TITLE: Spring in Pride Creek
SUMMARY: William's girlfriend recalls the first fourteen months after colonization.
I was my mother's firstborn. She once told me that she loved me best, because I was her first, making me promise not to tell my younger brother and sister. I kept the secret, reminding myself of it in times when I was feeling low. The thought of being my mother's favorite always brought an indescribable joy to me. Being loved was already such a delight; being loved best surpassed any other thrill I could imagine at my young age.
I kept the secret. Even after my mother's death, when the man I thought was my father revealed the horrible truth in a moment of anger. He blamed me for her death, the accusation something I couldn't begin to understand. He was grief-stricken and needed to be furious at someone, I thought. But in actuality, he had decided that I was old enough to hear the truth.
The truth turned out to be so incredible that I thought Dad had finally lost the mind I'd always joked he would. I thought for sure that he had gone crazy because of Mom's death. "There's no such thing as aliens!" I laughed, positive that I was the victim of a terrible joke. It had to be a joke. Dad was too young to be senile.
He didn't laugh. In fact, the serious expression on his face sobered me up pretty quick. His anger had suddenly dissipated and he sat down at the kitchen table. "I'm sorry," he said to me.
I still didn't completely understand. I mumbled something about having schoolwork to finish and ran for my sanctuary, my bedroom upstairs. I didn't even bother turning my viewscreen on; I knew I wasn't going to do any work. I think I must've sat at my desk for hours, staring at the wall.
When I went back downstairs, Dad was still at the kitchen table, where I had left him. "Did you always know? I mean...how did you find out?" I asked him.
"Lisa told me after you were born," he admitted. The truth staggered me. I couldn't stand up anymore. I let my body crumple to the cool linoleum floor. I didn't believe all of it; I couldn't. That day, I knew that whatever he believed, whatever helped him cope, it was because of one truth: Mark was not my real father. I was not his biological daughter. And there was no way I was letting anyone else know the truth--not that anyone would believe such a ludicrous story anyway.
Eleven years later, the truth came rumbling out of the clouds. Up until the moment They actually arrived, I hadn't truly believed Dad. In hindsight, the problems with the swarms down south should have warned us...
In my dreams, I was with my family. One minute, we were sitting around the backyard picnic table making fun of my brother's questionably-edible contribution to our Labour Day family barbecue, in the next, we were engulfed by the sudden visible testimony to the existence of UFOs. There was no time to organize my thoughts, rearrange my beliefs. We only had time to run. We only wanted to survive.
We were lucky. We were able to hide underground when the bombing began. It turned out that Paranoid Mr. Potter next door was right all along. It was his bomb shelter that saved us.
I crouched beside Nina Potter under her mother's vegetable garden and thought about everything I was losing outside: my apartment, where I'd never see my poor fish again; my job at the hospital, my first full-time position; my battered old car...
I didn't think about the people left outside. That would've been too hard. When Nina started sobbing uncontrollably, I left her in favor of standing beside my sister. Megan wasn't the hysterical type. Her tears streamed quietly down her face, but she left them alone. I grabbed her hand fiercely while we waited out the dark.
We emerged twenty-four hours later, when all that we could hear was silence. The devastation They left in our city was something that I hoped I'd never see again in my lifetime, but I was eternally grateful that we had survived it.
I always woke up at this point in my dream feeling the wetness on my face. The worst part of waking up was the remembering. Remembering that I had not been with my family when it happened. Remembering that I had been alone. Remembering that I hadn't spoken to Dad, Nate, or Megan in days. Remembering that I was the only one left. And wishing that I hadn't survived it.
The reality wasn't as excessive as my movie-like dream. There was no rumbling spaceship coming down to Earth. Mr. Potter didn't have a bomb shelter in his backyard, even though he was insanely paranoid. In fact, there were no bombs at first. But there were a lot of bees.
I hadn't been heroic or anything close to it. In fact, I had been in the basement of my apartment building, about to start a load of whites in the laundry room. Sometimes, I can still hear the buzzing...
"Damn!" I cursed under my breath as I realized that I had forgotten the fabric softener upstairs. The generic stuff sold down here was no good. Luckily, I had figured that one out early on--only one disaster in my life involving inappropriate clothing stuck to my pant leg. There was no way I was making the hike up again. Even though I didn't have a full load of laundry to carry up with me just yet, "lazy" would've been my middle name if I had one. I decided to go without.
I was about to swipe my credit through when I heard a loud buzzing noise coming from outside. I peered through the tiny window above the row of dryers. It was a bewildering sight. Everything was black. The bush planted beside the window that had been overgrown long ago, the grass, even the sidewalk was black! And there was movement within the painted scene. I soon realized that was because everything was covered in bees! I couldn't believe how loud the buzzing was; it was almost as if they were inside! I swore I could see movement on the ceiling out of the corner of my eye.
The window was quickly becoming opaque and my first instinct was to run, but I didn't know where to go.
I stayed in the dryer for what seemed like hours. It was quite soundproof in there, yet I could hear what was going on outside inside my head.
The screams were the worst. I covered my ears so hard my head hurt, but I could still hear them. The silence scared me as well. It came less than an hour after the bees had arrived. But it didn't last long. I was attempting to walk out of the laundry room when I heard them.
If my legs hadn't been so shaky, I would've dashed, but being the Jell-O that they were, I cowardly retreated to the nearest hiding place, a broom closet of some sort. I felt like I was in there for two days. This time, when the silence returned, I made myself count to a thousand before I left the safety of the closet.
The silence was deafening. There was no one in my apartment building, no one in the streets, no trace of life anywhere. I don't know how I knew, but I was sure that the bodies had been taken.
I wondered if I had gone crazy. It didn't matter. I needed to find my family. I needed to go home.
Out of habit, I pressed the button for the elevator. The ding when it arrived was like a shotgun blast to my ears. The doors opened but I didn't get in. I had a sudden flash of being trapped in there when whoever had taken the bodies returned. I ran for the stairs.
My apartment was just as I had left it. My three fish circled their tank with an oblivion I craved with my entire being. I suddenly realized that I couldn't hear the sound of the water spilling out of the filter in the tank. What was wrong with me? I moved to touch my ears and remembered the bee stings when I saw the two red blotches on my left forearm.
I stood in front of my bathroom mirror, water dripping everywhere. I had dunked my head in a sink full of cold water, trying to feel something, anything. My dark bob was plastered to the sides of my face, almost hiding my eyes from the mirror. I realized that I must be in shock. I could hear the sound of my own breathing, but nothing else.
I was alone. No one was in the house. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse, my mind supplied.
Although the streets had been quiet outside, I had fervently prayed that somehow my family would be fine as I ran most of the ten blocks from my apartment to the house in which I'd grown up. The prayer became a chant matching the rhythm of my stride as I got closer and closer to my destination. By the time I got to the house, I expected to find everyone there. Megan would be helping Dad in the kitchen. Nate would be watching the football game in the living room. My faith in the power of prayer was immediately shattered when I opened the front door and found emptiness.
I walked through the house in a haze. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary; if I hadn't expected anyone home, I would've just guessed that everyone had decided to go out today. The quiet house reminded me of my days here, weekends when I was home alone. Nate and Megan would be out with their respective friends and Dad would be next door at Ben and Paula's. I both loved and hated these times alone. I loved the privacy but hated being reminded that I had no close friends. I knew it was my own doing that made this a fact and I sometimes hated it, but I also feared knowing someone too well. Best friends don't keep secrets from each other, and I had the biggest secret in the world.
I sat myself down at the kitchen table and waited. Maybe someone would come home soon. Everything would be all right then. I was sure of it.
I don't know how long I sat at the kitchen table in my childhood home, but when I returned to my senses, the first thing I noticed was that my hearing had returned. I could hear the whirring sound of the ceiling fan coming from the living room. I could hear the steady humming of the refrigerator. I could hear the ticking of the clock, a hideous object with a yellow flower motif that my mother had won years earlier, hanging on the wall right of the table. I could even hear the clicking noises coming from inside the walls that I had always associated with the house, but didn't know the true origins of. Suddenly, I could hear all the sounds in the house made by machines, but nothing else. I ran outside, desperate for any other kind of sound. The silence that greeted me was deafening.
I knew as soon as I awoke that we were not alone. I could hear it in my head.
But I knew that Laird wasn't coming back. The Blague, as the survivors had taken to calling Them, had taken him in the middle of the night. I had awoken from my nightmare at that time, knowing instantly what was wrong.
In the five months since They had arrived, I had developed this strange ability to read others' thoughts two times before. Once when The Blague first showed up after the bees, and then again a month later, forcing our small group of five to start heading north.
Brian and Lily were our first casualties. We were just outside Edmonton. They had been out gathering more supplies for our group and didn't return on time. A day later, two of our men found their bodies, ripped to bits outside a former hardware store. We left almost immediately.
Brian and Lily's deaths were the first evidence of what They were capable of. As far as we knew before this, They had only enslaved those who were missing; we had all held out hope for eventual reunions with our loved ones.
After this horrible realization, I learned that now, more than ever, I had a secret to keep. The hatred for the aliens surrounded and invaded me. My family had meant everything to me and yet a part of me had been involved in their destruction. I could not fathom how I could be a part of something so dreadful, the impending extinction of the human race. I learned to live with the conflict. I needed to protect my family's honor, if nothing else. I continued to carry the guilt of never thanking my father for loving me despite who I was.
By the time we had settled in another town, I was used to pretending and could sometimes forget that I had any connection to Them. It wasn't until I awoke in the middle of the night hearing Laird's final thoughts that I lost the ability to pretend.
I knew that The Blague were catching up to us but I couldn't tell everyone, not without telling them the truth. And that was out of the question. I wondered who would have to die this time.
To my joyous relief, knowledge of The Blague's proximity didn't come through the death of another one of our group. It came in the form of other survivors arriving in the city on Valentine's Day.
I was on kitchen duty that day. Amy rushed into the kitchen, breathless, her blond ponytail swinging, soon after I had started preparing lunch. "There's...people...here!" she announced excitedly, taking me by the shoulders and starting to lead me out before I could react. I had gotten used to Amy's barely-out-of-her- teens antics since she had joined our group three months previously and wondered if she was playing a joke on me.
"Yes! Almost twenty of them!"
With the entrance of Amy and me, all five members of our community were present. "We" had assumed that Laird had abandoned us two days previously, since he seemed to have vanished into thin air.
Doug and Keith stood in the middle of the room, enmeshed in an eager conversation with three of the strangers. No doubt they were happy to have someone new to talk to for once. Jacques was walking to the podium at the front of the room.
With his white-enough-to-blind hair, Jacques Fortier was the oldest in our group and had become a kind of leader for us over time. We didn't know much about him but respected his privacy and didn't ask. He had been the first person I stumbled upon, in the junk food aisle at Safeway no less, two days after the bees. I had been so ecstatic about seeing another person that I blatantly ignored the strange thoughts I was picking up from him. And I continued to try to forget everyday. I assumed that I was the only one who knew some unsavory things about him, but I wouldn't reveal them to anyone unless it became necessary.
Jacques cleared his throat loudly. "Hello, everyone. Thanks for this gathering. There are six--excuse me, five-- of us here currently and we'd like to welcome the eighteen newcomers to Wilhelmina," he paused and looked to an older gentleman standing a few feet away from him.
I knew before the newcomer took the podium what he was going to say. Although I had known it was coming, it was a disappointment nonetheless. I had really liked it here.
Fox Mulder was definitely a strangely charismatic spokesman, if not the leader, of his group. He spoke bluntly, but his eyes revealed his shared disappointment at the news. "...so I'd say the Blague are less than a week away. My suggestion is that we leave within twenty-four hours."
Amy gasped out loud, but many people kept their thoughts to themselves.
"Mr. Mulder--" Keith began.
"Mulder, is there any way we can postpone leaving for a week, or at least a couple of days?"
"I for one wouldn't want to risk it. Our group has been running from Them for three weeks. Getting further north quickly gives us the best chance for survival."
Voices could be heard inside and outside of my head immediately. By the time we'd all decided to leave first thing in the morning, I'd already decided where to spend my last day in town. I needed to escape from everyone's thoughts and I knew my refuge would be the best place.
I thumbed the heaviness of the weathered paper as I turned to my favorite page in the book. God, I was going to miss this. Who knew when we'd get to another town with an intact library? It could be months, years! I would've been here much earlier, but I hadn't been able to get away. Even with several of the newcomers helping, kitchen duty had been a big part of my day, especially since our community had suddenly grown four times bigger. Amy had caught up with me every chance she got, blabbing on and on about the newcomers. I secretly wished she'd make some new friends quickly. As the only other female member of our community, I had been resigned to be her confidante, her surrogate sister, her "best bud" for the past few months, and I was starting to crave my independence and privacy.
I had discovered the public library soon after we'd arrived in town and within days, had made myself at home there at least four times a week. It didn't matter that no one else agreed that books were important enough for entertainment-- even though we all lamented over the lack of it--and that power would not be restored there. I knew it would be a waste of our resources to heat and light the massive building if I were the only one to use it. I had taken to wearing many layers and bringing a lantern or flashlight with me in case I stayed there too late. Twice, I had fallen asleep among the oak shelves, waking up freezing cold, smelling the dust and mold of an abandoned building.
I looked around at the many shelves of books and at my meager stack of six hardcovers. Was there any way I could bring more of these treasures with me?
I picked up my books, about to move to another aisle, when I heard the creak of a door. I froze in place, trying to decipher whether it was the wind or something living. For as long as I had started coming here, no one had ever joined me. Even though there were newcomers in town, it was unlikely anyone else would think of coming here now, when it was almost midnight. I wracked my brain trying to listen for signs of another's presence.
It was no use. I couldn't hear anything. I had never had any control over my abilities; the thoughts came whenever they felt like it and I didn't know why I expected to be able to manage their reception now. Something that sounded like a footstep on the carpet came out of the darkness. I clutched the stack of books to my chest, too afraid to move to extinguish the lantern on the floor behind me.
