|Primary Characters:||Frank, Jordan, Lara, Brian, Emma|
|Description:||The Millennium is approaching and Lara’s baby is about to be born. Can Frank and the others keep Lara and the baby safe or will all their efforts have been for nothing?|
“Mr – ”
“Mr Denslow. Your wife is doing well. The baby is fine. There’s nothing to worry about.”
The young man allowed himself to relax slightly. He glanced across the room towards the young woman who was sitting on the doctor’s examination table. She didn’t meet his eyes. Instead, she kept her own firmly fixed on the view out the window.
“You can get dressed now, mrs Denslow.”
The young woman let her eyes rest briefly on the doctor’s face, then she got up, ignoring the young man’s attempt to help her. She disappeared behind a screen, but showed up again, so soon, it was amazing she had had time to get dressed again.
The doctor smiled professionally at her.
“Do you have any questions?”
“No. I can’t think of anything. You’ve been very thorough. Besides, I have this brochure, that your nurse gave me. I’ll study it carefully.”
There was something a little unusual about the couple, the doctor sensed. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was. Weren’t they being just a little too quiet? Then again, he knew far too well how easily a couple in their situation could fall out over something extremely minor. Hormones. That was what caused most of these disagreements at this time in the pregnancy. Nothing to worry about. He felt sure that once the baby was born, these two would have adjusted to the changes in their relationship and returned to normal.
He was quite wrong, but he was never to know that.
Outside, Brian Roedeker again tried to help Lara this time as she was about to cross the street, but she firmly but discreetly evaded his grip and continued walking. He could tell from the way she squared her shoulders that she hadn’t enjoyed the charade in the doctor’s surgery.
If she could have risked it, he knew she would have preferred to do without any medical scrutiny. He knew she’d had more than enough of that in the nursing home where she’d been kept virtually a prisoner. Besides, it was there that the Millennium group had inseminated her. If Frank Black and Emma Hollis were right, the group had somehow obtained Frank’s sperm and used that in their efforts to breed a child which was sure to have Frank’s and little Jordan’s ‘gift’.
Doug Scaife looked up and nodded to Brian. The two men weren’t exactly friends and before they’d both been forced to go on the run from the Millennium group, they’d hardly spoken two words to each other. Now, they’d found themselves pushed together in a relatively small space, forced to appear as two cousins or brothers – they’d never had to be more specific than that. To their relief, they had a lot in common.
Brian reached out to help Lara with the car door, but she forestalled him again.
“I got it. Just back off. We may have to put on that stupid charade in there, but don’t overdo it. Things are bad enough as they are.”
As far as Brian knew, for some reason, Lara had taken the news about the baby’s paternity badly. It was odd, really. If Brian were to have guessed her reaction, he’d have assumed she’d be relieved she hadn’t been raped by some creep at the nursing home. Eventually, he’d come to realize that she found the entire insemination a violation. Which it was. There was no use denying that. In any case, it seemed she found the sudden appearance of the baby’s father so close to her, unnerving, to say the least.
She had also strenuously objected to Emma Hollis’ presence or Frank Black’s on the trip into town. They were still in the same farm house where the former FBI agent, Emma Hollis, who had joined the Millennium group, had found them.
As a result, only Doug Scaife had come along, to drive the car. Their next stop was the supermarket some miles outside of town. As far as supermarkets went, this one was small and more closely resembled a seven-eleven, rather than an entire county’s only source of groceries.
Lara insisted on coming along, when the men did the shopping. Doug had been hoping she’d remain in the car. A pregnant woman, especially one that far along, would be conspicuous, and was bound to be remembered. But he’d soon learned that the emaciated former mental patient’s appearance hid a will of iron. Doug was familiar with that type of stubbornness, from his own late wife. Pity the man who tried to get in such a woman’s way.
Doug had a hunch Brian was besotted with Lara, but wasn’t having much luck. That reminded him of his own situation. His feelings for Emma Hollis. He was hoping she wouldn’t have guessed just how much he’d admired her, or how much her betrayal had hurt. As far as he knew, she didn’t have a clue. That was just as welll, because he was guessing she felt more or less the same way about him as Lara felt about Brian.
Emma automatically cast an irritated glance over her shoulder. She realized with a start that her constant shadow, Doug, wasn’t there. Now she recalled that Doug had volunteered to take Lara Means and Brian Roedeker into town for her physical checkup.Though the two women hadn’t exactly become friends and certainly hadn’t confided in each other, Emma could tell just how annoyed Lara was with Brian’s doglike devotion. Kind of like she was with Doug. After he’d accepted her presence in the farm house, he’d become far too sympathetic.
Since Brian was Lara’s constant companion and Jordan and little Jamie were always together, that only left Nick and Frank Black. Emma wouldn’t have minded spending a little more time with Frank, but he’d been even more silent than before his escape from the Millennium group and her own defection.
On top of every thing else, Frank had for reasons still unexplained, picked up and brought along a young man who clearly had a past on the street. Emma still hadn’t asked Frank about it, and she had a feeling that even if she did, she would most likely not get a reply. Just another of the many mysteries surrounding Frank Black.
At least she was now free of the Millennium group, had found Frank and, more importantly, he and the others had accepted her. No matter what happened now, she considered herself lucky.
Though it was hard to imagine, Christmas was approaching and for the sake of the two children, some semblance of holiday spirit had to be found. Doug had made plans for a sort of celebration and bought and wrapped a few presents for the children. Everyone had contributed, and Emma had to admit that despite everything, it was comforting to see that some things hadn’t changed.
She was surprised Frank hadn’t made the decision to move on, but apparently, if you could trust his visions, they were still safe.
Hoping to find Frank alone, Emma went to look for him. The tv was on in the living room and she expected to find Nick there. She looked inside and at first couldn’t see anyone. Slightly irritated, she decided to switch the tv off. Half way through the room, she realized that Jordan and Jamie were sitting on the couch, in their all too familiar pose. Jordan with her arm around Jamie and the little boy leaning comfortably against her, and more or less on the girl’s lap.
Emma couldn’t help smiling. How sweet. But, on second thought, how odd. She vaguely recalled detesting little boys when she was Jordan’s age. Dirty, mischievous and usually with pockets full of reptiles and insects in plenty supply, all too ready to unleash their crawling weapons on any unsuspecting girl.
Though come to think of it, Jamie was an unusually clean and docile little boy. Emma had to reconsider. If she’d known such a boy at Jordan’s age, she might have taken to him.
The two children didn’t appear to be watching the show, but Emma left the tv on anyway. Poor kids. Living the way they did, there wouldn’t be many opportunities to have fun.
Jordan looked up and solemnly regarded Emma in a way that slightly unnerved her. How was it possible that a little girl of that age had such eyes? As if she knew more than Emma and what was worse, understood more than she ever would.
“Hi. I was just looking for your dad.”
“He’s in the basement.”
Emma turned to leave, but Jordan wasn’t finished.
“Nick’s with him.”
“Ok. I’ll just -”
It looked as if Jordan was going to say more, then a look more suitable for a child of that age came over her face. She shrugged and turned back to the tv screen.
