The Women: Part 2 – Chapter 30

For the first time in a long time, Frankie started to wake up on her bedroom floor again. She didn’t know why the brutal nightmares of Vietnam had come back now. Maybe it was seeing Rye. Or maybe new trauma reawakened old trauma. All she knew was that there was no way for her to pretend she was okay and soldier on. Not this time.

The pills her mother had given her helped to take the edge off of her pain. She learned that two sleeping pills softened the nightmares and helped her fall asleep, but when she woke, she felt lethargic, unrested. One of the Mother’s Little Helpers perked her right up, maybe even gave her too much energy. Enough so that she needed the pills again to calm down enough to sleep. It became a cycle, like the ebb and flow of the tide.

She stopped visiting her parents, stopped answering the phone, stopped writing letters to her friends. She didn’t want to hear their pep talks, and no one wanted to listen to her despair.

To keep busy, she took extra shifts at the hospital. Most nights, she stayed in the hospital as long as she could, putting off the inevitability of having to go home.

Like now.

Long after her shift had ended, Frankie was still in her scrubs and cap, standing by the bedside of an elderly woman who was in the final stages of lung cancer, that terrible time when the body almost entirely shuts down, stops taking in food, stops any sort of intentional movement. The patient was frighteningly thin, her hands curled into claws, her chin tilted up. Her mouth was open. Her breath was that gasping death rattle that meant time was closing around her, but she hung on to life stubbornly. Frankie knew that four of her grown children and all of her grandchildren had been to see her today, all of them having been told that the end was near, but now, at 11:21, Madge had no visitors, and yet she hung on. Bright crayon drawings covered the window by the bed. Fresh flowers scented the hospital’s disinfectant air.

Madge was waiting for her son. Everyone knew it. Her husband groused about it, while her daughters rolled their eyes. Lester, everyone seemed to think, was “too far gone to say goodbye to his mother.”

Frankie applied some Vaseline to Madge’s dry, colorless lips. “You still waiting for Les, huh?” she said.

Nothing from Madge, just that wheezing death rattle. Frankie gently took hold of the woman’s hands and massaged lotion onto them.

She heard the door open and saw a young man with lots of frizzy hair and huge sideburns walk into the room. A mustache hid much of his mouth and a beard grew in tufts along his jawline. He wore a dirty PRO ROE T-shirt and baggy rust-colored corduroy pants.

But it was the tattoo on the inside of his forearm that caught her eye. The word AIRBORNE above a bald eagle head. She knew that insignia. The Screaming Eagles.

The family had called Lester a drug addict and a thief and said that he made candles at some commune in Oregon. No one had ever said he was a veteran. “Lester?” she said.

He nodded, looking lost, standing in the doorway. He might be high. Or just broken.

Frankie went to him, gently took him by the arm, led him to the bed. “She’s been waiting for you.”

“Hey, Ma.” He reached slowly for his mother’s hand, held it.

Madge took a great rattling breath.

Frankie moved to the other side of the bed, backed up to give him some privacy.

Lester leaned down. “I’m sorry, Ma.”

Madge whispered, “Les,” and took one last breath, released it, and slipped away.

Lester looked up, his dark eyes full of tears. “Is that it?”

Frankie nodded. “She waited for you.”

He wiped his eyes, cleared his throat roughly. “I should have come sooner. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I just … Vietnam, man…”

Frankie moved closer to the bed. “Yeah. I was at the Seventy-First. Central Highlands,” she said. “From ’67 to ’69.”

He looked at her. “So, we’re both the walking dead.”

Before Frankie could respond, he turned away from the bed and left the room, slamming the door shut behind him.

His presence—and his sudden absence—left Frankie feeling jittery, unsettled.

Without bothering to take off her scrubs or change her shoes, she left the hospital.

We’re both the walking dead.

He’d seen her in a way that cut to the bone, saw what she was trying so hard to hide.

