Book III: Chapter 7: The Lost Bird
Refugee Camp in Langley Park,
Outside Arlington, Virginia
Thursday, September 20, 2063
Flanked by their rescuer escorts, Jeremy Brooks walked before Hunter as they plodded into a clearing, climbing laboriously onto a small rise, they surveyed the scene laid out before them: Tens of thousands of people in thousands of tents that were sprawled across the relatively flat expanse at the heart of the park like a city. Hundreds of trails, some of them like the streets of a town, wound their way between the rows and columns of tents, forming a grid-like pattern, stretching down to the Potomac River that formed a backdrop in the distance. They were facing the main thoroughfare now.
As they started down the hill, Jeremy Spotted several people he knew.
Then, as they began to ascend a second, smaller rise, he saw her.
Katherine Janney was talking with what was apparently the camp leadership.
She was dressed in a heavy, yet unzipped, dark-navy-blue sport coat over a silvery-white blouse; unbuttoned to the fifth button and with the sleeves rolled up; which Brooks saw; to his surprise; was soaked with sweat, even in the wintry temperatures; and a pair of beige cutoff jean shorts, tight-fitting, but with baggy legs. Her bright reddish-brown hair, normally copper, wavy and curled over her shoulders, hung in long reddish-auburn brown, tangled waves that spilled over her shoulders.
She looked like hell, Brooks thought briefly in the back of his mind, as they crested the second rise; but he shunned such thoughts away, so glad was he to even see her.
Katherine Janney was just wrapping up a conversation with the camp chief of operations.
Leaving the camp leadership to talk, she tuned out the discussion.
Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a lone bird as it flew high over her head, a brown speck against the deepening blue.
In that moment, as she watched the bird fly in wide circles overhead, she thought of Jeremy, how it reminded her of his eyes, and tears began to well up in hers. The party that she had sent out to look for the two men had given no report in days, but was due back anytime soon, whether they found them or not. Still, even as she felt her heart sink, the bird somehow gave her an odd sense of hope. Her mind rebelled, trying to dismiss it. ‘It’s just a lost pigeon.’ She thought to herself.
They had been showing up everywhere around the world ever since the quake in June. Her advisors thought that it might have something to do with the magnetic poles of the Earth.
Her mind rambled on in this way for several minutes as she watched the bird wheel over her head.
Then, as the bird came nearer once more, her mind snapped back to the present, to reality, with a revelation literally out of the blue; ‘No,’ she thought suddenly, ‘It wasn’t a pigeon at all’, she realized; ‘It was a dove.’ This realization struck her at first as being irrelevant, and her analytical mind again attempted to dismiss it as such.
Nonetheless, she watched the bird more intently now. As the dove arched around again and flew away, toward the edge of the camp, across the main street, and the hill beyond, her eyes tracked it.
Then, as the dove gradually disappeared into the darkening twilight, she lowered her gaze to the hill, and saw, standing there; leaning on his walking stick like an elderly gentleman would a cane, a man.
He was dressed half-raggedly, in clothes that made him look as if he had just been through the eye of a hurricane.
Nevertheless, there was no mistaking that caring, if more than a bit weary, smile and the glimmer in those eyes that were fixed solidly on her, locking on hers as she gazed at him.
Her mind, a machine to difference in probability, tried to reject the obvious conclusion as being impossible; to tell her brain, and, more importantly, her heart, that her eyes must be mistaken.
But then she saw the caring in his eyes, and all apprehension fled.
She saw his mouth moved, forming a single word. Whether his voice was carried away by a sudden flurry of wind, or whether he mouthed the word silently, to himself, it was clear that t echoed his own thoughts. The word was unmistakable: “Kate”.
In that moment, she knew who the man must be.
When she saw him, her face lit up. She didn’t even bother to excuse herself as she turned and ran toward the hill, and he hurried, as much as was possible, to meet her.
They met halfway up the hill.
She didn’t even slow as she ran straight to him and swung her arms around him, burying her face in his shoulder, her joyous tears soaking through his fleece to warm his shoulder.
In spite of his exhaustion, and that he hadn’t yet become accustomed to the intimacy displayed, he couldn’t help himself, he wrapped his arms around her sides, his hand gripping her shoulders as he pulled her even closer, pressing her to him.
He sought her out, and their lips finally met, then melded, it was a kiss of mutual elation, of gladness to be alive and a passion for life, and of a quixotic passion for one another that had been gradually building to a breaking point. Their lips melded, parted, and then molded again, and it was seemingly an eternity before they finally parted.
