A Glass, and Darkly - Cover

A Glass, and Darkly

Copyright© 2018 by The Outsider

Chapter 19: Mending Fences

16 December 2004 – Maine Street, Stoneham, Maine

Gentle knocking drew Jeff from his sleep. The clock on the table next to the bed showed it was after nine in the morning. Glancing around he didn’t recognize where he was at first, but he soon remembered his arrival at the Dufault house the night before. Jeff guessed who was on the other side of the door.

“Come on in, Annie,” he called. His friend opened the door and peeked around it. Jeff smiled wanly at her and motioned her inside. Annie placed a glass of water on the nightstand.

“How are you doing, Jeff?”

“I don’t know, Ann. I don’t know. At least I slept.”

“Get dressed and come over to the restaurant. I hear they make a pretty good breakfast.”

“Okay,” Jeff sighed. “It’s not like I’ve got anything else to do.” He flipped the covers off and swung his temporary bionics off the bed. They both stared at it for a few minutes.

“Not yet, Jeff,” Annie interrupted when he began to say something. “Come have breakfast at the Over Easy. Dad and I will fill you full of food and coffee first, then we’ll go from there, okay?” Jeff nodded. “I put some towels in the bathroom for you. Do you need something to cover your leg so you can shower?”

“A trash bag and some duct tape?”

Brian looked up from his post in the eatery’s kitchen when Jeff entered the restaurant thirty minutes later. The calm, confident walk he remembered from Jeff’s previous visits was missing, replaced by a shuffling, tortured gait. Brian figured the metal cage around Jeff’s leg didn’t help much, either.

Jeff slid into an empty booth and Annie slid two eggs over easy on corned beef hash onto the table in front of him. A small plate of buttered whole wheat toast, a mug of black coffee, and a glass of orange juice joined the large platter. She placed a gentle hand on his shoulder and gave him a gentle smile before moving to her next table.

Jeff picked at his food before tucking into it in earnest. Anyone who’d been in the military would have laughed at him had they seen the way he ate. He looked like a new recruit at Basic Training shoveling food in madly before the drill sergeant told him mealtime was over. Most civilians would have been horrified. When he was almost finished Annie cruised by and dropped a second breakfast beside the first. Jeff wasn’t surprised he put such a good dent in the second meal. He’d missed dinner the night before, after all.

Once he finished that meal Annie cruised by again to clear the table. She refilled his coffee and left him to his thoughts. Giving the far wall a thousand-yard stare, Jeff sipped at his coffee and tried to process the past two months. He thought his life was about to end when the RPG streaked toward him. After marrying Keiko and watching the birth of their children, seeing his wife bedside when he woke up in Germany was one of the high points of his life. Surprising his family and seeing their joy at his return to Massachusetts ranked just behind that. From those dizzying heights the rest of his time at home seemed like a slow, downward spiral.

There was his family’s gaffe on his first full day home, then the news that his return to DMD was being blocked by an apparent egomaniac Sean couldn’t dislodge. Jeff’s own inability to shake himself from his bad mood. Feeling cutoff and alone. Heather’s sudden reappearance last night after three years of zero contact. His thoughts swirled into a confusing mass of images from Lancaster, Benning, and Afghanistan. Jeff put down his coffee and rubbed at his eyes.

He felt someone standing next to him. Jeff opened his eyes and saw a figure he never expected to see again: his wife.

“Our annual two-week rental of Aggie’s house does not come around again until next July, husband. You are early.” Keiko tried to slide into the booth next to Jeff but he was rooted in place.

“What are you doing here?”

“I believe I will be eating breakfast, Jeffrey. I left Lancaster before six o’clock this morning and Brian’s food will be much more palatable than some drive-thru breakfast sandwich.”

Jeff shook his head. “Why are you here?”

Keiko looked pained. “Have you forgotten you are my husband, Jeffrey? Have you forgotten our vows to each other? ‘In good times and in bad? In sickness and in health?’”

“But what I did last night, Keiko. The look you gave me.”

“That look was for Heather, husband. Thomas and I opened the door to check on you two just before you called her a ‘spoiled little bitch.’ I have refrained from using such language because she was your friend before we met but your assessment is correct. I gave her an earful after you left which left no doubt as to the level of my displeasure. As I have repeatedly stated, you are my husband. I have your back.”

