Once again, thanks to Shorty for help with the girl conversation between Hannah and Emma. She wrote most all of that part for me. I just added a few expressions and such. The rest is mine though.
Hannah watched the wind bend the trees near the shoreline of the lake and wondered just where the hell Cole was at the moment. She couldn’t hear the wind in the trees, but just watching the action of the limbs in the air made her feel cold. Pressing her head against the double paned window, she could feel the iciness as it seeped through the insulated panes, cooling her forehead. Behind her, the fire roared in the big circular pit and she could smell the faint tang of apple in the air from the wood. Blending with the fire were the voices of those who were still in the community room this late at night. Normally, it would be the stray lover or two finding a quiet spot, but tonight the gathering consisted mainly of the Lodge Council and the leaders of the salvage crew that had been with Emma on the Mansfield run. In addition to add to the confusion that followed after the arrival of the refugees who had been lead there by Cole, much to the council’s dismay, the Highlanders held their Rites as soon as Emma was cleared by the doctor. The group had proceeded to drink heavily and then set a fire that made the horizon glow. Things had calmed down considerably with the next day’s nightfall and the kilt-wearing group was settled in an unused portion of the Lodge to sleep off the day before. Those now remaining were deep in negotiations with the Lodge about payment for cargo. Emma was the center of the group with the Kid, Kyle near at hand. Emma seemed sad without the guidance of her friend Nick.
She pulled away from the window, the dark shadows of the trees still bending in the night air, turning her back to the outside world and walking back to the warmth of the fire. She was starting to feel the bulge of her belly against her loose pants and sweat shirt and wondered just how long it would be before she was going to have to wear maternity clothes, also just where the hell they were going to find them. For a moment, Hannah had vision of herself in a toga-like sheet until the birth of the baby. Smiling ruefully to herself she eased into a chair beside Jesse, who turned his graying beard toward her.
“Decided to join us?”
“I got cold over there by the window,” said Hannah. “What’s going on?”
“They’re tryin’ to find a fair price for the plants that are currently takin’ up space in the greenhouse.”
The Highlanders and some of the council had been in negotiations all evening. Now that Emma was out of the medical quarantine and they had gotten their “Rites” taken care of, the business of running the Lodge had gotten back to a somewhat normal course. Owen had been avoiding her for the last day, and Hannah knew why: Emma. But since the arrival of Cole, she was better able to deal with Owen’s stand-offishness. Cole was somewhere nearby she was sure, talking to the refugees, another crisis to be dealt with soon, trying to find enough people for his raid into Loudonville. She hated to think that he was going to risk all for those people, but another part of her understood his need to help them. He had brought them to the Lodge and did not want to see them turned out. She pondered the meaning of the plants that Emma’s crew had brought with them from the WalMart. It seemed so long ago that had happened.
“Fresh food when they come back through?” mentioned Hannah. The small greenhouse they had constructed had originally been for Hank and his “medicinal herbs”. Now the man was starting to call himself a horticulturist with all the green things he had under his care. It seemed to be the best place for Hank as he didn’t do much else that seemed useful. She remembered when she had first met Hank and how living had seemed to be such a risk then. Now it was becoming as tedious as it had been before the plague with meetings and chores--.
“Seems that they don’t want to give up total control over the greenery just yet,” said Jesse. “Emma drives a hard bargain. I don’ think they were ready for that.”
“She doesn’t keep forty people fed and diesel in those rigs by being a push over,” mentioned Hannah. “What about the refugees?”
“Cole got an extension,” informed Jesse. “Apparently no one thought about all the other things that were happenin’ in addition to them. They’re still sleepin’ in that conference room, but for now they’re happy to just be outta the weather. They’re gonna have to start thinkin’ about Loudonville though.”
“Are you?” asked Hannah.
Jesse grinned. “I am.”
Nodding, Hannah pulled his wrist toward her and looked at the wind-up watch resting there. She deciphered the hands that swung around the cartoon character’s body. “Mickey says it’s ten. That means’ it’s time for all pregnant women to go to bed. I have kitchen detail tomorrow, which I hate. I’d rather be carrying a rifle.”
Jesse grinned. “You’ve got cargo now, the council has deemed that you are to be protected at all costs, didn’t you get the memo?”
“I fought against it,” growled Hannah.
“Ah, yes, you did, but the danger and all that—“
“They’ve never worked in the kitchen,” she returned with a pout. “That’s more dangerous than toting a rifle these days.”
“This calm’ll only last so long,” predicted Jesse.
“Blah, blah.” Hannah cleared her throat loudly, causing her to become the center of attention. She smiled. “I know that it seems important to get this done tonight, but we should call it a night. We still have chores in the morning.”
Everyone looked relieved that she had suggested that they stop for the night. There was quick agreement to her motion and they decided that they were getting nowhere for the night. Many of the people quickly vacated the room, heading to beds or late guard shifts. As Hannah started to walk away, Emma stopped her.
“So…you have a minute?”
Hannah nodded at Jesse who had stopped with her. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
He smiled carefully at them and walked away.
Waiting for Emma to speak, Hannah found a chair to lean against. Lately she was having a hard time just standing. She wondered how much worse it was going to get as the pregnancy went on. She could see herself being fat and round and didn’t like the image.
“About Owen,” started Emma.
“Ahh. Owen,” repeated Hannah. “I’m not really sure what there is to say about Owen.”
“Well, I know you two were heading for…something…” Emma trailed off, and was interrupted by Hannah’s laugh.
