Operation First Date Chapter 4

HE’S BROKEN, BUT SO IS SHE. TIME TO BRING THEM TOGETHER. 

This short story featuring Bitsy and Jim sequence is actually a novella based off of Hear Me Roar in the Health and Happiness Society.

If you haven't read chapter 1, check it out right here!

Click here to read the other chapters!

Click here to read Chapter 3.

 

Chapter 4

Shadows haunted every part of Jim's house later that night.
When I stepped onto his porch, the floorboards creaked beneath
my weight. Light from the nearby streetlamp shifted between the
branches of the trees in a tacky breeze. Deep inside, I thought I heard the barest whisper of sound.

A TV, perhaps?

Jim talking on the phone?

Maybe I imagined it, hoping for the best. I lifted my knuckles and rapped on the door. It was almost nine o'clock. An hour and a half after I had dropped him off.

Worry buzzed through my veins. Jim wouldn't harm himself, would he?

Tonight he’d been so different. So upset. I’d never seen him like that before.

He wouldn't go into a hallucination and hurt himself somehow?

No answer came from his house.

I rapped on the door again and called his name, but nothing. My heart sank into my stomach. The ride home had been absolutely silent.

Once we’d pulled into his driveway, he’d climbed out of the truck and disappeared in his house without a word. His truck keys dangled off my fingertips.

“Jim,” I called. “It’s just me. I was just checking on you. Wanted to make sure you felt okay. I . . . I’m worried about you.”

My phone lay blank in my hands. No responses to the eight texts I’d sent him. With a rush of fear, I said, “Just tell me if you’re okay. Should I call for help? I could call Stephanie. I don’t want you to do anything . . . rash.”

“I’m fine.”

The hoarse words came through the door. I startled, glancing up.

“Jim?”

“I’m fine, Bitsy. Go home. We’ll talk about it later.”

“Can I come in? I . . . I don’t think you should be alone right now.”

“I’m not suicidal, if that’s what you’re wondering. I’ve already told Cora what happened. Go home.”

Despite the gruffness of his voice—which didn’t scare me at all—I felt a little better. Disappointment gripped like a vise around my heart.

Maybe I’d been looking forward to the date more than I thought.

“Okay. But please call if you need anything? The girls are gone all weekend.”

No response came.

Reluctantly, I left, disappearing into the thin vapors of the night with a
heavy heart.

 

##

 

The weekend passed in a slow slog.

Normally, I relished every moment of the quiet house. The open space in my calendar. The opportunity to go to the store and look at the pricing, nutrition information, and options of every single food that I wanted to buy and then some.

Nothing made me giddy like a little cost control and being under
budget.

This weekend, I couldn’t get my mind off of Jim.

Jim, that infuriating, silly man.

“PTSD,” I muttered, staring at his truck from the front window. It hadn’t budged since I parked it after the disaster of a date. “Who knew?”

Not that it was a stretch of the imagination, by any means. His gruffness. The anxiety about going out. Sitting in the middle of the room. The champagne bottle. His general lack of being around people. He’d racked up ten deployments in the last twenty years of service.

Ten.

Who knew the amount of weight that must bear on his heart and soul. Or maybe it was the sudden open space in his life. Perhaps the demons found their way out when the world wasn’t so busy, demanding, and hectic.

Hadn't he alluded to as much?

It made his presence in our neighborhood all the more puzzling.

There wasn’t any sort of military base within several hours drive of us. This had to be the last place on the planet anyone would expect a recently divorced, widowed military veteran with a wildly famous daughter to go.

Then again, perhaps that was why.

“Really, Jim,” I mumbled, turning away. “What are you doing here of all
places?”

The smell of lemony cleaner filled my kitchen. It wouldn’t be a stretch
to say I’d over cleaned again, but it felt so good to get my mind off of what happened—or at least my hands busy while my brain spun over it.

Just when I’d distracted myself with a new documentary on the truth behind our favorite healthy oils, my phone rang. With a sigh, I considered the unknown number, then finally picked it up. Just in case.

“Hello?”

“Is this Bitsy?”

“Yes.”

Point one in their favor: they must know me or have a close friend that knows me. Only telemarketers—and Daniel—call me Elizabeth.

“This is Cora, Jim’s daughter.”

My spine straightened.

“Cora! I’m so glad you called.”

My weak knees dropped me to the closest chair, and I snatched the remote off the coffee table to silence the television.

Half of a laugh rang in her voice. The rest of it was filled with concern.

“Let me guess? Dad hasn’t ventured out of his house yet or explained what happened on your date. The date he was so excited about, he actually told me it was happening. That's a big deal for him.”

“It’s pretty clear what happened,” I said and chewed on my bottom lip.For the thousandth time, I looked at his truck out my window. “He was so uncomfortable.”

“Can you tell me what happened from your point of view? He certainly
isn't heavy on details, if you know what I mean.”

“Of course.”

Cora listened in silence while I related it, grateful to review the details
and see it for myself again. It stirred up my concern again, and I had to talk myself out of making it more dramatic than it had actually been.

Facts were hard to stick to when my inner mama bear came out. It all seemed so awful.

“Mild this time,” she said. “That’s good.”

Mild made me shiver. He hadn’t gone in sort of hallucination, but he’d certainly seemed to be mere moments away.

“This happen often?”

“More so lately, it seems. He started seeing a psychologist a few months ago and that has certainly helped. I think he's sort of working through a lot right now.”

“That’s . . . good.”

“With all he’s been through? Yes.” Cora let out a long breath. “I’m currently filming, or I’d fly home. They just need me for two more days and I’ll be there.”

“Is there anything that I can do?”

“You can try to connect with him, but I don’t know if he’ll answer. He’s
embarrassed, I think. Everything is fine now. I think he just doesn't want to face it."

"He does that," I muttered.

"Tell me about it. He’s also afraid of it happening around the girls. Doesn't want to scare them, I think.”

“Nothing happened.”

“Thankfully, no. You were right to leave so quickly. But there have been times he gets into the memories.”

“Let me go over there today and tomorrow to see if I can get him out of his hovel and back into the real world. You may not need to leave just yet. I’ll keep in touch, figure it out, and let you know. Would that sound all right?”

Cora paused, then let out a long breath. “That sounds more than all right. Thank you, Bitsy. I can’t tell you what it means. I love my dad more than anything, but I don’t necessarily know him that well. With so many deployments . . .”

The sentence trailed off for half a breath before I said, “I get it, and I’ll
figure out a way to get him to open up. Literally and figuratively. I’ll text
you, all right?”

“You’re the best. I’ll be in touch soon.”

My heart thudded in my chest as we ended the call. I sat back in my
chair, processing all she said.

Jim was a savvy man. If he was embarrassed—and had an infuriating proclivity to hide from problems—I had to bring my single-mama-runs-her-business-and-deals-with-her-attractive-neighbors A game.

Fortunately, that was my favorite game.

4 comments

  • Love your writing, always find myself anxiously awaiting the next installment!

    Kim
  • I can’t wait for the next chapter! Beautifully written as usual Katie Cross. 💖

    Diane Entrup
  • Sucked me in and left me wanting more! So beautifully written Katie Cross, you always impress 💖

    Diane Entrup
  • Wow I love all of your work. I read for the details so I take my time. Even so I devour your books and short stories. It’s killing me to wait for the next chapter.
    Keep up the wonderful work.

    Carroll Schnabel

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