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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Hard Feelings

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This isn't quite the tale I'd started out to tell, a Christmas story with Jake and Heather under the mistletoe. That scene still exists, but a lot follows it. In a different setting, this might have been a revisiting of the events at the end of episode eleven, but since we don't yet know the outcome of those events, that seemed a bit premature. So, here’s the tale as I tell it in my alternate "Jericho" universe. I hoped to write Emily more sympathetically, and I think I have, but she also gets something she deserves.

DISCLAIMER: “Jericho” and all characters, trademarks, and storylines associated with the program are the intellectual property of Junction Entertainment, Fixed Mark Productions, CBS Paramount Television and/or CBS Studios, Inc. The following story is a work of fan fiction intended solely for the entertainment of the writer and a small circle of friends. No infringement of copyright is intended or should be implied. If anyone at CBS happens to read this, please permit me this brief sojourn in your sandbox. Thanks. Clarke


Two weeks had passed at Jericho Medical, and Jake Green was nearly himself again. The physical therapy had helped, and so had Heather, who had hardly left his side.

April had watched as she’d tended to him, walking him up and down the halls of the clinic to bring his strength back, supporting his weight with hers, bringing him whatever he wanted, helping him get to the bathroom when he needed to, hours upon hours upon endless hours.

She thought she had never seen anyone so selfless.

Quite a woman you’ve got there, Jake, she smiled to herself, unknowingly echoing the thoughts of his mother. And it wasn’t lost on April how they looked at each other. Heather, in particular, had been all smiles and encouragement around Jake, and April thought it had played a major part in his recovery.

His wound was healing -- no infection, thank God, for there were no antibiotics left in town. Jake was still in a little pain, and April cautioned him against too much physical activity, but her prognosis was that, in time, he’d be fine. That, too, had brought a big smile to Heather’s face.

It was Jake’s last scheduled day at the clinic, and Heather was helping him along the hallways as part of his daily exercise regimen. He needed only the slightest support from her to steady his footsteps as he walked.

“You know, I can almost do this by myself,” Jake smiled at Heather. “Pretty soon, they’ll let me feed myself, too.”

“Baby food,” Heather teased him.

“Breast feeding,” Jake shot back.

That made Heather blush for a moment, but with Jake she had finally started to learn not to be self-conscious about her own modesty. They looked at each other, and laughed, and smiled.

April watched the pair making the rounds of the hallways, and thought back a decade, to when she and Eric had felt the same flush of first love.

She was glad for Jake and Heather, but it was going to be a cold holiday for her.

* * * * * * * * * *

Christmas had come and gone without much fanfare. With Jake in the hospital, and Eric with Mary instead of April, the Green house seemed empty. Johnston and Gail had waited for Heather to come home each night with the latest word on Jake's condition, even though they'd both visited him nearly every day.

They held off Christmas dinner until Jake’s homecoming, a few days past the holiday, not too long after the New Year. It was fair to say that everyone was wondering what kind of year it would be.

Stanley had taught himself a thing or two about shooting game since the Chinese food drop, and bagged a turkey the day before Jake arrived home. He donated it for his best friend. It was a good thing he had, or the Greens would have dined on rice cakes with soy sauce.

Heather roasted the turkey in the fireplace using a mechanical device of her own making, the likes of which the Greens had never seen, but it worked. She wanted the turkey to be perfectly done for Jake’s return. It was.

"I don't think anything has tasted that good in a long time," Johnston said after the meal, looking at Gail and Heather with a smile, grateful for their efforts.

“The world may not be the same," he said to everyone, "but we’ve still got a lot to be thankful for. We're alive, and we're together. We’ve got food on the table. And we have a couple of more or less new additions to our family.”

April knew they meant her, but she thought of the child within her.

Jake looked at Heather. She smiled.

“Excuse us,” she said to the others at the table. She got up and motioned to Jake, who followed.

“Come on,” Heather told him, taking him by the hand. “I want to show you something.”

She walked to the bottom of the stairs, and looked up, drawing his gaze there as well.

“You know what that is,“ Heather smiled.

