The works below are in progress chapters. That means they have have not been edited, yet.
What would happen if two college-age guys and a baby had to run from an impending tsunami?
It sounds a bit dark for me, but don’t forget who’s writing this, so it’s not going to be your typical disaster book. (And if it gives you a clue…I think this is going to be published under the M.A. Innes side of things.)
“You know, if we don’t survive, the first thing you need to do in the afterlife is apologize to Grandpa Donovan for complaining about his name.” She paused and the phone line went quiet. I knew she was waiting for me to laugh, so I snorted and did my best not to snivel like a kid.
It would’ve been a good joke if we hadn’t been staring the apocalypse right in the face.
“God, Mom.” Doctors always seemed to have terrible sense of humors. “Can we not plan the afterlife when the zombie apocalypse just started?”
She had the nerve to scoff and I could almost see her rolling her eyes. “Zombies would require some kind of virus. This is an impending tsunami, and you have close to eight hours before it hits. That’s not impending. Don’t be dramatic.”
I barked out a laugh. Her insanity was just too much, which was her point to begin with. “Cat 5 hurricane hovering just off the coast and now the Canary islands explodes. I think that’s a good lead up to zombies.”
Because what else could happen next?
The slow-moving storm off the North Carolina coast already had the lights flickering and some of the local neighborhoods were starting to flood. We were so close to the water that wasn’t uncommon, but when it combined with a tsunami, no one was sure how far inland the water would come.
“Well, interesting events do come in threes, and really, it was one island. One volcanic explosion, not a dozen.” She sighed. “You’re just as dramatic as your father. He’s going to be so frustrated he went on that tour. No cell signal at all. He’s not going to be fit to live with when he gets back into town.”
I groaned at her idea of being helpful. “I’m pretty sure it’s bad things come in threes.”
And now I was going to start obsessing over what else could go wrong.
“Wait. A volcanic eruption. A tsunami. A hurricane. That’s already three.” There. Now we didn’t have to wait for the other shoe to drop.
“No, no, no. The volcano and the tsunami count as one.” She had that mom voice that said she was right.
“I think the fact that you’re in Spain while I’m here is bad thing number three.”
She made a scoffing noise. “Just think of this as an experiment to see if my planning was useful.” Her sincerely excited tone had me shaking my head. Yep, this was definitely one big experiment, like an alien mad scientist pulling some strings just to see what would happen.
“But, since you’re the one who gets to see how my plans work, tell me what you’re going to do as soon as we get off the phone. Oh, and don’t forget to take notes. Handwritten just in case the phone doesn’t work for long or it gets lost.” She was trying to be feisty, but the teasing tone in her voice had finally started to fade and her voice cracked.
“Oh, I wish your father were here.” She took a deep breath. “At the very least his I told you so’s would be a wonderful distraction.”
I didn’t have a good response to that because I was going to be on Dad’s side with this. They were never leaving me home ever again. If they traveled to the grocery store my ass was coming with them until I was like eighty.
But right now, the only thing we could both do was ignore our frustration and growing emotions, so I took a deep breath and parroted back what we already discussed. “I’m going to gather up the important papers, your jewelry, and all the food I can pack in the car.”
Going through the plan again made it easier to stay focused, and the more I talked, the steadier I felt. “Then stuff like extra blankets and like toilet paper.”
She jumped in when I paused. “But?”
I had to laugh even though nothing was funny. “But you want me out of here in thirty minutes tops.”
She sighed and I could almost see her nodding. “People are going to be running around a bit mad for a little longer, but before too long the roads will be nuts.”
She sucked in a quick breath before I could tell her I remembered. “Don’t worry about mine or your father’s clothes. Just your stuff and practical things. Understand? We’ve got enough in our luggage to be fine until we can buy more.”
Shaking my head, I smiled. “Got it.”
Pushing away from the counter, I had to tease her. “Now aren’t you sorry for threatening to ground me for forgetting to take the travel box off the roof of the car?”
She just snorted, still unwilling to admit she’d lost her shit over something stupid. “I’m going to ignore that.”
As I laughed, she continued. “We’re far enough inland we’ll be fine since the problem seems to be aimed in your direction, but I don’t know how long it will take us to get back to the U.S. Ideally I want you to stay at the cabin for as long as it’s safe. Be careful.”
“I will.” There wasn’t anything holding me here, anyway. It wasn’t like my college would be standing tomorrow.
When the apocalypse was over, I was going to pick a college a lot further inland. “I love you, Mom.”
She let out a quiet sob before sucking in a ragged breath. “We love you very much. Now go get packed and get out of there.”
Pushing my emotions to the back of my mind, I did my best to focus on the practical. “Yes, ma‘am.”
She chuckled and let out a sigh. “Try to call me when you’re safe.”
We both knew that would be a crapshoot, but I ignored logic. “I will. I love you.’’
She huffed and tried to sound frustrated. “You’re dawdling. Go get your chores done. I love you, but you need to go.”
I knew that—but hanging up would be one of the hardest things I’d ever done. “Always harping about chores.”
As she begrudgingly laughed, I forced myself to look down at the screen. “Love you, Mom.”
Then I hung up the phone.
“Okay, pout and panic later. Work now. We’re a family of planners. You can do this.” Looking around the kitchen, I tried to think logically. “Okay food, important shit, then clothes.”
Naked and hungry wouldn’t work.
I wasn’t living in a reality show.
“After that, stuff to keep me busy and stuff that I might need in the future.” And any random shit that caught my eye…like private stuff I didn’t want to explain losing to the insurance company.
“But first food.” Focusing on all the canned goods and stuff like rice that would keep for a while, I filled up all the reusable grocery bags with food and piled it in the back of the SUV, grateful Dad had talked Mom into the monster version with the extended trunk space.
He was never going to let her forget what a good decision it was either.
When I got as much as I could in the car and the floor of the back seat was covered in cans and boxes of macaroni and cheese, I switched gears. Running through the house, I tossed everything in the list she’d given me in a duffle bag before adding some notebooks and random shit from her home office.
Once the had to haves were packed, I grabbed a big suitcase and shoved clothes in, packing it as tight as I could. The mountains where the cabin was would be colder than it ever got at the beach, so I forced myself to think logically, grabbing two hoodies and laying them flat so they would fit.
It took another ten minutes of grabbing anything I could think of that might be useful before I told myself it was time to go. “Cards. Power cords. Old movies.”
God, we were packrats.
Part of me was tempted to keep packing more—there was still room in the car and I hated that—but I knew the most important thing was getting on the road. It would end up being a parking lot if I wasn’t careful. Then nothing I had in the car would be helpful.
And my mother would be pissed.
Nope, not worth it.
Making sure the house was locked, just in case it actually survived, I headed for the garage, refusing to stop for anything else that might distract me.
This was not the time for squirrel brain.
Pulling out of the garage made things feel more final and I could feel my heart rate starting to rise. I had a crazy urge to run back inside, but just seeing how many people were already halfway through packing their cars said I’d been right to leave.
Never question Mom.
That was what she was going to say once I told her all the crazy details.
Looking around as I wove my way through our neighborhood, I was glad to see so many people were getting out, but what worried me were the houses that were too quiet. It was ten in the morning. Most of our neighbors were at work or running errands.
Well, most of them but not Trey.
I almost drove past his house. We’d grownup together and he’d been just as annoying our senior year of high school as he had been in third grade when they’d moved in. But now the annoying asshole was standing in his driveway looking fucking lost.
And damn it…why did he have his little sister with him?
Where was his goddamned car?
Slamming on the breaks in front of his house, I took a breath before jumping out of the car. “What are you doing? Where’s your car? You have to get out of here.”
“I know that.” His voice had risen several octaves and if it weren’t for the baby in his arms he would’ve been gesturing like a mad man. “My car is in the shop and my fucking mother went up to DC to march in some mothers with attitude thing. Her car is somewhere in the middle of Virginia and she took a bus the rest of the way.”
Before I could start asking questions, to at least see if he had a plan he started ranting again. “Unless I bum a ride from one of the neighbors, my only other option is to walk.”
I glanced around, seeing mostly empty driveways and dark houses.
“Okay, come with me.” He was such a dick the words felt like sandpaper in my mouth, but my mother would’ve smacked me upside the head for not offering faster to begin with.
When I told her about this later, I was going to do some strategic editing.
Trey went completely still, eyes wide and breathing just a bit faster than I thought was healthy. “Really?”
Had he thought I would leave him to get flattened?
“Dude, my mother will kill me if I don’t drag your ass out of here.” That got a chuckle from him and it looked like his breathing was slowing down to normal. “We’ve just got to get out of here fast. The roads are going to be a fucking nightmare between here and 95.”
There really needed to be more interstates between the beach and I-95.
“Yes. Fast.” He seemed to be trying to take a breath, but I wasn’t sure it was helping his brain work.
Since giving orders seemed to be the best idea, I headed up and took the baby out of his arms. “Samantha, right?”
I don’t remember how I knew that, but for some reason it felt right and I was glad when he nodded. “I call her Sam. Mostly because it drives my mom batshit.”
Laughing, I nodded. “I hate having to agree with you, but yeah, I’d do that too.”
He shook his head. “God, some things don’t change even in the apocalypse.”
“Okay, I’ll put the baby seat in the car and move some stuff around.” It was a good thing I hadn’t packed the car completely full. “I have food. You need to pack clothes for you and the baby. We need your family’s important papers, documents and stuff. Then we need baby gear.”
What the fuck did you need to keep a baby alive and healthy?
She was so tiny I didn’t think real food was an option, but I was an only child so I had no idea what to grab for her.
Something in my face had Trey chuckling and he looked almost normal. “She’s a baby, not some kind of lizard person.”
“I’d know what to do with an alien. This.” I looked down at the sleeping bomb I was holding. “This is dangerous and unpredictable.”
He snorted, shaking his head. “Okay, clothes, papers, baby shit. Got it. I already started getting some stuff together while I was trying to figure out what to do.”
“Great.” Then I had a thought. “Shit. Did your mother take the car seat?”
Thankfully, Trey shook his head. “No, she left it just in case we needed to get an Uber somewhere to run errands.”
That was one good thing.
“Okay, you bring stuff out here and I’ll get her in and move the car closer.” We needed both of us to get the car packed, but leaving a baby in the car when it was parked on the street sounded like a bad idea.
Trey nodded, then gave me a long stare. “Thanks, man.”
Nodding, I ignored the weird feeling whirling inside me like that damned hurricane. “Hurry. We need to get on the road.”
That got him moving, but for some reason he grinned again.
He was so weird.
But somehow having him back to normal made everything feel better.
“You’re going to need help with the car seat.” He was probably right, but I wanted to get everything done fast.
He ran back into his garage and grabbed what seemed to be the base of whatever she would go into. “It won’t take long. Her little bucket seat is right in the door. You can put her in there. She sleeps like—”
He shook his head. “Nope, not finishing that sentence.”
Probably a good idea.
“I’ll go look.” And try to see if I remembered how babies were supposed to go into it.
Ha, I was smarter than I thought. Remembering the babies I’d seen in the grocery store and places like Walmart, I had her fairly secured when he came running back in. “Not bad, dork.”
I snorted. “This dork has food and shelter where the water won’t hit.”
He laughed and pat my head. “That’s why you’re my favorite dork.”
Since throwing something at him wouldn’t have been our best use of time, I glowered at him and picked up the seat. He flashed me a grin and pointed to the baby. “Feet get aimed toward the backseat and it will click into place.”
“Got it.” Hopefully.
Thankfully it was as easy as he’d said, and before long, I had the back of the car in his garage so we could finish loading it.
Trey worked fast, or really had made a good pile earlier, because by the time I got the car backed in, he had stuff piled at the door. It was mostly stuff for Sam, but that was a good thing, so I nodded as he came out carrying more diapers.
As I tried to organize the papers and stuff he’d gathered, I pointed toward the roof rack. “That’s still empty. It should be watertight, but let’s try to put stuff up there that’ll dry, just in case.”
“Okay, great.” Nodding to himself as he threw the box of diapers to me, he ran back in and in a couple of minutes came back out with a trash bag and one of those baby bags moms always had that could carry anything and everything.
He handed me the diaper bag and then started for the roof carrier. “The bag has diapers and formula and everything she needs for about twenty-four hours.”
Since he seemed to know what he was doing with her, I just nodded and made sure we could reach the magic bag from the front seat. “What’s in that?”
As he wrestled with the carrier, I walked around to see if I could help. “Baby clothes mostly. There’s also a few blankets and stuff for her and my winter coat.”
“That’s smart. We can dry all that out at the cabin if they do get wet.” My response had him chuckling as he locked the container.
“Once we’re on the road, I have a thousand questions.” Before I could respond, he ran back in the house.
Knowing the questions could wait, I stepped in side the house and called out. “Is there anything we need from the garage? Or the pantry?”
I couldn’t go much further without letting Sam out of my sight and that didn’t seem safe at all, so I was glad when Trey called out from deeper in the house. “Yes, there are more cans of formula and food, if you think we need it.”
Starting with the formula, I worked on grabbing all the baby stuff I could find. “Hey, do you have something like those portable playpen things? Something she can sleep in?”
She could nap in that bucket seat, but could she sleep in it all night?
Would that be good for a baby?
That had to be bad for her spine, right?
“Yeah, I’ll be right there.” In a few seconds, he came out with another duffle bag and some kind of origami looking device that had to be for Sam. “I think this is it.”
There was no way for me to know, but I’d seen the papers get packed, and we had a ton of shit for the baby, so everything else seemed like it could wait. “One more time. Papers? Jewelry? Money that you’ve got squirreled away? Anything that can’t be replaced but can fit in the car?”
Trey shook his head, looking like he was mentally checking everything off a list. “No, I took some of the old family photos off the walls and put them in that suitcase earlier.”
“Great.” That’d been a good idea.
“Lock up and let’s get the hell out of here.” Climbing in the driver’s side as he shoved the duffle bag and the baby thing on top of the pile in the back, I took a deep breath and turned on the car.
As I flicked through the channels trying to find news that wasn’t just random panicking, he finished up and closed the trunk. “All done. If you pull out, I’ll close the garage door.”
Yes, he didn’t have a clicker.
Pulling out of the garage, I waited for him to shut the door behind us and just tried to get a grasp on how quickly reality had changed.
Hurricanes and tsunamis I could handle, but living with Trey Simons might be the death of me.
Breath in and breath out.
“You look like you’re going to vomit. Don’t make me pull over.” Donovan’s stern voice was filled with frustration, like normal, but I was starting to be able to pick out the hidden panic too.
Knowing that he wasn’t as calm as he seemed made me feel better.
“It just hit me that we’re not going to get killed by that damned wave.” Turning around in the seat, I looked back at Sam. Just seeing her little head and hearing her breathing was enough to make me start to relax. “I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Donovan scoffed. “You’d have figured out something. You already had stuff packed and were actively looking for a party to join. You were doing the right things.”
He was so weird.
