Seth watched as Angel stopped before the last bend. Highway 79 was a short walk away.
“We can’t get killed,” Kaitlyn said. “Not now. Not when we’re just starting.”
“Don’t think that way,” Seth said. “We’re gonna make it. We’re good. We’ll handle whatever they throw at us.”
They got out of the Jeep, reaching back inside to grab their weapons, and then walked up to Angel and Megan.
“Never saw them again, dude,” Angel said. “We had our eyes peeled.”
Megan shook her head yes in agreement. “You two look different.”
Kaitlyn smiled. “We’ll talk later. If there is a later.”
“C’mon,” Angel said, gripping his M-60. “Let’s go.” Megan picked her AK-47 up off the front seat of the Jeep and closed the door quietly. They walked down the dark road, stopping when the highway came into view.
“Don’t see anybody,” Megan whispered.
“Well keep looking,” Angel said. “You’ve got better eyes than I do.”
She nodded and they crept forward.
“Good, this is a long straight section,” Seth whispered. “There’s no place to hide.”
“Dude, I think we’re cool. I think we ought to take off before they come looking down here.”
“Yeah, Angel, I think you’re right, but we need to watch ourselves,” Seth said.
“I agree,” Kaitlyn said. “I’ll hang out in the back of the Jeep, so I can fire behind us.”
“I’ll do the same,” Megan said. “Glad these aren’t hard-top Jeeps.”
“Okay, let’s haul ass.” Angel said.
The two couples raced back to their vehicles and took off for the road, making a left and getting to full speed in a hurry.
Angel’s hands were sweaty around the wheel. He glanced over at Megan, who was behind him in the back. “I don’t like you back there.”
“I know, but it’s a better idea at the moment,” Megan said. “You pick up the vibe between Seth and Kaitlyn?”
“I don’t know. Something’s different.”
“Different how?” Angel asked.
“I can’t quite put my finger on it.”
“He’s in love with her, you know,” Angel said. “I’ve known this guy for most of my life. I know how he is around girls.”
Angel chuckled. “Women. Remember that we were friends when we first started to think girls weren’t yucky.”
Megan giggled. “You mean sixth grade or so?”
“Hell, I’ve been friends with him since the second grade,” Angel said.
“Kaitlyn said she was going to spend the rest of her life with him,” Megan said.
Angel was silent for a moment.
“What, does that scare you? Or do you not believe it?”
Angel was still silent.
“Talk to me,” she said.
“Do you feel that way?” he asked.
“Hey, I’m not trying to lead you down that path.”
“I asked you a question,” Angel said. “We’ve been beating around the bush about this since we took off from the battle.”
“I know,” she said.
“Maybe we should hold off this conversation until we can see each other.”
“No,” she said. “It’s easier for me this way.”
“You sound scared.”
“I am scared,” she said. “How could I not be? This is a big deal for me. For all women.”
“And girls,” Angel said.
He snickered. “I’ve already let my feelings slip, you know. I don’t know what you’re afraid of.”
“When did you let anything slip?”
“When we were talking to Seth and Kaitlyn, after we passed the RV Park. Remember?”
She was silent for a moment. “Yes, I remember. That was an emotional moment. We were both looking for something to hold onto.”
“We’re still in that situation, but that’s not what it was,” Angel said. “We’re still beating around the bush.”
She sighed. “All right, all right. I’m sorry.”
“Sorry for what?”
“Making this difficult. Not trusting you.”
“You don’t trust me?” Angel asked.
“I think you meant what you said at the time,” Megan said. “What if you change your mind?”
“Why are we only talking about me?”
She was silent for a moment again.
“Do you really care for me or not?” Angel asked. “Seems to me like you do.”
“I’m in love with you,” Megan said. “You can tell, can’t you?”
“I can tell,” he said.
“It scares you,” she said. “See, that’s what I’m worried about.”
“Don’t you think I should take this seriously?”
He could hear her breathing change in the back.
“Are you crying?” Angel asked. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m getting ahead of you,” she said. “Don’t worry, I won’t hold you to anything.”
“No, really,” she said. “We can be boyfriend and girlfriend. When it’s over, it’s over.”
Angel laughed. “It’s not going to be over. Trust me.”
“I thought you were being serious.”
“I wish I could look at your face. It’s hard to read you from here.”