“Uh-huh,” Jake threw her a half-smile. If Heather, all five feet of her, had hung it herself, she had definitely needed a ladder.

Heather looked again at the mistletoe dangling above the stairs, and without another word, put her arms around his neck, giving him a coy, girlish grin. She’s come a long way from the girl who couldn’t even look at me when I came out of the shower in a towel, Jake decided.

He bit his lower lip. “Well, I don’t think I’ve ever…properly…thanked you for saving my father’s life,” he managed.

“And I haven’t thanked you for saving mine,” she said softly.

“On the school bus? Your leg was broken, but I don’t think -- “

“No,” Heather said, looking down, “that’s not what I meant.”

When she looked up again, she was misty-eyed, sentimental.

“You saved me from a lifetime of loneliness,” she said to him.

Jake pondered that. “Somehow, I don’t think you would have spent the rest of your life alone if I hadn’t come along,” he told her.

“I do,” she replied, almost in a whisper.

Her words moved him. The two inched closer to each other. She was ready to kiss him when Jake -- out of the corner of his eye -- saw someone watching.


She quickly turned away and walked into the kitchen. Jake turned back to Heather, her arms still around his neck, her eyes questioning him.

“Heather, give me a minute.”

Jake caught her disappointed look and interrupted whatever she was going to say.

“Look…I spent years with her. She’s having a tough time. I owe her something.”

Jake gave Heather a peck on the cheek.

She sighed. It wasn’t what she wanted.

He walked away, turned back to meet her gaze, and slowly raised his index finger.

“Hold that kiss,” he smiled.

* * * * * * * * * *

Emily stood in the kitchen, emotional, looking out the window at the darkness beyond. When Jake walked in, she turned to face him, her eyes suddenly alive.

“What is going on with you two?” she asked, for once uncertain of herself.

“She hasn’t told you?” Jake replied, disbelieving. “She’s your best friend.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” she said coldly.

Jake didn’t want this discussion to turn into an argument, but he had the certain feeling that it was about to become one.

“Emily, you know she’s been living here since her house burned down -- “

“So, is that how it started? Feeling sorry for her?

Jake paused. “Maybe,” he admitted, thinking of that first night. “But it’s more than that now. It’s become so much more,” he said with conviction.

“Must be convenient for you,” Emily said bitterly. “She’s right here in your house, you don’t have to ask her out or even go pick her up, the two of you can just -- “

Jake didn’t care for her insinuation. He grabbed Emily by the shoulders. “That’s not how it is,” he intoned.

“I know how it was with us,” she said, knowingly.

Jake couldn’t deny the truth. He took a deep breath. “That was a long time ago,” he reminded her. “My God, Em, we were sixteen. This is different. Heather is the kind of girl -- “

“She’s a virgin,” Emily interrupted. “Or, she was.”

Her last words made Jake angry enough to back Emily against the wall and press the cold steel of his eyes into hers. “If that’s what she was when she came here…then she still is,” he said to her evenly, under his breath, controlling his temper.

Emily hadn’t gotten used to him being like this, the man he had been trained to be during his five years in and out of San Diego -- hard as nails. She looked down, intimidated. Jake backed off, but his anger was still evident. He paced the room for a moment, turning to look at her.

“Damn it, Emily, what the hell is the matter with you? You tell me you don't want to see Heather get hurt, and then you pull that little scene over at Bailey’s. You question what Heather and I are doing together, and at the same time, Roger's back in town, and it seems to me that you ought to -- “

“I don’t know what to do about that,” she said nervously.

Jake watched her suddenly turn vulnerable in front of him.

“My God, Jake. He walked hundreds of miles to find me. It took weeks. And it changed him. He isn’t the man I was going to marry.” Emily’s defenses were crumbling. “He’s seen things I never thought could happen in this world. He’s told me about a few of them,” she shuddered. “He saw too much. He’s turned cold, withdrawn, gone inside himself. I can’t seem to pull him out.”

She chose her next words carefully, honestly.

“I don’t know if the man I loved is still there.”