Emma was wondering what Frank would be doing in the basement and why that young man, Nick, would be with him, but she didn’t waste many thoughts on that. She’d soon find out.
The door to the basement was standing open and she could see light coming from inside. She pushed the door fully open and began to walk down the stairs. Fortunately, the basement was well lit. Emma had had visions of spiders and thick, dusty webs hanging from the ceiling, but the place looked relatively clean and all she could see were some old boxes stacked against one wall. There was no trace of Frank or the young man, so she continued further into the cramped space.
There was another door, this time closed. Of course. That would be the boiler room. She was beginning to see what had taken Frank downstairs. It was getting chilly, this late in the year and the heating would consume plenty of wood.
The door wasn’t locked and she pressed down the door handle. It opened smoothly. She’d been right in her guess. After the rather chilly outer room, the heat from the boiler hit her. There was also quite a bit of noise, from the fire crackling.
Piles of chopped up wood were lying in neat stacks against both walls. Emma squinted. The dancing lights from the fire made it hard to discern anything over by the boiler. It took her eyes a while to adjust.
Frank was feeding the fire, then standing back, wiping his forehead with the back of his right hand. Nick seemed to be standing very close to him.
Emma frowned. What was going on? She didn’t trust that guy. If only she could figure out why Frank had felt it necessary to drag him along.
What happened next made Emma’s eyes widen in astonishment. Nick closed the distance between his face and Frank’s and kissed the older man on the mouth. The gesture was so intimate, Emma gasped. This she’d never guessed about Frank.
Frank’s reaction was puzzling. He seemed to be aware of Emma’s presence and at the last moment he pulled back, slowly and their eyes met. To Emma’s surprise, he didn’t seem at all perturbed, either by the kiss or Emma’s presence. Gently, he placed a hand on Nick’s shoulder, then turned from him towards Emma.
“Thank you, Nick. I think that will do for tonight. Hello, Emma.”
For a few seconds, she couldn’t think of anything to say. She stood there staring, her mouth slightly open, stunned and dumbstruck.
Nick flashed her a rather insolent grin, then on his way past her, he had the nerve to pat her on the shoulder.
“Hello, Emma. Bye, Emma. If either of you needs me, I’ll be upstairs watching tv.”
Again, Frank wiped his forehead, then moved back a few paces from the worst of the heat.
“Is anything wrong?”
“Did you want to talk to me?”
“Uh – yes. That’s right. I was looking for you and Jordan told me you’d be here.”
“Yes, I told her I’d be seeing to the heating. Well, I’m done here. Perhaps we should go upstairs?”
“Oh. Yes. Sure.”
This was like the Twilight Zone. Had she imagined the whole thing? Were Frank and Nick lovers and did they think everyone else was aware of the fact? Or didn’t they care what anyone thought?
Frank didn’t seem the least bit bothered. At least not that she could discern. Of course, even at the best of times it was hard to read him.
“I’m glad you’re here. I wanted to discuss a few things with you.”
He took her to the kitchen. On their way, they passed Nick and the children. Nick smiled again, and it seemed to Emma that he was amused. At her? Did her reaction strike him as so funny? Her eyes narrowed and she almost confronted him, before she caught herself. What could she say? Stay away from Frank? He’s my surrogate father? I met him first? You can’t have him? That was the sort of reaction Frank might have to expect from Jordan.
This was ridiculous. If Frank was involved with Nick, it certainly was surprising, but hardly any of her business. They were both grown men, even if Nick was awfully young. Emma guessed his age to be somewhere around twenty-five. Too young even for her, well, maybe not, but younger than her usual type. Besides, surprising or not, it wouldn’t be the most unusual aspect of their strange flight, from an even stranger organization.
Frank pulled out two chairs and after he’d made sure Emma was seated he too sat down.
“Right. I wanted to discuss some kind of security system. Doug and Brian have managed to get their hands on some surveillance equipment, and that should give us some sort of advance warning if -”
Again, Emma was astonished. Why did a man like Frank need a surveillance system? This time, she couldn’t stop herself from asking.
“I thought -”
“That – you know – that you – and maybe – Jordan – saw things?”
Frank glanced inquiringly at her, then smiled.
“Oh. It doesn’t work that way. The – visions – come when they choose to. I can’t – usually I can’t – bring them on. But you’re right. If something was about to happen, I might be able to sense it, but we need something more exact than that.”
“Yes, of course. Stupid of me.”
Frank studied her closely, a gentle expression on his face.
“Emma, if there’s anything you’d like to ask, it’s fine. I realize I haven’t been very forthcoming when it comes to my – visions. You see, it’s hard to explain. I don’t understand all of it myself.”
“Oh. No, I guess that’s all I need to know.”
“I do appreciate your coming all this way to warn me. Ever since you joined the Millennium group, I’ve been concerned about you. I’m glad you’re here with us. But you’ve placed yourself in a lot of danger.”
“I was already in over my head. Somehow, there’s nowhere else I’d like to be. Especially now.”
As if he’d read her mind, Frank’s eyes filled with sympathy.
“I’m very sorry about your father.”
“Thank you. I had to leave while – I couldn’t even stay while they prepared his body.”
“Of course. You did well to manage to evade them.”
A faint smile played on Emma’s lips. She was rather proud of the way she’d given them the slip. After working for them, she knew far too well what resources they had at their disposal.
“If I had a gun -”
“Yes, a gun might have been useful, but I rather doubt it. It’s not weapons we need, it’s vigilance.”
“Frank – what do they want with you? What are they after?”
“It’s – hard to say. I don’t know much about that. The Millennium is part of their – beliefs.”
“Yes, that’s pretty obvious.”
“I suppose they didn’t share any of that information with you?”
“Are you kidding? Sure I had access to information, but nothing really – comprehensive. Just snatches here and there.”
“I see. You and I are the only ones with any real experience of a field agent’s work. Doug and Brian – well, I’m sure they both passed the basic training, but it’s not the same. I would like to ask you to do what you can to protect Jordan and Jamie, if -”
“We’ll all have to do what we can to protect them and Lara.”
“Yes. Is there anything else you feel I ought to know?”
“Don’t trust any of them. Not even Peter Watts.”
“Especially Peter Watts, I’ll say.”
“I’m not sure. His leaving and – well, let’s just say that it’s a bit unclear where he stands in all this.”
“Aren’t there rival organizations?”
“Yes, but none of them can compare to the Millennium group. In terms of resources and – power.”
“I know. I saw some of that while I was working for them. It’s amazing they have people almost everywhere and yet I’d never heard of it until I came to work with you.”
“That’s part of their plan. To stay hidden until the time has come.”
“Right. Well, I suppose the others will be back soon.”
“They’re outside now.”
Emma stared at Frank, wondering if his gift had told him that, then blushed hotly and looked away, when she realized that she too had heard the sounds of a car engine approaching then going silent, without really paying attention. She was relieved that Frank wasn’t even looking at her. He’d got up and was leaving the kitchen, presumably to meet the others.
