Disclaimer: Yep, don't own Jericho or its character's—wish I did right about now—but the story line is mine along with the words I give them.
Authors Note: I have put a lot of thought into how I should end the Chapters Series. I was just going to focus on the J/H relationship and Jake's psychological baggage and I think I've accomplished that. But I some how feel cheated that I didn't deal with the Hawkins/Bomb situation, sooooooooo I think I'm gonna try and tackle it. At least what of the second season fits into my AU rendition of Jericho. When I watched the last episode 2.5, I realized I'd gotten rid of a lot of bad by letting Jake kill Constantino in my universe. So I'd like to condense the seven episodes of the second season after the season finale and put them into two or three chapters in my world, with my characters as they are. Some of the character behaviors and underutilization of some characters on Jericho have left me a bit saddened. So this turns out not to be good-bye, but a see you later. Enjoy my season cliffhanger.
I think it could have done with a good editing, but I just wanted to get it out there. And it is a long one, but I didn't have the heart to cut it in two. As promised I have a couple surprises and I've drug a little of Season 2 into the story to mesh my AU with the shows for future chapters. Thank you so much for your continued readership and reviews. I'm glad you've enjoyed this version of Jericho and continue to do so in the shortened storyline ahead.
Warning: Language, adult situations, along with grammar and spelling gone wild. AAAND a cliffy.
Chapter 22: Dad
by Ann Pendragon
"Jake…" Eric called after the hurricane that sliced its way through the crowd of deputies and government workers in the Sheriffs office and into the main hall.
Nearly two months had passed since Jericho's Sheriff returned to active duty and he was back to moving like lighting, even with the minor limp that lingered in his step when it rained. Some would even say that their Sheriff and his step seemed significantly lighter most days—with his own upcoming nuptials fast approaching—but today was proving not to be most days.
Eric gave an apologetic nod to the Major at his side and took off at a jog after his non-compliant brother. "Jake! Damn it, Jake…!"
Sheriff Green stopped and waited for his brother to catch up with him in the Town Halls front entry, eyes bolted to some spot out in front of him.
"We need to work with them Jake…"
"But not work for them. This is our town and as long as I have this badge, I am the law here. I don't need the military holding my hand with every decision I make—asking permission to do my job…
"It's not going to be like that Jake." Eric pleaded. 'Damn it to hell!' He'd told Gray this morning it was a mistake telling Jake short notice about his new work situation. "It's only office space and an agreement to …" Eric stopped when his brother finally turned his piercing gaze on him.
"If you're asking me to be the 'go to boy' for the military…
"I'm asking for you to just sit down and talk to the Major. I think he wants to help us, not run us. And I'll deal with Perkins…" Eric continued to hold his brothers eyes and felt a small itch of relief when Jake gave a slight nod.
"Perkins…" Jake growled low. Eric found his head shake. Mr. Perkins, Jericho's now resident bureaucrat, was making it his mission, getting under both Green men's feet and deep under Jake's skin. It hadn't taken the government official too long to realize where most of Jericho's citizens turned for help and the big decisions made, so he'd made it a point of camping out on both Green's asses for the better part of a month along with the team of government workers he'd brought into town to settle Jericho into the new United States.
The latest topic of contention with the shrewd official and Jericho's citizenry was the influx of military and military contractor's in-town from the new encampment just outside the town limits, and how a select few of those men were using the town's resources. Namely Baileys and some of the female citizens of Jericho…
"Jericho will not be the militaries sin city…" Eric firmly stated to the defensive bureaucrat.
"Our fighting men and woman sacrifice a great deal for our country and its citizens, it is only expected that we do our part to help relieve some of those hard working fighting men and woman's burdens by giving them a little R&R…"
"By letting them use Jericho as a watering hole they can tear up and whore house they can use when the itch hits them?" Jake had finally interrupted from the back of the office, where he was keeping silent watch.
Mr. Perkins took off his glasses, polishing them with his handkerchief, not making eye contact with the young Sheriff. "Blunt as always, Sheriff Green. I feel that is a crudely inaccurate misrepresentation for what I'm going for here."
"I am being perfectly accurate, Mr. Perkins." Jake walked further into the office, making the larger man stop work on his glasses and abruptly take notice. "But yes, you are right. This situation is crude." Jake's eyes bore a little deeper into the suit before him.
Jake had spent the better part of last week breaking up fights at Baileys between the locals and the newcomers. It was difficult to say the least, dealing with the soldiers, let alone his fellow towns' folk. The soldiers didn't pay the same respect to the star on his belt or his authority. "I will not overlook the depravity happing in my backyard. This is my home and my people and if any of your people come into this town with anything less than pure intentions, I will hold them to the full letter of the law. Are we clear?"
Reginald Perkins sternly eyed the increasingly difficult challenge that now stood before him. It was past time to get a leash attached to the maverick lawman. Long past due. "Crystal, Sheriff. Crystal."
Eric had experience dealing with government politics and those who thrive in it, but Jake… Jake first reaction to this new and very close working relationship with the military was to find Perkins and their spineless Mayor and strangle them both. But he had promised his fiancé and his brother to keep the bureaucrat body count down to a monthly minimum. He didn't have to make such promises to his mother; she was of the same mind.
And Jake's first assumption, when he was told about Major Beck, was Perkins had finally brought reinforcements to try and assert control over his department. He's sensed this coming after the debate over Baileys and knew that this new working relationship with the military was the equivalent to a muzzle on his authority. 'When hell freezes over.'
Jake placed his hand to his mouth and drew it to his chin. A few moments after stilling his feet, Jake felt his head come back on strait. Having the Major here wasn't the battle to fight and besides… 'Friends close, enemies closer…' Jake looked to the Major just down the hall out of ear shot and nodded his head. "Give him the office beside the Sheriff Department, not one of the ones in it. I want him close, but not in my lap."
"He might not be the enemy Jake?"
"Then it will be even easier to see my new friend when I need his help." Jakes eyes narrowed at the man down the hall. "Do you think Dad would have imagined this?" Jake wasn't sure why he asked right then, but he'd been thinking of their father a lot lately.
"The 'new' United States…?" Eric began.
"No. I was meaning the Green boys tag team." Jake gave his brother a slight grin. He and Eric's partnership had been growing steadily since the Constantino situation, now two month ago. No matter how different both men were, or how they argued, knowing they had the others back had been a priceless resource and reassurance to both men.
