Jack had often been in situations where he wished he was a fly on the wall but now that he suddenly felt like he was, he wondered if he had been wrong to wish for that. He had been reading for another hour and thought he would stop at the last chapter, but he still couldn’t put the book down. He got up to stretch and heard scratching at the door. When he opened it, Maya ran in and curled up on the sofa, declaring it her spot for the day.
“Well okay then, Maya, it’s settled! I’ll be right back.”
He heard thunder in the distance and ran quickly across to the Lodge to tell Isabel he had her dog again. He hoped she didn’t mind this habit they were forming. He really liked when Maya was around. When she opened the door, she had her manuscript in one hand, a pen in her mouth. She had already told him she was old fashioned and still preferred to print it out and then mark it all up in red the way her high school English teacher had.
“See.. I wasn’t kidding.” she smiled. She looked at him sheepishly, holding it up and squinting at it with her glasses on the end of her nose. “How are you, Jack? Do you need anything?”
“Oh, no.. I just came to tell you I have Maya again. I was reading and she was scratching at the door.”
Looking down at what he was holding, she blushed. He had forgotten he still had the book in his hand and he suddenly felt as if he’d been caught reading her diary. He realized then, that being with an author in person, while reading their book, was something like being allowed into the bedroom.. that sacred space where few ever walk. The initial invitation came when she made the book public, publishing it long after John’s death, and yet he felt in this moment as if he had somehow invited himself to come in when she had not asked him to. It wasn’t especially comfortable, but he wasn’t about to walk out now. He was going to finish what he started.
“I found it on Annie’s shelf in the office at home, Izzy. I hope it doesn’t bother you that I’m reading it,” he said in a tone that suggested he wasn’t going to put it down regardless.
“No, of course not.”
She smiled warmly but if she were a poker player, she would have just lost that hand because he held the cards in his.. and she was bluffing.
He walked back to the cabin and sat down on the couch with the dog. Opening the book, he began the next chapter, surprised to find that she had now switched to John’s perspective.
Bella had been slamming around for the better part of an hour and I was losing patience. She has always had a passionate streak and although it takes a lot to make her angry, when she was, I definitely knew it. I had anticipated that she would be upset by my news, but I hadn't expected a reaction quite this volatile. I’ve underestimated her feelings about my absence more often than I care to admit. I’m not used to emotional connections that make me this important in the life of another human being. It isn’t unwelcome but it is entirely foreign. It is an unfortunate aspect of my job that I can be called away at a moment's notice and it cannot be avoided. She is well aware of this, but doesn't always accept it gracefully. My feelings about that and for her are what have prompted my early retirement and the purchase of our small cottage out in the middle of nowhere. She felt this sleepy little town would be the ideal place for us to disappear into anonymity. I never had the heart to tell her, there is no such perfect place. Not in my world, and therefore.. not in hers. We both learned this the hard way, some time later.
“Damn it all, John. You promised! You said we were done with this!” Her shoe hit the wall above my head and my blood pressure was already rising.
She marched into the bedroom and slammed the door with a rather well practiced hand. I stood on the other side of it with my forehead against the wood, taking deep breaths and forcing my own anger into submission. For the life of me, I didn't understand why she was making such a big deal out of it. At most, I would only be gone for a week. I can still hear her words, clear as a bell. She was a master at commanding them.
“I am so mad at you, John… I took you at your word! I never know where you are or when you're coming back or if you’ll even come back at all! It’s terrifying! You have no idea what it’s like for me!” she shouted from the other side of the door. "You. said. we. were. done." She was sobbing so hard she was hiccuping.
I knew she was mad. She was gritting her teeth and spitting out her words in clipped syllables. Never a good sign. Slamming doors was just an additional act of defiance she wielded skillfully, knowing how much I hated it. It wasn’t like her to throw things though. She must be really mad.
My growing frustration wasn't going to help matters and I was determined to keep a tight reign on my own emotions. I could hear her crying and entertained the idea briefly of pulling the door off its hinges, dismissing the thought as quickly as it had come. She’s strong and she’ll fight her way through this, I thought in exasperation. We’ve been separated before and she came to terms with it eventually.
“I hate doing it to you even one more time, but this will be the last, I swear, Bella!” I tried again. “Please stop yelling and come out of there.” She sat leaning heavily against her side of the door, scowling in silence, stubbornly refusing to respond.
