The cold wrapped around him like a blanket, stealing his warmth. His breath. His father was on his left, his footsteps quiet on the ground. He darted glances at his father. Derek Benard Hammond was a tall man. The youngest of his four brothers he’d somehow managed to be the tallest. Two of his had passed on in the last four years and it had taken a toll on his father. But his father a carried on. He and his only remaining brother had grown closer.  Uncle Connor lived several states away but somehow it felt like his uncle was always there. He’d fly in by himself or with his wife and children every other month. When his uncle wasn’t here, his parents where over there. He realized with a jolt that he didn’t know where his uncle was. He didn’t know where his cousins were. If they were safe. If they had enough to eat. Were they warm? Had life changed as drastically for Uncle Connor as it had for his father? He pushed the thoughts and fears for his extended family aside. He needed to focus. Needed to channel all his fears and worries into taking the next step. Then the next. And then the next.

He scanned the trees. They were a good distance from the truck now. He hoped that his mother and Anna would be safe. Hoped he and his father hadn’t made a mistake in leaving them behind but he didn’t trust himself to go alone. He needed someone to have his back, it would’ve been foolish to go it alone. His father fell back and took the higher ground on his right. Sticking to the trees. His grandfather had been in the military a lifetime ago. He’d instilled in his sons the things he’d learned during his time in the service. As a result, his two eldest sons had enlisted. One had never returned. Dad had told him that his grandfather had blamed himself for the loss of his son everyday for the rest of his life. It was his one regret. Despite this, he’d still held his time with the military as sacred. He volunteered with veteran’s organizations and donated to others. He knew his father had done the same. He’d met his future wife volunteering at one such organization.

Dania Lilia Rollingson was a true southern belle. Born to an upper-class family, she was destined to be someone’s first lady. His grandmother had hopes of her marrying some guy’s son in their circle. He’d been primed for politics since birth and he did make a go of it. He started with the local levels and worked his way on up to governor. Dania’s mother never let her forget that that could’ve been her on that man’s arm. Seth allowed himself a satisfied smile as he recalled what happened to that governor who had flown so high. His fall from grace had been the stuff of legends. He was simply glad his grandmother had lived long enough to see it. Sophia Rollingson had been a proud woman. Proud and conceited in the way that only matrons from old money can achieve. She wasn’t cold but she never warmed to his father and by extension she hadn’t warmed much to him either until he’d gone on to excel in sports and then go on to ivy league schools for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. His parents had never put that pressure on him. They wanted him to study and do well but they expected him to do so for his own reasons. To be his own person and achieve because that’s what he wanted to do. In this way they were different from the social circle his mom had grown up in. He wasn’t surprised when his parents left the South and moved up North. He’d simply wondered why it’d taken them so long.

His parents, he thought with a smile. His parents who’d been married for longer than either of them had been alive were something rare. His father said that they met while he was filling in for a friend who’d skipped work to play hooky with a girl. He saw Dania from across the room. His father would always saw the first thing he noticed about his mother was her smile and without skipping a beat, his mother would say, “Well that’s funny because you certainly spent a lot of time ogling my legs.” That’s just how they were. They were always talking and laughing. They’d had tough times he knew. When he about ten his father had lost his job and for a time money was tight. He knew his parents had argued a lot during that year but they stuck together. They’d pushed through it and though it took a few years to recover financially, by the time he ready for high school his parents were solvent again and had a marriage his friends seemed jealous of. As he climbed a slight hill and hid behind a tree, he turned to the right. His father was in a similar position several feet away. He had to make sure his father got back to his mother. His parents had never spent more than two weeks apart in all the years they’d been together. He wouldn’t let that record break now.

He’d hoped to find the same for himself. That he’d meet the woman of his dreams, they’d get married, and live happily ever after. The reality had been quite the opposite. His mother’s friends down South had pushed their daughters on him and all they’d wanted was to marry into the family. Attached to a Rollingson and live in the lap of luxury. He could admit that he’d been into it. He’d been so full of himself that when he moved up North and people had no idea who he was, it’d been a shock to the system. He’d been so shaken he’d made the mistake of calling home and telling his parents. He just finished telling them what happened when they burst into laughter. They’d laughed so much and for so long he’d hung up. His mother had promptly called him back, chew him out proper for hanging up on his parents, and then began laughing again. After a few minutes he realized he’d been an idiot and this was lesson he’d needed to learn. He’d been too high on his own self-importance. That bubble, now popped, he’d found that he got along better with coworkers. He made friends more easily and they were good quality people who he didn’t mind introducing his parents too. Friends his parents actually liked. A pang a sadness hit him. He didn’t know where his friends were. Hadn’t seen or heard from them in days. He knew some of them had gone to their respective homes to be with their parents.

Where was Anna’s parents? Why had she chosen to stay here, with his parents instead of going with her own family? Did she have family? His mom had hinted that Anna had a strained relationship with her family. Even so, in times like these shouldn’t she want to be with them? But if she had…if she had, they never would have met. He would have seen her smile or heard her laugh. Or had the pleasure of seeing her eyes light up. She’d held his hand before he slipped from the truck and damn if he hadn’t felt like a school boy hoping to kiss a girl after school behind the bleachers. He had to get back to her because the connection he felt when he was around her, when he was touching her? He’d never felt anything like and damned if he didn’t want to explore it.

A branched snapped from up ahead. His eyes immediately went to his father who was still behind the tree crouching. His father up his hand. Three fingers, three men. His sucked in a breath and slowly released it. He was about to raise his hand to signal his dad when he felt something behind him, he whirled. Instinct had him raising the rifle. He didn’t hesitate. He fired. A bark of pain from man in front of him and then the man slumped to the ground. Seth went to the body, patted it down. He worked quickly. Removing the guy’s weapons, knives, and ammo. Sheesh did the guy think he was going to war?

He snatched the man’s coat of his body and was surprised that there was no blood on it. Blood. Blood from the wound he’d given to-. He cut off the thought. There’d be time to question how far he’d fallen and where exactly his humanity had gone later. Right now-

A gun fired. He turned in time to see him father fire at a shadow. The body fell. There was one more. He turned back toward the direction of the truck and his knees nearly buckled. Someone was running in the direction of the truck.