“It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since the EMP,” Jeb said, startling me and disturbing Lily’s dinner.
“I can’t even remember life before and even if I could it would be a waste of energy,” I said, soothing the baby.
“Why do you say that?” he asked.
“Because that life was wrong, it was unhealthy. If we had a chance to restore it, I wouldn’t take it. Would you?”
“A few minutes ago I would have said ‘yes’ without thought, but now I need to think it through I guess,” he said.
I was upset with his answer and I was trying to not show it. ‘I wonder if he is upset by mine too,’ I thought. We sat in silence for the rest of the evening, each lost in our own thoughts.
I guess I really had purged my memory of life before the EMP. It was no longer relevant, not just to me but to everyone. I certainly didn’t miss it and wouldn’t trade the life that Jeb and I had for any number of so-called conveniences. ‘What if there was a choice to have it all back and Jeb chose to take it?’
When Lily was done eating and sound asleep I put her gently into her crib. Any other night, Jeb and I would be cuddled up together laughing and talking or making love. Not this night, though. He seemed to be feeling as unsettled as I did.
The beep of the radio brought us both back to the present. “Hey Jeb, you there?” Sam’s said.
“Yeah, Sam, what’s up?” he asked.
“I shot a bear in the pasture with the calves. He didn’t get any of them, but he’s wounded and ran in your direction. Max is tracking him, I just wanted to give y’all a heads up.”
“Thanks, Sam. I get my gun and go out now. Maybe Max and I round him up.”
“Be careful, Brother,” Sam said.
“Always!” Jeb said.
“I guess you heard that,” Jeb said.
“Yeah, you and Max be careful,” I said.
A gunshot rang out from the direction of the road. Jeb grabbed his gun and ran for the door. “I love you, Soph,” he called over his shoulder. The door closed before I could answer.
I heard his bob-white call to let Max know he was there and Max’s answering owl call. The bear must be really close.
Hope got up from her spot on the rug and went to the front door. A low growl in her throat, her hair standing up on her spine, she looked me in the eye, asking to join the hunt.
“Not tonight, Hope. Your duty is here at home.” She wasn’t happy, but she placed herself between the two doors for guard duty. Since I wasn’t likely to get much sleep, I didn’t bother to change my clothes. I grabbed my rifle and put it by the chair and settled in for a long wait.
I guess I dozed off at some point because I dreamed. It was a very vivid dream. The power was back on and it was so loud, but I was the only one who seemed to notice. We were at Jeb’s parents’ house and the guys were all watching a football game on TV and it was so loud. Because it was so loud the women had to talk really loud to be heard. The kids were all gathered around a TV on the porch watching a movie and it was really loud too. Cars and trucks were flying down the road with the radios turned up and music added to all the noise. The dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, and refrigerator were all running and making noise. The central air kicked on. I couldn’t even hear my own thoughts anymore.
I put my hands over my ears to try to block the noise, but it just got louder. I ran to the door and ran all the way to our cabin. There were so many vehicles that it took me forever to cross the road. When I finally got to the cabin, it was just as loud and Cindy and John’s house had been. I tried to turn everything off but the power buttons were stuck on. I ran from the cabin and into the woods, but the noise followed me. I couldn’t hear the birds or the frogs or the sound of the wind. I couldn’t even hear my own thoughts. I was crying and desperately searching for something to block the sound.
Suddenly, there was an explosion right in front of me. I fell to the ground with my hands over my ears and screamed.
Hopes barking woke me up. As I was trying to figure out where I was, the back door burst open and Jeb yelled, “All hail the great white hunter!!”
“No, you’re not! I killed the bear,” Max yelled back.
Lilly woke up in her crib and began to howl.
“I’m sorry, Soph,” Jeb said. “I would get her but I’m covered in blood.”
“I’m sorry too, Sophie,” Max said.
I walked to the crib and picked up the terrified baby, who quickly quieted when she was in my arms.
Jeb walked over to kiss her, then he saw my face. “Baby, what’s wrong? Why are you crying?”
“Y’all will make fun of me,” I said, trying to swallow the sobs in my throat.
“No we won’t, we promise. Right, Max?”
“Yeah, Sophie, I would never make fun of you,” Max said. “Unless you trip without getting hurt or something.”
Max’s humor helped me swallow my emotions. “I had a bad dream,” I said.
“What about?” Jeb asked.
“The power was back on and it was so loud. There was nowhere to go to get away from all the noise. I couldn’t hear the birds or frogs. But no one else seemed to care,” I said, then started to cry again.
Jeb pulled off his bloody shirt and wrapped me a big hug.
“So, I take it you got the bear?” I said, changing the subject.
“Yes, I did,” Max said.
“No, you didn’t. Sam shot him first, then me, then you,” Jeb said.
“Exactly, I got the kill shot,” Max said, folding his arms on his chest. “So I get the skin.”
“Well, little brother, no one is getting the skin if we don’t get it moved out of my front yard.”
“It’s in the front yard?” I said.
“Yep, just six feet from the porch,” Max said proudly. “I saved you and Lily from the bear.”
I curtsied, “Thank you, Sir Max.”
He bowed. “You are welcome fair ladies,” he said, kissing Lily’s head.
“Y’all are gonna make me puke,” Jeb said laughing. “Let’s go get the wagon and our other brothers.”
He planted a kiss on Lily’s cheek and then a deep kiss on my mouth. “I love you, Sophie. We’ll be back soon but I can’t promise it will be quiet. Loading that bear is gonna be a bitch.”
“It’s okay. I think someone is wide awake now anyway. I love you, Jeb.”
He kissed me again. “I wish this could wait until morning, but I don’t want every coyote in the county in our yard tonight.”
“I know,” I said.
They walked out the door. when I heard the door close I was overcome with loneliness. The sadness of my dream was taking hold again. I reached for Lily’s blanket when the door opened and Jeb stepped back inside.
“Sophie,” he said.
I looked up and couldn’t stop the tears from leaking from my eyes.
“Baby, I will always choose you. There is nothing that could ever make me leave you willingly,” he said. “There is no you and me anymore, there is only us. You know that, right?”
“I do now,” I said.