Yet somehow, Lorraine had pitched a bigger hissy-fit over having to eat her vegetables that same night than she had when he had told her that Mommy had fucked off for no reason while she had been asleep, he remembered that much. From then on, to him this tiny blonde Kindergärtner became less like a daughter, and more like a friend, and continued to do so as she grew.
It became apparent to him just how much Jessie had been desperate to raise a girl who fit into the perfect storybook imagery of such, and even more so how much his daughter had hated that. When she'd begged to wear pants to school, cut her hair short (she'd been saddled with an unfortunately traditional haircut resembling nothing more than the kid from The Bad Seed; long, strawberry-blonde, and with blunt, square bangs falling just below her eyebrows, making her look like she was in a permanent strop,) get rid of all her pink furniture and army of Barbie dolls (who had already been given mohawks, various facial tattoos, and seemingly random amputations,) to stop being called Lorraine (because c'mon, a name that sounds like it'd belong to one of your grandma's friends from bingo rather than a tomboy six-year old is pretty damn unfortunate) in favour of his preferred nickname for her (Lori,) and quit ballet, he couldn't have been prouder of her. While other girls were hero-worshipping Cindy Lauper, he'd taken her to a Metallica concert for her twelfth birthday.
When she had come home in tears aged 19, in a flap about some 'news' she had to tell him, freaking out about how he was going to be mad at her, and begging him not to kick her out, he had thought she'd killed someone. When it eventually came to light that she'd been dating a girl since she was 15, he'd responded: "Really? Is that it? I thought you'd gone and got another fuckin' tattoo."
From that first day alone with her, he knew that whatever the cost - however much of his blood, sweat, tears, time, money, and patience she used up, he was all she had. And it was his job to protect her.
She came to, and it was silent. It was like the world had frozen; the air heavy, silent, and so humid that breath felt useless. Her comrades around her lay still, as if the screams and the gunshots had never happened. It was about then that it occurred to her that most of them were probably dead; that was unquestionable. All she did know was that she sure as hell wasn't. She attempted to push herself up to investigate the carnage - she was lying on her belly, limbs spread-eagled like a starfish - but she made the stupid mistake of using the hand attached to her salt-dome elbow, and she hit the ground again with a soft thud and a small dust cloud, stifling a cry as her body shuddered, tears streaming down her face. It was damp already, though from tears, snot, sweat, or blood, she had no clue. Tendrils of her fringe stuck to her face, dyed a muddy brown colour with blood.
Raising her head as much as she could bear, she surveyed the chaos around her. The body nearest to her was clearly Brad, her Sergeant Major who had tried and failed to talk some sense into her earlier on (Sergeant-Major, be a mother to me...fuck, he'd hated that song. Even more unfortunate, she guessed, that his surname had been 'Smeck'.) Of course, she hadn't a clue how much earlier - hell only knows how long she'd been out for. He was still twitching, blood dripping steadily from the exit wound in his head like a leaking tap, pooling around him. It was about then that it occurred to her that the blood around her probably wasn't her own.
Watching him for as long as she could hold herself up, she noticed that his chest was still rising and falling with breath - only just, but still definitely so - and realisation kicked her like a boot to the stomach. Adeline...Adeline...Adeline...had been all she could hear with each pound of her heart which she could feel behind her eyeballs, but she'd forced herself to battle through. She was dead, and that was all there was to it - no amount of wishful thinking was about to bring her back. But Brad was alive. And now he was lying at Death's door because of her. Fuck rationality; fuck doing what was probably good for her, she had to help him. She wouldn't allow herself to have yet more blood on her hands. She called his name, her voice hoarse and painful; barely a whisper. She then tried to force herself to her feet to check him out, and find someone to fucking help him, but as she tried, her dismay and terror and shock almost killed her.
Her lower half refused to function. It was as if something had been inside of her mind and removed all the wiring between her legs and her brain. What she could feel below her ribs was something between pins and needles, and the way in which one can feel the air around them - aware of its presence, but unable to physically feel it as if it were a part of them. Not quite dead weight, but at the same time, not entirely like something attached to the rest of her.
