OCTOBER 8TH, 3:55 PM (2:55 PM MOUNTAIN TIME)
The door slid open.
The DFR nearest the doorway, his feet probably aching-sore from standing all day, slowly turned. He kept his M4 ready. Words were exchanged between himself and whoever was outside the doorway. Though the speech dragged, Lang finally recognized the voice - it was Colonel Stevens.
Colonel Stevens began his snail-like passage into the room once the DFR moved out of the way.
Evan blew out an exasperated gush of air. “What do they want now, Dad?”
“I don’t know.” Lang glanced up at the clock on the wall, the magical clock whose second hand barely moved. Thanks, hull. But whatever, it was now 2:55 pm. He gently pushed the WW1 book Colonel Stevens had given him to read, The Guns of August, along with the eraser-headed pencil to help turn the pages, now closed up within the book, across the bed until near the pillows. He then crabbed-crawled across the bed and placed his hull-covered feet upon the first step. Hmm, interesting; just as Nahas had noted, he felt little joint pain, even after kneeling for so long on the bed.
He stood up and began walking down the steps. Great. Here we go again. Though Dr. Maplen and Colonel Stevens meant well by placing these aluminum modular steps next to their beds, it was becoming nothing more than a torturous reminder of his and Evan’s extreme shortness.
Evan avoided his four steps and simply jumped right off his bed, landing with exaggeration, enjoying the drop.
Good. At least Evan was trying to have some fun.
A streak of motion flashed around Colonel Stevens. Huh? Lang focused in that direction.
Suddenly Kyleigh appeared, running ahead of Colonel Stevens. She locked her eyes on Lang and ran toward him.
He hurried down the last two steps.
“Lang.” She slowed her pace a little and walked closer to the wall. She was crying, her eyes red, tear-filled. “I’m not…I’m not doing so well.”
No, this poor woman! Lang rushed to the ends of both beds and then slowly walked closer, unsure how to react. “Kyleigh. What is it? What’s wrong?”
But she didn’t answer. Instead she rushed straight for him and flung up her hands. She pushed her hull-covered body right up against the front of him. He felt stunned, yet couldn’t back away. He allowed the repulsion to continue.
Colonel Stevens’ tablet was speaking something to Evan, but Evan didn’t listen; he only stood nearby, confused, breathing hard, watching Lang closely.
After the seventeen second wait the hull instantly wrapped a small tent around him and Kyleigh.
She stared up at him, tears streaming down her face. “Lang. I’m sorry. I didn’t…mean…” She couldn’t continue, but her beautiful, tear-filled eyes pleaded, communicated without words.
Heart pounding, his thoughts in a disarray, Lang seized from her eyes the only truth he could sense. “Kyleigh. Do you want me to hold you?”
Again she didn’t answer. She placed her trembling hands on Lang’s chest and sank forward against him. His large frame took the fall of her slender build easily, barely moving him into the hull’s back wall behind them. She rested the side of her face against his chest, just over his pounding heart, and continued to cry.
But Deidra. No. Don’t embrace her back.
Lang only hung his arms by his side at first, but then placed one hand on her back, stroking her gently.
It felt like years since a woman pressed against his body. He looked at Evan, hoping for a funny smirk, or a silly shrug. But Evan was absolutely no help at all; in Evan’s wide eyes, confusion still reigned, but also concern. Yet most blaringly of all, Evan’s expression and gestures screamed something else – ‘Dad! What are you doing? Hug her back, now!’
That was all Lang needed. Kyleigh was still crying, her tears soaking through both his outer jacket and white buttoned shirt right to the skin on his chest. She needed him, desperately. With emotions and needs of his own that had been bottled up for months, Lang wound his arms around her and pressed her tightly against his chest.
Her legs began to shake, trembling against his thighs. He lessened his embrace around her, yet kept his left arm holding her close enough so she wouldn’t sink to the floor. He gently, repeatedly smoothed the back of her head with his free hand, her blond hair so soft and comforting to his touch. “Kyleigh. Please tell me what’s wrong. You’re shaking so much.”
Her breaths came faster, her sobs staggered. “I’m sorry, Lang. I…I need to sit down…Please.” She began releasing her arms.
“Sure, sure,” Lang said. “You want to sit on my bed?”
She looked up and around the small hull enclosure. Lang did too. It was a few inches taller than Lang and elliptical in shape, maybe about five feet long by four feet wide.
“No. I…I just want to sit down here,” she said, wobbling, nearly collapsing.
Lang grabbed her hands and steadied her. Tears yet streamed from her beautiful blue eyes, lines of liquid trailed from her nose to her lips. She noticed where he gazed and quickly removed her hand from his grip, wiping under her nose as furtively as she could.
