The Art of You Part 8

There is sorrow in loss. I can't remember where I found this photo, but it isn't mine.

There is sorrow in loss.
I can’t remember where I found this photo, but it isn’t mine.

 

 

 

 

 

I had no right to be sad in seeing him go. I really didn’t. But I distinctly remember going in the bathroom and closing the door. This time, I locked it. Pulling the lid to the toilet closed, I sat down and buried my face in my hands, the tears flowing freely. I felt defeated. That’s the word for it. Life had beat me up so many times that I was broken and hollow and now, defeated.

Now, I’m not a religious person. I was when I was younger and even a while when my husband was still alive. But I felt lost, like a wayward ship upon story waters. My compass was broken and my soul bled. I had no choice to go down with my ship.

I took in a ragged breath and I knelt at the toilet, folding my hands piously and resting my forehead on them.

“Dear Lord,” I cried, “I’m so thankful for everything you have given me, but I am so lost right now. I know it has been a long time since we’ve had a conversation and I’m sorry about that. See, I don’t know what to do. I’m so confused. I finally allow myself to care for another guy after all these years. I feel like I finally started to enjoy living again and he gets taken away from me too. What was the purpose for all this if I’m just supposed to be alone? I don’t understand and this is one of those moments in my life that I really need you to carry me through it. Lend me comfort, I pray…”

A loud rap on the door scared the daylights out of me and I gasped loudly, quickly sitting back down and pulling at the toilet paper to mop my face.

“Ruby?” Jack asked sounding panicked.

“Yes?” I replied feebly, hoping the emotion couldn’t be heard beneath my voice.

“The door is locked. Are you alright?”

I chuckled. “I’m fine, Jack. Be out in a minute.”

“Don’t scare me like that!” he exclaimed and a pain shot through my chest.

I could tell he cared and he wasn’t meaning to hurt me at all. I was merely being selfish and wanting what I was not meant for. My status was not the same as his, we were from completely different worlds, and I was an emotional mess.

I ran some cold water over my face and pat it dry. Then, I paused as I unlocked the door and opened it to find him still standing there. That dang lump formed in my throat and burned so bad I could not speak. I looked down at the floor so he wouldn’t see my tears and I moved past him.

He reached out and grabbed my wrist, pulling me to him. I felt those strong arms close around me and my weak ones wound around him. We just stood there together for a time. My silent tears ran over my face and wet his shirt. His silent tears ran down his face and wet the top of my head.

“Thank you,” he croaked out.

“For what?” I sniffed and looked up at him.

“You opened my eyes, that’s what,” he smiled.

I was speechless. “I’m not following you.”

He took my hand and led me to the couch where we both sat.

“I can’t really describe it. I was cut off from the world even though I was a big part of it. I was angry, I was impatient, and I was ungrateful. Davis hitting you with the car was one of the best things that ever happened to me, and I mean that. There is only so much happiness that money can buy,” he gave a false chuckle.

I looked down at my hands. He envied my simple life and I envied his lavish one.

“Thank you, Jack. I can’t say that being hit with your car was the best thing that ever happened to me, but I’m glad that I was able to know you for the good man that you are. I will be really honest, my first impression of you wasn’t the best even though I am probably your biggest fan,” I laughed and he joined me. “I do want you to know that I wasn’t following you. You really did keep popping up everywhere I went. I was not stalking you, I promise.”

His hand found my shoulder. “I know. Perhaps there were greater forces that kept throwing me in your path.”

“I came up here to find closure and I found you and your great kids…and the bumper of your car. But you have helped me too. You have shown me there is so much more to life that I have missed out on these last few years. I thank you for that,” I said wringing my hands in nervousness.

“You want to know what I think?” he asked.

I tilted my head and looked at him with narrowed eyes. “Do I want to?”

He smiled, the lines around his mouth deepened and the lines around his eyes crinkled. “I think you look for the magic in the world because you don’t have any magic in your life. You have to find it somewhere to keep from going batty. But I think you are an old soul that has been very sad for a long time and if I was able to help you out of that, even for an hour, I’m happy I could help you back. But what you did for me was more than I could ever do for you.”

I shook my head to the negative and I felt the sadness creep up on me again. If he cared so much, and if I did so much for him, why couldn’t he just make a promise to me that he would come back someday? Was I so undeserving? Was it really as silly as it sounded? I mean, we were two human beings. Why did it matter so much about the stereotypes of the world? I felt like the peasant who fell in love with the prince and everyone around him was telling him how the peasant girl was not good enough or have royal enough blood to be with him. If only more princes stood up to those people and broke the bonds of society.

“What are you thinking right now?” he asked when I didn’t respond.

I flicked my gaze to his. “You don’t want to know.”

My thoughts piqued his interest and his eyebrows shot up. A hint of a smile played on my own lips but I didn’t want to feel happy.

My brain worked quickly, searching the corners for some viable excuse. “I was feeling free.”

“What do you mean by that?” he asked quietly.

“Well, I am able to make my own decisions, except when a movie star takes me out with his car and I’m forced to stay in his hotel room.” I heard him laugh out loud. “But I’m pretty in control of my life. Yes, I have bills that are late, most people do. I can choose who I take with me to dinner. I can choose what clothes I wear. I can be who I want to be and it’s okay. But you…you have expectations to live up to. You are forced to put your own life last for the entertainment of millions of people. You can’t be seen in public with people who aren’t of a certain status. You are forced to vacation in tiny mountain towns to escape cameras. While I might envy your bank account, I’m much freer than you are.”

I stood then and left him on the couch headed for the bedroom. I paused before I passed through the doorway and looked back at him just staring into nothing, the muscles of his jaw leaping as they clenched and unclenched.

“I told you that you didn’t want to know…” I muttered and went to lie down.

The Art of You Part 7

Inspiration for "Jack Harrington" Borrowed from Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/HughJackman

Inspiration for “Jack Harrington” Borrowed from Facebook.
https://www.facebook.com/HughJackman

Another couple of days passed before I dared leave the bed again. I was bombarded with terrible headaches that made me feel sick to my stomach and more sensitive to light. Jack kept the lights low and the drapes drawn against the beauty that waited for them outside. I told him to get out of the hotel and enjoy himself, but he refused. I often wondered if caring for me was replacing being able to care for his wife. A ridiculous notion, I know. But he never left and was always there to bring me water and little bits of food.

Painkillers were given out like candy for the headaches and while nothing really took the pain away, it made it manageable. The effects of the sleeping meds stopped working so well and I began to have strange dreams and insomnia often. I felt strange sensations like bugs were crawling over my body making me itch and need to walk around and even shower several times a day. It was miserable, to say the least.

It was Thursday morning. I woke up and Jack was there smiling at me telling me to get up and about. We were going to the Pancake House for breakfast. I tried to object, but he halted me, not taking ‘no’ for an answer.

I took the time to look presentable, kind of halfway doing my makeup in the beloved 50s look. Jeans and a white tank top won out and I slipped my feet into my little white tennis shoes. I decided to tie a red bandana in my hair that covered the back of my head and tied at my crown.

Making my appearance in the front room of the suite, I saw a wheelchair waiting for me, sitting empty and lonesome, the foot rests down and ready. Slowly, I back away.

“No way,” I said shaking my head slightly. “I’m not going in that!”

Jack laughed. “Come on, Ruby. It’s the only way to make sure you stay upright!”

“No. Not going to do it. I will do it on my own, or not at all,” I argued.

“For the love! You are so stubborn! Fine. Have it your way then,” he said throwing up his hands in the air and moving the wheelchair into a corner.

“Thank you,” I breathed.

Grabbing my backpack with my camera in it, I started out the door. The dizziness was trying to grab at me and I kept talking to myself and telling it to knock it off already. I was about four slow paces out the door and Jack swooped me up in his arms.

Shocked, I squealed and struggled to get back down on my own feet.

“Nope, I can be just as stubborn. So if you aren’t going to sit in the chair, I am responsible for making sure you don’t fall down. That means I carry you everywhere you need to go today,” he chuckled.

“I will break your back! I’m too heavy!” I countered.

“I think my superhero arms will do fine. You are not heavy in the slightest so be quiet.”

People on our way out to the car stared, their heads rotating as we walked by.

“Everyone is staring,” I whispered.

“I know. Get used to it,” he smiled in response. “Guess you should have taken the chair then, huh?”

I groaned in embarrassment, but inside I was cheering. Who could say that the very handsome Jack Harrington carried them in his delightfully strong arms? Very few, I was sure.

This fantastical world that had spun around me began to feel comfortable. I cared for Jack, not because he was my angel in all this, but because he was a good person inside. He genuinely cared. He had seen me at my worst and he never relented.

The Pancake House was busy for a Thursday morning. We got seated promptly, but waited a while for our waitress to be free enough to make it over. We sat in our booth, the kids on one side of the table and Jack seated beside me on the other. It felt strange and natural at the same time. It was like a fairy tale that had come in and taken over my pathetic life and it made me feel whole again. He made me feel whole.

Finally we ordered and sat there joking around with each other and deciding what we would brave next. The food arrived in fairly good time and we dug in to the pancakes with butter and syrup, the crispy bacon and golden hash browns. It was the first real food in a week and I realized how I had missed the taste of all of it.

Jack’s phone rang. He stared at it a moment before answering.

“Jack,” he said in greeting.

I could hear the tone of the voice coming out of the speaker and into Jack’s ear. It sounded monotone and hushed a little.

“I see. What time?”

More hushed talking and I could hear him swallow and sniff.

“Thank you,” he replied and hung up the phone. “Excuse me, please.”

We all sat quiet as he headed for the restrooms. My heart sat high in my throat and my stomach turned. I wondered if it was the moment I had been dreading all this time.

Jack’s son excused himself and went to find his dad. I thought that both kids probably already understood.

When they returned to the table some time later, I could tell they had both shed tears. Their eyes were glossy and puffy with red rings defining their sorrow.

“She’s gone,” he said low. “She slipped away peacefully about an hour ago.”

I sat there numb. We had been seated about an hour before. Had she felt his happiness and let go when she knew he would be okay?

“I’m so sorry,” I said and patted his hand, fighting the tears of my own.

He sniffed again and ran his hand beneath his nose. “We all knew it was coming. We all said our goodbyes and we all knew she would be gone when we got back. That was the deal,” he rationalized.

The daughter folded her arms on the table and her head sunk down onto them where her shoulders shook with the force of her sorrow.

“We will be fine, guys. This was how she wanted it to go, remember?” Jack said with emotion thick in his voice.

Silent tears weaved their way down the boy’s face and I had to wipe a few of my own away. The wound from burying my own spouse was reopened and I knew the turmoil they were all feeling.

“Consequently, we will head back home tomorrow for the funeral,” he announced and then he looked to me. “I will drive you back home so I know you aren’t driving on the roads in your condition. Davis will follow and we will catch our plane out of Boise.”

