“Lydie? You want me to stay tonight or …?”
I sighed and shivered despite having an extra blanket on the bed. “Don’t make me ask Jax. Not after everything that has happened. It’s one in the morning and I still can’t seem to sleep or get warm.”
He seemed to nearly fly under the covers and not quite meaning to was a little rough when he pulled me to him. “God Lydie,” he moaned quietly, neither one of us wanting to wake Kelly or have anyone else in the house hear our business. Breathing into my hair he whispered, “I promise …”
I put my hand over his mouth to hush him. “No promises, not in the heat of the moment. We’ve made the important ones already right? So let’s just stick with the ones we know we mean and can keep.”
“But I messed up.”
Shivering both from the cold and his sudden nearness and complete willingness to make up I told him, “We both messed up. We’ll probably mess up in the future too, let’s just not mess up quite that way again.”
A little while later we were a lot warmer and my shivering had finally stopped. Jax said, “I didn’t mean to just jump on you like that. I meant to … to talk and tell you I never meant …”
Not really wanting to rehash it I said, “Did you hear me complaining? As for the rest of it, it’s … it’s in the past. I just can’t … can’t do that … that loss of control again. It costs too much.”
“Yeah,” he said when he was sure I meant what had come earlier in the evening and not what we’d just experienced together. “We’ll figure things out … we’ll communicate better or something. No holding information back just because we think we’re doing what’s best for the other person. We’ll do whatever it takes; I just don’t want you to wind up resenting me like Darlene did.”
I shook my head. “I don’t resent you Jax, certainly not like you seem to mean. Being with you is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I think it’s just we both come with some baggage and we’re letting it … it control things too much. We need to pick what’s most important and stick with it.” I rubbed my cheek against his bare chest as much for myself as for him to feel that I was right there with him. “I’m … I’m trying really hard not to be a snot about this but I can’t explain it exactly right. I just mean there’s too much going on, too much that could kill us … figuratively and literally. I can’t waste time and energy on … on blowing up. Getting angry is sometimes necessary; being destructive and saying hurtful things is not and only makes things worse.”
I shivered a little as the cold crept under the covers where we’d pulled them loose from the foot of the bed. We adjusted the blankets and then I told him, “I don’t want you to think I’m pulling back from you after what happened, and I’m worried that’s how you’ll take it … how the others will take it too. I just only have so much to give and if I stay on this emotional hamster wheel I’ve been on … being hurt and confused because I can’t seem to get anyone to understand why I’m hurt … there’s gonna be a mess of some type. We can’t afford that. I’ve got to get my head in the game and keep it there. I have an itchy kind of feeling that we’ve breached some kind of barrier and there might be some nasty surprises on this level of the game. All the sides have been exposed; we’re here and they’re there, never the ‘twain to meet, and right now they hold more pieces than we do. Mathematically they could overwhelm us just with numbers. We need to take more time between moves but not so much time that the other side has the opportunity to guess our strategy.”
His hand traced from my shoulder to lower back and then pulled me tighter against him. “Ok. But I don’t want you to hold back because you are worried about sharing feelings you don’t think I’ll understand. Maybe I won’t but I’d still rather you keep me in the loop so I can try. How am I supposed to figure things out, make sure I’m not messing up, if you don’t let me know when I am.” He had a point so I agreed to keep it in mind. It would have been stupid to play martyr. Then he asked, “Are you in the mood to hear what we talked about or do you want to let it go for now?”
Something inside me relaxed. I hadn’t meant to put him to the test but I guess part of me had been waiting to see if he would follow through on what he said he would do. I knew it was late but I still told him, “Yeah. I need to know.”
“OK.” He sighed and then eased me over so I was on my back and he leaned over me a little. “I’ll be honest, everyone was a little … freaked out … about how you reacted.”
“No … how you reacted. Yes it was an explosion but once everyone got a glimpse of how you were feeling they understood it better … not completely, but better. As you’d expect the girls got it better than the guys. But surprising or maybe not, Alexis is the one that chewed almost all of us out and put it in terms that even Gennie seemed to understand. After discussing it we agreed that we’d all made mistakes and it is time to knock it off, that we stand together or we fall separately. Reggie said in no uncertain terms that he is done playing keep away also; said it is too hard to remember who knew what and that what is not being said to whom doesn’t make sense anyway.”
Trying to unravel that last bit I asked, “Did what he said even make sense?”
I felt his hair brush me when he shook his head. “That’s what Aston wanted to know. Bottom line Hon is that we’re all in this together. It might take a little time to …”
“For them to get over me throwing hot gravy at them?”
“Well there’s that but mostly it’s we’re thinking on different wavelengths. As a guy I can tell you I don’t like being as wrong as we were. I don’t like knowing how close I came to the important stuff falling apart. I don’t like the feeling that Matt might have seen it happening or hope it happened and that he was as close as he was to being right yet again. It’s going to make me feel … cautious … maybe a little …” His head dipped down and he brushed a kiss against a particular spot below my ear that tended to make me have a certain reaction. He whispered with a slight smile in his voice, “Maybe make me feel a little needy to make sure things are the way they should be.” Not much of any sense got said after that and after a while we just fell asleep.
I woke up and the room was still dark due to the blackout curtains but it was the wrong body snuggled up next to mine. I started to sit up but Kelly whimpered sleepily, “Cold Widdie.”
“Then stay under the covers where it’s warm Butterfly.” The fact that the wiggle worm did told me just how cold it was. I slid out of bed trying not to let any cold air under the quilts and then shimmied into my clothes as fast as I could; but it wasn’t fast enough despite what appeared to be a new fire in the small wood stove in the corner of the room. I pulled the blackout curtain back and found frost on the wrong side of the window.
“Stay put Kelly. I need to find your daddy.”
