Pam’s face turned pale when she opened the door. “Oh my god! Chris! What happened to you?
“It’s a long story” Chris answered. “The simple truth is that I was at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Does it hurt?” Pam asked
“Yes, actually, it does hurt. It’s OK though. I’ll have the worst of it fixed pretty soon. Where’s Jackie?”
“Oh” Pam said. “I’m sorry. I’ve been thrown a little off base by this. Come in Chris. Please.”
Chris stepped into the house. Nobody else was in the front room, a fact for which Chris was grateful. “Have a seat” Pam said, and Chris chose a chair closer to the door than where he had been seated the last time he saw Jackie. “She’s in the bedroom. I’ll tell her you’re here.”
Chris sat and began to wonder what would come next. In fact, the side of his head had begun to throb. He rose from his chair and looked at the gash in a mirror that was hanging on the wall. It was beginning to turn a little more red than pink. “Oh crap” he thought as he examined it in the mirror. “I may have to go to an emergency room after all.” Chris was wondering how much such a visit would cost when Jackie and Pam emerged from the hall.
Chris turned toward them immediately, and Jackie said “Sit down, Chris. Please.” He did as he was asked while Jackie stood and stared. She then sat down on the sofa and Pam sat next to her. Both of the young women continued to stare at Chris’ face, and it was Pam who finally broke the silence. “Well, you can’t walk in here like this and not tell us the story.”
Chris gave a short version. “Me and a friend got jumped and had to fight to get away.” Jackie looked skeptical and Chris was bothered by that, so he filled in some more details. “My friend Calvin is an Indian. He was a friend of Tom’s, too. Over in Vietnam. We went into a restaurant last night and three guys who came in later didn’t seem to like Indians. They attacked us when we left and we had to fight to keep from getting beaten to a bloody pulp. Calvin had to improvise,” Chris pointed to his stitches, “or I would still be bleeding. Really, we were just having dinner. Those guys jumped on us for absolutely no good reason.”
“Good lord!” Pam said. “And your friend sewed you up with – what is that stuff?”
Pam shuddered. “And you had to just sit there while he sewed you?”
Chris decided to not mention the pint of rum. “Yep” he admitted. “What else could I do? Otherwise I would have bled all over his house.”
“Where does this Calvin live?” asked Jackie. It was her first participation in the conversation, and Chris welcomed it.
“On the Campo Reservation.” Chris could tell by the blank look on Jackie’s face that this information meant nothing to her. “It’s the Indian Reservation near Campo, about fifty or sixty miles east of here. His uncle owns a mobile home and Calvin lived there.”
“Lived there?” Jackie asked. “Doesn’t he live there any more?”
Chris hesitated again, then finally said “It’s complicated.”
Silence once again fell on the group, and once again it was Pam who broke it. “Well, we’re glad that you were willing to come over here tonight. Now that we know what you just went through, we appreciate you coming here even more. Jackie,” and she turned toward her sister, “has a few things she’d like to say, and a few things she would like to ask you about.” Pam placed her hand tenderly on Jackie’s arm. “Don’t you Jackie?”
Jackie waited another moment then she began to speak. “Yes, I do. But first I want to apologize for my behavior the last time that I saw you. You didn’t deserve that. I do not like you, Chris Pierson. I never have. Your brash, insolent, self – – -. Well,” she took a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh, “there I go again. I apologize for my outburst several weeks ago and I apologize for what I just said. I know better than to do that.
But it’s true that your personality has always been such that I don’t like you. I could not for the life of me see why Tom was such a follower of yours. He was smart, talented, kind, polite – – -. He had no business chasing after you, getting into the things that you two did, and even going into the Army with you. Tom had no business being in the Army or being in a war. He wasn’t a soldier.
Now I’ve asked for you to come here so that I can express my regret for the slap that I gave you and the harsh words that I said to you, and to ask you to forgive me for that. But – – -.” Jackie choked on that ‘but’ and tears began to flow down her face. She put her head down, and Pam put her arm around her sister’s shoulders. After a long and painfully silent minute, punctuated only by Jackie’s soft sobs, she regained something resembling control.
