Phoenix hunkered down in his seat, arms wrapped tight around himself. The noise from the engine of the air craft added to his sense of isolation. He closed his eyes only to be confronted with a pair of reproachful blue eyes. No matter how many times he said it it never made his decision any easier. He groaned aloud drawing the attention of those around him. Ignoring their stares he turned to the window. It was too dark to see anything below them. No doubt it was the ocean. Briefly he let his mind wander to what it’d be like to crash into the ocean. Would he survive long enough to feel the icy bite of the frigid waters? Would he become shark bate after struggling for hours to stay afloat? Maybe he’d be marooned on a deserted island talking to a soccer ball by the name of Wilson.
A small smile fluttered across his lips at the thought. He had watched that movie with his dad when he was little. He often thought it was silly to become that attached to a silly ball. Now it made sense. Now he understood the need for any kind of emotional support. Someone to talk to.
He often felt like that guy marooned on an island alone except for Wilson. He had no one. No family. His mother refused to talk to him the last time he had been home. Crying the entire time as he told her about his deployment. The only thing he understood from her sobs were the words “oh that poor girl. That poor girl.” She repeated it like a scratched CD, incoherent eighty percent of the time.
In the middle of her breakdown his brother came home. “What the hell are you doing here?” he demanded.
“What? No long time no see? Good to see you brother” Phoenix tried to lighten the mood.
“The hell” his brother mumbled eyeing him with anger burning deep within his eyes “you must be deploying.”
“What makes you say that?” he asked eyeing their mother who was sitting rocking herself back and forth.
“It’s the only time we see you” his younger brother stated “do you enjoy seeing what this does to her?” He pointed towards their mom softly weeping as she rocked.
“I’m sorry” Phoenix mumbled unsure what he was sorry for. For coming home. For upsetting his mom like this.
“Oh that poor girl” his mother’s ramblings rose to coherent levels again.
“You have a girlfriend?” his younger brother snarled “does she know about your deployment?”
“Not yet” Phoenix admitted.
“Your just like the old man” his brother spat spitefully “never thinking about anyone else but yourself.”
“It’s not like that” he protested “Teasha understands what I do.”
“Sure she does” he sneered “just like mom did.” He went over to comfort the older woman who had gone through so much. “Get out” his brother shouted pointing towards the door. “Don’t come back unless your done with the military for good.”
He left under the baleful gaze of his brother. His ears still listening to the refrain of his mother repeating “oh that poor girl.” Standing outside his childhood home he sighed absorbing the pain. Just like that he was orphaned. No family. No place to call his own. It was like having an arm severed from his body.
A sharp drop as the plane plummeted towards the ground brought his thoughts back to the moment. “What’s happening?” he asked the guy next to him.
“Air turbulence” the young man said having to yell over the noise of the engines.
He clutched the arm rests as the plane seemed to be tossed around in the air like a child playing. His mind despite the turbulence went to the last time he had been with Teasha. Her light blue eyes filled with unshed tears. He’d always remember her last words to him “it’s my choice not yours.” Brave words. Teasha didn’t know what it’s like to be waiting at home listening to the news knowing someone she loved was in the thick of a hot zone.
He hadn’t planned on telling her like he did at Marzia’s art show. He hadn’t planned on breaking up with her. If he hadn’t gone home to see his mom things would have ended differently.
He kept hearing his brother’s voice in his head telling him he was just like their dad not caring about anyone but himself. That wasn’t true. His dad cared about them. Not as much as he loved his country. He’d never put his family first not if his country needed him. Phoenix knew that. Accepted that he’d always be second or maybe even third. He loved his dad. Was secure in his love for him. His brother wasn’t. His mom tried to understand but it’s hard to be married to someone who was never around.
That night as he held Teasha in his arms he realized something about himself. Something he wasn’t ready to admit. Instead of facing it he made a terrible mistake. He pushed Teasha away. He said it was to protect her but it wasn’t. It was to protect himself.
If he deployed knowing she was waiting for him at home all he’d do was worry. Worry about how she was coping. This way he thought he’d be free to do what was necessary to get the job done. No ties to home or anyone. It wouldn’t matter if he put his life on the line. He didn’t want the burden of questioning his decisions. He just wanted to do his job. Now all he wanted to do was survive. Go home beg Teasha to forgive him. Ask for another chance if she’d take him back.
He was asking a lot considering he had ignored her calls. Deleted her texts without responding. He thought it was the best thing for both of them. In hindsight it was him hiding. Hiding from putting someone in the same position as his mom. Maybe his chosen career wasn’t the one he wanted. Maybe it was chosen for him.
His dad always said he was a chip off the old block. His mom said he was just like his dad. He thought that meant he was supposed to follow his dad’s legacy into the military. This was the first time he ever had doubts. The first time he ever wondered if he could put country above everything else he loved. He had two more years left of this tour of duty. At that time he’d have to decide to either re-up or be discharged. Could he be a civilian? What would he do?
His thoughts came to an abrupt end as the captain started shouting orders for them to take crash positions. Shit he thought he was going to die without ever having the chance to put his life on the line in some heroic manner.
Teasha wiped a tear from her cheek as she continued to stare uncomprehendingly at the page in front of her. She had been attempting to read her assignment for the past several minutes but had gotten no where. She hadn’t been able to concentrate on school since Phoenix broke up with her. When had that been? Three four weeks ago? She had tried to call him. Her calls went unanswered.
