Wyatt thought someone was coming up behind him on a little scooter, which would have been odd, but when he turned around, he saw Axel Blackwell pulling up alongside him in a little aluminum flat-bottom.
Axel, a shrimper friend of Maggie’s from way back who was considered one of the local “hotties,” was wearing a Boss Oyster baseball cap and smiling around a cigarette, looking for all the world like he was out after some catfish.
“Hey, Tripod, how’s it going?” he asked Wyatt.
Wyatt stopped and gave Axel a look. “Dandy, Axel. How are things with you?”
“Not too bad,” Axel answered. “Can I give you a lift somewhere?”
“I need to get out to Bluff Road.”
Axel tossed his cigarette butt into the water. “Bluff Road is screwed up, man. Trees down everywhere.”
“I heard. But I need to get out there.”
“Nobody’s heard from Maggie.”
“Nobody’s heard from anybody, Wyatt. Phone service sucks.”
“Yeah, well, she was supposed to be in Jacksonville yesterday.”
Axel squinted at Wyatt as he pulled a cigarette out of the pack in his flannel shirt and lit it. “That’s different,” he said, blowing out of plume of smoke.
“Think you can take me to some National Guard guys so they can run me out there?”
“Man, they’re all over the place. But they’re not getting out to Maggie’s in those old cargo trucks.” Axel stuck the cigarette between his teeth and took another drag. “I got something that’ll get us there, though. See if you can climb in without tipping us the hell over.”
Wyatt sighed and made his way over to the little boat. It didn’t actually look like it would hold the both of them, but he didn’t have any other ideas, and he needed to get out there to Maggie and the kids.
Sky and Kyle sat on the window seat, staring out the window at the flooded yard, and eating slices of bread from the bag.
“What time do you think it is?” Kyle asked.
“I don’t know. With no sun, it’s hard to tell,” Sky answered, and handed her crust to Coco, who was sitting with her head draped onto the window seat.
“How long do you think she’s been gone?”
Sky swallowed, not really wanting to answer. “I’m not sure, dude. Maybe a couple of hours?”
“I think it’s more.”
“I said I don’t know, Kyle,” Sky said, snapping without meaning to.
“Sorry,” Kyle said quietly.
Sky sighed. “Me, too.”
He was quiet for a moment, and when he spoke again, he didn’t look at her. “I wish Dad was here.”
Sky blinked a few times as her eyes watered. “Yeah.”
“He could figure out what to do.”
“Mom’s smart, too, Kyle. And she’s tough.”
They were silent again for a few minutes.
“You know, you look so much like him,” Sky said finally. “Sometimes, when I look at you, it makes me feel better.”
He looked over at her, and after a moment, he nodded. “That’s cool.”
Sky was uncomfortable with intimacy and “sappy stuff,” so she looked away and distracted herself by watching Stoopid as he pulled at a thread from the little hole he’d dug in the corner of the loveseat.
Kyle followed her gaze. “She’s gonna be kind of pissed about that, I bet.”
“Duct tape,” Sky answered.
Maggie slogged along just behind Boudreaux, feeling like her lungs and her legs were competing to see which one would give out first. She didn’t know how Boudreaux was doing it.
Every now and then, she looked down into the water, and saw thin tendrils of blood swirling toward her, then separating and passing her on either side. She was wading in his bloody wake, and even though it wasn’t a lot of blood compared to earlier, she didn’t know how he still had some left.
They finally got past the dense clump of trees that marked her property line, and Maggie let out a deep breath as she realized that she was back on her own land. It didn’t look like home, but it was. The vegetation was much thicker here and she couldn’t see the house yet, but she knew it was there.
She looked over at Boudreaux. He was a good five inches or so taller than she was, and the water didn’t come quite up to his waist, and she was glad that she was slightly behind him. She’d stolen one glance at his midsection earlier, had glimpsed a ragged tear and very pale, puffy flesh within it that should not have been visible to her. It had scared the crap out of her.
She looked at him now, saw the flash of his gold watch as he swung his arms over the water, and thought how odd it was to see him looking anything less than immaculate. He’d always exuded such a relaxed elegance. She thought, too, about the way he’d looked at the Cajun festival, just a couple of months ago, handsome and fit and full of energy, like a man twenty years his junior. It made her sad, somehow, to wonder if she’d see him dancing there next summer.
Wyatt gaped as Axel slid open the huge doors, letting more water spill into a building at Scipio Creek Marina that was normally used to house boats.
The pickup truck itself looked like a neon blue cake topper, perched on tires that probably came up to Wyatt’s chest.
He looked over at Axel, who was grinning around the hind end of yet another cigarette.
“What the hell do you have this for?” Wyatt asked him.
“Mud racing, man.” Axel pulled a set of keys out of his back pocket. “I got a vehicle for every situation.”
“I don’t doubt that,” Wyatt said, as he hobbled toward the thing.
“Lemme grab you a step stool, man.”
“I haven’t needed a step stool since I was seven,” Wyatt snapped.
“You do today, peg leg.”
William the florist stood on the balcony of his and Robert’s apartment, on the second floor of one of Apalach’s many Victorians. He lit his cigarette and took a grateful drag of both it and the fresh air.
He loved Robert dearly, but after twenty-six years, he really could only handle so much togetherness in a space with boarded-up windows. The only light they’d had was from the French door to the balcony, which only remained uncovered because Robert didn’t allow smoking in the house, and William wouldn’t make it twenty-four hours without throwing Robert down the stairs if he was forced to go without. He’d rather replace a door than a lifelong partner, so there it was.
The rain had all but quit and, although there was still no sun, the sky had lightened to a sickly gray rather than a threatening one. This thing was almost over, and all they would have to contend with was a foot or two of water in the flower shop and a bunch of slippery insurance agents.
He heard a rumbling noise, an engine, and expected to see one of those hideously outdated Army trucks when he leaned over the rail to look down the street. Instead, he saw an apparition.
“Robert!” he called through the open door. “Come look at this nonsense.”
Robert stepped out from the living room. “What?”
“That,” William said, pointing with his cigarette.
Robert stepped over to the rail and looked at the bright blue truck headed their way, leaving a wake behind it that sent waves to either side of the street. “Oh, for Pete’s sake.”
“Look at these idiots,” William said. “Just hanging out like the place isn’t flooded. Like we’re not having a hurricane, thank you.”
“We’re still here.”
“We’re still here because we’re not going to some Hampton Inn in Tallahassee where they only pretend to change the sheets,” William said. “We’re inside playing Uno by candlelight like normal people, not out carousing the streets in our ogre truck.”
“Whatever.” The truck lumbered past as William shook his head. “They’re probably looters.”
“Please. We don’t have looters.”
“Really? We don’t have ogres, either, but there they go down Sixth Street,” William said, and blew out of mouthful of smoke.