Massive squeals of delight followed. Juan managed to snag Holly and get her top over her head.
“Ha!” Juan chucked her onto the sofa. “Stay there or no cookies tomorrow.”
Grabbing a towel off a stool, he wrapped it around Margie’s hair and knotted it on top of her head. Tossing her onto to the sofa, he muttered the same threat and was rewarded with another frozen child.
Troy tried the squirm and kick maneuver but Jason reduced him to giggles by tickling him. Juan somehow managed to get his pajamas on despite all the wrestling. Then Troy was also chucked onto the sofa and joined his sisters.
“Now! In this family, we behave. Or no cookies,” Juan said.
Jack looked up from where he was trying to sleep on the recliner with a look of horror in his doggy eyes.
The little heads nodded, then Holly yawned.
“Okay, now to bed. And no more horsing around,” Juan said firmly.
Forming a short line, the kids all came up to kiss and hug him and Jason, then trekked to their bedroom pretending to be the best little kids he’d ever seen.
“And I better not hear any talking in there,” Juan added.
Jason giggled and sat down at the bar. Popping open a can of soda, he yawned long and hard.
“Yeah. Got the fire traps set though. Had some trouble at first, but we sorted it out. Had a zombie creep up on us and try to bite Calhoun’s arm, but his jacket didn’t let the bite go through. Got a shitty ass bruise though.
It must have been in some rubble from a house or something. It was weird.”
Juan sat at the bar and rubbed his brow. “We got a lot of stuff rigged up, too. Not too sure about the tar and cement traps, but we gotta try. I think the tiger traps will do okay until they fill up.”
“It’s all crazy, you know. I keep thinking about Mom coming and saving me from that camp and now I’m here. The world seemed so small then.
And now... it’s still small, but it feels bigger. I dunno I have been feeling like we’re not just fighting for us but for the world.” Jason sighed and rested his chin on his hand.
“There is a lot at stake. We can’t pretend there isn’t, ya know. We just gotta buckle down and do what we can. And next time we’ll be better prepared and ready to deal with all of this.” Juan rubbed Jason’s shoulder gently. “You’re doing a good job, Jason. I’m proud of you.”
Jason looked toward him in surprise, then slowly smiled. “Thanks, Dad.
“All of this has been a lot for a kid your age. But you’re not a kid anymore, Jason, you’re a man and I’m damn proud of you.”
Jason grinned even more. “Yeah, well, I kinda had to grow up fast.” He looked toward the partially open door behind which the three kids were tucked into their beds. “I don’t want them to lose their innocence. They should get to be kids.”
With a sigh, Juan nodded. “Yeah. I know. But we’re all changed now. All of this bullshit with the zombies has changed everyone.”
“What is bullshit?” a small voice said from behind the recliner.
“Holly, get to bed,” Juan ordered without turning around.
With a little giggle, the little girl ducked back into her room.
Jason and Juan looked at each other before bursting into laughter.
* * * * * Travis rubbed his face, feeling the stubble scrubbing at his palms. With a sigh, he drank more of lukewarm coffee. Standing outside the hotel, he looked up at the perimeter wall. Catapults, mounted crossbows, and other inventive weapons decorated the top.
Nearby, Curtis and Linda were in a deep conversation. He was trying not to pay attention, but Linda was obviously crying. Curtis looked close to it as well. It was easy to figure out what was going on. The police officer had been sulking ever since Linda and Bette had become a couple.
“Look,” Linda’s voice raised in the warm night air. “There is no going back. Okay? Maybe if Bette hadn’t shown up maybe things would be different. But she is here and in my life, so let it be! Let it go! I can’t do this anymore!”
The few people still working on the defenses nearby all pretended not to hear her words. They also tried not to watch her run into the hotel or notice Curtis’ stricken expression.
Travis looked away. Sipping his coffee once more, he started up the stairs to check on the defenses at the gated entrance.
