The Dysasters (The Dysasters #1)(10)

Tate charged ahead.

“Don’t!” Foster shouted, lunging toward him. “Tate, there’s nothing you can do to help them!”

Heat licked Foster’s face as a rib-rattling boom threw her onto her back. Screams echoed around her as the ground felt as if it were pitching and rolling. Struggling, Foster pushed herself up from the mud, gasping to refill her lungs. Squinting against the flames twisting up from the mound of entwined metal and flesh, Foster searched for Tate’s white uniform.

He was sprawled on his back, pieces of wood and metal covering his legs. Foster fell to her knees next to him, her bare shins sinking into the mud as she shook his shoulders. “Tate!” she shouted through the ringing in her ears. “You have to get up! We have to go!”

Tate’s eyelids fluttered open. “Wh-what happened?”

“Come on!” Foster pulled him to his feet. Draping his arm across her shoulders, she led him away from the fire, away from the final resting place of his dead parents, and to the last row of undamaged cars in the parking lot.

“Please, please, please, please, please,” she whispered, leaning Tate against the side of an early-2000-model pickup. Foster squeezed the door handle. “Oh, thank god,” she said, releasing the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. “Get in.” Foster resumed her place as Tate’s crutch and helped heft him into the bright red truck.

As she rounded the front bumper, she unzipped the bag and dug around blindly for Cora’s giant wad of keys. Foster threw open the driver’s side door before selecting the thickest, strongest key and jamming it into the seam of the piece of hard plastic covering the inner workings of the steering column.

“My m-m-mom and d-d-dad. Th-they, they…” Tate sputtered between ragged breaths.

“Put your seat belt on,” Foster instructed, the ringing in her ears finally subsiding. Plastic pinched her fingers and she winced as, centimeter by centimeter, she wiggled her fingertips into the slowly growing gap.

“They, they, they…” Tate repeated, stuck between what’d he’d seen and what his mind was willing to process.

“Hey!” Foster barked. “I need you to focus or we’re going to be as dead as all those other people. Put your seat belt on.” Cora had taught her that in times of uncertainty, stress, or panic, the best things to do were to remain calm and take one step at a time.

The lump in Foster’s throat returned, and she blinked back the tears pressing hot against her eyes. She needed to do what Cora had taught her, what Cora would have done. She needed to get Tate out of his head, out of his grief, and back in the game. “Nighthawk,” she said as evenly as she could while yanking on a piece of bolted-down plastic.

Tate’s white compression top, soiled with mud and grime, matched the dirty paleness of his features as he turned to face her. He sucked in a haggard breath. “Yeah?” His voice was small, and, in his dirty, stripped-down uniform and cleats, he looked like a lost little boy.

Foster’s stomach clenched. She knew that look, knew exactly how he felt. She wished she could stop and tell him that she understood what he was going through and that the hurt would lessen, though it would never, ever go away—how eventually he’d find a new normal and life would go on, that he’d be okay.

But she couldn’t. With Eve so close, it would be a lie.

“Can you put your seat belt on? I can’t start the car until you do.”

With a blank stare, Tate reached over his shoulder, grabbed his seat belt, and clicked it into place.

Foster gritted her teeth and gave the plastic one final yank. “Yes!” she shouted in a burst of relief, tossing the covering out the door before climbing into the driver’s seat. “See what happens when you put safety first?” For an instant, her lips quivered in a nostalgic smile as she repeated the words Cora had said to her so, so many times.

Cora is dead.

The alien thought filled her and her smile slipped back into a sorrowful frown as her eyes swelled with tears. Would she ever be able to genuinely smile again? At that instant, Foster wanted to stop, to curl up and let the anguish overtake her. She’d lost another mother, another home, and she’d never get them back. She was caught up in something bigger than herself like a seed carried too quickly by the gusting wind to ever settle and grow roots.

I can’t do this. I can’t be like Tate. We both can’t be out of it. Do what Cora taught you to do: think—act—one thing at a time.

Mentally shaking herself, she wiped her sweaty palms on the upholstered seat and reached into the guts of the steering column. Foster’s fingers fumbled around wires and metal until they found the small rectangular box with the metal pin she saw so clearly in her mind’s eye. She pressed on the clutch and shoved the pin to the left. The truck rumbled to life, and Foster silently thanked the Internet gods for the magic of YouTube.

“H-how’d you learn to do that?” Tate asked, the color beginning to return to his cheeks.

“I was homeschooled. I learned a lot of things during my independent study periods that you public kids haven’t ever even heard of.” Foster slammed on the gas, kicking up gravel as she tore out of the parking lot and onto the main road.

“Ever take a first-aid class?” Tate held out his shaking hand. Blood streaked his fingers, and he quickly returned his hand to the gash in his thigh.

P.C. Cast, Kristin C's Books