This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
Friday, 1st July 2011 – Winter
St. Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital, Brisbane
Ariel was about to enter the hospital room a little after seven that evening, not sure what to expect when she did. She had never met Emma’s father before. She had seen pictures of him in his combat uniform and when he was younger and holding his daughter, but never met him in person. They wrote letters to each other once a month, because she was updating him on everything that Emma did, well the things that his daughter would leave out of her letters so he didn’t worry about her. Every time he had been home from one of his deployment, she had been out of town on one of her father’s construction sites. The four years that she had known Emma and her family, Noah had been home two times, each time only for about a month. His deployments could go from anywhere 18 months to 72 months.
The reason they had never met when he had been home was because of her, Ariel had made sure that she was out of town every time he was home.
Truth be told, she kind of liked him. He was a nice guy and easy on the eyes and his letters were one of her favourite things about him. She knew that if she met him, there was a possibility of falling in love with him. They were the reasons that she avoided meeting him. Ariel didn’t want to fall for him. She had been in love before and the guy ended up breaking her heart. Ariel didn’t want to feel like that ever again. She made a promise to herself after she left Michael that she would never fall in love again, it wasn’t for her. He broke her trust in men and her trust in love.
The reason she was here tonight was to pick up Emma, since the girl hadn’t been home since her father was admitted to hospital five days ago. Emma had been living with her and Faith since October 2007, after gaining permission from her father.
Ariel remembered when she first met Emma.
Tuesday, 6th Feb 2007
Crossroads Diner - 15:33
Ariel stepped into the diner. Her eyes did a full 360 of the area around her. This was the first time that she had been here. She was here to see her new friend. He was helping his parents out at the family diner today, and had asked her to meet him here at four. Ariel was a little early because she wanted to check out the diner.
It was a classic nineteen sixties diner with its light blue and white booth’s and brown wooden tables along the window side of the wall. It had a few loose tables and chairs in the centre between the booths and the long counter that ran the length of the diner. There was a jukebox at the far end, just off from the bathrooms and payphone.
Ariel took a few more steps in and let her eyes take in her surroundings. There were several customers in here, some sitting in the booths - some at the tables. A few perched at the long counter. A smile touched her lips as she hummed along to ‘Crocodile Rock’ that was playing on the jukebox. She loved little places like this. There were old photos along the wall. A few were of Australian soldiers.
She noticed a young girl sitting at the counter with a book in front of her. She looked to be colouring. Her back was to the brunette. Ariel began walking towards the counter and towards the girl. She took a seat beside her, now in full view.
Ariel looked down at the picture that she was colouring. It looked good and the girl looked young, at least under the age of ten.
“That’s really good,” she spoke to the girl, causing her to turn her head and look at her. Ariel noticed that she was of mixed race. She had a few traits of an Asian but some of an Australian.
“Thank you,” the girl replied politely, purely Australian tone.
Ariel was speechless. It was rare to find polite people these days. She was amazed even more since it came from a child. “You’re very welcome,” she finally spoke. “Hi, my name is Ariel Patterson.”
The little girl just watched the older brunette for a moment, as if she was trying to get a read on her or decide whether she was a good person.
“Hi,” she spoke up a moment later. “I’m Emma Chase, and I’m eight,” she declared.
Ariel let a chuckle slip from her lips.
“Emma, you know not to talk to strangers,” an older male voice spoke up, standing on the opposite side of the counter with a coffee pot in hand.
The girl turned her attention to the older man. “You also told me to be polite when spoken to, poppy.” She answered straightforward.
The older man chuckled. “You are right, angel,” he told her before turning his eyes on the blue-eyed brunette sitting beside the eight year old.
Ariel turned her eyes on the older man. He looked to be in his late fifties, his sandy blonde hair was going grey and he had blue trusting eyes.
“Afternoon Ma’am, would you like a cup?” he asked her, holding up the coffee pot.