I hadn't met very many of the newcomers, just the ones who had worked in the kitchen with me, and I had a sudden fear of a stranger who would do me harm. I crouched down low, peering out between the top of a row of books, but couldn't see anything. Unconsciously, I stepped back and nearly tripped over my lantern, dropping one of the books I was holding. Damn! I've revealed my location!
I decided that I needed to move right away. I needed to get away from the light. I picked up the fallen book quickly. If I needed to, I could always use the heavy novel as a weapon. Staying as silent as I could, I took slow steps away from the lantern, intending to go towards the back stairs, the opposite direction of where the sound had originated. I found relief in the knowledge that I knew my way around the library in the dark and it was likely that a stranger wouldn't.
I had just inched out of what I judged to be the last aisle when I bumped into something solid. Thinking that I had misjudged and had walked into a shelf, I raised my right hand to feel my way along the shelf.
My scream came a millisecond after I realized that the shelf was moving. "Jesus Christ!" a male voice shouted in front of me. I heard sounds of scrambling. Before I could drop my books and run for it, the light of a super-powerful flashlight blinded me. "Freeze!" I was commanded.
I blinked a couple of times to clear my vision. A gun was pointed at my head, held by steady hands belonging to a male figure in dark clothing, standing less than five feet in front of me. I couldn't see his eyes. If I were able to see his eyes, maybe I wouldn't be ready to pee my pants. My brain immediately told me to answer his question if I wanted to get out of this situation.
"Reading?" my mouth managed to get out.
The gun was lowered. "You scared the living hell out of me! Why didn't you let me know you were here?" The light was taken off me and the gun put away.
"No one's ever here except me. Why didn't you?" Now that my eyes had readjusted to the darkness, I could see the stranger better. As far as I could tell, he was of average height and looks, but very built. He looked non- threatening, but I was still wary.
"I didn't expect to find anyone here. I saw a light."
I was confused for a minute. Then I remembered my forgotten source of light. "Oh, my lantern." I started to go back for it and the newcomer followed me, letting his light shine slightly in front of me, leading the way.
"So, do you always come here in the dark?"
I found it strange that this guy was trying to make conversation. The past five months had been lonely for everyone but maybe this guy was a weirdo. Who else would go to a library on their only night in a new town?
"It wasn't dark when I got here."
I stopped in front of my lantern and debated whether to stay or go. I wanted to stay, but the safety of my refuge had been compromised. If I left, would I regret my decision?
I already had enough regrets; I didn't want another one. Ignoring the newcomer, I set my books down on the floor beside the lantern and sat down cross-legged, leaning against one of the shelves.
"You should get home. We're leaving pretty early and if you want to get enough sleep for the trip--"
"I'm staying here," I interrupted, hoping my voice sounded assertive enough. "I'd like to be alone, but this is a public place, so I can't make you leave..." I trailed off, giving him the hint as strongly as I could.
"I'd like to look around."
I'm sure my disappointment was showing. "You don't need my permission. Like I said, this is public property. But if you don't mind, I don't want to be disturbed. Please keep your explorations to a low rumble?" Gee, I sounded like a librarian!
The chuckle made an encore. "I'll try." The figure started to retreat. He was almost out of the aisle when he turned back around to face me with a silly, little grin. "Say, were you a librarian before They showed up?"
Had he read my mind? I opened my mouth to reply, but he was gone.
We had only been on the road for two hours, but my feet were already killing me. Due to lack to electricity to recharge vehicles, we were going by foot. I was wearing the two-hundred-dollar running shoes I'd taken from an athletic store back in Westlock, but now I could feel every pebble under the heavily cushioned soles. I knew we were staying away from the main highways for safety reasons, but I couldn't help cursing the might-as-well-have-been-muskeg we had to plow through.
I looked back but couldn't see Amy. I had ditched her twenty minutes ago. She had been going on about Jimmy Somebody, one of the newcomers. I took my opportunity when she stopped to find a snack in her backpack, telling her that I was going to speed up a bit and that she could catch up to me later. I'd known that it would take her awhile.
"Hey!" A hand tapped me on the shoulder. If it hadn't been for the male voice, I would've expected Amy. Instead, I turned around to find the newcomer I had encountered last night in the library.
"Hello," I said cautiously, trying not to be obvious in my appraisal of him. In the light of day, I realized that he was actually younger than I had originally guessed; he looked around my age. I couldn't help but notice his ruddy cheeks. The strawberry blond locks framing the fair skin of his face looked like they needed a good comb-through. He reminded me of Megan's first boyfriend, the jock with the biggest head I had ever met.
He gave me a strange smile. "Mind if I walk with you?" he asked.
"I...Uh..." I stammered, trying unsuccessfully to think of a quick excuse."
"Don't worry, I don't bite. But if you'd rather be alone..."
"Oh no, it's fine," I answered quickly. I didn't want to appear rude.
We walked in silence for five minutes or so until he broke it. "You thirsty?"
I had avoided looking in his direction until now, and I turned to him, hoping I had what my family called my "pleasant smile" on. He was holding a water bottle out to me. I vaguely remembered seeing him take swigs from it out of the corner of my eye.
I was surprised that he was offering his bottle to a stranger. In this day and age, who knew what anyone could be carrying? "No, thank you."
He grinned. "I'm not germy," he leaned in and whispered as if we were conspiring partners.
I couldn't help it. I laughed. I recognized his voice as he joined me. And that was the start of our friendship.
We walked together for another hour or so, before the group stopped for the next break, and I discovered that he had been a psychology grad student before They came. We talked mostly of trivial things, avoiding the pain of personal memories of the past. After our mutual "nice talking to you"s, he had wandered off to find someone during the break, and I realized that I didn't even know his name.
It took almost a week, but we found a place that was far enough away from Them that Mulder deemed safe, Pride Creek. Jacques had wanted to stop in High Prairie two days earlier, but after a brief power struggle with Mulder which we all pretended to ignore, he agreed that it was better to be over-cautious than dead.
Pride Creek, which had once had a booming population from the oil sands industry, now had a population of two, Trent and Angie, who were elated when we converged into town just after noon. They saw us as their saviors, ending their fear that they were the only two people left on Earth.
The end of traveling signaled a renewed sense of action and organization in the group. It was decided that the town's only hotel, aptly named the Pride Creek Hotel, would be our new home. People were assigned both immediate and permanent jobs. This afternoon, I was a food gatherer, and accompanied five others in raiding the pantries of the houses in town. Tomorrow, I would resume a role I had to abandon suddenly almost six months ago. Because of my background Before, I was assigned to work in the town's medical clinic, which was essentially one room in the town hall. I looked forward to it, doing something I was familiar with would help things seem normal again.
I was assigned a room on the second floor of the hotel, and by the time I got back there, the electricity, heat, and, water were functional again, much to my delight. After the hottest shower I could stand, I practically threw myself onto the bed, letting the fatigue get its way. I fell asleep, dreaming that Pride Creek had always been my home.
I wasn't sure whether to knock or not as I stood at the entryway of the clinic. The heavy door with the glass window was being held open with a tank of oxygen. I could see a woman in a dark green sweatshirt and jeans at the far counter. Her back was to me and she didn't seem to have heard my approaching footsteps. She appeared to be sorting a counter full of supplies.
I knocked lightly on the door and waited. The woman continued to work and my nervousness increased. I knocked again. "H-hello?"
The woman snapped her head around, her red ponytail swinging. I wondered if this was something new for her, the need for speed being learned quickly in this new time when being ready to run or fight meant survival of the human species. She had a strangely calm look on her face even though her body was giving off the flight vibe.
"I'm looking for the doctor," I said quickly. "Dr. Scully?"
The woman's body language visibly relaxed. "That would be me," she replied.
I must admit, I was a little surprised. I hadn't realized that the doctor was a woman. Dana Scully was petite, and from behind, I had imagined a much younger woman, not someone old enough to be my mother. "Are you the nurse?" she asked.
"Yes. Yes, I am. I'm Jessie." I realized that I was still standing at the door and quickly moved into the room.
The slight smile she gave me was enough to cinch my anxiety. "I've been used to working alone since Utah. It'll be nice to have an extra pair of hands. It's nice to meet you, Jessie." She moved forward with her hand and after a moment's hesitation, I shook it. Her grip was smooth and firm.
"Uh...likewise, Dr. Scully." I felt like an idiot, like someone going to her first job interview.
"Please, call me Dana."
"I'm just reorganizing the cupboards to my liking," she told me. "As you can probably tell, I like the important things on the lower shelves."
"Do you want some help?"
"Why don't you start over there?" she pointed to the other side of the room. "We can meet in the middle."
I nodded and headed towards the cupboards on the left-hand side of the room. We worked for fifteen minutes or so before Dana broke the silence. "So, Jessie, what field do you--did you--work in?"
I looked up from the alcohol swabs I was currently sorting by size. "Oh, palliative care," I admitted, a bit worried about what she'd think. "You?" I asked, expecting emergency, surgery, or something equally exciting as an answer. She didn't look like a family doctor.
"Forensic pathology." Dana had a weird look on her face. "Oh, Jessie, what a pair we'll make!" Her mouth made a grimace. "From the dying and the dead to...what? What are we?"
"Is this seat taken?" a familiar voice interrupted Jimmy's rant on porn being an art form.
Three pairs of eyes looked up at the newcomer, Amy with curiosity, I with surprise, and Jimmy with annoyance, then welcome.
"Oh, hey, man, have a seat," he offered.
"Thanks," my recent not-germy friend placed his tray down on the table and sat down across from me. "We meet again," he directed at me quietly.
"This is Amy and...Jessica?" Jimmy looked at me for verification.
"Jessie. Just Jessie," I corrected.
"I'm Jake. Jake Mulder."
"Any relation to--" I began.
"Our illustrious leader?" Jimmy interrupted.
"He's my father," Jake said to me. He turned to Jimmy. "And he's not really our leader." Jimmy shrugged in response.
"Hi, Jake. Nice to meet you." Amy raised her hand in a little wave from my left.
Jake grinned and waved back. I thought it was a bit childish and gave him my hand instead. "Nice to see you again," I said as we shook hands.
"We met coming up," Jake explained to Jimmy and Amy.
"So where are you from?" Amy asked Jake as she spooned up her canned chicken noodle soup.
"All over. I'm...I was visiting my parents in Salt Lake before..." He didn't need to tell us before what, we all knew.
"Another American, huh? Jimmy's from the States, too," Amy remarked.
"Great Falls, born and raised," Jimmy supplied around a mouthful of cheese and crackers.
"And you? Where are you from?" Jake asked Amy.
"Red Deer. Jessie's from here, too. Calgary. You're the first person I've met from so far away. You must've started heading up pretty fast after..."
"Yeah." Jake stopped stirring his soup and decided to try it.
"So what were you taking in school?" Jimmy asked him.
"I was working on my doctorate in neuropsychology."
"Research?" I asked, picking up my napkin.
"Yeah. I guess it's kind of boring, working in the lab--"
"You get to work with rats, man?" Jimmy interrupted.
Jake laughed. "No, Jimmy. No rats--no live ones, anyway. It's all virtual for me."
I hadn't been working in the clinic for even a week, when I realized how unexciting it would be. At first, I had basked in laziness, glad to have such easy work compared to my job before. I quickly came to miss everything from my old job, from Mr. Chu's complicated meds to Mrs. Hudson's diaper changes.
Dana and I had a lot of time to talk; the only medical needs so far had been ones easily fixed with bandages, cuts and scrapes. We didn't talk much about Before, as it was a painful subject for everyone, but mostly about neutral things. She did let it slip that she had a son named William, though, when we discussed nature versus nurture with respect to intelligence, saying that he definitely had his father's brains. She didn't reveal anything else; I assumed that we had ventured into personal losses, and changed the subject to movies.
On my sixth day at the clinic, I was so bored I started cleaning. I was sanitizing the tiles above the sink when I heard whistling in the hallway. At the sound of a possible client, or at least someone to relieve the boredom, I immediately abandoned the walls, ripping the yellow gloves off and throwing them into the sink. I turned towards the door and was pleasantly surprised to find Jake Mulder looking in. For a moment, my heart skipped a beat, being adolescent in hoping he was coming to see me, but my brain got back on track quickly. "Hello, do you need medical service?" I asked, feeling slightly awkward.
"Ah, no. I was actually looking for my mom. Is she here?"
"Yeah, she's the doctor?"
"Oh. Oh, Dana's your mom?" I suddenly saw the resemblance and kicked myself for being so slow. "She mentioned a son named William..."
"That'd be me. William Jacob Mulder," Jake grinned.
I was a little taken aback. He had both of his parents with him? The only intact family I knew of in our community were Jon and Suzanne, first cousins. How had the Mulders managed to be so lucky?
"Jake, what are you doing here?" Dana appeared at the end of the hall. She walked briskly towards us, ready for an emergency.
"I was wondering if you want to eat lunch with me. I got it 'to go.'" Jake held up a large paper bag.
"That's sweet, but I just ate. Why don't you go with Jessie? It's her lunch break now."
"Oh no, that's all right, I can go to the cafeteria," I said, referring to the hotel's dining room.
"Why go there, when I've already got it here? Come on, Jessie, I've got extra cookies!"
"Extra cookies?" I wondered how he'd managed that.
"I'll tell you how I got away with it if you eat with me," he whispered, raising his eyebrows and nodding.
Dana laughed. "I'll see you two later. Thanks for thinking of me, sweetie." She gave Jake a peck on the cheek. "Have a good lunch!" She waved us off.
"I guess I'm eating lunch with you," I told Jake.
"Don't be too excited. Come on, I found this great place!" He started walking, then turned around to wait for me to catch up.
"Where are we going?" I asked Jake as we trudged through the snow, trying to keep the whine out of my voice.
"You'll see," he replied, turning around with a small grin before continuing forward.
I tried to keep my annoyance at him hidden. He knew I only had thirty minutes for my lunch break. Once Jake had found out that we had the same time for our breaks, one lunch with him had turned into two, then three. I didn't know why he wanted my company anyway. All we had in common was that we had both been cyberschooled and loved to read. I didn't particularly crave company often, but I supposed that a lunch buddy was all right.
