Shucking corn all day -- even just for one day -- was hard work. Harder than Jake had expected. Last night he had come home tired and achy.
He was asleep on the couch, or thought he was, when he felt a closeness, a scent of perfume that he recognized, a few locks of hair dangling at his cheeks.
“Jake,“ Heather said softly, about an inch away from his face. “It’s lonely upstairs. I thought you might like some company.” She was right about that.. Jake smiled. This was an extremely pleasant way to wake up, even if it was in the middle of the night.
The couch was too narrow for both of them, so Heather gently slid on top of him. Woman on top, he thought, thinking of some silly cable TV show he had wandered across one night, back when there was still television to watch.
She snuggled in, her arms around him, her head on his chest, the sweet fragrance of her hair in his nostrils, and the weight of her body pressed against his. Jake found himself suddenly aroused, but he was not going to do anything about that now. Not on the couch with the family upstairs, he mused reluctantly. Heather‘s considerable charms continued to work their combined magic on him.
He thought back to yesterday. They had harvested enough corn from Stanley’s farm, the biggest in Jericho, to feed most of the town for a while. He remembered the look Heather had given him. He’d seen her a few corn rows away, hard at work, stopping only when her eyes met his, and he’d waved at her, just a little wiggle-his-fingers sort of hello, and she had done the same thing back, smiled that irresistible smile of hers, and then looked down, shyly, shaking her head. Jake thought he could read her mind.
You silly girl. You’ve got a crush on him.
It was precisely what she’d been thinking.
The warmth and closeness was making both of them drowsy. Jake stroked Heather’s head, almost absent-mindedly. She was quiet, slipping back into slumber. Morning can wait for a few more hours, he thought, as the two of them drifted back to sleep in each other’s arms.
* * * * * * * * * *
When morning finally came, there was an attempt at breakfast. The Richmond ranch had its fringe benefits, and some of them had come home to Gail Green’s household. Potatoes, eggs, some milk -- not pasteurized, homogenized, or sanitized, just straight from the cow -- and an unopened can of orange juice someone had found on a back shelf at Gracie’s supermarket. It wasn’t exactly Bob Evans, but it was the best thing anyone at the table had tasted in days, thanks in part to Jake’s mom.
All the things we took for granted back then, Jake thought. “Back then” was becoming a tangible thing to him -- the world before the bombs, before everything had changed, stopped cold. He looked at Heather, determined never to take her for granted.
“We did our bit for God and country yesterday,” Jake decided. “This morning, perhaps we should do something for ourselves.” He knew what he felt like doing -- Heather’s sweet closeness still lingered with him from last night -- but he’d already decided that wasn’t happening this morning.
“I think we should go visit Emily,” Heather offered. “She seemed nervous yesterday, and I think she’d really like to see you.”
Jake was hardly immune to that suggestion.
* * * * * * * * * *
They pulled up to the Pines in Heather‘s car. Emily’s house wasn’t as spectacular as that of Skylar Stevens -- this was a house, after all, not an estate -- but Jake could see how it could have been a cozy and comfortable love nest, except that Emily’s fiance Roger was missing, and most of the furniture with him.
Jake was about to ring the doorbell when he realized that there was no electricity. He knocked.
“Hello, Jake,” Emily said a moment later. She sort of half-smiled at Heather. They were friends, but Emily was uncomfortable to see her in Jake’s company -- particularly now, when the fate of her own fiance was uncertain. His plane had apparently landed safely somewhere north of Kansas, but whether he was truly still alive -- and whether or not he would ever make it to Jericho -- were questions for which she had no answers, no comfort. She felt alone, because she was alone. Achingly alone.
Jake and Heather stepped into a living room full of boxes, some half open, others untouched, and barely enough furniture to get by. “I’ve been sleeping on the couch,” said Emily. Jake wanted to tell her she wasn’t alone in that, but remembered Heather‘s presence and the night before, and decided not to.
“The beds never arrived, they probably never will, now,” she fretted. “Most of the drawers and the upstairs rooms are empty. At least my clothes are here.” Emily looked around at a half-completed home life that was probably going to remain that way. “Roger was supposed to take care of all this,” she sighed, sounding vulnerable.
