Lean On Me
A Taylor Thompson and Frankie Hubbard one shot.
He found her sitting in a dimly lit corner of The Comeback, nursing a beer. She wasn't one to wear her heart on her sleeve – she was far too stoic for that - but nevertheless, he saw the pain in the depths of her eyes when she spotted him from across the bar.
He hurried towards her, sliding into the booth across from her and immediately covering one of her small hands with his larger ones. "Hey," he said, "I thought I might find you here."
"Oh shit. I'm becoming predictable," Taylor murmured, taking another pull on her drink.
"No, it's not that. I just… I know what today is and if I was in your shoes, this would be my first stop too."
Taylor sighed and set down her drink. "Then you know its Brot's-"
"Birthday?" Frankie nodded. "Yeah. I didn't forget. We celebrated it once as a group, remember?"
"I remember that well." She offered him a weak smile. "I remember we decorated the barracks with socks because that's all we had for decorations and for his birthday cake, we stuck a lit match in a cup of Tapioca."
Frankie chuckled. "Come to find out – he hated Tapioca."
Taylor cracked the smallest smile. "I know but watching him Hoover the stuff anyway, just for our benefit…" She sighed again. "He was such a good man, Frankie."
"It just feels so wrong that he's not here. That we can't celebrate with him. That there's not even a fucking body in a grave that I can visit." Her voice shook a bit but her eyes remained dry. Frankie tightened his grip on Taylor's hand, giving her his silent support while she talked. "I loved him, I loved him so much. How can he really be gone?"
"I don't know," Frankie said. "It doesn't feel fair. Not at all."
"Damn right it doesn't." Taylor shrugged. "It's okay though. This too shall pass right?"
"You don't have to do that."
"Act like you aren't hurting. You don't always have to be so strong you know."
"What do you want me to do, Frankie – cry in my beer? Sob? Wail at the sky? That's not me."
"I know it's just … It's okay to be sad, it's okay to be hurt. When I thought I'd never see my dad, get to know him…"
"Yeah… But there won't be an eleventh hour miracle here, Frankie. Brot's gone. I feel it in my bones. And damned if that doesn't cut me to the core. But I can't sit around crying about it all day. I need to get back to work; back to the battle field … To fight so what happened to me doesn't happen to some other woman."
"You're so brave."
Taylor shook her head. "It's the beer. Liquid courage."
"No, you are brave, alcohol or not. You've been through hell and you haven't given up. I admire that even as I know its okay for you to fall apart once in awhile."
"It's alright, LT. I'm here if you need me."
Taylor smiled a little. "LT," she mused. "That's what I am supposed to be – a decorated lieutenant. Instead I'm sitting around in some small-town honky tonk getting plastered. Or trying to. Three beers in and I don't feel a buzz. I just feel…empty."
"You need time to heal in every way, Taylor. I'm personally going to see to it that you don't rush the healing process. As your doctor—"
"You reserve the right to be a pain in my ass."
Frankie smirked. "That I do."
Taylor smiled too for a whole three seconds and Frankie thought she had the prettiest smile he'd ever seen in his life. She should use it more.
She noticed him staring at her. "What? Do I have a booze mustache?"
"No," Frankie said. "I just am thinking … Look never mind. What do you say we blow this place and go for a walk along the beach? We can clear our heads while sinking our toes into the sand. It's healthy."
"Well you know, I have this thing about my feet-"
Frankie rolled his eyes. "I know but you are coming to the beach and you are going to take your shoes off and just be, okay? Doctor's orders."
She saluted him. "Aye aye, cap'n."
The beach was deserted when they arrived. The air was cool and the stars were just starting to appear in the night sky.
"Off with the shoes," Frankie said as he began yanking off his own socks and boots. "No arguments, okay?"
Taylor smiled at him. "Okay, okay." She leaned against a tree as she peeled off her shoes and socks. Her tiny pink feet were exposed and then her calves as she rolled up her pants legs partway. Frankie quickly averted his eyes, realizing that he was staring at her shapely legs.
"Should we test the water?" Frankie asked.
"What? No. It'll be freezing at this time of night and we'll get all muddy."
Frankie laughed heartily at that. "What – what's so funny?" Taylor asked.
"You! You've been through five tours of duty in the worst conditions and a little cold and some mud bothers you."
"Well, you're such a girl."
"Hey," Taylor said. "I resemble that." They both chuckled. "And yeah I'm a girl. You're just noticing now, Hubbard? Very flattering."
