Lindy shrugged, praying she didn’t look as bad as she felt. "Fine."

"How’s Rush?"

"He couldn’t be better," she answered, unable to keep her voice from dipping with heavy sarcasm. "He’s all navy – you know him. God, country, apple pie – the whole patriotic bit. He nearly lost his arm. He nearly bled to death, but he couldn’t enjoy a few days in paradise because it was more important for him to get back to the Mitchell. He’s got a job to do, you know. He alone is going to uphold world peace. You didn’t tell me what a hero I married, Steve."

Looking stunned, her brother stopped and glared at her, his eyes wide and filled with surprise. "Exactly what is your problem?"

"Nothing," she flared. "Everything," she amended.

"What happened?"

She didn’t want Steve to be gentle and concerned. Not when she was being forced to admit her blunder.

"You were right from the first. I made a mistake--- A bad one. I’m not the kind of woman who will ever make a good navy wife---You knew that from the beginning."

Steve’s frown deepened. "I’ve come to think differently in the past few weeks. Lindy, when we got the news there’d been an accident aboard the Mitchell, you were as solid as a rock. It was me who fell apart at the seams. Don’t you remember how I kept telling you, you should prepare yourself for the worst? Everything I said and did was wrong. You were like an anchor during that whole time. I was the one leaning on you for strength."

Lindy’s smile was weak and gentle as she placed her hand on her brother’s forearm. "You were wonderful. I thank God you were there."

"But you love Rush. Dear God, Lindy, you were so strong and brave when we learned he was missing, and yet I was afraid it would have killed you if the damage control party hadn’t found Rush in time."

"Yes, I love him. But I’m not willing to take second place in his life. With Rush – " she paused and looked up at him, her gaze narrowing " – and with you, the navy will always come first."

"Did you tell Rush this?"

She nodded, and her eyes filled with an unspeakable sadness. "He knows exactly how I feel."

"What are you going to do now?"

"I…I don’t know."

Steve placed his free arm around her shoulder and squeezed gently. "Don’t decide anything yet. You’re hurting and miserable. You’ve got several weeks to think matters through and then, once Rush is safely back in Seattle, you two can sort things out."

"I told Rush I wouldn’t be there to meet him when the Mitchell sails home. I meant it, Steve. He put the navy first. He was the one who chose his career over me."

Steve’s mouth and eyes thinned with frustration. "You sent Rush back to the Mitchell with that piece of good news? Come on, Lindy. It’s time to grow up here. So you were worried about him. That’s only natural. But don’t try to suffocate him now because eventually it’ll kill your marriage. Rush isn’t the kind of man who’s going to let someone else dictate his life. You knew that when you agreed to be his wife."

Lindy pulled herself free from her brother’s hold. "I didn’t expect you to understand."

"For God’s sake, Lindy, you want to castrate a man because he’s got a job to do and feels honor-bound to do it? What kind of logic is that?"

"I’m not going to talk about it anymore." Quick-paced, determined steps carried her down the concourse and away from her brother. She should have known better than to even try to talk to him. Steve Kyle was as much into patriot games as Rush.

"Lindy," her brother called, catching up with her. "I can’t let you ruin your life like this – and Rush’s in the process. Any idiot can see how much you two love each other."

"I don’t want to hear this. It’s none of your business, so keep your opinions to yourself."

"I can’t!"

"Get your own house in order, big brother, and then you can start cleaning mine. Until then, stay out of my affairs." Lindy regretted the harsh words the minute they tumbled over her tongue. Steve looked at her as though she’d stabbed a knife into his chest. A muscle in his jaw leaped to life and she saw her brother mentally withdrawing from her, as if a mechanical door were slowly lowering, blocking her out.

His eyes narrowed and hardened as his angry gaze briefly met hers. "If that’s the way you want it."

It wasn’t, but she didn’t know how to retract those cruel words. He didn’t bother to wait for an answer and marched away from her. Lindy caught up with him in the baggage claim area and they rode into the city in a stilted, uneasy silence.

"I didn’t mean what I said earlier," Lindy told him, once they were inside the apartment.

Her brother didn’t look at her. "Yes, you did," he said after a moment, and walked away from her.

* * *

"I seem to be batting a thousand lately," Lindy confided to Susan. She’d been back from Hawaii almost three weeks now, but this was the first opportunity she’d had to visit her friend. "In one short week, I managed to alienate both my husband and my brother."

"Have you heard from Rush?" Susan asked, replenishing the coffee in both their cups.

"No. But then I didn’t expect to."

"Have you written him?"

Lindy reached for her coffee cup, cradling it with both hands, letting the warmth burn her palms. "No."

