(Click here for Chapter 3)
“No!” Grace sat upright in a flash. A cold sweat made her skin shine.
Deep, heaving breaths raised her chest in rapid up and down movements. She lifted her hand and pushed some damp hair off her wet forehead and cheeks.
She looked at the clock through the tears in her eyes. 3:30 a.m. Half an hour since she woke up last time.
Sighing she pulled her knees up to her chest. Resting her arm on her knees and her head on her hand she tried to calm her rapidly thumping heart.
It was always the same: the same nightmare, the same scenes, the same ending: the same pain, tears, heartbreak and devastation.
Her nightmares were always about Collin. And they were always replays of her actual life.
Collin, her wonderful, handsome, husband of three years. Three wonderful, amazing, blissful years.
Then he was deployed to Iraq. He was supposed to be overseas for just over a year.
So, he’d packed his cases and all the things he’d needed. He’d waved goodbye, that dreadful, early morning the day the large silver monster, known as a bus, shuttled him and the other men in his unit to the airport.
He’d kissed her and their five-month-old son goodbye, with a promise to, “be back before you know it.”
Then the end of her life, as she knew it, hit her hard.
A week before he was due home, two men in important-looking uniforms showed up on base in a shiny black car.
It was the car that every Marine wife shunned, dreaded and feared.
The car slowly drove through the base streets and every wife, whose husband was deployed, held her breath as the car slowly snaked by her house. Then, when it was past, they’d let their breath out in a whoosh of relief and then watch to see where the car would stop.
Grace had also stopped what she was doing in the front yard and held her breath as the car approached up the street. Although, for her there was no whoosh of relief. As the car pulled to a stop in front of her house and the click, click of their shoes echoed in the still air, the breath she’d been holding in came out in a choked sob.
Cole had been playing happily on the lush, green lawn nearby. Grace wanted to grab him and run inside, hiding her and her son away from the cloud of hurt, pain and grief that floated above the men.
The men’s faces were solemn, yet soft and caring eyes watched her as they came to stand in front of her.
Grace had started to shake her head, making the tears in her eyes spill down her cheeks as she gasped, “No, please no,” in a quiet, scratchy whisper.
The men had suggested that they go inside.
Grace had shakily gathered Cole and went inside, trying to get a hold of herself, but was unsuccessful.
Many more tears, many sobs from Grace and many, “I’m sorry,”s from the men. Even more, “He was a good man and Marine.”
Then it was, “When we have his personal effects we will be sure to get them to you right away.”
Then they’d left. Then there was silence. Then Grace had fallen apart. Unable to control herself, she sobbed and sobbed.
The funeral was torture. So many people trying to console her broken heart, but only making it worse. They had no idea what she was going through.
That was three weeks ago, almost four.
Her hand went to her neck and found the little chain that had become practically attached to her.
Pulling on the chain produced a soft clanking sound as metal hit metal before Collin’s dog tags fell over the collar of one of his old t-shirts that Grace wore to bed each night.
She quickly snatched them up and held them in a tight fist.
A gentle sigh rose from beside her on the bed and she turned to look down at Cole. He looked so much like his father. More and more each day, in fact: his dark brown hair, his big brown eyes, his smile, his facial structure. He was, no doubt, Collin’s son. It almost hurt to look at him.
She laid back and propped herself up on her elbow and studied Cole in the faint light filtering through the curtains. She lifted a hand and ran her fingers through his hair.
She doubted Cole remembered Collin. He was only five months when Collin had left and he had never seen Collin again. And neither had she. She wished, with all her heart, that Cole had had a chance to meet and get to know Collin. He was his father, after all.
“Oh, Lord, what am I going to do?” She laid all the way back and stared up at the dark ceiling.
Big tears seeped from the corners of her eyes as she pulled the blanket up.
She rolled to her side, scooted down further in the sheets and pulled the covers up more to tuck under her chin, trying to give herself even the slightest feeling of comfort and security. Yet, she found none, and as the tears slid silently from her eyes, she felt more and more lost and alone.
Sun leaked into the room through the curtains that didn’t quite touch in the middle.
The warmth of the sun streaked right across Grace’s swollen, tired eyes.
Coming out of a deep, exhausted sleep, Grace smeared one hand across her face, moaned and rolled over.
Couldn’t the world just pause when she actually did sleep? Why was it that when she was generally falling into a deep sleep everyone else was just starting their day?
Hoping to fall back asleep she shifted ever so slightly to get comfortable and sighed to relax herself.
Thinking she might actually succeed in sleeping again, she started to drift slowly out of consciousness.
A second longer and she would have been asleep, if it wasn’t for the little hands on her arm. Then the weight of a small body leaning over her.
Slowly and with great effort she forced herself to open her eyes. The first thing that came into focus were two big, smiling brown eyes.
“Mom?” A small happy voice filtered through her foggy cloud.
She closed her eyes again. “Hmmmm?” If she didn’t use words maybe she could still pretend to be sleeping.
“Mom?” his sing-song call came more easily through her fog this time.
“Cubby, Mommy is sleeping,” she mumbled.
Silence and then a giggle. “No.”
The giggle communicated perfectly that he didn’t believe her, but the laughed-out “no” only emphasized that truth.
Slowly she peaked out of one squinting eye into the merry face of Colby. The smile clearly showed he was not fooled.
Well, there was no chance for sleep now. So she might as well try to be awake, like she belonged among the living. And she was going to start by loving her little man.
Before Cole knew what was happening, Grace had wrapped her arms around him and was covering his little face with kisses. Then she landed him on his back on the bed and proceeded to tickle his tiny, wiggling body.
Giggles washed over her as she mercilessly tickled and tickled.
A smile spread over Grace’s face as she saw the joy in Cole’s.
She wouldn’t say she was happy or joyful, she hadn’t been able to be happy or joyful the last few weeks, but she was enjoying herself.
A few more moments of tickling before she collapsed next to him on the bed, softly giggling to herself.
Sighing, she looked at the clock. 7:45 a.m. If she’d slept the whole night, she would have gotten five hours of sleep. But she hadn’t slept the whole night. A couple hours at most.
She seriously needed more sleep. The up-side of her nights, though, was Cole was sleeping better. She was very thankful for that.
Laying her arm across her forehead, her mind went to her day.
She wanted to make it to somewhere in Louisiana today. Right now she was in the middle of Texas. If she drove all day she could make it.
Day three of her travel-across-America trip and she was already more than ready to done.
Another sigh lifted her chest before she pushed herself to a sitting position.
Moving the hair that had fallen into her eyes, she decided she should probably take a shower. It had been a few days since she’d even thought of showering. Pretty much all she’d been thinking about lately was Collin, where to go now, and how to get there.
Half an hour later she was showered, dried and dressed. Walking around the hotel room, she tried to make sure that she’d gotten everything that belonged to her and Bear Cub.
She smiled. When Collin had started calling Colby Bear Cub shortly after Cole was born, it just kind stuck. It changed form every now and then, to the point where Colby was Cubby, Cub, Bear-bear or Bear but Grace liked it, and it reminded her of Collin and how much he loved her and also Colby.
When she was sure that she’d gotten everything packed up and ready to go she hauled her things outside, packed the car and headed for the front desk to sign out of her room.
Next stop? Gas-station, her car needed gas and she desperately needed caffeine.