I shuffled after Max, wanting to check in on how much my phone had charged. After setting my plate on the stove, I turned on the phone and drummed my fingers on the counter.
The screen brightened and went through its extraordinarily long powering-on process before finally showing me that it was now up to 23%.
Sneezing, I typed out a message to my mom that I was at home and waiting until morning to get back on the road. I didn’t know what situation she was in, so it just felt safer to send a text message rather than call her.
“You have a dog?”
I turned and saw Max standing behind me, gesturing to the fridge where a bunch of pictures were haphazardly hung with mismatched magnets. The particular photo he was referencing was of me crouched beside a yellow lab. We were both smiling up at the camera.
“Ah, yeah. Well, she’s more so my little sister’s dog. Lucy is her name.”
“Did she go with your family?” Max’s light eyes shifted from the picture to me, crinkling up as he gave a small smile.
“No, she actually ran away a few days ago. Must’ve seen a squirrel or something.”
The older boy winced. “It’s horrible timing for something like that to happen.”
I chuckled humorlessly. “Tell me about it. My sister made me walk around for hours to try and find her.”
“I saw a bunch of other lost dog signs driving around here. It’s weird, yeah?”
“It’s not the first time Lucy’s decided to take a stroll around the neighborhood. And once one dog is out around here, they usually attract others. Fortunately--or unfortunately, I guess--she’s good at catching squirrels. I’m worried about her, but she’s a smart dog.” I shrugged and checked my phone for any messages. “You have any pets, Max?” While waiting for his response, I grabbed a cup from the cabinet and filled it with water to ease my aching throat.
“My mom has four of the most wretched cats in existence, but thankfully I haven’t seen them in a few months.”
The thought of Max surrounded and being harassed by a bunch of asshole cats nearly made me choke. “Yeah? Please tell me their names.”
He shuddered and held up a finger for each cat. “Baby, Muffins, Beans, and Prince.”
I felt my soul wither away and die. “Oh, no. Those are awful. That’s cat-lady territory, right there.”
Max snickered, turning to look at the rest of the photos on the fridge. “She definitely is a cat lady. She jokes that she’s leaving everything in her will to Beans, but I’m thinking it’s maybe not a joke.”
“Your mom sounds really funny.” I pointed to my phone with raised brows. “Do you need to call her?”
“Nah, it’s okay. I spoke to her right before I picked you up. She’s safe with my step-dad. It’s really early in the morning where they’re at, so I don’t want to wake them. But thank you.”
I nodded and checked the time. Nearly midnight. “We should probably go to sleep, too.” I didn’t realize it before, but I was dead tired. Whatever had kept me going until now--whether adrenaline or sheer luck--had finally wore off and left me with aching muscles and a foggy head.
“Shit, I didn’t even realize how late it was. I’ll, uh...sleep on the couch. If that’s okay with you?”
Looking at my phone one last time, I saw that there was still no message from my mom. It was a little disheartening, but she was probably busy driving or sleeping. “Of course, yeah. If it gets too uncomfortable, you’re more than welcome to sleep in my mom’s room.”
I sniffled and went to where we kept the sheets before he could politely protest. When I came back, it was with armfuls of random blankets and a pillow from my bed. Ever the gentleman, Max thanked me profusely and went to work making the couch his little nest. “Okay, I’m gonna go upstairs now. I think I feel obligated to remind you not to steal anything, but honestly if you’re gonna steal anything, please just leave the cold medicine.”
He laughed and held his hand up in acknowledgement. “I’ll keep that in mind. Sleep well, Charlie.”
“Good night, Max.” Stifling my own smile, I trudged up the stairs and collapsed onto my bed. I curled up under the covers without changing clothes and shut my eyes, exhausted and in disbelief at how crazy things were. Zombies. My family leaving me behind. Terrible customer service.
And despite knowing that there would be serious consequences from it, my last thought before drifting off to sleep was-
What else could go wrong?