I hear three knocks on the door followed by a pause. Two more knocks and a pause. Then four slower knocks, a pause, and one last knock. My heart rate soars well above the resting rate but I breath a little easier because that's our code. After the code proves correct I'm allowed to ask one question. In actuality though it's really more of a demand and my voice comes out steady and hard, “Name the day.”
He speaks clearly, “March twentieth, two thousand and ten.”
Another check, although my pulse is already slowing, “Name the actual day.”
“March seventeenth, two thousand and ten,” he responds calmly.
The final check. I roll my eyes, “Why does that matter?”
“Because that's the day that St. Patrick drove out all the snakes from Ireland,” he responds.
I let out a huge sigh, lower my arms, and push the safety back into the 'on' position on the 1911. I walk over to the door and unlock it's stupid little privacy lock that wouldn't do any actual good in an actual situation where someone wanted in. Locks only keep out honest thieves.
I step away from the door and Joey turns the knob and the door opens towards him. He stands there, grinning at me with his perfect smile, and then steps forward to bear hug me. He lifts me up off the ground and plants a kiss on the tip of my nose before setting me back down. I protest at him, “I don't know why we have to do that stupid routine even when I know that it's you, I mean I saw you get out of the truck!”
He tucks a lock of my errant fiery red hair behind my ear, “Because it's protocol and you never know,” he gently takes the gun from my hand and checks the safety, unchambers the round, pulls the magazine out and sticks the lone bullet back in the magazine for a full clip, “Besides, practice makes perfect for when the perfect time comes.” He sets the gun down, reaches out and play pinches my nose.
I playfully swat his hand away and grab his wrist, pulling him in for a real hug. I bury my face in his neck and heave a sign of relief that he's back in my arms. I inhale and it calms me down because he smells like soap, clean sweat, leather, and comfort. He tightens his hug and rocks me a little, he knows me so well that he knows that it calms me down more than words ever could.
“Did you get the stuff for Diana?” I murmur into his chest.
“Yup. In fact I need to get that stuff over to her. She'll be okay for at least a few more days and what with her father finally joining up with the,” he pauses, raises his arms, and makes air quotes with his fingers as he speaks, “neighborhood patrol,” then wraps his arms back around me, “yesterday, I'm pretty positive they'll be okay after we've left.”
I giggle and then I frown a little. Nothing ever gets past him. He pulls me back, placing his hands on my shoulders, and looks at me, “Hey, it's okay, I'll be fine. They know me. The real danger is outside the neighborhood where people don't know us. At least they know us here.”
“You,” I corrected him. “They don't even know me here.”
He looks at me with sarcasm in his green eyes, “Well, outside this neighborhood they don't know us, and that's the important part, because that's where we're going, so if it makes you feel any better, we're equal targets once we leave this part of Pristinewood.”
“That doesn't make me feel any better,” I quip. I bite my lip because that's not what's really on my mind. What's really on my mind is why he's risking his life for Diana.
He reads me like a book, “What's wrong? What are you thinking about?”
I pull my shoulders out from under his hands and walk over to the hutch. “Do you really think it was a good idea to risk your life for Diana? I mean, what if something had happened to you? Then where does that leave me?”
“But nothing happened to me, I'm fine,” he responds.
“Yes, but something could have happened.”
“But it didn't.”
“But it could have!” I cry at him, tears threatening to stream out of my eyes.
He walks over to me and pulls me into another hug, “C'mon now, the important part is that I'm here now and I'm okay.”
I realize that I'm being extraordinarily selfish and that just makes the lump in my throat feel that much bigger and that much more tight. I sigh, “I'm sorry. I just don't want anything bad to happen to you.” It's true, I don't want anything bad to happen to him, my whole world would be turned upside down if I lost him. I remind myself though that he's an Eagle Scout and it's in his nature to help people. I smile up at him and he nibbles on my nose before planting a kiss on my lips. That's all that it takes to make tears come poring out of my eyes and I press my lips hard against his, trying to tell him without words how much I love him. He kisses me in 3 quick little successions like a chicken plucking up feed from the dirt and then acts like he's going to bite down and chomp my nose with his incisors. I can't help but laugh because I can't understand his weird obsession with my nose as I push his face away and swat his arm playfully, “Stop that,” I half-heartedly admonish, not really meaning it.
He chuckles and plants another kiss on my lips before he starts heading for the backpack that he brought in with him from the truck. “I guess I'd better get this stuff over to Diana before we head out. What time is it?”
I look at my wristwatch, “A quarter to ten.”
“Okay good, we still have plenty of daylight left. Besides, Platypus,” he tweaks my nose again, “I've known Diana since I was nine so she's like a sister to me, I want to help any way I can.”
I watch him as he slings the pack over his shoulder and fishes in his pocket for his keys. I pause a little and then blurt, “Just be careful okay? I know it's just right across the street but...” Words fail me as panic threatens to push tears down my face again, “Just please be careful.”
He crosses the short distance between the backdoor and where I'm standing to wrap me up in a hug and sweetly kiss me on the forehead, “Stop worrying, you goofball. We'll have plenty of time to worry later. Save some for then, okay?” I nod and he releases me, gliding the backs of his fingers across my cheek. He turns and walks out into the living room and down the front entryway. He opens the door and pauses to look down at the two packs already sitting there, “Do you mind doing one last check on the bags while I get this to Diana and then I'll do a final check before we head out?”
I laugh, “Always be prepared, right?”
“Exactly. I'll be back before you know it.” He smiles at me and then slips out the door, shutting it softly behind him.
I check my watch. 9:55am. I take a quick couple of steps to the door to look out the window at his retreating back. I laugh because he checks the street both ways before crossing even though a car isn't in sight or for that fact, even within hearing distance. He's dressed accordingly, in green-toned military issue cargo pants that we picked up years ago at the military surplus store, black tightly-laced combat boots, a greenish moisture-wicking top, and a bandana on his head to hold his longish dirty blonde hair off of the back of his neck. I watch as the sunlight catches the blonde in his hair and turns it into spun gold momentarily before he's quickly across the street and under the shade of a tree.
I looked down at my own clothing, it's very similar to what he's wearing with slight variations. About the only difference is that I'm wearing a back tank top with a light weight jacket belted around my waist with the same camouflage pattern as my leggings, which are a little more streamlined since they're women’s. My boots are a deep forest green though and that's about the only difference.
I look down at my bare feet and then to the packs by the door, obviously heavy laden and full, not packed for just a day's travel or a light excursion. My boots are nestled closely to one of the packs and so I decide to sit down and put them on. As I'm lacing them up I notice that both packs are marked with a symbol of some kind, it's not very noticeable, instead it's almost like added camouflage; like someone drew on the already green packs with just a shade darker of a green marker. I shrug because the markings look like the familiar line drawings that Joey does.
When I'm through lacing my boots I sit cross-legged in front of the packs and start checking them; a seventy-two hour supply of water and food, paracord, various small weapons like knives, two handguns in each with more than enough ammo, field guides to plant identification, several maps. I pause and lean against the wall. If I stop to think about it, it all becomes so terribly overwhelming that I can't do anything but just sit there. I turn my head, trying to pop my neck and notice two smaller yet equally overstuffed bags laying near ours. I don't even want to think about what those are for, we're already carrying about seventy-five pounds each. I close my eyes and rest my head against the wall. We trained for this, though, we prepared for it. Everything is going to be fine... I hope.
Until Next Time,