Jamie woke to the sound of running water. His sheet was thrown around his feet like a vise grip and he couldn't untangle it. He realized suddenly that he was in a bed, surrounded by walls and windows. The room was the color of coffee mixed with milk, like his father use to drink. He would always give Jamie a little sip, though he didn't like the taste all that much he drank what ever his father gave him. The bed was large enough to fit two other people besides Jamie and he looked around viciously for his sister. "MEL!" He began to panic and he couldn't get the stupid blanket off of his feet. "Melanie! MEL-"
"Hey, hey." A male voice came from behind him. "It's okay kid."
Jamie watched -wide eyed- as Jared knelt beside the bed and stared untangling his feet.
"Mel's asleep on the couch." He explained as he tossed the sheet aside. "Here I've got some cloths for you to change into. They'll be a little big but you'll grow into them quickly."
Jamie just stared at him. He was real. Jamie wanted to poke him to make sure. He felt his chest rise and fall rapidly as he tried not to cry in front of this man but apparently he failed.
"Hey," Jared said smoothly. He sat next to Jamie and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. "What's up? If it's the cloths I can get you new ones when I go into town next."
"I'm not a girl!" Jamie sniffed.
"I wasn't suggesting that you were." Jared replied.
Jamie leaned his head against Jared's shoulder and breathed. He smelled of sand, and leather, and soap. "I thought it was a dream, and I always walk up next to Mel…" He whipped his eyes, "and when she wasn't there and I woke up in a b... bed, I thou… thought…" Jamie sobbed, he couldn't help it. He wished he could but he couldn't.
Jared wrapped both his arms around Jamie and pulled him into a tight hug. "It's okay Jamie." He smoothed Jamie's hair back, just like Mel would do when he'd cry. "You're okay; you, Mel, and I are safe at home."
Jamie buried his face deeper into Jared's chest. You, Mel, and I are safe athome.
It took Jared a few minutes to calm Jamie down, and then the little boy got up and changed. Jared's old cloths weren't too big -they fit him better then Mel's old ones anyway. "I was thinking of having a fire tonight, I think these would make a great starter." Jared waded Mel's cloths into a ball and tossed them out the door. They landed right by the fire pit.
"Nice throw." Jamie admired.
Jared turned to see Melanie staring at him.
"Its-" He started but she just put up her hand and said, "Your house."
Jared winked at her, "That's right," He turned to Jamie and puffed out his chest. "My house, my rules!"
Jamie smiled at him. "Mel, Jared said he could make pancakes."
The look on Melanie's face felt like a punch in the stomach. She looked hurt, like Jared had personally insulted her. "Cool." She said softly and moved to the bedroom.
"Give me a minute okay kid?" Jared asked.
Jamie –like him- was looking after his sister. "It's just a big change for her, she'll come around. She…" He looked down, "she doesn't cry. Well not in front of anyone."
Before Jared could say anything Jamie asked. "Can I go outside?"
"Sure, just stay in sight of the house."
Melanie was rummaging through her duffle back, pulling out cloths that were caked with mud and tossed them aside.
"Is there a place that I can watch some cloths?" He watched her sort cloths. One dirty pile the other clean, the dirty pile was bigger though there were only 5 pairs of clothes.
"What did I do to piss you off?"
"I've only known you for a day Jared, how could you possible have done something to make me mad?"
Jared decided to let it drop, she'd cool off soon. "I usual just wash them in the kitchen sink, but I usually don't have that many cloths dirty at once…"
Her shoulders tensed and she threw her shirt with a little to much force, it slammed against a cup of water on the bedside table and threw it to the floor with a crash. Melanie swore violently, "Sorry." She muttered as she bent to clean it up.
"Just leave it, I'll get something-"
She had already had the bigger pieces cupped in her fist and threw them way, the glass leaving small cuts on her palm.
"Melanie," He grabbed her arm as she passed and turned her hand over too look at her palm. "I could have-"
"I don't need your help." She looked down at the floor and pulled her hand away.
He left the room and went to get the broom. Retuning he saw her back on her hands and knees picking glass out of the mud crusted shirt.
"Quit it, will you? Before you really cut yourself." Jared grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the way; knowing what her answer would be if he asked her to move. He felt her eyes on his as he swept up the remaining glass.
