Chapter no 43

Winter World

THE DAY JAMES LEAVES, I get Oscar to help me move the exercise equipment to the rec center. It’s only fair. My progress has stopped, and others should be able to benefit from the equipment. Besides, I know James would continue to fight me on this, so it’s easier to move it while he’s gone. He’ll understand. And it gives me something to do other than worry about him.

The larger fight between him and me looms: the mission. That’s another reason for getting rid of the equipment. Soon, I won’t be here to use it.

Caspia is only a few hours away by helicopter. James will be home tonight, and I’ll break the news to him that I’m coming with him. I dread it. I’m nervous about it. But I have to do it.

Around noon, Madison stops by. It’s just her. Owen and Adeline are at the gym, playing.

She finds me cleaning the kitchen. I always clean when I have a lot on my mind or when I’m nervous.

We sit on the couch, which now feels almost lonely with the room cleared out.

“You got rid of the exercise equipment?” “Yeah. I was done with it.”

She cocks her head.

“My rehabilitation is over.”

She glances at the cane. “I see. Where’s James?” “At a meeting.”

“Outside the camp?” “Yeah.”

She eyes my cleaning supplies, still sitting on the kitchen counter, evidence of my nervousness.

“You’re worried about him?” “A bit.”

“And?” When I don’t respond, she presses me. “What’s really going on?”

I need to tell somebody. I need to talk to someone about all the things going on right now. Oscar is great, but he just isn’t that someone. I need my sister.

“If I tell you, Madison, you have to promise not to tell anyone. I mean it. Not even David. Or the kids.”

She shifts on the couch. “I promise. What is it?”

“NASA’s launching another mission to space. Soon.” Her mouth falls open. “Why?”

“I can’t tell you that.” “James is going?”

“James is leading the mission.” “And you’re going to go.”

As usual, Madison has seen right to the heart of the issue. “Yes.”

“And he doesn’t want you to go.”

“I don’t know yet. But I think he’ll say no.” “And do you know why?”

I chew my lip. This is not the conversation I wanted to have. What I want is some help in convincing James.

“Because he’s stubborn.”

Madison gives me a look that says, You and I both know that’s not the reason.

I shrug. “Because he cares?”

“Emma, I think it’s a little more than that at this point. I’ve seen the way he looks at you. I know you’ve seen it too.”

I have no idea what to say to that. “Oscar,” I call over my shoulder.

He emerges from James’s office nook, where he’s been doing some work that James left for him.

“Yes, Emma?”

“Do you mind going to the depot to get our weekly rations?”

“Not at all. Is there anything else I should get while I’m out?” “No thanks.”

Once he’s gone, I say to Madison, “We haven’t really talked about… that.”

“Well maybe you need to. Maybe your issue isn’t a debate about the mission. Maybe it’s figuring out what the two of you are.”


“There’s no maybe about it, Emma. Listen, I know I’m not a scientist or a genius like you and James, but I know people. And I know you. I know you better than I know any other person. Even David. Emma, you’ve never cared about anyone the way you care about him. If you don’t tell James how you feel, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”



I’M NOT the only one who needs to tell someone how they feel.

James’s brother works first shift. While he’s gone, I go next door to talk to Abby.

Like Madison, Abby now has a stay-at-home job that she does through the AtlanticNet. Everyone is working, no matter what, no matter where they sit. A day care (they call it a school, but there is no curriculum) has been set up in the gym so that parents can work full-time. There are no full-time mothers or fathers anymore. That’s not an option. Another cost of the Long Winter. Of survival.

She’s very apologetic when she answers the door.

“I’m really sorry, but I have a deadline in an hour, and I have to finish reviewing this document.”

“Please, take your time. Will you come over to our place when you’re free? No rush.”

“Of course. Everything all right?”

“Yeah. It’s fine. I just… need to ask you something.”

Twenty minutes later, I’m back home, sitting on the couch reviewing a document on my tablet, when there’s a knock at the door. I move to get up, but Oscar is faster.

“Hello, Abby,” he says, opening the door.

“Oscar,” she says quietly. When she sees me, her expression brightens. “Hi. Now still a good time?”

“Sure, come on in.”