She was driving over the Coronado Bridge, listening to Janis belt out “Piece of My Heart,” when she reached over into the passenger seat, felt around for her macramé handbag, and pulled out her sleeping pills.

There was no way she’d sleep tonight, and remaining awake—remembering—was worse.

She fumbled to open the cap at a stoplight on the island, and swallowed a pill dry, wincing at the taste.

At home, she parked and got out, a little shaky on her feet as she made her way into the house, where the phone was ringing. She ignored it.

She should eat something. When had she eaten last?

Instead, she poured herself a drink and took another sleeping pill, hoping two would be enough to get her through the night. If not, she might take a third. Just this once.


That spring, Tony Orlando and Dawn released “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” and reminded America that even though the war was over, there were still soldiers coming home from captivity in Vietnam. Overnight, yellow ribbons began to appear on tree trunks around the country, especially in military towns like San Diego and Coronado. Bits of yellow fluttering in the breeze to remind Americans of the POWs in captivity. Stories of heroes who’d been shot down and imprisoned for years filled the news. Frankie couldn’t get away from the stories and the memories they raised.

She survived one day at a time, by keeping to herself, not saying much. She got a prescription for the pills she needed, worked as many hours as humanly possible, and visited her parents when they demanded it; she talked on the phone in short, expensive conversations with Barb and Ethel, most of which ended with Frankie’s adamant (and dishonest) I’m fine. The letters she wrote to her girlfriends were long and chatty and filled with half-truths and pretense, not unlike the letters she’d written to her parents from Vietnam.

In May, her parents invited her to join them on the brand-new Royal Viking Sky cruise ship for a month at sea. Frankie declined easily and let out a deep breath when she saw them off.

Now there was no one to pretend for. She could be as alone and reclusive as she liked. Finally, she thought, she could mourn without anyone watching.


Despite her best intentions, Frankie couldn’t seem to pull herself back from the edge of despair. If anything, the solitude and silence settled so heavily on her that sometimes she found it hard to breathe unless she took a pill, which she often did. By the end of May, she had refilled her prescriptions twice; it was easy to do for any woman these days, but certainly easy for a nurse.

In June, an unexpected weather front hit San Diego, a deluge that the local TV weatherman claimed came from the Hawaiian islands. In the middle of the night, Frankie was unexpectedly called in to work. Although she still felt a little lethargic from last night’s sleeping pills, she popped another pill to wake her up and agreed. Without bothering to shower, she dressed in yesterday’s clothes and headed for her car.

As she drove over the bridge, rain pounded on the convertible roof, sluiced across her windshield so hard the wiper blades could hardly keep up. On the radio, a story about the Watergate hearings droned on. Secret meetings. The president. Blah, blah, blah.

All she heard was the rain. Pounding. Rattling. Monsoon-hard.

blood washing across her boots, someone yelling, “Hit the generators”—

She clung to the wheel.

In the hospital parking lot, she parked and ran into the bright building and went to her locker. Peeling off her damp clothes, she dressed in her scrubs and sneakers. She put on her surgical cap and coiled her long black ponytail up inside as she walked down the busy hallway toward the front desk.

Even inside the building, she could hear the rain, shuddering against glass, pounding on the roof.

At the nurses’ station, she guzzled two cups of coffee, knowing it was a bad choice when she was this on edge.

It was the rain, reminding her of Vietnam.

She should eat, but the thought of food made her sick. Every time she closed her eyes, images of Vietnam assaulted her. Fighting them weakened her. Thank God it was a quiet shift. Just as she had that thought, the double doors at the end of the hall banged open. A pair of ambulance drivers rushed in, pushing a gurney into the bright white glare.

Blood.

“GSW,” someone shouted.

The patient was wheeled past Frankie. She saw him in a blur—blood pumping from a chest wound, pale skin; he was screaming.

“Frankie!”

She ran after the gurney into the OR, but she felt dazed, untethered by memories, images. She was slow at scrubbing in, couldn’t remember for a second where the gloves were kept.

When she turned around, a nurse was cutting off the kid’s bloody jacket.

