The Gulf of Love

A Rick Beck Story

quillswritersrealm@Yahoo.com

Editor: Jerry W.

Chapter 9
Sun Shines on Clay

 

When Ivan called on Sunday, I told him I'd taken the stereo from his house. He was happy it was being used. We didn't go into detail about why I chose to go get it now.

Ivan commented that his grandfather's fishing gear was locked up in a closet with a special wall that hid the fact it was there. As with so many unusual aspect of the house his grandfather built next to the river, it was built for his comfort and need. Having so much fishing gear meant taking care to protect it.

The house wasn't exactly on the beaten path but even if someone got inside, there wasn't much to take. I checked the house from time to time, more after Ivan first left, because I didn't know if the people he brought home from Tampa might come back.

 

*****

On Christmas day, in between feedings, I sat on the porch outside my bedroom with Ivan on one side and Sunshine on the other. The stereo played in the background. Instead of Dylan, Jefferson Airplane, and the Beatles, it was Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin belting out Christmas songs.

Ivan said that he was happy Sunshine had a place to stay. The Olson house was one of the best places around to live. He was glad we'd become friends. He thought Sunshine was good company for me in his absence. Ivan knew everything and I had no apology to make for liking Sunshine. There was no reason my love for Ivan to be in conflict with my love for Sunshine. In a way it relieved Ivan of some of his guilt over leaving me.

Ivan being at the dinner table with us made for a happy Christmas meal. We were all glad to be there. The chat was lively and Ivan went into a little detail about his quest. This was the Reader's Digest version, short and sweet.

Mama was dressed in her Sunday go to meeting clothes. She'd had her hair done at the beauty parlor for the first time since we'd come to Florida. She looked like a million bucks. Pop obviously enjoyed having both Ivan and Sunshine sharing the meal with us.

Lucy was as buoyant as she got. There was no doubt that she enjoyed the company of both Ivan and Sunshine. Lucy liked interacting with a diverse group of intelligent people. She was on her game during Christmas that year.   

We had dessert around our scaled back Christmas tree. This tree was six feet tall and lonely looking in the huge foyer. Lucy and Sunshine somehow had hung garland from Mr. Broadmoore's chandelier. It filled the empty spaces and the colorful presents made the foyer a colorful sight.

Having decided on Sinatra, the music was consistent and reminded us it was Christmas if the decorations weren't enough. There were no visitors that year. There was the usual Christmas party at Harry's and a tree and decorations at the conservancy, but Christmas was mostly confined to the Olson clan and those people we loved most of all.

When Ivan was home, I never thought about how long he'd been gone this time. Ivan being there when I looked, having him in my bed at night, smelling him, touching him, meant all was right with my world, and I never thought about how long we had this time.

Ivan stayed three days.

 

*****

 

Sunshine was back in bed a couple of days after Christmas, but she was feeling better by New Years Eve and we had a late dinner and sat around the tree enjoying Mama's punch and the music that played from Ivan's stereo. We hoped 1969 was a better year.

Being off from school and off from work most days made the holidays restful. If you can catch up on your sleep, I did, after Ivan left. I was learning to enjoy leisure time.

Ivan stayed the day after Christmas and left the following morning. It took work to get him out of his new boots. I told him he was welcome in my bed any time but the boots stopped at the edge of the mattress.

I knew when I saw them he'd love a pair and I was right. 

 

*****

 

The week before I started school in the new year, I came in from work and found Sunshine buzzing around the kitchen as bright and happy as could be. For most of December her energy had been at a low ebb. This was good to see.

Mama watched her hug me as quickly as I appeared.

“You get out from under foot, Clayton. We're busy and don't you be pinching anything off the platter on your way out.”

Mama smiled after Sunshine put me in my place.

“You tell him, Sunshine,” Lucy said, “He'd eat on the run if we didn't make him sit at the table.”

“I love you too, Luce.”

