I'm glad to say the roller coaster is over. We arrived at the Sound late last night. Debriefing was simple-- we told the military intelligence guys what happened, they told us we had been trapped in a cave.
That was what we were supposed to tell anybody who asked for our story: we were trapped in a cave. We asked about the details, they told us "you were trapped in a cave."
"You were trapped in a cave."
Emmory was about to object again when I poked him in the ribs with my elbow. "We were trapped in a cave," I assured him. "Believe me hon- you aren't going to change it and you aren't going to get any more details.
"We were trapped in a cave," he repeated with a sigh.
"We were trapped in a cave," I agreed.
Janna for her part held on tightly to Ayana and told her what was happening. When it was time for us to go our separate ways, Janna and I didn't need to discuss it. Tir Tairngire was the only place for her.
I knelt to say good bye and Ayana hugged me. As always Janna translated for me. She didn't want me to leave.
"Ayana," I said softly, looking her in the eyes. "If you ever need me... even if it's just for a hug... no force on earth will keep me from being there for you. Even if I have to take on the Tir Ghosts to do it."
There was a pause as Janna translated- then Ayana held me tight. "I love you," she said softly... in English.
I looked Jana, and she gave me the words in Sperethiel. "I love you too."
This morning I woke up to the sound of rain on the roof of the condo... and Case softly snoring next to me. It feels so good to be in his arms again.
When I got home last night, everyone was waiting for me. It was so good to see all of them- especially Case. I don't think he let me out of his sight the entire night. I hadn't really thought about how the news of my 'untimely demise' would effect everyone. The folks from the diner, the gang- everyone was there.
Nick took me home after all the debriefings and official statements. I was hoping to see Case, I'll admit that but- it was nothing like I'd imagined.
When he opened the door to the Condo and stood there staring -- like an idiot I stood there staring back. It was almost as if I'd forgotten how he looked. Then he was laughing and crying and hugging me.
Just the way he said my name as he held me...I've never felt more... anything in my entire life.
It was just so good to be home- to not be hiding... I was laughing, and crying and basically manic. I thought about Yachacheq and Pacal and hoped they were still at liberty; and about Janna and Ayana. They should be home by now as well. Home... we were all home and safe and only marginally worse for wear.
Pretty good for having been... 'stuck in a cave' for over a week.
I must have sat there watching Case sleep for a good ten minutes before he half woke and held me close again. As he held me I looked down at my left hand... another change...
We're engaged. He didn't run away... that had been the surprise he'd been planning... when we were going to go camping. And then everything that happened in Atzlan.
I could see from the look Mrs. Walker gave me that he hadn't taken the news well at all. He couldn't believe it- he didn't want to... I don't want that sort of effect on people and yet... the thought of life without him...
Its kinda funny- with my job I don't tend to think about mortality- at least not my own. I'm too busy trying to keep things together... And Case... Case had been waiting for just the right time to ask me to marry him- but it never was the right moment...
When he asked at the party I was floored, but afraid he was just reacting to what had happened. I found out he wasn't. God I almost strangled him when I found out that his ex-wife knew well before I did.
It turns out he's been trying... for quite some time... my birthday... valentine's day... the night he'd invited me over for dinner and Therese and Ethan were there.
I guess I can be a little dense at times.
I came here looking for my brothers... I think I found myself.
I've been informed that I'm on administrative leave for at least a week while I recover. I guess being 'trapped in a cave' takes a lot out of you.
I didn't really mind. It was Saturday and Case and I were together.
When I think about Tipec and Puerto Vallarta- its almost like a hazy dream... an almost nightmare. A few times when I was alone in the kitchen- I felt that dread in the pit of my stomach, but it passed quickly enough.
Part of me wonders if that's how the boys feel- are they holed up somewhere with their enemies closing in- afraid... tense?
I think Case could sense the worry- the fear. He's been doing his best to keep my mind off of what happened- what could have happened. I think its partially for him as well, I can still see the dark circles under his eyes and there's something in the way he holds me.
Its almost like he's trying to reassure himself that I'm really there. I don't mind- it reminds me that I'm here and alive. I think we both need that right now.
I received a letter this morning from the south side of town. There was no return address, no note... just a single, rainbow colored feather. I looked at it and smiled. Yachacheq was fine.
I stared at the feather for a very long time... then put it away in my guitar case. Case didn't ask me about it- I don't even think I could have explained it if I'd tried. It was truly over- I think that's what Yachacheq was trying to tell me in his own way.
Aztechnologies can't afford to say anything, the Atzlaner Government can't complain about the 'invasion' of Puerto Vallarta- not without causing a lot more questions to be asked. Questions they can't afford right now.
