Authors: DeAnna Felthauser
Miki closed her eyes a moment, letting the tears fall, letting them help cleanse her soul.
Miki woke up early the Sunday after Thanksgiving and packed her bag before heading into the kitchen. Callum was there pouring coffee “Hey baby girl you’re up early.”
I need to get on the road soon. I have to catch up on homework when I get home tonight and be ready for classes in the morning.”
He nodded and poured her a mug of coffee, lacing it with cream and sugar before handing it to her.
Look on the bright side, only a few more weeks and you’ll be out of school for good.”
She grinned and nodded, taking a slow sip of the hot brew. “Thank God. I am so over going to class and being overloaded with homework. I just want to write.”
My baby sister, who soon shall be an award winning author, don’t forget little old me when you get all rich and famous baby girl.”
They laughed and finished their first cup of coffee right when the rest of the house started waking up. She took a little time to hug and kiss the kids and her sister in law. It was time to hit the road and get back to college life and get it done. One more round of hugs and kisses later, she was on the road and driving by Noah’s family home. Her heart hurt and arms ached to hold him. They hadn’t heard anything else from him, but Matthias said that was protocol. In her mind, protocol sucked. Noah should be home with his family, with her, instead of being stuck in transition between Germany and home.
So she would wait. Wait for the call that he was going to be there on whatever date and she would be there, greeting him when he got off the plane. They had many ups and downs in their young life but she certainly wasn’t going to let him deal with this on his own. They had been the best of friends for forever it seemed. She had loved him ever since the day they met. He knew it even though many times he denied her love could be real. There were so many things he didn’t know about her though, things that only her doctor and family knew. One day she feared she would have to tell him difficult things. She wasn’t looking forward to it either. Shaking her head she pushed those thoughts aside and focused on the road and cranked up the music.
By the time they checked into their hotel room it was just after 11pm and both were dead tired. Stripping down to sweatpants, Noah sat on his bed and carefully unwrapped his leg. It was throbbing, aching miserably all the way down to his foot, the foot that wasn’t even there. Shaking his head in frustration, he started exercising. The process of stretching taut muscles that were sore from the long flight was painful but it didn’t stop him. On their layover in New York, Noah and Caleb had went for a walk around the corridor just for the exercise, but other than that there wasn’t a whole lot of moving around you could do on a plane. He was thankful Caleb let him have the window seat when he needed to re-wrap his stump so he could avoid some of the stares and looks of pity he’d been getting. When Caleb had needed to do the same and re-wrap his arm they had switched seats again. Not many words were spoken on that long flight but while they had been through therapy, both physical and mental, he and Caleb had grown even closer than they previously had been. Surviving something tragic together had a way of putting a friendship on a different level.
Clearing his mind, he went through the circuits that his physical therapist had shown him. Lying on his back on the bed, he pulled his right leg towards his chest, wrapping his arms around it while his amputated leg hung off the bed for 15-20 seconds at a time. The purpose of it was to strengthen his hip flexors, the muscles near the waist, stretching them to keep them strong during recovery. His mind drifted as he worked, thinking to the day they would have tomorrow seeing Rich and McGee’s families, seeing the children that no longer had Father’s, wives that no longer had husbands, parents that were now missing sons. Every time he thought of it anger boiled inside of him. It should have been him that died, not his men that had families. He worked his muscles harder…longer…trying to work off the fury he felt inside, the shame he had for living when he had no one to depend on him like Rich and McGee did.
He was oblivious to Caleb addressing him, so absorbed in his own anger, sadness and pain to remember he wasn’t alone in the room. In a louder voice Caleb tried again. “Lieutenant!”
His head snapped around to look at Caleb, his face a mask of fatigue and pain. “Stop calling me that. I’m not a Lieutenant anymore.”
Sir, I disagree with you. The rest of your life you’ll still be Lieutenant to me whether we’re active duty or not. Just like to these families we’re going to see tomorrow, you are still Rich and McGee’s Lieutenant. So whatever demons you’re fighting inside you, you need to push it back and let it go brother. You can’t go in to see these families with a chip on your shoulder or a ‘poor me’ attitude. I don’t mean any disrespect Sir, but you gotta get it together. It’s our duty to be strong for these people and thank them for the brave sons, fathers, husbands and brothers they lost fighting for our country. I know you’re feeling messed up inside, I am too, but this is beyond us and we have to handle it respectfully. Noah we have to stop beating ourselves up for living through it. My Momma always said God won’t give you anything you can’t handle and everything happens for a reason. We just need to find out the reason we’re still here, and make our brothers we lost proud that we went on living in their memory.”
Noah sat heavily on the bed and rubbed his hands over his face, so weary… “You’re right man. I know you’re right. I just wish God would’ve asked what I wanted and I would’ve told him to take me instead so those kids could still have their Dad’s. It’s just not fair man, it’s just not right.”
Caleb sat next to him and patted his back. “I know, but we can’t change what happened. We just gotta roll with it and do the best we can to make our brothers proud. Together.”
