January 3, 1992: Federal Republic of Germany, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, BLDG 10, Hallway D, Room 220
Chapter 35: You always have a choice
It was the change-of-shift for the nurses on Hallway D. Gathering around their station, the outgoing nurses, tired, hungry, and ready for bed, held their report with those who had yet to feel gravity's pull. The nurses discussed assignments, reviewed charts, updated files, and most importantly, compared notes of the sort that would never end up in the official report. Of particular interest to the oncoming shift was the status of room 220's occupants. The patient was recently taken of off her feeding tube and sedatives. Now it was a waiting game to see whether she was ready for the world or if she'd have to go back under. But it wasn't the patient's medical prognosis that piqued the oncomings' queries. No, their interest was in a different matter entirely.
"Sheila, there's no way that man is her brother. I don't care what that form says."
The Sheila in question, Lt. Sheila Blackmon, a young, romantic girl of about 23, also harbored a sneaking suspicion that the man in question, one tall, brooding, raven-haired, rather attractive warrant officer with a week's worth of stubble and a nervous glare directed at anyone approaching her patient, was not a relative. The signs were all there starting with the lack of a common surname. Although not entirely compelling evidence, as some siblings did indeed have differing last names, other oddities in the equation just didn't add up. First, there was his nervous pacing. Any brother Sheila had known didn't have the need to burn off that much energy walking a groove into the floor. Second, his fitful sleep. During those times when he actually allowed himself to doze off on the uncomfortable visitor's chair, all lumps and bumps, any decent padding suffered out of it long ago, he tossed and turned, never truly giving in to sleep's release. Sheila did her best to try to encourage him to take a break, even offering him the use of an empty room not too far down the hallway from where her patient slept. But no, the man would shake his head and resume his vigil over his supposed "sister." Finally, it was the intimacy he expressed when he thought he was alone. On a few occasions, Sheila had walked in unannounced while he held the woman's hand or brushed hair out of her face. It was the look on his face, as if his heart was shattering on the spot. The doctors all reassured him that the woman would pull through, that given her fragile mental state, sedation was best to manage her until she was in a more reasonable frame of mind. Any mentions of fragile states and frames of mind were enough to send the man back to his chair to brood some more. No, that man had as much of a chance of being her patient's brother as Sheila had of being Mother Teresa. But, Sheila had a hopeful heart and a fondness for the romance novels sent in droves by the Ladies Auxiliary Gulfport and she could see that the man's love was guarded. Perhaps the woman, Sergeant Burnett, had a boyfriend somewhere or maybe, just maybe, and this is where Sheila's imagination was closest to the truth, the man was the sergeant's superior. Although they came from different units, the signatures on their respective paperwork, one General Hawk and one General Bird, looked nearly identical.
Thus, convinced that she must protect his secret, Sheila did her best to dissuade the others from poking their noses around too much less Cpt. Ragan take more of an interest. "Nope, look at them, they couldn't look more alike if they tried."
The first nurse, Lt. Leslie Dalton, was not one to let things go, "Sheila, do you need glasses? Where on earth do you see any similarity between the two?"
"Well," Sheila paused, mulling over her meager options, "Look at their hair. They're both pretty dark and I bet his hair would be just as messy if he let it grow. But we'll never know now will we. Let them be. He's not bothering anyone."
"Except for Ragan, she has her eye on him." This last observation was made by Lt. Tamara Roundtree. A quiet, astute woman, her one contribution to the conversation was exactly what Sheila feared the most. Cpt. Ragan ran a tight floor and woe was the soldier who crossed her the wrong way. If Cpt. Ragan thought there were any shenanigans underfoot, Sheila wouldn't put it past her to report the warrant officer. Sheila was determined that wouldn't happen on her shift.
"Well Tam, Ragan will do what she'll do. But I don't know, like I said, he's not harming anyone. Besides, it's kind of nice that someone cares."
Leslie poked Sheila, "Aww, you're just a softy. You don't think he's her brother do you." It was a declarative statement. "Come on, spill it, he's her boyfriend."
Sheila shrugged her shoulders, "Who cares what I think. All I know is that his CO vouched for him; her CO vouched for her and that's all I need. Come on, time to work." With that, the young nurses dispersed to the four corners of the floor to attend to the chicks of their flock.
Darkness and light were forever changing and melting into each other. Voices buzzed in the background. Still she slept, her body repairing itself, mending frayed muscles, healing frost-nipped skin, soothing a fretful mind. The noises in the background began to seep into her subconscious; the whining and chirping of machines morphed into talking robots walking on clouds while the beeping of monitors provided a staccato soundtrack to her rest. It was the beeping that intruded the most. Always the constant beeping. She could shut it out for a time until at last the sounds became a roar, eyes fluttering open, she saw she was not alone.
