HOLDING ONTO CLOUDS

 

By Jo

 

 

Part six:

 

Rumors were flying in the media that Richard had died, that he'd been brain dead all this

time and had finally been taken off life support. Anne tried not to look at, not to listen to any

of the reports about him. None of them were right. Yet as she crossed through a waiting area

to get the elevator, there it was, a large color photo of him on 'Hollywood Exposed'. Richard

Coordaleen Dead or Dying the banner headline blared. Seeing it, her knees felt weak and she

had to sit quickly. It was a picture of Richard, yes, but it was a screencap from Mission to

Nowhere, not a current one. His character, Edward Grayson, had been shot, had fallen from

a balcony onto the Budapest street below. It was Edward, not Richard, well, not really Richard,

yet they were trying to pass it off as how he was now. It had been trimmed so all you could see

was his face, couldn't see that he was dressed in a topcoat, not a hospital gown.

 

Grabbing the tabloid, she crushed it, then as she continued on to the elevator, threw it in a

waste bin. On the elevator, she leaned into a corner, pressing her hands to her face.

 

"Are you all right, Miss Dale?"

 

The doors had opened and a nurse was staring in at her.

 

"Fine, I'm fine," she breathed, starting down the long corridor. When she reached his door,

she opened it, but stopped before entering, staring at him. "No, I'm not fine. I'm not the least

bit fine," she sighed.

 

Day eight. That's how she'd begun to think of them, the day first, then the number, like he

was being held hostage in Iran or something. He was being held hostage. That was true. Somewhere deep inside himself his awareness was captive to his injury.

 

She'd been reading to him for days now, playing his favorite music, talking to him, but there

was never any response on his part. She curved a palm down his cheek. "Oh, Richard," she

murmured, "your skin is warm, soft...alive. I know you're in there somewhere. I know you

are! Wake up, my darling, wake up and let me tell you I love you, that I understand everything

now."

 

Charles was getting tired of walking. He saw a shady glen, a few daisies sprinkled through

its grass, and seriously considered lying down in it. It was hard, this keeping on when you

didn't know where you were going. He was tired of it. He walked to the edge of the glen,

standing there, staring at it with weary eyes. Lying down would be good, much easier than

walking on and on. One of his boots had been wearing a blister on his foot for days. He was

a cavalryman, supposed to be riding, not trudging like some footsoldier. Right now he had

no idea why he'd even been walking, the reason for it.

 

Bending, he trailed his fingers over a line of the daisies. They looked very happy here in

the glen. Maybe if he joined them, he could be happy, too. Yes, he liked the thought of that

and went down to his knees. "Want company?" he asked the flowers, which bowed and

nodded in a light breeze he hadn't felt earlier. Everything would be better here. The grass

was deep and soft, the daisies welcoming, the big trees reaching out their branches, offering

their gift of shade. The path he'd been following, when there was something that might be

called a path, was hard-packed dirt, studded with rocks, often leading up steep hills. He

leaned forward, resting both his hands in the grass. Ah, how nice...how peaceful...how easy.

He smiled in anticipation of the ceasing of activity, of effort, of needing to know something

for which there seemed no answer.

 

"Richard?" She would have sworn his lips curved in the faintest smile. "Richard?"

 

A monitor shrieked its piercing call through the room. People ran in and she found herself

out in the hallway going, "No, no, no, no!"

 

She couldn't see what they were doing to him, but after a few minutes the people left, wheeling

some cart with them. She was allowed back in. Dr. Steele was there, shaking his head, looking

at Richard.

 

"What...what happened?" she asked, barely able to speak.

 

"Almost lost him," Steele replied, checking a couple of readings on dials.

 

"Lost...? He...he seemed all right. How could...?"

 

"The mind's a wonderful, mysterious thing, Miss Dale. We have no way of knowing just what's

going on in Richard's right now, what level of awareness he may or may not have. All we can

tell is that his brain has been active, but not in a way that's let him break through into

consciousness again."

 

"But...but...the monitor? What...?"

 

"Heart stopped. Can't see the reason for it, either. Can't tell just what brought it on. It's

almost like, in whatever state he's in, he made some decision to...to leave. The brain can do

that, make decisions like that."

 

"You...you're saying...."

 

"That he decided to go? I'm afraid that is what I'm saying."  He checked another machine.

"We're monitoring him even more closely than before, but I'll be frank with you, Miss Dale.

If he wants to die, we can try to stop him like we just did, but in the end, he'll win."

 

Charles was on his feet, leaning against a tree, panting for breath. Just when his cheek had

begun to touch the blessedly cool and soft grass, a thunderstorm had rolled in more rapidly

than he'd realized they could. He had to have been struck by lightning. That was the only

sense he could make out of the sensation that had bolted through him. Now what?

 

He looked back at the glen. It's grasses were crisp and brown, the daisies completely

shriveled into blackened stubs, the leaves gone from the trees, and somehow large rocks

had been strewn across it. No, he couldn't lie there...not now. His eyes found the path again.

