“How do you think it’s going?”
Lieutenant Sorey looked over at Lieutenant Goodman on the front step.
“Well, she hasn’t broken them out yet, and they’ve stopped yelling for help. I’d say they’ve settled in to wait for rescue.”
“Good. We should check on them in an hour.”
They were referring to Major Beck and Heather Lisinski, whom they had ‘accidently’ locked in the mechanical closet downstairs. It was a completely inappropriate thing to do to your CO, but they were at their wits’ end. They’d first noticed Beck losing focus over a month ago, which would have been expected after so long without any kind of leave. But they noticed that his distraction came and went, most often going during meetings. After a while, they noticed that he only seemed to be distracted when Heather was present. While they all agreed that it was about time he moved on, his current state was driving the staff bonkers. What was really bad was that Beck didn’t acknowledge what was so obvious to the rest of them. What was worst was that Heather also was oblivious.
Having had enough, the staff connived to put them together somehow. They tried having the lock on his office door ‘malfunction’ at the end of the day, trapping them inside. But Heather, apparently related to MacGyver, had gotten them out in about fifteen minutes by removing the hinges. So they had to get more creative. Someone had suggested cutting the power in an elevator, but the only elevator in town was in the hospital, and that was out of the question. Then Corporal Rainey suggested the mechanical closet in the basement; he’d been locked in there once, for three hours. And the door opened outwards, so Heather couldn’t attack the hinges like last time. The staff had seized on the idea.
Getting Heather down there had been dreadfully simple; all they had had to do was tell her the backup generator was on the fritz again. Getting the major there had required imagination. In the end, they’d decided to play the ‘damsel in distress’ card – even if Heather was nothing of the sort. They’d arranged for the power to go out while Heather was down there, then mentioned to Beck that she was downstairs working on the generator, alone, with no lights, and how would she ever find her way out of that maze without tripping and falling?
“Heather! You ok?”
A flashlight shined directly in his face: blinded, he put his hands up in front of him.
“Of course I’m ok. I haven’t been afraid of the dark since I was ten years old.” Just then they heard the door slam shut behind him. “Shit. You had to knock out the doorstop.”
He couldn’t actually see her face, but he could feel her glare anyway.
“Right. The tooth fairy did it.”
“Look, I’m sorry.” (he was almost certain he hadn’t done it, but…someone must have done it, and the list of suspects was pretty short) “I was just worried.”
Heather snorted. “I told you, I’m not afraid of the dark.”
“Yeah, but the power went out…and you’re working on the generator…I thought maybe…”
“I dunno, that you’d been electrocuted or something.”
“The two systems aren’t even connected to each other.”
“Well, thanks for caring, I guess. Now help me find a way out of here.”
“No dice. This door opens the other way.”
“Pick the lock?”
“It’s a closet. There is no interior lock to pick.”
“Credit card trick?”
“I don’t have a credit card, or any reasonable facsimile thereof. Do you?”
“Hand it over.” He did, and she flicked it open with ease. “Here, hold the flashlight.” She probed the crack of the door. “Nope.” She flicked it closed and handed it back to him.
“You handle a blade pretty well.”
“Got one like it at home. And I had a lot of free time during the winter.”
“I was bored, so I sharpened all my knives. And then I was still bored, so I played with them.”
“Alas, my collection does not extend to throwing knives.” She pounded on the door. “Anyone out there? We need you to let us out!”
“Collection?” Beck was intrigued.
“Yeah, I inherited my dad’s collection and kept adding to it.” She raised her voice “Hello out there!”
“They’re all outside. No lights, remember?”
“Dammit. Looks like we’re stuck here for a while.” She turned her back to the door and slid down to a sitting position. Beck joined her.
“What kind of knives do you have?” Beck was fascinated. He knew Heather carried a swiss army knife in her purse, but he’d chalked that up to her mechanical handiness.
“Folding knives, mostly, because I’m a sucker for a multitool, but I have some straight blades too. One of my favorite straight blades is my dad’s survival knife.”
“How many do you have?”
“I’d like to see them sometime.”
“ – I’d like to see them sometime.”
Sorey repressed a chuckle and snuck back upstairs.
“They’re talking about Heather’s knives.”
Captain Dunne let out a grunt of frustration
“Figures. Trapped in a closet, and he talks about weapons.”
“Not necessarily a bad thing.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I can’t necessarily speak for the major, but a chick with a knife collection… well, that’s kinda hot.”
“I hope so.”
“He did ask to see her collection. Maybe that’s not all he sees.” He said, lewd grin on his face. Dunne threw a rock at him.
“No need to go there.”
“So how much longer until the power comes back, do you think?” Heather asked.
“You’re asking me?”
“Point taken. But then, I usually have some idea of what the problem is. I hope it’s s-soon.”
The stutter on the last word caught Beck’s attention.
“Heather, you ok?”
He held the light up to look at her. She was sitting with arms around her legs, shivering quietly. He touched her arm for confirmation. It was cold.
“Heather – ”
“What? I don’t have a jacket with me. The heat was on.”
“You never tell me when you have a problem.”
“It’s not your job to – ”
“So?” He put down the flashlight and shrugged off his jacket. It was chilly in here, but he’d dealt with worse in Afghanistan. “Here.”
“I – ” Heather was reluctant to accept, but conceded. “T-thank you.” She sat there in the oversized jacket for a minute as she began to warm up.
“An officer and a gentleman. I guess chivalry isn’t dead after all.”
“My mother would be so proud.”
Heather shifted slightly, hearing paper crinkle. Her hand brushed the inside pocket it came from.
