by Michelle Fronheiser
The sun glinted off the waxy green leaves of the Magnolia tree as the wind lifted the light scent and wafted it into the air. Eve sat on the bench mixing memories with present day. Emmy, a sable & white Shetland Sheep Dog, with a tad of blue merle in her—hence her blue eyes—trotted over and dropped a magnolia flower at her feet.
Now does that come with training, or is it just her way of saying she cares? “Eve glanced over to where the male voice drifted from. He was six feet or more, had wicked gray eyes, black hair, short on the sides and a little longer on top, and chiseled features that reminded her of a younger Hugh Jackman. Actually, his haircut reminded her of a military man.
He bent down, picked up the white flower, dusted off the debris, and offered it to her. “From your dog and me.”
“Thank you, but who might you be?” She said. Did she detect a slight quiver in her voice? As she reached out to accept the beautiful flower. Before she took the magnolia, her fingers rubbed her palm and the dampness surprised her. She wasn’t nervous, not really.
“No one important,” he said as he looked off into the distance with a sad and almost despondent gaze.
Her heart ached at the pain in his eyes. Eve didn’t give up. “I’m sorry, I always insist on knowing who my flowers come from, I know Emmy’s name, now it’s your turn.” She paused to give him a chance to answer, and when he didn’t, she added, “Were you in the military?”
He didn’t say anything for several seconds, then turned and said, “I’m just a good Samaritan.” After that he strolled off.
Her heart hitched as she watched him in silhouette stroll away. His shoulders were slumped, his head hanging low. His attitude perplexed Eve. He was really downhearted—she wondered if she should go after him. Having been there when she lost her husband in a Seal action, that was still top secret two-years later, she knew how difficult the pain could be. He needed someone to help him. He needed a friend. Eve wasn’t going to let this go.
Eve and Emmy strolled into the house. Within minutes, her son, Brad called out, “Mom, I need you upstairs.”
Brad, her pride and joy, sustained her after she lost Joseph. She stood in the doorway to her son’s room, and the recruitment poster reminded her of the man she met in the park. What could she do to help him? Brad was trying to get her attention.
“Earth to mom. Earth to mom.”
“Sorry, Brad. I zoned out a moment. What is it you need?”
Brad inhaled sharply, then started rambling a mile a minute. “Okay, first you have to promise not to get mad at me. I’m just trying to help. You’re not happy, and I thought a man might make you happy. And I think …
“Bradley, what have you done?”
“Hey, don’t freak. Chill. I’ve just been emailing Josh. We’ve been chatting. He seems real nice. Making my move, I suggested that you and he meet in the park in the next couple of days.”
“Bradley. You didn’t. We don’t even know this man. You never agree to meet people you meet online? How many times have I told you this?!”
“You’re freaking. Chill. I’m not going to meet him. You are.”
“Like that makes it all right,” Eve said shaking her head.
“Mom, you’re not letting me tell you the problem.”
“This isn’t the problem? What on Earth could be worse than this?”
“His email back to me. Here, I printed it out.”
Eve picked up the piece of paper and sat on the edge of Brad’s soccer decorated bedspread. She began to read:
As much as I am sure your mom is really nice I won’t be able to meet her. I probably won’t be around much longer, although I enjoyed our recent emails. You see, Brad, my wife was with me in Iraq. She was a military combat medic. I was supposed to protect her—and I failed. She died in Iraq when a suicide bomber got her. I wasn’t with her that day—but I was supposed to be. I should have died, too. I have to change that—I have to correct that mistake. — Josh
“Brad, where does Josh live? Who is he? We have to find him?”
“Okay, mom, I can only answer one question at a time. Chill.”
“Don’t know.” I only know his email address—and trust me it was no help. I already tried to find him that way.
Then it hit her—Josh was the man from the park.
Eve went back to the park. She had been searching for nearly an hour when she heard a voice in some bushes off to the left. She barged through them. She stared at the tall, six footish gentlemen and he jumped to his feet. Eve noticed he held a gun in his right hand.
She whispered, in a reassuring voice, “Are you Josh?”
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m here to rescue you. Isn’t that why you sent my son the email? You needed someone to rescue you—to let you know it’s not your fault.”
He slumped back to the grassy ground. “But it is my fault. I should have been there.”
“Why? So you could have died with her? Do you really think she would have wanted that Josh?”
His penetrating gray eyes met her brown ones, then dropped to the gun that he fiddled with as he said, “You don’t know what its like.”
“But I do. My husband died in a Seal activity that is still classified top secret. So I don’t know how he died, if he died alone, if he called my name. To top it off, I missed his last call to me.”
His gaze returned to hers. He stared for minutes as if he could see right into her soul. It was an odd awareness—Eve suddenly sensed she was complete again, like she found what she needed after losing Joe. She brought a finger tip up to the crease of Josh’s left eye and gently removed the tear that rested there. Then she traced it down the edge of his cheek.
“Let me help you through this, Josh. You don’t have to go through the pain alone.” Eve’s heart pounded. The answer meant the world to her. She just met him, yet, it was as if they had known each other forever. She didn’t know how that could be, all she knew is it wasn’t up to her to question destiny.
Josh lifted his right hand to her chin, then tilted her head up so her gaze was more in line with his. Eve realized for the first time that he was no longer holding the gun.
“I’ve watched you for weeks. You and … Emmy?”
Eve nodded, a thrill shivered up her spine excited that he had been watching her.
“You’re the single reason I didn’t end my life when I first came back from Iraq. There was something that made me feel at peace when I looked after you and Emmy in the park—especially you. I’m not nuts—although my actions tonight might say otherwise—but it was as if we’d met before, yet I couldn’t recall where or when. “
“I don’t think you’re nuts, just in pain.”
Josh leaned his head toward Eve, and she met him halfway. There foreheads touched and they stayed like that for a longtime. Then, Josh picked up the gun and together they stood. They walked hand-in-hand to the edge of the lake.
Josh held out the gun. “I won’t be needing this anymore.” With that said, Josh heaved the gun into the depths of the lake.
If you, or someone you know, are having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
Veterans and their loved ones can also call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Support for deaf and hard of hearing individuals is available.
In some instances, callers may experience difficulty connecting with the Veterans Crisis Line. If you have trouble reaching the call line, please click here to connect to chat, or text 838255 for immediate support.