He'd go on, at least for now. There didn't seem anything else to do.

 

Alone with Richard, Anne laced her fingers tightly through his limp ones, a look that could

only be described as fierce in her blue eyes. "You listen to me, Mr. Richard Coordaleen, and

you listen good! I'm not letting go of you. You hear me? I've got you and I'm holding on so

whatever it is you're planning down there inside that brain of yours, you just forget it. You

forget it! I mean it, Richard! You are not going to do again what you just did. I won't permit

it! You cannot do it! You've got to keep trying to get back to me. I'm waiting, Richard, I'm

waiting for you and I'll wait as long as it takes. You better hear me! I'll wait as long as it

takes!"

 

Charles walked far enough down the path away from the scorched glen that he began to hear

Eugenia in the canopy of the trees again. She needed him. He could hear it in the tone of her

voice even if her words weren't really clear. He kept walking. Despite the blister, he kept on

walking. He'd forgotten about Lee. Lee didn't need him. Eugenia did. It was her voice, not

Lee's, had always been her voice.

 

"Oh, Mom," Anne said, having gone briefly down the hall to the waiting room to call her

mother later in the day, "he almost died."

 

"Listen, Annie, I think you should let me come and be with you. This is too hard for you to be

alone."

 

"No, Mom, they wouldn't let you in his room and that's where I spend almost all my time. It's

not that I don't want you. Please understand that, ok? It's just that it wouldn't do any good.

Really, it wouldn't."

 

"Is he all right now?"

 

"I don't know what all right is any more, Mom. He seems to be the same as before. Dr. Steele

says he isn't sure what caused...well, any way, he's resting peacefully right now. No change."

 

"Anne, it's Rebecca." Her sister had gotten on the line. "I read that article about Marsalene

and Richard. Did you know she's retracted everything, said Richard didn't try to make a move

on her? I just wanted to say that I'm so sorry, really, really sorry for all the times I urged you

to stay away from him. I guess he's not a bastard after all, eh?"

 

"It's all right, Sis. I should have known better, should have believed him. Now I'm just afraid

it's too late, you know, that I'll never have the chance to let him know I love him. Look, I've

been away too long. I need to get back, ok? Love you. Tell Mom I love her, too."

 

Back in his room, she took his hand again and started humming, just a simple song he used to

sing to her when they were alone.

 

Charleston? How had he gotten as far as Charleston? He must not have been walking southwest

after all. This was really strange. And he hadn't encountered any Yankee troops, either. In

fact, there didn't seem to be any of them in the city. No one was in the city, no one but him.

Maybe it wasn't really Charleston? No, there was the unmistakable bulk of St. Phillip's,

shouldering its way out into the street like it wanted to be sure everybody would notice it.

 

 

He walked past it, turned a corner, and made for the Battery. Just a few blocks and he'd be

home. He thought fondly of the big pink house, its narrower end to the street, long white-

pillared porches all down the side. The Yankee soldiers...he hoped they hadn't wrecked

the place. His mother would be....  His mother. Was she still in Charleston? Vaguely he

seemed to recall both she and his father had died something like four years ago. He wasn't

entirely sure about that, though. They had to be there. The house was pink because Berine

Coordaleen liked pink and wanted it that way and his father adored her so much he let her

have her way in such matters. His father. If he wasn't home, maybe he'd be out in the country

where they raised horses. He remembered something about spending a lot of time where his

father raised horses. That was probably why he was in the cavalry. It was logical there'd be

some connection, wasn't it?

 

 

The house was still there, still pink and white like he'd imagined it for his backstory. No, that

wasn't right. Like he remembered it from his youth. Yes. He was very tired from walking from...

where had he started? Anyway, he was obviously now in Charleston. He hadn't been aware

of heading there, but something must have been guiding his steps toward...home. He stood on

the deserted street, filling his eyes gratefully with the sight of the beautiful house.

 

Going up on the porch, he found the door was locked. "Father!" he called loudly. "Mother! It's

Charles! I've come home."

 

When there was no answer, he sat down on one of the porch chairs and just looked across the

short distance to the sea. How he loved the scent of seawater in the wind that blew ashore.

He'd rest a while, then maybe he'd walk a bit more, just enough to get him to the sea. Then

he'd have to stop. There wouldn't be any further to walk. Yes, he liked the idea of stopping.

He was home now so it would be all right to stop. This time there probably wouldn't be any

thunderstorms, either.

 

 

It was 3 AM and a nurse had come in to check Richard's vitals, inadvertently rousing Anne.

"How is he?" Anne asked.

 

"BP's down," she said, her brow creasing.

 

"Low?"

 

"Quite low, I'm afraid." She adjusted something on his IV drip. "I'll be back in a few minutes

to check it again. There doesn't seem to be a reason for it. If it doesn't improve, I'll call Dr.

Steele."