I shook my head. “That’s not necessary, Jack. I will be fine.” I knew it was a lie, but the last thing I wanted was to keep him from doing what he needed to. “It’s a long drive down to a not so glamorous place,” I laughed weakly.

I felt embarrassed just at the thought of him seeing where I lived, in a run down little cottage that was the better part of 100 years old. I’d had neither the money nor the ambition to restore it. I could feel a sense of panic rising in me.

“We can do this the easy way or the hard way, Ruby. You are not driving home. You can’t exactly leave your car here and have Davis get it home for you later. You can’t exactly stay here alone and unattended either. Just please lower your guard for one minute and realize that I will win. I will always win,” he said looking me in the eye.

I closed my eyes and sighed. Lovely.

The world I had started to love, the one that was most unexpected but comfortable, all crumbled down around me. It was all a charade. None of it was real. Things were so amazing that I had almost forgotten about the wife half the world away. Who was I kidding? These kinds of stories only happened in books and movies. In real life, they just tease you and then disintegrate back into the nothingness from where it came. I would not only mourn the loss of my husband for years to come, but I would also mourn the loss of the man who taught me that there was more to life than tears.

I was quiet the rest of the day in anticipation of going back home. I missed my boys terribly but I knew I would miss Jack just as much. Perhaps he would write or email. Perhaps he might call on occasion. Given his status in life, I doubted it. I might be on his mind for a few weeks and then life would take over and I would disappear into the archives of his mind.

The Art of You Part 6

Loneliness happens.

Loneliness happens.

 

 

 

 

 

I heard him swallow hard in the silence of the bedroom. The tears were just pushing behind my eyes until it hurt. Why wasn’t he leaving?

“I’m losing my wife,” he said, his voice thick with emotion. “There aren’t many people who understand what that feels like.”

My heart lurched in my chest and I rolled over to face him. “I’m so sorry…”

“Is it true? That you never get over something like this?” His eyes were pleading with me to tell him otherwise.

I sighed. “Some days are better than others, I suppose. You see, my husband died unexpectedly. I never got to tell him goodbye and I think there has just been no closure for me. I holed up for a long time, living on what we had left. I found it hard to function and think straight. I stopped taking pictures because that magic had left and the world was just ordinary and ugly. But it’s funny how life happens. I came up here to capture some shots to pay my mortgage and I have spent my time so far revisiting places I had gone with him and reliving memories that I could never experience again. The loneliness I have felt at times here is crushing. But you know, spending the little bit of time with you has shown me that life is still here, but it isn’t waiting for me to make up my mind.” I paused. ” So if she’s dying, why are you here without her?”

He looked like he was trying to gather himself up. “We are here at her request. To live life for her in her final days. I wanted to be there to hold her hand when she slips away, but that was my wish…not hers. I chose a place that was small and remote, where I had less of a chance of paparazzi showing up, and where it would be relaxed and low-key. And then I met you. The fire in you has shown me there is more to life than this blackness I feel. But I can’t seem to escape it.”

My dream flooded my head as he mentioned escaping the darkness. I remembered how no matter where we went, it always found us and destroyed everything in our path. I heard a laugh come out of me before I meant for it to. Jack’s head snapped up, sending me a rude look.

“I’m sorry, Jack. I didn’t mean to laugh out loud…and I wasn’t laughing at you. It’s just that I have been running from the darkness too. For a long time. It-well, it always finds me and I don’t know how to make it leave me alone. I don’t have any answers for you, but it seems we are more alike than we ever knew,” I smiled, reaching out my hand to pat his.

I thought he would cry or let go of even one tear, but he didn’t. He merely got up from the chair beside the bed and left the room. I was so emotionally spent at that point that the tears had subsided and I felt fast asleep.

I couldn’t tell where I was. The ground was cold, it was dark out, and all I could do was feel my way along a brick wall. A voice came to me. It was shouting for help. I kept inching my way along the wall in the dark hearing the voice grow louder. I recognized the voice and I stopped to listen more intently. I shouted back, “Jack!” There were more pleas for help that came through that wall. I felt the panic and I felt like jelly, as though I couldn’t move very well. I asked him where the door was. It was like he couldn’t hear me.

Suddenly, a bright light seared my eyes and there was my husband, standing before me. His face held such adoration and love in it for me. I tried to hold him, to feel him again but I couldn’t move at all.

“Live for me, Ruby. I want us to sit and talk of your adventures one day. You are breaking my heart as I watch you give up. For me, please live your life!” he said and pointed to something behind me. “When you need me, I will show you the way.”

I turned my head to see a door in the wall. Then it all went dark again but I knew my destination. I had to see if that door led me to Jack.

Commotion woke me and I heard many different voices beyond the bedroom. Tidbits of my dream still floated in my mind. He had come to see me! It had been the first time since his death that I had seen him and he looked so handsome and youthful. I closed my eyes, willing the dream to continue, but it did not. But I could still hear him tell me to live life for him. That was the wish of Jack’s wife too, that he lived life for her. Was it the way of it then? That they will live on through us? If we sulk about in the darkness and always try to run from it, they can’t live on. But if we make it full and happy, they can still feel that energy and it makes them happy.

I groaned, disgusted with myself a little. It was just a dream.

There was laughter in the other room. Jack’s laughter. It sounded different somehow. Maybe a little less burdened?

I gasped when the door opened and he stepped inside.

“Did you sleep well?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Good. I’m going to step out for a bit with the kids. They have missed me and are tired of Davis,” he chuckled, his dark eyes alight with mischief.

“Okay…” I said and it came out a garbled mess of sounds. Clearing my throat and plastering a smile on my face I added, “Good.”

“Are you okay?” he asked casting me a sideways glance.

“I’m fine.”

“If you need anything, here is my cell number. Call me right away,” he ordered and dropped the paper to the bedside table. Then, he was gone.

It was a crazy few seconds while I computed to myself that I was once again alone. Where I had begun feeling comfortable, I realized that I was still going at this all by myself. I had a sudden yearn to see my kids. I missed them. Seeing Jack with his kids and hearing them laughing made me jealous, just a little. I had left mine behind while I went out to take photos for a week. Granted, they were plenty old enough to take care of themselves, but I never should have left them.

And then I had another thought…since I lost him, I don’t really think I had been present with my kids. I was always hiding behind sorrow and living in the shadows. My actions had robbed them of a mother and I suddenly felt very guilty. I needed to go home.

I sat up slowly and climbed out of bed, a slight feeling of vertigo washing over me as I moved. After poking around briefly, I found my bag. The one that had been in my apartment. Puzzled, I bent to grab it when Jack blew back in the door. I froze and just stared at him.

“What are you doing?” he asked, breathless.

“Well, I decided I’m going home,” I replied standing up again. My palms began to sweat and I started feeling rather green in the gills. “What are you doing here? I thought you were headed out?”

I feared my voice sounded needy in a way, but he just blinked his eyes in disbelief. “I- My sunglasses. I left them on the table just there,” he said. “You can’t go yet. You are not fit to drive at all, Ruby. Let’s go tuck you back in so you can rest.”

I turned around again to take my bag and the lousy floor started to tilt beneath my feet, the room swirled about me and I fell to my knees, my hands bracing me against the movement.

Jack was by my side in a flash. “You okay?” he was asking me.

It sounded like he was talking to me through a door. And then it happened. I threw up all over the floor. I wished the floor would open up and swallow me whole. I wished at that moment that I would disappear and he would never see me again.

“Oh snap,” I groaned and the tears just fell. Tears of shame and embarrassment, not tears of grief or sorrow. “I’m so sorry.”

Jack just lifted me in his arms and carried me back to the bed. He brought me some water to wash away the taste of vomit from my mouth and handed me a pill from a bottle by the bed.

“This should make you feel a little better,” he smiled and smoothed the sweaty hair from my forehead. “It is I that am sorry, Ruby. But I think the clouds are coming on and we will just move our festivities inside for the day. Make it a movie day.”

I shook my head to the negative and my stomach began to lurch again. “You have fun things to go do, Jack. Take those kids out there and enjoy it!”

“We have all the time in the world. A few more days won’t hurt.”

“Don’t shut yourselves in because of me. Go! Have fun!” I tried to shout.

“But you are a part of our lives right now. I can’t just leave you when it was my car that brought you here…and not in a good way. You are more important than that.”

“I am just baggage. You have plenty already on your plate. You don’t need more,” I said slurring my words as the pill began to work.

“Good night, Ruby,” I heard him say before I succumbed.

The Art of You Part 5

Have the courage to be yourself.

Have the courage to be yourself.

 

 

I could hear noises, like voices muffled together as if I were swimming under water and people were talking above in the air. I had dreams that were bold and vividly colored. Some were frightening, some were not. I could hear myself try to speak out and I felt like I was screaming out loud. My body ached and my head was being squeezed tight. It felt like people were grabbing me, pulling me, and pinching me. Lines of fire ran through my skin like streams of hot electricity.

Fatigue came to me often and no matter how hard I tried, my eyes would not open.

And then it just happened one day. They opened. The light was excruciating, as if standing in the darkness and having fireworks explode like the sun in your face. I remember blinking to protect my eyes and slowly, the world began to materialize around me again. I felt stunned and unsure of where I was at. What had just happened?

“She’s coming around, Jack!” someone called out.

“Do you think she will be okay?” Jack’s accent bit into my ears.

The blood pressure rose and the memories of the night in The Narrows came flooding back in. What in the world was he doing here?

“She is healing well. Thank the Lord there were no broken bones or internal bleeding,” an unknown voice piped in.

I tried to speak and sounded gravelly and dry.

A cup was pressed to my lips and I sipped eagerly to wet my parched throat.

“What happened?” I managed in a whisper.

Closing my eyes against the pain of the light, I could hear his voice speaking to me. “Well, Davis here hit you with the car. I’m terribly sorry about that. I swear it was all an accident.”

The panic in his voice was evident. Perhaps he was afraid I would sue him or perhaps he was more afraid I would embarrass him.

“But you’re going to be just fine!” he added quickly.

“Oh,” was my soft reply.

I allowed my eyes to open a crack and the white light all around contrasted sharply with Jack’s dark hair and eyes, the black shirt on his body. It turned his skin pale and showed stubble where there hadn’t been any the last time I saw him. He looked like an angel sent to help me and since I was helpless it only made sense that I let him.

As I was drifting to the brink of sleep again, a thought popped into my mind. Where were the kids? And just as I thought it, a panic of my own thundered in my ears and I tried to get up, which resulted in the room spinning and the light splintering my brain. What about my kids?

I must have muttered something in my struggle because Jack put his arms over my shoulders and gently pushed me back onto the pillow, hushing me.

