Everything In Its Right Place

There are, right at this moment, far too many thoughts running through my head – I honestly don’t know how they’ve all managed to cram themselves in there. As I lead Emma through the snow-steeped darkness, our feet crunching noisily along the ground and the cold fusing itself to our bones, my head feels like it is going to shatter into a million pieces. So I stop.

It’s time to take care of my jumbled thoughts and I might as well start in the order they arrived.

I turn to face Emma, place my hands oh her barely visible cheeks, and plant a kiss on lips which were just parting to ask me what the hell is going on. I withdraw reluctantly, pushing down the urge to linger in a moment too long in coming, and let my hands fall to my side. She says nothing and her face is unreadable in this faint light so I move on to the next item on my list by heading back the way we had just come.

“Jeremy?” she calls after me, an unmoving shadow in the snow.

“Joel’s people are here and I want to know why. I can’t believe it’s a coincidence that they showed up where we’re meeting with Wilkerson and I think walking away without trying to find the answer would be a terrible mistake. So I’m going back to see what’s going on.”

The cloud of white fog that drifts away from her head is the only indication that she’s opened her mouth to reply but no words follow its lazy path. Instead she comes to stand at my side and we move as one back to where we spotted the waiting car. On an impulse I grab hold of her hand and take silent comfort in the contact.

The hulking vehicle returns to view as we reach the edge of the snow-laden pine trees, the woman still leaning against the driver side door. My eyes scan the park for movement, my ears strain to pick up the slightest sound, but all I hear are Emma’s teeth chattering next to me. I move to stand behind her and wrap my arms around her, mumbling something about both of us needing to keep warm. She snuggles against my chest and, despite all that has gone on and all that is surely yet to come, a steady calm settles itself onto my shoulders and I breathe a little easier.

“How do you know we can trust anything Wilkerson told you?” she asks without turning around. My stomach turns at the memory of his disfigured hand and I force down the bile that forms in my mouth.

“He had… very convincing proof that he was on the level,” I tell her. “At least in his interest in seeing Grozny go down in flames.”

Several minutes pass without any movement or sound and then, “This is insane.”

“Yeah, it is,” I tell her and close my eyes as I rest my head against the gentle fire of her hair.

“I’m glad you’re here with me. I don’t think I would have made it this far without you.”

“That’s true,” I tell her with a sad smile and I feel her stiffen slightly in my grasp. I hurry on before the misunderstanding can reach Puppy-is-my-girlfriend levels. “If it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t even be here. You’d be safe in your office, typing up exposes and digging up more dirt on the mayor. From a nice, safe distance. But now I’ve dragged you right into the middle of this mess… I’m sorry Emma. I never -“

“Jeremy, you’re being a very silly, typical male right now and it doesn’t suit you,” she says as she relaxes against me once more. I grunt in true caveman fashion and she laughs quietly. “I pulled you into this, remember? If I hadn’t sent you to that meeting between Grozny and the mayor you’d still be wandering the streets, covering ugly public buildings with your beautiful art. So stop acting like you’re responsible just because you’re a man and I’m a woman.”

“How about we agree,” I say slowly as a large figure appears on the path leading from the bandstand, “that we’re both in this by choice and that we’re only here because not being here has never been an option for either of us. Now let’s see what this is all about.”

“That’s the man who was with Wilkerson,” Emma whispers as the figure draws nearer. We watch from the cover of the trees as he passes by, at most only twenty feet away, and continues on towards the waiting car. The driver watches his approach but doesn’t seem the least bit alarmed by his presence. “What the hell…”

The man arrives at the passenger side door and the two have a brief exchange over the roof of the car, their breath colliding to form one large, drifting mass of white rising into the night sky. The driver looks toward the bandstand, shrugs her shoulders once, yanks open her door, and disappears into the car with a resounding slam. After only the slightest of pauses, the man opens the front passenger door and does the same. The engine roars to life, the car backs slowly out of the parking spot, and silence returns as the car rumbles away from us.

“It would appear,” I murmur into Emma’s ear, “that Wilkerson’s man… is also Joel’s man.”

The End

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