The Word of Jeb — Chapter 04. Aftermath §

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Chapter IV
Aftermath

In dreams truth can be found

 

Claudia, “You sure Bettina can’t come with us?”

Darren, “Not until next week.”

“Does she know what this trip means? How important the closure is to you? It is the year anniversary since the accident.”

“I told her the trials competition was more important. She has been working for so long to reach the state level. It is her dream. Now, everything has come together. If she does well, then it is the nationals next.”

“Still…”

“She would give it up if I asked, but I couldn’t do that. It would always remain between us: what could have been?”

“Next week then?”

“Yes. Claudia, I am totally fine with that. Can you be as well, please? There will be the three of you there with me,” he said, holding her tight. Each felt the other’s heart beat, and the singing of enveloped flesh. Desire deepened between them.

Darren whispered, “What more could I ask?”

Words were no longer necessary as the moment unfolded. Each spiraled, chasing the other, joined at the movement’s center. A singleness of pulses in alignment built upon breath. Movement blurred. At exhaustion, entered the annihilation of self. The result commingling was overwhelming.

 

They unwrapped themselves and fell back sweating against the pillows.

Claudia, “Jillian is back tomorrow. We will travel together. After Hans has dropped his load off at the ferry port, he will join us there.”

“I am glad for our family. You bring me peace.”

“The rest of today until tomorrow morning is our time—me and you.”

He brushed at the wetness upon her forehead, pushing back at the hair. “Dear Claudia.”

“You know us now, Jillian and I.”

“Sis knows me.”

“That is true. We enjoy your peacefulness. There are talents of note, as well. Thought I might mention that, just so there is no misunderstanding.”

“Look at the state of us and the state of our bed. We are far from misunderstanding each other.”

“Come here. Tell me more about that.”

 

 

The competition went well. Jack grumbled, but made it through the dressage. In all three disciplines they scored excellent. The Nationals would be offered. Her reply had been practiced casual: that she would think about it. The organizers would learn of her answer in due time. But first, there was a reunion to attend. That was the priority.

Sabé drove them back to the barn. An ecstatic Jack was reestablished with his horse buddies. They galloped across the pasture playing and gossiping about his adventure. Joel and Judy had been by, assuring they would remain dutiful horse sitters; all would be taken care of in her absence. The chore calendar and veterinary number was tacked to the inside of the feed room door. The farrier would be by tomorrow.

Sabé scolded, “Not to fret. Off with you now. Darren and crew are waiting.”

 

The drive went quick. The ferry crossing had been spent in her cabin, recouping sleep mostly; there was a lot to catch up on. Muscles needed to mend. A few bruises were in want to fade. Offloading at the port, the remainder of the drive to the cape was on fast-forward, blurring by until the last curve brought the beach house into view. Parking the car in the driveway and grabbing her bag, she ran up the stairs.

They were at the railing, three of them. In a lounge chair, passed out in the sun and turning lobster red, was Hans.

“Darren! Sis! Hans! I placed! I am in!!”

She danced over, joining with them in a group hug.

“I wasn’t sleeping,” Hans said, feebly. “Just detoxing.”

“He was up late last night,” Jillian explained. “Claudia’s twins were restless.”

Bettina looked at Claudia, who said, “Why is it always my twins?”

“Because mine are quiet, perfect little angels.”

All of them, but for Jillian, laughed and said together, “Not!”

Jillian echoed, “OK, OK,” and laughed, “Not!”

Claudia, “But what about you, our dear Bettina? Did you decide?”

“I did!”

Darren and Hans looked at each other.

Bettina, “Me too!”

Hans said, pretending to grumble, “This is turning into a real commune.”

Jillian, “The compound expands. Our free woman has decided to commit to the family!”

Claudia, “Lets get started on our victorious athlete’s celebration dinner and drinks. Hans, you’ve got BBQ duty.”

Jillian, “Let’s leave Bettina and Darren alone for a little discussion time.”

Claudia, “Not little. I feel the compersion flowing already.”

Jillian, “Oh, I know. I know.”

Hans, “Not too long, you two. Sis will be getting herselves all wound up. I will be in need of help later.”

“No way, Hans. Bettina just arrived. Darren will be occupied. You are ours solo tonight, Señor,” they said, pulling at the man playing helpless, dragging him inside.

Darren said after them, “Let’s let her get unpacked first, eh?”

Bettina stepped out of her clothes and joined Darren, similarly attired, at the railing. “What were you looking at out there when I arrived?”

He moved to embrace her from behind, leaning to speak into her ear, “Our resident surfer girls”—pointing at a wave—“See them? The storm swell is from the south; it breaks perfect here.”

“I do!” She waved, before shouting “Hi Zuni! Hi Kara!”

They waved back before turning to paddle out.

She returned her attention to Darren, holding at his encircling arms. “Remember our first? Steamy in your shower.”

“Before the steam generator had warmed up, we were already mighty hot.”

“The shower scene.”

“Yeah. I’ve replayed us many times in my head when you weren’t around.”

“Have you? Thinking about me often?” she asked, wiggling herself.

“Yes, miss.”

“And now that you have me here, do you want to have me?”

“You know the answer to that.”

“I do. Quite obvious you are, sir. I am ovulating, by the way.”