She knew he was going to ship out soon. Maybe already had. Another tear splashed onto the unread page. Damn she scowled as it smeared the words. Slamming the book shut she tossed it on the floor taking small satisfaction from the loud bang when it landed.
A soft knock on her door had her sitting up drying her eyes. “Come in” she called and smiled as Zach’s head appeared. His face a mixture of concern and hesitancy.
“Want some company?” he asked coming to a stop in front of her bed.
“Have a seat” she offered making room for him beside her.
Frowning he sat on the floor instead “want to talk about it?”
Teasha sighed looking at her surroundings with fresh eyes. She saw the abundance of crumbs that infested her crumpled bed sheets. The unmade bed. She wondered if she looked as bad as her room did. No wonder her brother had opted to sit on the floor. Joining him on the floor she shook her head.
“You used to tell me everything” Zach smiled at her “what happened?”
Shrugging she looked away “I don’t want to burden you with my problems.”
“Teasha I’m your brother” he insisted “I want to help you.”
“You can’t” she cried covering her mouth to stop the flow of words from dribbling out.
“He hurt you didn’t he?” Zach’s eyes flashed with anger “I’ll beat him up for you.”
“Don’t you dare” she grabbed his arm around the wrist “he’ll kill you. He’s trained in unarmed combat. You wouldn’t stand a chance against him.”
“Nice to know my own sister thinks I’m a wimp” Zach grumbled a look of defeat replacing the would be hero defending his sister’s honor.
“It’s not that” she was quick to deny “it’s just you don’t know how to fight.” It was the closest she had come to talking about what had happened to him “I don’t ever want to see you hurt like that again.”
“I’m your brother” he growled “I’m supposed to protect you.”
“Since when?” she laughed “if I recall right I was the one always fighting for you.”
“Hey” he objected “that’s not because I couldn’t defend myself.”
“No of course not” she agreed “with a smile.” It felt good to tease him. It felt like old times when they were growing up. The times before the incident. She looked at him. He seemed to have acquired a new confidence with himself. “You never did tell me how your date went with Waylon.”
A frown marred his porcelain features “I made an idiot of myself” he grumbled recalling how he had gotten upset over a stupid movie.
“Want to talk about it?” she asked. Concern for her brother replacing her earlier melancholy over her breakup with Phoenix.
“Hey your trying to direct the attention to me instead of yourself” he shook his head “seriously sis I’m fine. What about you? Are you ok?”
“I’m the older sibling here” she protested “I do all the questions and probing not you.”
Snorting he shook his head “just because you came out first by a few minutes doesn’t make you my boss.”
“It was two whole minutes” she informed him “quality minutes I might add.”
Rolling his eyes he grunted “that argument might have worked when we were kids but it’s not the same.”
“I really liked him Zach” she gulped as tears threatened to fall.
“I know you did” he moved to pull her close “I’m sorry I’ve been walking around like some kind of zombie. I want you to know I care about you and you can tell me anything.”
“Thanks Zach” she sniffed wiping her nose on his sleeve.
“Eew that’s gross” he scowled at her “why’d you do that?”
“I don’t know” she smiled both of them knowing why. It was what she had always done when they were little. She knew it would irritate him and offend his fastidious ways. She sighed leaning her head on his shoulder “there’s something you’re not telling me.”
The room was silent except for their even breathing and occasional sniffle. “Phoenix before he left came by to apologize. I punched him. He put me in a headlock.” He chuckled a little “you’re right he knows how to defend himself.”
“He didn’t hurt you did he?” she cried her hands trying to pull his shirt up to inspect for injuries.
“No” he cried batting her hands away “I’m not that feeble or stupid.” Once she had calmed down enough to sit still he continued “he wanted you to know he was sorry for the way things ended. It wasn’t what he intended on doing that night.” He watched her closely as she clasped her hands. It was the first time he felt like the stronger twin.
“Why didn’t he tell me himself?”she demanded anger tinging her words making her sound bitter.
He looked at the floor then into her sad blue eyes “I think he was afraid if he saw you he’d change his mind. He really does care about you.”
“Did he want a second chance?” she asked hope filling her voice and eyes.
Zach shook his head “maybe. I don’t know. He really didn’t say. Did he tell you where he was being deployed?”
“No” she said slowly looking away “I got upset and walked away. It just felt so unfair like he didn’t trust me to wait for him.”
“Teasha that’s not the problem” he exhaled loudly “I think he knows you’d wait for him. Forever if you had to. I think that scared him. I think knowing he was going into a combat zone where the chances of him coming home was slim scared him. He felt he had to let you go.”
Her eyes grew large with fright “what?” she cried clinging to him.
“I’m sorry he didn’t want you to know until he left” Zach pulled her close holding her trembling body “I thought you’d want to know.”
“I was so mean to him” she sobbed “I walked away refusing to talk. I…” sobs cut her off. After several minutes Teasha took a deep breath wiping her eyes “what am I going to do now?”
“I don’t know” Zach smiled at her “one thing I know you’re not going to do is use my shirt as your snot rag.”
“Too late” she laughed as she wiped her nose on his sleeve.
“That’s just gross” he complained.
“You can wash it” she told him watching as he pulled his shirt over his head.
“You do it,” he tossed the shirt at her “it’s your snot after all.” He walked to the door “if you need to talk I’m here for you.”
“I know” she sniffed “now go let your boyfriend see you strut your stuff.”
Zach’s cheeks flared a deep crimson at her words. He hadn’t thought about how he was going to make it to his room without anyone seeing him.