Devon leaned forward and Cam saw the muscles in the mutant’s arms shift and flex.
Tara glanced at the sleeping Regulator, then reached out and put her hand on her twin’s arm. “Devon, don’t.”
Devon snapped his fingers around his sister’s wrist and twisted her arm, shoving her back. “You know how easily they die, don’t you sister? How easily they break? How easily they can drown?”
Tara’s eyes pinched in pain.
From The Plague Legacy: Acquisitions, Chapter 6–Ashes, Ashes
The River, Part 1
Leaning back, Tara closed her eyes and lifted her face to the sun. It felt good to stretch her legs on the roof of the old shed and stop moving for a while. Up here she felt invisible and infinite, like her soul expanded with the sunlight and touched the leaves and grass and deer that grazed in the valley.
The weathered shingles vibrated beneath her hands before she heard the ladder rattle. Tara sighed and squinted past her toes at Devon’s scowl.
Her brother leaned his chin on the ladder. “Brian wants to go fishing.”
“Again?” Tara sat up and shaded her eyes with a hand. “We need to teach him to swim so Dad will let him go by himself.”
“I’d rather fish than teach him how to swim.” Devon exaggerated a shiver. “We’d have to go down to the lake, and that water’s cold.”
Tara pointed. “Then you take him today.”
“I took him yesterday,” Devon’s blond head disappeared.
Tara scooted to the edge of the roof. “I took him twice in a row before that,” she stretched a bare foot to the top rung and Devon held the old ladder steady as she climbed down.
He shrugged. “Dad wants me to chop more wood.”
“Of course he does,” she pushed past him and picked her way through the weeds that threatened to erase the gravel path to the house. “We have enough wood for three winters but Dad always thinks we need more. Always ready for the world to end.”
Devon’s boots crunched behind her. “Tara, the world pretty much did end, and we’re what’s left. We won’t be around for long, though, if we go cold. You never know, we could get snowed in for weeks.”
She rolled her eyes even though Devon couldn’t see it. “That’s why it’s a life or death situation that I’m the one to take Brian fishing, right? Because I’m a girl and can’t swing an ax like the menfolk? It’s not as important that we actually end up with any fish, so send the girl with the five-year-old and hope he sits still long enough to catch something.”
“It’s not just because I’m a boy, I’m also older. Don’t forget that,” Devon poked the back of her shoulder.
Tara spun around. She had the same hazel eyes and blond hair as her brother. “Well, I’m taller.”
“No, you’re not,” Devon stepped close and frowned. She knew it was a sore spot with him that he had to look up into the eyes of this thirteen-year-old twin sister, and Tara took advantage of it whenever she could.
“Yes, I am,” she met him nose to nose.
“Hah,” Devon grinned, “same height.”
“Only because you’re wearing boots.”
“Yeah, but I’m always wearing boots, so it counts.”
Tara held his eyes for a moment, then grinned back. “Alright, I’ll take Brian fishing and let you go play with sharp objects.” She turned and headed toward the house again. “Where’s Mom?”
“I think she’s laying down. She said she didn’t feel good.”
Tara reached for the back door. “Headache?”
“Guess so,” Devon’s voice grew quiet, “but Dad doesn’t look good, either. Sort of grayish and he’s moving around slowly and forgetting things he’s said. I told him to rest and I’d take care of the wood, but he just waved me away and told me he was fine.”
Tara bit her lip and curled her fingers on the knob. They’d all had colds at one time or another, and her mother checked their temperatures every time they sneezed, but it was rare that any of them got sick enough to lie down. Except her mother’s headaches. It seemed like her mother had a constant headache since Brian had been born.
Devon headed toward the wood pile and Tara slipped inside the house.
It was dark and hushed. She crept in, her bare feet silent as she listened for sounds of her little brother. She found him in his room, stacking miscellaneous objects into towers and singing to himself. Standing in his doorway, Tara watched him play. He had just turned five, his cheeks and fingers losing their baby fat over the summer. Freckles spotted his fair skin, and a shock of red hair stuck up in all directions.
Tara thought he was a miracle. After all of the babies that her mother had lost, Brian had survived. He was a month old before they dared to name him, and even then her mother had kept her distance, leaving him to Tara’s care while she shut herself in her room with her headaches.
She should understand death. Her mother had been born after the plague, during a time when the world was still reeling from the devastation. But despite the babies who had died, Brian had lived.
And as much as Tara complained about taking him fishing, she thought of him as hers.
“Hey, Bri,” she said softly.
He looked up from his towers and grinned. “Fishing?”
“You bet, buddy. Looks like it’s my turn again.” Tara stepped in the room and ruffled his hair.
“Yay!” his tower clattered to the floor as he stood up and wrapped his arms around her legs.
Tara hugged him back. “Shhh,” she warned. “Mom’s lying down.”
Brian let go and looked up at her. “I know. She’s always lying down.”
“Well,” Tara patted his shoulder and crouched to meet him in the eye, “it means that we get to go fishing, right?”
He smiled and nodded.
They found his boots on the back porch, covered in dried mud, and their poles still leaned against the house from the day before.
Tara wrinkled her nose at the dried worms that clung to the hooks and sighed. Why can’t Brian like rock collecting or climbing trees? Why fishing? But she knew why. Her father had suggested it as a distraction when the small boy wanted to go hunting for bigger game, and when Brian actually brought home a fish, their father had given him a rare, genuine smile. He wants to see Dad smile again.
Read The Plague Legacy: Acquisitions, available from Amazon December 6, 2013.