I’m sick of hearing that question but, yes. Noah Hale turned from looking out through the glass French doors to face his brother. “Just fine.”
“Good.” James stood in the doorway. He raised the box in his arms slightly. “This is the last one. Where do you want it?”
“On the desk.”
“Sure you won’t join us for dinner?” The tall blond man walked into the bedroom.
James set the box down beside Noah’s laptop. “You’re more than welcome.”
“It’s going-” His brother’s cell chimed. “Just a sec.” James pulled out his phone and read the text. “Sorry. Practice ended early, I need to go pick up Mia.”
“I’m good. Go on.”
“I can bring her over, help you get settled.”
“I’ve only a few boxes to unpack. Take her home. I’ll see my sweet niece another day.”
“That’s what you said last time.” Noah could guess the unspoken questions behind the concern in his brother’s voice. Are you withdrawing from the family again? Are you having a crisis? Do I need to call your therapist? “And the time before that.”
After two plus years it still sometimes felt like PTSD was tattooed in bright red letters on his forehead, a warning. Danger. Handle with care. Don’t upset him. Even people who loved and understood him the most, at times, seemed too focused on the diagnosis. “I’m okay little brother.”
“A lot of changes recently.”
Just a few. Quitting his regular job to be a full time author. Moving on short notice after the house he’d rented for years sold. Experiencing writer’s block after easily completing his first six novels. Ending things with Jess. He shrugged. “Yes, but some were for the better.”
James nodded. “Jessica was a piece of work.”
“Did you ever like her?”
“Nope, glad she’s gone.”
“Good to know.” His brother lifted one eyebrow. “I am fine.” Eyes the same shade of green as his own stared at him. Noah sighed. “I’m taking my meds. Seeing my therapist.”
“Being irritable. Antisocial. Not sleeping.”
Night terrors, bro. Medication helped. All the challenges lately, did not. Lack of sleep affected his life in general including how well he handled his PTSD but he was managing.
“Never claimed to be perfect.”
“Don’t expect you to be.”
“I know.” Though sometimes annoying, James was a good brother and his closest friend.
“It’s going to be sunny tomorrow.”
Noah’s first thought was to refuse the not so subtle hint, but his brother was right. He’d been turning down a lot of invitations. “You and the minions want to go for a walk in the woods?”
His brother’s broad grin was his reward for making the effort. “Sure. Lynda has to work but me and the kids will be here at dawn.”
“9, final offer.”
“I’ll take it.” James strode over and gave him a quick hug. “Gotta go.”
Noah moved over to his desk, the only piece of furniture he’d brought into the furnished rental. He opened the box, listening to his brother’s heavy footsteps move through the small set of rooms comprising his half of the old house, a converted duplex. The first thing he found under the cardboard flaps was his planner. A glance through the calendar pages confirmed his next appointment with Mary.
A comment from his last visit whispered through his mind. Changes are a part of life. Don’t expect them not to trouble you, instead trust you have the tools to handle them now.
Trust myself? It was a novel concept and one difficult to embrace. Noah set the planner on the other side of his laptop. He lifted out a number of notebooks filled with ideas and research from the box next, stacking them on the floor. His first novel had developed from attempting to keep a journal, trying to dump some of the thoughts overfilling his mind onto paper.
Action adventure soldier stories, really Noah? Is that wise for someone like you? In contrast to Mary’s ever calm voice, even in his mind, Jess’ tone always carried a bite.
Six months after their break up and her toxic comments still nipped at him. Noah shook his head as he broke down the emptied box then moved on to one he’d left on the bed. His books were woven from experiences during his tour in
stories shared by other soldiers and large parts of his imagination. For some with PTSD the fiction might hold
triggers but, for him personally, writing them provided a much needed outlet.
At least they had.
What if she's right? What if that’s why I’m struggling for every word now?
Noah tucked his last shirt into a drawer then started breaking down the second box. A tiny photograph fell to the hard wood floor. He reached down and picked up the wallet sized picture of his ex, studying her image. Jess stopped criticizing what he wrote after his second book started selling well. Money somehow erased her concerns on that issue. His PTSD, on the other hand, she never had accepted he couldn’t just ‘get over it’.
Maggie’s brother served three tours in
and he’s fine. Good for him. So why did
you end up in therapy after only one? Because I wasn’t fine. You
weren’t injured. Not all wounds are visible. It’s been two years, why aren’t you cured by now? There is no cure
Noah took the photograph and went into the kitchen, throwing it into the garbage. Her eye roll at the end of that conversation had been the beginning of the end for them. It had made him realize two things. He had, in fact, been managing his PTSD quite well by that point but his progress was being made in spite of her instead of with her support. Not that his PTSD should have been her problem, it was his responsibility. But… he deserved better.
Overtired, he was focusing on negative thoughts and the past. Moving on. Noah headed to the refrigerator. It was a pleasant June afternoon. Sipping a beer on the patio sounded good. He opened the door and stilled, staring at the row of plastic bottles on the top shelf.
Peach tea. Diet.
His gaze scanned downward examining the rest of the contents. There was a package of skinless chicken breasts instead of the steak he’d put on the list, red grapes, sliced cantaloupe, a raw vegetable tray and a large sealed plastic container. He grabbed a bottle of tea and the container, shutting the door with his hip. After setting the items on the counter, he pulled out his phone.
THANKS FOR THE GROCERIES MOM.
Her reply to his text came in seconds. :) He shook his head, a bit frustrated but not truly angry. It was her way of expressing love plus a little worry.
Noah grabbed his things and went outside onto a small concrete patio. The backyard was divided into two spaces. A tall, solid wooden fence ran around the border and down the middle, providing each tenant with some privacy. Several tall fir trees provided shade. The grass appeared freshly mowed and a variety of flowering bushes gave the area a welcoming feel.
