Callis had finally gotten the last of the babies to sleep when someone knocked on the door.
He didn’t so much sigh as slump with his entire body, and even that he only indulged in for a half a breath. He gestured to Mike, nearly as old as he was, and to Candace, who might only be twelve but was murder with a rifle. Odile would have to watch the babies, and then they’d have to go through the whole process of getting them to sleep again. But that was later. Right now, there was the threat at the door.
Callis leaned his body over from the side to peek out the view port. They’d learned that the hard way, in their last hide-out. They’d learned a lot of things the hard way.
A man was standing in front of the peephole, his hands up and empty. “Callis Avondale? I’m just here to talk.”
Callis looked back at Mike and Candace. They were frowning, worried. The babies were stirring. Colby, the youngest, had started crying. If he stood here and shouted through the door, the kids were just going to get worked up. “Stand back and keep your hands where I can see him.”
Candace stepped up into position. Callis might not survive this, but their attacker would last about three seconds after his first strike. He took a breath and another breath and steeled himself, then pushed the door open.
The man standing on the other side was shorter than Callis, but muscular like he’d never missed a meal. His t-shirt was clean and his jeans didn’t have any holes, and neither did his sneakers.
“That’s me.” His skin was itching just standing here, looking at this clean guy with his perfect shoes.
“My name’s Luke Hunting-Hawk. We have a place for you in a school, a safe place with food and water.” His gaze clearly took in Callis’ ripped clothes.
“All of us?”
“All… Your friends?”
“The kids. I’m not going to leave them. They’re just kids. They’ll die out here.”
Luke raised his eyebrows. “You want to bring your friends with you.”
“What, is this sort of exclusive bunker?”
Luke shifted a bit and coughed, looking embarrassed. “You could say that. It’s a school. But I can come up with a safe place for all your friends.”
“But not in the school.” Callis frowned. “That doesn’t seem fair. Who’s going to teach the kids to read and write and hot-wire a car and all the other useful stuff?”
He thought the man might be getting a little exasperated, until his slightly twisted expression settled into a chuckle. “All right. I’ll get your friends set up with a full education, hotwiring included, full meals – and help finding their own place when and if they’re ready to go out on their own, or when you graduate school. In the meantime, would you settle for someplace warm and safe for them while I get you settled in school and make arrangements for them?”
“Just like that?” Callis took a step back. “What’s the catch?”
“The catch is, the school wants you to attend. There’s been a spot reserved for you for a long time. So you come to Addergoole, and your friends are warm and safe.”
Callis huffed quietly. “How do I know I can trust you?”
“I can’t give you any guarantees. But I give you my word that I will help your friends as best as I can, and that you’ll be free to visit them at least, say, once a month.”
The food supply was running low and one of the babies had a bad cough. Callis sighed. “All right. But the ones old enough to understand get to make up their own minds, all right?”
Luke smiled gently. “Of course. There’s a couple thermoses of soup in the van and some blankets; we can get started as soon as you’re ready.”
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