Emma was wondering if any of the others knew about what might be going on between Frank and Nick. If so, her guess would be Doug. The others had only just joined their little party when she showed up and besides, with Lara’s health to consider, neither had been very involved in the comings and goings of the rest of the party.
For a moment, Emma considered asking Doug about it, then decided against it. If Doug didn’t know, she didn’t want to do anything to give Frank’s secret away. Assuming there was a secret. She still wasn’t quite sure of what she’d seen. Perhaps Nick had been about to tell Frank something and had merely been trying to get as close as possible to him, to drown out the noise of the fire? She didn’t think so, but it wasn’t entirely impossible.
Emma was beginning to get restless. Unlike the children, who were looking forward to Christmas with as much anticipation as if nothing was out of the ordinary. Perhaps they didn’t see anything unusual in their situation. Looking back, Emma recalled how she had always taken any circumstance very much for granted, as long as her parents were with her.
Their reaction was understandable, but she didn’t feel the same way. Though there was no snow, it got dark early now. There was a chill in the air which made her constantly shiver, even though there was plenty of firewood in the house. She never had to wash in icy water in the mornings, but despite that, she always felt cold.
It seemed to her that everyone else, with the possible exception of Frank, were keeping busy. She was the only one to feel this edgy.
To relieve some of her boredom, she took to going for walks. There might be a risk involved, but if so, she was willing to take it. Sitting around watching tv, like the children, and Nick, or seeing to the domestic chores like Doug and Frank, couldn’t keep her occupied long enough. She was used to working.
So she walked around, though there was nothing much to see or do out there. At times, Frank joined her, but usually she was alone.
One morning, as she was returning to the house, she noticed something odd. A patch of color on the wall not far from one of the upstairs windows. She frowned as she hurried closer, rubbing her hands together. Squinting to make out what was on the wall, she almost stumbled and had to stop abruptly to keep from falling over. When she looked up again, she saw what it was. Her chest contracted painfully.
She looked around but saw no one else nearby. The color belonged to little Jamie’s sweater. He was hanging from the drainpipe, his legs swinging in the air.
Emma drew in breath to shout, but caught herself. If she frightened the boy, he might lose his hold and fall. It might not be high enough to kill him, but he’d certainly suffer fractures and if he hit his head –
By now, she was close enough to see his face. She didn’t dare to call out for anyone else to come. Besides, even if she could, it might be too late by the time someone arrived.
A wordless cry was her only reply. She tried again.
“Jamie. It’s ok. I’m going to get you down. Just do as I tell you. Ok?”
He sniffed, then nodded.
“Right. I’m right underneath you now. When I tell you to, let go and jump. I’ll catch you. Promise.”
Jamie said something that sounded like kitten, but Emma was too terrified to pay much attention.
“Jamie? Come on. It’s ok. Jump. I’ll catch you. Now.”
For a while, nothing seemed to happen, then as if in a slow motion sequence in a movie, the little boy began to fall. To Emma the fall appeared to take unnaturally long. At last, she felt the slight body slam into her and she let herself fall with him, to lessen the force of the impact.
She hit the ground and lost her wind. For a while, she must have blacked out, but eventually, the sound of Jamie’s crying filtered through to her and she knew she had to make an effort and pull herself together. Her entire body felt sore and bruised, but she didn’t have time to focus on that.
“Are you ok, Jamie?”
Emma drew in breath, noting that her back hurt, then tried to sit up, cradling Jamie in her arms. Suddenly, the door crashed open and a man’s voice echoed against the wall.
“Jamie? Are you ok? Oh, god. What happened?”
Emma looked up and saw Jordan’s face, staring anxiously down at her little friend. Another face appeared behind her. Lara Means. Of course. She must have had some kind of warning. Before Emma turned her attention to Doug and Jamie again, she saw that Jordan had some sort of animal in her arms and that Lara was shutting the window.
Doug had tears in his eyes as he pulled Jamie out of Emma’s arms. In his panic, he frightened the boy, who began to cry harder.
Emma felt dizzy, but she forced herself to calm down. This wasn’t about her.
“When I got back, he was hanging from the drainpipe. I – caught him. I think it’s ok.”
Doug tried to examine Jamie, but the little boy curled up and wouldn’t cooperate. The other men came swarming out of the house and suddenly Frank was standing over Doug.
“Doug. Calm down. Let me take a look. Jamie. It’s ok. Don’t be scared. Here. I got you.”
Frank lifted Jamie out of Doug’s arms, smiling reassuringly at the little boy. Amazingly, Jamie stopped crying and smiled back.
“Does this hurt?”
Frank gently probed the boy’s ribs, then distracted the boy by tickling him a little.
Jamie giggled delightedly and shook his head.
“Do you feel sick? Dizzy?”
“Does it hurt anywhere?”
“No. Can I go now? I want to see the kitty.”
Frank looked up, but by now, no one could be seen in or around the window. The sound of someone running down the stairs caught Jamie’s attention and he looked expectantly towards the front door. Jordan was standing there, a half grown kitten squirming in her arms. She gave up the struggle and let the animal go. It ran off in the direction of their only neighbor, a farm which was just within sight.
Jordan looked as somber as ever.
“The kitten is fine. But you were stupid. You’re not supposed to climb out windows. Right, dad? It’s dangerous.”
“Exactly. Jamie, listen to me. Jordan’s right. Never climb out windows. Ok?”
“Ok. But the kitty -”
“Jamie, the kitten has claws. It climbs a lot better than little boys. Besides, if it had been stuck, you should have asked your dad, or one of us. Do you understand? Ask a grownup.”
“Ok. Can I go now? Jordan, are you angry with me?”
“Of course not. I was just worried.”
Jamie pulled himself free of Frank’s embrace and threw himself into Jordan’s arms. As always, she very seriously led him away.
Frank helped Emma to her feet, then offered a hand to Doug, who wouldn’t take it. Self-consciously, he got up and began to brush dirt, real or imaginary, off his clothes. Brian returned inside, presumably to join Lara again, if she’d let him keep her company.
Nick was still standing there, glancing from Frank, to Emma, to Doug and back again to Frank.
“Ouch. That might have been serious. I remember when one of my mom’s friends got pissed off with me and threw me down the stairs. I broke my clavicle. Is that the right word? Up here.”
He hit himself on the right clavicle.
Nick went on.
“It hurt like hell and I cried myself to sleep for weeks. Of course it didn’t hurt all the time. And I couldn’t cry too loudly or he’d have come and hit me again.”
Nick shrugged and for a while held Frank’s gaze, then turned and went back inside. Emma assumed there was some tv show he was following.
After making sure Emma was ok, Frank too returned inside, and the others followed. Doug appeared ill at ease. Emma guessed that he was recalling how he’d lost it completely and scared his kid, making it all worse.
She could understand how he felt. When your kid was concerned, you didn’t worry about your image. Emma began to walk up the stairs, to return to her room. She wanted to lie down and rest a bit. Her back still hurt and now that the incident was over, the shock was beginning to set in. Not until now did she dare to touch on the thought that if she’d arrived just a few minutes later, she might have found a seriously injured child on the ground.
