Finally Home by Katelyn Steyer

[This story stands alone but is a continuation of a story written last session. Read the 1st installment here.]

The navy double-doors with their dull chrome handles flew open, smacking the muted white walls. A draft of air hit the paramedics faces, warm with a tincture of disinfectant. The gurney wheels screeched in protest as they rolled along the highly polished linoleum floors. Thundering vibrations filled the bleached hall as they raced to the nearest room. A young woman laid on the stretcher, her auburn hair twisted messily around her pale face. Anguish stretched across her features as she gazed up at the cream ceiling with hazy vision. Her head pounded as she sought to comprehend the conversations from the people above her.

“What do we have here?” a nurse asked as she helped push the stretcher down the hall.

“Ava Collins, 22, car crash.”

“Okay; someone call in Dr. Hudson and a trauma team.”

“Ava. How are we doing?”

“It hurts,” she gasped out.

“Where does it hurt?”

Nothing but an inaudible groan escaped from her lips.

“What’s that, I didn’t hear you?”

“I n-need Aaron,” her feeble voice whispered. She gasped as her lungs began to burn, craving for an increased level of oxygen to extinguish the pain. Her eyes found the polystyrene squares laid in a grid-like frame on the ceiling. The blinding lights were soon too bright compared to the darkening gloom on the inside of her eyelids, which seemed to promise a lapse from the pain.

***

The soldiers strode forward, their shoulders heaving from the heavy loads resting upon them. Darkness stretched ahead as long as the road they had traveled in the daylight hours, now charcoal-hued and cold. The birds were silenced, the only serenade being the perpetual rumble from the tanks. The road crumbled to dark and dusty fragments as they passed through an abandoned town. The streets once thronged with life stood empty. Gone were the food vendors and the women in their colorful clothes selling handcrafted goods from carts and baskets. Gone were the children who played amidst the crowds with their hoaxes and laughter. Gone were the shops with their displays of fine apparel or delicacies. Leaving a skeleton of a town, stripped of its flesh long ago by the brutality of war.

The once smooth and unblemished walls were now riddled with bullet holes. Behind the brick and mortar of the forgotten shells of homes, the runaways hid in fear. The soldiers trudged on as the morning sky came alive. Burning oranges and pinks blurred together in a silver mist to create a vibrant scene. The sun seemed to spit yellow venom on the tenebrific land where an irritable film eternally hung. Even when the world was drowning in grief and hardship, the sky was filled with lively colors. This was the one thing that had kept Aarons hopes up- if the sky remained vivid and powerful, then so could he.

As they neared the edge of town, camp came into view. Each soldier sighed in relief when he reached the barracks. Aaron shuffled over to his cot, unfastened his uniform, and sat on the edge of the stiff mattress. Slowly he reached under his pillow and grasped the edge of a photograph. He ran his finger over the glossy surface, admiring the beautiful girl standing next to him in the picture. Memories came crashing into his mind. Its lustrous surface was a time machine. One glance and he was back in his hometown with Ava in his arms. His life stretched out before him, all the decisions that lay between his present self and his past were unmapped. Anything was possible.

Aaron collapsed against the firm bed exhausted from days of fighting. He was asleep nearly the second his head hit the pillow, but not before turning the photograph around to add another line to the back, counting down the days till Ava would be back in his arms.

***

“Her heart’s gone into shock. We’re losing her,” the nurse exclaimed as they lifted Ava off the stretcher on to the

“Get the paddles,” Dr. Hudson said as they worked to revive her.

“She’s flatlining, doctor.”

“Charge to a hundred joules.”

“Charging one hundred.”

“Clear?”

“We’re clear.”

Ava convulsed as the electric charge surged through her body.

“No response.”

“Charge to two hundred.”

“Charging; it’s ready.”

“Clear.”

The air remained quiet until the steady beat of Ava’s newly returning pulse filled the hospital room. As she lay there, her mind drifted back to a memory forever burned in her mind.

The monotonous ring of the bell filled the diner as she walked through the door. Ava glanced around the room searching for his face. She found him tucked in a corner booth awaiting her arrival. As soon as she joined him her mind fled to the thoughts she was having earlier. Should she tell him what she was going through? No, he wouldn’t understand, no one would understand. She had to deal with this on her own.

“We need to take a break Aaron,” her hollow voice spoke into the chilled air of the diner. 

His eyes stared into hers, a desperate plea of understanding on his lips “I know you’re upset about your mother Ava, but please, don’t do this,” he reached across the table to grab her hands “Don’t throw us away.”

“I just need some time to figure things out.” 

“You shouldn’t be going through this alone.” 

“I am alone. No one wants me.” 

“Don’t say that.” 

