April 14th, 2003
I had intended to use this journal to figure out my own thoughts on whatever the hell happened up there, but it's taken two days to get back to writing it at all.
I got an email from Daphne, telling me that Curtis Creek made the Internet again, in a much bigger way. Once something happens to an aircraft, it becomes news very quickly. We still had a few reporters in town after the business with Doug Gunn, and a few websites very quickly began painting a picture.
Mayor Grady, and Sheriff Tanner closed ranks around the whole lot of us on the plane. Murray gave an interview, which was basically the same thing Mayor Grady told us; nearly word for word, in fact. The FAA said pretty much the same thing, but they were more interested in Murray than any of the passengers.
They'd warned us about the Solar Flares, said the amount of charge in the air was high. I know enough astronomy not to buy that, but it could make sense if about a dozen other things happened too. Problem is, there's no way to check on any of those things, so I have to take it one way or another on faith.
Once the Press was done, everyone else took a shot. The rumor mill in Curtis Creek was going like it never had before.
Zack and Marie are still my friends, but they're edging around conversations with me too, like they're afraid they'll set me off. The town is slightly split now. There are the people who were on the flight, and the people who weren't.
After two days, word got around that none of the passengers have a clue what happened, so nobody's actually asking questions anymore. But there are still no answers. Now it's like the way they treated Lizzie when everyone found out her father was having an affair. They walked on eggshells around her for so long.
Father Rorke looks haggard. I wonder if he's been sleeping.
It's been two days since the plane, and I haven't slept since. I just lie awake all night, staring at the ceiling, running it over and over in my head. I heard my brother slipping out and back in again once. I should have confronted him about it, but mom and dad are just barely holding it together as it is. I wake them up in the middle of the night, I don't know how they'll react.
Jake half-rose in his seat and waved over to the pilot. "Murray! Over here!"
Murray waved back, but pretended he hadn't heard the invitation, heading back out of the Diner.
"Did you want to talk to him personally, or can anyone join you?" A warm voice said in his ear.
Jake smiled without turning. "Marie. Lunch is on me today, I'm celebrating a return to sanity."
"I already ordered." Marie sat down. "Mr Washington is out of tuna, so I'm going to have a burger. Don't tell my mom?"
"I won't." Jake chuckled. "Second time in two weeks this place has run out of something. Last time that happened, he and his wife were in a fight, and he had to order the stuff himself."
Marie shrugged. "Zack's mom has been out of the picture a while. You think something's going on this time too?"
"You think we should ask Zack?" Marie asked in concern.
"No." Jake said instantly. "Nonono. It's not what you do."
"Funny thing I've noticed about small towns." Marie commented. "Everyone knows everything about each other, but they all know which subjects they're not meant to talk about. It's like a secret that everyone is in on."
Jake gave her a tight grin. "Tell me about it. Only way we can stand to live with each other, I guess."
"The Washington family is not in the middle of any drama." Marie said simply. "Or at least, that's not what caused the menu change."
"How do you know?"
Marie shrugged. "At the Clinic? The pharmacy is out of sleeping pills. I mean Sold Out."
"We can add that to the list, I guess." Jake considered that as Marie reached over the table and stole one of his fries. "Something weird is going on in this town, Marie. Did you see Murray blow me off? He's never done that before in all the time I've known him."
Marie glanced out the window at the town. "He probably thinks... I mean, the entire town is all over him, calling him the hero of the hour." She stole another bite. "He seems to be struggling with it to be honest. Never thought of him as someone who had a problem accepting praise."
Jake leaned forward. "Are you ready to be let in on one of those secrets that the whole town knows?"
"My family has only lived here seven years, when are you going to stop thinking of us as visitors to the place?" Marie asked philosophically, as though elsewhere. "Okay, tell me."
Jake glanced about. "Most of us on the plane don't buy the story Mayor Grady gave us. We weren't unconscious on that flight, we just… rubbed the bright light out of our eyes and discovered we were on the ground."
He waited for her reaction, and was surprised at how okay she was with it. "That's... interesting." She said, but her tone suggested she couldn't care in the least.
Jake took a closer look at her. She was shifting in her seat, leg bouncing nervously.
"Marie, am I keeping you from something more important?" Jake asked, nonplussed.
Marie chewed hard on her bottom lip. "Look, you know I love you, right? You were the first friend I made when I moved to this town, you were my first boyfriend, and you and Zack are family to each other..."
"And you know I like Jess." Marie said carefully. "She's a friend... Jake, I say this to you with a tremendous amount of affection. Quit chasing her."
Jake was floored. "What?"
"She's not a good match for you. I know you probably won't listen, but I'm your friend and I have to warn you: She'll never be satisfied with this town, and she's all long legs and blonde hair."
"Well... that doesn't really sound like a warning, Marie." Jake said with a tight smile. "That's actually the first thing I noticed about her."
"You and everyone else, but she'll never think of you as more than a friend. She's not dumb, but that doesn't make her good people, and I don't want to see you get your heart busted into a million pieces too." Marie pressed.
Jake's ears pricked up. "Too?"
Marie sighed. "I just want to go on the record as saying I tried." She said, raising her hands in surrender. "I warned you, and I meant it, and it was meant as nothing but looking out for one of my very best friends..."
"Okay." Jake said. "You aren't the first one to tell me not to fall for her, you know."
Marie reached put and dragged his entire plate over to her side of the table. "Jess and Pierce broke up." She said simply.
Jake was out of his seat and halfway to the door in seconds. Marie didn't even watch him go, helping herself to the rest of his lunch.
Jake didn't stop running until he reached Jess' house. One of the more expensive homes in the small town, her parents were only there only half the time. Jess' father and mother were both locals, and would never have lived anywhere else, but had become successful with several interstate clients. Their consulting work meant that they were never short of cash, but it required them to travel. Jess had the place to herself fairly often, with the exception of the cleaner, who came once a week, and her clique, who could sense an empty house suitable for a party from miles away.
As Jake came running up the steps, the door opened before he reached the porch, and Richard Connolly peeked out. "Hello, Jake." He said politely, and the look on his face was most eloquent. Thou Shalt Not Pass.
Jake skidded to a halt and didn't try for it. "How is she?"
"I'm fine." A tired voice called from inside the house. "It's okay, daddy. I wanted to talk to Jake anyway, it might as well be now."