As she was about to enter her room, a voice called out her name. She turned around and waited.
Doug was looking even more ill at ease, and seemed to be thinking something over. Impatiently, Emma twirled the zipper puller on her jacket.
“Uh – Emma. Could I talk to you for a minute?”
Hesitating, he remained standing in the hallway, as if considering where they would have the conversation. Emma decided to make the decision for him.
Doug nodded eagerly. He opened the door to her and stepped aside to let her enter first. His room was similar to her own, but slightly larger and there were two beds instead of one. There was also a chair, which she assumed Jamie would put his clothes on in the evenings before going to bed. She grabbed it and sat down uninvited. If Doug was going to keep her from her bed, he might as well let her sit down.
It was as if he’d read her mind and his face took on color.
“Uh – I – What you did was – I don’t know how to thank you. That was – fantastic. I don’t know what I would have done if -”
“It’s ok. Try not to think about it. Jamie’s ok.”
“Yes. Are you ok?”
“My back hurts a bit, but other than that, I’m fine. I’m just glad I got back just in time.”
“Are you sure you shouldn’t go and see a doctor? I’m thinking about going into town tomorrow and have Jamie checked up and -”
“That’s probably wise, but as for me, I think I’ll get some rest.”
“Oh. Jamie’s – I don’t know if you’ve heard, but well, his mom and I got a divorce and then she – died. Jamie’s all I have.”
“I know how you feel.”
“I – heard you just lost your dad. I’m sorry.”
“I – lost my brother when I was just a little older than Jordan.”
This made Emma pay attention. She remembered far too well how it had felt when her sister –
“I lost my sister when I was a kid.”
Now she really had Doug’s attention. Not that he hadn’t been paying far too much attention to her already, but now, he seemed to realize just how much they had in common. In a way, she had to admit that he was right.
“And my mother too.”
“I’m sorry. So it’s just you now?”
Suddenly, she felt more relaxed than she ever had around Doug. She saw past his clumsy attentions and realized he was an extremely lonely guy. In the past, she and the other agents had made fun of the techs and the computer experts. Nerds with little or no personal life. That might be true, but what about her? Her life was more or less all work. What little personal life she had consisted of hanging out in a bar some Saturday night once in a while. It had been over a year since she last dated anyone seriously.
After a while, Doug began to tell her about his brother. She wanted to return the confidence but knew she couldn’t. Not now. Maybe never. Her pain was still as raw as the day it had happened. But she could tell it was the same for Doug. He just handled it differently, or – this frightened her a little – she meant so much to him that he dared to open up to her. She was about to tell him she had to go, but the words died unsaid on her tongue.
“Louis – killed himself. I had no idea he was in so much pain. He didn’t want us to know how the other kids were bullying him. I think – maybe – our parents put too much pressure on him. And being the older brother, he felt responsible for me. It might have made him nervous. In any case, he stuttered. Naturally, the other kids would pick him for that, but – well, we didn’t have any idea it was that bad.”
“He was everything to me. My big brother. I looked up to him and he was always there for me. When I had bad dreams, he’d let me sleep in his bed, or he’d sit with me until I went back to sleep. It was impossible to believe that he’d never be there again. That I’d never see him again. It took me years to fully accept that he was gone.”
“I know how you feel. It was – like that with my sister too. I – can’t talk about it.”
Despite her years of experience of holding back, she was losing control over herself and she knew tears were glittering in her eyelashes and she blinked to clear her sight.
Doug awkwardly reached out and placed his hand on hers. He squeezed it reassuringly. Her normal impulse would have been to snatch her hand back and glare furiously at the guy for taking liberties with her. Instead, she put her other hand on top of his and left it there. For some reason, she didn’t feel at all uncomfortable with him. He was actually quite sweet when you got to know him. She wasn’t into white guys. Not normally. But there was no harm in being a little friendly. After all, he and the others had accepted her, even after her betrayal.
Christmas came and went and despite everything, the fugitives had enjoyed quite a peaceful and pleasant holiday.
Even Emma and Lara couldn’t help smiling at the children’s innocent enjoyment of their presents and the tree, which Frank and Doug had gone out to get, as a surprise.
To Emma’s – and Lara’s annoyance, Brian had insisted on turning on the radio, and letting it play Christmas carols all day for at least three days.
Emma was about to appeal to Frank about it, but swallowed her irritation when she noticed that the children liked it and it looked as if Nick enjoyed it too.
Then on the morning of the day after Christmas day, Emma was woken by the sound of knocking on her door. She reached for her wristwatch and found that it was barely three a m. She was instantly alert. After quickly pulling on her jeans, she opened the door.
Frank was standing in her doorway and even before he said anything, she knew. He looked at once grave and regretful.
“Are they coming?”
He nodded sadly.
“We have to go.”
She didn’t ask how he knew. Instead, she began to pack, what few of her belongings she’d unpacked in the first place. After all, she’d known all along that this day would come.
Half an hour after she’d heard the knock on the door, they were packing everything into the van, then Doug and Frank followed, carrying their children. Emma got into the driver’s seat with Nick beside her. The others crowded into the back of the van. It was a tight fit, especially after Emma had joined them, but they all managed to squeeze in.
Emma glanced over her shoulder at Frank.
“South, I think. And east.”
To her surprise, Nick pulled a map out of the glove compartment and began directing her. They kept driving well into the day, only stopping to let the children relieve themselves by the side of the road. Towards noon, they stopped to buy food and some drinks. The adults made use of the restrooms at the local bus station, before continuing on until well after dusk. Not until it became clear that no one could take turns driving anymore, did they stop at a cheap roadside motel.
No one liked it very much and Emma liked it even less when she realized that to avoid any idle speculation about the large group of people travelling together, she would have to pose as Doug’s wife. But since the day when Jamie had fallen from the side of the building, she and Doug got along fine. She found she was able to laugh at their situation.
For the next couple of days, they kept driving steadily east and south, until they found themselves at an empty campsite. Not surprisingly, since this was hardly the best time of year for camping out.
Emma had never seen a dustier or more godforsaken place in her life. From what she could tell from the map, this was where the road ended. Beyond the campsite there was just desert and some bare crags.
Miserably, they huddled in the van. It would be too cold to sleep outside and they couldn’t all sleep in the van. There was just one building in the entire campsite, clearly the reception area. Now it was locked up and empty, but it looked just about large enough to house them all, if not very comfortably.
Emma was beginning to wonder if they might break a window, when Nick said something she didn’t catch. He was directing his statement at Frank, but they were all close enough to hear him when he repeated his words.
“I said I can pick that lock. We can’t all sleep here, so -”
Frank considered Nick’s offer. Emma had a feeling Frank could have picked the lock too. So could she, if she’d been willing to risk matching the stereotype of a black person. Someone who broke into people’s homes or mugged them in the street. Someone a lot like Nick, actually, apart from the color of his skin.
Except by now, she’d come to see him as part of their group. Whatever, if anything was going on between him and Frank, he had done his part of anything that needed doing. He’d taken turns driving, chopping firewood, going shopping, washing up and all the other dreary domestic chores Emma had avoided as much as she could.