"What's in this for you?"
He turned to her, dustpan filled with dust and broken glass. He hadn't realized he hadn't swept in so long. Her hands were fists folded under her arms across her chest. Her eyes were glassy but he knew the tears would not make their presents on her cheek.
"In it for me." Jared tasted the sour words on his tongue.
"I mean is this really just some Good Samaritan shit?"
"No, its not."
"Then what is it?" Melanie glared at him and it killed him. He should have known that with everything she'd been through that she'd be slow to trust but with last night the thought really hadn't accrued to him.
Her eyes went wide, "don't call me that."
"Why not, Jamie does?"
"You're not Jamie."
"Fine." Jared pushed past her and into the kitchen. He didn't have to look to know she was behind him. "The truth is I my heath insurance is starting to get expensive and the family plain is less but instead of going about it a traditional way I decided to kidnap one."
Her face didn't change, if anything she looked madder. At that moment Jamie's laugh came through the door. Jared could see him clearly through the window running around carefree. He had found a Hare and was chasing after it as it ran. "Is it so hard for you to believe that I just didn't want to be alone anymore?" He looked back at her. Physically she hadn't moved but her face was softer. How could she not see that she had saved his life? "I mean… is it really that difficult?"
He wanted too wrap her in his arms, to breathe in her sent, too feel her body but he reframed himself. She wasn't there for that, and he would not let her think that was the reason he had let her come. He wouldn't touch her until she wanted him too. God please want me too. She looked down at her feet, they were bare and clean. They were paler then her face a light peach compared to her tan face. Jared could see the rough calluses and small scars that covered them and he wondered how she got them, those tinny scars that were almost invisible. He also wondered if Jamie had matching feet. "My mother died about eight years ago... Car crash. Then the invasion started we were at home, my father was the one who noticed first. He told my brother and I to pack up and get into the jeep. We came here and lived peacefully for a year, making raids on stores in neighboring towns… The Souls started getting suspicious when people started disappearing."
"You were killing Souls?"
Jared tried to read her expression but couldn't. "My brother, I didn't know about it until he talked my dad into fighting back. When he tried to get me to do it and I wouldn't… I told them it was too dangerous but they wouldn't listen. I was twenty-four then they were taken."
She was still staring at her feet. Saysomething, he begged but she didn't.
"Jared!" Jamie's voice drifted through the window. "Melanie! Come see what I found!"
Neither of them moved so Jamie took it upon himself to get them, he came through the door and grabbed his sister's hand. "Come on before it gets way!" without looking at each other Melanie and Jared followed Jamie out the door. Outside on the door he had a small lizard under a glass. It wasn't moving.
"Did you kill it Jamie?" Jared asked.
Jamie looked at him wide eyed, "No… I don't think so." He looked at the lizard –unsure.
"Of course not dear." Melanie bent down and slipped the glass and the lizard onto her hand and removed the glass. The lizard still didn't move.
"You killed it, kid."
Jamie looked at Jared horrified. Melanie glared at him and proceeded to place the lizard on his head. He froze as the lizard began to move.
The water was cold on her hands as she cleaned her cloths and Jamie's. Jared had set up a bin outside for her to wash in because the sink was so small. Despite the cold of the water the rest of her was being burned by the sun. She used paperclips as clothespins to hang the clothes. She had a good little system going and the choir was going along smoothly, she was already folding Jamie's dry cloths. She, Jamie, and Jared had gone through his cloths and had gotten rid of most of them, Melanie's too and Jared told them that they were going to get new ones whether they wanted to or not. Melanie had been irritated at first that he had burned half her clothes –three shirts and two pants- but know she was glad. She was almost done with the laundry. She pulled down Jamie's shirt and saw Jared –hands out in front of him- and Jamie –fists at the ready.
Jamie swung at Jared and his fists hit his outstretched hands.
"Better." Jared said, "But you need to loosen your fists if you try to hit someone with your fingers that tight you'll end up breaking your hand instead of the persons jaw."
Mel watched as Jared took Jamie's hand in his and folded his fingers into a fist. "There it is!" Jared said taking Jamie's hand and hitting his flat palm against Jamie's fist. "Like that, see?"
Melanie heard the connection of flesh on flesh.
