You Do What You Have To Do
She sat in her brown canvas tent at the small portable desk covered with papers and books and artifacts and small excavation tools, all of which were unseen by her. With her head in her hands and her elbows resting on a small spot she had cleared, she looked down right depressed. And she was. She fought to control the barrage of tears that threatened to spill down her cheeks, and she couldn't help but glance at a lonely looking manila folder that sat neatly on the corner of the otherwise messy desk.
Sitting up and tilting her head back, she pushed her hands through her short red hair and blinked her green eyes in an effort to put a dam on the flood her tears were turning out to be. Outside her tent she could hear her workers talking back and forth as they labored to uncover the secrets the earth held. She knew she should be out there with them, slaving away in the hot South American sun, but she had more important things to do.
Namely picking up the manila folder and filling out the divorce papers inside so that they would be ready when her husband returned home…whenever that would be. But they continued to sit, untouched, on the corner of the desk, taunting her by just being there.
"Why does this hurt so much?" she asked the silence.
*Because you love him,* the silence retorted.
Estella sighed at her own conscience coming into play. Why did it have to be so right and at the same time, so wrong?
"I can't live like this anymore," she reminded it. "I can't live with the fear, the worry that this will be the time that he won't come home. That I'll get a letter from the government telling me he's dead, or missing in action."
*So fill out the papers,* her conscience was so two faced, and so calm.
"It's not that easy."
*It never is.*
She felt like she had an angel sitting on one shoulder, and a devil on the other.
"It'll break Jessie's heart…"
She squeezed her eyes shut, thinking about her daughter, only six years old. She was so happy, so carefree.
*Especially when daddy's home.*
*Not that he ever is…she rarely sees him now, what's a little less father-daughter time going to hurt? Jessie probably won't even notice…*
"My daughter isn't stupid!" Estella vehemently reminded her conscious.
*Of course not…you hear her yourself, crying every night because she misses her daddy. And don't forget the nightmares…*
Estella squeezed her eyes shut. She wished those hadn't been brought up. Jessie had terrible dreams about her father while he was away on the job; nightmares in which she saw her father's death over and over. Although she was only six, Jessie knew what the dreams meant, and she often woke up screaming after having one.
And those weren't even the worst ones. Sometimes Jessie depicted scenes of her father walking away and never coming back. She didn't understand what that meant, but Estella did. She did what she could to comfort her daughter, but she knew Jessie would eventually need professional help if the dreams didn't end.
*And a divorce is going to reassure her that daddy is safe?*
"Would you stop it? You're not making this easy for me!"
*We went over that already…*
Estella refused to answer, fuming to herself.
*You wouldn't have to cry yourself to sleep every night…* her conscious offered. *You wouldn't worry yourself sick over whether or not he'd be home that day…*
"Didn't I already suggest that?"
*And what about never knowing how long he'll stay, how much time you have with him before he's off on another assignment…*
"And how much it hurts when he does leave…" Estella added with a sigh.
*And the anger…don't forget the anger…*
That was enough for her to steel herself and reach for the folder, the other hand taking a tight grip around a pen. She remembered how she'd been so angry when she'd called her lawyer and asked for them, so determined. He'd had been called away at a moment's notice. She'd begged him to stay, pleaded for him to stay, and even fought with him over it. But in the end he had left, with the only the excuse of, "It's my job, Stella."
It had been that way for a while now. They had started having their arguments sometime last fall when he'd promised that he'd be there for Jessie's birthday. And for once it had looked like he would keep that promise when he showed up two days before the event. And then the night before the big party, after Jessie had fallen into an excited slumber, the call had come. He had to go, right then. He couldn't put it off. They needed him.
*His daughter needed him too…*
"You're job is more important to you than Jessie," she whispered the words she had yelled at him that night when he'd walked out the door. It had hurt to say them, and she knew it had hurt him to hear them.
The time spent waiting for the papers to arrive had been disastrous to her cause. She had come up with reasons not to go through with it, arguments against actually filling the papers out. She had gone through, for the past few weeks, exactly the same thing that she was going through right now, warring back and forth with her conscious.
Today, finally, they had arrived.
As she opened the folder she found that her lawyer had already done a neat job of filling out most of the forms. It would just take a little penning in here and there and two signatures to finish it.
"He always was complete," she sighed as she looked over the crisp sheets of white paper to make sure everything was accurate.
"Mommy?" Jessie's tiny voice cut into her concentration.