Keiko gave him a hip check and Jeff finally slid over, allowing her to sit next to him. She wrapped her arms around his waist and held him tight. Jeff didn’t move.

“Jeffrey, if you do not put your arms around me, I will pinch you so hard...”

He complied right away. Keiko felt him shaking not long after. She looked up to see her husband silently crying in relief. They held each other until Annie placed Keiko’s breakfast on their table and sat down across from them. Jeff looked up at his friend with narrowed eyes.

“You dimed me out, didn’t you?”

“Uh huh!” Annie replied while nodding and wearing a wide smile.

“You’re dead to me,” Jeff said to her. He wore his own smile when he said it, though. “Thank you.”

Jeff sat next to Keiko while she ate, his hand resting on her thigh as he enjoyed the renewed feeling of closeness. He had plenty he wanted to say to her, but not here in the restaurant. Jeff felt so off-center that he wasn’t sure he could hold himself together long enough to say what needed to be said. Annie dropped her house keys on the table before clearing Keiko’s plates.

“You two obviously need to talk. Keiko, take this big lummox over to our house, sit down in the living room, and make him talk to you. I suspect he’s been talking at you since he came home, if he’s talked at all. Jeff, let your wife in. She wouldn’t have driven three hours to get up here if she didn’t care about you. Make yourselves at home. There’s root beer in the fridge. Dad and I won’t be done here until around three this afternoon.”

Keiko looked at her husband after they settled into their chairs at the Dufaults’. She accepted a water while Jeff opened a root beer for himself. Jeff also looked everywhere but at Keiko.

“I must apologize to you, Jeffrey.”

That got his attention.

“Apologize to me? Why on earth would you need to apologize to me? I should be apologizing to you!”

“I have hardly spoken to you in any substantive manner since your return, Jeffrey. I, as well as the children, believed you would begin to talk to us about your deployment soon after you came home. We thought you would need only a little time before you opened up to us. When you did not, I attempted to spur such an occurrence by surprising you – ambushing you – with having Thomas and Heather come by the house last evening. And I...” Keiko began sobbing. “I cannot believe I forgot about you...” She buried her face in her hands.

Jeff rose from his chair and sat next to Keiko. He wrapped her in his arms.

“I won’t tell you that didn’t hurt, Keiko. It ate at me for more than a few days, that’s for sure, and it still hurts when I think of it. But I did the same to you and the kids. I got wrapped up in my own routine during training and once I was in Afghanistan. Someone recently pointed out that I could have at least called you and left messages for all of you on a somewhat regular basis. It was too easy to cloak myself in the culture and relative secrecy of the Rangers.”

“Jeffrey, neither of us is blameless, that is certain. I miss our talks. I miss laying in bed with you and simply talking about our days or issues which have arisen with the children. I miss the connection we discovered when we met and the deeper one we developed after we reunited.”

“I’ve really closed myself off, haven’t I?”

“Talking to a brick wall might have been easier. And you called frequently before you deployed, if you remember.”

“I have a lot of other people to apologize to also, starting with the boys and Sabrina. Is there a plan for today?”

“We have your family’s Christmas party tomorrow. We must return home today if we wish to attend.”

Do you wish to attend?”

“I enjoy the opportunity to reconnect with your cousins, aunts, and uncles at the party whenever we go. I believe it would be helpful for you to do so as well.” Keiko looked up at him. “Jeffrey, why did you leave last night?”

He looked out at the woods behind Brian and Annie’s home.

“I’ve been feeling like I was at the end of my rope for a week or so, Keiko. Honestly, I feel like you’ve been treating me like a child since I came home, especially when you went off on me for visiting Ken on Veterans Day. I understand now that you were scared that I could have been seriously hurt while driving in a manner I was unfamiliar with. I probably should have had much more practice before I attempted even that short drive. Chet Lazarashvili eloquently advised me to get my act together when I went to the range last week.”

“I can only imagine the manner in which Chester made his recommendation,” Keiko said with a smirk.

“Yeah. He told me to get my head out of my ass. I think that was part of what bothered me last night, that I didn’t have my act together any more. That, and how sudden all of these transitions have been recently. They all piled up pretty fast. Seeing Heather like that, without any warning at all, shocked the shit out of me. To say I still have a lot of anger inside over her actions might be the biggest understatement of the decade. I certainly let her have it last night, almost in the literal sense, too. The shame of what I nearly did was also a large part of my reaction.”