Her whole body ached so badly that pinpointing areas which didn't hurt was easier than giving a list of all the things that were giving her hell. However, she had been subconsciously both aware of and ignoring the indescribable agony in her back; worst maybe two or three vertebrae below her lowest ribs. Mustering every iota of strength in her and shoving herself past her pain threshold, she used her non-agonising hand to feel around her back. There was a serious curvature of her spine which definitely hadn't been there before, she noted that with a grimace. Her shirt was sickeningly warm and damp, and her had eventually came away red and smelling of pennies. Her whole back was painful to touch, and it was with a disgusted start that she found what she had almost been looking for, yet terrified of finding. There were two bullet entry wounds, one in the space around where her spinal column now curved, and another a few inches below it. She could read the signs perfectly well, but was refusing to allow herself to put two and two together. Yes, of course she knew in her head that she had fractured her spine, and badly at that, and she was no doubt paralysed, probably permanently, but in her heart, she refused to believe it just as she'd thought that her irrational pleading to whatever deity happened to have been listening would bring back Adeline - clinging to some stupid vague glimmer of hope.
Thinking of her was like another punch in the gut. She let out another rasping sob, grinding her teeth together so as not to cry out, biting her tongue so hard that it bled. She spat it out, crimson dribbling down her chin and making a puddle in the dirt. Glancing to her side, two pairs of feet (presumably with bodies attached to them) were lifting away a body-bag from where Addie had lain. Better, she supposed than seeing her dead.
A person jostling her arm brought her back to life, and there she was again. Nothing but a pathetic body curled in on herself in a foetal position, blood leaking from the holes in her back (hopefully enough that I'll die, she thought morbidly.) The shots that should have killed her had done nothing but ruin her life, and now she was stuck in the dirt, paralysed, far from home, and utterly fucking alone. She was sure that the guy (at least she guessed it was a guy) shaking her asked her name, and she managed to splutter "Lori..." before breaking back off into sobs. She wasn't dead, no. But no shit was she broken.
As for Lori herself, she was flat on her back in a military hospital not far from Kabul. Two steel rods and countless pins and screws had pieced her spine back together, and straightened it out again, but the damage had already been done. Ruling out time travel and highly unlikely medical miracle, she was looking at a lifetime confined to a wheelchair. T1 paraplegia - little abdominal strength, not much chance of the 'get out of jail free' card that was the ability which some had to continue a regular, upright life, albeit with a walker and leg braces, and no feeling from her chest downwards. Nothing. Nada. And she fucking hated it; it was a hell of a gear shift to say the least, and letting herself be the perfect saint of a patient; sweet to others and suffering through her injuries with a good-natured grace was nowhere near her top priority. As soon as the first bedsores had started to appear, she had given up on keeping a civil tongue in her head, driving herself further and further away from the bright-eyed abnegation of half the people in her situation that newspapers harped on about; fuck those stupid bastards for making her think that this transition was ever going to be an easy one. Yes, she knew it could have been worse; she could still use her arms etc. and if she'd been shot a tiny bit higher up, she'd have been lucky to escape with her life, but to be fair, what she'd got was pretty shitty nonetheless. Putting things into perspective only worked as far as a broken nail or a bad day at the office. As to her elbow, her fracture prognosis had been correct, but it was nothing a one-hour surgery and a plaster cast couldn't fix (if only her back had been that easy) and hadn't bothered her since she'd come to.
