3. What Love Remains

Sara never really got any explanation of the events of Cold Lazarus. And when an old friend of Jack’s shows up unexpectedly, she is determined to get some answers.

Archivist’s Note: Please be aware that although I do consider this tale of Flora’s to be a fairly accurate depiction of events which took place in the universe where my own story “All That We Leave Behind” and the rest of the By Honor Bound series are set, neither the scenes between Jack and Sara nor Jack’s visit to Lisa Cromwell depicted in Flora’s story take place in my universe, for the simple reason that in my universe, Jack does not have time to recover enough from his own injuries and emotional shock to visit Lisa before learning that Frank may well have survived his fall into the Stargate and have reached the planet to which the wormhole jumped. Also, in my universe, Carter realizes this is possible before Frank’s status has been officially declared, so that he is never listed as ’missing, presumed dead’ but rather is simply MIA. However, Sara’s recollections of Frank’s visit with her after his car accident and of their conversations are accurate to my own universe in every way save their timing.

 

It should be noted that while Frank’s visit with Sara occurs in February of 1999, I place the events of “A Matter of Time” in July/August of 1999, whereas Flora originally placed them in March. I simply posit several months passing between the 121st Special Tactics team’ briefing by General West and the time when they are actually called upon to carry out the duty for which he prepared them. In my universe, the 121st was ordered to stand down in December 1998 after SG-1 resolved the crisis surrounding Apophis’ attempted invasion of Earth, just moments before their plane would have taken off from Germany for the United States. However, General West did push for the assignment of elite backup teams to provide a secondary line of security in case of future alien incursions, and Frank — alerted by now to the fact that some very odd things were happening in regard to Cheyenne Mountain — pulled the few strings at his disposal to have his team considered, despite his personal distaste for West. The Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs took their time in approving West’s plan, and thus it was February before the 121st was ordered Stateside and briefed by West at Peterson AFB. Their arrival likely coincides with the time-frame in which the SG-1 episode “Need” is resolved. Several months and episodes pass between then and the events of “A Matter of Time”, which I place in July partly due to the appearance of the exterior shots in the episode — the area around Cheyenne Mountain certainly looks to be experiencing high summer at that point, with plants in full leaf and temperatures that allow personnel to work outdoors in shirtsleeves.

 

My own treatment of the timeline should in no way be taken as detracting from Flora’s outstanding work. She sets the events of “A Light In Dark Places” at Christmas 1998 (thus placing the episodes “Serpent’s Lair” and “Within The Serpent’s Grasp” at that time as well); “All Go Down Together” and the Frank/Sara portions of “What Love Remains” follow just over two months later in both her timeline and my own. — Ana Lake

Colorado Springs, August 1999

The phone rings.

I ignore it, ripping open a bag of French fries and dumping a few handfuls in to the fryer.

It never crosses my mind that any phone calls here could have anything to do with me.

“Good evening, Pirate’s Cove?” Jill, my boss, answers the phone, chopping lettuce at the same time. “Yes, we’re open ‘til nine.”

I’ve been working here for a little over two years, now. It was a month after Jack left when I saw the “Help Wanted” sign outside, while I was at the grocery store across the street. And even though Jack and my dad both made sure I didn’t need any money — and I hadn’t worked as a waitress since I graduated college — I went over and told the woman at the take-out counter I was looking for work.

“There’s about a half hour wait.” Jill makes a horrible face at me, even though her voice is perfectly friendly.

She asked me, when I first came in, if I minded getting my hands dirty, and washing dishes and helping her cook when the dining room was slow. I said no, I didn’t mind, and I was hired.

And we soon became good friends.

“You come right on over, hon, we’ll put you on the list.” She hangs up the phone and whacks savagely at the head of lettuce. “Fuckin’ twit,” she tells me, as I lean in front of her to read two orders the waitress just gave us. “I’m like, ‘good evening, Pirate’s Cove,’ and she’s like, ‘is this Pirate’s Cove?’” And she shakes her head, gathering the lettuce and scooping it into a plastic tub. “No, you twit, it’s fuckin’ McDonald’s. Mary Ann!”

Mary Ann, one of the two waitresses who’s here, doesn’t appear. “Mary Ann! Sara, I don’t know where she is, can you go clear tables one and eight?”

