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Different Circumstances: Part 9B of ? by Marzee Doats

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Thursday, November 2, six weeks after the bombs

Shaking his head at his brother's stubbornness, Jake exited town hall, his rifle clutched loosely in his hand.  As soon as the Ravenwood vehicles had been out of sight, Jake had motioned Jimmy Taylor over, informing him, Robert Hawkins and Gray Anderson that they needed to get back to town and talk to Eric.  They had all agreed with him, and Gray had tried to put Ridley Cooper in charge while they were gone.  Surprisingly, it had been Jimmy who'd argued most vehemently against this choice - for reasons Jake only learned later - and Clyde Davis had been appointed instead, mainly because they would be borrowing his truck.

At town hall, they'd filled Eric in on everything that had happened out at the bridge, as well as their plan.  He had surprised them all with his opposition.  Jake, Gray and Hawkins had argued with Eric, while Jimmy and Bill had stood silently at the back of the room, their loyalties divided.   Eric had stood firm, refusing to consider blowing up the Tacoma Bridge, going so far as to order Bill to lock up the explosives.  It had left an odd taste in Jake's mouth to find himself fighting on the same side as Gray Anderson, especially considering that he could have cheerfully strangled the man two days before.  It wasn't even satisfying to see the tables turned on Eric; he'd shouted them down, not caring one bit that they were united in their determination and purpose to protect Jericho from the menace of Ravenwood. 

Jake glanced up, watching as Jimmy turned around and hurried off, apparently on some errand for Robert Hawkins.  He jogged down the steps, reaching Hawkins and Gray in time to hear Hawkins say, "...round up as much diesel and fertilizer as I can, and meet you back at the bridge."  With barely a nod in Jake's direction, Hawkins headed off to complete his self-appointed task.

"He's makin' explosives?" Jake asked, frowning sourly.  He couldn't help but recall for an instance his conversation with Heather a mere ten hours before regarding fertilizer.  Gray nodded, and Jake let out a long breath.  "So you're blowin' it anyway?"  

After Eric had stormed out of his office, Jake had given him thirty seconds, and then he'd followed his brother into the interview room he'd retreated into, hoping to reason with him in private.  But Eric hadn't budged, repeating that once they blew the bridge it was gone forever.  "A bridge is gonna be real useful if they murder us all like they did everyone in that hospital," Jake had countered, hitting the table with his fist to emphasize his point and express his frustration.

"We get every man in town out on that bridge if we have to," Eric had argued in return.  "With a show of force, they'll go elsewhere, like Gray said," he'd continued, standing taller, his shoulders thrown back, pointing his finger at Jake.  "Besides, this isn't a negotiation.  I'm deputy mayor, and Dad's not available.  This is my call.  We defend the bridge, we don't blow it up." 

"Throwing more men at this just means more men get killed," Jake had said through clenched teeth, recycling one of his earlier arguments.  He'd turned then, exiting the windowless room without another word, intending to go back out to the bridge and do what little he could to keep his dire prediction from coming true.

"That's right," Gray confirmed.  He studied Jake for a few seconds, taking in his conflicted expression.  "Look Jake," he sighed, "You've got loyalty to your brother and your family.  I get that.  You want to bow out, no one will blame you.  But that bridge is comin' down," he vowed. 

Jake nodded once, sharply, and then spinning around, started down the street.  "Where are you goin'?" Gray called after him before he'd managed three steps.

"Someone's got to tell those people who live out there to come over," he answered over his shoulder. 

A truck packed with armed men - reinforcements for the bridge - rumbled past as Jake shouldered his rifle and started jogging to where he'd left his car parked earlier that morning when he'd followed Stanley to town hall.  The truck turned the corner, affording Jake a clear view of the entrance to Gracie's Market and Heather, who was exiting the store.  Picking up his pace, he ran toward her, calling her name.

"Jake!" she declared, frowning as he skidded to a stop in front of her.  "What's going on?" Heather demanded, looking down the street after the truck which had now disappeared from view.  "Those men all had guns," she observed, her tone full of confusion, "And you're suddenly running around town with a rifle?" she half accused, facing him, her forehead wrinkling in consternation.

"There's a situation," he admitted, shaking his head.  "Out on the Tacoma Bridge.  Ravenwood - we think the same unit we ran into in Rouge River yesterday - showed up last night out at Stanley's, swiped some gas," Jake explained quickly.  "They tried to come into town this morning claiming they're under government orders to collect supplies."

She covered her mouth with her hand, her eyes widening.  "Oh God.  What - how -"

"No, it's okay," he assured, expelling a nervous breath.  He hadn't told Heather anything about what he and Eric had seen in Rogue River, and now was certainly not the time.  "It's okay," he repeated, offering a quick smile, though to Heather it was obviously fake.  Jake inched closer, lowering his rifle and pulling her into an awkward one-armed hug.  "We've got a roadblock up on the bridge, okay?  And we've held them off so far.  We've just gotta keep up the show of force, and they'll go where the pickin's are easier," Jake argued, rubbing her back comfortingly before finally allowing his hand to rest just above her waist.  "Look - what are you doing out here?" he asked next, letting her go and taking a step back. 

"Uh," Heather began, pressing a finger into the corner of one eye.  "I - I was looking for some ginger ale," she admitted, chuckling softly at herself.  "Thought that might be a nice treat for your Dad.  He can't stay awake for very long, and it's making him grumpy.  Anyway," she continued, purposely not mentioning that she was also searching for ginger ale to help April combat her nausea.  "Gracie's prices were a little too high for me.  I was just gonna check and see if Mary might have any at Bailey's."

Jake shook his head.  "Uh-uh.  You need to go home," he told her.  "And stay indoors.  Mom and April too," he ordered.  "You all need to stay inside."

"Your Mom and I were gonna go out to the ranch -"

"No," Jake contradicted.  "We don't know where Ravenwood's got men right now.  I was out there three days ago, and the horses can make it another day.  They have to," he muttered, stone-faced.  "Baron too.  I put out a week's worth of food.  But you need to stay in town, and stay inside."

Heather frowned again, worry evident in her expression.  "Okay," she agreed, her tone doubtful.  "Jake, you're scaring me," she told him.

He reached for her hand, squeezing it.  "No reason to be scared," he promised, attempting another smile that didn't reach his eyes.  "We're just being cautious.  This'll all blow over real soon."

"Okay," she nodded, taking a deep breath.

"Okay," Jake agreed.  "Go to Bailey's," he instructed, "And then go home.  Eric or I'll come to let you all know when it's over, okay?" he asked, leaning close to brush a kiss across her forehead.  "Everything's gonna be fine."

"Yeah," Heather murmured almost inaudibly.  She pursed her lips, studying him for a few seconds.  "Where are you going?' she inquired softly, gripping his fingers.  "Back to the bridge?"

"Eventually," Jake allowed.  "But I'm gonna go warn the families on the farms out that way first," he explained.  "Get 'em to come into town for few days, just to be safe."  He pulled his hand from hers, moving it up to cup the side of her head.  "So I gotta go, okay, babe?"

Heather took a half step back, watching Jake closely.  His expression was guarded, and that wasn't something she was used to seeing from Jake, not when it was just the two of them.  She couldn't help but wonder exactly what was happening out on that bridge.  He'd said they were holding Ravenwood off, but if that was true, why did she need to stay inside?  And, if he didn't think it was safe for her to go to the ranch west of town where Ravenwood wasn't, then why should she think it was safe for him to go out to the farms east of town, where Ravenwood was?

Her stomach clenched then, and Heather laid one hand over the top of it, reaching for Jake's hand with the other.  "Okay," she agreed, sniffing.  "But be careful, please," she ordered.  "I love you, Jake," Heather told him, attempting a smile that never fully materialized.  She placed his hand over her belly, holding it there with her own.  "We love you," she emphasized, not above reminding him of what was at stake. 

"Didn't we just do this last night?" Jake grumbled, forcing a grin.  He knew he was making light of a serious situation, but he didn't want Heather to spend the day worrying about something she could do nothing about.
"We did," Heather agreed, taking the bait.  "So we better not have to do this again tomorrow," she complained.  "You better go," she sighed, finally releasing his hand.

"Yeah," he nodded, kissing her quickly.  "I love you," Jake added, pulling away.  "Everything's gonna be fine." 

Throwing her one last lopsided grin, Jake turned around and jogged back down the street to where the Roadrunner was parked.   Heather stood rooted to her spot and watched him go.  He reached the car, glancing back at her and returning her wave before climbing in and starting the engine.  Heather waved again when the Roadrunner passed her, and then, taking a deep breath, she crossed the street, headed toward Bailey's Tavern.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Wednesday, October 31, five years before the bombs

"How are you doing?" Jimmy Taylor inquired, looking sideways at his wife.  They were twenty minutes and a block and a half from his sister's house. 

The plan had been for Jimmy and his nieces to take Woody trick-or-treating - just around the block - but then Margaret had gotten it into her head to come with them, and Lauren and Elizabeth had taken off on their own, not wanting to wait for their aunt.  Linda had shaken her head at Margaret, accusing her of trying to induce labor, and Margaret hadn't bothered to deny it.  "Well, if you do, keep your legs together 'til morning," Linda had advised, rolling her eyes.  "Don't go cursin' my niece with a Halloween birthday."

"I promise to hold out until November," Margaret had laughed.  "Woody'll only make it a few blocks anyway, same as me," she'd sighed, pulling the Elmo hood up over her son's head and then tying a bow beneath his chin to keep it in place.  "We'll be back by eight."

"Well, the pumpkin pie should be cooled by then," Linda had assured, shooing them out the door.  "Be careful," she'd admonished, "And if you see Laurie and Lizzie, make sure they're not running wild."

