"What?" Jake Green said, jerking awake from his troubled rest in the ambulance. He looked left to find his mother sitting next to him, her hand on his arm, looking at him worriedly.
"It's okay, honey. We're almost there." He rested his head back down on the stretcher. God he was tired. "They didn't have enough EMTs so they're transporting what they can and treating people when they reach the hospital." Jake squinted and frowned, seeming confused. He closed his eyes again. "Eric and April are meeting us there."
Jake opened his eyes and saw his mother talking again. He kept zoning out. He knew what she was doing, talking to try to keep him awake. Jake knew he must look pretty bad, he could feel all of the coagulated and dried blood on his face and in his hair. All of the talking wasn't helping the pounding in his head. The whole zoning out thing seemed to help, but he could never bring himself to tell his mother to be quiet. The talking was a coping mechanism – Gail Green's way of getting through the horror of seeing her son this way, mixed with the relief at finding Jake at all, alive and mostly whole.
"Jake, come on, honey. Wake up. We're here."
Orderlies pulled the gurney from the back of the ambulance, and Jake's mother held his injured left hand awkwardly as they wheeled him into the emergency room.
"Mom, make sure they look at Heather before me," Jake said, more awake than he'd been during the entire ride.
"The teacher. She thought she might have broken her leg. She was in a lot of pain."
"So are you, Jake," Gail challenged.
"I'm fine. And the little girl, Stacey, she needs to…" He was cut off by a familiar voice.
"She's going to be fine thanks to you, from what I hear," Dr. April Green said to him. She leaned down and gave her brother-in-law a kiss on the cheek. He turned to give her a better look. "Ouch." She got her first good look at the blood on Jake's left temple. "Let's take a look at you," she added as they moved into an exam room.
"Heather is being seen on the other side of the ER. So just calm down and relax."
"April, there are other kids from the bus who need to be looked at," Jake insisted. "And besides, I need to talk to the sheriff. Or Dad. Just do a quick neuro check for now."
"Do a quick neuro check?" April asked. "You know, Jake, we do know how to perform triage here in Jericho. I know it's not the big city, but we manage. That's why you're next in line. The next worst case? So lay back, relax and we'll see where we stand once you've had a proper examination." Her husband's brother stared back indignantly, but he clearly had little energy left in his battered body to fight what he knew would be a losing battle.
"Fine," he snapped back. He immediately felt bad about his tone. "Sorry, April. It's been a long day."
"I'm sure it has been. You've lost some blood based on looking at you and you're probably dehydrated. I'm going to start you on an IV and then we'll take a look at your head and your leg. Something wrong with your hand?" she asked, pulling Jake's left hand out of Gail's.
"Jake?" his mother asked.
"I think it's just bruised," Jake admitted.
"We'll check that out, too." April stepped away to give her orders to the nurse.
"Mom, can you find the sheriff? Or Dad or Eric?"
'Why?" she asked as she moved to the right side of the bed. It was pretty clear all the work – all of the damage – was on Jake's left side. Common sense and her innate practicality told Gail that her hovering would have to be done on the opposite side.
"I have to give them some information," her oldest son answered evasively.
"Why don't you tell me and then I can get the information to them?" Gail asked, knowing that her son was doing what all of the Green men had a tendency to try. She would never understand why they felt bad news was something 'the little women' couldn't handle.
"Mom, I'm really tired and I don't want to fight with you. I need someone with a truck, and I'd rather not have to tell the story twice." Jake closed his eyes and put both of his hands to his head. He gritted out, "Could you please get Dad for me?"
Gail Green looked at her bruised and bloodied son and found no reserves of will power left to deny Jake what he pleaded for. She leaned over, gently took her son's hand from his face, kissed his right temple and said, "Stay put. I'll be back as soon as I can."
When Gail and Johnston Green returned they found Jake's face, head and hair cleaned, and a bandage on his head. His jeans had been cut off from the injured leg and a bandage also adorned his thigh. He appeared to be sleeping.
"I'll head to the house and get him a change of clothes," Gail said. "I think he wanted to talk to you or the sheriff – alone."
"Okay. I'll stay here until you get back."
"Thank you," Gail replied. She knew that the tension between her husband and her first born had not lessened, there had been no time or opportunity for that. But she also knew that Jake had done good today. Really, really good. The town would not soon forget what he had done for so many of their children. She could only hope that the day's events had some sort of a warming effect on relations between these two stubborn men that she loved so much.
Johnston turned back toward the bed after watching his wife depart to find tired, glassy eyes looking back at him.
"How ya doin', Jake?" Johnston asked as he pulled the chair up close to his son.
"I think, um, April gave me something," he said lazily. Johnston put his head down to hide his smirk. Jake had never been able to tolerate any of the heavy-duty pain medications, or most other drugs. He had taken to just suffering through the pain rather than suffering the weird or otherwise unpleasant side-effects.
On the plus side, it had always been easy for he and Gail to spot a drunk Jake, too. It hadn't happened all that often that Jake had been caught, and when it had been their good fortune to catch their oldest son imbibing, it had most often ended with Johnston trying to manhandle a boneless pile of Jake Green up to his room to sleep it off.
"Well, I'm sure you could use the rest." Jake seemed to drift off again, but Johnston knew his son wanted him there for a reason.
"What did you want to talk to me about?"
