“Jenna,” he snapped, “go to bed.”
My shoulders fell, and I walked to the couch in the living room where I’d been sleeping for four weeks. Every night, I would lie there, hoping that it would be our last, that Dad would decide the next day that it was time to go. At the same time, I would be terrified of being on foot and getting caught out in the open without shelter. We wouldn’t have the safety and routine of April’s house, and I’d worry about how Halle would do between here and Red Hill. But we were running out of food, and this many of us in one house was a burden on everyone.
Dad and April’s tense conversation was muffled by the walls, but I could still hear them.
“Didn’t go so well?” Connor asked.
“April knows we’re leaving.”
“Everyone knows you’re leaving.”
“We’re not stupid. You want to be with your mom. You should be with your mom. April’s just scared and maybe being a little selfish.”
“Then, why did she act so surprised?”
“Maybe she was hoping he would change his mind.”
Guilt settled in, making me kick off the sheet and sit up. I pulled my knees to my chest. “I don’t want anything to happen to any of you, but…it’s not…we can’t—”
“Your mom is more important. I get that, and April gets that even though she doesn’t want to admit it. She has kids. She wouldn’t want to be separated from them, and she knows the little kids can’t make the trip.”
“You could,” I said.
He sighed. “Someone has to stay here and help. They can’t do it on their own.”
I lay back down, turning on my side and using my bent arm as a pillow.
Dad’s and April’s voices had turned sweeter and less angry. He was defusing the situation, which wasn’t like him at all. Soon, it quieted down, and Connor’s breathing slowed to a relaxing rhythm. My eyes grew heavy, and after a few slow blinks, I was out.
April, Dad, and Tavia were sitting at the kitchen table, having a low conversation, when my eyes finally peeled open. The sun was shining through where the plywood met the windowsill. They were that was now fortified with wooden planks that Dad had nailed to the wood bordering the glass.
I lay still, trying to hear what they were saying, but it was no use. Whatever they were talking about, none of them were happy.
Finally, I sat up and invited myself to the table. In unison, they all sat back against their seats, realizing how rigid their postures had been.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
April didn’t take her eyes away from Dad. “We’re discussing your departure.”
Tavia looked down at the table, her nostrils flaring.
Dad shifted nervously in his chair. “April will allow us to stay a few more days. In return, you and I will gather more supplies for them and teach her and Connor how to use a gun.”
“Wait, what?” I said, instantly incensed. “You’re kicking us out with conditions?”
April tried to retain her reserve. “I’m not kicking you out, Jenna. You want to leave, don’t you?”
“Yes, but this is extortion.”
Tavia looked up at me then. “Jenna, you want to get to your mother. We all understand that. But we are being left here to fend for ourselves—”
“Which you would be doing anyway!” I interrupted.
“Jenna,” Dad chided.
Tavia continued, “To fend for ourselves, so we need to get everything in line in order to do that the best way we can. We’re two women with three small children to feed and protect. We’re just trying to do keep everyone safe.”
“You’re two women who have been depending on my dad and me to do all the heavy lifting while you sit in the safety of this home and keep the kids entertained.”
Tavia raised an eyebrow. “You’ve been living in April’s home and eating her food, too, young lady.”
“And where do you fit into all of that, Tavia?” I seethed. “What have you done besides babysit?”
Dad held up his hands. “All right, all right. I’m going to teach April and Connor how to shoot. Jenna, I’m also going to teach you.”
“You and I are going to do one last sweep of the entire town to make sure April, Tavia, and the kids have plenty of supplies, including seeds and equipment for planting, and then we’ll be on our way.”
I crossed my arms. “You were planning to do that anyway—without the threat,” I said, glaring at the women. “And just so you know, he has scoured this whole town trying to find a vehicle or two vehicles to fit us all. He hates that he has to leave you behind, but he knows the kids can’t make the trip! And you’re treating him like a traitor!”
Tavia and April looked down, unable to respond. I was fully aware that I was in the middle of a juvenile temper tantrum, but I was allowed to behave like a thirteen-year-old on occasion, especially when people were being mean to my dad. That was my job.
Dad stood. “Okay then, we should get started.”
I DOUBLE-KNOTTED HALLE’S SHOES and tightened the straps on her backpack. “You’re sure it’s not too heavy? We’ve got a long walk today and an even longer one tomorrow.”
“I’m sure,” she said, pushing up her glasses. “I can do it.”
I winked at her. “I know you can. Just don’t want you to wear out too fast.”
Dad had his hiking pack on, complete with the tent on top—just like he’d worn five weeks ago, that Friday when we’d last seen our mom. Dad’s skin was tanned from spending time outside in the summer sun, and he now had more scruff on his face than I’d ever seen. I wondered if Mom looked any different—or if Halle or I did.
As scared as I was to start the journey, not knowing what was between here and there and not sure how Halle would do, the thought of finally being on our way to get to Mom surpassed all my fears and trepidation.
Halle was in a good mood, too. It had taken a long time for both of us to fall asleep the night before. It all reminded me of what it had felt like on the first day of school. I was sure it would be a lot like that, too. When the excitement wore off, it would be torture just to get through the day, running into bullies and being exhausted by the end of the day. Mom would be like summer break.