They hadn't run into the girls as they'd made their way slowly down Green Street.  After every house Jimmy had asked Margaret how she was doing, and Margaret had retied Woody's hood, only to have him undo all her work before they were up the next walk.  Jimmy had just rung the Nolan's doorbell when Woody pulled the hood off for likely the fiftieth time, drawing a frustrated groan from his mother. 

Mrs. Nolan opened the door, beaming.  "Why Deputy Taylor, it's good to see you," she greeted.

Jimmy smiled at the elderly woman.  "Trick-or-treat," he said, jiggling Woody in his arms.  "C'mon, buddy," he cajoled. "Say 'trick-or-treat'."

"Tick-a-tee," Woody parroted, giggling.  He burrowed his face into his father's shoulder.

"That's about as good as he can do," Jimmy told Mrs. Nolan, cupping the back of the little boy's head.  "This is my wife Margaret," he introduced, glancing at her.  "And, this is Woody.  Margaret, this is Mrs. Nolan.  Used to have trouble with the house next door -"

"Those boys!" Mrs. Nolan interjected, shuddering.  "They were awful.  Never have been so happy to see neighbors go.  They were only renters, of course," she confided to Margaret.  "Your husband, always so helpful.  Must've had to come out nearly every weekend, two or three times.   But everything's fine now," she continued.  "Miss Lisinski is living there, and she's such a sweet girl.  Dating one of the Green twins, you know.  He's over practically every night.  Jake.  I know everyone says he's a bit wild," she plowed on, not bothering to stop even to take a breath.  "And, everything that happened with Jonah Prowse this summer was a shock, but I hafta say, he's helpful!  Carried groceries in for me just last night."

"We went to high school with Jake," Margaret answered, grinning.  "I never thought he was wild, exactly.  He's just Jake.  And, we got to know Heather some at church on Sunday," Margaret added.  "She seems very nice, and she's great with children.  Woody took to her immediately," she explained, touching his leg.  "Personally, I think they make a cute couple."

Mrs. Nolan nodded.  "I couldn't agree more," she sighed.  "Well, I think I owe someone some candy!" she declared, turning to reach into the candy bowl that was sitting on the hall tree just inside the door.  "Here you go, sweetheart," Mrs. Nolan crooned, depositing the sweets into the plastic pumpkin bucket Jimmy held out for Woody.  "Deputy Taylor, you have a lovely family.  And, another one about to join us any day," she smiled.  "What a blessing."

"Any day from tomorrow on," Margaret chuckled, folding her hands over her pregnant belly.

They thanked Mrs. Nolan for the candy, and she exclaimed over how adorable Woody was one last time.  Jimmy reached for Margaret's hand, holding onto it even after they had navigated their way down the porch steps.  He glanced over at the familiar house next door, remembering all the times in the past two years that he'd pounded on that door and told one or the other of the Blakemore brothers that it was time to break up the party.  He hadn't had a call out to Green Street in five months, and now he knew why.  Heather Lisinski just wasn't the type to ever aggravate her neighbors.  "Look," Jimmy muttered, squeezing Margaret's hand and cocking his head in the direction of Heather's driveway.  "Jake's car."

She looked sideways at him, grinning.  "I told you trick-or-treating was gonna be fun."

* * * * *

Heather was obviously in her element, passing candy out to the gaggle of children who'd arrived on her doorstep, and exclaiming over - actually recognizing - their costumes.  Jake stood a few inches behind her, watching her interact with the kids and grinning.  It turned out that Heather loved Halloween despite, she'd told him, all of the dire warnings regarding the pagan nature of the holiday she'd heard from the nuns who were her teachers growing up. "Happy Halloween!" she called after the departing children.

"Happy Halloween!" they yelled back, running down the steps.  "Thanks Miss Lisinski!"

She closed the door behind them, and turned, smiling, to face Jake.  "Having fun?" she inquired, laughing softly as she reached up to straighten his costume's collar.

Jake rolled his eyes and then leaned toward her, brushing her lips with his own.  "Been a long time since I dressed up for Halloween," he told her softly.  "Not since I was going trick-or-treating."

"Not even for a costume party?" she asked, taking a step back. 

"Nope," he answered.

"Hmm," Heather acknowledged, nodding thoughtfully.  "Well," she continued, perking up immediately, "It's about time then."  Her grin bordered on evil.  "And it seemed so appropriate," she giggled, turning away.

He grabbed for her hand, lacing their fingers together and following her back into the living room.  "It's pretty good payback, I'll give you that," Jake told Heather, winking at her when she looked over her shoulder at him. 

Heather laughed.  "Oh, believe me, payback is just starting," she assured him.  The doorbell rang before she could say anything else, and she let go of his hand.  "More kids," she announced unnecessarily.

"Trick-or-treat!" Jimmy and Margaret Taylor said in unison as soon as Heather opened the door.  "Okay Woody, now you say it.  'Trick-or-treat'," Jimmy encouraged.

Woody's face lit up when he spotted Heather, and he reached for her.  "Tick-a-tee," he declared as she caught him under the arms.

"Hello, Elmo!" Heather laughed, lifting him to her shoulder.  "Elmo, did you eat Woody?" she whispered, earning herself a grin and a giggle.  "Happy Halloween," she added, greeting Margaret and Jimmy.

"Happy Halloween," Margaret returned, taking a step back to look around Heather's front porch.  "You two did a great job," she observed, taking in the cobwebs that had been strung between the porch columns, the scarecrow sitting on the bench, a pot of mums beside it, and the jack-o-lanterns that lined either side of the steps.

Decorating had been the one thing that Heather had been willing to let Jake do the previous evening.  He had shown up at the school around four-thirty, testing the waters by approaching her cautiously.  Heather had allowed him to kiss her on the cheek, rolling her eyes at him.  She'd taken a definite step away from him and tugged at the collar of her red turtleneck, complaining that she was too hot.  Jake had mumbled an apology and Heather has rolled her eyes again.  "Right," she'd muttered, fighting a chuckle.

Still, after they'd gone for dinner and then headed back to her house, Heather had gotten skittish any time Jake had come within range of her.  He'd stuck it out for a few hours, carving pumpkins and helping her decorate the porch, before they had called it a night.  Heather had kissed him good night, and nodded, her lips pressed tightly together, when he'd brushed her hair off her face and asked if they were okay.  Thoroughly confused by Heather's mixed signals, Jake had driven home to the ranch berating himself for his mistake.

Tonight, though, Heather had thrown her arms around his neck, kissing him enthusiastically, when he'd arrived at her house with their dinner, take-out burritos from Jericho's one and only Mexican restaurant.  Grinning at him, she'd pulled him in the front door and led him to the table where he had found a plastic bag marked 'State Street Costume Shop' placed in front of what was now his usual seat.  "Your costume for tonight," she'd told him, taking the sack containing their dinner from his hand.  "I hafta admit, April helped me out.  Picked it up in Fielding today.  We both thought it was ... fitting," she had decided, a giggle escaping her lips.  "She said your Mom went too.  They had lunch."

Something akin to panic had crossed Jake's face, and Heather had started to laugh in earnest.  "I'm afraid to look," he'd admitted, frowning at her. 

"Not a bad instinct," Heather had granted, continuing to chuckle.  "But take a look anyway."

"So, Count Jake-ula, I take it?" Margaret smirked, looking Jake up and down.  "Interesting."

"Uh, yeah," Jake agreed, fingering the edge of the cape Heather had insisted he wear over his long sleeve t-shirt and jeans. 

When he'd finally peered into the bag from the costume shop, Jake had found inside a heavy, long black cape with a pointed collar and lined in a shiny red satin. There were also vampire teeth, a jar of white pancake make-up, and even hair gel, which Heather had explained was to slick his hair down for the full Bela Lugosi effect.  Surprised, and not really looking forward to wearing the white make-up included in the kit, Jake had asked if she was serious.  Heather had pulled down the collar of her black turtleneck then, giving Jake his first glimpse in two days of the now purple mark on her neck.  "I think the costume's funny," she'd told him.  "And, thinking about you wearing that costume, even makes this a little bit funny," Heather had explained, brushing a finger over the hickey.  Jake had agreed to put on the costume, including the make-up, as soon as he'd finished his burrito.

"I picked it out," Heather answered before Jake could say anything else.  She bounced Woody in her arms, making silly faces at the little boy.  "It just came to me the other night," she claimed, a strong note of sarcasm in her tone.  She glanced sideways at Jake for a second.   "And, I couldn't resist."

Jimmy snickered in response.  "Count Jake-ula," he repeated. "That's pretty good, Heather.  Funny."

"Thanks, I thought so," she acknowledged with a grin, capturing and then kissing one of Woody's pudgy little fists.  "Trick-or-treat?" Heather asked watching the little boy closely.

Woody nodded enthusiastically.  "Tick-a-tree," he mimicked.

Heather looked at Jake again.  "Would you get the other bowl?" she asked, taking a step back into the house so she could point him to the table where she collected junk mail and left her keys.  "Not the one with chocolate, the other one."  He brought her the bowl, and she picked out a bag of animal crackers and an orange sucker with a jack-o-lantern face, holding them out to Woody.  He ignored the cookies but reached for the sucker, fingering it carefully with both hands.  Jimmy held out Woody's plastic pumpkin and Heather dropped the animal crackers inside, still watching the little boy for his reaction.  Clutching the sucker's stick in his fist, he waved it at Heather, grinning at her sweetly.  "Oh, you like that, huh?" Heather asked, smiling at Woody.  "Well then, I think you need two," she told him, pulling a second sucker out of the bowl Jake still held.  She showed Woody the sucker and then dropped it into the pumpkin bucket.  Woody brightened, waving his sucker around, hitting it on the brim of the witch's hat that Heather wore.  

"I'll just take that," Margaret said, grabbing her son's arm and then prying the candy from his hand.  "Sorry," she grimaced, throwing the sucker into the bucket.

"No harm done," Heather assured, moving Woody to her hip so she could pull her hat back into place.

