"Hi, Jack." A quiet feminine voice spoke from the side of his bed.
Jack turned his head toward the voice and greeted his visitor, although he knew she was there. "Hey, Johanna, I didn't think I'd see you today." As she had walked across the room, every man on the ward greeted her. Seven other masculine voices, individually issued a quiet or boisterous, "Morning, Jo," and a quiet wolf whistle supplemented a few of those greetings.
"Oh, well," she said hesitatingly. "It's Tuesday." She laughed easily and teased him. "And you can't see anyway."
"Yeah, but the unveiling is tomorrow afternoon. I thought you'd wait until then."
"I didn't ... Jack ... I thought family ... ah," Johanna faltered, cleared her throat, put one hand on his forearm, and leaned a little nearer to ask quietly, "Will they let me be here for that?"
"Yeah," Jack said laughing and patting her hand. "I asked the doctor if I could have at least one person on my side."
"Al-l-l-right," Johanna said with excitement, "I'm spending the night with Aunt Toy, anyway."
"I'd like that. You'll have to tell all your boyfriends that you're with another man. Did the folks get off okay?"
Not bothering to tell him, again, that she didn't have a boyfriend, Johanna answered the question about their parents. "Yeah, Mom called bright and early, not long after they drove out of the driveway. She said there were only two arguments. The trunk held all six suitcases and the box of books. I think our mothers are sharing the back seat with Dad's new ice chest."
"Who won the arguments?" He grinned knowing his question wasn't necessary, only wanting to see what she would say.
"Guess," Johanna teased him back.
"No way," Jack shook his head. "It's a dead lead pipe cinch, Mom and your mother won, but only because Dad and your father let them."
"You got it." Changing the subject, Johanna asked, "Do you want to go for a walk outside?"
"You better believe it. I'm tired of being shut up inside this damn room all the time. I haven't had a smoke all morning."
"Hum-m-m," Johanna did not tell him he should quit smoking, although not everyone else was so reticent.
"No comments, I've heard all of them. I'll quit, maybe, when this is all over with, or when my wife tells me she doesn't like kissing cigarette breath."
"You don't have a wife," Johanna chided him for teasing her.
"Not yet, I've been waiting for you to grow up." He had said this to her before, but that was when she was much younger. It suddenly occurred to Jack that he hadn't teased her about it, for several years.
Jack Bledsoe was in a ward at a military hospital. He had a bandage across both eyes, which had been in place for several weeks. A corpsman put a bandage across his eyes in the field. A triage nurse replaced it in an emergency field hospital after he washed off some of the blood, when he temporarily closed the wounds. A surgical technician replaced it again, after surgery on the tissues around one eye. When Jack arrived at his final destination, there was another surgical procedure, around the second eye. The following day would be the first time in more than a month he would know if he could actually move his eyes as easily as the doctors had promised. It would be another month, or longer, before he could ask about continuing his military career.
He had not told, and would not tell, where he was, or what he was doing, when he was injured. Jack did not speak of such things, nor do those around him speak of his activities. They accepted that Jack was a soldier, doing a dangerous job, and doing it well.
Walking down the street of any city, Jack would blend with the other pedestrians. In his early thirties, he was a little over six feet tall, weighed a little more than 200 pounds, and walked with an easy stride. His sun darkened skin, dark hair, and dark eyes were almost non-descript. Most people described him as good looking and a few women had been bold enough to call him a hunk. They might have been a little more vocal with their compliments if they saw him after an hour of calisthenics. However, it was what went on inside his head, which made him unique. Jack was a survival specialist, a weapons expert, and had a phenomenal memory.
While Johanna helped him into a wheelchair, reminding him not to bend over or exert himself, his memory was busy with what he knew about the young woman who would push his wheelchair outside, until they found a place where he could walk, with his hand on her shoulder. He remembered the tiny baby his neighbors brought home from the hospital. Jack's sister, Becky, was eleven and he was a teenager, the same age as Johanna's brother, George. She was part of the vacations when the two families first began to combine their plans and have a good time at a campground or somewhere a family could go for fun, without breaking their budgets. With the older children grown, as soon as Johanna was old enough to stay with her favorite aunt, or could stay home on her own with another neighbor's friendly cooperation, the two couples, all four of the parents who were teachers, started going somewhere sunny. They rested up after the school year, attended a few weeks of classes in furtherance of their chosen careers, or took long naps, and read the books they'd been saving all year.
