All I could do is stare at her. That perfect face that I remember so well. The long, flowing brown hair. Still wanted to play with it. Run my hands through it. In those cute PJ’s with the flannel pattern.
“You’re finally up!” she said.
All I could do was stare.
“Never thought the day would come when my wife wouldn’t have any words for me.”
My mind was struggling to make sense of it.
“You’re here!” I finally managed to get out.
Her smile deepened. “Yup. I’m right here.”
“But, why? How? I don’t understand…” The rational part of my brain was struggling to make sense of it, but couldn’t. Like a piece of a puzzle that I was missing. It bothered me just as much as that would.
The smile was fading. “Aren’t you happy to see me?”
How she said that tore at my heart-strings. Started shaking. Tears welling up.
“Of course I’m happy to see you! All I’ve wanted for what feels like an eternity is to see you.”
In a flash she was standing in front of me, pulling me into her arms. Even with the height difference between us, never have I felt smaller.
“Quinn, I’ve wanted to see you too. I’ve missed you so much.”
“I’ve missed you too. Every day without you, I felt like I was there a little less than the day before.”
“I know. And it’s been breaking my heart to see you this way.”
I pulled back, looking into her eyes. Now she looked like tears were eating at her.
“I don’t want you to be unhappy, Quinn! Why would I want that?! I love you! Just because I can’t be with you anymore doesn’t mean I want you to be unhappy! Do you really think I’m that kind of person?!” The insistence there. It wasn’t accusatory. It was begging. Trying to reach that deep part inside.
“I…I thought you would have blamed me. It’s my fault you died.”
Now she had that look that only a mother can have. “I made the choice to go on deployment early, Quinn. Not you. I have to own that.”
“I would give anything for it to be me and not you.”
She grabbed my arm roughly. “Don’t you say that! You hear me?! Don’t you ever say you’d rather be dead.” Voice cracking. “Seeing how much risk you put yourself in, the lengths you have gone to, what you’ve done to yourself, it hurts me so much. And I couldn’t say anything to you. Screaming, beating on the glass from this side, but all I could do is see you hurt yourself more and more.”
Tears were openly flowing down my face now.
“But then you found this new person in your life. That sweet kid who looks up to you like a big sister.”
I chuckled. Laughter while crying. Looked like a mess, I’m sure. “I’m old enough to be her mom.”
“Well, she hasn’t treated you like one yet. And she’s been good for you. Seeing how far you’ve come, it made me think that maybe you’d be okay.”
Even more tears. Red faced, just a big blubbering kid. This was not a dignified look.
“I tried to make it work, Jean. I really did. But it all fell apart.”
“You haven’t lost your friend yet.”
“But if I’m here, and we’re talking, that means I’m dead. So I have lost her.”
She shook her head. “You’re dead, but not permanently.”
Immediately I looked up, scared to death. “No! Please, don’t tell me I have to leave!”
A sullen expression. “Yeah, you do. You’ve lost a lot of blood, but you’re not dead yet.”
“I can’t do this alone! I don’t want to leave you!”
A moment passed between us.
“We have some time, sweetie.”
“How long?!” I couldn’t do losing her again.
“At least the rest of today. Like I said, you lost a lot of blood. We can talk, eat, whatever you want. Okay?”
Nodding like a little kid who had to accept a bad situation. “Okay…”
“So, what do you wanna do?”
Looking at my face in the reflection of my oven door, I giggled. “Well, for starters, clean myself up a bit. I look like shit.”
“Yeah, you do. So, a shower?” That little hint of hopefulness in her voice.
Now I was smiling. “I’d like that.”
Watching her put her hair up in a towel. My hair had gotten a bit longer. Enough that now it was rubbing on my neck, but not long enough that I couldn’t just air dry it. That had been so magical. The longest shower I’ve ever taken, but whatever. Worth every second. Now I was just laying on the bed, staring at her putting her hair in a towel and then looking back at me.
“Nothing. Just admiring the view.”
She winked at me. “It gets better.”
Getting on top of me, rubbing her nose against mine. “I’ve missed this so much. Even if it’s just for a little while, having you like this is so perfect.”
Looked away. “Don’t talk about it ending.”
“Sorry, love.” She leaned in closer, the tenderness of her lips was breathing life back into me. A pause. “But you know what else I’ve missed?”
“Your cooking! You have to make me something amazing! You got this amazing kitchen in this rad as fuck house. Show me what you can do, wonder woman!”
Now we were talking! Kissing her, I then pushed her off and got up. Best to get dressed. DIdn’t want to be making something that could potentially spill on me with next to nothing protecting the skin.
As I took off the towel and got into my dresser, now I could see her staring.
Seeing me give her a look, she shrugged. “Just admiring the view myself.”
The rest of the morning was the two of us in my kitchen. She sat at the stool by the counter, while I was all over the place. My first big idea was something from my Midwestern heritage – fried cheese curds. So unhealthy, but dammit, it was delicious! Another Midwest dish that I made up for dessert was cream puffs. Used to have these at the state fair when I was little. Never got around to making them for us. But now I was making up for lost time. She helped me prep them. Could hear her stomach growling to consume from where I was.