“’Something’ sums us up well,” Hannah said, watching as Emma tried to decipher the comment. “Listen Emma, I can tell this is making you uncomfortable, but please, let me assure you, there is nothing to be uncomfortable about.”
“Well, I just…”
Hannah held up her hand to stop the other woman. “No. Just hear me out. The world, it’s crazy, you know? I met Owen on the road to the Lodge and things were really…well, crazy. The stress of that situation maybe left me thinking that I could have ‘something’ with Owen, but realistically, it wasn’t Owen that I was attracted to. It was the adrenaline of getting out of so many tight spots, and let’s face it, when he’s in his zone, he is kinda cute.”
“But..” began Emma, looking for the comment that would be graceful, yet defend Owen at the same time.
“But nothing. Emma,” Hannah searched for the words to her next comments, trying to phrase them so that she could express her feelings in a way that would save the conversation from an argument about Owen’s actions and intentions. “I’m pregnant with another man’s baby. And honestly, that other man, I wouldn’t have given him a second look it the world hadn’t turned upside down like it did. But the plague changed a lot of things. For a lot of people. And Owen, if we had gotten together, he couldn’t deal with that fact that this baby isn’t his. There’s no room for that kind of morality in the world we got stuck in.”
“This all sounds very mature and well thought out, Hannah. Is this the new world you?”
“Well, it’s probably ‘cause I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Ever since Cole showed up…”
“Cole. Well, from watching you two together, I guess I shouldn’t have felt like this conversation was necessary, but I didn’t want to look like a coward or a thief.”
Hannah’s laughter filled up the space between the women, erasing much of the tension that had been hanging there previously. “Yeah, well, Cole is a little bit of the old-world-Hannah mixed up with the new-world-Hannah. You know, he’s a face from my past I didn’t think I would ever see again. Long before all this.” Hannah gestured to the empty room and all that it represented in the here and now. “But he’s back now, and all the stupid stuff from the past is gone. All that’s left is this feeling I’d been trying to bury, but now I don’t have to.”
“You sound like maybe you think he’s ‘the one.’”
“’The one?’” repeated Hannah, savoring the words as she said them. “That’s funny, that’s what I used to tell my friends, even after we split up. My friends would tell me to let him go, but I would insist that we were supposed to be together. I never really did get over him, but after a while I just got on with it. Now it seems like I was right all along. Too bad I can’t look my friends in the eye and tell them they were wrong.” A look of sadness came over Hannah’s face.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you sad.”
“It’s ok, Emma. It’s all a part of this new world. We remember those that are gone, and then we get on with it. And now it’s time for me to get to bed.”
“Yeah, you look whipped. And Hannah….”
“Thanks.” Emma rested her hand on Hannah’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze.
“I didn’t do anything. Really.” With that, Hannah turned and headed down the hall toward her room. Part way there she changed her mind and turned back to the main section of the Lodge. She did want to see if she could find Cole, but did not think that she wanted Emma to follow her on her quest. Hannah found her way to the community room where the refugees were encamped. The electric had been shut off for the night and the space was lit with small flashlights and a couple of lanterns. The people that were not asleep were huddled around a table set off to one side of the room. Hannah gravitated to the table and heard Cole’s voice speaking softly to the people gathered there.
“I’m not trying to get you to do something that they won’t do,” explained Cole. Hannah could hear the exasperation in his voice, “I’m trying to give them a reason to not kick you back into the snow.”
“You keep saying they are worried about food, but they’ve seem to have enough,” opined someone.
“They have, for now,” agreed Cole. He was about to speak and then saw Hannah, standing on the edge of the light from the lamps. He sighed. “It’s late. We need to make a decision about this, tomorrow.”
She heard Billy speak up. “Sounds to me like we don’t have much of a choice; we make this raid, or we can go back to Marshal’s, or where ever.”
“Not much of a choice in my book,” groused someone. “Die fighting, or die from the cold and malnourishment.”
“If the raid is planned right--,” started Cole, trying to defend the plan he had outlined again.
Hannah stepped up and cleared her throat. “If the raid is planned right, the loss of life will be minimal.” They all turned to looked at her. She smiled at them. “It’s late. I’m taking my man with me. Say goodnight.”
There was a general murmur of consent and the people began to rise to leave, bidding her goodnight and drifting off to the sleeping cots that had been found for them. Cole and Billy stayed for a moment, watching the others as they found their beds or broke off into little groups to discuss what Cole had told them. Stepping across floor, Hannah placed a hand on Cole’s arm.
“Say goodnight, Cole.”
He gave her a smile. “Sure. See you tomorrow, Billy. We’ll see who we can get to come with us. I’ll see what help we can get from the Lodge on this little adventure--.”
“Right. Sorry.” Cole gave his friend a quick handshake and embrace and then let Hannah led him out of the room. Once in the darkness of the hall, Cole put his arm around her waist. “My man?”
Hannah leaned her head on his shoulder. “That all right with you?”
“Yes,” said Cole. “I just am surprised that it came out of your mouth so soon, is all.”
Stopping and pulling Cole to a stop, Hannah placed her hand on the side of his face, drawing him around so she could stand against him. “It’s always been this way Cole. I’m just sorry the world had to end for us to realize it.”
She kissed him and was happy to feel his returning kiss. When they pulled apart, they shared a smile.
“It’s bed time, mister, come warm the blanket up for me,” invited Hannah.
“Can’t say no to that,” sighed Cole. He let her lead him into the night.