Mom and I hadn’t been so lucky. We’d originally lived outside of Hagerstown, another city in Maryland, and nearly all the cities along the I81 corridor had been damaged during combat. There’d been ground fighting and airstrikes.
And there were other cities that had had it so much worse.
Some had been completely overrun by the Luxen, and those cities where the Luxen had rapidly assimilated the DNA of humans, basically replacing them, had been total losses. Alexandria. Houston. Los Angeles and Chicago. Nonnuclear electromagnetic pulse bombs had been dropped on those cities, effectively killing every Luxen while also rendering every piece of technology useless.
The newly formed Department of Restoration said that it would take decades to repair those cities, now referred to as zones. They were walled wastelands, empty of life and power. No one lived there. No one went there.
It was hard not to think of them when I looked in the rearview mirror and saw the skyscrapers stretching into the sky like steel fingers. It was hard to not think of those days and weeks after the invasion.
It was even harder for me to really process how it only had been four years and everything was almost normal. Mom had gone back to the work at the United States Army Medical Research and Material Compound at Fort Detrick in Frederick the moment it was okay to return to the area. Around two years ago, movies had started getting made again and TV stations stopped showing reruns. New episodes of my favorite shows started airing with some new cast members, and one day, life was just back to the way it was before.
At school, we’d just started meeting with college advisors on Tuesday. I was planning to enter University of Maryland next fall and would hopefully get into their nursing program, because even though I loved taking pictures, I knew I wasn’t good enough to make a career out of that. Though, after my reaction to the guy Luc was helping, I wondered if nursing was the right fit for me.
Anyway, life was happening again.
Some days it was like everyone made a conscious decision to move on from the war and all the death, from the knowledge we weren’t alone in this universe or on this planet. The world had exhausted itself on fear, and then said, Nope, no more.
Maybe that was for the better, because how could we keep living if all we feared was what the next second or minute would bring?
I didn’t have an answer for that.
My phone rang, pulling me out of my thoughts. I glanced at the screen and saw April’s name pop up. Did I want to answer the phone? It felt like it was too early to deal with her. Immediately, guilt churned. I hit the accept call button on the steering wheel. “Hey!”
“What are you doing right now?” she asked, her voice carrying through the speakers.
“Um . . . driving past Walkers.” My stomach grumbled. I could practically taste the greasy amazingness. “I really would love a burger right now.”
“It’s, like, eleven in the morning.”
“So? There is no bad time for a hamburger.”
“Well, maybe add some bacon and eggs to it, and you could call it breakfast.”
My stomach rumbled even louder. “God, now I’m really hungry.”
“You’re always hungry,” she commented. “Better keep an eye on that. Metabolism slows down as you get older.”
Rolling my eyes, I then scowled. “Thanks for the info, Dr. April.”
“You’re welcome,” she chirped back.
I stopped at a red light. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing really, but have you been online today?”
“No.” I tapped my fingers along the wheel. “Am I missing drama?”
“There is always drama online, no matter the time or day, whether it’s a holiday or an apocalypse,” she replied dryly. “But yeah, there’s drama online. Except it’s real deal. Oh wait. Is Heidi with you?”
“No. I’m heading home. Does this have to do with her?” Knowing April, if something horrible was circulating about Heidi online, April’s first call would be to everyone and anyone other than Heidi. Wasn’t anything personal. She’d do the same thing to any of us.
Sometimes I wondered why I was friends with April, but she was like two different people. There were times when she was the sweetest person, and then there was this other side of her that could be downright nasty. Then again, we weren’t exactly that close. She usually only called me when she had something she wanted to gossip about or needed a favor. Like now.
“It has nothing to do with Heidi,” she replied.
The light flipped green and I hit the gas pedal. “What’s going on?”
“You know Colleen Shultz, right? She was in our English class last year.”
As I slowed down to approach yet another stoplight, my stomach tumbled. Holy crap, I’d forgotten all about seeing Colleen at the club last night. “Yeah. What about her?”