“This isn’t a trek in Oregon Trail. I didn’t join a party.” I had to fight the urge to laugh as he rolled his eyes.
“We are on the run from several natural disasters and the insane humans who will soon start panicking. All we need is randomly assigned dysentery and we will be in Oregon Trail.” His snarky tone was so utterly and perfectly Donovan I had to laugh.
“You haven’t changed since we were kids.” Personally, that was one of the things I liked about him, but he huffed.
“Don’t be ridiculous.” He was clearly uncomfortable, so I wasn’t surprised when he changed the subject. “Okay, top to-do list things. Have you touched base with your mother? I don’t think you had time to call her while you were packing things up.”
That made my stomach clench.
“I haven’t been able to get in touch with her in the last few hours.” I hated even thinking about it, but he had to know the reality. “She left late last night and was driving up with some friends to do that march today. The plan was to leave her car in Virginia at a friend’s house and then take a bus up that was chartered for the event.”
My mother was wonderful and passionate about a lot of things, but she didn’t always think things through.
“I heard from her early this morning. They were on the bus and she was ridiculously excited. Since the storm was just hovering off the coast, we weren’t worried.” Well, she hadn’t been worried.
What could go wrong?
“Then all hell broke loose.” Donovan’s dramatic tone had me chuckling.
“Oh yeah, I tried calling her once that notification started blasting over the cell phones, but I haven’t been able to get in touch with her.” I wasn’t sure what that said about the situation, but I didn’t like it.
“I know it sucks. I tried calling some family we have around DC and I couldn’t get it to go through.” Donovan’s answer made my nerves feel steadier. “It’s got to be phone lines or cell signals getting jammed because the only person I could reach was my mother in Spain.”
“Shit.” There hadn’t been time to be glued to the TV, so I wasn’t sure how bad that was or not. “Is she going to be okay?”
He shrugged. “She said most of the water is headed our way and they’re pretty far inland. She thinks they should be fine. She’s just not sure how she’ll get back to the US.”
“Fuck. I hadn’t thought about that. At the very least the airports are going to be mobbed.” If they weren’t destroyed altogether.
Donovan took a deep breath as he carefully weaved his way through traffic heading toward the interstate. “Yes, so I’m not planning on her showing up at the cabin tomorrow. But she said that if we lose touch, that’s where she’ll meet me when she gets back to the states.”
“Cabin. Is that where we’re going?” Cabin meant mountains, right? Mountains meant no crazy ocean waves?
“Yeah.” Donovan’s eyes were glued to the road and the growing traffic, but he seemed more relaxed as he talked about the cabin. “It’s been in our family for ages.”
He chuckled dryly like he was trying to find the humor in all this. “My great-grandfather grew up super poor and after the depression and World Wars, he became what’s really the first generation of weird preppers. He built it to have a place where the family could go in case of…well, whatever could go wrong.”
I had to grin. “So where’s tsunamis and volcanic explosions on his list of impending doom?”
Donovan actually laughed. “Pretty far down the list, honestly, from what the family says, World War III or another Great Depression were higher on his fear list.”
“At least someone’s family planned for problems.” I rolled my eyes. “Our freezer is empty and everything in the fridge would’ve gone bad in a day or two. If we’d been stranded here even a few weeks, I don’t know what we’d have done.”
Donovan’s face scrunched, but he didn’t point out how poorly prepared we were. “It’s just not something most people think about. My family’s just weird.”
Weird but great in emergencies seemed like a wonderful combination to me.
“So what kind of cabin are we talking? Vacation house cabin or are we going full on Clampetts and drawing water from the well?” My question was sincere but funny enough that he snorted again.
“Neither.” He sat straighter as we slowed, now inching toward the onramp. “Think weird prepper meets home decorator from hell.”
Laughing, I tried to keep quiet, but it was too funny. “What?”
He winced. “My grandmother hated the end of the world vibe, so when my grandfather inherited it, she made him fix it up and make it nicer. My mom continued the tradition. But she’s a weird mix of both of them, and now it’s got nice curtains and expensive furniture but solar panels and shit like that too.”
“Thank god. I’m not build for roughing it.” I looked back at Sam. “Especially with a baby.”
That would’ve been miserable.
“Speaking of the baby.” Donovan looked in the rearview mirror, probably studying Sam. “What else do we need to get for her just in case? I have no idea what’s going to happen once this shit hits land.”
“At the very least, I would say the supply chain is going to get completely fucked up.” And that was just the tip of the iceberg. “So you’re asking like what does she need long term?”
He nodded. “Yeah, like think for a few months. The cabin has basically everything we should need, but no one in the family has kids this young.”
“Do you have any more family that’s going to show up?” Was there anyone else we needed to plan for?
“I don’t think so?” He shrugged. “I’ve got some second cousins and relatives like that down in Florida and a handful around DC that I only met once when I was a kid, but that’s about it. My grandparents died when I was young and my parents were both only children.”
Well, that made things easier.
Turning around again, I studied the back of the car. “If we move things around a bit, we’d have space to add more diapers.”
Donovan glanced in the rearview mirror again. “Depending on how long it takes to get to Raleigh, I think we could stop on the other side of it for a little while and be pretty safe. But only if these cars start moving. God. Idiots.”
Ignoring his venting, I nodded. “Okay, so on the other side of Raleigh, before we leave civilization we stop at a Walmart or something like that and grab more diapers and formula.”
Straightening, I took a breath. “A list. I need a list because we’ll need one size bigger diapers probably and maybe those fabric kind? I don’t even know if they sell those in regular stores.”
I looked over at Donovan and he gave me wide eyes, shaking his head. “Shit. Don’t look at me for answers. I don’t know anything about babies.”
“Didn’t you even babysit as a teenager?” No close cousins meant no baby cousins to have to play with, but hadn’t everyone babysat?
“No.” He glanced worriedly back at Sam. “My first job was working in the finance department at a local contractors office.”
Of course it was.
“Well, I know what to do with regular baby stuff, it’s just the weird things you need in the apocalypse that I haven’t really got experience with.” Before I could start getting even more wound up, I realized there had to be something online.
Pulling out my phone, I saw I had bars so I tried the internet.
It was fucking slow.
“Are you getting anything?” Donovan glanced over as the cars in front of us started to move. “Try mine. My cell and a tablet that gets its own cell signal are in the bag by your feet.”
“I’m getting some, but it’s like everyone on the east coast is trying to google shit at the same time.” Which was probably truer than I wanted to admit.
Setting my phone aside as it still fought to load, I opened the small gym back that was sitting on the floor and started digging through it. “How much lube did you pack dude?”
Mixed in with the electronics he’d mentioned and everything from power cords to power banks were three bottles of lube and a bottle of hand lotion.
I glanced over at him, grinning, to see him blushing five shades of red and looking straight out the window. “I was trying to be helpful by offering you my electronics.”
Chuckling, I shrugged. “I’m just impressed with your planning.”
And his staying power to need that much lube.
“If you must know, I was cleaning out the bathroom the other day and found one of the bottles. But I’d already bought the other two because I was packing up shit to go back to the dorms.”
He was such a cute little prude.
“I’m just messing with you.” I flashed him a wicked grin as I pulled out his phone and the small tablet he’d mentioned. “I’ll show you what I’ve got in that small bag later if it’ll make you feel better.”
He was turning a fascinating shade of purple.
“Don’t have a heart attack. I don’t know where the cabin is.” He couldn’t die of embarrassment until we reached safety.
That would just be rude.
“Then stop saying things like that.” He mumbled under his breath about crazy people and boundaries, but I stopped paying too much attention when the tablet actually got enough juice to get to the internet.
“Bingo.” As he skimmed through the radio, finally stopping on a talk radio channel that was giving helpful information, I searched for baby information.
After a few minutes, I looked up because we seemed to be actually moving. “What?”
“I don’t know but I’m not going to question it. We just started moving.” The relief in his voice was clear, not that I blamed him. This would be the worst place to die. We’d look like we were in some kind of disaster movie.
Rolling down the window, I stuck my head out and looked down the line of cars in front of us. “I think they’re opening up both sides of the interstate. You know, like they’ve done for the big hurricanes.”
“Thank fuck.” Donovan took a deep breath as I sat back and rolled the window up. “If we keep up this speed, we should be fine.”
I was too old to be crossing my fingers, so I did my toes.
He couldn’t see those.
“It’s going to be fine. It looks crazy, but we beat most of the rush of people. It hasn’t taken us long to get here.” It just felt like a million years.
“Yeah, it’s going to be fine.” He wasn’t that believable, so he seemed to think changing the subject was a better idea. “What did you learn about the baby stuff?”
“If the store is big enough, or if we find one of those specialty baby stores, we should be able to get a few packs of cloth diapers. We’ll need some good stuff to clean them with, but between those and the regular ones we can fit in the car, we should be fine.” We could do that.
“Okay list.” I brought up the list app on my phone and started typing. “Wipes. Diapers. Cloth ones too. Um, formula and I think I should grab some baby cereal just in case. She’s not ready for real solids yet, but if we’re going to be stuck up there for a while, I should get some just in case.”
“Good idea.” Donovan was actually relaxed back in his seat now. It seemed like the faster we went the calmer he got. “So food stuff. Things to keep her clean. Oh shit. I have real people medicine but nothing for her.”
I snorted. “She’s not an alien.”
He didn’t seem like he agreed with me on that, but he didn’t argue. “Age-appropriate medicine? Better?”
Shaking my head, I typed random medicine on the list.
I wasn’t sure what we’d need, but it’d been a good thing to have just in case.
“Okay, what about stuff to do?” He glanced over at me, frowning. “What do babies do?”
“Eat. Sleep. Poop.” That was really all they did. “But I have a mat thing she likes to play with stuffed in the clothes bag and a few random things in the suitcase. That should be fine. Babies can be entertained with car keys and random stuff for hours on end.”
“Good.” He took another deep breath, looking less panicked. “So food, stuff to keep her clean, and medicine. We can do this.”
“Is there anything we need for the cabin?” Even if we only got half the water they were projecting, if that hurricane moved even a few miles closer to shore everyone on the east coast was fucked.
Donovan got his thinking face on and I had to stop myself from grinning.
He hadn’t changed at all.
I’d thought two years at college would’ve changed him into a different person, but there was something stupidly wonderful about knowing that neither college nor the apocalypse had changed him.
“Nothing that is imperative.” He was so serious I had to stop myself from grinning as he continued. “We’ve got lots of staples, and like I said, the solar and stuff like that. If we get to a grocery store that isn’t mobbed or crazy and it’s safe, I think we should grab some fresh vegetables and stuff that would make life easier or just fun, maybe?”
“Yeah, fun stuff.” Every end of civilization kind of book I’d ever read said convenience meals and junk food were something everyone missed. “We don’t need to fight for flour so we’ll get chips and stuff people aren’t going to be looking for.”
He finally chuckled. “No, we’ve got flour. You’re right, though, people aren’t going to be raiding the cookie aisle.”
“So we’re driving and relaxing and then once we’re safe enough to stop, we’re going to look for baby stuff and junk food. It’s just like a road trip.” I laughed when he groaned.
“This is not my idea of a road trip.” He glanced back at Sam like she was going to explode any second.
Grinning, I stretched back and grinned. “I don’t know. We’ve got a few hours to kill and lots of random food in the car. Sound like a good start to a road trip.”
He shook his head, sighing. “You worry me sometimes.”
“Aww, has my favorite dork been thinking about me?” His groan and the way he started blushing again said there were definitely worse people I could’ve gotten stranded with in the zombie apocalypse.
“Stop flicking the channels. You’re driving Sam nuts.” At the very least he was driving me nuts and her babbling said she would’ve agreed with me if she’d already learned English.
“I’m bored.” Trey rolled his shoulders and wiggled, clearly not used to never ending car trips. “This drive never takes this long and we can’t even wander around at the rest stops.”
We were running from a wall of water bigger than our houses. No, I was not stopping for a wiggle break.
“We already stopped an hour ago to change her diaper.” It’d been the fastest stop in history, but we’d managed to pee and change her and get back on the road in less than ten minutes.
I’d even held the monster while Trey had gone to piss.
She’d just stared at me.
It’d been kind of creepy.
“I know.” He sighed. “I should be grateful she likes being in the car.”
Yes, he should.
“We’re back to having good signal for the time being. Why don’t you dig my kindle out and download some books?” That would have to keep him busy for a few minutes. “If you don’t know what you want, look for my wishlist and just download those.”
I was behind on a dozen series that I’d been meaning to catch up on, so this seemed like as good a time as any.
“Yeah, who knows what’s going to happen to the internet.” His head cocked as he dug through the bag, thankfully ignoring the lube this time. “Aren’t some of those server farms on the east coast? You know, the ones where when Amazon sneezes half the internet goes down?”
“God, that would suck.” I hadn’t thought about that. “So maybe lots of books?”
He snorted. “Probably a good idea.”
As he started pressing the screen, he chuckled. “Dude, you’ve been reading this series since senior year. What have you been doing?”
How the fuck did he remember that?
“College moron. I’ve been studying.” But as long as we lived through this insanity, I was going to study less and live more.
“Hey, I threw a few memory sticks in my bag. I think I should be able to get a few movies or episodes of something on them.” He looked over, grinning. “Any preference on porn or are we going for something boring?”
God, he was trying to kill me so he could have the cabin all to himself.
“Something we can watch a few times without wanting to throw something at the screen.” I wasn’t sure there was any porn good enough to watch over and over. “Science fiction or something really involved?”
There was a wicked gleam in his eyes that I ignored as he nodded. “Alright, better plan than porn.”
I wasn’t sure I’d survive hearing him talk about his favorite flavor of boobs.
“Am I worried about the price of the ebooks?” Trey glanced back at me, the teasing gone from this eyes. “What kind of budget am I looking at?”
“That account is attached to my mom’s credit card, so as long as we stay under a thousand, I’m not worried.” Normally she’d have a cow if I charged that much on a whim, but this was not normal times. “Oh, and once you’ve got new stuff, start downloading my library. I don’t keep much actually on it, just stuff I’m actively reading.”
“Got it.” As he stared to click and work his way through my to-be-read pile, he relaxed back in the seat. “You know, random thought, but if we’re actually going to be up there even a few months, we should grab some herb seeds at the very least.”
“That’s not a bad idea.” Focusing on the road made the words less stressful somehow, so I didn’t try to stop the words as they kept flowing. “I don’t think the houses are going to be there once this is over. And even if they are, there won’t be enough infrastructure to make living there easy. We’re just too close to the water even if we aren’t right on the beach.”
Trey made a low, thoughtful sound. “Yeah, it’s just weird to think about that.”
“So, logically, that means staying at the cabin until we figure out where to go next and what to do. Personally, my college is going to be wiped off the map, so that means really starting over.” I glanced over at Trey. “Where did you go? Wasn’t it some place over on the other side of Raleigh?”
I couldn’t remember what he’d said before but I remembered him being excited about it.
