Jake Green remained shivering in his blankets as his father stepped away. His admission to Johnston about the little girl in Iraq had been a mistake, a moment of weakness that was not a hallucination as his dad had originally surmised, but an admission his traitorous subconscious had deemed necessary to make if he was going to die on a cold, hard road stuck under a pick-up truck during this strange Kansas winter.
He cried now for several reasons. Regret at the admission and fear that he had disappointed his father once again. Disgust with himself, the memories of that fateful day in Iraq playing over in his mind as he failed one more time to find a better way out of that horrible moment in time. Pain. He had forgotten about what he knew recovery from hypothermia meant. God it hurt. And he was so tired. Why had they made him sit here? The couch was right over there – so close yet so far – there was no chance of him making it that far without falling flat on his face.
But mostly, Jake Green cried out of a desperate longing, a long held and long denied need for comfort from his dad. He thought he might never see it again. Johnston Green had been so angry at Jake's actions. So very angry. Jake had always been quiet, not really the greatest at expressing himself. And his father had always seemed a giant of a man. Jake had not been afraid of him; he never feared his father's hand. But he had always regretted not building a better relationship with him. What he feared was not having his father's respect. And he feared the results of his own actions in losing his father's love.
But he only just now realized, in the despair of memories, in the pain, in the overwhelming emotions of being in his father's arms that he'd not really lost either of those things. His dad had experienced things, similar things to the horrors that Jake had witnessed and done. And his father's love: his dad's tear-filled eyes, and tentative yet loving, gentle touch. It was all right there. He could touch it, if he could just stop trembling long enough. And he could feel it, even without touch.
He could almost taste it.
It was all too much. He wiped his face as best he could and sat there, thinking. Alone, yet not so alone anymore.
"Jake, honey, here's another blanket," Gail Green said as she wrapped its thickness around her oldest son. "Are you feeling any warmer?" she asked as she brushed a lock of hair from his forehead.
"I…I don't know," the shivering man answered honestly. "I f…feel mostly c…cold, then hot, then sh…sharp pain, and th…then I'm c…cold again." He looked into his mother's eyes and asked plaintively, "Can I lay down?"
"Of course you can lay down, son," Johnston said tenderly. "Eric, come help me move the couch closer to the fire." The two Green men moved the piece of furniture nearer the hearth's warmth.
"April wants you close to the fire, honey," Gail said. "Here, have another sip." Jake took a small sip and then shook his head. The heat from the mug felt wonderful, but its contents weren't sitting so good in his stomach. "You'll warm up faster if you get some more of this in you."
"M…Maybe later." Gail frowned as she watched Jake continue to tremble violently.
"April, shouldn't he be feeling warmer by now?"
"He was out there a long time. The shivering is a good sign. I'm afraid it's going to be unpleasant for him for a while," she replied sadly.
"Y…You can s…say that again," Jake chimed in. Johnston smiled and rubbed his hand on his son's neck. Jake eased back into the touch.
"Let's not and say we did," the Green family patriarch retorted with a smile. The response made Jake huff out loud. It was the best thing Johnston Green could have hoped to hear from his son at that moment. "Let me help you over to the couch." Johnston put his arms around his son and helped Jake to a standing position.
"Thanks, Dad." They moved slowly, giving Gail enough time to position a soft pillow at one end.
"Jake, I'll need to wake you up every couple of hours because of your concussion," April noted as she watched her brother-in-law ease back into his 'bed' for the night. He may not have had any major injuries, but getting thrown around as he must have been during the accident, and spending all of that time in one position, freezing, was definitely adding to his misery. She shook her head as the young stoic refused to show any of that. He insisted on control, even as his body betrayed him as it trembled.
"Well, someone will," Gail said as she eyed the physician, silently making note of April's own delicate condition and her need to rest. Her daughter-in-law smiled at the love the acknowledgement held. She would truly miss this family after she and Eric divorced.
"Okay," Jake said softly, just moments from sleep.
"We're all here, Jake. We're safe," his father said. "Try to get some sleep, son," he added, knowing that Jake's body would readily comply if only his tortured mind would let it.
