"Comfort and Joy"
“COMFORT AND JOY”
Jake Green walked home from the medical clinic. He had tended to the burial of Victor Miller, but he wasn’t satisfied. Something was wrong. He didn‘t believe Robert Hawkins, didn‘t trust him. Jake had driven Emily home, to her big empty house in the Pines, her SUV still abandoned somewhere on the road to Wichita. She had seemed okay, despite her shock at finding the refugees dead in the woods. Then he’d rigged up a generator for the Green house. Gracie had found him the generator -- it was a small one, but it wouldn’t take much to keep a few lights on at night, and his dad the Mayor needed the power for his home office during the day.
All these things he had done, but his mind was on Heather, and her house.
The Lisinski house. It had gone up like so much dry tinder, the Jericho fire department hopelessly unable to cope with all the residential fires sparked by the power surges. Eric and April were hit too, Jake recalled, and many others, but he was most worried about Heather.
It was the first time he had seen her vulnerable. She’d stood there, watching, not quite in tears, but brimming with them. He’d taken her hand, held it tightly, and she’d tried to return a smile, without much success.. There was no time to rescue any belongings, nor was there anybody at home to save. Her father had been busy tending to the sick and the dead in Jericho, and still was. Her mother had flown to L.A. to visit Heather’s younger sister at college just before the attacks occurred, and there had been no word from them. Jake strongly suspected that there was no more L.A. for any word to come from.
There was no boyfriend in her life, at least none of which Jake was ever aware. She had no other siblings. Except for her father, the Reverend -- a man of few words, austere, not at all like his daughter, yet desperately needed in town at the moment -- Heather was alone, and Jake was worried about that.
Emily had offered to take Heather in until she could sort things out. They’re probably together by now, Jake thought, the only two women in town, or the world, whatever was left of it, that really mattered to him -- not counting his Mom, of course. The thought disquieted him -- he hoped Emily was safe in that huge, isolated house of hers, with her fiancé still missing -- but after the incident at the Richmond ranch, he had decided Emily was able to take care of herself, and Heather, too.
He was walking up the stairs, having finally finished working on the generator, when he heard the car door close, and then a gentle knock at the front door.
It was Heather.
“Hey,” she said, tentatively.
“Hey.” Their usual exchange.
She was trying to act nonchalant, but Jake knew she wasn’t. There was an awkward silence before he finally said, “Come on in.”
Heather sat down on the couch. Jake sat down beside her, concerned. He hadn’t seen her like this, not during the house fire today, not even when he’d had to leave her behind at the mine, to rescue Emily. She was pale and nervous. This wasn’t the Heather Lisinski he knew -- strong, silent, in control.
It took her a minute to find the words. “Emily and I…we talked about you,” she started, and Jake immediately wondered what Emily had said. “She knew what I wanted to do, but I thought I should talk to her about it, since after all, you two…” Her voice trailed off. She didn’t want to talk about that.
“There’s not much left of my house. I found this,” she said, as she fingered a Jericho High School ring that had managed to survive the fire. Was it hers, or her sister’s? Jake didn’t know. She clutched it closely to her. “I keep thinking of all those…people we found in the woods. And my sister, Jennie…”
She looked at the ring. Jake gently placed his hand over hers.
When she looked at him again, her eyes were wet, and her voice was filled with emotion: sadness, heartbreak, longing, and all the feelings she had for him that were still unspoken, except in her heart.
“Oh, my God, Jake…”
And in that moment, the last walls fell. Jake put his arms around her, and she cried softly, her face against his chest, muffling her words.
“It’s finally getting to me,” she sobbed. “All the people, all those places…gone. Now my home is gone, too. Jennie’s in L.A.” She stopped herself, and looked up at him, horrified. “She was in L.A. My mother was there, too. I don’t know if L.A. is still there. All of my friends from teacher’s college. They were all over the country. How many of them? How many were…”
Jake felt her rising panic. He wished he had the answers. “Heather, it‘s…”
“How much of the country is left? Are we ever going to get the electricity back on? The phones? Television? Even a radio? And if we can’t, what are we going to do?”