She trembled even more and then her knees gave out. Lang locked his arm around her small, slim waist and slid his curled arm up until he had her secured under her arms and around her upper back. With his other hand he kept hold of her free hand, caressing cold, trembling fingers. He gently lowered her to the floor. Her weight felt so light, her frame so small. Or could he be that much stronger? Strength and capability gushed through his muscles as never before. For so long of late he had been a mere insect of a person. But because of dear Kyleigh, and her desperation to be with him, in a few short seconds he emerged a strong, towering man.
She knelt to the floor and held her sobbing face in her palms, as though hiding in shame. Lang knelt next to her, on her right side. The feeling she had ignited within him, that strength, that power, emboldened him. Adjusting to a comfortable sitting position on the hull floor, Lang wrapped his arms around her trembling shoulders and embraced her closely against his body. “Kyleigh. What is it, what’s bothering you?”
She sniffed a few times, and wiped her nose. “It’s just that…it’s just that…” She leaned back and looked up at him. He loosened his embrace on her. “My son, Brayden. He…he died, Lang, one year ago, on October ninth. That’s tomorrow, their time.”
“Oh no, Kyleigh. I didn’t know.” What a horrible pain no parent should ever experience. He held her closer. “I’m so, so sorry.”
She cried even more, into his shirt, wetting his skin more than the last time. But he didn’t care, not one ounce. Her tears were bringing him to life.
At expense of her sadness and heartache? No, what’s wrong with me! He ignored his confused thoughts.
He gently smoothed his palm up and down along her back, comforting her. “It’s all right, it’s all right.”
“No, it’s not,” she said suddenly. She wiggled herself away from his close hold and leaned her back against the hull’s tent wall. She stretched her legs out, her blue pants trembling from her continued shakiness. She looked at him. “Lang, th-thank you, really. I don’t…I don’t know, why…I just…I just lost it.”
His back rather uncomfortable, Lang pressed himself into the hull’s tent wall the same as she had done. “You have no reason to explain yourself. None at all.” He took hold of her right hand. “It’s very wrong what they’re doing, keeping us separated like this. It’s not your fault.”
She swallowed noticeably. “These decrease events. They’re really getting to me.” Tears welled up in her eyes again. “Lang…I’m shorter now than…” She sobbed, sniffling, trying to stop her tears. “I’m much shorter than my Brayden…when he…when he…” She removed her hand from Lang’s grip. She leaned into her hands again, covering her face, crying uncontrollably.
Lang leaned over and took her in his arms once more. He knew she needed him, but at the same time he had an intense burning fire of need to have her too. “I know…I know what you’re feeling. I’m so much shorter now than Deidra.” Lord, Deidra, my beautiful Deidra. His own eyes suddenly began filling with tears. No, please, not now! No, no, no! Be strong and fight this!
But his emotions, and his eyes, wouldn’t listen. Streams left his welled eyes and trailed down his face. He slipped his hand away from her trembling body and quickly wiped the tears away.
Yet it was too late. Kyleigh knew. She took hold of him and held him closer. Her breathing increased, and Lang sensed she wanted desperately to cease her own display of weakness, her uncontrollable crying, same as he was trying his best to do. And he sensed something else; she wasn’t releasing him because she wanted him next to her, however this could happen. Her past words infused into his very core: ‘I just want to tell you, Lang. I really like you’. And they shared the loss of a precious loved one, and that’s why each could be the most encompassing, wrapping comfort blanket anyone could ever offer; two crying souls, molding into each other’s embrace.
Time was standing still.
From what seemed to be far off in the distance, Lang could hear Evan, Colonel Stevens, and Major Ko struggling to have a conversation with someone’s tablet.
Lang finally gained control of his crying. He wiped his eyes and nose until dry. “I’m sorry, Kyleigh. I shouldn’t be falling apart here. I’m not being much help for you.” He tightened his arms around her, never wanting to let her go.
“No, not true,” she spoke gently, her breathing slowing, her shaking lessening. “You are so much help for me.” She sighed. “I think one of my problems too…I’m losing my faith, Lang. I can’t believe God would allow this to happen to us.”
“No, no. Don’t lose your faith. I know, I’ve been having trouble myself. But we just have to keep trying, and keep praying.”
Evan suddenly appeared and abruptly thrust his hands against their small hull tent, producing the repulsion.
After the required seconds, the hull engulfed him inside. Smoothly, soundlessly, their hull tent grew in an eye blink.
Lang looked up at him. “Evan, what is it?”
He didn’t say anything. He knelt down, to Lang’s right side, and snuggled against Lang’s shoulder.
Kyleigh gazed at Evan, even smiling briefly, though she kept her arms wrapped around Lang.
Lang wound his right arm around Evan and tugged him closer. “What is it, son? Tell me.”
“I asked, but they’re not letting us visit with the other hull people anymore.” Evan only stared down while he spoke. “And you can just be with Kyleigh a short time longer. But worst of all, they tried to stop me from coming here by you. So, I’m ending this, now.”
His words didn’t make any sense. “What are you talking about?”