She lives with fear. She knows it, the way it curls deep inside her belly, tightening itself again and again until it seems like she can't breathe. Sometimes it eases its grip and she can almost forget about it, ignore it. But she knows it'll never go away.
Blythe once thought she knew what fear was, but that was was a long time ago, back before she met him, but that was nothing -- a passing fright, a sudden thrill. It always went away.
She knows this is different the first time his flight doesn't make it back on time. John always tells her that his training missions are safe, but that night, when he doesn't show up for supper, she knows he lied. Nothing he does is safe.
"You didn't have to worry," John says when he finally walks in the door just before midnight. "We just had some mechanical problems. It was nothing."
She sees the lie in his eyes, knows that something really did happen, but she's been a military wife long enough to know not to ask questions. She keeps quiet, but nothing he says can stop the fear that digs its roots deep inside her.
Nothing makes fear grow and twist itself into knots like Greg. She chases after him when he's a toddler, trying to keep one step ahead of him. He's always faster, grabbing at sharp objects, pulling on desks and drawers that threaten to topple over on top of him.
Outside is a world she can't control.
"Greg, open your mouth," she says when she finds him crouched under a tree. He turns away. "Did you eat this?" She holds up the torn bits of a mushroom that she can't identify. He's too young to answer, too young to know better.
She sweeps him up into her arms, then to the base hospital. He cries when they pump his stomach -- just to be on the safe side, the doctor says -- and she wipes away his tears with one hand. Her other hand grips the bed rail so hard she can feel her muscles trembling.
"You shouldn't scare your mother," John tells him that night as Greg lies on the sofa. Blythe should have put him in his bed, but she's been afraid to leave him alone in his room, where she can't see him.
"He's too little," Blythe tries to explain. "He didn't know he was doing anything wrong."
John looks down at Greg. "He knew," he says.
She tries to reason with fear as Greg grows, tries to fool herself into thinking that he'll be all right, that nothing bad will happen.
But she can't be fooled. Neither can fear. It's like Greg. It never listens. Doesn't obey. It makes its own rules. So she gives in to the silent voice that warns her something could happen. She startles awake in the night, convinced something is wrong, but finds Greg sleeping soundly in his bed.
She'll sometimes feel a shiver down her spine in the middle of the day and knows she should ignore it, but then drives past the school, just to see him swinging back and forth on the swings, higher and higher. He jumps off the swing when it's at its highest point, and she holds her breath, reaches for the door handle. It's only when he gets to his feet and runs across the playground that she eases back into the car seat.
"You worry too much," John tells her as she sits on the front step, watching Greg ride his bicycle up and down the sidewalk.
She doesn't tell him that he doesn't worry enough, that he doesn't understand. She just nods. She can't control fear, so she learns to live with it, can even ignore it, push it down. But it roars back again and again, reminding her it will never leave.
"Why ..." she can't even finish the question at first. She has to look away from the cast on Greg's arm, the dark bruise on the side of his forehead. "Was it a dare?" she finally asks. "Did some of the bigger boys dare you to jump off the roof?"
"No," Greg says.
"Then why?" Maybe if she understands she can find a way to stop him the next time. Maybe her heart will finally stop beating out the staccato rhythm it had been pounding out since she'd seen him lying there on the ground next to the house, so quiet.
"I wanted to know how it felt," he says.
"To fly?" She sits on the edge of his bed. "Honey, you know that you can't really fly like they do in the cartoons."
He shakes his head. "I know that," he says. "I wanted to know what it felt like to fall."
Blythe places one hand on his head, feeling cool skin beneath her fingers. "Honey, that's ..." she lets the sentence fade away, refuses to finish a sentence that would have sounded so much like what John would say: that it was crazy, or stupid.
"It wasn't high enough to get hurt," Greg says, "not really." He shrugs slightly. "I just landed wrong."
Blythe puts her hand against her stomach, almost expecting to feel the coiled mass of fear beneath her dress. "But why did you need to know how it felt?" she asks. "I don't understand."
"I just..." his eyes narrow for a moment. "I was curious."
"Next time you're curious about something, let me know," she says. "We'll find you a book about it."