Susan pulled out a chair and slumped down. She was nearly five months pregnant and just starting to wear maternity tops. She looked soft and fragile, but underneath she was as tough as leather. Lindy would have given everything she owned to possess the same grit and fortitude as her friend.

"From what I can tell, you’ve put yourself in a no-win situation," Susan said softly, sadly.

"My God, Rush was nearly killed. It was so close. The doctors said – " Lindy paused and bit into her bottom lip to control the emotion that rocked her every time she thought about the accident.

"He could have gotten hurt in a car accident driving to an office just as easily. Would you suggest he never sit in a car again?"

"No. Of course not." Her hands shook as she raised the mug to her lips and took a sip. "The accident taught me something more. Whatever it takes to be a good navy wife, I don’t have it. I couldn’t stand on that pier and smile the next time Rush gleefully sails off into the sunset. I can’t take these long months of separation. I always thought married people were one, a unit, two people sculpting a life together. It’s not that way with Rush. It won’t ever be that way – not as long as he’s in the navy. I can’t be like you, Susan. I wish I could, but it’s just not in me."

"You’d rather be separated for a lifetime?" Susan questioned, frowning.

"Yes. It would be easier than dying by inches. No. Oh God, Susan, I don’t know what I want anymore."

Her friend didn’t say anything for a long time, and when she did, her voice was gentle, understanding. "I stopped counting the times I’ve said goodbye to Jeff a long time ago. Every time I stand out on that pier and watch that huge carrier pull away, I think I’ll never be able to do it again. Letting Jeff go, and doing it with a smile, takes everything there is inside me. You’ve got it wrong, Lindy. You think I’m so brave and good, but I’m not."

"But you are."

"No. I’m just a woman who loves her man."

"I love Rush, too," Lindy returned defiantly.

"I know, and he loves you." The tip of Susan’s finger circled the rim of her coffee cup as she averted her gaze, her look thoughtful. "I don’t think I’ll ever forget the night I first met you. We were in the kitchen chatting, and Rush and Jeff were fiddling around on the patio with the barbecue. Remember?"

Lindy nodded.

"You were holding one of the boys and I saw Rush look at you. Lindy, there’s no way I can describe the longing that came into his eyes. Just watching him stare at you with such tenderness made me want to weep. It was as if you were the Madonna holding the baby Jesus. In that moment, I knew how much your love had changed Rush, and how important you had become to him in those short weeks."

"You might succeed in getting him to leave the navy, but in time you’ll regret it. I know Rush will. Eventually it would cripple him, and in the process, you. If ever there was a man who was meant to lead others, meant to serve his country, it’s Rush."

"Why is it always the woman who has to change?" Lindy cried. "It’s not fair."

"You’re right," Susan agreed, with a sad smile. "It isn’t fair. All I can say is, if you try to change Rush and succeed, he won’t be the same man you fell in love with, or the same man you married."

Lindy bowed her head, more confused than ever.

"Rush took your words to heart," Susan added, looking both disheartened and disappointed.

Lindy jerked her gaze up. "How do you know that?"

"He doesn’t expect you to be waiting for him when the Mitchell docks next month. Jeff wrote that Rush has volunteered for the first watch."

"What does that mean?"

"It means he’s going to remain on board as officer of the day the first twelve hours after the crew is dismissed. He told Jeff he didn’t have any reason to hurry home since you weren’t going to be there."

"But, I didn’t mean I wouldn’t be at the apartment!"

Susan shrugged. "How was Rush supposed to know that?"

The phone rang twice and Lindy glanced at her watch, calculating if she had enough time to answer it before meeting Susan and the other navy wives. She had no intention of being late for this last fling before the Mitchell docked. Taking a chance, she hurried into the kitchen.

"All right, all right," she grumbled, and reached for the receiver. "Hello?"

Her greeting was followed by a short silence, and then a soft female voice asked, "Is Steve Kyle available, please?"

"Carol? Is that you?" Lindy’s heart started to pound with excitement. She’d been wanting to talk to her former sister-in-law for weeks.

"Who’s this?"

Carol’s voice was far from fragile and she could almost picture the petite, gentle blonde squaring her shoulders and bringing up her chin.

"It’s Lindy."

"Lindy! I didn’t know you were in Seattle."

"Six months now."

"You should have called. I’d love to see you again."

"I wanted to contact you," Lindy said, her spirits lifting as a Christmas song came over the radio, "but Steve wasn’t in favor of the idea. How are you?"

"Good. Real good. Well, tell me – are you Mrs. Paul Abrams yet?" The question was followed by a light, infectious laugh. "The last time I saw you, Paul had just given you a diamond ring and you were floating on cloud nine." Copyright 2016 - 2024