***Garage in Rosarita, Mexico***
Travis sat with his knees drawn to his chest. His arms wrapped around his legs. He watched them sleep and tried to come up with a plan. Some fucking plan. He racked his brain, trying to remember all the things that Brent had told him. But he hadn’t paid any more attention to his big brother’s end of the world bullshit than he had the great Jim Jacobs’s money and power crap.
He’d always believed that he had plenty of time. Of course, one day, he’d ‘grow up’ and ‘make something of himself.’ But he was still young. Though, after watching the girl sleep with her arms wrapped firmly around both her siblings, he was feeling decidedly old.
How old was she anyway? His earlier thoughts about how beautiful she was were undoubtedly true. He couldn’t quite figure out her genetic heritage. She was darker-skinned than her brother and sister. Her eyes a warm brown, whereas theirs were more golden-green. Travis just hoped like hell she was legal. He’d hate to have such thoughts about a kid.
The girl shifted; her sister groaned and leaned into her as those brown orbs opened. He could see that for a moment, she had trouble placing where they were. But she recovered quickly. He could tell by the sad look and unshed tears in her eyes. “How old are you anyway?”
She chuckled and shook her head as she focused her eyes in the dark. The moon was full and hung like a lamp in the dark sky. But what it illuminated would have been better left in the shadows. Around them, dozens or perhaps hundreds of people huddled in small groups or alone. Many were injured. Most were minor, but Travis knew enough first aid to know that some wouldn’t make it. Moans and wails filled the darkness as the debris clogged the streets below.
“Twenty.” That was a relief, though still way too young for him. He’d just have to keep reminding his cock of that.
She tried to shift her brother, but the kid buried his face in those stunning boobs. Lucky little bastard. “I need to go back,” she whispered.
He shook his head, “Lo siento, princess. But you and I both know there’s no point.”
Anger flared in those dark eyes. Even with just the moonlight, he could see it. “In case you haven’t noticed, this is el barrio. So you can cut the princess crap.”
“Alright, Daniella? Isn’t that what they called you?”
She nodded once more, “Yes, Travis Jacobs. Yeah, I checked the ID in your wallet while you were out cold.”
He rubbed the knot on his head. It still hurt; there was even a dull throbbing behind his eyes. But so much had happened, so fast, he was running on adrenaline. He hadn’t even noticed until she mentioned it. “Okay, so now that we have introductions out of the way, we need a plan. Daniella.”
He said her name slowly, partly to emphasize her point and just because he liked its sound. It fit her somehow. If he remembered the bible stories that his last nanny read to him, Daniel had been thrown in with lions. And fire, too? Yeah, this girl was named well.
“That’s easy. I go back for Abuela. Then we get the hell out of here.”
He couldn’t let her do that. Not only would it be a waste of precious time, but if by some miracle she found the old woman’s body in the debris, it would devastate her. And he needed her fighter side. “You have them to think about. You know that isn’t what she wanted.”
He allowed those words to sink in. When he saw her eyes glistening over even more with unshed tears, he almost regretted them. But when she finally nodded and held her brother tighter, he knew he had made the right choice. “So, what’s your plan, Mr. Hero?”
“If you’re not a princess, I’m definitely not a hero. Just a middle-aged surfer who never learned about responsibility.” And now had three people depending on him. It scared the shit out of Travis. Especially the idea of letting her down.
Her laugh this time was more carefree, and that did funny things in his chest. “Hardly ‘middle-aged.’”
“Thirty-four is too old to be doing nothing with your life. But I guess it took the end of the world to make me see what my father and brother have been telling me for years.”
“I wouldn’t know. I haven’t had that luxury in….”
The way she just cut off whatever she was going to say and buried her face in her brother’s hair told Travis that there was more to her story than she was telling him. But whatever it was, things were changing so fast that it probably didn’t matter anymore.
“My brother is a geologist. A volcanologist, to be specific. He’s been predicting these eruptions for years, but I just thought his divorce had knocked a few screws loose. So did the rest of the world. But he’s been preparing for this. He’s got this crazzy commune in the west Texas desert. We need to get there.”
“A thousand miles? We need to travel a thousand miles. With my sister and brother. Do you have a car somewhere? What am I saying? Even if you did have, it’s probably washed away by now with everything else.”
“You think I don’t know all that? We don’t have anything. No food. Not even fresh water. If I had my phone or wallet, then maybe… Just maybe I could get ahold of my brother and have him send help. But I’m not even sure he could. Not with everything that’s happening.”
She blushed, “I’m sorry. I’ve tried to talk to Mateo about taking things. But….”
“Hey, I wasn’t….”
“It’s just that he’s too young to remember the way things were. And trying to teach him right and wrong…. Hell, I’m not sure I even remember what those are anymore.”