He shrugged. “I switched to all online courses and moved back home once Sam was ready to be born. My mom couldn’t do it all and Sam’s dad bailed as soon as he realized he’d knocked up my mother.”
He seemed bitter, so I wasn’t sure if I should ask anything that was running through my head.
“So Sam wasn’t planned?” I winched as he groaned, shaking his head.
“Don’t get me wrong. I love the cutie. But god no.” His head fell back and he looked up at the ceiling. “They were both convinced that once a woman hits forty-five she couldn’t have kids anymore. So they weren’t using protection at all.”
Even I knew that wasn’t how it worked.
Something in my expression must’ve given my shock away because Trey started to laugh which had Sam gurling along from the backseat. “Seriously. I’m not shitting you. I had to explain to my mother that wasn’t how her fucking biology worked.”
“I honestly don’t know what to say.” That never happened, but there was just nothing.
He laughed again. “Yep, that was how I felt at first.”
“She hadn’t started…” I waved my hand forgetting the word.
“Nope.” He shook his head, sighing. “Still fucking fertile as a teenager.”
I was never going to complain about my mother again.
“I know it probably sucked for you, but it seems like moving back home was the best thing for Sam.” I wasn’t sure his mother should be raising a hamster, much less a baby.
Trey shrugged, but he didn’t deny it. “I like online classes better than getting up at the crack of dawn.”
If that was how he wanted to play it, that was fine with me.
“Okay, so we’re stopping for baby stuff and you’re getting books and anything we can download. What else do we need?” I mentally wandered through the disaster movies I’d seen and random books I’d read.
“Cash.” I sat up, glancing over at Trey. “Do you have cash?”
He looked up from the kindle and shook his head. “No, I use my card for everything. I think I might have a few bucks?”
“Okay, that’s one thing we have to fix so we can pay for stuff if the internet goes out.” I was hoping it wouldn’t get to the point where we were trading canned food instead of using money, but I wanted to be prepared.
Digging my phone out from the center console, I sent an apology out to the universe for using my phone while I was driving. It couldn’t be helped, though. Pulling up my banking app, I transferred my savings to my checking account and was surprised to see that was now at an eyepopping level.
“My mom must’ve transferred money into my checking account.” Because I’d never had ten thousand in that account in my entire life.
“Is there a way to see what your daily withdrawal limit is?” Trey looked over at my phone and his eyes went wide when I showed him the screen. “Yep, that’s more than you can withdraw at one time.”
“Um, I don’t know.” That was not something I could safely do so I handed over the phone. “You look.”
“See, I’m good for something. You needed a secretary for the zombie apocalypse.” He beamed as I rolled my eyes. “And you needed conversation.”
I wasn’t sure having my own peanut gallery counted as conversation.
“Thank you for downloading the books.” At the very least, that had been helpful. “And I think I’ll appreciate not being alone at the cabin.”
He scoffed. “You’re so sweet to me.”
He was so weird.
“How is the downloading coming?” He was so hard to talk to sometimes.
Trey frowned, studying the kindle. “It’s getting slower. I can’t decide if it’s the internet struggling or if we’re just in the middle of fucking nowhere.”
“Both.” My dry response had him chuckling. “But it should be getting better soon. We’re actually coming up on 95 soon.”
Trey was right. It felt like the drive had taken a thousand years, but with both sides of the interstate open, it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. I just wasn’t sure what Raleigh was going to look like. The news people weren’t expecting the water to get that far inland, but if I was in Raleigh and had a place to go, I wouldn’t have taken the chance.
“Great.” He shifted, stretching his legs out and wiggling. “She’s going to need another bottle soon and I’d rather not do that turned around in the seat again.”
His ass had basically been right up against my head.
And it was unsafe.
“Is it difficult? I mean, feeding her?” I glanced back in the rearview mirror again. “I guess, one of us could feed her while the other goes in the store?”
That seemed like the most effective use of time but I wasn’t sure which option sounded more stressful.
Trey laughed making Sam gurgle again. “She’s a baby, dude. It’s not hard.”
I was never going to agree with that statement, so I ignored it. “Then I’ll feed her while you go in and get the rest of the stuff.”
“Sounds like a plan.” He straightened, focusing on the kindle again. “We said baby stuff, junk food, seeds if you can run through the garden center. What else?”
“It’s hard. I’ll probably think of a thousand little things I would’ve loved to have later, but I’m not sure.” I was at the point of overwhelmed and tired. “Just anything you can think of? You can use my debit card.”
Trey turned, studying me. “Are you sure? I’ve got enough to grab some stuff.”
But he hadn’t been planning for this and his mother hadn’t thought to transfer anything. “No, it’s good. My mom would be pissed if we didn’t get the stuff we need to stay up there for a while. She really doesn’t want me leaving until she’s back.”
Or at the very least, the world got back to normal.
I wasn’t sure which would come first, honestly.
“Alright, I’ll pay you back—”
“We are not keeping track of shit like that.” I couldn’t resist snapping at him, but I lowered my voice when Sam whimpered from the backseat. “We’re going to make the best of things and use the resources that we have. But we’re not keeping score.”
He chuckled. “You’re very take charge when you’re pissed.”
Was that a good thing?
Something about the look on his face said asking would be a bad idea.
“Then don’t make me mad.” It wasn’t much of a response, but he chuckled again and looked like he was having a grand old time.
“I’ll have to think about that.”
He was going to drive me to drink.
I mean, I probably shouldn’t, but his reactions were so much fun.
And he had said that I should find something to keep myself occupied.
“So when I run in, do you need anything like batteries or more lube?” I did a great innocent expression as he started to turn a crazy red color. “I think they’ve started carrying vibrating cock rings and things like that in the condom aisle. Walmart carries everything these days. Oh, maybe a vibrator?”
“Why are you punishing me?” He kept his voice down because Sam was asleep again, but I could feel his body vibrating with frustration.
I scoffed, rolling my eyes and grinning. “You said to keep myself busy, so I’m planning out my shopping trip, or I could go back to flicking radio channels if you want me to.”
He took a long deep breath that made me want to laugh.
Driving him nuts had always been fun, and the apocalypse hadn’t changed that. It was great to see that some things in life would never change. It just made me happy.
“This was not what I meant.” It took another deep breath before he continued. “No, thank you. There are rechargeable batteries at the cabin, so we won’t need any additional batteries.”
I made a show of looking down at the bag by my feet. “And we’re probably good on lube unless you mind sharing.”
I glanced over at him, trying not to look too evil. “You’ll help a bro out, right?”
I knew the second his imagination took that in a whole different direction. It seemed that my favorite dork wasn’t as innocent as he tried to appear. “Right? I mean, some guys aren’t that flexible, so you might not be comfortable with the idea.”
I was evil.
Yep, there was no way around it, but he was so much fun to poke.
“I…” He swallowed and focused back on the road like we were going more than five miles an hour.
Raleigh traffic was a bitch.
“There is plenty. Having your own tube is not a problem.” Donovan was doing his best to make it sound boring and practical, like we were talking about toothpaste.
I couldn’t decide why he worked so hard and looking normal, but all I wanted was to poke him and see what he was hiding.
“I knew you were the type to help a guy out.” I beamed, aiming for innocent and excited. “Some guys are just selfish. I knew you wouldn’t leave me hanging.”
He’d almost gone back to a normal color, but whatever he was imagining was enough to have him almost purple again as he gasped for a response. “We’ve…we’ve got to make the best of the situation and share resources. I might have more supplies, but I appreciate the company and having another adult around will make things easier.”
I almost laughed, but I managed to keep up the innocent routine. “Yeah, there are just some things that you really need another guy around to help you out with. Being alone that long can just be frustrating and hard.”
He was back to taking deep breaths and his fingers were holding the wheel so tight I thought he might break it. “Stop this. Stop fucking with me.”
Laughing, I reached over and pat his head. “But it’s so much fun.”
Shaking my hand off, he glared at me. “No, it’s not.”
I snorted. “For me it is. You turn this fabulous purple color when I embarrass you, and dude, it’s just so awesome. It’s making the time go by much faster.”
Rolling his eyes, he turned back to the traffic in front of us and stiffened his body like he was doing his best not to reach over and strangle me. “I can’t tell if you’re bored or trying to poke at my personal life.”
“I’m bored, and I’m betting your personal life hasn’t changed much since high school.” He was not the type to open up, and I was pretty sure that hadn’t changed. “The guys from the drama club might not be drooling over you anymore, but I’ll be you’ve got a whole new group of guys you’re ignoring.”
His eyes nearly popped out of his head, and it was a good thing we weren’t going at anything close to a normal speed.
“What? You…I mean, they were…What?”
I couldn’t figure out what specifically he was trying to ask, so I winged it. This was more fun than flicking through the radio channels any day. “I don’t know where to start, but if you want, I can just begin randomly listing off ideas.”
He must’ve decided that was the scarier option because he came up with a real sentence quickly. “How did you know I’m…I’m gay?”
That was his big first question?
Rolling my eyes, I sighed. “Dude, it was not hard to guess that in school. You avoided girls like they had the plague and the drama guys had a bet going about who would date you first.”
Well, they hadn’t been betting on a date, but I figured pointing that out might be ungentlemanly.
“They did?” He let out a long breath and I could almost see the wheels in his head turning. “Is that why they kept asking me to go see their plays?”
They’d wanted to show him more than their rehearsals. “Yep. I have it on good authority that they thought you were hot as fuck.”
“I just…” He shook his head.
When that was all I got, I grinned. “You might remember a certain tall blonde drama queen who was adamant that you be his partner in Chemistry?”
He’d wanted to practice Chemistry alright.
Luckily, the word got around that Donovan shot him down fairly quickly. I wasn’t sure why, though, and pushing him on that seemed rude, not fun.
Instead of responding, he was quiet for several long seconds before he shifted in his seat and pointed to an exit. “I think we should try to do our shopping here. We’re almost through the bulk of the city and I don’t want to get too far out into the country before we get gas and stuff.”
So he wanted to change the subject?
Sure, I could go along with that if it got me out of the car. “Sounds good. From what I can see on the map, traffic is backed up for miles still and the gas thing is probably a good idea. We could also use a snack.”
He nodded, looking relieved that I’d let him change the subject. “Good idea. While I’m trying to get off the highway, will you look and see if there are backroads we can take? We’re out of danger, but I don’t want to keep driving twenty miles an hour all night.”
Yeah, that would suck. “Got it.”
We’d made great progress having all of the lanes open to leave the beach, but once we’d passed I-95 things had slowed down to almost a crawl.
“And we should probably write it down just in case the internet gets any slower.” Donovan reached down to tap the screen on his phone again. “I’m pretty sure it’s just going to get worse.”
Yeah, the last few times I’d tried to call anyone, all I’d gotten was weird messages about how all the lines were busy.
“Do they make like long distance walkie-talkies?” I glanced over at Donovan as I studied the map. “Not cell stuff but something else?”
I figured with his prepper genes he’d know.
I was right.
“Well, a satellite phone might be good to have.” He seemed to like having something boring to focus on because he was back to a normal color and didn’t seem as stressed. “I know there’s one up at the cabin because sometimes the cell signals suck, but I never thought about buying one to have at the house or in the car.”
“Live and learn. I say we need one for the next apocalypse.” I was going to take a page from his family and become a badass prepper.
Donovan actually chuckled. “Let’s live through this one first before we start planning the next one.”
I scoffed. “No, we need to be taking notes. Isn’t that what you said your mom wanted?”
She was funny.
I liked a woman who wouldn’t freak the fuck out when something went wrong.
“Ha, made it.” Donovan looked so fucking impressed with himself I had to grin. Getting off the interstate was an accomplishment. It was also a hell of a lot easier getting over to Walmart than it was fighting the interstate traffic.
“I think I found a couple of backroads that will work.” As we pulled up to the stoplight, I angled my phone toward him. “Normally I’d say they’d take too long, but now they’re probably the best bet.”
Donovan nodded as the light changed. “I think most people don’t have a plan and they’re just heading west.”
“Yeah, it’s making the interstate crazy.” Hopefully getting off it would be a better plan. “I think I’m going to grab a map or something when I go in. Like a paper one that won’t die on us when the phones go nuts.”
He laughed. “Sounds like a good idea.”
Mentally going through my list, I typed out a few more things in the app I was taking notes in. When we pulled up to the store, I was relieved to see that it wasn’t a mad house. We’d been going through scenarios about everything from looting to it just being closed, but it was startling to see how normal it looked.
“It looks weird.” As I leaned forward to study the parking lot, he chuckled.
“Yeah.” Donovan parked toward the back of the lot, taking a deep breath as he turned off the car. “Okay, you be safe, and even if you can’t get anything, we’re good. Getting in and out quickly and safely is more important.”
“Agreed.” I took a breath and looked around at the back of the car. “You’re going to move shit around, and then when Sam wakes up, you’ll feed and change her.”
Donovan nodded, but he looked like he’d rather be talking about his sex life.
“I’ve got it. She’s just a baby and I saw you do it before.” He kept nodding, but his expression said he’d prefer defusing a bomb to changing her diaper.
“You’re going to be fine. When in doubt, smile and make stupid faces and distract her.” Babies were not that scary, but it seemed like it would take him a while to figure that out.
I told myself I should get out of the car so I could hurry back and help him, but my body didn’t seem to be ready to open the door yet. “You’re sure we’re safe?”
There was a growing, crazy list of things that we might not be safe from, but Donovan focused on the water. “Yes, we’re counting down to the water hitting land, but we’re far enough inland that I’m not worried.”
“And the hurricane?” I was dawdling, but I wasn’t sure why. “Do you see looters?”
He shook his head. “The storm won’t get this far inland until tomorrow at the earliest. I think the area will be safe until the power starts going out, but I’m not sure when that will be.”
He pointed toward a police car that was slowly driving around the front of the store. “See, no problems yet.”
“Got it.” I took a deep breath and glanced back at Sam. “Just take care of her and you stay safe too. If anyone comes up, just lock the doors, and we’ll figure out how to move shit around later.”
I hated leaving my favorite dork…especially because I honestly wasn’t sure he could even throw a punch if it came down to it.
In and out. I could do it.
“The lines might be nuts, so don’t panic if it takes me a while.” I forced myself to give him a grin and wink. “We both know you’re going to miss me.”
He groaned dramatically as I finally opened the door.
Just as I climbed out and started to shut the door, he spoke again. “Trey?”
There was something nervous in his soft voice, so I paused and smiled, trying to project confidence. “Yeah?”
He swallowed and finally looked down like meeting my gaze was too hard. “You don’t mind…I mean, it’s not a problem that I’m gay?”
I waited until he peeked up at him before grinning, finally feeling a rush of excitement. When he was shyly studying my face, I grinned. “Why should it? Who said I was straight?”
It was the best parting line ever, so as his mouth dropped open, I winked and closed the door, bounding toward the front doors.
And I couldn’t help but remind myself that I’d done him a big favor because now he wasn’t going to be worrying about looters or giant walls of water as he waited.
How long was too long for him to be gone?