Two lounge chairs rested in the middle of the patio. Noah headed straight to them, sat down on one and placed the container on the ground next to it. With one hand, he popped off the lid and smiled. Peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips; despite stocking him with ‘healthier’ food choices Mom also made his favorite goody. He grabbed two, shut the lid and stretched out.
The early summer day was warm with a pleasant breeze. Noah relaxed, slowly, watching clouds drift along the otherwise blue sky while enjoying his snack. After a few moments, he set the bottle beside the cookie container and moved his hat over his face. He focused on the rhythm of his breathing, closed his eyes and drifted off.
Suddenly there was screaming, the smell of smoke and moving shadows with no distinct shapes. Sweat drenched him, the sour stink of stress filling his nostrils. Noah wanted to run but couldn’t. This is not real. He struggled to wake up. This is a dream.
Something soft, small and real touched his thigh right below the hem of shorts. Noah focused on it, making it an anchor as he worked to escape the terror. His racing thoughts started slowing. His eyes opened but he still only saw shadows and jumbled light. He felt a moment of panic before remembering his hat covered his eyes.
“Excuse me.” A soft female voice startled him. His thoughts started speeding up again as he tried to understand what he was hearing. “I wondered if you’ve seen my dog?”
Dog? “No.” He tried to answer forcefully but his voice sounded light, almost distracted.
“Okay, thank you. If you happen-”
“Can’t you see…?” This time Noah, desperate to get her to leave him alone, managed a harsh, angry tone. “I’m trying to sleep.”
“Well… Sorry to disturb you.” Her voice faded more with each word, giving him the impression she was moving away.
Relief filled him. Noah concentrated on the touch on his thigh and breathing. His vision cleared. What he could see around the edges of his hat started making sense when he realized at some point he’d turned on his side. A moment passed, then two.
Noah slowly reached up and moved his hat. His hand shook. He hadn’t had a night terror in months. A day terror really; the sun’s out. As the random thought went through his mind, movement caught his attention. He looked down. A small tri-colored dog stared at him, standing with its hind legs on the concrete, one front paw on the lounger and
Reality crashed over Noah. The voice hadn’t been part of his nightmare, it belonged to his neighbor. Hell. He tried to recall what he knew of her. Amy… no Amanda… Amanda Bell, a schoolteacher he thought the landlord said. The memory of his nasty tone shamed him.
I should go apologize to the old gal.
“Gertie, I presume?” Noah addressed the dog. Dark brown eyes held his gaze calmly. Her tail wagged but otherwise she didn’t move. Still feeling shaky, he didn’t want to move yet. “You should go home.”
Gertie tilted her head to one side as though considering his words. Instead of running off then as he expected, the little dog climbed up onto the sliver of chair space he didn’t occupy, stretching out beside him. After a terror his nerves were hyper sensitive and the last thing he wanted was physical contact.
“Hey, get down.”
Her response to his grumpy tone was to rest the side of her head on his chest and continue to look at him. With effort Noah moved his hand, intending to push her away. His fingers made contact with her soft fur and somehow he ended up petting her a little, his fingertips moving in small circles on her side. To his surprise, he found her presence calming. He wasn’t sure how long they stayed that way, several minutes at least.
But by the time Noah felt ready to move it dawned on him the neighbor hadn’t called for her pet for a while. He needed to return the dog. She was probably worried sick. He sat up and Gertie adjusted her position, gracefully moving onto his lap as though she did so all the time.
“Little girl, you need to go home.”
Gertie still didn’t leave him. She got up, moving so her back feet stayed on his lap but her front paws rested on his chest. The dog studied him a moment then gave his chin, covered by a week long beard, a single lick.
Gertie wagged her tail. Though he’d never particularly cared for small dogs, this one was charming, at least for a short time. Noah needed piece and quiet. Obviously, he needed to work on getting proper sleep, writing his book and reassuring his family that he was fine. He didn’t have time to mess around with a dog. Gently but firmly, he picked her up and set her on the patio as he shifted, preparing to stand up. She sat right by his feet, pretty as you please, waiting.
Noah couldn’t help but smile. He reached down and pulled out a cookie, wanting to give her a treat. Since he’d heard chocolate wasn’t good for dogs, he carefully broke off a piece without chips, hoping she’d like peanut butter. She woofed it down in a single bite then, one little piece at a time, they finished the snack together.
“Okay little girl, it’s time for you to go.”
Her ears moved, showing him she was paying attention. Noah stood then reached down and scooped her up, cradling her against his chest. Walking around the lounge, he headed for the fence. It was an open expanse from where he’d been napping. He glanced back. With him on his side, the dog had been in the only spot where the teacher wouldn’t have seen her if she’d looked.
Had Gertie escaped her yard to comfort him? Noah chided himself for the fanciful thought. The dog probably smelled his cookies. Putting her paw on him, staying until the terror passed… Coincidence. Had to be.
The sound of a door opening on the other side of the fence carried to him. Gertie’s ears perked up when his neighbor called out her name again but she didn’t whine, bark or try to get down. Spotting a large rock near a section of fence Noah walked over, stepped up on it to look over the top.
Standing in the shade of a large oak with her back to him, his neighbor was several yards away. On her feet were lime green flip flops, bright even in the shadows. His gaze idly wandered up slender legs then over tan hiking shorts. Her multicolored tie-dye t-shirt drew his attention upward until he noticed her dark single braid. Hmm, maybe she’s not that old.
“Excuse me,” he called out over the fence. “I found your dog.” Amanda Bell turned in his direction, stepping out into the fading sunlight and stole all thoughts but one.
Can't You See?
Part 2 by Elsa Winckler
Part 2 by Elsa Winckler