I had to put on a second pair of socks and my house slippers to keep my feet from hurting from how cold the bare spots on the floor were. I opened the door and found the hallway even colder and reclosed the door quickly not to let what heat there was out of the room. I heard voices downstairs and found everyone bundled up and Ginger looking at the ancient wood stove like she was about to do battle with it.
I told her, “Hold that thought. I’ll help get Bertha up and running in a sec if someone will tell me why it is so cold in here.”
I heard footsteps hurrying up from the basement. Jax frowned and asked, “Did Kelly wake you up?”
I shook my head and looked at the meter in his hand. “Breaker blown?”
“No,” he said in frustration. “And it isn’t just the furnace. There’s no hot water, no gas to the stove, nothing. I was about to go check the shed. Water pressure in general is down so I think some of the pipes might have frozen as well but nothing stands out as obvious yet.”
I started to panic. “The animals!”
“Easy Hon. Johnson got the wood stove started out there. They were cold but not dangerously so. King Kong is feisty enough; nearly took a chunk out of him when he moved the hay around to try and find him.”
I shook my head. “That’s why I haven’t let Kelly out with him lately. He hates being cold and gets foul.” I had calmed once I knew the animals would be OK. “Since you’ve checked everything inside I’m guessing it is one of the main valves from the fuel storage tank or a clogged vent. I’ll help get … Jumping Jehoshaphat! … it’s lunch time!!” I yelped finally looking at the clock.
Ginger said, “Just show me how to get it started and I’ll take it from there.”
“I can …”
“Don’t worry about it, just show me.”
For a moment I worried that people didn’t want to have anything to do with me as the previous day’s events flooded my mind but at that moment Alexis came into the room in a good mood and bumped me. She must have read the look on my face because she said, “Don’t be a dork. People are just trying to be nice.”
My face reddening I said, “Oh … they don’t need to be. I didn’t … I mean …”
Ashley waddled into view and succinctly stopped my blathering by smiling and saying, “Shut up Lydie. All’s well that ends well. No flagellation, OK?”
“Oh. O … kay. Wait. What did you just say?”
Reggie picked that moment to hop into the kitchen with wood for the stove and broke the moment by saying, “She was driving us all crazy trying to understand what she meant until she found the word she was looking for in the thesaurus. But whatever … just don’t do it. It sounds painful and stupid. Stupid we don’t need any more of. Pain is worth avoiding as well.”
The rest of the day was a little like living in the twilight zone. Everyone seemed to go out of their way to make sure I understood that they weren’t holding anything against me or we talked a few issues out. Everyone wanted to be a team and I was basically told to take a load off, sit down, and sketch out some ideas on how to build a radiofax. It felt really, really strange and more than a little uncomfortable but Reggie caught me off guard by saying let them do it as it was a way for them to exercise out some of the guilt they might be feeling for thinking such a rotten thing about me.
As for the cold in the house, a valve had indeed been cracked but luckily it had frozen over the broken area so we didn’t lose too much gas, though enough that we’d have to change how we did things to stretch the gas as far as possible. We were also lucky that while some of the pipes had frozen, nothing ruptured in the house though we did have one break in a pipe out in the yard that had to be dug up, repaired, and then re-winterized. Doing all of that in the cold took its toll on top of all the emotionalism from the day before so we were all very tired; a good night’s sleep was all we craved. The day after that we were more back to normal; unfortunately in more ways than one.
The cold had retreated a bit so Johnson and Aiden volunteered their free time that day to go see about bringing in some fallen limbs that could be cut down to use in the wood stove not so fondly called “Bertha” by everyone in the house. If you’ve ever accidentally bumped into an old wood stove – hot or cold – they have a tendency to not be kind. Bertha would see a lot of use to try and ease up on using the furnace. Having wood stoves running in bedrooms also used up a lot of wood and while we still had a pile from the paper mill more would always be good to have.
A downed tree had been spotted not too far off of the road about three miles from the Home Place when one of the last groups to go hunting had come from the direction opposite that would have normally taken us toward town. Out Johnson and Aiden go and five hours later – one hour later than they should have been – right as we decided to send a team after them they come back with both wood and another flying rat.
“Dang it!!” I said nearly kicking the thing despite the fact that it was already in pieces.
Reggie pulled me back. “Don’t stomp on it Lydie; I want to try and salvage some of the pieces.”
“Salvage … !” I stopped and pulled my temper back. “Ok, fine. I suppose it would be a waste. Johnson, where exactly did you bring this thing down at?”
“About a mile from that old building that used to be Fowler’s Bar and Grille.”
“Near the road to the old trout farm?”
He nodded. Aiden asked, “What’s the range on these things? We were three miles from here and it was coming from the general direction of town … not a beeline but still.”
I gave it some thought. “The military ones are beyond belief, especially the ones they call predator drones. We won’t even go there. This is more like a remote controlled helicopter or hovercraft … the other one looked more like a plane. That tells me someone is just kind of cobbling these things together. They’re doing a good job but this still isn’t military grade or even close to it … so forget the National Guard as well.”
Jules said, “I thought we agreed that this was Matt’s work.”
I shook my head. “It could be Matt’s work. It is likely that he knows about it or has a hand in it. But whether he is directing things we don’t know for sure and I don’t want to make any assumptions that might blow up in our faces. Speaking of which, here’s something else that will just turn you all sorts of happy; someone with enough smarts could load this thing with Semtex or some other type of explosive, fly it in, and then detonate it without even having to be in the area to get their hands dirty.”
That made everyone glance at the darkening sky. Reggie then asked, “And if they have night vision or heating seeking capabilities?”
I nodded agreeing with where he was going with it. “Yep. That could mean a night attack. The operator would still need to be within a mile or so of the drone however. We need to know where these things are coming from.”