Aaron and Mrs. Waterfield chat with each other as I pull my bags out of the back seat of the truck and transfer them to her luxury automobile. Aaron might have offered to help, and I thought he might when we pulled up, but since they are on my side of his truck and he’s introducing himself, it doesn’t kill me to manage them on my own. Besides, I’m just going through the motions of life at this point and giving myself a task just gets me one step closer to whatever happens next – hopefully getting to Daniel.
I might be able to eavesdrop on their discussion, but in the larger scope of this experience I am living, I don’t care. If they have news for me, they would talk to me, not with each other. I do hear her mention she’s already gassed up at the station where we meet, so once I close the trunk she popped for me, I want to leave.
“Hey, before you go,” Aaron calls across the hood of the car towards me, “Jackie’s going to keep me in the loop, so don’t worry about checking in.”
He walks around the front of the car and stops with the open car door separating us.
“And don’t sweat work. We’ll figure that out later. Just do whatever you need to do.”
He squeezes my shoulder as if he’s an older brother. At the moment, he’s an obstacle to getting underway.
I ought to be more appreciative of his coordinating this exchange, but my best efforts to be civil are drenched in worry and uncertainty. I can’t manage much more than a weak, “Thanks.”
His words stay with me as we get back onto the interstate for the next leg of whatever the journey might become. I think about what Aaron said moments earlier, and my brain processes the alternatives. Once I know Daniel is safe, will I just turn around and go back to work as if nothing has happened? And if Daniel isn’t okay, then what? Do I eventually go back to work and go through the motions of giving a damn about anything if he’s dead?
The thought pushes one button too many in my mind and I start crying loud enough to be obvious.
“Natalie, do you need anything?”
‘Well, yes, I need my husband to be okay,’ my brain screams to itself. I don’t ignore her question, but until I can blow my nose so the salty snot doesn’t reach my mouth, I am occupied digging through my purse for tissue.
Jackie hands me a napkin, which I take just to protect my lip from a near sloppy mess. I clean up the goop, empty my nose, accept another paper offering, and wipe my eyes, before I can even control myself enough to answer the initial question.
“Apparently, yes, I needed those napkins. Thank you.”
“You are welcome. I always have extras handy in the car. I probably also have spare straws in my glove box, too.”
Yet another reason why I like Mrs. Waterfield. She reminds me of a more refined version of me – an extremely refined version of me.
It takes a solid ten miles of driving before my eyes and nose are clear enough to attempt any conversation. I assume she doesn’t know anything, but I decide to ask. Sometimes people omit bits and details and I want any tiny scraps of information about my husband so I can piece together my own response.
“Have you heard anything more?”
I like to believe if she did, she would already have told me, but in the four hours we will spend together, this lame conversation comprises all I can muster.
“Oscar called me just after I got past Douglas, and after we talked he transferred me to your friend, Aaron.”
“Aaron is my boss.”
That blurts out of my mouth too quickly. It’s not that I wouldn’t consider him my friend in the big scheme of categorizing people in my life, but perhaps I want Jackie to understand who he is to me, or rather, I to him.
“Well, he seems extremely concerned about you and if he’s your boss then you are pretty lucky to work for someone like him.”
Daniel is pretty lucky to work for her husband, too, and I want to tell her that, but I expect saying his name out loud will trigger a new round of crying that I just managed to get under control.
“Anyway, Oscar says if we don’t know anything by the time we get to Cheyenne, you can stay with us until we know more.”
“That is incredibly generous of you,” I respond, wanting to still tell her how lucky Daniel is to work with her husband. Of course, assuming he does indeed still work for him, which I don’t want to consider the alternative.
“I don’t want to be a bother…”
“Are you kidding?” Her urgent reply startles me. “Of all the unknowns in your life at this moment, you don’t need to be concerned about any details besides getting you and Daniel back together.”
I appreciate her tone, implying with certainty that we will be reunited. I take one of those breaths Aaron kept forcing on me and I recognize deep inside me that I desperately want to convince myself with a similar tone, but I cannot find it within me.
Again I manage to squeak out a brief thanks of appreciation much like I offered Aaron, and again it feels insincere and empty. Not knowing anything more keeps allowing my mind to fill in its own gaps where concrete facts might be more grounding. I pull out my phone and decide to find out any information available. The unreliable signal delays the loading of each click, so in addition to being desperate for information, I am impatient and irritable with modern technology.
When a news page finally loads, I scroll furiously to find international news. When I give up with one site, I move to another, surprised that even I am this far ahead of the news cycle. I try a non-American news site and stumble upon slightly better results.
“Dozen dead in Afghan explosion,” the headline reads, declaring casualties exceeding one hundred within the lead paragraph. I fast forward through the content hoping for photos, as if a small image on my phone will provide me more information about one specific victim, or casualty, or survivor. Equally filled with advertisements as well as useful images, I return to the top of the article reading for details that may provide more information. The content, factual as it reads, feels incomplete and grim.
“…mostly civilian casualties impacted by first explosion and emergency crews, responding to the scene, among those injured in a second, more powerful blast.”
I go back to Daniel’s texts.
Explosion at hospital. Am okay.
2nd expl LOVE YOU
He did say after the first explosion he was alright, and clearly he was alive after the second one, which suddenly fills me with a hope, whether real or desired.
NEXT: Breaking News – Part 65