By the time the supplies arrived, Marecia wasn’t sure whether she wanted to kill Immer Chapalu or kiss him. Or maybe both. He unloaded yet another box of supplies from the belly of the airlifter onto the broken roof of the concert hall, his muscles rippling, his hair caressed by the evening breeze. She felt a little warm in her middle as she imagined ripping out his hair by the handful, pressing him to the edge of the roof, devouring his mouth…and watching him tumble to the parking lot below.
What would the rest of the band think? What would her friends say?
“Hey, superstar!” she called from beside a vent, where the band had set her and her friends sorting supplies. No heavy lifting for the poor, infirm victims. “Heads up!” She launched a body-sized bag of individually wrapped dehydrated meat, beans, and vegetables at him. “Mind putting those stick-arms of yours to use? I’m sorry, but I’m too frail and unstable to open it. PTSD, I think.”
Finally, he seemed to have had enough of her incessant sarcastic remarks and petulance at being pushed to the side, treated like an invalid. For the first hour, whenever Immer’s eyes fell on her, they brimmed over with bemusement and laughter. This had only infuriated her more, so she dialed up the sarcasm. After that, his expression steadily declined into one of annoyance and finally exasperation. “Okay, you want to help? Go downstairs, and tell everyone dinner will be ready in half an hour.”
Gracie shot Marecia a warning look as she rose from among the vacuum-packed bundles. “Cool it,” she whispered, and Marecia remembered how scared they were. The reminder knocked the breath out of her lungs, brought tears to her eyes. She remembered her parents, the footage of her smoking neighbourhood.
She forced herself to remember her anger.
“Well, excuse me,” she replied. “But we wanted to find something useful to do.”
“I’ve got it, Isabella!” Cassandra exclaimed when Isabella blinked awake. Was it morning already? And why was Cassandra here? It had been years since Cassandra slept over at the Colberts. But whenever she had a sleepover, Isabella could always look forward to homemade pancakes from her grandmother’s recipe. Fresh, hot strawberry sauce.
“Mmmmm….” Isabella sighed, inhaling the scent.
“Isabella, wake up!” Cassandra insisted, pulling down the zipper of Isabella’s sleeping bag.
The smell of pancakes and strawberries evaporated from her imagination. Rising up on one elbow, Isabella looked around the classroom. Classroom. The windows, the door, the desks. Desks. Sleeping bag. The words, so simple, knocked softly at the doors of her mind, but they didn’t belong here. It was morning. She should be home.
“What are you doing?” she asked Cassandra, remembering that they weren’t friends. They seemed to have reached some sort of truce, where they agreed to be nice to each other as long as no one was looking. Frowning, Isabella gazed at the sleeping girls around her. Cassandra was not keeping up her end of the bargain. Smoothing her hair, Isabella stepped carefully out of the sleeping bag and made a vague motion for Cassandra to follow.
“Okay, spill it. Why did you wake me up at five a.m.?”
“It’s only six-thirty, Isabella. And when I figured it out, I just wanted to tell you as soon as possible.”
Taking out the trash had once been a routine, thoughtless activity. Usually, it involved asking one of the foster kids to do it, then yelling at them and threatening them. Finally she would sigh in exasperation and vow to cut an hour from their TV time later. Then she would grumble to herself as she hauled the bag out. The building was too old to have any kind of chutes, both disposal and delivery. She insisted to the children that it was better for them to have to walk to where they needed to go, but she had yet to convince them of that.
For the past few days, however, they had begun begging her to step outside. They fell over themselves to offer to take out the garbage.
“I know it’s been a while since they declared lockdown,” Anica began, addressing what had become their daily morning assembly. “Believe me when I tell you that I wish we could find out what’s taking so long. But we’ve got to just stay calm, keep up with our daily routine.”
She knew she was saying everything wrong, using the wrong tone and the wrong words. The kids were barely even paying attention to her, but she was so tired. And the entire building was beginning to stink. They had done their best to keep all the trash in a room in the basement, but it was very hot during the day. All the bleach in the center didn’t seem to help. And now they were out.