There were three of them keeping an eye on me now. The women of the house outnumbered the men for the first time. Seeing  them happy and all together was nice. There were days I came home and all three of them were gone. It was then I could pinch a piece of whatever was for dinner and not risk getting caught.

 

 

One day early in the new year Lucy and I came in from the conservancy. Lucy headed for a shower and I headed for the kitchen to say hello to Mama and Sunshine, but Sunshine wasn't there. I kissed Mama on the cheek and checked for spare food.

“You have Sunshine picking herbs. You do know there are bears out there in the high grass?”

“More likely to be gators,” Mama said. “Sunshine got sick this morning right after breakfast. She's been sick all day.”

“She has the flu again?” I asked, wondering if there was now someone else for me to worry about.

“No, Clay, it's not the flu,” Mama said, turning to lean against the counter with a most serious look on her face.

“What is it?” I asked, fearful of what I might hear.

“If my hunch is correct, Sunshine is pregnant, Clayton. I thought it was the flu until I began to count the weeks since she got here. She began having morning sickness the sixth week. Funny thing about that, I used to get sick my sixth week when I was pregnant.”

“How?” I began to ask before my mind moved off food onto what Mama was saying.

“Oh, they know what causes it now. All those days I caught her lying on your bed. That morning she was in bed with you. You've been so trustworthy, so responsible. I wanted to believe I didn't have to worry about Clayton. He's such a good boy.”

“But Mama, I didn't....”

“Clayton, you were so dependable. Since we came here you've been the best kid ever. First the money and now this. You've disappointed me. Your entire life has just changed.”

“Mama, I'm not....”

“Oh but you are, young man. You are going to make an honest woman out of Sunshine. You're going to give that child a name. You have a good name and that child is going to need it. There are many things I can overlook, this isn't one of them.”

“Mama, I....”

“I'll talk to my minister. We'll have a quiet ceremony and hope I'm the only one counting. I'll say you're so busy we decided on a quiet ceremony to tie the knot. We won't fool anyone but at least you'll be married before the baby arrives,” Mama explained.

“Sunshine will have a husband and the baby will have a father. Now go upstairs and get ready for dinner. See if Sunshine is going to come down. She was sleeping when I went up around five. I've got to figure out how to break this to your father. He's been so proud of you, Clayton. We've all been proud of you.”

Of course I could override Mama if I wanted to wage World War III. She wasn't going to believe it wasn't my baby but there was something she said that made perfect sense. In spite of my reservations and in spite of Ivan, Sunshine needed a husband and the baby needed a father. I told her I'd take care of her and I would.

I cared a lot about Sunshine. I wasn't going to be able to marry the man I love but I could marry Sunshine and take the weight of the situation off her shoulders.

I liked the idea of being a father. This was likely to be my only shot.

I had no idea what Ivan would say. 

I didn't know what Sunshine would say. She could have other ideas. Somehow I didn't think so. She'd want the baby to have a father and a name.

 

*****

 

Ivan had left Jacksonville and would meet Ralph Meeks in Bucksnort, Pennsylvania. Ralph wasn't home from the military yet. He'd been told about Ivan and he wanted to meet him.

Ivan would remain in Bucksnort until spring. Ralph was a major source of information about Boris and he wanted to talk. 

 

*****

 

Wherever Boris was, he was a long way from Ivan. No matter how much information Ivan collected, short of joining the army, there was no way Ivan could get to Vietnam. That's if Boris was alive. I wasn't sure he was alive. I wasn't convinced he survived his wounds.

I waited for Ivan to realize this. The military would need to find Boris. They showed no interest in finding him. Soldiers who wanted to find their comrade were moved to another region of Vietnam.

I wouldn't rush Ivan. This was a journey he had to take. As long as it led back to me, I'd wait.

In early 1969, there was a complication we had to deal with.

When Ivan called me from Bucksnort, I couldn't put it off any longer. I had Mama breathing down my neck when his call came.

“We have something we need to talk about, Ivan. We have a situation here.”

