December 25, 2009
Albany, New York-6:30 pm
He found her by the window.
Her arms were folded across her chest; her gaze fixated on the snow outside. It came down in clumps, as it piled up in the driveway. The onslaught of heavy snowflakes confirmed the forecaster's warning to stay off the road during the holidays, whenever possible. They were blessed with a white Christmas, filled with the laughter of children in the neighborhood as they created snow angels and threw snowballs at each other.
Upstate New York had been transformed into a winter paradise.
It reminded him of the time where he shared his first white Christmas with Claire when they were kids. However, this wasn't the time to go down memory lane, not when Jill was in this state.
He should have known something was amiss, when she didn't follow him to the kitchen when dinner started. Leon, Claire, Rebecca, Carlos, Barry and his family were seated at the dinner table. He told them not to start eating, at least for the time being. Christmas dinner was the last thing that was on his mind, not after the hell he had gone through since May. The mission in West Africa was still fresh on his mind—it had been six months since they ended the legacy of Umbrella together, as partners. But at the same time, he couldn't ignore what she had gone through as well. He felt like a babysitter, only because the B.S.A.A released Jill in his care, based on his advice and persistence.
He couldn't stand seeing her in that facility, caged like an animal.
The dinner had been Claire's idea—and he couldn't say no to her or the guests in their home. Fortunately, they were staying overnight, well into New Year's Eve. She made all of the preparations—the dinner and the sleep arrangements. Claire was a master coordinator when it came to the holidays—she bought the gifts and she was responsible for dinner, including dessert. The only thing he was able to help with was the salad, and she jokingly said that at least he couldn't burn down the kitchen with romaine lettuce and tomatoes.
It brought a smile to Jill's lips when they had another one of their mock sibling arguments, but faded when she had gone upstairs. He should have noticed the change of mood when she came back downstairs for dinner.
She didn't answer him.
She was crying.
He didn't know how long she had been like this.
Her psychiatrist gave him instructions on how to deal with her condition.
Nightmares would come and go. She would see things that weren't there. She would hear voices that were nonexistent. She would end up crying over a past memory in her former life. She needed someone to comfort her; to assure her that it wasn't real. But after what she had gone through—what that monster did to her, it would take a while before the real Jill returned.
It was the only word he could use to describe the man that was his former captain. He was careful not to mention the name around her. It was yet another instruction the psychiatrist had given him. He would never forget the stories, where she had psychotic breaks from the name alone while she was under B.S.A.A care.
He reached over and touched her shoulder. "Hey—"
She stiffened from his touch.
He couldn't tell if she was listening to him or not. His voice was low enough to not disturb anyone in the kitchen.
He tried again. "Jill…"
"…It's beautiful Chris." This time, he was able to get a response from her. It was barely audible, but he was able to make out the words she left behind.
"…I know." He willed himself not to join her. The war against bioterrorism hardened him to the point he forgot how to express his emotions. He was able to laugh, whenever Claire made fun of his cooking, but everything else was difficult to express. The B.S.A.A recommended a psychiatric evaluation, but he kept his emotions hidden behind a façade of protocols and business.
The investigation of Tricell Incorporated had only just begun. By next year he was back on active duty.
He did the only thing he could do, from since they returned to the United States.
Chris drew her close and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. She didn't shrink away from him, as her arms dropped from her chest. He felt her arms around his waist and her head against his chest.
"…I've never experienced a snow day…not even during my childhood."
Her words caught him off guard. Before he could answer her, she continued on. "I never had a chance to really enjoy anything. I wanted to look out of the window to watch it fall. I…couldn't help myself. I just saw those children playing and…"
"I know..." He understood her childhood more than she gave him credit for. Her father was an alcoholic that snapped whenever things weren't done his way. Her mother was an easy target, and she was powerless at times to stop his rampage. It was part of the reason why she got involved with law enforcement in the first place. He was the only one that knew about it—she never even told Barry or the others, despite the fact that they were close friends. Jill trusted him in more ways than one.
"...I didn't want you to see me…not this way. Guess I fail...didn't I?" She laughed.
"Stop it..." He stared down at her, his tone firm. "...you don't have to hide anything from me. I don't want you to pretend, not around me or anyone else. I want to be here to comfort you and do everything in my power to help. I won't give up on you, so don't give up on me. We're partners to the end. Nothing will ever change that."
Jill wiped her face with the sleeve of her sweater. Silence prevailed between them, as they watched the snow fall. It was only then, that she spoke once more.
"…Partners?" She managed a smile and stared at him.
He returned the gesture.
Happy Holidays everyone!