Without any regard for the passage of time, I clutch the towel. Other than the sun lightening the room as it rises higher, gradually clarifying the emptiness of the space, the ever-increasing illumination contrasts the brightness of the morning against the truths I face.
I would like to think if my phone rings or a text chimes I would rise and check it, but I can’t be certain those sounds didn’t alert me to any updates from the outside world. The only voice I want to hear is Daniel’s.
At some point, I get to my feet and make my way back to the bed, planning to replace the towel with the pillow that supported me during the nights of his absence. I stop on my way to the bed to grab the phone.
Nothing. No Daniel.
I sit on the edge of the bed, preparing to roll onto my side and just accept the emptiness of my bed, my past, my room, my life, when a pounding breaks the vastness of my wallowing.
It doesn’t relent as I make my way down the stairs, past the fireplace, through the main room, and up the staircase, past the garage to the front door. No one ever enters here, myself included.
I glance out the window next to the entrance, wary of who could be this far down a private road, ferociously thumping at the door on what is likely a slow Sunday morning for the rest of Wyoming. My eyes still blurry, I glance downward and recognize familiar boots. It’s Aaron. I unlock and unlatch the door.
“Hey,” a greeting unlike me is all I muster, especially given that I never called him despite Jackie’s request. I stop, confirm that I did not, and then block the door as if his entry depends on what he replies.
“Let me in.”
I leave him to close the door, which he does, and near the top step of the long descent into the great room, he catches up to me. Before I take my first downward step, he grabs my left elbow and right shoulder. I wouldn’t swear to it, but I may have just swayed forward, and he may have just saved me from a horrific fall.
He doesn’t say anything, just navigates me to the couch, then heads to the kitchen for a glass of water. He sets it next to me and sits down unusually close.
“What do you know?”
The distinction between what I know now, versus what I knew yesterday, compared to what I wish I now knew swirls in a mass of unanswered explanations. Ultimately, I don’t know what to tell him.
“Nothing.” My face probably tells him I am lying. I don’t care. “What do you know?”
“I know the ranger called me this morning.”
He knows more than me.
“Because the district ranger called him this morning.”
Of all the uncertainty hurled at me in the past day, I think about whether or not I should be able to fill in blanks in this conversation, but no. It’s all blanks to me.
“You’re wondering why the regional ranger called him this morning.”
I nod once or twice trying to figure out why the district ranger called. In my entire duration here, outside of a regularly scheduled meeting, he only calls if the forest is on fire. It’s winter. The forest is quiet. It must have something to do with something, but I cannot think through the logic.
“Well, the governor called the district ranger.”
The governor. Hmm, the governor.
“Of Wyoming?” I presume this, but I’m not certain of really anything anymore.
“Yeah. That governor.”
No dots are connecting.
Aaron reaches across me and grabs the glass of water and literally wraps my fingers around it. I drink it because that just makes sense in the moment. I’m not certain of that either.
“So, a guy named Waterhouse called the governor this morning.”
“Sure,” Aaron replies, not really caring that I finally added up two pieces of information.
“This guy Waterfield asked the governor to get in touch with someone from the Forest Service to do a wellness check on one of our employees up here.”
Aaron touches the bottom of the glass. I drink.
“Do you know who that employee is?”
I nod slowly like I did previously.
“So, what do you know?” He repeats the question, as if the answer materialized in these few moments.
I drink again.
What do I know? I force myself to focus on that call this morning and try to collect the random facts as I can remember them. I do know a little, and I expect Aaron knows just as much.
“Daniel texted me during the night. There were two explosions.”
Aaron is sitting at an angle, but not relaxed the way he usually sits.
“Mr. Waterfield said Daniel might be missing.” I wonder what Aaron already knows besides this fact.
“Do you know anything?” I mumble.
“Maybe.” I look up over the rim of the glass waiting to drink until he answers.
“I know the governor is making calls.”
“The governor? Is calling you?” I cannot imagine the governor is even out of bed.
“No, he didn’t call me.”
“If he calls me, I don’t know anything.”
“No, Nat. He’s probably calling connections in Washington, like maybe someone at DOD or the State Department.”
Aaron’s never called me anything other than McClure.
“Where’s your phone?”
I look around me. I don’t see it.
“Do you mind if I go look for it?”
He looks around at the staircases framing the fireplace.
“Yeah, I don’t know where to look. Come on.”
He takes the glass from my hand, sets it on the table, and takes me by both hands. He puts his hand near the edge of my waist – a first, but in this moment, I don’t care – and I can feel him pushing me forward slightly. I walk towards the bedroom as if he is guiding me there. I don’t think he knows where we are going. I’m not entirely sure where we are going.
“You’ve never been here, have you?”
Wow, I finally manage to think ever-so-slightly broader. I think he’s been here, but I am not certain.
When we reach the bedroom door, he stops and lets me enter alone. Now that I think about it, he’s being uncommonly polite and protective.
“Nothing,” I tell him when I find my phone and look at the screen. “Why are you here?”
“Well, the governor sent me.”
When I reach the door, he again holds my arm in a way that feels more like he is keeping me from falling over.
“Yeah, but no. Why would the governor call you? What do you know?”
He doesn’t answer until he gets me back to the couch. He doesn’t bother with the water.
“I know pretty much what’s on the news this morning.”
I haven’t looked at the news. I don’t want any news, not since I found out my father is my uncle and my mother is a slut. Probably not the news he meant.
“There were two explosions in Afghanistan this morning. Both at a hospital, the second one about twenty or thirty minutes after the first one.”
I can see him staring at me, like he’s watching for a reaction.
“So, you do know something.” I state it as fact. I’m not asking any more.
I presume this means he knows a little more than he’s already mentioned. I wait.
“Initial estimates are two dozen killed, more than fifty injured.”
Oh, dear gawd. Daniel. Please, please, please do not let my Daniel be dead. I’ve never cried at work, even during the search and rescue, if anyone is around to see me. Now, I couldn’t not cry.
He answers immediately. “We don’t know.”
He puts his arm on the back of my shoulder and, as he probably has been expecting since he walked in the door, I fall forward into him.
NEXT: Wellness Check – Part 61