*** This series was awarded Best Lesbian Story, as well as Most Literary/Genre Transcending Story in the 2019 Reader’s Choice Awards. Thank you to all who voted. ***
Welcome to Chapter Seven. If you plan on reading this, but you haven’t read Chapters One through Six then we need to have a talk, because I’m getting worried about you. Do you need a hug, friend? Or maybe a cup of hot cocoa?
As usual, I’ve updated the Spotify playlist for the band with the new songs from this chapter. You can find the link on the CONTACT tab of my author page. Thank you if you’ve given me a like on Spotify; nothing thrills me more than hearing readers tell me they listen to my Set List.
A big shout out to my intrepid editor, ThisNameIsntTakenYet, who makes me look like a competent speller and grammarian.
Thank you for coming back, and enjoy.
~~ Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda Maryland, May ~~
“I’ll see you tonight for dinner, okay baby?” Blue asked as she pulled up to the main entrance to Reed to drop off Jo. They had woken up early that morning. Jo had wanted to retrace their steps from their frosty morning in January, walking from Jill’s apartment to her favorite coffee shop then through the National Zoo.
After they kissed goodbye, Jo went inside the hospital to start her daily routine. She had her usual two hours of PT in the morning with Tony, and another therapy session with Dr. Allen after lunch. She’d finally gotten comfortable enough with him that she could do them without Blue at her side.
After her therapy session, she met Liz in the gym and they threw the weights around for a couple of hours. She and Liz had coffee after, as had become their habit, then Jo walked back to her suite. As she walked in the room, she froze, rooted to a spot just inside the door.
Blue was sitting cross-legged on the couch with Jo’s guitar, Belle, across her lap, softly picking at the strings of the white acoustic Yamaha.
“Uh, hey Blue… Where did you get that?”
“I drove out to Front Royal after I dropped you off this morning. Your dad says ‘hi’, by the way. He said he’ll be up to see us again this Sunday.”
“O-o-o-o-kay. But what’s—”
“This is the beginning of part one of my Jo plan. Let’s get you showered up, you don’t want to be holding this sweet baby while you’re all sweaty and gross.”
After she was showered and changed into track pants and an Army t-shirt, she met Blue back into the living area.
“Okay, part one of my three-part plan is that I want to get you playing again. I think you should make it a goal to go on the beach tour with the Rotors again this summer. So, sit down and let’s try this out.”
“Can we go eat first? I skipped lunch.”
“Okay, a quick dinner and then we’ll get started.” They left Belle resting on the couch and headed out the door for the cafeteria.
They were a few steps down the hall when Jo paused. “Hey, I forgot my phone. Go ahead and see if Liz has a table. I’ll be right behind you, okay?”
“Sure thing, baby.” Blue gave her a quick kiss and headed on down the hall.
Jo went back to their room and found her phone on the side table. She picked it up, turned around. The sight of the white guitar laying on the couch stopped her in her tracks again. She stood looking at it for a long time, then turned back to grab her wallet. After she came out of the elevator on the ground floor, she glanced down the hallway towards the cafeteria, then started off the other way toward the front of the hospital and the entrance to the Metro.
“Where the fuck are you going, Collins?”
She stood on the platform at Metro Center. She’d gotten on the first Red Line train that had come into the Medical Center Station. It had taken two stops for her to realize she was headed towards Shady Grove and the end of the line, so she had gotten off at Twinbrook and reversed directions. Now she was at Metro Center on the Orange and Blue line platform.
“I don’t know Little, I just—”
“Are you talking to me?” the man standing next to her snapped.
“No, sorry I—” He turned and walked away. Jo shook her head. Make sure you use your inside voice when talking to Little, dumbass, she thought.
“Are you running away from a fucking guitar? Or are you running from Blue? What the fuck’s going on, what are we doing?”
I don’t know. I just had to go, okay? Leave me alone, she thought, as an Orange Line train pulled into the station.
It was near the end of rush hour, so the car wasn’t too full and she managed to find a seat by herself. When the train came above ground after Ballston she got a signal again, and her phone started lighting up with texts and voicemails. She’d read the first few, started to respond, but couldn’t think of anything to say. She set her phone to do not disturb and put it back in her pocket.