Richard gave Jake a warning look, and the teenager gave him a nod. Message sent, message received. His daughter slipped past him, and the door shut behind her, though they didn't go any further than the porch swing. Jess patted the seat next to her, and Jake sat down, the two of them swinging silently for a while.
"You were right, and I was wrong." Jess said softly.
Jake said nothing.
Jess sniffed a little, and slid over, laying her head on his shoulder. He put an arm around her, and she held the hand in her own, glad for it.
After a moment, he couldn't stand the silence any longer. "What happened?"
"What you said in Tucson? You were right, and I think I knew it. So I told Pierce that mom and dad would be out of town for a while. They travel so often for work that he bought it. I asked him if he wanted to bring popcorn and watch a movie, and instead he brought..." She shivered. "It was a test. I wanted to see if he'd pounce, and he did, and that's when daddy came home, and Pierce was shown the door. He's lucky someone opened it for him first."
Jake said nothing, but inwardly he was turning cartwheels.
"I broke up with him." She said finally. "Pierce is a slimeball. A popular one, but he's still scum." Her face twisted. "Can you believe he did that?!"
"Yes." Jake said simply. "It's not the first time a girl dumped him for acting that way... and not all the girls that get the offer kick him out."
She swore under her breath. "Are all guys like that?"
Jake held a hand up. "If I say no, then you'll think I'm trying to score points by playing the white knight. If I say yes, you'll think I'm trying to score points by just telling you what you want to hear. I think I'll stick with 'no comment'."
Jess smiled at him, a real smile this time. "You were right about Pierce, and I knew it, even when I was sniping at you. I can almost taste how bad you want to crow about it." Jess swatted him. "Thank you for not saying 'I told you so'."
"Yeah, a part of me wants to." Jake admitted. "But it's not what you do."
Jess looked up at him, and planted a kiss on his cheek. "Dad's listening at the door right now." She whispered. "I told him you were a friend, and you were looking out for me."
Jake nodded at that.
"And you have a lousy poker face." Jess commented softly. "Every time I say the word 'friend' you look like I just slapped you." She sniffed and stood up. "You've always been good to me, Jake. But I can't. Just... Give me some time? You know?"
Jake felt like he'd lost a hundred pounds. "I know. Tell your dad I'll behave."
Jess kissed him on the other cheek and stood up. "Are we okay?"
Jake smiled. "Of course we are."
Jess smiled. "Good. I'd hate to think... This has happened before, when your friends don't approve of your boyfriends? It never ends well."
Jake sighed hard. "I'm sorry I made you feel bad back in Tucson. It was none of my business then, and it wasn't fair that I put you in that position."
Jess squeezed his hand. "Well... That's not important any more." She said. "Go home, before my dad comes out here. He's being very protective right now."
Jake stood up. "Yeah. You gonna be okay?"
Jess wiped her eyes. "I dumped him, and it was the best choice I made since I agreed to go out with the rat in the first place."
Jake smiled as Jess made her goodbyes went back inside. He calmly walked down the path, calmly began making his way back toward the Diner... And jumped up and down, waving his arms in the air ecstatically, the second he was out of sight of the house. He practically danced his way home.
I couldn't sleep that whole night. I just kept staring at the ceiling with a goofy smile on my face. The thoughts just kept swimming through my head. I was going way too far, building it up way too much, I knew.
I had the names of our first child narrowed down to a list of five, when I heard the noise coming from Ben's room. He was sneaking out again.
As much as he gets on my nerves, he is my brother, and the only one I have. I wasn't going to sleep any time soon, so I went after him. One thing Curtis Creek didn't have a lot of was crime. If he was just sneaking out to the backyard to play, it wasn't a problem. If he was sneaking out into the woods, he could fall down a ditch and hurt himself.
I didn't want to be a snitch, but I had to be sure he wasn't doing anything really dangerous. The only option left was to follow him.
Ben took his bedroom window. Jake took the stairs and went out the back door. Ben had taken his bicycle, and Jake quickly did the same.
Ben had an early lead on him, but Jake was faster, and he caught up quickly. After a few minutes, they were both well away from their home.
Ben's direction was sure. It was clear to Jake after only a moment that his younger brother was experienced at doing this. Ben wasn't just wandering around the dark, he was going somewhere specific. He was still a young boy, and hadn't gone to many places on his own. This secret route was one of experience.
Jake made every effort to move silently, but after a few minutes, he realized he didn't have to bother. Ben had his mp3 player on, and playing loud enough that Jake could hear the tinny echo of it from fifty feet back. In the quiet night it was clearly audible...
...and then Jake noticed. The night was dead silent. That never happened out in the country. There were always sounds. Nocturnal animals, owls, raccoons, crickets. But not tonight.
The last time he'd heard the night this silent was the night Doug Gunn had appeared out of the dark. The comparison was in his mind every second, wrapped around his thoughts like a poisonous snake. It gave the unnatural silence an unnatural fear, and Jake shivered violently.
The ride went on for twenty minutes, when they reached the edge of town. Curtis Creek was a small town, and the line between town and suburb, or between suburb and country was hard to define. But Ben was leaving the houses behind, heading out into the fields, toward the Bridge.
It wasn't far from the place they found Doug.
Ben turned toward the field and skidded his bike to a halt. Jake slammed on his brakes too late, and Ben saw the movement out of the corner of his eye. He spun around and found his brother had been following him, and his face twisted in fury. "What are you doing here?!"
Ben's shout was the first sound Jake had heard in twenty minutes and he jumped in shock. Fury rose to match it. "I've been following you. It's two in the morning, Ben. And it's not the first time you've-"
A bright white light flashed over them both, and Jake froze, letting out a shout of sudden panic. At the flash of unexpected light he was suddenly paralyzed for a moment. Ben vanished from his thoughts completely as he fought to breathe against the sudden panic...
A moment later, the sound of an engine reached them, and both Colbert brothers looked to see a pair of headlights coming up on them. Still shaking off the sudden wave of panic, Jake looked at Ben with open worry. "Who are you meeting here?" He demanded, the possibilities flying through his mind and giving him another shudder. They were outside of the town, well outside earshot of anyone who could help. Jake hadn't left a note for anyone, he didn't have his phone...
The sudden realization of how dangerous their situation was took his breath away, until the headlights got closer, and Jake was able to see who it was.
The Sheriff's Jeep pulled to a halt a few feet from them, and Sheriff Tanner stepped out. "Hello, Gents." He commented, and his voice was vaguely unsurprised. "You seem to be a little lost. Do your folks know you're out here?"