She wiped her face, makeup running from her tears. She felt and looked like a mess. Jake was not bothered.. So she isn’t Supergirl after all, he thought, she‘s real. He put a hand on her shoulder.
“Heather, you’re strong -- stronger than you think. I’ve been watching you.” In more ways than one, he smiled to himself. He thought of the smiles, the looks she had given him, so many times. And he recalled what he had seen on the school bus on that first, awful night, and had heard about her actions in the mine. “You’re making a difference. Helping people. Holding things together.”
She looked down, barely hearing his words, not believing them. She knew better, or thought she did. She was barely holding herself together.
Jake took her face in his hands and spoke to her softly, trying to get through.
“They’ll find Jennie, if she‘s still alive. Your mother, too. If they’re not…there‘s nothing anyone can do for them now.” It was true. “Hang on, Heather. Just hang on. Please. We need you. I need you.”
The last words caught Jake almost as much by surprise as they did Heather. He hadn’t meant to say it, but there it was, and it was true. It emboldened her.
“I need you too, Jake.” There, she’d finally admitted it. It wasn’t everything, but it was enough. It gave her the courage to ask him what she needed to ask. “I told Emily I was coming here. Would it be all right if…if I stay here tonight. Just for tonight. I can drive back to Emily’s house in the morning.”
“The whole damn town will be talking about it in the morning,” Jake deadpanned. “The minister’s daughter, sleeping over with the prodigal son.”
Heather gave him a teary smile. For a moment, he thought she might even laugh. She was coming around. Jake felt relieved. He realized she was sweet on him, and truth be told, he was sweet on her, too, despite his feelings for Emily. Damn those feelings, he thought. He wasn’t about to turn Heather away.
“We haven’t got our usual extra bedroom. I’m in it,” Jake said. “But you can have the bedroom. It’s upstairs. I’ll sleep down here on the couch.” He got up, meaning to grab some extra bed sheets.
“Um…that might not be…absolutely necessary,” Heather said, quietly.
She found that she had stopped whatever Jake had planned to say next..
Carefully, she reached for the right words, afraid of scaring him away, of seeming too forward, too brazen. Heather the hussy, as her father had once called her, quite incorrectly.
“I need to…be with you tonight, Jake. I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to sleep alone -- I’m not sure that I could.” Her voice grew softer. “Emily is a friend…always a friend, but tonight is different. I want to be with you.”
Jake couldn’t say a word. To her, his silence seemed almost endless.
“Look, maybe you could just…hold me for a while.” God, she prayed she hadn’t crossed the line. He’d already been holding her, so that wasn’t much of a stretch. And she desperately needed to be held. By him. Tonight, and forever, if there was any kind of future.
“We wouldn’t have to do anything…”
“I mean, I’m not trying to…”
“I wouldn’t want you to think that I was a…”
“Heather…“ Jake smiled. “It’s okay.”
That finally disarmed her. She paused for a moment.
“Jake…” She faltered, looking down. “I’m so alone.”
Jake took her hands in his. ”No, you’re not.”
Heather smiled at him, a smile that could have melted the Polar Ice Caps..
And with that settled, the truth told, the boundaries laid, the smile engaged, Jake leaned over and kissed her -- a long, slow kiss she’d wanted for a long time. Not only because he wanted to -- he did -- but also because he thought she needed it.
And, truth be told, after the events of the past four days, he did, too.
* * * * * * * * * *
Heather changed into some nightclothes she’d brought with her just in case he said yes. The outfit was feminine enough -- a soft, pink, cotton number -- but didn’t reveal any skin. Jake thought it was just the sort of thing a minister’s daughter would wear to bed. The innocence of it made him grin. Had Emily given her this? If she had, it was like the punch line to a very old joke.
She sat down on the bed. Jake sat down beside her again, his arm around her shoulders. His grin was still evident. Heather seemed thoughtful.
She looked at him. “Yes…no. I don’t know. I‘m scared.” She gathered herself. “I’ve been scared all day, but I’m better now that I’m here with you.”
“You said…hold you for a while?”
“Please,” she asked, in a whisper.