Ariel could smell the strong scent and it turned her stomach. She had never liked the smell of coffee. It had always made her feel queasy, ever since she was little. “Please don’t call me Ma’am, its Ariel,” she greeted, friendly. “And I don’t like coffee, I’ll take a white tea with a sprinkle of mint drinking chocolate if that’s possible,” she requested.
Patrick Chase looked at her serious for a moment. “You must be Wade’s friend,” he answered with a smile.
Ariel smiled at the older man and nodded her head. “Yes, I am,” she answered, promptly. “I know I’m a little early but I wanted to check this place since he talks about it all the time,” she told him.
“Chief’s a great cook,” Emma proclaimed. “He makes the best mac and cheese, well beside Grams.”
The older man let out another throaty chuckle as the bells above the front door jingled, indicating that someone had entered. “Faith,” he greeted, welcomely.
Ariel turned her head around and noticed a gorgeous blonde around her age, walking towards them. She stopped just behind the young girl, placing her hand on her shoulder.
“Hey Em, ready to go?” the blonde woman asked the little girl.
Emma slid off her stool and enclosed the small distance between them, threading her fingers with the blonde’s and beamed her a smile. “Aunt Faith, this is Ariel. She’s Uncle Wade’s friend,” the little girl informed her aunt, matter-of-factually.
Faith lifted her eyes from her niece and turned them on the young brunette sitting at the counter. She was looking at her with curiosity.
Wade appeared from the kitchen and stopped beside Patrick, both were donning white aprons with plaid shirts and blue jeans.
“Hey little sis,” the younger blonde man greeted Faith.
Faith smiled at her brother. “Hey doofus, nice fashion statement,” she teased.
Wade crossed his arms and poked his tongue at his younger sibling.
“Behave you two,” Patrick told his children. “You don’t want to teach your niece any bad behaviour,” he scolded them, amused.
Ariel was just watching the scene play out before her. That’s when it hit her. Faith was Wade’s sister, which made Emma his niece and the older guy beside him, his dad. But who was Emma’s mum or dad?
“Uncle Wade, I’m going to go see ‘Because I Said So’ with Aunt Faith,” Emma declared.
All eyes turned on the twenty-one year old, whom had a smile tugging at her lips.
“Isn’t she a bit young for that movie?” Wade questioned his little sister.
Both Emma and Faith shook their heads at the same time.
“Ariel should go with you,” Wade suggest, turning his eyes on his friend. “I’m gonna be caught up here for a few more hours, so you girls should hang out.”
Faith glared at her brother, not finding this amusing. He knew how she felt about pushing people on her.
“You should come with us,” Emma agreed.
Ariel turned her focus on the blonde woman. She didn’t look like she agreed. “I don’t want to impose ...”
“I want you to come,” the girl pleaded. “Please,” she begged, putting on her best puppy dog eyes.
Ariel melted. “How can I say ‘No’ to that?” she replied.
Emma beamed her a smile. “You can’t” she answered, cheekily.
Ariel let out the long breath that she had been holding and opened the door, taking a few steps into the room. Her eyes fell onto the attractive blonde man that was lying in the hospital bed, his daughter curled up by his side sound asleep. She hadn’t been sleeping much ever since they had gotten the call a week ago about Noah being shot. Ariel had stayed with the girl the entire time until her father was flown back to Brisbane. She then busied herself with work so she didn’t have to think about the girl’s father. To be honest, she had been a little scared that he wasn’t going to make it. But there he was, alive and breathing. She still had every one of his letters and read them often before she went to sleep.
Noah heard the clicking of heels coming towards the bed. His eyes shot open and turned towards the door, drinking in the beautiful brunette that entered. He looked her up and down, recognizing her from the photographs his daughter and sent him while on tour and the occasional photo she had sent him with her letters. He watched as she slowly walked toward the bed.
“Hi,” she said quietly.
Her voice sounded as hypnotic as it did on the phone when they spoke every few months - mainly just to say a quick 'hi' when he called, his main focus was on his little girl. She looked anxious and nervous, liked she was frightened of him. “Ariel,” he addressed her.