* * * * * Katie stirred in her sleep. The room she shared with Travis was dark except for some light seeping through the curtains from the security lights on the perimeter wall. Exhausted from the day, she had taken a hot bath and gone to bed.
In her mind’s eye, she saw visions of her future baby, her father, Travis and even her long dead mother. She dreamed of playing in a field of flowers with her family and making a wreath to put around Travis’ neck. It was a pleasant dream and she smiled in her sleep.
In her dream, she looked up to see the meadow that led up to the walls of the fort, standing strong and proud over the countryside. It gleamed golden and she lifted her hand to wave to the people on the walls. Then suddenly she was standing on the wall looking down at her family in the field below.
Slowly, the sky darkened and night came.
Worriedly, she strained to see her family, but it was so dark she could not see. Then, out of the darkness, came the moans of thousands of zombies.
Waking with a start, Katie pressed her hand to chest to feel the rapid beat of her frightened heart. A knock on the door made her jump and she slid her hands through her hair.
“Okay, calm down,” she whispered. Sliding out of the bed, she moved slowly toward the door. Her stomach felt heavy and she cupped her hands under it as she walked.
Opening the door, she peered out to see the young man’s swollen and tear-stained face.
“I need to talk to you, okay? I need advice.”
“Okay, come in,” she said.
“No. No. Not here. I need fresh air. I’m just...” He shook his head. “I can’t talk about it here. Meet me up on the wall on the corner of Morris and Main in like fifteen minutes?”
He looked so sad and pathetic, Katie couldn’t refuse. “Okay. I’ll get dressed and meet you there.”
“Okay,” he said with a sigh. “Just don’t tell anyone okay? I’m way embarrassed about what is happening and I don’t want people talking.”
Curtis tucked his hands into pockets and lowered his red face. “Thanks, Katie. You’re a good woman.”
“Thanks, Curtis. I’ll see you in fifteen.”
“Okay.” He looked at her sheepishly, then walked away, his head down.
With a sigh, she shut the door and rubbed her eyes. She was exhausted but sleep would have to wait.
Travis unlocked the door to the room he shared with Katie and stepped in as stealthily as possible. He had seen how weary his wife had been at dinner and he wanted to make sure not to wake her. He was surprised to see her up and shrugging into t-shirt.
“Babe, what are you doing up?”
Pulling the shirt down so her face popped into view, Katie groaned.
“Curtis came by. He looked like shit. He says he needs to talk so I told him I’d meet him in a few minutes at the corner of Morris and Main.”
Slightly frowning, Travis moved toward her. He admired her long legs and smiled at the swell of her belly above her bikini underwear. She leaned over to reach for her jeans and he gently stopped her.
“You’re exhausted. You have dark circles under your eyes and, honey, your eyes are bloodshot as hell.”
Leaning against him, Katie sighed and tucked her hands into the small of his back. “He just looked so upset. I felt so bad for him. I know things have been rough on him with Bill dying and Linda not being with him.”
Kissing the top of her head, Travis sighed softly. He laid his cheek on her soft hair and closed his eyes, enjoying the feel of her in his arms. As tired as he was, he could stand here forever holding her. “I’ll go talk to him.”
“Travis, you’re tired, too,” Katie protested. She gazed up at him in a way that made him feel as if he could fight a million zombies and win.
“I would love nothing more than to lie down next to you and feel you in my arms as we sleep, but you’re right. Curtis is having a rough time right now. I think Bill may have been the closest thing he had to a best friend and he’s gone now. I saw the last fight between him and Linda. It was harsh.” Travis gently pushed her down on the bed. “So you sleep and I’ll go see if I can offer him some brotherly advice.”
Katie started to refuse, then sighed as she lay back on the bed. One hand draped over her pregnant tummy, she gazed up at him sleepily. “Okay, okay, I won’t fight you. I’m too tired anyway.”
Lifting her legs up onto the bed, Travis leaned over and kissed her belly, then her lips. “I’ll be back soon. I’ll take a shower, then climb into bed.