SWITCH

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Fate

“You don’t hate me for bringing you back?” Richard’s tone was serious again. I felt the need to make an attempt at a serious answer.

“I wouldn’t think you would care, but no I don’t hate you. All this is my fault. Maybe leaving in the first place was wrong, but I’m glad I did. I can’t imagine my life without my son. Dave is another matter entirely. He’s a good man he would have found another wife. A wife who could have been with him every day, grown old, and died in that restaurant like she was supposed to.”

Richard threw his hands in the air. “Have you considered maybe you weren’t supposed to die in the restaurant? Maybe this is the way everything was meant to work out.”

“You mean fate? No, I don’t believe in fate that’s ridiculous. There’s no mystical map out there for us to follow. It’s a bunch of crap people believe to rationalize the chaos we live in.”

Richard began to laugh quietly. “There was a time I believed the same thing but not now I’m not sure. The problems with the civil suit and the families of the dead gunmen will go away in time.” Richard looked up at the trees as he spoke. He knew more than he was willing to admit.

“Oh, I expect they will. You told me everything would be taken care of the day you brought me here. I plan to cooperate so I expect every last detail will be handled.” I looked Richard square in the eyes, and he didn’t flinch. Whatever problem remained was taken care of the moment the ink touched the paper, and I signed my life away.

“In that case, I wouldn’t give it a second thought,” Richard smiled and squinted to look past the low-hanging sun in the distance. His eyes looked green in the sunlight. The tiny specks of gold and brown in his pupils sparked a moment of clarity in my murky brain. I looked away; it physically hurt my head to look at him.

“I know it’s selfish of me, but I’m glad Matt will be closer. I think the new school will give him a second chance to make friends. I’m not happy about having to separate myself from David, but we worked too hard to save for Matt’s future. I won’t let that money be taken from us. I have done enough damage to their lives already.” I was beginning to get tired. The walk was turning into more of a hike. As I looked around at the un-manicured scenery, my mind began to wander. “Hey, what if Dave did something that made me want to hurt him, what could have happened to him?”

“Oh, I doubt even our resident mad-scientist could predict when you were capable of frying him where he stood, but I guess I would have come to rescue you sooner.”

“Rescue me? My God, is that what all this is supposed to be, a rescue?” I laughed too loudly, but I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“Yes, but we are not out of the woods yet. It may take the better part of a year to get everything cleared up, but it will happen. See this is why I wanted you to come with me to the stables. We needed the opportunity to talk and discover your fear of small rodents taking up arms against us. I was totally unaware of the hidden threat beneath the shrubbery.”

“Guess what I am thinking about now.” Richard started laughing, and I suppose I had it coming. The stables were just up ahead, but it was quickly getting dark. “It looks like we only have a bit of daylight left in the day,” I mentioned casually.

“Are you afraid of the dark Cal?”

“No, obviously I’m much scarier than anything you will find out here, but I am a city girl and little critters hunting and foraging, running around doing their business. It creeps me out.”

“You do realize we are on a mountaintop. Where are all the little critters supposed to hunt and run around doing their business?”

“I am not in charge of all that Boss. You and the other tower guards can handle those details. I just make sure I am in well-lit areas before nightfall.”

Henry, the large animal vet on staff, met us at the edge of the stables. “Hey Colonel Wolfe, I’m sorry to say we didn’t get any action today.”

“Henry my friend you look tired. How are the mares doing?”

“The chocolate mare is doing well this is her second foal, and I don’t expect any real problems. The black mare is a different story. She is showing signs of fatigue, so we are monitoring her progress closely. I’ve consulted with a longtime friend of mine, he has a ranch in California, his outfit has hundreds of successful births each year. He’s emailing me his journal on similar cases. I’m hopeful something in them will help us out.”

“Good, sounds promising. Are there any other issues with the mounted patrol I should know about?”

“No, we are doing well overall. We have six riders at the lower camp today. They will be switched out tomorrow. Should arrive at the north stable by thirteen hundred hours.”

“Good, keep me informed of the progress with the mares. I would still like to assist with the deliveries if I am able,” Richard said.

“We have instructions to call you day or night Colonel.”

“All right, Henry I won’t keep you any longer” Richard shook Henry’s hand, and he started walking off toward a domed cottage about twenty-five yards from the stables.

We wandered around the outside fence and looked at all the horses. Richard explained how two horses were about to drop their colts. Henry and his assistant were keeping watch on the two mares around the clock. His assistant arrived to relieve him, and Henry was on his way home for the evening after twelve hours with the mares.

Sunset was beginning to form off in the sky behind us. Purple and blue ribbons of color hung above the snow-capped mountains in the distance, it didn’t look real, it looked like a painting. It was gorgeous.

