I struggle to find words to answer my father with. Yes, I saw Jamie and yes, I didn’t tell anyone, but everything turned out all right, nothing bad happened – I was right not to needlessly worry them about a stranger sighting.
“Yes, ok, I did, but -”
“Why didn’t you tell anyone?”
“I didn’t think there was any reason to.”
“What in the – Anna he could be dangerous, they could all be dangerous.”
“They’ve done nothing but help us so far!”
“Think, Anna, you have to think. That information could’ve gotten any number of us killed.”
I don’t know what else to say to him. I storm off, well aware that I can’t go very far, and that I don’t have a door to slam, and that Dottie’s opened a can of worms none of us is going to be able to shut.
I sit back down at the tree with Slaughterhouse-Five but I can’t focus enough to read it, and I know we aren’t done talking, not even close. And sure enough, a few minutes later Paul walks over.
“We’re having a team pow-wow or something.” Looking down at me, he reaches out a hand to help me up. I hesitate before taking it, realizing this may be the last kind gesture from him for a while, once he discovers that I am an alleged traitor.
The group is surreptitiously gathered by the van on one end of the small clearing, and I hang my head in shame as we approach. This is not going to go well. My dad looks at me with the classic disappointed-father look, and I feel twelve instead of twenty.
“There’s some information that’s been withheld from you all that I think you have a right to know,” my dad starts. People immediately start to shift around, but he never takes his eyes off me. “This is not the first time our groups have crossed paths – Anna caught Jamie in our backyard the day before the fire, and neglected to tell anyone.”
Public shaming, this is awesome.
But he keeps going. “For whatever reason, she thought the information was inconsequential, but I feel differently. I think we were all under the impression that none of Aiden’s group ever left that damned apartment building, so what was Jamie doing in our yard? Then there’s the case of the mysteriously disappearing group from the radio. And Aiden’s strange behavior about their massive collection of food and supplies.”
He lets the information sit for a minute as people start to grasp the implications. Even I can recognize how bad it sounds, but I trust Jamie. There was something about him when I saw him in the yard, and there’s been something about him since we met again at the apartment. He’s not a bad guy, my gut tells me so.
“I’m not jumping to any conclusions, but it’s certainly a suspicious situation that I wish we had known about earlier.”
“There’s nothing going on!” I blurt out, unable to help myself. “I didn’t say anything because there was nothing worth reporting. He was just passing through, he could have hurt me if he wanted to but he didn’t. They could have hurt us when we showed up at their building but instead they sheltered us and fed us. And we got out of the city alive last night because of their help.”
“Anna that doesn’t mean they’re safe.”
“Of course it does!”
“Anna enough – even so, they could have been involved in the disappearance of the other group.” He pauses, looking around – taking a moment to connect with each person in the circle. “I’m just warning everyone to be careful and keep an eye out until we know more, ok?”
Again, I turn on my heels and march off, signaling the end of the meeting. The group breaks up after I leave, a few staying behind to whisper with my father. Paul catches up with me as I am getting to the red pick-up.
“Hey, why didn’t you tell me about this?” he asks, grabbing me by the wrist. I pull away, and reach into the truck for a sleeping bag.
“Talk to me, Anna – why did you lie to me?”
“I didn’t,” I say, walking past him and back over to the tree I have, by now, decidedly claimed.
Paul follows me. “I asked if you knew him, do you remember this? I said he looked like he recognized you and you said you’d never met.”
I throw down the sleeping back. “Look, I’m sorry – I am, ok? I just – I was out, in the backyard, and he saw me showering, and-”
Paul grabs the sides of his head and digs his fingers through his hair. “He saw you naked?”
“Listen, Paul – I was naked, I was alone. He had a gun, he saw me before I saw him. When I looked at him, he looked like he was afraid of me, not like he was letting me go or anything. We were both afraid of the other – we both let each other go.” I pause, but Paul makes no move to start talking again. His hands are on his hips and he is just staring at the ground. “I already told you back there – I thought telling people would make more fuss than it was worth. Apparently I’m the only one who thinks that.”
“It’s more than that, though,” he starts, and I know where he is going.