"Just like that!" He let go of Jamie's wrist, letting him throw his punch on his own. "That's it kid!" Jared looked up and saw her watching. The look on his face was one that she couldn't place. He gave her a small smile and –without her permission- she smiled back. His face contorted in pain as Jamie missed his hand and hit him in the stomach. Mel turned her face to hide her smile and continued to the house with the basket of clothes. She sat them on the bed and started folding. She hated doing laundry, she couldn't pinpoint way but she did.
"Need help?" Jared's voice sent a shock through her and she hated it.
She turned to see him watching her from the doorway. Sweat fused his hair to his forehead and his shirt to his chest, showing off each individual muscle from his chest to waist. God he was big… she thought, and strong… and handsome… and staring at me with a smirk glued to his face.
"How's your stomach Howe?"
His smirk turned into a full blown smile that stretched from one ear to the other. "Fine." He said, "I broke the first rule of fighting," He looked at her with steady light brown eyes, "I got distracted."
She felt the blush creeping up her neck and turned back to folding her little brother's launder. "Is Jamie done?"
"Playing with you?"
"Yeah, do you want him?"
She nodded and Jared's booming voice yelled his name. She heard the stomping of feet, and then her brother's heaving breathing.
"Your sister wants you."
Jamie bounded over and jumped on the bed, causing all the clothes to go flying in the air. "Oops…" He said sheepishly, "Sorry Mel."
"No worries Jamie just extra for you to fold." She said tossing him one of his shirts.
Jamie groaned, "But Jared and I are-"
"He said you two were done."
Jamie looked at him with a full face of betrayal.
"Sorry kid." Jared shrugged.
"But… but… where do I put them when I'm done?" Jamie asked.
Mel –who was in the process of taking the basket back out to get her own clothes- stopped and looked at Jared. "Back in the bag."
"Nope." Jared said shaking his head and pointing to the drawers in the corner. "Half is yours, kid and half in Melanie's." He said it cautiously, as though he was expecting her to get mad.
She looked at him guiltily, "where are your clothes?"
"In a chest in the living room." He said before turning out of the room.
Melanie followed him with a clothes basket. "How is it you have all this stuff?" She asked as he walked with her back outside.
"This was my families little cabin long before the invasion." He said. He took the basket from her.
"Um… aren't you afraid the Seekers will come and search the cabin?"
He reached up and started unclipping clothes and setting them into the basket. "No, if the U.S government didn't know about it the Seekers wouldn't."
Mid reach for a shirt she froze and looked at him.
"See, my father found this piece of land and just set this thing here." He said motioning to the cabin. "We did everything, the pluming and water pipes." He took her hand and pulled her to the back of the cabin. "Generator for electricity." In a shed in the back was a small generator with a plug connecting it too the house. "You start it like this…" He bent down pushed a button, pulled a rope and the generator roared to life then he hits the button again and it died. "It drinks gas like we drink water so it only goings on at night and when needed during the day. Now…" He took her hand again –it was like touching pure heat- and pulled her into the house. "For hot water for like hot showers or dishes you…" He took a large stock pot and filling it with water. He motioned for her to follow him back out the door. A little ways from the generator were two medium size solar panels. She recognized them at once and knew how to use them –they were everywhere in Albuquerque. "A solar oven." She said letting him know she knew what it was.
He smiled, "In about 20 minutes you will have a nice warm shower."
She smiled at the thought of it. She hadn't had a nice warm shower since she had been on the run… god had it really been two years?
He –hand in hers- walked with her back to the clothes line. "Yes Melanie?"
He pulled down a shirt and threw it at her playfully. "Anytime."
The stars were bright and Melanie couldn't pull her eyes away. She had never seen them this bright, not even at home. The night air was cold compared to the heat of the day.
A star threw itself through the sky and fell off the horizon. Melanie remembered her mother putting her on her lap by the window in her room and telling her to make a wish. She would wish for thing like candy bars or a new bike or an extra story before bed. She didn't wish for things like that anymore. It didn't anger her to take so much on her shoulders, she wouldn't throw her troubles on to anyone but wasn't that what she was doing know? Throwing her troubles onto Jared? She looked back at the stars and watched the sky. No more stars flew by to wish on.
