Second Dead

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Chapter 16: I like rabbits

I walked into the bathroom and couldn’t believe what greeted my eyes. A tub full of hot water. Illuminated by oil lamps, I fancied that steam curled on the water. Theo and Chris crowded in behind me, eager to set down their buckets.

“This stuff’s Susan’s,” Chris said.

I ran into my room and rummaged through the closet. Back in the bathroom, I hung my towel over the rack and threw my clean clothes onto the sink. Chris and Theo stood in the doorway motionless, like bellhops waiting for their tip.

“Get out, losers,” I growled and pushed them from the room.

I locked the door and stared, enthralled, at the bathtub. Oh yeah, a real fucking bath. I poured an entire bottle of Susan’s bath oil into the tub. An hour later, I sat bathed and relaxed in the warm soapy water. I enjoyed the experience much too much to want it to end.

Susan knocked on the door. “Annabel, let me in. It’s my turn.”

More than a little reluctant, I drained the water and got out of the tub. I pulled the door open enough for Susan to squeeze through. The bathroom was warm from the water and I intended to keep it that way.

“Oh, this is wonderful.” She beamed while she took in the view.

Susan and I filled the tub. I gazed at my reflection in the mirror while she undressed. She slipped into the tub as I brushed my hair.

“Hmm, not bad,” I said to the mirror.

“What?”

“What?” I replied.

“Oh, I thought you said something.”

“Yeah. Just looking at the job Mother did on my hair. Not bad.”

I had to admit it was good. She cut my hair the way I wanted it and not the way she liked it.

“Lucky you. Mom butchered my hair. Cut it way too short.” Susan pouted in the tub.“Still, hot water.” She squealed in delight and slipped under the water.

Dressed, I glanced in the mirror one last time. Hmm, a little makeup couldn’t hurt. I turned toward the tub to say goodbye. Susan grinned at me.

“Weeelll?” she asked.

“Well, what?”

“Are you going to go strut your stuff in front of Theo?” She giggled and waved her arms above her head.

“You, little sister, are out of your freaking mind.” I tried but failed to suppress an embarrassed grin.

“Say what you want,” she replied wisely and shook her head. “You can lie to yourself, but I see it in your eyes.”

“What--ever.”

“Well, if you say so, Annabel, but it sure looks like you’re headed out for a night on the town.” Without another word, she slipped under the water.

I closed the door and noted the time, five o’clock. In seven hours I would be out of here and begin my new life. A fresh start was exactly what I needed. Laura ran down the hallway and slid past six more buckets of hot water.

“Gee, Anna, you look real nice.” She smiled and ran up for a hug.

“Thanks, Laura. I needed that. I see Mom gave you the china girl special.”

“Yeah, isn’t it great?” Laura enthused and shook her bangs.

Laura didn’t hang around for a reply, but ran to the bathroom door. Without even a knock, she burst into the room, closed the door, and cut off Susan’s outraged scream.

My parents were in the kitchen preparing dinner. Dad set the table in a manner worthy of a holiday. He whistled while he did so. Strange. Dad put out the good china and silverware. Hmm, rather odd. Upon reflection, I decided this to be no weirder than Dad’s whistling.

Both were washed and in clean clothes. Dad had even shaved. For the first time in weeks, he resembled the father I knew. Both my parents were oddly relaxed and smiling way too much.

“Don’t see why we couldn’t use the bathtub,” Theo groused when the boys emerged from the basement. “The girls got both bathtubs? What a load of crap.”

All three were bathed and sported new haircuts. Theo appeared especially refreshed. Mom had trimmed his beard, a vast improvement over the mangy unkempt tangle of this morning. Hmm, I wondered what his beard felt like and immediately squashed that thought. Didn’t want to go there.

After dinner we gathered in the living room. No one bothered to clear the table or wash the dishes. What was the point? Even Klara seemed more upbeat. Her haircut and clean clothes courtesy of Susan’s closet had transformed her.

Mom and Dad joined us and we lounged around the fire. Seven o’clock came and Dad put the last of the wood on the fire. He tried to make us all lay down to get what rest we could. No one did. We were eager to stay up and talk.

Klara glanced up from the poster-sized letter she worked on every free moment she could find and said, “Mr. Wallis, tell me about this farm we’re headed to.”

“It’s about a two days journey, at least the way we’ll be going. In better times, we could have driven there in two hours. Dad’s farm has two creeks, one of which is spring fed, so we’ll have plenty of safe, clean water.”

Theo asked, “How big is the farm?”

“Five hundred acres. Keep in mind; although we call it a farm, it’s been a long time since crops have been grown there. Still, there’s good bottomland, and we can grow and raise whatever we want.”

“Oh sure, but we have to cut all those trees down first,” Chris groaned.

“What about the quarry?” Klara asked.

“Well, I’ve only been there twice. Not much to say, except it’s hidden away, tucked behind an old cement plant, with lots of wild space between it and the highway. You’d pretty much have to know it was there to find it I’d think. The quarry’s on the other end of the farm and the part we’re headed for is on Dad’s property. We won’t starve that’s for sure. Even if I’m wrong about what’s in those caves, there’s still plenty of game out there. Deer, ducks, maybe even pigs.”

“And wabbits?” Theo asked with a wicked smile.

“What? Well yeah, I suppose, although not as many as we have here in the suburbs. But yeah, plenty of rabbits.”

“And I can take care of ’em, can’t I, Mr. Wallis?” Theo laughed and began to hit the palm of one hand onto the closed fist of the other.

“I. Well,” Dad stammered.

Chris and Theo laughed. Theo continued in a strange voice. “And I can pet ’em, and feed ’em, and take care of ’em. Can’t I, Mr. Wallis?”

I reached across Chris and punched Theo, hard. Everyone laughed, except Dad, who sat with a confused expression on his face.

I couldn’t help but laugh even louder at Dad’s expression. “Steinbeck, Dad. He’s making fun of you.”

Realization dawned on my father and he broke into a big grin himself.

“Who’s Steinbeck?” Theo asked in all seriousness.

“You know him; he did all the bugs bunny stuff,” Susan said between giggles.

“Oh man, I love that guy.”

“I like rabbits,” Klara said. “They’re delicious.”

Everyone stopped and stared at her. Wow. She had a knack for ending a conversation.

“We’re really doing this aren’t we, Dad?” Susan asked.

“Yeah,” he replied and closed his eyes.

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