Cleve reluctantly agreed to let the group split up. Tim took some riders to his shop to get the Kidd Haulers, while Jason and Ben rode to the nearby Borders to grab any gardening books and field guides in stock. Cody and Sondra went to Breakbeat Music, across from the food court — and Caitlin Cooper, the girl who had sat with Cody, insisted on coming with them. The chubby redhead — she could have been Tim’s daughter — clung to Cody’s hand along the way.
“Is she your girlfriend?” Caitlin asked him.
“Yeah,” Cody said. Caitlin looked at her feet as she walked for a moment, then looked at him again.
“Can a boy have two girlfriends?”
Cody goggled at Sondra, who stifled a laugh and turned away.
“Can I live with you guys?”
“Um… uh —” Cody stammered. “We only have one bedroom.”
“That’s okay. I can sleep in the living room.”
“We’re like a big family where we live,” Sondra said. “You might not live with us, but you’ll see us every day if you want to. Everyone spends the evenings in the clubhouse, we have supper together, then we’ve got games, a couple computers, and a DVD player. And there’s no trucks.”
“You have electricity? It went out here a long time ago.”
“We have two generators, and we siphon gas from the station around the corner. Cody was a lot of help getting it together.”
“Here we are,” Cody said. Breakbeat Music was dark, like everything else, but the last clerk hadn’t bothered to close the security gates before driving off. He turned on his flashlight. “Welcome to Breakbeat Music, how may I help you?”
Sondra and Caitlin both laughed. “Do you work here or something?” Caitlin asked.
“I did, before everyone drove off,” Cody said. “Wednesday was the last day I worked. They wanted me to come in on Thursday, but Mom’s car turned into you-know-what and I said I couldn’t get here. So what’s your favorite video game?”
“Super Mario Kart.”
“That’s a Wii game, we don’t… hey, no reason we can’t get a Wii too.” Cody pried his hand loose, ducked behind the counter, and came up with a key. “Lucky there’s so many TV sets around the complex, we don’t have to lug one of those all the way back home. Pick out some games you like, and some your friends will like, and we’ll bring a console and extra controllers along. Batteries, too.” He unlocked the glass and slid it aside.
“Cody?” Sondra said. “This is gonna add a bunch of weight to the load. Is this really worth it?”
“Sure — the kids can play the Wii, and the rest of us get the Playstation.”
“Maybe we ought to get another Playstation, then. I don’t think that thing got a minute of rest last night.”
“That can be arranged!” Cody unlocked another slider, thinking neither did we and grinning. “You ever play Barnstormer? It’s a racing game, but with old airplanes.”
“They have it? Get it for me! Pleeeease?” Sondra mock-whined, hands clasped, making Caitlin laugh. “I wanted to try that one, but I never got a chance.”
“They had a couple here on Wednesday. I doubt they sold out by Friday.” Cody opened a third door and played his flashlight along the shelves. “Yup, here it is!” Sondra cheered as he tossed the game on the counter; he reached down and picked up a Playstation. “And here’s our other console. Hey, I think we had a couple lefty controllers in stock, get one on me. And get a few of the other kind.” He shined his flashlight at a rack behind them. While Sondra looked at the accessories, Cody brought out several large bags.
“Can I get an iPod?” Caitlin asked. “I want a pink one, like that.” She pointed at the display.
“Sure,” Sondra said.
“Yeah,” Cody said, unlocking the display case. “You’d better go find some CDs you like, though. I think the Internet’s gone for good.”
Sondra helped Caitlin pick out some CDs while Cody got an iPod for each of the kids and loaded their haul into three bags. “Hm,” Cody said as they returned with a handful of jewel cases. “Probably around fifteen hundred bucks, including tax. They can take it out of my last paycheck. I’ll pay ’em back the other thirteen hundred later.” Caitlin took one of Cody’s hands before he could pick up the bags; he rolled his eyes and took one bag while Sondra took the other two.
“Hey,” Sondra said. “We need to get a jacket for Caitlin, don’t we?”
“Yeah. But we’ll be going through Sears, we’ll pick one up on the way out. Sweaters, too.” He paused a moment. “You know, I feel stupid for thinking about this just now: why didn’t we just pick jackets and sweaters out of the houses we’ve been cleaning out?”
“I guess it’s because everybody wants their own clothes. I know I didn’t really want to spend the rest of my life wearing clothes someone else left behind when they drove off. It’ll happen sooner or later, but there will be plenty of time for used stuff.”
“By the way: it was nice of you, offering Max your dad’s jacket like you did.”
Cody shrugged. “Well… it’s not like Dad’s going to be needing it.”
“Not just that. You know what I mean.”
“Yeah.” Cody looked down and let his hair cover his eyes. “But he’s accepted us. He apologized for being rude, and you set him straight about Philip. I don’t hold grudges… not anymore, anyway.” He flipped his hair back. “Let’s go.”
“Where did all the people go?” Caitlin asked, walking down the mall and clinging to Cody’s hand. “Did they die?”
“We don’t think so,” Sondra said. “We think they’re all driving around in those pickups.”
“Why don’t they stop?”
“Maybe they can’t,” Cody said. “But nobody knows for sure.”
Tina looked amused as the three emerged from Sears with their bundles. “You know… you guys could pass for a family.”
“It would be a… a very strange arrangement,” Cody said, looking embarrassed.
Sondra stepped over to Tina. “Caitlin wants to be his girlfriend too,” she whispered, making Tina laugh.
“Hey, he’s already got an older girlfriend,” Tina whispered back. “Why not a younger one too?”
Cody stepped forward, Caitlin in tow, as Tina and Sondra laughed together. “Hey… where’s the other kids?”
“They’re over there, with Kelly and Jennifer. Why?”
“I got an iPod pico for each of them. I guess we can pass them out after we get home and charge ’em and get some music on ’em. We also got a bunch of other stuff — a Wii for the kids, another Playstation for everyone else, some games and controllers, that kind of stuff.”
“Quite a load,” Tina said. “We probably could have found all that in Laurel.”
“Maybe. But at least we know we’ve got the stuff now. Like Sondra said, there’ll be plenty of time for used stuff.”