“Why not? It’s true. My Dad left me when I was five. We were struggling, but he was too afraid to take on the responsibilities that came with a family. When he left my Mom stepped up and raised me on her own. For as long as I can remember it’s been Mom and me, ready to take on the world. But now she’s gone too, and I’m left here, all alone. Because I drive everyone I love away from me.”

“Ava, please, let me help you,” Aaron said as he tilted her chin up so she was staring into his watering eyes. 

“I’m sorry Aaron,” she gently placed his hand back on the table and stood up from the booth “I just can’t bear the thought of me driving you away too.” 

Her eyes clouded with tears as she walked out of the diner a war waging inside of her between regret and grief.

***

Aaron marched stiffly in his dust-covered uniform. In those threads that marked him out as a warrior, a protector, a defender, he was hardly recognizable as the boy he was only two summers ago. His shoulders were no longer those of a youth but of a man. His face remained grim against the harsh wind. The only time he let down his stoic facade was when a comrade was wounded, then he was a nurse and a priest all rolled into one, an expert at first aid and a gentle soul to hear their last words.

The steady, heavy-spirited drumroll of the soldier’s march filled the air. Rumbling into the bones of the ground, pressing each bootheel into the cold dirt. Each pace drowned out every wandering thought with its unflinching force. Even before the ominous certainty of impending suffering, it did not yield. It was the persistent single-mindedness of iron will, yet at the same moment the hollow echo of many thousands of men across centuries who died long before it was their time.

Gunshots cracked into the air as loud as thunder, without the raw power of a storm. Each one wasn’t simply loud, they crackled through the air and echoed around the hills, magnifying the feeling of their vulnerability. No-one wasted bullets. There was no shooting in the air or wild shots in the dark. Each violent boom was a death as they flew out of the chamber and into the air with great eloquence.

A shot tore through the crisp air, hitting its target with extreme precision. It pierced his skin gathering flesh and tissue as every cell in his body reeled in shock, causing him to fall backward. His eyesight greyed as he struggled on the ground. As his vision blurred he saw her face, the bright auburn strands of hair outlining her delicate frame. Her calming voice filled his ringing ears as Aaron faded off into the darkness.

***

The steady beep of the heart monitor filled the otherwise silent room. Ava’s pale face laid across the white sheets. Her auburn hair the only vibrant color in the dull hospital room. The door sat propped open, allowing nurses and caregivers who walked by to glance into the room as their shoes squeaked along the pristine tiles.

Dr. Hudson strolled into the room glancing down at the clipboard in hand “How are her vitals, has there been any changes?”

“No change doctor, she still hasn’t woken up,” the nurse at Ava’s bedside replied. “Have we received word back from her husband?”

“They’ve just touched base with the head of his squadron, he should be notified of Ava’s condition shortly. All that is left to do now is wait.”

***

“You’re all set Collins,” the doctor said as he finished wrapping up Aaron’s shoulder. “Make sure to take it easy the next couple of days or those stitches in your shoulder with rip.”

“Thank you, sir,” Aaron replied as he stood up leaving the medical tent and heading off to the barracks.

“Collins!” yelled a vigorous voice.

Aaron turned around and saw a commander rushing through the open field gripping a phone in his hand.

“A nurse just called from your wife’s phone, she’s been in an accident, we need to get you home as soon as possible.”

***

Aaron sat at her bedside his hands wrapped around her delicate fingers. His strong body trembled with fear as he stared at her drained face. Tears streamed down his cheeks as he glanced at the ground. His mind drifted back to the night he almost lost her.

He remembered how nervous he was as he sat in the booth at the local diner, waiting for her to arrive. They had been dating for three years and he knew they were ready for the next step. His hand drifted to the velvet box resting in his pocket as the bell rung signaling a new costumer. Her auburn hair glowed under the shadowy neon lights aligning the inside of the diner. He remembered how broken her eyes were when she told him they needed a break. And how his heart shattered when she walked out the doors with tear stained eyes. He remembered the gutwrenching feeling as he pulled into her driveway to find her on the roof. How she stood on the ledge broken and alone, one step away from death. He remembered how she stared at him when he got down on one knee, how her eyes seemed to fill with life once again. He had saved her with three little words: I love you.

More tears followed as he sat at her side. His hands clung on to the little amount of life left inside of her as he whispered. “Ava, I love you, I will always love you.”

As he sat in the dull hospital room with his hand wrapped around hers he felt her fingertips twitch. A shallow breath erupted into the chilled air of the hospital room. Aaron looked up from the stainless white floor to find her hazel eyes staring back at him.

“I love you too,” her voice answered into the air as tears ran down her face. Aarons’ heart swelled as he stared into her eyes, those eyes he longed to see after so many months away from home. The smile across her face brightened the whole room. Her cracked voice was music to his ears, a symphony of hope for a better tomorrow. And the second her lips touched his he knew he was finally home.

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