Chapter One

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Modern Day

Lynchburg, VA


The day the first bombs fell began like any other.

Well, who knows if they were bombs, actually? No communication to speak of, and the precious few people we came across that weren't feral savages or sick as dogs didn't know much, either. They were as dazed to be alive as we were.

It was a sticky August day. All the details are like crystal-clear shards of glass in my head—jutting, insistent and sharp. I woke up at 3 p.m. since I had been out delivering pizzas until 2 a.m. the night prior. I was a sweaty mess, still in my work shirt and reeking of pizza. Why was it so hot?

I turned my head to look at the AC unit in my room. Ugh. Mom had turned it off again to save some money.

God, she pissed me off. I paid more than half of the electric bill, didn't I? Let me run the AC, even if it only works half the time.

"'Ey," I heard a deep, gravelly voice greet me from my bedroom door. Tate Foster, one of my three best friends, sauntered in with a piece of cold pizza I'd brought home clamped between his teeth and a water bottle in each hand.

I jumped a mile and pulled the sheet up to cover my underwear.

"Jesus," I gasped, my face flushing hotter than it already was in the stifling room.

Tate paid me no mind. He set the bottles down near the foot of the bed and strode over to the AC unit. He turned the knob to "on."

Nothing. He elbowed it gently a couple times, then with a great amount of force the third time. It coughed to life and sweet, cool air began to flood the room.

"Jesus," I said again, this time a sigh of gratitude.

Tate's bright green eyes smiled at me as he flopped into the old pea soup-colored armchair on the other side of the room and continued eating his stolen pizza.

I laid back down under my sheet and closed my eyes, enjoying the progressively cooler air.

"Afternoon," Tate finally broke our silence, his slight southern accent tingeing his words. "Nice panties."

I flipped the bird in his general direction, my eyes still closed.

"Lady-like," Tate's voice sounded amused.

"Fuck you verrah much, Mistah Fostuh," I replied in my best dainty southern belle impression. "Maybe if you didn't come barging in here like some creeper."

I heard Tate shift in his seat and imagined he was shrugging and slouching further in his chair. "Someone's gotta get your lazy ass outta bed. Might as well be me."

I shot upright and glared at him. "I was working. Not that you'd know about that."

Tate's smile didn't reach his eyes. "Eh, someone's gotta handle the kid while Ian's out saving lives at the local pool."

I immediately regretted my thoughtless joke. Ian and Tate always made sure their seven-year-old brother, Micah, was never in the house without one of them present. Their father, Jeremiah Foster, was a raging alcoholic and prone to violence at the slightest provocation. Neither brother could abide the thought of Micah in the crossfire, so Tate stayed home in the summers with him while Ian worked.

"Right. Sorry." I looked at Tate, whose gaze had turned downward to stare at the floor. His long lashes cast shadows under his eyes, making him appear even more tired than usual. Jeremiah had been particularly thorny lately and I knew Tate hadn't slept well, listening all night for any sign his father may decide to take out his aggression on them.

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