Emma was just refilling her glass with juice, being careful not to spill any on herself since she'd have to explain to her family why she suddenly ran out of the brunch they were enjoying. Being a mermaid was amazing, but it did make every day life a little more stressful.
Although to be honest, she was starting to get tired of all the lies. Her parents had mostly stopped asking her why she quit swimming so suddenly, but it still created space between them all that hadn't been there before. She hated keeping it from them, but Cleo and Rikki were right. It was too big. It was better for them to keep it a secret for now. Maybe when she was off to university she'd tell them. That way she could give them some time to come to terms with their daughter not being fully human any more.
"Could you pass me the juice there, love?" Her mom's voice broke through her thoughts and she handed the jug over with a smile. Emma loved their end of summer brunch tradition. They were seated on the back porch of their home, and a gentle breeze was coming off the water. Their view of the river was lovely, and it was a perfect spot to jump in for a swim. With only a few twists, she could be out to the ocean in just ten minutes.
Eventually the ability to come up with new conversation starters had disappeared along with the food. They'd already talked about their individual plans for the year. She was going to start looking into colleges she might like to go to, Elliot was planning on continuing his horse riding lessons, her mother was planning on taking on a job as a junior lifeguard trainer, and her father was going to take more golf lessons so that he could finally beat Harrison Bennett.
Before spending so much time with Rikki and Cleo, Emma had really taken for granted her family but now she knew how lucky she was to have them all. When she was younger she'd never believed the complaints from her classmates about their various family issues. After all, it wasn't that difficult to get along as a family for the Gilberts, so she'd assumed everyone else was just whining about nothing. Two years of friendship with Rikki and Cleo had shown her differently.
"So about the schools you'll be looking into," her dad Neil began, "have you given any thought to what you'd like to study? You know finance is always a great career to get into!" He gave her a wink to let her know he was mostly joking. He knew she wasn't exactly interested in it.
Emma shrugged, "Honestly, I'm not sure. Maybe I'll just start with the required classes and see what I like best."
"That's a great idea." Her mother Lisa nodded. "There's no rush to jump into anything. You want to be sure it's what you really want to do with your life."
The mermaid smiled and turned to Elliot. He was a little quiet, not entirely happy that she was going to be moving away in the next year, and sulking because of the reminder. "What do you think? What should I study?"
The younger boy shrugged and was about to answer when a ringing caught their attention. Neil winced at the look his wife gave him for having his phone at the table, but nodded to let him know he may as well answer it. Checking the caller ID he flipped it open.
"Good morning, Harrison. I'm afraid I can't talk too long at the moment. We're having brunch at-"
Loud enough that the whole table could all hear him shouting was Harrison Bennetts voice coming through the phone. Emma froze in place, before slowly lowering the muffin she was about to take a bite off to rest back on her plate.
"Listen to me Neil! It's an emergency!" In the background they could hear shouting and some screams. "Candy and I are trapped in the mall in one of the stores! There are-" There was a loud crash, and they heard more yelling and running footsteps before, a little short of breath, Harrison spoke again. "Damn, they're stronger than they look!"
"Harrison, I'll phone the police, just tell me which store-" Neil was cut off again
"Don't bother, they've already been here and it didn't stop them. Listen to me. We're not going to get out of here." In the background they could hear Candy's soft sobs. "But it sounds like it hasn't gotten to you yet."
"What hasn't? Harrison, what's going on?" Neil was standing at this point and Emma slowly got to her feet as well.
"It's bloody zombies, Neil!" Harrison's voice became garbled for a moment as they moved. "Came out of nowhere, they did! Just started attacking people! We're holed up in the back of this store. We're going to try and make a run for it. You and your family should get out now before it's too late."
"Be careful Harrison. Don't take any stupid risks. If you can, just sit and wait for help!"
Zane's father laughed softly, "You know how I like risks, Neil. Do me a favor? Zane went off this morning to fish. He's probably still out on the water. I can't reach him. Can you try and get a hold of him for me? Tell him I said he should try and meet up with your family. He's not to come looking for me."
Emma felt cold. Harrison was not a man she's known to exaggerate things. If he thought it was bad enough that they needed to leave, then they should get moving. She glanced over at her mother and saw lines creasing Lisa's face as she gripped her napkin tightly.
"I'll tell him where to meet us and keep him safe, you have my word." Neil's grip on the phone left his fingers white.
"Thank you," Harrison breathed out a sigh. "Best of luck. I'll call again when we're in a safer spot than this." Without further ado he hung up. Neil held the phone to his ear for another minute, still processing what he'd been told. Eventually he closed the phone and turned back to his wife and children.
Everyone was quiet for a moment before Neil took a deep breath and nodded to himself. "Right, you lot go pack. Just some clothes and one or two important items. We're going to leave as soon as we can. I need to make some calls." He shared a look with Lisa then walked into the house to his office to start checking on a few family and friends.
"Where are we going to go?" Elliott's quiet question got the rest of them moving. Emma reached over and gave his shoulder a squeeze.
Lisa stood then and nodded to them both. "We'll take a trip up to Grandma Gilbert's home until everything settles down. Now come on, leave the dishes this once and go pack. Your father won't take long." Ushering them inside to their rooms she hurried to her own to start packing for herself and Neil. It was only once she was alone filling a small bag with clothing that she let the worry show on her face.
Meanwhile, Emma was packing as fast as she could. If she could get done before the rest of her family she could take the time to call Cleo and Rikki, or even Ash. Either way, she could call them once they were on the road. But from the sounds of things, the sooner she called the better.