“But seeing you come in with your face cut and bruised, and with – with fishing line holding together the side of your head! You’ve just gone out and got into the same stuff you used to, and it brings back how angry I have always been with you.”
Jackie took another opportunity to get her breath and her emotions under control. Chris sat stone silent, expressionless, wondering where this would end. He hadn’t had a chance to express his own feelings a few weeks earlier. His grief at the death of his best friend was as real as Jackie’s but he hadn’t been able to speak of his own pain. Now he felt like he might once be held mute, and the throb that was beginning to return to the jagged cut on his face was starting to become of more interest to him than sitting in this room and taking another verbal beat-down from Jackie. At last she began to speak again.”
“So, somebody smart once said something like ‘being angry at someone or wanting revenge is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.’ I think that’s probably right, so I want you to know that I want to not be angry with you any more. I’m not doing that very well at the moment, but it will be my constant intention to work on it until it comes easily to me. And I ask again for you to forgive me for my hard words and actions.”
Chris sat looking at Jackie, surprised at what she had shared with him. The annoyance that had been growing within him drained out when she asked him to forgive her. He hadn’t expected anything like that. “Of course I forgive you” he said. “It’s myself that I’ve been having trouble forgiving. But, well, now there’s some things that I would like to tell you. I don’t know if they’ll make a difference, or even if you want to hear them, but I’d like to take a chance if you’ll let me.”
Jackie nodded her assent.
“Well, I want you to know that Tom wasn’t a follower; not of me and not of anyone else. Tom and I were friends – best friends – and respect ran both ways. I was glad to go through basic training with my best friend, but he was there by his own decision and for his own reasons. He had no interest in going to a college that his father selected and paid for, and the Army was his way out.
And I have to disagree with you about the soldier comment. Tom was every bit a soldier. He wasn’t infantry, but the Army runs on more than just that. Everything that Tom did, he did well. He was stationed with the generals and the colonels because he was good at what he did and they knew it. And Tom was in Vietnam because he asked to be there. He told me that when I visited him. I did what I did and others did what they did and Tom did what he did because the Army asked us to do it. He was every bit the soldier than any of us was.
Also I would like to say one more thing about this.” Chris pointed to his face. “I got this because a friend of mine, and a friend to Tom’s too, for that matter, was attacked because some punks did not like the fact that he is an Indian and that we were eating in a place where they didn’t think he belonged. This wasn’t because I was playing some sort of game, like I was a teenager again. I didn’t set out that night to get into a fight and get my face sewed up with fishing line, but that fight came to me anyway, just like the fight came to Tom. Neither Calvin nor I wanted trouble but, like my friend says, ‘when trouble wants to take you, it just comes and takes you wherever your are.’ Well, trouble wanted us that night, just like trouble wanted Tom. And it came and took him. It would have found him wherever he happened to be.”
The three young people sat silent, facing each other. Chris was filled with swirling emotions and assumed that the others were too. He was not sure that there was anything else to gain from continuing this interview wanted it to be over. He was about to excuse himself and leave when Jackie spoke again.
“Thank you for saying that.”
“Saying what?” Chris asked. “I just said a lot of things.”
“Thank you for all of it, and especially the part about Tom being a soldier. I never thought about him that way. I thought about him in a lot of other ways. Good ways! But I never thought of him as a soldier. I didn’t catch on to that part of him. I guess I tried to keep him my quiet, bookish piano player, and wouldn’t let him grow up. I think that he would have wanted for me to know that about him, so thank you. And it looks like I have to apologize to you again. I didn’t really know anything about how you got injured, and I assumed the worse. I’m sorry.”
Chris sat silently and thought about what to say next. Jackie had apologized and he had accepted her apology. She had asked for him to forgive her and he had done so. Now, he was not sure if there was anything left that needed to be said or done. The pain near his left temple was becoming more pressing on his attention. There was still something to say but he wasn’t sure what it was, so he decided to end this conversation now and think upon it more when he had the leisure to do so.
