I walked, quickly and nimble footed, over the branches and pebbles until I came to the creek and took a deep breath of pure ecstasy. I was finally here; the place I had gone to in my mind every single day while at war.
“Hello?” a female voice called out to me and I nearly jumped.
“Hello?” I answered with a grunt, not wanting to make conversation.
“Are you safe?”
“Am I safe?” What was she going on about?
“You’re not going to kill me are you?’ she sighed. “I’ve had an awful night.”
Something about her voice was vaguely familiar, but I didn’t quite recognize it. “I don’t know that I’d tell you if I was going to.”
“It doesn’t matter anyways,” she sighed.
I looked around the bank, but couldn’t see where she was sitting. “Where are you, anyways?”
“I’m not going to tell you that.”
“Fine.” I rolled my eyes. “Well I’m going to sit down and not look for you, so you should be okay.”
“Thanks.” She let out a deep breath and I stood still, trying to figure out where the sound was coming from. I couldn’t tell and shrugged my shoulders as I sat down. What did I care where she was or who she was? I had come here for solitude and was grateful that she hadn’t wanted to talk.
I lay back in the grass and looked up at the sky. It was a dark navy blue in color and the stars were shining brightly, as if each and every one of them wanted to lead me on a journey. I saw some constellations, but I wasn’t quite sure which ones they were because I hadn’t paid close attention in my astronomy class in high school.
“Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket,” sang the girl, wistfully, and I tried to ignore her. She sounded as depressed as I felt and I really didn’t need anyone else’s worries to bring me down.
“I’m a real boy,” she said, in a squeaky voice and I frowned.
“I’m a real boy.”
“Sorry, I’m a bit confused.”
“It’s from Pinocchio.”
“Okay.” I wanted to say, and you are quoting Pinocchio because? But I didn’t care.
“Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” she sang out again and I sighed.
“It’s…” she began.
“I know it’s from Cinderella.”
“No, it’s from Mary Poppins.” Her voice was aghast at the fact that someone could have gotten the song reference wrong.
“Whatever.” I said, under my breath.
“No need to be rude.” Her voice seemed closer to me now and I looked back and forth. I saw a figure lying about ten feet away from me. I couldn’t really see what she looked like because it was so dark.
“It’s okay.” Her voice was low and I fought the urge to ask her what was wrong. “Do you like songs from movies?”
“No,” I sighed.
“Sorry, do you want to be left alone?”
“Yes.” That’s why I came here, I thought.
“I did, too, until I got here,” she sighed. “Life can be soo complicated sometimes, can’t it?”
“I suppose so.”
“It’s like there is a battle in the universe controlling my life and, just when I think the good guys are winning, someone goes and finds the kryptonite.”
“Well, that’s not good,” I sighed.
“No, it’s not.” She paused. “Do I know you? Your voice sounds familiar.”
“No. I’m not from around here.” I lied.
“Are you sure?” She started to get up.
“I’m sure.” My voice was gruffer than I would normally speak. “Please, I just need to think right now—in silence.”
“Point taken.” She laughed and I saw her lie back down. I lay back down and stared at the stars. I was irritated that I didn’t know what constellation I was staring at. I wanted to ask her, but I knew that would just open up the door to conversation. I decided to close my eyes instead. I heard her start singing again, a song I didn’t know. But it didn’t irritate me. In fact it soothed my nerves.
“Last night you slept in a goose-feathered bed with the sheets turned down so bravely-o,” she sang and I was comforted by her tone. She had a nice voice. I actually wanted to sing along with her. I almost wished I had brought my guitar.
“I’m off with the wraggle taggle gypsies, oh.” She sang and laughed to herself and I wanted to ask her what was so funny. I also wanted to see her face, see if I did recognize her. Something about her personality made me realize that she wasn’t part of my old crew. None of those girls would have come to the creek by themselves, there was no way. I laughed out loud, thinking about Susannah lying in the dirty grass and getting her clothes wet.
I rolled over onto my side, facing the girl and opened my eyes slowly to peek at her. I don’t know why I peeked; there was no way she was going to know that I was looking at her. I could barely make out the shape of her body in the darkness. I rolled my eyes to the strangers of the night. Only I would want to know who some stranger was when I had come here to relax and think about what I was going to do next.
How was I going to find Miss? There was no point in my being back in Jonesville if I didn’t get to find out who she was. I needed to know. Something in my heart told me that she could be—no, would be—the one to soothe my broken heart. So much had happened in the last five years. I didn’t know if I could take much more. Something had to give. The shock of finding out that my father was a cheat, and then my mom losing it. It had been too much to take. I had gone down a bad path. And then Eddie and I had done some stupid things.
I hadn’t expected him to follow through on half of the things we had said. And then that night happened. And it was all because of me. But, instead of looking like the villain, I came off as the hero, and now Eddie was dead. I opened and closed my eyes, but I couldn’t get his face out of my mind. My dear, dear Eddie. He hadn’t been such a bad guy. Not underneath it all. The marines would have sorted him out.
I thought back to my first days at basic training. I had thought I was going to die, which had shocked me. I was fit, in good shape. I thought it would all be easy for me. But it wasn’t. Not one part of it was easy. I’d still been too hardheaded then. Everything had been too much. All I could think of was Lexi’s face on that night. The way she had looked at me as her hero with such genuine and open affection. Just like the way she had looked at me at Steak N Shake and the library.
She was too innocent. Too beautiful. I’d never noticed it before in high school, but she had an ethereal presence about her. She was the sort of girl you wanted to protect. The sort of girl who got your heartstrings tugging. It seemed to me that she was the sort of girl that could get a man on the right path. But I had to dismiss her from my thoughts. She and I would never have a future after I told her the truth. And I could never truly date anyone without knowing who Miss was.
