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Authors: Teresa Hill

Five Days Grace (25 page)

BOOK: Five Days Grace
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He started shaking hard, and she held him tighter, her mind racing.

This story couldn't get any worse. How could it?

"After a while, I begged them not to come get me."

"What?"

"I begged them not to come get me. Not to take the risk of more people dying. I begged them to just... leave me there."

And let him die.

That's the part he wasn't saying.

He was so messed up by it all, by having to lie there and watch his friends die and blame himself for it, that he couldn't stand the idea of the same thing happening to anyone else, and if that meant him dying...

"But, they didn't," she said finally.

"No. They would never do that. You don't leave anybody behind. It's a sacred code with us. It's ridiculous that I'd even ask anyone to, an insult to everybody who took part in the rescue, especially the men who died there."

"So, what happened?"

"My CO told me to shut the hell up and get off the radio if I didn't have anything useful to say. Although, I didn't really listen to him."

"But this isn't about... orders and obeying a commanding officer. You were hurt. You were bleeding and in pain, probably in shock. Plus, you didn't mean it, did you? You didn't really.... want to die?" She could barely even say the words.

He shook his head, looking lost back there in that awful time. "I was pretty out of it. I remember thinking I just couldn't stand for anybody else to die. To have to watch and listen to it, to not be able to help them, and to know they were only there in that place at that time because of me. I couldn't do that."

"You're saying someone's going to hold that against you now? Something you said in a moment of extreme stress, while you were in pain, in shock?"

"Ahh, honey. I was still a mess when I came to in the hospital, first in Germany and then in Virginia."

A mess?

"Suicidal?" She finally got the word out.

"No. I didn't actually try to hurt myself. I just didn't do... anything. It was like being numb, except it felt... awful. Horrible. Painful. It was like... being stuck in this deep, dark hole and thinking you'd never get out, that you'd never feel anything but bad, ever."

"That's Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, isn't it? Depression? Survivor's Guilt?"

He nodded.

"I've read about that. Soldiers get PTSD, and they're still soldiers, right?"

"Some of them. Depending on how messed up they are. How long they stay messed up. The question is being fit for duty, to do the kind of work I do, have the kind of security clearance I have, have the career I planned. If I even recover sufficiently physically, that is."

"But, you're better now," she insisted.

He nodded, still with that far away look in his eyes.

Grace ached for him. She just ached deep inside, wanted even more to take care of him and make him happy and... love him. She wanted to love him lavishly, joyously, in a way that no one had ever loved him before or ever would.

She wanted to take all of this away and have it never be able to hurt him again.

How did she go about that?

She felt stunned by what she'd heard, horrified, so angry that he'd ever had to suffer that way and in awe that he had survived, and she had no idea what to do for him. She'd pushed too fast, charged forward when she had no idea what she was doing.

"Look, I have to get out of here," he said a moment later. "I just... can't be still sometimes. Moving helps."

"Okay," she said.

"I'm going to walk around the lake."

"Okay," she agreed.

Barely, just barely, she managed to hang on until he got out the door before sinking down to the floor and breaking down completely, thinking of all the horrible things he'd been through.

Grace sobbed like she hadn't since the day Luc died. Tink—looking like a typical male when faced with a woman's tears—freaked out. He cocked his giant, silly head to one side and stared at her, then started whining and making his crying sound himself. He came over to her and got right up in her face, even licking a tear away at one point. She wrapped her arms around him and cried some more. He was still worried about her, but seemed to take her crying better when she hung onto him.

"This is really all that women want when they cry," she told him finally. "Just hold them. Or let them hold you. Snuggling in bed is good, too, just so you know."

He cried a little, like he understood and wanted to help.

"You're a good dog," she said, kissing him on his snout. "And Aidan... We have to help Aidan. We have to take such good care of him. Maybe I should leave you with him. I want you with me. Really, I do. But I don't want to leave Aidan alone. He's in worse shape than I am."

Truthfully, she didn't want to leave Aidan at all.

Why couldn't she just take him and the dog home with her? Hide them in her house and take care of them both? Like anybody could hide anything from her family, much less a man and a hundred-pound dog with a giant clown head. But still, she wanted to try anything that would keep him with her.

He'd been willing to die over there, rather than risk anyone else's life to save him. He'd begged them, he'd said, not to come and rescue him, and he'd lain there with men dying all around him and been unable to help them. She couldn't imagine much more of a hell on earth than that.

So she was going to let herself cry like crazy, try to get it all out right then. Because he did not need to know about this, about what it had cost her simply to hear what had happened to him. She was determined not to make this any harder for him, only better.

Which meant she couldn't look like she'd had a crying fit when he came back.

A woman really couldn't do that all-out, ugly cry for long, Grace had found since Luc died. She sometimes gave herself five minutes to hide and go at it as hard as she could, and still seldom managed to use the entire time she'd allotted herself.

But this time? This time, her whole body shook, and her side actually hurt from those shaky breaths that came along with the ugly cry. Plus, she was freaking out the dog. He seemed more distressed than she was. If she did take him home with her, she'd have to hide from him to cry.

"Okay, I'm going to stop now," she told him.

He whined some more and tried to lick her face.

She got up from the floor, went to blow her nose. Running cold water in the sink, she cupped her hands to catch it and splashed it on her face a half-dozen times. When she was done, she still looked like a woman in the middle of the ugly cry, all puffy and splotchy. That just would not do.