"Owie," Woody announced solemnly then.  He'd taken advantage of his new position on Heather's side to play with the pumpkin pin she was wearing on the collar of her sweater, and had managed to tug her turtleneck down, revealing the purple bruise on the side of her neck.  Heather felt him press his slightly clammy fingers against her hickey.  "Owie hurts," Woody said sadly.  "Kiss bedder," he decided, pressing his mouth to her injury.  He lifted his head, looking up at her, his eyes wide.  "All bedder?"

Heather, already blushing deeply, nodded at the little boy.  "Yes," she sighed, clearing her throat.  "Thank you, Woody," Heather continued, smiling at him, and then boosting him in her arms so she could rub his back.  "All better," she agreed.

"I am so sorry," Margaret blurted out then.  Heather glanced at each of the other three adults and found that her mortification seemed to be catching; even Jake looked somewhat embarrassed under his white make-up.  "Oh, Woody," Margaret groaned, shaking her head.  She reached for the boy, pulling him out of Heather's arms before handing him to Jimmy.  "I am so sorry," she repeated.

"It's okay," Heather answered, leaning back into the comforting hand Jake had laid against her back.  She didn't know what else to say, and was relieved to see a group of kids running up her walk, apparently intent on trick-or-treating all of Jericho before the end of the night. 

Jimmy managed to pull Margaret out of the children's way just in the nick of time.  Spotting his nieces in the knot of kids, Jimmy greeted them with a smile, passing along their mother's message about the pumpkin pie and her order that they were not to run wild.   Laurie and Lizzie both rolled their eyes and, after collecting their candy from Heather and Jake, promised to behave and to be home on time. Then, they ran off with the other kids, headed next door to trick-or-treat at the Nolans.

"Thank you for the goodies," Margaret told Heather and Jake, while Jimmy watched the girls run along with their friends.  He looked back over his shoulder, nodding in agreement and reaching for Margaret's hand.  "Good night," she smiled.

"Night Margaret, Jimmy," Jake echoed.  He laced his fingers through Heather's, tugging her into the house and then closed the door behind them.

Two more groups of trick-or-treaters came by in quick succession, after which there was a lull that Heather took advantage of by running to the bathroom.  The doorbell rang again, and Jake pulled himself up from the couch and crossed the living room to answer it. 

"Trick-or-treat!" Stanley Richmond exclaimed along with his sister and five of her classmates.  The girls were all dressed in pajamas with their hair up in pigtails, each carrying a teddy bear or other stuffed animal.  Jake recognized the teddy bear that Bonnie carried as the one he'd won for her at the county fair in July.  Stanley was in patched overalls and wearing a straw hat.  They all, Stanley included, held out pillowcases, their expressions expectant. 

Jake snorted and, shaking his head, began to dole candy to the girls, purposely skipping Stanley.  "Happy Halloween," he told them.

"What about me?" Stanley complained, shaking his pillowcase with both hands.

"Aren't you a little old to be trick-or-treating?" Jake questioned, one eyebrow raised.

"You're just mad you didn't think of it first," Stanley returned with a grin.  He shook his pillowcase at Jake again.  "C'mon!  Trick-or-treat!  We still have to hit The Pines for the really good candy."

"I heard Skylar Stevens bragging that her parents were giving out whole candy bars this year," one of Bonnie's friends piped up. 

Stanley nodded.  "Exactly.  Thank you, Alyssa."

"I can't give you candy when you're not in costume," Jake informed him, a smirk curling his lips. 

"I am in costume!" Stanley protested with exaggerated indignation.  "I'm a farmer."

"You're a farmer every day of the year," Jake reminded, taking a step back so he could place the bowl of candy out of reach on the table.  "It can't be your Halloween costume."

The girls had stayed bunched around Stanley, and they looked up at him, craning their necks, waiting to hear his next response.  He was happy to oblige.  "I don't wear overalls normally," Stanley began to explain, emitting a put-upon sigh.  "Therefore, that makes this a farmer costume, see?  And, not my usual work clothing as a farmer.  Besides," he continued, "I'm pretty sure this is Heather's house.  Shouldn't she be deciding who gets candy, Count Jake-ula?" Stanley demanded, drawing giggles from Bonnie's friends and even Bonnie once the others managed to convey the gist of the joke to her.

"So, do all these girls' mothers' know they're spending the evening with you as their supervision?" Jake asked, sidestepping Stanley's question.

Stanley nodded.  "Of course.  I'm the one everyone wants to go trick-or treating with, right?" he inquired, looking down at his charges.  The girls giggled in unison again, shaking their heads in emphatic agreement.  "I'm both fun and responsible," Stanley continued.  He spotted Heather as soon as she came into sight, a knowing smile blooming on his face.  Stanley had seen her the day before at the school when he'd gone in for his monthly conference with the principal and Bonnie's teachers.  He'd noticed then that Heather had been wearing a turtleneck despite the fact that it was still rather warm, and now, today, she was still wearing one.  As far as Stanley Richmond knew, that could only mean one thing.  He took a step toward Jake, muttering softly, "You know, the vampire costume is starting to make sense.  What?  The toothbrush trick didn't work?"

Jake looked quickly back over his shoulder to see that Heather was only about eight feet away.  Now he took a step toward Stanley, bringing them toe to toe.  "Don't even," he growled in warning just as he felt Heather's hand on his back.

 "Course not," Stanley agreed genially.  He smiled at Heather and, moving around Jake, pulled her into his arms for a quick hug.  "Hey there, beautiful," he greeted, looking to Jake for his reaction, which didn't disappoint.  Behind him, all six girls snickered.  "Why're you hanging around with this pasty old reprobate?"

"'Pasty old reprobate'?" Heather chuckled. 

"'Pasty: having a pale, lifeless appearance.  Ashen, sallow.  And, reprobate: a depraved, unprincipled, or wicked person,'" Stanley defined for them, grinning.  "Also, 'shameless'," he added.

"What did you do, swallow a dictionary?" Jake grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest and glowering at his best friend.

""Word-A-Day calendar," Stanley corrected cheerfully.  "Power vocabulary edition."

Heather's hand found its way to Jake's back again, and she rubbed gentle circles against his spine.  "Well, that's not exactly what I was going for when I picked Jake's costume," she informed Stanley with a soft smile, "But okay."  She turned her attention then to the group of girls, all of whom appeared to be hanging on every word the adults said.  "Aren't you all too cute," she told them.  "Did you get candy?"

"Yes, Miss Lisinski," Alyssa answered for them all.  "Just Stanley didn't get any."

Heather glanced at Jake who continued to glare at Stanley.  Stanley egged him on by grinning widely in return.  "You are a little old to be trick-or-treating, Stanley," she chided.  "But you did dress up, so I guess I can make an exception."  Patting Jake on the shoulder, she moved around him to retrieve the candy bowl. 

Stanley shot Jake a triumphant look.  "See?  I told you it's Heather's house," he crowed as she dropped a couple of pieces into his pillowcase.  "Thank you, Heather.  You better watch him," he added pointing at Jake.  "Put him in charge of handin' out candy, and the power goes straight to his head."

"Trust me, I'm keepin' my eye on him," Heather laughed.  She looked over her shoulder at Jake, giving him a smile that took away any sting he might have felt at her words, and even soothed some of his irritation with Stanley.  She reached back, her fingers brushing against his for just a second before she turned back to face Stanley's sixth grade girl posse.  "So how about another piece for each of you?" Heather asked, already doling candy out to the girls.  When she got to Bonnie she smiled and, making sure the girl could see her lips, declared, "Happy Halloween!"

Talking over one another, the girls answered, "Happy Halloween!" and "Thanks, Miss Lisinski!"

"Happy Halloween, man," Stanley muttered, offering his hand to Jake.  They both looked sideways at Heather.  "Don't know how you got so damn lucky."

"Yeah," Jake agreed, clearing his throat.  He grasped his friend's hand.  "Happy Halloween, Stanley."   Chuckling quietly, he shook his head.  "Aw, just go trick-or-treat The Pines."  

Grinning in acknowledgment, Stanley turned to face his sister and her friends.  "Okay," he declared, "To The Pines!"

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Thursday, November 2, six weeks after the bombs

"Hi, Mary," Heather greeted with a smile, walking up to the bar.  "Where is everybody?" 

The tavern was practically deserted, which was unusual these days.  There were always at least a few people in the place, working to lose themselves in whatever it was that Mary was serving.  But today, only Emily Sullivan was there, and Heather realized, looking closer at Emily's companion, so was Kenchy Dhuwalia.  He was dressed in a flannel shirt that she recognized as Johnston's, and the two of them were sitting together on the other side of the bar, splitting a bottle of something that looked expensive, and definitely wasn't home brew.  Their heads were together, and they were talking quietly about something.  Neither of them appeared to have noticed Heather's arrival.

"You hear about that thing out at Tacoma Bridge?" Mary asked, running a dishcloth over the top of the bar.

"Yeah, I just ran into Jake outside," Heather answered, looking back over her shoulder at the bar's entrance.  "He told me about the bridge.  He wants me to go home, actually, but I'm on a mission this morning."

"Jake Green, overprotective husband and expectant father.  Who woulda thunk it," Mary teased quietly, leaning over the bar and grinning at Heather.  "As for where everyone went," she sighed, taking a step back, "Tacoma Bridge.  Five minutes after I opened this morning, Bill showed up, recruiting volunteers for guard duty.  Mister Dark and Intriguing over there," Mary explained with a nod in Dhuwalia's direction, "Is the only one he didn't take.  He was the first through the door this morning," she confided, "Says he's a doctor, and that he doesn't know how to use a gun, but that he does have 'lots of experience but very little success patching people up after Ravenwood is done with them'," Mary quoted.  "Whatever that all means.  I felt bad for him," she admitted.  "Sounds like he's had a rough couple of weeks."