“I was able to let your kids know what happened,” he said with a slight grin holding up my cell phone.

I let out a groan and relaxed. I was sure they would think the stalker had killed me. And in all realities, that was what happened!

“How long have I been here?” I asked.

There was a pause and I thought I heard Jack suck in a deep breath before he answered. “Just about three days, in and out. The concussion knocked you out and a doctor here was available to keep you medicated so your head could heal.”

“I’ve missed three days of working?” I tried to sound angry and ended up sounding lazy and pathetic. So I shut my mouth and let out a long sigh.

“Look, Miss Kramer…” he began.

“Just call me Ruby. I’m sure formality is out the window by now,” I cringed at the thought of seeing me anywhere near naked.

“Ruby, don’t worry about anything. I have everything under control. You just need to focus on getting better,” he said and placed his hand on the crown of my head. The pressure of it felt safe and I drifted off to sleep again.

It wasn’t until the next evening that I felt more awake and less sore. Without the sunlight, I could open my eyes without my head killing me. Jack helped me walk to the bathroom to do my business even. He tried to come inside, but I refused. So he agreed to wait outside the bathroom door in case I fell. I thought about locking it anyway, but I suppose I didn’t want to tempt fate.

What was the strangest of all was that I wasn’t in the hospital. I was in a hotel room. I could tell because of the smell. There was no kitchen, but it was more of a suite. Jack had mentioned a doctor tending me, so perhaps I was moved here after they knew I would be alright.

I was never one for using a toilet where anyone could hear me. It was mortifying to say the least. And knowing he was right outside the door just made me blush with embarrassment. But the bladder wasn’t going to hold on any longer, so I sat and let go, my head falling into my hands in defeat.

Jack acted as though nothing had even happened. I slowly emerged from the bathroom and he smiled, helping me to the couch. I’d had enough lying around.

“Can I get you some tea?” he asked.

I shrugged. “Sure, that would be nice. Thank you.”

Minutes later, he sat beside me with a steaming cup of a sweet smelling tea for me.

“Where’s yours?” I asked taking the cup between my palms.

“Still steeping,” he replied and went to get it.

I sipped gently and the warm liquid flowed down my throat and warmed my belly like a blanket thrown over my shoulders.

He sat again and we both sipped quietly, an awkward silence building.

I cleared my throat. “So why here?”

He looked at me intently then, almost suspiciously. But he licked his lips and answered, “I wanted to escape my life.”

I reeled back as though he had slapped me just then. “You? Escape?” I asked incredulously.

He laughed and set his tea on the short table before us and sighed. “Sometimes life just gets to you and you need to get away from it all. Cameras, autographs, rehearsals…” his voice trailed off like he meant to finish the sentence and other thoughts grew to be in the way.

“I would never have thought someone like yourself would ever know about a tiny little place like this. It is paradise though.”

Jack has a wistful look to his face and he nodded.

“This is my paradise,” I whispered.

“I can see why,” he smiled and clapped his hand on my knee.

“Where are your kids?” I pressed.

A shadow seemed to fall over his features. “They are just- uh- in the next couple of rooms,” he replied with a shake of his head toward the rooms. “They are at an age where they want their privacy and nothing here had larger suites, just adjoining rooms.”

“Oh, I see. You should go take them out to do something tonight. I will be just fine and I think you are due.”

He shook his head to the negative. “We played hard a few days and they have been enjoying the beach out there. They recognized you, you know. From the rocks where they were jumping.”

“Why didn’t you jump too?” I asked him cocking my head to the side.

He laughed loudly and he sounded so free. “Well, someone had to stay with the boat to keep it from floating away.”

I figured there was more to it than that. Perhaps it unnerved him as much as it did me.

“I didn’t think anything could bother someone like you,” I laughed back with him.

“I’m just a person as you are, Ruby. There are things I like and things I don’t. If I cut myself, I bleed just as you do. Sometimes I wish I were still just a face in the crowd,” he replied sobering and I felt a cad.

“I’m sorry, of course you do. I just meant…” but I wasn’t sure what else to say. How did I really mean it?

“I see you and what a free spirit you are, unowned by contracts and money…free to look as you wish and dress in what you like. You have no pressures to fit in a certain stereotype and I love that about you. What I admire is your ability to step out and be who you are in your red lipstick and flowers in your hair, rocking the camera when you sit poised and ready to strike.”

His smile of sincerity made me take pause and my cup lowered to my lap.

“I just see art in everything. The camera helps me notice the magic that is always around. Most people just don’t see it that way. The camera helps me bring little things like drops of water to the forefront, I suppose. Sunsets are such a cliché thing to photograph, but the right one at the right time could take someone’s breath away,” I said still staring at him, barely breathing. I wanted to tell him that he took my breath away, but I wasn’t sure if it was his looks that attracted me or his public figure.

“That is a magnificent talent to have,” he said softly. “I think I have forgotten to notice little things like drops of water.”

I got up and found my backpack. I prayed the camera escaped without injury as I pulled it out. “I’ll show you,” I smiled. “What do you see?”

I pointed at a vase with dried sticks and branches in it. There was a heavy round rock that had been polished to shine and be a focus of the room.

“I see décor.”

“Okay…” I got down on my belly, a hard thing to do since I hurt so badly, but I did it nonetheless. Carefully, I aimed the lens at the rock, zoomed in to where I wanted it and snapped. Then I turned the camera on its side and rocked it backward toward me a bit. Focused, zoomed out, focused again, and snapped.

Gingerly, I picked myself up and made it back to the couch. I hit the review button and the photos showed up on the little screen.

“You see décor, but I see a planet sitting in your hotel room. See the stripes and striations of the rock under the polish? The shadow just right on the other side? And this one is just a testament of Mother Nature, with the clay vase of the earth and salvaged limbs from a tree that give a sense of peace just having them in the room. It is all magic. Life is art.”

He smiled then as the wheels of his mind started turning. He let out a small chuckle. “That is amazing,” he breathed.

I stood and walked a few paces from him and he looked at me in wonder. Suddenly, I spun as fast as my body would allow, pointed the lens at him and snapped. He looked relaxed and calm, with a lamp shining on one side of his face, leaving the other in shadow to be a mystery.

Showing him the photo, I pointed at the screen. “This is the art of you. No poses, no pretend. This is just you.”

The look on his face was pure shock. I had shown him a side of himself that he hadn’t seen before. In the fast paced life of fame, he had forgotten who he was.

Gently, he took the camera from my hands and pointed it at me. Immediately I shielded my face from his view. “Oh, no you don’t,” I laughed. “I take the pictures. They don’t take me.”

“Now Ruby, I let you take a photo of me…well, actually several of them. It’s my turn,” he said sternly.

“I have no makeup and I look awful!” I declared.

“Come on, hands down.”

Slowly I lowered my hands, a grin of unbelief on my lips. Here I was, in Jack Harrington’s hotel room where he wanted to take a photo of silly old me. I thought of the look on his face when I exposed him on camera and introduced him to the guy he was. My body softened and I was so happy to be there at that moment.

I heard the shutter snap closed and I dreaded to look at myself. He hit the button and my face, forties wrinkles and all, stared back at me. But the light was fully on my face from where I was sitting and washed me out a lot, erasing some of the age in my face. It took me back to a time where I had taken photos of myself for my husband. Photos that I was proud of in that they captured the beauty that came from me, inside out.

I glanced back up at Jack, tears glossing my eyes over. “I’m tired again. I think I will go back to bed. Thank you for the tea.”

I stood to go and he grabbed my wrist. My head snapped back to look at him.

“What did I do?” he begged an answer.

I pulled my arm back. “You did nothing, I promise. I just struggle sometimes.”

He followed me to the bed. “Tell me…”

I just wanted to get into bed, bury my face and cry a little bit. “I don’t want to.”

“You will feel better, that’s my promise,” he kept on.

I slid into bed. “I lost my husband some time ago. There are things that remind me of him sometimes and I can’t help but feel his loss. It is like an instant feeling of loneliness no matter how many people are around.”

“My picture showed you that?”

“The grief never stops, Jack.”

The Art of You Part 4

Loving the Rockabilly style...

Loving the Rockabilly style…

 

 

 

 

 

For dinner, I went for a different look than earlier in hopes I wouldn’t be recognized. I spent time brushing on foundation to make my skin youthful and creamy, a dab of blush, a dusting of powder, attention to my eyes with shadow and liner, my treasured falsies topped off with mascara and penciled brows. I applied the stay put red lipstick I so loved and pinned a flower in my hair above my right ear. Satisfied, I shrugged into some slim fitting jeans, pumps and a red checkered shirt that I tied around my middle.

Digging through my bag, I found some pearl clip-on earrings and a choker along with my white sunglasses. Slinging my backpack over my shoulder, I left the apartment.

Just minutes later I walked through the doors that would lead me to the amazing aroma of cheese and chili powder. I could taste it already and my mouth watered like crazy. The host asked if I was waiting for anyone and I shook my head and smiled at him.

“Just one then?” he asked with a thick Spanish accent.

“I’m afraid the lady will not be staying. Darling! I’ve been looking for you everywhere!” that man’s voice said behind me as he grabbed my arm.

Perhaps the panic on my face showed and perhaps not. I didn’t have time to evaluate the host’s expression before I was pulled out of the restaurant and back out onto the main street. When clear of the double doors, I halted and ripped my body back out of his clutches.

“What do you think you are doing?” I demanded with hands on my hips.

“My apologies, Miss Kramer, but I am to deliver you elsewhere,” he replied cool and calm as ever.

“Yeah, well I don’t think so. I have no idea who you are, but I don’t know you and I’m going nowhere with you. Now back off, I’m hungry. You are coming between a starved woman and her food. I would suggest you just leave me alone,” I sassed him.

The man chuckled at my attitude and ran a hand through his dark hair. “So sorry, but I think you really need to come with me.”

And with that, he reached out and grabbed my arm again. “It will all go much easier if you don’t cause a scene, Miss.”

“I will not go with you and not struggle. You aren’t going to kill me without a fight!” I bellowed at him.

There were some strange looks from the people walking by us. The man nodded politely at them. “Play practice, everything is fine, folks.”

And they believed him! They all smiled and nodded with stars in their eyes as they beheld an “actress”. Then, he guided me away and into his fancy black car.

Once he had shoved me in there and closed the door, I frantically tried the handle to open my door but it wouldn’t open. Growling in frustration at the invention of child locks, I tried the automatic windows that did nothing.

The man slid into the driver’s seat and started the car. The engine was near to silent and I tried the window again.

“Please stop,” he said as though I was insulting him.

I glanced up at him looked at me through the rear view mirror. “This is how women come up missing or dead! They are bullied into cars by strange men!” I fired out.

He simply shook his head and laughed as though I were trying to be funny.

