“I’m Tavia. This is Tobin,” she said, indifferent that her son wasn’t concerned with introductions.
“Andrew,” Dad said, shaking her hand. The gray crowding his brown hair above his ears caught the light just right. In that moment, he looked a lot older—or maybe it was from the burden of fear he was holding inside.
Tavia’s polite smile faded. “He’s wrong—the governor. It’s not safe to lock this many people inside a building with only two exits. If something goes wrong—”
“It won’t,” Dad said, glancing at Halle and me.
Tavia ignored him. “Your girls will notice. If something ugly comes through those doors and we’re all trying to squeeze through that one, they’ll notice. No sense in trying to keep it from them when it’s just down the street.”
Dad took a step toward her. “You heard Bellmon. He said to stay in here, and the police department is going to enforce his demand.”
Tavia repositioned her stance. She wasn’t the type to back down. It reminded me of the hundreds of power struggles Dad had fought and lost with Mom. That was why they’d gotten a divorce. She never let him win, not even when it hadn’t mattered. He always said it took a special kind of man to marry a redhead. It had turned out that he wasn’t it. On the days when I was on the losing end of one of her tirades, I couldn’t blame him for when he’d stopped trying.
“I have a son,” Tavia hissed. “When it comes to his safety, I’m not listening to anyone’s demands. Bellmon’s scared, and his decision-making is impaired.”
“It doesn’t matter. An entire police force is behind his decision. We’re staying.”
“You know he’s wrong. I can see it on your face. I’ve seen it all night, every time you look at your girls. Look at them, and tell me they’re safe.”
“Keep your voice down,” Dad growled.
Tavia leaned back, just enough to give Dad some space. She breathed out her nose. “We can sneak them out after dark.”
“That’s the worst time to travel.”
“I live just past Main Street behind the grocery store,” she said.
Dad shook his head. “That’s halfway across town.”
“Well, where do you live?”
Dad looked at Halle and me and then down at Tobin. “Two-and-a-half blocks south.” Tavia began to speak, but Dad interrupted, “One of those blocks is the park, so it’s more like five or six.”
“We can make it,” Tavia said. “We can slip out right after dark and hide out at your place, like we’re doing here, but it’d be safer—just until daylight.”
“I don’t even know you,” Dad said. “Why should I listen to you?”
“Because I’m a parent with a little one in here—just like you. Bellmon isn’t responsible for our children, Andrew. We are.”
“There are more supplies here,” Dad whispered.
I could see it in his eyes. He was considering it. I liked Tavia’s idea, but I wouldn’t dare say so. If a kid agreed, that would automatically make the plan weak.
“There are also more people. Think about the worst-case scenario. Do you wanna be in here, trying to get out, when that goes down? I sure as hell don’t.”
Dad looked around, thinking. He didn’t take long in making up his mind. “We’ve got an hour before it’s dark enough to try.” His eyes fell on me. “We’ll take turns watching the little ones while we each get supplies. I’ll get medical. Tavia, you grab food. Jenna, you get water and two blankets just in case we don’t make it to the house.”
Tavia and I nodded.
Dad did, too. “I’m going to get back before anyone suspects anything. Act normal.”
Tavia put her hand on my shoulder and sighed as Dad walked away. She closed her eyes and whispered a prayer. Then, she looked down at me. “Your dad’s as smart as I thought he was.”
“Most of the time.”
He wasn’t always worthy of father of the year, but I trusted him to get us to safety. He thought quickly, was handy with little to nothing, and had a decent aim. He’d even made me a console table once. When I was nine, I’d accidentally fallen on it, and it hadn’t even wobbled. When he did things, he would do them right. Mom had even admitted once that she missed that about him. It seemed to be the only quality of his that she could appreciate. She could trust him to take care of things, and he would take care of us.
“IT’S DARK,” I said, rolling up a blanket and gesturing for Halle to hold it under her arm.
“So?” she said.
“I’m going to tell you a secret, and you have to be quiet about it. Okay?”
She gave a nod, already aware that she wasn’t going to like what I had to say.
“Dad is going to take us home.”
“But the governor—” she said.
I shushed her. “Tavia and Tobin are coming, too.”
Halle’s eyes bulged. “Is she the new girlfriend?”
“No. No, she’s just a friend. They think it’ll be safer if we go to Dad’s house. Mom will go there, too, when she gets into town.”
She frowned but agreed.
I leaned down to whisper in her ear, “You have to keep this a secret, Halle. We’re going to sneak out. We’re not supposed to leave.”
“Will they shoot at us?” Halle asked. She was always one for theatrics, but she was genuinely afraid.
I shook my head, pretending to dismiss her concern. “No way, crazy pants.”
Halle laughed once and rolled her eyes. When she turned, I swallowed hard.
What if the shots we heard were from those wannabe soldiers gunning people down who were wandering around? What if they shot Mom? I shook my head, pushing those thoughts from my mind.
More than one person had referred to my mom as a badass. No one would take her down before she got to us. By sheer will alone, she would find a way.
“This blanket is yours to hold,” I said, holding out the tightly rolled wool.
“I don’t want to hold it. You hold it,” Halle whined.
“I’m holding the other one plus holding your hand.”
She pressed her lips together.
“Halle, this is important. You have to hold this, and you can’t draw attention to what we’re doing.”