Jake looked at his brother, who was still in his pajamas and socks. Ben looked at his feet, like he'd been caught stealing cookies from the kitchen. The Sheriff took them both in, and sighed. "All right. You two had better come with me."
"Are we under arrest?" Ben asked innocently.
Tanner shook his head. "Son, you're not on a camping trip, are you?" He challenged. "I don't know what you're doing out here, but it's the middle of the night." He looked to Jake. "Things happen in the middle of the night, Jake. Either I drive you home, or back to the Office. Your call."
Twenty minutes later, they were sitting in the Sheriff's Office.
"I can't believe you picked the office." Ben complained. "I want to go home."
"You want the Sheriff to knock on the door at two in the morning and wake dad up?" Jake shot back. "Get him out of bed at two in the morning to find out that the Sheriff had to drop us off back at home? He'd hit the roof."
"What do you think he'll do in the morning when the Sheriff calls him to come get us?" Ben snapped back at him.
"Hey, it was your midnight stroll that got us into this." Jake argued. "And by the way, where the hell do you go at two in the morning?"
"I told you, it's a secret!"
Jake waved around the Sheriff's Office. "Got news for you little brother, I think the secret may be out." He said with biting sarcasm.
Ben didn't answer.
Jake sighed and stood up, pacing around the lobby. They hadn't been locked up, because they hadn't committed any crimes. There was nothing for it but to wait out the clock until dawn, so that their father would come pick them up.
"Don't suppose you drink coffee?" Sheriff Tanner called from his post behind the counter, where he had a pot brewing.
Jake stretched a little, leaning on the counter. "What about you? Don't you ever sleep?"
The Sheriff's only answer was to toast him with the coffee cup, and Jake paced around the small Precinct for a few minutes, when his eyes were drawn to the bulletin board on the far wall.
At the top of the board was a small handwritten sign in block capital letters. MISSING.
It was covered in so many pictures that they were tacked onto the wall around the board to find room.
I must have walked past that board a dozen times in the last year. Usually there were a few missing cat photos. A little time and a tin of sardines could have taken care of all of them.
But that night, there were dozens of photos. Hundreds of them. Some were of animals, but an inordinate amount were of people. It wasn't just kids. Faces I knew, faces I recognized. They were people I saw every day.
I must have spent half the early morning staring at the photos, feeling the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Then dad came and got us, and he did not look happy. I asked Sheriff Tanner to wait until 8am at least. My dad's never exactly civilized until his second cup of coffee.
Ben didn't tell me anything about why he was going out there, but I didn't care. Mom and Dad could tag-team him for a while, now that they knew. I had more important things to worry about, like how long I was supposed to wait before asking Jess out, the odds that she'd say yes, and what on earth we'd do on our first date if she did.
And where all these dozens of people in my town had gone.
Ben was pacing the house like a caged animal. "This sucks." He pronounced. "This never would have happened if you hadn't gotten me caught."
Jake didn't even look up from his textbook. "Actually, it never would have happened if you hadn't snuck out of the house in the middle of the night." He glanced over. "What did you tell mom and dad about that, by the way?"
"Nothing. That's why I'm grounded a week longer than you." Ben sat down at the table like his strings had been cut, and he picked up a pen absently, turning it between his fingers. Jake was about to ask him again, when Ben reached out and pulled over a small pad, starting to draw.
Jake went back to his homework. "We're going to find out, sooner or later." He told Ben.
Ben was about to answer, when the phone rang. Ben was still young enough to be excited by it, and he ran to the phone quickly. "Hello?" He grinned at Jake. "It's your gi-i-i-i-irlfriend."
Jake was out of his chair and charging Ben before he finished talking. Ben dropped the phone and bolted. Jake let him go, snatching up the handset. "Hello?"
"Hey." Jess said warmly in his ear. "I heard you got grounded, after getting arrested. If I didn't know better, I'd think that your father and mine were in cahoots."
Jake chuckled. "I'm glad you called. Apparently I lost my visitor privileges for a while."
"Should I bake you a cake with a file in it?"
"Well, if you wanted to help out, there's actually something else can do for me." Jake said with a wince. "Have you spoken to Pierce since the breakup?"
"Oh, hell no. Why?"
Jake steeled himself. "I'd like you to give him a call."
"WHAT?!" Jess shrieked.
"Jess!" Jake hissed. "There's something going on in this town, and... Last night in the Sheriff's office, I saw something... You remember when Marco went missing? He ran away from home, and his mom raised a stink because she couldn't report him missing for twenty four hours?"
"Well, after that, Sheriff Tanner put up a notice board. A place, unofficially, for people to put Missing Posters. I was in there a few weeks ago, and it includes cats and dogs... a few farm animals... Even a few bicycles. Just people and things that have been lost."
Jess was getting impatient. "Yeah? So?"
"Well, last night, I was in there and... Jess, the notice board is full of photos. It was like something out of the 9/11 footage, the entire notice board, and half the wall are covered in photos. People are missing! Dozens of them!"
Jess was stunned. "How has nobody reported this?" She demanded. "If that many people have gone missing, why doesn't the whole town know?"
"I don't know yet, but I'm stuck at home, so..."
Jess made a frustrated sound. "You're asking me to track down my ex-boyfriend and ask him for a favor less than two days after I gave him the flick."
Jake swiftly lost his nerve. "Yeah... No, you're right, it's a bad move. I shouldn't have asked."
Jess let a breath out between her teeth. "I was on the plane too, Jake. I want to know what happened during those seven minutes as bad as you do. Look, Tracy and Marie know Pierce's schedule, such as it is. They can tell me when he's away from his father's office. Sheriff Tanner found out why we broke up, so he's keeping Pierce on something of a short leash lately."
Jake couldn't help it, he burst out laughing.
"Daddy was feeling vindictive." Jess admitted with dignity. "I'll go to the Sheriff's Office when they're not there, and I'll get some names off the board, okay? See if we can find out something that way. If nobody's talking about it, maybe there's a reason. Maybe it'll help, maybe not, but it's gotta be better than any attempt at baking a cake I could make."
Jake nodded, though she couldn't see it. "Okay."
There was silence on the line for a few moments, as if each were waiting for the other to say something more. "Well... goodbye then." Jess said finally.
"Yeah, see you." Jake returned, feeling stupid for some reason.
Jess spoke up suddenly. "Oh, before I forget, I wa-" Beeeeeeep.