“You don’t seem like others in el barrio de chabolas.” He wasn’t going to push for their story, but if he could begin to collect the pieces, it might help them figure out a plan.
She studied him in the moonlight for a long moment, then shrugged, “What the hell? It probably doesn’t even matter if what you say is true. Hell, the last signs of us have just washed away. Maybe they’ll give up now.”
“They? Who are they? Are you wanted by the policia?”
“No, not that I’m aware of. Maybe as witnesses, but we didn’t see enough to be of any real help. Perhaps Mama, but she’s…. Dead.” She paused for a long moment. Was that to decide if she wanted to share the story? Or to gather courage for the telling?
“My mother’s husband. Sofia and Mateo’s father was an attorney. A prosecutor, you would call him. Four years ago, he was appointed to a high position in Procuraduría General de la República. But some people were not happy about that.”
“One of the cartels. There was a celebracion.” She hugged the boy tighter, and he turned in her arms to face away. “It turned into a blood bath. Hector, my abuelo, so many murdered. Abuela, Mama, and us were in la cocina. She heard the shots and ran towards them. She was wounded, but I pulled her back. We ran.”
She paused again. This time those tears were streaming down her face, leaving tracks in the dust that covered them all. “And we’ve been running ever since. Mama had been shot in the hip. The wound never healed. She just kept getting weaker and weaker with every move we made. Then she died last year.” He could almost feel the pain radiating in waves off the girl.
“Now, I’m all they have. So, if you say we need to go to this place in west Texas, I guess it’s as good a plan as any. But like you said, you’re no hero, and I’m not looking for one. I’ve been mostly in charge since I was barely seventeen. So we make decisions together. Agreed?”
The girl’s story touched something inside of him. Some need to protect that he had never known existed. And some memory, something was familiar about her story. Maybe he had read or seen about the murders? Something that big would make international news. But right now, they had bigger things to think about than his faulty memory. “We need to get moving. But I’m not sure which direction or route to take.”
“North. We head to California like you said. Let’s just hope that there is too much chaos at the border to bother with us. Otherwise, we head east until we can cross safely. It’s the best plan. More people, better roads.”
He nodded and attempted to smile reassuringly, “And easier access to phones and internet. Maybe I can get a message to my brother Brent or our father.”
“We should get going now. In the morning, things will get worse. People are still in shock and scared. Mañana, it will get nasty. People will start to fight over everything.”
Travis hated to admit it, but she was probably right. The girl had more experience in her short life with that side of humanity than he had. Though Brent had tried to teach him survival skills, he’d only half-listened. He didn’t even have the pocket knife that was on his keyring the kid had taken. And without the money in his wallet, they would have to scrounge for everything.
Daniella shifted her sister and spoke to the girl in Spanish. He was just too tired and distracted to focus on what she said. He wasn’t quite fluent, but he could more than get by. It just took more effort to translate than he had could spare at the moment. She turned her attention to the little boy.
Travis got up and walked to the edge of the garage, and looked over. Most of the water had receded though not all. He could not even make out streets in the debris field. “Shit,” there was also a compass on that damned keyring. Another ‘useless present’ from his big brother. That would have been very useful right now.
He felt the hand on his arm and turned to face her, plastering on a smile that he was not feeling just then. It shifted to something more genuine when he saw what she held in her hand. “Mateo was playing with them.”
“That’s a good thing. Wish he was as fascinated with my wallet. We could have used the money and cards in it once we get across the border.”
Or he wanted to believe that. The truth was they had no idea what they would find along the way. One lesson that his travels had taught him – people were the same wherever you go. There was good and evil in everyone. And unfortunately, these situations brought out both in people.
She pulled something else from behind her, a battered wooden box. She opened the lid, “There’s not much left now. But….”
He nodded, “We should collect what we can along the way.” It seemed wrong, morbid, to pick through the debris for pieces of other people’s lives. But as she had said earlier, sometimes what was right and wrong just didn’t matter as much as survival. At least within reason.
“We need to be careful. They’ll be sharp and broken things. We don’t want to get hurt.” She explained it to the children. Both nodded their heads. The little boy smiled almost as if this was an adventure. The girl was probably somewhere in her mid-teens, and the blank look in her eyes worried him. “Vamos,” though Travis caught Daniella looking over towards where their shanty had stood. She bowed her head for a moment then made the sign of the cross.
Hell, maybe he wrong. Perhaps he was the one that was too young or at least immature for her? Twenty? And she’d been the adult, looking after the others for years. While he had drifted, partied, and drank. He’d never really seen what the big deal was with that, no matter the lectures from his father or brother. But watching her guide her brother and sister through the throngs of shattered souls, Travis Jacobs felt ashamed of his wasted life for the first time.