Jake looked at his father and in just seconds his eyes seemed to go from the dull and glassy of the exhausted and drugged, to sad and remorseful. At once, Johnston's worry grew tenfold.
"Dad, I had an accident on my way out of town," he said. Johnston wasn't too sure what to say. 'No kidding' came to mind, but Jake was sad and serious and it seemed better for the senior Green to play this out, to let his son tell his story.
"We figured something must have happened, son." 'To keep you here' Johnston Green left unsaid, but the depth of his gratitude for what fate had wrought with that one simple gift. "But April says you're gonna be okay."
"No, you don't understand. I had a head-on collision. With another car."
"They're both dead," Jake added gravely, his head hanging down, and purposefully not looking at his father. Johnston was about to tell him that it was okay, that a lot of people died this day, when his son continued.
"I was looking towards Denver. I saw the mushroom cloud. I knew immediately that somethin' bad had happen'd." He was starting to slur his words, the drugs and his own exhaustion working against him, conspiring against him. "When I look'd back to the road, a car was headin' straight at me. They swerved into my lane."
"They were doing the same thing you were," Johnston noted. Jake nodded his silent understanding of that truth.
"I tried to avoid hitting them, but it was too late." He stopped and shook his head. "I don't think I lost consciousness, but it took me a while to get movin'." Jake's eyes were blinking now, worry and regret, drugs and his more than tired state warring with Jake Green's desire to finish his story, to give his testimony, to confess his…
"Jake, son. I'm sure you did your best."
"I left them, Dad. They're out there, a few miles out of town, probably being fed on by vultures…or worse."
"Now Jake, listen to me. You didn't do anything wrong, and you couldn't do anything for them all alone and on foot."
Johnston watched as Jake's eyes started to tear. His son blinked some more, and the tears streamed down his face. His voice broke as he said, "Can we go get them?"
It was a lot to ask. There was so much to be done. So many unknowns. And the one thing Jake Green wanted more than anything at that moment was to retrieve the bodies of two strangers, strangers who had caused the accident and recklessly brought on their own deaths.
And nearly killed Johnston Green's son.
And what would the senior Green have done if that had come to fruition? What would he have done if Jacob Green had died before the two of them had settled their differences? The mere possibility that the day could have ended just that way sent a chill down Johnston's spine. He needed to right this. He needed to start them on their way to acting like…to being father and son again. His son had saved lives today, and Johnston needed to take that fact as the sign that it was clearly meant to be. There was so much that they still needed to talk about, but what had transpired today, and whatever they would do to survive their uncertain future, was more important than anything still unresolved from their shared, pained past.
Johnston pulled the chair closer and grasped Jake's shoulder and held it tightly and then moved his hand down to his son's chest. He rubbed his son affectionately and then stopped, feeling Jake's heartbeat through the hospital scrubs. Life. A cherished life. Jake's life. He couldn't say no to that gift.
"We'll get them and bring them here," Johnston assured his son. "You should sleep. Stop fighting it. You're exhausted."
Jake's tears had stopped when he felt his father's touch. He had watched in awe as his father came close, so close, and he had felt warmth and love at the touch of his father's hand. How strange and how wonderful, he thought, his father looking at him anew, as he slipped into sleep.
Johnston made sure that his son was sleeping soundly before rising from his chair and turning to leave. When he did he found his wife watching.
"How much did you hear?" he asked.
"Not much. I preferred what I was seeing," she said with a pleased smile. Her smile left and was replaced by a worried frown when she asked, "You're going somewhere?"
"Yeah, I'm…I told Jake I'd go pick up the bodies of the people who hit him."
"Oh, Johnston," Gail said as she put her hand to her mouth and turned to look at her son.
"It wasn't his fault, but he feels guilty about leavin' 'em out there. It's the only thing he asked, and I have to do it for him. He deserves at least that." Johnston reached for his wife and enveloped her in a hug.
"Be careful," she said, far more of an order than it was a request. "You're taking Eric?"
"We'll be armed. We'll be fine." He leaned down and kissed his wife. "I'm gonna go check with April about body bags."
"Body bags? How many were there?"
"Jake said two. Look, sweetheart, I've gotta go."
"Of course. See you soon?"
"You bet," he answered with a sad smile. "Take care of our boy while I'm gone."
AUTHOR'S NOTE: As a writer, I find feedback is always helpful and greatly appreciated. It's good to hear, in a constructive way, what people think works in a story, as well as what might not come off quite so well. So please, I encourage you enthusiastically to exercise your right to free speech and leave a review at or at the Beyond Jericho Yahoo Group. Or send it directly to my email at my email address, which can be found in my profile here at it's rant time (some of you may wish to take a seat – you know who you are):
That said, if you are leaving a review just to tell me, for example, that Jake is the younger of the two Green brothers, then please do that by sending me an email directly rather than leaving such a post as an anonymous review. At least that way I will then have the chance to reply that you need to do your research and get your facts straight. I, too, early on, made the mistaken ASSumption that Jake was the younger brother…Skeet Ulrich certainly comes off as being younger, a testament to really, really good genes, I suspect. But indeed, Jake is the older brother according to CBS's official biography of Eric, who is listed as 'Jake's younger brother'. Please go the the CBS Jericho website and see for yourself. If you are going to use the review process to spread disinformation, please don't bother, or at least have the courtesy to not do it anonymously. As President Josiah Bartlet on The West Wing would say, that's just candy-ass. DV