"A rough time, for sure," Heather agreed, offering a confused frown.  "Ravenwood left him behind when they evacuated the hospital in Rogue River.  That's how he - Kenchy - got here.  He was the only one at the hospital when Jake and Eric went there to get medicine for Johnston," she explained, catching Mary's questioning look.  "But he said he was with the Red Cross, not Ravenwood."  Heather shook her head.  "I don't know.  What I do know is Jake says Ravenwood wants supplies from the town, like we have any to spare," she complained.  "And Kenchy helped save Johnston's life, so he's earned his keep with us, as far as the Greens are concerned."

"So, the mayor's really okay?" Mary asked.  Heather nodded, smiling, and Mary let out a relieved sigh.  "That's good news, 'specially when it sounds so bad out there.  Like I said, I think he's had a rough time," she repeated, looking over her shoulder at Emily and Dhuwalia, who took the opportunity to toast her.  "And, he's distracting Emily, which is a good thing."  Mary turned back to face Heather, her expression suddenly serious.  "Today's -"

"I know," Heather interrupted quietly.  She offered a tight, sympathetic smile.  "Emily's wedding.  I got the invitation, right before everything - everything happened.  I didn't RSVP," Heather admitted, shrugging.  "I wasn't gonna go if Jake wasn't home, and then only if he wanted to.  I know she's your friend, and I do feel bad for her, but -"

"It's okay," Mary assured.  "We're friends, sure, but she is your husband's ex-girlfriend," she reminded.  "I'm pretty sure it's socially acceptable to just send a gift."

"Which I was going to do," Heather declared, resting her folded arms on the bar.

"So, what can I do you for?" Mary asked.  "I hope you're not lookin' for a drink," she teased, "'Cause I'm not servin' you, even if you are legal.  Especially not the rotgut I've got on tap these days." 

Heather rolled her eyes.  It was an old joke between the two of them.  Mary, it turned out, was only six weeks older than Heather, and she'd managed to card Heather on her first three visits to the bar including, most embarrassingly, the first time Jake had brought her into Bailey's.  "I'm not looking for alcohol, or even coffee," Heather chuckled. 

"That's right," Mary nodded, offering a knowing smile, "You're a coffee fiend.  So," she continued, "No alcohol - and I'm using the term liberally - and no coffee.  Problem is, that's pretty much all I have.  Well," Mary corrected with a chuckle, "I may have some pretzel bits in pretzel dust in the back."

"Any chance you have some ginger ale hidden away?" Heather asked, her expression hopeful.  "That's my mission, to find some ginger ale," she explained.  "I went to Gracie's, but she basically wanted my first born for a two liter, and I'm kinda attached to him or her," she grinned, resting her hand on her abdomen.  "Literally!"

Mary laughed at that.  "Well, I'm not looking to adopt," she assured, taking a step back from the bar.  She held up her hands, making an 'X' with her index fingers.  "No babies for me, least not yet.  But you are in luck," Mary continued, "Because I do have ginger ale.  One of my waitresses - Corinne - lived on ginger ale the first three, four months she was pregnant.  Then she got over her morning sickness and couldn't stand the stuff anymore.  I've got a box of cans in the back that's probably missing one can.  It's yours."  Mary gave Heather a sympathetic look.  "You're still having morning sickness?"

"It's not for me," Heather corrected.  "Johnston's a little cranky today.  Ginger ale makes me feel better when I'm sick, and I thought I'd surprise him," she explained.  "But I don't need your whole box.  I can't trade for your whole box."

"Hey, take it," Mary said, waving off Heather's argument.  "On the house," she assured.  "Unless you can get the mayor to agree that it counts as paying up my property taxes for the year."

"I'll see what I can do," Heather giggled. 

"I'll be right back," Mary promised, already turning away.  She crossed behind the bar to check on Emily and Dhuwalia, stifling a chuckle as she asked, "How're you two doin'?"

Emily thunked her shot glass down on the counter somehow managing to splash the last centimeter of liquid onto the back of Dhuwalia's hand.  He gave her a funny look, and then licked it off his skin.  Emily giggled at that, stretching her hands over her head and arching her back.  "Not bad at all," she tittered.

Mary shook her head, and picking up their bottle, poured them both another shot.  "Enjoy," she told them, laughing softly and shaking her head.  "Though I don't think you'll be thanking in the morning," she predicted.

"Then I will thank you now," Dhuwalia decided, raising his glass to Mary for the umpteenth time.

"You're welcome," Mary answered dryly before heading to the back of the bar to look for ginger ale.

Heather stood at the corner of the bar, her hands folded and resting on the counter, and observed the odd pair across the room.  Dhuwalia caught her eye.  "Missus Jake!" he called out.

She walked slowly around the bar, smiling, but managing not to laugh outright.  "Kenchy," she greeted, "We'd been wondering where you went."

"I went for a walk," he explained.  "And found this lovely establishment and companion."  Dhuwalia glanced at Emily.  "Do you know Missus Jake?" he asked her.

"Heather," Emily corrected.  "Her name's Heather."

"Right," Dhuwalia agreed, nodding sagely.  "Heather.  You said that last night."

"Yes," Heather acknowledged solemnly.

Dhuwalia turned forty-five degrees on his stool, bumping his knee against Emily's.  "Sorry," he apologized, patting her absently on the leg.  He held up the bottle - scotch, Heather realized, reading the label - and offered it to Heather.  "Would you like to join us in a drink?" he invited.

"She can't, she's pregnant," Emily snapped.  She pried the bottle out of Dhuwalia's hands and poured herself another shot, almost dropping the bottle when she replaced it on the bar.  "She's having Jake's baby," she muttered, throwing back her drink and then wiping the back of her hand across her mouth.

"She's Missus Jake," Dhuwalia returned as if that cleared up the matter. 

Emily looked over her shoulder at Heather, the movement making her a little shaky on her stool, forcing her to grab the counter's edge.  Her gaze drifted to Dhuwalia.  "I was going to have Jake's baby once, but it turned out I was just late.  And, Jake asked me to marry him first," Emily continued, her voice growing louder.  "Before he asked her," she clarified, finally risking a glance in Heather's direction.  "Bet you didn't know that."

Any kind or friendly feeling toward Emily that the past week had engendered in Heather was gone in an instant.  She balled her hands into fists, her nails digging into the skin of her palms, silently telling herself that Emily was drunk, and that if there was any justice in the world, she would not only have the mother of all headaches in the morning, but she would also remember what she'd said and be embarrassed by it.  Of course, Heather reminded herself, she wasn't entirely sure she'd ever known Emily to be embarrassed about anything she'd done or said.  Other people had on occasion caused Emily embarrassment, but that wasn't the same thing.

Heather cleared her throat and met Emily's triumphant gaze.  "Actually I did know that," she informed the other woman.  "Jake and I talk.  He told me all of that years ago."  Dhuwalia, she noticed, had poured himself another shot, and was looking back and forth between them as if he were observing a tennis match. 

Shaking her head at him, Heather returned her attention to Emily.  "Am I supposed to be jealous?" she questioned tiredly.  "Of something that happened a decade before I met Jake?  Of something that happened when I was all of eleven years old?" Heather demanded.  "He asked you to marry him first.  Yes, you win that one.  But he asked me to marry him last, and - guess what - he actually married me."

"Found it!" Mary announced loudly and brightly.  She didn't bother going back behind the bar, instead moving almost in between Heather and Emily.  "Eleven cans of Canada Dry ginger ale," she informed Heather, holding the box out to her.

"Thank you," Heather murmured, accepting the case of soda. 

Emily turned again on her stool, facing away from Heather.  She poured herself another shot, and then offered the bottle to Dhuwalia, who was happy to accept another drink.

Heather hefted the box of soda cans, cradling it almost like a baby on her left arm.  "I'm gonna go now," she informed Mary quietly, taking two steps toward the door before she stopped in her tracks, spinning around.  She faced Emily's back.  "You know, I felt bad for you, sorry," Heather said.  "You were supposed to get married today, and you can't.  You have no idea if Roger's dead or alive.  In your place I'd be a basket case.  I'd probably be drunk too.  Or at least be thinkin' about getting drunk." Heather paused, sighing, and then worrying her lip as she worked out what she wanted to say next.  "But, you know what, Emily?  You make it very hard for me to feel anything for you besides complete and utter pity."

"Wait up," Mary called after Heather, starting after her.  Looking back over her shoulder, she shot an annoyed glare at Emily.  "I'm sorry about that - about her," she apologized, finally catching up with Heather.   "It's just a bad day all around.  She's not -"

"She's not herself?" Heather suggested sarcastically.  "She's drunk, I'll give you that.  Whatever filter she normally has is completely gone.  But really," she sighed, "That seemed all very Emily to me.  I know she's having the worst day of her life on a day that's supposed to be one of the best," Heather continued, shaking her head at Mary when she tried to interrupt.  "But, she should be worrying about - thinking about - Roger.  Not Jake." 

"Emily knows that," Mary assured quietly.  "Trust me.  It's just a really bad day."

Tight-lipped, Heather threw Mary a skeptical look.  "You say so," she muttered.  "I promised Jake I'd go home.  Everyone's supposed to stay inside," she added, "And Gail and April don't know that, so I really need to go."  Heather took a deep breath, and for a moment Mary expected her to launch into another speech, but she bit it back.  "Thanks for the ginger ale," she sighed.  "And, good luck." 

Behind them, Emily began to laugh loudly and slightly maniacally.  Heather and Mary both glanced back. Emily was holding onto Dhuwalia's arm, resting her head on his shoulder.  He was pouring the next round.   Heather, rolling her eyes, met Mary's gaze.  "I think you're gonna need it."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Wednesday, October 31, five years before the bombs

Giggling uncontrollably, Heather beat Jake to the front door by a toe's length.  For the preceding half hour they had taken turns answering the door and passing out candy, but for some reason, this time when the doorbell rang and it was Jake's turn, she'd jumped to her feet anyway, jogging ahead of him.  It had taken Jake a second to catch on, and although his strides were longer there just wasn't time to beat her in the race to the front door. 

