“Good morning, Ryan,” Julie said, stepping up to him. “I see you’re ready.”
“That’s good, because we’re early. We called your wife earlier to locate her and were informed that she has a pressing engagement
this evening at eight PM central time, one she seemed unwilling to break. Texas is ten hours behind us—that would be ten in
the morning, an hour from now. So we made arrangements for her to be home now.”
“You… but you didn’t tell her anything?”
“No. Just that it was important that you speak with her. As you requested we’ll let you break the news. Your wife hasn’t heard
He’d rehearsed his words a dozen times through the night and had decided that he would start with an explanation of his ordeal
before expressing his new outlook on both her and Bethany. She would dismiss any words of graciousness and love as so much
more surface talk, the kind he offered her when the occasion fit. In order for her to understand that Ryan had changed, really
changed, he would have to give her a glimpse into the pain he’d felt first.
And Bethany… angel…
He hoped she would embrace him the way he wanted her to. The way he needed her to.
“Okay,” he said, stepping past her.
He held back to let her pass and followed her from the ward to the phone room set up outside the hospital command center.
“So command’s okay with it, then?”
“The phone call? Yes.”
“My going home.”
“Oh, right. Based on Dr. Newman’s recommendation, yes. He wants to see you for a follow-up at ten, after your call.”
“When? When can I go home?”
“If he clears you, three days.”
The ball of relief that rolled down his spine should have hardly surprised him, but he wasn’t acclimated to this new version
of himself just yet. His gratitude must have been obvious, because Julie smiled.
“It must be nice.”
“What must be nice?”
“Being so loved. I’m jealous.”
She cocked her eyebrow. “Not of your wife specifically, I didn’t mean it like that. But yes, really. I can tell you love your
wife and daughter very much. It must be nice.”
“It hasn’t always been like this,” was all he could think to say.
“War changes us all, Captain. Just be thankful you’re going home in one piece.”
How perfectly true.
They entered a room with cubicles set up along both walls, roughly half of which were occupied by soldiers, sailors, marines,
and airmen calling home for one reason or another. Julie led him to one of several at the far end, where he would have at
least a modicum of privacy.
“You have half an hour, Captain.” She smiled and turned to leave him.
“Were you the one who spoke to my wife?”
“I was,” she said, turning. “Don’t worry, she’s waiting by the phone.”
“Thank you, Julie.”
She seemed slightly amused. “You’re welcome, Ryan.”
He eased into the metal chair, picked up the black phone receiver, and dialed the country code, the area code, and then the
Austin number. The phone rang six times before going to voice mail. Celine’s chirpy prerecorded voice greeted him.
You’ve reached the home of Celine and Bethany Evans. Call our cells or leave a message. Beeeeeep.
“Hello?” She wasn’t picking up. “Celine?” When no once answered, he told the machine he’d try again and hung up.
Ryan jerked his head around to see Julie glance back as she exited out the far side. She had said home, not cell. To be sure,
he quickly dialed Celine’s cell phone.
Her buoyant message—
call me back if you insist
—reminded him of just how independent Celine had become over the years. Which was fine, except that she’d become so because
she wasn’t able to depend on him.
Frantic now, Ryan stabbed in the home number again. Transposed the last two numbers. Swore and started over.
The day was hot and he was sweating, but neither accounted for the faint ring in his