Chapter 8, Part 1
Cassie woke up as the car slowed to a stop. She blearily rubbed her eyes, shifting Abby off of her lap as she did so. The eleven year old smothered a cavernous yawn and sat up. They both peered out the windshield at the checkpoint that had halted their progress.
Dr. Braxton and Luke pulled I.D. cards out of their wallets. Cassie stiffened as she saw figures approach both sides of the car in the lights of the checkpoint. Her shoulders twitched warningly and she placed a protective arm around Abby.
“It’s OK,” Luke twisted around. “Doc called ahead while y’all were asleep. They’re just doing a check. Cassie relaxed only slightly as the windows rolled down. She tried to focus on Braxton’s conversation with the officer on duty but found herself momentarily blinded by a flashlight. Abby huddled under her arm. The beam was lowered and she saw a soldier dressed in the uniform of the U.S. Army peering through the open window.
“You must be the new guys,” he flashed a smile.
They both nodded dumbly.
“Welcome to Camp Lawton.”
“Thanks,” Cassie murmured.
The car lurched forward a few feet, and Cassie looked back to see Josh’s truck go through the same inspection. Then they rolled slowly into the Camp.
Lights lined the gravel road and she could barely make out a fence on the far side of a row of buildings. Luke was talking but his words faded out as she scanned the Camp. She wished they had made it there in daylight, then maybe it wouldn’t look so ominous. From what she could see, there were low buildings laid out in a neat grid surrounding several taller structures. They were headed for the tall buildings.
The car ground to a halt on the gravel and Braxton and Luke swung their doors open. Cassie remained where she was, afraid she’d melt in a puddle of nervousness.
“We’ll be OK, won’t we?” Abby asked, jerking Cassie back into awareness. She glanced down at Abby, who was just as scared as she was. She forced a smile.
“Yeah, we’ll be fine. We’re together and that makes us strong, right?”
“Not all of us,” Abby sniffed. Cassie rubbed the girl’s shoulder comfortingly.
“Hey, they promised they help us find her. We’ll get her back. Come on.” Cassie undid her seatbelt and pushed the door open. Abby followed close behind.
Cassie’s legs were a little wobbly from being crammed into the car for so long. She stretched her arms overhead and swung them around to loosen up her shoulders, wishing for once that she could fly. Caleb and Sam joined them, both trying not to display their anxiety.
“This way!” Braxton waved them over and led the way into the building.
They entered into a wide atrium where two more uniforms met them.
“This is Sergeant Lattimer,” Braxton pointed to the blonde man, “and Sergeant Hill.” He gestured to the woman. “They will be responsible for you.”
Mumbled hellos and half-hearted waves came from the newcomers.
“How long have you guys been on the road?” Sergeant Hill asked, a smile pulling at the corner of her mouth.
“A long time.” Braxton answered.
“Yeah, I’d be wiped out after being stuck in a car with Luke,” Sergeant Lattimer winked and earned a tired giggle from Abby.
“Hey!” Luke protested. “I kept the talking to a minimum. You should blame Doc’s choice in music.”
Abby’s giggle intensified and the others started to smile.
“Let’s get you guys to bed,” Sergeant Hill said and nodded to an elevator at the far end of the atrium.
Braxton promised to see them all tomorrow and headed off in the opposite direction. Cassie was a little relieved to see that Luke and Josh were joining them. They might all end up the same area.
The elevator was barely big enough as they all piled in and Josh punched the “2” button. The elevator moved in silence, the “ding” as it reached the second floor was almost deafening.
“OK, you girls can come with me,” Sergeant Hill said.
“Can we all stay together?” Cassie blurted, flinching internally as she realized how childish she sounded. But the Sergeant seemed to understand.
“We set it up so boys and girls would have their own space. You can be across the hall from each other. Sound good?”
Cassie nodded and Caleb’s eyes widened in relief. The two officers led the way down the short hall that opened across from the elevator.
“We’ll give you guys a tour in the morning. Josh and Luke will be around to answer questions, or you can find one of us,” Sergeant Lattimer said. “Don’t worry about waking up early tomorrow. We’ll go easy on you for your first day.” His tone was joking and Cassie felt herself already warming up to him. In fact, the two officers were the first adults she’d felt instantly comfortable around in, well, ever.
True to her word, Sergeant Hill showed Cassie and Abby to a door directly across from the room Caleb and Sam would share. The girls stepped into the room. It was bigger than the apartment room, with two beds on opposite walls and a set of drawers and a desk for each.
“I get my own bed?” Abby asked hopefully.
“Looks like it. Pick the one you want,” Cassie told her. Abby picked the bed on the left side after some deliberation and tested the spring of the mattress.
“No jumping. Bed time, kiddo,” Cassie reprimanded. Sergeant Hill smiled.
“Looks like you have it under control,” she said. “Bathroom’s through that door. We did what we could for clothes for you two, but we can figure it out in the morning.”
“Thank you, Sergeant Hill,” Cassie said.
After the Sergeant left, Luke came by with her backpack he must have brought in with the rest of the luggage. While Abby changed into the shorts and t-shirt that had been left out, Cassie unzipped the bag. Her hands shook as she lifted out the battered box of cookies she had bought for Mariah’s birthday. They weren’t anything more than crumbs after the events of the last few days.
She whispered her promise to Abby again. “We’ll get her back.”