She nodded her head and took a few more steps toward the bed. Ariel took in the guy that was lying in the bed. He had a Chad Michael Murray look to him with those serious blue eyes and short crew cut blonde hair. He wasn’t moving, only his head and eyes followed her. Faith had already filled her in about his injuries. He had been shot in the back and was lucky he wasn’t paralyzed. If it had been a few more centimetres to the left then he wouldn’t have been so lucky.
“I’m here for Em, if that’s okay?” she asked him gently. “I think she needs a break from here.”
Noah slowly nodded his head in agreement, shifting his eyes from the brunette and looking down at his daughter who was resting her head on his chest. He was worried about his little girl. She had been crying a lot too, every time he moved slightly or she accidently bumped him, causing him to hiss or let out a cry of pain. Emma would burst into tears and pressed his morphine button. He loved his daughter and didn’t want her to see him in pain.
Ariel stopped on the right side of the bed, her eyes looking down at the sleeping preteen that she had come to love. She gently nudged the girl, being careful so she didn’t cause any extra pain to the injured soldier.
“Wake up Baby Bird,” she said softly. “It’s time to go home.”
The twelve year old mixed race girl began to stir, her eyes fluttering before they opened fully and took in her surroundings. Emma remembered that she was in the hospital and she remembered her father getting injured. She had heard Ariel’s voice. Slowly sitting up and turning to her right to see the older woman looking at her with a soft smile.
“Hey sweetie,” the brunette greeted her. “How are you?” Ariel asked the girl concerned. The stress couldn’t be good for an epileptic, even though being at a hospital would be the best place for her if she had a seizure, but not so good if her father was the only one in the room to get help since he couldn’t really help her.
“Ariel, what are you doing here?” she answered the question with another question, not wanting to answer the older woman’s question.
Ariel knew the girl was avoiding the topic. She knew it was hard for the pre-teen to open up about such personal things, even though she had known the girl since she was eight years old. She placed her hand on the girl’s shoulder. “I’m here to take you home,” she told the girl.
Emma liked Ariel. She was a nice person, always had a smile for you. She turned her brown eyes on her father. “Dad needs me,” Emma told the older woman.
Noah softly smiled at his daughter. “I’m fine, Monkey. You need to go home and sleep in a proper bed. Spend some time away from the hospital,” he told her, lovingly. He needed some time to himself. Noah knew it was hard on his daughter to see him when he was in pain or when he woke up from a nightmare. It scared her and he didn’t like to see that look of fear on her face. “I promise,” he added.
Emma still was hesitant about leaving him.
“Shadow misses you,” Ariel spoke up. “Anyway, your aunt has tomorrow off and we three girls can go spend the day together,” she told the girl.
Emma looked at her father. She knew that smile he was putting on was forced. “Fine, but we’re coming back in the morning,” she told him before turning her eyes on the older woman.
Ariel instantly nodded her head. “Of course we will,” she told the girl. “I’m sure your aunt would love to visit her brother. But first we have to get home and go to bed before tomorrow comes.”
Emma sighed; turning her attention back to her father and gently gave him a hug. She had learnt over the past few days to be careful with him. Emma heard a slight hiss leave her father. “I love you dad,” she whispered, pulling back and giving him a kiss on the cheek.
Noah smiled at his little girl. “To the moon and back,” he told her, wishing he could hug her back but when he moved, it hurt. He could only move his arms slightly without causing any pain. He was pretty much immobilized. The Doctor told him it would be a few weeks before he would be able to move them properly or even attempt walking. He felt like a crimple. He couldn’t even hug his own daughter back.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he promised, hoping they left soon. He didn’t want Emma or the beautiful brunette to see him cry.
Emma hopped off the bed and walked over to the couch, scooping up her backpack and personal belongings she had brought with her.