The phone line had dropped out mid-conversation. With a sigh, he hung up, trying to reset the line. There was no dial tone. He blinked and went to test the hall phone. There was no signal.
"JAKE!" Ben shouted from upstairs. "The TV's not working!"
With a grim smirk, Jake went to the kitchen and turned on the radio. There was only static on the line. He spun the dial, nothing but static on every frequency.
Ben came downstairs. "The TV's not working."
Jake waved at the radio. "Nothing is." He went over the wall and flipped the light switch a few times. "It's not a blackout. The power's still on."
Ben bounced up and down on his heels a moment. "What are we going to do?" He asked fearfully.
He sounded so terrified that Jake actually burst out laughing. "It's not going to kill us to go without the TV for a day." Jake thought for a moment. "Mayor Grady was talking about solar flares wiping out communications for a while. It'll be back to normal sooner or later."
Ben looked up at his older brother. "Can we play Scrabble?"
Jake reacted. "Scrabble?"
Ben nodded compulsively. "You used to play it with me all the time, to teach me words. We don't play any more."
Jake felt a knife edge of guilt go through him. It was true, he wasn't spending as much time with his little brother as he used to. "Set up the board." He said finally.
"Well, this is unusual." Deanna commented as she came into the house. "You two actually interacting without ripping each other apart."
Ben looked up from the Scrabble board. "The TV isn't working." He said with grim horror.
His mother chuckled at the revulsion in his voice, just as Jake had. "Then you two can help me bring the shopping in." She said easily.
The boys sighed. It was one of many chores they didn't enjoy, but this time it was easier, because there were only a few bags.
"Is that all of it?" Jake asked in surprise.
"Mm." Deanna agreed. "Store was out of a few things. No matter, we've got enough to last for a while. Have you two had lunch yet?"
April 21, 2003
Freedom! Free at last!
At one week from our midnight stroll, Ben and I have been sprung. Our grounding is done, and we are free. The week was made worse by the fact that the TV and Internet didn't come back. The computer works, and the CD player. But nothing with an antenna, not even the phones.
Curtis Creek isn't New York, we don't have huge local servers or hard-lines. The only connection to the outside world by hard wires is the power lines, and most of the town doesn't use the mains power.
Ben's been acting weird all week. Maybe. It's kind of hard to tell, given that I've never seen him without a television before. He was right, I haven't been spending any time with him, until this week. He's been scribbling his way through four notebooks. He never shows me what he's drawing, but I caught a glimpse of star-scapes. He's been getting me to tell him all about planets and stars and orbits... He's never shown any interest before, but we spent every night glued to the telescope.
During the day, he was such a miserable pain that mom actually cut his sentence a week short, just to get both of us out of the house.
I was glad for it. It was nice to have someone to share my sentence with, given that I didn't even have a working phone any more. The second we got sprung from the house, Ben grabbed his bike and started pedalling hard. I'm almost positive he was going back to the Bridge.
I went to the Diner.
Duke Washington saw him as soon as he came into the Diner. "Jake!" He called over. "Burger and Fries?"
"Read my mind." Jake called back, feeling the week start to fade away already. "With onion rings on the side?"
"Sorry, we're out." Zack's father waved it off. "But we both know you only order them because Zack and Marie like them, and they ain't here yet."
"Jake!" A familiar voice called. "Over here!"
Jake looked over and saw Jess, immediately making his way to join her.
"Oh, I ordered for you." Jess said brightly, and turned around in her seat to the table behind them. When she turned back, she placed a plate of plain white bread and a glass of water on the table before him.
"Bread and water." Jake made a face at her. "Funny girl."
"Turns out the Missing Persons thing was a wash." Jess told him. "I went to the Sheriff's Office, and I looked up a couple of the photos that I recognized?" She took a bite of her salad. "I went to their places, and they were all there."
Jake blinked. "Really?"
"Turns out they just... wandered off. You know this town, it's too small to lose anyone, so somebody goes out of sight for a while, and their families start asking questions. Sheriff says it happens a lot, parents get nervous, come into his office. He tells them that he can't act for 24 hours, so he put the board up. Sheriff says they put the photos up, and forget to take them down again. No conspiracy, just lazy people."
"You believe him?"
"No reason not to. I went out and saw a couple of people who are on that board as it is. Plus, Sheriff Tanner's been pretty good to me after what happened with his son." Jess said lightly. "I bet if I played it right, I could get Pierce's Jeep."
There was a pause, and they both cracked up laughing. It went on for far longer than it should have. Then Jess breathed in another gulp of air and accidentally snorted, which just set them off again. They were drawing stares from the rest of the Diner, but neither of them cared.
Mister Washington came over with Jake's order, and put the burger and fries down in front of him. He looked from the two cackling teenagers, to the plate of bread and water, then back to the two of them. "It wasn't that funny, was it?"
And that just set them off cackling again. Zack's father sighed and went back to the kitchen, shaking his head lightly at their antics.
Finally, Jake settled. "God, all week I've been expecting to go outside and discover most of the town was gone, and it turns out this was all in my head the whole time."
"More or less." She said gamely. "Notice anything interesting about my lunch?"
He glanced at her salad. "Rabbit food."
She rolled her eyes. "No Ranch dressing. Vinegar and olive oil." She explained patiently. "It's the only kind of dressing they've got left in the Diner."
Jake felt the burger turn cold in his stomach. He looked around the Diner with fresh eyes. People were eating fries, burgers, salads...
He swallowed thickly. "All the stuff we grow in town. Taters, veg..."
"Millie sold one of her cows to the Diner this morning to make burgers. Second time she's done that this week. The food's not coming to this Diner from outside town any more."
Jake looked at the rest of his burger like he was expecting it to vanish into thin air any second. "For a minute there I thought you were telling me things were fine."
The bell at the Diner door opened, and Jake glanced over Jess' shoulder to see Zack and Marie strolling in. They saw him and smiled, then they noticed he was sitting with Jess, and quickly retreated without a word, sneaking back a few tables to watch avidly from a safe distance.
"Ohh, I didn't say everything was fine." Jess told him quickly, not noticing their friends come in behind her. "For one thing, you know Toni's ATV? Pierce towed it back and checked it out? It's fine. The fuel, the battery... It started right up and was working perfectly. Toni says she tried to get it started three times when she crashed, but it only started working again when they got it back to town."
Jake looked perturbed. "Like the flashlight at the corn."
"Oh good, I was hoping that someone else would think that." Jess said in relief. "Our minds are falling into perfect sync."
