Part two and final chapter. Picks up right where I left off. Hope you enjoy it.
Questions continued to plague my mind.
Had things really changed? Had we? I mentally rolled my eyes. Of course we did. Soldiers don't come back from a war as the same people they were before they left. Jake was a different person now, and so was I, so naturally things would be slightly different between us. But I guess what I was really wondering was how different?
I mean, we had always been best friends. Friends who told each other everything, that could always count on one another for anything. And the key word was friends; never any more than that and never any less. Surely the war couldn't have changed that. In our letters, everything had seemed the same. We wrote each other about what we were doing in our now separate lives, and told each other how much we missed our old ones. But the relationship between us had seemed the same.
Maybe things had changed and we just didn't notice it because he had been away for so long… or maybe that was exactly why we were beginning to notice it all of a sudden. Or maybe Heather was just putting crazy ideas into my head.
"Hey you." The voice startled me from my confusing thoughts.
Pulled from my stupor, I glanced up at the person who had dominated my thoughts for the past twenty minutes.
He sat down next me. "You looked like you were in deep thought."
"I was contemplating what exactly is in that meatloaf over there." I joked, not wanting him to know where my mind really was.
My joke seemed to work, as he grimaced in the direction of the mystery meat. "I don't think I want to find out. I thought I saw it move before." He said.
I chuckled. We were silent, the silence not at all uncomfortable, as we watched our family and friends fool around in the backyard. Some getting drunk, others stuffing themselves with the mountains of food piled on the tables. After a few minutes Jake leaned over toward me, "C'mon, lets get out of here." he whispered.
For a reason unknown to me, a shiver raced down my spine. I narrowed my eyes. This was all Heather's fault. Jake and I used to go for walks all the time before he left. I blame our earlier conversation for my body's weird response toward him.
I shrugged it off, determined not to let her ridiculous accusations ruin him being home, and followed behind Jake.
"You know, that was kind of rude of us. Just leaving like that, I mean." I said as I shut my bedroom door behind me.
Jake walked over to my bed, and flopped down onto his back. "Everyone was too busy getting wasted; they probably won't even realize we're gone."
I rolled my eyes. "I doubt that."
Though I didn't deny the fact that everyone was getting wasted. Someone had broken out the beer, and everyone had proceeded to have a wonderful time by getting smashed.
Jake looked over at me from my position by the door, and raised his eyebrow. "Do I smell?"
I laughed nervously and walked more into the room. Heather and her stupid delusions…
Determined to stick to my plan of ignoring her idea completely, I raised my eyebrow in response. "Do you really want me to answer that?"
It was his turn to roll his eyes and he patted the side of the bed next to him, signaling me to join him. I walked over eagerly, firmly pushing mine and Heather's conversation out of my head. I had missed this. This little time we used to have together.
I lay down next to him on the bed, and relaxed when he put one arm around my shoulders and one arm behind his head. "I can't believe how much I missed being here."
I said nothing, and instead rested my head against his shoulder. We were silent for a while, and then Jake let out an amused laugh. "Wow, what did you buy stock in envelopes?"
I was confused at first, but then saw what had caught his attention. On my desk, was a pile of the letters he had written me. The stack was so large that some had fallen over so that they were scattered over the oak desk.
I chuckled. "If anything, both of us have."
It was his turn to be confused as he asked, "What do you mean?"
"Those are all the letters we wrote while you were gone." I hid my face in the pillow, for some reason embarrassed by the fact that I had them out on my desk.
"Wow. I didn't realize we wrote that much."
I merely nodded, feeling my face flush. Once again for reasons unknown to me. After a moment, he chuckled. I looked up at him, confused. "No wonder the guys messed with me so much."
"What do you mean?"
He pursed his lips. "Well, let's just say that they had a hard time believing that we were just friends."
I felt my face heat up, and hid it against the pillow again, shrugging. "They couldn't have been any worse than my mother and Heather." I admitted.
He laughed. "Trust me the guys weren't very subtle about their ideas concerning our… relationship." He grinned. "I eventually ended up sneaking around the base to write the letters just so I didn't have to hear their crap." I chuckled.
I frowned slightly, a thought suddenly dawning on me. He had never really told me what it had been like while he was there. Sure, he had given me the basics but he had never gone into real detail.
I unconsciously touched the two dog tags that hung on the chain around his neck. My fingers accidentally grazed his neck and I felt him stiffen slightly before he relaxed again. It was silent for a few minutes before I finally worked up the courage to ask, curiosity once again winning out.
"What was it like?" I asked quietly.
I fingered the cool metal of his dog tags again. "In Iraq," I said slowly. "You never really talk about it when people ask."
"I don't?" he asked evasively, while he stared at the ceiling.
I shook my head. "No. You always kind of shrug it off, or change the subject."
He shrugged noncommittally. "I guess I don't have much to say."
I frowned. "You have nothing to say? You were there for fourteen months, how don't you have anything to say?"
He sat up, and I propped myself on my elbow to watch him. He turned so that his legs were planted on the floor, and his back was facing me. "I just don't." He said snippily.
