Renee and Carli sat on the brick steps to a porch of a long-empty house while they enjoyed a late afternoon feast of raw corn and beans. Birdsong serenaded their meal. From her vantage point, Renee watched Virginia’s Lake Moomaw glitter in the sunlight. The surroundings reminded her of home in the Carolina mountains. In past years the chill that signaled summer's farewell sent the Johnson family to Thorpe Lake in North Carolina for their annual fishing and camping trip. Her family, which consisted of her father Richard and three older brothers, centered life around sports. She never knew her mother. Sue Johnson died in a car accident when Renee was less than a year old.
By the time she turned 16, she'd grown to six feet. Her father, a former defensive lineman for Duke University, encouraged her and her brothers to excel in sports. She proved to be a natural athlete and a star in every sport she tried, whether sliding home to score another victory for the softball team or speeding across the finish line at track events. Only her oldest brother David brought home more trophies.
Her successes in sports didn't extend to her social life however. She felt isolated in the high school locker room surrounded by the other girls who giggled over men, make-up, and clothes. She made no overtures to gain their friendships. The idea of romantic liaisons with men first baffled, and then repulsed her. Though many of her male friends approached the attractive brunette, she held them all at arm’s length.
Her close-knit family supplied enough activities that she didn't worry about that aspect of her life. She missed them all; her father's encouraging smile, David's raunchy jokes, the bright laugh of middle brother Ross, and Mark's competitive spirit.
What she wouldn't give to have just one more autumn with them! A lump formed in her throat. Ever practical, she thrust memories of happier days away and swallowed the lump. Not going to happen. Stop thinking about it.
She coughed and went back to sharing her travel plans with a dreamy-eyed Carli. "I figure around central or south Florida we can hole up for the winter. It'll be warm enough, and maybe we can bag some deer or fish. The swamplands should be thick with food. Hey, are you listening to me?"
Carli straightened from her slumped posture, the blonde's faraway look replaced by outright fear. Renee’s confusion chilled to terror as Carli extended a shaking finger and pointed at the street running in front of them. A man on the other side of the cracked asphalt stared at them.
"Oh shit," Renee whispered.