"Proud—maybe a little surprised—but proud." Eric grinned, while the other man looked to his shoes.
Jakes head shot up to see one of his deputies bolting out the Sheriffs office and down the hall, nearly colliding with the still present Major Beck.
"What is it Sara?" Jake barked to the young woman on her approach.
"Col. Hammond…" At the sound of his superior's name, Major Beck jogged down the hall to follow. "Col Hammond sent word through our northern boarder post. His men had a run in with some unfriendlies out by White Hedge Pass. Killed most of the unfriendlies, but they got half his men."
"Estimated time of arrival?" The Major finally broke in. The young deputy looked between her Sheriff and the outsider. Jake nodded.
"Should be getting into town in maybe five now. Their going strait to the clinic with the injured. The Colonel is one of them."
Jake turned to his brother quickly, his mind back on autopilot. "I want you to call Mom, tell her what's coming if they don't already know. I think Kenchy should still be at the clinic. They know the drill." Eric nodded his head in understanding before leaving the hall to carry out his brother's orders. Skirmishes had continued to crop up between the military and a few of the die hard crews who still raided travelers and small homesteads in the territory. Jericho's clinic had become an oasis of sorts, as was the town and the military counterpart camped outside its boarder, for those who fell under attack or who needed a safe place to stay. There was some perks to having the military and their supplies so close... "And tell Gray." Jake yelled out as an afterthought, after Eric's retreating form, getting a waved hand.
"They also got a prisoner, Sheriff." The deputy quickly added, still at her boss's side.
"Then get Jimmy and Tommy down to the clinic." Jake ordered as he began to move toward the front door, automatically checking his side arm. "I'm heading their right now."
"I'm coming with you." Major Beck barked with authority. Jake quickly met the other mans eyes with a steady glower. He didn't have the time to argue, nor hold a grudge against a man he had yet to truly know. Jake merely nodded his head at the officer before continuing to the steps and his car.
"So you are the guy?" They had been speeding down Main Street in the Roadrunner less than a minute, and half way to the clinic, when the Major ended his studied silence.
"What guy? What are you talking about?" Jake gave a humorous smirk, his eyes still on the quickly passing road.
The Major eyed the gruff lawman as he drove, with clinical interest. His superior had pointed out Mr. Green a couple of month's previous, back at that first sit down with Jericho and its neighbor, New Bern. He'd watched the dark looking young mans quiet handling of his Mayor that evening, he'd also seen the fist throwing at the end of the meeting, between the then Mayor of New Bern and Green. Beck had not been immediately impressed, but he made the young man required reading per Hoffman's urgings. 'Jericho is led by that young man. He is who you will contend with when we come to town.' So the Major did his homework.
What Beck had found in Greens records from before the bombs had left him even less enthused. Yes Green was tops at Riddle, came from a good family, but there was a history of juvenile and adult delinquency, a military drop out, questionable work with Military contractors abroad, along with questionable travels in South America. Green had been flagged a person of interest by the United States government for Christ sake and now he was being trusted to protect a town, one of the last 'civilized' towns left in Kansas? Stories of the old Wild West's Lawmen having gritty pasts were not lost on Beck in this town.
Hadn't New Bern's corrupted and now late ex-Mayor been his towns Sheriff? Beck had pondered. What made this Sheriff any better, or any less dangerous? As far as Beck could see on paper, Green's past appeared the most criminal of the men and the least likely to be a sufficient leader. But being the man he was, the one his father taught him to be, Antonio Beck, Jr. was a believer in mans actions, not their paperwork. More specifically, how a leader of men treated those under him. And what he had been able to see and hear during his few short stops in Jericho, was that Green was their hero. There wasn't even a question of the town's loyalty to the young Sheriff or a question of his loyalty to them.
Col. Hoffman had told him about the boarder skirmish between Jericho and New Bern. How Jericho had been outnumber and outgunned. He'd said '…that town would have followed Green on a return trip to hell and ask how long do we stay…'
So like the guy? Trust him with his life, his men's? The jury was still out, but it was certain Jake Green was 'the guy' and it was the Majors job to either build or burn a bridge with the man. Beck preferred construction…
"There's always that one guy." The Major continued. "The one who everyone in the room looks to when the shit hits the fan. The protector of his town. The guy that pulls asses out of fires and settles his towns disputes…" The Major was also aware of how the ex-Mayor of New Bern became the ex, and the continuing relationship between Sheriff Green and one Russell Williams of New Bern.
"And I'm that guy?" Jake eyed the clinic as it came up on them with steely reserve and pulled up behind the large military truck that now blocked the entrance. Jake didn't say another word to the Major as he jumped out of the car and headed around the back end of the truck. They were met by yells…
Gun pulled before he took another breath, Jake came around the side of the tailgate and was met by four other drawn weapons. Three of them military, trained on the fourth gun presently being pointed at their superior, Col. Hoffman's head. That fourth gun was none other than a very bloody and very beaten, Jonah Prowse.
"Jake—long time no see. Glad you could join the party." Jake's old boss spit some blood at the closest soldier and held onto the injured Colonel tighter, grinding the gun into the mans head. "Maybe you can help out here and tell our friends to back up or I'm gonna put a bullet in their bosses' skull…"
"Can't let you do that, Jonah." Jake stepped closer into the circle of men, gun drawn. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Beck, gun trained on Jonah's head.
"Orders, Colonel?" Major Beck yelled to his captive superior. Jonah strangled the badly injured colonel before he could speak. Beck stepped in closer, but Jake raised his hand to him.
"I know this man." Jake quickly whispered to the tensed Major. "Trust me…" The Major did not seem comforted by the Sheriffs request, but found his head nod at the determined glint in the lawman's eyes and stepped off to the side, gun still drawn on his target.
Out of the corner of his eye, Jake noticed the growing congregation of clinic staff and town folk gathering at the emergency entrance of the clinic. "Get those people out of the door way and back!" Jake yelled at the clinic staff as he stepped in the direction, gun still aimed.
"Still playing hero, Jake?" Jonah's brows rose under the blood from his head wound.
"Just doing my job, Jonah." When Jake moved his hip, Jonah caught the shine of tin on his old employee's belt.
"I'll be damned. So it is true." For a brief moment, Jonahs hold on his gun lessened and Jake took a step closer. "No further—Sheriff. I'm not letting them hang me at Liberty, so I won't hesitate to shoot a hole out of here." Jonah defiantly yelled to the soldiers and then met Jake's eyes. "Even if it's through you, Jake."