Of the eighteen in the truck that had been attacked, only she and - miraculously - Brad had made it out alive. However, oxygen deprivation and the brain haemorrhage that had been brought on by his being shot in the head had left him a shuffling shadow of his former self, and also rendered him stone deaf, and more-or-less mute, aside from the odd whoop or gurgle. He would dawdle around the wards with a nurse holding onto his arm so he didn't careen into a wall, in his dressing gown and slippers, twiddling his dog-tags around his fingers. He came round to the sparsely-populated women's ward which she was in around once a week, and Lori struggled with him more than a little, in the least insensitive way possible. It wasn't the way in which she shuffled around like an old man, staring at the space in between his eyebrows, or his tendency to wet his pants. It was the expression on his face; it was as if he remembered how he was before, but couldn't quite figure out how he had ended up where he was now. And it saddened her, mostly because she blamed herself more than was probably fair; he had a wife and two kids, for God's sake, and here he was, mental age of a banana, thousands of miles from home, and no clue who he was.
Lori now devoted vast chunks of her time to reading and pretending that she couldn't hear the voices of the two chicks either side of her shouting across her, gossiping. On the left, Swedish supermodel frame and cheekbones and white-blonde hair (and Lori guessed it was natural, unlike her own, as she'd been there for as long as she had, if not longer, and had no root-line to speak of - and she was bedbound herself, one leg plastered to her ass and in traction, so no chances for bathroom touch-ups.) On the right, Lori knew that her name was Quinta, and she was marrying her girlfriend in the spring; she was quite cute, actually, - dark, coffee-coloured skin, and box-braided hair to her shoulders; really obviously Canadian when you heard her speak. She'd cracked a few ribs on a training course; she'd be out in less than a week, and home the one after that, with a living, breathing wife-to-be to collect her from the airport and then go home and make wedding plans with. And where was Lori? Lying indefinitely in hospital, with what looked like an upside-down autopsy scar in her back, and the muscle function below her waist gone to the point that she couldn't even control her fucking bladder, with no home to go to, and nothing to look forward to except planting her girlfriend.
She read a lot. She'd borrowed some stuff from other people, but it was mostly the two or three Stephen King novels she'd bought for the plane home. She read the over and over again, so much so that she had vast chunks of Pet Semetary to heart. That one was her favourite for one reason and one reason alone; the undead felines and babies, and bereaved fathers driven to all-out madness did nothing for her - it was for the huge amounts of her own dad that she saw in Jud Crandall. Mitch Marshall, the North Carolina hick who smoked like a lum, spent every evening without fail on the porch with a Bud Light (his poison of choice had been Schlitz until the company had gone bust,) and had probably never pronounced the 'r' on the end of the word 'car' in his life was all she saw in the pages where Jud was so much as mentioned; sure, it made her miss him like hell, but it was as close to comfort from another person as she ever got. Of course, she could never bear to read past a certain point, but it was King, what did she expect? If one was to write it somewhere on the book, the body count would probably often be longer than the blurb. Of course she hadn't held out for his making it to the end.
The sixteen dead, plus Brad, had been about the only people she knew properly who weren't at home; her mom was dead for all she cared, and her dad was in the middle of nowhere in upstate Illinois, with no car, no Internet, and no phone service (just how he liked it; by nature, Mitch was somewhat of a hermit) and probably sitting on his lawn chair with a beer in hand, watching the sun set as he wondered why his daughter hadn't come home yet.
She maintained her persistent ignorance, holding Pet Semetary above her face in one of her ludicrously uncomfortable reading positions - with no ability to sit up, and your dominant arm plastered at right angles to your body, reading was no mean feat. So far, the only almost-comfy positions she'd found were perilous, and had ripped her IV line out multiple times.
"Lori!" It was Quinta - the African-Canadian chick to her right barked impatiently, not looking up from her GameBoy.
"What the fuck do you want?" Lori turned her head slightly and as indignantly as she could manage, and was met with a death glare.
"Manners, darling, manners," the blonde on her other side that she didn't know the name of cooed in a condescendingly fake British accent. Then, slipping back into her genuine New Orleans squawk: "You kiss your momma with that mouth?" By now, Lori was struggling to tell if they were actually taking the piss, or just trying to have a laugh.
"Oh piss off," She half-smiled light-heartedly, deciding to at least try and take it all as a joke. "What is it?"
