When we get old, I want you to move into the same nursing home as me, so then when I start forgetting who I am, we can become new friends.
2 years ago
I walked up to my mother’s grave. Gravel crunched underneath my boots as I followed the winding path from where I’d parked my truck.
The grass that had been green, only a month ago, was brown.
The leaves on the trees had gone from a nice, leafy green to brown, yellow, and red explosions of color.
Fall was in full swing.
Not only the weather had changed, though.
My demeanor, for one, had gone through a major overhaul.
The last time I’d been here, I’d been a wreck.
My mother had been my best friend. She’d been my confidant. My savior. My everything.
Then she’d had a heart attack while I was deployed overseas, and died as a result.
My father had died years ago, but words couldn’t explain how much more it hurt to lose my mom.
“Do you see, Nonnie? I wasn’t lying to you. Papa died a year ago,” a woman’s tired voice said from up ahead.
My eyes went from my destination, towards the direction the woman’s voice came from. I only saw their heads over the gravestones, though.
This cemetery was an old one. There were a ton of huge monuments, headstones, catacombs; even above ground crypts. This was the heart and soul of Natchitoches, Louisiana.
“No, child. I don’t understand. He was just with me yesterday. Ollie wouldn’t leave me like this. He just wouldn’t,” a frail elderly woman’s voice cried desolately.
My heart constricted as I listened to the woman weep uncontrollably.
“Oh, Nonnie. I’m so sorry,” the woman replied breathily.
I hung my head and walked to my mother’s grave, trying my hardest to ignore the sound of the crying going on from just across the foot path.
My mother’s grave was covered in flowers from my sisters.
They felt that the area should be beautiful, and I couldn’t disagree with them. My mom deserved the best, which was why I threw nearly two years of a paycheck at the burial plot that would allow her to be buried next to my father. Even if it meant displacing the prior occupant.
I sat down, leaning forward until my arms hung from my upraised knees. My head rested on my forearms, and I tried my hardest to let my brain tune out the pitiful wails of the old woman.
It was really pulling on my non-existent heartstrings.
“Ollie! Ollie! I’m right here. What are you doing way over there?” The old woman exclaimed.
I looked up to see the old woman barreling towards me as fast as her walker, decorated with hot pink tennis balls at the bottom, could carry her.
The woman, who I’d only seen at a cursory glance stood, and started forward.
However, the old woman, Nonnie, who was surprisingly fast and nimble in spite of her age, was gone before the woman had even gotten to her feet.
She flew across the grass, then the gravel, with startlingly graceful maneuvering.
“Nonnie, slow down!” The woman chided.
The younger woman finally caught up to her ‘Nonnie’ and hugged her tightly. “Nonnie, that’s not Papa.”
Nonnie looked crestfallen. “But…but…but where’s my Ollie?”
My guess was that the woman had Alzheimer’s.
“I’m so sorry, sir, my Nonnie doesn’t understand.” The woman finally gave me her eyes.
She was beautiful.
Short brown hair that came to her jaw with the front bangs tucked back behind her ear, she reminded me of one of my little sisters. She wasn’t overtly tall or beautiful, but she was intriguing.
Her black tights and brown suede boots hugged her long, shapely legs.
Her top half was swallowed by a long, flowy shirt that came down to her knees, and barely showed off anything good.
“That’s okay, it isn’t a big deal,” I finally said.
The woman smiled.
“That’s good. Nonnie doesn’t mean to kick up a fuss. Do you?” The woman looked at her Nonnie.
Nonnie looked up. “Rue, what are we doing here?”
The woman, Rue, looked extremely relieved. “Oh, Nonnie. You wanted to see Papa’s grave. Now we’re going to go back home so I can get to work on time tonight. Right?”
“Right dear,” Nonnie said, patting the younger woman’s hand. “Let’s go. I made you late enough.”
The woman gave me a fleeting smile as they walked away, and I was well and truly caught.
* * * * *
1 year later
“I’m not that man,” Cleo said to me, his hand on my face. “I’ll never be that man. I’m sorry, baby.”
Cleo was my best friend. My confidant. The person who I turned to when I needed it.
In all ways but one.
He didn’t do relationships.
I knew he loved me, and I loved him.
However, something held him back. Something always held on to that last tie. That one single piece of him that kept him from taking that final step.
He said it was the fact that he was never here.
I knew better.
It didn’t have anything to do with the fact that he was a PJ, or pararescue jumper, and everything to do with the fact that he lost his father at a young age, and then his mother at a time when he needed her most.
He was jaded to love.
Not because he was betrayed by a woman, but because he was loved too much by one. Which was reciprocated in kind by him. His mom.
The same went for his sisters. They were so tight, that sometimes it was hard to get in.
I was the fourth woman in his life, and he didn’t want to chance loving me and then losing me.
He could tell himself whatever lie made him sleep at night, but I knew better.
It didn’t help that every man on his particular jump team was either divorced or single. They didn’t have a single successful relationship between the six of them.
He didn’t think it was possible, and he was too stubborn to see otherwise.
“Please,” I whispered against his lips. “Please.”
He groaned in defeat, grasping me by the hips with his large hands, and pinning me up against the wall with his huge, muscular body.
Mikhail ‘Cleo’ Caruso was the epitome of perfection. Tall, with hair black as midnight, and eyes the color of charcoal.
He had perfect, long lashes that women only wished they could have, and a perpetual bad attitude.
