

“Yeah, Dad hasn’t ever really liked him. Says he’s a liar and shouldn’t be preaching to others.”

Levi and I agree on that.

“I think David was always more of Owen’s friend, not your dad’s,” said Mercy. “At least that’s how it used to be.”

“It’s still that way. David is part of Grandpa’s circle,” added Kaylie.

Mercy nodded. Her father had always surrounded himself with people he believed would have his back in an uncertain future. Mercy wondered if it had been Owen’s doing to include David in that tight-knit circle. Did he have other skills besides preaching? Engineering skills? Livestock? Botany? Maybe her father thought it was prudent to have one of God’s servants on his side.

She didn’t snort out loud.

“I don’t think society is going to fall apart,” Kaylie said softly. “How can my life revolve around preparing for something that I don’t think will ever happen?” She turned pleading eyes to her aunt.

Mercy understood. She’d had the same thought a million times and struggled with the conflict it’d created in her soul. She’d watched her parents systematically prepare for an uncertain future, but at the same time watched the rest of the world moving on as normal. A foreign market would crash, her parents would tense, convinced it was the first step, and nothing would happen. Americans still went to school, went to work, bought groceries, and rode their bikes.

Are they living a lie?

“I know how you feel,” Mercy started. She paused, knowing it wasn’t her place to tell the girl what to do. “All I can tell you is how I’ve dealt with those feelings. The preparing and looking ahead has been ingrained in your life from birth, right?”

Kaylie nodded.

“But if you step away, you’ll feel worried, insecure . . . like you’re walking on a tightrope. No matter how badly I wanted to relax and enjoy a normal life, the doubt crept up and I wondered if I was foolish for not doing simple things like storing extra food or maintaining an alternative power supply. Do you worry that if you leave for college and start a new life that you’ll find out your dad was right to prepare for an uncertain future? And that you’ll suffer for it?”

“Yes! Every day.” Kaylie was hanging on every word.

“Then how can you do both at the same time?”

Her niece’s eyes widened. “Do both? How?”

Mercy saw the wheels start to turn.

“Is that what you do?” Kaylie’s voice rose an octave. “You haven’t fully given it up? But what about a community? Who will you rely on to help you?”

“I rely on myself,” Mercy whispered, feeling as if her entire obsessive-compulsive soul was on display for her niece.

“How?”

“Make a plan. It’s possible, but it’s not the same as having a circle of like-minded people to rely on,” Mercy admitted. “My plan has some holes, but I feel better knowing I’ve done something. When I start to feel uncertain, I do more and it helps me relax.”

“Where—?”

“That’s not important. What you need to know is that you’re a strong person and you can do whatever the hell you feel like, as long as you’re not hurting anyone else. If you don’t like the way something makes you feel, then change it.”

Kaylie sat silently for a few moments, processing the information. Mercy hoped the girl could see some different possibilities now. When she’d been a teen, she’d been shown over and over the same path as Kaylie. Mercy had been okay with it, accepting that it was the smart way to live. Then she’d started to have doubts, and before she could come to terms with her doubts, her world exploded and she was shoved out the door, forced to fly on her own.

Shunned.

After that she completely rejected her family’s lifestyle.

Until she couldn’t live without it. Anxiety attacked within six months of her leaving, and she discovered that for her own peace of mind she had to prepare. All her life she’d been told that the power grid could collapse; she couldn’t blow off that possibility. So she started. It was small changes at first. Storing food. Batteries. Cash. Gold. She hid her compulsion from her roommates.

Then it’d gotten bigger.

And she still hid it. Hiding it was easier than answering questions.

***

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