PANDEMIC

Chapter 4

Jessica

“Mom!” Kayla said the next afternoon as she raced into the living room, her tone nearing hysteria.

Jessica set down the book she’d been reading and leapt to her feet. “What’s wrong?”

“Brooke’s mom,” Kayla said as tears filled her eyes.

Jessica pictured Kayla’s best friend Brooke. Tall and slender with long auburn hair, she was a fixture around their house. Jessica didn’t know Brooke’s mom well, but she’d always been friendly. “What happened?”

“She died.” Kayla’s face crumpled as tears streamed down her face. “Brooke’s mom died.”

Jessica drew Kayla into her arms as shockwaves cascaded over her. “What?” She slowly pulled away from Kayla, her mind racing. “When? How?”

“Today.”

“Oh my goodness! What happened?”

“She was fine last night, but she woke up feeling sick.” Kayla’s voice shook as she spoke. “Brooke’s dad took her mom to the hospital, but she died, Mom. She’s dead.” Tears rolled down Kayla’s cheeks.

Astonished, and rather alarmed, Jessica needed to know more. “What did she have? Do they know?”

Kayla stared at Jessica as stark panic washed over her face. “The flu. It was the flu.”

Jessica’s mouth fell open. It was shocking that someone could be fine one day and dead the next. From a virus.

“Mom. What if Brooke gets the flu? I mean, she was exposed to it, right?” Fresh tears filled Kayla’s eyes. “What if Brooke dies too?”

Jessica didn’t want to point out that any of them could catch the deadly flu. And she had no words of reassurance to give Kayla.

“What’s going on?” Matt asked as he came into the room. He’d risen early and had worked from his home office all day.

After hearing about Brooke’s mother, Jessica was doubly glad Matt had agreed to work from home.

“Brooke’s mom passed away.” Jessica’s voice was surprisingly calm. “From the flu.”

Matt’s eyebrows shot up, then he went to Kayla and wrapped her in a hug. She lay her head against his shoulder and sobbed. As he comforted her, his gaze met Jessica’s. Jessica read the worry in his eyes as clearly as if he’d said the words out loud.

“I feel like I should do something,” Kayla said as she stepped away from Matt, her face streaked with tears.

“What would you like to do?” Jessica asked.

“I don’t know. Bring her and her dad something to eat?”

Jessica’s gaze slid to Matt, who subtly shook his head, then Jessica looked at Kayla. “That’s very sweet of you, but under the circumstances I don’t think it would be a good idea to go over there.”

Deep creases formed on Kayla’s forehead. “Right. Of course.”

Relieved that Kayla understood, Jessica gave her another hug and murmured, “I love you, sweetheart.”

“I love you too,” Kayla whispered, then she turned and headed toward her room.

Later that evening, the four of them gathered in the family room to watch the local news. Jessica sat on the couch beside Matt, and Dylan sprawled on the floor. Kayla, however, sat on the edge of the recliner, her back ramrod straight as the four of them waited for the broadcast to begin. Moments later it did. The first announcement was that the schools in multiple school districts in the state, including theirs, would be closed until further notice. It had been decided that since so many kids were sick, it would be best to keep everyone home.

“No school?” Dylan said, his eyebrows rising as he looked at Jessica and Matt. “Whoa.”

“Guess you guys won’t be missing anything by being home,” Matt said with a sardonic grin.

“This is crazy,” Kayla said, her gaze glued to the TV.

“Crazy awesome,” Dylan said with an ear to ear smile.

“I know it seems great,” Jessica said, “but remember what’s behind it. People are getting sick.” She glanced at Kayla. “Sick enough to die.”

Dylan’s smile vanished. “Yeah. I know.”

During the broadcast, Jessica kept thinking about Rochelle. After they’d spoken the day before, had she decided to stay home today?

When the news was over, Jessica went into her bedroom and called her.

“Hello?” a gravelly voice said.

Had Jessica gotten the wrong number? The voice that answered sounded much deeper than Rochelle’s. Maybe it was her husband? “Is Rochelle there?”

“It’s me, Jess.”

Unease rattled through her. “Are you sick?”

“I should have listened to you yesterday. I should have gone home. I feel like death warmed over.”

Oh no. “Have you been to the doctor?”

“I have an appointment in the morning.”

That was something, at least. “I’m so sorry you’re sick.”

“You and me both.”

They didn’t talk long, and after they hung up, Jessica called her mom.

“Hi, sweetie,” her mom said, her voice cheerful. “How are you?”

Half expecting to learn that her mom had caught the flu—after all, with the cancer treatment, her immune system had been weakened—when her mom sounded like her normal happy self, Jessica quietly exhaled in relief. “I’m good. I wanted to see how you’re doing.”

“Same old, same old. I spent most of the day working on my new quilt. It’s coming along beautifully, Jessica. I can hardly wait to show it to you when you’re here next week.”

Thrilled her mom was doing as well as possible, Jessica sat back and enjoyed their chat, still hopeful that she would be able to make the trip.

* * *

That night after Jessica and Matt got in bed, they turned on the news. As expected, the main topic of discussion was the flu that was sweeping the country and even the world. They listened in quiet horror as the anchor calmly announced that the fatality rate was climbing and that it was becoming common to catch the flu and die in a single day.

“That’s what happened to Brooke’s mom,” Jessica said barely above a whisper, as if saying it any louder would bring the same fate to their house. Could the same thing happen to Rochelle? Appalled by the thought, she decided she would call her first thing in the morning to check on her.

Matt leaned over and kissed her on the lips. “I’m glad you convinced me to work from home.”

Pushing aside her worries, she put her arms around him and lay her head on his chest as a feeling of safety washed over her. “I’m glad you agreed.”

They listened as the news anchor talked to a representative from the CDC.

“Turn that up,” Jessica said as she straightened. Matt complied, and Jessica breathed a sigh of relief when the woman from the CDC said that it appeared that the incubation period from being exposed to the virus to when symptoms appeared was twenty-four hours.

“It’s been longer than that since any of us have been around other people,” Jessica said. She turned to look at Matt. “Does that mean we’re safe?”

He grimaced. “I hope so.”