“Oh well,” she said. “Go ahead anyway.”
“Okay,” he said. “I wasn’t kidding when I said you were my whole life. It’s not some passing thing. I’ve been in several relationships, two of which I thought were going to lead to marriage. None of them were like this.”
“Maybe it’s the times. The things we’re going through.”
“Nope,” he said. “When I’m with you, I feel this comfortable warmth. I love talking to you. Even when you’re being like this.”
“And when I’m not with you, all I can think about is being with you.”
“That’s the same in any early relationship,” she said softly.
“You’re not hearing me. I’ve been in serious relationships before. This is different.”
“But what makes you so sure?” she asked.
“I can’t explain that to you,” he said. “I can’t see a future for me without you there. It’s like we’re already together, and we will be forever. There’s no question in my mind.”
Megan started crying again.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“I’m happy, dummy,” she said. “I’m so much in love with you. I can’t see a future without you either. That’s what makes this so hard.”
Angel was silent for a moment. “You think we’re both going to lose interest.”
“No, I don’t right now, but that’s just my heart speaking. My head is giving off warning signals.”
“Like there is something there, but it feels stronger than it really is, because of what’s happened. Because of the battles, and the loss, and the fear.”
“Oh,” Angel said. “I can’t fix that for you.”
“I know,” she said. “That’s why I’m crying.”
“Look, here’s my suggestion. As of now, you’re my girlfriend. Is that okay with you?”
“What does that mean, exactly?” Megan asked.
“You’ve been somebody’s girlfriend before, haven’t you?”
“Yes,” she said softly. “This is going to be different than those.”
“I’ve never lived with a man before,” she said. “Not even with the closest ones.”
Angel chuckled. “We been on the run most of the time we’ve known each other. It’s not like we’ve had the opportunity to settle down and be domestic.”
“I know, but still.”
“You aren’t a virgin, are you?” Angel asked. “Sorry, that’s none of my business.”
“Yes, it is your business, and no, I’m not,” she said. “It’s been really difficult holding back with you on that.”
“Then why have you?”
“Circumstances,” she said. “When I can get you alone somewhere other than a tent next to other people, you’re in trouble.”
Angel chuckled. “Finally some trouble I’m looking forward to.”
“Shut up,” she said. “I shouldn’t have told you that.”
“You haven’t told me if you’ll be my girlfriend or not.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“You have to say it,” he said softly.
“Then yes, I’ll be your girlfriend,” she said.
“We’ll go as far as you want us to,” Angel said. “We don’t have to live together, for instance, until you’re ready.”
She giggled. “Oh no you don’t. I’m not letting you out of my sight any more than I absolutely have to. I hope you don’t mind.”
“No, I don’t mind,” he said. “I like how that sounds. There’s our turnoff. Skyline Truck Trail.” He turned on his blinker and made the right turn.
“How much further?” she asked.
“Five minutes,” Angel said. “Gonna seem like longer.”
“Oh, you have something planned for me, do you?” she asked.
“We’ll see,” he said.
Jules led Tex, Sparky, and Ted to the big house. The lights over the big veranda were on. “It nice out. Let’s sit on porch.”
“Who owns this place?” Sparky asked.
“Associate of Ivan’s,” Jules said. “He not here. Just as well.”
“Somebody we don’t know, eh?” Ted asked as they sat down on the chairs.
“Government official,” Jules said. “Better you don’t know.”
Tex cracked up. “Nothing is ever what it seems in this crazy world.”
“You say mouthful,” Jules said.
“So, what’s on your mind?” Ted asked.
“First, we should make baseline, no?” Jules asked.
“What do you mean, partner?” Tex asked.
“Assess team,” Jules said. “Who we trust, who we watch, who we count on.”
“Oh,” Sparky said. “Yeah, that’s actually a good idea, and we do need to reassess as we get to know people better. No rough stuff, though, unless somebody is a traitor. That’s an absolute for me. I’ll leave the group if we do otherwise.”
“I agree,” Ted said.
“Me too,” Tex said.
“No worry, I not do rough stuff,” Jules said. “Let’s start with men.”
“Okay,” Sparky said.
“Certain ones we can already trust, no?”
“Well, Jules, I think we can trust each other,” Tex said.