I waited without a word, and when she didn't come out, I ran a hand through my hair, grabbed the keys to the Harley and pealed out of the driveway in a desperate attempt to avoid saying something I would later regret. I made a quick stop at the local gas station to make a telephone call. It wasn’t until much later, that she would learn I had called her brother.
There was only one bar within a 50 mile radius and I headed in that direction. I was driving too fast but the speed of the bike somehow slowed my pulse and I exploded into the parking lot, gravel spraying. I found Drew's pickup truck already parked in the spot beneath the blinking tavern sign next to The Duck Inn. In spite of myself, I had to laugh. Bella thought the name and the sign were hilarious. She giggled about it every time we drove by.
Her brother was hell on wheels, but we had known each other since high school and I was used to it. He was loyal to a fault and he was one of my best friends. He was stationed at Hanscom but he was up here all the time. He had chosen a base where he could be close to his sister which I had to admit was pretty admirable. They had always looked out for each other and she had been heartbroken when he was stationed so far away. He wasn't always an easy man to deal with but we understood each other in spite of our differences and, if there was one thing I was certain of, it was this: Drew loved Bella and would be there to support her, and I really needed to talk to him about this.
I stood at the counter and ordered a beer, then pulled up a stool next to him. We sat in awkward silence, staring at the game on the large screen tv at the back of the room for several minutes without really paying attention to it.
“You're leaving again, aren't you?” Drew said without looking at me. “Where to this time?”
The muscles in his jaw tensed and he clenched his fist tighter around the neck of the bottle right before giving in to the urge to slam it down on the counter where I was sitting.
“You know, I will never understand why she bothers to put up with this!” he hissed.
The bartender threw his towel over his shoulder and moved to stand in front of us, with a warning look. I held up my hand and fixed my eyes on him briefly. My years of training had taught me well and I managed, with some effort, to keep from striking back, doing my best to diffuse the situation before it escalated out of control. I’d had plenty of experience keeping my cool in the midst of a crisis, and though I was growing rather tired of it… it had always served me well in dealing with my brother in law.
“Listen to me. You know how this works. I am going whether you like it or not and she does not need this from you too, so pull it together.” I spat my own words through gritted teeth, recognizing in that instant, where Bella had picked up the habit.
I spent the next twenty minutes explaining the hostage situation on the Achille Lauro and how four terrorists had taken control of the ship off the coast of Egypt. They had killed a disabled passenger and thrown his body overboard and were now attempting to negotiate. Tensions were mounting quickly. I had been called back in and Bella was furious. But I was leaving in morning and everyone had better just get a handle on it.
I was accustomed to the humming of jet engines but on this particular morning it was really grating on my nerves. I had left my music behind in my haste to get to the airport on time and it was a long trip to Italy. I got the flight attendant's attention on the way to my seat and ordered my coffee black, asking her with a grin to dump some whiskey in for good measure. She was not amused. I made my way down the aisle, glancing at the numbers and tossing my carry on bag into the overhead compartment before landing with an irritated flop in my seat. It never ceased to amaze me how easily I slid back into the old routine. I was born to this… it was in my blood.
The woman in the seat next to me was already snoring and I rolled my eyes in exasperation. There was an empty row behind me and I grabbed my bag and dared anyone to challenge the move. The flight attendant raised an eyebrow but when she saw the expression on my face this time, she didn’t argue. I have always had that effect on people. Most of the time I really don’t care but there are times when it only magnifies how solitary my life has become. I’m not approachable and that has never really bothered me. I don’t need anyone but Bella approaching me anyway.
Leaning back in the seat, I closed my eyes, thinking of her. She had smiled at me bravely as I boarded the plane; a tired, weak attempt at supporting me. She had finally stopped fighting. I felt like a heel and I meant it this time. I would not do this to her again. Drew was really angry with me, but I understood it. He cared about his sister. He would get over it, just as she would. I had finished my beer and my explanation in under an hour, and asked him to look out for her while I was gone. He snarled something about how he always did that, but he did it for her, not for me. Talk about making a guy feel like an ass. There was nothing else I could do.
