Week 23 Challenge
Tank had been sitting beside the bed for two days now, listening to the
constant beeping of the monitors. He knew if Ranger woke up, it wasn't his eyes he would want to see. His weren't blue.
The doctors had repaired the broken bones in his left arm, now in a cast and possibly some nerve damage. He didn't know everything that happened on the mission, everyone from his team was alive. They had rescued an Ambassador's family from a terrorist group, but he was injured in the explosion at the end. A head injury, broken arm, and some minor cuts. By the time he arrived at the military hospital, an infection had started maybe from the arm wound or from the deplorable conditions in the jungle. His fever had been as high as 104 at one point, calling out "Babe."
Tank had opened his phone and shut it numerous times wanting to call Stephanie, but he thought better of it. He witnessed the hurt in her blue eyes when Ranger started pulling away from her, then disappearing without a word. Their happiness was contagious around Rangeman once they gave in to their feelings. She had moved into the 7th floor with Rex. After Ranger had a hush-hush meeting with high-ranking Government officials with an anti-terrorist department in D.C., he changed knowing something could possibly be in the works. He started pushing Stephanie away. He knew why Ranger was doing it, but didn't agree. In Ranger's mind, it was better for Stephanie to be angry and hate him, moving on with her life, than mourning him. By doing it, Ranger despised himself so much when he got that call; he was hoping not to come back alive. The hurt he saw in the blue eyes was too much.
When he got out of the SUV heading to the military plane waiting for him, "Protect my Babe, Tank. If I make it though, I'll move heaven and Earth so she knows she's the only one I'll ever love."
Once Stephanie knew he was gone, she was quiet. Staying to herself, spending time with Mary Lou, or her Grandma after she was finished at Rangeman for the day. She came into Tank's office one day telling him she was going with Grandma to the casino and would be back on Sunday. That was a Wednesday. She was back on Sunday afternoon.
The tracking device in her purse, phone, and Rangeman SUV said she was in Atlantic City. She was cheerier, not the usual Stephanie, but this was closer to normal than she had been in weeks.
Everything changed a few weeks later. She told Tank again her and Grandma were going to play the slots and be back on Sunday. The trackers indicated they were in Atlantic City again. On Sunday, it showed she was at Mary Lou's in the evening and all night. A brown envelope was delivered by Mary Lou to the front desk and the black SUV parked down the street.
Stephanie's note read:
Please don't look for me until I want to be found. I need to put distance between me and Trenton for a while. I'll call if I need help. Please be my friends so I can get over him.
The SUV keys, her cell phone, and pen with tracker were in the envelope. The search Bobby and Lester did immediately showed her bank account and credit cards closed. She had withdrawn close to 50,000 accumulated from her pay at Rangeman and skips.
Tank went to Mary Lou's, only admitting she was the one who was in Atlantic City and did as Stephanie asked. Next stop, the Plum's. Her father knew Stephanie was going away for awhile and he felt Edna was with her. If he heard from Stephanie, he would let Tank know right away.
Stephanie hadn't shown up on radar anywhere in over three months. No hits on her social security number, bank accounts, anything. Ranger would have been proud of how well she learned tricks of the trade to go undetected. There hadn't been any communication from Ranger in over five. Frank had called. No, he hadn't heard from Stephanie, but Edna kept taking bus trips every two weeks saying she liked a casino in the Pocono's. She would be gone four or five days, come back and leave again. He was dropping her off at the bus station in the morning. Ranger's best friend put Lester on it to follow the bus, and hopefully leading to Stephanie.
That was more than 5 months ago. Tank looked over at the hospital bed, Ranger let out a low moan. His eyes fluttered and slowly opened meeting Tank's. He held up a straw to Ranger's parched lips. He found his voice, raspy asking, "Babe."
Tank shook his head, "She left."
"Scranton," Tank said seeing Ranger was out again.
Tank was sitting in his office waiting for his cell phone to ring. After a week in the hospital and two weeks recuperating at Rangeman, Ranger took off after Stephanie. He was waiting. He knew there was going to be HELL to pay when his friend realized there was some information missing from the report on Stephanie, but some things he needed to discover for himself.
Looking at the folder on the passenger seat, Ranger had read the report on Stephanie so many times over the last three weeks he knew it off by heart. Stephanie was working for a security company in Scranton and ate her lunch in the small park across the street from the office. She took her lunch at 12:30 Lester indicated in the update from 2 weeks ago. She lived on the 2nd floor of a large Victorian house owned by the owners of Scranton Security Services. Ranger had driven past the blue and white house, her new blue CRV wasn't parked in front. He sat watching from the green SUV he rented. Stephanie probably watched for black ones. Finally, she came out the front door and crossed the street. He couldn't see what she was carrying. Ranger fought jumping out of the Blazer right away. He wanted Stephanie to get comfortable in the warm Spring sun before he approached and begged for her forgiveness. He loved her and wanted Stephanie home with him.
Approaching the park bench, Stephanie was talking quietly to herself. He listened.
Without turning around and no emotion in her voice, "I figured you would show up eventually, Ranger."
He just stood there stunned. "Babe," he said as he sat down on the bench.
Stephanie never looked at him, her attention was occupied elsewhere. "Were you hungry, my good boy?"
Laying a cloth on her shoulder, she lifted up a blue eyed baby with a few black curls. A bottle in her hand. There was a blue truck on his little shirt.
Barely above a whisper, "What is his name?" His chocolate eyes couldn't look away from the chubby cheeks.
"We have a son."
Stephanie finally looked at him, her blue eyes were cold, "No, Ranger, I have a son. You were the vessel to provide the sperm."
Emotions running across the normally blank face. "He's ours, Babe."
"Think what you want, but my son won't know what it's like to be pushed away by someone who claims to love you. You've seen us. Forget about us."
Stephanie placed Dylan in his carrier strapping him in to it, and then stood up. She stared at the cast on his arm, "You were injured?"
'It's healing," he stood up also. Looking down in her blue eyes. Stephanie had perfected his blank face as she called it. A mocha latte finger touched Dylan's cheek. He made a gurgling noise at Ranger's touch.
Stephanie picked up the carrier by the handle and stepped around the Cuban man. "Good-bye, Ranger." Walking away and never looking back.
He sunk down on the park bench; his legs no longer had the strength to hold him upright. He stared down at the finger that had touched his son's soft cheek. He could still feel the softness. He was berating himself for treating Stephanie as he did. Admitting silently to himself, he was wrong all those months ago shutting her out. He had always been alone by choice, but now Ranger knew how it felt to lose the woman he loved. His heart was aching and he felt something like he never experienced before, lonely.