"I'll try," he said, too tired to talk and hopefully tired enough to sleep peacefully.
About an hour and a half later, and after everyone had eaten a tasteless meal, Johnston and Gail watched their son continue to tremble, though thankfully not near as violently as earlier. April was napping. Eric had left – his parents remained quiet as they watched their youngest son leave their house.
"Our sons are having a bit of a rough patch," Johnston said as he held his wife lovingly.
"Mm. I hate to see Eric and April like this. His choices lately have been…" she paused, not wanting to verbalize how she really felt. Her husband had no such qualms.
"I think your oldest son has a lot going on in his head," Johnston noted as he watched Jake sleep.
"My son? He's far more your son than you know."
Johnston nodded his head and replied somberly, "I know."
Gail looked with concern at her husband. "Did you two talk out there?"
"We did. We need to talk some more. When he's ready."
"It's bad, isn't it?"
"Oh, I can't tell you anything right now. Jake, he…well, he asked me to forget what he told me, what we talked about. I can't, I told him that. I think he needs to talk it out. I think he needs to feel he can come to me."
"Honey, he wouldn't want you to know. And trust me on this, you don't want to know. And you don't need to know."
Gail looked carefully at her husband and then over at her son. "Johnston, I believe you, but I'm not a piece of porcelain. I can take it. But I trust that if it has upset you this much that it must be really bad." She continued to watch her trembling and bruised son. He looked so vulnerable laying there, all bundled up like a child. "My poor baby," she said softly.
"I know you don't mean that. Jake's not a child. He's a man. A good man," Johnston said in a near challenge to his wife.
"I know that, Johnston."
Johnston Green kissed his wife's forehead. "I know you do, sweetheart. I'm sorry. I will tell you that he's been through some hard stuff. And with everything going on now, it's just…" He paused. He didn't want to say too much. "Be patient. It'll work out."
"I trust you and I trust Jake. And I know our family can get through this." Johnston nodded his head in agreement and leaned in to kiss his wife. He looked over at Jake and recognized a change. His son was still shivering, a little, but he also seemed to be in the throes of a dream.
"Hey, how about you go get us a couple of glasses. We never got to finish our drink. I'm gonna check on Jake."
"You sure? I can check on him."
"No. Let me do it." Gail looked at her husband with sympathy. She knew that, deep down, he was feeling bad about how he had treated his son when he'd first returned. It was so good to see the love and concern in place of the consternation and disappointment.
"I'll be back in a while," she said, hinting that she would give the two men some time.
"You're too smart for your own good," Johnston said with a smile. Gail leaned down and kissed her husband on the nose.
"I like to think of it as being just smart enough," she said as she left the room.
"Either way," Johnston said to himself. He stood, walked over to the couch and sat on the edge, pushing the blankets out of his way.
"Jake," he said, placing his hand on his son's shoulder and rubbing it hard through the layers of warm coverings. Jake slept on, but was now tossing about. Though April had said his injuries were not too severe, all of the jostling wasn't good, no matter what. "Jake, son, wake up."
Jake grunted and pushed his father away. He was still asleep, however, and did not realize what he was doing.
"Jake, you're having a bad dream," Johnston said louder. "Wake up," he added, taking his son's face in his hands. Jake slapped at the hands holding him. "Jake! Wake up! It's dad, son!" Jake's eyes snapped open. He stopped squirming immediately, though his heavy breathing was heading close to hyperventilation.
"Son, breathe slower. Take it easy. It was a…" Johnston said, trying to calm his son. Before he could finish, Jake had swallowed him in a huge hug. Most of the blankets fell to the side. It was shocking to the senior Green, being enveloped in such a way, but he accepted it willingly and gave back in kind.
"Daddy," Jake said. It was heartbreaking to hear. Johnston heard his wife's shocked gasp, and then heard her footsteps retreat from the room. Johnston Green was sure it had been close to twenty years since his oldest son had called him by that moniker. He held on tight, knowing that his son needed the comfort of his strong arms far more than the warmth of any blanket. He needed his daddy.
For now, the foreboding he felt hearing his son call him that was something that would have to keep.