“You can tell?”
“School teacher, remember?”
“Right.” He shrugged. “Maria drew it for me.”
She took out the paper and unfolded it. It was a crayon drawing of a girl, a dog, and a woman. At the bottom ‘We Miss U, Daddy!’ was scrawled in pink.
“That’s so sweet.” There was no response from Beck. “Major?” he merely grunted in reply. “You must miss them terribly.”
“Yeah.” He voice was hoarse. She gently folded the paper and put it back in the pocket. “Sometimes I think I’m over it, and then I look at that drawing – ”
“You’ll never be over it.” Heather replied quietly.
“You’ll never be over it.” She repeated. “You just have to move past it.”
He paused to digest that, reminded that Heather had had reason to know.
“Yeah, but how?”
“Realize they would want you to be happy.” She chuckled to herself. “My subconscious was not exactly subtle when it figured that out.”
“I dreamed where my mom chewed me out for moping. Dad just sat there behind her, nodding quietly in agreement, like he always did.”
Despite himself, he chuckled at the image.
“Parents never lose that ability, do they?”
“No, I still hear her voice sometimes, telling me what I should do.”
“I still hear my dad’s voice – and it still sounds like he’s talking over a phone.”
“He was deployed a lot. Somehow the static made his voice more threatening, not less, when he was chewing me out over the phone.” He paused, remembering. “God I miss him.”
“How old were you?”
He realized as he said it how unusual this was. He hadn’t had a conversation like this in years. He wondered if it was the darkness, the freedom of not worrying about the expression on his face, that made it so easy to discuss this.
“How old were you?” he asked.
“Twenty. My third year of college.”
They sat there for a minute as silence conveyed more meaning than words. Finally, from some perverse need to break the companionable silence, Beck spoke.
“You warm now?”
“Yeah, thanks.” She replied. “You’re not cold?”
“Not yet. And unless a sudden breeze develops, I think I’ll be okay.”
“If I get cold, I can just do some pushups or something.”
“Didn’t think of that.”
“Deal with it often enough, and you learn to cope.”
“What’s the coldest place you’ve been?”
“Well, I was posted in Germany for a year. Most recently it was the mountains in Afghanistan – but what was really bad was the temperature swings. It could go from cold to hot and back again in record time.”
“Yeah, especially when you were packing for a mission. You had to pack ten pounds of gear that you’d only need for half the trip - maybe.”
“How many pounds of stuff do you usually carry? There must be five pounds in this jacket alone. I’m all for pockets, but this is ridiculous.”
“Seven pounds, actually. I weighed it once. A full load averages about ninety pounds of gear. More in the winter, less in the summer.”
“Yeesh. I could never be a soldier. I’m too much of a wimp.”
“Bet you could.” His quick reply startled Heather, who shifted suddenly. “What, you think any of us started out that tough? It takes training, that’s all. And you’re no wimp. You could do it.”
“You really think so?”
“Yeah. All you need to start with is mental toughness. And you’ve got plenty of that. I know New Bern was … not pleasant… but if you can survive that, you’d survive basic training.” He noticed the flashlight shake in Heather’s hand. “Heather, are you still cold?” He reached out to see if her hand was cold and was thwarted by the long jacket sleeve.
“No, I’m okay, really. I just… ”
“What?” he asked gently.
“Sorry.” He squeezed her hand through the cloth. “Didn’t mean to…”
“You ever talk to anyone about it?”
“Tried to, but Eric didn’t want to discuss it. Not with me, not with Mary, not with anyone. ‘Course, he had it worse off than I did.”
“That’s not healthy. For him or for you.”
“Well, it never came up with anyone else. Nobody else wanted to bring it up, I guess because it was awkward. And I don’t think Jericho has a therapist.”
“We don’t have a therapist in the ranks, either, but there’s definitely people you can talk to. Some of us have been held prisoner, so…” he shrugged, still holding onto her hand. Heather digested that.
“Have you?” she asked quietly.
“For a couple of days, a few years ago. I still have nightmares about it.”
He chuckled softly.
“Thought it might be. You’re not alone, Heather. Don’t ever think otherwise.” Heather was suddenly very still. “Heather?”
“I – ” Her voice was shaky, and she sniffed loudly. She was obviously trying not to cry. The next thing he knew, he’d gathered her into his arms as she cried quietly. He just let her cry as he held her. He wasn’t sure how long it lasted, but eventually she ran out of tears. Finally she spoke.
They stayed like that for a bit longer – and then they heard footsteps.
“Heather! Major! You still down here?” They made no immediate move to get up, strangely reluctant to leave. “Hello?”
“We’re in the closet.” Beck called out. “Would you go get the spare key?”
“Sure.” Replied the faceless voice, and the footsteps receded.
“Well, I guess it’s time to get out of here.” Beck told Heather, releasing her.
“Yeah.” She sat up and scrubbed her eyes. “Now that I look terrible.”
“Nonsense.” He took the flashlight from her to look at her. “You look great. Just -” He reached over and wiped her cheeks. “There, now you’re perfect.”
“You are such a liar.” She told him, smiling. “But thanks anyway.”
Then the door opened a few seconds later to Lieutenant Sorey, who apparently found the sight of Heather in the major’s jacket amusing.
“Chilly down here, huh?” he asked.
“A bit.” Heather replied. “Fortunately, chivalry isn’t dead.” She smiled as she shrugged off Beck’s jacket to return it while walking up the stairs. At the top, she handed it back to him and kissed him on the cheek. He blinked in surprise and watched her walk away with new eyes. He was not aware of the others watching him with smiles of relief.