I pick up my phone again, waking it up and illuminating my own face. I want to find news or entertainment to distract myself, but I realize I might begin a long walk to doom scrolling and I’ve swallowed enough in my own household drama for the current twenty-four hour news cycle.
Instead, I wander to the bathroom and fumble in the medicine cabinet for the large jar of melatonin on the bottom shelf. A gummy tumbles into my palm and I chew on its sweetness, but as I begin to reattach the lid, I decide to eat another. I need a little help tonight, and these should get me through until daylight returns.
Once back in bed, I pull the blankets to my chin and again start piecing what-ifs together. Thankfully the combination of uncertainty and strawberry chewables does enough to put me to sleep.
What I think is my alarm turns out to be an incoming call from an in-state number I don’t recognize. Instinctively and not quite alertly, I presume it is Daniel.
For a moment only silence prevails. “Natalie?”
They are asking me if they have the right number. “I’m sorry, yes?”
“Natalie, it’s Oscar Waterfield.”
Who the hell is Oscar Waterfield?
I pull the phone back from my ear and confirm the number is a Wyoming number.
“Yes. Have you heard from Daniel?”
“He texted me yesterday.”
It’s slightly light out, so I feel confident assuming it is morning and yesterday was the correct answer.
“Nothing since then?”
“I’m sorry, I’ve been tied up with something,” I confess, not to mention I am only half awake. “Hold on, let me see if there are any messages from him.”
I pull the phone away from my ear and navigate to the texting app. I see two from Daniel, but I don’t check the time stamps.
Explosion at hospital. Am okay.
2nd expl LOVE YOU
“Oh my god! There was an explosion?”
Mr. Waterfield remains quiet for too long.
“What’s happening? What do you know?”
I sit up in bed and don’t even wait for him to reply.
“Is he okay?”
“We don’t know much. Just that there were two explosions, but it wasn’t at the job site or at the billet.”
Did he even know where Daniel is?
“Do you know where Daniel is?” I verbalize my concern.
“About an hour and a half ago we received word that there was an explosion, but it wasn’t at our facilities or housing, so we weren’t too worried. About the time of the second explosion, we found out Daniel wasn’t on site.”
Mr. Waterfield pauses for a little too long. “Natalie, we don’t know where he is.”
“He’s at a hospital, but I don’t know which one.”
Suddenly I realize Mr. Waterfield may not have any knowledge of the arrangements regarding Niesha.
“Is he injured? How did he get there?”
“Um, no, he’s been there for a while. Since yesterday afternoon. I mean yesterday afternoon here. I don’t know exactly how long. He wasn’t injured, he just happened to be there for…”
I don’t want to say too much.
“Natalie, there was an explosion at a hospital. Did he say which hospital he was at?”
“No, how many hospitals can there be?”
“We really don’t know much right now, Natalie.”
“Wait…” I go back to the text messages. “Oh, my gawd.”
Explosion at hospital. Am okay.
2nd expl LOVE YOU
“What? What is it?”
“Daniel was at the hospital and he said there was an explosion.”
He wasn’t saying there was an explosion in the city. I think he was saying there was an explosion where he is with Niesha.
“How can we find out what’s going on?”
No telling if Mr. Waterfield knows how to help, but in my semi-conscious state, I don’t know what else to ask.
I realize I am crying and quite possibly talking into the phone, or just talking to the empty room, not necessarily talking to Mr. Waterfield, just talking out loud in my confusion.
“Natalie. Natalie!” Mr. Waterfield yells my name. “Jackie, talk to her.”
A woman’s voice whispers, but I’m already up and walking to the bathroom with the phone against my head. I switch it to speaker phone, setting it on the counter.
“I’m here,” I announce as I’m splashing cold water on my face.
“Oscar is getting on his computer and trying to get more information. Are you okay?”
“I don’t… I have no idea.”
“He’s trying to find out what’s going on, but I want you to answer me. Is there anyone nearby who can come over to your house and stay with you?”
I have no fucking idea. I think it’s Sunday morning.
“I don’t think so.”
Anyone who is awake is at work or is still in bed. I maybe could call Aaron.
I can hear Mr. Waterfield in the background.
“Damn it! I can’t find anything on here.”
I dry my face and sit down on the bench at the foot of our bed. What do I do now?
“Natalie, I think it might be a good idea to call someone local – someone nearby.”
Why? What are they going to do to help?
I hear Mr. Waterfield again. “Jackie, here give me that.”
I set the phone next to me on the bench and stare ahead at Daniel’s shower. I remember the first time I walked into this room with him. The water droplets clung to the glass where he stood naked not ten minutes previous. It felt like just a few months ago, not the years since he brought me to our home.
“Natalie, we’re going to figure this out and, you know, see what we can figure out.”
He was speaking to me, but I was imagining Daniel standing naked in his shower, the way I’d seen him so many times through the open bathroom door. I remember his beautiful body, free from scars, tanned and smooth.
“Natalie? Are you there?”
“Yeah,” I answered, not sure if I spoke out loud or to myself.
“Look, Natalie, we have people we can call. But it’s a weekend and lots of our contacts may not be reachable. But I promise, we are going to get answers about what’s going on.”
My mind ought to be listening, but I can only focus on Daniel and, at the moment, the day I watched him chop wood during our weekend in the mountains. He came back from Iraq uninjured. He stayed alive in the fire fight that killed John. Something, somewhere, some force protected him and kept him alive for me, so I could find him, and have him, and fall in love with him, and not be alone.
I ought to answer. I ought to find out if that protection failed him.
“Yeah, I’m here.”
“I’m going to make some calls. I’m going to make as many calls as I have to find out more information. Okay?”
“Yeah,” I answer, more nodding than actually speaking.
“Yeah.” This time I do speak.
“Promise me this, Natalie: if you hear anything, whether from Daniel or anyone else, you’ll call me back at this number? Okay?”
“Natalie. Tell me what you are going to do if you hear anything.”
“I’ll call you.”
“At what number?”
“Natalie, read the number that’s on your phone to me.”
I mumbled most of the numbers ending in seven two eight two.
“Okay, good. That’s correct. You’ll call me.”
I didn’t take Daniel’s towel off the rack yet after he left last week to be washed. I stand up and walk to the bathroom and inhale any fragrance of him remaining in the towel.
The faint, clean smell of laundry soap and male body wash linger just enough to fill my senses with the aroma of the man who survived death to find me and break me open. I am breaking again.
I slump to the floor and lean my head against the glass walls.
“Oh Daniel,” my body doesn’t convulse or sob, but tears already cloud my vision, mimicking the storm clouds of uncertainty building yesterday and exploding with violent thunder today.
At some point, Mr. Waterfield must have hung up.
NEXT: Wellness Check – Part 60