Today was supposedly our fourth day eating lunch together, but I was beginning to doubt that I'd be seeing any food before I'd have to head back to the clinic. It wasn't too cold today, mild for February, but I hadn't anticipated having to trek for more than a couple of blocks.
I almost crashed into Jake's backpack, not noticing that he had stopped. "Look." He pointed to the wall in front of us. I didn't see anything except some graffiti on the back wall of the courthouse.
"What am I looking at?"
Jake grabbed my mitten-covered hand and led me closer to the wall. "Look here," he said, pointing to the small letters in red paint.
"'William luvs Jess forever,'" I read.
"Isn't it neat? There were people with our names who lived here. I found it when I was out on patrol this morning. Trent said that it's been there for years. William and Jess celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary last year, he said."
"Well, that tells us how often this building is repainted," I remarked. I didn't think it was as neat as Jake thought it was. He didn't go by his first name, my name was Jessie, not Jess, and we weren't in love. Two names painted on a wall was vandalism, nothing else.
Jake seemed to deflate at my comment, but he didn't say anything else about the declaration on the wall. "Let's go around to the front and see if there's anywhere to sit inside the courthouse," he suggested. "We don't want lunch to freeze."
The knock on my door woke me from my dream before it could turn nightmarish. My watch on the nightstand told me it was already 10 o'clock. I sat up in bed, remembering that I had only planned to take a short nap after supper, not go to bed so early. I finger-combed my hair on my way to answer the door, wondering if I was needed in the clinic.
I opened the door to "You're gonna love me," from the mouth of Jake Mulder.
"Because you're going to save me from Adam Solchuk?" I couldn't help but grin.
"Adam?" He invited himself into my room. I sighed and closed the door behind him.
"He came into the clinic this afternoon because there were no more condoms at the drug store, but that's not important--"
"It's not?" Jake waggled his eyebrows, settling himself onto my unmade bed.
"He said that since people were starting to couple off, he wanted to know if I was interested--"
"Geez, that guy should've been named Melvin!"
"Someone my mom used to know. So what did you tell Adam?"
"That you'd beat him up, of course!"
"No. What are you doing here?"
"I missed you."
"We saw each other at lunch today and I'm sure we'll see each other at lunch tomorrow, so that can't be it. Seriously, what are you doing here?"
"I found a library."
"A library?" I couldn't help but feel the excitement start up. Jake had a great memory, and would tell me stories from the books in his head during our lunches together, but it wasn't the same as the thrill of cracking open a new tale, feeling the smooth printed paper under my fingers.
"Yes, but it's in someone's house. It's more of a personal library. If you don't mind breaking and entering--"
"Oh, I could kiss you!" I was already grabbing my coat and looking for my mittens.
"I told you you were gonna love me!"
Having a role in our community made me feel like things were finally approaching normal. Sometimes I could almost forget about what was happening to our planet. I might not have had my family, but I had a job and it gave me a sense of purpose again.
My relationship with Amy started withering. She complained that I was at the clinic all the time and spent the little free time I had with Jake. I for one thought she was acting like a jealous best friend, the kind that accuses your boyfriend of stealing you away from her. And Jake wasn't even my boyfriend! I was no longer a teenager and Amy wasn't even close to being my best friend. I resented her implications and stayed away from her as often as I could. The last time I had bumped into her on my way home, she had gone on and on about Ryan, her latest boy-toy.
"What about you and Jake?" she had asked, giving me a knowing look.
"What about me and Jake?" I asked slowly.
"Have you guys done it yet?"
"Oh, come on, Jessie, you can tell me! Everyone knows that you two are together--"
"We are not 'together,' Amy! And I don't care what 'everyone' thinks! We're just friends, that's all," I cut her off. I could feel the throbbing begin in my head. I needed to get away from her before she made the anger percolate.
Amy's face fell. "And you're happy with that?"
"Perfectly." I turned to go.
"Well then, maybe you need to tell him that 'cause I don't think he is."
I watched her saunter away. Her statement had shocked me, but I wasn't about to let it be known. What did she know anyway? She had been an exotic dancer before They came! I gave myself a minute to calm down, then walked back the way I had come.
"Do you believe that there is someone out there for everyone?" Jake asked me from his spot underneath our usual painting as I approached. We had taken to eating lunch in the foyer of the courthouse, under a painting entitled "Freedom Journey." It was an abstract piece by a Dene artist, and I didn't understand it, but it evoked a strong feeling from me every time I looked at the swirls of red and black.
I brushed some invisible dirt off the bench before sitting down beside Jake. "Yeah, I'd like to think so. I don't think I've met him or her yet."
His left eyebrow went up at my implication but he didn't ask. Instead, he said casually, "Oh? I think I've met mine."
I was busy unpacking my lunch and didn't really absorb his words. "That's nice," I think I said. When I looked up again, I met his disappointed-looking eyes for only a second before they went back to his sandwich. I didn't know whether to ask him about his weird mood or not, but didn't get a chance.
"Hey, do you think there are other groups out there? You know, of survivors?" Jake asked around a mouthful of peanut butter and jam.
"I don't know. It's possible."
"I'd bet the President is safe in some godforsaken underground facility. I can see her being whisked away after her televised address to the nation." He took a swig of his rootbeer.
"I'm not sure what happened to our Prime Minister. I think he was in Switzerland or someplace like that...at a peace conference."
"If only we could've been at peace with ourselves. Maybe then we would've had time to prepare for this," Jake contemplated.
"Do you think governments knew about the Blague before They came?" I asked incredulously.
"Of course! You'd be surprised at how much the government knows."
We finished our lunch debating just how much of the truth the public was allowed to know. I was heading back to the clinic when I realized that I had forgotten to ask Jake if he was happy with our friendship. It had been in the back of my mind ever since Amy's comments, but I was relieved that I had avoided the question for another day, even if I had honestly forgotten.
A month after we had settled in Pride Creek, the restlessness started. Two hours after we all witnessed yet another heated discussion between the men assigned to security--in which Jacques took a swing at Mulder--a decision was made to send some people down south to see what was out there. Jacques immediately volunteered to lead the first scouting team, and Keith, Ryan, Jimmy, Lance, and Eli signed up to go with him. I was glad Jake didn't sign up, but I didn't tell him that.
The first night the men were gone, I found Amy at my door. "Hey, stranger," she said, inviting herself into my room. "What's up?" she asked, flopping onto the bed I had vacated. She picked up my abandoned book and flipped pages aimlessly. "I'm bored."
"Already? How are you going to survive the next couple of days? He's only been gone what? Fourteen hours?"
"I've got you, Jessie." Amy flashed a big smile my way.
I sat down on the carpet beside the bed. "Amy..." I didn't know how to tell her I didn't want to hang out with her constantly. "Hey, be careful with that!"
She stopped her impromptu juggling with the book, giving me a questioning look.
"It's not mine. I borrowed it from Jake," I admitted.
"Ooh, so what's happening on that front?" she asked immediately, sitting up on the bed.
"Nothing. I told you. We're friends, that's all."
"That's unfortunate. I was sure he was interested..." she trailed off.
"What made you think that?"
"The way he looks at you. Don't you see it?"
"God, you must be blind! His eyes light up when you're around. Haven't you noticed how he's insinuated himself into your life? I think he wants you."
I wondered whether she was right or not. It did seem strange that he had picked me to befriend. "I don't want a boyfriend," I told her.
"Why not? God knows there's nothing else to do around here!"
I couldn't help the snicker that came out of my mouth. "Is that all that Ryan's good for?"
She laughed wholeheartedly. "No, he's also a very good cook. He made that pie we had for dessert last night. Wasn't it delicious?" I didn't have a chance to agree before she spoke again. "I think he's the one."
"The one I'm gonna marry."
"Amy! You've only known him for three weeks!"
"You can't possibly know him well enough--"
"I know that I love him. And that he loves me. Isn't that good enough?"
"What about respect, honesty, and kindness? What about trust?"
"You think too much, Jessie. No wonder you and Jake aren't going anywhere!"
I had no comeback for her. I couldn't tell her that I didn't want my relationship with Jake to go any further, that I couldn't be more than friends with him without being totally honest. I couldn't trust anyone, not even Jake.
I closed the door of my room and leaned back against it. Amy's Ryan was gone. He'd been DOA but Dana tried to revive him anyway. I think we'd both known that it was too late.
God, the blood! There had been so much blood! He'd been slashed across the throat and had bled out. The other men had dressed his wound the best they could and carried him back. It had been a three-day journey, and Ryan had lost consciousness on the third day. I didn't want to know how close they'd been to home.
They'd made it as far as Slave Lake before they were attacked and robbed of their meager supply of food. Was this how we were all going to die? Were we to be killed by our own while running from the Blague? Turning against each other would only be our downfall, yet selfishness likely ensured an individual's survival.
I closed my eyes and let the tears fall. I couldn't get Amy's voice out of my mind. She had been hysterical, screaming with grief. Dana eventually had to sedate her. She helped me hold her down so that the needle wouldn't miss its mark. I couldn't hold her by myself.
I slid down the door and curled by knees into my chest. God, Amy, I'm so sorry! I had tried to wrap my arms around her at first, offering comfort, but she'd slapped my hands away, wailing continuously.
She might've been a constant annoyance, but she had probably been the only thing keeping me sane in the first month of our acquaintance. She had just found out about her lover's death and what had I done? I'd treated her like a rabid animal, something wild that needed to be taken down. I wondered if I'd left bruises on her arms.
When Jake found me two hours later, I was numb. I let him pull me up off the floor and into his arms. My arms stayed at my sides while his hands caressed my back and shoulders. "You don't have anything to feel guilty about," he whispered.
I started to awaken. I felt a cool breeze slide over my body and instinctively reached down to pull the covers up. In blindly searching for the sheets, I realized that I had no clothes on. My still-sleepy brain deduced that I must've slept in the nude due to one of those sticky summer heatwave nights. But within a minute, my mind remembered that it was only spring.
My eyes snapped open and reality shocked me when I saw that I was facing a wall that wasn't mine. Suddenly, it all returned to me.
Everyone in the community had gathered on the shore of Pride Creek the evening before for Ryan's funeral. He was to be cremated, since Amy had protested vehemently at the idea of burying him; The Blague had taken over Earth, and she didn't want his body remaining here if They were successful, if we didn't make it.
Eli suggested having a celebration of Ryan's life at one of the two bars in town, but after many tears being shed at the funeral, no one was up for a party. Besides, the bars were empty; they had likely been first to be cleaned out in September, and alcohol would have helped numb the grief for a while.
Amy wanted to be alone--well actually, she had screamed at Jake about not understanding how it felt to lose someone because he still had his parents--so Jake and I ended up back in his room. He was clearly upset with what Amy had said, but didn't want to talk about it. "She knows we've all suffered losses. She's just striking out in her grief," was all he said on the matter. I didn't ask him about those he'd lost, not wanting to bring up Before. We were depressed enough already.
We sat on his carpet, talking softly about Ryan, and life and death. Half an hour or so later, he suddenly stood up during a lull in our conversation, walked away, picked up his backpack by the door and started rifling through it.
"What are you doing?" I asked, suppressing a yawn.
He produced a new bottle of rye from his backpack, saying, "Let's drink to Ryan."
I jumped up from the floor. "Where did you get that?" I demanded, not sure if I really wanted to know.
"Trent and I found someone's private stash this morning when we were on patrol," he confessed without a hint of guilt, placing the bottle on the dresser.
I opened and closed my mouth without saying anything. I wasn't his mother. I wasn't going to scold him about entering former residents' houses with no good reason. I wasn't up for it, and I didn't want to hear his "Well, they're not going to need it anymore."
Perhaps it was my tired mind supplying my brain with misinformation, but I remembered thinking, I'm thirsty--I could use a drink. I didn't know how knowledge of the effects of alcohol escaped me that night.
"Do you have any Coke?" I had asked, yielding to insanity.
"Yeah, if you don't mind it warm." Jake took two cans out of his bag, offering them to me. I set them on his dresser, debating whether to go downstairs for ice or not.
I hadn't even noticed that he was no longer beside me until Jake returned from the bathroom with two glasses. He broke the seal on the bottle and poured us both a generous quantity of rye, considering the size of the glasses. After adding the Coke, he started to look around for something to mix with, but I stopped him with my "Let me," using my index finger to stir the contents of each glass. "I'm not germy," I told him when he gave me an odd look.
He handed me one of the glasses. "To Ryan," he proclaimed and I echoed as we clinked glasses. I took a sip and savored the familiar taste. I couldn't remember the last time I'd had rye. I stopped thinking too hard; trying to remember Before would only remind me of all those I'd lost last summer. I returned to the here and now to catch Jake saying something about starlight, but didn't ask him to repeat it.
I'd only plan to have one or two drinks, but I somehow forgot to stop. I remembered Jake reading to me, then stopping because it didn't seem right to be do something so normal. I remembered playing Go Fish with him, and being frustrated that I couldn't concentrate. I remembered our easy laughter as the evening wore on, two bathroom breaks, dancing without music--I even remembered staring at his chest and wondering if he had washboard abs--but things got fuzzy after that.
I could only remember bits and pieces of what transpired after my sixth--or maybe eighth--drink. My mind brought up memories I could not be sure were real: an unsuccessful attempt to play poker on his bed, surprise when his fingers moved to lace with mine, helping him pull his shirt over his head, his mouth on my naked breast as he braced himself above me, hitting my head on the headboard during a particularly forceful thrust, trying to keep from screaming out loud...
I couldn't remember what it felt like, yet I had flashes of images. I tried to recall what his mouth felt like, imagining it warm and moist, but my mind drew a blank. Had Jake been any good? I could only imagine that the stifled scream in my memory was brought on by intense pleasure. I raised an arm to the top of my head and groaned when I touched the bump on top. The pain was like a bucket of cold water.
Oh my God, what had I done?
Yeah, so maybe Jake and I had a weird relationship, but strange as it might've been, I was happy with it. And now it was ruined.
My head throbbed. The pain was not sharp, but every few milliseconds or so, I felt a twinge of discomfort coming from somewhere beneath my eyes. I could almost see the pain. It started from somewhere in the middle of my brain, swelling into a wave of nerves and receptors. It intruded and meshed with the images swirling in my head.