Distracted, the woman looked away from her work to see her daughter's head sticking in between the opening to her tent.
"What is it, honey?" mother answered daughter.
"Daddy's coming home today," Jessie grinned.
It was more of a statement than a question. That had been one odd thing she had noticed about the little girl. She never asked when "daddy" was coming home, she told.
"I don't know, honey, maybe," she smiled, treating the little girl's statement like a question and smiling genuinely at her daughter.
"Today," Jessie repeated with a sense of finality and then was gone.
She sighed and placed the papers into the folder, returning them to the spot on her desk. She really had nothing to do now but once again wait.
"And go out and help my men with all that digging," she reminded herself, pushing herself up from the table.
The chair legs scraped against the wooden base the tents were set up on as she pushed it out and then back in, the sound seeming louder than it was in the silence of the tent and the far off sounds of her team working in the soil. She paused, looking around the tent that she used as her office as if she really didn't recognize it. Somehow it all seemed so new to her, like she was seeing it for the first time.
*Today,* her conscience echoed in her head.
Pulling herself together, she marched out of the tent and toward the site to check on the progress of her team and join them in their task.
She was at the pump, trying to scrub the dirt from her skin and out from under her finger nails. She was the last one tonight, as usual. When all her workers called it quits for the day, she was still going strong, as passionate about her career as she always had been. It was already dusky, almost night. Many of the tents were lit up from the inside, and the nightly fire was burning strong with some of her workers laughing, talking and relaxing around it.
So concentrated was she on getting clean that she was startled when strong arms slipped around her from behind and picked her up in a massive bear hug. Her first instinct was to fight back, and fight back she did, arms and legs swinging, head shaking back and forth, body squirming like a worm, trying to strike her attacker however she could reach him.
Until she heard the familiar base voice that caused her to go slack in his arms.
"Whoa, Stella, it's just me!" the voice of her husband boomed in laughter.
Jessie's prophecy had come true.
She relaxed back against him as he set her back on her feet. His strong arms wrapped loosely around her felt so good that she could have died happy right there. She felt his searching nuzzles through her hair and around ears and neck. Turning toward him they were allowed one lingering kiss before the happy shrieks of their daughter interrupted them.
"DADDY!" Jessie's enthusiasm could not be quelled and she launched herself at her father with as much force as a submarine launched a torpedo.
But with his quick reflexes daddy was ready and waiting for her, catching her in mid air and swinging her up and onto his shoulder.
"Did'ja miss me, Ponchita?" he asked, smiling up at her.
Stella smiled at the pet name father had coined for daughter as they all began to walk back toward the tents.
"Course I did!" Jessie assured her father. "But did you miss me?"
"You know I did! Thought about you all the time. You and your mom," his broad smile at his daughter helped to guarantee to her that he had and she giggled at him, hugging him as best she could from her high up position.
"It's a little late, Jessie, aren't you supposed to be in bed?" he asked his daughter.
"But daddy…" Jessie objected with a whine.
"No buts, I'll still be here tomorrow," he told her.
"Promise?" she pouted at him as only little girls can.
"Cross my heart," his finger drew an X over his chest.
"Alright," Jessie reluctantly agreed.
Stella watched as the two exchanged "G'nights" and kisses, receiving one herself from her daughter. Then her husband sent her scuttling off to bed with a light swat on the bottom. Silently they watched her go, Stella with her arms folded across her chest, and her mate with his hands settled lightly on his hips.
"She's growing up so fast," he commented softly.
"You could watch her doing it if you were around more often," Stella responded.
"You know I can't, Stel," he reminded her.
She pursed her lips, biting back the retort that burned on her tongue. She had bad enough news to drop on him as it was without getting into an argument with him as well.
Without knowing he had moved she suddenly found herself encircled in his arms again, looking up into his gorgeous smile and gazing into his steel blue eyes. It was so intoxicating, especially the look of his eyes, so full of love, yet hinting at the threat this man possessed. He was dangerous, working for one of the American government's secret agencies, one of the most dangerous men alive. But he was still a man. He still fell in love, still had emotions, weaknesses.
And she was about to crush his world.
"Roger," she protested, pulling away from his seductive kisses.
"What?" he asked, a little bit of hurt showing in his eyes, confusion playing across his face.
She stumbled, couldn't get the words out.
"You…what?" Roger prodded her.
She turned away and began to stalk toward her office tent. He would follow, she knew he would. He would already have figured out something was wrong. She wondered if the night was too dark for him to see her tears, though he was trained to work during the latest and earliest hours of the day. So as far as she knew, he could very well have seen them.