"Mel?" She didn't turn to Jared as he came to stand beside her on the sand. "Wow…" He breathed, "They're very bright tonight."
"Are they usually dimmer?" She asked.
"I don't know, I'm usually asleep at night."
She gave him a sideways glace. He had a huge smile plastered on his face and was looking at her out of the corner of his eye.
"That is what we use to call a joke." He told her.
She couldn't help but smile at his teasing, "I know."
"Good," He said.
"I should get Jamie-"
"He's already asleep." Jared told her, looking over his shoulder to the house. "He's on the couch; I'll move him in a minute."
"I can get him." She started to move towards the house but Jared put a strong hand on her arm.
"I'll get him latter."
"You don't need to get him."
His eyes swam with ten different shads of brown; it was amazing that they all fit. "You can move him to the bedroom, if you don't mind sharing a bed." He said releasing her and looking back up at the sky.
Jamie was where Jared said he was, sprawled out on the couch, drool dripped off of his chin. "Baby?" She said giving him a gentle shake. "Come to bed sweetheart."
Jamie looked up at her with an irritating look and mumbled something that sounded an awful lot like a swearword.
"Don't you want to sleep in the bed?" Mel asked.
Jamie rubbed his eyes and raised his arms to her like he use to when he was three.
"No, no Jamie I can't carry you."
"I've got yea, kid." Jared's arms slipped behind her and he picked Jamie up as though he weighed nothing. He walked -Jamie in his arms- into the bedroom and laid him on the bed. Jared tucked the blanket up underneath his chin and turned off the light before reading the room. Melanie through herself down on the couch, she couldn't understand why that made her so angry, Jared was just being kind. "Are you tired?" he asked.
"No." She said, trying to sound calm.
Jared sat next to her on the couch and leaned back almost melting into the couch. "Well I am utterly exhausted." He let out a chuckle. "Your kid throws a nice jab but his hooks need some work." He bent down and started to untie his shoes. His shirt rose ever so slightly showing off the pale skin that had not been tanned by the sun. He straitened back up and threw his shoes into the corner before sinking back into the cushions. "So…" He said looking at her. "You haven't told me what you thought of this place."
Melanie looked all around her; at the door and walls, at the door to the bedroom where Jamie was asleep curled up on a soft warm bed. "It…" She couldn't think of the right word, perfect? Wonderful? More then she had been hoping for in all her years on the run with Jamie, sleeping in gutters and caves.
"It's not much I know," Jared cut into her thoughts, "Pretty primeval but it works for its purpose."
Melanie stared at him; he had to know how great he had it. He head leaned back, eyes closed. For a moment Mel thought he might have been asleep but then he opened one eye to look at her.
"What are you thinking Melanie Strider?"
"I'm thinking about how good you have it." She said honestly.
He smiled tiredly at her. "I'm glad." He whispered then closed his eyes again, sinking even deeper into the couch. "I was starting to think you didn't like it here."
I bet you were. "I'm sorry."
"Ah don't worry about it Melanie."
She felt a sudden urge to feel his lips on hers again, to feel his hair between her fingers and his rough callused hands on her face but no that's not what he was there for… was that what she was there for? She suddenly felt very nerves and looked away from him. If so way hadn't he done anything yet and why did he put Jamie in the bedroom instead of keeping him on the couch and taking her… the thought broke off as a small sound came from Jared. It took her a moment to realize that he was snoring. She remembered his hands at her throat, the knife, she wondered where that was. He could take her if he wanted too, he was stronger, much stronger then her, but she was faster… but not with Jamie. It took her a moment of silence in her head before she realized that the snoring had stopped. Jared was looking at her, a mask of worry on his face. Mel wondered if it was genuine.
"You okay, Mel?"
She saw him outside this morning teaching Jamie how to through a punch, helping her take down the laundry, showing her how everything in the house worked. She saw his face as he told her about his father and brother, of him getting mad at her because she was picking us the glass with her bare hands; she remembered hearing Jamie scream and Jared's voice telling him that it was okay that they were all safe. Jared was still watching her, his expression wavering between concern and something a little more that Melanie could not name.
"I'm fine." She lied, "This is just… a little scary."
Jared nodded his head. "Is there anything I can do to make it less?"