“Here? There? Are we still all right, Clay?” he asked with fear in his voice. “I know this is hard on you. It's not easy on me, Clay.”

Ivan was thinking about our relationship too.

“We're fine. Sunshine isn't fine,” I said.

“Will she she be OK?” he asked concerned.

“Sunshine is pregnant,” I said.

And there was a pregnant pause on the other end of the line.

“She is? I thought you.... Didn't you tell me you didn't?”

“Ivan, she knows we're lovers,” I said, and then I had to look around to see who heard, because I was talking loud.

He was all the way over in Bucksnort, Pennsylvania.

“You told her we were lovers,” I whispered. “I told her the same thing. That's not the situation.”

“I don't understand?” Ivan said, sounding like he was lost.

“She needs a husband. The baby needs a father. I'm charming, handsome, and I want to be a father at some point. This is going to be my only shot, Ivan. It's way sooner than I ever imagined taking on that kind of responsibility, but Lord knows we'll never be able to get married. We can get arrested for just thinking about being in love in this neck of the woods.”

“We're OK. You're sure? This isn't about me being gone?”

“I'm sure. We're fine. I can't imagine ever loving anyone the way I love you, Ivan, but I've got Mama to contend with. She isn't going to go along with the program unless I marry Sunshine.”

“What did Sunshine say?” Ivan asked.

“She said I didn't have to marry her,” I said.

“What did you say?”

“I told her I wanted to marry her and I wanted the baby to be an Olson. She smiled and looked pleased with me. I told her I had to ask you first. She laughed when I said that. She said, 'That's quite a proposal, Clayton. I've got to ask my lover if I can marry you. I doubt many men propose quite like that.'”

Ivan was laughing.

“Do what you have to do, Clay. You're doing all you can for me. I don't mind you marrying Sunshine. It's not like we can get hitched.”

 

*****

 

I wore the suit Mama bought for my graduation. Sunshine wore a white gown Mama made out of her wedding dress. Her youngest son was the first child to get married and the dress was altered to fit Sunshine.

Mama confessed her son's sin to the minister and requested he marry us PDQ. He agreed to do the ceremony, just not in his church. He had his standards.

Heaven knows how much it cost Mama to get him to lower them.

When I explained the situation to Harry, who was home until Nixon's inauguration, he offered the garden at his house for the ceremony. As unfamiliar as I was with church, I jumped on Harry's offer. I'd never seen his house. The picnics were at the conservancy.

So Harry, Mama, Pop, and Lucy knew what was up. Everyone else was in the dark. The employees at the conservancy came. Popov, Tito, and most the fishing fleet at the marina came, which made fifty people, not including Harry and his family.

Sunshine was radiant. Mama and Lucy had worked for two days getting everything just right. The minister came for the ceremony, schmoozed a bit with Harry, and left. He had little to say to the happy couple beyond the words it took to marry us. He didn't approve of us and let it show. We hadn't done it by the book.

Harry's butler, maid, and cook served the food and drinks. It was as nice a party as I'd ever attended. The help was cordial and seemed genuinely happy for us. Little did I know that Harry's maid Twila would become crucial to our lives once Dylan made his appearance. Twila was pregnant and proud of it.

Sunshine was drawn straight to her. She felt her belly and they sat together talking about babies. I was the busy groom, talking to the men who came to see me get hitched.

The fisherman were from all over the world and they were all ages. They were delighted for me. It was like it hadn't been six months since we fished together. For me it felt like they were part of another life. So much had changed since the last time I went fishing on the Gulf.

Everyone wanted to have a drink with me. I poured a lot of booze into Harry's garden. I hope it survived my wedding day. It surprised me how many people came to wish me well. They all mentioned how beautiful my bride was.

No one knew, or at least no one was crude enough to mention Sunshine's condition. Shotguns were kept out of sight. 

Sunshine and I honeymooned on the Gulf of Mexico in a house that was nearly a hundred years old. We spent much of our time on the porch outside of my bedroom. The door stayed open between our bedrooms.