"Can you guess what I'm thinking right now?" Jake teased.
"Nothing I'd say out loud." She shot back, and they both flushed. The sudden silence lasted a lot longer than it should have, becoming awkward all too quickly.
"I suck at flirting." Jake sighed finally, as if that were a worthy excuse.
"Me too." Jess admitted.
"You're a gorgeous blonde. You don't need to flirt, you just need to show up." Jake waved it off, when his memory caught up and he caught the flash of hurt across her face. Dolt! Idiot! He raged at himself. She just got done with dumping Pierce over that exact topic, and you go and... Aloud, he tried to back-pedal. "Not that you... I mean, not that I..." He hung his head. "Sorry."
Jess said nothing, staring at her plate.
"...wait." Jake said suddenly. "That line about our minds in sync... Were you flirtin' with me?"
"Doing a good job, wasn't I?" Jess sighed, her blush going a shade darker, and spreading down her neck. "I didn't mean to flirt, exactly. I guess I was just testing out... Can we change the subject now please?"
Jake leaned forward a little. "I would have asked you out, but there are rules. It's part of the Guy Code. You don't ask a girl who's less than a week out of a breakup. Two weeks maybe." He shrugged. "I hate Pierce as much as you do right now, and I've been hating him longer, but still: Guy Code."
There was a long heavy silence. Jake was waiting for Jess to say something, but she was just staring at the table, her expression shifting slightly.
Jess looked up at him finally. "Jake..." She said awkwardly. "Any girl would be lucky to have you as a boyfriend, but..."
"But." Jake repeated the all-important word under his breath, low enough that she barely heard it.
"...We have a really good relationship already." Jess said softly. "I don't want to mess that up. I know I'm selling you cliche's right now, but I can't think how else to say it: You've always been really good to me, and I won't forget that. But I'm still... recovering, after Pierce, and right now you're the only teenage male I trust." She reached out and took his hand in hers. "I love you to bits, but as a-"
Don't say it. Don't say it. Don't say it.
Argh. Jake felt a spike go through him.
"Have I just ruined everything?" Jess asked him, eyes shining with held back tears.
"Hey, there!" Marie said brightly, her sudden proximity and noise making both of them jump. She and Zack had all but charged the table, and sat themselves down to join the two strained 'friends', making as much noise as possible as they did so. The near-Invasion broke the tension nicely.
"So, what are we talking about?" Zack asked, as though he didn't already know.
"We were just talking about the fact that this town seems to have been stuck in the 1930's all week." Jake offered, grateful for the interruption.
"I know, a whole week without television." Zack agreed sagely. "I don't know why I haven't gone mad and thinned out the neighborhood already."
"Depending on who you ask, the neighborhood has been thinned out for a while now." Jess responded, eyes clear again, and the hint of a smile forming on her face.
"She tell you about the ATV?" Marie asked Jake. "Because that was a good half mile on the other side of the Bridge, nowhere near the cornfield."
"I've tried to look it up." Jess offered. "I went through the library, looking for clues about places where electronics didn't work? Zack told me about places where phones can't transmit to cell towers or whatever? They call them Dead Zones. But that doesn't explain why a flashlight or an ATV would turn off."
Zack licked his lips. "Well... I've heard of magnetic fields doing it. Maybe the solar thing? All the communications are off the air."
"Maybe, but that doesn't explain why there."
"A mystery." Jake admitted.
Jess drained her soda. "I'm gonna get a refill. Anyone else want one? I'm buying."
The others made their orders, and Jess left the table for a moment. Zack leaned over. "I tried to tell Marie that we shouldn't get into it, but you were three sentences away from her never speaking to you again."
"Your timing could not have been better." Jake admitted.
"We were halfway across the room, and I swear I could see the exact moment she ripped your heart straight out of your chest." Marie said with open sympathy. "Don't worry. You'll win her over eventually. Give it time."
Jake appreciated that Marie was making an effort, especially since she'd already declared herself to be against a relationship with Jess, but did not feel at all better for it. "Zack, educate your girlfriend, please."
Zack nodded sagely at Marie. "No man has ever escaped the Friend-Zone. It can't be done. It's easier to get out of the Bermuda Triangle."
"The best relationships start with friendships." Marie insisted.
"All two of them. Marie, the second we became friends you stopped wanting to date me." Jake shot back.
"And thank God for that." Zack toasted.
Jess returned a moment later with a full soda in a travel cup. "So, what did I miss?"
"We were just telling Jake that the same thing was happening on the other side of town with the speaker system in Zack's dad's car." Marie changed the subject skilfully, as though they'd been speaking of that the entire time. "We were driving past the old flour mill yesterday, and the CD player fritzed out when we went past it."
"What were you two doing that far out of town?" Jake asked with a grin, and both Marie and Zack looked innocently back at him. "Yeah, all right, stupid question. Better question: Where else in town has turned into a Dead Zone this week?"
"You like that?" Jess said with a toothy grin. "You're gonna love this."
Jess led them all across the Main Street of Curtis Creek, from the Diner to the Supermarket.
The shelves were bare.
Jake felt his jaw drop open at the hinges. "When did this happen?"
Marie looked over his shoulder into the market, the four of them together in the doorway. "I have no idea when it happened. It's been getting worse for weeks at least."
Zack nodded. "My dad's been changing the menu for two weeks now. We're running out of stuff at the Diner. Small stuff mainly, but... look around the store. The veg comes from inside town, the salt and stuff comes in on trucks. There's bread, because the town makes it, there's relish, because the town makes it... Jake, the trucks haven't come in since last week." Zack's voice had lowered, like he was afraid of being overheard. "You know how the trucks come into town early? Newspapers, meat, soft drink... I sign for the shipments. I have to sleep at the Diner, the truck gets there so early, but it hasn't arrived in over a week."
The shopkeeper, an older lady with steel gray eyes looked over at them. "Are you coming in or not?" She challenged.
The team stepped into the Supermarket quickly, wandering out of her sight line. She'd been the storekeeper for longer than any of them had been alive, and was convinced that anyone under thirty who came into her store was really a shoplifter.
"How have I not heard about this from my folks?" Jake breathed. "Has your dad called the shipping company?"
"Called them three times, and never got a dial-tone. Can't email them, fax machine at the Post Office doesn't work..." Marie put in before Zack could. "Ditto with the market, with the petrol station, with the newsagent... The entire town is off the air, and has been for a week."