The car lurched forward and took a short spin not too far the other direction from where I was staying. I knew this place! It was a historical hotel that had been around for an impossibly long time, Shore Lodge.

The man pulled into the lot and parked, coming around to let me out. Grabbing my arm quite snugly again, he led me to the door where we were shown to the dining area of The Narrows. I was held all the more tightly until we came upon a table overlooking the lake. The fading light of day was dissolving into shades of mandarin and teal through the windows.

I flicked my gaze to the lone person at the table and my mouth fell open.

Jack Harrington was staring me down as the sun was setting in this small mountain town. An uncomfortable heat flushed my face and despite the use of it, my deodorant was useless. I could feel my heart hammering in my chest and my mouth went instantly dry. What did he want with me?

Waving his glass of wine in the air, he smiled and said, “I like the Rockabilly look. Suits you well. Please, have a chair.”

I could feel the shakes coming on and the man holding my arm peeled his fingers away from my sweating skin. Jack merely nodded to the man and he left. Timidly, I sat and set my bag on the floor, then folded my hands neatly in my lap.

“You look like an artist,” Jack grumbled.

“What does that mean?” I piped up indignantly.

A waiter in a smart looking uniform came to the table. “Drink, ma’am?”

“Water,” I replied not looking at the man.

“Please bring an extra glass just in case,” Jack said to him breaking eye contact with me.

Jack cleared his throat. “What I mean is, you have that creative flair that is evident in how you decorate yourself.”

I could tell he was a tad uncomfortable sitting there with me. All the other tables were empty around us…within earshot, that is.

I sat back in my chair and folded my arms over my chest.

“Look. I asked my employee to bring you here to discuss a thing or two,” Jack said running his index finger over the rim of his wine glass.

“I don’t know what you are talking about…” I tried to laugh it all off.

“What I am talking about is the way you show up everywhere I go and take pictures of me and my kids while we are trying to enjoy ourselves out of the spotlight. I deal with your kind all the time, believe it or not. There wouldn’t be a single photo of me to be found if it weren’t for people like you who steal every private moment from me,” he complained and then sipped his glass.

“For your information, Mr. Harrington, I came up here to take some beautiful shots of the wilderness. It wasn’t my fault that you photo bombed a lot of my pictures. I’m not following you, but you are sure having me followed. I have every right to take pictures of what I find interesting,” came my volley.

He cracked a smile. It was just a glimpse of one, but the lines around his mouth deepened just a bit. “You have a lot of spirit, Miss Kramer, I will give you that. All I want from you is the card that sits in your camera there. You have photos of my kids that I don’t want anyone else to have access to. They didn’t have a choice in their life and it is my job to protect them.”

I heard little else after my name. “Have you completely checked me out? Are you kidding me? That’s how the two of you know my name, isn’t it?”

His look turned apologetic. “Welcome to my world, Ruby. Now, I will take the card.”

I stood up. Where was that glass of water? Grabbing my bag, I held it up in the air and shook it Jack’s direction. “This is paying my mortgage this month and the month before and the month before that. I would never give it over to you, but I won’t sell your shots. That’s the best I can do for you.”

With that, I stormed away expecting his henchman to grab me and tie me to the chair until I relented. But no one chased me down and I even looked back to see Jack casually sip his wine as he watched me leave and place a cell phone to his head.

I couldn’t believe what I had done. For once in my life I had stood up for myself. That one moment showed me I didn’t need to be the push over I had spent my life being. Just because he has money doesn’t mean I am his doormat, I reasoned with myself. And I agreed.

It was significantly cooler out when I burst through the doors and into the parking lot headed for the sidewalk. I was still starving and bound for Chapala’s again when all I saw was a bright pair of headlights blinding me. I froze and shaded my eyes as the grill tagged my legs and I screamed out loud, my body rolling over the hood and smashing into the windshield. The car screeched to a stop and I rolled back down over the hood and onto the asphalt where everything went black…like ripping the cord to the television from the wall.

The Art of You Part 3

The view from the rocks toward the ponds.

The view from the rocks toward the ponds.

I crunched into an apple as I turned down the main drag and made a left at Notch 8 and on out to Ponderosa State Park. I paid the fee at the toll booth and the black and white striped barricade lifted for me to pass. I gave the short gal a wave of thanks and then followed the familiar road through the campground. Instead of taking a left to go where we had always met for family reunions, I stayed straight. That road led me to an area where the trees were so tall and thick they blocked out the sunlight and cast the area in shade.

Not really sure where my destination would be, I came up on a curve in the road that sloped slightly downhill. There was a make-shift parking lot to my left littered with cars. Images flashed through my mind. This was the cliff-jumping site.

“Oh my…I haven’t been here forever!” I breathed being swarmed with memories of sun drenched rocks and kids squealing in fun while jumping into the cool waters below. I even jumped once as I held tight to the hand of my husband.

He was so patient with me that day, I was decked out in a wetsuit to stay warm, the heat of the day making the water enticing. I stood there frozen with fear. Natural bodies of water just freaked me out. I loved looking at them, not a fan of being in them. So my legs were shaking as I sat perched on a rock about eight feet up, if that. I practiced plugging my nose and holding tight. The anticipation of the butterflies all the way down about made me sick. Little kids, maybe four and five years old, wanted to go and they waited for me to just jump. I could feel them mocking me, a grown woman, who was so afraid to take that one step off the edge.

I laughed and stepped to the side and they climbed up the face of the rock and just plopped right in. We waited for them to make it out of the way and I finally jumped. I never let go of his hand. Not even the strength of the water when we hit could tear us apart. I bobbed to the top and saw him there waiting for me, a smile stretching his face from ear to ear with pride.

“I’m proud of you, baby!” he laughed and swam behind me as I shook all the way back to the stability of the rocks.

I jumped once more that day, still holding tight to him. However, the other hand slipped from my nose and it felt like an ice pick had been driven up my nose. That was enough of that.

Shaking my head free of cobwebs from the past, I grabbed my backpack and stuffed the camera inside. It was a bit of a hike…okay, I’m lying. It is not a hike, it is a rock climbing adventure to get back in there. Having wised up years ago, I discarded my flip-flops and started wearing some little tennis shoes for that trek.

Slipping over rocks and hefting myself up the crags, I made my way to the cliffs. There were a few people here, hence the cars in the lot, but not so many that it was crammed. It was only Thursday, after all. Probably the best day to be back there. I fought to catch my breath and sat on a rock under the one tree that miraculously grew there. The shrieks from the kids jumping from fifteen and twenty feet filled the air and I couldn’t resist the urge to snap some photos as they left the solid ground and fell through the air to hit the water below them. I smiled fondly. My husband was not afraid to jump. He went twenty feet up and would take the leap again and again.

I imagined him perched up there with the others, the water running from his close cropped head of dark hair and the steady drip of droplets that fell continuously from the hem of his swimsuit. He would be talking openly with those up there and I could hear him laugh, just happy to be in the sunshine out in the middle of God’s country.

That stubborn lump came to me again and I cursed inwardly at myself. Perhaps this was not the right decision. Perhaps I should have stayed away and let the ghosts be ghosts.

I could hear music and I diverted my attention to an incoming vessel. It was the white boat with the yellow stripes and red canopy from the morning. They had music blaring so loud I had no idea what it even was.

My camera snuck to my face and I peeked to see who these people were that disturbed my peaceful moment.

Involuntarily, my finger depressed the shutter in surprise. There he was, his kids jumping off the side of the boat and into the water. They swam to the rocks and climbed the natural staircase passing me as they went to the platforms.

Just to be certain, I put my eye to the camera again and there he was, manning the ship, laughing and cheering his brood as they gathered the courage to jump. And then, he looked right at the camera again.

Feeling so flustered, I turned away from him and took shots of the two teens making the plunge. I heard a sharp squeal and then two distinct splashes below. Jack erupted into cheers and clapping, the sun bouncing off his dark glasses.

The kids broke the surface again to the sound of their dad cheering them on. I heard them call out to him and he laughed saying something about having to watch the boat.

I snapped as many photos as I could while he was so in his element. Every time his kids jumped, I focused on his reaction and for a while I just held the shutter down. When I saw him put a cell phone up to his ear and send the evil eye my way, I decided it was time to go.

The climb back left me breathless again. The adrenalin flowed from the encounter with Jack so my hands and knees were shaking and like jelly. I slid behind the wheel of my car again and sucked a few breaths before I turned the key and pulled out of the dirt parking lot. But I didn’t go right and head toward town. I turned left. Another car followed my lead.

Around the bends in the road I sped, watching for deer and other animals along the way. I rounded the lake a bit until it opened up a bit for marshy areas and ponds that stood still as glass.

“There it is,” I said out loud to myself and pulled the car to a stop.

Ahead of me and off the road was a congregation of great boulders of different sizes. The car following stopped as well, but they never got out of the car. With my camera around my neck, I started climbing until I stood at the base of a cliff. The very cliff I had climbed so many years before. I didn’t make it to the top, but I gave it my all. My husband had made it all the way. He gave me the strength to even try.

But more than that, I turned back toward the cars along the road to see the pond sparkling in the sunlight and the tall firs surrounded it casting shadows over the smooth surface. It was quiet here. I just sat on the warm rock and randomly captured the rugged scenery around me.

A man came my way, struggling over the rocks in some places. I fleetingly wondered if I looked as silly as he did. But he didn’t come dressed for the occasion either. Loafers and jeans were not climbing clothes.

He was huffing and puffing when he reached where I sat and I looked up at him.

“Hello,” I said politely.

The man looked up at the height of the cliffs above. “Howdy,” he replied not looking at me.

“Such a gorgeous day,” I added to make conversation.

“It is,” he said. “What is a woman like yourself doing out here alone?”

I noticed a foreign accent in him but his statement alarmed me. I suddenly became uncomfortable and stood to step down from my rock and skip one to another.

“I didn’t mean to frighten you,” he called out.

“You reminded me that I need to meet with someone back in town!” I called out hoping he believed my bluff.

I thought I heard him growl up there but I didn’t care. When I reached my car, I looked back at the rocks and he was coming back down. My heart sped up and I gulped at the air. What if he killed me? No one would find me. My kids would be left alone. Suddenly the gravity of my situation caught up to me and I turned the key. When the engine roared to life, I flipped an easy u-turn and started back to town. The sun was setting, the man was still following me, and I was freaking out. I didn’t know they had creepers in a small mountain town!

I began plotting where I would go if the man kept up his pursuit. Maybe I could make it into a place to eat before he would get to me. Maybe I could go inside the main house back at my apartment. Surely the owners would protect me from people like this guy.

