(a return to the Dear Diary tale)
10 Years Later…
Lauren dragged her fingers across the musty pages of her high school journal. With a sad smile she remembered putting the slim, red book in the banker box before sealing it with duct tape and leaving for boot camp. It hurt, she reflected, and her words were poignant, even for a naïve teenager. It feels like my world is crashing around my feet and my ears are full of the sound of a siren pounding in time to my heartbeat…
Time to grow up. Those were the words starting her new journal, a brown leather-bound day keeper where the pages lifted out and were replaced. A somber, grown up color. Ever since she had to learn the mnemonic Roy G. Biv for the colors of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet), Lauren had picked a new diary according to the catchy color scheme. For her, growing up went hand in hand with all the color leeching out of the world.
It was all Bart’s fault. The nasty accusatory comment welled up before she could squelch it. “Face facts Lauren,” she murmured aloud. “It wasn’t all Bart’s fault.” No, it wasn’t. What had she done to show she was different from her wild, war-like siblings? Grew her hair hippie-long and dressed like a normal teenager. She hadn’t joined any groups, made any friends or even volunteered to do anything that might call attention to herself. Everyone thought I was the same as my brothers because I didn’t give them reason not to. It only made sense for Bart’s friend and sister to try to protect him from the ‘Military Mama.’
The words she’d penned recounting that night swam in her vision as her eyes filled with tears. So much lost and so much gained. An image of scales flashed behind her eyes as the lids closed, squeezing the tears to slide down her cheeks. Which way would the balance go, to the good or the bad? The invitation to her five year reunion had gotten lost in the shuffle as she moved from an air base in Texas to an aircraft carrier off the coast of North Africa. By the time it had caught up, the event was over and relief was the only thing Lauren had felt. Ironic, at the tine she had been flying Blackhawk helicopters into combat zones. If the guys she lifted knew she was more scared of her high school classmates then going wheels up into a war zone, she would have never lived it down.
Today…she was afraid that her cowardice in running away from the fight brought to her door by Naomi and Mark might have cost Bart his life. Opening her eyes, Lauren read the simple invitation to her tenth high school reunion. “Please join us as we reminisce and raise money for a heart transplant for Bartholomew Michaels.”
“I wanted his heart broken, but not like this,” she tucked the invitation into the breast pocket on her uniform and filled out the forms requesting leave.
* * *
It had seemed like such a great idea at the time. Bart would have laughed but he couldn’t, a tube wound down his throat, keeping his lungs working until the multiple holes repaired enough for them to stay inflated. Too many things had seemed like a good idea until he jumped in, feet first, only to have things blow up in his face. This time the explosion had been literal.
Mark, his best friend and now his brother-in-law, had needed specialized help blasting away a section of rock in his backyard. He’d arranged to have an in-ground pool installed to celebrate his and Naomi’s sixth anniversary. Everything went swimmingly; Naomi was called out of town to do a lecture series on the culture gaps between the East and the West and the twins were having a campout with their grandparents. The pool company dug where the county stipulated the in ground behemoth had to go when they hit a snag, more like a boulder of black granite. To go the last few feet would run tens of thousands of dollars – money his sister and brother-in-law didn’t have.
Owning a construction company, Bart made a few calls and got the blast crew for a long wall mining firm to agree to do the removal as a side job the weekend before Naomi was due home. The only problem, the whole regular crew couldn’t come. At the last minute they replaced an experienced tech with a new recruit, one who forgot to check that the wires weren’t live when he connected them to the switch. As a result, the auger holes where the dynamite was inserted weren’t quite ready. Bart had been lowering the last of the charges into the final hole when everything went dark. He’d woken up in the hospital, lungs collapsed, perforated with pieces of stone and his heart on a ventricular assist machine.
He couldn’t image what was more surreal, dreaming of Lauren Walker ripping his heart out, or waking up to the sight of a machine keeping his heart running as a pencil thin geologist with pop bottle thick glasses waxed poetic on the basalt quality in the granite. As a result, he’d had nightmares about Martians on the moon picking through his innards looking for gold-tipped stone chips wearing masks of Lauren’s face. The real nightmares though, happened when his eyes were open. His health insurance was tied to his contractor’s license and didn’t cover acts of incompetence by unlicensed techs on a non-contracted job. The doctors were convinced his heart couldn’t be pieced back together and the artificial device was only good for a few months. His sister was threatening to divorce Mark for being an idiot and Mark was moping and moaning like he was the one facing death.
Why the hell had his brain picked Lauren of all people to obsess over? I need to make my peace with her before I die, he thought as his eyes fluttered closed. Darkness swallowed him, lights flashed past coalescing into the opening credits on the screen of the old Manos Theater. It was too warm, but he still held the delicate boned hand of the girl next to him. The arterial color of the screen painted the fine bones of her pale face in hues of bloody red. Still, Lauren had never looked prettier. Her brothers, bookends named Carl and Anthony sat stone-faced and silent three rows back and to her right. His sister Naomi and best friend Mark were in the same row but to his left. Unfortunately, they weren’t as quiet.
Every word, giggle and cat-call made Lauren flinch, wince and slowly withdraw behind the curtain of her hair. He tried to ignore them, to get her to watch the movie and ignore the pair, but it blew up on him. As the end credits rolled and Lauren stood up and left without a goodbye let alone a backwards glance, he realized how bad he screwed up by not telling his chaperones to shut up. It cost him more than a bad date, it cost him a shot a being happy with the only woman who held his attention for longer than a round of beers and a night of empty sex. His eyes opened the dark of dreams dispelled by the sanitary white world of the ward.
“Don’t worry bro,” Mark patted his hand clumsily, “Lauren called, she’s coming to the reunion next week. Maybe we can get her in to see you.” Bart had a moment to wonder how Mark could have known what was bothering him before relief pulled him back into the arms of sleep