Jake lifted his finger from the trigger and raised his gun and hand up over his head before depositing the gun back in his holster. All the while he took another step forward. "So you prefer getting gunned down in the street like a dog, so your daughter and this town can watch. Is that how you want it…?"
"Don't you dare drag Emily into this. You no longer have the right to say her name." Jonah nodded towards the clinic, but Jake kept his eyes trained on his old friend.
"Whatever happened between me and Emily has nothing to do with right now, but what's between you and your daughter does." Hands out at his sided, Jake moved closer. Jonah remained silent, his gun still snug against the Colonels head.
"I can't let you shoot this man or anyone else in my town…" Jake moved another inch.
"Jake, I'm warning you…" Jonah growled. Jake stopped, now a shield between Jonah and the Colonel and the soldier's guns.
"And I don't want them trying to shoot you. Not here…" Jake motioned towards the clinic now behind him. "Not today."
"I'm touched." Jonah spat, now eyeing the man in front of him for what seemed like the first time. "Don't—Jake…" The young man stepped closer to him again, and again he did not pull the trigger.
"You've lived your life selfishly since the day we met…" Jake spoke, eyeing the other man.
"I was always selfish, Jake…" Prowse bitterly grinned.
"Then change that now. Think of Emily. Think of your family…"
Jonah's eyes left Jake and traveled to the crowd of people pushed back into the clinic. His daughter wasn't among them, but the girl who replaced her in Jake's life was. They'd met before today and strangely enough he hadn't felt any malice towards the girl. His daughter no longer did.
At present he was caught by the young woman's stare. She was holding onto Gail Green as the older woman clutched on to her tight, staring at her son with frightened intensity. But the young woman—she looked directly at Jonah. The girl was pleading with him, standing ram rod strait asking him with her eyes to leave Jake safe and unharmed. Jonah knew it. He knew people. And he once knew love.
Jonah shook his head and looked back at the young man he once thought of as a son. Jake Green, the Jake Green he'd known since he was a pup, was now the town hero and willing to risk loosing that girl, his family to save the life of strangers and temporarily save the life of one old con man? Jonah always figured the kid would be one of the good guys someday. Apples don't fall that far from their trees.
"I don't have a family, got nothing to loose." 'I pushed her away.' "Not like you, Jake."
Jake heard the weakness in Jonahs voice and took another inch closer. Jonah continued to shake his head, an odd smile played across his features. "You always had more balls than brains, kid." His rough voice ground out like gravel in a blender. 'And heart…' Jonah tossed the gun at Jake's feet and pushed away his hostage to the ground. Quickly he was subdued by the soldiers.
"Get these men to the clinic." Jake noticed the soldiers taking Jonah back to the truck. "The prisoner too." He shouted at the men. Angrily they continued to wrestle the now depleted Jonah into the back of the vehicle. Jake made for the truck. "You keep that prisoner in my town; he gets medical treatment while he's here!" Jake boomed, stopping the soldiers, before Jonah's head went under the truck tarp.
"Do as he says." Barked an authoritative voice behind Jake. "That's an order."
Jake watched the soldiers follow their order and waved his own deputies when he saw them come around the corner of the truck to follow into the clinic.
"Jimmy…" Jake caught the deputy as he passed. "Make sure the prisoner and our friends stay settled." Jimmy nodded and disappeared into the clinic.
Jake took in a deep steadying breath where he stood among the purposeful clinic workers and watched as they went to gather the injured from the other truck. Placing one hand upon his hip, he drug the other across his face, feeling the adrenaline leave his system. When he turned towards the clinic he found Major Beck watching him.
Beck had backed Jake up. The first pole of the bridge the Major wished to build between them was placed out for the Sheriff to secure into the ground. Jake nodded; the bridge had its first support. Beck nodded back to the Sheriff, as he helped lift the Colonel onto the gurney. The Major saw what he needed of this man. 'Yep, he's the guy…'
Jake hadn't noticed Heather in the commotion, and only his mother a short time later, when he entered the clinic to take Jonah to lock up. Heather was gone by then, taking Bonnie and a few more workers to the Richmond farm for the day, in Charlotte.
"Don't say anything to Jake…" Heather had asked her soon to be mother-in-law before leaving. The wedding was now only a week away.
The older woman nodded with a sad, concerned smile. She could see how the girl was shook up from what just happened, and for more reasons than one. "You're going to have to tell him…"
"I know." Heather looked down at her hands and messed with the sweater tied around her waist. Jake just had so much on his mind and such a large job to do; she didn't want to add to his worry, but… "He's coming out to the farm later this evening—well, if this doesn't change that." Heather nodded to the soldiers now in the clinic entryway. "He'd call if it did."
Gail took the girl into a warm, motherly hug, her own heart pounding heavy. "I'm so very happy for the both of you."
Heather pulled from the hug and gave a genuine smile. "I'll see you later."
It was past five when Jake made it out of town and down the back road to the Richmond farm. 'Five to five, not a bad work day considering…' He wasn't going to be much use on the farm this evening, being the late hour, but he could at least see what needed to get finished when he came by tomorrow afternoon to help out his friends.
Jake squinted his eyes at the low sun, drumming his fingers in thought on the steering wheel as he drove. He'd had that sit down with Beck; or rather a stand around Col. Hoffman's bed after the officer was treated and sedated for his injuries. It was decided that the men who came with the Major would return to Liberty with what able soldiers left from Hoffman's men at tomorrow's early light, taking Jonah with them.
He still wasn't sold on the purpose of having Major Beck thrown so snuggly against his shoulder, nor did he trust the man, but he sensed something about him. Maybe his position in the military made him a keeper of hidden agendas, following orders like a good soldier, but the man himself seemed honest. Only time would tell.
Jake pulled into the Richmond's drive, dust trails following all the way to the house. He'd been on the property time and again to help his friends on the farm these past many months, but he hadn't been in the house since the day his father died. He knew the blood streaks left by he and his brothers hands had been wiped from the front door long ago. He knew the puddle of blood on the kitchen floor had been scowered and the old wood kitchen table sanded and painted clean. But the memory hadn't been so easily cleansed from his mind.
Jake stepped out of the Roadrunner and waved to Stanley and his workers coming in from the field to the pump house. One of Mimi's many house rules—rule no.12, dirty men get a cleaning before they enter the clean and pristine, family home.
