Melanie kicks at the dirt and chews her bottom lip as she walks back to the cabin. Seth or Mitchel. Mitchel or Seth. It was becoming an obsession. She shook her head as if it would all just fall out and she could walk away from it all. She was nauseous again. It felt like it was all the time.
She heard one footstep before he grabbed her around the waist. She sucked in a startled breath and found herself looking up into Mitchel’s smiling face. “Where were you just now? I can’t usually sneak up on you like that.”
She dropped her gaze to his chest and he wrapped her in his arms. “We’re so close and every time we make a move closer to the safe zone something happens to slow us down. It’s like we will never get there. Sometimes I feel like were being stalked by bad luck or all our bad karma is resolving itself before the end.”
He tightened his arms around her forcing her to turn her head. She watched Ryan and Seth’s backs disappear among the trees.
“We’ll make it Mel. I promise. Sammy, your mom, and you will be safe.”
She knew he had intentionally left himself out of those who would be safe, but there were so many reasons why he would have done it. She wasn’t sure if she should ask because she knew the answer would make sense even if it wasn’t true. God! How could she think like such sickening thoughts. He surely meant that he may have to take a life before they get there and he was willing to do it to make sure they were all safe and could stay together. Of course, that’s what he had meant.
He kissed the top of her head and she took a deep shuddering breath.
“You going to stop making out and come help me?” Zachariah called from inside the garage.
Melanie had to smile. He was always giving them a hard time about “making out.” Who even used that term anymore?
Mitchel kissed her on the lips. He let it linger. It had been awhile since they could be close. He kissed her neck and her mouth again.
“Soon,” he whispered.
She nodded and turned to go find her mom.
She opened the cabin door. The small room was empty. Melanie set to making the beds. When her mom still hadn’t come back, she walked over to the house.
“You seen mom?” she asked Mitchel He poked his head out from under the hood of the van.
“In the house.”
Melanie’s heart beat hard inside her chest. Ryan’s words echo in her head, “He kills his victims when they’re asleep.”
She walked faster and then began to jog. She crashed through the door. “Mom?” she called out.
She walked farther into the house. “Mom?”
She could hear Sam laughing as she turned to go down the hallway. “Mom?” her voice was even louder and taking on that desperate tone.
The bathroom door swung open.
“What’s wrong Melanie, is someone hurt?” Jennifer asked.
“No, I just, I just couldn’t find you and I was…”
“Oh, Melanie.” Her mom closed the gap between them and hugged her. “I was just bathing Sam. It’s probably the last one any of us are going to get for a long time. You should probably take one too.”
Melanie could see Sam in the bathtub, jumping a yellow rubber duck through the mountains of white bubbles. She had pile on her head as well. A princess hat, she had told Melanie once.
“I will,” she said pulling away from her mom. She’d been anxious since she voiced the words. Saying them aloud had made it real. “I’m going to pack up all the clothes other than one pair for everyone.
“All right, and Melanie, we’re going to be fine. It’s only a few more days until we reach the safe zone.”
Melanie nodded and turned to go. She had learned over the last three months that few days could mean forever.
Ryan and Seth emerged from the forest that evening hauling a buck between them, ducks over one shoulder and rabbits the other.
“You should see this kid with a knife,” Ryan said patting Seth on the back.
Seth shrugged. “It’s not so hard. My dad taught me and Mitch when we were kids. Anyway, Mitchel’s better than me.”
Mitchel and Zachariah strolled out of the garage grease smeared on the hands and above their brows. Mitchel tried to wipe it off by rubbing his hands together. He pursed his lips and pulled them to one side and then rubbed his hands on his pants.
“Mitchel that will never come out of your pants,” Jennifer said.
Mitchel slung his arm over Seth’s shoulders. “And not just with the knife.” They both laughed. You could hardly tell them apart when they stood side by side. It was mostly their personalities that separated them from each other. Mitchel was an inch tall her and broader in the chest. And their lips were different, Seth’s were thin like their father’s and Mitchel’s were fuller like their mother’s.
She looked at Ryan. He was smiling and watching the twins. He was probably thinking the same thing as her. Melanie turned away scooping up the ducks to take them around the back and yank out all the feathers. It could be both of them. She felt the tears coming again.
“Sam can you bring the rabbits?”