Noah nodded and stood up, heading towards the bathroom. “I’m gonna shower and hit the sack. I was thinking in the morning we could go to that store by the base and pick the kids up Navy teddy bears. I don’t want to go empty handed.”
Good idea. Hey, don’t use all the hot water.” Caleb grinned at him and went to flip the television on.
Neither of them slept well that night, tossing and turning until 5am, when Noah gave up and sat up in bed. Once he changed his ace bandages and put a clean sock on his stump, he ventured out of the hotel room and went into the gym heading straight for the treadmill. Propping his crutches against the wall behind him he started out at a slow pace, holding onto the handles as he walked. Usually when he worked out he had music playing, but this morning he needed silence. It calmed him and helped clear his head. Honestly he was nervous about today. It worried him how the families would act and feel towards him and Caleb. They had met before, and even had dinner together and went out for drinks, but this was different. His heart was hurting from losing two of his soldiers, hurting so bad sometimes he couldn’t even think straight, so no telling how they felt or how they would feel towards him. He couldn’t even imagine.
Noah was just working up a good sweat when Caleb came in and got on the other treadmill. Nodding at each other they worked side by side in silence. When the pain in his stump interrupted his thoughts he switched machines and started lifting weights, watching Caleb when he switched and started using the lateral bar, one handed, with determination on his face. He was doing curls by pressing with his forearm since his hand was gone. Noah couldn’t have been more proud watching his friend work through it, pushing to find a way to adapt. Never giving up or letting it slow him down.
I’m going to go take a quick shower and shave so you can have the shower when you get done. I’d like us to be out of here by 0800 so we have time to make a couple of stops before we head to McGee’s.”
It didn’t take him too long to shower. He was starting to get used to balancing his weight, sitting on the edge of the tub if he needed too. Things would be easier when he got his shower leg. Doc had told him he was about ready to be fitted for one. The one he was most looking forward to, was getting his running prosthetic. It was important to him to get back to the point he could be nearly as physical as he always had been. Once he was out of the shower he shaved and packed his toiletries back in his bag and got out his uniform, heating the iron the hotel provided so he could make his uniform crisp and sharp.
While he waited for the iron to heat he sat on his bed and polished his shoes until they shined. By the time he was done Caleb was back and getting in the shower. He started to polish his shoes for him but he didn’t want to offend him. It was a meaningful step, one of pride when a soldier took care of his uniform. If Caleb wanted help he would ask. Noah wrapped his stump again and put his prosthetic back on so he’d be more stable while ironing. He was on the last section of ironing when Caleb was trying to polish his shoes. Frustration lined his face but he never asked for help, he figured it out by clasping the shoe between his knees to polish it. Noah couldn’t have been more proud.
They got done with time to spare and headed to the restaurant next to the hotel to grab a quick breakfast. They were sitting at the booth sipping hot coffee when a woman came up to their table and smiled warmly. “I don’t mean to interrupt you gentlemen, my name is Tilly, and I wanted to tell you I already paid for your breakfast. My son Nathan was in the Navy Merchant Marines. I noticed your uniform and you boys reminded me of him.” Her eyes were watering and her bottom lip quivered.
Thank you ma’am, we’re honored by your thoughtfulness. I’m Lieutenant Noah Cane and this is Petty Officer First Class Caleb Rodgers.”
We appreciate your kindness ma’am. Where’s your son stationed at?” Caleb asked.
Her eyes lowered and she reached out and put her hand on Caleb’s shoulder. “He’s gone honey. He was injured when he was stationed overseas and when he got home, well, he was never the same and he….he took his own life. That’s why I wanted to talk to you boys.”
Noah scooted over and patted the seat next to him. When she sat he laid his hand on hers trying to comfort her.
My son, he lost both his legs. He was so troubled, so angry and distant that nothing I or anyone else said or did got through to him. Living here in a military town you see a lot of soldiers coming home with injuries and I told myself from the day I lost my son, I would never let another injured soldier pass through my life without showing my appreciation and sharing Nathan’s story. I know I don’t know you boys or what you went through, but let me tell you, you came home for a reason. Don’t let your injury define you and don’t let it hold you back. Most of all, don’t let your family down by selfishly thinking only of yourself. You boys are loved, I’m sure of it, embrace it and don’t dishonor them by letting go and giving up.”
She reached over and touched the SEAL trident on Noah’s uniform and smiled. “After all, you’re SEALs. You can conquer anything.”
Caleb wiped his eyes and cleared his throat, emotions nearly overwhelming him.
Noah slipped his arms around Tilly and hugged her tight, kissing her cheek. “I needed you today Tilly. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, it means more than you can imagine. I’m honored you shared your story about your son and I’m so sorry to hear he’s gone. What you’re doing honors his memory Tilly and I promise you I won’t give up.”
I won’t give up either Tilly. I promise you that.” Caleb stood up and wrapped his arms around her and hugged her close, letting her cry on his shoulder until her tears ceased and she kissed his cheek. The waitress brought their breakfast and sat it on the table, refilling their mugs of coffee before patting Tilly on the shoulder. “Are you ok darlin? Want a refill on your coffee?”