The Before
tell her what to do.
    I wrapped my arms around her. “Don’t you think we have to at least try?”
    I felt her nod against my chest and I took that for a yes. A terrified, fearful yes, but still a yes.
    That was good enough for me. The cops couldn’t be watching everywhere. There were a lot of roads in Texas. They couldn’t all be blocked. I knew we could make it out of the state one way or another.
    I was wrong.
     
    • • •
     
    We packed up the car quickly. This time we left the MREs in the house. We didn’t dare risk anything that might tip our hand if we were pulled over. If we got stopped, the story was that we were on our way to the transportation hub. No one could argue we didn’t have the right to be driving, though almost no one else was out.
    Mel sat in the back, her Slinky cupped silently in her hands. I sat in the front seat, my phone out, Google Maps loaded up and an old bound street atlas of Dallas open on my lap. We headed east first, away from the airport and from Dallas.
    The signal on my phone was weak and kept dropping out, something I’d noticed more than once in the past couple of days. Either the system was overloaded or something was taking out cell towers. We stayed away from the major highways, taking side streets and back roads through Garland and Rockwell before heading up toward Greenville. The plan was to head north just west of Greenville and cross into Oklahoma near Bonham.
    We almost made it.
    I was studying the map so closely I didn’t realize we’d hit a snag until I felt Mom let off the gas. I glanced up to see red and blue flashing in the rearview mirror. We were just outside of Greenville. Mom had gone a deadly shade of pale.
    “It’s okay,” I murmured to my mom. “Just pull over. Blinker!” I added as she jerked the car over. “Turn on your blinker. Just act natural. Remember, we’re allowed to be on the road.”
    She nodded, her lips pressed into a tight line, but her hands shook as she nudged the blinker down.
    A moment later, we’d pulled to a stop and yet another belligerent-looking cop was stalking toward the car.
    This time it was a female cop.
    “I need to see your license and IDs for both the girls,” she said, leaning her head down to look through the window.
    Mom handed them over and the cop took them back to her squad car to study them.
    “You’re a long way from home this morning.” The cop handed the IDs back to Mom. “It says here these girls are supposed to be on their way to the transportation hub this morning.”
    “That’s where we’re going,” Mom said, but the quaver in her voice gave her away.
    In the backseat, Mel made one of her nervous noises.
    The cop narrowed her eyes. “You seem to be heading in the wrong direction. The airport is west of town.”
    Panic made Mom’s mouth move soundlessly. I leaned forward and filled the betraying silence. “They had to come out here to pick me up,” I said quickly. “I was staying at a friend’s house. In Greenville. A girl I played soccer with. I was here when the outbreak happened and didn’t think it was safe to come home.”
    The lie came easily to my lips, but I wasn’t sure the cop bought it.
    “Now that they’ve picked you up, you need to head straight to the transportation hub.”
    “Yes,” Mom said, nodding stiffly.
    “You can pick up Highway 30 about a mile west of here. That will take you straight to 121 and that goes right to the airport. You won’t even have to get off the highway.”
    “Thank you. That’s very helpful,” I said with a smile.
    The cop gave me another suspicious look. “I’ll escort you there.”
    Mom restarted the car as the cop walked back to the cruiser.
    “It’s okay,” Mom said. “She’ll escort us to the highway and then go back to her rounds. We’ll just turn around and get off the road. We’ll go further east this time.”
    But I could tell Mom was shaken by the experience. I was too.
    I had the feeling that this was it. That once we

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