Silver blades snipped through the fabric.

And then: his bare chest. A gaping bullet wound, pumping blood.

Choppers incoming. Chinook. Thwop-thwop-thwop.

“Frankie. Frankie?”

Someone shook her, hard.

She looked up, realizing in a flash that she wasn’t in Vietnam. She was at work, in OR 2.

“Get out of my OR, Frankie,” Dr. Vreminsky yelled. “Ginni. You scrub in.”

Shame overwhelmed Frankie. “But—”

Out,” he yelled.

She backed out of the operating room and stood in the hallway, feeling lost.

The damnable rain.


Frankie woke on her bedroom floor, her head pounding, her mouth dry. Summer sunlight streamed through her window, hurt her eyes. The memory of last night’s shame made her groan aloud. She stumbled to her nightstand, reached for her pills, and swallowed one with water.

She passed the closed nursery door on her way to the bathroom. She hadn’t gone into the room in months, not even to clean. If she had the energy she’d gut it, paint over the cheery yellow walls, give away the furniture, but she wasn’t strong enough to even open the door.

She took a hot shower, washed and dried her long hair and pulled it back into a loose ponytail, and then dressed in shorts and a T-shirt.

The phone rang.

She glanced at the wall clock. Twelve-twenty on a Saturday afternoon.

Barb.

Frankie knew her friend would keep calling until Frankie picked up, so she grabbed her beach hat and chair and left the house.

Carrying the chair across the street, she set it down in the sand.

As she stared out at the glittering blue waves, she remembered last night again, the way she’d frozen in the OR like some FNG fresh off the plane.

She couldn’t go on like this. She needed to quit taking the pills and get her life back on track. But how?

She pulled the hat lower on her head and pulled her sunglasses and a tattered paperback copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull out of the chair’s side pocket. Maybe the bird could give her some much-needed advice on how to live.

The beach was a hive of activity on this hot June day. Kids running around, teenagers in packs, mothers running after their children. It soothed her, these familiar beach-day sounds, until she heard a man shout out, “Joey, come back from the water. Wait for me.”

Frankie felt her skin tingle, even in the heat. She looked up slowly from beneath the wide brim of her sun hat.

Rye stood at the shoreline, facing this way, wearing shorts and a faded gray NAVY T-shirt.

The summer sun had darkened his skin and lightened his hair, which was long enough now that she knew he’d left the Navy. He moved in an awkward, limping way to keep up with his daughter—Joey—who giggled and tried to jump over the low roll of incoming surf.

His wife sat on a blanket not far away, wearing a billowy summer dress, one hand tented over her eyes, watching them, laughing easily. “Be careful, Jo-Jo!”

Frankie sank deeper into her chair, hunched her shoulders, trying to disappear, and pulled her hat down lower.

Look away.

She couldn’t.

It was bad for her, maybe even dangerous, to watch Rye with his family, but she couldn’t get up, couldn’t stop looking at him and the easy, loving way he was with his daughter. It had been a day just like this when Rye had shown up in Kauai, standing over her, saying, I swear I’m not engaged.

God, how she loved him.

She heard his wife—Melissa, her name was Melissa, Frankie knew from reading about them in the newspaper. Melissa yelled something, and Rye and Joey moved toward her, him limping. They were close enough now that Frankie could see he was gritting his teeth. Ugly scarring encircled his wrists and ankles.

He knelt awkwardly in front of his wife, grimacing again in pain.

Help him, Frankie thought. Melissa, help him. But his wife just sat there, packing food back into a wicker picnic basket.

They look unhappy.

No.

He looked unhappy.

The thought was there before she could protect herself against it. And after all he’d suffered.

“Stop it,” Frankie muttered. They were a family, the Walshes, and their happiness—his happiness—had nothing to do with her. She knew their true story now, how they’d met, how they’d married, the hardware store that her parents owned in Carlsbad, the managerial job that waited for him when he left the Navy.