Stretched out in an upholstered chair, Flint dozed, his beret tilted over his eyes to block out the light, arms folded across his chest. The angle of his head created an odd snore, half wheeze, half whistle, the exhale from his mouth tickled his nose and rocked the beret. He had the faint beard of a man who had not shaved for days and she really didn't want to know just how long he'd been wearing that shirt. No doubt Hawk called in a few favors to allow Flint his place in her room. She'd have to remember to thank him.
"Flint?" Her voice was scratchy from disuse and in need of a cool glass of water.
He stirred, his head shifting positions, the beret knocked to the ground.
"Flint?" She tried again.
"Wha?" He snapped to attention, sliding out of the chair and landing with a thump. "Alison!" The excitement in his voice filled the room. She never knew she could be so happy just to hear someone say her name like that.
Flint dusted himself off and dragged the chair to her bedside. "Hey babe," he settled down, taking her hand, pushing her hair off her forehead. He knew she wouldn't be pleased if she saw the extent of her bed head.
Struggling to get up, she didn't have the strength to protest as Flint placed a hand to her shoulder, gently easing her back down. "Not yet, you've been out of it for a while." He grabbed the bed's remote and with the press of a button, eased her into a semi-sitting position.
"How long?" She creaked out.
"Enough that the Soviet Union is no more."
"Sorry babe, you missed it. Gorbachev resigned and the USSR dissolved. There was quite a party around here on New Year's Eve when the Soviet flag was lowered for the last time over the Kremlin."
"New Year's Eve? Dash, what day is it?"
Flint checked his watch, "Um, January 3rd." He smiled his lopsided grin, "Sorry, looks like I've been out of it too."
Lady Jaye stared up at the ceiling, January 3. It was 1992 already. She missed it. She missed Christmas and New Year's in one fell swoop. But she felt lucid and alert, if not slightly groggy and definitely thirsty. Her throat burned. Still, if she was in serious trouble, she'd be in the ICU or worse, she wouldn't even recognize Flint. She had seen it happen enough. Coughing, "Is there any water?"
"Sorry babe, all I can offer you are these tasty ice chips made out of the finest German spring water." He handed her a styrofoam cup.
She stuck out her tongue.
"Come on Alison, you gave me a scare. Just do what the doctor says for once."
Alison. She took the cup. Alison. Very rarely did he use her full name. It had to have been serious. She strained her neck to check out the various machines and gadgets surrounding her. There was enough hardware in her room to land a small plane. "How bad am I?" The ice chips remained in the cup.
"Come on babe, drink up." Flint squeezed her hand, "You're on the mend now, that's all that matters."
"It wasn't that bad. It's just that you slept, a lot. Every once in a while you'd say something, but, given everything that happened, no one was going to push you. The doctors thought it best that you just get some rest."
Her eyes grew wide, "I said something? What did I say?"
Flint shifted in the seat, uneasy and reluctant to answer her question. She had screamed out in terror the first night when she came to and no amount of reassurance could settle her mind. Instead, it had gotten worse, to the point where she had to be restrained. Every time she awoke from a nightmare, she would scream. It killed him. The doctor deemed her to be a hazard to herself in that hysterical state and found it better to sedate her. She was terrified of something called a demi and cowered in fear that a goat man would eat her. The doctors thought it delusions, he knew better. It was the caves. Whatever she experienced, he watched as she relived it in her mind over and over again. He wouldn't tell her that. He also wouldn't mention the one unfamiliar name she had cried out, Dermot. She had never mentioned a Dermot before. He imagined he was family. Given the lack of stability on that front, he made the game time decision to omit the reference. From her tone, something bad had happened. Probably someone her grandmother had taken out. She didn't need to worry about that now.
"Please Dash, what happened?" It was coming back to her, but it had to have been a dream, a figment of her imagination, it had to be.
"You were scared, really scared. Mostly screaming. It was, it wasn't that." Flint closed his eyes, he couldn't lie to her. How many times had he tried to protect her from things over the years? Heck, it seemed like his greatest transgressions were in trying to protect her. She was a big girl though. She could handle it. She deserved the truth. "Ali, it was really bad. You mentioned the jeep, and the crash, and. . . ."
"Dash, did it really happen?"
He pursed his lips, bobbing his head, "Yeah babe, it did."
"I didn't dream it."
"You were there?"
Flint reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a crumpled bit of newspaper. Smoothing it out on his leg, he handed it over.
