My mom wouldn't stop knitting.
When I came in through the door, she said, "So you've decided to grace us with your presence."
She refused to look up from the scarf she was making for Haley. It had grown by an arm's length in the days I'd been gone.
All I'd wanted was come home to my parents' house, spend a semi-normal evening with my family, maybe have one of my mom's home-cooked meals, then actually sleep in a bed. I really needed some sanity after everything I'd been through. And considering that I was going to try to seduce and drug Jason Gibbs tomorrow, I was hoping to get some rest so I could prepare.
But apparently Shawn and the rest of Jason's squad had told my family that I was wanted for hiding infected refugees. They all thought that I'd been gone because I was keeping Morgan hidden from the Home Guard. I thought about telling them what had actually happened, but how could I? I didn't think anyone would really believe that I'd been buried alive and locked in a stripped-down U-Haul for the better part of a week.
"I don't see why you don't just tell them where Morgan is," my mom scolded.
I hadn't realized that she was in such deep denial about everything that was happening.
"They know what's best for her," she went on, fiercely knitting at the kitchen counter while she lectured me. "They're keeping us all safe. I don't know why you have to go and disrupt all of that. They're all such nice boys. And Shawn! You should be so proud of him! This has been so good for him. You need to be more grateful. We're all just so lucky that the good guys are on our side, watching out for us."
We'd missed dinner. Ian was having a beer with Bryce on the porch, and I'd told them that I'd make up some sandwiches. My dad was washing the dishes. As I opened the fridge, he dried his hands and put an arm around me.
"It's good to see you," he said, softly so my mom wouldn't hear him. "I was worried. I'm glad you're home."
At the dining table, Danielle was playing cards with Tyler and Haley. My sister hadn't said a word to me since I'd arrived at the house. When I went to grab the bread knife from the table, she scowled. She stood up, placing herself between me and her children, then she whispered fiercely into my ear.
"I know you know where that little bitch is," she hissed. "She's probably the one who brought that disease in from outside. You need to tell Ian where she is. No more fucking around."
I hadn't realized how much Ian wasn't telling Danielle. She didn't have a clue about what was going on. He obviously didn't trust her to keep the granary a secret. And judging by how my sister was acting now, he was absolutely right not to trust her. She wasn't ever the most easy-going of the two of us, but I'd never seen her behave this way. The stress was really getting to her, I could tell. Suddenly, it seemed, she hated me.
"Play with us, Aunt Ashley!" Haley peeked around her mother and looked at me expectantly.
Even after all I'd been through, I felt really bad having to say no to my niece yet again.
"Next time," I told her, mussing her hair. "I've got some important things to take care of. And we have a guest," I said, nodding in the direction of the porch.
Tyler couldn't have heard what his mother whispered into my ear, but he looked at both of us apprehensively. He was still in that awkward stage; he was probably going to be good looking when he got out of adolescence, but his nose had suddenly gotten to big for his face, and his forehead was ringed with acne from wearing his football helmet. Poor kid. He just wanted life to be normal, to play football, and to meet girls his age. He'd been helping Haley fan out the cards in her hand, and I could tell right away that he was terrified at everything that was happening, even though he was putting on a good face and trying to help his little sister through it. I think he just wanted everyone to stick together and make it out alive.
"Let's just leave Aunt Ashley alone for a little while," he said, avoiding Danielle's gaze. "She's probably starving."
It was true. I was famished. Other than the military rations that the Home Guard had delivered to the house, my parents seemed only to have an endless supply of roast beef and white bread. While I made a sandwich each for Ian, Bryce, and myself, I ate at least another sandwich's worth of the meat with my fingers. I still had a strange, insatiable craving for a hamburger and a milkshake, but instead I poured a big glass of milk and gulped it down. I hadn't craved milk like this since I was a kid, but I couldn't get enough of it. I poured a second glass.