Home > The City of Mirrors (The Passage #3)(10)

The City of Mirrors (The Passage #3)(10)
Justin Cronin

He had told Sara that he didn’t want a party, but of course the woman would do something. After all we’ve been through, thirty means something. Come by the house after work. It’ll just be the five of us. I promise it won’t be any big deal. He picked up Caleb at school and went home to wash, and a little after 1800 they arrived at Sara and Hollis’s apartment and stepped through the door and into the party that Peter had refused. Dozens of people were there, crammed into two tiny, airless rooms—neighbors and co-workers, parents of Caleb’s friends, men he had served with in the Army, even Sister Peg, who, in her dour gray frock, was laughing and chatting away like everybody else. At the door Sara hugged him and wished him happy birthday, while Hollis put a drink in his hand and clapped him on the back. Caleb and Kate were giggling so fiercely they could barely contain themselves. “Did you know about this?” Peter asked Caleb. “And what about you, Kate?” “Of course we knew!” the boy exclaimed. “You should see your face, Dad!” “Well, you’re in big trouble,” Peter said, using his cross-dad voice, though he was laughing, too.

There was food, drink, cake, even some presents, things people could make or scrounge, some of them jokes: socks, soap, a pocketknife, a deck of cards, a huge straw hat, which Peter put on so everybody could enjoy a laugh. From Sara and Hollis, a pocket compass, a reminder of their journeys together, though Hollis also slipped him a small steel flask. “Dunk’s latest, something special,” he said with a wink, “and don’t ask me how I got it. I still have friends in low places.”

When the last presents had been opened, Sister Peg presented him with a large piece of paper rolled into a tube. Happy Birthday to Our Hero, it read, with the signatures—some legible, some not—of all the children in the orphanage. A lump rising in his throat, Peter put his arms around the old woman, surprising them both. “Thank you, everyone,” he said. “Thank you one and all.”

It was close to midnight when the party broke up. Caleb and Kate had fallen asleep on Sara and Hollis’s bed, the two of them piled together like a couple of puppies. Peter and Sara sat at the table while Hollis cleaned up.

“Any word from Michael?” Peter asked her.

“Not a peep.”

“Are you worried?”

She frowned sharply, then shrugged. “Michael’s Michael. I don’t get this thing with the boat, but he’s going to do what he wants to do. I sort of thought Lore might settle him down, but I guess that’s done.”

Peter felt a stab of guilt; twelve hours ago he’d been in bed with the woman. “How are things at the hospital?” he asked, hoping to change the subject.

“It’s a madhouse. They’ve got me delivering babies. Lots and lots of babies. Jenny’s my assistant.”

Sara was speaking of Gunnar Apgar’s sister, whom they’d found at the Homeland. Pregnant, Jenny had returned to Kerrville with the first batch of evacuees and arrived just in time to deliver. She’d gotten married a year ago to another Iowan, though Peter didn’t know if the man was actually the father. A lot of the time, these things were improvised.

“She’s sorry she couldn’t make it,” Sara continued. “You’re sort of a big deal to her.”

“I am?”

“To lots of people, actually. I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me if I know you.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I’m sorry, didn’t you read that poster?”

He shrugged, embarrassed, though part of him was pleased. “I’m just a carpenter. Not too good at it, either, if you want to know the truth.”

Sara laughed. “Whatever you say.”

The hour was long past curfew, but Peter knew how to avoid the patrols. Caleb’s eyes barely opened as he hoisted him onto his back and headed home. He had just tucked the boy into bed when he heard a knock on the door.

“Peter Jaxon?”

The man in the doorway was a military officer, with the epaulets of the Expeditionary on his shoulders.

“It’s late. My boy’s asleep. What can I do for you, Captain?”

He offered Peter a sealed piece of paper. “Have a good night, Mr. Jaxon.”

Peter quietly closed the door, cut the wax with his new pocketknife, and opened the message.

Mr. Jaxon:

Might I ask you to pay me a call in my office on Wednesday at 0800? Arrangements have been made with your work supervisor to excuse your late arrival at the jobsite.

Sincerely,

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