Squinting to make out the small, blurred letters, Lady Jaye flew through the article. It was an AP release about the recent uprisings in Georgia and the inevitable defeat of Gamsakhurdia's supporters. The reporter noted the recent terrorist activity in the country and the infiltration of the cell by one Revaz Makashvili, who gave his life in preventing an attack while the country was in turmoil. The reporter labeled Rezo a hero. She blinked back a few tears, "Thank you Dash, thank you." Flint squeezed her hand. She turned serious, "What about . . . "
She nodded, unable to speak.
"We had to turn him over and he was charged with treason. Hawk tried to get him detained as a military prisoner but he couldn't get the Jugglers on board. I'm not going to lie; it doesn't look good. But he's resourceful. Civil unrest may be what he needs to survive. I can only imagine what he knows about all the buried bodies." Flint shook it off, "But enough of that talk. The doctor gave strict orders for you to take it easy the next few days and I intend to make that happen."
She reached and touched his lips, trailing her fingers down his neck and resting over his heart, "You never left did you."
"I meant it, every word. You know that, right?"
Her eyes agreed.
Flint's left leg started to jitter and he felt the old insecurities creeping back in. Could he do this, could he do this right? It seemed every time he tried, fate intervened. Looking at Lady Jaye, he didn't care about fate. Fate was happening right here and right now. His fate was on this hospital bed before him. It wasn't the romantic proposal with flowers and a moonlit night he thought she deserved but he wasn't waiting any longer. In five more minutes Nurse Blackmon would check in and no doubt Nurse Ratched would be close on her heels. For whatever reason, that woman had it in for him. He had to admit that he wasn't doing the most bang-up job at playing the brother, but in his defense he told Hawk it would never fly. The General would do what the General was going to do though and here he was playing the worst brother on the Continent. His palms began to sweat. Give him a battle to plan, not this. He gulped, pulling at his collar.
"Dash? Are you ok? Do you need to lie down?"
He waved off her concern. Gathering up all his courage, he strove forth to engage his fear and defeat the enemy. "Ah, Alison?"
"Dash?" Now she was concerned. He was fidgeting something fierce and looked like he might just pass out.
"I'm ok. I can do this."
She was too confused to even respond. If she didn't know better, she'd swear he was breaking down in front of her. Maybe the wrong person was in the hospital bed.
"Alison, I love you. I think I've loved you since the day we had coffee in that little diner with the tile tables. I think I loved you before I knew you."
Lady Jaye gasped, she had an idea, an inkling really, of the direction of Flint's comments. She'd let him finish.
Flint smiled, half laughing, he knew that look in her eyes. It was when she figured out who did it before the rest of the movie theatre. She'd give his hand a death grip and would bounce in her seat, eager for him to join her on the other side. She was giving his hand that death grip now and it kind of hurt. "I never want to have that fear again. The fear I lost out, the fear that I lost you. I want to be with you for as long as life will allow." He kicked the chair away, kneeling down before her bed, "'If ever any beauty I did see, which I desired and got, was but a dream of thee.' Will you marry me?" Drawing something out of his pocket, he held up the opened black velvet box with its solitaire ring sized for her finger.
The brief second it took her to draw the breath to say yes, was agonizing for Flint. In his head, it was a pause to figure out how to let him down gently. He did dare to presume too much. He began to draw the box away.
"Dash!" Lady Jaye swatted him, "I said yes."
"Yes!" Happy tears bubbled in her eyes and her hand trembled as Flint slipped the ring on her finger. She couldn't believe it. She had thought he was trying to break away when all he was doing was planning this. A sheepish look crossed her face and Flint knew exactly what thoughts were transpiring in her head. He just smiled, his eyes a bit glassy, and leaned in to seal the proposal with a kiss. Drawing apart, Flint traced the contours of her face, "Just so you know, I did this right. I asked Robert. I figured he'd be the one you wanted."
Her face welled up, a new onslaught of tears threatening to break through. Ever since her parents died, her Uncle Robert was the one who would look out for her. He was exactly the right person. She grabbed Flint for another kiss, oblivious to the fact that he was her brother and that Lt. Blackmon was standing at the door.
An uncomfortable cough was followed by a forced, "Ahem." Flint peered over Lady Jaye and saw Sheila standing there, arms crossed and an eyebrow raised. He broke away like a teenager caught in the act. Lady Jaye, who couldn't wipe the smile off her face, looked expectantly back and forth between the two, waiting for Flint to make the announcement.
"Well Mr. Faireborn, I'm sorry I disturbed you."
"Yeah, um, well, about that."
"Mr. Faireborn, you weren't fooling anyone."