Look away, Frankie.

This was wrong. Sick. Dangerous.

Frankie finally forced herself to get up. She turned her back on them, folded up her chair, and walked off the beach.

“Damn it, Melissa, slow down.”

She heard Rye’s voice behind her and froze. Then she gritted her teeth and kept walking, over the mound of greenery and down to the side- walk and across Ocean Boulevard. On the other side, against her best intentions, she turned slowly, stared at them from beneath the brim of her hat.

He and his wife and daughter were leaving the beach, heading toward the street.

Frankie had to leave. Now. Before she called out to him. She clamped the chair to her side and walked resolutely down the block toward her house.

All the way there, she thought, Don’t look back, Frankie. Just let him go.

But he knew she lived on Coronado, or at least that she’d been raised here. Did it mean something, that he’d brought his family here, to the beach she’d so often talked about?

She stopped at her car, which was parked in the driveway at her house, and looked back.

Now Rye was opening the trunk of a metallic midnight-blue Camaro, putting the picnic basket inside. Melissa opened the passenger door and helped Joey into the backseat.

Rye closed the trunk and limped toward the driver’s-side door.

Frankie opened her car door, tossed her things in the backseat, and slid into the driver’s seat. She plucked her keys from the visor, started the engine, and backed into the street. Slowly, her foot light on the accelerator, she drove forward, edged toward the stop sign on Ocean Boulevard.

Rye got into the Camaro. The engine started up with a roar.

She followed him. Them.

All the way across town, up Orange Avenue, over the bridge, she berated herself. This was stalking. Embarrassing. He didn’t love her. He was a liar.

Still, she followed them, drawn by an obsessive need to see his life.

If he was unhappy …

No. That was something she couldn’t think.

In San Diego, Rye turned onto A Street, which Frankie could see instantly was a street full of Navy families. American flags hung from many of the porches, a few lonely yellow ribbons still fluttered from the tree branches. Most of the POWs were home, but “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” was still a radio hit. On this summer afternoon, the street was full of kids and dogs and women walking side by side pushing strollers.

He pulled up in front of a pretty Craftsman-style bungalow. The yard was a scrabble of discarded toys and roller skates and doll clothes. The poorly cut grass was brown.

Frankie pulled over to the side of the road, the engine idling as if she might come to her senses soon and drive off.

But she didn’t.

Melissa got out of the car. Holding Joey’s hand, she walked up to the house, pulling Joey inside, leaving Rye to carry their stuff.

Rye moved slowly in his wife’s wake, obviously in pain, carrying the basket and blanket. In the middle of the path to the front door, he stopped.

Frankie slunk down in her seat.

“I’ll never do this again if he doesn’t turn around,” she promised herself, and maybe God. She peered up through the window, saw him start walking, limping in a hitching, painful way. He slowly climbed the porch steps, holding on to the handrail.

At the closed front door, he stopped again, as if he didn’t want to go in, and then he opened the door and went into his house, back to his wife and child.

Frankie moved slowly back to an upright position, put the Mustang in gear, and drove forward. As she passed the house, she slowed, staring at the front door, feeling a toxic combination of longing and shame.

Rye opened the front door, stepped out onto the porch, and saw her.

She hit the gas and sped past him.

Idiot.

What had she been thinking? She was still in turmoil when she got home. A gin on the rocks did nothing to lessen her anxiety. She kept looking at the phone, thinking he’d call, wanting him to, not wanting him to. Knowing all he had to do was call information to get her number. After all these years, she was still Frances McGrath on Coronado Island.

But the phone didn’t ring.

Before the world even started to darken, she took two sleeping pills and climbed into bed.

What time did the phone ring? She wasn’t sure. Bleary-eyed, lethargic, she climbed out of bed and stumbled into the kitchen and picked up the phone. “Hello?”

It was still daylight outside. The next day or the same day?

“Frankie? It’s Geneva Stone.”

Her boss. Shit. “Hi,” she said. Was her voice slurry, were her words coming too slowly?

