2 - The Watchful Stars

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Garrett stared at his father, Harrison West—or West to everyone in camp. He saw his father through the windshield, reflected in the glass and wondered what would happen if he simply didn't say anything. He wondered what his father would tell himself. He wondered what story he'd hear around the camp, knowing full well it probably wouldn't be true.

He wondered if some people would blame him. Blame Maria.

He wondered if he did. Blame Maria that was. Because it was Maria who'd run as a diversion that night a year ago. It was Maria who'd gone headfirst into a pack of Virals and didn't walk out. It was Maria they'd lost. Maria who died a legend. Not a sister. A legend. He was a boy related to a leader and a legend. And everything he did seemed to shatter around him—even a run as simple as this one. Somehow he managed to mess it up.

If he hadn't been thinking about Maria, if he'd spoken up sooner over the walkie, maybe things would have been different. Maybe Mikie would be sitting beside him and not Corey, who'd gone rather comatose in her seat, staring at the windshield like she could still see the fire.

"There was someone else in the field."

That was the fifth time she'd said it. It was after two in the morning by his watch and she'd said that too many damn times. If it weren't for Troy he probably would have pulled over and tossed her out a while ago, if only to get her to shut up. But he hadn't. He knew Corey was a good runner too, albeit a bit inexperienced still. But she was needed. He wouldn't have actually done it. But it was nice to pretend. He did that a lot on the road, pretend.

But there was no more pretending as they drove past the dented border sign for Texas and headed toward their tiny little colony of homes in Burkburnett.

"There was someone—"

"—Else in the field," Troy sighed. "We know, Corey. You've said that already. They're probably dead too after that blast."

But Garrett caught Corey shake her head out the corner of his eye. Apparently, the rogue in the field couldn't be dead. Apparently, no one could die in Corey's eyes, and he wished more than anything that was true, that he wouldn't have to stand in the road come noon the next day and tell the whole neighborhood about tonight. He wanted Mikie to reappear more than anything, but again, this was real life. And miracles were much harder to come by.

"Let's just get home," he sighed and gunned the engine. The Jeep groaned in complaint but he was grateful for the open road past the Texas border. The Texans had all fled south when they got the news. Didn't mean any of them managed to scale the wall to Mexico before the virus got to them, only that the roads to the north were clear and everything at the southern end of the state was swamped. Which meant the wind would be louder here, better able to keep him from hearing Corey whisper about the rogue in the field, better at getting the image of the orange blast out of his head, at wrestling his heart back into the right spot inside his chest so he didn't feel like he was swallowing it every time he tried to breathe.

"Who's going to tell...?" Bot Corey let the question hang unfinished. They all knew there was one more person waiting for Mikie at home, and breaking the news to West was one thing, but to Mike's twelve-year-old sister? Andy was an entirely different story.

"I will." Of course. Garrett ran a palm down his face, his heart falling from his throat to his stomach. Shit. Of course, he'd have to break it to Andy too. He wondered as they drove the last couple miles if it'd be easier to tell her and West one on one, or just to kill the two of them with one conversation. Sure, Mikie still had until noon to reappear. Sure. But unless she survived that blast, the other Virals around Lawton, and managed to find her own ride home, it was impossible. So he steeled himself to tell the story to West and Andy, and then to tell it again in a few hours when the entire neighborhood was starting to speculate. Had Mikie run off? Had she gotten attacked?

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