I bit my lip, thinking about the short story Miss had written for me. I had read it to two of my closest friends in Afghanistan, while we were keeping watch for suicide bombers at our camp.
Everyone took turns on night duty, it was the only way that was fair, but Daryl, Mike and I always tried to work on the same nights. We worked well together and got on well. Everyone had been a bit wary of me in the beginning, with me being the cute blond Midwesterner. They thought I’d have some sort of attitude or something, but I already knew what they knew. I was no better than anyone else. I won over Daryl and Mike pretty easily by sharing care packages that my mom sent me every week. Daryl used to say that he never ate so many Oreos when he was back in the States and we would all laugh.
I liked to think of Daryl and Mike that way: laughing, singing and stuffing their faces with Oreos. It was the only way to remember them. The doctor had told me that it was the only way for me to live a somewhat normal life. He said I had to try to forget the last night we all did night duty together. It’s funny how your brain can never forget the things you want it to forget the most. Try as you might, some things never seem to disappear. I bet if I got Alzheimer’s, there would still be certain memories that wouldn’t fade away. I didn’t want to forget. But I knew I had to. Daryl and Mike were both only children. Daryl’s parents had died in a car crash and that was why he joined the marines and Mike, well, Mike never knew his parents. We were three lost souls. And they were both better than me. They both deserved to have made the trip back. We had served our time, done our duty to our country.
I felt tears rolling down my face and I gulped. I wanted to sob and to scream and to shout, but I didn’t want to scare the girl. That stupid girl, I thought to myself as I cried. Why couldn’t she just leave?
The strange guy had started crying. I was sure of it. It made me feel embarrassed and tense. I wasn’t sure what to do. He didn’t want to talk to me and so I was pretty sure that he didn’t want me to go over there to pat his back. And I didn’t want to go either. The alcohol was wearing off and I was actually pretty scared. I was lying in a field with a strange man just a few yards away from me. What if he tried to do something to me? I felt panic rise up in me and I started to feel hot and cold flushes running through my body. What if he tried to attack me or, worse still, rape me?
I lay my head down and counted to ten as my heart raced. I tried to regulate my breathing and forget what it had felt like all those nights ago. I was a survivor. I was a survivor. I had to remember that. He hadn’t raped me. I was okay. I was okay. And I was okay now. Nothing was going to happen to me. The strange guy with the slightly familiar voice wasn’t going to do anything to me. He wasn’t a serial killer; he wasn’t a rapist. I bit my lip. I shouldn’t have come here by myself. Luke would kill me if he knew I had come by myself, he acted like he was my dad or very over protective brother. I know I gave him grief for it, but I loved him for it. I felt sadness that I had come here without him; I could do with his warm and comforting shoulder right now.
I heard the guy blowing his nose and I felt my heart go out to him. I could tell that he was trying to be as quiet as possible. He most probably didn’t want me to hear him crying. I felt uncomfortable just sitting there—like I was a bad person—but I honestly didn’t know what to do. He hadn’t wanted to talk to me, so I doubted that he wanted me to come over and comfort him. Yet, there had been something in the way that he had spoken that had set my stomach aglow. He had a warm, deep lilt to his voice that was comforting, even though he wasn’t being particularly nice.
“Are you okay?” I whispered. I couldn’t stop myself. I felt like I would be a bad person if I didn’t even attempt to try to help. The night fell even more silent. I knew that he had heard me, but he didn’t respond. I contemplated my next move. When I was younger, I had read a story from the bible about a Good Samaritan and we had sung a song in school that asked, “Would you walk by on the other side?” about people in different situations. I didn’t want to be the person who could have helped someone but didn’t. “I’m here to listen if you need someone.” My words carried through the night, seeming to echo in my ears over and over again.
“Thanks, but I’m fine,” he answered, slowly, as if he were trying to catch his breath.
“I doubt that, but I understand. I tell my best friends that I am okay as well, but I’m not.” I sighed as I spoke. “I have soo many secrets from soo many people, that sometimes it feels as if I’m going to explode. I can barely keep up.”
“That does sound like a predicament.” His voice held amusement in it. “You’re not going to stop talking are you?”
“I can if you want?” I paused and waited for his answer. He took about a minute to reply. It seemed liked the longest minute of my life.
“You know, I was going to say no, I don’t want. But I think, I think I’d like you to continue. It helps to get my mind off of things.” He laughed ironically. “I came here to be alone, but it seems as if that wasn’t to be tonight.”
“I come here to be alone as well.”
“I’ve never encountered anyone here before.”
“How long have you been coming?” we both asked, at the same time, and we both laughed. He had a nice laugh, smooth, deep and full. He wasn’t faking a chuckle but letting out a real emotion.
“I’ve been coming for about ten years, since I was thirteen.” he said and my heart quickened. He was close to my age. And, if he was from Jonesville, it was likely that I knew him.
“I’ve been coming for six years, since I was sixteen.” I spoke slowly, wondering if he was going to come to the same conclusion as me, that perhaps we knew each other.
“Oh, interesting.” He paused. “You’re twenty-two?”
“I’m from Jonesville as well.” He paused. “I’m twenty-three.”
We were both silent for a while. I knew he was thinking what I was thinking—did we really want to reveal ourselves? It was kinda cool sitting here in the dark, talking to someone I didn’t know, revealing secrets that I would never tell anyone that I knew.
“I guess we may know each other,” he continued.
“We don’t have to check.”
“No we don’t.” He sounded relieved.