“You were supposed to cover Marlene Foley’s shift tonight.”

“Oh. Right,” Frankie said. “Shorry. I don’t feel well. I should have called in sick.”

There was a long pause; in it, Frankie heard both displeasure and alarm. “Okay, Frankie. I will find someone else. Get better.”

Frankie hung up, unsure the moment she heard the click of the line if she’d said goodbye.

She stumbled onto the sofa, fell sideways onto the cushions, pulled her legs up, and lay down.

Tomorrow she would get her act together. No more pills. And definitely no more stalking. She wouldn’t even think of Rye Walsh.

No more.


Frankie sat in the director of nursing’s office, stiffly upright, her hands clasped in her lap.

“So,” Mrs. Stone said, her gaze steady on Frankie’s face. “You froze in the OR. During surgery. And you missed a shift.” She waited a beat. “Were sick.”

“Yes, ma’am. But…” She stopped. What could she say?

“I know the trouble you’re having,” Mrs. Stone said gently. “I lost a child myself. As a woman, a mother, I understand, but…” She paused. “This isn’t your first incident in the OR, Frankie. Last month—”

“I know.”

“Perhaps you came back to work too quickly.”

“I need to work,” she said quietly.

Mrs. Stone nodded. “And I need to be able to count on my nurses.”

Frankie drew in a shaky breath. Her life was falling apart. No, it was exploding. Without nursing, what would she have to hang on to? “I can’t lose this.”

“It’s not lost, Frankie. You just need to take a break.”

“I’ll be more careful. I’ll be better.”

“It’s not a conversation we’re having,” Mrs. Stone said. “You are on leave, Frankie. Starting now.”

Frankie got to her feet, feeling shaky. “I’m sorry to have disappointed you.”

“Oh, honey, I’m not disappointed. I’m worried about you.”

“Yeah.” Frankie was tired of hearing that. She meant to say more, maybe apologize again, but the sad and sorry truth was that she should be sidelined. She was unreliable.

How was she supposed to put the pieces of her life back together when she kept breaking apart?


Frankie slept fitfully, unable to get Rye off her mind. A terrible, dangerous obsession had taken hold of her. Every time she closed her eyes, she thought of him, remembered him, loved him. Over and over again, she saw him standing on his porch, staring at her. The more she imagined that moment, the more she thought he’d looked sad at her driving away. Or was she lying to herself? Manufacturing a dream from the shards of a nightmare?

At just after six P.M., the phone rang and she went down to the kitchen to answer it. “Hello,” she said, picking the Princess phone off the counter, dragging the long cord over the counter so she could open the fridge.

“Hey, Frankie,” Barb said. “You said you’d call on my birthday.”

Shit. “Happy birthday, Barb. I’m sorry. Busy shift last night.” She thought about pouring herself a glass of wine, and then closed the fridge instead.

Today, she vowed. Today she would do better. “Did you have a good one?”

“I did. Met a guy.”

“A guy?” Frankie pulled the cord back over the counter. She turned on the stereo—Roberta Flack—and settled on the sofa, with the light blue phone beside her. “More, please. Salient facts.”

“Thirty-four. ACLU lawyer. Divorced. He has two kids—twin boys. Five-year-olds.”

“And?”

“We met standing in line for Shaft in Africa, if you can believe it. We sat together and then went out for drinks afterward, and, well, we haven’t stopped talking since.”

“Wow. That’s a record for you, Babs. He must be—”

“Special,” Barb said. “He is, Frankie. I was starting to think it wouldn’t happen for me, you know? That I was too … militant, too angry, too everything. But this guy—his name is Jere, by the way—he likes all of that about me. He says lots of women have soft curves. He likes my sharp edges.”

“Wow,” Frankie said again. She was about to say more, ask a question about sex, actually, when the doorbell rang. “Just a sec, Barb. Someone’s here.” She kept the phone to her ear, carried the handset with her, and went to the door, opening it.