As I shifted Sam in my arms, trying to imitate the hold I’d seen Trey use when he fed her, I cursed myself for not giving a specific timeline before panic could set in.
“If he’s gone and gotten himself killed I’m going to do something drastic.” She didn’t seem to mind listening to anything I said as long as it was in a happy tone, so I smiled as I imagined killing Trey.
“And if he’s making me worry over nothing, I might kill him myself.”
Was forty-five minutes long enough to start to panic?
When was it reasonable for me to go inside and track him down?
If he was just hanging out browsing through whatever weird stuff he found on the condom aisle, I was going to torture him before I killed him.
Sam and I both jumped a foot when the fucking phone beeped. As I took a deep breath and she went back to sucking, I shook my head. “I’m going to claim that was a manly yell if anyone asks.”
It hadn’t made a sound in ages, so I was too curious to wait. Shifting so I could reach through the front seats and grab my phone, I sat back before I tapped the screen. A Facebook notification? I couldn’t remember the last time I’d checked it, but there wasn’t anything to do but wait, so I tapped on the screen.
Dude it works.
It took a second for me to realize it was Trey. Laughing quietly, I looked down at Sam. “Only your brother could think of try Facebook right now.”
I’m in line and a lady said that messenger was working. You’re so hard to track down dude.
“If he keeps calling me dude, I might kill him too.” Sam beamed and giggled around the bottle, obviously agreeing with me.
Ignoring the surfer language I was pretty sure he only used to drive me nuts, I typed back.
How is the line?
Thankfully, his response was perfect.
I’m almost done. I’ve been in line for like half an hour. It’s crazy in here.
Since that seemed to refer to the lines, not looting and dangerous shit, I sighed. “He’s almost done. Then we’ll get to see what he found.”
Because that could be anything.
That’s great. Sam is almost done eating and I moved stuff around.
He responded back so quickly, I knew he was watching the phone.
We just need gas and then we can get going. I have a tip on that too. I met a great lady.
I looked back at Sam. “How has he already made new friends? He’s in fucking Walmart.”
She giggled, making me realize I probably shouldn’t be cursing. “If your first word is fuck, I’m fucked.”
Sam decided at that moment she was done, so I tossed my phone in the front seat and tried to remember how Trey had burped her before. “And I’m supposed to gently pat and get any air out of your stomach. But I’m not sure how you’d get air in there to begin with since you were just drinking.”
“That was gross.” She just gave me a drunk looking smile as I set her back down in her baby seat. “Alright, you just hang out and sleep more and then we’ll find fun things for you to do when we get to our new house.”
Buckling her in, I squeezed the little bear Trey had dug out of the diaper bag. Pressing on the tummy made it play a soft lullaby, and Sam’s eyes started to close as soon I as laid it on her lap. As she began to doze, I looked around and climbed out of the backseat when I saw Trey coming out of the store.
I shouldn’t have been so relieved to see him, and I would completely deny it if he decided to tease me about it, but I’d never been happier to see anyone in my life.
Going up to the cabin had sounded easy, but now that I had Sam and Trey with me, I knew how lonely I would’ve been.
Not that I was going to explain that to the egomaniac who was jogging closer pushing a full cart.
“I’m back, dude.” He beamed and I had to ignore what his grin was doing to my emotions. “Did you miss me?”
Rolling my eyes, I sighed. “I fed Sam and changed her diaper and reorganized the car. I didn’t have time to notice you were gone.”
He gave me another grin. “Aww, you were so busy. But I did great. I got cookies and seeds and cloth diapers. I did great.”
Boosting his ego was not what I was hoping to do, but I had to admit he’d gotten everything on the list. “Great. Let’s get it packed up. We need gas.”
He scoffed, tugging at his shirt and puffing up his chest. “I know a guy. I got us hooked up.”
Ignoring his ridiculous behavior, I opened the back of the car and started unloading the cart. “You know a guy, huh?”
He was so excited he was bouncing as he started helping me find spaces for everything. “Yeah, my new buddy Agnes? She knew about the Facebook thing. She said the gas stations on the main street are almost out, but she has a buddy who owns a small independent one right behind the Walmart, and he’s got gas.”
“Really?” I’d been watching the lines start to grow at the station I could see, but I wasn’t sure how much gas they would have by the time I got over there. If we’d have been able to call one another I would’ve gone over and gotten in line, but I didn’t want to leave Trey just in case. “That’s great.”
The conversation turned toward the groceries and random things Trey had purchased. I had to laugh at the number of Snickers bars that had magically appeared in the cart. He grinned bashfully when I held up the fourth candy bar.
Shrugging, he tried to subtly slide a fifth in his pocket. “I was in line too long. You’re lucky I didn’t end up with lighters we didn’t need or pork rinds.”
Snorting, I shook my head. “The idea of you being left unchecked in their too long frightens me.”
He nodded, grinning like a maniac. “I know. It scares me too. But I didn’t get off track and I made new friends.”
His eyes lit up as he shoved the last of the baby formula in the back of the car. “I have a guy we can call if we decide we want chickens or goats. Max seems like a great guy.”
“I don’t even know what to say to that.” I was hoping this wasn’t going to be like real survival shit where we had to restart civilization, but now I wasn’t sure.
“People are really nice here.” Trey seemed so sincere I wasn’t sure what to say again. “You ready?”
“Yes.” He shut the door as I walked around toward the driver’s seat and before long we were making our way around the parking lot. “There’s a gas station.”
Trey snorted like I shouldn’t have doubted him in the first place, but I was surprised it was actually there.
And with no line.
He handed me back my card as I pulled up beside a pump. “You start pumping. I have to go give Ed a message from Agnes. He’s not on Facebook.”
I wasn’t even going to point out how weird this was. “Alright.”
As he hopped inside, looking like this was all a fabulous adventure, I got the gas and relaxed as the numbers got higher. I’d never take full gas stations for granted again. Just as the tank filled, Trey came bounding out of the store. “Hey, Ed said to fill this up just in case.”
This, turned out to be a small red gas can.
Yes, that would be a good idea just in case.
“Your new friends are very helpful.” I glanced back at the store as Trey opened the container. “What did Agnes need you to tell Ed?”
As I put gas in the can, Trey looked toward the building and waved. “That it was his turn to bring the condoms and the little blue pills. They’re not stopping bingo night just because the world is ending.”
What kind of bingo were they playing?
“You’re fucking with me.” As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I regretted them. “I mean, stop bullshitting me.”
Watching gas can distracted me enough that I didn’t blush and I hoped as I returned the handle to the pump that he’d have forgotten it.
No such luck.
Even though it took us a ridiculous amount of time to get the can strapped to the top of the car, neither of us was sure it was a good idea for Sam to be in the car with it, as soon as we were walking back to the front of the car, he grinned. “I wouldn’t fuck just anyone. I’m a gentleman. I make love.”
God save me.
Ignoring him, I climbed in the car and pointed to his phone. “Directions.”
He nearly giggled, seemingly loving the way I was ignoring his ridiculous behavior. “I love the way you bark out orders, dork.”
He was just fucking with me again.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to ask or ignore anything else crazy because he actually started giving directions. After about half an hour of twists and turns on back roads, we settled in on one that would take us all most all the way to the mountains.
The road was slower than the interstate should’ve been, but as packed as it’d been earlier, I had a feeling we were flying compared to it. But settling into a reasonable speed with nothing to focus on for at least the next hour, Trey got bored again.
I could see the minute he started wiggling and his I’m going to be naughty grin appeared. When we’d first started the trip, I’d have just ignored it and prayed he would be happy flicking the radio, but it felt like something had changed.
So I bit the bullet.
“Were you being serious?” My question had him going still and I had a feeling that I surprised him. Probably because I’d surprised myself. But I wasn’t going to take it back. If we were going to live together for the foreseeable future, we had to learn how to communicate without him teasing and me squirming.
I wasn’t sure if he’d play dumb or make me repeat it again, but after a few moments of silence, he nodded. “Yeah, I’m not straight if that’s what you mean.”
Yep, that was what I’d meant.
I just wasn’t sure where to take the conversation from here.
But once I started to process it, I realized it wasn’t my business. “Okay.”
When I reached for the radio to preempt him on the random flicking, he groaned. “You can’t just leave it at that.”
I sighed, pulling my hand back to the wheel and shrugging. “Why? It’s not my business.”
He went still and thankfully the drama stopped for the time being. “I think since we’re going to be together for a while that I saw it as your business at least so there isn’t this big hole of information that we couldn’t talk about.”
I hated it when he was logical.
“I’m not saying we can’t talk about it.” That was just what I’d hoped. “I just…privacy is…”
He chuckled, peeking over with his mischievous grin spreading across his face again. “You really hate talking about this kind of stuff. Is that why you never really came out in high school?”
I couldn’t help it.
Trey laughed quietly but waited, making it clear he wasn’t going to change the subject just so I wouldn’t have to squirm. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in the closet so there was nothing to come out of…but if you’re asking why I wasn’t more obvious in high school…I don’t know.”
I took a breath, trying to gather my thoughts, but it just didn’t work. “I don’t know. I really don’t like telling random people about my personal life. I don’t lie. I just don’t talk about myself unless there’s a reason. People are nosy and judgmental. I don’t appreciate it.”
Talking to strangers about myself always ended poorly.
So I didn’t do it.
I’d thought that was logical, but the way Trey was rolling his eyes said he disagreed…and then there was the whole running from disaster thing. Maybe I’d have to change a bit going forward.
“I never hid who I was from my parents, but the kids at school weren’t really people I wanted to get to know.” I shrugged as we wound our way through the countryside. “I went out on a few dates with a guy in the chess club. He moved halfway through senior year, though, so it never went beyond that.”
“Wait.” Trey sat up and I could see the wheels in his head turning. “That tall skinny guy with the big glasses?”
Well, that wasn’t how I’d have described him, but technically yes. “The tall skinny guy who was super smart and liked chess and Star Wars and didn’t make me feel awkward? Yes, that was him.”
Trey huffed, shrugging. “Alright, he probably had some good points.”
And his best quality was that he didn’t like talking about himself either.
“You guys did sit together at lunch most of senior year until he moved.” Trey’s words had me wondering how in the hell he’d remembered that, but he’d been much more social than me, so he’d probably noticed everything.
“Yeah, so I wasn’t exactly in the closet. I just don’t like talking about myself and school wasn’t the place for PDAs.” Why some couples decided to make out in hallways, I’d never know.
Trey laughed. “School is the place for PDAs. You’ve got to mark your territory and let everyone know you’re taken.”
Shaking my head, I sighed. “That’s ridiculous.”
Trey thought I was funny—I could see that in his eyes—but he didn’t agree with me. “Some people need that claiming and feeling of being claimed. It’s like…they need that extra layer in a relationship to really feel solid about it.”
Something about the words, and just his tone, made it clear that he was talking about himself, not just random strangers. It made me take it more seriously and answer him more carefully. “I guess I’ve never seen it that way. To me it’s the private sharing that makes me feel solid.”
I shrugged, not feeling so strange about oversharing with him anymore. “Not that I’ve had many relationships. It takes me a while to open up to people, but most guys don’t have that much patience.”
Trey let out a quiet, dry chuckle. “You don’t exactly make it easy to get to know you. You’ve got to give people something to work with.”
But I was tired of talking about me. “What about you? I mean, I don’t exactly remember you being out and proud. The only people you dated where a handful of the cheerleaders that you seemed to switch out every month or two.”
Why they’d put up with that I’d never know.
It would’ve driven me crazy.
Trey was quiet enough that I actually worked up the nerve to look back over at him as we hit a straight stretch in the road. He had an odd look on his face, teasing and mischievous, but there was something else.
It was that touch of something else that had me focusing back on the road and my stomach clenching.
I hated talking to people.
When Trey finally spoke, he was quiet, but there was a hint of laughter in his voice that made me feel like he thought I was oblivious.
I probably was.
I peeked over one more time to see a rueful grin on his face as he leaned against the door, just studying me. “The guy I wanted to date wouldn’t give me the time of day, so I hung out with the girls who would.”
He paused and it felt weird, but when I stayed quiet, he continued. “They knew I wasn’t going to get serious so we just had fun. Since the guy I wanted wasn’t really open to getting to know me—it seemed like he was in the closet and he was kind of standoffish —I didn’t see the point in making a show of coming out.”
As I forced myself to keep my eyes on the road, gaping at the obvious inuendo even I couldn’t miss, I had no idea what to say. “So…so you’re bi?”
My stupid question had him chuckling again and the tension in the car that had started to build popped. “Probably pan, or maybe even demi because it’s really about the person to me, not the body, but yeah, that’s as good a label as any.”
I’d never thought about labels. I’d always known I was just interested in guys, but now I had a thousand questions running through my head. What did he look for in a person? Was it really me he’d been talking about? What had he seen in me? Why hadn’t he said anything? Fuck. Had his teasing been flirting?
This was why I really didn’t like people.
Trey reached out and ruffled my hair again. “Come on, dork. You know you want to ask.”
Shaking my head, I refused.
I just couldn’t do it. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answers because then I’d have to look at myself…and that was just as scary as looking inside him.
His ability to hide from the obvious was impressive.
Like he’d turned it into an Olympic level skill.
I thought about letting it go because we were in the middle of what should’ve been an epic Hollywood disaster movie, but picking the right moment for things had never been my strong suit.
I had impulse control issues according to my therapist.
“How about you at least tell me we’re getting stranded at a remote cabin that only has one bed?” The blush on his face had me grinning. “Please say it only has one bed.”
His huff was the cutest thing ever. “Stop that. It has three bedrooms.”
“Damn. There went my nefarious plans.” That had him glancing over, obviously trying to figure out if I was just fucking with him or if I was trying to lead him somewhere.
The answer was both, but he decided not to ask.
“Two rooms have queens and one is smaller and has bunk beds.” He liked talking about the practical stuff because his face went back to its normal color. “I think Sam will be very happy in the smaller room, and we can use the lower bunk to change her diaper and stuff.”
“That sounds fine.” I should’ve behaved myself. He’d saved us, but I just couldn’t stop myself. He wasn’t straight. He knew I wasn’t straight, and he didn’t hate me as much as I’d always thought. Things were looking up as far as I could tell. “But what if I get lonely? You’ll cuddle me, right?”
And I got another questioning look.
Could he really not read me?
I wasn’t exactly subtle.
“What are you thinking?” I paused for a second before making sure my tone was devoid of teasing and anything confusing. “Honest. Flat out. What are you thinking?”
His focus was completely on the road, but I could see his fingers shifting on the wheel, so I knew he wasn’t as calm as he tried to appear. “Honestly?”
“Yeah, and no matter what, I won’t tease you about it or hold it against you.” Because even if he had no feelings for me whatsoever, I kind of needed to know that before I drove us both insane. “I can be serious when I need to.”
It just wasn’t much fun in stressful or boring situations.
He took a deep breath and slowly let it out. “I’m confused and I’m trying to decide how to react. I can’t tell if you’re leading me somewhere or fucking with me.”