"Ha!" he declared trying - unsuccessfully - to get between her and the doorknob.

"Uh-uh, I win," Heather argued, blocking him with her arm.  She threw him a grin and, still laughing, yanked the door open.  Heather stepped back into the solid wall that was Jake then, her smile growing as he took full advantage of the situation and wrapped both arms around her waist.

"Trick-or-treat," a single little voice sing-songed out.  A moment later, the child appended a surprised, "Hi, Miss Lisinski," to his greeting.

Still smiling, Heather glanced down at the little boy and then up at adult - his mother - who accompanied him.  "Happy Halloween, Ryan," she said, letting out a deep breath.  "And, Happy Halloween, Mrs. Harper."

"Miss Lisinski," the PTA president returned, offering a tight-lipped smile.  "And, Jake Green," she added flatly.  "How nice to see you.  Almost didn't recognize you in your costume," she claimed, allowing an awkward chuckle.

"I'll just hafta put a little more effort into it next year then," Jake returned with a shrug.  "Karen," he added, offering her a curt nod, his tone painfully neutral.  He looked down at Heather, tightening his hold on her even as she pulled against it.  "I ever tell you that Karen used to babysit Eric and me?"

"Yes," Mrs. Harper interjected before Heather could respond.  "Yes, that's true," she continued.  "Years ago, of course."  She brought her hand down on her son's shoulder then, forcing him to stop wiggling and stand still. 

"Twenty years ago," Jake acknowledged.

Mrs. Harper's smile grew tighter, and she glanced quickly around the porch and then into the house through the front door.  "So, this is your home?" she asked rhetorically.  "Well, it's quite cozy," she announced with forced cheerfulness. 

"Extremely," Jake confirmed, finally dropping his arm from around Heather's waist.  He reached for her hand instead, meeting her eye for a split second and flashing her an encouraging smile.  "She's done a great job with the place," he told Mrs. Harper as he twined his fingers with Heather's.

"Thank you," Heather said quickly, though it wasn't at all obvious who she was thanking - or for what.  "So, Ryan," she said, grinning at her student, "I really like your fireman costume.  Smart thinkin' to wear your galoshes."

Ryan let out a big sigh.  "Thanks," he acknowledged, stabbing at the porch with the toe of his left rain boot.  "I wanted to be Spiderman, but Mama said a fireman's more patriotic."   

Mrs. Harper's expression turned annoyed at her son's confession.  Normally, Heather would have commiserated with any child who'd told her what Ryan just had, but she was forced to admit to herself that his mother intimidated her, and she couldn't think of anything that wasn't likely to bring the PTA president's ire down upon her.  Jake, however, had no such compunction, and he told Ryan most of what Heather wanted to say.

"Being patriotic's a good thing," he assured the third grader.  "And, you can always go as Spiderman next year."

"Absolutely," Heather agreed.  She offered Ryan another quick smile, and then stepped around Jake, her hand brushing his arm, to retrieve the candy bowl.

"We'll see," Mrs. Harper said, though if her tone was anything to go by, she'd already considered and dismissed the possibility.  "So," she continued, studying Jake, and then Heather once she'd returned to his side, with a rather bug-eyed stare, "I hadn't realized you two were seeing one another?"  It was a question, the way she'd said it, but again, Mrs. Harper didn't wait for an answer.  "I hadn't realized you two even knew each other," she laughed in a way that clearly telegraphed her consternation with the situation.

"Jake's grandfather is doing a series of talks on the history of Jericho to our class," Heather reminded, dropping a handful of candy into Ryan's trick-or-treat bag.  Mrs. Harper was well aware of the presentations, Heather knew; she'd sent home a letter to all of her students' parents explaining the objectives of the 'Living History' unit as she'd called it, and then after the first class, Mrs. McVeigh has insisted that Heather provide a brief overview of the project to the PTA.  "There's one tomorrow, actually," she reminded.  "Gramps is going to talk about some of the important things that happened in Jericho, in Kansas, and in the country while he was mayor, and since Jake's Dad has been mayor."

Heather, digging through the bowl to find a jack-o-lantern sucker for Ryan, didn't see how Mrs. Harper's eyes bulged even more at her rather familiar reference to EJ Green, but Jake did.  He caught her gaze and held it, his own expression appraising as well as the slightest bit smug.  He knew that Heather hadn't meant anything more than to provide information when she'd mentioned his father and grandfather, but he wasn't above ensuring that Karen 'Witchmore' Harper, former evil babysitter of his childhood and current thorn in Heather's side, was well aware of Heather's close association with the Greens.  Over his lifetime, being the son of the mayor had tended to be more a hassle than a boon, but now, dealing with a woman for whom political power was everything, Jake was quite willing to remind her of the difference between the office of mayor and that of PTA president.  "We met because of Gramps," Jake shrugged, still observing Mrs. Harper.  "That's the short version of the story, anyway."

Flustered, Mrs. Harper broke eye contact, looking down at her son, who was now looking through the candy bowl, trying to decide on one last piece of candy at Heather's insistence.  "Is this really appropriate, Miss Lisinski?" she demanded then, grabbing Ryan by the shoulder and pulling him a step back.  "I think you of all people - a teacher - would know better than to load a child up with processed sugar."

Mortified at first, Heather didn't look up immediately.  Finally, taking a deep breath, she raised her head, meeting the other woman's eye.  "It's Halloween, Mrs. Harper," she returned evenly, "And, while I wouldn't - and I didn't - give my students candy at school, I have to think, on Halloween night, it's up to their parents to decide how much candy they want them to have."  Jake pressed a supportive hand to her back then, and she glanced away for a second, throwing him a grateful smile.  Turning her head so she faced Mrs. Harper again, Heather completed, "Tonight, I'm just another person who enjoys participating in the ritual."

Before either woman could say anything else, Jake mumbled, "Speak of the devil." He stared past Mrs. Harper and at the truck which had just pulled to a stop at the curb in front of the house.  "Looks like we're about to get a mayoral house call," he informed them. 

They all watched as Dale Turner exited the cab from the passenger's side door and Johnston Green from the driver's side, coming around to join Dale on the sidewalk.  Dale, like most of the older kids, carried a pillowcase and appeared to have taken in a good haul so far.  Johnston held a shoebox in one hand, laying the other on Dale's shoulder, steering him forward.  "Happy Halloween!" Johnston greeted as his foot hit the bottom porch step. 

"Dad," Jake replied with a quick wave.  "What's up?"

"Trick-or-treat," Dale announced, giving Mrs. Harper a wide berth as he moved around her to stand next to her son.  "Hi Ryan," he muttered.

"Hi Dale," the little boy mumbled in return.

"Karen, Heather," Johnston nodded at each of them, his gaze coming to rest momentarily on Jake before he glanced at Dale and then back again at Jake.  "You two plan this?" he asked, a smirk twitching at his lips.  Dale, it turned out, was wearing a somewhat less elaborate vampire costume than Jake, though Dale had worn dark clothing under his cape and had embellished his make-up by adding fake blood dripping from both corners of his mouth. 

"Hey," Jake shrugged, "Great minds think alike, right Dale?"  He grinned at the boy, and then glanced at his father, holding up a hand to forestall the comeback he could read in Johnston's eyes.  "And before you say anything, Dad," Jake drawled, "You should know that the 'great mind' that picked my costume is Heather."

"Well in that case," Johnston chuckled, winking at her, "Good work, darlin'."

"Thanks," Heather grinned, dropping a handful of candy into Dale's pillowcase.  You're doing pretty well," she told him, peering inside.  "You been up to The Pines?"

"Nah," Dale answered, shaking his head.  "I don't go to The Pines."

"Spotted Dale over near April's and Eric's," Johnston explained.  "Makin' a delivery, same as here."  He handed the shoebox to Jake then, and Heather got her first look at the contents.  There were three large caramel apples, rolled in chopped pecans and drizzled in chocolate, in the wax paper-lined box.  Heather's mouth began to water on sight. 

"Gail's been up to her usual for Halloween," Johnston continued.  "The third's for your grandfather, so don't get any ideas, Count Jake-ula," he added, drawing snickers from both Dale and Heather, though Heather tempered her reaction by rubbing Jake's arm gently with her free hand.  "Your Mom called Grandpa," Johnston warned, clearing his throat, "So he already knows that you're bringin' his home."

"Aw, man," Jake smiled widely, "I haven't had one of these in years.  Getting one of Mom's caramel apples for Halloween alone makes movin' back to Jericho worth it," he declared.  He glanced sideways at Heather then, their gazes locking for a moment.  "Course, that's just one reason," Jake murmured, "I've got others."

"Well, I think it's time for us to be going," Mrs. Harper announced then.  "Come along, Ryan," she demanded, reaching for her son's hand.  "Say thank you to Miss Lisinski."

"Thank you, Miss Lisinski," Ryan parroted quietly.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Ryan," Heather assured, watching as Mrs. Harper pulled him away, hurrying him down the steps and then down the walk.  They reached the sidewalk and turned right, disappearing into the night.  Heather groaned, shaking her head.  "She absolutely hates me."

"She hates me too," Dale commiserated.  "I don't think she really likes anybody."

Johnston snorted, shaking his head.  "Interesting woman, that's for sure.  And, running for the school board now," he reminded, rolling his eyes.

"Just what I need," Heather groaned.  "For Karen Harper to have even more power over my life."  She glanced at Dale, frowning softly.  "I shouldn't have said that in front of you," she admitted, her nose wrinkling, "I'm sorry."

The eleven year old looked confused, clearly unsure of what he was supposed to do or say.  Finally, though, he offered Heather a shy smile, asking, "Shouldn't have said what?"