Zack chimed in with a nod. "Two weeks ago, the rest of the world didn't seem so... far away."
Jake felt something cold growing in his stomach again. "Who else?"
"Who else knows, or who else depends on trucks from outside town?" Marie asked him logically. "Because a lot of businesses get shipments in for at least some of their products... And everyone knows. The Mayor's Office has been fending people off all day."
"Have to feel for the Mayor." Jake offered. "First Dougie Gunn, then Crop Circle Hoax, then the Plane..."
"Oh, that reminds me." Zack piped up. "We went out to see Maggie Gunn while you were grounded."
The three of them shivered at the mention of the old woman.
Jake smirked a little. "Glad I missed that. How's Doug?"
"Still under ten." Jess mumbled awkwardly. "We did get one interesting bit of information though. Turns out she's the one that keeps planting the Cornfield out by the Bridge."
Jake blinked. "You're kidding? My whole life that's been a question mark that nobody bothered to answer, and you're telling me it's the work of Maggie Gunn? She lives on the opposite side of the town!"
"And she goes out of her way to make sure that the cornfield stays exactly how it is, year after year." Zack put in behind them.
"Why?" Jake asked with open confusion. "I mean, did she say why?"
"She said she wanted it to be that way for Doug." Marie said softly. "For when he came back. It's insane. It's absolutely insane."
"It worked." Jake offered.
The four of them were dead silent for a long time, wandering among the empty shelves in an empty Supermarket. It was hard not to feel like they were walking in a ghost town, speaking in hushed tones so that the Ghosts wouldn't hear them.
"Town Meeting tonight." Jake said finally. "You guys planning to go?"
Everyone nodded, but Zack was wringing his hands. "Guys, what exactly do we plan to do about it? I mean, if any of us can see it happening, then so can other people. It's not really our business. We're not even out of high school yet..."
"HEY KIDS!" The storekeeper yelled. "If you're not going to buy anything, then I'd appreciate you not loitering around looking like you plan to steal something."
The four of them all rolled their eyes automatically. "There's nothing back here to steal!" Jess called back. "What are you worried about?"
Nevertheless, they made their way back toward the door, heading out into the street. "Zack." Jake picked up the thread of their conversation. "You're right about us not being in charge around here, but it's our problem as much as anyone else's. We live here, same as they do. If nobody brings it up, you better believe I'm going to."
I needn't have worried.
There were more people in the Town Hall that week than I can ever remember seeing. They were wall to wall in the Main Hall. The room was dead silent, every eye on the Town Council, more specifically, on the Mayor. The usual feeling of town camaraderie was absent, and everywhere I looked, it felt like people were holding their breath.
Every one of these Meeting's that I've been to, Mayor Grady would open with some nice story about something going on in the town. He was like a father, or at the very least a favorite uncle to everyone in that room. He knows everyone's kids, the games they like to play and he'd have us smiling warmly at each other in the first five minutes.
This was different.
I remember after 9/11, there was a sense of numbness. The whole country was looking for words to say, and as far as I can remember, Mayor Grady was the only one that found words that made Curtis Creek feel better. The same sort of feeling was in the room now, like the whole town was under siege.
Except this time we don't know who was doing it. Curtis Creek was suddenly on the edge of the world. We couldn't even talk to anyone beyond the Bridge.
"Now, folks," Mayor Grady began. "I know you probably want to-"
"It started with the Plane, didn't it!" A voice called from the back, and Jake didn't see who. "It's all from that damned plane that should have crashed!"
Jake felt his jaw drop open at the sound of voices crying out in agreement, suspicious eyes glancing over at him without pity.
"Now hold on, Gard!" Mayor Grady shouted over them. "That Plane wasn't the cause of anything, it was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. If Murray hadn't been able to get it on the ground, and everyone on board had died, would you still blame it then?"
Jake's father gripped his hand tightly. "Don't listen to them."
"I'm not." Jake whispered. "Does... Do people really think this?"
His father shushed him, and Jake returned his attention to the Town Council.
"Until further notice, the town will have to go on rationing." Mayor Grady said. "I know this is an unpopular thing to say, but we have no supplies coming in. No fuel, no gas, no oil. There will be no coal coming in for heat... I'm told that we're starting to run low on fuel at the gas station."
A murmur went around the room at that.
Mayor Grady looked heavily at his town. "Guys, we're pretty good at looking out for ourselves, but there are some things we simply cannot do. It is not the middle of winter, we can stretch our heating supplies a long time. We've all got fresh food on our tables, but we're going to run low on things we can't grow. We can sustain ourselves just fine, but to maintain the standard of living we are used to, we have to find out the reason for the stoppage of supplies into Curtis Creek. Due to the solar flares, we can't just call or fax..."
"This isn't Solar Flares!" Jake shouted.
For a moment, it was hard to tell who was more stunned by the shout. Jake actually looked around at his family, who were staring at him in disbelief. Jake had to check their reactions just to make sure he was the one that shouted. Did I just do that? Okay, it seems I did...
"Something you want to add to the conversation, Jake?" Mayor Grady seemed amused.
Long silence. Jake heard the blood roaring in his ears again as he stood up, and every eye drilled into him. "I... I was just saying, that solar flares wouldn't make all this stuff happen. It wouldn't stop trucks coming into town..."
"Of course not." Mayor Grady said agreeably. "But it would stop us from simply making a phone call. Without that, we have to send someone to find out what would cause a supply stop."
It was a reasonable, easy-going, unconcerned response that made sense when someone the town loved and respected said so out loud. Jake felt the entire town staring at him still, and quite suddenly lost his nerve. Slowly, he dropped back into his seat.
"As I said, the town will go on rationing." Mayor Grady said, as though there was no interruption. "Sheriff Tanner will have authority over essentials such as heating supplies and fuel, you can all co-ordinate with him." He took them all in with one of his warm looks. "We're all family here, we're not hoarding, we're not profiteering. This is all going to blow over, and we only have to make it as easy and as comfortable for as many people as possible until it does. In the morning, we're getting some fuel together and sending the town Co-Op reps out to find out what cut the supply line, and how long it will take for the phone lines to be restored."
Jake sent a quick glance over to Jess, sitting with her family. Several years before, the town had come to the attention of several large corporations who wanted to buy out everyone's farms. The Connollys had organized everyone into a Community Co-Op that had shared their resources and their produce among the locals. It had saved them from ruin. Ever since, the Connollys were the town's representatives with the supply chains, and did most of the work organizing farming equipment and fertilizer and sales costs...