Sunshine felt comfortable enough to come to my bed when the bad dreams came. We had become the best of friends. Thinking that I was protecting her from the demons of her past had me feeling pretty good about myself.

The only thing missing from our marriage was romantic love, but the kind of love we shared was real and rewarding. She'd come into my life at a time when I needed to get my mind off Ivan.

Sunshine could do that. We laughed a lot and besides the morning sickness and tiredness, everything was cool. When I came home from work, if there was time, we sat and rocked, listening to the music I once listened to on Ivan's deck. 

As far as Mama was concerned, all was right with the world. Sunshine could have her child in the conservancy house and no one would talk about how long we'd been married, except for the old biddies, who'd pull off their shoes so they could count the weeks on fingers and toes since Sunshine's marriage to me. Since we didn't circulate in polite company, we wouldn't be on their minds until the little Olson made his appearance and the counting was done.

Then the gossip would start. Mama would need to endure the stares and whispers. These were the people in her church and the reason I didn't go to church.

Jesus implored us to love and care for each other. The people who followed his word seemed more interested in judging the sins of others. It wasn't consistent in my mind but Mama bought into it.  

With so many boxes coming home from Vietnam each week, with the Nation's Capital and dozens of cities still smoldering from the 1968 fires, with hundreds of thousands of war protesters in the streets of America, the biddies would take time out to see if Sunshine's and Clay Olson's child  was born a suitable length of time after the wedding. I didn't care. I didn't think Sunshine cared.

We were married. The baby would be an Olson.

 

*****

 

Nothing changed between Sunshine and me. Mama let Sunshine bring the clothes up to the bedroom, unless Sunshine wasn't feeling up to it. Then I'd be told to pick up the basket from the laundry room.

Sunshine was fine well into March, as far as I knew. I was gone all the time. My schedule continued keeping me busy from early each morning to early evening. I wasn't able to get enough rest to feel rested. School was actually the biggest culprit. None of it was hard. All of it was time consuming. On the schedule I was on, it would take five years for me to get all the credits for my degree.

My education would never stop. My business was the Gulf and the Gulf was changing. My job was to document the changes and be alert to the impact the changes represented. The future of commerce and tourism depended on keeping the Gulf healthy.

The first day my journey as a marine biologist began, my mentor told me, 'We are the canaries in this coal mine.'

It meant I was doing good. I would leave the world a better place. Like the Boy Scouts who always left a campsite better than when they found it, I'd do that for the Gulf of Mexico if I could stay ahead of the pollution.

 

*****

 

No matter what I was doing or who was sponsoring me, it didn't come easy. Time ran out before the work did. Mama and Pop were going to cover our food but there were medical bills, baby things to be bought, and our general upkeep that I'd take on.

The jar on the fridge was gradually looking better as my deposits began to add up. At the rate I was going I'd be paying the baby off for the next twenty years, but time moved at a furious pace.

Sunshine was waiting for me to arrive home each evening. Her smile was infectious and she made me feel better no matter how tired I was. Then in March she was sick a lot. She was more tired than I was. When I'd get home, I'd go straight up to her room and hold her hand while we talked, but she began to sleep more and more.

When Sunshine couldn't come to the table, Mama fixed a tray with soup, fruit, and finely chopped foods for Sunshine and one with my meal so I could eat with my wife.

Pop showed his concern for Sunshine with the way he looked at me. We didn't have nearly as much time to talk as before. Even Harry had to leave messages for me. He came and went from the conservancy and I wasn't there while he was, but I was being educated, diving, and taking care of the lab and the beaches.

March was almost over when I came in from work one evening. I wandered into the kitchen before I went upstairs, hoping to find Sunshine there, but she no longer went to the kitchen. Mama was standing at the stove and she gave me a long look.

“Sit down, Clay,” Mama said.

“I want to go up and say hello to, Sunshine,” I said.

“Sit down, Clay,” she said. “We need to talk.”

Mama brought me a cup of coffee and slid it in front of me.