"I dunno, I don't think she is," that voice. She knew that voice. Looking up as much as she could, she took it in with disbelief.
The first thing she noticed was that his limp had gotten a lot worse - his four years in Vietnam had taken his right foot and a sizeable chunk of the hand on the same side, and a chunk of metal of some description behind his knee had left him with a limp that worsened almost every time she saw him - to the point that he probably aught to be walking with a cane. He had already sunburned himself to within an inch of his life - he now resembled a sweaty, peeling tomato in aviators. He had a two-litre bottle of Dr Pepper crammed into his front pocket, the iPhone he had no idea how to use in his hand, and his shirt open to his chest, and around three shades darker around his neck and pits.
She smiled, so totally overcome that she couldn't speak. Mitch hobbled his way to the seat by her bed - he already walked with a weird, stiff gait thanks to his prosthetic foot, and the limp wasn't helpful - his beam almost exactly mirroring hers, but at the same time, obviously trying to mask any other emotions. Of course, she knew what he'd be feeling right now, and it was bitter-sweet that he'd tried to hide it to save her feelings.
"Dad...What the...What are you doing here?" She still sounded like a chain-smoker, and it hurt to talk - that most likely had something to do with the fact that she had been crying so much recently.
"I'm being a dad, you little shit," a laugh played in his voice as he ruffled her blonde pixie cut - short hair wasn't compulsory for women, but for convenience's sake she liked to keep hers as such. "Had to jump through a few hoops to get here, but if I wanna be there for my little girl when she needs me, then god-dammit I will be." It was the sound of his voice that made her break. The sobs which she usually reserved for the privacy of 4am broke loose; fat tears rolling off of her face and dampening the sterile white pancake which apparently passed for a pillow, she scrubbed at her eyes with her usable hand, embarrassed. She went to try and give context, but all which she got out before she broke down again was a stammered "Dad..."
Shushing her gently, he gripped her hand, caressing her face and wiping her eyes with a Kleenex. "Honey, I know...I know, you don't have to tell me...I'm here, don't worry..."
She had no clue how long they stayed like this. All she was sure of was that he was still there when she woke up, just as the sun was beginning to rise, bleary-eyed, morning breath and B.O so strong it could probably kill a person from a mile off, and still holding her hand.
Lori had finally been declared fit to fly, though had been made to promise she'd take it easy and keep taking her meds and going to appointments (Mitch was to drag her screaming and...well, definitely not kicking, if necessary.) After much debate, she had accepted his offer to move back into her childhood dome until she was recovered and rehabilitated enough to get her own place (she was looking at moving state; somewhere far away, and as different as was possible. She and Addie had planned a future not far from where she'd grown up, and there were...too many ghosts.) However, the ceremony attached to planting her fiancée had landed her and her father in Springfield, in a shitty hotel, lying in their shared double bed, the pair of them sitting in silence and drinking beers out of the mini-bar, watching Judge Judy from the late 90's, and Mitch smoking, convinced that the towel shoved across the crack at the bottom of the door and his removal of the smoke alarm batteries would prevent them from being kicked out (again, it would be worth mentioning.)