I closed my eyes and tried to wish everything away, but it was no use. My mind was ready to take the exit ramp to go down that highway of guilt. I couldn't let it. I already regretted last night and that was enough. I needed to salvage what was left of our friendship before I felt the guilt of ruining what we once had.
I did the only thing my cowardly heart could do: I avoided Jake. Luckily, he'd already left for patrol when I'd awoken in his room that morning, so it was a simple escape. But the past two days had not been so easy. I only stayed in my room when I knew Jake was working, I made sure I was away from the clinic during his lunch break, I stopped going to the cafeteria for supper, and made myself scarce whenever I spotted anyone who might talk to Jake later on. If Dana noticed my strange behavior, she didn't ask.
One would've thought it would have been relatively easy to hide in Pride Creek, with so many buildings and so few people. On the third night of avoiding Jake, he found me in the central stairwell of Pride Creek School.
"So this is where you've been sleeping?" The familiar voice shattered the silence in the stairwell, echoing upwards. I scrambled from where I was sitting on my sleeping bag to my feet, extinguishing the lantern at my side quickly. He turned on his flashlight, the beam focused to the floor, where it reflected off the silver cover of my dropped book.
"I know what you're scared of, Jessie," he said quietly.
No, he didn't know. He had no idea.
"But I'm good at pretending, too."
I backed further away from him, feeling both nervous and foolish for doing so.
"We can pretend it never happened," he suggested.
I didn't know if it was possible. Yes, the alcohol might have blurred most of my memory, but not all of it.
"We can pretend," he repeated. "I can't lose you...as a friend."
"You don't need me," I whispered, unsure whether I wanted him to hear me or not.
"No, but I do want to be your friend."
"Why? You've made other friends."
There was a moment of silence before he answered, "You give me peace."
Even in the almost dark, he must have sensed the strange look I gave him. In my job at the hospital, I had equated peace to the acceptance of death I'd seen in the patients; my mind had automatically thought that maybe Jake was dying. "You mean what you say," he started explaining. "You're not hypocritical. You don't dwell on the negative. The others worry too much. I like being with you because you make me forget. You give me peace."
I didn't understand what he was trying to say. He didn't know me as well as he thought. But I could relate to what he said about forgetting. When we were together, it was easy to forget that things weren't normal, that I wasn't normal. I stepped away from the wall, one step closer to him.
"Still friends?" he asked hesitantly.
I might've wished that Jake and I could pretend we hadn't crossed the line, but once we'd agreed to go back, I found myself betrayed by my memories. We'd be talking at lunch, and I'd realize that I wasn't following the conversation but obsessing about his lips, wondering where he'd kissed me, trying to remember what he tasted like. I never let on--I couldn't. I wasn't safe for him. I needed to maintain a certain amount of distance, and becoming friends had already been a mistake, although impossible to avoid. I had to try better at staying in control, at pretending.
Perhaps it was only an indication of us becoming closer friends, but I couldn't help feeling as if Jake had lied about being able to pretend. The pressure to move beyond friendship first came in the disguise of casual questions. We seemed to be venturing more and more into the personal, and I wasn't sure if it would be more suspicious if I avoided answering.
"So how did you manage to avoid getting stung?" he asked once between bites of pasta salad.
I did a double take, as he had hurdled over the sign announcing Things-We-Don't-Talk-About. Most of life Before was in this forbidden territory, as well as the reasons why we'd survived while so many others had not.
"Where were you when the bees came?" His second question on the heels of the first convinced me that he was blatantly ignoring the unspoken rule. He looked at me expectantly, as if there was no reason for my hesitance.
"I was in the laundry room. I hid in the dryer, but I was stung. Twice," I admitted.
"Well, whaddaya know? Me, too."
I didn't know what to say to that. I had assumed that everyone else had either been lucky to escape being stung, or naturally immune like myself, but had never actually asked anyone.
"It's genetic, you know. You know my parents are immune; that's why we all made it. Where do you think you got it from?"
I paused, unsure how much I wanted to reveal. Jake was just curious, I believed. "My dad didn't make it."
"And your mother?"
"I lost her when I was eleven."
"I'm sorry. Was it cancer?"
I gave him a questioning look, but he didn't elaborate. "No, a car accident."
"Was she an abductee?"
I almost dropped my bowl. My head swam with the implications. How did Jake know about that? Just how much did he know? Did he suspect?
Jake continued, ignoring my silence. "The tests might've given her immunity."
I exhaled loudly. "I wouldn't know. She died before she could tell me anything." I shoved my unfinished lunch back into its bag and stood up from the bench. "If you'll excuse me, I'm going back to the clinic. I want to get a head start on the afternoon reading," I told Jake, referring to the medical texts Dana and I had been reviewing lately. I walked out of the courthouse before Jake could ask me anything else.
"We need to find out what's going on, Scully. I'm not going to sit here and grieve without knowing the truth. Without outside contact, we're asking for an attack!" I could hear Mulder's voice as I walked down the hallway towards the clinic.
"I know. I just don't want to lose you," Dana replied in a plaintive voice I had never heard from her before.
"You won't. I'll be careful."
I stomped my rubber boots a little to announce my presence before going inside the clinic. Dana and Mulder were just stepping apart from an embrace and a long-ago memory of walking in on my parents hugging in the kitchen assaulted me. I instantly felt guilty for my earlier jealous attitude towards Jake. It wasn't his fault his family happened to stay intact when so many others did not.
"Hi, Jessie. How was lunch?" Dana asked, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear.
"Hey, Jessie." Mulder gave me something I interpreted as a smile, then turned back to Dana. "I'll see you at supper," he told her before giving her a peck on the cheek and heading for the door.
"What's going on?" I couldn't help asking, once he was gone.
"You'll find out tonight," was all Dana supplied.
After supper, Mulder announced a brief meeting, in which we found out that another foray out of town would be attempted. We would be needing more food and medicine soon, and the first unsuccessful venture had at least given us the knowledge that there were supplies still available out there.
Mulder asked for volunteers to accompany him, and I immediately turned to my right to prevent Jake from volunteering. I panicked when he wasn't in his seat. "Where's Jake?" I asked Jimmy frantically.
"I don't know. He was just here," Jimmy shrugged. I scanned the cafeteria, no longer caring how obvious I looked. "He's over there," Jimmy said, pointing to three tables away, where Jake was talking to Trent.
"What's wrong?" Amy asked.
"He can't go," I told her, feeling physically ill.
"Take it easy, Jessie." She took my hand, giving it a small squeeze. "Go tell him."
I shook my head "no." I couldn't. I was the one who wanted to pretend. I couldn't be weak. I needed to be a supportive friend, not a clingy girlfriend. And so I sat. I watched as Jake and Trent approached Mulder and felt my stomach drop.
I was surprised a moment later when Jake turned around with a frown and left the cafeteria without coming back to the table. A minute later my senses returned to me, and I got up to follow him.
I assumed that Jake had gone back to his room, and grudgingly made my way up the stairs. I could hear someone running further up in the stairwell, and I wondered whether it was Jake or not, but did not call his name. By the time I made it to the fourth floor, there was only silence in the stairwell. I pulled open the door only to see an empty hallway.
I hadn't been to this floor since the morning we pretended didn't happen, and I walked briskly to Jake's door feeling self-conscious, as if the hotel wallpaper was taunting me. I knocked quickly, feeling foolish for wanting to escape from something unseen. Jake opened the door and waved me in, not waiting to see if I'd follow. I stepped into his room and realized that this was no sanctuary.
Jake didn't notice my discomfort, busy pacing the carpet in front of the bed. "He told me to stay and take care of Mom," he started. "And he damn well knows that's a stupid excuse! Mom can take care of herself!"
I inched my way from the door to a spot along the wall, standing stiff. "I don't understand why he doesn't want me to go. He knows how valuable I can be--I'm his son!" He flopped back onto his bed, but before he could get comfortable, abruptly stood up again. "I'm sorry, Jessie. Have a seat," he directed me to the bed. I moved slowly from the wall and sat down on the end of the bed, automatically sitting cross-legged. A vivid memory of him leaning in to kiss me as I sat cross-legged near the end of his bed flashed in my mind. I uncrossed my legs and touched my feet to the carpet.
"Do you want anything to drink?" he asked, rummaging in his backpack. "I'm sure I've got some water or something."
"No, thank you. I'm fine."
"Are you sure? I have some vodka we can mix," he pointed to the bottle of juice on his dresser. "And I've got some more rye," he grinned slyly.
I could feel the heat in my face and was sure I was blushing furiously. I looked down and realized that I was wrinkling Jake's blanket, fisting it at my sides. I remembered another time I had wrinkled his sheets. I needed to get out of here. It was too hard to pretend at the scene of the crime. I stood up again. "I don't know what I'm doing here. I've got to go," I told him.
He abandoned his search for refreshment and stopped me at the door. "I didn't mean to make you feel weird. I'm just in a strange mood. Why don't you stay? We can even read poetry if you like."
"Poetry?" I grimaced.
"You don't like poetry?" he asked incredulously.
"Too much work."
"What if I explain it all to you?"
"Nah, I'm just not a poetry girl. Sorry," I reached for the doorknob.
I opened the door. "If it's got princesses and castles, and a happy ending, you can meet me in the lobby in ten," I told him as I left the room.
He poked his head out after me as I walked down the hallway. "What if it has trolls and witches?"
"I'll see you downstairs, Jake," I called back, smiling as I headed for the stairs.
Less than a month after we burned Ryan's body and nineteen days after the second group had left Pride Creek, I found Jake in the woods behind the school after an hour-long search. He was huddled under an old tree, his head hidden in his knees. He looked so small from afar, his black- clothed form easily missed among the many trees under the gray sky.
It looked like it was going to rain soon. I zipped up my navy fleece jacket and headed toward him. I would have run in relief if I hadn't been mad at him. When I got closer, I could hear his sobs. I sped up after seeing his shoulders shuddering.
I was about to say his name just as I heard a quiet, "Go away, Jessie," between sniffles.
I couldn't see his face, and I knew something had terribly upset him, but I was also angry that I'd been stood up. I continued my approach and I stopped in front of his knees, waiting for him to look up at me. When two minutes had passed with no movement from him except the occasional shudder, I placed a hand on his shoulder.
His head jerked up and I gasped at the sight of his tear- stained face. "What part of 'go away' don't you understand?" he demanded, an agonizing expression marring his features.
I stepped back quickly. I was hurt and angry, and responded back accordingly. "Don't you tell me to go away! Do you know how worried I've been? I was ready to alert the others--"
"Nothing's happened to me. I just needed to get away," Jake interrupted, his calm tone bringing back the fear I'd had of his disappearance to the forefront.
I took a moment to regain a balance between anger and relief. Seeing silent tears continuing to stream down his face, I asked, "What's wrong, Jake? What's happened?"
A streak of lightning flashed across the sky followed by the sound of thunder in the distance. "The group got back this morning. Trent's dead."
"Oh my God!" I covered my mouth with my hand, preventing the scream from coming out. My knees buckled and I knew I couldn't stand any longer. I sat down in front of him on a patch of newly sprung weeds. My hands clawed at the little green pests, taking my revenge for a world they had no control over.
"When?" I was able to ask after I recovered from the shock. I no longer needed to ask how. Everyone's deaths could be traced back to Them.
"Last night," he answered. He started to say more, but nothing came out of his mouth except a whimper. I wrapped my arms around him and we cried together in mutual grief. I whispered reassuring words to him, words I wished I could believe in.
I tried to pull away when it seemed like his tears had stopped, but he grabbed my shoulders hard enough to hurt, and so I stayed. After many minutes I attempted to pull back again to no effect. "Please, Jake. Let's go. It's starting to rain," I implored him. He remained silent, but I felt him shake his head "no." And so his head remained on my shoulder, my collar wet with his tears and rain, which was falling steadily now.
We were shivering in the downpour, our arms around each other, our jackets soaked through, when our comforting each other turned into something else. I was about to lift my head from his shoulder and wipe the raindrop that was tickling the side of my neck on its roll down when I realized that it wasn't rain. Jake was kissing his way down my neck. It felt so good, I almost forgot where we were. The sudden sound of thunder reminded me seconds later.
"Jake?" I mumbled into his jacket. "What are you doing?"
"No, don't say anything," he rasped. He unzipped my fleece jacket, his lips continuing their assault, moving down to the V of my damp sweater. I moaned into his shoulder in spite of myself.
His hand wormed its way underneath my chenille sweater. I gasped at the feeling of his cold hand on my stomach, but it soon dissipated, and all I felt was an intense heat radiating from his hand. God, was he ever warm!
I'm not sure what made me do what I did next. Maybe it was the grief. Maybe it was the cold. Or maybe I just lost my mind. I wondered briefly if the rest of him was as warm as his hand, and before I knew it, I'd relocated my right hand from his shoulder to underneath his shirt. I was surprised when I felt cold instead of heat on his stomach. My hand explored his abs, circling to generate some warmth.
My hand dropped when his touched my breast through my bra. If he hadn't been supporting me with his left arm around my back, I probably would have fallen as well. I grabbed his shoulder again, lifting my head up from his body. I stared at the bark of the tree behind him, letting myself feel only what his hand was doing.
I didn't realize that at some point I had closed my eyes until they blinked open when he pulled my body flush against his. Our eyes met, and I almost retreated upon seeing the intensity in his. I knew he knew I could feel how hard he was, and I wanted to bow my head in shame. I didn't care about salvaging our friendship or keeping things as they were--I wanted him (despite our friends-only rule, even if it meant losing him). I no longer cared about the consequences. I was through pretending. And I knew that he could sense it. So I didn't break our eye contact.
We headed for each other's mouths at the same time, missing at first, kissing the corners of our lips. We adjusted pretty quickly, thrusting our tongues into the mix as soon as possible. When we paused for air, I leaned back, and Jake let me go. I went falling back into the wet leaves. My head hitting the not-so-soft earth brought me partly back to my senses. The rain had stopped, but the chilled air remained, making me shiver. We were outside in the woods! We needed to get out of the elements; we needed to find somewhere warm.
