We stayed home for three months, getting to know Baxter, learning as much about gardening from him as we could and sharing our animal husbandry knowledge, the little bit we had. When we planned our next trip, I assumed we would all head up North, posting all over the top right corner of the map.

          Baxter insisted on staying behind. He also told us to leave the animals. It was way past time to...ah, slaughter the pig, and so he and Ev took care of it the week before he left, leaving me to carve it up. That was super depressing, and more than a little nauseating. But it meant we had plenty of fresh meat.

          This trip we were planning on being gone only for a month, which really sucked, because I wanted to raid New York big time. Honestly, I thought a New Yorker existing wasn't really in our best interest- I'd heard they were seedy and possibly violent- but New York clothing stores were definitely in my best interest. I convinced him to spend a day shopping with me, and we filled up one of those mini-trailers from U-haul with enough clothes and shoes for all three of us to wear a new outfit every week for a decade. I was in heaven! We left posters in plenty of shops, but we saw no evidence that anyone had been in any of them.

          One thing we both wanted to do was play in Carnegie Hall. We had practiced several duets for the occasion and brought a camera to record it. I wore a black dress and Everett positively smoldered in his tuxedo. We bowed for the camera and then we made eye contact. We breathed together and began, our fingers flying through our first piece, an original I'd been working on for weeks. He played the 1st part beautifully, and I loved supporting him as the second. It came out just as I imagined.

          After a few more duets by much more prominent composers, we each played a handful of solos, the other accompanying on piano in turn. All that practicing was worth it- the acoustics were incredible, and I'd never been inspired to play so well. When we finished, we sat in the front row, our eyes closed, trying to imagine what it would be like to listen to or play with a full orchestra in here.

          "You played beautifully," he said, stroking my hand.

          "It was nothing compared to you," I said, turning to kiss him.

          We kissed for a few minutes, but I finally pulled away, disliking the atmosphere. "The acoustics are a little too good in here," I explained, standing.

          "Would you like to go back stage?" he asked, humming a few bars from The Phantom of the Opera.

          We sang a few bars back and forth as I followed him, laughing, to the green room.

          "I bet Itzhak Perlman and Yo Yo-Ma had a conversation on this couch," I mused as his hands ran over my dress.

          "Oh, don't ruin it," he protested. I couldn't respond. His lips had found my neck and shut down my brain.

          We spent the rest of the month wandering all the way up to Maine before heading back down a different route so as to hit more cities. We got back a few days later than we planned, but Baxter didn't seem upset. In fact, he was thrilled and had something to show us.

          "Hi, my name is Phineas." A stocky blonde stood beside Baxter, his calloused hand outstretched. I took it right away.

          "I don't believe it- this is wonderful! It's so good to meet you! How did you hear about us?" I asked, shaking his hand.

          "I got tired of California- decided to drive east, passed through Texas and saw a sign with paint all over. Made my way here. This guy says I showed up right after you left." He put his other hand over mine to stop me from shaking and laughed, holding it out to Everett.

          "Well, we're sorry we missed you, but we can all have supper tonight at our place if you'd like," Ev offered.

          "And play board games!" I blurted, bouncing a bit in my excitement. I was slightly disappointed another man had joined our ranks instead of a chick, but still happy to have found another person none the less. "We're gonna be here two weeks and then we're heading north again, to the middle states. Then we'll hit the southwest while its cool, stick around for winter, then the northwest when it's warm again."

          "Sounds like a great plan! You dudes have really thought this out. Baxter's actually making dinner for everyone, though," he said, nodding at him.

          "I just planned a welcome back meal. I hope your signs draw in more people. I was very glad when Phineas showed up- after you guys being gone for just two days, I was ready to tear my hair out from boredom." He waved us inside. "Why don't you guys play cards in the kitchen and keep me company while I cook?"

          We followed Baxter inside and I went off to fetch the cards. We finally had enough people to play Bologna Sandwich, so I taught them while we waited for food, and played after supper. We had the best time! I hadn't felt like a part of a group in so long.

          The next day felt strange. The animals were really fidgety and on edge. The sky was dismal, the air smelled like rain. It felt like there was anticipation in the air. 

          "This is tornado weather," Everett said, grabbing his binoculars. We went across the street to get Baxter and Phineas, then we all loaded into the car and drove to the university where Ev climbed the bell tower. He used the binoculars to survey the sky, then climbed down, a grim look on his face as the wind whipped his hair.

          "Funnel shaped clouds," he said, pointing. "I think we need to bunk down for the day. Let's go fetch the animals and bring them here. We'll put them in the gym and set ourselves up in the basement."

          We sped back home, hitched the trailer up and loaded the goat, chickens, and cow Baxter had found into it. It wasn't easy- they were scared and finicky. Once we had them loaded up, Everett and I grabbed Kai, Mav, and food while Baxter and Phineas grabbed toiletries, pillows, and blankets. The wind was starting to pick up even more as we crammed everything into the trunk, so we piled in quickly and drove as fast as possible without tipping the trailer.

          I knew it was about to go down when our ears popped. Everett backed the trailer up to the doors and Baxter and Phineas set up a sort of corral with the tables from the little study and dining areas beside the gym doors. It took all four of us to get the stupid cow going, then Phineas grabbed the goat around the middle and hauled her in, taking a kick to the hip. We scrambled after the chickens, getting scratched and pecked, then Baxter slammed the gym doors closed and put a broom across the door handles.

          "Wouldn't it be better if we put them in the equipment closet?" I yelled over the wind as we carried Kai and Mav in.

          "We don't have time!" Everett yelled back.

          "We have to get to the basement!" Phineas cried, his and Baxter's arms full from the trunk. "Where is it?"

          Everett lead the way, but there was no way to get to it without going outside. The school was an eclectic collection of buildings, and we had to make it through 100 feet outdoors.

          My problem wasn't Mav- she was literally scared stiff, a rock in my arms with foam at the mouth and needles from her paws. My problem was the wind. I'd never felt so small in my life- we could barely see from the rain, but I knew they had passed me in the short distance to the building with the basement. The wind had reached a point of speed that I was making no progress at all. In fact, I was being forced to take a step back or fall over.

          I clutched Mav to my chest, considering my options. I could turn back and take my chances in the gym, but they wouldn't know what happened to me and may come searching. I could press on, but I was getting nowhere and possibly about to die out here with my poor cat. Before I had a chance to decide, something heavy hit me in the shoulder, knocking me back and making me scream.

          I tried to get back up, but I couldn't, and there was no way I was going to leave Mav and crawl back to the gym. So instead I curled up around her and hoped for the best.


The End

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