“I know it is, which is even more reason for me not to tell you – you know how you get, I know how you do.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” He is yelling now, and over his shoulder I see Jamie turn and look at us.
“Would you be quiet?” I hiss. “You’re just, you know. Very protective.”
“You think I’m jealous?”
“Oh please, Paul – I can tell you don’t want me talking to him, you even said it that first night.”
“Because he could be out to murder us!”
“You didn’t know that before, but you still wanted me to stay away from him.”
He sighs, exasperated – I hate it when he sighs like that. “Anna I’m not jealous, I just don’t like the way he looks at you, how he always seems to be wherever you are. It’s not jealousy, just…protection.”
“I don’t need to be protected, Paul!”
“Fine, you know what, fine. Fend for yourself, then,” he says, coldly, before turning and walking away. It’ll be good for him to get some air, get some space. He’ll calm down, won’t he?
We are all hungry by now, it is late morning, so we start looking at what kind of meal we can scrounge up. Catherine says she is hesitant about preparing anything that requires a flame, so we end up eating tortillas smeared with peanut butter. A bag of almonds gets passed around.
The meal is one-sidedly tense. My entire group is anxiously eyeing the other. I assume they would prefer to continue on as normal and not be suspicious, but feel too uncomfortable to feign normal conversation. At least that’s what seems to be happening. I know that if I am too chatty I’ll be accused of not just withholding important information, but of fraternizing with the enemy. The whole situation is stupid, honestly. These are good, kind, helpful people. Our lunch is all food they contributed, none of ours.
Paul is sitting a few people over from me, and I look over at him periodically. He is visibly upset, and I can tell he knows I am watching him but is purposefully avoiding making eye contact with me.
“Does anyone want more?” Georgia offers. “We have a few more tortillas and there’s some peanut butter left in this jar if anyone wants to scrape up the last bit.” She’s so sweet about it you’d think we were just on a Girl Scout camping trip. I smile at her and shake my head, which is more than anyone else from my group does.
Her son, Johnny, and the redheaded girl, Kennedy, end up eating the last two tortillas. That is the only interaction all of lunch.
When we’re done I wipe off my tin bowl with some leaves – a classic camping trick – and head back over to my tree and finish setting up my sleeping area. I manage a simple a-frame tarp shelter, and lay out a sheet on the ground. I unzip the sleeping bag so it’s just a large blanket.
The sun has finished rising, it is late morning, now, but none of us has gotten the chance to sleep since making our escape last night. I am not the only one preparing to get a good nap in, there doesn’t seem to be much else to do right now anyway.
Between the tarp and trees overhead I am able to get a fairly shady environment for sleeping. And it will be warmer to sleep since it is sunny out anyway, much preferable to the cooler, damper nights.
I awkwardly crawl under my tarp covering and into the makeshift bed. Lying down feels good, and the patch of ground I picked isn’t too rocky or uneven. I let out a long exhale and try to let go of the tension that will keep me awake.
It’s not long before I start to get sleepy, and I am about to drift off when Paul approaches the tent.
“Knock knock,” he says, and I look to see him bending over to peer under the tarp at me.
“Your asshole boyfriend.”
I sigh and scoot over as best I can to make room for him. “Get in here,” I say, and hold out an open arm to him. He crawls under the unzipped sleeping bag and spoons me.
I thought he would just start talking, but he doesn’t.
“What are you thinking?” I ask him.
“I’m upset,” he says. “Upset that I got upset with you. I always want you to trust your judgment. In this case, I wish you had told us. Frankly, I’m worried – everyone is. But you did what made sense to you, what you thought was right. I shouldn’t be upset with you for that.” As he speaks his breath in hot on my ear and it blows my hair ever so slightly. “And I shouldn’t have told you to fend for yourself. You’re tough Anna, you really are. I know you can take care of yourself, but I want to take care of you too.”
I turn around in his arms and kiss him. “I love you,” I whisper.
“I love you too, Mozart. Forgive me?”
“Forgiven. Forgive me?”
We kiss again. I roll back over and we snuggle closer. Soon we are both asleep.