Rye stood there, wearing his aviator sunglasses and a Seawolves’ cap pulled low over his eyes.

She started to shut the door.

He put a foot out to stop her. “Please,” he said.

She couldn’t look away. “I gotta go, Barb.”

“Is everything okay?”

“Sure,” she said evenly, surprised at how calm she sounded. “Happy birthday again. We’ll talk soon.” Frankie hung up, held the phone balanced in one hand. “You shouldn’t be here.”

“You shouldn’t have followed me home yesterday.”

“I know.”

“I saw you on the beach,” he said. “I was hoping to. It’s why I picked Coronado. By the Del. You always talked about it.”

“Did I?”

“Isn’t that where you surfed with Fin?”

She swallowed the lump in her throat. “Why are you here?”

“I know why you followed me. It means you still—”

“Don’t.”

He pushed his way into her house, took the phone from her hand, set it on the counter. She felt robotic, confused. She couldn’t let him stay but she couldn’t seem to form the words to make him go.

He closed the door behind him and suddenly he was close, touching distance away, taking up too much space in her living room, just as he did in her heart. “You lied to me,” she said, but the words didn’t have the edge she intended. They sounded sad instead of angry.

“Frankie.”

The way he said her name brought back so many memories, moments, promises. She shook her head. “Leave. Please.

“You don’t want me to go.”

“I don’t want you to stay.”

“That’s not the same thing. Come on, Frankie. I know you know it was real between us.”

“Real and honest aren’t the same thing, either. Are they?”

He reached for her. She wrenched out of his grasp, stepped back, putting distance between them. She needed a drink. “You want a drink? Just one. Then you’ll go.”

He nodded.

She went to the cabinet where she kept the liquor, realized she’d bought scotch for him at some point along the way. She poured two drinks, handed him one. “Outside,” she said, afraid that in here, so close, he’d try to kiss her and she’d let him. She went to the patio door and stepped out into the backyard, noticing the changes Henry had made: a tire swing hanging from the tree, a firepit around which were four Adirondack chairs. An explosion of color along the fence: roses, bougainvillea, jasmine, gardenia. When had she let the grass die?

Rye limped over to the firepit area and sat in one of the chairs. Frankie sat across from him.

“Tell me the truth,” she said.

He didn’t pretend to misunderstand. She was grateful for that, at least. “I married Missy two months before I shipped out on my first tour. She—”

“Wait. Missy?”

“Melissa. I call her Missy.”

I know who you are, missy, Rye’s father had said to her, all those years ago. He’d thought she was his son’s wife. “Go on.”

“I was young, stupid. I wanted someone back home, waiting for me. And she was pregnant.”

“So it was all an elaborate ruse, the engagement you supposedly broke off. You swore you weren’t engaged. Swore it.”

“And I wasn’t.”

“Did Coyote know the truth? Did all of your men? Were they laughing at me?”

“No. I never wore a wedding ring, never talked about a wife. I wasn’t long in-country before I realized that I’d made a mistake getting married. I figured we’d get divorced when I got home. I never felt married … and then I saw you at the O Club, remember?”

“I remember.”

“It hit me like a ton of bricks, the way I fell for you. It wasn’t like anything I’d felt before. Maybe you can’t understand how a baby can turn your head, make you do the wrong thing for the right reason. I told myself I’d learn to love Missy, and then I met you.”

Frankie knew what he meant. She’d said the same thing about Henry, but it hadn’t happened, had it? Intention couldn’t force the heart.

“I knew it was wrong, but I couldn’t tell you the truth and I couldn’t let you go. I thought … after I got home, we’d work it all out and I’d find a way to leave Missy and be with you. Then I got shot down. For years, everyone thought I was dead. They held a funeral and buried an empty casket next to my mom. And then finally, Commander Stockdale got word out. After that, Missy was my lifeline. She wrote me religiously.”

She believed him. Was it because she wanted to or because she was lonely or because she felt the truth in him? She didn’t know, but it was dangerous, this loosening of anger. Without it, all she had was love.