I was able to leave him at a stop light and I knew it wouldn’t stay red long so I hurried as fast as I could to my apartment. As I pulled into the driveway, I grabbed my camera and unbuckled the seat belt. Then I bolted for the stairs taking them two at a time. I cursed myself for fumbling the key as I tried to slip it into the lock. Finally it obeyed my rough commands and I burst through the door, quickly closing it and locking it tight. I left the curtains closed and instinctively ran into the bathroom slamming the door and locking it too.

Then, I slumped on the toilet, setting the camera on the counter and let my forehead fall into my hands. I was breathing like I had just run a marathon and I closed my eyes against my fear.

I couldn’t just stay in the bathroom, and I knew that. I needed dinner and I wanted to feel free of weird people. Okay, weird guys. What if he was waiting until I ventured out again?

The feeling of being utterly alone crept into my bones. It was the same feeling I had when I buried… well, you know who I’m talking about. I was surrounded by people as I was then too, but I was alone. While I took solace in being by myself these days, that awful feeling of panic shed a new light on the subject. For once I wished I had just one friend I could call.

My phone. I needed to send a message to my son. If anything happened to me, he would know where to tell people to begin looking.

“Not to worry you, but there is a strange dude following me. If I disappear, let the authorities know that I was in McCall in a studio apartment on the lake not far from town. I’m turning on the GPS so they can track my signal. I’m fine, just being careful” was what I wrote.

Less than a minute later, my phone rang and a panicked young man was near to shrieking on the other end. I talked with him a spell and calmed him down. Reassuring him I was safe, he finally let me hang up and I made sure I turned the tracking on.

The shaking had ceased and my breathing was normal once more. I ventured out of the bathroom but peeked warily about to make certain I was still alone.

No one there. So I decided to change my clothes and head down the street for some Hispanic food. There was a great place with a view of the lake just steps from where I was. With any luck, Mr. Stalker wouldn’t be there too.

The Art of You Part2

Parade America 169

 

 

 

 

 

 

He looked straight into the lens of my camera. I was several hundred feet away from the man and he still saw me. I gasped and turned in the opposite direction.

Now I had heard of these movie star types from Hollywood that loved coming to Idaho. And why wouldn’t they? There is a little of everything here. I mean, you walk ten steps in any direction and scenery changes from urban to rural, from mountains to desert, from prairies to bluffs. Everything is here in this little state except the ocean, so we have lakes instead. Wildlife is abundant and recreational land is generous.

I suppose it had just shocked me. It isn’t everyday that a man you see on the big screen, one who wins award after award and lives the big life just shows up on a boat dock in a small removed town. He just seemed so…out of place.

And were those his kids? My head screamed at me.

I let out my breath after finally realizing I had been holding it for a while. That was my cue to head back to my little apartment.

There was no way I was about to stow my camera now. If I could get a great shot or two, it would be worth some dollars for my collection. Nope, that baby was staying out the rest of my trip.

I passed the grocery store and stopped in for a salad and water. Of course, I wandered the aisles a while and chose a few things that probably were not the best for me. I didn’t really care that much.

The first thing I did was race out to the balcony and act as though I were just watching the scenery, but I was combing through all the people to see if he was still out there or if he had just been a figment of my imagination. There were no bodies on the docks in the marina any longer. I put my camera up to my eye and brought the beach into focus. I didn’t see him at all.

Fearing I was crazy, I walked back inside and pulled the drapes. I lowered the Murphy bed that sat snug in the wall until it sat firmly on the floor. Grabbing my camera and plopping my body down on the soft mattress, I hit the review button.

There he was. I could not have been crazy. There was no denying that this was the very sexy, very handsome actor I followed on the screen. Jack.

I sighed and dropped my camera to the mattress. I had one photo of him and it wasn’t the best. I knew I could do better. These pictures could pay my mortgage for several months!

I sat there and plotted in my head when I should wake up, where I should go first, and how I could track Mr. Movie Star down. He would never know I was there, my lens was that good. Except that he seemed to know when my camera had been pointed at him earlier, but that was purely a coincidence.

I laughed out loud at my own stupidity and fell over backwards on my pillow.

“Just work twice as hard, Ruby. You don’t need his photos,” I told myself.

The evening went by quickly, compliments to the television. I ate my salad on the balcony as I watched the sun set behind the mountains. Every few minutes I would snap another shot as the colors developed above the tree line. The surface of the water became like diamonds, glittering and sparkling at me. I shivered when the breeze tickled my skin and the heat from the sun dissipated for the day.

Leaving the sliding door open and closing the screen, I surfed the guide for a movie. I figured I would look to see if one of Jack’s movies was playing. There were a couple on, a superhero flick that was about over and a mushy romance of star crossed lovers. I plugged in the channel and sat back to enjoy the next couple of hours.

Taking out my phone, I sent a text message to my boys: Made it safe and sound. Love you guys.

I nearly jumped out of my skin when my phone buzzed a few minutes later: Cool. Luv u 2.

I smiled and plugged the thing in to charge.

I was running away. Finding it near impossible to move, I kept struggling just to put distance between myself and whatever was following me. It was just black. Just empty. It had no shape or identity, but I was quite afraid. Out of nowhere, a voice shouted out to me and grabbed my arm. I screamed and was moved roughly to the side as the blackness devoured everything. I looked over at the man who grabbed me and it was Jack. He spoke to me and I couldn’t understand his words. It was like he was speaking a different language. We slipped into a building, dark and deserted. He was still talking to me, his mouth moving and nothing coming out. I tried to read his lips but I just nodded in agreement instead. A loud crash sounded and he shouted out to me, taking my hand and running with me again. The blackness seemed to find me no matter where I went or how much I tried to hide from it. But every time it sought me out, Jack would grab my arm and take me down another path to another hiding place.

It was still dark when the lilting sound of the waves filled my head and I woke up. I wondered briefly where I was at and then it all came rushing back and my breathing returned to normal. Grabbing my phone, I hit the button on the face and it burst into light searing my retinas. I blinked to relieve them and focused on the time. It was only four in the morning. The sun wouldn’t even be peeking for another hour and a half at least. So I rolled over and closed my eyes in hopes that I would sleep again.

But alas, I merely tossed and turned until the sky began to lighten. That was when I slid out of bed and hopped in the shower. I dressed quickly and towel dried my hair a second time, letting it fall where it wanted to in the casual pixie cut that adorned my head. It was a lazy cut, but easy when being casual and fun when I wanted to be fancy.

It was then that I looked at myself in the mirror. Who was that old woman staring back at me? How could I have possibly changed so much in such a short amount of time? The youth in my features was being replaced with deeper lines around my eyes, rounded cheeks and a slight redness to my skin. Of anything, my eyes stayed the same, large orbs like the green of the ocean, twinkling and bright when I was happy, dull and dropping when I was sad. They hadn’t been very bright for a long time…so long, that I had forgotten what they looked like any other way than sad.

I sighed. All I could do was plaster my face with makeup. It was an improvement, but it would all sweat off by noon. I shook my head.

Feeling like I could start my day, I decided to head to the beach and snag some pictures of the sunrise.

I walked around to the Mile High Marina’s boardwalk and stumbled my way down the dock floating in the water. The sun was rising, the golden light of morning washing over the lake, the sand on the beach changing colors from a blue-gray to orange and then to gold. There were large puffy clouds drifting over the horizon that looked like vanilla pudding against the morning’s blue sky.

Closing my eyes, I breathed deeply of the fresh air, still just a tad chilly. Nowhere else on the planet could it possibly smell so clean. A boat’s motor roared to life somewhere in the maze of docks behind me and to my right. I spun in surprise, but I couldn’t tell which boat was going out. The waves started sloshing as the boat’s engine disturbed its calm.

Shoving my camera to my eye, I focused in on one boat and then another and another, until I saw a little movement aboard one vessel. Slowly, it started to back out of its resting place. It was a large boat with fancy yellow stripes on it that ended in smart swirls of happiness. There was a tall canopy of red over pristine white seats. As they came out of the no-wake zone, the boat suddenly lurched forward, the water crystal sheets coming off the bow, the sun catching the droplets in mid-air like jewels.

I heard myself laugh and set the camera to the action setting. Then, I pointed the lens at them and held the button down, listening to the sound of the click, click, click of the shutter as it took one photo after another.

It felt like the small town gave a stretch and a yawn and the inhabitants slowly began to crawl out into the glory of the summer morning. Butterflies fluttered about and the occasional bee buzzed by. I basked for hours before deciding I would go for a drive.

If you deserve it, I’m giving you the bird…

a bird in hand

It probably seems like I’m not here at all anymore. Truthfully, I have been pretty frustrated and left with a really bitter taste in my mouth.

I write because I love it. I don’t write for you to tell me how much I suck at it.

I write to clear my brain of the lives and stories that haunt it. I don’t write so that you can make me hate the human race because you are so stupid.

I write to motivate, to empower, to bring your emotions to the surface. I don’t write so that you can dismiss what I have to say like it didn’t take me an entire year to write that book.

Am I licking my wounds? Probably. Am I sick of fickle damn people who don’t know how to be constructive? Am I tired of other authors yapping about how much they want their own dreams to come true with their writing and won’t do a flipping thing for another author? Yep. I’m pissed.

Do I care if I ever write another book as long as I live? Not today. Even for as much as I love to write, my time is so precious to me. Most of the time, I spend more time with other writers’ work than my own and they have no idea the amount of time I lose on their behalf. I spend the extra hours to prepare my own work for all those people who are “dying” for a copy and then have none of them even read it.

So for any of you waiting for that last book in the Aspen Series…I will get to it when I can. When I feel the love. When I know my time means something to another soul on this planet.

I have given this several weeks to chill out and every time I go to get on here, I just get mad again. You know, I have read some pretty crappy stuff in my time and I’m sorry, but mine isn’t even THAT bad on a rough day. But since I don’t beat the daylights out of my characters for fun or have the brain for fantastical science fiction, my work is boring. My work is terrible. My characters are bi-polar. Well, I don’t think so…unless I’m bi-polar, because some of my characters are modeled after my self or people I know. Doesn’t mean we are twins, but we think the same. I put myself in the situations and react accordingly. So if my characters suck so bad, I suppose I’m a rotten person. I suppose I think irrationally. I suppose my own whirlwind romance with my husband means nothing except that I am desperate.

Well, I bite my thumb at all of you who get your pleasures out of being an absolute idiot! It isn’t my fault that you have absolutely no imagination or attention span to read a novel. Go back to the kiddie section and read those, but quit wasting my time with your BS.

In this world we live in, there is no “you scratch my back, I scratch yours”. It is “let me read your book and make it look so much worse than mine”! There is no “Hey! I went to school with you, I’ll read what you have to say”, it is more like “even though we are family, I think your dreams are dumb”. And there is no “Hey! I loved your characters and your story! Let me tell Amazon all about it!”, it is “Uhhh…people will make fun of me for liking and INDIE author, so yeah…no”.

