In the Stillness
Author:Andrea Randall

“Barely knew? Just leave me the fuck alone, Eric! Goddammit! You’re in the lab twenty-four-seven and I’m with them twenty-four-seven. I love the boys, Eric, you know I do, but sometimes . . . Fuck!” I jump out of bed and head for the shower, locking the door behind me.

 

As the steam takes over my tiny retreat, I stare at the last razor left in my bathroom—the one I use to shave my legs. Before I know it, I’m breaking it apart and dragging it slowly across my hip bone. I wince a little at first, until the adrenaline kicks in and gives me its promised high. I have a whole day and night alone with Eric—something I regularly complain we don’t get enough of—and I find myself clamoring for an escape.

 

I should call Dr. Greene, is what I should do—if she even still has a practice in the area. That’s who my parents set me up with when they allowed me to return for my junior/senior year at Mount Holyoke. It should have been my senior year, but that semester spent in intensive therapy in Pennsylvania was necessary by their standards.

 

When Eric came along, my parents were more than supportive. He was the first boyfriend I had since Ryker, and it was long enough after “the incident” that they felt the timing was appropriate. Given that Eric was on the road to his Ph.D. and was not in the military, I’m surprised my mother didn’t plan a wedding the first time she met him. It wouldn’t be long after that, however, that two pink lines would walk me down the aisle.

 

My mind creeps back to yesterday’s visit to the cemetery, and I slide down the shower wall, huddling into myself on the floor.

 

*

 

“We have to report for duty.” Just a month after terrorists screwed with the safety I took for granted, Ryker was telling me he had to go.

 

The previous three weeks had been tense; his jaw was clenched a lot and he always seemed on alert. We’d only had sex a couple of times. Although we were in my dorm room, Lucas was with him—arms crossed, standing in my doorway looking like he’d rather crawl out of his skin than watch our exchange. Lucas didn’t have a girlfriend then, and the three of us had spent a lot of time together. He and I had formed a sibling-like relationship that served us both well; my little brother was eight years younger, and Lucas was an only child.

 

“Both of you?” My pulse quickened as my eyes darted back and forth.

 

Lucas shifted uncomfortably before swallowing. “We’re in the same unit, Nat.” He shrugged and ran his hand over his bronze buzz-cut.

 

I stood and positioned myself between them, but Ryker kept his hand on my arm.

 

“But you guys won’t have to go overseas, right? You’re in the National Guard. Aren’t you supposed to stay here and, like, protect our borders or something?” I was silently cursing myself for not paying more attention to the branches of military and their duties.

 

Ryker stood and took my shoulders. He looked over at Lucas for a second before taking a deep breath and looking back at me. “This is different, Natalie.” Shit, he used my full name. “We won’t really know where we’ll be going for a couple of weeks, but . . .”

 

“But what, Ry?” My shaky voice betrayed the strength I was trying to portray.

 

Bush is going to send them to Afghanistan.

 

His jaw beat against his skin like a bass drum. “We’ll be fine, we’re trained,” he smiled and gave a little laugh, “it’s our job.”

 

I believed him. He was unwavering, confident, sure. In fact, when I looked over my shoulder, Lucas suddenly seemed bored with the whole conversation. That boy was a soldier, through and through. It was like he’d always prepared for this moment while the rest of us plodded happily along in our lives, and he was just now feeling alive. It’s not that Ryker didn’t look like a soldier the way Lucas did; it’s that I didn’t want him to.

 

“So you’ll . . . what,” I swallowed back my tears, “leave next week and . . . that’s it? I won’t see you till you come home from wherever they send you?”

 

Ryker wiped my cheek with his thumb and just nodded.

 

“But for the next week?” I leaned into his hand.

 

He kissed my forehead. “Every day and night for the next week.”

 

*

 

Eric knocks on the bathroom door.

 

“Yeah?” I stand with a shiver, realizing the water has turned cold.

 

“Just checking. You’ve been in there a while.” I can tell he’s resting his forehead on the bathroom door; it’s what he does when he’s emotionally exhausted—rests his head.

 

I need to get my shit together or Eric will call my parents. Today I’ll play nice and give him some attention so he’ll leave me alone for a few days.

 

“I’m fine, Babe, be out in a minute.”

 

I turn off the water, pour peroxide down my hip and over the razor, and mentally prepare for twenty-four hours alone with my husband.

 

“Tosha called your cell. I picked up and she said she’s home from her trip—wants you to call her about getting together for lunch.”

 

Thank God for Tosha.