Jake guessed that it was a line Dale had adapted from a TV show or movie, and he nodded his approval, wrapping his free arm around Heather's shoulders.  "I didn't hear anything either," he added, chuckling softly.  "Besides, Karen 'Witchmore' Harper is certifiably evil, and I don't care that you heard that," he told Dale, squeezing Heather's arm when he felt her tense.  "But, I sure feel for her kid and her husband.  She's evil," Jake repeated.  "One time, when I was a kid, she showed up to babysit, and literally, as soon as your car was out of the driveway," he explained to his father, "She made Eric and me go stand in the corner - different rooms - until bedtime.  She seemed to think we needed to be punished for something we'd done the last time she'd babysat us."

"You're serious?" Heather questioned, leaning her head back on his arm so she could look up at him.  "What did you do?  Not that there's anything you could've done to deserve hours in the corner!" she amended quickly.

"What I remember is that I teased her about a note she'd written to some boy she liked.  She thought I took it out of her purse, but it must have fallen out, 'cause I know I found it laying on the floor," Jake answered.  "We were little kids, we thought the note was funny.  We made kissy noises at her," he shrugged.  "So she yelled at us and made us sit at the table while she did her homework.  Wouldn't let us watch Dukes of Hazzard," Jake recalled, chuckling humorlessly.  "She did give us our snack though, and Eric knocked his cherry kool-aid over - complete accident - and ended up soaking her math homework.  I shoulda knocked mine over then, too," he snorted, shaking his head.  "She made us go to bed right after that, and a week later she was still mad about it."

"That really happened?" Johnston demanded roughly, obviously stunned by his son's story.

"Yeah," Jake returned, his voice clipped.  Reflexively, he started to clench his teeth only to be thwarted by the vampire fangs he wore.  "If you don't believe me, ask Eric," he grumbled.

"I don't need to ask Eric," Johnston practically snapped, his expression turning angry.  "I believe you, Jake," he insisted, "I just don't understand why you boys didn't tell us.  She babysat practically every week for two, three years.  We paid her to look after you." 

Surprised at his father's response, Jake could only nod and offer a sour grin. "Yeah, five bucks an hour."

Heather pulled out of his embrace then, and Jake immediately missed her warmth against his side.  She tried to force a reassuring smile, but it didn't reach her eyes.  Giving up, she took the shoebox containing the caramel apples from him, and juggling that along with the candy bowl she'd been holding, Heather stepped around Jake and back into the house to deposit both items on the table just inside the door, her actions distracting the three males for the moment.

"I don't know why we didn't tell you, Dad," Jake shrugged, returning his attention to Johnston.  Heather moved back to his side, knitting their fingers together, and he let out a deep breath, squeezing her hand.  "We were seven or eight.  I guess like most kids, we figured you'd believe the babysitter over us, and we really didn't want to get into any more trouble."

In truth, Jake's memory of that night was still vivid.  He could recall the relief he'd felt when she'd finally told him and Eric that it was time for bed.  It had been an hour before their usual Saturday bedtime, but neither had protested, both too tired and too stiff from having been forced to stand up and remain perfectly still for so long.  Jake and Eric had still shared a room back then - bunk beds - and she'd herded them upstairs, giving them two minutes to change into pajamas and brush their teeth.  After she'd told them she didn't want to hear a peep from them and turned out the lights, Jake had lain in the top bunk too exhausted and peeved to sleep.  Below him, he'd heard Eric sniffling.   After he'd waited what had seemed like an eternity - but as an adult he realized was likely no more than ten minutes - he'd climbed down from his own bed, eschewing the squeaky ladder out of fear of alerting her to his disobedient movements.  Crawling in with Eric, Jake had patted his brother on the shoulder, whispering a reminder that they needed to be quiet, that they didn't want Karen 'Witchmore' to come back.

"I hate her," Eric had croaked weakly, elbowing Jake in the nose as he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.  "We should tell Mom to not call her to babysit anymore."

"We can't," Jake had argued quietly, swallowing his own urge to cry.  "Mom would want to know what we did, and Karen would tell her, and make it sound really, really bad.  We'll get in trouble again."  Eric, biting his lip, had nodded, conceding the point, and Jake had given his brother an awkward hug.  It'll be okay," he'd promised, feeling angry at his own sense of powerlessness. 

He remembered too, how a few hours later, their parents had come in to check on them.  Gail and Johnston, completely unaware of the drama that had unfolded under their roof in the preceding hours, had laughed softly at the sight of their two boys snuggled together like puppies.  His mother, stooping over him, had brushed the sweaty curls out of his eyes and pressed a kiss to his forehead.  Then, his father had extracted him from Eric's bed, hugging Jake to his chest for a moment before lifting him back into the upper bunk.  Only half awake, Jake had been aware of his parents' actions and gentle words, both towards Eric and himself, and towards one another.  He hadn't responded to either of them, but he recalled now how his sense of safety had returned, settling over him like the blanket his father had tucked up to his chin.

Jake sighed, shaking his head, forcing his thoughts back to the present.  "Guess I better be sure to vote for school board next week," he muttered.  "Hopefully spare the kids of Jericho that much, at least."  He looked down at Heather, adding, "And the teachers."

Tightening her grip on his hand, Heather shuddered softly.  "Yeah," she agreed, clearing her throat.  "No joke."

"Who else is running?" Jake inquired, "Not that I s'pose it matters."

"Miranda Stevens," Johnston answered, his expression still conflicted as his mind worked to absorb Jake's revelation.  "Tim Manning, and Lisa Oliver.  For two spots. "

"At least Mrs. Stevens isn't mean," Dale said, his eyes wide.  Belatedly, the three adults remembered his presence.

"Okay," Johnston sighed, eyeing Dale for a moment, "That's enough of this, for now."  He reached into his coat, flashing a smile at the boy.  "Dale and I would like to go have our caramel apples," he told Jake and Heather.  "But your mother insisted she needs a picture of your Halloween costume," he groused, extracting a camera from his inside pocket.  "Don't ask me why.  Pose," he ordered.

"You gotta be kidding," Jake complained, his expression incredulous beneath his white make-up, which was starting to flake.

Johnston threw his son an exasperated grin.  "Over the years, I've learned to pick my battles.  This isn't one of 'em.  Dale, step back, please," he requested.  "You two," he directed Jake and Heather, "Squeeze together."  Johnston waited while Dale and Heather did as he asked, Jake complying grudgingly, and only after Heather smiled at him sweetly.    "Now say 'cheese'," he demanded as soon as Jake had a halfway decent expression on his face.

"Happy Halloween," Heather improvised, threading her arm through Jake's and smiling for the camera.  Johnston snapped the picture, and then a second one when Jake turned his head and kissed Heather on the cheek, knocking her witch's hat off her head.

Giggling, Heather caught her hat before it hit the ground.  "Dale, I think we need to take your picture with Jake," she said, stepping sideways and fitting her hat back in place.  "I bet Mrs. Green would love a picture of the two vampires," she teased, glancing back over her shoulder at Jake.

Johnston grinned approvingly.  "Good idea, Heather."

"Stay right there," she told Jake, stepping behind Dale and then resting both hands on his shoulders.  "So, will you take your picture with Jake for me and Mrs. Green?" Heather asked, bending over so that her head was next to his. 

Dale nodded and then moved in front of Jake, who placed his hands on Dale's shoulders.  The two of them consulted quietly for a few seconds and then faced the camera, both making their scariest vampire faces, drawing a snort from Johnston and amused laughter from Heather.  Then, Johnston reminded Dale of the caramel apples awaiting them back at the Green house and they departed, just as a group of seven high school boys, uniformly dressed in jeans, black t-shirts and monster masks filed onto the porch. 

Only one of the teenagers even bothered to say 'trick-or-treat'.  Heather doled out candy, though Jake noticed that while she gave the younger kids a handful each, she only gave these boys one piece each.  Jake stood back, watching them closely.  He'd been one of those kids ten years before, but he found that he didn't have much sympathy for them, and he was certainly glad to have that part of his life behind him.  Once they'd all been given candy they turned to leave.  Two more found their manners and thanked Heather as they marched past her.

"It's eight-forty-five," Heather announced once the teenagers were out of earshot.  "Am I too awful of a person if I turn out the porch light, and call it a night?"

"Nah," Jake assured.  "This time of night, all you're gonna get is more like them.  Actually, you'd probably get them again," he explained over his shoulder as he crossed the porch to blow out the candles in the jack-o-lanterns.  "They'll double-back.  That's what I did when I was their age.  There you go," he declared, standing, once the last candle was out.  He smiled at Heather, who stood in the open door, holding her hand out to him.  "So," Jake asked, lacing their fingers together, "All right if I lose the make-up and the teeth?"

Pulling him into the house, Heather granted his request with a nod and a sigh.  "I think you've been punished enough," she told him, flicking off the porch light switch and throwing the deadbolt with her free hand.  "And if I just sounded anything like Karen Harper, kill me now."

Jake stuffed the vampire fangs he'd pried out of his mouth into his pocket and turned around, trapping Heather against the door.  Her witch's hat fell off again, but this time she didn't even look at it, her gaze completely concentrated on Jake.  "You and Karen 'Witchmore' Harper are not even in the same universe," he told her, bringing his mouth down atop of hers. 

Their kiss only lasted a few seconds, just until Heather, wrapping her arms around Jake's neck, tried to run her fingers through his heavily shellacked hair, failing miserably.  She pulled away from him laughing.  "I'm sorry," she gasped, "I forgot."  She reached up pressing her finger against the stiff hair at his temple.  "You may need to take a shower," Heather decided, fighting another round of giggles.

"If I can just this crap off my face, I'll be happy," Jake informed her, rubbing his nose and then showing her the dried, white powder he'd managed to scrape off. 