He was a dick and a half to everyone that came into contact with him…except for me.
I gasped when my shirt was yanked off my body, and then unceremoniously tossed to the floor.
“You want me? You’ve fucking got me,” Cleo snarled.
Then I fucking got him. And oh, did I get him.
* * * * *
I woke the next morning to my body deliciously sore, and my mind a hazy mess from the blissful overload of the night before.
Then my mind came back online when I realized that Cleo was no longer there, and I knew that I’d fucked up.
I knew as soon as I’d slept with him that he’d leave. I just thought I’d be awake to convince him not to go.
There I was sleeping through his exit, and I had only sore muscles to show for it.
I’d gotten to know Cleo through my many visits with my grandmother to the gravesite to visit my Papa. On some of those occasions, her Alzheimer’s wasn’t acting up, but most of them, she couldn’t remember who I was.
I loved that woman with all of my heart, but I knew I couldn’t take care of her anymore. My full time home health nurse gave her two-week resignation yesterday, which meant that I was on my own.
When Nonnie was lucid, I loved having her there, but when she wasn’t, it was a nightmare.
It was hard to see someone you loved with all your heart go through that.
It was even harder to admit that I couldn’t take care of her anymore.
It’d been with Cleo’s help that I’d done as well as I had for so long, but I had a very bad feeling that that support had just jumped out of the proverbial helicopter, and didn’t have plans of returning.
Come on, let’s get high.
—Cleo right before takeoff.
1 year later
“50 year old male. BP 89 over 60. Heart rate 110, oxygen sat 96% on O2 non-rebreather. Impaled by a steel pole through the right side of the abdomen. He’s got lacerations all over his body; pole’s doing a good job of keeping the bleeding under control,” a voice from my past said.
My breath stalled in my throat as I looked up into the eyes of the love of my life.
“Cleo,” I breathed.
His eyes snapped up from the patient to me, flared, and then went flat.
“Coded in the air. Administered…” he continued.
I was listening, but not listening at the same time.
Why was he here? Doing Life Flight? How did he find me?
Then I shook that stupid thought off. He wasn’t here to find me.
He was here because he was bringing a patient in; not here to see me.
That worked better than a bucket of cold water over my head.
My mind snapped back into focus, and I walked carefully next to the gurney Cleo was pushing, while continuing to write and listen.
“Mona, take him to trauma room two. Page Dr. Goldstein. Tell him we’re going to need him,” I instructed the closest nurse.
I was the charge nurse for today, due to our normal one calling in sick. Anyone who came in went through me, and I told them where to go. I had patients of my own, but I was also responsible for a whole lot more.
“Okay,” Mona replied enthusiastically.
Turning to the other nurse at the station, I said, “Jonathan, I’m going to eat my lunch.”
First off, I really was hungry. I’d been at work for a little over eight hours now, and hadn’t stopped once since I got here. In fact, I was also going on hour eight of no bathroom break as well.
Really, though, it was because Cleo was here, and I couldn’t be here while he was here. There was just no way I could do that. Not and function like I needed to.
Not ever, probably.
Even now, a year later, it was still just as raw. Still just as debilitating.
“Hey,” that deep, low voice called out to me. The one that spoke to me in my dreams. “Wait up!”
I froze with my hand on the push handle that led outside.
My head hung, and my heart started to beat a million miles a minute.
I prayed that he’d leave me alone. I didn’t know what he’d have to say, and if it was another ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ or ‘I’m just not made for love,’ I’d fucking flip.
My body started working again all at once, and I started to push through, but a large, tanned arm stopped me in my tracks.
The same heart that I’d previously thought was beating fast took off like a fuckin’ rocket, beating even harder against my chest.
Over and over again, it pounded as the silence stretched between us.
“Rue,” his gruff voice said against the back of my neck.
He inhaled, breathing in the scent of my hair as he used to do.
“Cleo,” I sighed.
I couldn’t help it. I knew it was going to happen.
That’s why I’d chosen to retreat.
I had no defenses when it came to this man.
“How have you been?” He rumbled.
How did I answer that?
I’ve been great. Not. You ruined my life, and I’ve spent a year trying to fix the unfixable.
“Yo, Cleo! You ready to fly?” The pilot’s voice yelled from behind us.
He froze against my back, but didn’t turn around.
“Yes, I’ll be there in a minute.” He said.
“Come have dinner with me tonight,” he demanded.
It was a demand, too.
I wasn’t even sure if the word please was in his vocabulary.
“I’m busy,” I tried.
“Get un-busy,” he ordered. “I’ll pick you up outside once your shift’s over.”
With that, he turned and left.
While my heart was breaking into a million miniscule pieces.
I watched as Cleo walked down the long hallway in his sexy as hell flight suit, acting like nothing had happened.
‘Come have dinner with me tonight,’ he’d said.
As if he’d spoken to me just yesterday, instead of nearly a year ago.
And what a year it’d been.
I’d needed him, and he hadn’t been there.
He’d disappeared, and I’d been left with no one to talk to when I’d needed my best friend.
Sure, I had friends, but they weren’t him.
I knew I’d be going to dinner with him, too.
“Hey,” Mona yelled, making me stop watching Cleo’s exit.
I turned to find Mona standing at the door to the entrance to the ER with a clip board in her hand. “I have one for you.”
My heart sank.
I was an ER nurse.
Had been for nearly ten years now.
However, I’d only been a SANE nurse for five years, and it never got easier, most likely never would.