"A book isn't the same thing."
"It's good enough." She kisses him on the cheek, then walks out to let him rest.
It's only later that his words sink in, that she realizes that this is what fear had been trying to warn her about. That he's curious. That he'll do things he knows he shouldn't, because he has to know. That he won't be satisfied until he does know.
She sits at the kitchen table, a cup of coffee growing cold between her hands. She can't protect Greg from himself. She's not even sure if she should. She loves seeing the way his mind works, the way he takes things apart and puts them back together, the way his eyes light up when he learns something new. She won't take that away from him. But she'll do what she can to protect him, to help him find boundaries that will keep him safe.
And she'll pick up the pieces, again and again: bandaging cuts and scrapes when he crashes his bicycle by trying to jump it over a ditch, mending jeans torn by thorns when he explores the swamp on the southern border of the base, calming John's temper when they get a call from teacher complaining that Greg argues with him in class.
She smiles each time to hide her fear, to let fear know that it can't control her, that she won't let it stop Greg from being who he is -- who he has to become.
There are even times when fear relaxes its grip. When Greg works out some new piece on the piano, she hears Bach being brought to life through his fingers, the notes tumbling out as he finds the melody, discovers what's lying there on the page, waiting to be discovered.
Fear eases when he talks about some experiment in chemistry class, Greg's eyes growing bright as he tells her how the answer becomes clear through the right combination of molecules.
Fear is still there even when he leaves, flies off to school in another part of the country. Even when she can't see him, she somehow thinks she knows when something's wrong. The old familiar feeling of something pulling tight down deep inside, but now she can't drive past the school yard and see if he's safe. Instead she waits for his calls, waits to hear his voice telling her that everything is fine, even if she doesn't believe him.
She knows she can't protect him. Even if she was there, she couldn't have stopped the clot that damaged his leg. She couldn't have stopped Stacy from leaving, isn't even sure if she would have tried.
Blythe tries to deny that part of her that thinks that maybe his leg will stop him from taking so many physical risks, but when Greg tells them that he's got a new motorcycle, she knows that nothing would stop him from doing what he wants to do -- what he needs to do. Instead she smiles, swallows down the fear and puts a hand on his arm and asks him to be careful. It's all she can do.
When she feels fear tightening deep within her one autumn night, without warning, she knows that Greg would tell her that mother's intuition isn't real, that John would tell her there was no reason to be worried. She calls Greg's house anyway, hoping to hear his voice, but she's not surprised when there's no answer.
James doesn't help when he responds to her voicemail with an e-mail a day later, just writing that Greg's fine, that he's been busy with a case, that he's breaking in a new team. She knows that if nothing was wrong, James would have called. They both know that she would have heard something in his voice telling her that his words weren't true.
But she takes some comfort anyway, trusting in James to warn her if it was something she needed to know, like he always has before.
It's another day before Greg calls. He makes excuses, says he was just checking something out when she'd called. Blythe hears the lie he's trying to hide.
"Greg," she says, and she hears him sigh.
"It's nothing," he says, "nothing for you to worry about."
They're both quiet for a moment. "You scare me, sometimes," she finally says.
"I don't mean to," he says. It's not an apology. She knows not to expect one.
"I know." She feels the fear loosen a little. "I just wish you were more careful."
He tells her again not to worry, lies again that he's always careful. She laughs a little, knowing he won't change, realizing that she doesn't expect him to.
She hangs up, goes back into the living room where John is reading a magazine.
"You worry too much," he says.
All these years, and he still doesn't understand. She can't turn it off. Fear is always there, always deep inside. It isn't going to go away. She can't control it, isn't even sure if she'd want to now. It's a part of her, almost like some kind of friend, reminding her that there are things she can't control -- things she shouldn't try to control. She can't control Greg. She doesn't want to. She can't control John either. But she can control how she reacts to them, and to fear.
She looks at John, smiles and picks up her knitting needles. She's making Greg an afghan, to keep him warm this winter even when she can't be there to take care of him. Fear is still there, but as she takes the yarn between her fingers she can feel it ease itself into something that feels like normal. Something that's a part of her and always will be.
"I'm not worried," she tells John, "not anymore."