If Frank wasn’t going to tell Nick to go ahead, she would. But she needn’t have worried. Frank nodded.
“That’s probably the best we can do. Do you have -”
Nick grinned cheerfully and pulled something out of his jeans pocket.
“Never leave home without it.”
He got out of the car, accompanied by Emma and Frank. She watched him with interest as he skillfully manipulated the tiny instrument. In less than a thirty seconds, the door swung open, to reveal a pitch dark room. The air inside was stale and smelled of dust, but seemed otherwise ok.
Frank entered first, switching on the lights. There was another room, which looked like an office and that was all, but it would do for their needs. That was all that mattered.
Ten minutes later, they’d brought their belongings inside. Emma couldn’t help smiling when Doug tried his best to sound enthusiastic as he explained to Jamie how much fun it would be to sleep on the floor. The boy was too tired to appreciate the adventure. Within minutes, he was fast asleep, curled up on the blanket Doug had put out for him.
Frank had no trouble persuading Jordan it was ok to sleep on the floor as well. He let her pick a spot not far from Jamie.
The others made themselves comfortable where they could. There was a bench, with upholstery on the seat, but no back, technically not a sofa, but still more comfortable than the floor. After a short argument between Brian and Lara, Lara agreed to stretch out on it. It was clear that she was close to her time and if there had been any other way, she should have been close to a hospital.
That had been the source of endless quarrels between her and Brian. He had argued that she could give a false name at the hospital when the time came and had even promised to make her a fake social security card and a fake ID. After her enforced stay at the clinic, Lara had developed a distaste for hospital staff and categorically refused to even consider the idea.
Frank had settled the argument by agreeing with Lara. The Millennium group would be prepared for that. They would know exactly when the baby was due and would be on the lookout for her.
This meant she would have to give birth on her own, in the middle of nowhere. Emma didn’t envy her. Brian had downloaded pages upon pages about home deliveries, but Lara had refused to study them.
Reluctantly, Emma had told Lara she’d assist her in any way she could. Part of her training as a federal agent involved basic first aid, including assisting at childbirth. She knew Frank would have had that training too and most likely he would have been present when Jordan was born, but Emma had a hunch he might not wish to be present when another child of his was born. Not this child anyway, which had been conceived without his knowledge and against his and the mother’s wishes.
Emma was uncomfortable with the whole thing. Her job should have been to handle the security. She would have gladly stood over mother and baby and protected them to the best of her ability, but being drafted as an amateur midwife made her skin crawl. Still, there was nothing to be done about it. Out of all the people present, she was the one who was a little bit less ignorant about childbirth. At least in theory.
The floor was hard, and felt cool against her back, but it would do. All around her, the others settled down. Frank was sitting on the floor, his arm around Jordan, whose head was resting on his lap. Doug had stretched out on Jamie’s other side.
Emma couldn’t help smiling when she noticed that Jordan had taken Jamie’s hand. Those two really were close.
Brian was lying on the floor underneath the bench where Lara was stretched out, presumably a little more comfortable than the rest of them. Nick, finally, was stretched out at Frank’s feet, curled up, his head resting on his arm.
In the morning, the hard floor woke them all up early, except for the two children, who slept on until their usual breakfast time.
They had a meager breakfast, not wanting to put too large a dent in their supplies. At least they’d been able to bring enough to last them for several days, water included. By the time they ran out of supplies, who knew what the situation would be?
It occurred to Emma that this was the end of the line for all of them. She couldn’t suppress a shiver. Despite her training, she was just as scared as she sensed the rest of them were. This was New Year’s Eve. The last day of the Millennium.
Except it really wasn’t. Emma remembered reading that this was actually the last day of the year before the end of the Millennium. Which made it all the more difficult to understand the Millennium group’s fixation on this date, or rather the stroke of midnight. But it probably didn’t matter if she understood or not. What mattered was what the Millennium group thought and what they were willing to do to get their way.
She was hoping they’d lost the group and Peter Watts. Surely they couldn’t have followed them all the way out here? If so, they would have nowhere left to run. She hoped it wouldn’t come to that. Who would have guessed they’d be out here?
Frank appeared unusually tense. Unlike most of the time, the strain was plain to see on his face. Emma wanted to ask him about their chances, but he looked so unapproachable, she decided against it.
Time seemed to have slowed almost to a stop. Doug had difficulty keeping Jamie and Jordan entertained, but he tried valiantly, by reading to them out of a tattered old storybook. Jordan seemed to accept the situation, but Jamie was peevish and irritable.
“I don’t like it here, daddy. Can we go somewhere nice? I want to watch tv.”
“I know, sport, but we can’t. We have to stay here for a while.”
His words didn’t have much impact on Jamie, so Jordan began to coax him. Eventually, he calmed down a little. To Doug’s surprise, Jordan began to tell Jamie a story of her own. She didn’t look in the book, and besides it wasn’t even the same story, so he assumed she had learned it by heart earlier. In any case, he was grateful. Their long flight had taken its toll on him, just as on everyone else.
Surprisingly, Nick appeared to take it all in stride. For someone so hooked on television, he looked laid back and contented, at least by comparison. Everyone else was edgy and nervous, but not Nick. He sat in a corner, listening to his Walkman.
Emma couldn’t take it any longer. She got up and walked across to Nick.
“Is that a radio?”
At first he didn’t hear her, but must have sensed her presence and he looked up. She pointed to the earphones. He pulled them off and regarded her inquiringly.
“Is that a radio?”
“No. It’s a cassette player.”
Doug caught Emma’s eye.
“It wouldn’t make a difference anyway. There’s no reception out here.”
“Oh. I wasn’t thinking.”
Doug tried to smile reassuringly and Emma couldn’t help returning his smile. To her surprise, Nick caught her reaction and he shot her an amused grin. He raised his eyebrows meaningfully. Emma felt her cheeks heat up. Her only consolation was that he wouldn’t be able to see her change color. Even so, his reaction made it clear that he had guessed how she felt.
It infuriated her. Her – relationship with Doug – which wasn’t a relationship at all – wasn’t any of his business. Besides, he was a fine one to talk. No matter how Frank felt about him, it was clear that his hero worship for the older man had evolved into a full-fledged infatuation. She tried to convey that knowledge to him in her icy look, but it fell flat, and Nick returned to listening to his tapes.
Some other time, Emma might have asked him what sort of music he was listening to, but what was the point? A white boy wouldn’t be listening to anything decent.
Suddenly, Jordan stopped telling her story and called for her father. For once, Frank didn’t hear her. He appeared lost in thought, his face tenser than ever.
Eventually, he appeared to come out of his reverie, and the look on his face made Emma instantly alert. So this was it. The time had come. She wished she’d had a gun, but somehow, unarmed as she was, she’d protect Jordan and Frank and Lara to the best of her ability.
Brian shot up, a look of pleading on his face.
“You mean they’ve found us? Out here? How could they?”
“I don’t know, but they’re on their way. We have to go.”
The look on Brian’s face turned to horror, as he envisaged walking through the desert, supporting Lara – who was about to give birth.
