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“Brian? Brian, what's wrong?"
He was standing at our low window, hands clenched on the sill, all his shoulder muscles knotted up. I could practically hear Lacey Jay growling, so defensive and doglike was his stance, and yet I could see nothing to provoke such a reaction.
We'd just finished a lazy breakfast, he hadn't even put a shirt on yet, and the sun was still rising. Past him I could see some of our cows, red Angus mostly, munching already. I couldn't see a thing that might put him so on edge.
I'd met Brian when I was just eighteen. It was August and I'd had a tumultuous last six months, unable to sleep most of the time for my vision-like dreams and unable to tell my parents who might be losing their house. My father was a salesman, born for it, and yet he was one of the first to feel the recession; they'd cut his job to save the company they said, so my forty-eight year old father was forced to go job hunting. Thank God for mom's nursing job.
Regardless, I couldn't tell them what was going on with me, I could hardly handle the stress myself, they didn't need it. And personally, I didn't think my father's heart could take it.
So in the few months before my finals I set myself up for application and living at a college in Montana, about as far away as I could get, while staying in the country. I never went.
In essence, I did go to Montana, but I never went to the college. Never paid for it either. By this time I felt half crazy and was considering admitting myself to the nearest crazy house and never went to bed without sleeping pills.
I was sitting in a small town restaurant, one of those things that could still be called a diner but wouldn't degrade itself to admit thus. I'd ordered coffee and toast, unsure if I could stomach anything else. Still, I let it get cold.
I heard the bell over the door jangle and my eyes flickered up automatically. My first thought was: he doesn't belong here. He was young, but obviously older than I was, and blond, wearing dark sunglasses. There was a city aura around him that made everyone in the diner look up. He seemed to be searching for someone, though I couldn’t quite tell because his glasses swallowed all expression - except for his smile, which lit up as he saw me.
I assumed it was me, he was turned towards me and I was right. He walked to my table, confident, oblivious to the fact that everyone was watching us - even the old man I'd previously thought to be hung over and asleep.
"Hi," he said, holding out his hand, "I'm Elliot."
And Elliot he was. He didn’t have his black hummer then, it was silver BMW. Somehow, he coerced me into the vehicle and drove me out of that small crack pot town, which would now have an interesting tale to tell, and into the mountains. He took me to Jeremy's and that was where I met Brian.
Elliot never told me why he had come to find me, what had led him to that diner or who had told him. He drove me out to the cabin, had a drink with Jeremy, then drove off. That left me alone in a cabin full of people that I did not know.
Jeremy, however, had a keen eye. He seemed to know exactly what to do and sent me over to bunk in the newbie room, which only held a shivering girl named Nessie and Brian at the time. We hit it off right away, attaching ourselves to each other in this new world of connections, dreams and journeys. He was my only comfort for a long time. We got through our dreams together and when we were finally sane enough to handle it, Jeremy and his brother explained things.
They gave us the same spiel I later heard them use on almost every other newcomer and that Moon girl who headed the rebellion two weeks ago. God, but I can’t believe it's only been two weeks.
Jeremy did his best to explain what was happening to us. He told us that we were all 'connected', every living thing to every other living thing. My mom would have used her spider web analogy. She had analogies for everything, but her favourite was the spider web, which she used to explain how one action had a ripple effect through the lives of a whole bunch of different people.
Jeremy asked about my dreams and I had to tell him about the squirrel. That damn thing had haunted me for a good eight months by then and talking about it wasn't easy. I kept waiting for someone to laugh or tell me I was completely nuts. No one said any such thing. Instead, Brian shared his experiences with Lacey Jay. She'd already turned up before then, a stray dog trailing him around like a shadow. She was kind of a mutt but when I listened to Brian talk about her, it was like she was an actual person, a friend who had always been there. So I waited for my squirrel to show his fat head - and make no mistake, Tourop has a fat head and a bushier tail. He combats that more recently by telling me that I have big feet.
Brian and I left Jeremy's early next spring and bought a piece of land up near the Canadian border not long after. We left out number and occasionally we checked in on them. We lived quietly for a good two and a half years, my only complaint was that Brian wasn’t ready for any kids.
That I couldn't quite understand, even now I'm not sure why he's so hesitant, but I don’t press him. He gave me space at the beginning of our relationship as I realized - and was disgusted by - the fact that everything Brian and I felt or knew was shared with Lacey Jay and Tourop. It was weird enough having them in our heads - and equally weird for them - but to have them feel as we did when we touched or kissed? I mean, my God. I couldn't handle that and it took me a good couple of weeks of avoiding Brian to get over it - eventually I had to go back to him. I felt like I was being pulled, like I'd be torn apart if I couldn't feel his fingers on my skin again. He was too much a part of me.