"Heathers inside." Jake heard Mimi's voice from the side yard and grinned. So up the porch steps, Jake opened the front door, took a breath and walked inside to find his future wife. 'Wife.' Jake grinned. The thought alone warmed him.
In the front hall, he looked into the living room then turned to the sound of rattling metal against glass in the kitchen. He was met by the sight he'd expected to see when entering this home, not the one he was presently searching for.
Johnston Green lay dead and still bleeding on the hard surface of the Richmond's kitchen table. His blood no longer pumped from his system; gravity now did the job, covering the floor in a dark reflective puddle…
Jake closed his eyes and squeezed, waiting a moment to reopen them. When he did his father was still lying there, lifeless and broken. "Dad…" Jake whispered. In the blink of an eye Heathers form walked in front of the table and his deceased father's remains, taking the image away with her when she moved past. All that remained was a kitchen table filled with dirty mason jars and Jake's heart caught in his chest.
Jake shook grim thoughts away, before stepping over the kitchen threshold. Heather now stood before the kitchen window, working on something as it rattled in the sink, her elbow out like wings straining with exertion.
"Whatcha working on?" He noticed her jump a little when he moved up behind her. Gently, he wrapped his arms around her waste and rested his forehead on the back of her shoulder. This—this was what he was needing. Upon contact with her body he felt distanced from today's trials and sated once more. He took in a deep breath and felt his anxiousness dull down and his head feel less heavy.
"Trying to get this jar open to get to the pins." She tried to sound chipper when she answered. She felt his weight against her and sensed what Jake needed. She knew how his day had been, even if he did not know she had witnessed the most dramatic part of it. Heather turned from the sink to face him, wrapping her arms around him and squeezed as his arms smoothed up her back. This was what she was here for, to care for this man, to love him. To give him home.
He had scared her today. Put a chill strait down her spine. She'd seen Jake jump to action in the past, but not like today. She'd always been in the position of being somewhere else when Jake—well, when Jake was today's Jake. Maybe she had gotten a glimpse of it at Black Jack, but nothing like today.
Heather had told him the night after Bill and the other men's funeral, that she accepted him for that side of himself, the dangerous side. The kind of man who can not just sit still and let things happen. Now baptized by today's events, she had not wavered from that decision.
Maybe another woman would be angry, yell and cry out how stupid could he be to put their family at risk for Jonah Prose and a bunch of strangers in uniform. But Heather loved him for bravely standing up for what was right, for caring enough to risk his safety—his life—for his fellow man. She still felt scared, but she loved him and she trusted him. This was Jake. She couldn't—wouldn't change that, even if a little part of her hoped that what she was about to tell him might just do that, even if a small measure.
"Rough day?" She whispered against his shoulder.
Jake took a deep tired breath as he pulled from her comfort and wrapped his fingers over the brim of the sink. "You could say that." He looked out the window into the backyard. "I now have an official liaison between me and the Military, provided by one Mr. Reginald Perkins. And then Jonah Prowse was brought into town today by Col. Hoffman and what was left of his men after Jonah…" Jake trailed off and quirked his brow. Heathers curiosity would have kicked in by now and she hadn't said a thing. "You don't seem all that surprised?"
Heather stood beside him, nearly hip to hip at the sink. "I was in town when they brought Jonah in. I had an appointment at the clinic and had to pick up Bonnie and some of the guys."
Jake felt some of the stress of the day come back to him with a twinge. "I didn't know you were there…" he started, not sure how she felt or what she'd seen.
"You were doing your job, Jake." She looked up at him and gave him a tired but reassuring smile.
Jake soberly nodded his head to her in appreciation, his eyes tired and wide. In a way he was glad he hadn't known she was there. He would have worried about her safety and in doing so, his own. He could not have afforded thinking that way today. Jake looked down into the sink while they stood in momentary silence, then Jake picked up the dusty mason jar.
"Someone tell Emily?" Heather placed a hand at the small of Jakes back while he tried his hand at twisting off the rusted lid.
"Yeah, when I left town she was still with Jonah in lockup. Might be the last time she see's him before they take him to Fort Liberty in the morning."
Heather bowed her head, sad for her friend's situation and for Jake. She knew enough about the men's history to know they had once been friends. Jonah may have even been a father figure to Jake at one time.
Jake gave her a sideways grin when he felt her hand glide over his shoulder in comforting strokes. He placed his hand over hers and patted it before nodding out the window, ready for a change of subject.
"I see Mom came out." Gail Green was invited to dinner by Mimi later in the day, with the use of some privileged information. She was presently snapping beans with Bonnie out by hen house, tossing the stems to the chickens. "She come inside yet?" Jake hadn't been the only one to avoid this house and the memories in it.
"No, not yet. Promised she'd help with supper in a little bit, though." Heather wasn't aware of the significance of the table she stood near. She hadn't been there the day Johnston Green died.
Jake put more muscle into the jar in his hands, rumbling in frustration. "Why in the hell do you want in this thing? It's just needles and pins." Jake gave another twist to no avail.
Mimi said I could have whatever I found in the tractor shed. She'd been trying to get Stanley to clean it…" Heather smiled when Jake's frown turned into a smirk.
"Stanley doesn't clean anything except his plate." Jake gave another yank at the jar. "So what do you need all these needles and pins for? Mom gonna get you and the Grease Monkeys started on a quilting bee?" Jake threw Heather a patented crooked grin; she now found she couldn't quite return. "Heather?"
Heather breathed in deep and grabbed the hem of her shirt with a twist. "I was hoping to use those safety pins, Jake…" Jake quirked his brow at her, not understanding the reference, as he tried the jar once more. "…for diapers. I'm pregnant."
The jar dropped from Jakes stilled hands, smashing into bits in the sink. Reacting too late, one of the glass shards shot up and cut his hand.
"Jake!" Heather jumped back with a start, and then quickly grabbed a towel from the countertop when a thin line of blood emerged on Jake's hand. He didn't make a sound as she pressed the cloth to the cut and neither met the other eyes when she pulled it away. The silence stubbornly continued between them and Heather knew she had to end it.
"I know we haven't talked about it—this… I mean—I …" Heathers words clumsily trailed off, but had the desired effect needed when Jakes eyes raced up to meet hers.