Lady Jaye followed the volley of words, wondering exactly what Hawk had in fact done to allow Flint to stay with her, "Dash?"
Flint was adjusting his imaginary beret, silent.
"No, Mr. Faireborn, you weren't."
"What wasn't Mr. Faireborn doing?" A shrill commanding voice entered the fray, followed by the larger-than-life presence that was Cpt. Ragan.
"Captain." Sheila stepped to the side.
Cpt. Ragan entered the room, taking in the scene of Mr. Faireborn kneeling before Sergeant Burnett, a ring on her finger that had not been there before. "Mr. Faireborn, I gave you strict instructions to notify us should Sergeant Burnett wake."
"Faireborn, if I have to tell you one more time that my name is Ragan, I will revoke your visiting privileges. I do not care what this General Bird will do. These are my patients and I will make sure they get better. Am I clear?"
Flint reverted to his junior high self, "Um, yes ma'am."
Lady Jaye hid her smile behind her sleeve and coughed.
"And the same goes for you Burnett. I don't care how long you've been out of it. You and your brother there," Lady Jaye's face scrunched up in disbelief. She was really enjoying this, "have caused enough of a scandal. Now please just go on and kiss your brother your good-byes. He needs to vacate while we run some tests."
"Yes ma'am." Lady Jaye looked up at Flint, "Well, dear brother, looks like you have to go."
"I'm sorry my sister to have to leave you. I'll call our parents now." He leaned down and gave her a quick peck on the cheek.
As he stood up, Cpt. Ragan stepped in, "Oh please Mr. Faireborn, you don't think I haven't dealt with General Hawk before. I see that man is still up to his old tricks. General Bird. You'd think he'd find a new name by now. Now just go on and give her a decent send-off and then go and make your calls." Flint held up his hands and leaned in for a proper good-bye. Before he left the room, Cpt. Ragan stopped him again, "After you make your calls, Lt. Blackmon here will take you down to L&D and get some champagne. It's only right that the lady here should have a suitable celebration."
"Thank you ma'am." Flint left with Lt. Blackmon at his heels, leaving Lady Jaye behind with the Captain.
Cpt. Ragan turned her attention to her patient in the bed, whistling as she ran through her tests. It looked like Roundtree owed her ten dollars as did Dalton. Siblings, her foot. When was that Hawk ever going to learn? First the silent man and the redhead, then the mechanic and the drill sergeant, and now these two. At least this one didn't wear a mask. She didn't know what kind of operation Hawk ran but it sure seemed to produce a lot of injured couples.
After urging Lady Jaye to take it easy and leaving some more ice chips, Ragan departed to collect her winnings. Lady Jaye was alone. And with solitude, came thought. No doubt Flint would be gone awhile. If all the Faireborn clan was present, he'd be telling his story at least 15 times, if not more, as the phone would be passed from person to person, each feeling important enough that he or she should have the story delivered straight from the source. Stretching her arms, she smiled; he wasn't going to be back any time soon.
Relaxing back into the bed, Lady Jaye allowed her thoughts to unwind. She was happy, of that there was no doubt. It was what she wanted, what she had hoped for, but at what cost? There were things she needed to say, but hadn't. Now, she couldn't. The threshold to the point of no return was crossed and she couldn't go back. At what point did the past cease to be?
It never does.
It's ever present, shaping who we are now and who we will become. As hard as she tried to ignore that fact, it came to haunt her decisions, her choices, and now, this. The ring felt heavy on her hand and weighed her heart down. But she knew, she and only she alone should bear this burden. She looked forward to the future, if she could only escape the past. She murmured a prayer that it would be so.
Why this, why now? In one word, Rezo. It wasn't that she had feelings for Rezo, not like that. The Book of the Dead surely cleared that up. No, it was the memories he had awakened, the memories she kept at bay. The past she had always tried to leave behind.
She took the ring off and examined it. It was beautiful. Sparkling, delicate, and classic, Flint knew she'd never want something showy. No, this was perfect. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, willing the ring to fill her with the hope and promise symbolized by the giving of the gift. It would be the start of something new and fulfilling. She exhaled, finding that the words were only that, just words in her head but not in her heart. She let the tears fall. Why couldn't she feel more, why? She clutched the ring to her chest, trying to forget the past events and the memories they resurrected. It was too much. She gripped the ring tighter, ignoring the pain as the jewelry cut into her palm. What have I done, what have I done? She looked around frantically, panic setting in. Rocking back and forth, the tension sought release and she threw the ring across the room.
A hand emerged from behind the room partition and deftly caught the ring midair. The hand's owner stepped fully into her sight, revealing a questioning Beachhead. "I think you might want to hold on to this." With his Alabama drawl, the words were an observation of certainty. He walked around the foot of the bed, settling himself into the visitor's chair. He extended his hand, holding out the ring for her to take.