Noah shifted his focus to the brunette that was watching his daughter gather her things. This was the first time that he actually saw her in person. Man, her photograph didn’t do her justice, he thought.
“Take care of her,” he said quietly. “She’s my world,” Noah added, his voice thick with emotion.
Ariel turned her attention on the blonde man looking at her. “Always,” she promised sincerely. Her blue orbs locked on his. The girl was like family to her. She would take a bullet for her.
A petite blonde nurse in her late thirties entered the room with a few things in her hands that were needed for a sponge bath. “Mr Chase, are you ...” she began before noticing that he had company, not just his daughter. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you had visitors,” she added.
All eyes turned onto the nurse that stopped at the end of the bed.
Ariel smiled at the older woman. “It’s okay, we’re leaving,” she informed her, turning her eyes on the twelve year old who had joined her side, loaded with her stuff. “You ready?” she asked the girl.
Emma nodded, before turning her eyes on her father once again. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she promised him. “Night Molly,” she greeted the night nurse.
The blonde nurse smiled at the teenager. “Night hun.”
Ariel felt a little awkward just standing there and not saying anything. It would be rude not to say anything. “Night everyone,” she spoke up a little nervous. “Come on Em,” she instructed the girl, walking towards the door. Emma followed the older woman and headed out of the hospital room.
Noah watched his daughter and the brunette walk out of the room, his eyes lingering on the door before he turned his eyes on the older woman. She was smiling at him. Molly had been his night nurse since he had been admitted. She was a nice woman who liked to talk about her family.
“I see Emma is finally leaving the hospital,” she spoke up as she began to set things up for his sponge bath. “I’m glad that the girl is finally taking some time away from here, it’s a lot for a teenager to take in.”
Noah was use to Molly rambling on about anything and everything. “She’s only twelve, not thirteen for two more months,” he pointed out, watching as the nurse turned her hazel eyes on him.
She gave him a look, the same look his mother often gave him. “Close enough,” Molly told him. “You’ll blink and she’ll be all grown and falling in love or getting married.”
Noah groaned. He didn’t want to think about those things. He preferred to see her as the same pigtailed six year old girl who would chase butterflies and wanted him to check her closet for boogie monsters when he was home from tours. That was the one thing that sucked when he was deployed, missing important moments of his daughter’s life.
“She’s very pretty, the brunette,” Molly spoke up as she walked to the injured soldier’s left side with the wet sponge and small bucket with warm soapy water in it.
Noah looked at the woman with a glare, knowing what she was hinting at. Molly was like an annoying big sister at times. Molly chuckled, squeezing the sponge. “So, is she a friend?” she inquired, prying.
Monday, 19th February 2008
Afghanistan – 14:21 – Classified Location
Noah was laying on his swag, looking down at the letter that he had just read from his daughter. He couldn’t believe that she was eight already. People didn’t believe him when he told them that he had an eight year old daughter, mainly because he was only twenty four. Being a teen dad was hard but he wouldn’t trade his little girl for anything.
He turned the last page and attached to it was some laminated photos she had sent him. He removed the paper clip then removed the ten pictures. Emma had sent him a picture of his parents, his brother and sister making faces, a few of just her. One was playing the violin which she had just started this year and others of her doing various things.
He continued to flip through them and in the last few were photos of a beautiful young brunette around twenty with his daughter. Emma had written about how she had met Ariel. This must have been her. Wow, she was beautiful. That would be the photo that he kept with him. Emma and Ariel were looking at one another and grinning, his sister must have taken the photo.
He just wondered how long Ariel would stick around for.
Thursday, 14th July 2011
St. Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital, Brisbane
The blonde soldier was lying in a hospital bed, heaving in sweat. He had just woken up from a bad dream. Every time he closed his eyes, he flashed back to the battlefield. He was still on a strong dose of morphine to help ease the pain that constantly was shooting through him whenever he moved too much. Noah had been here for just over three weeks now, every time the doctor visited him, he asked the older man when he could go home and always got the same answer.