Mel shook her head.
"Okay, you let me know if I can though."
Jared looked around for a moment then gave her a sheepish grin. "I don't mean to be rude but you're sitting on my bed and I am really tired."
Melanie jumped up as though she had been electrocuted. "Oh I'm so sorry."
He laughed sleepily, "Don't worry." He stretched himself out on the full length of the couch. "You don't mind sharing with your kid brother do you? It's the only bed I've got."
Mel looked appalled, "No! I was just thinking that it's unfair that we threw you out of your bed."
He smiled again, she was beginning to really like that smile. "I'll live." He looked at her with that look that she could not identify before saying, "Good-night Melanie."
Jared woke to the smell of sausage and eggs. He heard Jamie's voice from in the kitchen and Melanie's. They were both laughing.
"I don't remember that." Mel said.
"It is too! You made me sick for a week!"
Jared folded his hands behind his head and just listened.
"Oh that's not true," She said, "it was only that night."
Jamie laughed, "I'm still warning him."
"Fine, does that mean you don't want some?"
Melanie laughed, the sound made Jared smile. "Oh good, cause you are on plate finding detail."
Jared heard grease pop and Jamie rummaging through the kitchen cabinets. After five second Jamie called out, "I can't find them."
Jared jumped up, shoeless and shirtless and stocked into the kitchen. Jamie was on his sock covered tiptoes and his head barely made it to the bottom of the cupboard. Melanie was wearing an over size tee, a pair of cotton shorts pecked out from under the shirt. Her legs were unshaved and her feet were bare. She seemed to be tapping her foot to imaginary music in her head. By the tempo of her tap and the way she swayed Jared concluded that it was a good song.
"Mel I still can't find them." Jamie protested. "I'm going to go ask Jared."
"No," Melanie said as Jamie practically ran into Jared, "Let him sleep, he practically passed out last night."
"I did not pass out." Jared contradicted.
Melanie jumped, "Oh, sorry." She said turning back to the stove. "We didn't mean to wake you."
"There over there." Jared told Jamie, pointing to the cupboard over the sink. "You didn't," He told Mel as Jamie tried to reach the plates, "The food did and never feel bad for waking me up to food."
Jamie's finger tips skimmed the plates and he stretched. Jared walked over to him and grabbed the plates and cups for him. Jamie grabbed them and set up the table. "Silverware?" He asked.
"No silverware," Jared said rummaging through the drawer, "I have plasticware. Hey kid, in the desk in the living room there's a pad of paper and there should be a pencil somewhere in there too, grab it will yea?" Jared set the utensils on the table as Jamie went into the living room. "So what were you listening too?" He asked.
Melanie turned off the stove and looked at him. "Excuse me?"
He tapped the side of his head, "You were tapping your foot, what music did you have playing in your head?"
She turned back to the stove, "I was something my mom use to play, and I don't know who it is." She turned with a pan filled this eggs. "I think it's jazz but I can't remember, I was really young."
Jared looked into the fridge to see what they had to drink. "It's funny how sometimes I have no idea what I grabbed until I'm hunger."
Mel honored him with a laugh. "I think you snatched some milk."
"Oh I think I did better then that." He dropped the milk on the table and opened the cupboard. "Yes!" He pulled down the instant coffee. "Want a cup?" He asked.
She nodded as she divided the eggs and sausage.
"I don't remember getting sausage." Jared muttered as he put water on the stove.
"It had to be you." Mel said, "I never grab things you have to cook."
Jamie came back in with the pad and pencil and handed them to Jared. "Thanks kid."
They all settled down to breakfast. It was weird how they all just flowed into it, there was no tension like there had been yesterday. Jared flipped open his pad and started his list.
Clothes for Jamie and Mel
"Hey Jamie, what kind of shoes do you have?"
Jamie stared at him, "Um… destroyed sneakers."
"What size are you?"
"His shoes know are size 8." Melanie answered. "Why?"
"What about you?"
"I'm a size 10."
"And how good are your shoes?"
"Why?" She asked again.
"Cause if they're destroyed we can get new ones, or I might have an old pair that fits." Jared told her. "I never throw anything away."
Both Mel and Jamie smiled at him.
Home, Jared thought before completely turning his attention to his breakfast.