“You can’t tell when someone is flirting with you, can you?” His wince had me genuinely feeling bad. “I didn’t mean that as an asshole comment. It’s a legit question I should’ve worded better.”
Donovan glanced back and forth between me and the road several times before his grip on the wheel eased.
“Um, sometimes I can, but most of the time it’s difficult.” He shrugged, his body relaxing as I nodded and didn’t make fun of him. “I usually only realize it when someone asks me out and makes it clear they want a date.”
When I just listened, he actually kept going without dying of embarrassment. “I was always more focused on school than people, and I don’t know…my parents aren’t any better. They’ve always been very…I don’t know. They’d have both been single forever if a friend in college hadn’t hooked them up. So I think it’s genetic?”
Okay, that had a lot of things making more sense.
“So would it make you feel better if I was more…more analytical in the way I laid things out right now?” This was the weirdest day ever on so many levels and every time I turned around it just got more interesting. “I was basically raised by a hippy, so nothing was simple or straightforward.”
Understatement of the year.
“And as you’ve probably guessed, I like getting a reaction from you.” I shrugged when he groaned, not willing to apologize for something we both knew I was going to do again…and again.
“I’ve realized that, yes.” Taking a deep breath, his arms relaxed and he seemed to go from studying the road like he thought it would start moving on him to simply watching it. “Yes, laying things out in a logical, boring way would be very much appreciated at the moment.”
“Then I can go back to fucking with you?” I just wanted to make sure we were both on the same page with that. Even if nothing happened between us, I wasn’t going to be able to resist the way he blushed and squirmed.
It was just too much fun.
His groan said he found it just as entertaining as I did.
“How about we focus on one thing at a time.” It was a very subtle yes, but I’d take it.
“Deal.” But now I had to figure out where to start. “Any place specifically you want me to start?”
Donovan just shrugged.
“Well, I tried to get your attention in high school, but the whole flirting issue kind of fucked with that idea.” A lot of things fell into place now that I understood him more. “Um, so yeah, not straight and kinda got a thing for you, but I’m not going to turn into a weird psycho if you’re not into me. This isn’t that kind of movie. We’re disaster apocalypse, not psychological thriller.”
He was quiet for several seconds too long for my sanity, but eventually he let out a breath and nodded. “Thank you for being factual and straight-forward.”
That was it?
Thank fuck he kept going.
“I also appreciate that you’re not a killer or psycho.” His lips barely quirked, so I knew we were making progress…I just wasn’t sure what kind.
“No problem.” I beamed, fighting off the butterflies in my stomach. “I’m going to be the best apocalypse roomie ever no matter what, so don’t worry.”
I was going to be doing all the worrying.
Donovan let out a quiet chuckle and shook his head. “I’m not worried.”
It was better than gaping and blushing, but it wasn’t helpful.
“Good to know.” I tried to wait and see if he would say something else, but as the silence stretched out, I realized that was a terrible plan. “You know what else would be good to know?”
He huffed, straightening in his seat and going back to studying the road.
Yep, he knew what was coming.
“Smart guys are so sexy.” I was grinning but had to snort when he glanced over at me, brows pulled together and head cocked. “Dude, I can tease and be honest at the same time. Smart is sexy, but yeah, I want to know what you’re thinking.”
Patience was not my strong-suit.
“Oh.” He swallowed and focused back on the road, another smart move, but it also made him more relaxed not to have to look me in the eyes when he spoke. “Yes, my reaction.”
I managed not to bug him or fiddle with the radio for the entire two minutes and three seconds he thought about how to react.
I was awesome and counting was a great way to keep me still and quiet.
It was definitely a skill I was going to have to teach Sam when she grew up.
“Um, I think I’m in shock, honestly.” His response was so fucking Donovan, I laughed.
“You survived the apocalypse with confidence and even tackled being a babysitter, but I’m what pushed you over the edge into shock and insanity.” That was impressive actually.
I was so badass.
He snorted, rolling his eyes as he frowned at me. “Don’t sound so pleased with yourself.”
Grinning, I shrugged. “Not gonna apologize for being top of the class.”
Sighing, he couldn’t seem to decide what to say and tortured me again with silence. But at least this time it was only forty-five seconds. Things were definitely improving. “I don’t know what to say. Nothing is going to sound as…I’m not…”
After a few seconds of silence, he huffed and whispered. “Fuck.”
Laughing would’ve probably been the wrong way to respond, but damn if he wasn’t so fucking cute. “One thing at a time is what I’d suggest. It’s not like we have to rush.”
That actually got a bark of laughter from him, and it was like the stress balloon he was carrying around burst. As he sagged back in his seat, he shrugged. “I think I can do one thing at a time.”
So what should we do first?
“How about one question, then we relax and flick the radio stations for a while.” That had him smiling and shaking his head again, but I thought it was a fair compromise.
“Fine. One question.” Sitting straighter like he was getting ready to tackle the SATs again, he nodded. “Ready.”
This was so weird.
“Alright, one question…” Thinking quickly, I decided to aim for simple but important. “All things being equal, do I have a chance or should I accept we’re just going to learn how to be friends and that’s it?”
He actually groaned. “I think asking me about the lube was easier.”
Laughing, I knew right then I had a chance.
He just might need a while to get the words out…and that was something I could be patient for.
Three minutes and ten seconds.
He was trying to kill me.
“Um, yes you have a chance, but I want to work on friend stuff too.” Once the words were out, he relaxed back in the seat again and I could almost feel the tension easing. “I…I think I would need both to be comfortable.”
“That makes sense.” Ha, he didn’t hate me. “We don’t have to rush anything, but if there’s something you want, you just need to say it. Logically and plainly or however you need to say it. Just because I flirt and tease doesn’t mean I need that from you to be happy.”
“Two of you would be exhausting.” The words just popped right out without him seeming to thinking about it because as soon as the snarky comment hit the air, he blushed. “Sorry.”
Laughing, I waved my hands and shook my head. “No, you’re right. I’d drive me nuts. I don’t need me. I like you. Don’t forget that.”
He let out a long breath, but I could see a smile barely peeking out. “You’ll just…you’ll just be honest when you…when you flirt?”
“Yes.” Not that I’d been lying before, but if he needed me to promise that, I could. “I will be honest when I’m teasing you and I’ll do my best to let you know if something upsets me or if I’m confused. Deal?”
Tension eased out of his shoulders, and as he nodded, he peeked over at me again. “Yes, I would appreciate that.”
Smart people were kind of high maintenance, but they were generally worth it.
“Oh, and just because I want something, like the bed comments, doesn’t mean you have to have the same boundaries. We’ll figure out limits and what you’re comfortable with. Just tell me no if I push too much.” That should work if he actually talked to me.
But I might’ve pushed it a bit too much with the boundaries and limits comment so I smiled and decided to change the subject.
“Now is it time to play with the radio? I’m either going to pester you or go crazy.” Road trips were supposed to have more rest stops. “We haven’t even stopped today to see the world’s biggest ball of yarn or anything.”
He snorted. “That’s not a thing.”
“Yes, it is.” It had to be. That rubber band ball was a thing. People were too weird for the yarn ball not to be a thing. “The next time we run from an apocalypse, we need to plan more breaks and activities.”
Donovan looked like he wanted to snort again, but he just took a deep breath instead. “How about we talk about something?”
I was going to drive him batshit crazy.
He should’ve just let me flick the channels.
“Can we count dinner at the cabin later as our first date?” I waggled my eyebrows as he groaned. “Then I might be able to talk you into snuggling and watching a movie. Oh, do you kiss on the first date?”
If I’d pushed too much I was pretty sure he would’ve huffed and scoffed, but the snuggling comment had him blushing and the kissing one left him speechless. “Oh, you’ve thought about cuddling with me?”
I didn’t want him dropping dead, though, so I kept quiet about that part.
Rolling his eyes, Donovan finally snorted. “You’re the most annoying guy I’ve ever met.”
“Top of the class, baby.” Giving him a wink, I shifted and leaned against the door. “I’m in a class by myself.”
He was doing his best not to laugh, but I could see the smirk he was holding back. “If…and I mean if we haven’t killed each other by the time that we get to the cabin, and if we get settled in a timely fashion, then yes, we can count dinner as a date.”
It was my turn to groan. “That’s never going to happen and you know it.”
He laughed. “Which part the not killing each other or the getting settled?”
Possibly both, but I just rolled my eyes and gave him a look that said he was ridiculous. “Getting settled of course. You’re not going to go to all the trouble of taking me to the cabin just to kill me. That’s not logical.”
And it seemed that the fascinating Donovan was always logical.
“I don’t even know how to respond to that.” He might’ve been shaking his head, but there was a faint smile so I wasn’t worried.
“Don’t worry, I’ll figure out our first date.” Giving him a smirk and a wink as he peeked over at me, I couldn’t resist fucking with him just a bit more. “I don’t mind taking control.”
And his mouth dropped open.
Just as quickly he was focused on the road and looked cutely boring again, but I knew his brain had to be going a thousand miles an hour.
But since I didn’t want to make him too squirmy, I still wasn’t sure where our exact destination was, I reached for the radio.
“God no.” He huffed, and in a startling change of pace that made me wonder if he’d been abducted by aliens in the last thirty seconds, he took my hand.
Wrapping his fingers around my hand, he started absentmindedly stroking over them as he drove. “Did I ever tell you about the time your mom wanted to invite mine to some rights dinner?”
Chuckling, I shook my head and leaned back in my seat. “No, but that sounds like something she would’ve done.”
Mostly because she’d known how much I liked Donovan and it’d been her way of helping, but they wouldn’t have realized that.
Closing my eyes as he started to tell the story, all I could focus on was the feel of his finger stroking mine and the soft timber of his voice…
We made it.
As I pulled up in front of the cabin, I had to marvel that we were mentally and physically in one piece.
And I hadn’t killed Trey.
Looking down at where our hands were still joined, I slowly eased my fingers out from under his so I could put the car in park.
We’d made it.
That one simple phrase kept wandering over and over in my head, and I found myself reaching for my phone. Typing in a quick text message I wasn’t sure they would get, I told my mother we’d gotten to the cabin in one piece.
Knowing I was going to be with Trey and Sam had kept her in stitches. It’d turned out to be the best way to keep her from worrying about reality, and she’d spent most of her day asking ridiculous questions.
But now there was silence.
Well, the phone was silent. Sam decided that without the rhythm of the car moving, she was done and started to squeak from the backseat. That had Trey finally blinking and looking around almost owlishly.
“Where…” His eyes widened even more as he realized where we were. “I didn’t give you the rest of the directions.”
Trying not to smile, I looked up at the cabin. “After a while, I realized where we were, and I didn’t need them. We were just coming from a different direction that I usually do so it took a while to get my bearings.”
And I hadn’t wanted to wake him up.
Trey had been going for just as long as I had, but he’d spent a lot more time worrying about what they were going to do. Between that and the way he seemed to be going nonstop, he’d crashed at the first opportunity.
It’d been weird to watch him sleep, nice, but kind of awkward…but I had to admit, it’d been peaceful.
The hardest part about the apocalypse was going to be having people around all the time.
“Great. Yeah…” His brain was still coming back online because it took another indigent wail from the backseat before he remembered the baby. “Shit. Sam.”
That baby’s first words were going to be shit or fuck. I just knew it.
“She’s fine. She didn’t start fussing until the car stopped, so I think she’s just a bit frustrated.” Like we all were, but I had a feeling she’d be easy to make happy again. “Let’s get her out and while you change her, I’ll start getting the house ready.”
Thankfully it hadn’t been winterized yet, but we hadn’t been planning on coming up for a while so at the very least I needed to see what the temperature was set to and make sure everything was working.
“Good…yeah…” Trey must’ve been a hard sleeper, or still exhausted because he kept nodding and looking around.
Maybe simply overload in general?
I was feeling the same way, but pushing it back was instinctive.
“We made it.” His brain seemed to be coming back online because his teasing grin was back. “And, dude, you didn’t kill me. Score.”
Rolling my eyes, I turned off the car and opened the door. “I told you. Too much work to hide your body.”
His grin widened as he nodded and seemed to be aiming for a serious expression. “Yeah, you’ll need some slave labor too if you want to survive the apocalypse.”
“So far all my slave has done is talk.” I was thinking about manual labor, but Trey’s dirty leer said he was thinking about something completely different. “Stop that.”
Thankfully, I was saved by the bell…or wail, in this case.
“Shit. Sam.” Now that his brain was back online, he scrambled out of the car and hurried to the backseat. As he got Sam out, cooing and grinning at her to help her forget why she was so pissed, I headed up to the house.
Unlocking it gave me a sense of peace, I’d always loved coming here, but it was the first time I’d ever been without my parents. Just that should’ve made it weird, but with everything else piling on, the stress was finally starting to hit me.
Taking a deep breath as I turned on the lights and started automatically working through the checklist we’d always done as a family, I was feeling more centered by the time that I came back to the living room.
“I’m so glad we’re not going to be roughing it.” Trey flashed me a grin as he finished changing Sam’s diaper. “That would’ve sucked.”
Rolling my eyes, I scoffed. “I’m so glad I could provide you with the height of luxury for your zombie apocalypse stay.”
Laughing, Trey leaned down and rubbed his face against Sam’s belly, making her laugh. “Uncle Donnie is so silly. We don’t have zombies.”
“Oh no, I’m not Donnie anything.” Uncle? Donnie?
Trey gave Sam a conspiratorial wink. “Uncle Donnie is so silly.”
Giving up, I shook my head and decided ignoring it would be the best way to make him forget the ridiculous nickname.
“What’s the best way to keep her happy and occupied while we unload the car?” I honestly wasn’t sure it was safe to leave her on her own either. “If you need to keep an eye on her I can do it, but I just—”
Trey laughed. “She’s not gonna get up and start walking off or anything. It’d be safe to leave her on the floor, but let me get her playpen set up first and then we’ll bring in the rest. Sound good?”
“Yes.” That sounded like an excellent plan.
I wasn’t sure what I should be worrying about at the moment, but I guess if she couldn’t move then some of the big ones were off the list. “The house isn’t baby proofed.”
I should’ve thought of that earlier.
Rolling his eyes, Trey finished buttoning her clothes and picked her up again. “We’ve got several months to figure that out, and worse case scenario, I’m pretty sure that section of Walmart isn’t going to be raided anytime soon.”
Oh, good point.
We were probably the only people on the East Coast who’d primary worry was about babyproofing a house.
“Then once we get settled, I’ll add that to the list of things we should be looking out for.” We might not need food at the moment, but more stuff for Sam wouldn’t hurt and I had a feeling Trey was going to need projects or he’d drive me nuts.
He chuckled and gave me a look that said he thought I was being ridiculous, but after clearing the air earlier, I was fairly certain mixed in was a smile that said he thought it was cute.
He liked me.
Even with having quiet time to process it all, I still was having a difficult time organizing everything in my head.
Trey Simons like me.
