The first sign that the world was about to come to an end was when Jessica’s teenaged children informed her that Prom had been cancelled.
“Cancelled?” Jessica asked as she handed out bag lunches. “What on earth for?”
“Too many kids have the flu,” Dylan, her fourteen-year-old said.
Jessica looked at Kayla for confirmation.
Sixteen and about to attend her first Prom, Kayla frowned. “It sucks.”
“That’s because you won’t be able to make out with Ethan now.” Dylan made kissing noises to emphasize his point.
Kayla swatted at him. “Stop it.”
“Both of you stop it,” Jessica said. “You’re going to make me late for work.” She loved her job as a dental hygienist, but now that she thought about it, a lot of patients had cancelled due to illness. Maybe her family should stay home for a day or two. Let whatever bug that was going around pass them by. None of them could afford to get sick.
Then she thought about Matt, her husband. He’d gone to work already. He was a software developer and Jessica knew he’d been stressed with all the work he had on his plate. Maybe she could convince him to work from home—something he did from time to time.
Sighing, she set her purse on the counter. “Okay. Family meeting.”
“Wait,” Dylan said. “We can’t have a family meeting without Dad.”
“I know, but this is different. He’s not here and this seems like kind of an emergency.”
“An emergency that there’s no Prom?” Dylan rolled his eyes.
“It is an emergency,” Kayla said.
“No,” Jessica said. “Not because of Prom. Because of this flu. I’ve heard a few news reports that it’s pretty nasty and it sounds like it’s really going around. Maybe…” Was this really the best idea? “Maybe we should all kind of hunker down for a few days until it’s—”
“Yes!” Dylan said, cutting Jessica off. “No school! Woo hoo!”
Kayla looked less certain. “What about, you know, missing all the stuff my teachers will be teaching?”
Dylan laughed. “You just don’t want to miss seeing Ethan.”
Kayla huffed out a protest, but Jessica knew what Dylan said was probably true.
“You can keep in touch with your friends,” Jessica said. “Just not in person.”
Kayla’s lips compressed.
Jessica smiled. “Let me call Dad and see what he says.”
Dylan had already set his lunch bag on the counter and dropped his backpack on the floor. “But we’re not going to school today, right?”
Was Matt going to tell her she was being overly dramatic? Maybe, but in her gut she knew this was the right thing to do. “Yes. No school today.”
“Woot, woot!” Dylan shouted as he pumped a fist in the air before racing for the stairs.
“Do you really think we could get sick?” Kayla asked, her forehead furrowed.
Though Jessica was concerned, she didn’t want her kids to worry. “Not if we stay away from sick people.”
“Mom,” Kayla said as she rolled her eyes.
“Let me call Dad, okay?”
Kayla nodded, then she flopped onto the couch with her phone already in her hand.
Jessica went upstairs to the master bedroom and closed the door before calling her husband’s cell. He answered on the second ring.
“What’s up, honey? I’m about to head into a meeting.”
Jessica pictured her husband—six feet tall, relatively fit, and still as handsome as the day she’d met him. “I was, uh, wondering if you could work from your home office today. And maybe tomorrow.”
“What?” His tone showed he thought she was nuts. “Why would I do that?”
“Have any of your co-workers called in sick lately?”’
He paused. “A few people have, yeah.”
“More than normal?”
“I guess so, yeah.”
“Honey, the kids’ school cancelled Prom because so many kids have that flu that’s going around. Just to be safe I’m, uh, I’m keeping them home for a few days. I’m going to stay home too.”
“Really?” Shock was evident in his voice. “You never miss work.”
She heard noise in the background. It sounded like Matt had shifted the phone away from his mouth. “Hey,” he said, “I’ve got to go. I’ll call you after my meeting.”
“All right, but think about it. Working from home, I mean.”
Next, she called the dentist’s office where she worked to let them know she wasn’t coming in.
“Are you sick too?” Rochelle, her co-worker, asked.
“Too? Who else is sick?”
Rochelle named several others who worked there. Hearing the names of so many people she knew who were sick sent a beat of concern through her.
“No,” Jessica said, “I’m not sick. Just trying to stay that way.”
“Maybe you’re on to something there.”
Jessica thought about her co-worker and friend. Rochelle was sixteen weeks pregnant with her first baby. If she caught this flu, could it put her baby in jeopardy? “Maybe you ought to head home, Rochelle. Just in case.”
Sighing heavily, she said, “I can’t afford to take any more time off. You know how much time I took off when I was so sick at the beginning of my pregnancy. I used all my sick days.”
Jessica bit her lip. “Just, I don’t know, be safe. Okay?”
Rochelle chuckled. “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
They disconnected and Jessica set her phone on her bedside table before turning on the news.
“…concerned about how quickly this flu is spreading,” the news reporter was saying. Jessica turned up the volume. “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that this strain has resulted in higher than average fatalities and they remind people to take sanitary measures after being around other people. Wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and if you or a family member has any symptoms, stay home for at least seventy-two hours after the symptoms have ended. This looks like a nasty one, folks.”
The anchor went on to another story and Jessica shut off the TV, then used her phone to look up more information. She spent a good hour reading articles about the flu, each one making her concern notch up higher than the last.
She hoped Rochelle would change her mind and go home.
An image of her mom popped into her head. Recently diagnosed with breast cancer, her mom lived out of state. Alone. Jessica had already arranged to take time off the following week to fly out for a visit. She hadn’t seen her mom in several months and wanted to spend time with her. She and her mom had always been close—being the only child of a single mother did that sometimes. It was important to her to be able to give her mom the support she needed.
Briefly wondering if this flu would affect her plans, Jessica shook her head. Surely by the next week the whole thing would have blown over. It had to.
“Mom?” Kayla said as she knocked.
“Come in, sweetie.”
Kayla opened the door and sat on the bed. “What did Dad say?”
“He’s in a meeting. He’ll call me when he’s done.”
“But you told him about the flu?” Kayla’s eyebrows tugged together. She seemed much more worried than she’d been earlier.
“What’s wrong, honey?”
“Nothing. I mean, I just…” She frowned. “I looked some stuff up. Just now? About the flu? Yeah. So. It sounds like it’s not the regular flu.”
That was the same conclusion Jessica was beginning to reach, but she wasn’t about to share her worries. Not yet. Not when there wasn’t a whole lot they could do about it. “People are working on it.”
“What people?” Kayla asked, her eyebrows tugging together. “What are they doing to fix it?”
Jessica struggled to come up with an answer.
Her phone rang, saving her from having to make something up. “It’s Dad,” she said as she looked at her phone.
Kayla frowned, then left the room.