The early morning sun shot through the cracks in the blinds on her bedroom window and jolted her awake.
For a moment, she struggled to get her bearings. Then, as the sunlight burned through the fog in her brain, she realized she had overslept.
WTF! Why hadn’t her alarm gone off? She reached for her phone and pressed the on button. “6:37 AM" flashed up. Crap! She had missed her bus.
“Mom!” she yelled, sitting up in bed. “Why didn’t you wake me up?!”
“Mom!!” she yelled, even louder.
“We’re downstairs, honey.”
Holy crap! Why wouldn’t her mom have woken her up? Now she’d need to find a ride to school and wouldn’t have time to shower and do her hair. And today was Picture Day. Damn! Now she imagined always being known as the girl with bed head and sheet marks on her face.
She threw off her covers and stalked down the hallway to the top of the stairs. Her mom and dad were in the family room below, and the TV was on.
Everything seemed strange. For starters, her dad was usually gone by now. And the TV was never on in the morning. In fact, they hardly watched TV at all any more. Why would they? They all had tablets.
But now her parents were watching the news, her mom sitting on the sofa, her dad pacing around the room.
"What's going on?" she asked, stomping her way down the stairs.
"The internet's down," her dad said testily. He stopped pacing and looked down at the dining room table. His tablet was open there. He hunched over it and, with his middle finger, started tapping the screen. Then he stopped, put his hands palms down on the table, lowered his head, closed his eyes and mumbled something under his breath.
"What?" the girl asked curtly. Her tone did nothing to relieve the tension.
“I mean,” said her dad, “the internet’s down, all over the world.”
"WTF!" she blurted out, drawing stares from both of her parents.
"Sorry," she said.
“It’s OK, sweetie,” her mom said, patting the sofa. “Come over here and sit down for a minute."
“You mean it’s not working at all?” the girl asked, sitting down next to her mom.
“That’s right,” her mom said. “I know it’s hard to believe.”
“How did this happen?”
"Nobody knows," her dad replied. "Maybe a virus. But until somebody figures it out, we're all offline."
"And it means you won't be going to school today," her mom added. "The President has just declared a state of emergency. We’re all staying put.”
"What a bunch of crap," her dad said, sounding disgusted. “What an overreaction. It’s only going to make things worse.”
"I don't know," her mom said. "Everything that depends on computers, it's all down."
"And so now we're supposed to be prisoners in our own homes?" he snapped back.
"It’s only for a little while," she said coolly.
"Really? How do you know that?" he fired back.
And so her parents continued, arguing, not out of a lack of affection, but out of fear, fear of the unknown or at least a world they had not known for a long time.
And the girl sat there, listening. She too was anxious. A day without going online? Talk about being out of your comfort zone.
But then, listening to her parents snipe at each other, sitting with them in the family room, a place they seldom gathered these days, at a time of the day they were never together anymore, she grew even more uneasy because she realized just how disconnected they had all become. Everything felt so strange not just because of a global crisis that morning, but because, at some point, they had all lost touch with each other.
Eventually, her parents stopped arguing. Her mom stared blankly past her at the TV, and her dad sat down in his favorite recliner. His hands gripped the well-worn, soft leather arms, as if he were trying to steady himself.
Then she caught a glimpse of a picture on the mantle, just over her dad’s head. It was a photo of the three of them standing on the shore of Lake Michigan, the sun rising behind them. The girl was nestled between her parents, her little arms holding them tight. She looked so small, and they all looked so happy.
It was her favorite vacation. She remembered walking to the store with her mom for groceries. She remembered sitting next to her dad in a rowboat, as he patiently showed her how to pull her oar in sync with his. She remembered eating breakfast with her parents in the kitchen of the musty, wooden house they rented on the lake.
Then she stood up, grabbed the remote and turned off the TV.
“Hey!” her dad yelled. “Why’d you do that?”
“There’s no more news, Dad,” she said. “And there won’t be until the internet gets fixed.”
"So what are we going to do now?" he asked.
Coming from him, the man who always had a plan, the question seemed absurd. But she gathered herself and answered.
“Let’s have breakfast.”
“What?” he replied, looking puzzled.
“Yes,” her mom joined in, also rising to her feet. “I’ll make pancakes.”
The girl looked at her dad and smiled.
“Daddy, let’s have breakfast.”
He looked at his daughter and then at his wife. He looked at the faces of the two people who meant the most to him in the world. And suddenly all fear left him, and every trace of concern fell away from his face.
“OK,” he said, standing up.
And the three of them went into the kitchen, where they made pancakes and ate together, as they used to, caring not about the time or the news and looking not at devices, but one another.
Don Tassone lives in Loveland, Ohio and teaches public relations at Xavier University. His latest stories have appeared in the Olentangy Review, TWJ Magazine, Red Fez, Five 2 One Magazine and Ray’s Road Review.