“Sunshine isn't here,” Mama said.

“What?” I said, starting to stand up to go check.

“Sit down, Clay.”

“Where is she?” I asked, feeling suddenly light headed.

“Sunshine is sick, Clay,” Mama said. “Lucy's at the hospital with her.”

“Where?” I asked.

“Fort Myers. We went to the doctors today. Sunshine was afraid to go alone. The doctor agreed to let me sit with her. The doctor is concerned that Sunshine isn't gaining weight the way she should. He's apparently wanted to do more complete examinations, but Sunshine wouldn't have it. She wants the baby and she's afraid they'll take it if she gives into them.”

“Take it?” I asked, wondering who'd have the nerve to take my baby.

“End her pregnancy and find out what's behind her problems.”

“I thought it was morning sickness. That's what you said, 'Morning sickness.'”

“I was wrong. If she hadn't been pregnant, we might have caught it sooner. That's what everyone was worried about. A lot of woman have difficulty, especially with their first child.”

“What's wrong with her?” I asked.

“The doctor did some blood tests. He was going to put her on iron and her potassium was low, but when the tests came back.... sunshine has leukemia, Clay. She's getting some nutrients and something to bolster her blood. That will help the baby, so she agreed to it.”

“Leukemia? That serious. It's like cancer.”

“It's a blood disease. The white blood cells don't reproduce properly and don't protect the person from illness. All those colds Sunshine has. The flu that kept coming back. It was the leukemia.”

“What do we do?”

“Pray, Clay. Pray for both of them. Lucy's on the way home. Visiting hours are over before you can get to Fort Myers. Lucy has been with her all afternoon and I came home to fix dinner. Your father left work when I called him about Sunshine. He picked Lucy up.”

“Why didn't someone call me? I could have gone straight from work,” I protested. “I could have brought Lucy home.”

“Sunshine said not to call you. 'He's so tired lately. There's no use him coming all this way. I want to sleep anyway. I'd have to cheer him up if he was here.'”

If I'd been tired before what was left of my energy became suddenly depleted. There was nothing I could do. It was a familiar feeling. I felt the same way after the news about Boris came.

The news about Sunshine hit me particularly hard. We'd only known each other for a matter of months, and yet my feelings for her were strong. I felt like I signed on to see that Sunshine's life was better than it had been with the help of my family.

She was safe and secure and the new baby would have a great place to grow up. It didn't seem fair. For years everything went my way and all of a sudden everything went to hell.

In a matter of months we lost Boris, Ivan left the beach, and Sunshine came to help us get past the missing Aleksas, and now she was seriously ill. It was almost more than I could handle. It was more than I wanted to deal with.

As painful as it was, and as close to home as it came, none of it was about me. That's the conclusion I arrived at by the next morning. Being tired didn't mean sleeping. I tossed and turned all night and I decided Sunshine came first. My life would go on after she was better.

I overruled Mama, which was a first. I'd go to bring Sunshine home. I did allow Lucy to go with me. My argument fell short when I told Lucy she should be in school.

“And you, big brother? What about your classes?”

Lucy was good to have around. She did show emotion, always being a voice of reason. She was also good company and my biggest ally. Mama could be overpowering and when it came to Sunshine, I wasn't going to be overpowered. I would take care of Sunshine. 

*****

 

When Sunshine came home, she had to go into my bed. Mama had begun to paint the room with Sunshine's bed in it. She'd mentioned not liking the pea green color that much and wanted to brighten it up.

She'd made new curtains that were light enough to let in the light and that brightened the room and allowed air in when the window was open. Lucy jumped in to add her special touch. 

By the following week the paint was dry and the smell faded. Sunshine was out of bed, sitting on the porch with me, and neither of us had been given access to her room. Mama closed the door because of the paint smell, and it wasn't opened again until it was ready.

The color was baby blue. Lucy painted a brilliant sun, huge white clouds, adding the turquoise of the Gulf below. On the ceiling, a dark blue, there were stars and angels to guard over Sunshine.