"That we can do," she agreed.  Heather had put the heavy white make-up on Jake, and she'd realized while she was applying it that it was going to be a pain coming off.  "I'm prepared for that," she assured him, reaching for both his hands.  They stood there for a long moment, watching each other and grinning.  "Happy Halloween, Jake," Heather sighed happily.

"Happy Halloween, Heather."

"C'mon," she said then, tugging on his hand.  "Let's get that stuff off your face before you break out in hives."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Thursday, November 2, six weeks after the bombs

Heather dropped onto the couch, and propping her feet on the coffee table, leaned back.  Her mother-in-law's back was to her as she dusted the mantle with an energy born of anger and worry.  Sighing softly, Heather let go of the book she'd brought downstairs with her, realizing there was little chance she'd actually open it.  She was too tired, and while reading might help distract her racing mind, she found she couldn't bring herself to even try.

She'd arrived home two hours before to find the house in a quiet uproar.  April and Gail, both of them upset to the point of near hysteria, had still remembered their patient, and had somehow avoided disturbing Johnston, who slept on unaware of the emotional tornado that had ripped through his family.  It had taken Heather some time to piece together what had happened.  Gail had been simply furious, and her wrath all seemed, uncharacteristically, to be directed at Eric, though she'd been too worked up at first to articulate what had happened.  April had seemed to swing between seething anger and weepy helplessness, hitting most of the worst emotional states in between.  Heather had finally resorted to wrapping her arms around her sister-in-law and, murmuring comforting words, she'd reminded April that getting herself worked up into such a state wasn't good for her or her baby.

April had started to cry again in earnest, clutching Heather's hand as she'd hiccupped out, "You can't - you can't tell - tell Eric." 

Heather had looked at Gail for an explanation, but her mother-in-law had just shaken her head and, stepping close to April, had taken her hand out of Heather's, promising, "We won't tell him."  She'd led April to the dining room then, pushing her gently into a seat at the table.  "You'll tell him when you're ready, and he doesn't need to know until then."

"Don't tell Eric?" Heather had questioned, her forehead wrinkling with confusion.  "You didn't tell Eric about the baby?" she had guessed, frowning as she looked between Gail and April.  "What's going on?" she'd demanded.

Gail had lain a calming on April's shoulder, standing behind her, facing Heather over the top of her head.  "Eric told April that he's in love with Mary Bailey," she'd admitted softly before pressing her lips together in a grim line. 

"What?" Heather had croaked out, all the color draining from her face.  She'd glanced back at the entry where she'd left the case of ginger ale when she'd come home a few minutes earlier.  Her stomach roiled.  "What?" she had repeated, gaping at them both.

"I don't want him to know about the baby," April had declared, sniffling.  She'd straightened in her chair throwing her shoulders back; the set of her jaw had told them she was serious.  "If - If he wants to be with Mary - Mary Bailey, then that's fine.  But he doesn't get to know about the baby. My baby."  April had taken a deep breath then, pressing her hands against the table, forcing herself up out of her seat.  "I'm going to go clean up," she'd announced, "And then I'm going to work."

Both Heather and Gail had protested that she shouldn't and couldn't, but April had been adamant, rushing upstairs before either of them could stop her.  Gail, moving back into the living room to pace, had spotted the ginger ale near the front door.  Heather had covered her face with both hands and quietly confessed where she'd gotten it; her mother-in-law's expression couldn't have been more disgusted if Mary Bailey had delivered the case of soda herself - and then proceeded to seduce Eric, in the living room, in front of the entire family.

Gail had insisted then - and Heather had agreed - that the ginger ale would have to be returned to Bailey's, though neither of them had any interest in running that particular errand.  Heather had explained what was happening in town with Ravenwood and out on the Tacoma Bridge, and how Jake wanted them to stick close to home and to stay inside.  That had settled the matter, and they'd decided to hide the box away in the back of the hall closet until someone - they were both thinking Jake - could take it back to Mary.  Heather had just finished burying the soda under a couple of musty-smelling blankets she'd found on the upper shelf when April had come back downstairs, still determined to go to the clinic.

"Sweetheart, you can't," Gail had argued.  "It's not safe."  She'd started to ask Heather to explain, but then April's face had crumpled and, clutching the banister, she'd lowered herself to the bottom step, sobbing quietly. 

Heather and Gail had rushed to comfort her, seating themselves on either side of her, and offering hugs and soothing words.  They had remained like this for nearly five minutes before April had struggled loose and run for the bathroom.  "Let me," Heather had requested when their mother-in-law had started to follow, and Gail, taking a deep breath, had nodded her reluctant consent to the plan. 

Eventually, Heather had gotten April back upstairs.  She'd been sick three times, and still nauseous, had refused to leave the bathroom for a long while.  April had been completely spent, both emotionally and physically, by the time she'd allowed Heather to lead her back to her bedroom.  As soon as they'd stepped through the doorway, April had spotted a shirt of Eric's that was laying, neatly folded, across the back of the desk chair, and Heather had braced herself for another onslaught of tears, but instead April had growled and, grabbing the shirt off the chair, had balled it up and then thrown it on the floor, stepping on it purposely.  She'd stood on top of it, looking down for a few seconds before letting out a long, somewhat shaky breath.  Stepping off of the shirt, April had covered her face with her hands.  "God, he's such a bastard," she'd muttered through her fingers.

Heather had led her to the bed then, gently forcing her to sit.  "Are you gonna be all right, staying in here?" she'd asked hesitantly, rubbing April's back.  The house was full now that Dhuwalia was occupying the guestroom.  "You can lay down in our room if you want," she'd suggested.

"That'd work until tonight, but then what?" April had returned shaking her head.  "It's okay.  I'll - I'll be fine.  God, I've got such a headache," she'd groaned before beginning to chuckle humorlessly.  "Don't worry, I'm not gonna lose it again," April had promised as Heather had helped her pull the covers down. 

Heather had stayed with her sister-in-law until she'd fallen asleep.   Then she'd retrieved a book from her own room before returning downstairs where she found her mother-in-law in the living room, running a dust cloth over what Heather was pretty sure was the completely dust-free mantle.  "How is she?" Gail asked, pausing in her efforts.

"Sleeping," Heather yawned, adding, "Excuse me," as she covered her mouth.  "With everything else?" she sighed, dropping onto the couch, "I just don't know." 

"I knew that things weren't good," Gail admitted, frowning.  "But I never expected - I never thought -"  She broke off, throwing her arms up into the air.  "I'm so mad at him," she growled angrily, pressing her hand to her mouth.  Gail didn't say anything for a long moment while she fought for control.  "I didn't - my sons - how did this happen?" she demanded, sitting down on the edge of the coffee table. 

"I don't know," Heather answered sadly.  She leaned back, closing her eyes.  "I don't know how this happened."

Gail didn't immediately respond, but then Heather felt her mother-in-law pat her leg.  "Perhaps some tea would do us some good?"

Heather nodded, not bothering to open her eyes.  "Peppermint?  If we have it?" she requested softly.  "I'm suddenly feeling sick to my stomach again."

"Yeah," Gail muttered, her voice husky.  "Me too." 

Her eyes still closed, Heather heard her mother-in-law stand up and trudge toward the kitchen. Gail's footsteps seemed to echo with the disappointment and shock that Heather also felt.  She pressed both hands over the swell of the baby she carried within her, forcing herself to take a deep breath.  The whole situation was a nightmare, and Heather actually resorted to pinching the back of her own hand, completely aware that she wouldn't wake up to find out that this was all a dream.  She ached for April - her best girlfriend, a true sister of the heart - and while she couldn't begin to imagine what this would do to their family, Heather knew that the effects wouldn't be good. 

A loud knock at the front door startled Heather out of her morose thoughts.  She jumped slightly in her seat, her eyes popping open.  Pulling herself up, she groaned at her reaction, calling out, "I'll get it!" loudly enough - she hoped - for Gail to hear her in the kitchen without disturbing Johnston or April upstairs.  Hurrying into the entry, Heather remembered at the last minute to check through the window before throwing the door open.  She was surprised to see Stephanie Hyde standing on the front porch with her older daughter, Amy, and what looked like, of all things, groceries.  Stephanie was carrying two gallon-sized freezer bags of meat, and Amy held - carefully, with both hands - a half gallon plastic container filled with milk.

"Mrs. Hyde - Stephanie," Heather corrected herself, opening the door.  "Amy," she greeted the little girl, smiling at her.  "Would you like to come in," she invited automatically. 

"No thank you," Stephanie Hyde replied.  "This is definitely a quick visit.  Matty and Katie are in the car with my sister and her two," she explained, looking back over her shoulder at the powder blue seventies' vintage station wagon parked at the curb.  "Gotta love Michelle.  She was waiting out at the bridge for us when we came over.  Never would have occurred to me to do that," Stephanie admitted, shaking her head.

"You had to come in because of everything happening out at the bridge," Heather guessed, nodding absently.  "Did Jake -"

"He did," Stephanie confirmed, interrupting.  "He was out at our place about two hours ago.  Just long enough to fill us in on what's going on," she sighed, glancing down at her daughter.  Heather realized she was choosing her words carefully.  "He said he'd already been out to the Herberts', and he was working his way back into town.  Actually," she remembered, "He was already at the bridge when we came in.  I saw him, helping Deputy Taylor with something."  Stephanie allowed a deep sigh, flashing a tight smile at Heather.  "Derek and his dad wouldn't leave.  Before - before everything, we were actually doing pretty well farming.  They won't abandon what we've got left."

Heather tried to force a smile but ended up frowning instead.  "I'm sure it'll be okay," she said, hoping to reassure the other woman.  "Jake said they just needed to make a show of force, and that would convince Ravenwood to leave, to go somewhere else."


