Home > Among Monsters (Red Hill #1.5)(3)

Among Monsters (Red Hill #1.5)(3)
Author: Jamie McGuire

“Maybe we could drop you off at your house then?”

Chloe frowned at her phone. “She’ll be here.”

By the next hour, Chloe and I were two of only six kids in Spanish class. A seventh-grader walked in with several pieces of paper and handed them to Mrs. Hall. With heavy eyes, she looked across her mostly empty classroom.

“Cole, Tanner, Amelia, Addison, and Jenna, your parents are here to pick you up.”

Everyone but me scrambled to gather their things, and they rushed out the door.

Chloe waved good-bye to me. “I’ll text you later.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to come with us?” I asked.

She shook her head, and a contrived smile stretched across her face. “I’ll wait for my mom. Get going. I bet Halle is freaking out in the car.”

“Okay. Text me as soon as she picks you up.”

“Later, tater,” she said, trying to keep the tremble from her voice.

I didn’t stop by my locker. Chloe was right. If Dad had to come into the school to check me out, Halle would be in the car alone and likely working herself up into a frenzy.

Dad stood out in his dress blues, holding his hat under his arm. It was the first time he’d come to pick me up while wearing his formal clothes, and for a moment, it made me forget why he was here early.

“Wow,” I said.

He looked like a soldier instead of a firefighter.

“Let’s go,” Dad responded. He guided me out the door and down the steps with a hand on my shoulder.

His white Chevy Tahoe was still running with the windows rolled up when we reached his place in line. Halle wasn’t panicked at all when I opened the front passenger door. She was sitting behind me in the middle row in one of the two captain’s chairs with her seat belt fastened and her hands folded tightly in her lap. The back bench seat had a case of bottled waters and several white plastic sacks full of cans.

After climbing into my seat, I put my textbook and binder on the floorboard. “Hey, Halle,” I said, trying to sound cheerful. I turned around to smile at her only briefly before buckling in.

Dad jumped into his seat and pulled the gear into drive. Pulling away from the curb, he asked, “You buckled in, Pop Can?”

He wasn’t talking to me. One of the other firefighters had once said that Halle was no bigger than a pop can, and it had stuck. Born five weeks early, she was pretty small for her age. She had worn toddler-sized clothes until she was in kindergarten. Dad was half an inch shorter than Mom, so we always teased Halle for being petite like him. Dad didn’t find that funny, so he stayed with Pop Can.

Halle tugged on her seat belt and then wiped her nose with the back of her hand.

Dad rounded a corner quickly, and my shoulder bounced off the door.

“Sorry. I’m trying to get out of town. How was your day?” Dad asked with a tinge of nervousness in his voice.

I raised an eyebrow at him. “What’s wrong with Halle? Why is she being so quiet?”

“Some of the parents came into the school, causing a fuss. She’s still upset.” He kept his eyes on the road.

“Did you tell Mom you were picking us up early?”

“I called the hospital. I couldn’t get through.”

“Did you call her cell phone?” I asked.

He made a face. “She doesn’t like it when I call her cell phone when she’s at work. She said to only do it when it’s an emergency.”

“An epidemic isn’t an emergency?”

“If I call her cell phone, she’ll think something happened to one of you. I’m not going to scare her. Your grandma said she called her, and your mom was in surgery. I’m sure she’ll call when she can.”

I pulled out my phone and began to type out a text.

“What are you doing?” Dad snapped.

“I’m at least going to let her know where we are and that we’re okay.”

“Put it away, Jenna. I told you, she’s in surgery. I don’t want to hear it from her later.”

“She said I could text her if it’s important.”

“Do you want her to think you’re hurt?”

I huffed and looked out the window. I watched the buildings slowly spread out until there was only farmland and refineries. We passed over the interstate toward the toll road, and I was about to ask Dad where he was going, but it didn’t take long for me to figure it out. The traffic both north and south on I-35 was still flowing, but I’d never seen it that busy before. Dad was probably going to Anderson from the south through the old Tempton highway.

Within fifteen minutes, Dad turned north, confirming my suspicion. Another fifteen minutes later, we were in Anderson’s city limits. We passed the high school and the baseball fields, the fairgrounds, and then downtown.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

I glanced back at Halle. She still hadn’t said a word, which was completely abnormal. She usually barely took a breath when we were in the car and fighting for airtime.

“To the armory,” he answered.

“Still?” I asked. “I was kind of hoping we’d go home and watch the news.”

“Why do you think I’ve left the radio off?” he said. “It’s not a good idea.” He peeked at the rearview mirror and winked at Halle. “No need to scare your sister.”

“She’s already scared.”

He turned right at the northeast corner of town. Three blocks before the armory, the parking lots of the surrounding buildings were nearly full. The haphazard parking and packed lots looked like the fairgrounds would during fair week, but we were on the wrong side of town.

“There’s so many cars,” I said.

“A lot more than when I left,” Dad said.

“All these people have come to the armory because they think it’s safer to be near Governor Bellmon, don’t they?”

“He’s called in the National Guard just to be safe,” Dad said. “They should be here soon.”

“I’m not sure if that’s comforting or not.”

Dad patted my leg. “It’s just a precaution. I won’t let anything happen to you. Hear that, Halle? You’re with Daddy. Nothin’ to worry about.”

Halle didn’t answer.

Dad found a parking spot, and we each held one of Halle’s hands as we crossed the busy street. It seemed the whole county was driving toward the armory. Dad took us in through the armory’s back entrance, and we found a group of firefighters looking formal in their dress blues. Dad joined them, blending in.

“Hey, kiddo,” Jason Sneed said with a wink. He was blond, blue-eyed, young, and charming.

I’d had a crush on him since I was four. I’d even told him once that I was going to marry him one day, and I’d believed it until he’d gotten engaged two years later.

“Hey,” I replied.

“You doing okay?” he said quietly.

“So far. Heard anything new?” I asked.

“It’s spread along the East Coast. But we’re in the middle of nowhere. Nothing ever comes this far. The military is containing it. Governor Bellmon is in contact with some US senators, and they’re confident.”

“That’s what he’s saying anyway,” I grumbled.

Jason narrowed his eyes, but his small smile betrayed him. “So young yet so cynical.”

The governor was elevated above the crowd on a makeshift stage in the center of the room, speaking comforting words into a microphone, as people yelled questions and concerns.

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