Jake knew that tone in her voice, and reacted to it. “Are you sure you’re okay up here? You might be better off in town with the rest of us.”
“No, no, I’m fine,” Emily dismissed him. “Stanley and Bonnie came up yesterday with groceries and some stuff from the farm.” She threw a glance at Heather, wanting to say something since she’d been with them in their brief visit yesterday, but that might bring more discussion of Heather living with Jake‘s family, and she didn’t want to hear about that again.
“I’m going to need a vehicle so I can get back and forth to town,” she sighed. “I don’t know what to do about that. Most of the cars are out of service. And the gas supplies are so low.”
Even the Richmonds were starting to run out of fuel. “I don’t know what to do about the gasoline situation,” said Jake, “but they’ve been retrofitting some of the older cars in town to get them to work, and so far that’s been working fine. Just a matter of replacing the solenoids, fuses, and some wiring.”
“Did a ‘75 Pinto yesterday,” Heather chimed in, cheerily.
Emily couldn’t think of anything she wanted to drive less.
She felt tired, hopeless. Nothing had worked out as she’d planned. Roger was gone, possibly dead, her house half empty, her life incomplete without him. She sat down on the stairs. Jake took a hard look at her -- he’d seen her like this before. Emily looked back. Something stirred in him.
“Heather, give us a minute,” he said, gently but firmly.
His request startled Heather for a moment, then she decided she should take his advice. “I’ll be in the car,” she said uncomfortably, not wanting to leave Jake alone with Emily, but not seeing any other option. She quietly walked out, flustered. The front door gently clicked shut behind her.
Jake sat down beside Emily on the stairs.
“You’re not okay,” he said, knowingly.
Emily looked at him. She was almost a cauldron.
“Damn it, Jake,” she said, half angry, half crying.
She held herself and rocked. Jake laid his hand on her shoulder, but didn’t put his arm around her. He wasn’t certain enough of their relationship for that. His uncertainty was well-founded.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen. This wasn’t supposed to happen,” she said, as if she could have stopped the bombs from falling. “We had it all planned. Me and Roger, here, in this house, our life -- our life together…or it should have been…”
“Em, you heard the tape from the flight recorder. It looks like he made it. He’s alive.”
“He could be five hundred miles from here,” Emily threw back at him. “We don’t know exactly where his plane landed. He could be in South Dakota, for all we know. How is he going to make it here to Jericho, if he even thinks I’m still alive? There’s no cars, no gas, no country, as we knew it.. What the hell is he going to do? Walk?”
She exaggerated, a little, but Jake tried to address her genuine emotion.. “He loves you, Em. If he can, he’ll find a way.”
“If he can,” Emily repeated with a touch of sarcasm, not believing even with Roger that this was a possibility. “God, I can’t believe this has happened to me.”
Emily hasn’t changed, Jake thought. It’s the end of the world as we know it, and everything is still all about her.
Jake lifted his hand from her shoulder. This was the opposite of the talk he’d had with Heather on the night her house had burned to the ground. She’d had it worse than Emily, and he’d wanted to comfort her, because Heather had been vulnerable, needed him. What Emily needed was a reality check.
“Em, you’re just going to have to deal with it,” said Jake with a curious lack of emotion. “A lot of people are worse off than you. You have a roof over your head, you have food, you have friends who care about you. I know a few people who lost it all.“ He didn’t mention Heather.
“If I add it up right, there are about fifty million dead people out there.” Emily hadn’t heard the number before. “You’re not one of them. Neither is Roger, as far as we know. That’s a start. You’re one of the survivors, for whatever that‘s worth.”
Jake raised his voice a notch.
“Sitting there feeling sorry for yourself isn’t going to accomplish one damn thing. It’s not going to bring Roger here. It’s not going to fill the empty rooms in this house -- or the empty place in your soul.”
The last words caught Emily by surprise. She looked up, expecting compassion, but Jake was cold steel -- the man he had been in the five years he‘d been g6ne.
“When you’re ready to join the real world, the new world,” he said as he headed for the door, “the world that exists now, you’ll find plenty of people ready and willing to help you. You could help us, too. We need you.” He took the doorknob in his hand. “But as long as you’re living in the past, you’re of no use to anyone. Not even yourself.”