The phone rings again.

Jill hates this place. She’s been managing this restaurant along with her sister ever since their parents died. It used to be they’d work alternating days, but now her sister works Mondays and Tuesdays, and Jill gets everything else. But she’s too loyal to her family to leave.

“Good evening, can I help you?”

Me, I love it. There was a time, back when I was working my way through college, when I swore I’d never, ever, go back to working at a restaurant. The hours are long, the money’s not that great, and I get to go home every night smelling like fish, or like grease from the fryers. Smells that never really come out of my clothes, no matter how many times I wash them.

But Jill and her crazy crew are my friends, now, and after I lost the two people closest to me I needed all the friends I could get. Working here, I get to meet all kinds of people, just chatting with all the customers who come in. But most of all, it’s comforting because, when the dining room gets busy, we’re all running around like crazy people trying to get everything done, and there’s no time to think about anything else. And when I get out at night, I’m too exhausted to be depressed for too long, before I fall asleep. Usually.

And after about a month of trying desperately to keep busy, cleaning and fixing up a house that’s no longer a home, I was ready to try anything to escape from memories of the past, if only for a little while.

I can feel my cell phone buzzing in my pocket as I head out to the dining room, but I don’t have time to answer it now.

Squeezing between two tables and forcing a smile for the impatient family of six waiting for table one, I gather up forks and plates and dirty placemats in my arms and slip back into the kitchen, dumping everything in the sink by the dishwasher.

Grab six menus, and back to the dining room. “How are we all doing tonight?” Lay the placemats out quickly, ask them if they want anything to drink. Then over to table eight, grab as many dirty dishes as I can carry, and back to the kitchen. Jill’s hanging up the phone with a furious look on her face.

And it rings again.

Mary Ann has finally reappeared, and takes the dishes out of my hands. “So help me God,” Jill says, grabbing the phone, “if that’s Lauren saying she’s not coming in — Good evening, Pirate’s Cove?”

I go to the waitresses’ station, filling two cups with ice. “Who?” I hear Jill ask. “Can you call back later? She’s busy right now.” I’m about to leave the kitchen when she yells my name. “It’s for you.” She gives me a look that says this is not a good time for a very long chat. “You know somebody named Lisa?”

Startled, I set down both glasses with a thump, reaching for the phone. “Hey.”

Sometimes, though, the past can find me even here.

“Sara?”

Of all my friends from the old days, Lisa Cromwell is the only one I still talk to regularly.

We were closer than sisters once. Best friends, neighbors, fellow military wives waiting for our husbands to come home. Even now, when our husbands haven’t contacted us (or each other) in years, she’s still the one I call when I just need a shoulder to cry on.

It’s more than that, though. She lives up in Denver, now, and we don’t see each other much. But we have a pact, Lisa and I, an understanding… if I ever see her ex-husband, or hear anything about him, I’ll tell her everything. And she’ll do the same. Even though that’s not a likely scenario. Jack doesn’t make a habit of dropping in to check on Lisa, and she’d hardly welcome him if he did.

But we don’t keep secrets from each other. Not about Jack and Frank. Those two have kept so many secrets from us, half in the name of Air Force regs, and half in the name of “protecting” us from knowing things they think would hurt us. Somehow it never seemed to cross either of their minds that no knowledge could be worse than what our imaginations came up with, watching them suffering in silence. And so we vowed, long ago, that we would always tell each other the truth, no matter how much it might hurt.

But Lisa doesn’t usually call me at work. Lisa never calls me at work at six o’clock on a Friday night. So I know, before she says a word, that this can’t be good news.

“Thank God, I’ve been trying to call you for two hours… ” I can tell from her voice she’s been crying. “Guess who was just here?”

“Frank?” Just seeing her ex-husband would upset her, after he’s been gone for eight years without even a letter. But that’s not what scares me most — I can’t picture Frank showing up at Lisa’s door to just waltz back into her life. The only reason he’d go to her is if it’s desperately urgent and he’s looking for me.

I’ve been divorced now for more than two years, but still there’s that familiar knot of dread settling in the pit of my stomach, a feeling all military wives know. If something happened to Jack, and Frank couldn’t reach me at home… but surely if Jack was hurt the Air Force would’ve contacted me by now?