"Well, it's a show of force all right," Stephanie agreed, nodding.  "An armed camp."  She took a deep breath, declaring, "Anyway, this is for you."  She held out the plastic bags bulging with raw beef.  "The milk, too," she added, glancing down at her daughter.  "Amy, give the milk to Mrs. Green," Stephanie instructed, looking back at Heather.  "The milk was my idea, actually.  I figured, since you're pregnant," she explained, gesturing at Heather's abdomen, "You could use the calcium.  Probably should just sit down and have a glass right away." 

Heather barely had time to shove one of the bags of meat under her arm before Amy deposited the bottle of milk in her hands. "Well - Oh!  Thank you!" she declared, offering the little girl a distracted smile.  "Thank you," she repeated, looking at Stephanie.  "I - This is very nice of you.  But why?"

"Because Derek promised Jake the meat on Halloween," Stephanie replied, her expression clouding with confusion so that it matched Heather's.  "And, I'm guessing he didn't tell you anything about this," she decided.

"Uh, no," Heather acknowledged, chuckling softly.  "Must've slipped his mind," she sighed.  "We've had a lot going on around here."

"We've all had a lot going on," Stephanie agreed.  Amy slipped her hand into her mother's, leaning against her side.  Stephanie smiled at her daughter, asking, "But the mayor's good?"

"Doing well," Heather confirmed.  "Still exhausted.  A little grumpy when he's awake, but we're taking that as a good sign."

"That's good," Stephanie murmured distractedly.  "And, we really do need to go.  Um," she exhaled, pushing her hair behind her ears with her free hand.  "The meat's gonna be pretty tough.  It's dairy cow - definitely not filet mignon.  Of course, it's probably the last beef anyone's gonna see in Jericho for awhile," she grumbled.  "And, it's protein and iron, which I'm sure you could use, too.  You can grind it if you've got a meat grinder," Stephanie advised, as Amy started to swing their linked hands back and forth. "Maybe throw some of it in stew and let if cook for a long time, soften it up some, that sort of thing."

"Okay," Heather nodded.  "I'm sure Gail's got a meat grinder hidden away somewhere."

"And, remember the milk is straight from the cow.  Definitely whole milk," Stephanie chuckled, shaking her head. 

"It'll be great in coffee if nothing else," Heather joked.  "Seriously, thank you," she sighed.  "This is very generous.  You really didn't have to."

Stephanie shrugged.  "Derek's big on keeping promises, following through on commitments," she muttered, resting her hand on top of Amy's head.  "He did most of the packing for me.  I just - I just couldn't," she admitted, frowning.  "He put some meat in for us - couldn't really show up at Michelle's without food for ourselves - and then for you and Jake.  Asked me to drop it off," Stephanie recalled, shaking her head.  "I was bringing milk for the kids, and I remembered you...."  She trailed off shrugging again.  "Derek promised that everything's gonna be okay.  That's the only reason I agreed to come into town while he stayed out at the farm."

"Hopefully it's only a few days," Heather suggested, grasping at anything that might ease the worry that was so evident in Stephanie's expression.  She was concerned about Jake of course, but she took a certain amount of comfort in the knowledge that he was safely back at the bridge on guard duty with all the other men.  Heather couldn't imagine being in Stephanie's shoes, with her husband and father-in-law planning to defend the family farm, if necessary, all on their own.   "Just until Ravenwood realizes we're not gonna give them the supplies."

"Well, once the bridge is gone, I think they'll figure it out," Stephanie returned, shooting Heather a funny look.  "But we still won't have a bridge."

"Why would the bridge be gone?" Heather asked, though she'd forgotten her words before they were even out of her mouth.  Eric was striding across the lawn, almost jogging.  Setting the meat and milk down on the porch, Heather pushed by her visitors, moving to the top step where she planted herself, hands on hips, to block his entry to the house.  "No!" she declared, facing her brother-in-law with a fierce glare.  "No way in hell, Eric, are you coming into this house right now," she informed him, not quite shouting. 

"Heather!" he tried to interrupt, but to no avail.  She was on a tear.

"You're an ass, Eric," she told him, her cheeks beginning to turn pink as she got even more worked up.  "And unless you've come to your senses, and you're here to beg April for her forgiveness - and I mean on your hands and knees begging - then I'm not letting -"

"Heather!" Eric snapped, moving up a step.  "I don't have time for this," he insisted, dropping a surprisingly gentle hand on her shoulder.  He shoved past Heather, muttering, "I have to talk to Dad."  

Eric hurried across the front porch, nodding out of habit at Stephanie Hyde, who stood with her arm around her daughter, gawking at him.  Spotting the food Heather had abandoned at the last second, Eric hopped over it, narrowly avoiding kicking over the milk. 

"I'm sorry," Heather exhaled, turning around to face Stephanie.  She crossed her arms, hugging herself, her expression grim.  "I - I should go in."

"Yeah," Stephanie nodded, pursing her lips.  "Looks like you've got your hands full around here, and we need to go anyway," she reminded, forcing a smile as she looked down at her daughter.  "Say good bye to Mrs. Green," she prompted.

"Bye, Mrs. Green," Amy called out, already tugging on her mother's hand.  Stephanie waved once at Heather, and then followed the little girl down the steps. 

Taking a deep breath, Heather bent over to scoop up the plastic bags of beef and the container of milk.  In his haste, Eric had left the front door ajar, and she elbowed her way in, pushing the door closed with her foot. 

"I didn't mean for things to turn out this way," she heard Eric tell Gail.  The two of them were standing on the stairs, Eric towering over his mother. 

"Oh really?" Gail questioned, her tone strident.  "How did you mean for things to turn out?" she demanded, getting louder.  "You're the one who chose not to work on your marriage," Gail accused her son, pointing her finger at him.  "You're the one who chose to cheat on your wife."

Heather set the food down on the hall table and then moved behind her mother-in-law, though she really didn't know what she had to offer besides her presence.  Eric's gaze flickered over her as he began to defend himself.  "I'm trying to do the right thing," he protested, glancing back and forth between the two women.  "I know it doesn't seem that way right now."

The creak of the stairs cut off whatever response Gail was about to make.  They all looked up to see Johnston, dressed in his bathrobe and gripping the banister, making his way slowly toward them.  "What's going on?" he inquired, his voice rusty from disuse. 

"Johnston!" Gail called out, obviously worried as she elbowed her way past her son.

"Dad," Eric declared, turning around to face his father.  "Mercenaries from Rogue River, they followed us back," he explained quickly, taking advantage of his mother's distraction.  "Now, we have a checkpoint at the Tacoma Bridge, and I think we can defend it," he insisted, running his hand through his hair.  "But there's a plan to destroy it, cut off the town."

Behind him, Heather gasped.  The odd bits of her conversation with Stephanie Hyde were starting to add up.  Frowning, Johnston asked, "Gray Anderson?" and for Heather that made even more sense.  Gray Anderson had been back in Jericho for less than a week, and he'd already challenged Johnston's authority as mayor and made a grab for power on at least two occasions of which she was aware. 

 "Yeah," Eric returned, shuffling his feet in agitation.  "He's up there wiring it right now."

"Hard to imagine Gray Anderson turning out to be untrustworthy," Heather offered sarcastically, crossing her arms over her chest.  Eric's only response was a grimace, and this was only seen by Johnston who, stunned by his daughter-in-law's uncharacteristic but readily apparent animosity, said nothing.  Shaking her head, Heather fought back tears as she continued.  "Or, are we not supposed to mention that you sided with Gray against Jake, oh, two days ago?  'Cause, after all, you were just trying to do the right thing, right?" she challenged, her voice cracking.

Gail moved around Eric then, returning to Heather's side to wrap her arm around the younger woman.  A lump began to develop in Johnston's stomach as he contemplated all the things that could have gone wrong while he'd been ill.  He faced his son.  "What happened, Eric?" he asked gruffly.

"Dad!" Eric practically shouted in his frustration, throwing his hands up.  "That's not important now.  They're about twenty minutes from blowing up the Tacoma Bridge forever!" 

"Where are Jimmy and Bill?" Johnston questioned, focusing on the crisis at hand, willing to let Heather's charges go for the moment. 

"Out there helping Gray," Eric retorted.  "Dad," he complained, "I'm alone on this one."

Johnston, over his initial shock, was beginning to grow angry about the situation and his own inability to do anything about it. His cough was gone, but he still felt incredibly weak.  He held onto the handrail, using it to keep himself from falling to his knees.  "Get your brother and stop 'em," he ground out, exasperation coloring his tone.

"Jake is with them, too," Eric protested, drawing another gasp from Heather.

"Jake went out to warn the people east of town about Ravenwood," she countered.  "Like the Hydes -"  Heather cut herself off then, covering her mouth with her hand.  Stephanie had said that she'd seen Jake at the bridge when she'd come into Jericho.  She'd also said that soon they wouldn't have a bridge.  "Oh God," she swore softly.

Johnston spared Heather a few seconds' glance, long enough to confirm that Gail still had her arm around their daughter-in-law, before fixing his stare on Eric.  "Then you stop them," he ordered, his gaze narrowing.  "Whatever it takes, you stop 'em," Johnston barked out.

"Dad -"

Raising his voice, Johnston spoke over his son.  "Whatever it takes, Eric," he insisted.

Eric gaped at his father, but whatever further argument he had considered mounting died on his lips when he recognized the fury in Johnston's eyes.  Without a word, he turned and slid past Heather and his mother, unable to meet either woman's eye.  Johnston watched as Eric sprinted from the house, once again leaving the front door ajar.

"So tell me," he muttered tiredly, "What else is goin' on around here that's got everyone in such a state?"

Heather was still ashen, both hands pressed to her face, hiding her eyes and mouth from his view.  Gail, who was rubbing Heather's back, glared at Johnston.  "What's going on is that this morning your son told April that their marriage is over and that he's in love with Mary Bailey," she practically spat out, her anger eloquently expressed in the look she gave him.

"And your other son," Heather started, dropping her hands from her face and letting her eyes fall closed, "Is apparently helping to blow up a bridge."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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