The man rushes us. Instinctively, I reach for my knife, but then I freeze: he hugs her.
“I thought I’d lost you,” he whimpers into her hair.
Georgia doesn’t respond; his hug has pinned her arms to her sides, but I notice her fists are balled. Who is this man?
He pulls away and turns his attention to Georgia’s son. “And…Johnny? That’s not my little boy – this, this is a man! Four years, wow.”
“I’m sorry, but who…” I trail off, absolutely perplexed.
He looks at me, as if noticing me for the first time. Before he can say anything Georgia speaks up. “Jamie this is Kevin. My husband.”
Georgia has spoken once about Johnny’s father, and it was only to say that he was dead. But apparently she was wrong.
“We got separated when Portland was taken – I’ve been looking for these two ever since.” He wraps an arm around each of them. “Isn’t this just incredible? That we’d wind up here, four years later, at the same camp – in California, no less!”
“Yeah, I…I can’t believe it,” Georgia says.
“How long have you been here?”
“Uh, just today. An hour ago, maybe.”
“In a place like this, lucky we found each other so fast. Could have been weeks before we crossed paths.”
I am massively uncomfortable, an uninvited and imposing guest on this family reunion. Georgia clearly needs the time and space to make sense of her husband back from the grave, and Johnny hasn’t had a father since he was 13 he’s obviously stunned. I hope when the war is over there’s an affordable therapy for everyone kind of program, we’re all gonna need it. As nice of a dream as the war ending – but both are just that, dreams.
“Where are you staying?” Kevin asks eagerly. “I’ll move my things.”
I point. “Just this way and a few rows over.”
“Great, mine is on the way.” I watch his eyes return from the direction I am pointing back to my face, and then shift down to the knife still in my hand. “You don’t need that, brother,” he smiles.
I slide it back into its sheath. “You here with a group?”
“Oh, sort of. Long story. Doesn’t matter – Georgia and Johnny are my group now.” We start walking and he keeps an arm around them. Nostalgia for my own dad creeps in, but I push it away. I don’t think he’s dead, I know he is – no miracles for me.
The walk takes place in shocking silence. After four years, you’d think they might have more to say to each other. I study the family as we go – so this is Johnny’s father. To be honest I hadn’t given it much thought before, it’s not like it’s uncommon these days for families to be missing members, by distance or death. The King family has always been just Georgia and Johnny, as long as I’ve known them. The new addition would take some getting used to.
I don’t see much resemblance between father and son. Everything about Johnny seems to be from his mother, he looks so much like her. The same chocolate hair and eyes, refined noses and small, round mouths. We were surprised when Johnny hit his growth spurt and got so tall, but no one asked if his height came from his father. Looking at them now it would seem that was one thing he did inherit, as he and his dad are both at least six inches taller than Georgia.
When we arrive at his building he tells us to wait outside while he ducks in to grab his meager pack of supplies, which only takes a moment. When we get back to parking spots 89 and 90, only a few rows over, it is Kevin’s turn to wait outside.
“Uh, Kev, maybe you should…maybe I ought to go in first and let everyone know,” Georgia suggests.
“You think? Nah. It’s a shock no matter what. I want to be by your side when you tell them – we do this together.”
I resist the urge to tell him it’s not the shock that he’s here, it’s the shock that he exists. I figure Georgia can’t be criticized for that, right? Sure, it’s romantic to be able to give the whole ‘I never lost hope’ spiel, but that’s just not realistic.
Georgia nods passively and we all breathe in together. I go in first, clearing my throat, and several pairs of eyes glance up. I get Aiden’s attention and he immediately reads my something has happened look and stands up. When I move out of the way, revealing Georgia and Johnny and the stranger, a few others stand too. It is loud outside, but silent as a graveyard in here.
“Uh, everyone, this is Kevin. Kevin is my husband.”
“What is this, Vegas? We’ve been here an hour,” JJ sneers. I fantasize about punching him in the face. Perhaps some other time.
Kevin smiles like some kind of politician and gives a little laugh. “We’ve actually been married about fifteen years. I’m Johnny’s father. Been looking for each other going on four years now – just incredible we found each other here.”
“Uh-huh,” Aiden says. I’m worried – I recognize the disbelieving tone; it would seem he doesn’t like Kevin, either. I hope he saves the interrogation for later – Anna’s group probably won’t raise any questions, but for those of us who know Georgia and Johnny this will take some getting used to. She must have found us not too long after they got separated, since we’ve known her about as long as Kevin says they’ve been ‘looking for each other’ – and in all that time he never came up, we never saw her grieving. Everybody has their way of dealing with things, I guess, but it’s still…well, strange.
Judging by the blank looks on everyone’s faces, we’re all at a loss. The quiet goes on for several more painful seconds before Aiden speaks up again. “Where’s Gus?”
“Stayed with Catherine. They’re taking care of Link. He’s…well, I don’t know. Not good. I wouldn’t say anything in front of Catherine, but I’d be surprised if he, you know,” I pause, trying to think of the lightest way to say this, “recovers.”
If it were possible for the cramped space to get any quieter, I would say it just did. Not knowing what else to do, I just keep talking. “Catherine doesn’t want to leave him, and Gus thought she needed the company. Can’t say I disagree – the medic tent is about as grim as I’ve seen things. And if Link’s gonna be passed out most of the time anyone, seems having Gus there might keep her sane.”
Aiden nods, takes a deep breath. “Did you see anything about showers or food?”
Shit, I totally forgot to even look.
Luckily, our new friend Kevin jumps in for me. “On the west end of the camp there are some cleaning stations, closest things you’re gonna get to showers. Use is limited and monitored though, most of what little water we have needs to be for drinking.” Oh right, California. I miss Oregon already. “Once a week trucks come in with meal packets – they’ll be where the buses unload. Don’t think about trying to get to get more than your share, they’ll notice and you’ll be punished. The day before delivery they distribute meal tickets, one per person, which you trade for a food packet. People will trade tickets for favors or other commodities – cigarettes, clothes, books. Things like that. You gotta get there early too, they always run out. You can keep your ticket and trade it the following week, but unless you have your own food supply it’ll be an uncomfortable week.”
My heart sinks – the refugee camp is getting more depressing by the minute. It’s hard to wrap my head around how quickly things have changed – it was what, a week ago that Anna’s group showed up on our doorstep? I couldn’t believe my luck at encountering new people, interesting people. It was like Christmas. And now, we’re here, in this hell hole of a “refuge.” This sucks. But I’m being selfish – something good has come out of it already, I guess. Kevin King. And medical attention for Link. Yeah, I’m definitely being selfish.
Aiden rubs his head and, in unison with the rest of us, exhales a defeated breathe.
“Welcome home,” Kevin laughs.