Valerie screamed so loud she thought her throat would bleed. She had no time to process what had happened, had no way of knowing if her husband and son were even alive, and no way to get back to them. She collapsed onto the asphalt and sat there. Mulling over multiple what-ifs. She was stuck. She finally considered going to her father for help.
“Dammit,” she said, unable to think of any other way around it.
Valerie’s childhood was one of extreme structure. Her father gave her and her older brother Kevin endless lessons on survival. This took away from weekends and holidays all through her adolescence. Mike taught them how to survive in many different situations. Her least favorite exercises were the four-day hikes. He showed the two how to find water, and forge if needed. He also taught them how to avoid being detected and how to apply camouflage. She honestly believed him to be a paranoid lunatic because he was so much harder on her than Kevin. It must have been a punishment for not being like her brother, a son. Mike was never mean to her, but he never showed her affection like dads on TV. He did not encourage her or ever call her princess. He just always wanted her to do better, try harder, and stop crying. Kevin would eat it up. He could not get enough of living on the land. One summer, he slept every night in the tree in their backyard, showering only when forced. Valerie was the opposite, which frustrated her father.
As an adult, she let go of most of her teenaged animosity, though Mike did little to change. She could imagine his response to her showing up on his doorstep. He would just watch her throw her tantrum without an offer of condolence and wait in silence for her to figure out a solution herself. She threw punches into her bag at the thought of having to face him. She had one last option before having to walk to her dad’s house. Blood pumping, she stood up and walked back into the building.
“Roy, I need a ride. My dad lives twenty minutes from here,” she yelled across the counter as she made her way through the facility to the break room, stepping around glass from light bulbs that had burst with the electrical wave. Though only a couple of hours had passed since she had fainted, the whole incident felt like a terrible distant dream. Her adrenaline was wearing off, and she had had just a few moments to piece together everything that had happened since she woke up that morning. There was a gaping disconnect between what her life was the day before and the reality of what she faced ahead. She was going to walk home, one hundred miles, whatever it took to get back to her son.
Valerie was still deep in thought when August drifted back into her mind. She snapped back to her task, fighting off the distraction he had caused during the entire ordeal. Her heart did a small flutter, and the feelings returned. She ignored them and maintained her determined standoff. Inhale, exhale.
August cleared his throat to announce his presence, but he did not catch Valerie off guard. Strange enough, she felt him enter the room.
“The roads are blocked with stalled cars. There are no clear routes. You’d be lucky to even get a vehicle out of the parking lot at this point.”
“I can’t just stay here and wait this out. I’ll walk. My dad’s house isn’t far.” Though the doctor was casual with her, she maintained her distance. He seemed to be genuinely concerned, but it could have been Valerie’s wishful thinking. She continued to shove crackers and various other snacks into her bag. Though she was determined to get home, the idea of staying with August lingered in her mind like the sweet scent of a dessert enticing her to indulge.
He continued moving closer to her, “The president declared the entire country in a state of emergency. They have instituted martial law. It’s like this everywhere.”
Valerie looked up at the young doctor. She studied his face but was unsure what he was getting at.
“You don’t think I am capable?” Valerie challenged. She wanted him to insult her, to piss her off. She wanted to hate him and be offended because everything in her wanted him closer.
“I don’t think the CDC has anyone’s best interests in mind. FEMA should have responded, not the CDC, and all federal aid takes almost 24 hours in any disaster. But I do think we should stick together. I want to show you something.” August pulled his cell from his pocket and placed the device on the table. When he pulled his hand away, the phone sprang to life, blinking and vibrating with incoming messages. He brought his hand back to the phone, and the commotion stopped. “You try.”
Valerie could not move. Her pounding heart was making her stomach sick, yet she did not shy away from his approach. She was afraid of what he was trying to tell her. ...