"You—we?" Jake finally grasped a couple words to throw together. What do you say when you have no frame of reference for what your feeling right then. Surprise?—check. Wonder—love?—it was Heather, his Heather, so check. Fear…? It was fear that rang out the loudest in his heart and what took up residence in his gut. The fear in him yelled 'April…'
"I thought it was stress." Heather rushed to explain, the moment—the pregnancy still felt like something happening to someone else, but telling Jake was making it feel more real. "I was really late, so I went to your mother at the clinic and then we saw the Doctor…"
"But we were careful?" Jake quickly interrupted. The day after their first night together, Jake had made it his mission to procure as much contraception he could find down at the clinic. Having a baby right now was not what either of them had planned. It had been difficult to get a large amount of those little silver packets, even with the now steady supplies coming into town. They were like gold to the reproductive population and it had been hell rationing them over the last couple of months for Jake and Heather, being that they were not only new, but very enthusiastic lovers. To satisfy that reality, the two had found other ways to fulfill one another's needs in order to stretch out their supply. Not that either complained. So careful? Yeah they were careful.
"But not that first night." Heather spoke softly. That first night had been natural, in every aspect of the word. "I guess you got great swimmers?"
Maybe he would have found that funny, or at least let it stoke his male pride, but he was just too damned scared still, to even move. Jake continued his silence, his hands at his sides. Not once had he touched her. It wasn't till she turned away from him; quickly wrapping her arms around herself as if she was cold, did he realize what his hesitancy had done and cursed himself for it. Quietly he stepped up to her and turned her to him, pulling her into his arms.
"You're having my baby." Jake closed his eyes, whispering into her hair.
"I am, Jake." Heather smiled into his shoulder, wiping a tear into the fabric of his shirt. She felt better—she always felt better in his arms, just a little more sure. And she needed that now. She needed him. Heather was petrified, happy, but petrified. She had every reason a woman should be scared to conceive and deliver times ten when you took into account the new world they lived in. But she had Jake; she had her new family and her friends. She was confident that everything was going to turn out fine. And she told herself that once Jake got over the initial shock, he would be too.
Heather did not know Jake was everything but fine, as she snuggled into his embrace. She could not see the deep frown that creased her lovers face and only felt the gentle hand that rubbed up and down the expanse of her back in soothing circles. "You're going to be a Dad!" She whispered happily into his ear.
Jakes eyes snapped open as he held her tighter to his heart. Feeling her against him, he hoped to keep the fear pushed away, if at least for her. And then his eyes fell upon the kitchen table behind them.
Supper at the Richmond's was filled with celebration and laughter. As it turned out, nearly everyone in the house knew of the pregnancy before Jake.
"I had to hurry up and invite your brother and Mary over tonight, so they could at least get the news first hand…" Mimi smiled over the table to Jake and Heather, and then winked at Eric and Mary at the other end.
"Yeah. You know small towns. By lunchtime tomorrow everyone will know the town Sheriff knocked up the town sweetheart before their wedding day." Stanley ducked a radish from his sister's side of the table, after Bonnie watched him speak to their guests. "Hey now, Your breaking Mimi Rule no. 4, food can't be used as weapons." He spoke and signed.
"Your being a jerk, Stanley." Bonnie signed as she smiled.
Jake shook his head at his friend as Heather chuckled, her blush making another guest appearance.
"Sweetheart, huh?" Mimi winked at Heather before she leveled her eyes to her husband. "And I'm not sweet enough to be a town sweetheart?" She pretend pouted as she held the bowl of potatoes from Stanley's grasp.
"Sweet enough that I won't be sharing you with the town." Stanley bent further over the table to snatch the potatoes in his wife's hands, kissing her before he returned to his seat.
Jake felt Heather squeeze his hand under the dining room table as she happily watched their friends display. They hadn't spoken more than a few sentences since Heather told Jake about the pregnancy, hadn't had the chance with all the hugging and shoulder slapping shortly after everyone made it into the house to start supper. Even now, Stanley was winding up for another expectant father joke, while Gail was pouring years of baby knowledge in between each bite Heather took of her supper.
"…and you will need to eat better, honey." The older woman chided, while doubling the green beans on Heathers plate. Between the three aunts discussing baby supplies, Gail continued to despair over Heathers eat and run mentality and even worse how the younger woman always managed to forget to eat while at work. Like Gail was any better. "And your hours at the garage will not do. Fred and Titus can deal with the day to day…" the other women at the table nodded in agreement while Gail continued.
Heather cringed with the mention of her domain—the garage—and the inevitability of lessening her involvement there. This was not going to be the last time this topic would become dinnertime conversation over the next several months. Heathers mind was already working at top speed behind the polite smile she graced her loved ones with, as she covertly planned alternatives in her working pattern at the garage. How could she be lead Grease Monkey without the grease?
Heathers hand tightened on Jakes when Gail started in about the weight of her ever present personal friend, the tool bag. Jake automatically squeezed her hand back this time and was met by Heather eyes. While Gail was answering one of Bonnie's questions, Heather took the moment to look at him. She smiled brightly at her future husband, before taking his hand from his knee and placing it on her stomach under the dinning room table, holding it there. They remained silent under the din of voices and clattering silverware on plates. She looked so beautiful, Jake thought. So happy, so sure. Jake felt his gut twist before he withdrew his hand.
Shortly after supper, Jake stepped out onto the Richmond's back porch to try and gain his bearings. 'Damn it!' He wanted to feel excited. He wanted to be happy. He wanted to be sure. He wanted to be sitting in his friends living room right now with his arm wrapped tight around Heather, laughing and celebrating along with their family and friends over rhubarb pie. But he could not. Because every time he thought of Heather being pregnant, he saw images of a dimly lit operation room at the clinic and blood…
Jake stepped up to the porch rail and squeezed the banister as he remembered his family huddled around April's bed; the tears in his parent's eyes, the anguish in his brothers face…
Jake scrubbed at his face and up through his hair, trying to cleanse his mind of his memories before his worst fears combined with them into nightmares, already knowing it was too late. He did not hear the screen door open.
"Hey big brother?"
Jake jerked his eyes from the darkening horizon and slid on a neutral face. "Hey little brother."
Towards the end of supper, Eric had noticed his brother's quick getaway from the table and Heather, knowing something was wrong. He kind of figured what it was that would make Jake uncomfortable beside the mother of his unborn child. It was what came to Eric's mind the second his mother announced the blessed news.
"She's not April, Jake." Eric watched his brothers shoulders dip under the direct acknowledgement of his fears. "She has better chances at a healthy pregnancy with the resources the military's been supplying to our clinic—more doctors. Our town's food supply has improved…" Jake continued to stand quietly at the porch rail, back turned. "And you're not me. You'll be there for her—for the baby…"
"What happened with April wasn't you're fault, Eric…" Jake finally turned to his brother.
