Thus concludes the long Tuesday…
Max walked in and picked up his cards.
“Was she there?” Charles asked.
“Yup,” Max said, straightening his hand.
“Well, what happened then?”
“Could’ve been worse. Sondra could’ve shot me.” He stared at his hand.
“I didn’t handle things well at all. I went all moralizer on Cody, and he called me on it. Then I brought up Philip.”
“Could someone fill the rest of us in, please?” Tina asked.
Max sighed. “Sondra was seeing my nephew, Philip, until about a month ago. He said she left him, and didn’t give a reason. We think he was one of the earliest drive-offs, and it’s been a touchy subject between us ever since. Then to see her hanging all over this boy she just met today… well, let’s just say I didn’t handle it well.” Kelly glanced up at him, then took a deep interest in her own cards as he continued:
“I guess Sondra told him she wanted to eat junk food and play video games, and he told her he could do that for her, so they took off to his place. When he tried to explain that, I told him to stay out of it, and he teed off on me.”
“Do you think they’re… together?” Sara asked, waving her hands.
“I don’t know,” Max said. “If they are, I suppose it will be obvious soon enough. But when I said she should tell him about Philip, she went for her gun. Fortunately, she’d taken it off.”
“Now… I’m worried for Cody,” Tina said. “Is she usually that violent?”
“If you’d asked me that before Friday, I’d have laughed,” Max said. “Now? I don’t know for sure. She had no problem with the looters Friday night, and things might have gone really badly if she’d been on the other side on Saturday. Or not there at all, even. Maybe she treated it like a video game… but I’ve known her for a while and I don’t think she was into the shooter games. I don’t think Cody is in any danger from her, unless he does something monumentally stupid.”
“He’s in great peril!” Charles quoted in a fake British accent.
“Can’t he have just a little peril?” Max replied with the same accent, then looked around the table. “Sorry.”
Tim snorted. “It took me a minute,” he said. “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
Tina laughed; Sara and Kelly shrugged.
“What do you mean, ‘went all moralizer’ on Cody?” Sara asked.
“He explained what was going on with the video games, and offered to take the blame. I told him to stay out of it, and that it was irresponsible of him to be wasting gas on that. He told me… well, he told me that I had no right to tell him what he could and couldn’t do in his own house.”
“Ouch, big ouch!” Charles said.
“What?” Tim asked.
“I’m sure you know, we’d always dealt with a certain mindset among some straights who wanted to tell us how we could live our lives, what we could do in the privacy of our homes, the whole nine yards,” Charles explained. “Max has been an activist in that regard, trying to get us the rights that everyone else has… and tonight, he got caught doing it himself. Naughty Max.”
“You become what you hate,” Sara said. “It’s God’s cosmic justice, I think.”
“I don’t know if that’s the whole truth,” Max said, “but it explains some things. Well, these cards aren’t going to play themselves. Who’s turn is it?”
For a while, the only sounds were cards sliding across the table and occasional purring from Shady. Finally, Tina spoke up: “Cody has been nothing but a responsible, helpful young man since we met him. He has his quirks, to be sure, but he doesn’t let them get in the way. In a lot of ways, this has been easier on him than anyone else, but he’s made things easier on the rest of us. He’s pretty young to be having a girlfriend sleeping over, but I’m not his mother. And—” she looked at Kelly — “neither are any of us. All we can do is hope they’re responsible, and make sure they know what everyone expects from each other.” Kelly said nothing, lips pressed together so tight her mouth nearly disappeared.
“Hm. What do we expect from each other?” Charles asked.
“Ha! I’m out!” Sara chortled and laid her cards down.
“I’ve got… forty-two points,” Tina said. As the others were counting up their cards, she continued, “I think we should expect everyone to not hoard, whether it’s food, information, or anything else. We should expect no pretense. We should all arrive at a decision, with everyone’s honest opinion considered.”
“Is that how you ran things at Maxcom?”
“Not completely, Charles — but in case you haven’t noticed, this isn’t Maxcom. It’s soon to be thirty people trying to survive in a world that has mostly driven off.”
Everyone called out their scores; Sara wrote them down. Tim gathered up the cards and began shuffling. “So what’s the agenda for tomorrow?”
“We head back,” Charles said. “Then we convince everyone to come up here. Like I said, I don’t think it’ll be a hard sell. Sondra already said she wanted to stay here, this afternoon. I don’t think we told you, her right arm has looked like that since she stuck it in a pickup, trying to take it out of gear. She told me this afternoon it doesn’t feel quite so numb away from the trucks, so I’m not surprised.”
Tina and Kelly stared at each other. Sara sighed.
“That’s rough. I’ll take her place, if you’re willing,” Tim said as he dealt. “Thirty people is a pretty big group ride, and I’ve organized rides that big before. Do you have a bike shop close by your place? Is the owner still there?”
“There’s one a few blocks away,” Max said. “Nobody ’s there, though. The owner either drove off or abandoned it. Yeah, we could use someone who knows what they’re doing, getting everyone packed up and moving. Things might be a bit dangerous down there, though… that’s one reason I’d like to have Sondra with us. She hit what she shot at.”
“I shot a drunk who smashed out my shop window with a crowbar,” Tim said. “That’s more than anyone else here has done. I’m not a killing machine, but I think I’d be okay in a fight.”
“Okay, that works,” Charles said. “I’ll run by Cody’s in the morning after breakfast, just to make sure Sondra hasn’t changed her mind about staying. Assuming they don’t show up here first.”