The funeral was to be the next morning, and Lori was grateful for the fridge full of booze concealed in the wardrobe and the liquor store across the street, because while not enough to even make her dizzy (she had a pretty cast-iron constitution, and struggled to get properly drunk on anything that wasn't straight-up hard liquor,) the drink was numbing her mind and keeping any feelings at bay. There had been 'visiting hours' at the morgue earlier that day, but they had only arrived that afternoon, having flown from Kabul to Rockford, with several change-overs in between and a lot of pissing about in security, the previous Friday (it was Monday now) to get Lori's things and have a well-deserved break for a few days. The viewing had been open-casket, but for the funeral it would be closed, for the sake of Lori's already iffy mental health if nothing else. Lori knew exactly what she was wearing, how she would be posed; she could picture it so vividly, and that was why she was pouring alcohol down her throat like it was going out of fashion. But it wouldn't go. Adeline's long hair was gently curled and arranged over her shoulders and down her folded arms like a dark chocolate waterfall. Her eyes were closed, lashes curled, lips turned up not so that she looked like she was smiling, just...at peace; asleep, maybe, and having an exceptionally pleasant dream (And I'm wondering what you're dreaming...wondering if it's me you're seeing...just like every couple ever since its release, that song was to be played at their wedding. Lori knuckled her head, before lifting her Budweiser to her lips and draining the can, tears prickling her eyes.) But Lori knew too much to let this image be pleasant/ She knew that Adeline's mouth would be filled with dried blood - there's no way you can puncture both of your lungs and your heart and not cough at least a little bit up, and even if she hadn't, she'd have bitten her cheeks or her tongue at the first impact - Lori had done the same; they all had. She knew that her cheeks would be stuffed with cotton, hints of embalming fluid visible at her nostrils or ears or tear ducts - it was difficult stuff to work with at best, and Adeline's corpse was almost a third of a year old now - and her torso misshapen and black with bruising from her broken ribs. She knew that this time last month she would have been in a sideways refrigerator, the scar of a post-mortem dripping blood onto her naked chest, her hair a mess and a tag on her big toe. She knew that beneath the clothes...only her face, and maybe her hands if she wasn't wearing gloves would look alive, the rest of her decaying the way it would had she been left where she'd fallen in Afghanistan, and beneath the strong perfume, she would stink of the grave. Lori shuddered, popping the tab on another beer.
The world outside the window was dark, and Mitch was lying on his back, snoring slightly, his cigarette still smoking in his mouth, his chin stubble whiter than ever with the clumps of ash. Rolling her eyes, Lori reached over and plucked it from his lips, outing it on the night-stand - she didn't give a fuck about the deposit any more; it was that, or they'd have been cooked alive in their sleep as Mitch eventually set himself and the rest of the room alight. "G'night, old man," she smiled slightly, watching him sleep spread-eagled on the bed, before taking another deep swallow from the beer in her hand. She was still dressed, but would probably just take her bra and pants off before going to sleep. Moving herself as far as she could into a comfortable position, she placed her can down by Mitch's cigarette butt, running her hand through her hair; it was overgrown to the point that she resembled something between P!nk and Ellen DeGeneres, only in need of a root touch-up. Hands folded on her chest and legs in whatever position they'd manipulated themselves into as she'd shifted her torso - she'd stopped giving a shit a while ago - she stared at the ceiling; the flickering bulb in the lamp which she would turn off if she could get up, and the muted Judge on the TV still yacking away silently. She was exhausted, but she knew exactly what would happen when she fell asleep, and she'd had that nightmare too many times now, and in the worst possible way. Yes, she didn't want to close her eyes, but it was sure as hell not for the reasons Aerosmith had spoken of.
She'd somehow felt so numb about Adeline for the first few months; it was like she was in a dream - one of these days, she was just going to wake up and everything would be okay again. Maybe she was in a coma - yeah, she could have been shot, but maybe Adeline was still alive? Or maybe it was her dying dream - she was still lying in the dust in Afghanistan, but give it another few hours, and it'd be over, and she'd either be back with Addie in this better place that people kept telling her about, or dead in the respect that she'd always thought dead meant, and thus not able to know or care. But today was the tipping point; when she'd mentioned how dissociative she was to somebody while she was still in the hospital, she'd been told to do something like dig her nails into her hand or bite her lip - you can't feel pain when you're dreaming, and her brain had finally recalled this advice today. She'd spent half of her day with her nails digging into her palm, so hard there were bruises; angry purple crescents along her head line - and this had been her firm reminder to herself. You aren't dreaming. This is real. You can't wish it away, no matter how much you want to. And this was probably why she'd collapsed like this.
