The rest of the week was about settling in and helping people find their niche. The soldiers from the mall seemed relieved to finally be able to do their job. They joined the guard ranks and began daily sweeps outside the wall. Construction began on another courtyard that would house the four helicopters.
The fort found itself once more evolving. Life moved on.
* * * * * Katie was too tired to help settle the new citizens of the fort. She felt guilt, but after losing Jenni and her father, she just wanted to sleep. Travis stayed with her the first day, but he could not stand not doing anything and returned to work.
She nestled down in the bed, covered up in blankets, and slept. To her dismay, she didn’t dream of Jenni. To her relief she didn’t dream of the mall. She did dream of Lydia. She was having a picnic with Travis and Lydia. She sat in the bright sunlight holding her baby as they laughed and told stories as she played with her baby’s toes. The day had been beautiful in her dream. The Texas sky seemed endless and majestic. A part of her had been terrified that something was going to go horribly wrong and destroy the tranquil scene, but it ended when she woke up to Travis lightly kissing her lips.
“You were smiling in your sleep,” he said as he slid into bed with her.
She curled up against him and held him tightly. “I had a good dream. No zombies. No death.”
Her fingers played with the curls falling over his brow and he nestled into her arms. “I wish I would dream about Jenni. Juan and Jason did, but…I look for her in my dreams but never find her.”
“You will,” Travis promised. “Maybe she has nothing to say yet to you. You know Jenni. She’s probably distracted watching over Jason and Juan and expects me to take care of you.”
Travis kissed her brow softly. “I miss her, too. She was amazingly brave.”
“She did the right thing. We both know it.” Travis hesitated, then said in a gentler tone. “You did the right thing.”
“I know. I know! But I just hate that she isn’t here anymore. I miss her. I really thought she’d be here for the birth of our baby. I thought she’d be able to give me Mommy advice.”
“Well, the one thing about Jenni is that she always made choices with her heart. She always did what she felt she had to do,” Travis reminded Katie.
“And that was one of the things that made her lovable even when you wanted to kick her ass for some of the stuff she pulled.”
“Yeah. I know. She could be exasperating.” She felt the tears welling up and she choked back a sob. “But I loved her.”
With gentleness that was soothing, Travis stroked Katie’s hair as he gazed into her eyes. “She loved you, Katie. You guys had a strong bond. It’s still there. Don’t forget that.”
Katie wiped her tears away and tucked her head under his chin. “I know. I know. But it still hurts and I still miss her.”
* * * * * Nerit was on watch on the wall when Kevin finally reappeared from his long slumber. Blinking in the bright sunlight, he stood rather shakily, a peanut butter sandwich in one hand, looking out over the town.
“It’s real,” he said with relief.
Nerit smiled at him. “Yes and you’re home.”
Kevin smiled slightly as he looked down over the town and saw people from the mall moving about, living their lives once more. “It feels great.”
* * * * * Disco Night was a huge success. The Southern Baptists sat it out, but most of the people showed up in the ballroom. There was plenty of laughter, plenty of beer, and lots of dancing.
Kevin got on the dance floor with Nerit while Bill and Katarina attempted to remember the moves from the old days. Curtis followed Linda around and managed to get her to dance once or twice. Guadalupe and Old Man Watkins sat together, laughing as they watched the kids dance.
Katie sat most of the night in a comfortable chair, enjoying conversations with new friends and old. She didn’t feel like dancing. She had always danced with Jenni at these socials and it felt odd to not have her best friend around.
After awhile, Travis stole Nerit away from Kevin and twirled her around.
The music pounded and thumped and kept people on the dance floor.
After coming off the dance floor, Kevin sat next to Katie. He had danced with quite a few of the ladies. He was popular with the mall women and the fort women thought he quite handsome. It was good to just sit down for a few and enjoy the music. He joined Katie in watching Travis dance with Charlotte. They didn’t really speak, but smiled at each other often.
Now that their battle weariness had worn off after their long slumber, they were left with just a dull numbness that was slowly ebbing away.
They were both slowly coming back to life.
“I didn’t think Bette was gay,” he said, then shrugged.
Katie looked out on the dance floor to see Bette and Linda dancing together. Many women were dancing together. It wasn’t that unusual, but the amazing sparks flying between Bette and Linda were undeniable.
“I didn’t think Linda was either and my radar is pretty good,” Katie answered, then shrugged.
“It’s like they say…love knows no bounds,” Kevin decided.
Out of the corner of her eye, Katie caught sight of Curtis pushing through the crowd toward the exit. His expression said it all. He had seen the sparks as well. She sighed and looked back at the two women. It was always good to see new love, but sad to see hopes of love crushed.
Finally, Kevin turned to Katie and held out his hand. “Want to dance?”
She hesitated, then nodded. “Why not? I have to start sometime.”
It was almost like a sign when one of Gloria Gaynor’s hits came on. Katie knew it was one of Jenni’s favorites. With a slight smile, she started to move to the music, Kevin leading the way. Trying to follow his steps, she laughed when she tripped and about four people moved to catch her.
“I’m fine,” she assured them, then began to move again.
Someone had rigged up a disco ball over the dance floor made out of foil and tiny lights danced over them like little fairies. She found herself laughing as Kevin showed off his fancy dance moves with mastery that would make John Travolta jealous. Soon he was twirling her around with an expertise that she found exhilarating. He was so great, he made her look good. With the music pulsating, they danced through the crowd, laughing and having a good time.
What made it more special was that every time Kevin twirled Katie around, for a moment, she would see Jenni dancing nearby. She could never look at Jenni straight on, but when she was whirled about, she could see Jenni’s flying black hair as she strutted her stuff to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
As the song ended, Katie hugged Kevin tightly. It may have been a mirage, but it had been a comfort to imagine Jenni near her. “Thank you, Kevin.”
“Life’s too short not to dance,” Kevin answered with a small smile.
Walking back to her seat, Katie still felt the absence off her father and Jenni, but she also saw the faces of those that remained behind. Her husband, Nerit, Peggy, Bill, Katarina, and all the others who were now dear friends. Even smelly Calhoun dancing in one corner with his dogs at his feet was a welcome sight.
Travis collapsed into a chair beside her and flashed his boyish grin. Katie grabbed his hand and pressed a kiss to his lips.
“Not yet, but I will be,” she answered.
Travis gathered her into his arms and she laid her head against his chest.
Stacey looked up from the ledger she was studying and lifted her eyebrows. “It is?”
“It’s been one month since the new people arrived. It was the first part of February.” Peggy was busy making a homemade calendar on the back of a used piece of paper.
“I guess we’ve all been so busy, we all forgot.” Stacey marked off a few items on her ledger then reached for the next form in her pile.
“Strange. Zombies rise and we’re still doing paperwork.”
Lenore knocked lightly on the door to the office where Peggy and Stacey were working. “I’m heading out to help the shopping crew. I took twenty more bolts. They’re looking low.”
Stacey reached out and Lenore handed her a slip of paper. “I’ll let Jason and his crew know they need to make more.”
“How are you doing, Lenore?” Peggy began to number her calendar.
“A girl can only cry so much over a boy,” Lenore answered.
“Gotcha.” Peggy looked up at Lenore. “That handsome Kevin Reynolds is single.”