"Estella, stop," he called to her.
But she refused to listen. She had to control herself, force herself to do this and not to chicken out just because he was standing so near.
God this hurts and I haven't even told him yet.
He continued to call to her, to try and get her to stop. She half expected him to catch up and try to stop her physically. She had a feeling that if he did she wouldn't be able to go through with it.
Finally she reached the tent and she thrust herself into it. Someone had been kind enough to light a lamp in there, figuring she would probably stay up late working like she was known to do. Still not allowing herself to relax she grabbed the manila folder from the desk and turned, thrusting it at him as the tears escaped from her eyes.
"What's this?" Roger eyed the folder.
"They're divorce papers, Roger," she told him in a shaky voice.
His mouth opened and closed, his strong jaw moving with the effort of trying to say something, but no sounds emerged. She thought she wouldn't be able to look at him, but somehow she found herself staring right into his eyes. He was just staring back at her, looking as calm as can be.
For some reason she noticed the color of his shirt, red as it had always been. She didn't understand why, with the line of work he was in, he would wear such vivid colors. She remembered him explaining to her once that in his job everything was black and white, no grey area and no colors at all. You did what you were told and there was no deviating from orders. Sometimes you didn't know if you were still alive from one day to the next. So when he was away from it, away from the starkness of "the Agency," he liked to have as much color as possible. It reminded him that he was alive, he said.
"Why?" the question was so simple. She wished the answer could be just as so.
"Because I'm sick of all the pain, all the worry, all the aching and longing…" she let her reply trail off, allowing him to interpret it as he would. She surely wasn't going to try and explain anymore.
Slowly he took the folder from her hands, opening it with what seemed to be great care. He flipped through the pages, Estella watching him silently and holding her breath without knowing it. Finally he closed the folder.
"Looks like everything's in order," he commented.
He kept his eyes on the cream colored folder. It was he, who had always been so strong, who could not look her in the eye.
"You understand why I'm doing this," it came out sounding like a question.
Roger slowly nodded. "I can't believe it, but I know that the demands of my job must be hard on you."
"I love you, Roger," she suddenly admitted, "but it's just not working."
"No, I suppose it's not," he still hadn't lifted his eyes from the folder in his hands. "I suppose I haven't been around to make it work."
"Relationships are supposed to make you happy-" Estella began.
"And ours doesn't?" he wanted to know.
"Not if you're never around…"
After that they both just stood there, neither really knowing what to say. They could hear the night sounds of the surrounding jungle, and the ruckus coming from the worker's enjoying themselves that evening. They could even hear their own daughter fighting with her nanny over going to bed.
Suddenly Roger moved, setting the folder on the desk, opening it again, his hand searching out a pen. He bent over the desk as the nib scratched across the paper, then he straightened up, closed the folder and threw the pen down on it with an air of finality.
"I'm really sorry, Roger," Estella apologized, her voice soft.
"You do what you have to do," Roger replied.
She flinched at how nonchalant he sounded.
His back was to her, and she could just imagine the look on his face. But she made no move to comfort him, or even touch him, as much as she wanted to.
"You'll stay 'til morning?"
"I promised Jessie I would."
Estella nodded though he couldn't see it.
"It's pretty late, think I'll turn in," Roger commented.
He left the next afternoon. Estella knew he wouldn't stay long. Of course Jessie was sad, but he promised he'd write, and he did, though his first letter was a long time in coming. Still, he kept his promise, for once.
Roger told of how he'd started getting stupid in the field, pulling risky stunts and maneuvers that could get men killed, and finally did. After that, they decided to ground him, and now he was working as a body guard for some rich family in the Florida Keys, placed there by the government. He didn't say much more than that, but that's the way things were in top secret government agencies. Everything's confidential…black and white.
"You do what you have to do," Estella whispered to herself as she folded the letter and gave it back to her daughter.
That phrase rang in her mind for a long time after Jessie slipped out of her lap and ran off to tuck the precious piece of paper safely away. Somehow it tore her heart away and gave her comfort all at the same time.
She didn't cry this time though, like she had so many times before in the past six months. She wouldn't say she was getting over it, but she was definitely getting better at it.
She shook her head, clearing her thoughts and remembering that she had work to do today. No more time to sit around dallying her time away. Rising, she left the tent to join her workers, pushing any other thoughts behind her.
But one still lingered, whispering across her mind in *his* voice.
You do what you have to do.