I had no sooner untangled my legs than I felt him down beside me, reattaching his mouth to mine. Raindrops showered upon my face from his wet hair, reminding me of the chill. I tried to pull him on top of me so that he could protect me from the cold, but my fingers kept slipping on the wet nylon of his jacket. On my second clawing, he got the message. As his weight settled on me, I let the outside world fade away. All that existed was Jake and I. All we needed was each other. I left my eyes closed and pretended that it was more than a respite from the pain that we were offering each other in the wet leaves.
I got back to my room later than usual. It was raining outside, and my hair had gotten wet. I was careful not to get any water on the carpet, leaving my boots on the small mat just inside the door. I was weary, and my stomach growled for attention beyond a gentle reminder of needing nourishment, so I left the laces hanging from the boots, snaking towards the carpet, dragging in the puddles not yet soaked into the mat. I would deal with them later...or maybe not.
God, I was tired. It had been a busy day at the clinic. Geoff broke his leg in a fall during morning patrol, Melanie burned her hand in an accident in the kitchen, Lexi's fever wouldn't go down, and the stomach flu was going around. I looked around my room as I removed my coat, debating whether to fall into bed immediately or find something to eat first. Indecisive, I walked over to the window to look outside for now.
It had rained for the past three nights. I had never seen rain like this. The rain pounded on the windows as if it was alive and its life depended on it. Lightning lit up the already-bright sky, and the thunder that followed it vibrated my window shutter. I pressed my forehead to the cool glass, closing my eyes. Less than a minute passed before the rumbling in my stomach convinced me. A decision made, I stuffed my feet into a pair of fuzzy slippers and left my room with nothing but food on my mind.
"Hey!" the familiar voice stopped me before I made it to the stairs. "Where are you going?"
I turned around to see Jake coming out of Amy's room, and my mind instantly starting spinning. Why was he on our floor? What was he doing with Amy? In the two weeks since we'd moved beyond friendship, we hadn't talked about our relationship. We were essentially friends with privileges, and I had no hold over him. So why was I feeling so possessive suddenly?
"Jessie?" he questioned my silence as he approached me.
"I'm hungry," I said simply.
"God, so am I." He pulled me towards him in a flash.
It didn't dawn on me until he released me, when the pain registered on my consciousness. He'd kissed me so hard, my teeth hurt. Why did it always seem as if he kissed me like he meant more? All thoughts of Amy flew out of my head. "For food!" I couldn't help smiling.
"Ah, I think I'll accompany you to the kitchen then. It's time for a snack break anyway." Jake threw his arm around me as we headed for the stairs. "I was waiting for you. We're playing Monopoly at Amy's."
As we walked I berated myself for the little instance of jealousy. I'd talk to Jake about us...eventually. I would.
"Are you all right, Jessie?" Dana asked on the other side of the bathroom door.
I wiped my mouth with the scratchy paper towel and replied, "I'm fine, thanks."
"Are you sick?"
I opened the door to her concerned face. "I think I might've caught that flu," I admitted with chagrin.
"Oh no, do you want to go home?" she asked as we walked back down the hall to the clinic.
"No, there's nothing to do there anyway. I'll let you know if I'm feeling worse later."
Dana felt my forehead. "I don't think you have a fever. Let's take your temperature." She headed for the counter.
I sat down heavily on the bed in the middle of the room. I didn't think it was the flu. I'd been sick for a few days now, and was starting to suspect something else. I was late, something that rarely happened to me. God, what if I was? We hadn't been careful the first two times...
I needed to know for sure. "Dana, I think I will go home," I told her. "Maybe I can sleep it off." I rose from the bed with a purpose. I'd stop at the drug store on my way back to the hotel. I'd know for sure by tonight if I was lucky.
"I hope you feel better!" Dana called after me as I left the clinic.
"What am I going to do, Amy?" I paced back and forth in front of where she sat at her kitchen table.
She rubbed her forehead with the back of her hand. "Can't you take care of it yourself?"
"You're kidding, right? The only person that can help me is Dana." I stopped in my tracks. "And you know I can't ask her!" I resumed my path.
Amy thought silently for a few minutes. "Jessie, maybe you don't know Dana as well as you think. Why not try asking her?"
"To help me kill her first grandchild? Are you crazy?"
She ignored my words and pulled out the chair beside her instead. "Stop! Sit down. You're giving me a headache."
I slumped into the seat and immediately felt the desperation settle, unable to escape since I was no longer walking it out.
"Do you think she would know it's Jake's?" Amy asked me. I hadn't even opened my mouth to reply when she spoke first. "Sorry. Stupid question."
"Tell me again why you can't just have this baby?" she asked in a defeated voice.
I looked in her eyes for the first time since I'd arrived at her place. She knew the circumstances we were living in, the uncertain future we all faced, yet if she were in my place, she'd be willing to risk everything. She'd lost Ryan, someone who she'd imagined having a baby with. She'd lost her chance. I had been given one, and I didn't want it. I saw the anger and jealousy behind her supportive stance.
To my utter embarrassment, I began to bawl. Amy immediately wrapped her arms around me, whispering words of comfort. Realizing how great a friend she really was only made me feel guilty. And only made me cry harder.
"Are you feeling better today, Jessie?" Dana asked when I walked into the clinic the next morning.
"Yes, a bit better, thanks," I replied, shucking off my jacket and crushing it into a loose ball. I threw it towards the usual corner of the counter where it wouldn't be in the way.
"Lots of rest and fluids--the best cure."
I gave her a neutral expression, not quite able to master a smile this morning. I felt queasy, but I didn't let it show on the outside. Inside, I prepared myself for confession. "Dana, I--" I began, just as she spoke.
"You missed Suzanne this morning," she said.
"Oh, what was she here about?" I asked, relieved for the extra time to get up the nerve to tell her my news.
"She wanted to know if we'd be able to handle births in the clinic."
I nearly fainted. I held on to the counter and controlled my breathing. "As in babies? Is she and Lance--"
Dana chuckled. "No, no. She thinks Jasmin might be pregnant," she explained. Jasmin was the cat Suzanne had taken in.
"What did you tell her?"
"Well, I have delivered a baby before, in a hurricane no less, so I told her not to worry. She can bring Jasmin in if she anticipates complications, but I don't think she'll have any problems. I'm sure that cat survived much more before we got here, so a pregnancy should be easy for her."
Dana had delivered a baby before! I could do this, and I would be in good hands. I would tell her. I would tell her that I was pregnant, and that I needed her advice. "Dana, I have--" I stopped mid-sentence as the need to throw up became urgent.
"Jessie, are you all right, you look a little--" I heard Dana begin as I clamped my hand over my mouth and ran for the bathroom.
I couldn't tell her. After getting sick, I felt absolutely awful, and all I wanted was to go home. I didn't refuse when Dana urged me to go home and rest, reminding me to drink a lot of fluids. I welcomed the reprieve. I'd think about what to do and who to tell later.
As I stood waiting for Jake in front of my door, it seemed as if my heart was pounding so loud I could hear it thundering in my ears. I had decided that I needed to tell him, especially since I had made a decision. I had only told him to come over after work, not giving him any hint as to how important it was that I talk to him.
I was semi-conscious of my foot tapping impatiently in time with my heartbeats, making a percussion duet out of my nervousness. I waited for what seemed like minutes--it was probably seconds--then gave up on waiting for him to show up and headed for the stairs.
As I neared the fourth floor, I had to stop for a breather. My heart had been in turmoil for the past two days; now it was telling me that I was getting too old for this. It felt like someone had reached inside my chest and given it a squeeze. I briefly wondered if I was too young to suffer a heart attack. I would have laughed if I hadn't been so nervous. It was probably then that I began to realize that my heart was telling me I wasn't physically worn out--I was emotionally drained.
I felt anticipation at the thought that Jake might be excited and anxiety that he might not. Mixed emotions warred inside me, threatening to make me physically ill. Overall, the feeling was one of dread, one that I wouldn't wish on anyone.
Oh God, what am I doing? What if he doesn't want this?
Before I knew what I was doing, I was going back downstairs again. Instead of going back to my room, I found myself in the hotel lobby.
"Jessie! How did it go?" Amy rushed over when she saw me. "What did Jake say?"
I waved her away, telling her Jake and I hadn't talked yet, and that I was going for a walk outside because I needed to stretch my legs.
"I'll come with you," she offered.
"Thanks, Amy, but I'd rather go alone, if you don't mind."
She let me go, knowing I needed time alone to think. I walked out into the fresh air. The breeze was a cool one, and I suddenly recalled that I would've been outdoors with Mrs. Charles about this time if I were still working at the hospital, if They had never come. I would've never met Jake; I wouldn't be in this situation. The tears started up fast and I quickly walked away from the hotel, out of sight of its windows.
A loud barking from behind me made me stop, but I didn't look back. One of the stray dogs in town cut in front of my feet and stopped several feet ahead of me. "Hi," I said to the dog, in spite of my tears. I walked up to him, knelt down, and gave him a good pat. "I haven't seen you in awhile." He looked up at me and licked my hand. "Has someone been taking care of you?"
Could I take care of a baby by myself if Jake didn't want a child? 'He'd never leave you alone; he doesn't seem the type,' my mind supplied. But how well did I really know him? My future came crashing down on me again, and the tears flowed like a flood. I ran from the dog.
I found myself at the back of the courthouse. I sat down in the grass, trying desperately to stop crying. My shirt was getting pretty wet in the front, and I didn't want to go back to the hotel looking the way I did. I was sobbing so loudly that I didn't hear footsteps approaching. I was crying into my lap when I suddenly saw a pair of boots in my field of view. I looked up quickly, standing up at the same time in case of danger.
Jake was standing against the wall. I couldn't tell what kind of expression he had on his face. He was standing half in the shadow. He said in a deep, controlled voice, "I take it you didn't want it to happen this way."
I sat back down. "What?" I was confused. I swiped at the wetness on my face.
"I know," he said simply.
"I know," he repeated. "And I want the baby as much as you do."
If I hadn't been so shocked, the relief would have encompassed everything. My immediate reaction after the initial shock was one of anger. That bitch! How dare she tell him!
"Amy didn't tell me."
Before I even opened my mouth to ask him how he knew what I was thinking, he spoke again. "I read it on your mind. You weren't in your room, and I was worried..."
I had no words for him. After minutes of silence, he came closer to me and knelt down in front of me. "Jessie, I have something to tell you." He cleared his throat. "I can read people's minds."
My head was spinning. Were They close? Why couldn't I hear anything then?
He continued, "I've been able to do it all my life. I've learned how to turn it off and I don't usually invade anyone's privacy. When we met in the library in Wilhelmina, I didn't know if you were dangerous. I just wanted to make sure, and then I realized that you could hear, too."
"Only when They're around," I whispered. Oh God, if Jake knows, who else knows? Will they suspect why I can do it?
"No one else knows," he assured me. "I don't know why your ability didn't appear before Their arrival, but maybe the trigger was different for you."
I closed my eyes. "I don't want to talk about this."
"We need to talk about it now, or we never will. I don't care if you need to yell at me. I promise not to get offended."
"It's not that simple," I told him. I looked up directly into his eyes. I thought I saw something deeper than I'd ever seen there, and I quickly looked away, my heart suddenly beating faster.
"Yes, it is." He took my hands into his and held them together. "I've waited for you forever," he said to me in a voice so gentle that it hurt my heart to hear it. "I knew there had to be others like me out there..."
"You bastard!" I tore my hands out of his and sprung to my feet. "Is that why you were interested in me? Because we have this sick thing in common? So you can study me? I don't want to know where it comes from! It's not human! It's not natural! And oh my God, now our baby..." Tears tumbled out of my eyes repeatedly. I couldn't see anything, but tried to run away anyway. "Jessie!" Jake ran after me. He grabbed my arm and pulled me back to him with such force that we fell onto the grass. I cried softly into his shirt. We lay there for a few minutes. I sobbed quietly while he held me gently. "It's alright," he finally said. "I know you're scared, but it's going to work out for us."
I looked up to see him turned towards the wall. He was staring at the "William luvs Jess forever" pronouncement painted there. We were silent for another couple minutes before he looked down at me and spoke again. "We'll be fine."
After almost a year of not wearing skirts, I felt foolish and self-conscious in the rust colored shirtdress I'd taken from one of the boutiques on Main Street. But it hadn't seemed appropriate to wear jeans to dinner either. Jake and I were meeting his parents for a late dinner in the dining room; we were going to tell them the news.
I was beyond nervous. Mulder was only an acquaintance, and as well as I knew Dana, I didn't know how she'd react. My own mother had been pregnant with me when she married my father, and learning that he wasn't my biological father had only increased my admiration for my parents. Mom had been willing to be a single mother before she met Dad-- would she have approved of my decision if she were still alive? Even though Jake told me that his parents weren't married when he was born, I couldn't help but worry. Jake and I hadn't talked about marriage, much less our plans for tomorrow. The here and now was more important to us than what might happen with us in the future.
"Ready?" Jake asked as we descended the last step onto the main floor of the hotel. I straightened my dress one more time and nodded. He grabbed my hand, and we walked into the dining room.
"There they are." Jake led us to his parents. We had converted the dining room into more of a cafeteria, so the kitchen workers left food out buffet-style during mealtimes. Dana and Mulder were sitting in a corner, away from the food and the few people that were still mingling after supper. Dana sipped a glass of water while Mulder chewed on a breadstick.
"Hey, I was wondering when you guys would get here. I'm starving," Mulder said in place of a greeting, waving to the empty chairs.
Jake looked at his watch. "We said eight didn't we?" he asked as he sat down beside his father.
"Yes, eight," Dana replied, frowning at her husband.
"Hi Dana, Mulder." I took the seat next to Dana. She smiled wholeheartedly, and I wondered whether she'd feel the same after we told her the news. Jake and I had agreed to tell them after supper, but I wasn't sure that was a good idea anymore. Could I make it through supper?
"I'm so glad Jake came up with this idea," Dana said to me. "It's nice to see each other outside of the clinic, isn't it? We should do this more often."
"At an earlier time," Mulder added.
I put on my best pretend-everything's-all-right smile. "Yes, it would," I agreed.