“I know. You have said as much.”

“That’s OK for you? You do have a say in this as well, you know.”

“Yes, as we discussed. The timing is right; it was clear when you brought the possibility up. I haven’t changed my mind.”

“This is a beautiful location.”

“Are you going to keep talking? Just wanted to know.”

 

They remained spooned, standing by the railing. A breeze brought cooling relief. The surf connected with their senses.

Bettina said, putting sounds into the moment, “Zuni and Kara are coming in. We have a lot to talk about. Do they know?”

“Some hints have been dropped.”

“Need a towel, lover. I am leaking.”

“I’ll fetch one.”

 

By the railing near the house was something she hadn’t noticed earlier: binoculars, mounted on a tripod.

“That’s curious.”

Disengaging from Darren’s embrace, she went over to it.

The metal housing was inviting. She reached out a hand. “It is really cold. Brass eye cups. This is an antique.”

Reminded of Darren, she turned but did not notice the flatness of his face.

“Were you watching the girls earlier—peeping on them, Tom? Something kinky going on, voyeurism of neoprene with the knowledge of nothing on underneath?”

Darren was resigned. He remained silent.

“Think of the fun unzipping them to rediscover what is packaged underneath? Maybe I might share the thrill with you.”

The binoculars were before her. As she bent forward, he said, “Don’t Bettina, you shouldn’t.”

“But why not?”

She put her eyes to the lenses. Distortion. It took a moment for the scene to focus. Comprehension took longer. The image was not of surf, or further into the ocean gulf. It was a room. A hospital room. There was a woman on a bed. Her head was within the scaffolding of a brace. Most of her face was hidden behind a ventilator mask. From the forehead and redhead eyebrows it was clear who this person was. The monitor demanded attention. It was indicating an emergency, calling in a critical tone. People rushed into view. The bedding sheet was stripped back. The woman had been nude underneath. There were nasty purple and yellow bruises across her chest leading into the shoulder.

Two people were having a discussion, straining to keep it quiet between them.

“But Dr. Ramos, there is a signed order to not resuscitate.”

“You know how this goes, Nurse Crawford. It is hospital policy to ignore the order as non-binding. The administrators made it clear that were we to follow the order, then we would be contributing to the patient’s suicide. Their Lord and Savior, Jesus, forbids suicide as an act of blasphemy, a mortal sin. We are ordered to do all we can to keep the patient alive, be the action heroic or otherwise.”

“That is not right. She will never recover from the injuries.”

“But still, as her brain remains in an active state of lucid dreaming, she is alive.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Her body is in distress. It knows. We won’t hurry the inevitable, but we won’t prolong it. That would be cruel. We will keep her comfortable.”

“I am glad to hear you say that.”

“You have become personally attached to Bettina, haven’t you, Judy?”

“As have you, Joel. The tragedy of her accident at the national event was televised. The sight of the horse stumbling after that huge jump, I’ve replayed it countless times in my head.”

“His knee was injured. He knew, but yet, completed the course. For her.”

“I had no idea horses could have such a strong bond. Her Jack gave everything.”

“The horse’s name was Jack? You have followed her story.”

“I have. The story of how she made it to the nationals, her determination, is inspirational.”

“I agree, Judy. If the administrators even bother to conduct a review, let them. I am quite done with the priest mob of St. Louisa. They have lost the plot on compassion, trading instead for usury.”

“Then you will accept the position at the University?”

“Yes. It would be a mistake to remain here any longer. Will you come with me?”

“You know that I will, Joel.”

“Oh!” he said, attending to a monitor. “This is it. Her body has shut down. Brain signals are fading.”

He returned to stand beside the bed and touched at the back of Bettina’s hand. “Good night, sweet lady. Go to your sleep peacefully.”

 

Bettina pulled back from the binoculars to look for Darren. The light was dim, though the sky hadn’t become foggy. It was the sun, its energy was diminishing.

“Darren! I don’t want you to go as well!”

“Dear Bettina. We are you, having a conversation with yourself.”

“No! Please!” She reached out the short distance to him.

He extended his arms, awaiting her.

As she leaned into his embrace, the light faded to black. The surf no longer drummed the beach. She fell forward, evaporating into the nothingness of oblivion.

 

 

Light returned. It was harsh fluorescence. The location could have been an underground metro station, as the walls were of curved tiles, stained from humid dripping grit. A middle-aged man sat rigidly on a backless bench. He wore a black jacket. In fact, all of his clothes were black. Thick rectangular framed glasses—also black—pinched tightly upon his pale face. Beside him on the bench, nearly half his seated height, was a child’s toy robot. It possessed no legs, but a track belt hinted at mobility. There were claws for hands and a helmet for a head. Out of the visor, two red lights pierced from the black. A hideous caricature of a smile was drawn upon the helmet.

The man did not acknowledge Bettina. Indeed, the robot had not either. Its head was oriented in her direction purely by coincidence.

As she spoke, he turned. Cold eyes sought her out, “Is that it, Jeb?”

A confused look was his response.

She continued. “Is that all? I would have thought you capable of more.”

He looked to the robot.

“Perhaps your toy has proved too much of a distraction. Must it be remediated?”

The light faded to black before he could ready himself to speak.

 

The End.

 


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