“Jackie – – -“ he said.
“Chris – – -“ Pam said at the same moment.
All three laughed a little at that and Chris, playing the gentleman, waved at Pam to continue her thought.
“Well,” she began. “I know that I’m on the sidelines in this, but I was thinking about this guy you know on the Reservation. What is it you said his name was? Calvin?” Chris nodded that it was. “OK. Calvin knew Tom well in Vietnam and could fill in a lot of blank spaces for Jackie, and you look like you stepped into a meat grinder to help him; I’m sorry Chris, but that’s how it looks. So he must be a good guy. Tom liked him, and – – -“ Pam blushed a little and then continued. “And you’re an all right guy too, and you like him.”
It was Chris’ turn to blush, although the color change was difficult to see amidst the reds and purples that dominated much of his face. “Oh, I’m not – – -.”
“I wasn’t done, Chris” Pam said, and Chris sat back quietly and continued to listen. “I said that you seem to be a nice guy. I remember you being a little wild and a little crazy when you were a kid, and I shared my sister’s opinion of you.” Jackie looked startled by that and Pam looked straight at her and said “We’re being honest here, and that’s what I’m doing now,” and then turned back to Chris. “But when you came to our house that first day to talk with Jackie, and especially after the reception that you just received at the Fieldings, I began to get a different feeling about you. Now that feeling is becoming more confirmed, because I see that you have taken an awful beating in order to defend a friend who was attacked for one of the stupidest reasons that I can imagine.”
Chris tried to interrupt and say “It wasn’t like I had a lot of choice,” but Pam said “Chris. Please. I want to finish my thought.” Chris held up both hands and then made a motion of zippering his lips. “Thank you” Pam said and then continued. “You showed that you cared about the Fieldings by going to their house, and that you cared about Jackie because you came here next. Now your face tells me that you care that much about your friend, too. That says a lot about you, I think.
Now, I’m just the little sister here, but I believe that it would be good for you and Jackie and this Calvin person to sit down and talk about Tom. Mostly I think that it would help Jackie,” she wrapped her arm around her sister’s shoulders again, “and maybe it would help you too. I love my sister and want to see her happy again.” She looked into Jackie’s eyes and continued “I want to see you smile. I want to hear you laugh again.” She then turned back to Chris. “And I think you could help her to get there. You and Calvin.” Pam looked first Chris and then at Jackie, and said “will you both try?”
Chris looked at Jackie, who once again had tears running down her face, and then at Pam who was comforting her sister. Pam’s affection for Jackie was so strong and obvious that now Chris felt a tear beginning to course downward across his purple cheek from his damaged right eye. He wiped it away, trying not to let it show.
At last he said “Sure Pam. I’ll do anything that I can to help. I think Calvin would agree to meet with us, too. He was a good friend of Tom’s. But I think that you should be there too. I think that you would help things a lot.”
There seemed to be little else to say at that time, and Chris proposed that he should leave. Jackie and Pam rose up off of the sofa as Chris stood. Jackie gave her sister a hug and then walked across the room and stood directly if front of Chris. “My sister is probably right” she said. “She’s right about a lot of things, and this seems to be one of them. I’m glad that you came here tonight. I think that it would be good to sit with you and talk about Tom. I really do – – -“ she stopped talking and drew a deep, calming breath and then continued. “I really do want to rejoin the living. Thank you for being Tom’s friend and, I guess, being mine too, even if I couldn’t really see it.”
Jackie extended her hand and Chris took it. He gave her hand a slight shake and then withdrew it. This turn of events was unexpected, and he was not sure exactly how to react to it. For years Chris had envied Tom for his relationship with Jackie and never once in that time had so much as touched her. Now he had her hand in his, but this was a business handshake; a burying of the hatchet and agreeing to move on. Chris was glad to move on. The handshake was an agreement to that proposition, and no more than that.