She joins me on the couch, and we sit together just as Madison and I did. And just as with my sister, I swear Abby to secrecy, and when she’s agreed, I say, “James is going on a mission.”

“What kind of mission?” Abby asks.

“The kind he might not come back from.”

Abby glances away, trying to process the news. “Okay.”

“I don’t know when the mission will happen. Probably within a few months, if I had to guess.”

“Is there anything I can do?” “There is.”

“You want me to talk with Alex.”

“Yes. James has never said a word to me about what happened between Alex and him or anything that happened before. But I know, when he goes on this mission, it would help him to know that everyone back here supports him and is pulling for him. Whatever James did before, he’s been a good brother to Alex since the Long Winter began. He’s the reason we’re all here. He’s kept us alive. And he’s probably going to give his life for ours.”

Abby stands and rubs her palms on her pants as if to dry them. “It’s a tall order, Emma. But I’ll see what I can do.”



JAMES DOESNT RETURN that night. Or the next day.

Oscar and I walk down to the Olympus Building. I dart in and out of offices, asking everyone I know if they’ve heard anything. After a while, I feel like a mail delivery person trying to find the recipient for an errant package.

No one has any information. Or at least, none they’re willing to share. I’ve never missed satellite phones more than I do now.



BARELY SLEEP THAT NIGHT. I can’t help thinking, What if the Caspians have taken James and Fowler hostage? Or shot their helicopter down? Or declared war?

The next day, I resume cleaning the house. Oscar studies me curiously. I think if I wipe down the kitchen sink and faucet one more time, the faux chrome and stainless steel will start to wear away.

“James is incredibly capable,” Oscar says mildly. “If anyone could return, it’s him.”

So he’s worried too. Oscar has a strange way of showing it—by comforting me. I’m thankful that he’s here with us, though he remains a mystery to me.

A knock at the door almost scares me out of my skin. I race to answer it, making the best time I can with my cane, hoping it’s good news. But I realize, just before I answer the door: James wouldn’t knock; he would just come in.

A messenger with bad news… they would knock.

Anxious now, I jerk the door open, and reel back at the unexpected visitor.


“Can I come in?” he asks. “Of course.”

Inside, he fixes Oscar with a hard stare.

“Hello, sir,” Oscar says, his tone completely divorced from the animosity Alex is directing at him.

Alex and I sit on the couch.

“Abby told me that James is leaving. And he might not be coming back.”

“That’s right.”

“And that he’s the reason we’re here.” I nod.

“I want to know what’s going on. I want to know what he’s done, and what kind of danger he’s in. Will you tell me?”

For the next hour, I tell Alex everything—starting with the moment James rescued me from the wreckage of the ISS. He listens silently, thoughtfully. I can see the resemblance with James. They’re both deep thinkers.

When I’m done, he rises, and simply says, “Thank you.”

I push up on my cane. “Will you come to see him?” “I don’t know yet. I need time to think about it.”



ANOTHER NIGHT WITHOUT SLEEP. This is what it will be like if he goes on the mission and I stay here. I would do nothing but think about him and worry. I’m more convinced than ever: I have to go.

I’m sitting at the dining room table, typing on my tablet, when the door flies open. I turn and stand and my heart melts when I see who’s standing in the door, snow falling in sheets behind him.


He looks haggard. But he’s here.

I grab my cane and race across the living room. When he sees me practically running, he runs himself, and we embrace. I hug him tightly, and he hugs me back.

“They said—” he begins.

“Forget what they said,” I whisper in his ear. “I’m so glad you’re home.

I’m glad you’re safe.”

When I finally release the hug, he studies me, a curious expression in his eyes.

“I was so worried about you,” I say.

He smiles. “I need to go away more often.”

Without thinking about it, I lean in. Suddenly, his lips are on mine and the kiss happens, so unexpectedly, and a nuclear bomb of emotions goes off inside of me. I actually feel my legs going weak. I’m not sure if it’s because my legs are weak, but it feels like I’m falling down a well.

When we break, he whispers in my ear, “Oscar?” “He just left to pick up our rations.”

He kisses me again, more passionately, more urgently, and hugs me tighter, his hands moving down my back. I walk backward toward my bedroom, and he follows, and we close the door and do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

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