In just under an hour she reached türkçe altyazılı porno the end of the line in Vienna, Virginia. She filed off the train with the rest of the remaining passengers, then sat down on one of the cement benches as everyone else left the station, leaving her sitting alone on the platform as the late Spring sun dipped towards the horizon.
“Now what, Collins?”
I don’t know. Blue managed to find a Lyft from Front Royal to D.C. Maybe I could find one who would take me out there.
“And do what? Do you think you’re going to get away from whatever you’re running from at the farm?”
No… I don’t know. I just want to go home.
“You know, just because you’re in a hospital doesn’t mean you’re out of the Army. Technically you’re AWOL right now.”
What are they going to do, Little? Kick me out?
“They could take your retirement away, you dumb fuck. And you think you’d ever get a real flying job with a dishonorable discharge?”
“Jesus, Little,” she sighed out loud. I don’t even know if they’ll ever let me fly again anyway.
She sat on the bench, watching a dozen trains come and go, then finally sighed and got up and boarded one headed back towards D.C. Forty-five minutes later, she impulsively rode past Metro Center and got off at Smithsonian Station. As she came up the escalator and looked up at the Washington Monument, the white marble spire was brilliantly lit up, towering over the National Mall. She looked right, toward the Capitol, then turned and started walking the other direction.
When she got to the Vietnam Memorial, it was ghostly and somber in contrast to the Washington Monument. The lights set in the sidewalk dimly illuminated the black marble wall and the names carved into the face of it, listing all fifty-eight thousand soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen and coasties who died in that war. She stood in front of it, staring ahead, the letters unseen by her eyes.
“So many names…” Little sounded subdued, for once.
“I wonder when they’ll build the one for the shit show in Afghanistan,” Jo muttered to herself.
“When they do, we’ll come to pay our respects to Jackson and Nguyen.”
She felt a tear roll down her face. “Eric,” she whispered.
“Gets ya right in the gut, doesn’t it, soldier?” The gruff voice startled her. She turned and saw an older, bearded man with a cane standing a few feet away, wearing a Vietnam Veteran hat.
“How’d you know I’m a soldier?” she asked, rubbing the tear off her cheek with the back of her fist.
“Once a soldier, always a soldier, and it takes one to know one,” he said, then chuckled. “Also, you’re wearing an Army shirt. And then there’s the foot.” He gestured downward.
Jo looked down and saw her track pants’ cuff had gotten caught up in the joint of her foot, exposing the metal and composite ankle. She leaned down and shook her pants free to cover her shoe.
He smiled at her. “Nothing to be ashamed of, soldier.” He knocked his right calf with his cane and it made a hollow, clunking sound. “Lost mine at Khe Sanh. How about you?”
“That’s tough. Your war is as big a mess as mine was.” He looked at the wall, searching. “There you are, brother.” He leaned over and traced his fingers over the name Leon Fentress.
“He was your brother?” Jo asked.
“Not in blood. He was my best friend. The same land mine that took my leg killed him. I come to see him here every now and then.”
“I’m sorry,” said Jo.
“I’ve made my peace with it.”
“How long did that take?” she asked.
“There’s the question, eh? Longer than it might’ve. I call those my ‘lost years’.”
There was a long silence. Jo sighed. “Years, huh?”
“Well, back then no one knew from PTSD. They just called it ‘shell shock’. The treatment was you got discharged, and then you crawled into a bottle. Or worse. It was worse in my case.”
“So, what finally brought you back?”
“My kid. He fished me out of the gutter and moved me in with him and his wife and my grandkids. Took me a few years to let him, though. Well… more than a few. But I’m sober twelve years now.”
He reached out a hand and Jo shook it.
“Have a good night, soldier. And take that lesson with you. Don’t wait to take whatever help you get offered.” He shuffled off into the darkness.
“That was pretty on the nose,” Little said.
She headed towards the Lincoln Memorial. It must have been after ten o’clock by now, and there were few people about, it being a weeknight. She walked inside the monument, looking up the giant, seated sculpture of Lincoln.
You had a hell of a war to deal with too, didn’t you Abe? she thought.
“You know, he saved the Union. You could at least call him Mr. President.”
She rolled her eyes, then walked outside and sat on the memorial’s steps, leaning back against one of the massive marble columns, looking xnxx east towards the sight of the Washington Monument again. Her stump hurt. She’d been walking way more than she was used to. She wasn’t sure what time it was now, but the sliver of the moon was just coming up over the Capitol building at the other end of the Mall.