Jake leaned her back upon the bed, covers pulled back, his arm still around her, and turned out the lights, now that he had them working again.. Heather snuggled comfortably into him, surprising Jake with the gentleness of her embrace. Emily had always been aggressive in bed, rough and tumble, on and gone. This was…she was different.
“Mmm,” Heather murmured agreeably.
“Yes.” She had dreamed of it since the day she met him.
They held each other for a long while, neither of them making a sound. Jake pressed her softness and warmth against him like a calm against the storm, drawing strength from her quiet nearness. Heather finally broke the silence.
“Jake…who do you think did this to us?”
“I don’t know. Nobody does. Not yet, anyway. Hawkins knows something. I saw him talking to Victor Miller. The refugee from Denver. They knew each other, somehow.”
“Something’s not right. I helped bury Victor. Hawkins wasn’t even there. He knows that I know something. I’ve got to be careful with him from now on.”
There was another long pause before Heather spoke.
“My father…he’s been having a…crisis of faith, I guess. He thinks that God did this to us…or at least allowed it to happen.” The thought seemed to trouble her. She looked up at Jake in the shadows, the blue moonlight streaming through the bedroom window. “Jake, do you think God did this?”
Jake wasn’t particularly religious. He thought about it for a minute.
“Heather…you and your father know more about all this than I do. I don’t have the upbringing or the training or the background. You know that.”
“But whatever happened, God didn’t do this. We did it -- to ourselves. People did it. We have a free will, and someone decided to use it for this. Whoever, whatever God is, he’s still up there, watching, weeping maybe, I don’t know. But tell your father, God didn’t do it.”
Heather held him closer. “I believe that too. You know more about it than you think.” She smiled again -- a big smile this time. It warmed him. She laid her head on his chest, tightened her arms around him, and dropped her words to a whisper.
“Don’t ever let go of me, Jake. I feel so safe with you.”
Jake recalled what Emily had said to him about that, and it bothered him. He didn’t want to think about Emily. Not now.
He didn’t answer. He couldn’t find the words, and in the end, he didn’t need them. He pulled the covers over them, brought her lips to his and kissed her again, more passionately this time, having finally decided that whatever had happened to the world, this girl was one of the wonderful things still left in it.
Exhausted, they melted into each other, and sleep came.
* * * * * * * * * *
He didn’t take her that night, although he wanted to, and perhaps could have. He didn’t recall that Heather had been unpopular in school, although she had told him so, or that she had only recently budded from the awkward girl everyone in town had known for years into a smart, attractive young woman.
He would have been her first, though he didn’t know it.
He might still be.
But this wasn’t the time. There would be another night for that, and Jake realized it. He glanced at the sleeping girl, her brown hair hopelessly tousled, and allowed himself the luxury of stroking her hair, gently, not wanting to rouse her from the first sleep she’d had since the bombs fell.
For the first time he thought to himself, she‘s beautiful. Even more so than Emily, he decided, in a girl-next-door kind of way. And she needed him. No one else in Jericho, not even his own family (except his Mom) and certainly not Emily, had needed him for a very long time. It sustained him, nourished him, gave him hope in a world that desperately needed it.
How had he not noticed any of this before?
It has only been four days, he reminded himself for the thousandth time.
And he needed her. She had helped him with so many things. He couldn’t imagine her not being there. What was the line from that old movie -- he’d gotten accustomed to her face? Was that from West Side Story? He couldn’t remember. It didn’t matter. It had become so much more than that.
What mattered was that he’d been able to comfort her, and she’d brought him joy simply by being there, by needing him -- loving him? He would have to try to sort out her feelings, later. Had Emily ever really loved him? She was never anything…anyone like this.
Jake realized he couldn’t have stopped the Lisinski house from burning. He couldn’t have stopped the bombs and the fallout and the radioactive rain, but by God, he swore, he was going to protect this kind and sweet girl from whatever came next…no matter how terrible or deadly.
Heather let out a soft sigh in her sleep. Jake continued to watch her.
Comfort, and joy, in the face of the apocalypse, was no small thing.
Everything else could wait until morning.
Labels: jericho fan fiction