It felt like I was living through a bad teen comedy, but Sam’s laughter said it was all very real.
Every time I thought things couldn’t get weirder, something surprised me. But for the time being, all I wanted to do was focus on the practical and get our new life organized. Once that was done, then I’d let myself have an existential crisis.
“Do I want to know what’s happened out there?” Trey’s teasing smile finally faded into something more serious as we walked out onto the porch.
“Reports are…sketchy.” And it seemed to depend on what radio station I was listening to. “The water hit the coast, but aside from words like mass devastation, I haven’t heard specifics yet.”
He took a deep breath as he opened up the trunk. “I guess that’s to be expected.”
As I pulled out the playpen thing, he looked up at the front of the car. “How are the phones?”
“Mostly fancy paperweights at this point.” As he barked out a laugh that had Sam giggling, I explained. “Sorry, snark isn’t going to help. I’m just getting weird error messages or those all circuits are busy messages, and I haven’t gotten any texts in the last hour or so either.”
He followed as I carried the playpen into the house. “Do you usually get cell service around here?”
“Down near town, yes, but up here we get one bar on a really good day.” His wince made me laugh. “But I plugged in the sat phone and we can try that in a bit. There’s also satellite internet that costs a fucking fortune, but it should work too.”
“Man, after this I’m so gonna be a prepper.” Setting Sam down on the floor away from the contraption, he walked over and started moving pieces around like it was some kind of 3D puzzle. “Like bunker and everything. Hey, you guys got a bunker?”
“No, but I’m pretty sure after all this my parents are going to put one in.” They were going to be insane for years to come…but then again, so was I. “See, this is why we need to make notes so we’re better prepared when the zombies attack.”
Life was so weird.
“There we go.” Trey had it magically put together in seconds and was bouncing and smiling as he went over to pick up Sam who seemed to be very focused on finding her toes. “You’re gonna have so much fun little miss, and me and Uncle Donnie are going to clean out the car so you’ve got clean clothes and all your goodies inside.”
Barely holding back a groan as he winked at me, I sighed and decided to start cleaning out the car since killing him wasn’t an option. It only got me a short reprieve, though, because soon he had her safely in the playpen with a mobile slowly twirling over her head.
As Trey followed, still bouncing along like this was some kind of weird vacation, he started rapid firing questions. “You’ve got electricity from the solar panels, but do you have regular electricity too? What about water? Is it a pump? That needs electricity, right? Have you thought of anything we forgot? I had a dream that we had mac-n-cheese but no milk and that just sucked.”
His brain was a fascinating place.
I wasn’t sure which question to tackle first, so I just randomly picked as I grabbed the first load of stuff that all seemed to be for the baby. “Um, somewhere in the back of the car is a large can of powdered milk from an emergency food kit. That’ll probably be gross to drink, but it should work fine for cooking and stuff like macaroni and cheese.”
“Score.” As he bounded up the porch steps with a box of diapers and a bag of formula, he called out to the baby. “Hey, Sam, you hear that? We got mac-n-cheese.”
Sam’s babbling went up a pitch, so I had to assume she approved.
Could she understand what he was saying or was she just responding to his pitch?
“I’m pretty sure there are some weird cookbooks for disasters and some old ones for cooking with rations from one of the last world wars over on the bookshelf.” Gesturing toward the overstuffed shelves that had everything from board games to old books on them, I decided that would be a good project for Trey.
“I’m not sure where they are, though.” I gave him a pretty good helpless look as I walked past him into the kitchen and I could see his eyes light up.
“I can look for that tomorrow.” As he set his load down, he grinned at Sam again. “Project time, cutie pie. You gonna help me?”
Her excited squeals said she would love to, but I wasn’t quite sure how that would work. “If she can help reorganize the bookshelf, she should be changing her own diaper.”
Trey laughed setting off Sam so she let out gleeful squeals as well. “You hear that, cutie? Uncle Donnie expects miracles as well as slave labor.”
Playing along, I walked over to the playpen and sighed. “Your big brother has just been holding out on me. I should’ve put you to work reorganizing the car while he made friends in Walmart.”
I wasn’t Trey level funny, but she reached out and made a happy sound so she seemed to think I didn’t do too badly. Trey on the other hand was snorting he found it so funny. “I told you we were going to have fun on our adventure, Sam.”
Reaching in to tickle her belly, he gave her a beaming smile as she made excited noises. “Alright, you be patient for just a bit longer, missy.”
She seemed content to study the black and white shapes that slowly made circles over her head, so her babbling sounds continued as we headed back outside for another trip. Trey was still bouncing, and I had a feeling just being in one place where he knew they’d be safe had him feeling almost giddy.
“So what other projects do we need to focus on.” He looked through the car as we grabbed suitcases and random bags from Walmart out of the trunk. “I’m guessing organizing the food?”
“Oh yeah.” Somehow it looked like the canned goods had started multiplying in the back when we hadn’t been looking. “I just kept grabbing anything that made sense and I knew would last.”
And now it was everywhere.
Trey chuckled. “No problem. It’ll be easy as long as we’ve got a place to put it.”
When he glanced over at me questioningly, I had to laugh. “We’ve got storage. Don’t worry.”
Three generations of preppers had made sure of that.
“I feel like I’m missing something.” He gave me a teasing glare and pretended to study me as we walked up the stairs. “I think I need a tour before too long.”
Probably a good idea.
Especially since I still wasn’t sure how serious he’d been about the whole bed conversation. I’d thought that was just teasing because he seemed to delight in making me squirm, but then I kept remembering how he said he’d be honest even when he teased and I wasn’t so sure.
“That would probably be a good idea.” Keeping the practical things at the front of my mind, I pointed toward the back of the house with my head as we walked toward the kitchen. “You’ve seen the kitchen.”
Setting down everything on the table, I leaned against it and studied the room. The actual cabinet space and countertop wasn’t huge—just a small U shape—but it was enough to store the stuff we’d need on a daily basis. “So regular kitchen stuff, but that door leads to a pantry and that one to the bathroom.”
When it’d been constructed, they’d gone for easy to build. So while it wasn’t fabulous to have the only bathroom in the house right off the kitchen, it was practical building-wise. There were a lot of things like that, but my parents had started working on it when they’d inherited the property.
They’d even had plans drawn up to extend it out the back, but they’d decided to wait until next year to start on that project.
Hindsight said that decision wasn’t the best.
“If you go toward that other hallway in the living room, there’s another bedroom downstairs and a staircase that leads up to two more bedrooms and a walk-in-closet that’s like an oversized linen closet.” Some days I’d have traded one of the closets for an extra bathroom, but for now I wasn’t going to complain.
It was just going on the future apocalypse list.
“You say closets and pantry, but are they regular people kind or prepper ones?” He rubbed his hands together gleefully. “Come on. Show me something fabulous.”
Rolling my eyes, I pushed away from the table and over to the pantry. “Definitely prepper ones.”
I couldn’t tell if his laughter was because he thought I was serious or teasing, but I loved the way his eyes widened as he walked into what should probably be called a storage room rather than a pantry. “See?”
“Dude, it’s like some kind of old general store that you’d see on Little House on the Prairie.” His description made me laugh and question what he’d grown up watching on TV.
“It’s preppers for you.” I rolled my eyes. “You should see the weird stuff in the shed out back.”
His grin got absolutely gleeful. “Oh yes, I have to see that.”
Shaking my head, I was glad to see that he found another project. “Tomorrow. We have a ton left to do today.”
As he walked around and studied the shelves of food and random supplies, he nodded. “I was worried there wouldn’t be space to put all the stuff I got from Walmart.”
That was not going to be a problem.
“There should be space for the bulky stuff we don’t need right away in the linen closet upstairs, but there’s also space under the bed downstairs to put stuff we don’t need right now like the toilet paper and things like that.” It was going to take time to get everything organized, but it wasn’t like we had anything better to do.
“Oh, man, you’ve even got jars for canning. I’ll have to see if I remember how to do that once we get the garden going.”
“Where did you grow up?” He’d shown up in third grade, but had he ever said where he’d lived before that?
He groaned, giving me a sheepish look that made me even more curious. “Now it’s your turn to be nice.”
“Deal.” I wasn’t the one who made jokes constantly, and honestly, I’d have promised him anything to make him explain all the drama.
“My mom grew up on a commune.” When I just blinked, not sure if I was hearing him right, he continued. “We were there until we moved here with my sperm donor father. So yeah, I grew up farming and canning until we got to civilization and my mother decided that TV wasn’t evil so we stayed.”
His mom was so weird.
“That explains a lot, actually.” One of the only really clear memories I had from third grade was when a group of us were talking and he had no idea about any of the movies we’d all seen over the summer. That look of confusion had stayed with me.
He studied my face for several long moments before he stood straighter and cocked his head at me. “That’s it?”
I shrugged, not sure what to say that wouldn’t be rude. “Um, I already knew your mom was weird. This just explains a lot, and since the only thing that I know about canning is that pressure cookers are dangerous, you’re going to be helpful.”
He snorted. “You’re so weird.”
That was debatable, but we had shit to do before we had time to figure out who was more interesting. “This weird guy has food and shelter and electricity.”
Trey grinned, waggling his eyebrows. “And beds. Come on, my cute little dork, we’ve got a car to unload and dinner to plan.”
He hadn’t been kidding.
Sitting on the couch eating canned ravioli wasn’t exactly how I pictured my first date with Donovan, but I wasn’t going to be picky.
I’d be picky for our second date.
“Tomorrow we’ll finish getting everything sorted out and have real meals—” He was just gonna keep going and apologizing, so I cut him off.
“Stop. This is fine and we’re both too tired to make anything.” A dinner of Chef Boyardee and peanut butter sandwiches wasn’t gourmet, but it was filling. Leaning over, I smiled and made a face at Sam who was finally starting to do her I’m tired wiggles.
Napping most of the day in the car had been great during the drive, but not for keeping her on a regular sleep schedule.
“Yes, it is.” Giving her a surprised face with wide eyes as she squirmed and watched me, I nodded. “Yes, it’s yummy college food that we’re supposed to be high to enjoy, but it’s good sober, too.”
Donovan groaned. “Don’t say that to her. Her first words are going to be pot and fuck.”
Laughing, I bobbed my head from side to side to make her smile. “Wouldn’t that be fun? That would drive Mom nuts.”
She liked pretending to be normal, but just thinking of her made something in my stomach feel heavy.
I must not have hidden it from Donovan very well because he actually reached out and squeezed my arm. “We’ll figure out where she went. She’s probably worried sick about you guys and doing her best to get home.”
I wanted to believe that, but I wasn’t so sure anymore.
“She went MIA before the water even hit.” There was something wrong, but I wasn’t going to think about it yet. We had enough on our plates. “But I left a note at the house in case that’s still standing and I texted her. So we’re covered.”
Realizing my dinner was done, I climbed off the couch with my can and spoon. Donovan had wanted to get dishes out and everything, but that idea was crazy. “You done with your can?”
He groaned again but nodded and handed it over like it was contagious.
“You’re such a drama queen.” Chuckling at the way his face scrunched up, I looked down at Sam and made another face. “Uncle Donnie’s so funny.”
She thought so too, but now it was her turn to scrunch up her face and be dramatic. Yep, it seemed like it was finally bed time. Before I could figure out how I was going to take the trash to the kitchen and keep her from loosing her shit, in came Uncle Donnie to the rescue.
He actually picked her up.
“Your brother in insane, but I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that.” The sing-song pitch to his voice had her mesmerized, and since it seemed like disaster was averted for the time being, I quickly went to the trash can.
That was another thing we’d realized we should put on the list…more trash bags.
It was going to be fascinating figuring out everything that we needed but we hadn’t known we’d need. But for now, we were good and had what seemed to be about five left under the sink. I wasn’t sure how much trash the two of us would make, but Sam was another story altogether.
As I made Sam a bottle, Donovan called out from the living room. “What else do you need to put in her bedroom before you can get her to sleep?”
Heading back into the living room, I smiled when I realized Donovan figured out that rocking her back and forth was soothing. But as he looked up at me, he was starting to get that I’m holding a live grenade expression again.
He needed to get over it, though, so I just pretended not to notice and answered the question he’d actually asked, not the silent SOS he was projecting. “We’ve got everything for tonight, and we’ll get the rest tomorrow.”
We were both just done for today.
Getting the car emptied and Sam settled had been our biggest goal, and I was ready for the day to be over. Donovan still seemed like he was going strong, but I had a feeling he was just as ready to crash as I was. He was just better at hiding what he was feeling.
Which was still frustrating even though I was starting to understand him better.
As he looked back and forth between me and Sam, he frowned. “I think we need to get a crib for her.”
Walking over to her diaper bag, I grabbed it and looked around for anything else we would need. “Yeah, she’s okay on a blanket down here for now, but eventually she’s going to start rolling and moving, and that’ll get a bit trickier.”
Donovan’s eyes widened. “She could fall off the porch or get stuck under the couch.”
Those were his biggest worries?
“Then we’ll look for a crib for upstairs and leave the Pack-n-Play down here.” That would save Sam from the evil couch.
Heading toward the stairs, I glanced back as Donovan followed me. “When do you think it would be safe to go out and grab it?”
Sighing, Donovan carefully made his way up the stairs like his bomb was slightly unsteady. “I think we take tomorrow and organize and plan, then we go run errands the day after. I don’t want to wait because it’s not a pressing need and then realize we can’t find it later.”
“Yeah, supply chain.” There was probably going to be a lot of things like that, but for the time being we were safe and had plenty of food, so I wasn’t worried. “We’ll figure it out, and at the very least, we’d probably find someone local who wouldn’t mind lending us an old one of theirs.”
“That’s a good idea.” Donovan looked more relaxed as we walked through the landing area at the top of the stairs that was almost like a small living room.
Once we were in Sam’s new bedroom, I sat down on the lower bunk where I’d laid out her changing pad earlier and reached for her. “Alright, give me the bomb.”
Donovan rolled his eyes but quickly passed her to me, making me grin. “You’re ridiculous.”
“It’s a side effect of being exhausted.” And just loving how he rolled his eyes and sighed in general. “Bedtime is calling my name.”
I had every intention of being good and not teasing him about the bed situation again, but there was something curious in his eyes that said he hadn’t forgotten about it.
But what did it mean?
God, I was too tired to figure it out.
Ignoring whatever was going through his head, I quickly changed Sam and got her wrapped up in her jammies. “There you go, little miss.”
As I lifted her off the bed and tried to find the best position to feed her, Donovan looked around the room. “We need to move things around tomorrow.”
Probably, but I wasn’t sure what he was thinking and it wasn’t my house.
“What are you picturing?” We could make do, but I liked the way his mind worked, so I wasn’t going to hide my curiosity.
“I think we need to have a chair in here and for us to take that top bunk off so you can use the bottom one easier.” As his eyes studied the room, I could see his mind still going a thousand miles an hour. “She’s also going to need one of those bouncy things at some point.”