’Your body is still healing, Noah. It’s going to be a while yet.’
Noah wasn’t known for his patience. He didn’t like sitting around and doing nothing. A soldier’s brain is always thinking, needing to know the next move or attack to stay alive. He knew the doctor told him not to move much until his body had healed a little more, but he was tired of waiting.
Noah lifted his hand and gripped the bar hanging above his bed. He began pulling himself up, sharp pain began to shoot through him. “Aaaarrrggghhh,” he cried out, continuing to pull himself up.
Patrick Chase ran into the room, hearing the younger man’s pain. He hurried over to the bed and helped his son sit up, placing a pillow under his back and pressed the morphine button. “Noah, what the hell are you trying to do?” he demanded, glaring at the younger man. “You wanna be here longer?”
Noah could feel the pain slipping away as more morphine entered his system. He turned his attention on his father, a former soldier himself.
“I’m fine,” he gritted through his teeth.
Patrick crossed his arms at the younger man. “Don’t be so damn stubborn, Noah!” he told him, turning to the side table and picked up the blue velvet box, opening it and holding up the purple-heart medal that they had received only a few days ago. “Some soldiers come back in a box just to receive this medal.”
Noah refused to look at it. He crossed his arms and stared up at the TV above his bed at the end of it. His father of all people should understand what he was going through, he was a former soldier.
“I don’t deserve it,” he told the older man.
Patrick looked at the younger man, slack jawed. “You’re kidding me right?”
Noah shook his head, not shifting his eyes from the screen. “I should still be over there fighting with my men instead of being stuck here.” He told him, persistent.
Patrick was a little proud and annoyed, at the same time. His son was having survival guilt, a lot of men that served went through it when they come home safe and others didn’t. He placed the box back on the side table and turned his attention to the young man. “Your Lieutenant Colonel managed to get a call through to me an hour ago,” he told him.
Noah turned his attention to the older man.
“I know how you got shot in the back. You dived in front of another soldier and saved his life,” the older blue eyed, dark blonde haired man proclaimed.
Noah shook his head. No, he was just doing what he was taught to do. “It’s my job to make sure my unit comes home alive, every one of them. I just did what any soldier would have done,” he concluded, looking at his father before noticing that someone else was standing in the doorway.
Ariel stood in the doorway with a takeaway beverage in her hand, frozen. She had heard the end of that conversation and now he was looking at her. She couldn’t just walk away and pretend that she didn’t hear any of it. For the last two weeks Ariel had been coming to the hospital at least once, every day. She had no project going at the moment and was curious about the soldier.
Whenever Noah’s parents were too busy with the diner, she would bring Emma in to see her father. The girl was back at school but would visit her father after school. Emma spent most of her weekends at the hospital. Ariel didn’t mind making the trip. It was only just over an hour’s drive from the Gold Coast to the heart of Brisbane.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt ...” Ariel began to mumble.
Patrick turned around at the sound of the familiar woman’s voice. “Ariel,” he spoke up a little surprised. He thought she only visited when she bought in his granddaughter, guess he was wrong. “Don’t be silly, come in, maybe you can talk some sense into this stubborn fool.”
Ariel felt her feet moving forward and towards the bed, a smile twitched her lips at the older man’s comment. She narrowed her eyes on the blonde man, her eyes locking on his as she stopped beside the older man and handed Noah the takeaway beverage.
“What did he do now?” Ariel questioned, exasperate as she placed a hand on her hip.
Patrick turned his attention on the younger woman, knowing that she was going to write his son up for doing something stupid. “I found him trying to pull himself up with the steel bar and with only one arm.” He told her. “I’m gonna go find the doctor, you deal with him.” He answered, walking off and mumbling something under his breath.
Ariel turned her attention back on the injured man. “Noah! You know what the doctor said about doing any strenuous activities, do you wanna be in here longer?” she scolded him.