“I can see that you suffered,” she said quietly. “Your leg.”

“Broke it jumping out of the Huey.”

“What happened?”

“I hardly remember it, really.” He didn’t look at her. His voice went dead, became rote. She imagined she was being told the story he’d recited a dozen times in debrief.

“I came to when I hit the ground. I saw the Huey above me burst into flames and go down.”

He drew in a ragged breath. “I landed hard … saw the bone sticking out of my pants leg. Next thing I knew, I was being hauled to my feet. Charlie cut my clothes off me, dragged me, naked … left me in the middle of some muddy road. I could hear them yelling at each other in their language. They kicked me, rolled me over, kicked me some more.

“I tried to crawl away, but my leg hurt like hell by then. And I kept bleeding from the bullet in my shoulder. They tell me it shattered the joint.”

Frankie imagined him lying in mud, naked, his body broken and bruised.

Rye was quiet for a moment. “And then. The Hanoi Hilton,” he finally said. “Four years and three months in a cell. Leg irons.” Another deep breath, released slowly. “They had this … rope they used to force my body to bend over. Kept me that way for hours of interrogation. Weeks of it. And then … one day, when they were dragging me back to my cell, I heard other prisoners. American voices. That was my first moment of hope, you know?

“They finally moved me to another cell, one close to Commander Stockdale’s. The other POWs had figured out a way to communicate.” His voice broke. “I wasn’t alone.” He paused, collected himself. “We talked, sent messages. I learned about McCain and the others. I got my first letter from Missy, telling me she’d never given up on me, and I … needed her. Needed that. So, I tried to forget you, told myself it was for the best, thought you’d be married by the time I got home.”

“If I’d known, I would have written. Your dad told me you’d been killed in action.”

“You went to see the old man? What a treat.” He looked at her. “I tried to let you go, Frankie. Told myself I’d been a cad and done you wrong and you deserved better. Told myself I could learn to love Missy. Again. Or maybe for the first time. But I saw you in San Diego, on the tarmac. One look at you, and it all came crashing down. I want you, Frankie. You.”

He moved painfully to a standing position.

She rose at the same time, as if she were a planet in the orbit of his sun, drawn by an elemental force to follow him.

“Do you want me, Frankie?” The sadness in his voice ruined her resolve. She took his hand, felt the familiarity of his grasp.

“What you’re asking … what you want,” she said, wanting it, too. “It would destroy me. Us. Your family.”

“I’ll leave Missy. I can’t even touch her without thinking of you. She knows something’s wrong. I can’t bear to kiss her.”

“Don’t ask this of me, Rye. I can’t…”

“They grounded me, Frankie. I can’t fly anymore.”

She heard the loss in his voice, knew what flying meant to him. “Oh, Rye…”

“One kiss,” he said. “A goodbye, then.”

She would never forget this moment, the way he looked at her, the love that came roaring back into her soul, suffusing her with all the bright emotions she’d lost in his absence: hope, love, passion, need. She whispered his name as he pulled her into his arms. At first, all she noticed were changes—he was so thin, it felt as if she could break his bones with her passion—and beneath the scent of his cologne, she smelled something almost like bleach. Even the way he hugged her was different, kind of one-sided, as if his left arm didn’t quite heel to his command.

In his eyes, she saw the same awakening in him, a reanimation of life. She saw, too, all that he’d been through in captivity, a red scar that cut across his temple in a jagged line, the bags beneath his eyes. The gray in his blond hair that underscored their lost years.

At the first touch of his lips to hers, she knew she was doomed, damned. Whatever it was called, she knew it and didn’t care, couldn’t make herself care.

She had already given up everything for this man, this feeling, and she knew she’d do it again, whatever the cost.

She loved him.

It was that simple, that terrifying.

When he whispered, “Where’s the bedroom?,” she knew she should say, Stop, tell him to come back when he was divorced, but she couldn’t.

He’d brought her back to life.

God help her.

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