Richard stretched, took his sunglasses off his head, and slid them into his shirt pocket. “Well, it is about time to head back to the main complex and get a tri-tip sandwich.”

“Does sounds tasty, but I am not in the mood to eat anything.”

“Eddy makes great beans and potato salad too. It is a Sunday BBQ tradition here. Besides, I should walk you back to your place,” Richard explained.

“No, you don’t have to. My place has got to be way out of your way.”

“I need to protect you from all the wild animals. One of them might jump out and shit right in front of you.” Richard hopped from one patch of grass to another in an attempt to mock me.

“Very funny, I hope a rabid chipmunk bites you in the ass.”

We headed back toward the base. The early evening sun cast long shadows on the ground in front of us. Richard made animal shapes with his hands.

“You must really like horses, offering your help with the foals; it can’t be easy to deliver such a large baby animal.”

“I planned to become a large animal vet back in the day. It is more of a hobby now. If I hadn’t joined all this, I might have stayed in Montana and started a practice. I finished my degree but the college fund was drying up, and I wasn’t able to get into a few of the classes I needed to start the veterinary program. I was looking at going back to the sheep for a season or maybe even two, so I joined the Air Force, it was only supposed to be for a few years but here I am still. Never went back to finish any part of my original plan.”

“I never finished college. I ended up mixed up with all this I guess,” I said.

“There might be something in your old files, transcripts, or some kind of explanation.”

“It doesn’t matter. After I made it back home, I was so upset that I couldn’t remember anything, but then I met Dave. His past wasn’t anything he wanted to remember. Everything was new. It’s better to live in the present, dwelling on the past is pointless, and the past it’s all things you can’t change anyway.”

“That is easy for you. I remember the past. I like dwelling on it. I’m hoping some of our history repeats itself.” Richard winked at me as we reached the outskirts of the buildings. I wanted to ask him exactly what he hoped would repeat, but it was too late. He switched back to his crusty Colonel personality as we reached the main lawn. There was a stark difference between his two personas. One man was normal and easy to talk to. The other was a cold, calculated, hardened ass of a man I can only tolerate in small doses.

As promised, there were delicious smelling barbecued items and many people gathered around enjoying them. Richard got his sandwich, and I was talked into having some potato salad. We mingled with a group of people I hadn’t seen before. Most of them worked in the technology building and were inside all day. There was still a lot I didn’t know about the base. It was nice to hear some of the everyday problems and joys the people around me were facing. I really wasn’t as alone as I believed.

I walked home later than I expected. I convinced Richard to stay at the top of the hill and watch me walk down into the residential area as long as I agreed to take a huge four-battery flashlight with me. The cook seemed too eager to hand it over to me as if it was his job to stash the flashlight and wait for just the right moment to offer it to me. It was very odd.

I looked the metal object over and found nothing out of place. It was an agreeable compromise under the circumstances. I didn’t want that uncomfortable moment with Richard at my door when he went to leave. There was something familiar about him now that I siphoned his energy. He and I were friends before, more obviously, judging by the jewelry found in my old things. I see him almost every day. There are dinners and lunches all under the guise of work, but they seem social. I look forward to my time with him even though I know I shouldn’t.

The smell of freshly mopped floors and the sound of the dishwasher running greeted me when I arrived home. These sounds and smells were part of my nightly routine. I would go through the house and plug in the cell phones, wipe down the kitchen counters and start the dishwasher before heading up to bed. The sound was almost a perfect copy. The boys would have already arrived home by now. Dave would be sitting in his chair watching the news. Matt would be playing a video game in the den. They were fine without me. Dave would need time to sort out everything he’s seen into manageable pieces. He was so dead set against divorce when he first arrived, but after I repaired his arm, his demeanor changed. I swear he looked relieved as he watched me sign those papers.

It has always taken some time to get him to warm up to change. I can remember the first day we brought Matt home from the hospital. Dave didn’t want to hold him. He was afraid to grab him too tight or make him cry. It took several days and me getting run down and having to stay in bed before he would hold his newborn son. Once Dave figured out Matt wasn’t going to break like some china figurine he relaxed, and I had to practically beg to have him back just long enough to feed him.

I put everything else out of my mind and sat quietly on the edge of the couch. If I concentrated hard enough, I could remember my old life, my old house, my old bed. I could pretend I was living another day in my predictable world, safe and content, oblivious to this place and everyone in it. After a few minutes, I felt my old life sympathetically gather around me.

Slowly I stood up and inched across the floor with my eyes closed, my arms outstretched feeling for the wall in front of me. If I could hold this memory tightly enough and fall asleep believing I was back at home, maybe I would wake up and find none of this was real.

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