"I should have been there for her…"
"There were a lot of things you should have done, but none of that caused April or the baby's death. You could have been with her and it still would have been the same." Jake argued.
"Damn it Jake!" Eric yelled in a low voice, trying not to get the attention of those in the house. "Do not make this about me right now…"
"You started this…" Just as the words fell out of Jakes lips, he could not help feel every bit the defensive twelve year old boy and got the incredulous stare from his brother to support the thought.
Both men fell against the porch rail and let out odd, mirthless chuckles at the turn in the conversation. Both were trying to comfort the other and were failing miserably in their task.
Jake looked over at his brother, quietly watching him before he broke the silence. There was something he needed to know. "Are you okay with this?"
Eric understood his brothers meaning, but it did not escape him the irony of Jake being the one to ask this right now, when it was he who seemed conflicted about Heathers pregnancy.
"I'm more than okay, Jake. I'm happy for both of you. I'm happy for mom—I mean—look at her…" Eric nodded to the house and Jake found a small smile come to his lips, thinking of the flurry of motherly love that now possessed their mother. "I think once the newness of this wears off, you're going to be happy too." Eric gave his brother a quiet smile before turning back to the porch rail.
Jake took in his brother's earnest words and felt relieved that this wasn't going to become one more thing between them. Even at their best, the Green boys were just too different not to have a space that separated who they were. Didn't mean they loved or respected the other any less.
Jake moved a little closer to his brother at the rail, turning his attention to the dusky sky they both now watched, and allowed the familiar quiet to fill the space between them.
Later that night, Jake, Heather and Gail pulled up to the family home after dropping off Eric and Mary. Heather had offered Eric Old Charlotte to drive home since he and Mary hitched a ride with Mimi to the farm, but the old pickup had decided to stall out before it left the Richmond's drive. It was just one more thing that night that needed fixed.
"I don't know about you kids, but this old lady is exhausted." Gail took her sons hand as he helped her out of the backseat. She smiled broadly at Heather as she came around the car and the two woman linked arms. "Need I remind you young lady of your need for sleep? If you're looking for late nights, you'll have plenty of them in seven months." Heather groaned and Gail laughed as both woman navigated to the front door behind Jake.
Once in side, Jake turned on a couple lights, taking in his surrounding out of habit, while the women relieved themselves of their coats.
"You okay?" Heather walked over to Jake as he bolted the door and smiled up at him. Jake was still oddly quiet and it was beginning to weigh on her. 'Talk to me, Jake. Tell me its going to be alright.'
He quietly wrapped his arms around her once more tonight and squeezed her to his chest, the drum of his heart giving away whatever lie he was about to give. "I'm fine." He mentally cursed himself for saying his 'tell' to her. 'I'm fine' never meant anything but the opposite coming from him. "I think Mom is right, you should probably get some rest. It's been a long day." He spoke into the top of her hair. Lying to her was already knotting his stomach.
He felt Heather breath in deep before she spoke and pulled her from him before she got the chance to place another question.
"I'll be up in a few minutes. I just want to check the doors and get something to drink. I'll be up." He interrupted, kissing her forehead and letting her go. Jake held onto his not quite right smile while the bright women before him eyed him in disbelief.
'Something is not fine.' Heathers insides screamed, but did not get to voice the concern when she felt Gail come up to their side.
"Bedtime, you two." Gail placed a firm hand on the young woman's back and nodded at her son.
"Yeah, Mom. I'll be up." Jake repeated to the both of them. Jake felt his mothers questioning stare and turned up the smile on his face for show, before kissing his mothers cheek. Quietly, he watched his mother steer Heather towards the steps, the worry on Heathers face now plane to see as she looked back at him.
Jake dropped his smile when their foot steps could be heard on the upstairs floorboards, and began his tour of the house, jiggling the locked windows as he moved into the kitchen. Once the back door was checked, he promptly fell into the nearest kitchen chair, placing his face in the palms of his hands…
Jake wasn't sure if it had been minutes or hours that passed when his face rose from his hands, but he knew he was no longer where he'd once been, without opening his eyes. He breathed in deep and took in a lung full of the cool, wet air he knew he'd smell. Listening, he heard the lapping of water on wood and felt the rough hard surface of planks under his boot toe. He didn't have to see, to know where he was or who with when he finally did open his eyes.
"So how's that juggling act of yours going, Son?"
Jake smirked at the older mans words as they both stared out over the water. "Started using my left foot, so I followed your advice…" he now turned into Johnston Green's serene stare. He looked like the day he'd died, hunting jacket and fedora, with bright blue eyes full of energy and steel. At present those eyes also held mirth.
"And you went and tossed some of those balls into another pair of steady hands." Jake nodded his head, enjoying the satisfaction that graced his father's features. "She's a wonderful girl, son. You couldn't have found a better mate."
Jake cleared his throat; his eye's shined thinking of his next words. "She's having my baby, Dad. I'm going to be a father."
Johnston Green did not seem surprised by the news, only thoughtful as he placed his hand upon his son's shoulder and squeezed. "And you're terrified?"
Jake's eyes widened, stiffly nodding his head in affirmation. He wasn't sure if it was the older man's knowing assumption or the affirming touch of his fathers hand upon his shoulder that tightened his throat.
"I love her, Dad." Jake's voice no more than a whisper. "I can't loose her—or our child." Jake looked away and cleared his throat. "Less than a day and I already love that baby and we haven't even met."
Johnston Green smiled kindly, a light shown in his eyes as he watched his oldest son struggle with his fear and his heart. Even to have seen what he'd seen, it still marveled the elder Green to see just how far his son had come—how he had grown. "You're a good man, son" Proud awe deepened the older man's voice. "With a good heart."
Jake turned up and met his fathers clear blue eyes. "She is my heart." His words did not hesitate, his belief certain. "She makes me this man—a good man." Jake quieted as a low chuckle rose in the back of the elder Green's throat. He could not help but scowl at his father's response to his earnest words.
"I'm not laughing at the sentiment son. I felt the same about your mother all those years." Jake features lightened and Johnston continued. "The truth is Heather fell in love with you because you are a good man. She just saw it in you before you did. She's a smart girl. Got a lot of guts, too. I saw it in her the day she confronted you out in front of Ruthie's Market." Jake could not help but share his father's smile, at the memory.