"Until then, we've got plenty of everything we need." Grady continued. "Let's face it guys, the only things we need to get from outside are luxuries. By the time this is over, we'll barely notice we missed much at all."
A hand went up at the back of the room. It was Marie.
"Yes, Miss Porter, y-"
"AAAH!" Someone yelped, and the entire town erupted, reacting to the sudden shout of panic. The Main Hall exploded into movement, as hundreds of townsfolk started clawing and trampling to get closer to the windows.
I don't know who saw it first, but at some point we all got a good long look. It was a panic reaction, the kind of scream you hear in all the horror movies when something suddenly jumps out at the hero, and it turns out to be a stray cat.
I was knocked forward by the sudden crush of people as they rushed to the windows. Ben got sent sprawling. I tried to fight my way through to him, but dad got there first. The sudden scramble was insane. It was like we were all trying to run, but there was nowhere to go.
Eventually though, the doors burst open and we were able to get outside. The sky was on fire. Not literally of course, but that was my first thought. The night sky was lit up brightly with an unearthly green glow, which stretched from horizon to horizon, flowing in gentle waves, as if caught by a breeze.
I've only ever seen the Northern Lights on television. They happen in far north Alaska, not in the Midwest. It could be happening all across the world right now. Mayor Grady said something like this would happen, so who knows? I still can't get a signal on anything, so it could be happening in Australia too, for all I know.
Mayor Grady had us all under control quickly. Once everybody was outside, getting a good look, the panic suddenly stopped, replaced with a sense of deep unease. They sky isn't supposed to be bright green, especially at night. But then we looked back at the Town Hall, and there was Mayor Grady, with a soft smile on his face. He held out his hands and cooled as all down... Then sent us all home.
Zack, Jess, Marie and I all met up outside the Town Hall a few minutes later. More than half the town was staying in the Square, like the Aurora was a fireworks show. I don't know if they were embarrassed about the show of panic, or if the Mayor was just that convincing, but the night was half as bright as day, and my folks were willing to let me hang out for a while.
The near mob scene at the Town Hall scared me. These people are my friends, my neighbors. I know all their names, and they were shoving each other aside like they were nothing. People who knew each other and had seen each other through everything, but you put them together in a room too small to handle the numbers and give us all a shock? Instant crush of people.
But what I remember most, is that my family, and Zack, Jess and Marie? They didn't seem the least surprised at the reaction. I've been locked away in my house for a week. How did this fear grow in my town so quickly?
The town had split up into families or friends, finding places to study the mysterious effect at their leisure. The four friends made their way toward the Diner, as Zack had a shift there as a waiter.
Nobody said anything for a while, as Zack brought their plates over and sat down. Pizza slices, burgers, fries... Jess had a chicken salad.
"Enjoy the pizza." Zack said quietly as he set it down. "That was the last of the pepperoni we had stored."
"Add it to the list." Jake and Marie chorused absently.
The three of them ate silently, as Zack looked around the Diner, realizing they were alone. He sat down next to his girlfriend. Marie pulled his arm around her neatly, and settled into him. With Jess six inches to his left and entirely out of reach, it was a comfortable affectionate pose that made Jake ache inside.
Through the windows, they could see people leaning out on their windowsills, sitting on their rooftops, anywhere that would give them a good view of the light show playing out in the sky.
"Well, I guess the Solar Flare idea has been proven at least." Zack sighed, the relief clear in his voice. "Isn't Aurora whatever caused by that? Static electricity, or something?"
"High altitude static discharge." Jake corrected absently. "Like when you build up a charge by running your feet through carpet. The air gets juiced up, and it makes a zap. Electrons in the sky get excited, release energy to stabilize."
"Can solar flares do that?" Jess asked.
"Yup... but the atmosphere is supposed to be thick enough to block that out, which is why you only see it way up north." Jake was looking out the window, and didn't notice when Jess promptly reached out and grabbed some of his fries.
"Jess, if you wanted to eat fries, why didn't you order some?" Zack asked her.
"I'm a size two, I can't order fries." Jess explained.
"Yeah, but you keep eating mine." Jake pointed out without looking.
"Well, you should probably expect that by now." Jess nodded, not getting the point. "Oh my God, Marie; are you actually going to eat that whole slice of pizza?" Her tone was not teasing or insulting. It was blatantly envious.
"I was planning to... and then have another." Marie said with open amusement.
A low chuckle went around the table, but Jake didn't even hear it, staring up at the sky as though it was his mortal enemy.
"What are you thinking, Jake?" Marie asked, seeing his face.
"Well, I was in the library, looking up solar flares in old newspapers? Nothing local, but there was something in a Baltimore newspaper microfilm, about something called Coronal Mass Ejection." Jake was silent a moment, trying to dredge the details up from his memory. "The entire continent got the Aurora, just like we are now. But that was back in 1859. They called it the Carrington Flare. Compasses went haywire, telegraph machines electrocuted people, telegraph wire... exploded, set off bushfires all over Europe."
Zack just looked at him. "And?"
"Well, the telegraphs blew up because that much energy in the air disrupted the electronics, and back then the only electronic gizmo around was the Morse Code telegraph. If that had happened now... If The Carrington Flare had hit today, we've got a whole planet full of stuff totally dependent on electronics. If it all fried..."
The four of them froze, putting this image together in their heads.
"It would explain why we can't get anyone on the phone. Forget our radio tower, the whole northern hemisphere would be offline. And if everything shut down, getting supplies to Curtis Creek would become a low priority, which would explain why all the shelves are going bare..."
"No." Marie said suddenly. "If that had happened, it would have knocked out the power too."
The simple, logical response cooled everyone's growing panic by about ten degrees.
"So you believe it now?" Zack asked softly. "The official story about the Plane?"
He wasn't just asking about Jake's opinion of the Plane Incident. He was asking if there was any reason to keep digging into scary things that didn't make sense.
Do I want to keep going? Jake asked himself.
Jake traded a look with Jess. They were the only ones in the conversation that we're actually on the plane. The Town Meeting had been a logical response. Without quoting science, without confusing anyone, without even mentioning the plane at all, Mayor Grady had calmed the town, organized the citizens, gotten everyone on his side, reminded them who was in charge and made the unexplained mysteries look like silly ramblings of scared children. But he and Jess were the only ones of the group that had actually been on the Plane.
Jake looked the question to Jess. Do we keep going?
