“On behalf of all of us,” Charles said, “I thank you for your hospitality. With more people here to do the work, we can certainly get things cleaned up more quickly. Now, do any of you have questions for me?”
Tim spoke up first. “You implied that there are other — I don’t know… groups? bands? in Atlanta beside your own. Do you have any idea how many people are left around, and whether they’ll be hostile?”
“Certainly there are,” Charles said. “As for how many people, I couldn’t guess, but at least a hundred. Possibly more. I hope so. I assume at least a few of the groups are hostile, as in looting with no regard for whether the dwellings might still be occupied, or hate groups like those we battled, or remnants of local gangs. One could hope the latter would wipe each other out. But there may be isolated groups or even single families or individuals scattered throughout the metro area, hunkered down and hiding from the more violent groups.”
“Do you think they’ll come looking for us here?” Sara asked.
“Sooner or later, I’d expect it. They can’t live on canned food forever, and it’s likely they’ll come looking for farms to raid or even for a place to start growing their own food. And maybe even people to do the work for them.”
“That reminds me of something we discussed Friday evening,” Tina said. “Assuming there’s enough food for all of us in pantries and grocery stores — enough to get us through the winter and until we can start living off our own crops — we still have to cope with winter. Keeping even a dozen houses warm could be difficult, and even if we could make the gas last through the winter, that’s a temporary solution. Whatever we decide to do, we’ll have to do it soon — the cold weather will be here in six weeks, tops.”
“What about fireplace inserts?” Cody asked. “We’ve got one at my place. It came in handy when we had that ice storm in February, at least it kept the living room warm and the bedrooms weren’t freezing. Dad got it somewhere, I don’t know who from though.”
“It sounds better than nothing, anyway,” Charles said. “How do they work, is there any special installation needed?”
“Nah, you just shove it in the fireplace. I was home the day they brought it in, they just stuck it in there and put a panel around it to cover up the fireplace hole.”
“That sounds like the way to go, then. I know a free-standing wood stove requires special installation, and I don’t think any of us here know how to do it. This would solve a lot of our problems, if we can find a dozen or so.”
“Put eight people in a house for the winter,” Max said. “Then you only need four. Three, if Cody is willing to share.”
“Sure,” Cody said. But if we hook up with more people, we’ll need more inserts. And those things are heavy as hell. How are we gonna move them?”
“Just load them on the back of — oh. Hey, how about a horse and wagon? Is there anything like that around?”
“There’s a horse farm… oh, let me think a minute,” Tina said. “It’s maybe a twenty-minute drive from here, or was. I was looking into riding lessons for Kelly, but she wasn’t interested. Maybe they’ll have a wagon. At least food won’t be a problem, they can eat the grass here.”
“Assuming we can figure out how to hitch a horse to a wagon,” Kelly said. “Sorry, Mom — I guess I should have taken those lessons.” She grinned.
“I don’t suppose you picked that up with everything else, did you?” Sondra whispered to Cody. Cody shook his head. “You’ll figure it out, then.” Cody smiled. He wasn’t sure what Sondra was after, although part of him (that had been disappointed so often before) insisted on hoping it was just him. They were all seated pretty close together around the table, but Sondra was closer to him than necessary, making contact at shoulder, hip, and leg. Every once in a while, she moved her leg back and forth, rubbing it against his in a way that made him unsure whether it was a habit… or something else. He’d been able to maintain his reserve with Kelly, and she didn’t give him any reason to let it go. And yet, Kelly wasn’t a prep or a jock, even if she played JV basketball — she had somehow moved around or through circles that didn’t even tolerate his existence. (Lucky her, she’d be in one of the trucks by now.) Sondra acted like she was interested in him, and they did seem to share some interests. He’d worked harder than he ever had this last hour, just to not act like a dork or blurt out something really stupid. She was eighteen, two years older than him — but maybe age didn’t matter so much now, with things the way they were.