Leaning back against the footboard, I found a comfortable position and Sam started chowing down on her bottle. Watching her sweet, innocent face slowly ease closer to sleep, I dropped my voice a bit as I tried to figure out how to respond to him. “Do you think we’ll be here that long?”
When he was silent for too long, I looked back up at him. His gaze was heavy and I could feel the weight of the whole situation pressing down on him. “Yes.”
He took a breath as his gaze dropped down to Sam. “We’ll know more tomorrow, but from what they were saying on the radio and what I managed to find online, the damage is catastrophic. That damned hurricane isn’t helping either. It’s just inching along and is now hovering over the whole coast line. The flooding is…”
Forcing the tension out of my arms so Sam didn’t feel it, I nodded as I tried not to picture what all that rain would do on top of the damage from the tsunami. “So we plan and figure out different options, worst and best case.”
But either way, it seemed like this was going to be home for quite a while. Even if my some miracle the house was still standing, the infrastructure was going to be flattened and I wasn’t sure we’d even be able to get groceries, much less have power.
Pushing all those thoughts aside, we both watched in silence as Sam slowly sucked down the formula. When she was milk drunk and zoned out, I stood and handed him the bottle. Quietly mouthing for him to turn off the lights, I burped her and when she’d let out a belch that sounded like she should’ve been in the middle of a biker bar, I laid her down in her makeshift bed.
She fussed for a few seconds, but by the time we got out of her room and closed the door, she was sucking on her fist and well on her way to dream land.
We both waited there for several long seconds before Donovan spoke softly. “You can have the first shower if you want.”
It wasn’t what I’d wanted to hear from him, but it was practical, so I nodded. “Thanks.”
As we made our way downstairs, I glanced at Sam’s door one more time. “You’ll listen for her while I’m in the shower?”
One of the only things we’d one besides moving her bed was to set up the baby monitor I’d remembered to pack. Right now the other end was in the kitchen and it was definitely going to come in handy. I felt a lot less silly about having it than I had when I’d shoved it in a bag earlier.
I had a feeling there were going to be lots of those kinds of things popping up left and right once we actually started living here.
“Sure, no problem.” Donovan sounded confident until he got to the bottom of the stairs and looked back up like he’d heard a ticking bomb. “She’ll stay asleep, though, right?”
Laughing quietly, I nodded. “She’s a pretty good sleeper. She’ll wake up once for a bottle during the night, but then she should sleep until morning.”
Donovan studied me and cocked his head. “Are they all like that?”
“Babies?” Huh? “The waking up thing? Yeah.”
It was a good thing he was gay and wasn’t going to accidentally knock up some girl and end up with his own bomb.
“Most babies her age still wake up a lot more than that.” I was too tired to laugh at his expressions now, but I was going to do it in the morning.
His brows pulled together and he got this cute, worried look. “You must be constantly exhausted.”
I thought it was telling that he knew I was the one getting up with her and not my mother, but I shrugged. “You get used to it.”
“We’ll make sure you get a nap when she does tomorrow.” He got this befuddled expression and looked upstairs again. “Don’t they tell mothers to sleep when the baby does? I think I saw that on TV. It should count for which ever parent is doing the work.”
That was something else I was going to ignore until my brain had enough bandwidth to handle it.
“Deal.” A nap was starting to sound even better than going to bed.
Donovan seemed to realize how tired I was as I yawned, because he grabbed my arms and turned me toward the living room. “Shower.”
“Yes, Sir.” My cheeky response had him blushing, and just that little bit of normalcy made me feel better.
It even kept me going as I showered and brushed my teeth, but I was dragging again by the time I was done.
I expected to find the house quiet. I figured there was a good chance of Donovan already being asleep, but I found him in the living room sitting cross-legged on the couch, just staring.
“Your turn.” Had he been waiting for me?
I didn’t think so, but he was never easy to read.
“I think we need to get a desk set up for you tomorrow.” He seemed to think the sentence was completely logical, but I missed a few steps in the conversation.
“Huh?” I wasn’t going to guess what he’d been thinking about that got him to that conclusion.
“For your school stuff. I didn’t think to make sure you brought text books, but you’ve got your laptop.” He gestured toward a pile in the corner that had some of my random shit. “You need to keep up with your work.”
That was the last thing I’d expected to come out of his mouth.
“Really?” I looked around at the chaos we were standing in and shrugged. “Not sure it’s that important right now.”
“No.” There was such conviction in that one word, it had me turning back to him. He was shaking his head and looking up at me like everything was perfectly normal. “You have the chance to keep going and keep ahead of a lot of other people right now. That’s important.”
I wasn’t so sure, but he continued. “I’m going to have to reapply to different places and figure out all kinds of stuff. You’ve got everything already organized, and you just need time to study and maybe for us to order you new books?” He shrugged like he wasn’t sure about that part and I had to smile.
“I technically got books, but they’re all online too.” I just liked paper ones better, but I’d deal. “Are you sure? You even said how expensive the satellite internet is.”
That was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to issues that were standing in my way at the moment.
“I’m sure, and I know my mother will be in agreement when I explain the situation.” Relaxing back against the couch, he stretched his legs out.
The tension seemed to flow out of him as he walked through his plan. “The school will probably postpone classes for a while if most of the students are online. We’ll get it all figured out, but I don’t want you to stop unless the school isn’t standing anymore. This is important.”
“It just doesn’t seem like it matters right now.” Everything was going to be different.
“Eventually life will get back to normal, and that’s what we’ve got to live for.” Gesturing around the room, he kept his gaze focused on me. “Even if we decide this is where we’re going to live for years and turn it into some kind of Little House on the Prairie commune, you’re smart enough and driven enough that you’ll want to do something meaningful with your life.”
As I huffed at the Little House dig, he shrugged and finally got off the couch. “I sound like my mother, and I kind of hate you for making me channel her. That’s just rude. So you’re just going to agree with me and we’re going to keep your plans going.”
I nodded, trying not to smile too much and show him how sweet he was. “No more arguing.”
I’d agree to anything that took the shadows out of his eyes and gave him something to be passionate about.
But I was going to hope that classes were canceled for at least a week. I mean, tsunami, hurricane, and insanity…I thought that deserved a bit of a break.
“Good.” Standing straight like he was still channeling his parents, he pointed toward the stairs. “Bed.”
Giving him a wink, I grinned. “Yes, ma’am?”
Groaning, he buried his face in his hands. “I walked into that one. I just set it up and it’s all my fault.”
“Yes, it is.” I laughed as he just shook his head and decided to follow his directions since it was actually a good idea. “Night, Mom.”
He groaned again as I grabbed my duffle bag and piled a few more random things in my arms, hauling them upstairs with me. It was going to take us hours tomorrow to get everything organized, but for now, I was pleased with everything we’d accomplished.
There was a quiet goodnight that followed me up the stairs, but I wasn’t going to risk waking up Sam by responding…or by risking what I might say.
It was late.
I was tired.
And everything had changed.
Yep, it was time for me to go to bed.
He hadn’t said anything inappropriate in hours.
I was starting to worry because the occasional wink didn’t count.
I knew he was tired, we both were, but that wasn’t the whole problem. I just wasn’t sure what to do about it or how to even approach fixing it. My family’s way of handling when things went wrong was for my mother to tease about it a bit, and then we’d sit down and plan a way to make sure it wouldn’t happen again.
At the very least we’d figure out a way to mitigate the issue the next time.
Like for our current situation, I’d started making a list of what else we would need to make sure the cabin was ready for a bigger disaster next time.
Like the garbage can liners.
Every disaster, big or small, was a learning experience, but this was another level entirely.
Taking a breath, I pushed everything else to the back of my mind and headed into my bedroom. It’d been where I slept once I’d gotten too old for the bunk beds to make sense, but it’d never been a room that felt like home. Now it felt even more sterile.
When the cabin was just a place we came for my parents to unwind or to tackle a project, I’d always seen it more like a hotel. I’d never left anything personal, and besides some random old work clothes, my parents hadn’t either. But now it was going to be home for at least the next few months.
Just the little I’d seen when I’d been able to log online to check out the news earlier was painful to watch. There was utter chaos up and down the entire coastline. Now with the hurricane moving at a snail’s pace and dumping water, it made it impossible to safely assess the damage. It would be days before we knew much of anything.
I hadn’t been able to find out about our neighborhood specifically, but when I’d tried to pull up news about our planned community, I’d found a Facebook post that was talking about the neighborhood about a mile from us.
It was gone.
The pictures had been…
Pushing those images to the back of my head again, I grabbed pajamas out of my bag and headed for the bathroom. Showering didn’t help clear my head or ease the tightness in my chest. If anything, a headache was starting to form at the base of my skull.
I’d hoped that the pounding spray would’ve made things clearer or at the very least give me some idea about what to do with Trey. It hadn’t and it’d just given me time to figure out more things to worry about.
He was…not himself.
He’d even stopped teasing about the sleeping arrangements.
Well, I wasn’t sure teasing was the right word since he’d said he was being honest.
Wait, if he’d been honest, was he waiting for me upstairs? Had he stopped mentioning it because he’d realized it’d made me uncomfortable? Did it make me uncomfortable? Was he uncomfortable by himself? Was he going to need help with Sam?
Something about the look on his face when he’d been talking about her sleeping habits said he’d been doing a lot more than I thought a brother was supposed to. I wasn’t the most knowledgeable about babies, that was obvious, but I was fairly certain that was supposed to be his mother’s job.
Helping out sometimes was necessary and polite, but that wasn’t the impression I got from him. I tried to put myself in his shoes, and I just couldn’t imagine my mother even wanting my help if the situation was reversed. There was something about bonding that I had a faint memory of her lecturing someone about. Maybe me? Maybe it’d been about work? I couldn’t remember.
She didn’t even like it when I put things back in the kitchen in a different spot. There was no way she’d want someone else taking care of her child like that. She’d been personally offended by the idea of daycare when I was a kid, so maybe she wasn’t the right role model to compare this with. But I didn’t have any other options other than what was in sitcoms and they were frightening.
Thinking about mothers, good and bad, had me walking over to my phone on the small nightstand. I’d plugged it in earlier, but it’d been silent so far. There was still that single bar teasing me, but I wasn’t sure it was enough to do anything with, so I quickly connected to the Wi-Fi to send my mother an email so I could elaborate on the random details I’d sent her throughout the day.
I know I sent you a text when we made it to the cabin earlier, but things were hectic, so I thought I’d give you more details. We found a safe, well-stocked Walmart on the outskirts of Raleigh earlier today and managed to get more formula and things for Sam along with extra supplies. I’m not sure cookies or Snickers bars were necessary, but Trey said they were essential supplies for morale so I’m not going to question him.
Oh, and thank you for putting money in my account. Aside from gas and the groceries, we spent some on ebooks, but there’s plenty left, so we don’t need any more for the time being. It’s so weird. I was having Trey download the books and he remembered what series I was reading in high school and was teasing me about not having finished it yet.
I’m making notes like you asked me to, but one thing none of us thought about was what if we were here with small children. Do you know how much stuff they seem to need? It’s ridiculous, so we’re going to head out to get more stuff in the next day or two. I’m thinking of heading west over toward Greeneville or maybe even Knoxville even though that will be a drive. I think anything closer will be low on supplies. What do you think?
Alright, I should try and head to bed. Sam slept most of the day, so she was up late. Trey said it’d messed up her sleep schedule, but we were both glad she was happy in the car, so I don’t care how late she went to bed. I’m going to probably sleep in, but I’ll try and call you on the sat phone tomorrow.
Love you guys. Don’t worry. We’re fine.
As I sent the email and thought about everything we’d accomplished, I thought I should’ve felt a bit more relaxed. Usually completing my to-do list for the day made it easier for my mind to wind down and for me to go to bed, but now the list felt never-ending, and thinking about it didn’t seem to help.
I could feel how tired I was, my muscles ached and my head was pounding, but there was something pressing against me saying I had to keep going. But I couldn’t because organizing the house in the middle of the fucking night would be a dick move since it would wake up both Trey and Sam.
No being a dick was going to be the first rule of living together peacefully, so instead I found myself sitting on the bed just looking around the room, and then up at the ceiling. What was Trey doing? Was he asleep? He’d looked…I didn’t have a good word to describe it, but I had to admit, he’d worried me.
He was still worrying me.
“Fuck it.” I wasn’t going to get to sleep until I knew what he was doing, so I gave up pretending otherwise and headed quietly toward the stairs.
The house was almost completely dark and I looked around knowing something was missing. “The nightlight.”
Heading into the kitchen, I looked in the junk drawer and found my old Transformers nightlight. I wasn’t sure if it would still work, but I made a mental note to put another nightlight on our list. With Sam, we’d need to get up at night and move around, so safety required lighting.
Mom was going to be frustrated that we’d forgotten about the possibility of having a baby at the cabin. Her perfect plans went off track with something random like that, and I realized we’d struggle if anyone else had kids older than Sam.
Yes, the plans definitely needed to be revamped just a bit.
Hopefully, that would keep Mom from obsessively worrying about me when they finally got back. With everything going on with Trey, I didn’t need her hovering and asking questions I didn’t know the answers to…like how I felt about him.
That was just too complicated to give a mother an appropriate answer to.
Telling her that he made me hard and drove me crazy wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be sharing. I didn’t think Trey would appreciate that either, but he hadn’t said anything yet, so maybe he hadn’t thought about it?
Not that I’d be surprised by that. He had enough on his plate looking after Sam and working on school and whatever projects he was dreaming up to tackle around the house. No, he’d probably think of that right before my parents managed to show up.
Thinking about how I wanted to explain Trey to them had me looking up at the ceiling again and finally walking toward the stairs with the silly nightlight…which actually worked. The light was dim, but it was enough to keep the stairs safe when he went for her bottle later.
I stood at the bottom for several long moments before making my way up. I did my best to keep my footsteps light, but by the time I got to Trey’s room, he was opening the door. Had he been awake? Had I woken him up?
When he just stood there silently in the doorway, I took a deep breath and did my best to keep my voice at a whisper. “I was worried about you.”
I wasn’t going to lie and say I knew what to do about those emotions, but it was an honest description of how I was feeling with factual information about why I was there.
Would it frustrate him?
Was I supposed to flirt?
I wasn’t sure I knew how to do that.
Trey leaned against the frame of the doorway and smiled. “Thank you for being honest with me.”
Ha, he got it.
“I don’t know what to do now, though.” Taking a leap I wasn’t completely sure I was comfortable with, I let out a breath. “I don’t know what would make you feel better.”
There was something in his eyes I wasn’t sure I understood, but his soft smile said he wasn’t upset with me, so I kept that piece of information at the front of my head. “Cuddle with me?”
I must’ve looked confused because he chuckled quietly and glanced back into his bedroom. “Literally just cuddle. I don’t want to be alone and I’m not sure you do either.”
That was a distinct possibility.
“My mind won’t stop racing.” I shrugged as he shook his head. “It was either come up and check on you or reorganize the kitchen.”