This was madness. Emma was beginning to consider an alternative. What if they tried to make a deal with the group? Anything to keep them off their backs for a while. At least until Lara had given birth. But the idea died in her mind, before she’d finished the thought. No. The baby was what they were after. Emma didn’t know what they intended to do with it, or Jordan or Lara or Frank, but whatever it was, Frank knew it would be no use expecting mercy from them. That was good enough for her.
“Anywhere. We can’t let them find us.”
“I don’t know. Not long. We need to get as much of a head start as possible. Come on.”
A frantic activity broke out as they began to grab their belongings.
Frank appeared frantic. If there had been time, Emma would have marveled at the change he’d undergone.
“Leave everything you won’t need tonight. We can’t take the van. As you know, there’s only one road. That where they’ll be coming.”
Doug picked up Jamie and carried him outside. Frank picked up Jordan, despite her protests she could walk on her own.
Emma didn’t like that. Frank and Jordan together. If the group caught up with them, it would make it far too easy for them. Besides, Frank would be needed to plan their defences, such as they were. Maybe they could find a place to hide, somewhere out there. In any case, she needed Frank’s help.
“Frank, I think you should let – ”
The only one left, would be Nick. But why not? He was strong enough to carry Jordan and Emma knew he was good with the kids. Jordan would accept being carried by him, as much as by anyone else.
Before she’d finished the sentence, Nick was standing in front of Frank, arms outstretched.
“It’s ok. You won’t mind, will you, Jordan? I promise I won’t drop you.”
“No, you won’t.”
Her voice was calm and matter of fact. Emma felt a shiver go down her spine. It sounded as if Jordan knew that. Nick wouldn’t drop her. That made her consider Jordan’s reaction to the whole thing. Now that they were on their way, the little girl was calm, not overly concerned. Did she know things would be ok or was it just because she trusted her dad implicitly? Or simply that she didn’t have a true understanding of the situation? Emma’s head began to ache while she went over all the possibilities, as they set out.
They all wore sneakers or hiking boots, and to begin with they made good time. There was nearly a full moon, and no clouds in the sky, so the visibility was good. The only trouble was that they seemed to be making an awful lot of noise.
After about forty-five minutes they entered a more rocky area. It became harder to get ahead. Their pace slowed to a crawl. Still there was no sound of pursuit. Emma was wondering if maybe Frank’s reaction had been a false alarm. It was a hell of a time to be tramping about the wilderness with two children and a woman due to give birth. But she knew better than to doubt Frank’s gift.
Suddenly, Frank was right beside her. He put his hand on her shoulder.
She was so out of breath the word came out rather slurred.
“Stay with them.”
A chill came over her. With a sinking feeling, she knew what Frank was going to do.
“Where are you going?”
“There’s something I have to do. Go on. Remember, it’s Lara and Jordan they’ll be after.”
“It’s ok. Trust me.”
“You’re not going back.”
She couldn’t help pleading with him.
“Emma. Just keep watch over Jordan and Lara. Can I trust you to do that?”
Emma’s eyes filled with tears and had to swallow hard to be able to reply at all. As it was, her words were even more slurred before.
“Don’t do it. I need you. We all do. Please. I’m begging you.”
Frank put his hand on her cheek and his eyes bored into hers for a moment.
“Emma, I know what I’m doing. I just need to know you’ll be keeping the others safe.”
She lost her struggle to keep the tears at bay and now she didn’t trust her voice anymore. Nodding miserably, she accepted Frank’s decision.
She would lose him too. Just like her mother, her sister and her father. It would all have been for nothing. Angrily, she rubbed the back of her hand against her cheeks. It felt as if she was being orphaned all over again. But Frank was counting on her to do a job and if that was all she could do for him, that was what she would do. It was the least she could do.
Grimly, she forced a little more speed out of her leaden legs. To her relief, she was beginning to catch up with the others.
Frank began running, his back to the spot where he’d left Emma sobbing helplessly. He didn’t like to abandon her like this. If there had been any other choice, he wouldn’t have. Emma and the others might see him as some sort of timeless sage, beyond ordinary human emotions. He’d never done anything to disillusion them. Knowing just how terrified he felt right now, wouldn’t have helped them.
At the moment he most needed his gift, there wasn’t even the slightest stirring of a vision or premonition. Nothing. He might as well have been an ordinary man.
His thoughts turned to Catherine. She’d been right. What had he ever done but place her and Jordan at risk? His gift – no, curse was more like it – hadn’t been able to save Catherine and now it looked as if he wouldn’t be able to save Jordan either. Except he would, no matter what it cost him. The Millennium group wouldn’t get their hands on her.
He began to slow down and glanced around him. Somewhere around here – There. He saw the glint of a flashlight from a clump of brush some distance to the right. Whoever it was must have heard him and a dark silhouette detached itself from the brush. The man had switched off the flashlight and was approaching slowly.
Frank forced himself not to move.
“So, here we are.”
“Here we are.”
Frank didn’t ask Peter Watts how he’d found him. How didn’t matter anymore or why.
Peter didn’t make any move to attack him. He just stood there, watching him, for so long it would have unnerved a less experienced man.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for this.”
Frank nodded. He could imagine.
“Ok. You’ve found me.”
“Yeah. Just in time too. I’ve been searching all over for you.”
Frank wished Peter would get on with it. Though he knew that every minute gave Jordan and Lara and the others more of a head start, his nerves were on edge and he wanted to tell Peter to cut the crap.
“I have a proposition for you.”
Frank smiled faintly. Somehow he’d known that. Silently, he waited to hear Peter’s proposition.
They were going slower and slower. Eventually, Lara gasped loudly and it seemed she tripped over something and began to fall. Brian reached out and caught her before she toppled over. Only then did he realize she hadn’t tripped at all. The labor had set in.
“Hey. Guys. We have to stop. It’s time.”
Nick and Doug almost ran into him and moved back a few paces. Emma caught up with them and when she realized what was going on, she began to search for a sheltered spot where they could hide out. To her relief, she noticed a crevice in the rock wall only a couple of paces away. There were rocky knolls all around and this one didn’t stand out from the others. At least she hoped so, because otherwise they’d be caught like rats in a trap. Too late to worry about that now.
She went ahead to scout out the place. Just as she had estimated the small cave was just large enough for Lara, Brian and herself. She would have to find another spot for Doug, Nick and the children, which was just as well. Seeing and hearing a childbirth in progress would probably screw the kids up for life.
Fortunately, on the other side of the knoll there were other crevices, all about the same size or slightly smaller. One of them seemed dry enough and the rock face was smooth too. It wouldn’t be such a bad place for the others.
“In here, Doug, Nick.”
Emma watched Doug put Jamie down, then Jordan wriggled out of Nick’s arms and lowered herself to the ground.
“Doug – can I have a word with you?”
Once they were outside, Emma lowered her voice to further decrease the likelihood that the children would overhear.
“If they come – I could use a scout somewhere back along the way we came. To give us some advance warning.”
“Of course. Nick can handle both kids.”
“I might have to use Nick too. The kids are smaller and less conspicuous. They might be better off on their own anyway.”
