Autumn – Chapter 1 – 03

            Greg Doyle watched Matt and Phelan walk past, trailing in Thom’s wake.  He wiggled his fingers absently as he did.  His arm itched but didn’t hurt anymore, not like it had in those first few days after the break.  He could move his hand and fingers without pain, but he tried to keep his hand mostly still.
            Jacqueline smacked him in the knee.  “Stop moving, Professor.  I have to get this splint all the way back on before you start getting ambitious again.”
            He laughed quietly and stopped, fingers going still as Jacqueline shook her head and eased his arm splint back into place.  “Sorry, Jac.  I was just thinking.”
            “About how to get more dirt under your bandages?” she asked, not unkindly.  He laughed again.
            “No, nothing like that.  It just seems like it’s getting easier.”
            Her gaze flicked up to him, brows knitting.  “What’s getting easier?”
            Greg waved his good hand at the activity going on around where they sat near the freshly dug and masoned well.  “This.  Working together, surviving.  Not that it’ll stay that way, but it feels like a black cloud’s lifted, now that things are out in the open.”  He meant the abilities that had begun to manifest in earnest since the meteorfall.  One or two people still looked at their fellows sideways, but they weren’t inclined to cut and run, either.  That boded well for them all in the long run—or so he hoped.
            Jacqueline sighed softly.  “Well, it’s not like it could all stay a secret forever, not with the attack.”  Her voice hitched slightly.  Greg touched her wrist with his free hand and she steadied, offering up a smile that was only just barely forced.
            “I’m all right,” she whispered.  “Still getting used to the idea of all of it, but I’m all right.”  She smiled again, this time genuinely, and went back to her work on his arm.  He just shook his head slightly.
            “I know, it’s weird.  It’s even weird for me, and I always hoped that one day I’d wake up and be able to feel the world around me the way I can now.”  He smiled sheepishly.  “Be careful what you wish for and all that.”
            Jacqueline laughed weakly as she finished with the splint.  “Yeah, that’s it exactly.  I still don’t even know what I did, just that I did it and it worked.  But I guess that’s all that’s important, right?”  She patted his knee.  “I’m done with you.  Try not to get it all dirty again.  What the hell were you doing, anyway?”
            “Oh.”  Greg smiled sheepishly as he got to his feet.  “Phelan and I were planting holly along the edges of the settlement closer to the ravine, the areas we’re not going to wall off just yet.  Just…ah…an extra line of defense, if you will.”
            A brow went up.  “Holly?”
            She massaged her temples for a moment, frowning.  “I’m almost afraid to ask, but why holly?  Isn’t it just a Christmas decoration plant, kind of like mistletoe?”
            Greg just gave her a sly, almost mysterious grin.  “It’s a protective wood,” he said simply, shrugging slightly.  “Sacred to the druids of old.  And it’s easier to plant and nurture at this juncture than oak.”  He winked and dusted himself off.  “I managed to rescue some seedlings.  They’ll spread if we let them.  Phelan and I will keep an eye on them and they’ll do fine, and hopefully help keep anything nasty at bay.  Just in case someone starts mucking around with things they shouldn’t again.”
            “Do we have any idea who was screwing with those wardings before?”  Jacqueline looked up only briefly as she packed up the toolbox she used as a medical kit.  A flicker of concern passed through her eyes before she looked back down again, concentrating on her work as much as his answer.
            “Not so far as I know,” Greg said quietly, frowning slightly.  Though nothing’s happened since Phelan came, so maybe whoever it was left with the last bunch.  He almost shuddered to consider other possibilities.  “Of course, I’m not sure anyone’s willing to stir up that hornet’s nest right about now.”
            “Marin brought everything out into the open so we could all stop feeling like we were walking on eggshells,” Jacqueline said with a heartfelt sigh.  “Maybe that’s just not meant to be.”  She snapped her kit shut and shook her head.  “Maybe we’ll be treading lightly forever.”
            “Not forever,” Greg murmured, shaking his head slightly.  “At some point, we’ll sort it all out and folks will get used to living with all of this and dealing with it all on a daily basis.  It’ll just become another fact of life.  It’s just going to take some time.”
            “You sound pretty sure about that.”
            Well, I have to be.  Otherwise, we’ve risked a lot for no reason.  “That’s because I am.  We just have to adapt—first as the microcosm, then as the larger whole.”
            Now she was looking at him strangely, nose wrinkling.  “What’s that supposed to mean?”
            Greg grinned.  “It means we start small and go from there.”
            She stared at him for a long moment, then said quietly, “Do you really think there are more people out there?  Like us and not like us?”
            His expression smoothed out and he nodded.  “There must be.  We can’t be the only living souls left in the world.”  If we are, fate’s made a grave error.  There’s just not enough of us.  “We already stumbled over Paul and Angie.  We’ll either stumble over more, or they’ll stumble over us.  Hopefully not too soon, though.”
            “How soon would be too soon?”
            “Before winter’s come and gone.”  Greg shook his head.  “It’s not going to be an easy winter by any stretch of the imagination.  If we’re lucky, we’ll all survive and not starve to death before we can grow more food.”
            “I thought that’s what your greenhouses were for.”
            Yeah, those.  Hopefully they’ll work and everything will stay warm and contained enough for us to grow extra food over the winter—at least enough for us to plant seeds in the spring.  “They’re an experiment that I’m hoping will work, like Thom’s hoping the heating systems will work, that the bathhouse he wants to build will work.  Wings and prayers, Jac.”
            She deadpanned at him.  “You’re being incredibly reassuring, Professor, thank you.  Have a little faith.”
            In what? He wondered.  He smiled briefly.  “I’ll try, Jac.”
            “Good,” she said, tone firm and brooking no argument.  Then she grinned.  “Now get back to work!  Just don’t get that thing dirty.”  She pointed to his splint.  He chuckled.
            Odds were he’d have it dirty again by dinner unless he could find some gloves that would fit over the lower edge of the splint.
            “I’ll try,” he said again as they parted company, she to do whatever she was going to do, he to hunt down Phelan, Marin, or Tala, whoever he came across first.

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