She spun around as I reached the gate.
I jumped through the opening, measuring the distance between us. She was a good twenty yards ahead.
She raised her gun and pointed it at me.
I didn't have my shield anymore.
I was closing the distance, but not fast enough. My feet flew over the wet pavement, throwing water up to my back and neck. My helmet fell off and I just let it go.
I heard someone shout my name from off to the side.
Maybe it was Paci. The rain muffled his voice too much for me to know for sure.
I felt the bullet slam into me before I heard the shot fire out of her gun.
As I fell to the pavement, my chest going numb, I thought how strange it was to personally experience the speed of sound traveling slower than a bullet.
The last thing I remembered seeing as I fell to my side and my head hit the ground, was Gail's body flying backwards and landing against the lobby door.
My eyes slid shut and I smiled before losing consciousness. At least that bad penny won't be turning up anymore.
Rain washes the earth. It rinses away all the oil and grime left by a careless civilization until there's no more trace of it.
The blood that was left by the canners and their victims was long gone.
The bodies had been taken away and burned.
Any trace of their invasion into our haven had disappeared, making me wonder as I gazed over all of it from up on high if it had ever even happened.
But then I looked down on my friends and saw all their sad faces, and I knew. I knew it had really happened, and that they'd lost people they really cared for. Looked up to. Respected.
I wept for them. Just as they wept for themselves.
"Dearly beloved," said Ronald, his voice booming out over the crowd. "We are gathered here today to say goodbye to some friends. Some very special people who gave their lives so that we might carry on…"
His healing words, his poem about our lives, washed over me, their individual syllables meaningless, but their goal still met. Today was a new day for all of them. For me. Today we would start again and try to re-build what was lost. We'd make it better and stronger and safer.
With the gifts of cattle and horses from the Triple Bar D, we would build our herd. With the birds being sent from Jimmy and Sissy at the Cracker Barrel, we would increase our messenger system and rebuild the contacts poisoned by Gail. With the contact that Bodo was making for us in the Keys, we would reach more people and spread more news and make more connections. Have more friends. Grow our family.
Paci reached over and took my hand and squeezed it.
I looked at him and smiled weakly. It was the best I could do.
Together we would carry on and do whatever it took to build Haven into the safe place its name implied.
"Bryn, would you like to say a few words?" Ronald asked.
I moved over to the pulpit, looking down off the stage that had hurriedly been built to manage our memorial service.
"I'm proud of all of you," I said, looking at each of their faces. "Proud of how you worked together before they came and during the fight. I'm proud of how you made hard decisions and took risks that showed how much you value human life. That's the difference between us and the canners. We value the gift of our humanity. We must never lose that."
I took Ronald's hand and pulled it above my head. I would have done the same with Paci's, but the bruise from my flak jacket taking that bullet still didn't allow for it. "Lift your hands with me as we say goodbye to our friends."
I waited until all the hands were up. I spoke loud and clear, making sure my voice spread out across Haven and beyond.
I had to stop a moment before I could finish. I needed to collect myself so I didn't have a breakdown.
I dropped my head and waited a full two minutes before continuing. I wanted to remember how my friend Winky had single-handedly fought off three very enterprising canners who'd cut in through an unguarded part of the fence and then found their way into our home through a service entrance, surprising Winky in the lobby. She was bleeding to death from a bullet wound to her leg, but she took them out all the same. She gave her life for Peter's and for everyone else's who ran into that lobby after her.
I raised my head, letting my tears fall freely. "May you all who have died … our friends … our family … rest in peace and be there to guide us when it's our time to join you."
"Amen," said the crowd.
"Amen," I said softly to myself.
"Thank you for joining us," said Ronald. "We have food in the lobby for everyone. Please come in fellowship and remembrance."
I stood behind Peter and Trip, waiting for them to go down the stairs from the stage ahead of me. Peter was crying softly and Trip had his arm across Peter's shoulders. I knew I wouldn't have to worry about my friend or Buster. Trip only stopped hugging my best friend in the world and soul brother to sweep the naked poodle up into his arms and hold him close.
Paci noticed me crying again and pulled me to him, folding me gently into his arms, mindful of my injury.
"Where to now?" he asked.
"Will you take me to my room?" I asked. "I just want to lie down and forget this day. Forget the fight. And think about my friends I lost."
"Yes, I'll take you. Do you mind if I stay with you?"
"No." I hugged him hard, burying my face in his chest. "Please don't leave me. I don't think I can be without you anymore."
He squeezed me a little tighter and leaned down to kiss me tenderly on the cheek. "You don't know how glad I am to hear you say that."
"Can you believe this is the same place we rode up to on our bikes five years ago?" I asked.
"Five years ago, today. To the day," said Peter. "And yes, of course I can. I planned every square inch of this place out on paper in case you forgot."
"How could I forget? Holy crap, you wallpapered eight offices with those plans."
"That wallpaper is now responsible for the thriving metropolis that is Haven, population one thousand, two hundred and eighty four, thank you very much."
"Five. Jenny and Fohi had their baby last night. A girl," I said, biting into a turkey sandwich.
"They did? Why didn't anyone tell me? I have to put that into the log book." Peter immediately started searching around for something.
"There are no pens or paper allowed on family picnic day, you know that. Stop looking for something to write with."
A small, handmade soccer ball created with about a hundred yards of twine landed in the middle of our grilled vegetables.
"Do you mind?" asked Peter in an offended voice. "We're trying to picnic over here."
Trip came running over, all sweaty, his long, black hair a mess. "Toss it here, babe! I'm on the run!"
Peter tried, but failed miserably. It landed at the feet of the nearby toddler who quickly bent over to get it into his fat little hands. It immediately went into his mouth.
"Oh, man! Not again!" Trip dropped down onto hands and knees, playing growling bear very convincingly.
"Give the ball to Uncle Trip," I said. "Go on, give it to the scary bear."
"Bear!" shrieked the little boy, throwing the ball in a panic and nailing Trip right in the forehead with it.
Trip feigned being knocked out and fell over onto his back, closing his eyes and letting his tongue hang out.
The toddler didn't need any more encouragement than that. He ran over on his chubby little legs and dove on top of him, pushing a gust of air out of Trip's lungs.
"Tackle!" yelled Paci, running up to join the fun. He picked the toddler up and swung him into the air. "You got him, Kowi! You killed the bear! Good boy! That's daddy's boy, big old bear killer!"
"Mama bear!" Kowi yelled, smiling and shrieking every time his dad lifted him up and let him fall again. "Mama bear!"
Paci stopped tossing him around and held him close to his chest, both of them facing me now. "Yes, Kowi, that's your momma. Mama bear. Can you say, Nokosi?"
"No, not Mo-oh-kee. No … say it .. Nooo."
"Good boy. Now say, Ko."
"Good, Kowi! Now say, See."
"Put it all together. Nokosi."
Paci shook his head and put Kowi down, looking over at me. "Stubborn as a bear."
"Wonder where he gets that from," said Peter, smiling.
Trip was still playing fake-dead but now he was laughing silently, tongue still hanging out on the side.
"He gets it from his father, of course. He gets other things from me." I smiled at my little boy as he walked over, turned around, and sat his little butt right down onto Uncle Trip's face.
Paci looked at me and winked. "You up for another frolic in the meadow later?"
I laughed, pointing at the little guy mashing his bum into Uncle Trip's face. "Don't you remember what happened last time we did the naked frolicking in the meadow thing?"
Paci laughed with me. "How could I forget?"