“I’ll go back and get Nick. Jordan will keep Jamie calm.”
Emma hesitated. That might be a good idea.
“Ok. Explain to them. Tell them it’s a game. And send Nick to me.”
Doug was back so soon, Emma was surprised, but maybe she shouldn’t have been. After all, Jordan must have known something was up. Seeing Doug creep away back the way they’d come, so quietly made Emma feel ashamed of having underestimated him. If they made it, she’d never think of him as a nerd anymore.
Nick was standing to attention just a pace away, staring at her expectantly.
“Hey, no problem. I’ll be happy to do what I can. So what do you need me to do? Want me to be lookout?”
“Yes. You can stand over there. If you hear anything, come back to me as quietly as you can.”
“You don’t want me to lure them away?”
Emma stared at Nick. Did he know what he was suggesting? Was he really offering to sacrifice himself to save the children and Lara?
“Let’s hope it won’t come to that. Leave the rest to me, ok?”
“Ok. Just let me know. You know, I think you’re really cool. Are you cop?”
“I used to be a federal agent.”
“Just like Frank. Cool. So this is like in one of those old movies, right? You’re the sheriff and I’m your deputy.”
Despite herself, Emma had to smile. Nick was so excited, yet seemingly totally aware of the stakes.
“Yes, Nick. You’re my deputy.”
Emma almost began to cry again. She hadn’t expected Nick to be so brave and so loyal to them all. Sure, Frank had saved his life, but the rest of them – he didn’t owe them a thing, and still, he was prepared to sacrifice himself for them. On an impulse, Emma pulled him into her arms.
Nick smiled crookedly.
“Hey. Don’t go all sentimental on me, captain. I’ll buy you a drink later.”
“Yeah. I’ll buy you one too.”
“Go and deliver that baby now.”
Nick was right. It was time to get to work. Lara was lying stretched out on the ground, on Brian’s jacket. Her head was resting on his lap, and he was stroking her forehead, pushing some damp strands of hair out of her face.
Lara’s voice was filled with irony and Emma responded in kind.
“Sure. I’m all scrubbed and ready to go. How far apart are the contractions? Do you have any idea if you’re fully dilated? Did your water break?”
“Hey, slow down. Speak English. No water, thank goodness and dilated? Christ, your guess is as good as mine. But the contractions – Brian’s timing them, aren’t you, Brian? Did you always have this penchant for playing doctor?”
It seemed Brian was getting used to Lara’s way of talking. He didn’t appear too perturbed at her not to subtle dig.
“I’m timing them, yes.”
He told Emma his conclusions, leaving her to calculate how far off the delivery was. She wished she knew, but from what she could guess, it was more or less immediate. Lara must have been in labor for quite a while, without saying anything. Emma didn’t know if she’d have been able to keep quiet and walk through difficult terrain while in labor. Her respect for the bitter, sarcastic woman increased.
“Right. Let’s see how you’re getting along.”
Emma was quite sure Lara didn’t buy her cheerful tone, but if she calmed Brian down, at least she’d gained something.
Suddenly, the darkness was lit up by what looked like lightning. There hadn’t been any sounds of thunder, even in the distance and it wasn’t raining, but Emma had no doubt this was a sort of silent thunderstorm. She tried to ignore it, but when she heard a bloodcurling howl, she looked up. Was that a coyote? She didn’t know anything about the wildlife out here, and she had never seen anything wilder than a jackrabbit caught in the headlights of her car. Still, something told her whatever it was had to be bigger than a coyote.
What was bigger than a coyote? A bear? A grizzly? Did bears live in the desert? She had no idea and she didn’t think it would be any use asking Brian or Lara. Besides, only seconds later, whatever it was showed up, no more than a couple of feet away. It was huge and its fangs were pointed and sharp. They seemed to be dripping with saliva or something darker. The light in the beast’s eyes was red. Emma felt herself shrink inside. This looked like something out of a horror movie, except this looked a lot more real.
Something flashed by on her right and she looked up, towards the top of the knoll. She gasped. No. This couldn’t be happening. For a second, whatever it was had looked like some nightmare beast straight out of hell. It had horns, leathery wings, a long tail, clawed, webbed feet. What was this? Was she sleeping? Had everything that had happened since her father’s death been a long nightmare?
Brian was sobbing in terror and Emma could hear someone further away screeching. He sounded terrified. She couldn’t guess if it was Doug or Nick but she guessed both would be equally frightened.
Huddled together, in the other crevice, Jordan and Jamie were sitting. Jamie was crying disconsolately.
“I want my daddy. I want my daddy. I want the monsters to go away.”
Jordan cradled him and rocked him soothingly.
“It’s ok. They’re not real. It’s just like a scary movie. I promise.”
Jamie’s faith in Jordan was so great he stopped crying and looked into her eyes.
“How do you know?”
“I just know these things.”
His respect for the older girl increased even more.
“Just close your eyes and pretend you’re at home. It’s going be alright.”
Jordan closed her eyes too. Even though she knew the monsters weren’t real, they still looked very scary. She buried her face in Jamie’s hair, hoping her dad would be back soon and that the bad men wouldn’t get him.
Emma forced her attention away from the monsters. She had to be hallucinating. Lara’s baby was about to be born and she had to deliver it. There was no one else. This was no time to fall apart.
Brian was still crying, but he kept on stroking Lara’s hair.
“It’s going to be ok.”
He wasn’t sure if he was trying to reassure Lara or himself, but somehow, saying the words made him feel a little bit better. After all they’d been through, his mind had reached a point where it couldn’t take in more. He still knew the monsters were there, but it was as if he didn’t have enough strength to worry about them.
Lara was completely focused on what was happening to her body and had no energy to spare for panicking or despairing.
Some distance away, Nick had sunk to his knees and was covering his head with his arms. Those monsters looked exactly like the ones in the illustrations he’d seen in a book belonging to an old religious woman in one of his foster homes. She’d been loony, but actually, she’d been quite nice. Once you got past the hymn singing and the praying out loud, she was about the only one who had always treated him well. Sneaked cookies to him, when her cheapskate son would have let him get by on dry bread and beans.
He’d cried when she’d died and he’d gone to her funeral. The only one out of six foster kids who had. Even the cheapskate son had been sort of impressed with that.
Doug was doubled up on the ground, whimpering in terror. He knew this was the end and he knew he’d never see Jamie again. The thought came to him that he wished he’d told Emma that he loved her. If he had, it would have been easier to let go. Now she’d never know how much she meant to him.
Whatever Peter had been about to offer, it turned out he’d waited too long. Before he’d finished explaining, bright lights cut through the night and someone’s voice boomed out.
Frank caught a look on Peter’s face, which told him his former friend had never intended to be trapped by the Millennium group. He was sorry for Peter. Even more so for his family.
Emma lifted the baby up. It was bawling its lungs out, oblivious to the monstrosities surrounding it. Brian was still mumbling encouraging words which didn’t convince Emma, but she was hoping they did something for Lara.