Jake felt a sudden sympathy for her. He reached over and took Emily’s hand, feeling the ring on her third finger. He slowly lifted it up to eye level for both of them to see.

“You need to think about this,” he said. “It means something.”

She knew Jake was right, but her emotions spoke differently.

“Maybe he just needs a little more time,” he added.

Emily looked at Jake. “My father -- he told me you weren’t responsible for Chris’s death. He said he ordered you on that job. He took responsibility.”

Jake nodded. He’d known Jonah still had integrity somewhere, buried deep in the core of him. He was certain of it after their encounter with Ravenwood.

“For five years, I held it against you…"

“Forgiven,” Jake gently interrupted. “What I told you on the day I left town was the truth. I hoped someday you’d understand.”

Emily showed the faint beginnings of a smile.

“My father told me something else,” she told him. “He said, ‘That boy still loves you.’”

Those words, coming from the mouth of Jonah Prowse? Jake couldn‘t imagine it.

Emily was becoming tender, reflective. “I didn’t tell you about the night I spent at the church. It would have been my wedding day. You came and asked me what I really wanted.”

Jake was confused. “I never came to the church.”

“It was a dream,” Emily said softly. “But in its own way…it was real.” She moved closer. “It made me realize that...even after all these years…”

Emily was only a few inches away from him.

“Do you, Jake…do you still…”

Jake looked at her. He couldn’t deny that there was still something in his heart for her…even after all these years. She was an old flame that had never quite gone out.

And yet…and yet…there was a good and sweet and kind girl standing under the mistletoe in the living room, waiting for him. Someone he cared about very deeply.

He was not going to jeopardize Heather because of Emily.

And that was that.

“Emily, don’t do this,” he gently admonished her.

“I can see it in your eyes,” she said. “There’s something…”


In an instant, she leaned up and kissed him. Jake was even more surprised than he had been on the day when Heather had stolen a kiss from him, next to her truck.

He wasn’t the only one surprised. Jake heard something fall to the floor, and he and Emily turned to see what had caused the noise. They saw a small figure standing at the entrance to the kitchen.

It was Heather.

She’d been holding something in her hands -- a gift for Jake? -- but had dropped the package when she’d seen their kiss. Her face was full of shock and betrayal.

She turned and ran.

Jake followed hard after her. “Heather, wait. It’s not what you think -- “

But she wasn’t listening. She grabbed her coat, heading for the front door. Emily finally caught up with the two of them and tried to talk to her.

“Wait a minute, Heather. I can explain -- “

She never got the chance. Heather glared at Emily, and as her emotions continued to rise, slapped her hard across her face. Emily reached for her cheek, startled.

“You hated him for five long years. You wished him dead!” Heather cried at her, all of it pouring out. “I was there that day, remember? I heard it. Well, you almost got your wish. I nearly watched him die. And where were you? At home in bed, sleeping off another drunken morning!”

Jake and Emily stood there in stunned silence. Heather tried to contain herself. The only man she had ever really loved, the man she believed had loved her back…and now it was all falling to pieces in front of her. And Emily was watching. Worse yet, Emily was responsible.

“You were my best friend,” Heather said tearfully. “How could you?”

Emily couldn’t answer.

“And you,” Heather whispered at Jake.

She looked at him, and in that moment, the two of them glimpsed in each other’s eyes their future together -- what might have been. Discarded, shredded, gone.

Heather made her decision.

“I never want to see either of you again,” she said, as calmly as she could.

Then she turned and left, slamming the front door behind her, leaving Jake and Emily to stare at each other, mouths agape, struck dumb in the wake of Heather’s tempest.

They listened as her old truck pulled away into the darkness.

* * * * * * * *

Heather drove east for a few miles, oblivious. There was nothing she needed to take with her, save for a few clothes at Jake's house, and she had no plans to go back for those. Everything else had been lost in the fire. She could start over, if she chose to.

At the edge of town, she pulled over.

"Now Leaving Jericho," the sign said. "Come Back Again."

She wasn't sure she could do either of those things.