Noah could not believe that his father had told on him. Over the last two weeks, Ariel had been the only person that was able to put up with his mood swings and tell him what she honestly thought. From her letter he could tell that she was a tough and stubborn woman, finding it out in person was something different though. His family was dancing around his outburst, but the young brunette gave it back as good as she got. He made sure that he didn’t snap at his daughter.
“I’m a soldier, it’s what I am! I don’t know how to do anything else,” he confessed to her, damn this morphine that dropped his barriers.
Ariel could see that he was hurting, not just physically but emotionally also. It couldn’t be easy for a soldier to be so defenseless and vulnerable when they’re so use to be tough and guarded.
“How about a father,” she answered, quietly. “How about staying alive so you can see your daughter turn from a young girl into a young woman? Don’t you wanna be there to walk down the aisle? Or see her first crush and scare away the boy that comes knocking?”
A moment of complete silence filled the room before Ariel spoke up again.
“Emma needs her dad. She needs you, Noah.”
Noah was holding the warm takeaway cup in his hand. He let out a heavy sigh. “I do miss her when I’m away,” he admitted, shifting his eyes to the beverage in his hands. This was the first time that she had bought him in something besides his daughter.
Ariel smiled at him. “She misses you too, talks about all the time. I feel like I’ve known you for years and not just because of the letters we sent to one another,” she admitted. “Your favourite colour is army green. Your favourite time is at dawn, just as the sun is rising. You told her that it doesn’t matter where you are in the world when the sun rises, it’s still beautiful...”
Noah watched the brunette as she spoke. He watched as her nose crinkled when she talked about something she didn’t like and how she lit up whenever she talked about his daughter. He couldn’t believe how much Emma had shared about his letters to her - with Ariel, even though he wrote to her himself, when he wrote to her their main subject was his daughter or his family, not him or her.
Emma had often mentioned Ariel in her letters to him, along with the photos she sent of them together. He had a whole album full of pictures of them along with the letters she had sent. Noah was surprised that it actually took them so long to meet. But whenever he had been home from deployment, Ariel had been out of town working on a jobsite, which he found strange that she just happened to be out of town those two times that he had been home over the last four years. He had really wanted to meet the woman in those photographs, meet the woman who watched over his daughter when he was millions of miles away.
Ariel had stopped talking a moment ago to find Noah staring at her with a concentrated look on his face, like he was deep in thought.
“Noah,” she spoke up, touching his arm.
He was pulled from his thoughts when he felt her fingers brush his arm. Noah turned his eyes on her. “Hmm,” he answered, slightly distracted.
“You should drink that before it gets cold,” she told him, gesturing to the Styrofoam takeaway travel cup in his hand.
He gave her a mock salute with his free hand. “Yes Ma’am,” he replied, bringing the beverage to his lips and took a swig before swallowing hard and making a face. “What the hell was that?” he demanded, turning his eyes on her.
She grinned, letting a chuckle escape her lips. “Tea,” she told him, amused.
He put the cup on the side table and glared at her. “Soldiers don’t drink tea!” he proclaimed. “I thought you knew everything about me?” he challenged with an amused sparkle in his eyes.
Ariel placed a hand on her hip and held a straight face. “I’m not bringing you coffee, you don’t need the extra caffeine to bug the nurses...”
“You tell him, Miss Patterson,” an older male voice spoke up from the doorway. The doctor and Patrick Chase re-entered the room, making their way towards the bed.
“Noah, your father informs me that you’ve been pushing yourself, again,” the doctor scolded the younger blonde man. “We’ve talked about this, mate. The more you push yourself, the more damage you could do to your body. There is already tissue damage. Muscles and ligaments are shattered and need to be re-knit together. Bones have been damaged so they need repairing too. You know this takes time. I will continue to give you this speech if you continue to ignore my orders,” he told his patient, sternly.
Noah gritted his teeth.
“Look, if you can be a good boy for the next few weeks and not cause your body any extra stress, then I might consider sending you home as long as you don’t overdo it. Understood?”
Noah nodded. He hated being talk to like he was a little child.
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