“Well, I guess that settles it,” Charles said, returning to the table and taking up his slice of pie. “We’ll head back in the morning and start moving people up here Thursday or Friday.”
“I could stay here,” Sondra suggested. “There’s a lot of houses to clean up, and they could probably use the extra help.”
“We’ll decide that in the morning,” Max said. “There’s plenty of time to think about it, okay?”
“Sure,” she said.
“Swim time!” Sara said as she stood. “We have swim gear for anyone who didn’t bring any.”
“Which is all of us!” Max grinned. “We didn’t carry any extra weight.”
“You have something that fits me?” Sondra asked.
“I think so,” Sara said. “You ain’t much bigger than me. I think I’ve got something you can wear.”
Tina and Sara took the guests to retrieve their swimwear, leaving Kelly, Tim, and Cody at the pool. The guys moved to the lounge chairs; Kelly poured herself a glass of wine and downed it, almost at a gulp. She gasped, waited for the world to more or less right itself, then poured another and walked over to Cody and Tim. Cody had retrieved a six-pack from his dad’s seemingly bottomless stash and handed one to Tim before opening his own. She walked around Tim to Cody’s side, dragged a patio chair over, then sat facing Cody.
“Looks like you’ve got a… friend,” Kelly said.
“I guess so,” Cody said. Tim excused himself and made a beeline for the men’s room.
“You like her?”
“I guess so. She gets me… it’s like she knows me. She’ll be fun to hang out with, anyway.”
“Whatever. You getting in the pool?”
“Yeah. Soon as I finish this.” He waggled the beer can. “We fixed a pretty good lunch, didn’t we?”
“Yeah, I guess we did. I’m not waiting, I haven’t had a bath.” Kelly shed the clothes covering her swimsuit and jumped in, sending a light shower Cody’s way.
“Hey!” he yelled, covering the top of his beer. “No diluting the hooch!” Kelly ignored him and slid across the water on her back.
Tim returned a minute later. “Safe now?”
“Huh? I guess so,” Cody said. “Hope she didn’t splash pool water in your beer.”
“Nope, I slid it under the chair to keep it in the shade.” Tim retrieved his Bud and took a long drink. “Ahhh. How much of this do you have left?”
“A few cases. Dad had some, and the looters never got around to cleaning out the QuickFill. I towed a few more cases home on that trailer contraption. Come on by and help yourself to a case. I figure I’ll pass the rest out to the city people when they get up here, if they’re interested.”
“You might want to just pass out a few cans each. Some of them drink imports and wouldn’t touch this cheap stuff anyway.”
“More for us.”
“Beautiful day for a cookout,” Tim said, watching Kelly backstroke across the pool. “I don’t suppose you remember an extended forecast, do you?”
Cody held his hand out. “It’s sunny. Tonight will be dark, getting lighter by morning.”
“Yeah, I don’t know either. I used to know a few old saws about weather. They’ll come back to me, I guess.”
“What, you mean like red sky at night, sailor’s delight?”
“Yeah. But more than that.”
“Oh. I guess they could be handy.”
“Banzai!” Max yelled and cannonballed into the other end of the pool, splashing Kelly and nearly reaching Tim with the spray.
“Good one!” Tim yelled, as Kelly hooked the side and glared.
“That’s the Cannonball King,” Charles said. “Would y’all believe that Tina kept a pair of my swim trunks?”
“I’m surprised they still fit!” Max grinned.
“Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster for drawstrings!” Charles grinned back and jumped in.
“Pool party!” Sondra said, wearing a tight two-piece. Sara and Tina followed in their one-piece suits as Sondra jumped in.
“Guess it’s time for me to dive in,” Cody said, pulling off his shirt and staring at Sondra. He jumped in, spread-eagled, and hit the water with a flat slap sound.
“Yow, did that hurt?” Tim yelled, pulling off his own shirt.
“Yeah! But it was worth it!”