It had to be a mistake, she thought. All the times he'd told her there was nothing going on between him and Emily, and then…

Heather tried to clear her head. She couldn't turn to Jake or Emily for the solution -- they were the problem. She felt frustrated.

Maybe, she thought, just maybe, there was somebody who would know what to do. She'd passed their place on the way out of town.

Heather turned her truck around and headed back to the eastern edge of Jericho, just ahead of the bridge that the town had defended against Ravenwood.

One way or another, she was going to get some answers.

* * * * * * * * * *

It was late, and growing cold. Heather stood on the porch and knocked on the door of the old, big house. The person on the other side was more than a little surprised to see her, particularly at that hour of the night.

“Heather?” he asked.

“Hi,” she said, a little nervously.

“To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?” he said, with a little mock courtesy, but Heather was all seriousness.

“I need to talk to you.”

He pondered that for a second or two. “Well, come in,” he said, with a sweep of his hand.

She sat down with him at the living room table.

“It’s been a while,” he observed.

“I know. Since the harvest. And last summer, when I fixed your tractor.”

“It’s still working. I owe you for that.” Stanley Richmond grew earnest. “What’s on your mind? Something wrong?”

She gave him a look.

“Jake,” he surmised.

Heather looked down.

"You’re better off without him,” a husky voice rang out from the kitchen. “He’s trouble. I knew it from the beginning. Most men are.” Mimi poked her head into the living room, glanced at Stanley, and checked herself. “Present company excepted, of course," she said to him with a smile. She wandered back into the kitchen.

Heather took an immediate dislike to her.

“Look, “ she said to Stanley, “you’re his best friend. I thought you might he able to give me some advice.”

“About what?”

“Emily,” she sighed.

Stanley gave her a knowing nod.

“I saw them kissing -- in the kitchen,” she told him.

“Was there anything in the oven?” he deadpanned.

Heather didn’t laugh or even smile. This was serious business to her, Stanley decided. He stopped his attempts at humor.

“Look, Heather,” he said, “Jake may be my best friend, but he’s been gone for five years. I don’t know everything that’s going on with him, and I sure don’t know what's happening with him and Emily. Those two were together for a long time. We’ve only had a couple of conversations...“

There was a look in Stanley’s eyes. Did he know something?

“There are a lot of things about Jake I don’t know,” he said.

Emily had said that, too. You and me both, Heather thought.

“I really thought there was something between us,” she said. “Then, when I saw the two of them like that…well, I…” Heather grew emotional. Her words trailed off.

“You in love with him?” Stanley queried.

Heather looked away from him, nodding.

“Does he know that? Have you told him?”

She pondered that for a moment. “I think he does,” she finally said. “I don’t know if I’ve said the words -- well, except on a gift that I was going to give him.” Heather suddenly remembered that the gift had fallen on the kitchen floor, still sitting there, if no one had found it.

“The next question is harder,” Stanley said. “Does he love you?”

Heather remembered Jake’s words from his hospital bed.

“I thought he did,” she said sadly. “Now…I don’t know.”

Bonnie signed something to Stanley. Heather caught the gestures. She had learned American Sign Language as part of her teaching credentials, planning to work with hearing-impaired students, but instead had returned to Jericho where she was needed.

She understood Bonnie, or believed she did.

Say that again, she thought, so I can be sure.

Stanley signed back to Bonnie, who gestured once more. This time Heather saw it all. Got it, she smiled to herself.

There was a look of comprehension on her face. Stanley didn’t have to tell her anything. She had what she needed.

“Look, if there’s anything I can do -- “

“It’s okay,” Heather said with relief. “Forgive me,“ she told them, “I have to go. I need to stop at the Pines and apologize to somebody. And then I have to get back to the man who…”

Heather looked at Bonnie. Thank you, she signed to her.

Suddenly, Bonnie understood.

* * * * * * * * * *

At the Green house, Jake tossed another log into the fireplace. Winter had arrived in Jericho. It was cold, and with Heather gone -- possibly forever -- it seemed colder still.

Jake figured she was somewhere down the Interstate, putting Jericho behind her. He had a gallon or two of gas in his old muscle car, nothing more. He'd never be able to catch up with her.