"The ones who love us don't make us, son. They just bring out of us what is already there. Some of us just tend to bury the good stuff a little deeper." Johnston gently pointed a finger into his son's chest.
"Maybe in a way, others do help make us. The choice to have certain people in our lives…" Johnston took a step closer to the edge of the dock, taking off the fedora that sat upon his head, twisting it in his hands. "You've been doing good there son, real good. You've trusted your gut in that department, picked good people. You're going to need these people you've chosen in the coming days."
"Dad?" Jake wanted to question the sudden change in topic, but his father did not answer, only letting the silence trail out between them. Jake had a feeling that 'the departed' had a ring side seat to the workings of the world and his father had already given him too much of a heads up. Something held him from asking more.
"You know I hear you talking to me some nights, in sleep or in your prayers." Johnston broke the silence. "I know it's been a long hard road for you, son. I know there are a lot of things you wish you could have told me when I was still living. There are things I wanted to tell you, too."
"You told me you were proud of me." Jake clearly remembered that day.
"But I didn't say how much I loved you." Maybe Johnston hadn't said it because in his heart it went without saying. "And I wanted to thank you…"
"Thank me? Dad?" Jake watched his father lean against one of the poles that supported the dock and waited.
"It was that first night following the bombs." Johnston finally spoke. "All Hell had crawled in a hand basket and was set upon our town's doorstep—our country's. Night had fallen on the first day of the apocalypse and there I was standing amongst a riot of our friends and a neighbor at the gas pumps at Murthy's, loosing ground with our town and with my faith…" Johnston paused a moment to gather his thoughts and then continued. "…and then you came, honking that bus horn and yelling for help. I swear it-I thought the day had given me enough surprises, but there you were. My boy—my prodigal son—who had been just as lost and missing as those kids on that bus—bringing them on home to their families and safety, doing something that the rest of us had yet to do." Johnston looked over his shoulder briefly, giving his son a tired smile and then looked back to the water. "And you kept on doing after that night—crazy brave things—not giving a damn about your own safety and everything about your family's and your towns. Always having to be the first to jump into the fire…"
"I don't understand, Dad?"
"You saved my butt that first night, son. You humbled this old man and gave him back his faith, something he'd lost long before the bombs." Johnston turned back to his son and could still see the confusion there. "I saw you be something—someone I had given up hope of seeing." Johnston cleared his throat. "After you left us that first time, I thought we'd lost you. But I was wrong. I should never have given up my faith in you but I did." Johnston watched his son look away from him to find interest in the dock boards under their feet and continued.
"It's a hard thing when a man looses faith in something he cares about. It takes a piece of him. So that first night, not only did you bring back my faith in you, but in me." Johnston continued to watch his silent son. "You brought me hope, Jake. And everyday after, till the day I died, I carried that faith—that hope with me." Johnston smiled wistfully at his son. "So you see son, you helped bring a better man out of me."
"Dad…" Jake roughly whispered. "You're a better man than I'll ever be." Hearing his father admit these things was throwing him for a loop. The righteous and unwavering Johnston Green was never wrong or in need. Then again his father was only a man; something Jake was seeing him as for the first time.
"I was a stupid, stubborn man for letting my fear of being wrong get in the way of my relationship with my son. I pushed you away because I was afraid of being wrong and then you were gone."
"The shit I pulled. I wasn't any good…" Jake argued.
"But you were my child. Above all, you were my child." The older mans voice rose. "Do not let your fear push away the ones you love. You needed me back then and I pushed you away. Heather needs you now. That child will need you…"
"But what if I…"
"Screw it up?" Johnston smirked at his son before looking back out over the lake. "Hate to tell you, kiddo, but you probably will on occasion. No Dr. Spock baby book is going to make that any different. Which reminds me, throw your mothers out before she gives it to Heather?" The older man grinned to his still silent son then looked down at the hat he turned in his hands. "Having that child is just the tip of the iceberg, got plenty more to be scared of or wrong about, afterwards."
"Great, no worries." Jake groaned, placing his hands over his face and then away.
A deep bark of a laugh rose in Johnston Green's chest as he smiled at his son. "You know you'll get some stuff right, too? When you do it will make all the wrongs worth the gray hairs. I know that from my own personal experience." Jake looked up and gave his father a slight grin. "You'll do good, son. Might even get a little more right than your old man did."
Jake watched his father smile, and felt his mind spin trying to take in all that was said between them. He wanted to remember tonight, when his eyes opened from this dream. And then his heart grew heavy, knowing this moment must end. If his Dad could just be with him, not in this world of dreams and memories, but with him like he had once been. In that moment, he wished more than anything to take his father back over the great divide.
"I miss you, Dad."
Johnston reached out to his son's cheek; his eyes warmly watching the younger man swallow down emotion. The elder Green gladly acknowledged the man his son had become, but right then the father in him could only see the young boy he'd once been. He saw that naked honesty in son's soulful eyes and not the stubborn silence that took him in the teen years. He saw his son's limitless courage and heart, things that life's circumstances never took from Jake, only buried for a time to be found once more. It seemed to Johnston, that in some strange way his son had finally come full circle. Back to his family, back to himself, back to life. It's all he could have asked for.
"I'll always be with you, son." His words deep and warm. "Always."
Jake placed his hand over the one on his cheek and nodded his head. Words had left him once more, but his eyes said all there was needed to be expressed. 'I know, Dad. I love you.'
"Now." Johnston stepped from his son and returned his hat to his head. "Your grandfather has gotten himself into a poker game with the fella's and I'm sure a fight isn't far off."
Jake smirked and nodded his head, wiping his wrist over his eyes. "Go throw some cold water on them, Dad." his voice rusty.
Johnston nodded his head back and smiled, before turning away and into the mist that settled at the other end of the dock. As he began to walk away, Jake could hear his father give a light laugh…
"E.J. still can't believe it's a girl. Four generation run of Green men and we get a girl." Jake cocked his head, not sure what he was hearing. "She'll be a tough little thing, smart like her mama. Gonna have to be, with the brothers she's going to get. What a pair those Green boys will be."
Jakes eyes grew wide, watching the last of his father's hat disappear into the mist and shadows. "Girl? Sons? Dad!"
Jake shook awake, nearly falling out of the kitchen chair. Righting himself, he bolted up from his seat and stood in the quiet of his family kitchen, only the sound of his mothers ticking hall clock as company.