Lady Jaye was too surprised to wipe away the tears and took the ring from his outstretched hand. She stared at it for a moment and then set it down on the bedside table. Dabbing at her eyes, she waited for Beachhead to break the silence.
"Well, if you're not gonna say anything, I'm not gonna ask." He settled into the chair, stretching his legs out. "How are you feeling?"
"About as good as a centipede with swollen ankles."
"Nice. How long they keeping you here?"
"I'm not sure. Probably another few days under observation and then it's stateside for me. I'm, however, pushing for as soon as possible." She glanced over in his direction, "Thinking about making a break for it. Could use an accomplice?"
"Oh no, nice try. You stay put and just get better. You don't do anyone any good with a couple of holes in you."
Lady Jaye laughed, "Some help you are. What happened? How come you're here?"
"You mean with the Germany thing?"
"Yes, the Germany thing."
"Sorry sugar, we're no longer an item. Looks like we're getting an annulment. While you were playing sleeping beauty, the world went on without you. We've got a whole host of new former Commie states. I can't even begin to tell you what's happening in Georgia. Seems Interpol suddenly has bigger concerns than an alleged Cobra sting. SNAFU, plain and simple."
The mention of their "marriage" caused a surge of emotion in Lady Jaye. She felt an overwhelming sadness and despair. It welled up from deep within and choked her. She had to look away. Beachhead said nothing but reached across the space and took her hand in his. "Beach?" Her voice was plaintive, timid.
"Yeah Jaye Bird?"
Jaye Bird, that got to her. She and Beachhead could be ripping each other's head off in the middle of the worst verbal spar ever known to man, but she always knew things would be okay when he called her Jaye Bird. If only everything could be that black and white. "Please don't tell anyone about this."
"I won't but maybe you have some things to think about."
Lady Jaye turned her head back to face him. All she saw was genuine concern in his eyes. He wasn't looking for a way to torment her. He just wanted to help. "No." She bit her lower lip, it was becoming an unwanted habit. "I guess, maybe, I, I don't know." Although she professed denial, her facial expression gave her away to the drill instructor. He could see it; she agreed with him but was scared. He tried a different approach.
"You know, you don't have to do anything you're not ready to do. Just because something is expected, it doesn't necessarily mean it's the right course of action."
"But what if you feel like you don't have a choice?"
"No, there's always a choice."
"Now you sound just like my dad."
"I'm serious. You have a choice."
"That's easy for you to say."
"No, it isn't. Having the choice puts the path in your hands. It's much easier to sit back and let things happen. It's infinitely harder to be proactive."
Lady Jaye nodded her head in agreement. For once she didn't have a sharp retort for the man. As he lived his life so did he provide his advice. He expected from you but a fraction of what he expected from himself.
"Listen," Beachhead softened his tone, "I'm not going to tell you what's right or what's wrong. Frankly, I don't know. It's for you to decide." He shrugged, "Do it because you're ready, because you want to. And if not, you know I'll support you." He squeezed her hand and let go. Standing up from the chair, he adjusted his balaclava. He chuckled, "You wouldn't believe the problems I had getting up here with this on."
"I can imagine."
Beachhead leaned over and quickly kissed her forehead through his knitted cap, whispering, "Tell anyone I have a heart and you won't even begin to imagine how hard PT can be when you get back." As unexpectedly as he had entered the room, Beachhead disappeared from Lady Jaye's sight, leaving her to contemplate his words.
Sighing, she turned her attention back to the piece of jewelry resting at her bedside. It glittered and beckoned her. Reaching over, she cupped it into her hand, squeezing tight, wishing it was a magic 8 ball that would give her all the answers. Opening up, it was just a ring. A ring that promised so much and required everything she had to give. But there was so much she had held back. Was it too late? She placed the ring back on her finger. She hoped it wasn't.
A/N: Thank you to everyone who took the time to read this story. I really appreciate it. There're a lot of things you could do, and I'm glad you shared some of your time with me. I apologize for the lack of better editing. I tried to embrace the perfect is the enemy of the good philosophy. In trying for perfection, I never would have published, so warts and all, warts and all (like the glaring error in my first introduction- yikes! need to go back in time and fix that). A special thanks to those who stuck with me through some rough patches and droughts. I haven't always been the most considerate of friends, wrapped up in my own world, but you never held that against me and I appreciate it. And the reviews- thank you so much to all who have left reviews. It makes the job of an anonymous author worth it.
I bid you adieu (as plans now turn to the sequel!)