Tink had followed her to the bathroom and stood by her side looking worried. He followed her to the old refrigerator, where she got ice cubes to wrap in a damp washcloth. Then she went to the screened porch and lay down flat on her back on the make-shift sofa, holding the wrapped ice on her eyes. He got up beside her, nudging her legs to the side to make room for himself and lay down beside her.

"Ahh, thank you, baby," she told him, using one hand to pet him and one to hold the ice on her eyelids.

She was still sniffling when her phone rang. In this exact spot on the porch, she sometimes got a cell signal. She pulled her phone out of her pocket, saw that it was her sister. Could she hide the evidence in her voice that she'd dissolved into tears just minutes ago? Maybe.

Grace answered the phone. "Hi, Em."

"What's wrong?" her sister asked immediately.

"I'm fine."

"No, you're not—"

Okay, no fooling Emma. "Okay, I'm not. But it's not about me. It's... I just heard the most awful story."

"You're crying over a sad story?"

"It was really sad. What can you tell me about Survivor's Guilt?" Grace asked.

"Why would you possibly feel guilty because Luc died?"

She almost yelled, "Em, it's not me, I swear!" Tink didn't like the shouting any more than the crying, and he started whining and fussing.

"And you got a dog? What in the world is going on up there? What have those people done to you?"

Grace tried to soothe the dog first, petting him and fussing over him, and then dropped her ice onto the floor. It made a racket, and Tink was scared at first, but then thought it was a game. He scampered after pieces, knocking them across the floor with his giant paws, chasing them and knocking them away again.

"What is that?" Emma asked. "Grace?"

"It's just the dog. I dropped something, and he's going after it. Em, I'm going to say this one last time, and then I'm going to hang up, if you don't listen to me. I am not talking about myself, and I would very much like to know anything you're willing to tell me about Survivor's Guilt."

"Okay, fine. It's a kind of PTSD, first identified among Concentration Camp survivors from World War II. Fifteen, twenty years later, they'd survived physically, but they were still caught up in the trauma. It's natural for us to try to make sense of the things that happen to us in life. We want to know why things happened, to feel like there's a reason why one person survives and one doesn't. People with Survivor's Guilt can't make sense of whatever happened to them and can't let go of it. Often, they either can't feel happiness or feel guilty when they are happy. They don't think they deserve good things in their lives because of the guilt they feel. They suffer from a variety of symptoms—depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, flashbacks, inability to trust, to let themselves form close relationships with people. And they tend to obsess over little details of the event. If they'd done this, maybe it wouldn't have happened. Or maybe someone else wouldn't have died. As if it was somehow within their control, who lived and who died. I could go on... I could loan you books, lots of books."

"Okay. When I get back," Grace said. "What do you do for people like this?"

"I have them as patients."

"But, let's say it's a friend of yours, not a patient, and you're not a shrink and you just want to help?"

"I would urge them to seek professional help—"

"Emma!"

"I'd just try to be a good friend. To listen, if they were willing to talk. Talking is good. And to just... be there. Having someone there who cares about you is a lot. We're all at our worst when we feel like we're all alone and no one understands, no one cares."

Well, Grace had certainly found that out with Aidan. She felt so much better after confessing all her problems to him. She'd be his friend, his best friend.

"Okay, that's good. I can do that. And it hasn't been ten or fifteen years for... this person. Just a few months. That's better, isn't it? Of course you're still... caught up in things, when it's only been a few months, right?" Crap, now Emma was going to think again this was about Grace, because of the few months thing.

"Yes, someone would be more caught up in traumatic events after only a few months, rather than years later. But the key is the guilt and how it affects someone's life. Say, you lost someone you loved... It's natural to find it hard to enjoy life without that person, to even feel some guilt when you do happen to enjoy something and then remember that person is gone—"

"Em, I don't know any other way to say this. I've asked myself a million questions about Luc's death, including why he died. But I don't feel guilty because I survived and he didn't. I swear. I truly am asking about someone else, someone I'd like to help. If anything, hearing about what... this person has gone through has made me more interested in someone else's problems than mine for the first time in months. Which I think is a good thing. For me, I mean."

"Yes. It is, actually. So, what is going on up there? Usually you hate it at Ellen's house. You dreaded going and were sure the three of you would spend the weekend crying over baby pictures of Luc and eating his favorite foods and generally being miserable. And now you've found a dog and a new friend?"

"It's been an unusual trip," Grace said.

"I guess so."

"Everything okay at home?"

"Rye and Dad are very happily planning your fence. Jamie and Lizzie can't wait to meet your dog. And I think Will is going to take the job running the new shelter in town."

"Great." Jamie and Lizzie were Emma's youngest children. Will was a former foster kid her parents had tried to adopt ages ago, now considered a good friend, practically family. He'd been gone too long.

"Wait, there was something else. Oh, Dana wants to ask you a favor. It might be too soon, but she's been tutoring a boy she really likes. I mean, not that kind of like. At least, I don't think so. He's just a really nice kid, she says, and he's got a couple of college scholarship interviews coming up, no money, absolutely nothing to wear to something like that. She mentioned that Luc always dressed so nicely and wondered if you might let her outfit this kid for his interviews with a suit of Luc's?"

"Of course." Dana was Emma's oldest daughter, tall and beautiful and so grown-up all of a sudden.

"If it's too much, too soon, just say so. And I won't even let her ask."

"No, I'm happy to do it. Luc spent a fortune on his clothes. Someone should wear them, and it would make me very happy to help some kid look good, maybe feel a little more confident for college scholarship interviews. She can come over one day next week, and we'll pick out some things."

BOOK: Five Days Grace
3.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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