Thom was still fast asleep when I stirred awake sometime after dawn on the next day. The rain was still coming down; the air was chill. I pulled on an extra pair of socks after crawling out from under the blankets with Thom. I got dressed quickly in the cold, in a pair of jeans, a sweatshirt. He didn’t stir, and I tried to make sure he wouldn’t, either, balling my blanket up next to him and laying it along his side so he maybe—maybe—wouldn’t notice my absence for a while and would get a little bit more sleep. I slipped out of the alcove of furniture that had created the space where we’d slept and slowly made my way over toward where my brother was crouched, stirring the fire back to life, presumably so he could make some kind of breakfast. He was bleary-eyed as he looked up toward me as I limped toward him and the presumed warmth of a fire. A glance outside revealed that the sky was still dark—I must not have slept nearly so long as I’d thought.
“Morning,” Matt mumbled, poking at the embers with a stick, glancing at me only for a moment before looking back toward the fire. “We’re going to have to go get wood before the rain lets up.” He grimaced a little, rubbing at one eye with the heel of his hand. “Doesn’t seem like it’s going to let up anytime soon, either.”
I looked again, watched the rain a moment, grimacing. “What time is it?”
“Almost nine, I think,” he told me, continuing to poke at the fire. “Too dark for it, I know, but I don’t think my watch is wrong. Kellin started to hike down to the Family Fare and the hardware store. Took Drew and Rory and Carolyn and few of the others, with her. Found some oatmeal in the C-Store. Going to make that for breakfast, I think. Might not taste all that great, but it’s food.” He frowned a little, rocking back and looking at me. “How the hell do we think we’re going to make this work, Mar? How? Feeding forty of us, housing forty of us?”
“Minus two,” J.T. stumbled over to join us by the fire. “Two left last night, going to try to get home—home or to whatever’s left of home. They left a note, wished us luck. Not sure if they decided they were going to hike out to die or what.” He dropped into a sitting position, rubbing at his eyes and shivering a little. His hair was still damp from the night before and the debacle of getting the walls up. “I don’t think they’re stupid. I think they know what they were going out into.” He stretched his hands out toward the fire, wiggling them slowly, stiffly. I reached out and took one of his hands, rubbing his fingers, which were colder than I’d expected them to be, stiffer. He smiled a little at me and nodded his thanks. “Two less mouths to feed might help a little, right?”
“Maybe,” Matt mumbled.
Two less mouths to feed right away. Doesn’t do much for long-term survivability of… I sighed, rubbing at my eyes for a moment before resuming my efforts to get the blood flowing through J.T.’s fingers again. “We’ll make it work,” I said quietly. “In one way or another, we’ll make it work. We have to. There’s a reason we’re all still alive.”
Matt grunted and didn’t say anything. I just sighed. He’d never really believed me when I’d talked about what I’d seen. Our aunt had understood, believed me, but my baby brother? She’d always said that he wasn’t Awake yet—Awake with a capital “A.” It would come someday, she’d always told me quietly, and then he’d understand. Then he’d believe.
I watched him now and wondered if he wasn’t struggling to come to terms with the realization that maybe, just maybe, my dreams hadn’t just been dreams after all. Maybe he was just trying not to think about it—I know that Jacqueline was having similar issues, trying not to really think about what had just happened, trying to deny that it was as horrible as it really was—trying to forget that the world had probably ended and we were the few who’d survived. The difference between the pair was that Matt had always heard what I’d said, Jacqueline was someone I’d tried to spare my so-called insanity.
“That hurts, Marin.”
I startled, letting go of J.T.’s hand and smiling weakly. “I’m sorry, J.T. Was thinking.”
He smiled wryly. “You do that a lot. Anything important?”
I shook my head. “No. Not really.” I watched Matt start to mix the oatmeal, mixing the cartons with some milk they’d probably salvaged from the C-store as well. He emptied a dozen sugar packets in after that and put the pot on the fire, stirring it slowly. “Be careful, Matt, you may end up with this job permanently.”
“Wouldn’t mind it too much,” he answered, stirring the oatmeal slowly. “Might be the best thing I can do around here.” He offered me a weak smile as he continued to stir. “How’re your legs feeling?”
“Still sore,” I answered, rubbing at my calves, which were stiff. My knees ached and my feet were already rebelling against the idea of walking very far at all, throbbing dully. I wiggled my toes inside of my shoes, struggling to stretch my feet. What they really needed was a massage, but that wasn’t going to be coming anytime soon—not until Thom was back in working order, anyway, and I wasn’t going to ask him to do it any sooner than that. By the time he’s functional again, hopefully I won’t need a massage anymore. “I’ll be okay, just won’t be going very far. Holding down the fort, mostly, I think.”
He nodded. “Probably best. When Carolyn gets back, I’m going to go hunting wood.” He lifted a spoonful of oatmeal out of the pot and then flipped it, letting the sticky substance gloop-gloop-gloop down off of it and back into the bubbling concoction. He swung the pot off the fire but kept it near. “That looks ready to me.” He pushed himself to his feet, passing a bowl to me and then to J.T. “Have some. Going to go slowly wake the folks who aren’t up yet and get some breakfast into them.”
I nodded, easing forward to plop some of the oatmeal in my bowl, moving it around with a spoon—the bowls and spoons looked like they’d come from the buffet; the colors were right and the utensils felt right, too. J.T. edged around me to fill his bowl. I moved a little, so I wouldn’t be in the way, joining J.T. along the other side of the fire. I rested my bowl on my knee and he cradled his as we began to eat. It wasn’t that bad, really—not as sweet as I’d have liked, but there wasn’t much that could be done about that. I’d just have to get used to it, after all—whatever sugar we found wasn’t going to last very long, after all, and unless we figured out a way to get a steady supply of honey—also unlikely—we’d be going without soon enough.
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