He sat in front of the fire, and gently unwrapped the present Heather had dropped on the kitchen floor. It was something metal and cylindrical -- he didn’t recall seeing such a thing before. Jake looked at the outside of the piece and found an inscription. Knowing Heather’s experience with machine tools, he strongly suspected that she’d done the inscribing herself. The work was lovely.

It said:

To Jake
with all my love

Damn it, Jake thought. He resisted the urge to throw it across the room. It might well be the last thing he’d ever have from her. He kept it close to him.

Jake wrestled with his feelings.

I've got to let her go, he decided. If she loves me this much -- he ran his finger over the inscription on her gift -- she‘ll come back. If she doesn’t -- well, then I never had her heart to begin with.

If Emily was the fading ember of an old flame, then Heather was a freshly stoked fire, still growing. The last thing Jake wanted was to watch it die.

About that time, he heard the sound of a familiar engine in the driveway, and a truck door closing. There was a soft knock at the door. Jake rose to answer it.

It was Heather, looking profoundly apologetic.

“I don’t suppose you want to talk to me,” she said softly.

He recalled his own words from the night he thought he was headed to parts unknown.

“Of course I do,” he said, opening the door wide.

Heather followed him across the living room to the couch in front of the fireplace. Jake sat down and touched the seat beside him. She joined him.

“I thought you might drive away in your truck and never come back,” he said.

“I thought about it,” Heather answered, quietly.

They were having trouble looking at each other.

“Where would I go?” she sighed. “It’s ninety miles to Rogue River, another hundred or so to anywhere else. I hardly have enough gas left to get around town.” Heather looked thoughtful. "Besides...I had to know some things."

Jake was encouraged. At least she cared enough to try to learn the truth.

“I stopped at Emily’s house on the way here,” she said, “to apologize. She apologized, too. She told me that she was the one doing all the kissing, not you. That it was her idea…and probably not a very good one.”

Jake smiled, listening.

“She also told me,” Heather admitted sheepishly, “that she didn’t wish you were dead. What she said was, ’You’re the one who’s supposed to be dead’ -- because she thought you could have been, and was afraid you would be in the future. She couldn’t bear the idea of losing both you and Roger. She cares about you, Jake.”

“I know she does,” said Jake.

“And you…do you care…?”

Heather wasn’t sure she really wanted to hear the answer to that question.

There was a long silence.

“Yes, I do,” Jake finally said. “With Emily, there’s always going to be a pilot light on somewhere. I knew it when I saw her in the street on my first day back in town.” He sighed. “I guess those feelings will never go away.”

Heather swallowed it, remembering the day he’d left her to rescue Emily, abandoning her at the salt mine -- or so she’d felt at the time. He'd come back for her, she reminded herself.

“But I’m not in love with Emily,” he added. “We were in love when we were…teenagers. Things have changed. We’re different people.” He thought of his five years away, and how both he and Emily had grown apart and toughened during that time. “It’s not the same.”

She could live with that, she thought.

“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life with Emily. Heck, we both realized that in high school." His tone softened. “On the other hand, there’s someone else that…well, when I look at her…I find myself wondering…”

Their eyes locked in a long glance.

"I couldn't bear the thought of never seeing you again."

"Me neither."

They smiled. The tension was gone.

“So your conversation with Emily wasn’t the only thing that brought you back here,” Jake decided.

“It was Bonnie,” Heather told him.

Jake looked at her oddly. Bonnie?

“I went to the Richmond farm to talk to Stanley,” Heather sighed. “He‘s been your best friend for so many years -- I thought he might have some ideas about what to do. Bonnie signed something to him and I caught it. Something about how Stanley knew how much you loved me…and that he ought to tell me so.“

Jake opened his mouth to say something, but couldn’t. He remembered that conversation. It was the same day Stanley had told him about falling for Mimi. Stanley never would have said a word about it, but neither he nor Jake had counted on Bonnie reading his lips.

So…now she knew.

The room seemed suddenly warmer. Jake found himself at a loss for words.