It was all the fairy tale signs of love, I'd thought at first, but I knew that wasn't right. This breathlessness and need to be near him was something else. It took me a lot longer to figure out than it should have, but I guess that just goes to show how much of a doubting creature I am. Who would believe it, even I can’t really grasp it for more than a moment. Regardless, I finally had to admit it to myself: Brian and I were connected to, and Lacey Jay and Tourop through us.
So it’s safe to say I knew Brian pretty well - about as good as a person can know another. To see him all tensed up at the window, his shackles raised and probably with his teeth slightly bared, was alarming.
I dared not touch him for fear he'd take off, although I did have a moment of just wanting to run my hand over the bare skin of his back. I tested the air, listening to see if Tourop sensed anything. He was perched in a tree, still as well-
"He's here," Brian growled and from somewhere outside I heard Lacey Jay bark out a warning.
"He? Who's here - Brian let me in. Who's here?"
When Brian tensed, everything unnecessary went into shut down mode - including any coherent thoughts I might normally have been able to make out from him.
Without taking his eyes off his target he said the one name I never expected.
I had a flash back to two weeks ago, when Jeremy had called us in to help this girl who thought she could take down this government facility in the mountains. It was a place, not far from Jeremy's actually, that took kids off the streets and out of homes for research and development. Just the thought of the place gave me a chill. They didn't just take kids in, they didn't let them out. In one piece.
Jeremy had called us in, along with Elliot who I hadn't seen in years yet looked just as handsome as ever, and we'd helped a bunch of teenagers. It sounds silly, to talk about it sounds like some sort of whack job rebellion. But we were there and we know how serious it was, how serious DeVance was about the whole thing. He ran it after all, from behind the scenes, and no one exactly knew what happened to him after the fact. It was one of those one minute he's there, the next he's gone moments.
But for him to be here, to show up at our farm when no one around here knew...
"What do we do?" I asked, voice hardly above a whisper, just a breath. I saw his finger twitch on the sill and his shoulders rolled under his bronze skin.
"Send Tourop to Havre, I want you to run to Jeremy's."
A cold chill ran through me, as if someone was blowing down my neck.
"I'm not leaving you here with him."
He straightened up although he did not turn and my heart felt as though squeezed, just looking at him, strong and proud. I did love him, I really did. I couldn't leave, it just wasn't in me to leave him.
"Brian, I won't," I said, coming to stand next to him. His blue eyes flickered to me even as I knew he didn't want to let the fiend out of his sight. One calloused hand came to grip my arm, ever so lightly. I saw the mark from the time I'd lost my grip on the barbed wire when we were fencing on his cheek.
"I'll follow - I promise. But Janelle, please, I can't have you staying here. Not with him just outside - just let me make sure you're safely gone." There was such feeling in his eyes as he turned to me, trusting Lacey Jay for this stolen moment.
"Alright." If that's what he needed, if that was what I had to do so we could be together again, I'd do it. And there could be no softness in the parting or I would fail.
I stepped away, snatching up my purse, coat and slipping on my boots. I was already working in the back of my mind how to get to Jeremy, which way I'd go. Should I take one of the trucks, Brian's bike, or Juanita, my mare? I figured on the horse, she'd make for easy cross country and she was sure-footed enough to take me into the mountains.
All that flew through my mind as I pulled on my boots. I glanced back at Brian; he was staring out the window again.
'I love you' I thought, before I stepped outside.
"Why Havre?" I asked aloud, striding quickly across the drive to the open pasture, whistling to Juanita. She came quickly, faster than normal, as if sensing something amiss. I know my ears were alert and if I were a horse, mine would be pricked, just as hers were now. I let her out and leapt astride, only detouring briefly to the barn for the pack of supplies we always kept handy. Then we were gone from home, me riding bareback, Brian's words echoing in my mind.
'Ray's there, the girl from the revolt. She should know... I love you Janelle, ride hard.'
Back at the farm, as Juanita and Janelle kicked up dust, Brian stepped out of the house and DeVance from the trees at the far end of the yard. Lacey Jay growled low in her throat as the two approached each other. DeVance looked a mess but the same evil glint, with a harder edge than ever before, decaled his good eye. The other was marred by a deep groove that appeared to be a healing gouge.
"Brian," DeVance said.
"Leonard," he replied tightly. "Why, after all this time, do you come to my home?"
"I figured," and here DeVance tilted his head, completely serious, "that it was time I called in a favour."