Lara had never believed in the monsters. If anything, she’d been amused. Whatever they were or whoever had sent them, they weren’t real. While she was panting and groaning and forcing the last strength out of her body, she’d been concerned, but not close to panic. She knew it could go either way. All she could do was to give birth to the child she’d never wanted. Of course that was all fair and even. The baby hadn’t been asked if it wanted to be born either.
As she heard the baby’s first screams, she was filled with a wild, exuberant joy. It wasn’t that the pain was fading or the joys of motherhood. She was hoping she might experience those later. No. At that moment, she just knew that it was too late. The Millennium group had failed. It was over. They would know it too. She was safe and the baby too. So were Brian and the rest of them.
A strange noise came bubbling out of her throat, startling Emma and Brian, who were staring raptly at the newborn.
Lara was laughing. Brian and Emma exchanged worried glances. It dawned on Lara that they probably thought she was going insane again. A flash of anger made her want to shout at them. Instead, she forgave them. They didn’t know. How could they? They didn’t have her gift. Or curse. She’d better tell them.
“Hey, it’s ok. I’m not crazy. It’s over. They lost. Don’t you get it? We’re safe now. All of us. They didn’t manage to put their plans into effect and now they can’t. Their chance was lost just about when Junior popped out. Relax. In a little while we’ll be able to get back to civilization. Did you hear me, Brian? Back to your computers and printouts and whatever it is you think is so interesting.”
The sounds of footsteps made them all whirl around. Emma wiped her hands on her jeans and stood up to face whoever it was. She slumped down again when she recognized the man who was coming. Doug. She was hoping he wouldn’t be able to tell just how relieved she was to see him again.
“They’re gone. The monsters. Did you notice?”
No, they hadn’t been paying attention, but now Emma noticed it too. The night was dark and quiet again.
“Yeah. And Lara says it’s ok now. The others – lost.”
Doug stared at Lara.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure, and I’m not crazy. Not anymore.”
“I’ll go get Jamie and Jordan.”
“I’ll go with you.”
Emma sensed that Lara wanted a little privacy.
As soon as Emma and Doug had vanished around the side of the knoll, Brian placed the baby in Lara’s arms. He beamed down at her, looking so proud he might have been the baby’s father. Lara caught herself wishing he had been.
“Will you marry me?”
“What? Shouldn’t it be Frank Black? I mean, since he’s the father.”
Brian’s eyes pleaded with her and eventually, Lara’s features relaxed into a smile. Apparently, he still wasn’t quite immune to her needling.
“We’ll see. Get me out of this hole and I might consider it.”
“Ok. Whatever you say.”
“Hm. I’ll hold you to that.”
Brian didn’t even seem to hear what she was saying. He was grinning widely, looking so happy, Lara felt ashamed of all the angry thoughts she’d directed at Brian in the past. He was an ok guy, really. Kind of sweet, but really nerdy. That more than anything told her how much she’d grown used to his doglike devotion in the months he’d cared for her, never complaining about her poisonous tongue. A year ago, she would have referred to him as ‘dorky’, not nerdy. Was she getting soft in her old age? Her index finger was tracing the outline of the baby’s face. What a tiny little person.
As they walked around the knoll, Emma’s and Doug’s hands touched. After a moment’s consideration, Emma took Doug’s hand and squeezed it. She didn’t let go, even when they found the kids.
They brought them around to see the baby and to wait for the others to return. Emma was beginning to think she might need to go and round up Nick. If he was still cowering in the sand, the least she could do was reassure him.
Nick had recovered sooner than she expected but he didn’t return to the others. He’d noticed right away that Frank was missing and he’d known what it meant. If Frank didn’t return soon, he’d go and look for him, no matter what the risks. Frank had saved his life. He’d picked up this lowlife hustler from the street and let him tag along with his daughter and his friends. Of course he wouldn’t leave him in those guy’s hands.
Before he put his plan into action, someone came limping into view. The figure was too far away to see who it was, but Nick felt a slight hope stir inside him. Something about the gait was familiar and he sprang to his feet to meet the person coming towards him. It had to be Frank. Relief flooded through him.
As he got closer, he noticed that Frank was injured.
“Hey. What did they do to you?”
“It’s nothing. Do you know if -”
“If the baby’s born? No idea. These things can take time, that’s all I know. Let’s go find out.”
He put Frank’s arm over his shoulder and helped him hobble along. They found the rest of their group in or around the crevice where Lara had given birth.
With some effort and with Nick’s help, Frank managed to sit down.
Emma wanted to go to him, to examine his injuries – and to throw herself into his arms and hear him tell her everything was going to be ok. Somehow she managed to restrain herself. If Nick was her deputy, she was Frank’s. They couldn’t lose their composure and scare the civilians. Which would be Brian, Lara and the children, she assumed.
“Frank, Lara says it’s over. Is that true?”
“Yeah, that’s right. Don’t believe in the crazy lady. I mean, what do I know?”
“I’m sorry, Lara. I just wanted to -”
Frank interrupted her.
“Yes, it’s true. They weren’t able to find you in time. According to their plans, they should have had the baby at midnight. Now – the danger is over. At least until the end of this millennium.”
“That’s not our problem. So, basically we’re safe now? We can go home?”
“Yes. They scattered when the time came and – their men hadn’t been able to find you.”
He didn’t mention that they’d taken Peter Watts with them. Whether or not Peter had really left the group, they now had him again. Frank didn’t think he’d see Peter again, but he wasn’t sure. At the moment, his gift seemed notably absent. In fact, freed of the burden of so much worry, he felt more like an ordinary man than he had in years.
Doug’s face split into a wide grin.
“This means it’s just New Year’s Day. The new millennium. Or maybe that’s not until next year, but anyway, why not make the most of it?”
To Emma’s surprise, the uptight n- no, she wasn’t going to call Doug that anymore. But whatever she called him, he now pulled her into his arms and kissed her. For some reason, she found she didn’t want to resist.
Encouraged by their example, Brian bent over Lara and kissed her too, not sure if he’d get a slap or – if she’d return his kiss. While he was waiting to find out, he kept his eyes closed. When he didn’t feel the sting of a slap and Lara didn’t pull away, he smiled inwardly.
Nick studied Frank’s face intently. The urge to kiss him, became irresistible. Eyes closed, he let his lips touch Frank’s. Gently the older man disentangled himself, but he didn’t push Nick away. He pulled him closer again and held on to him. It didn’t feel very passionate, but Nick wasn’t complaining. Whatever Frank was willing to give him, he would accept it.
Jordan calmly watched all the grownups hug and kiss. With a smile, unusually lighthearted for a child so solemn, she pressed her lips against Jamie’s. Jamie’s face lit up and his mouth curled into a contented smile.
“Are we married now?”
Jordan shook her head.
“Of course not. You need a church and a priest for that.”
Jamie nodded solemnly.
Jordan, who knew a lot more about grownups and life in general, knew that it wasn’t that easy, but she didn’t want to spoil Jamie’s expectation. Besides, even if they wouldn’t get married tomorrow, she knew they would some day. Her mother had told her that. She remained sitting with her arms around him, until they dozed off.