Yes, she had cried a lot in the last few months, but it was mostly crying for herself, awful as this may have sounded. Whenever she'd been unable to do something; every time she, crude and just generally fucking degrading as as this may be, had pissed herself, or...worse; or every morning of every day where she'd wake up feeling totally normal, go to swing herself out of bed, and discover again that she couldn't...When put like that, it didn't sound nearly so conceited or selfish. Even stupid shit like realising that her scar had fucked up one of her tattoos had set her off. But now, for the fist time, her tears shed were one hundred percent for Adeline. She was thirty-nine; so much to look forward to, more than half of her life still to live, and otherwise completely healthy. Her anguish now was for every experience that she had never gotten to have, and just every day that she had never gotten to live. Every morning she'd never wake up on to pound her alarm clock into silence; every sunset she'd never get to see; every day of growing old disgracefully, and telling their grandkids stories about their youth together - finishing up in the emergency room together with clawed faces after trying to give Addie's cat a mohawk, and ditching school during finals week to go to Ozzfest. She hated it; she hated herself for letting anything happen to her, and for not trying to save her; she hated whatever scumbag had blown up the truck in the first place, making them crash; she hated Brad, hard as this was for her, and as innocent as he was, for dragging her away. And at that moment, it felt as if all she had left in her body was hatred and loathing. And she hated that, too. It was awful. Not just how she felt, but the fact that she was in a hotel room getting herself hammered on cheap alcohol, in the middle of the day, less than two hours after her wife-to-be's funeral
For Mitch to walk in on this scene, it was heartbreaking. He had always known that someday his daughter was gonna have to learn the sour side to love, but she'd been dating Adeline since junior high. By this point, he'd been hoping she'd never have to; when you saw them together, it was obvious. They were completely, madly in love, and it was impossible for anyone to deny it. Yet since the day he found out that Lori was looking at a life in a wheelchair without the woman she loved, he had known this was coming. Lori was the type that either ate too much or starved herself; slept for fourteen solid hours, or had insomniac nights; she fell in love too hard, or hated passionately. She didn't know what grey was, and she never had. She was never just going to be able to grieve quietly, or quickly; this whole four months had just been a free-fall, and she had finally hit rock-bottom.
Lori was lying on her side, her face buried in a pillow, and her legs crossed and tangled. She was still wearing most of her uniform, with the exception of her shoes, hat, gloves, and belt. He could vaguely see the glint of the medals on her chest - the ones she'd earned for being brave. But clearly, her bravery had finally failed on her. And frankly he didnt blame her.
Then there was the issue of the drink. One empty bottle was on the floor, in pieces, the other in her hand, half-full. The room smelled of booze and stagnating puke; Lori had moved away from what of it had finished up on the bed beside her, but it was still in her hair, and drying at the corners of her mouth. Her eyes were red and puffy; her lips swollen and nose running. The pillow beneath her was soaking wet with tears, and she was shaking violently; every inch of her.
Mitch paced over to her, kneeling by her side and slowly prising the bottle from her hand. "Lori?"
"Mmph," she moaned quietly, her voice tear-thickened and miserable. She didn't look up; if it weren't for this, he wouldn't have known she had acknowledged him. Her breath smelt so heavily of booze he almost choked;one would probably be in danger if they were to hold a lit match to her face.
"Lori, can you hear me?"
She nodded slightly; almost so little you couldn't tell. "...The fuck did you take that for?" She gestured to the drink in Mitch's hand.
"Because it's hurting you," he said simply. "I know it doesn't feel like it, I know you think it'll help you, but it won't."
"...I know," she slurred, still not looking at him. "'Snot helping, but it makes the...pain...go away..."
"Lori, you can't do this to yourself. You can't get yourself into this habit, because it'll kill you. And I know that sounds bad, but if you-"
"Good." Lori said, firmly and clearly.
"W...What?" Mitch was perplexed and suddenly very concerned, convinced that he must have heard her wrong.