It tore me apart to see her. She had come around eventually, as I knew she would. I had slipped back into the house quietly and picked up the guitar, taking it out to the porch, to sing. The rain had been falling for hours again… but it seemed so appropriate somehow. When it stopped, she had finally come out of the bedroom, eyes swollen and red and she sat next to me in her rocking chair, looking silently up at the stars for a long time. She wouldn’t look at me at all but I kept playing until her soft voice mingled with mine and my heart broke all over again to look at her. Close to midnight, I took her inside and she went with me willingly.
It had been a long night and all I wanted on this wretched morning, was to be left alone to think about it. Shifting uncomfortably in my seat, I closed my eyes.
The room smelled of peppermint tea and roses.. remnants of her attempt to comfort herself after I’d stormed out earlier in the evening. I usually brought it to her at night before bed, and she loved the routine. But she hadn’t known if I’d be back that night and, in an effort to calm down, she had eventually made it on her own.
There were candles glowing on her nightstand and on the windowsill along my side of the bed. I was glad for it when I pulled her into my arms and felt her resolve melt away. Tipping her face up to meet mine, I knew that if I searched my whole life, I would never find another pair of eyes that answered the questions within my own, so completely. Bending softly to her, I felt the moment she yielded. It was the exact moment I did the same.
She described how it felt to me once, early in our relationship and then enjoyed how I squirmed in embarrassment, not yet understanding her need to put words to every experience, even those for which I felt there were none that even began to approach the way that I felt. I turned again in my seat, looking out the window at the luggage being loaded into the belly of the plane, sinking further into my thoughts.
I savored kissing her. I could feel her wanting begin at her eyes and work its way throughout her body as the night wore on. She preferred to linger and I was inclined to let her, more than ever last night. Her small hands ran gently up and down my back as I tugged my shirt over my head slowly, breaking her gaze only briefly before dropping it on the floor. She did the same, pressing herself gently to me, her skin soft as silk.
I picked her up and laid her down on the bed in one fluid movement, smoothing the hair back from her forehead and whispering, “I’m sorry, Bella. I know this is hard for you.” She lifted her arms up over her head in surrender, her eyes never leaving mine and I grasped them both in one of my own, as she opened herself to me completely. I could feel her heart fluttering against my chest, and wished for all the world, that I could unzip all that I was, pull her in to the depths of me and keep her safe there forever. Knowing that wasn’t possible, I braced myself above her, leaning as close to her mouth as I could get without touching her lips. I exhaled softly and whispered into her mouth, “One breath at a time, Bella, ” wiping away her tears with the back of my hand and touching my forehead to hers.
She put her lips next to my ear and whispered a song. “And so it goes, and so it goes, and you’re the only one who knows…” She was clinging to those final moments as desperately as I was, singing her heart out as it leaked from her eyes. We eventually fell asleep, still entwined, and I woke up a few hours later to the sound of waves and the pink light of dawn. I watched her sleep, willing time to stop. But time stops for no one.
“Wake up, babe… we have to go now. It’s time.”
She shrugged into the same clothes she had on yesterday and stood in the doorway, achingly disheveled, wearing her heart on her sleeve as she always did, the tiny hairs on her arm awash in the morning light streaming in through the window. I held her look for some time, memorizing her features and branding them on my heart. She laid her hand over the tattoo on my chest, tracing its outline slowly. It was the image of a wolf. Covering it with mine, I squeezed it gently, trying to reassure her and stop my own emotion in the process. I swallowed hard. Time seemed, just for a moment… to stand still in the space of a single heartbeat, and then the rush came, rolling over us in waves. One minute or ten passed.. I couldn’t be sure. All I knew, was that I couldn’t stop it from coming.
I cannot explain to her this need to go when I am called upon, because I don’t always understand it myself. I can no more turn my back on it than I can stop breathing at will. This is my life, and accepting me, is accepting what I am called to do, no matter how painful it is for her. I had always been clear about that, and as I raced toward the Naval Air Station in Sicily, I hoped with everything in me that she would eventually come to make peace with it. Leaning back in my seat, I tried to focus on what was ahead, but all I could see was the woman I’d left behind, as she struggled to come to grips with all I had said to her. I played it over and over again in my mind, wondering if I could somehow have done it all differently. Gripping the small compass she had given me as she left the airport, I closed my eyes again in a useless attempt to erase the tears she’d tried to hide, praying it would point me safely home.
“And so it goes…” I choked under my breath.
The clouds opened up, and poured against my window, as we lifted off. That plane would carry me far away from one storm and straight into another.