Dinner went very well, considering I didn't throw up on anyone. Dana noticed that I didn't eat much and asked whether my stomach was still queasy. "Just a bit," I lied.
While Mulder and Jake were working on second helpings of dessert, Dana and I went into the kitchen to make tea. "Do you want some 7-Up for your stomach, Jessie?" Dana asked from her place in front of one of the fridges. "Or I can make you some ginger tea if you'd like?"
"The ginger tea sounds great, thanks." I took cups and saucers down from the cupboard and put them beside the teapot.
"I've really enjoyed dinner tonight," Dana told me as she prepared the tea. "It feels almost normal. When the boys ... when Jake was younger and brought a girl home, Mulder teased him to no end, but at least we knew how serious things were. I can tell Jake likes you very much. And if you two make each other happy, then I'm happy."
I didn't know what to say. Did she know just how serious things were between Jake and me? Would she still be happy after she knew the truth behind our dinner? I put on my pleasant smile, trying not to shake as I placed the cups on a tray. My anxiety returned twofold. I didn't want to disappoint Dana.
She seemed oblivious to my distress as she took the tray and started out of the kitchen. I took a deep breath before following.
Jake and Mulder were laughing about something when Dana and I returned to the table, but they did not share with us. Perhaps they were feeling things were almost normal--like Before--as well.
I looked over at Jake to catch his eye, but he was busy stirring sugar into his tea. I unclasped my hands under the table and picked up my tea, blowing the surface to cool it before taking a small sip. When I put my cup down, I felt Jake's tap on the top of my hand. I turned my hand palm up so we could hold hands.
Jake cleared his throat and waited for his parents' attention. "Jessie and I have something to tell you," he said without wavering. I was glad he'd decided to break the news, because I wouldn't have gotten the nerve to do it. I squeezed his hand and he continued, "We're having a baby."
Mulder coughed loudly, clanging his teacup on its saucer. We should've waited until they'd swallowed, I remember thinking at the time. Dana sat stock still, her cup in the air. After a second, she slowly placed her tea down. "Oh," she said.
"I'm sorry, are you alright, Dad?" Jake asked Mulder.
"Some warning would've been nice," Mulder remarked before taking a drink of water. "Congratulations," he said after swallowing. I wasn't sure if he was being serious or sarcastic. "Hey, Scully, we're going to be grandparents!"
Dana came out of her daze. "Oh my God," she said. She stood up from her chair and I didn't know what to expect, anticipating the worst. Her sudden embrace had me relieved beyond words. "Oh, Jessie, I'm so happy for you," she said into my shoulder. I hugged her back, feeling the water welling up in my eyes.
When Dana finally released me to give her son the same treatment, Mulder reached across the table to take my hand. "Welcome to the family," he said with an amused grin.
Not having to keep my secret around Jake released a burden I hadn't realized was so heavy. He likely felt the same, as he was able to tell me how he'd known about Them before their arrival, how he and his parents were able to travel up so quickly, and how he'd known to avoid Calgary.
I told him about first hearing others when the bees came, knowing that Jacques had escaped from Bowden Penitentiary, knowing Laird was dead, but only hearing smatterings and incomplete thoughts.
As much as the secret of our abilities being revealed helped our relationship grow in a new way, it also moved our physical relationship backwards. Even though Jake claimed to tune out others' thoughts, I could never be sure. He'd admitted to reading my mind more than once--how was I to know if he was telling the truth? I didn't have a choice in whether I wanted to violate other people's minds or not, but he did. It all came to a head two days after we broke the news to his parents.
Amy had decided to resume her self-assigned duty as social director, a position that she'd abandoned after Ryan's death, and was having a Star Wars movie marathon in one of the ballrooms. Jake and I stayed for seven hours before we'd had enough. If I looked at the viewscreen for a minute more, I was sure my eyes would need to be re- lasered. All I wanted was my bed and a good night's sleep.
Jake had other ideas, though. He walked me to my room, and when I turned to say goodnight, I found that he had invited himself to stay over. "I'm tired, Jake," I told him, toeing off my sandals.
"So am I," he said seriously. He turned down my sheets. "Let's go to bed," he added, waggling his eyebrows at me. He started stripping beside the bed.
"It's only been five days. You can go without for another, can't you?" I picked up his shirt from the floor, feigning annoyance, but he broke my concentration, tugging the shirt from my hand and pulling me to him. I opened my mouth to protest, and he chose that moment to kiss me.
He tasted like butter popcorn. Despite my earlier nausea from the smell, I couldn't get enough of the taste now. His tongue dueled with mine before retreating graciously, letting me follow. He backed us up until he hit the bed, and I let him up for air. I pushed him down on the bed, crawling on top of him to claim his lips again. His hands worked at my shirt as I traced meaningless patterns on his chest, following my fingers with light, tiny kisses. The removal of my shirt a success, he started in on my bra as I let my hand wander lower, stroking him through the denim separating me from where I wanted to be. God, he had to be more than uncomfortable in those jeans!
"Dammit!" Jake gave up on the bra clasp, the elastic on my back snapping loudly. I couldn't help but laugh. He opened his eyes at the sound of my glee. "That's not funny!"
My laughter died as Jake flipped us over so I was on my back. God, his weight on me felt so good. "You feel better," he whispered in my ear before trailing kisses down my throat. I moaned in response. I hadn't realized until now how much I'd missed this the past several days, how much I'd missed him, us together like this. "I've missed you, too," Jake said, almost murmuring.
My eyes snapped open as the realization clicked. My memory filled in past sentences coming from Jake's lips. Words that had once moved me now seemed tainted. Oh God, he's been reading my mind every time we've been together! I shoved him away from me so hard he nearly fell off the bed.
I backed away from him, chanting, "Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod..."
Jake was utterly confused. "Jessie?" He got up from the bed slowly.
"You were reading my mind!" I accused him.
"What?" I watched as he processed my words and found them to be true. "Jessie, I'm sorry. I didn't realize. I don't mean to freak you out--"
"You've done it every time! Every time we've been together, Jake!"
He looked honestly shocked. "I'm sorry," he said again. Looking away, he sat down on the end of the bed with a defeated look on his face.
We sat in silence for a few minutes. I felt my heartbeat return to normal and my breathing slow down again. He hadn't been doing it on purpose, but he didn't have as tight control over his ability as he'd thought he had. Still, it felt like mental rape. And I didn't know if I'd ever be able to get over it.
"This is too weird for me," I said to Jake. "Can you please leave?"
He nodded without looking my way. I watched as he got up from the bed, picked up his shirt, scrambled to put it back on, and left without saying a word.
Awkward wouldn't even begin to describe the situation. Jake and I avoided each other at first. We stopped meeting for lunch, and I was grateful for the space he gave me. Dana wondered why Jake stopped picking me up at the clinic, and I lied that it was easier meeting back at the hotel. On the second day of our self-imposed distance, I saw him sitting in the cafeteria alone, hunched over a bowl of chili but not eating. I didn't need to see his face to know how distraught he was. I sort of wanted to go talk to him, but remembering what he was capable of always rebuilt the wall. Neither of us could talk to anyone about it without revealing secrets that were safer hidden.
A week later Dana proposed having another "family" dinner soon, and I burst into tears. Fortunately she chalked it up to hormones, but I hated lying to her, using my morning sickness as an excuse to postpone any dinner plans.
"Are we crazy to want this?" Jake had asked me before the dinner with Dana and Mulder. Now I wondered whether I was the only one who was crazy. What kind of life would our baby have if its parents couldn't be comfortable around each other? Instead of raising the child together, we'd have to take turns; that wasn't what I wanted at all. Alone or together, those were my only acceptable terms. And Jake was the only one I wanted to raise a child with.
Things had been okay before all this mess, when we had just been friends. And could I really fault him for letting his hold on his ability slip in bed? It was understandable that one could lose concentration in that situation. Didn't arousal and loss of control go hand in hand? The beginning of an idea converged in my head. Could we go back to being platonic friends? I knew I could do it with enough conviction. God knew how long I'd gone without before Jake; I could do it again.
On the tenth day of our separation, I took my lunch over to Jake's table and sat in front of him. He looked up from his book with surprise and watched silently as I peppered my sandwich. "I for one am sick of tuna, aren't you?" I said as casually as I could before taking a small bite.
"I had the ham," he said, pointing to the leftovers on his plate.
"Ah, the joys of canned ham."
"Maybe the next hunting party will be more successful."
He had nothing to add, going back to his book. I continued my lunch, feeling stupid.
Some time after I had gotten used to the silence; Jake looked at his watch then suddenly asked, "Why are you here?"
"Uh--I missed our lunches," the words tumbled out easier than I thought they would. "I miss you."
A smile brightened up his entire face. "I was wondering how long it would take you."
If I hadn't gotten used to him, I would've been angry at his arrogance. Instead I threw my straw at him, relieved that the tension was over.
He leaned in over the table. "Are you trying to start a food fight?" he asked conspiratorially.
"Not at all." I couldn't help the grin on my face. "Whatcha reading?" I asked, purposely changing the subject.
"Oh, you wouldn't like it." He beckoned me closer. "It's poetry," he whispered, when I was close enough.
"I could learn to like it, I think," I told him. "Why don't you bring it to lunch tomorrow?"
His eyes showed me how pleased he was as he put the book into his backpack. "All right, but I'm warning you, I can't guarantee any princesses or happy endings," he said, standing up from the table.
"That won't be a problem."
He pushed his chair in and picked up his tray. "Okay. I'll see you tomorrow then."
"Tomorrow," I agreed.
And so our relationship resumed in the form of a close friendship. I was a little surprised when Jake jumped at the proposal of reverting back to friends only, but maybe he was willing to take anything he could get concerning the baby. We hadn't made the pregnancy public knowledge, so only those around us most knew about it, but we knew that people would figure it out once I started to show in a couple months.
Gradually, I became physically comfortable with Jake again. First, he could touch me without me flinching, then we could hold hands, and finally, we could hug again. I could almost forget what he had done until Evan and Nick were run out of town. I remembered witnessing him consulting with Mulder after Evan and Nick had arrived in town, and Mulder frowning at the newcomers. Jake had known that the two men were thieves, that they had no intention of joining our little community and becoming valuable members. His gift saved us, but served to remind me why I could never totally trust him.
I awoke suddenly in the middle of the night, aware that something was wrong. My ears registered two things immediately: the incessant pounding at my door, and the shrill scream of a smoke alarm. I scrambled out of bed, almost tripping on the slippers on the carpet as I ran for the door.
The door crashed open before I got there, and I only heard "Thank God!" before I was crushed by Jake's embrace. "I was so worried. Why didn't you come downstairs?" His voice was rough as he spoke into my hair.
"Downstairs?" I mumbled, confused.
"The fire alarm! It's been ringing for half an hour! We evacuated to the lobby."
The sleepiness left abruptly as panic set in. I tried to disentangle myself from Jake. "There's a fire?"
"No, a false alarm. It's likely a short. We're looking into it." Mulder said from the doorway. He was holding an axe in his right hand. I realized for the first time that my absence must have caused more than a little concern. Jake's tear-stained face confirmed it.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to worry everyone."
"Didn't you hear the alarm?" Jake asked incredulously, swiping at his face.
"I was asleep. I didn't hear anything," I admitted, starting to feel defensive.
I could feel the anger underneath Jake's next words. "Did you take something?"
"I'm pregnant, not stupid! And I've always been a deep sleeper!" The alarm drowned out most of my shouting, but I think my anger was evident. I stormed out of the room, not waiting to see if Jake and Mulder would follow.
Four hours later when the sun rose, painting the sky several brilliant shades of orange, the screaming ended after Keith figured out the fire alarm system. Needless to say, it was not going to be an ordinary day of work, except for those assigned to security, and we were finally allowed back upstairs to our beds.
I was not surprised to find Jake following me to my room. I was surprised when he grabbed my duffel and started emptying my drawers into it. "You're moving in with me," he stated when I tried to stop him.
"The hell I am! Get away from my dresser!" I tugged my green sweatshirt out of his hands.
He stopped packing for me, but didn't look up from my clothes. "Please, Jessie. I'd feel better if you were with me. Think about the baby."
"You think I can't take care of my baby?" I could feel the blood rushing through me, as I prepared to explode.
"I didn't say that, Jessie."
"You don't trust me to take care of the baby!"
"You didn't hear the alarm," was all he said. I couldn't say anything to refute him; instead I stood in front of him steaming in silence, cursing him in my mind. "What if it was a real fire, Jessie?"
'Then the baby and I would've burned!' I yelled at him silently, wanting to spite him. There was nothing I could say aloud except what was hardest to say. I remained silent.
He resumed packing and after a moment, I crumpled to my knees sobbing, "Sorry, sorry."
"I'm sorry, too," he said, putting his arms around me, letting me cry all over his shirt. "Hey, it won't be so bad living with me. Besides, my door isn't broken!" he remarked. I wiped my tears with the back of my hand and looked at my door. It really was a lost cause; the axe had destroyed the lock completely. I could only imagine the intense fear that had led to such damage. Jake and his father had done that to get to me, to ensure my safety.
"Thank you," I sniffled, feeling the tears start anew. "Thank you for coming to get me."
"I'd never leave you, Jessie," he said, squeezing my hand.
It was Jake's stumbling that woke me up. And his words that awakened me to the truth. I had never seen him so distressed before, and realized what it was when he neared the bed.
"Have you been drinking or did you fall into a vat of alcohol?" I jokingly demanded. In the week since I'd moved into Jake's room, I'd become accustomed to his bi-weekly routine of hanging out with his co-workers after their evening shift, and that alcohol was sometimes involved.
Instead of a laugh or even an excuse, he responded in a pleading voice, "Oh, Jessie. Please. There's something I need to tell you."
I sat up in bed, unsure of what was going on.
"I killed him, Jessie. It's my fault," Jake admitted.
"Jake? Who did you kill?"
I couldn't help the gasp that came out of my mouth. I covered my mouth with my hand, so that nothing else would escape.
"I killed him," he repeated.
I removed the hand from my mouth. "What are you talking about?" I asked slowly.
"They took him because they thought he was me. I was supposed to be taken. He'd still be alive if it wasn't for me."