Put the puffs in the fridge, and we eat fried curds on the veranda. Sat at the table, eating from a large plate I piled them onto. White cheddar was my base for these things. So fucking tasty! The two of us talked about old stories. The party after the ceremony of my wedding. How drunk Rodriguez got, throwing up in the coat room. Our days on deployment back when she was still one of my COs. That was so damn long ago. Not half a life-time, but closer to it than I’d like. That time when Bethke had to make a stink with LT to cover us when Jean had stayed in me and Rodriguez’s quarters. We really were family. Or when I came home from a deployment of several months and the pupper and kitty damn-near attacked me with love. Then me having to go over the uniform for an hour to get all the hair off. So many good memories.
Finally, we got to the cream puffs. Holy fuck! I always knew that my cooking skills were boss as fuck, but damn! Never did I think that I would be this good in a pinch. Sudden inspiration was a powerful thing. Saw some cream on the edge of my wife’s lip, so I licked it off. This led to some kissing. No complaints. Felt so good.
After eating, we decided to digest on the lawn. The sun was out and the wind was blowing. Time to be women and get a tan while enjoying each other’s company. Was no noise of the neighbors, so we spread a blanket, got naked, and took in the rays. A growing part of me was desperately wishing this day never had to end. You ever have someone who you can just be quiet with and it’s alright? Feeling their love right next to you, and that’s all you need. That’s how this was. No words, just soft emotions and closeness. This led that same part of me to think about how this could all be a dream. I mean, the afterlife is just a myth, right? Everything in your body is connected to your sensations. So none of this is real, right? Whatever.
“Does it feel real?” she asked.
Weird! Like she’s in my head. “What?”
“What we’re sharing right now. Does it feel real?”
“More than anything ever has before!”
“Then it is. Maybe the conscious mind doesn’t get it, but if you feel it, then there it is.”
How did I get so lucky with this woman?
Snuggled in closer, pulling her into my arms. Tanning was about to go to a much more fun place.
Hours went by. Went back inside, snuggled up and took in the view of the ocean. Hours on the clock flew by and before I knew it, I was making dinner. Old fashioned Jambalaya. So damn tasty. We saw in front of the TV watching a forgotten hilarious comedy called Top Secret and laughed until we cried. How this movie, made by the same guys who made Airplane was forgotten baffled me.
Then I saw the clock. It was getting late. Really, really late. No! Why?!
“I’m not leaving,” I told her.
She gave me a sad look. “You can’t stay, Quinn. Your body is recovering.”
“I’ll find a way to stay here. I can’t go back. What’s waiting for me out there? The empty bed. The lonely fridge. The work that’s killing me inside. I can’t go back to that.”
“What about the friend you made? Her dad? They’re family to you now, right? And our puppy and cat. You gonna leave them to fend for themselves? I don’t think you can be that cruel. I know you better than that.”
Tears again. Dammit! “I can’t do this, Jean! I leave you now, and it’s forever. I can’t lose you again!”
She put her hand on my face. “Baby, you aren’t losing me. Not forever. A whole bunch of years down the line, when you’ve lived a full life, and I’m gonna be right here, waiting for you.”
Bawling. “So what, I just say goodbye?! Like ‘see ya, honey!’? Like I’m going on some long-ass deployment?!”
“Not in so many words.” A deep breath. “When I was on that ship, and we had taken damage. When we were sinking and there was no way out, the thing that hurt me more than anything was the fact that I’d never get to say goodbye to you. But I’m here, now. I have you here. I want to be able to say goodbye and know that you’re gonna be okay. You know?”
No words. Just incomprehensible noise amidst crying. Finally, words came. “I do this, then what? Find some other person? Forget about you?”
A stern look. “You really believe you’re gonna forget about me?”
“I never could.”
“Then there you go. But yeah, you move forward. Maybe you don’t start dating, but you at least start living. Spending time with your new family. Looking after my family. Taking care of the fur babies. Seeing some fun places. Your new little sister will need a guide if she ever gets into the Navy to be a pilot, you know?” She took my hands in hers. “It’s not saying you’re gonna forget about me. It’s saying you’re gonna move forward and have a life. A full life. Then, when it’s done, and we meet again, you can tell me all about it. I love your stories.”
I looked right into her eyes. “You promise, you’ll be here waiting for me?”
“I promise. I love you, Quinn.”
“I love you too, Jean. With all my heart.”
We hugged tightly. Never wanted to let her go.
“Let’s get to bed. I wanna go to sleep in your arms again. At least give me that.”
“There’s my woman!”
Smiled at her. The perfect wife.
Soft skin, in my arms. Felt consciousness drifting away. Sleep was coming in. Couldn’t help it. She’s so warm and soft. Running my fingers through her hair. Would play with it for hours, if I could. Then sleep came upon me.
“See you later, Quinn.”
The sound of beeping. My eyes opened. For the first time, in what felt like a million fucking years, my eyes were opening. There, sitting in a chair, was John.
Until next time, a quote,
“Don’t forget about me.” – Chloe Price, Life is Strange