You could say that I’m overreacting. But I feel that writers are subject to abuse no one could ever understand…except maybe actors/actresses. However, the words come from the writers. Actors just bring those words to life. Publishers are so under-appreciated, it is ridiculous! If you actually read my rant to the end, open a new tab and send your publisher, you know, the one who forfeits long hours day and night to read, format, and publish your work, and tell them how much you love them for it. That as an author, you won’t give up on the faith they had in you when they put out your book FOR YOU! Apologize if you were ever a total jerk to them and refused to do your part.

Nope, it is just better that I take the time to regroup. I have no clue how long that will take me. No one even takes the time, hardly, to even visit…if they seem to like it, they do so from the reader page. Well, that doesn’t count. But I do have to shout out to my buddy Arthur. He is about the only who gives a shit about anyone. Thanks Arthur Browne! Your support means the absolute world to me! 😀

Medal of Defiance: Chapter 8

Medalofdefiancecover.jpg

 

I wandered that afternoon. I knew it would get dark soon, but I had no clue where I was in relation to where I had been earlier.

“Hey you!” I heard a voice call out.

I stopped and turned toward the sound. Then, I pointed at myself when I spied an older man a few houses away.

“Yeah you!” he called out again. “You look lost!”

The accent registered with me and I nodded. I felt numb.

“I am,” I tried to shout back in my best interpretation of the local accent. “My house…” I said motioning behind me and swallowing hard.

“You caught in the quake, lad?”

I merely nodded feeling so tired.

“You need a bunk?” the man called out to me still.

“That would be lovely,” I replied walking toward him.

“My wife, Evelyn, will have supper done soon now. Fill your belly and we can make up the couch. The name’s Foster, Foster Pembrooke,” he stated holding his hand out.

I took the offered hand and gave it a firm shake. “I would appreciate that so much,” I breathed. “I am Winthorpe…James.”

“Nice to meet you, lad. Come on in, rest a little.”

It was such a relief to be welcomed by someone. After many hours of walking, he was the one to extend his hospitality. There was a light in his blue eyes that I took an immediate liking to. He was a good man and I would be off the streets for the night.

“So you say there’s a problem with your house?” he asked me as we ventured inside his humble home.

“There is nothing left, I’m afraid,” I replied. “I saw men get buried in the wreckage out there and knew the remnants of my home were not safe. I just started walking…”

“You poor dear!” Evelyn exclaimed bringing a pot of fresh tea into the front room.

I liked their home. It smelled like a home should. Like bread.

“I appreciate your hospitality,” I rambled taking a seat in a rocking chair next to the window.

“You are welcome as long as you need a place to stay, laddie,” Foster said quietly. “You look like you’ve had a rough few days of it.”

I chuckled and rocked the chair methodically. “You could say that.” My head fell back against the wood of the chair and I sighed.

I thought about Jack and his meaningless death and I had to wonder if my decision caused him to be taken so early from this world. Now, I was not a religious man by any definition, but it did make me wonder. Did Jack die so I could succeed? Was there another force that knew he would be mutilated until he “talked”? My friend died a swift and merciful death, if there is such a thing…I took comfort in that.

“We are ready to eat now, Mr. James,” Evelyn said resting her hand on my shoulder and speaking softly as to not startle me.

I sat upright and looked around and smiled. I followed the missus into their meager dining area and took a seat at the empty plate that was set.

Evelyn sat at the table to my right, Foster right in front of me.

“We rarely have company, it is a nice change,” she smiled shyly.

Evelyn reminded me of the perfect wife. She was quiet, demur, and kind. I could imagine them sitting in this very room together with a gaggle of kids, everyone making conversation and laughing together.

I smiled in response to her remark.

“Shall we ask a blessing?” Foster asked without meaning to be answered.

As if it were routine, he reached out and took his wife’s hand and she bowed her head. Her left hand snaked out from her lap to take mine and Foster reached over the table to take my other. I obliged and bowed my head as Evelyn had.

The sound of Foster’s soft spoken voice filled the room and my ears, lifting a sense of hope in my chest. I admired the love he emitted for God and wondered briefly how anyone could possibly love someone they didn’t even know existed for sure. That feeling, that electrical feeling that passed through me at that moment almost made me envy the man.

The food was simple, cold meat sandwiches and roasted potatoes with a glass of frothy milk. It felt like their milk was much thicker than what I was used to. It stuck to my lips and coated my throat. The bread was fluffy and soft, but still warm from coming out of the oven. The sliced meats were salty and full of flavor. The potatoes were swimming in butter with their shining red skins. It was the best meal I’d eaten in a very long time and I went back for more.

“I can show you where you can sleep when you are done there, Winthorpe,” Foster said taking his plate into the kitchen beyond.

I stopped chewing long enough to look up and nod. I did feel better, but I was so tired.

Evelyn was already tucking sheets under the cushions of the weathered old couch in the front room when Foster and I emerged from eating. She fluffed a giant pillow and threw a blanket over the top and I nearly swooned with the pleasure of comfort extended to me by strangers.

“Would you care to wash before you sleep?” Evelyn asked as she worried her hands a bit.

I stared at the bedding like a wolf stares at a sheep and shook my head to the negative. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to just crawl in and rest,” I replied.

She laughed a merry sound. “I don’t blame you. But let me show you where the loo is if you need it in the night.”

Motioning me to follow her, I trudged along just thinking about those crisp sheets and soft pillow. Just down the hall and to my right was the bathroom, or the loo. It was a very tight room, quite small compared to the community shower I was used to at the base. There was literally a toilet, a sink and a tub. I could turn on the water of the sink and wash my hands while sitting on the toilet if I so wanted to, they were that close together. My knees, I imagined, would smack against the side of the tub across from the toilet if I dared sit on the seat. I suppose small was an understatement.

“It’s old…” Evelyn said quietly.

“It’s lovely, Mrs. Pembrooke. Thank you for letting me stay with you,” I smiled. I was pretty sure they were tired of hearing my statements of gratitude, but I didn’t care. That was what I felt at the moment. I was comfortable and safe with friends.

I waited until Foster took his wife in their bedroom before I took out my flat tab and plugged my ear buds into the jack. Quickly I opened up the program that was an all frequency radio and clicked through each station in hopes of hearing any communication about Jack…or myself.

A thick British accent hit my ears and my finger stilled a moment. I listened with intent as words like “monarchy”, “money”, “food”, and “resistance” filled my ears. The voices changed from time to time as different people spoke their mind.

“We must take matters into our own hands, boys! We got families to feed! If the monarchy won’t help us, we had better take it ourselves! I say we plan a time at the change of the guard. Some sort of distraction should lure them all there and we take the gates. Kill anyone who gets in our way, I say! Even if it is the king himself.”

“What if we take the princess with us? Show her a little something about what we are going through?”

“Wouldn’t be a bad idea there, my friend. I’m tired of being hungry and not having but one bottle of water a day. I want a place to sleep where I’m not on the bloody ground! My kids won’t be quiet and my baby is sick now. Perhaps stealing the princess is the thing to do. Maybe it would wake up that king who lies comfortable in his bed tonight.”

“When are we doing this?”

“I think we could manage on Sunday. We should be there by ten in the morning. Then, when the change takes place, we set off some firecrackers down the street. When the guards investigate right at the 11:30 time, we break through the gates. Get all our friends together. All of us are suffering right now and the castle don’t care about us at all. What do you say, boys?”

“Sounds like we have a plan, boss.”

“Naw…I’m no boss. We are a team. A team of citizens under the protection of a crown full of holes and now we are getting rained on.”

There were cries of agreement coming through and I knew this was bad. I had to get to the castle to warn the family of the danger lurking. Surely they weren’t the only ones planning an attack of some kind. Perhaps the king didn’t know just how angry his people were. One thing I knew, they would not take what I had worked so hard to find. Paige.

I abandoned the search of frequencies and tucked my belongings away in the satchel. Then, I allowed myself to drift off into a deep sleep where dreams held color and the sound of rebellion rang in my ears.

My eyes fluttered open early, as I was used to. The house was quiet and it took me a moment to remember where, and who, I was. The weak light was just beginning to filter through the picture window across from me. Although the heavy drapes had been pulled shut the night before, I could see its brilliance finding the crack between the panels and glowing against the darkness of the living room.

I needed to get to London. It was just that simple. I had to warn the royal family of the impending attack on them.

I sat up on the couch and rubbed my eyes with the heels of my hands. Why did I care so much? Why was I willing to risk my very life to just marry this princess, much less show up to defend her family?

There was no way I could answer my own questions.

Slipping my feet into those fancy shoes, I grabbed my satchel. I had no toiletries at all so using the washroom held little interest to me except to use the loo. It felt funny even thinking that word. To me, it was one of those words that made no sense at all and it made me feel like laughing.

So nature’s call won out and I slipped into the tiny washroom and emptied my bladder. When I flushed, an awful noise rang out. It was like it came from under the house and was like a ship being crushed in the mighty weight of ocean waters. Quickly, I washed my hands and took no time to dry them. I had to get on my way, no Evelyn to talk me into staying longer.

Opening the door when I had finished, water still dripping from my hands, I ran into her. Evelyn. Her warm smile that morning made me freeze in my tracks.

“I’m getting breakfast on, Winthorpe. It will be just a few minutes, I swear,” she said kindly.

“What in the world was that noise?” I blurted out.

She laughed. “Sorry ‘bout that. We forgot to warn you that our plumbing screams. Especially in the morning.” Then she motioned me back in the washroom. “Shower, and dress. You will feel a little better.”

Feeling a tad defeated, I complied and retreated back into the cramped room that looked like something out of the classic Alice in Wonderland. I had to ask myself, “When did I eat the cookie?”

But I quickly stripped and started the bath pouring. I could smell toasting bread teasing my senses. My mouth watered.

It was odd, using a small bathtub. I couldn’t remember ever being in a tub in my life. Maybe a spa tub, but not a regular old bathtub. The thought of how many germs were actually invading my body as I sat in that water made my skin crawl. So I quickly soaped my hair and rinsed, using the bar of soap in the corner to wash my body. It came to rest over the tender area of my wrist. My alteration was healing nicely, but was still pretty angry.

My mind wandered to the real Winthorpe and if I had been found out yet. I drew a deep breath and had to believe I covered my tracks the best I could. But I also knew I had to put enough distance between myself and the RA so they couldn’t track me down. But if they did figure out what I did, I would be stuck in this country for the rest of my life, living low and sticking to the shadows.

When I could no longer stand it, I jumped out of the water and quickly dried. I did feel better being clean. I hated to put on the same clothes again, but I did. I had no choice.

I opened the washroom door one more time, looking both ways down the short corridor before I emerged.

“Breakfast is ready!” Evelyn called out.