Jess bit her lip. "The reasons all make sense, Jake." She said softly. "The lights in the sky... it all fits, except for the plane. And even that... I've never been on a plane that got struck by lightning before. I've never... I don't know what I'm talking about when I say it doesn't make sense. And neither do you, because if you did, you would have said something in there when everyone was staring at you. Solar Flares do make lights flash in the sky. Solar Flares do knock out phones and radio signals." The implication was clear. She was ready to let it go.
Jake suddenly felt surrounded. All his friends were looking at him, waiting for him to smile and make a joke. Something honest and self-deprecating, which would release them from the fearfulness that had been building for the last week. The Mayor had managed to calm the whole town, and now his three closest friends were waiting for him to do the same for them.
"So, what do you think?" Zack asked softly.
"I think Mayor Grady is hiding something." Jake said, and everyone tensed again.
Zack looked at him. "What?"
"How should I know? He's hiding it well." Jake retorted.
The four of them looked up at the glowing sky.
"Look, it's not like we're doing an X-Files thing here, we're not secret agents." Marie said finally. "We've been observing our town, and noticing things that are off. Most of them have perfectly rational explanations, and it's not like we're the only ones that noticed."
"She's right. It's not up to us." Zack said quickly. "And besides, if we did get into it... I highly doubt the Mayor would do something based on our say so. What could he do anyway?"
It was a fair question, and one that nobody had an answer to.
"Especially if Jake's announcement at the Town Meeting tonight was any indication." Jess put in. It was enough to get them all laughing. Jake felt his face burn a little, but he smiled too.
"It's late." Marie said after a while. "I should get back."
Zack checked his watch. "Yup. Closing time. You guys head out, I'll have to clean up in here for a while."
Marie rose from her seat and started stacking chairs. "I'll help you."
Jess looked enviously at the pizza crusts and yawned. "Mm. Dad's probably wondering where I am."
"I'll walk you home." Jake offered, pretending not to notice the slight smirks from Zack and Marie.
They walked slowly, the ghostly glow playing over the whole street, making the shadows long and haunting. Jess was shivering, and Jake clamped down on the urge to offer her his jacket. It would have been a nice gesture. One that she would probably turn down.
"Zack." Jess said, managing to fit a whole conversation into the sound of his name.
"He's not lazy, and he's not weak." Jake defended his friend instantly. "He's... timid. It's gotten him in trouble once or twice, and it's cost him a few good things in his life. But to be fair... it's protected him more than it's hurt him."
Jess said nothing for a while. "You called him timid, but he's not timid, he's scared." She said finally. "I am too."
Jake nodded. "So am I, but not as much as I was a few days ago."
"I remember when I was a kid..." Jess said softly as they walked. "I remember looking up at the sky, and it actually scared me. I asked my dad what was past the sky, and he said there wasn't anything. The sky goes on and on. I remember I was scared of it, I kept looking up at the moon like it was going to land on me..." Her breath misted the air. "Then the next day the clouds came over, and it started to rain. You'll think this is silly, but I wasn't so worried about the sky any more. It was like it was coming down to my level."
Jake smiled broadly. "I love the rain too."
They didn't say anything for a while.
"Jess?" Jake said finally. "Yesterday at the Diner, were you testing the waters? You opened with an attempt at flirting, but you jumped straight to us being friends. Were you... testing to see if there was something... there?"
Jess said nothing, tucking her hair behind her ear nervously. "Maybe."
Jake sighed. "I missed my chance, didn't I?"
"Maybe." Jess said softly. "Maybe I was the one that missed it. Maybe I'm just... Maybe tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" Jake said carefully. "Tomorrow I want to go out to the cornfield. Mayor Grady said someone was going out of town to find out what's going on, and I plan to be out there near the Bridge when they go."
"We know who he's sending." Jess offered. "It's my parents. Dad's done a lot of deals in the city, got a better price for the market on a lot of our goods... The people we need to help us fast know my mom and dad the best... but why do you want to go out there?"
"Because the Bridge is right near the cornfield, where all this started." Jake said. "And if something is going happen, I want to see what it is."
Jess yawned. "Well, I guess I'm going with you, then."
By this time they had reached her house, and climbed the stairs to the front door. She turned to face him. "Thanks for walking me home."
Jake nodded, just waiting for her to go inside... but she didn't. The moment stretched, and Jess made no effort to open the door. Jake stayed right where he was on the top step.
Tension. The word filtered into his mind slowly. She wants to be friends, don't be weird about this. Don't make this weird... wait, why is she nervous too? She's not looking away, oh God if I don't blink soon my eyes are going to start watering, oh man, don't start shedding tears Jake, somebody do something, Jake say some words, just stop with the staring...
The porch light switched on and the front door opened. Jess' father stuck his head out. "Do you know what time it is?"
"Yessir." Jake said automatically, then flushed. "Sorry Jess, that question was probably directed at you."
"I'd say so." Jess smirked. "Thanks for walking me back."
Jake shrugged. "It's not exactly dark out."
Jess smiled and went inside. Jake and Mr Connolly took stock of each other for a moment, before Jake spoke again. "Good luck tomorrow, finding out about... where the rest of the world went."
The older man snorted. "We've made the trip before. My wife and I will be back before dinner."
Jake wisely said nothing to that, because a part of him didn't think it would be that easy.
It's weird, the way the sky made me feel tonight. The Aurora cast everything in a ghostly green light. You live in the country, and green is everywhere you look. I remember the last family trip to the city, there was nothing natural there, just buildings and concrete and glass. In Curtis Creek, there is green over everything. It's the most natural color around, right up until summer, when the harvest comes in. The cotton is white, the wheat is gold, the apples are red... A whole rainbow lives in our town, with green as its start and end point.
But that night, when it should have been dark, there was an unnaturalness to the green glow of the sky, shining over everything.
I still can't sleep. I don't know if it's the fact that the windows are glowing green, or wondering if I've got a shot with Jess any more. But I just checked Ben's room. My younger brother has slipped out again. I don't want to turn him in. The last time I got into this, I got arrested.
At least tonight he can see where he's going.
Jess' parents are leaving tomorrow to find out, and to be honest, the strongest emotion is relief that she dumped Pierce before they left her alone in that great big house for a day.
A Note From The Author: I hope you're all enjoying 'The Jake Colbert Testimony' in it's serialised format. If you'd like to read the whole thing at once, and take it with you, you can buy the whole book here in eBook and Paperback Format.