“Did you really believe that I would leave or throw you out based on what you said to Heather? I am thankful I was able to stop you before you hit her, however. That would have been much harder to deal with. No, everything you told her was correct. It was honest. I know it was not easy for her to hear, but it was the right thing for her to hear and it is about time she heard it. She needed and needs to understand how much she has hurt you, husband. She is genuine, I believe, in her desire to try and make amends.”

“I need to talk to her. I should call and ask if I can visit with her soon, maybe after Christmas when we’ve both had a chance to cool off. The hell of it is, as angry as I am with her, I want my big sister back. If she feels the same about her little brother, would you be able to live with that?” Keiko nodded to Jeff. He looked Keiko in the eye.

“I am very sorry that I ran. You are my partner this life, my wife, and I love you. I should trust that our love will help me through this period of uncertainty. I should have faith that Sean and Seamus will figure out the issues I face at DMD, also.” Keiko raised an eyebrow and Jeff filled her in. “I should have faith that my family and friends will help me through these challenges.”

Keiko hugged him again. She felt that the wall Jeff erected after his homecoming was finally beginning to crack. They snuggled on the couch together in silence, enjoying their closeness again.

“So what’s the plan, Keiko?”

“There is a restaurant in Portsmouth we can visit for lunch. Obviously, we both will have to drive as both of our vehicles are here. Outside of that, we can also go out for dinner or we can purchase something to cook at home.”

“Why don’t we go out for dinner? I promise to be better company than I have been recently.”

Keiko and Jeff made sure to make the bed and clean up the Dufaults’ guest room before they walked back to the Over Easy hand-in-hand. Jeff realized that he hadn’t even held Keiko’s hand like this since his initial return to Lancaster. He swallowed a few times as his emotions threatened to overwhelm him again. Keiko noticed this and squeezed his hand.

“We cannot change the past. We can only learn from it. We move forward from this point, Jeffrey.”

They said goodbye to Annie and Brian at the restaurant, thanking them for their help the night before. The Dufaults promised to drive down to Lancaster after New Year’s. Keiko and Jeff did stop for lunch in Portsmouth as she suggested earlier. Jeff was grateful Keiko brought clean clothes for him when she drove to Stoneham that morning. The jeans he now wore blocked the wind much better than the thin nylon track pants he’d been wearing when he fled. With no need to rush home Keiko and Jeff lingered over their lunch at the waterfront restaurant. Mayumi would pick up the kids from school.

“Did you speak with Thomas?” Keiko asked. Jeff nodded while he sipped his water.

“I called him at work. I asked him to ask Heather if we could talk after the holidays.”

“Are you ready for the discussion you need to have with her?”

“We should have had it three years ago. Maybe if we had, last night wouldn’t have happened.”

“You must keep your anger, though justified, in check. Do not shy away from the uncomfortable parts of what must be discussed, however. If you do indeed want your sister back you must both be honest.”

Jeff’s kids were somewhat slow to warm to his attempt to apologize, which wasn’t so surprising to him in a way. As adults he and Keiko better understood how confusing emotions could be, even if they reacted to them in much the same fashion. He made headway in convincing them their ‘old’ dad was trying to make a comeback by the middle of the following week, a few days before Christmas. He hoped surprising them with a trip to a Bruins game on the 26th would be well-received.

As Scottish poet Robert Burns once wrote however, “The best laid schemes of mice and men / Go often askew.” Jeff wasn’t sleeping well and his right leg started to hurt in a different way by the morning of the 23d. They say denial isn’t just a river in Egypt and Jeff proved that. He’d been trying to ignore the increasing pain where the fixator pins entered his leg, along with the growing redness that accompanied that pain. He could feel his leg was warm when he touched it. Combined with the other signs he was almost certain it was infected.

“Were you waiting for gangrene to set in?” Nina Quentin snapped as soon as Jeff took off his sweatpants and she saw his right leg.

She hadn’t seen him since the previous Wednesday, the day he fled his house. His leg looked horrible. It was an angry red, swollen thing with taut and shiny skin.

“Get in the damned chair! Now!” she barked as she pointed to a nearby wheelchair.