“Oh Jeremy!” She cried, calling him by his first name. She repeated his name, half laughing, half-sobbing, as she crushed him to her.
He kissed her, from her lips to her ear, to her neck, and down her throat as she swung her face up to the nearly cloudless sky, her eyes closed, face aglow, smiling through her tears of joy.
Someone tapped them on the shoulder, and Jeremy turned his head to look, his cheek resting for the moment on her chest, to see Jason Hunter, clearly uncomfortable at having interrupted their moment of passion.
Jeremy massaged the president’s shoulders as they finally parted, Kate opening her eyes and turning to face her National Security Advisor expectantly, though her eyes; for the moment; did not leave Jeremy.
Instead, another, deeper voice then piped up from behind Jason.
“Madam President,” and they all turned to see Leo Pierce standing, hands knotted, but clearly fiddling, behind his back. He too seemed evidently uncomfortable having to interrupt their first moment together. He cleared his throat; “We believe we have someone you will want to see.”
The President rolled her eyes, but her Chief Secret Service Agent’s vagueness admittedly intrigued her. She looked at Jeremy apologetically, kissed him once more, and then turned to follow her Agent Liaison, still gripping Jeremy’s hand firmly in hers.
As they neared the center of the camp, pierce stopped, but he waved them forward, saying something into his earpiece.
Kate looked at Jeremy, who shrugged, and looked around her.
Then, as she watched, the bustling column of people leading into the center of the camp parted, and Katherine Janney realized that today was going to be a day of boundless joyous surprises.
There, flanked by two of the president’s own Secret Service detail, stood Julia Gates Allen.
She was wearing her dark blue sequined tube tank top and knee-length black skirt, with silk mesh leggings and silvery elevated-heel shoes. Although she was dressed as if she had just come from a dance; like nearly everyone else at the refugee camp, she looked like she had been through hell and back: The bottom of her skirt was torn short, and the halter strap of her top had come undone, the thin; normally nearly invisible; backup shoulder straps hanging down her arms. Her dark reddish-ebony-brown hair, normally done straight and spilling over her shoulders, hung down her back in long shocks and tangles. She had her arms crossed over across her chest, leaning back on one foot; the other leg held out, with a nasty looking cut down the side of her shin, and with a bruise that snaked around her thigh; as her darkish mother-of-pearl eyes scanned the crowd of people all around her, before glancing back perplexedly at her escorts.
Then she found someone she not only recognized, but also knew, and her eyes brightened. She blinked and shook her head to clear it, and looked again.
‘It couldn’t be her’, their minds seemed to chorus.
But it was, and Julia ran, partly limping, forward crying “Aunt Kate!” Then she wrapped her arms around the taller woman’s middle and buried her face in her bosom. “My Gods, it really is you!”
Kate was so shocked; both by this sudden reversal of her fortunes and her Jewels’ exuberant reaction, that at first she could do nothing but only hold her niece. Then she took the young woman’s face, gently, in her hands, wiping away a stray tear with a thumb; crooning: “Here, now, let me have a look at you, Hon.” She stared at her niece’s face, gazing into her now-shining eyes and stroking her cheeks, running her fingers through the teen’s dark hair, smoothing out the tangles; enjoying a moment of intimate mother-daughter-like contact that had not occurred in far too long. Then she released Julia’s face, which she promptly buried in the President’s shoulder; and this time, Kate put her arms around her niece and squeezed her gently, crushing the young woman to her as they both half-laughed, half-sobbed, Kate running a hand though Julia’s hair, kissing her cheeks and forehead.
Jeremy Brooks watched this reunion with compassion, contentedness, and no small bit of satisfaction. It did not bother him as much as he might have thought it would; barely at all really; to see the women he now realized he loved show the same and equal passion with this young woman who she’d showed with him just a few minutes before.
Katherine Janney had often been close to weeping with frustration during the past weeks.
Then, as if from thin air, came this man that she had come to care deeply for, perhaps even to love, and she had sobbed in her elation at his triumphant return to her; And then, out of the blue, her beloved niece had also been returned to her, and she felt like weeping all over again, this time with happiness.
From this moment on, she silently promised herself, they would never be parted in such a way again.
After the four of them: Jeremy, Kate, Jason, and Julia had all been reunited; the President retired to her tent, for it was by then late in the evening, but found that she couldn’t sleep.
