[This post is from Kailey Astoris’s point of view.]
She didn’t break into a jog until they’d cleared the orchard and the Valley’s inner wall, the old wall that her father and uncles had built before she was born. Her little brother peeled off before they reached it, leaving her alone. She tried not to let the worry show on her face, tried to seem casual—her mother had always taught her not to show worry in public, because a member of their family showing levels of concern like that typically got other people worried, too. Right now, not knowing what had happened, even the possibility of stirring up any kind of chaos wasn’t worth it.
She still wasn’t sure where her mother’s belief came from, but she was willing to take it at face value.
Besides, I could be panicking over absolutely nothing. He is probably fine. He usually is when stuff like this happens. I’m rushing off to make sure he’s okay for some kind of twisted ankle or broken wrist or something ridiculous, I’m sure.
The last time something had happened to one of them, Tory had turned an ankle in a hollow and then smacked his head on a rock. It was nothing that a few days of rest, willowbark tea, and some ace bandage hadn’t fixed.
Still, somehow this felt different—she knew that in her gut just as she knew that showing any reaction to this would stir up a panic. Better someone thought that perhaps she was late to a lesson or something than thinking she was rushing to her cousin’s side.
Yes, that was much better.
Of the dozens of children in the Valley, she was among the oldest, eighteen months younger than Kurt and Gwen—now eighteen and practically considered adults by everyone else—and twelve and ten months younger than Lin, Tory, and Anne. They were the ones conceived in that first year after the End. All the rest came after, a baby boom that swelled for several years after the peace her aunt had brokered. If she was honest, it had never really ended. There were always packs of kids and teenagers around, knots of three and four, herds of six and seven and eight, ranging in age from three to seventeen.
There were so many of them, now, that she sometimes wondered if the stories she heard of those first few years after the End could have possibly been true.
After all, how would any of them have dared to have children if all the stories Phelan and the others told were true?