"Oh believe me I've noticed," Frankie said and then felt like kicking himself. That sounded like some kind of come on and the last thing Taylor needed to hear was something like that right now. "Anyway… Let's test the water."
Taylor shook her head. "Is that an order?"
"Damn right it is, LT. I outrank you this time."
"In your dreams."
Frankie and Taylor started down the beach, their toes sinking deep into the rich, cool sand. They chatted quietly as they walked to the surf. Frankie stepped in first. "Is it cold?" Taylor asked.
"No," Frankie lied. The truth was that it was freezing but he wasn't about to tell her that.
"It's freezing huh?"
"You get used to it," Frankie said.
"Yeah once the hypothermia sets in."
"Just be the brave woman I know and admire and get in here."
"Fine," Taylor said. She rolled her eyes and then dipped a foot into the surf. "Oh shit!"
Frankie laughed at her tight expression. "Walk it off, walk it off."
"I will try," Taylor said, chattering her teeth. But surprisingly she moved in a little further until she was ankle deep in the water.
Frankie watched her for a long moment, noting the way the wind was lightly whipping the ends of that regulation ponytail she always sported, the way her baggy tee-shirt fit just so over her tiny hips. She didn't seem to notice that he was watching her and he was glad for that. He had caught her in a completely unguarded moment and she looked … almost tranquil.
He didn't want to interrupt the moment but then she was turning to him, looking at him with a watery smile. The moment of peace was fading away all too quickly.
"Brot would have loved this," she said.
"Yes, he would have. He used to talk a lot about the water, how it was like a second home for him."
"It was." She wiped at her eyes. In all the time they had spent together, he couldn't remember ever seeing her cry but sure enough, there were teardrops rolling down her face.
"I'm sorry," she cried. "I'm so sorry."
"What do you have to be sorry for? Nothing from where I stand."
"I'm sorry that I'm crying in front of you and blubbering like an idiot. I'm sorry that I couldn't save Brot, our very best friend…"
Her cries had turned to soft sobs. Frankie immediately closed the distance between them and hauled her against him, holding her tightly as her too-thin body shook against his larger one. "It's okay to cry but you did nothing wrong. No one could have saved him. But as hard as it is to hear, I believe that he died knowing how much you loved him. He wasn't alone and I imagine – no, I know – that when it all came down to it, that that love you gave him – that incredible love – comforted him in his last moments. He didn't die alone or in vain, Taylor. Your love was with him the whole time."
They stayed at the beach for hours, alternately talking and crying for their lost friend, for dreams shattered. When they both grew very tired, Frankie insisted on driving her back to her motel room at The Pine Cone.
When they arrived there, he walked her to her door. He could see that every step was grueling for her. She was exhausted in every way a person could be. He ended up taking her keys from her against her weak protests and opening the door for her, leading her inside and helping her underneath her covers. She had never been weak before; she had never wanted anyone to see her fall apart but Frankie hoped that at least she felt safe doing so in front of him.
She fell asleep about two seconds after her head hit the pillow. Frankie watched her for a long moment, noting that even in sleep she looked troubled. He wished with all of his heart that he could do something more to help her but he didn't know what.
The next morning, Frankie called Taylor on his way to the work but there was no reply. He was worried about her and knew that the first chance he got, he would go check on her.
However, the moment he walked into the hospital, he saw a familiar blonde ponytail up ahead. He practically ran to her side. "Taylor, are you okay?"
"Yeah," Taylor said, turning to face him. "Better than I would have expected."
"What are you doing here?"
"I came to see you actually," she replied. "I wanted to thank you for last night."
"I didn't do anything."
"Oh yes, yes you did. You did a helluva lot and now –"
"Now I feel ready to… Start letting go of Brot. I've signed up for grief counseling which starts tomorrow and I want to start moving forward, out of this holding pattern I've been in for such a long time. I think it's what Brot would have wanted for me."
"I know that's what he would want. He'd want you to be okay."
"Well if there's ever a moment you have doubts or worries, please come to me. You can lean on me, you know. I've heard I have pretty strong shoulders."
Frankie smiled and then reached out, gently pressing his hands to her shoulders. "You need anything right now?"
"Just time. Lots of time and then one day, maybe I'll be ready to move on." She looked up at him with bright azure eyes and he felt a pleasant warmth course through him. He wondered if she would ever want to move on… with him, of all people. Because he hoped so, realizing with a start that he'd been in love with her for some time now. She was his very best friend and he hoped Brot, no doubt up in heaven, would understand why Frankie couldn't ever walk away from her.
But for now, he knew, they would just take things one day at a time – one moment at a time. It was the only way to live.