“Yes, but not talk about us,” Jules said. “I trust Robbie, Jordan, Cody, and Stacey already.”
“Not that I’m in disagreement, partner, but what’s your criteria for that?” Tex asked.
“All in more than one battle,” Jules said. “They perform well. I see. Any question?”
“I think that’s sound,” Sparky said. Who’s left?”
“For the men, only Justin and Gil,” Ted said. “I know both better than the rest of you, because they were friends of Robbie. They used to show up at my restaurant fairly often.”
“We watch,” Jules said. “No offense.”
“Can’t argue with that, partner,” Tex said. “If we’re moving on to the women, I’d like to suggest that Morgan is okay.”
“I agree,” Sparky said.
Jules nodded. “I agree, but we discuss other details about women. Impact on men, and relationship with each other. Lay cards on table. We must, no?”
“Not sure what you’re getting at, partner,” Tex said.
“I get it,” Ted said. “It’s not just their loyalty and fighting ability. It’s also their effect on their men, and the dynamics between them as women. Females relate to each other differently than men do.”
“That sounds kinda sexist, partner,” Tex said.
“Don’t give me sexist,” Jules said, laughing. “This life death issue.”
“Okay, then let’s talk about ourselves in this regard first,” Sparky said. “These are all beautiful women, and we’re basically paired off.”
“Not sure I’d go that far,” Ted said. “And we’ve got an extra woman now, since Alexis is staying with us.”
“We talk, one by one. I start. I want Shelly. She resists, but I not give up. I think she likes. I see fire in her eyes. She be good in battle. I classify as okay pending more experience.”
Sparky laughed. “She’s a little hard to read. I think she’ll be okay.”
“Dana?” Jules asked. “She throw herself at you, my friend.”
Sparky’s face turned red. “I know. I like her, but she’s trying a little too hard. I think she’ll be good in a battle. I’m a little worried about her if we don’t work out.”
“Thanks for honest answer,” Jules said. “We put in watch category for now.”
“Agreed,” Sparky said.
“Tex, what up with Karen?” Sparky asked. “She wanted Gil, no?”
“That’s over,” Tex said. “We’ll have to watch her. I’m trying to win her over. Got the hots for her pretty good. Not sure that’s the same as love. She might get a little too shook up in a battle. Time will tell.”
“Another watch, then,” Jules said. “Agreed?”
The others nodded.
“Alexis want Tex too,” Jules said. “I see. Problems between her and Karen?”
“Alexis might be very valuable,” Tex said. “I’m not interested in her romantically. She might be a good operative. Seen women like her before. Good person to plant for spying. She’ll use her beauty to advantage if needed.”
“You sure about that?” Ted asked. “She’s been through hell.”
“All of them have,” Tex said. “Make no mistake about that. She’s strong. She also has a grudge against the enemy.”
“Grudge?” Sparky asked.
“Her whole family died in that Ventura Harbor nuke attack, partner,” Tex said. “We can use that.”
“That sounded horrible,” Ted said.
“Hey, this management talk,” Jules said. “People are friends but also resources. That what we talk about. Leave emotions at door, or at least be honest about them in discussion.”
“Okay, sorry,” Ted said. “No offence.”
“No offence,” Jules said. “I want Shelly. If I don’t get, I still be friend, still value her.”
“That little lady has organizing skills,” Tex said. “Saw that back at the warehouse. That’s valuable as hell.”
“Yes, I see too,” Jules said. “Back to Alexis. Watch, right? Develop.”
“We should apply colors to rate,” Ted said. “Yellow means we watch. Green means we trust fully.”
“What about in-between?” Sparky asked.
“Red,” Tex said. “Let’s make it bold. To review, Karen and Dana are yellow, Shelly and Alexis are red. Agreed?”
“Yes,” Jules said. “Morgan?”
“Green, partner,” Tex said.
“Why green?” Jules asked.
“She showed courage under fire at the card club,” Sparky said. “She also had the smarts to leave my number for Robbie to find.”
“She did well in the action at the Volvo dealership, too,” Tex said. “She’s solid, and she’s only focused on Robbie. They’re inseparable. There won’t be any intrigue.”
“Okay, green,” Jules said. “Who else?”
“Haley and Brianna rode with me,” Ted said. “They both seem solid, but we haven’t seen them in any action to speak of.”