I made my way back to the table where I had most enjoyed myself the night before. There was toast, a small stack of it, eggs that looked light and fluffy, sausages that were browned just so, and more of that delightfully thick milk.

Foster sat in the same place as before and appeared alert and excited. We prayed over the food once again and I felt that strange tingling sensation one more time.

“Did I wake you this morning?” I asked them, referring to flushing their toilet.

They both laughed. “No, not at all. We had been awake for a while before you woke. We just wanted you to sleep as you could get it. Sounded like you had a rough night.”

“It did?” I asked and dropped my fork a notch, eggs wiggling as my hand shook ever so slightly.

“It was a night of nightmares it sounded like. Crying about dead bodies and falling stones then yelling to Jack that there were guns at the castle,” Foster shook his head as he smiled at me. “Must have been a hell of a night for you!”

I poked my fork inside my mouth. I had said Jack’s name. Out loud.

“I never knew I talked in my sleep,” I grinned in response. “This has been an awful time for me.”

There was no way I was going to talk about Jack and who he was to me.

Evelyn’s hands fluttered to her chest in sympathy. “I can only imagine. I thank the Lord each day that the quake spared us.”

“You are most lucky. It is a war zone down there,” I said trying to be mindful of the information I had found before I went to sleep. My expression sobered and I pointed my fork right at the both of them. “Please listen to me…I know there are many who are devastated. Who knows what these poor victims will do when they have had enough. Please promise me that good people like yourselves will not offer lodging to any more strangers until conditions get better. I don’t want to watch the telly and see that you were hurt in any way. Promise?”

I was rather proud of my very British reference to the television.

But Foster and Evelyn stared at me as though it were my funeral and nodded their agreement.

“Just be careful,” I mumbled and continued to shove food in my mouth.

We ate the rest of the meal silently.

Medal of Defiance-NaNo 2013-Chapter 1

Medalofdefiancecover.jpg

Chapter 1

 

I can remember the days that brought me to where I am now. Just a young man in the Corps of Humanity, I was content. It was almost like I was programmed to do the same thing each day and I did it because…well, that’s what we do. We conform.

After I graduated from my studies at the local Chapters of Education, I joined the Corps. I was given a choice to serve my fellow men or work in a career chosen for me in a lottery. In all truth, the monarchy tried to match a person with their talents and genetics in efforts to avoid conflict and suicides from happening. My fear was that I would be chosen to bake bread for the storehouse so I chose the one way I could make a decision for myself. Now, I help others in times of need. I believe a higher power directed me to make that choice for my life would be completely different if I hadn’t.

I remember getting up at 4:00am. My clothes neatly hung in the washroom, freshly pressed. I would step into my steaming shower at 4:35am and step out at 4:50am. I would comb my hair and brush my teeth and roll deodorant in my underarms. At 5:00am I would cook me three eggs, scrambled but cooked soft and add three slices of bacon to my plate. I would sit at my stool at 5:20am and eat my meal of protein, topping it off with a piece of fruit and a cup of hot lemon water. At 5:40am I would shrug into my jacket of navy blue and red patches on the shoulders, the flag of my nation, the American Nation on the right side just beneath the shoulder. I would slide my flat topped hat over my close cropped hair and clip the holster holding my stun laser at my waist. At 5:50am, I walked out my door to catch the tram at 6:00am that would take me to base. After six stops through the city, I would step off the tram at 6:45am for the short walk to Chicago’s military base and check in with a thumb scan at 7:00am. I would eat lunch at 11:00am and scan out at 6:00pm for the tram ride home. I would sit in the terminal until 6:30pm and wait patiently for passengers to disembark and step on until I arrived at my stop at 7:15pm and make the short walk home, unlocking my door at 7:25pm. I would call for the lights and remove my cap and jacket, hanging the holster for the next day. At 7:30pm, I enjoy a meal of hot chicken and mixed green vegetables, a cold glass of water making my glass sweat and my throat cool. At 8:00pm I would step into the shower and be in bed by 8:30pm. That was my day…everyday. There was no deviating from my schedule.

There were two days I didn’t have to report to base and on those days I would work out my body and send electronic mail to my loved ones. My parents were long gone, being lost in the Resistance wars. I was raised by a couple who was barren and could not have a family of their own. Lucy loved me as her own child and Trenton taught me how to be a man and conform to what would keep the masses safe. As a child, one always has thoughts of how to improve the monarchy, but Trent would kindly reel me back to toe the line.

The Resistance days were difficult, akin to what I have read in history books of World War II. So many lives were lost, so many sons and daughters buried, and those who lived through it were careful not to take their new leadership for granted. Trent was one of those who loved his nation and would not stand for rebel influence to change his way of life. I was not allowed to have an opinion, I was to do as I was told…and I did.

I lost Trent and Lucy in a freak storm that manufactured a tornado four years ago, just months after I chose my path once school had ended. He was so proud of me and that I wanted to serve my king and my people. I still write him and Lucy letters every week.

I had a handful of friends that moved to different areas of the city and outlying areas when they chose their careers. I write to them as well to keep up on what they are all doing with their lives. Most have found their matches and have a child that cries day and night, driving them insane. They envy my life, they say when they return my predictable, mundane messages and I envy theirs.

Sometimes I would wonder, “If I were gone, would anyone realize it?” And then just as quickly as I think it, life happens and the thought passes. I slip into my robot mode and allow my work to consume me.

Rarely did I travel, rarely did I meet up with my pals from the base for a seltzer, and never did I waste my funds on things like movies or simulations. The fact was, I felt alone and felt destined to be that way. I had no desire to search for “her”, the one who held the matching medallion to mine, the one who had the same identification number tattooed on her right left wrist: 11593104. No, somewhere in the world would sit a lonely spinster of a woman, bitter about her match never finding her and thus condemning her to a life of utter loneliness. At 23 years old, I didn’t care.

It was a call that came in the year of 2124 that changed my life and direction I had chosen to tread.

That sexy woman’s voice woke me up at 3:27am, “Incoming call from Ruger…Would you like to answer, sir?”

I rolled over and drew my leg back up on the mattress, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. My voice was low and scratchy as I answered with a sigh, “Yes, Rachel.”

The sound of panic in my commander’s voice hit me. He was distraught and commenced telling me of the disaster that had taken place thousands of miles away in the Europe Nation. “It is bad, Cam. So many lives were lost today in that quake. I am assembling a team of my men to head over there and lend the Relief Alliance some help when they deploy. You are one of my best and I am sending you on that plane. Be packed and ready to depart on the train to New York at 2100 hours.”

I sat up in bed trying to digest this order. I was leaving, but not just my home, I was leaving my nation as well. This was what I signed on for, to be of help to others as a humanitarian aid in relief situations. I swallowed hard and answered with a feeble, “Yes sir.”

“Don’t come to base this morning. Get your things packed, only necessities, and check in with me at 1930. You are limited to one pack so make the most of it. Take only what you cannot find over there, soldier,” Ruger replied.

“Wha-Will there be places to buy supplies over there? Where exactly did it hit?” I remember asking in bewilderment.

“Necessities, Cam. Nothing more. The quake obliterated the Southern Europe region. I have no other information to give you before you make it to base later this evening. Don’t tell a soul. Most don’t know about this disaster yet and we don’t need pandemonium on our hands. Other units on the coast are preparing for tsunami activity. It is up to the rest of the units to send help their way. Ruger out.”

I just sat there numb. “Lights on,” I stated and there was light.

A long sigh rushed from my lungs and I debated on rising or going back to sleep. I would be exhausted for the flight if I got out of bed at that time. Granted, it was only a half hour before I would normally wake, but my night was not going to end at 8:30 this time.

I let out a small growl of frustration. A change in routine never went over well with my personality. “Lights off.”

My room became black once again and I flopped back on my pillows. I don’t remember falling asleep, just tossing and turning as thoughts of dying people and piles of rubble ran through my mind. I envisioned myself pulling bodies from the destruction and wrapping wounds on the living. When I could no longer take it, I did get out of bed and summoned the television to spring to life.

The glossy panel on the wall opposite my bed burst into color, searing my eyes. I took a moment to allow them to adjust before looking back. “World News,” I called out and the channel flipped.

There was now coverage of the horrific event in the Europe Nation. So much for keeping it quiet, I thought and stared in horror at the utter desolation of the land and homes and people. There were wounded people crying and running toward the camera holding parts of their body that were oozing blood. There were corpses littering the roadways and strewn over toppled homes and buildings. Medics were on the scene in many footage shots, trying to calm the injured and clear away the dead. A ticker in the corner of my screen said it was estimated at that moment to have 3,000 souls confirmed dead.

I ran a hand through my hair. I did not want to go into that. I think it was a lot of fear bubbling up when I normally felt secure and that bothered me.

The screen switched to show an old clip of the royal family in London standing on the very famous stone balcony. King Alexander stood tall and proud with his family. The camera zoomed in on their faces, one, two, three, and four that were one happy family unit. Lady Caroline with her long, dark hair swept up, the little boy baby, and Princess Paige who had been in the news recently after finishing her schooling and starting her own crisis center for troubled teens. She looked amazingly like her mother. It was strange to see the young woman as a normal person, a casual skirt and blouse draped her body and her hair was curled like I remembered the girls in school. She was very ordinary and yet I had to respect that.

The words on the screen blared out that the royal family was very distressed about the damage done to their nation. The newscaster told their audience that the royal family had not been seen at all since the quake shook their part of the world. I wondered if they were still in the palace or if they had left seeking safety until it was declared a safe area once again. I snorted and thought the very worst of them. I called them cowards.

Feeling resentful of having to give up my life to travel thousands of miles and help people who would not appreciate it nor would I make any difference at all in such a horrific ordeal, I strode into my gaping closet where I grabbed my blue duffle and threw it with all my might at my bed. It slapped sharply against the blanket and flopped rebelliously to the ground.

Once I had packed my bag as tight as it would go, I had my meal of eggs and bacon, wondering when I would be back. I knew the food would go bad before I returned and irritation puckered my expression. All my rations would get thrown away.

As I chewed the salty slices of the pork, I came to the resolution that I would take what I had to a young family in my building. I was sure they could use it. It was better than tossing it into the compactor.

Once I had showered and changed into my blues, I spent the day preparing for my departure by paying my bills that would be due and packing the perishables that I would donate. I was grateful that I didn’t have a family to leave behind for it was hard enough to leave just my home. I couldn’t imagine a small child pulling on my leg, begging me not to leave them.

I then simply sat on the sofa and stared at footage of the disaster even as night fell upon them in the nation of Europe. The ending of the first day of terror was nigh and even as I knew I would step aboard a plane in a matter of hours and possibly close my eyes against life, it was unlikely all those souls in Europe would do the same. They would live the misery reigned down upon them for weeks and soon, yet soon I would join them. It would be my terror as well. My normal life would cease, my mundane job would become one that raced time, and I was just one person; just one in a sea of many. I was no miracle worker. And by the time I was walking out the door for the tram, I was annoyed.