I don't really care. Right now- I'm home and Case is here with me. Everything else can wait- at least until tomorrow.
Today's homily was about forgiveness and second chances. I couldn't help but look at Case especially during the sermon.
I'm not sure if he came to keep me company, or to give thanks- it didn't really matter he was there with me and we had been given a second chance. I could feel my spirit soaring to the strains of the recessional hymn. It was indeed great to be alive.
Case took me to brunch and we were treated like royalty. I don't think there was one person there who hadn't heard about me and the others being 'trapped in that cave' for almost a week. I keep thinking about the things I'd seen and felt- and I'm not supposed to tell anyone about it. It just never happened-- any of it.
But it did. I can feel it in everything I do. The sights and smells, the feeling of being hunted- living in fear that can't just be brushed away with the nice pat answer the intelligence officers had handed us.
I think we were all changed by it. I know Citywide expects me to have problems- why else would the give me a week off- at least a week off.
Case and I talked about it a little.
"They just want to make sure you're adjusting all right," he assured me.
I looked at him with one of my better despondent glares and sighed. "That means visiting the shrink again doesn't it?"
He grinned. "'Fraid so hon."
And I'm supposed to tell the shrink how... 'being trapped in a cave for a week'... effected me. And if I don't- he's going to say I'm suppressing my feelings. Wonder if I could tell him that it wasn't the cave that bothered me as much as the people in it that were trying to kill me?
At least with Case he knows something's up and he knows I can't talk about it. There are some advantages to dating a cop.
I tried not to think about it too much. I was with Case and I was home- that's all that should really matter right now. It is all that really matters.
Case headed off to work this morning. I could tell he didn't really want to go. Hell, I didn't want him too- but we both have things we need to do. It felt good to be mobile- go where I wanted to go when I wanted to go.
I made my first appointed visit to the company shrink. His expression was priceless- I think he's tired of seeing me.
He fed me some drek about my feelings and impressions- I fed him some back about enclosed spaces and we were both happy. I'm supposed to see him again tomorrow- and start keeping a journal. If he only knew...
When I got back to the condo I had visitors. They'd already let themselves in. I didn't recognize any of them- but I recognized who they represented- The Tir.
I heard one of them make a derisive comment as I walked in- something about me not being all that special looking.
I turned and looked at him. "You know- you don't break into a person's house and comment on them like that- its uncivilized."
Except I used the Sperethiel word for uncivilized- which was one of the biggest insults I, a round ear, could have delivered to someone as- cultured as my guests.
I heard a familiar laugh from the living room. "Jess- you have a way about you."
It was Janna.
"That's me," I told her coming in from the kitchen. "Making friends and endearing myself wherever I go."
She laughed. "I'd like you to meet some of my mother's people..."
I made a slight bow as I saw the elders gathered around her. I had to smile as I recognized Ayana, trying hard to be proper.
The guards from the other room flanked me- in the off chance that I might try something vile like- taking an elder's blood pressure.
Ayana said something to them, her eyes blazing just a touch as she ran to me and put her arms around me. I picked her up and looked from Janna to the others- ignoring the guards.
"So- to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?" I asked.
Janna gave me a slight warning look- but hell, they'd broken into my home.
"I am sorry for our... mode of arrival," a small woman told me as she stood. When our eyes met I could sense the passage of centuries in her eyes. I smiled and made a slightly more formal bow to her.
"Guess you couldn't just... phone ahead huh?" I asked. I looked around the room, unsure what to say. "Can I get you anything?"
While the guards seemed... abhorred by my insolence the woman merely smiled. "That is all right child- we cannot stay long."
I nodded and waited until she was seated then sat down with Ayana still in my arms. The woman's eyes sparkled as Ayana hugged me and said something to her.
I really have to learn more than gutter Sperethiel.
The woman nodded. "We came- to meet you and thank you for what you have done for our Granddaughter."
My eyes widened slightly. "Then she has family- that's good."
The woman smiled impishly. "All our children are my Grandchildren," she informed me. "As you are now as well."
I froze slightly as that sunk in. "I... uh..."
Janna laughed. I think it was the first time she'd seen me tounge-tied. "Well- we couldn't let you face down the Ghosts just to visit could we?"
I chuckled. "I guess not..."
The woman looked at me a moment and nodded. "What do you say child?"
I looked at her and then at Janna. "I think this means I need to work on my manners."
The woman shook her head. "I think I like you as you are... Jess..."
I loved the way the woman's eyes twinkled- and when she spoke- it was almost like a gentle breath of spring.
I impulsively knelt before her. "I'm honored... Grandmother..."
She smiled and put her hand on my head. "You are one of the true hearted people," she told me. "It is good that you are here."