“Haley fought at the Volvo dealership,” Sparky said. “She’s good.”
“Okay, make her red,” Tex said. “How about Brianna?”
“She didn’t say much to me,” Ted said. “Stacey’s infatuated with her.”
“She return affection?” Jules asked.
“She stuck to him like glue,” Ted said. “Stacey is a babe in the woods with women, but he was trying with her, and she didn’t resist him. I think she’s scared to death.”
“Of him?” Sparky asked.
“No, of the war,” Ted said.
“Yellow,” Jules said.
“I can go along with that,” Ted said.
“How about the lesbians?” Tex asked.
“Audrey’s a doctor,” Sparky said. “Automatic green, and we need to protect her.”
“Anybody disagree?” Jules asked.
Nobody said anything.
“Okay, green it is,” Sparky said. “How about Brooke?”
“She’s hard as nails and smart as a whip,” Ted said. “Maybe a little too aggressive. I think she’s at least a red.”
The others nodded in agreement.
“Okay, who left?” Jules asked.
“Tisha, Ashely, Allison, and Katie,” Ted said.
“You have a mind like a steel trap, partner,” Tex said.
The others chuckled.
“Tisha’s got a hell of a case for Gil,” Tex said. “She’s as loyal as the day is long, but to Gil, not to the group yet. I think we should rate her a yellow. Probably should move them up together if they prove themselves.”
“I can go along with that,” Sparky said. “I think we have to put Katie in the same category.”
“Agreed,” Ted said. The others nodded.
“Ashley?” Jules asked.
“Yellow,” Sparky said. “I don’t know if she can handle the violence.”
“Yeah, I picked that up too,” Ted said. “I agree.”
“One more,” Jules said. “Allison.”
“She should get at least a red,” Tex said. “Talked with her some. She grew up in the country. She’s good with guns. Done a lot of hunting. She has survival skills too. Good backpacker.”
“How do you know that?” Ted asked.
“She knows things that a non-backpacker and non-hunter wouldn’t,” Tex said.
“She killed several enemy fighters at the Volvo dealership,” Sparky said. “I’d give her a red, but I’d lean towards green. She was good. Very good.”
“Red,” Jules said. “That it.”
“That’s not all you wanted to talk about, is it?” Ted asked.
“No,” Jules said. “We stay here two days. Then we head up coast. Same as last time. Stagger departures. No clumping.”
“Where we going, partner?” Tex asked.
“We go to Gilroy. Set up at ranch to east, like this place.”
“Okay, then what?” Ted asked.
“Then I tell you rest,” Jules said.
“Dammit, Jules, don’t do that crap,” Ted said.
“No choice. If any of you captured, forced to talk, the set up with Ivan down drain,” Jules said. “I can give general plan. No detail. You understand, no?”
Sparky sighed. “He’s right, guys. We’ve got a job to do.”
Ted shook his head. “I don’t like this, but screw it. I’ll play ball. What’s the general plan?”
“Separate San Francisco Bay area from Sacramento. Then part of group help Ivan’s team to lock down bay area, other half help Ivan’s Sacramento team.”
Tex laughed. “Hell, you gave us quite a bit right there.”
“He didn’t give us what the enemy could use,” Ted said. “That’s good enough. Sorry I gave you crap.”
“Understand, old friend,” Jules said.
“What comes after this?” Sparky asked.
“Mop up, go back to lives,” Jules said. “May need to help Ji-Ho in south.”
“Is he having problems?” Ted asked.
“Most of force wiped out,” Jules said. “He call before meeting.”
“Crap, you didn’t think we’d want to know that?” Ted asked.
“Need focus for last discussion,” Jules said.
“Is he safe?” Ted asked.
“No, but he survivor,” Jules said. “You know this. Battle wagon intact. Out of ammo, but working situation now. Most of core team live.”
“Wish I knew that earlier,” Ted said. “I could’ve mentioned it to George and Malcolm. They could’ve stopped by.”
“I know where George and Malcolm go,” Jules said. “Ivan watch. They help people more important than Ji-Ho.”
“They told me they’re going to run down some serial killer stuff,” Ted said.
“That’s what they think. They end up helping old friend.”
“Who?” Sparky asked.
To be continued…
Bug Out! Texas has just been published in the Kindle Store! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!
The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”
Copyright Robert Boren 2016