“That Car.” A Short Story from the upcoming Anthology “Front-Line Heroes” By Suzanne Burke @pursoot

My latest work in progress is an anthology of stories dedicated to the bravery of men and woman worldwide. ALL those that silently and without fanfare hold down the Front Lines. ALL the front lines. On the streets of any town, anywhere, you’ll find them, The Policeman, Paramedics, Firefighters, Nurses and Doctors and all their support personnel. Those on the battle-fronts in foreign lands, and those on the battle-fronts of streets peopled with others that have slipped through the cracks and crevices of the world we now live in.

These are their stories.

 

FRONT-LINE HEROES …  Story two.

That Car.”

by

 Suzanne Burke

Sarah Cunningham grinned at her reflection in the double glass doors. The silhouette of her advanced pregnancy still surprised her, and she placed her hand on her abdomen and whispered, “Your daddy will be home in ten-days, darling. He’ll be here to watch you take your first look at the world.”

She turned to her friend, Cathy. “Do you think I should have my hair styled, before Tommie gets back? He likes it long, but I’m guessing I won’t have too much free time to do it every day, not the way it used to be, anyway.”

Cathy laughed, “Honey, that man of yours will be too busy to notice anything apart from you and the fact that your baby is soon to arrive.”

“I’ve gained so much weight.” Sarah smiled and stole another comforting look at her profile, ‘But he’s so excited about the baby, I don’t think he’ll mind.”

Cathy didn’t comment; her friend didn’t need reassurance, not really.

If ever a couple were more in love than Lieutenant Thomas J. Parker, and his lady, she’d yet to witness it.

It was the same with she and Christopher. Both couples were childhood sweethearts. Then both Tommie and Christopher had joined the army. Well to be more precise they’d gone into O.T.S after graduating college. They figured they’d been covering each-other’s asses since grade school, they saw no reason at all why that should stop now. They both currently held the rank of Lieutenant.

It would be so good when her own man returned home. She hugged tight to the knowledge that it would be only another month. She must be content for now to bask in the reflected glow of Sarah’s happy anticipation.

“Lunch at ‘Surrender’?” she questioned, already knowing that Sarah would love the cuisine in the newest restaurant in town.

“Oh … I guess another couple of pounds won’t do too much damage.” She laughed and gazed at her stomach. ”Cathy, I can’t see my feet anymore. Unless I sit way back and elevate them.”

“They’re still hanging around at the bottom of your legs, hon. Trust me, I’ll tell you if they disappear.”

“Smart-ass.”

“You know it.”

With that, they linked arms as they’d done in their teens, and headed out to the car. Cathy adjusted the strap of Sarah’s safety harness, trying not to giggle idiotically as she stretched it as far as it would go.

Sarah couldn’t contain the smile that lit a light within her. “That man of mine has a whole lot more woman to love than when he left.”

“Yup, he does.”

Sarah punched her dearest friend in the arm. “Gee, thanks.”

The lighthearted mood continued throughout lunch, and then they oohed and sighed together over baby clothes and nursery decorations. Cathy knew that Sarah was waiting for Tommie to return before she decorated the nursery. They’d decided not to know the sex of their baby until he or she was born.

They arrived back at Sarah’s, and Cathy could see that her friend was weary; it took little for Sarah to run out of puff these days.

“Can I get you anything before I head on home, honey?”

“Hmm? Oh … no,  I’m good, thanks, Cathy.” She flicked a look at her phone. “Tommie’s due to ring me soon, so I’ll just rest up for a while.”

“Okay, I’m only two doors away if you need anything.” She gave her lifelong friend a hug, and locking the door behind her, she headed back to her empty house.

She crossed to the calendar and marked off one-more-day. “Twenty-nine days, left. God how I wish you were here now” Speaking her thoughts aloud was reassuring. The sound of her own voice left the rooms feeling less empty.

She crossed to the back door and stood looking out at the garage, she smiled recalling how she and Christopher, together with Sarah and Tommy had labored for many precious days of their last leave. The vegetable gardens and greenhouse were something that Christopher had a passion about. “I want to think of all this growing, and you out here in your sundress tending them like they were precious infants. That’s the stuff … I mean, you know … it’s the kind of stuff that keeps me together … when …”

Cathy squeezed his hand tightly in understanding, and Tommie came over and gave him a male style shove, “You never lose your shit, buddy. You hang on to it. That’s one thing that we all need to see, yeah? Just keep doin’ it.”

He said no more and the two friends just nodded to each other and Tommie had walked across and picked Sarah up and swung her till she was helpless with laughter.

We’re a team, all right.

Cathy grinned again at the memory, and then turned to the practical things she needed to do before she curled up on the couch and snuggled down to watch ‘Game of Thrones’. She’d copied every one of the episodes for Chris to watch when he got back. She smiled as she thought of his reaction. This was totally his kind of fantasy.