These past weeks had been so full of suffering, sorrow, hurt, pain, terror, loss and hardship…
Her thoughts were jerked back to the present at the sound of the ‘zipper’ of her tent being slid open, and Jeremy Brooks appeared at the opening.
“Oh, Jeremy… Hi, Come on in.” She managed, her voice shaking still, as she tried to cover herself with a blanket; thinking that it would it would be immodest for the President to be seen in the lycra-spandex halter-strapped sports bra and silken leggings that she had on now, After having stripped off her sweat-soaked blouse. That reminded her; ‘I must look like hell’, she thought, running her fingers through her long, tousled hair.
Jeremy stepped inside, resealed the doorway, and came over to sit beside her on the futon. Slowly, gently, carefully, cautiously; so as not to upset her any more; he slipped his arm around her, brushing her long polished copper hair aside to lightly begin massaging gently the back of her neck and shoulders. To their mutual but only modest surprise, she half-subconsciously leaned into his soft embrace.
“I… I’m… Sorry.” She mumbled, trying to get herself to sit up, but something in his gentle, soft caress dissuaded her, and she stayed, leaning lightly against his side. She bent and laid her head on his shoulder as he continued to massage her neck. She let her eyes fall gently closed and took a deep breath, though she wasn’t sure quite why.
She wasn’t thinking much about anything at the moment, but when her eyes closed; all the terrors, tragedies, suffering, sorrow, pain, hurt, hardship; and, above all, all the loss; of the past six months came rushing, flooding back into her thoughts, breaking upon her wearied mind like a tidal wave. With that, the Levis finally broke, and the President was shaking, her body trembling.
Immediately he understood.
All the while they were in danger, she had managed to keep everything bottled up.
She had detached herself from the fear, pain, sorrow, and doubt that had accompanied every moment. Such feelings could be repressed or ignored for the duration of a crisis, but sooner or later, they would come roaring back and would have to be dealt with.
She could no longer help herself, couldn’t hold it inside any more, she broke down and cried; sobbing for her gladness to be alive, and weeping for all those who were not.
Jeremy wasn’t exactly sure what he should do.
He was conscientiously aware of the press of her scantily clothed body against his, so his voice was barely little more than a whisper. He murmured to her, speaking softly and low, reassuring her the best he could.
“Shhh. We are safe now. It’s okay. Let it out.”
He did the only thing he could think of to do; he raised his hand to stroke her hair as it flowed over his shoulder, now warm and damp from her tears. He brought his hand around to the back of her head, his fingers sliding into a thick tangle of her hair, and he pulled her close.
She did not resist. Instead she buried her face in his strong shoulder, and let the tears of happiness, joy, and relief flow from her glistening sapphire eyes, warming his shoulder as hers shook with each fresh damp waves of sobs of joy that washed over and wracked the young woman’s slender six-foot body frame.
Then lifting her head in her hands and wiped away her tears. He saw that the tears had partially cleaned her face, sweeping away a month’s worth of dirt and grime, and that her satiny tan skin was returning to its natural color. He nearly lost his breath at the almost unearthly beauty he saw in her.
Before either of them could stop it, their lips met, softly, gently at first, then more forcefully.
She gripped his shoulder with one hand, while the other cupped the back of his head.
He cradled her tear-soaked face in one hand, while the other resumed caressing and massaging her shoulders and neck.
For a bit, she continued to sob against his lips, and whenever their lips parted, her body still was trembling. She twisted around to face him, pressing even closer to him, and deepening the kiss.
Finally, At last, her heavy, wracking sobs reduced to whimper, as she no doubt ran out of tears to cry, as he pressed his lips into hers, pressing her down onto her back on the futon.
He ran his hands down her neck and shoulders, while she wrapped her arms around him.
Gradually, her whimper faded, and after a few more moments their lips finally parted. Kate began to breathe easier and more steadily, calming from the erratic, short, quick gasps that had accompanied her sobs, and Jeremy waited, as he continued to massage her neck and shoulders, and to rub her arms gently with one hand, as her bright, blue-green eyes gazed deeply, intensely into his brownish-blue ones.
They were both breathing heavily, ragged.
Her eyes darted toward the sealed doorway, then back to him.
“Oh. What the hell!” They murmured almost in chorus as their lips melded again.
Together, they sank down onto the futon cot, their shadows in the moonlight eventually merging to become one.