Jackie stepped back and it was Pam’s turn to thank him for coming to their house. She, too, extended her hand. Chris grasped it and felt something different than he had with Jackie. Pam’s hand expressed a feeling other than business, or at least that was the impression that it gave him.
He looked more closely at Pam and saw, that she was taller than Jackie; almost as tall as his own five feet and eleven inches. Her hair was straight, bangs cut evenly across her forehead and the rest dropping down to slightly below here shoulders. The last time that Chris had seen her, her hair had been drawn back in a pony tail. Today it fell straight down, and Chris thought that it made her look a little like an Egyptian. It was light brown, almost transitioning to a sandy blond in contrast to Jackie’s deep auburn curls.
Pam’s eyes had a funny little downturn at the outer corners which, with eyelids that lay a little lower than most, gave her a sleepy appearance that added to her mildly exotic look. Chris looked down at the arm that was extended toward him and noticed that it was deeply tanned. Her grip was firm and he could feel strength behind it.
Chris was surprised to see that Pam was a quietly attractive person. Not striking, like Jackie, but more soft of manner, and therefore more approachable. Chris lingered as he held on to Pam’s hand until her face reddened again. At that moment he remembered himself and let go of her hand, and he blushed again too.
Pam giggled when she saw Chris’ blush, but then her expression changed to one of concern. “Oh, Chris” she said. “Your head is bleeding.”
Chris stepped over to the mirror on the wall and looked, and he saw that Pam was right. The laceration, which had never stopped oozing, was now beginning to bleed more actively. “Looks like I have a trip to the emergency room in my immediate future” he said, mostly to himself.
“Oh, yes. You should go right now” Pam agreed. “Let me put a bandage over it so that it won’t get on your clothes.”
Pam disappeared into a back room and Jackie stepped up to look at the damage. “So you got that defending a friend” she said.
“Yes” Chris answered simply.
“He must be a good friend.”
“He’s a good man, and he’s my friend.”
“And you would have done this for Tom?”
“Yes. This and more.”
Jackie looked at Chris for a moment and then she wrapped her arms around him in a warm embrace. “Then Tom had a good friend, Chris Pierson. I thank you for that.”
Pam returned at this point and stopped dead in her tracks. Jackie stepped back from Chris and extended her hand again. This time Chris took it and felt something more like human warmth. “Good bye, Chris” Jackie said. “I look forward to meeting with you and Calvin soon.” She let go of Chris’ hand and walked over to where Pam stood, and after giving Pam another hug Jackie disappeared into her bedroom.
Pam walked to where Chris was standing and said “I didn’t exactly expect to see that.”
“Neither did I” Chris replied. “I think that we just got a barrier out of our way.”
“Hmm” Pam replied. “Well, sit down. I’m going to put this over your cut.”
Chris sat down while Pam opened the bandage. She used a gaze pad to wipe at the blood that now trickled down the side of his head and carefully applied the bandage over the wound. Chris noticed that he liked sitting there with Pam fussing over him, getting the bandage on correctly and then telling him to go straight to the emergency room.
After she was finished Chris rose from his seat, and this time extended his hand first. Pam accepted his hand and he said “Thanks for making this happen, Pam. You’re a good sister. I’ll call as soon as I can get together with Calvin and work out a time for us all to meet.” He continued to hold Pam’s hand until once again it began to become awkward, but he noticed that she didn’t pull her hand away from his.
Chris finally let go of her hand and reached up to touch the bandage. “Well,” he said. “I’d better go before I start to bleed through this.”
“Yes, you should” she replied, but there was no scolding in her voice now. “And let me know how it turns out, and that you’re OK.”
Chris laughed – it just felt like a laugh was called for – and said “I’m pretty sure that it’ll work out just fine, and I’ll look like a normal human soon. But thanks for your concern.”
Pam blushed again and slapped Chris softly on the shoulder, and then said “You let me know anyway.”
“Yes Ma’am, I will do that” Chris replied. He looked at Pam for a few more seconds, then turned and walked out through the front door.