The phone rang, and she reluctantly paused her show. She shrugged on seeing the number, “Nope, don’t know you. But if you’re selling Insurance I’ll hang up in your ear.”

“Hello?”

“Cathy … baby  … can you hear me?”

“Chris!” She squealed with surprise and pleasure. “Darling I wasn’t expecting a call today,  this is great!

“Honey …  I … that is, have you seen Sarah, today?”

Cathy was puzzled, “Left her a couple of hours ago, but yeah, I was with her all morning. What? Do you need to pass a message on from Tommie or something?”

She heard his sudden sharp intake of breath on the other end of the phone.

“Baby, you need to go over to Sarah’s, you’ll need to go now. They’ll be coming to see her soon …  Major Greenway and Father Ryan. She’ll need you, baby.” The last words were stretched out like an elastic band strung out beyond its capacity …

“Oh, no! Oh … sweet Jesus, no! Chris, not, Tommie. Not Tommie. What? … I mean … are they sure? Mistakes can happen, you know that, right?”

“Cathy, stop! Tommie’s gone. He’s dead. I was there. I know. You know  I  … I can’t say any more.”

“Darling, I’m so, so, sorry. I’ll go to her now. I’ll take care of her the best I can. Are you okay?”

“I have to be, babe. I love you. I’ll try and call tomorrow. Stay tough, baby.”

Cathy knew he was crying. She ached to hold him. But, she needed to get herself together fast, and go to Sarah. Not wanting her to be there alone when that car arrived.

Cathy knocked on the door and it was opened soon after by Sarah, a Sarah still drowsy from her nap.

“Hey, Cathy! Did you forget something?” Sarah asked, standing to one side to grant her friend access.

“No … would it be okay if I came back in for a little while?”

“Sure, it is … Cathy … you’re as white as a ghost. What is it? Oh, God … it’s not Christopher please tell me it’s not Christopher?”

Cathy shook her head slowly, unaware that her eyes were misted by tears. “No, sweetheart.” she said as she came in. Sarah looked at her blankly, and Cathy took her arm gently and steered her back down the short corridor and into the sitting room.

“What is it then? Tell me.” Sarah frantically searched her friend’s face for a sign.

“Oh, Sarah … I’m so sorry, darling.  It’s not Christopher, darling, it’s Tommie …”

“Is he hurt, oh God, how badly? Tell me quickly.”

“He’s not hurt, darling. Oh, honey, I’m so sorry …”

Sarah struggled to her feet and smoothed her hair back. “I’ll fix us a coffee. Yes … that’s what I’ll do.”

Cathy knew what her friend was doing,  Sarah needed normalcy for these last precious moments before her entire world imploded around her. Cathy had seen that look before.

Cathy’s mind was half-listening for the official car to drive into the driveway that Tommie had worked so hard to make. Her mind flicked briefly to a day only a month before when that car … that hated car had driven up to Bethany McCoy’s home. She and Sarah had hugged each other in sad and silent relief that it hadn’t stopped outside either of theirs.

“Would you like Oreo’s, Cathy? Tommie loves these things.” Sarah had already placed them on a pretty dish and walked the tray slowly back into the sitting room.

She placed it on the large coffee table and began the ritual of pouring them each a cup with hands that had begun to shake. It was all about rituals now. There was safety in the rituals.

“Sarah, love … did you hear me?”

Her friend looked at her and nodded. “Yes.” But her eyes denied her statement.

Cathy drew a breath that hurt as she heard the unmistakable sound of a car in the driveway.

She went down the corridor to the front door before they startled Sarah with the sound of the bell.

Father Ryan and Major Frank Greenway stood there, both looking as weary and sad as any man can.

Father Ryan spoke first, “Ah, Cathy my dear. It’s good that you’re here.”

Cathy just nodded and stood aside. “I … I tried to tell her. The baby is due soon. Please, please, be as gentle as you can. She doesn’t want to hear anything you have to say.”

Major Frank Greenway touched her arm softly. “No one ever does. Mrs. Collins.”

“Does her mother know yet?” Cathy asked. “She’ll need her mother.”

“No, not as yet.” The priest answered. “Tommie’s folks are of course being told around about now.”

“I’ll call her, mom. She should be here.”

“Yes, that would be good, thank you. Where is Sarah?” Major Greenway asked.

Cathy responded sadly, “She’s in the sitting room trying to hold on to this last moment as long as she can. It’s the last moment of sanity before her world turns insane.”

Cathy followed them into that space, in that time, in that place, and silently thanked the God she believed in, that for now, for this day, in this place, her own world remained intact.

“Oh, God, please … just twenty-nine more days.” She whispered before she entered a world now filled with the sound of her best friend’s pain.

***