I stared at him silently.
After a few seconds, he sighed. "I just don't like to talk about it, okay?"
I nodded silently, though I was disappointed. Deep down I knew it was a sensitive subject. I mean, it was pretty clear it wasn't something he wanted to talk about. But generally the things he didn't want to talk about with other people never really extended toward me. He had always told me everything.
I got off the bed, still silent, and walked toward the desk. I picked up one of the many paper weights I had lying around and began fiddling with it, the pregnant silence making me uncomfortable. The heavy glass was filled with swirling colors, twisting this way and that to make an intricate design. The complicated swirls mirrored the way I felt inside; tightly wound and confused.
I heard him sigh gently from the bed and I glanced up to see him staring at the upturned corner of the area rug, as though the cure to cancer was written in the seams.
"You start to feel numb." He said, so quietly that if I wasn't staring at him so intently I probably wouldn't have heard him at all. I said nothing, sensing that he had more to say. After a few more seconds of silence he continued, his voice rough, "At first you wish that you can just stop feeling. Just to be able to forget all the terrible things you're doing. But after a while, you start to wonder if you're even human anymore."
He finally looked up at me, his eyes swirling with turbulent emotions that looked so out of place in his eyes. "I'm tired of feeling numb, Kate." He said slowly, his eyes locked on mine.
I could only stare.
I felt so many emotions swirling inside me. But he looked away, back toward the rug. "So yeah, I don't like talking about it because it brings that numbness back." He swallowed and stood from the bed. I swallowed thickly as he walked closer to me. "And I especially don't want to talk about it when I'm with you."
I looked up when he stopped to stand not even two inches away from me. "Why?" I asked, not being able to help myself.
He touched my jaw gently before letting his hand slide away. "Because when I'm with you, I don't feel numb anymore."
I looked up into his eyes, still cloudy with those emotions. I licked my lips slowly, feeling my mouth go dry. "Then…" I cleared my throat, "what do you feel?"
"I feel alive again."
Our eyes locked once more and, before I realized what I was doing, I reached up and brushed his cheek with my hand. I watched in amazement as his eyes closed at my touch. "Jake…" I breathed.
He opened his eyes, and the pain was gone from them only to be replaced with an emotion I never thought would be in his eyes when directed toward me. I gasped quietly in surprise.
And then a number of things were happening at once. He was leaning closer, my breathing began to slow, and my eyes began to close. I could feel his breath on my slightly parted lips.
And the door slammed open with such force that it banged against the wall behind it, causing Jake and I to jump apart like two kids caught stealing cookies from the cookie jar.
"There you two are!" she exclaimed, and as I turned to stare at Heather, who was rambling on about something I couldn't really focus on, I couldn't help but feel very disappointed that I didn't at least get a small taste of the forbidden cookie.
And that was just insane.
Surprisingly it wasn't as hard to avoid Jake as I thought it would be.
Apparently, there were still a bunch of people who decided they needed to hug, pat, and kiss him before they were satisfied to accept that he was alive and home. But being away from him also left me alone with my thoughts.
And that was proving to be just as dangerous and confusing.
So apparently Heather was right. Things had definitely changed. And I had no idea what I was supposed to do about that little fact. I spent the entire day trying to figure out what I was going to say to him. But I couldn't think of anything.
Finally, calling myself absolutely ridiculous, I decided that enough time had passed and I marched my way over to his house. I let myself in as usual and walked into the kitchen, where Molly was cooking something that smelled delicious in a big pot.
She glanced up and smiled at me. "Hey, Kate."
"Hi, Molly. Is Jake home?" I asked, once again feeling unwanted nerves make themselves known.
She nodded. "Yeah, he went upstairs." She turned off the stove and grabbed her purse. "I'm just going to go run to the store, I forgot something for dinner. You can go on up, I'm sure he'll want to see you."
I smiled. "Thanks."
I made my way upstairs, and chided myself when I hesitated outside his bedroom door. I sighed and pushed the door open. My eyes scanned the room briefly before I focused on him fast asleep on his bed with a book resting open on his flat stomach.
I walked in the room without thinking about it and made my way toward him. I took the book off of his stomach gently as not to wake him and placed it on the nightstand. He shifted instantly, and his eyes opened. I watched in surprise when it only took a few more seconds for them to clear.
When he saw it was me, he smiled lightly. "What are you doing here?" His voice was rough from sleep.
I shrugged, suddenly losing my nerve as well as my voice. He pulled me down on the bed next to him and I didn't resist when he laid me down next to him. He pulled me closer to him and I laid my head on his shoulder once again, giving in. We could always talk later… Snuggled up, I fell asleep faster than I had in a long time.
Or rather in fourteen months, to be exact…
I woke to yelling and before I could register anything else, I felt like I had been smashed in the face with a crowbar.
My jaw pounded, and at that moment I realized where the idea of seeing stars in cartoons had come from. The ones in front of my eyes were dancing. Pushing away the pain, I struggled to see straight as I quickly turned in the bed to find the source of the blow.