“It's beautiful,” Sunshine said.

“Yes it is,” I said, holding her hand as we stood in the open door between our rooms.

“Lucy gets the credit for adding the sun and stars,” Mama said. “I wasn't too sure until I saw it. I didn't know she was so talented.”

“Lucy can do anything,” I said, and my sister kissed my cheek and smiled proudly.

*****

 

Sunshine reacted well to the transfusion and nutrients the hospital gave her. Her color improved and she seemed a bit stronger. She was told to stay off the stairs, get fresh air, and eat her fruits and vegetables for the baby's sake.

I did not leave the house. I brought Sunshine's food to her and we ate together. It was a nice time for us. We talked a lot and she told me about living with people who could care less about her comfort or even if she ate or not when food was short.

I listened, holding her hand, getting sick at my stomach that Sunshine was treated worse than most people treated their pets. It gave rise to the feeling I had that some people shouldn't be allowed to have kids. This was an opinion I developed when Kenny talked about his childhood, while we waited for the fish on the Vilnius Two.

Kenny, who Ivan's father rescued from under the pier at the fish warehouse, had a childhood that ended when he was twelve. He left home for fear he wouldn't live to see thirteen if he stayed. It was the first time I knew some kids had terrible parents. It was part of my education while fishing with Ivan on his father's boat.

Like Sunshine, Kenny was nice. He was nearly grown by the time I met him, but it was easy to see his gratitude for being rescued. I saw no reason why anyone disliked him and his loyalty was such that when Ivan's father sailed out of the marina for the last time, Kenny went with him.

Hearing Sunshine's story convinced me that not only shouldn't some people be allowed to have kids, they should be in jail.

My parents were looking better all the time. They didn't hesitate when it came to making sure Sunshine had a safe place to stay. I was simply doing what Ivan asked me to do. Little did I know how involved I'd become in Sunshine's life in no time at all.

The simplicity of my life lured me into a false sense of security. There were things even my parents couldn't protect me from. Life had become very complicated rather quickly. I didn't understand how my feelings for Sunshine ran so deeply and developed so fast. I was sure it had something to do with Ivan leaving and the desire I had to protect Sunshine from any more hardship.

 

*****

As I closed in on turning nineteen, there was no way to protect myself from what was coming. Convincing myself everything would be all right, because things for me had always gone right, was delusional as well as wishful thinking. Because I wanted something wasn't going to make it so. I was seriously exposed now.         

Had Sunshine not been pregnant, what was wrong with her might have surfaced way sooner. Her pregnancy could not have been the cause of her symptoms, but it masked the leukemia.

Sunshine was pregnant and any talk of treatment that might hurt the baby was to be avoided if you knew what was good for you.

“I've done nothing with my life. I'll be nineteen soon, Clay, and the best thing I've ever done is have my baby, and I will have this baby.”

Mama had taken a turn. I noticed it when she began to paint Sunshine's room. Her usual overwhelming personality, when it came to her family, was subdued. She did everything she ordinarily did, but I wasn't the only one taking the news about Sunshine hard.

When Mama wasn't busy, she came to sit in Sunshine's room. I'd shower, shave, and freshen up as Mama and Sunshine talked. Sometimes she brought up coffee and something to have with it. Mama had taken to Sunshine in a big way and she wasn't seeing her illness ending well.

I felt this is what was going on, but no one really knew what was going on inside Mama until she told you.

Pop likewise didn't give anything away as far as emotions were concerned. You knew if he was happy and you knew when he wasn't pleased with you, but you never knew what was going on behind his eyes. Pop had seen a lot and he knew hard times. Both my parents  were children of the depression. Those were not easy times.

*****

 

Harry came to see me the second week I was out of school and not at the conservancy. He'd come home for Congress' Easter recess. They had more time outs than most two year old kids.

Mama put us in the dining room with coffee and some of her lighter than air coffee cake. Harry spent quite a bit of time smacking his lips and licking his fingers.