He complied while looking like a little boy who’d been caught doing something. Nina shoved the chair under him after he turned to sit, knocking him off his feet and whisking him away.

“Do you want me to get the bone saw right now?” Dr. Bowers, his orthopedic surgeon, asked after a quick glance at Jeff’s leg. “Do you want to lose your leg?”

“No, ma’am.”

Dr. Bowers looked at Nina Quentin.

“Men,” they said in unison.

They continued to discuss his condition – and his stupidity – as if he wasn’t there while wheeling him to the emergency room. Once in the ER the nurses there clucked in disapproval while getting him into a too-short and drafty gown, starting an IV, and casting exasperated looks his way. Best of all they called Keiko.

Twenty minutes later his wife strolled into the ER. For a moment Jeff regretted signing the HIPAA waiver for her before his deployment. She wore a look he saw his mother give his father many times while growing up, and received himself from Keiko more than once since their wedding. It asked, ‘Are you a complete idiot?’

“Apparently I am,” Jeff said without preamble.

“In that case, Jeffrey, I hope you enjoy the meals here over the next two or three days. They tell me they will need to give you intravenous antibiotics for that long to get ahead of the infection.”

“Yeah,” he grumbled. “Sorry.”

“How did an infection crop up now? I would have thought one would have appeared immediately after your surgeries, not over a month later.”

“I’m guessing the shower I took at Annie and Brian’s. I didn’t clean the fixator the night before and the trash bag I covered it with leaked a little. I think the water that leaked in washed bacteria into my leg.”

“This is not exactly how I envisioned our first Christmas after your return from Afghanistan.”

“I would imagine it isn’t, no. I wouldn’t count on me getting out of here until at least Sunday or Monday, though. With Christmas on Saturday I doubt I’ll be discharged until at least then.”

Keiko sighed. “We will make the most of things, Jeffrey.”

They removed Jeff’s fixator – his leg was strong enough to support his weight without it now anyway – and kept him at Donovan until Monday. Jeff had to admit that Christmas dinner in the hospital hadn’t been too bad. The kitchen staff went out of their way not to turn the roast beef into shoe leather covered in axle grease. More importantly the nurses shared their holiday cookies and baked goods with the patients. And Keiko, the kids, and the Takahashis stopped by on Christmas afternoon.

Another important part of Jeff’s stay was receiving the visitors who came by on Sunday the 26th. He lay in his inclined hospital bed staring at the ceiling that afternoon when he heard a knock at his door. Shocked by who stood there, he sighed to himself before waving Seamus and Sean Brophy in to his room.

“Mr. Brophy, Mr. Brophy,” he said while nodding to each of them in turn. “Would you gentlemen care to sit?”

“Not unless you call us by our first names, Jeff,” Seamus said with a slight edge to his voice. “We’re not going to start that discussion again, are we?”

“I wasn’t sure if I should still call you by your first names after my behavior last week.”

“You mean the behavior which mirrored mine three years ago?” Sean asked while taking a seat. “Jeff, you’re a valuable employee and, more importantly, my best friend. Dad and I absolutely DO NOT want to lose you, especially not over what happened last week or with what Haussmann pulled in his contract. You’re the one who got DMD up and running, developed all the contacts; and you’re the reason those towns, and the Army, signed contracts with us.”

“The truth is, Jeff, we’re the ones who screwed up,” Seamus interjected. “Things in Malden picked up at the same time we hired Haussmann, and that’s why we missed that clause in his contract. In fact, things continue to get busier for us in both divisions.”

“Regardless of my tantrum last week, Seamus, I’m not going to be available to help you guys out until after I ETS next year,” Jeff reminded his boss’ boss.

“Jeff, if I understand how the medical hold units work, you’re basically on your own for the day after your morning accountability formation?” Sean asked.

“Well, basically. When I’m done with whatever appointments I have that day is when I’m really on my own. Why?”

“I think I have a solution for our mutual Haussmann problem.”

With Jeff’s admission to the hospital over Christmas, he’d been unable to bring the kids to the Garden to watch the Bruins on the 26th. They’d go to a different game, which worked out better in the end, anyway. He still had trouble calling the new arena at North Station ‘The Fleet Center.’ Fleet was a brand of enema products, after all. The end of his admission to, and incarceration at Donovan Army Hospital heralded the arrival of the agreed-upon date for Jeff’s meeting with Heather.

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