Emily stared at him in disbelief. She reached for words that never came.
“Roger may show up yet,” said Jake coolly. “I really hope he does, for your sake. But you’d better figure out what the hell you’re going to do with the rest of your life if he doesn’t.”
He didn’t see the stunned look on Emily’s face as he walked out the door.
* * * * * * * * * *
Heather waited behind the wheel of her big car, stock still but filled with emotion. She desperately wished there were a radio station on the air -- any station, anywhere, playing music that would take her to somewhere else, anywhere but this -- but she’d tried the car radio, twice, and the FM dial was as silent as death itself. The blank noise whined in the background.
She was a strong and capable young woman, but in the past week, she had developed a weakness, and her weakness was Jake.
Jake and Emily. It had been hanging over her head since yesterday, when she had come here with Stanley and Bonnie and seen Emily distressed, needing Jake, and now her worst fears were being realized in the house just a few feet in front of her.
They had been a big item in high school. Heather was only eleven or twelve in those days, but the stories had lingered long after. Jake, the troublemaker, and Emily, the most popular girl in town. They were the talk of Jericho. An unlikely couple, but one that many people thought would make it, until Jake had screwed up, somehow, and left town. Even now, Heather wasn’t sure what he had done -- she’d heard the stories, not really believing them -- but she knew that it had cost him his relationship with Emily, who had never truly forgiven him, as well as his place and his respect in Jericho.
And now they were reconciling, she figured. She saw them in her mind, Jake comforting Emily, just as he’d done with her two nights ago. Was he holding Emily, telling her that he needed her, kissing her? By now, maybe it was more than a kiss…
The thought unnerved Heather. She cared for Jake. She needed him. She’d thought she had won him -- without even trying! -- just by being there for him. And he had been there for her. Now…this. She felt like a sixteen-year-old with a crush who had just been handed a hard dose of reality, the girl she had been in high school -- junior high school. Unpopular, unwanted. The geek-girl who couldn’t get a date.
The memories of those years welled up in her, and began to burn her careful self-confidence like a bonfire.
You silly girl, she thought, for the second time in as many days. You’re in love with him, and you’ve as much as told him so, and now here he is, going back to the one girl he really loves, the girl he always loved, the only girl…
Old flames never really die, she decided.
You never had a chance, Heather chided herself, tearfully. Or maybe you did, and you spoiled it somehow. Maybe you tried too hard, went too far too fast. She thought of this morning, and the morning before, holding him close…maybe she should have left him alone, given him space, not intruded. Maybe, despite all they had been through together, he simply felt sorry for her, and was just being…friendly?
Suddenly, she hated the word.
It pierced to the core of her, the one place where she was truly vulnerable, and Heather was harder on herself than anyone else ever would have been. She’s prettier than you, she’s better than you, she told herself, sobbing, finally losing her composure. You weren’t enough woman for Jake Green.
The tears ran down her cheeks. Maybe you should stick to your mechanical contraptions, she cried, fixing cars and fan belts and television sets. They’re about all you have left.
Heather wept, bitterly, alone.
Her tears would have continued, perhaps in a torrent, but at that moment Jake came out of Emily’s house and walked toward the car. Heather quickly composed herself as best she could. She didn’t want him to see her like this. She grabbed a tissue and began dabbling at her face.
By the time Jake got in the car, she looked a little more like herself.
“Hey,” he said. “You ready to go?”
Heather nodded. She wasn’t in much shape to say anything to him. Jake saw her obvious emotion and the tender redness of her eyes.
She gathered her words, and made the best speech she could under the circumstances.
“Jake…look…if you and Emily are getting back together, if you need each other, I…I’m not going to stand in your way.” It almost broke her.
Heather forced herself to continue, staring at the dashboard, for once not wanting to look in his eyes. “I know you and Emily go back a long time, long before you and I ever met, and I know you still have feelings for each other, and the world has changed so much, and I…”
“Roger’s probably dead. Emily’s alone. She needs you. I saw it yesterday when I was here.” She squeezed the words out of her as if they were the last drops of life’s blood from her heart. “I have no right to be with you, Jake. If you…if you two are…”
She couldn’t go on. She felt as if a part of her was empty, gone. Road closed. Dead end.