"Thank you for coming.." I answered, wishing for all the world I could say what was in my heart in her language. There was just something that was lost, saying it in English.
I looked up at her. "Words can't...." I shook my head.
She tilted her head slightly with an odd smile on her face. "Your heart speaks for you Jessica Miller- more than words every could. You are more than welcome at my hearth, anytime."
She shook her head and looked at Ayana. "No child, thank you!"
I looked at Ayana, her cheerfulness and love hard to miss-- hard not to reflect. Then I looked back at the woman. Any doubts about Ayana's safety and care vanished as I looked into her eyes.
I was still smiling when Case showed up after his shift.
I saw Emmory at the shrink's office. He was coming out as I arrived. He gave me a very sardonic look. I grinned.
"How you holding up Jess?"
I nodded. "Pretty good all things considered- you?"
He snorted. "Insulted I guess is the best word for it," he answered. "I mean- they treat us this way after.... " He pulled up short and looked at me.
I caught the gleam in his eye after he finished the sentence.
"Being trapped in a cave..."
I had to laugh at that one. "They just don't want us going all hinky on them and then having to pay lawyer fees when we start suffering post cavern depression."
He shook his head. "Good to see ya."
I nodded. "You get anything in the mail?"
He gave me a startled look for a sec and then smiled. "Yeah- good to know Uncle Yach is alright."
I was about to say more when I was called in. "Guess I better scoot."
I was surprised by his offer but nodded. "Soon as the doc clears me for it."
It was a while. The doc was annoyed that I hadn't started a journal and that I hadn't recounted my days and feelings while I was 'trapped in a cave.' He wasn't buying the 'it was dark, cold and you dealt with it as best you could.'
He told me that the sooner I started thinking with what happened the sooner I'd get over it. I thought about the feather, and Ayana. All's well that end's well I guess.
"I'm alive, people died- there's nothing else to say."
"But how do you feel?"
"Lucky. Sometimes scared, but Doc, you start dwelling on mortality in the streets people die."
That at least I think he understood. I know I'm not all right, I know its changed me- life does that to you. But it does it to you whether you're walking down the street or ... trapped in a cave- it just happens and there's no preparing for it. You pick yourself up and move on.
Besides- Case is a lot better therapy than the shrink'll ever be. He reminds me what its all about.
Emmory and I ate lunch and talked about our 'days in the cave'. We were fine until we heard fire crackers. I was under the table- he was on top of me.
Behind us two little darlings laughed gleefully at our response to their games. Their mother seemed mortified by their behavior- but she didn't really say anything as we picked ourselves up from the off the floor.
At least we were able to laugh about it- afterwards.
Emmory's parting shot to me was, "cover me- I'm getting the check."
I don't think the other patrons knew what to think about us- and you know what- I didn't really care. We're going to be all right.
That is, if I can get the uneasy feeling out of my stomach- the one that says I'm being stalked.
I've still got that feeling and it seems to be getting worse. I took the stairs to the shrink's office only to find out that the door was locked from the inside. You can leave via the stairs- but it looks like I'm supposed to take the elevator to get in.
I knocked, but no one seemed to hear me. At least my muscles aren't protesting anymore- its almost like the hike across the mountains never happened. Almost.
I could tell the stairs hadn't been used in a while- but when I hit the last set, I could see the exit door closing.
Whoever's following me is good- better than what I'm used to. I've got nothing concrete- just a feeling and the door, which could have been anything.
Its getting harder to dodge the shrink. I modified my journal for him... the thoughts... the comments about being in the cold and dark. It seemed to make him feel better, but when I wouldn't tell him about any of the details he started in again.
"Doc," I finally protested. "I'm coping- you're the one who's making it worse by demanding that I cope with it your way. That's not going to work for me... Okay?"
At least he paused before launching into a lecture about suppression and how I have to open up to him.
"Fine-" I growled. "I was in a stinking dark cave for almost a week... no light, only sounds... knowing any minute an aftershock could make it worse- if that was possible... we had the slightest bit of water- no food and nowhere to go. There's no 'coping' Doc- you accept it and you pray for something better. We got it. You want me to back into that dark hole and relive it- I want to move on. You tell me who's got a better grip on the situation?"
He made some comment about anger being good. I threw my hands up in frustration.
It didn't get much better- but I was finally dismissed. I called Emmory- he was almost as frustrated as I was. We met for lunch again.
I told him about the door. He nodded. He's had the feeling too. I began wondering if Fin was available.
I filled Case in on what was going on. He nodded and promised me he'd look into it but I get the feeling he doesn't believe me.
That's not fair- he believes I 'feel like' I'm being followed, he just doesn't think I am being followed. Maybe he's right- but I don't know.