“You…read…sign language?” he fumbled. “Is there anything you can’t do?”

“Yes,” said Heather. “I can’t seem to…well...I mean...you and I…we…” She tried again. “I can’t stop being jealous that Emily might take you away from me.”

“You saved my life,” Jake softly reminded her.

“That’s not enough,” she protested. “I don’t want you to be with me out of gratitude. I don’t want you to feel obligated."

“What do you want, Heather?”

They held each other’s gaze for a good five seconds.

And then Heather threw her arms around Jake and kissed him -- ten times the kiss he would have gotten under the mistletoe. Jake returned her kiss with the same passion.

They finally pulled away from each other.

“That’s the second time you’ve kissed me like that,” said Jake.

“It’s the second time I’ve kissed anyone like that,” she confessed.

Jake seemed surprised.

“I told you I was unpopular,” she shrugged.

He smiled at her. Not with me, he thought.

Heather shivered. “It’s cold in here.”

“It’s only going to get colder,” Jake commented. “There's no more heating oil, no electricity for the space heaters, no natural gas. The warmest place in the house is right here. That fireplace is the only heat we’ve got.”

Heather‘s eyes softened. She laid a hand on his shoulder.

“Not so much,” she said, hoping he would read her intentions.

He did.

Jake put his arms around her and took her in. Heather snuggled into him, grateful for his warmth, for his embrace, for…him.

She let down her guard.

“God, I love this,” she whispered to him.

They held each other. The fire crackled.

“What happens now, Jake?”

“You mean, the two of us?”

“No, I didn‘t mean it that way,” she said. “I mean…all of us. We can’t spend the whole winter in front of the fire -- and the food supply is almost gone.”

Jake wanted to reassure her. “Somehow, we’ve got to make it through this winter,” he said. “I’m not sure how. We've harvested everything we could from the garden. The rest is dead by now. Same for Stanley’s farm. We’re going to have to find supplies outside of Jericho in order to survive.”

“Will we survive, Jake?” she asked him, unsure.

He glanced at her. “You’re the one who said there’d be a next year.”

Heather nodded.

“Well, it’s here. We‘re going to have to deal with it as best we can.”

She leaned against him.

"There's a place Dad and I have heard about," he told her, "called Black Jack. Sort of a trading post. They've got supplies, equipment, some other stuff that isn’t quite so harmless. I think we're going to have to make a trip out there."

"I'll go with you," Heather volunteered.

"It's not safe," he told her.

"I don't care. I want to be with you."

Jake drew her closer, impressed by her courage. Whatever the New Year held for the two of them, they'd face it together.

“By the way,” he started, holding up the cylindrical metal object in his other hand, “thank you for this. What the hell is it?”

“Tire pressure gauge,” smiled Heather.

“Tire pres…”

“Betcha don’t have one, “ she grinned.

She was right.

"This doesn't look like any gauge I -- "

"I made it," she beamed.

Jake shook his head. “What in the…“

“Look, if you should ever have to drive to Rogue River again…especially in my old truck…“

“I should keep an eye on the tire pressure,” he finished for her.

“Yeah. Roadside assistance is getting a little rough these days.”

“Sure is.”

Jake couldn’t help his amusement. Leave it to Heather to be practical. Yet, she had tempered it with the expression of her love. He read the inscription again.

"Do I really have...all your love, Heather?”

Her voice grew softer. “If you want it…”

“I do,” he assured her.

Heather heard the words in an entirely different setting. That was down the road, she thought. Perhaps, one day…

“And you, Jake…do I have…“

He answered her with a kiss. She responded.

"Do you want to go upstairs?" she asked him.

Jake wasn't sure if she was asking him what he thought she was. He wondered if what Emily had told him was true. Either way, he wasn't quite ready to do anything about it. Perhaps, one day…

"I think it'll be warmer if we…stay right here.”

Heather lost herself in Jake’s dark eyes. She wrapped her arms around him and kissed him again, the kiss escalating until the heat between them rivaled the blaze coming from the fireplace.

Suddenly, the New Year wasn’t quite so cold.