"Oh my God. I think I understand now--"
Jake exploded before I could continue. "Don't tell me you understand! You don't!"
I felt myself backing towards the headboard, away from him and his anger.
"Do you know how it feels, Jessie, to be replaced as your mother's first thought? That's how my brother felt when I came back to live with them: that I had ruined his life. I was theirs. He was only the replacement, the substitute. And I could feel his pain. You don't know how it feels. You have no idea..." He crumpled to the ground.
"Jake? I don't understand. What are you talking about?" I whispered.
"He was adopted," he started, then backtracked, "My mother put me in protective custody before my first birthday. There had been an attempt to kidnap me. I didn't see my family again until I was almost four."
I didn't know what to say, stunned by his revelation as well as questioning just how much he'd had to drink.
"Do you know why I go by my middle name?" he asked, changing topics abruptly.
After a pause, I shook my head in the negative. "No, you never told me."
"I got used to it after two years of living as Jacob Hale. I never hated 'William.' Do you know why I was cyberschooled? No, unlike you, it wasn't my choice. It wasn't safe for me to go to school! God, I wished so hard to be normal! You're lucky you can't hear them all the time. Do you know how fucking depressing some of these people are? If they're waiting to die, they might as well head south now! No use waiting for summer when the Blague will come and get us all!"
I plugged my ears to Jake's rambling. I could see his lips continuing to move, the negativity spewing forth. "Shut up!" I screamed at him until his lips stopped moving. He stared at me, blinking rapidly. I picked up my pillow, clutching it to my chest, and got out of bed on the other side. "I'm sleeping at Amy's," I said quickly, and fled the room.
"Nooooo!" I was awakened by my own scream. My eyes scanned the room but could not see beyond the darkness. My heart was beating so fast, I thought that I would explode with all that blood rushing through my body. My hands clutched at the damp bedding. I was scared to look down; scared to move an inch. I was afraid of my own body.
I wondered what time it was, but didn't have the nerve to move my head and find Jake's watch on the bedside table. I vaguely sensed that I was lying on my side in the fetal position facing the table; I wouldn't have to move my head much to see if his watch was there or not. But I couldn't. The fear was as real as the mattress I felt under my body. I closed my eyes, trying to slow down my breathing.
And I saw it again. The black being rising from my body. The expression on my face, forever left on my corpse.
My baby was going to kill me. It was going to rip its way out of my body, below my heart, leaving a gaping hole.
It wasn't human.
"It is, it is, it is," I whispered to my pillow, trying to reassure myself. It didn't work. I knew that if Jake had been here, he would've been able to. He would be holding me, rubbing my arms, wiping my tears. He knew how to take care of me. He could always help me.
He treated me like a partner, never mind the fact that our circumstances had led us here, not our feelings. I know that he felt obligated. He was not the kind of man who left. He had made it quite known to me.
There had been no other instances of drunken outbursts after he realized how much he had scared me that time. He had pleaded for my forgiveness the next morning at Amy's door, and I was in his arms before his second sentence.
I couldn't lie to myself any longer. We had passed just friendship months ago, and while it took me a bit longer to return his feelings, I hadn't classified it then either. Our reversion back to being just friends couldn't stop the way I felt. I knew what it was now. I was in love with him, and I finally knew it. He had known how he'd felt about me for a long, long time, but I had been in denial the just as long. Only when I realized that I couldn't see myself with anyone but Jake did I look inside myself for the answers, the truth about how I felt. Maybe I needed to let him know how I felt...
Planning to do something and doing it are not the same. I had planned to tell Jake how important he was to me for weeks when a situation arose, forcing me to just do it. Suddenly the anxiety that had been plaguing me and causing my procrastination wasn't an issue anymore. Jake told me that he was leaving.
I was at the window. I hadn't been able to sleep and decided to wait for him to return from yet another meeting with some of the other guys. He wasn't surprised to see me up and told me their plans so casually it took a few moments for the words to register.
"Dad asked me," was what he said. Apparently Mulder felt that there was reason to be suspicious. We hadn't heard from the Blague in two months, and the fear surrounding the eerie calm was starting to surpass the relief. Jake said he was invited to be on the team, but we both knew the truth. He was the team. Without him, the trek south would be a suicide mission.
I watched him stuff clothes into his pack for less than a minute before I knew what I had to do. Maybe it was the hormones, but I can't put all the blame on that. I did something so incredibly shameful, it hurts when I think about it.
He had just zipped up his bag and swung it over his shoulder when I began. "Jake..."
"Not now, Jessie. We'll talk when I get back. Three weeks at the most." He gave me a tired look before heading for the door.
"Jake," I tried again. His hand was on the doorknob. I had to reach him. I left my post at the window. "Don't go."
He stopped in his tracks but didn't say anything. "Please." I couldn't help the desperate tone of my voice. I was less than five feet away from him, almost within touching distance. "You can't go."
He made no effort to turn around and face me. "You know I have to," he said quietly.
"I need you," I blurted out. The words seemed to shatter the placidity of the night.
"You'll be fine, Jessie." His words bounced off the door at me.
I wasn't worried about myself. I remembered Brian and Lily's violent deaths. "You can't go," I repeated, trying to shake off my first memory of the Blague's viciousness.
"I'll be fine." He finally turned around. It was too dark for me to see his eyes. I wanted to see his eyes. I stepped closer to him, and he mistook my action, giving me a quick hug and a peck on the cheek. "See you," he said before turning back towards the door.
"Don't leave me," I whispered, grabbing at him.
He looked down where I had captured fistfuls of his shirt. He chuckled as he gently removed my hands from his clothing. "If I'd known this was what it took to get you to touch me, I would've left months ago!"
To my horror, I burst into tears. His arms wrapped around me immediately. "Hey, what's wrong? It's only a joke--you know that, don't you?"
I closed my eyes and just let myself feel. I let myself relax in his arms. "I can't lose you. Everyone I've loved is dead, and you're not going to be next. I won't allow it," I said into his neck.
I heard his amazement in the way his breathing changed. He clearly hadn't expected me to be so open with him. For that matter, I hadn't expected it either. "You don't know how long I've been waiting--"
I shushed him by placing my lips on his mouth. He didn't have time to respond to the kiss before I pulled away.
I thought the smile on his face could entice the sun to come out at night. He kept smiling as he stepped back from me. My own grin faded with his next words. "When I get back--"
I didn't let him finish. I couldn't let him go. I had to finish what I'd started. Before I had known what I planned to do, my arms were around him, my fingers in his hair, and my mouth on his throat.
"Jessss," he groaned. I wouldn't relent, kissing my way down his neck, pulling at his shirt with my chin. "I-I've got to meet...the guys." He feebly attempted to disengage himself from me, but I hung on.
I knew I had him when he leaned back against the door, trying to catch his breath. Like the hungry wolf that knows not to let go of the weakening buffalo, my hands remained on his body, clutching his shoulders. Seeing that escape was unlikely, I jumped in for the kill, attacking his open lips with fury.
He tasted familiar, but I couldn't pinpoint what it was. A sweet, fruity concoction that made me want to drink him up. I kissed him until I couldn't breathe, but he wouldn't let me up for air. He had to respond in kind.
When he finally let me go, I thought my lungs would explode. "St-Stay," I panted into his chest. "Stay with me, Jake."
He didn't answer as I took his hand in mine and led him to our bed.
He was gone the next morning. And three weeks expanded into four, then five. I had no tears left by the time I knew what was going on.
Dana and I were returning to the clinic after our lunch break when the news broke. The men were back, minus three. We rushed to the movie theatre, where others were already gathering. "Where's Mulder?" Dana asked frantically, pushing her way to the front of the theatre. With her short stature, I lost her almost immediately.
"Please, everyone!" I heard Jacques attempting to restore some kind of order.
I was fumbling to the front of the room when I heard it. It was the cry of a desperate woman. The voices quieted instantly with this intrusion. I made my way to the source of the sound. It was Dana. She was on her knees in front of Keith, grabbing at the bottom of his coat. Tears streamed down her face, and this foreign sight nearly started my own.
"Mulder asked me to give this to you...if anything happened," Keith said in a strange voice. I noticed for the first time that he was holding out a note, folded into a very small rectangle.
Dana stared at the note for a long minute before taking it from Keith's grasp. She tucked it into one of the large pockets on her lab coat, swiped a hand across her eyes, and stood up. "Please excuse me," she whispered, before running for the door.
I didn't stay to hear the news; I didn't need to be a mind reader to know that Mulder and Jake were gone. I suppose I was in shock. All I remember is the way my heart felt. I had just recently reconciled my feelings for him but hadn't made it known to him directly. I had intended to tell him I loved him that night, but it just never happened. Now it was too late. I went back to the clinic and finished sterilizing the instruments in the second drawer on the left-hand side.
Things were worse than we thought. Either They were developing resistance to the cold or taking advantage of the warmer weather and testing out moving farther up north. Whatever the case, They were getting closer. Keith said we needed to start moving yesterday.
They were using us to create an army, infecting those captured so we could incubate soldiers for Them. Prisoners were transported to army bases where upon their deaths their killer progeny began "military training." They would kill us as training for Their soldiers--soldiers in a war with the rebel aliens, with Earth as the battleground. We all knew that couldn't happen. Mulder, Jake, and Geoff had sacrificed themselves to the cause. We would not give up. We did the only thing we could do. We packed up and headed north.
The night before we left, I could hear the others' thoughts in my head. My gift had returned, signaling the closeness of the danger we were in.
It was especially hard to shake off the thoughts of those most desperate, the ones wishing for death before They eventually caught up and claimed us. I finally understood how hard it must've been for Jake to filter out everything he heard.
I suppose it was due to the fact that I hadn't grieved, or maybe I had truly gone insane, but on the second day of our walk up north, I just stopped. By now, I was showing, and a few stopped to wait for me, but I told them I was just taking a rest, and that I'd catch up in a minute. After ten minutes I resumed walking--back the way I'd come.
I'd come to the conclusion that Jake, Mulder, and Geoff were still alive, that they had escaped from the base in Calgary and would be looking for us in Pride Creek. Someone had to go back and tell them where we were. I'd wait for Jake at the courthouse, our usual place.
For the first time in days, I felt alive. I walked briskly, feeling none of the fatigue that had been plaguing me earlier. "Jessie! Jessie!" I heard behind me, but I ignored the shouting. The sound of someone running on gravel came from behind me, but I continued walking, not looking back.
A minute or so later, the follower caught up. "Jessie, where are you going?" the familiar voice asked tightly, slightly out of breath.
I turned around to face Dana. She didn't look angry, just stern. "I'm going to find them," I said simply. "We didn't leave a note for them in Pride Creek."
I jerked my arm away from her. "There's no proof of that! Keith said they had to leave them! They might still be alive!"
A few members of the community who had started down the gravel to meet Dana and me stopped in their tracks upon hearing my words. They advanced no more, unsure of the situation but not able to look away either.
And they were useless if they couldn't be hosts. We both knew that. I didn't realize that I had lost feeling in my legs until I was already on the ground. I looked down confusedly to find that my shirt was wet. Had I been crying?
I touched my face to confirm the wetness. "I can hear everyone, but I can't hear him," I whispered in a broken voice. "Why can't I hear him?"
"Oh, Jessie." Dana wrapped her arms around me.
"Yes, I can hear what you're thinking," I said into her shoulder. She stiffened upon hearing my confession, then after a moment, relaxed again. We stayed in our embrace for a long time, alternating from crying to comforting each other.
"You're going to save us, Jessie," she told me when we broke apart. "You know that don't you? And I'll be here for you. We all will."
"I know. Thank you," I said, even though the only person I wanted wasn't going to be there ever again.
It took us almost a month to hit the 60th parallel. Even though I had stopped hearing the thoughts of those around me two weeks earlier, Dana and Jacques felt that it would be safer continuing farther. We eventually settled in Big Buffalo.
The existing community was deeply grateful for more medical staff. Dana and I were assigned to the hospital that had been set up inside the school. We shared a trailer that had neither electricity nor running water, but we soon got used to it. We made the trailer our own cozy sanctuary, even setting up a nursery.
Even though it was summer, the weather was cool, reminding me of spring. Putting on the extra layers in the morning, I'd wonder if summer would ever come; I missed the hot weather, even if I would've been more uncomfortable in my pregnant state. The never-ending spring was too dreary, never failing to bring to mind the last season I experienced with Jake.
Dana and I kept alive the memories of the men we had lost. In the evenings after supper she'd tell me these wonderful stories--adventures, really--that she and Mulder had lived when they'd been younger and working for the FBI. I'd read one of the poems from one of Jake's books, analyzing it afterwards saying, "Jake interpreted it this way, but I think..." I think this routine helped us find closure gradually.
There were days when I just suddenly felt like crying. It seemed to come out of nowhere. It seemed to me like knowing Jake had been a dream; that it had been so long since he was gone, I should've been over it already. And although I'd always have our spring in Pride Creek, I could never have Jake again. I supposed that the tears served as a reminder to me that it was not over yet. And I feared that it would never be.
I would be fine, then suddenly I would blink, and in the next second, torrential rains would be in my emotional forecast. I usually poured my heart and soul out in the floods that came. I didn't do anything lightly lately; why should I be surprised to find the same situation when it came to crying?
Dana rarely cried, or if she did more often, she hid it. She likely preferred to keep her emotions to herself, giving off the impression of admirable stoicism. I felt like a wreck compared to her, but respected the way she chose to deal with her losses. When she did break down, it was surprising, yet almost expected.
I had been at the laundromat. Well, actually, it was more of a classroom in the school--the only building with power and water--that featured two old sets of washers and dryers leftover from former home economics classes. It was my day-off, and since I had gotten up early, I decided it would be laundry day.
Waiting for the dryer, I sat on an uncomfortable plastic chair in the next classroom, skimming a textbook I had found. The noise prevented me from staying in the laundry room.
I heard the footfalls of someone running in the hallway, but assumed it was just someone on their way to the gymnasium. When I heard the clanging sound of washers and dryers being opened, I rushed back to the laundry room, hoping to thwart a thief from taking off with me and Dana's clothes.