Jake took her hand.
He’s going to tell me about him and Emily, thought Heather, starting to cry again. She didn’t want to hear it. She wanted to be anywhere but here with him, and that was a first. She braced herself for what she knew would be the worst thing, the one thing in the world she didn’t want to hear.
But that wasn’t what she heard.
“Heather,“ Jake said softly, “Emily and I are not getting back together.” He paused. “I just tried to comfort her. She wouldn’t even accept that from me, let alone anything else.”
Heather was still looking down, her eyes moist, but suddenly hopeful.
“Her thoughts are all about Roger,” Jake said. “I tried to tell her she’d better be prepared in case he’s dead or never makes it to Jericho, but I don‘t know if I got through. I’m worried about her, but we’re just…old friends. She’s not…we’re not an item, if that‘s what you‘re thinking.”
Jake came to a sudden realization. “Is that what you thought was going on in there?”
Heather nodded, dumbly.
Jake couldn’t help but grin. “Well, I essentially told her to get over it,” he said. “She’s living in the past and we need her here, in the present. I think she needs to get out of that big house and come back home to Jericho. But the next step is up to her.”
He touched her face. “And us…”
Dear God, Heather prayed, please let it be.
“I thought you knew how I felt about you,” he said. “After all we’ve been through in the past six days and nights…”
Both of them were thinking of those nights.
She finally looked up at him, her eyes wide.
“I want you with me -- now and always, Heather.” He lost himself for a minute. “I can’t imagine any kind of life without you. That’s why I wanted you to come live with us. I care about you, damn it. I need you.”
She choked with emotion, but tried to say it.
“Jake, you have to know by now that I’m in…”
He stopped her words with a kiss. Her lips met his in blissful relief. She hadn‘t lost him. Not at all. Thank God.
The kiss went on for a while, long and real and passionate, until they were interrupted by a burst of static on the car radio. Heather had left it turned on. “Were you listening to something?” Jake asked her, suddenly intense. “Did you hear anything?”
“Not a sound,” Heather replied. “I couldn’t find an FM station anywhere.”
“Did you try the AM radio?”
“Who listens to AM radio any more?”
Jake flipped the selector to “AM” and started tuning around. The radios had been dead for weeks, ever since the EMP, but somehow her old car radio was still working. Must be the tubes, he thought. He looked for a signal, any signal. Surely one of the big, 50,000-watt stations in Colorado -- no, scratch that. Denver was gone. Nebraska, perhaps, or Oklahoma, or even Topeka or Wichita, which were still intact. Somebody had to be broadcasting, damn it. He kept searching for a station that was still on the air.
He found one.
“…the Emergency Alert System. We repeat. This is radio station KRVN in Lexington, Nebraska, operating under the Emergency Alert System. This is an Emergency Action Notification. This station has interrupted its regular programming at the request of the White House. All normal programming has been discontinued. Do not use your telephone. The telephone lines should be kept open for emergency use. Important instructions will follow.”
Jake and Heather shared a look. It was the first official word they’d had since the one they’d seen in Bailey’s Tavern, the podium where no one had ever appeared. They listened as the radio crackled and another voice came over the air -- not the President, but a voice they recognized, someone they must have heard on television -- perhaps a Cabinet member who had survived, but they weren’t sure who it was.
“…due to the present national emergency, the constitutional government of the United States has been suspended. All citizens shall consider themselves to be under the legal jurisdiction of their state and local governments, or any other legally mandated governing authority which has survived the attacks on our nation. All of our government and military personnel in other countries are being recalled. All active members of the United States Armed Forces, the Navy and its associated branches, the Air Force, the National Guard, and all other military units, are hereby ordered to report to their local district commanders, or to their state and local authorities, and to take orders from them directly. Let me repeat: the constitutional government of the United States has been suspended…”
Jake and Heather continued to look at each other, horrified, as the known but unknown voice went on, shattering the world they had known.
He saw the fear in her eyes, and again he took her hand. She grasped it tightly, trembling.
They really were on their own, now.
Labels: jericho fan fiction