The next morning, Katie woke alone in the chair. Nathan still snored on the couch. She sat up and rubbed her eyes. Where was Mason?
Clunking noises lead Katie to the kitchen. Standing in the threshold, she saw Mason banging through cupboards. After a few more minutes of, he kicked the counter and yelled. Collapsing on the ground, he kept on screaming, head tilted back.
Nathan began to cry in the living room. Katie looked between the living room and the kitchen before silently stepping onto the tiled floor. She walked up behind Mason and slowly placed her hand on his shoulder.
“What?” Mason shouted, jerking his head around to see her. Face ablaze, he glared at her until tears leaked from her eyes uncontrollably. His face softened with remorse. “I’m sorry, Katie. I didn’t know it was you.”.
He tried to hug her but she stepped back, shaking her head. “I’m sorry, Katie. I really am.” His eyes begged her to understand. “I just- I just couldn’t.” He sighed. “I just couldn’t find the peanut butter.”
Gasping through her tears, Katie stared at Mason’s face. He was sorry, she knew, but she couldn’t stop crying. Turning, she pointed to the cupboard above her head, where she couldn’t reach. “There,” she choked out.
Mason looked from Katie to the cupboard. Standing, he reached out and opened it. The peanut butter sat right there on the shelf. Shoulders down, Mason looked at the floor and sighed, pinching his eyes closed. Slowly he removed the peanut butter and set it on the counter.
A little while later, after Mason had her and Nathan wash off the dirt from the cellar, all three of them sat at the dining room table eating the one dish Mason knew how to make: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It wasn’t what she usually ate for breakfast but Katie refrained from mentioning it.
When Nathan finished, he pushed away his plate and climbed from his chair. He walked over to Mason and tugged his sleeve. “Wiggles.”
Mason looked down at him, his face still swollen. “What?”
“Wiggles!” Nathan repeated, bouncing on his toes.
Katie sighed. “He wants to watch the Wiggles. Its his favorite, he watches it every morning.”
“Oh.” Mason pushed out his chair.
As soon as he saw that he was going to get his wish, Nathan took off, running for the living room and shouting, “Wiggles,” as loud as he could.
About lunch time, they heard trucks driving around outside. Mason rushed to the window in the front room with Katie close behind. Nathan was too involved in his show to even be curious.
The trucks parked in the middle of the street and the people in them hopped out and looked around. Katie was filled with fear at the sight of them but Mason began to smile. “They’re Christians, Katie,” he said in excitement.
Katie hardly heard him. Her eyes had landed on the bodies in the street and in the yards. They were the black things. The one at the end of the driveway looked like Dad. She ran for the door forgetting all about the people in the trucks. Mason yelled after her as she opened the door.
Across the yard Katie ran, as fast as her legs would take her. Mason’s shouts at the door did not deter her. Reaching the body, she saw that it was her Dad. Sinking to her knees, she sobbed and buried her head in his bloody shirt. “Daddy!” she wailed, “Daddy!”
Arms Katie did not know wrapped around her waist and tried to lift her away. “No!” she screamed, flailing her fists and jerking her body. “No, put me down!”
Mason appeared in front of her and grabbed her hands. “Katie, stop! You have to stop,” he said. With a sob, Katie fell limp and the arms released her to Mason. “I know, he said. “I know.”
Katie began to shake her head. No, no he did not understand. How could he?
“Katie.” Mason grabbed her face and made her look at him. “My parents are dead too. I told you, they killed them all.” When Katie did not react, he repeated himself. “The Liberators killed every adult in town.”
By night fall, all of the town’s children were piled into the trucks that had come. Katie, Nathan, and Mason huddled together, a blanket wrapped around them to ward off the cold. Mason noticed a girl about Katie’s age sitting in the bed of the truck with them. On her lap, she held a baby. She had wrapped the baby in her blanket.
“Come here,” Mason whispered, lifting a corner of their blanket for the girl. She eyed him warily for a moment but then saw Nathan and Katie huddled at his sides. She scooted closer while Mason shifted Nathan onto his lap, making more room. “What’s your name?” Mason asked.
“Sarah.” Her teeth chattered. Nodding to the baby, she added, “And this is Tyson.”
Mason smiled saddly. “Well Sarah, I’m Mason, and this is Katie and her brother Nathan.”
The girls smiled shyly at each other. “Hi,” they said at the same time.
Drawn together by their common loses and their common responsibilities as protective sisters, the two girls soon became friends. In the following years, they did everything together. They played together, bossed their brothers together, and ignored Mason together when he was pretending to be their older brother; a role he believed that he was required to fill.