Emily took a shortcut through town to catch up to Roger. She glanced around at the familiar buildings and houses. Her path took her past the cemetery. She steadfastly looked straight ahead. She wished she could stop and say goodbye to her mother and brother, but she had no time to lose. She couldn't let her past cost her her future.
Roger left Main Street with his head held high, walking away with a determined step. He could only hold the bravado so long, though. Once he cleared the crowd, his tread slowed and his head drooped slightly. As he reached the edge of town, a few silent tears slipped out. He was leaving Jericho, the town that had been his home for the past year, the town where he and Emily were about to start their life together. He was leaving Emily…
Roger was dragged out of his thoughts by the faint sound of footsteps. He was determined not to look back, so he raised his head and marched resolutely on. The footsteps didn't fade; instead, they grew louder. Soon, they were right behind him, matching his stride. Unable to contain his curiosity anymore, he stopped mid-stride and turned his head. "Emily. No. Go back."
"No," Emily replied.
"Emily, please. I need to know you're safe. I can't promise that out here."
"You want to have peace of mind while I stay in Jericho going crazy not knowing what's happening to you? That's just selfish."
"Listen, Roger. The bombs made me realize something. I do love Jericho, and I'm sorry to leave, but I don't need Jericho to be happy. I need you." She grabbed his hand. "I'm not losing you again."
Roger's resolve began to waver. "What if something happens to you?"
"I'm more worried about you, city boy. For instance, why aren't you wearing that jacket?" It was late afternoon and the temperature was dropping as evening approached.
Roger made a face, but dropped his backpack to put on the jacket Jake had given him. He carefully positioned the gun in his waistband. He swung his backpack up onto his shoulders and stuck one hand into the jacket pocket. He felt something, so he pulled it out. It was a piece of paper with writing scrawled on it. Hardy Farm. A crude map accompanied the words. "What does this mean?" Roger asked, showing it to Emily.
She glanced at it. "It's from Jake. He means we should head to the Hardy farm." She took Roger's hand. "Come on."
"What's so special about this Hardy farm?" Roger asked as they set off.
"Laura Hardy runs it by herself since her husband died. Jake was trying to send you to someone who'd help you."
"He said something about New Bern."
"Of course. He didn't want anyone to overhear. One of Gray's guys might have tried to stop you from getting to Laura's. Laura can't stand Gray. She'd do anything to spite him. Tell her you shot Gray and she might adopt you."
Roger continually cast glances at Emily as they walked along. He really couldn't decide how he felt about her following him. He was desperately afraid of something happening to her out here, but on the other hand he was thrilled that she wanted to be with him, even if it meant leaving Jericho, something she'd adamantly refused to do before.
Emily finally couldn't take it anymore. "What?" she asked. "Stop looking at me."
"I can't. You're too stubborn for your own good, you know," he said. The words were scolding, but they were accompanied by a look full of love.
"That stubborn streak is what's going to keep us alive out here."
"You're probably right," Roger admitted, pulling Emily close and kissing the top of her head.
After a solid two hours of walking, Emily turned off onto a dirt lane. "Laura's house is about half a mile up. Think you can take it?" she asked with a wink.
"Race you," Roger replied, darting off.
They reached the front porch of the farm house at the same time, breathless and sweating despite the freezing temperature. Emily pulled off her gloves and ran a hand through Roger's hair in an attempt to smooth it. He did the same for her and then Emily knocked on the door. A thin, angular woman opened the door a crack. "What do you want?" she demanded.
"Mrs. Hardy, it's Emily Sullivan."
"Emily. Who's that with you?"
"This is my fiancé, Roger Hammond."
"New fella, eh?" Laura asked as she opened the door all the way.
"Not really, we've been engaged for a year."
"Well, come on in and set a spell." Laura led them into a Spartan kitchen. She waved them to a couple of chairs as she filled a kettle with water and set it on the wood stove. "Hope you don't mind unsweetened tea. Ran out of sugar awhile back and I ain't intending on heading into town 'til I hear that snake Gray Anderson's gone for good."
"You don't have to get us anything, Mrs. Hardy," Roger began.
"Nonsense. It's common courtesy. I ain't see too much of it these days."
Roger snorted in agreement.
"So, Emily, what brings you out here?" Laura asked, eyeing the backpacks.
"Well, Mrs. Hardy, things are getting a bit tight in town. Supplies are running low and people get tight-fisted when they're nervous. A number of people have come into Jericho from other places. Gray decided they should be kicked out to fend for themselves."
Laura made a face and muttered something under her breath, but allowed Emily to continue.
"Roger led most of them to Jericho, so he was their main advocate. He and Gray argued a lot. Things came to a head today." Emily looked over at Roger, mutely asking if he wanted to take over.
"I was in Gray's office this morning trying to get him to wait until spring before sending everyone out, but he wasn't listening. He had a gun and was about to pull it out and speed their departure, but I couldn't let him shoot anyone. We struggled over it and somehow Gray wound up getting shot. Being the genius I am, I tried to hold him hostage until he agreed that everyone could stay. It never would've worked. But Gail Green was able to convince the townspeople to share their rations and let the refugees stay in the abandoned houses in town. So the only person who got kicked out of town today was me." Roger sighed.
Laura walked over to Roger and did something completely unexpected-she threw her arms around Roger's neck and kissed his forehead. "I've been waiting years for someone to shoot Gray Anderson." The kettle whistled and she poured the water into three mugs. She carried them over to the table and set out an assortment of teas. "You stay here as long as you need to."