She reluctantly pulled out her phone. Twenty-seven texts from Blue. A bunch from Steve and dad. Even a few from Liz. She sent a text to Blue, the a quick, “I’m okay, call you tomorrow” message to Steve and Dad then put her phone away and watched the moon rise.
The moon was well up in the sky when Blue climbed up the steps and sat down next to her. She waited for Blue to say something, but she was apparently determined to make Jo speak first. Finally, when she couldn’t stand the silence any longer, she spoke up.
“I’m sorry… I… I’m sorry I just left.”
“Are you okay?” Blue asked.
“Fuck if I know.”
“I saw that guitar and I just…” She didn’t want to go on.
“Jo, I need you to explain to me what happened tonight.”
“I don’t remember how to play, Blue! Okay?! I can’t remember any chords, I can’t remember any of the notes! I can’t remember how any song goes or even the name of a single song I used to be able to play! I couldn’t tell you right now which string is ‘D’ or any other fucking note! Music and flying were all I had! What if I can never get medical clearance, and can never fly again? What if I can never play again? What the fuck am I going to do with my life?!”
She stopped when she realized the few tourists walking around had started looking at them. She continued in a softer voice, resting her elbows on her knees and rubbing her hands together.
“I know how to do two things, fly and play. I’ve gone to war six times now. Five times to Afghanistan. You know this war is old enough to vote? I wasn’t old enough to drive when it started. And so many, so many people have come back, but not all the way back. Some of them never make it all the way back and they just decide to step out. I know of so many guys who’ve made it through combat tours, some of ’em without a scratch, then they’ve come home and killed themselves.”
“Were you thinking of hurting yourself tonight?” Blue’s voice trembled as she asked.
“No. No I wasn’t. But I was thinking about something like that starting to happen someday. I was worried if I picked up Belle and nothing happened… I saw that guitar and thought ‘This is it. This could be the moment I start to find out I’ve lost everything I used to care about.’ And then I ran.”
Silence stretched out between them.
Blue started softly rubbing Jo’s back with one hand. “Jo, I can’t promise you that you’ll be able to play. And I can’t promise you that you’ll be able to fly. All I can promise you is I’ll be here for you whatever happens. And if you can’t fly or you can’t play, I’ll help you figure out something else to do, okay?”
“Okay,” Jo said hoarsely. Blue leaned her head against Jo’s and they watched the moon together, until Blue suddenly sat up and punched her hard in the arm.
“Ow! What the hell, Blue?”
“Jocelyn Collins! You’d better promise me that if you ever need space or need to flake out and run away again you’ll tell me first or at least answer your freaking texts so I know you’re okay!” She kept punching Jo’s arm while she yelled at her.
“Ow, okay! I’ll try! Blue, stop! I’m sorry!”
“Okay!” Blue stood up. “Okay then, it’s way after midnight, and it’s time to go home.” She offered her hand, which Jo accepted. She winced as she let Blue pull her to her feet.
“I’ve walked more than I’m used to, that’s all.”
Blue looked down and gasped. “Jo! Your shoe has blood all over it!”
“What?” She looked down. “Well, shit.” There was a big blood stain on her cross-trainer.
Blue insisted that Jo lean on her shoulder all the way to her car. Once there, she took off her foot and it was quickly evident what the problem was. She’d rubbed a sore on the bottom of her stump and it had bled, covering her artificial leg and her shoe.
“Fuck. Tony’s going to kill me.”
Tony didn’t kill her, but the next morning he took her foot away.
“C’mon man, really?” She was sitting in one of the hospital wheelchairs while Tony held her prosthetic up so he could inspect it.
“Really Jo, this is gone for a week. Minimum. You can’t walk on this until that sore heals up.”
“Jo, I told you that you could fuck up and hurt yourself and set yourself back if you overdid it, and that’s just what you did. You can’t walk on your stump until that sore heals or you risk having it fester and get infected and maybe having to go back under the knife to take off more skin. So, until that heals, you’re in the chair or on crutches.”
“What the hell am I supposed to do in the meantime?” She was clearly exasperated, although porno izle whether that was at Tony or herself was an open question.