“Oh, that's so good. Your mother is an angel,” Congressman Harry McCallister advised me.

“I'll take your word for it, Harry. I'm sorry I've been neglecting....”

Harry held up his hand for me to stop and he licked icing off his thumb before he spoke.

“Cut it out, Clay. Your job is to take care of your wife. You don't need to apologize to me. You take all the time you need. The conservancy has been there for over fifty years. It'll be there once Sunshine is better and your baby is born. That school's been there a while too. I've checked with Bill Payne and he says you're so far ahead of his other students, if you took the rest of the year off they wouldn't catch up with you. He will miss your Wednesday dives but he'll leave that time open for you, just in case.”

“That's nice of him, Harry. Thank you,” I said.

“Bill seems to think you have insights far better developed than many of the marine biologists he deals with. They're all old school and you've developed a more progressive interest in sea life. Your class work is another question, but to get your degree you might need an extra semester or two of credits. It's nothing that can't be made up."

“I'll miss the dives too. It's the one time I'm totally at peace,” I said. “Bill Payne is a fine teacher. I've learned a lot from him.”

“Yes, he's a treasure. If we can get people to pay attention, we can do a lot of good. It isn't going to happen today or tomorrow, Clay. This is a long term process. Once Bill and I are gone, you'll be the one that carries on the work we've begun this past year. You take whatever time you need. You'll be paid as if you're at the conservancy. Lord knows I don't pay you for all the hours you put in. Your value is a long term investment to me. What you're learning is as good as money in the bank. Take whatever time you need.”

“Thank you, Harry. I don't know how long it'll be. Sunshine needs me right now and I intend to be there for her.”

“As you should. I've got to get out of here before I eat any more of this coffee cake. I have no willpower. Thank your mother and thank you, Clay. Tell Sunshine I asked about her.”

Harry stood and exited through the foyer and the front door. I lived a charmed life. It was filled with good people who cared about me. I'd barely begun to work. I didn't deserve the consideration I was being given, but it made me feel good nonetheless.

No one told me to get a grip and do my job. I wasn't told to do anything but follow my heart.

It was a good thing too, because I would keep Sunshine safe for as long as I could, except from the disease that was killing her.

 

*****

 

“Clay, it's for you,” Lucy yelled from the foyer.

I knew by the time of the call  it was Ivan. I did my usual sprint down the stairs.

“Hey!” I said, trying to catch my breath.

“You OK?”

“Yeah, I ran down to the phone,” I explained.

“How's Sunshine?”

“Same. She's sleeping. She's eating a bit better. Her color is better,” I said.

“Good. She was pretty pale as I remember. Any color would be good. She lives on the Gulf of Mexico,” he said.

“How are you?”

“Fine. I'm good,” he said. “I'm in Kellogg, Idaho. Mike Thompson was one of Boris' friends. They'd been to Da Nang together a few times. He was wounded the month after Boris went missing. They call it the million dollar wound. Just bad enough to get him home but not bad enough to cause permanent damage.”

“Lucky boy,” I said. “When you coming home, Ivan?”

“I've got a guy in Flagstaff. That's less than a day away and one in Hays, Kansas, after that. It may be a few months before I can get to Florida again.”

“You making any progress?”

“I think so. None of his friends thinks he's dead. That doesn't mean he wasn't seriously wounded, but these guys had seen wounds, some of them have been wounded, and Boris' wound wasn't fatal.”

“That's good to hear. I want to get back upstairs to Sunshine.”

“You OK, Clay?”

“Yeah, Ivan. I'm fine. You take care of yourself.”

“I will. Tell Sunshine hello for me.”

“She'll like that. Thanks, Ivan. You take care of yourself,” I said, pushing my finger down to disconnect the call.

I felt like I had become attached to the phone.

      

I stood there trying to picture Ivan. I hadn't seen him in months. I wanted to hold him. I wanted him to hold me and tell me everything will be OK.

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