I did a double take when I saw Dana on her knees and sobbing; wet clothes spilled out of the dryer and onto the floor in front of her.
"Dana?" I approached her immediately after coming to my senses.
She reached up and grabbed the hem of my shirt, so I embraced her as well as I could from my position in a sideways kind of hug. I could feel the side of my shirt dampen with her tears.
"What is it?" I asked gently, stroking her hair lightly.
"I lost it," I heard in her muffled answer.
"I forgot to take it out of my pocket when I put the jeans in the wash bag."
I couldn't help the big smile that found itself on my face when I realized what she was talking about. "You're in luck, Dana! I always check the pockets before I do any laundry!" I said excitedly, pulling away and reaching into my own pocket. I took the small piece of paper out and put it in her hand.
She stared at the note for a moment before crying openly and trying to thank me at the same time. I only smiled and handed her a partially dry towel. The smile remained on my face as I started picking up the clothes on the floor. I had been tempted to read the note when I'd first found it, but upon reading the opening of "Dearest Dana," I'd folded it back up. It wasn't for me and I didn't want to violate Dana's privacy. So I pocketed up her last letter from her husband with a good feeling in my heart.
In late November, almost five months after we had arrived in Big Buffalo, I was waiting for Dana at the hospital when the news broke. I was due any day now, and so was relegated to staying at home instead of working, but leaving the trailer daily for lunch with Dana broke up the monotony of my mornings. "I think one of the newcomers knows you, Dr. Scully," Sean, one of the nurses, announced, entering the hospital. "He just asked if we had a doctor by your name here."
Dana dropped the chart she'd been holding. "Who?"
Sean took of his coat. "One of the newcomers. There are four of them. They just arrived in town a few minutes ago. I told them to come here and get checked out first--"
Dana was out the door in a flash, grabbing her coat but foregoing her boots. I inwardly complained once again about my inability to run, and waddled out after her.
I saw their silhouettes from a distance, approaching the school. I trudged up the street, cursing the snow and my enormity. It wasn't until I saw them stop and shake hands with people that I let myself hope. Could it be? They had the same stature...
"Oh my God!" I heard Dana say in front of me. I looked ahead to see that she had stopped in her tracks. I turned to face her. Her hands were over her mouth, and she looked ready to cry.
"Dana?" She didn't seem to hear me, starting a sprint towards the newcomers. I turned to face forward and nearly fainted with shock. Ohmygodohmygodohmygod!
The four men were closer now, and I could see their faces. The three I recognized, I could've never forgotten: Jake, Mulder, and Geoff! I watched frozen as Mulder and Dana ran toward each other, shouting each other's last names. Their fierce embrace in the street was met with applause from the meager audience that had gathered to witness the happy reunion.
I opened my mouth to call Jake, but nothing came out. "Jessie!" He'd spotted me anyway, and was running toward me. I waved stupidly, rooted to the sidewalk.
I was enveloped in a cocoon of softness before I could even lower my arm. "You're real! You're really here! God, I can't believe it!"
"Believe it," I said into his neck. "I'm here," I was able to croak out before the tears started.
"Don't cry," he said, moving his hands from my back to my face, wiping my tears from my cheeks.
That wasn't enough for me. I lifted my eyes to his, anxious to see the face I never thought I'd see again close up. Letting our eyes speak for us, I caressed his face slowly. He badly needed a shave, but I didn't care about the scratchy stubble, catching him off guard by touching my lips to his. He returned my kiss eagerly, increasing the intensity with a burst of passion I claimed immediately. I hadn't realized how much I had missed his taste until we needed to part for air. I nibbled on his lower lip and licked his lips for him, trying to keep as much of his essence as I could. I stroked his hair, familiarizing myself with the longer length. We stayed entwined for a long time until he quietly asked, "Is everything okay with the baby?"
Pulling away from Jake, I unzipped my heavy jacket and placed his hand on my protruding belly. "Everything's fine," I replied, rubbing his hand over my stomach.
He fell on his knees in the snow, wrapping his arms around my girth. "I'm here, Baby," he said, planting a light kiss on my belly.
"Awww, that's sooo cute!" I heard someone say and realized that we were being watched. Self-conscious, I tried to haul Jake up from the ground, almost losing my balance.
He laughed, getting up off the snow, and brushed off his pants. "Come on, there's someone I want you to meet!" He grabbed my hand and pulled me over to where his parents were talking to Geoff and the fourth man.
Dana stopped mid-conversation, running into Jake's outstretched arms when we approached. "Jake!" she cried as she flung herself toward him.
I felt the tears start up again as I witnessed their reunion. I rubbed at my eyes before the water could run down my cheeks, knowing that it was useless--my face would be red and raw from crying no matter what I did.
Jake and Dana parted, and Jake took my hand once again. We only had to walk a few steps to meet the others. Standing with Mulder and Geoff was a tall, dark-haired young man with a friendly smile. "Jessie, I want you to meet my brother, Ben," Jake introduced me to the stranger.
I was speechless. I turned back to Jake, and he nodded before I could ask him if this was the brother that he had thought dead. Ben took my hand. "I've heard a lot about you from my brother. It's nice to finally meet you, Jessie."
I nodded as we shook hands. I licked my lips and thought about what to say. "I'm glad," I said. Putting a wide smile on my face, I added, "I'm glad the baby will have so many people to call family!"
"What happened in Calgary?" I asked Jake on the third night of his return, as we lay awake on our bed. I was thirsty, but didn't want to leave our room for water, not wanting to disturb Ben, who was sleeping on the couch. I rationalized it in my mind by reminding myself that I really didn't want to visit the outhouse later in the night. For the time being, there were five of us in the trailer. As crowded as it was, I loved it, especially since there was always at least one other person to keep me company when everybody else was at work.
Jake turned toward me, surprise evident on his face. He had probably been wondering when I'd ask, but I'd been too preoccupied lately to remember. At dinner the first night, Mulder, Geoff, and Jake had told us about staying behind in Calgary to rescue Ben from the ship they found, returning to Pride Creek to find us gone, traveling north to meet up with us, stopping in every town in search of people with information. They'd stayed two months in Fort Vermilion due to Ben being sick, a month in High Level, and another in Hay River. I couldn't believe that they had been so close in the last month. My excitement in their return had overwhelmed me, and I hadn't cared to know the details then. "Are you sure you want to hear about this now?" he asked.
"Yeah, I won't be sleeping anytime soon. Baby's too jumpy tonight."
Jake turned on his side and placed his hand over my belly. I could feel the baby continuing its gymnastic routine inside me. "God, Baby really wants out!" Jake exclaimed after an especially obvious bounce.
"What happened in Calgary?" I asked again in a whisper, reminding Jake to keep his voice down.
"We made it to the ship in the morning, but waited until dark to sneak on. Everyone was supposed to be off the ship in fifteen, but I thought I heard Ben in my mind. I had to check it out. Geoff didn't want to leave me alone, so we didn't make the rendezvous. Geoff and I found Ben by accident. He was isolated from the cryopods, in some kind of stasis chamber. We stumbled upon it taking a wrong turn somewhere. I don't know how he'd survived so long. Maybe They hadn't figured out that he couldn't communicate with Them, or that he was only pretending he couldn't. Maybe They thought he could be ransomed later on."
"Was it a trap?" I asked.
"No, I don't think so. I kept thinking about a malfunction in the engine room, just to keep Them occupied on that side of the ship. I didn't even know if They had an engine room!"
"How did you keep Them from hearing your thoughts about Ben?"
"I don't know. I tried to act, not think. I didn't hear any of Them worried about him, though."
"How did you get him out of stasis?"
"We didn't. We couldn't figure it out, but fortunately, Dad came back to look for us. He found us with Ben. He knew which buttons to press. But we couldn't leave until the coast was clear, and They had already figured out there wasn't any malfunction. We ended up hiding on the ship for another two hours. We knew the others had left already; Dad had told them only to wait an hour. Ben was weak, so we had to go slow. You know the rest."
"He's better now, isn't he?"
"Physically, yes. Everything else, I don't know. As you've noticed, he doesn't talk about his time on the ship much."
I grasped his hand in mine. "We'll all help him get better. We're all survivors, aren't we?"
"Yes, that we are." He kissed the palm of my hand.
A week after Jake returned to me, I awoke in severe pain. I immediately began my breathing exercises, expecting another bout of false labor. I had all but given up on anticipating the baby's arrival. Baby didn't seem to want to leave its perfect world inside me yet. When the pain got better, I got out of bed, and stumbled out of the bedroom.
Mulder was sitting on the couch writing in a notebook. He gave me a pleasant smile when he saw me. "Hey, Jessie. You okay?"
"Yeah. I think I might be experiencing false labor again." I held on to the armrest of the recliner as a twinge of pain signaled an increasing ache to come.
"Do you want me to head over to the cafeteria to grab you something for breakfast?" Mulder asked, putting his notebook down.
I looked down at my housecoat and slippers, shaking my head in the negative. I couldn't eat feeling like this. The pain was starting to become unbearable. I sat down in the recliner heavily, grimacing.
"Hey, I think we should head over to the hospital."
I couldn't reply, concentrating only on my breathing. Mulder grabbed my boots from the rack by the door and changed my footwear for me. "Can you stand up?" he asked. I waited until the pain had retreated into a distant numbness before getting out of the chair. He helped me put my coat on, then quickly put his outerwear on as well.
We were only a few steps away from the trailer when the pain returned in full force. I stood stock-still, willing the pain away, as I clutched my stomach. I cried out when Mulder took my arm. I didn't want to move; it hurt too much.
"We need to go to the hospital, Jessie," he said softly.
I shook my head "no." "I can't. I can't."
"I'll help you," he said, putting his arm around me and leading me slowly.
I fell to the snow as another contraction hit. Mulder picked me up in his arms and started carrying me towards the hospital. We were almost there when I felt the gush of water flow out of me in a rush. "Oh God! Sorry, I'm sorry!"
"What are you sorry about, Jessie?" Mulder increased his pace. "Hold on, we just have to cross the street!"
Sean saw us coming and opened the door for us, ushering us towards the bed at the back of the room. "Is it time?" he asked excitedly as Mulder deposited me as gently as he could on the bed.
Dana hurried into the room. "How far apart are the contractions?" she asked immediately.
"I'm not sure, but they're pretty close together," Mulder replied with a shrug.
"That doesn't help me, Mulder. How are you doing, Jessie?"
"Okay," I told her. "I need to change. My water broke," I added.
"That's okay, sweetie. Let's get your coat off first." She turned to Mulder. "Why don't you go find Jake?"
I was shocked and embarrassed all at once. I had forgotten all about Jake! How could I have forgotten? I stopped berating myself and concentrated on my breathing. Everything would be fine. Jake would be here soon and everything would be all right then.
"Just one more, Jessie!" Dana was shouting, but I was too tired to push anymore. I was exhausted, it felt like my stomach was being ripped apart from the inside, and Jake's encouragement at my bedside had now become annoying. Had the drugs worn off already? Why did it hurt so damn much?
"Dr. Scully!" Sean called from somewhere in the room where I couldn't see him.
He approached with a look I had never seen on his face before. He looked worried. He whispered something to Dana and she got the same look on her face.
"What is it? What's wrong?" I asked, but neither replied, conferring in low tones at the foot of the bed with Tanya and Simone, the afternoon nurses. "Jake, find out what's wrong?" I implored.
"Mom?" Jake called. I could hear the panic in his voice.
Dana returned to us with a grim expression. "Jake, Jessie, we think the baby is in distress. We need to rethink doing this naturally."
Jake's gasp coincided with my cry of terror. "Get it out! It can't die!" I broke down, cursing my body for betraying me in this horrible way. Jake stared at me in shock, and I knew he could hear my awful thoughts. I prayed that I wouldn't lose the baby; I wasn't willing to trade Jake's return for my baby's life. I couldn't choose between the two. I wouldn't. I'd rather sacrifice myself so that the baby could live. It would have Jake. He would be the perfect father.
"I'm going to put you under and perform an emergency C- section," Dana explained. "I haven't done it before, but Simone's familiar with this procedure. You know we'll do our best." She squeezed my hand and nodded to Tanya.
I didn't feel the needle at all. The overall pain had numbed, and all I felt was dread and fear. "Don't leave me, Jessie. I swear I'll keep my promise to you. I'll never leave you again," Jake whimpered into my neck.
I tugged on his shoulder until his eyes met mine. I love you, I told him silently. His eyes blinked and I saw, rather than felt, the tears fall. I lost consciousness as his lips met mine.
I sit in our trailer on the rocking chair Jake found for me, telling our daughter a bedtime story. She was born a healthy 8 pounds, delivered by her grandmother. She has Jake's light complexion and my dark hair. We named her Mina, since Jake and I met in Wilhelmina. So far, she seems as normal as any baby, but Jake and I have discussed the possibility that she will inherit the gift we both share.
I never expected to be here. I always thought that I'd live somewhere warm someday. Evergreens and the rocky tundra were never in my long-term plans, but it's become home. I didn't expect to be surrounded by family. Jake, Mina, and I live in the trailer Dana and I used to share now. Mina's grandparents live in the next trailer over, and her Uncle Ben is across the road with Jimmy.
It has been nearly a year since Dana and I first came to Big Buffalo, and my mind-reading ability has not returned. We continue to hope that the Blague have given up on us but have not forgotten the shadow that hangs over us every day that we survive. We don't talk about what will happen when the war begins, but about how to live. Now more than ever, I think about the future. Mina's my firstborn, and I tell her that I love her best, but it's not good enough. I want her to have a future.
Mina squirms in my arms, reminding me that I'm not done with her story. I smile down at her, reciting the last sentence by heart. "She married the prince, and they lived happily ever after."
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Many thanks to the wonderful Angelique, without whose cheerleading and beta help this story might have languished on my hard drive for another two years, awash in commas.
There are a few fictional geographical locations in this story. As far as I know, there is no Wilhelmina nor Pride Creek in Alberta, and no Big Buffalo in the Northwest Territories.
This is my first story over 12K, and I'm still learning. I'd love to hear whether it worked for you or not. Feedback is appreciated at email@example.com