'I'll be damned!'
Jake quickly headed to the steps, turning off lights on the way. Up the stairs, two at a time, Jake quietly moved to the end of the upstairs hall and into the room he and Heather now shared.
She had not stirred when he opened the door, her breathing coming out even and slow in sleep. Her body was curled up towards the center of their bed; Jakes pillow wrapped in her arms and pulled against her, where he was suppose to be.
Jake lowered himself to his knees beside the bed and placed his hands upon the sheets as if to pray. He watched her for a moment and then let his eyes fall to the center of her body—their child.
"I promise you—I promise your mom—you will be loved." Jake whispered to his unborn child. "You will be loved and protected and you'll never be alone." Jake paused, thinking of his father's words to him tonight and felt understanding encompass his heart. "You'll be my little girl and I will always—always be there for you. I swear…" Jakes voice broke before lowering his head to his hands on the mattress.
"Little girl, huh?" Jake felt a hand in his hair and raised his dark eyes to meet sleepy blue. The present shine of tears in Heathers eyes, told him she had heard every word he'd said. Her hand reached for him and he held it.
"I'm sorry." He pleaded. "I was scared and I started to run…" Jake looked away in shame. "I just—I couldn't handle the thought of loosing you like we did April."
"Jake…" Heather knew something was weighing on him, but to know it was this… "I don't intend on going anywhere—me or this baby." Heather smiled, gripping his hand tight. "But I can't make guarantees, either." her voice weakened. It hurt her to see him this way, but she could only give him the truth.
Jake nodded his head lightly, taking her palm to his lips. "I know." He smoothed that hand between his two. "I know." He looked up and met her shining eyes.
"You know, I take that back. I can guarantee you this…" Heather sat up in bed and slid to the edge in front of him, placing her legs on either side of his kneeling form. She took his hands back in hers. "I guarantee that whatever time we have, I will love you…"
Overcome with the moment, Jake quickly wrapped his arms around her before she could finish, pulling her to him where he knelt between her flannel covered thighs. Heathers arms quickly circled his shoulders and pulled him to her chest. A moment passed between them before Jake pulled away. Hand through her hair he took his future wife into a long loving kiss, before leaning down to her stomach to push up the cotton of her tank top.
Heather felt her breath catch, feeling his lips upon the soft skin of her stomach. Drawing her hands in his hair, she watched her loving mates' actions in awe. 'I do love this man.'
As if reading her mind, Jake looked up and met her half lidded stare. He gave her that smile, the one that never ceased to make her insides shake, while he splayed his long fingers over their unborn child's temporary home.
"Whatever will we do without the need for contraception these next long months?" Heather asked not so innocently and received a low groan from her lover.
"A lot." Jake got up from his knees to hover above her at the edge of the bed. "A whole hell of a lot."
"Shhhhhhhht" Broke the early morning silence. "Shhhhhhhht. Sheriff Green, this is Officer Taylor. Shhhhht. Jake this is Jimmy. Come in."
"Jake…?" A sleep laden voice spoke into Jakes chest.
"I know, I hear it." Jake answered, gruff and rusty. Sliding out from under his lover's warm body, his feet came down on the cool wood floor as he reached for the radio on his bedside table, lifting it from its base.
"It's Jake." The half asleep man creaked out groggily. "What's going on?" Jake rubbed at his aching thigh muscle as he yawned off radio. This wasn't the first late night-early morning call he'd received from the comfort of he and Heathers bed. He was hoping it didn't take him from it tonight.
"It's Jonah, Jake. He's escaped." So much for hoping.
"Escaped?" Jake stood from the bed, devoid of cloths. "How long?" Jake began to pace.
"I called the station forty-five minutes ago and everything was fine. When I came in at four I found the side door to the department picked, Tommy knocked out on the floor and Jonah gone. Someone helped him Jake…"
"Yeah, Jake. Minor concussion."
Jake moved through the dark, collecting his pants and shirt, radio still to his ear. "The Military…" Jake rustled his cloths back on his body.
"There coordinating a search as we speak. Beck was temporarily camped out in one of our back offices and heard the commotion when I was helping Tommy into the main office. He had one of his own men on guard duty tonight, but we haven't found him yet, just a blood trail that leads to the back parking lot."
"I'll be there in seven, Jimmy. We'll go from there." Jake's voice was steady now, the sleep in it gone.
"Understand. I'll tell the Major."
Jake placed the radio on the end of the bed to put on his socks, when he felt a hand upon his shoulder.
"You think it was one of Jonah's men?" Heather quietly asked.
"I don't know. They let him hang the last time we had him in lock up. Besides, the military put down most of his guys when they attacked their transport yesterday." Jake turned to her quickly, kissing her forehead then rubbing her bare tummy under the sheets, eliciting a light smile from Heather that she did not keep for long.
"Do you think Emily…?"
Jake grabbed his holstered gun off the nightstand, situating it on his body smoothly, before going to the end of the bed for the radio. "I don't know." His honest answer sounded grave. Heather nodded her head. What would any of them do for the ones they loved?
Jake bent at the waist and kissed her lips. "I'll probably be at work the rest of the day so…"
"Will I see you back out at the farm later?"
"How about I keep you posted." The radio Jake procured for his family presently sat in a charger on the upstairs hall table. If they needed one another, they called. "Tell Mom for me." Jake gave her a brief smirk before grabbing his boots from the floor, then opened the bedroom door and was gone.
"Bye." Heather raised her hand and laid it back down, taking in a big sigh. Worried as she may be, sleep had begun to pull her back. She settled into the warm spot Jake had left in the mattress and breathed in, as her hand fell to her middle. Slowly she drifted into uneasy sleep.
Downstairs, Jake sat down at the piano bench to put on his boots and then he heard a click. The small camp light his mother kept in the kitchen had been turned on; the small light illuminating a shadow onto the kitchen wall. He knew his mother and Heather were still upstairs and that Eric had enough sense not to visit this late—early.
Gun now drawn, one boot off, Jake scanned the living room with his peripheral vision while his eyes stayed trained on the kitchen entryway. Quietly he approached the barely lit room at the ready. And then he turned the corner…
"Jake. We need to talk." A gruff voice barked out. Dark brown eyes met steely black.
Not Quite The End Yet.
(Read the authors note.)
This story is dedicated to my Dad,
May 27, 1954—February 23, 2008
Thank you for the laughter and the love.
I'll see ya across Turtle Creek.