Song: Stronger -The Score
Miss Eva, I can I get some more chocolate milk please?” Alex asks, he’s seven and just adorable.
“Sure thing, sweet pea.” I take his glass and refill it. When I’m done I put it in front of him with a chocolate chip cookie. “Here you go.” A big grin and his honey colored eyes gleam with delight.
“Thank you Miss Eva.” He takes a big giant bite of his cookie.
“How’s the homework coming?” The smile leaves his face as he looks over the worksheet on the counter.
“I hate math and I wish my Mama could help me.” My heart breaks for the young boy and I yearn to hold my little boy. I don’t like leaving him but I have to work.
“I know Sweetie. Her shift is almost over and then you can go home.”
“Mama tries to help but she falls asleep while helping me. She works to hard and is always tired. I feel bad for having her help me.” I know how his mama feels. She is also a waitress here at Sal’s diner and works a lot of double shifts as well as me. It’s hard being a single mom but she struggles a lot more then I do.
“I’ll tell you what little man; I have a few minutes before my shift starts so let’s see if I can help you.”
“Thank you so much Miss Eva, I bet you miss Stephan when you have to come to work?” Stephan is Michael, when we left Odessa I had to change my name and appearance along with Michael’s name. So we are known as Eva and Stephan Reed. I know it was stupid to use Damien’s last name but I have reasons for that. Zeek never knew Damien’s last name and didn’t really care to look. I also took his name so if he wanted to come look for me he could. It was stupid but it is what it is.
“I do miss him but he is being well looked at while I’m here, and I know he will be in even better care when you and your Mama go get him. Now, let’s tackle this math homework.” I look over his math worksheet and see he has ten subtraction problems. Some look easy and others look complicated for a seven year old. “Which one are you struggling the most with?”
’This one.” His voice comes out so meek and timid. Tears roll down his sweet little face and I just can’t help myself but wrap him in a hug.
“There is more to it than just the homework isn’t there?” He nods and sniffs. “You can talk me to buddy.”
“I heard my mom crying the other night and I know she cries because of me. I don’t want her to cry anymore.” My heat is breaking for this young man and I wish his mama could come over here but she’s helping customers. I cup his face in both my hands so I can peer into those sad honey eyes, they remind me so much of Damien’s.
“Alex, it’s not your fault, so please don’t think that. Your Mama, loves you so much and she cries because she feels like she’s not doing enough. She wants to give you the best of the world and just wants you to be happy.” He leans forward and sobs into my shoulder while I rub his back in comforting circles. “You are an amazing kid and she is so blessed to have you. If she knew how hard you are being on yourself she would be sad too, so let’s turn that frown into a smile and tackle this homework okay?” He nods and wipes away his tears. I don’t know if I really helped him but I felt good for putting a smile on his face.
We were deep into his homework when Marlee walked over with her apron hanging off her arm. “Hey, buddy.” She says as she places a quick kiss to the top of his head. “Thank you for staying here with him.” I observe her and notice the dark bags under her eyes and how pale her face is. She looks dead on her feet and I wish I could take the day off so she could sleep.
“Hey, Marlee, how about I take Alex on my next day off.” I couldn’t tell if it was excitement or just her running off adrenaline but she nearly tackled me.
“I would love that Eva, how did I get so lucky to have an amazing friend?” I giggle and shrug my shoulders cause I don’t have an answer. She packs up Alex’s homework and makes her way towards the door when my cell phone rings. She pauses, Marlee is aware of mine and Michael’s situation so she knows when my phone rings something isn’t right. “I’ll wait, just please don’t tell me you’re leaving us.”
I give her a weak smile and pull my phone out of my pocket. I bite down on my lip when I see my Mom’s name on the screen. I feel my body tense up but I can’t ignore the call.
“Hey Mom, I’m at work so hold on for a second.” Marlee has taken Alex to a booth and is talking to him. I find Sal and tell him I have a call from my Mom, he understands and says he’ll cover for me. Sal doesn’t know my story but he does know I never get calls and if I did I wouldn’t take them at work unless it was an emergency.
“Hey, Mom what’s wrong?” My heart starts palpating and my body starts shaking. Fear and anxiety coil through my entire being. “Did the Wicked Witch and her spawn send you another email?”
“No, honey it’s not about them.” Her voice is terse and I can tell she’s been crying.
“It’s Dan, Sweetheart. He was shot in combat and has been life flighted to the nearest hospital which happens to be in Germany. Dad and I are flying out there in two days.” My legs turn to jelly and gave out on me I find myself on my bottom and my back against the wall.
“H...how is he? I..is he going to make it?” I ask through my salty tears.
“We don’t know much Emily, we only know about this because his Commander called us. I guess we will find out when we get there.” Then realization hit me, if Dan was shot then something must have happened to Damien. The thought of living in a world without him made my heart shatter, before it was just broken but now I don’t know if I can ever put it back together. Yet, I can’t allow it to consume me and swallow me whole because I still have Michael. With my son I could conquer the world.
“Mom, what about Damien? Is he okay?” Mom went silent and panic settled into my gut. Something had happened and she didn’t want to tell me. “Mom, it’s okay. Please just tell me.
“Emily, Damien is in a coma.”
“Oh shit, what happened to him?” I feel I need this information so I can process. “Has his Mrs. Reed been contacted?”
“I’m not sure. The only reason I know is because I told him he is Dan’s best friend and Dan would want to know, I may have also fibbed a little.”
“What did you do?”
“I may have told him my Grandson is Damien’s.” I wanted to laugh but I couldn’t get it come out.
“Mom, you know if you get caught, you could be facing a lot of trouble. You can’t just lie to the Army.”
“Maybe in my mind Damien should be his Father and you his wife.”