I had to give him credit, he didn’t laugh. “Then I’m definitely the better option. Come on, dork.”
My sigh said what I thought about that nickname, but his eyes just sparkled as he walked over to the bed. He was so annoying, but I followed him anyway. I couldn’t help but wonder what that said about me, but I was going to put analyzing that on the to-do list for tomorrow.
When he lay down, he scooted toward the middle of the bed and patted the mattress. “I won’t bite.”
I raised one eyebrow. “In general or just this time?”
He’d made it clear he was interested in me, but I wasn’t sure what else he was interested in.
My comeback had him grinning and he looked lighter as a dirty leer teased at his lips. “That’s not my thing, but if you like it, I’ll figure it out.”
Not knowing what to say, I just climbed in bed and rolled to my side so I didn’t have to look him in the face as I blushed. He chuckled again, but when he made me the little spoon, wrapping his arms around me and hugging me tight, I decided to ignore his laughter because I had other things to worry about now.
I’d never slept with anyone like this…like a lover.
The closest I’d come was having to share a bed during the senior trip to Florida back in high school, and thankfully, this was nothing like that awkward mess. This was nice, and I found myself closing my eyes as his warmth surrounded me.
As he settled down, I listened to his breathing and tried to sense if he was relaxing. I thought he was, but I wasn’t sure. “Are you feeling better?”
For some reason he chuckled again, but it was the faint kiss he pressed to the back of my neck that had me going still. “Yes, dork, I’m feeling better.”
The surprise finally faded after a few seconds, and I relaxed back against him again, smiling for some weird reason. “Good.”
He laughed at random times.
I wasn’t going to try to guess what he was thinking.
When his quiet chuckles faded, he pulled me closer, finally going still when my back was pressed against his chest and his arm was tucked around mine. This was definitely nothing like the Florida trip. This was…this was intimate.
I didn’t hate it, which was slightly unexpected.
I really didn’t want to analyze any of it, though, so I laid my hand over his, wanting him to know I was there for him, and closed my eyes. Everything in my head finally felt right and quiet, and I knew now I would be able to sleep.
I’d worry about why later…much later.
He cried in his sleep.
It was almost silent and I wouldn’t have even realized what was happening if Sam’s quiet fussing hadn’t woken me up. She wasn’t really awake. It was just baby dreams at the moment, but it had my brain coming to the surface, and something else I couldn’t have put my finger on had me opening my eyes.
Donovan was shaking.
I wasn’t sure what to do at first. I didn’t want to wake him up because fuck knew we both needed more sleep, but leaving him like that seemed wrong. If his dreams were anything like mine, he was alone and scared. I couldn’t leave him like that.
Wrapping myself around him again like I had when we’d both fallen asleep, I pinned him tight against my chest and hoped that he could feel me there with him. After a few long moments, the tears slowed and the shivers that had been racking his body stopped.
When he was boneless and his tense face was now completely relaxed, I kissed his head and used the edge of the sheet to wipe his face. I’d almost gotten back to sleep when Sam let out an indignant wail.
She seemed to take wet diapers very personally in the middle of the night. She didn’t mind them during the day, but once the sun went down that all changed. It would’ve been funny if it weren’t so annoying. But I loved the little miss, so I started to move before she could let out a second angry sound.
I’d hoped to let Donovan get more sleep, but just as her frustrated noise ended, his eyes popped open. “Is she okay? Did she fall out of bed?”
He had the weirdest fucking fears about babies.
“No, she’s just wet and hungry.” Sometimes I wished I could lie there and scream until someone brought me a bottle, but that wasn’t my kink, so I climbed out of bed. “Go back to sleep. I got this.”
He huffed and glared at me like I’d said something offensive.
“I’m a functional adult.”
Again, he was so weird.
“I know you are, dork.” Since he was awake, I didn’t resist the impulse to climb over him, raking my body against his.
He groaned, closing his eyes as he blushed, but as he covered his face with his hands, I had to laugh. “Happy to see me, huh?”
“Go check on Sam.” He sounded like I was torturing him, but since there wasn’t a single no to be heard and he hadn’t even told me to behave, I didn’t worry.
“Saved by the screams.” My attempt at teasing had him groaning again. “Okay, okay, no jokes at an ungodly hour.”
“Thank you.” He was so relieved I thought he’d just keep his eyes closed and drift off again, but as soon as I was standing, he climbed off the bed too. “I’ll do diaper duty. I don’t think I’m good enough at the chemistry of making bottles to remember how to do it in the middle of the night. I need more sleep before lab work.”
Probably a good point…although, again, he was so weird.
“Deal.” I wasn’t going to argue and try to talk him out of helping. I was nice but not martyr-level nice. “It won’t take long. Just talk to her really softly and try not to turn on the light. She needs to get used to the idea of night being for sleeping, and not playing.”
Babies looked simple, but they were fucking complicated.
“So like dogs? Got it.” He didn’t seem to realize how strange that response was, but since he was going to change the screaming monster, I wasn’t going to point it out.
By the time I got downstairs—yay nightlight—Sam was quiet and hopefully well on her way to being changed. Part of me wanted to stop and listen just to see what Donovan would do or say to her, but feeding her meant I could go back to sleep, so I hurried to make the bottle.
It didn’t take long, and soon I was heading back upstairs, bottle in hand. As I got to her bedroom, the scene before me stopped me in my tracks. Donovan was rocking her back and forth, totally sweet and incredibly awkwardly, but he had her almost dozing again and no longer a raging banshee.
Relief flashed over his face as he saw me. “I did it. She’s dry and I even figured out the buttons.”
As I took her from him, he frowned down at her. “Why in the hell would they make baby outfits this complicated? It’s the middle of the fucking night.”
That was a damned good question.
Shrugging, I grinned as Sam latched on to the nipple like it was the last bottle left on earth. “No idea. I think it’s to punish parents somehow.”
He snorted, but didn’t argue about it as I folded myself so I fit under the top bunk. I thought he’d go back to bed, but he waited, just watching as Sam drank and slowly went back to sleep. By the time she was fed and burped and ready for bed again, we were all yawning.
Donovan and I were both holding our breath as I laid her down in the travel crib and slowly inched out of the room.
A few soft whines came through the baby monitor as we went back into my room, but they stopped after a minute, and as I lay back down, all I could hear was her soft breathing.
I was too tired to tease Donovan and I wasn’t sure his brain was working enough to understand it either, so I just patted the bed and opened my arms. “Come here, dork.”
He huffed as he climbed in, stretching out next to me and actually putting his head on my shoulder. “That’s not a term of endearment.”
“Alright, snookums.” He barely groaned, a testament to how tired he was, but he smacked my chest making me laugh. “Sweet cheeks?”
“I hate you.” The distinct lack of anger in his voice said that was probably another unique term of endearment too.
As I closed my eyes, I wrapped my arms around him and smiled. “Thank you, honey buns.”
“Evil…” He yawned then took a deep breath that seemed to push him closer to sleep. “I’m…you’re…yes…”
And he was out.
I wished I could fall asleep that fast, but the soft, rhythmic sound of his breathing and the heavy weight of his body blanketing mine had me following soon after.
“Oh God, why did I use that sound for my alarm?” Donovan clearly wasn’t awake yet if he thought Sam’s demand for food and attention was a ringtone option on his phone. “Wait.”
Now his brain was working.
He sat up so fast he rocked the bed. “Sam.”
Laughing, I shoved the covers down and climbed out of bed on the tight side by the wall, scooting sideways to make it work. “Yes, that’s Sam, not your alarm.”
“I was having the weirdest dream.” He was looking around the room like he was expecting something to jump out of a corner, but I was just glad he’d slept the last half the night soundly without any obvious nightmares.
“It’s probably true.” I had to shake my head as I walked out of the room, leaving him looking for fuck knew what under the bed.
So maybe his dream hadn’t been about the tsunami?
“Hello, my wonderfully demanding princess.” A bit of attention had the angry demon fading from her eyes and she grinned like she hadn’t just been possessed by the Devil. “I think someone needs a clean diaper and some food. How does that sound?”
Waving her arms and babbling, she seemed to approve of that plan, so I set about getting her clean and dressed for the day. It probably didn’t matter what she wore, but it was our routine so I went with it.
As I got her dressed and rambled to keep her entertained, I tried to listen for Donovan, but I couldn’t decide if he’d gone back to sleep or not. Since he’d gotten up with me last night, my instincts said he was up, but we were both still so tired that going back to sleep sounded like a great plan to me.
But then the scent of something wonderful filled the air.
“Oh, little miss, do you smell that?”
Following my nose downstairs, I headed for the kitchen and marveled at the site. “You’ve got coffee.”
Had we brought coffee?
Had I bought it?
I’d done my best to grab anything and everything that looked like it could be useful as I’d plowed through Walmart, so maybe. Had that been down the cookie aisle? I had a much stronger memory of debating the merits of simple chocolate chip versus the fancier varieties.
Donovan grinned, shaking his head as he leaned against the counter. “You got three big cans from Walmart. You’re just lucky we actually have a coffee maker here and not one of those pod things.”
That would’ve sucked.
“We’d have figured it out. We’re creative.” And he was smart, so we’d have made it work.
Still chuckling, he set his cup down and reached for Sam. “Let me have the monster. I have her bottle ready.”
“Oh, you’re my favorite person on earth right now.” I shook my head as he snorted. “No apocalypse jokes until I’ve had caffeine.”
And maybe a nap.
“Fine.” Taking Sam, he cradled her in one arm and made it actually look natural this time. “But I had a good one.”
“Nope.” I made a mental promise to find him funny later and went for the coffee pot I couldn’t remember seeing yesterday. “Was this out on the counter before?”
Donovan sat down with Sam at the table, slipping the bottle into her greedy little mouth as he shook his head. “No, it’s a small kitchen so it was tucked away in the lower cabinets. The last time we were here, my mother was trying to be healthy and said we were drinking too much caffeine.”
He shook his head like even the memory of that statement was insane.
“That’s just scary.” Pouring my first cup of magic, I added the powdered creamer I had a vague memory of throwing in the cart. “Can you imagine surviving all this only to be stuck with no coffee? What if it wasn’t safe to leave the property? That’s just…”
Donovan laughed as I shivered in disgust…and possibly fear. “You’re insane.”
No, I was just a caregiver who hadn’t gotten enough sleep in about two months. That was enough to show anyone the merits of caffeine.
“Possibly.” Smiling as I took my first sip, I nodded toward him. “Look at you. Not even twenty-four hours and you look like a pro.”
“Now that’s a scary thought.” Scrunching up his face, he shook his head back and forth making Sam kick her legs as she drank. “See, I told you he’s crazy.”
Shifting her around so they were both more comfortable, Donovan leaned back in the seat and looked so confident it was fucking sexy. “I need to make sure I’m at least reasonably confident so I can help out. I’m going to do my best to get over my…issues, and be competent.”
He was so fucking cute.
But I wasn’t sure this was the moment to tell him that, so I nodded and tried to look like I wasn’t mentally undressing him. “Thank you.”
With everything starting at ninety miles an hour this morning, there hadn’t been time for things to be awkward, but I wasn’t sure if that was going to continue. We’d spent the night curled up together, but so far, he hadn’t mentioned it and hadn’t seemed to have even thought about it.
There were so many things I wanted to ask, but I forced them back and focused on the practical side. “The plan for today is to get everything unloaded from the living room and put where it belongs?”
Part of me felt like a pack mule, but another piece was excited to take inventory of what we had. Yeah, maybe I had watched a few too many episodes of Little House when I was a kid, but Donovan seemed to find it cute, so I wasn’t going to worry.
“Yes.” Looking around the kitchen and toward the living room, Donovan seemed to be mentally shifting things around. “We need to see what we have and then make a list of what we think we need, and not just food.”
“Like the garbage bags and the crib?” I wasn’t sure I knew what he meant, and something about the look on his face said that wasn’t it.
“No. I mean anything we need to make the house comfortable long term.” His analytical mind was back in full force as he seemed to mentally walk through the cabin. “You need a place to study and we don’t really have a desk or space for that. We need a few things to make Sam’s room more comfortable, and eventually my parents are going to get out of Spain, so we need to figure out where they’re going to sleep.”
Oh, I hadn’t thought of that.
“Is that their plan?” If the houses were gone, did that mean their work was gone too?
Donovan gave a faint shrug. “I’m not sure, honestly. Our conversation yesterday was short and about getting out. After that, there were just short text messages. I emailed them last night and I need to check that this morning and call them, but I don’t know what their plans are besides getting home.”
“They’re doctors, right?” I couldn’t have said if they were dentists or the research kind, but I had a distinct memory of my mom obsessing over their titles at one point when she was filling out a kid’s party invitation years ago.
“Yeah.” He sighed, looking down at Sam before eventually up at me again. “They’re emergency room physicians.”
I winced. “Oh. Wow. Not being here has got to be making them nuts.”
“Yeah.” There was so much stress in that one word, if he hadn’t been feeding Sam, I had a feeling he’d have been pacing around the house.
Unless they had one hell of a commute, chances were good that their hospital was gone. “Well, we’ll make sure they have a good place to land for a while when they get back here, and then when they figure out job stuff…”
“They’ll probably go into Raleigh?” He shrugged. “I don’t know, really, but they can’t stay here long term. There aren’t enough emergency rooms around here for it to make sense.”
“And they’ll probably want to be closer to the areas that were hardest hit.” Could you evacuate a hospital with that little notice? I didn’t even want to think about it, so I went back to the easy part. “But first, we’ll move things around and get the house ready. I could probably bunk with Sam. That—”
“No.” Donovan gave me a firm glare as he interrupted me. “You deserve your own space. You’re not going to be crammed into that small room with her.”
It wasn’t that bad, but I wasn’t going to argue with him until he figured out I was right.
Playing it off, I grinned. “So we’re making your parents take the bunk beds? That’s one way to make sure they don’t keep us up at night.”
I waggled my eyebrows just to make sure he knew I’d meant it as dirty as it’d come out. His shocked face and the way his mouth dropped open was so priceless, I wished I had a camera. “No, just…no we’re not even thinking about that.”
Donovan looked down at Sam again. “He really is a horrible person. How have you survived this?”
’Cause it was either the terrible big brother with a potty mouth or the woman who kept forgetting she had a kid. I was definitely the better option if Sam wanted to survive long enough to feed herself, but the downside was that her first word was going to be fuck.
“It’s been rough, but she’s going to have a kick-ass vocabulary by the time she hits kindergarten.” I shrugged as Donovan sighed. “There are worse things I could be teaching her.”
“Very true.” Smiling down at Sam as she finished the bottle, he scrunched up his face again. “He could be raising you to be a Star Wars fan. That would be terrible. Have you seen what Disney’s done with the franchise?”
I had a feeling he was serious, so I decided to be safe and change the subject. “We still thinking that we need to add coffee to the shopping list?”
I wasn’t sure three cans were going to be enough to get this house in order, much less for the long haul…and Donovan’s dramatic sigh said I was right, even if he didn’t want to admit it.