 

When she left, Anne studied Richard's face. The doctor had said the same thing about his

heart stopping yesterday, that there didn't seem to be a reason for it.  She didn't like the way

Richard looked. It wasn't anything she could put her finger on, but she'd stared at his face so

intently for so many days now that it seemed to her there was just something...different...about

it.

 

"You aren't?" she whispered. "You...wouldn't?"

 

Charles didn't know how long he'd been on the porch of his family's house, but now the sun

was lower in the sky and he got up and began to walk along the Battery. He'd only gone a

block or two when the Battery was gone and he found himself walking on hard-packed sand

by the sea.

 

 

Yes, this was good. This was the end of the land, as far as he could walk. A large piece of driftwood had washed ashore and he sat on it, pulling off his tall, black boots, wriggling

his toes gratefully in the wet sand. Standing, he unbuckled his swordbelt, letting it fall, not caring where it landed. He wouldn't be needing it any more. The scabbard was actually empty.

The saber was back...somewhere. That didn't matter.

 

Carefully he unknotted his sash. Someone...who?...had knotted it for him. Someone was always

undoing and redoing his sash. A wave washed up, thinning out to only an inch deep by the time

it reached his feet. He dropped his sash into it. The next wave, picked it up, swirling it artfully

in the foam, pulling it in curves of watered cloth toward the sea.

 

He unbuttoned his grey jacket, let it fall in a heap beside him. It was too heavy for the wave.

It's light grey became dark grey, but it stayed where it was. Heavy things were like that. It

took a bigger wave to carry them into the sea. He felt very, very heavy himself so he sat down

right where he'd been standing. Another low wave came, spreading itself around him, and he

watched the waters part and make patterns through his fingers. This was good. Patterns,

something that made sense. He'd been wandering for so long now with no pattern to follow.

He smiled as another wave came and he lay onto his back, extending his arms, knowing now

the water would be making patterns around his body. 

 

Charles was looking up at the dark cloud forming above him, almost hovering there like it

had some purpose. Amber edges. The cloud had pale amber edges and as the waves grew

deeper around him, he raised his arms straight up, sinking his hands into the cloud. He was

holding onto it and that was good. Holding onto clouds was so simple, so easy. It wouldn't

keep him from the sea. Clouds didn't do that. He'd pull it with him as the sea took him. He

and the cloud and the sea, yes. They'd be together and he wouldn't have to take another step.

He smiled again, curving his fingers into the cloud.

 

Anne saw the smile. It was like his smile right before the monitor had sounded yesterday. It

was horrifyingly just like it. Her own breathing seemed to stop and without knowing why,

she grabbed the pitcher of ice water that had been left for her and threw its entire contents in

his face.

 

"Ahh!" he made a startled sound. The waves had been warm, soothing, welcoming. Suddenly

they were sharp, frigid, and he jerked back from them, releasing his hold on the cloud. The

peace of the sunset, of his sunset, was shattered by hysterical shouting. He felt a sharp smack

on his cheek. Someone was screaming at him, screaming, "NO...NO...NOOOO! You can't DO

this! You can't, you can't, you CAN'T!"

 

"Wha...what?" he gasped. "Can't?"

 

"Richard?"

 

"Can't?" he repeated, utterly confused. "Who...?"

 

"Richard?" The voice said the name again.

 

"Ch...Charleston? Where...where's Charleston?" he mumbled.

 

Two nurses were crowding against the bed, but Anne wouldn't move from where she was.

"Richard...it's me!"

 

"Miss, I'm afraid you'll have to..."

 

"RICHARD...it's ME!"

 

He recognized the voice. "Eu...Eugenia?"

 

"No...yes...it's me, Richard."

 

He blinked, trying to clear water away from his eyes. She grabbed a cloth and blotted at them

for him. "Eugenia?" She was here...on the beach? How?

 

"Anne. It's Anne, darling. Anne!"

 

"Anne?" The ocean was still roaring in his ears, only more faintly. "The clouds? I...I had a

cloud."

 

She didn't know what he meant. It didn't matter. "Richard...it's me, Anne. You're in the

hospital, in Richmond, in the hospital."

 

"Rich...Richmond?" No, that couldn't be right. He was in Charleston.

 

"Couldn't...couldn't find...Lee. Couldn't find anybody. Couldn't fine...find...you."

 

"I'm here, darling, I'm here. I've been right here all along."

 

"All along?"

 

"Yes, oh, yes! I love you! You've got to hear that. You've got to hear that I love you."

 

"Love?"

 

"Yes, you. I love you, Richard Coordaleen. With all my heart I love you."

 

He closed his eyes, entirely disoriented, squeezing his lids tightly shut. The sound of the

waves disappeared, replaced by several different beeping tones. Slowly he opened them,

lifted one of his hands, staring intently at it. "I...I...was holding onto a...," he began.

 

Anne laced her fingers through his. "Hold onto me, my love," she said. "Hold onto me and

I'll hold onto you."

 

His gaze lingered on their joined hands a while then moved to her face. "Anne?"

 

 

 

BACK TO PART 5

 

BACK TO LIBRISCROWE