“That was a long time ago and I doubt he would even want me back after everything I’ve done to him.”
“Sweetheart, you would be surprised.
I had to be strong for him and for my family. I needed to be there for my family and support them though this. I can’t keep living in the fear of my past or letting one guy keep me from truly living my life. I’m going home and if Zeek comes after me again well, let’s just say he’ll be seeing a different Emily..
“Mama, we’re coming home and going with you.” I hear a heavy sigh on the other end.
“Emily, you don’t need to do that. It’s safer where you are, Dad and I can send you another burner phone and keep you updated.”
“That’s really sweet but I can’t keep running,” I explain. “If Zeek finds out I’m home then let him come at me, I’m done hiding from him. I also need to be with the family, I need to be able to see Dan and needs to meet Michael.” I think about what would happen if my brother doesn’t make it and I never got to see him again and he never met his nephew. “I also feel deep in my gut that something is going to happen, I don’t know if it’s with him or with Damien but I just need to be there.”
“If you truly think it’s the best, I will buy your tickets home. I’ll call you back with the information.
“Thank you, Mama, I love you both so much.” I stand up with the weight of the world hanging on my shoulders but I can’t let that slow me down. I close my phone and go directly to Sal, I don’t want to leave him shorthanded and put more responsibility on Marlee but I have to.
Sal is in his office working on the payroll when I find him. He doesn’t have to ask so too see that something is wrong. The dry tears and the blotchy eyes say it all. Sal gets up from his desk and embraces me, I don’t shy away and I let him swallow me whole in his big giant arms. Sal may look like a mean tough biker guy but he really is a giant teddy bear. He treats us all well and like family.
“Whatever you need Eva, just tell me.” I bury my face in his shoulder and just let it all out. I cry the unshed tears I should have cried the day I broke off my wedding, the tears I refused to cry when Damien let me go, the tears for my brother and my love.
It was a good ten minutes before I pull away and see Sal’s shirt covered in my tears. I’m so embarrassed for falling apart. “I’m sorry Sal, I shouldn’t have done that.” His kind pecan eyes flick to me and a small smile plays on his lips.
“Don’t be sorry, sometimes we just need comfort and to just let it all out. Something has happened to your Brother hasn’t it?” Sal served in the military and I’ve told him all about Dan and how he followed his best friend to war. He was really the one I could talk to you about it and have to understand. He knew what I was feeling.
“Yes, that was my mom and my brother in Germany. He was shot but we don’t know much more. I have to go home Sal but I feel awful about leaving you like this.” The waterworks start again and I feel like such a cry baby. He pulls me back into his embrace.
“Don’t you worry about me and this ole diner, we will survive without you. We will miss you though and if you ever head back this way your job will be waiting.”
“Thank you, Sal, you are the best.” He pulls away and goes to his desk, then opens the drawer where the deposits are kept. He takes out a wad of cash and hands it to me. I gasp when I see over two thousand dollars.
“Sal, I can’t take this. How are you going to be able to pay the others and make deposits?” I worry about the old man and his diner. He doesn’t get as much business these days and him handing me this much money will seriously hurt him.
“It’s okay. It’s your paycheck plus tips, you have worked harder than any employee I have, so you have earned this. Take your Stephan and go home, this will help you get what you need.”
“I don’t know what to say, this is too kind and I will pay you back in some way.” He smiles again.
“The best way to pay me back is to be happy and free from whatever Demons you have chasing you. ”
“I hope to slay those demons soon.” I put the money in my pocket so no one else sees it and kiss Sal on the cheek. “Thank you for being the best boss ever.” When I turn to leave the room I think I saw a tear on his cheek and my heart hurts for him. He was like a Grandfather to me.
An hour later we are packed up on the road. Marlee looks over,
“You look cute.” I decided to wear something comfy but stylish. I didn’t want to look all frumpy when I see my family again after two months. I’m wearing a beige long sleeve turtle neck sweater with black leggings and knee-length beige boots. I threw my hair up into a messy bun so I didn’t have to hassle with it later.
“Mom, I’m hungry.” Alex pipes up from the backseat. He’s been quiet this whole time.
“I am too.” I agreed. “Let’s stop at the next restaurant we see and it’s my treat.”
After stopping and getting food and a pit stop of Alex we reach the Airport which is bustling with energy at eight-thirty on a Tuesday night. Marlee pulls up to Terminal two and after another long tearful goodbye and a promise to keep in touch Michael and I head to the check in desk.
“Good evening how can I help you?” The lovely attendant with perma smile asks.
“Yes, I have two tickets reserved for me.”
“Let’s see, what is your name?”
“Eva Reed and my son Stephan.” She punches the keys on her keyboard and it feels like forever before she answers.
“Yes, Ms. Reed, we have your tickets right here. I just need to print them out and we can send you on your way.”
“Thank you.” She pushes another button on her keyboard, then hands me both my tickets.
“It’s our pleasure if you head on over to Gate B they will be loading in about forty-five minutes.” She glances down and see’s Michael in his car seat. “Are you checking the car seat or taking it on the plane with you.”
“Oh, shoot, I didn’t think about that. I guess I will check it in with our bags.”
“Very well. I will have someone come get your belongings for you.”
Forty-five minutes later we’re finally boarding the plane. I didn’t really look at the seats but when I show them to the attended and am directed towards the front of the plane, I’m overwhelmed. My parents paid for me to go first class and I don’t know how to ever thank them.
These seats aren’t cheap but they thought about our comfort. Michael makes a little squeal and I can’t help but smile. I move to my seat and once my butt hits the soft cushion I sink right in. I bring my baby closer to my chest and let him feel my heartbeat. I know I’m doing the right thing by going home and going to Damien. I just hope he wakes up and when he does he’ll accept me back into his life.