I made it through to my commander’s office to be briefed before making the train to New York.

“Commander Ruger,” I saluted when I entered and stood stiffly at attention.

“At ease, Sergeant,” Ruger replied sounding bored.

I dropped my bag beside a chair and sank my body into it.

There was a moment of silence between us. Finally, Ruger met my eyes and sighed. He was tired and I could sense his stress. “I’m sure you have been watching the news all day, Weston. We tried to keep the media contained but it didn’t happen that way. The cat is out of the bag and we really don’t know what we are sending you men into over there. The atmosphere is panicked, of course. Your responsibility is only to help the RA by recovering bodies, identifying them, and clearing the affected areas. The wounded should be sent to the hospital immediately. There are shuttles in all areas that provide transportation only to medical centers all over Europe Nation. They are apprised of what centers can accommodate those people. It is not up to you to play hero and escort them yourself. Put them on a shuttle and get back to work. Understood?”

“Yes sir,” was my only reply. Then I swallowed hard. This was going to be ugly.

“I don’t care how many tears they cry at you, how scared they are, or if they become your best friend, Weston. I meant it. You are to stick to your order given by me,” Ruger reiterated firmly.

I winced at his scolding for I had never deliberately strayed from his orders as other had in the past. “Yes sir,” was all I could say. My breathing accelerated and my heart began to pound. Perhaps I could just not fathom how bad it would really be.

Satisfied with my response, he gave me a stern nod of his head and handed me the tickets I would need to travel abroad. I stood and saluted him once more, just to be dismissed.

The ride to New York was a comfortable two hours from the base in Chicago. I then boarded the small plane for military personnel at midnight. We were encouraged to sleep and would arrive in London, Europe Nation in roughly seven hours. It was said that when we got to London, our day would begin with dropping our bags and grabbing a shower at our Embassy. Then, we would get to work until we were told to stop for the day. If we didn’t sleep on the flight, we would still work through the day.

I hunkered down with the small pillow and blanket given to me and reclined my seat. My mind was racing and I had never flown before so my nerves were jumpy. I closed my eyes and stared right at the back of my eyelids until I fell into sleep.

London was teeming with people of all walks when we arrived at their noon hour. There was a smell of brine in the air and more humidity than I had expected. However, for May it was a mild temperature, although I had nothing to compare it to for I hadn’t ever been to London in my life. From what I gathered, it was one of the most gloomy areas of the world. But the day I arrived, it was a glistening paradise beneath the rays of the sun, the buildings full of history, the smell of pastries in the air, and the sound of the Big Ben clock chiming out the twelve o’clock hour for the city to take note.

I stayed close to the group of men wearing my same jacket and soon after stepping out onto the sidewalks, a very muscular man with no hair and black visors over his eyes strode up to the group.

“I am Jonah DeVry and I will be taking you to your quarters on behalf of the RA. Once you throw your bags in the room, you will report to the mess club for a bite and then we will throw you to the wolves out here. Understood?” the man said in his loud, military style voice.

We all answered with a stout “yes sir” and he spun on his heel leading the way to a stone building that reeked of days past. We were shown to rooms like closets with one latrine in the corner, three beds per room. There were footlockers at the end of each bunk for our things, something I hadn’t ever even thought about.

It was true. I was spoiled. I lived within my means, yet I hadn’t ever been forced to share housing with anyone. My closet in my apartment was larger than this entire room. I wasn’t used to sharing a latrine with other men nor was I expected to shower under a community sprinkling of water. I had the luxury of a duvet on my bed, not this thin woven fabric.

“Come on! Bags down, let’s go!” Jonah yelled out, clapping his hands impatiently.

The distinct sound of duffles hitting the floors or squeaking mattresses was heard and then the thundering of heavy footsteps as we all filed out into the hallway. We followed DeVry’s dark head of hair through tight corridors with missing tiles on the floor in places. Our guide finally stepped aside and ushered us into a large room, the smell of mystery food wafting on the air.

It was like a true “club” from home, there was music playing louder than we could talk, the tinkling of forks and spoons against glass plates filled more of the void, and buzzing voices and ringing laughter filled the rest. The lighting was dimmed to create a lazy, relaxing sort of experience and there were men puffing on vapor cigarettes.

I could feel a smile dance over my face as I took it all in. We saw empty tables and we sat in them, not being invited by any waitstaff since there was none. When we were all in a seat, DeVry stood at the buffet bar and called out his instructions on respect for others in the room and eating until satisfied but not full. He numbered the tables, each seating six men, and in order, we advanced on the bar of food feeling starved.

There were some foods I expected to see, but some I was afraid to try. Being one who ate a very clean diet due to rations, these foods were enough to make my stomach rebel. I filled my plate with roast beef and no gravy, roasted potatoes and carrots, and three fried eggs, steering clear of breads and pastries. At the end of the line, tall glasses of tap water were waiting.

It made me nervous to drink water that I didn’t know what it contained. I had heard rumors that drinking water in the southern American Nation could make your stomach sick. I took a glass anyway and trusted that the RA would not put my health in any danger by giving me contaminated water.

“It’s clean water, soldier,” DeVry stated dryly as I passed him by.

“Thank you, sir,” I mumbled back, preoccupied with worry. I must have been giving the glass a serious stare down for my commander to notice.

Lunch tasted wonderful to my hungry belly and close to an hour later, we all headed outside in a courtyard for a briefing. We all sat upon stone benches that circled the grassy clearing in the middle of four buildings, much like the one we were bunking in.

As my comrades from all over my nation sat, I studied the grey stone of these buildings with fancy columns and carvings, tall windows framed with shutters of red and a roof of black. I doubted very highly that it was all original from the time it was first built and I tried to envision it back in the day when architecture was an art of true proportions.

“Where are you from?” a young voice asked at my left side.

I whipped my head in his direction and regarded him rather coolly, I think. “Chicago,” I answered him.

“Never been there,” he replied. “I’m from Idaho.”

I chuckled at the kid. “I thought you guys all spoke with a cowboy accent. Where is your base in Idaho?”

The kid joined with me in merriment. “I’m stationed at the Boise base. I suppose some of us have our own sort of accent out there, but these days, most have transplanted from all over the nation. I don’t think I know a single native there. Then again, I don’t get out much.”

“So where did you transplant from if you don’t have an Idaho accent?” I grinned razzing him just a little more.

The kid grew pretty quiet and somber for a moment. “I don’t know,” he answered.

I reeled back as though he punched me in the face. “How can you not know?” I asked callously.

He shifted his gaze to his hands that were folded before him, his elbows resting on his knees. “My file says there was some sort of accident that killed my parents in Vegas. I was sent to a family who adopted me when I was two and I have no idea what my parents even looked like. I can’t recall anything from that long ago.” He gave a weak laugh that signaled vulnerability. “It chases me, those shadowy thoughts. I think that most of the time I invent my own history just so I can stop thinking about it.”

“That’s rough. I’m sure sorry,” I replied feeling foolish.

“No worries. We all have our ghosts, I suppose,” he said looking back at me, the haunted look that had washed over him was gone. “What’s your story?”

I threaded my fingers behind my neck and stretched my back with a sigh. “I don’t really have one. I wake up, go to the base, and go home. My parents are dead, my adopted parents are dead and I have no ties to anyone,” I answered him.

“Ah, so no matches have come up for you then?” he asked giving my medallion a flick of his finger making it sway to and fro on the chain.

I looked away from him. “Nope.”

“Yeah, me either. At least not yet. Kinda thankful that I don’t have those ties, you know? Doing this job would really stink then,” he stated.

“I think the whole idea stinks. But that is just me. I don’t want the ties. I don’t want to pretend to care for an individual I have never met before. Just isn’t natural,” I replied. I felt that I needed to gather my wits again. Talking to others never led to anything good.

“You have a name?” the kid asked me changing the subject.

“Weston. Weston Cam. You?”

“Jack Allen.”

“Nice to meet you, Jack. Anyone ever harass you about having two first names?” I laughed making light of the conversation.

He laughed back. “Yep. All the time. Nice to meet you Weston. Sounds like you will fit in nicely here with the Foxbouroughs and the Ashton Brookehouses of this area.”

“I just need a dinner jacket and a vapor pipe and a glass of wine. Maybe a top hat on my head. They would never know,” I said through my laughter and wiping my eyes.

“If you girls are done over there, I will continue,” Jonas boomed.

I sobered immediately, the attack from my commander feeling slightly personal.

“As I was saying, we will convoy to the station where we will take the train being held specifically for us. Each of you will be given a backpack that will contain clean water and first aid supplies. There will be some MREs in there that are to distribute to victims, men. These are not to be eaten by the likes of you! Is that understood?” DeVry bellowed as he paced back and forth through the circle of grass.

“Yes sir!” we all called out in one unified voice.

“The water is for you to drink, distribute as you see fit and clean wounds for temporary dressings. There isn’t a lot so use it wisely. Each night, when you return to your rooms, a cart will be sent around to collect the packs and ready them for the next day. It is lights out at 2200 and wake up call at 0500. We try to get you back here at dusk, before the sun sets, as a safety precaution. However, we will use every bit of daylight to help these people. Any man found sitting while on shift will be reprimanded severely. You are not here to be pansy boys, you are not here to dilly dally, you are here to make a difference! If you choose to be a nancy boy, you will not be well received here. Wear your uniforms proudly and do your duty to the people in need of your training, your services. For many of you, it is the first time being out in the field. This is not an excuse for failing to do your job! If you question yourself, it isn’t right. If you question yourself again, it’s probably pretty wrong. If you act on something that I would question myself on, you will be severely reprimanded! Do I make myself clear?” DeVry shouted.

Our chanted affirmation led him to nod his head.

“If you find that you need to speak with me about anything you might see, please make an appointment with our liaison, Drake. He will be scheduling my time and I will be limited, but I am here if you need me to lend an ear to your troubles. You will see some horrible stuff out there, men. It is not uncommon to need to unload those thoughts on someone else. Get it out of your head so you can move on and do your job. You are soldiers, not robots. I get this. Do not bottle it up inside. That is an order. Now get up! We have work to do!” Jonas stood up tall and slipped a hat over his head.

A train was being held for our group of supports of the RA and we all scrambled aboard, not unused to the procedure, as a bunch of individuals, not a team of men on a mission of relative compassion. Few of us spoke to each other on the short ride to the south end of Europe Nation. Jack sat beside me again but we stayed silent. It was my thought that everyone on that train was thinking the same things. We were all imagining the worst, many of us wondering what a real dead body looked like, felt like and smelled like.

We all sat together somber and brooding, as if we were all on our way to a funeral.