Unless it was Jack who’d been to visit. And there’s only one reason Jack would contact Lisa.

“No,” she eventually answers. Jill’s impatient glare is gone, and she’s looking concerned now at the expression on my face. Oh, God, no… Frank, you didn’t…

“What happened?” I hardly dare ask.

There’s a long silence, and her voice cracks when she says, “Frank’s missing. Presumed dead.”

I close my eyes. Of all the cruel ironies in the world… I always knew this was coming. Knew it ever since he left Lisa back in ’91, when he found out Jack was alive. He wouldn’t have been afraid, I know. And he wouldn’t have had a clue what kind of effect his death would have on the rest of us… but especially on her.

“You talked to Jack?” I don’t know what else to say, and I’m still half in shock. Thinking, if he had to die, why does it have to be like this?

I know, from agonizing experience, how those words “presumed dead” can haunt a grieving widow. Those doubts that never quite go away, what if it’s not true, what if he’s alive somewhere? And it’s going to be even harder for her to believe he won’t come back somehow, and prove us and the Air Force all wrong.

After all, we’ve both seen it happen before.

“Yeah.” Mary Ann shoots me a poisonous look as she walks quickly past me, carrying three full plates, but I ignore her. “Are you — can you come over here?”

“I’ll be right over.” She hangs up, and I look at Jill.

And this is why Jill’s the greatest boss I’ve ever had, even if she does scream at us all when we’re busy. Because even though we’re down two people already with a line out the door, she takes one look at my face and says, “Honey, go. We’ll manage.”

My cell phone rings again as I’m getting in my car, and I flip it open as I start the engine. “Lisa?”

“No.” He sounds exhausted. “It’s me.”

Steering out of the parking lot with one hand, I feel suddenly cold. Somehow, hearing from Jack makes it all real in a way it wasn’t two minutes ago. I can’t think of anything to say. Part of me wants to pray, to ask God to rewind time just a few days, just long enough for us to fix all this, make it not so.

But I know that’s useless.

“You heard?” There was a time when his deep, familiar voice would warm me, like a blanket wrapped around me, but there’s a note in it now that sounds wrong. Nothing obvious, to anyone who doesn’t know him well, but he’s not taking this as well as he’s going to pretend.

He was there, I realize. He must’ve been, if he knew so quickly. It’s not like he’s been keeping track of Frank, and if he knew before anyone else told Lisa…

“Yeah.” It’s dark as I turn onto the road, accelerating through a yellow light. “What happened?”

I should’ve known better than to ask. Jack doesn’t say anything for a long time, and by the time he does I know exactly what he’s going to say. “Training accident.”

The words sound hollow. “You son of a bitch.” Now I can feel the tears stinging my eyes, as I jam on the brakes, skidding to a stop inches from the sign. “Is that what you told her?”

“No.” He sounds worn out, defeated. I’m surprised . . . not that I really think he told her anything, but even the admission that he can’t tell her the truth is more than I expected. Better than a story she’d know was a lie. “You going over there?”

“Yeah.” For a moment I want to reach out to him, touch him, take away some of the pain I know he’s hiding. “Jack, I— ”

“Good. She shouldn’t be alone right now.”

“Jack — ” Click. I throw the cell phone angrily on the seat next to me, pushing down on the gas. That was probably the only reason he called, to tell me to go comfort Lisa, if I hadn’t heard already. He wouldn’t call me for his own sake, not because he wanted to talk to me. No, he’ll probably go home, get drunk, and hide from the world for a week or so, then go back to work and pretend like nothing happened.

It’s his way, and I don’t know why it makes me so mad. With everything we’ve been through, I should know better than to try to comfort him. He wouldn’t let me in after he came home from Iraq. He wouldn’t let me in when Charlie died. But there’s still that part of me that can see the little signs, in his face, in his voice, and wants to heal those wounds only I can see.

I’ve tried before, too many times. And all I got was more pain for myself, and I can’t deal with that anymore.

Damn him for doing this to me. Damn him for making me want to care again. Damn him for making me want to help, when I know he won’t let me.

And damn Frank, too, for running off to get killed without thinking of how it would affect the rest of us.

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