“We can work on your flexibility. You can get in the pool and do some water therapy or just swim. Swimming’s good for you. Other than that, go find a good book and stay on your backside for a week. If you want to keep doing your upper body workouts with Liz, that’s fine but do ’em from a wheelchair. Stay off that leg. You got me, Jo?”
Jo mumbled something.
“I said you got me, Chief?”
“Yes! Sorry, Tony. Yes, I got you.”
She wheeled her way back to her suite, with all the enthusiasm of an inmate returning to solitary confinement. Blue was working on her MacBook at their small kitchen table. She looked up when Jo rolled in, and noticed the lack of her prosthetic.
“No foot for a while?”
“At least a week.”
“Okay. Well, they know best, I guess… What do you want to do now?” she asked. Jo could tell that Blue was trying her hardest not to look over to the couch where Belle sat, propped up in the corner against the cushions.
“Man up, Collins,” Little encouraged her.
Jo squared her shoulders, then huffed out a breath. An especially loud one this time.
She rolled over, hopped out of her wheelchair and sat down on the couch. Then she picked up Belle, and set the guitar in her lap, then she sat staring into space.
Blue came over and sat down next to her. “Do you want to try and play something?” she asked.
“I’m trying,” Jo said.
“I think you have to put your hands on the guitar to try, Jo.”
“No, I’m trying to think of a song, any song that I used to be able to play and my mind’s just blank.”
“Well, let’s go at it from another angle then. Remember in Germany when I was rubbing your foot and you didn’t remember that I was good at massage, but after I mentioned our night in Ocean City, it all rushed back to you?”
“So, let’s try this. After the beach jam, I was buzzed and forgot about you not singing and opened my big mouth, then Jack told me about the thing with Amy. Do you remember that? You kicked Jack off his stool and ran away up the beach to Delaware, and I followed you?”
“Yeah. I mean, no, I didn’t until just now when you said it.”
“When I finally caught up to you, I came up behind you while you were standing on the beach playing a song, and when you finished I said ‘that’s lovely’ and you spun around because you hadn’t noticed I was there.”
“Yeah…” Jo’s eyes had taken on a faraway look.
“You told me later that song was called Stories Of The Painted Desert. Do you remember that song?”
Jo’s face went completely blank, as her eyes focused a thousand yards away. She brought her left hand up to the neck of the guitar and as she plucked at the strings, the wistful notes of the song started filling the room.
When she had played this song the night of the beach jam, she’d just started learning it. She’d worked on it some more on the old beat-up acoustic in the ready room at the airbase in Afghanistan after she deployed, but had never gotten it quite there.
She nailed it this time. Not just every note, but also the emotion, the feeling that the artist had put into it. Russ Freeman was one of her favorite jazz guitarists. She’s seen him live twice, but she hadn’t thought she’d ever be able to match his technical skills. But this wasn’t one of his hardest songs, and she was in the groove.
She wasn’t even sure how she was doing it, the melody just came into her head and her fingers translated it to the strings. She felt certain if she stopped to think about what she was doing she’d suddenly be unable to play again, so she just closed her eyes and focused on enjoying the experience, rocking back and forth on the couch as she played.
As the song trailed away, she looked over at Blue, and broke into a huge grin.
“Holy shit, Blue,” she whispered. She reached out and grabbed Blue around the neck, sandwiching Belle between their fierce hug. The sound of the strings squashed between them echoed the moment Blue had tackled her at the bar in January. “It worked,” she whispered. She grabbed Blue’s face with both hands and kissed her hard. Then she threw her own head back and her fists in the air and joyfully yelled “It worked!” just as there was a knock at the door.
Blue got up and opened the door to find Liz sitting there in her wheelchair.
“Hey, Jill. Jo! You’re playing again!”
Jill stood aside and motioned for Liz to come in. She rolled up to Jo and said, “I just wanted to check on you. I was pretty freaked out when you disappeared yesterday. I was with Jill most of the evening while she tried to figure out where you went.”
“Sorry Liz, I just… I just needed a little space I wasn’t going to get here.” She looked over at Blue. “But I’ve been set straight. Hopefully I won’t do that again.”
“Sorry about the eavesdropping.” She tipped her head towards the hallway. “I rolled up outside your door while you were playing, and I waited to knock because I didn’t want to interrupt. I’m sorry I couldn’t hear you better though, that sounded really great. I’ve only ever seen you play rock and roll, I didn’t know you were so versatile!”