Jack taught Johanna to ride a bicycle. He taught her to swim. Her brother taught her to read before she started school, and later, how to use a computer. Jack's sister taught her how to braid her hair and Becky gave Johanna the clothes she outgrew, so Johanna could play dress-up. She was nine years old when Jack graduated college and left for his first military assignment. He held her hand a few years later, when her brother and his sister, as newlyweds, were buried side-by-side. They were on their honeymoon when a tire blowout caused their car to crash down the side of a mountain.
For almost six years, she wrote him a letter, or sent him a greeting card, almost every week. Somewhere, in all his packed gear and personal effects was a heavy cardboard box, which originally contained a pair of boots. That box held letters and cards, most of them from Johanna. She never forgot Jack's birthday. She usually sent him a silly valentine, a special Christmas card, and cards she thought would make him laugh. She sent him an announcement of her high school graduation and a curl of her hair when she finally decided to get it cut. The lock of hair was almost a foot long. Inside his wallet, were at least six photos of her, every one of them signed, "Love, Johanna."
He suspected she had a similar collection of letters and cards from him. In fact, her collection was much larger. Her box contained the invitation to their sibling's wedding and photos of the wedding party. Many of the letters he wrote her included one or two photographs of some amazing sights from around the world. There were a few newspaper clippings of significant events in his military career, and a small stack of photos showing him and his fellow soldiers. He usually wrote their names on the back of the photos, because she asked for the names if he did not. In one envelope was a lock of his hair. After reading a teenage romance novel, she asked him to send it to her.
In the last couple of years, they had exchanged some email messages, an occasional online chat, and a few telephone calls, but most of their communication was old-fashioned snail mail. Johanna mailed most of her letters to an FPO mailbox. There were times when his mail finally caught up with him or he returned to his home base, from where ever Jack was, and found four or five letters and cards waiting from her. She was always the little girl next door, until the last couple of years or so, when something changed. For Jack, it was subtle, undefined, and uneasy.
On Jack's last trip to see his parents, Johanna took him to the airport when he left. Right before he walked away from her, she put her arms around his neck and kissed him. The kiss surprised both of them. She stepped back and blushed. Jack put his luggage down, pulled Johanna into his arms, and really kissed her. He has thought about that kiss for almost two years. At the time, he was almost twice as old as she was.
Jack knew Johanna's voice. He knew her smell, spicy and soft, probably the bath soap she used and something like baby powder. He knew the feel of her hand when she put it on his arm. What he did not know, was what she looked like. Statistics, sure he knew those, five foot eight, 118 pounds, dark blonde hair, brown eyes, and a small scar on her right knee. Things like a square lower jaw, a cute nose, and pierced ears don't change. She wrote him about that day, and her mother's reaction and Jack sent Johanna a small pair of carved jade earrings. She sent him a photo of the day she received her high school diploma, but he still did not know what she looked like. He did not know what size her breasts were, if her hips were narrow or wide, or if her waist was as small as her mother's was. He had not seen her in almost two years.
"Wait, wait, I need to get the foot rests folded up. Golly, you're in a hurry." Johanna complained when he started to push himself out of the wheelchair.
"Alright, okay," Jack lowered himself back to the seat, not very patiently, but he let Johanna help him. "It's just getting out of that place. Damn, I'm tired of this."
"You're not patient for a patient." She giggled at the double entendre. "Here's the bench, turn around and step back about one foot."
"Humph," Jack grumbled, leaning against the back of the seat. "Yo-Yo, will you hold the lighter for me?" he asked, holding out his cigarette lighter as he put a cigarette between his lips.
.... There is more of this story ...