"I said 'good'..." Lori muttered. " I want it to kill me...I wanna die, dad...it'd be better than..." Her arms flailed, gesturing to her lower half. And as soon as those words were out, she looked up to see the expression on her father's face, and as soon as she did, she burst straight into tears again. "I'm sorry..." she spluttered, her voice trembling beyond recognition. "I sound like a fuckin' teenager, but...I just miss her too much, and I can't...I can't live like this...Not alone, and not...the way I am...not a fucking cripple...I don't know how..."
He softened for a moment, shaking himself now. "It's...it's okay..." he stammered. "It's okay, don't...don't apologise. Don't apologise for something you can't help. I can-"
"Mmm-hmm?" He groaned quietly, resting his head in his hands, almost completely unable to compute what was happening or what he was hearing, and unable to pull together any other words to day next. His face was wet with tears now, too.
"Just...just stop talking," she looked up, smiling slightly in spite of her sodden, puffy face and her constant tremors, and rested her arm around his shoulder. He pulled her into a tight embrace, the pair of them holding each other and crying.
Mitch was right when he thought that this had been Lori's bottom. After her self-destructive day-drinking episode in the hotel suite, he never saw her in that same state. That wasn't to say she recovered completely from then on - from what he could tell, she was still broken with grief, but never again as badly as this. But she never spoke again of her lost will to live, she made some sort of effort to learn to live the way she now was...and she never drank again.
When Lori (or Lorraine as she'd been at that point) had heard that Mommy had run away, she'd practically celebrated. No more Barbie dolls or stupid dresses, or getting spanked for tracking dirt through the house (however, no bedtime and no school had been too much to hope for.) She loved her Daddy to pieces, with his funny walk and detachable foot, and stories about Vietnam (whatever that was) which her mom always told him off for telling her, but she listened to and begged for anyway. It was the best thing in the world in her little four-year old eyes. Like her birthday, Christmas, going on vacation, and the fourth of July, all on one sweet day.
It had been like growing up with your best friend as a parent; sure, he never slept without the lights on, and he was terrified of fireworks (or rather the noise) for whatever reason, so he was a hell of a weird best friend, but her entire childhood had been a blast.
Every time she'd come to him expecting a shit storm - the day she came out of the closet, when she chose to drop out of college because it was sapping her will to live, the seven times she'd had to tell him she'd been made redundant; all of that shit - he'd had nothing but support to offer her. Except when he found out about the tattoo that covered the whole of her back (a huge, swirling, mandala-type thing.) That had pissed him off a bit.
When he'd shown up at the door to her hospital ward, dripping with sweat and sunburned to within an inch of his life, she'd had no words out of the one million which were in the English language that could fully express her gratitude and love for him. Likewise when he'd stopped her from drinking herself to death in a Best Western, the day Adeline was put in the ground. As she got older, she began to understand his fears of the dark and loud noises as she developed them herself.
And as they sat on his porch in the middle of nowhere, on a scrap of land almost on the line between Illinois and Wisconsin, him drinking a Budweiser and her a Coke, the pair of them watching the sun go down with their heads on each others' shoulders, she realised.
He'd been given the huge task of becoming her chauffeur, life coach, psychiatrist, teacher, babysitter, bodyguard, best friend and heaven knows what else overnight when he was in his twenties, pretty severely mentally ill and utterly clueless about the whole 'parenting' thing. And it had been an odd journey, but they'd gotten by. And she'd have given anything to go back and relive the years. He'd made some of the biggest sacrifices he'd ever make for her, and there was no way she could ever repay him.
She stared at him, taking in every detail she'd always known of him, just as she was so familiar with the tribal band inked in black on her bicep, and the scar on her lip. The missing two fingers of his left hand; his bionic foot; his faded KISS shirt which he'd bought in 1984, and she was sure he would continue to wear until it was literally a pile of threads; his chin stubble and overgrown buzz cut; the slatey blue of his eyes which she couldn't deny was mirrored exactly in her own. He'd grown older, but he'd not changed.
"Mm?" He nodded slightly, just glancing at her for a moment or two.
"Thanks. For everything."