Jake lay in the bed, shaking and thrashing around. He was yelling incoherently, his arms flailing wildly as if fighting off an invisible force. Everything inside me froze and I crawled the small distance toward him.
I shook him urgently. "Jake! Jake, wake up!" I cried desperately, patting his shoulders and cheeks; trying anything to wake him up as he thrashed around in his bed.
I felt like my heart was in my throat and, when he finally jerked upwards in the bed, I could feel it slowly make its decent back to its rightful place. Although it still beat as though it were trying to jump straight out my chest.
His eyes were frantic, his body tensed as if ready for a fight, as he looked around his room sharply. I hadn't realized I was still running my hands over his cold, clammy skin until he looked over at me, his breathing ragged.
I opened my mouth to speak, but before I could say anything I was encompassed in his arms as though I had been the one to wake up screaming. We both clung to each other tightly and I continued to run my hands over his shoulders, which were now shaking uncontrollably.
I had never, in all the years I had known my best friend, seen him this way. To say it was unsettling was an understatement. "It's okay, you're alright." I said over and over, I didn't know how many times.
But he continued to shake, and I continued to cling.
After a few more minutes, he finally began to settle down and slowly pulled way from me.
He swallowed thickly. "I'm sorry about that…" he said, his voice rough.
I stared at him anxiously. "What happened?"
"I need some water…" he said and went to stand.
I pushed him back onto the bed, and stood. "I'll get it." I needed to do something, or I figured I would start screaming soon. When I came back into the bedroom, a glass of water in my hand, Jake was at the edge of the bed, his head in his hands. I handed him the water and watched silently as he downed the glass in one gulp.
When he looked back up at me wordlessly, I frowned. "What happened to you? You woke up screaming and thrashing around… you looked like you were fighting someone off."
He shook his head and pulled me down next to him on the bed. I hadn't realized I had begun to shake. "It was just a dream." He said.
I stared at him unbelievingly.
He frowned. "What happened to your face?"
I touched my tender cheek, confused at first but remembering when a searing pain flashed from my cheekbone to my temple. "Oh. It's nothing. When you woke up, your elbow must have shot up…"
He stared in shock. "I did that." It sounded more like an accusation than a question. He reached out to take my face in his hands, but I shrugged him off.
"I'm fine. I'm more worried about what happened to you." I insisted. I shook my head in confusion. "You were fine and then you just started screaming, like… like someone was hurting you," my voice broke unintentionally and I stopped, staring at him expectantly.
"I'm sorry." He said again. "I didn't mean to scare you. It's just sometimes… I have dreams that freak me out a little."
Hah, that was the understatement of the world.
I said nothing though and instead, tilted my head in confusion. "What kind of dreams?"
He shifted uncomfortably, but he must have seen that I wasn't planning on backing off on this. He sighed. "Sometimes I dream that I'm still out there with the others. When I wake up, it feels so real it just takes me a minute to remember where I am. I'm fine now." He tried to sound reassuring, but I was having none of it.
I frowned at him. "When did they start?"
"After I got back to the base, right before I came back home." he looked away from me. "I think that's part of the reason they sent me home after one tour…" he admitted.
"Are you ashamed of that?" I asked incredulously, although I could already see that he was. He looked away, not meeting my eyes.
I gripped his hands in mine. "Listen to me." I waited until he looked at me. "You have nothing to be ashamed of. You went through so much more than anyone could ever expect of someone and you survived. And I don't mean just physically. You're still you, Jake. You came out of this, maybe not totally unscathed, but you made it. And no one can take that away from you, not even yourself."
He looked down at our hands, and squeezed our tightly entwined fingers gently. "I just…" He sighed, "I hate not being able to tell what's real and what not."
My eyes softened and, without thinking about it, I reached up and cupped his face in my hands. "You're safe now. And that is real."
Before I really registered what the hell I was doing, I leaned in a placed my lips on his forehead in a light kiss. I felt him sigh slightly and, without thinking, I let my lips trail down to kiss his left cheek and then move to press another kiss to his right.
I leaned back slightly to look at his face, only to see that unexpected emotion in his eyes once more. Slowly, he lifted his hand to cup my cheek. I knew what he was planning on doing. It was clear in his eyes. But even when he leaned closer, even when he placed his lips lightly on mine, I couldn't think of one reason to stop him.
He leaned back to look at me, and I stared back silently. He continued to look into my eyes, as if searching for something. After a few more seconds, he smiled slowly as if he found whatever it was he had been looking for.
He leaned in to kiss me once more, and I knew, right then, that things had mostly definitely changed.
And it only took fourteen months, and two days for both of us to realize it.
A.N: So what did you guys think? Terrible, good, in between? Let me know. Hopefully this will have helped me get over the tremendous (and ridiculous) writers block I've had and I'll finally be able to write again.
Dedicated to our troops out there.
Oh, and just to be safe, let me say that this is an original work, completely written by me, and I do not give permission to anyone to claim this work as their own without written consent. Just thought I'd clear that up, with all the stupid plagiarizing going on at the moment :P
I'll shut up now.