Day 37, dawn
Jaisa tore around the makeshift trail that the Young Guns had worn around the outskirts of Liberty over the past twenty days, her breathing heavy. This was her first day back on the track since the storm, and as usual Summer and John had joined her a half an hour ago in the faint pre-dawn light for the morning run. The other Guns had just started, filing in behind the sibling pace setters. Jai was far out in front, already a lap and a half ahead of her two usual companions, running as if possessed. She couldn’t stop playing the scene in her head, couldn’t stop herself from seeing Emily topple backwards with the catamount-like “varg” on top of her. The outcome was always the same. She knew Andy was right; she couldn’t have done any better, but what did that matter? She should have been able to stop them, should have been able to keep her friend out of harm’s way. And now she had fracked up in a big way again, drawing on the head of the god damned Guard.
Fifteen minutes later she had lapped the main group again. Her breath was coming in ragged gasps. She was on autopilot, her mind quiet for the first time since she woke up in the hospital three days ago. She peeled off of the trail towards the south, immediately flowing into the Korean forms her father had taught her years ago, then to Muay Boran, Capoeira, Krav Maga and back again, mixing and blurring the lines as she went. Anything to keep her mind at bay.
Day 53, early morning
I was really starting to get worried about Jai. I don’t know her as well as the Young Guns, but we had talked a bit on the early morning runs in the lead up to the storm and it didn’t take an psychiatrist to tell she was withdrawing from the rest of us. It seemed like all she felt she had left was duty, and she was pushing herself physically to the brink. She’s as fit and tough as Elana was at her top form, but every human body has limits and unless I’m completely off base she’s fast approaching hers. I think the other Young Guns didn’t want to see it, or maybe they were just afraid to try to talk to her about it. Her dad had tried to back her down, I think, but obviously had failed, and I’m not sure if Andy realized how hard she was pushing herself outside of her normal duties. I guess that’s all just to explain why I took it on myself to try to talk to her.
Since she joined us in the morning again she’s been starting her run earlier and earlier, to the point where she’s almost another patrolling guard on the last shift. By the time Summer and I get on the trail she’s already headed south to the base of the falls to start her martial arts training. This morning I headed down there a couple laps after the rest of the group had joined us, hoping to catch her before she headed back to town for breakfast.
I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting when I got down there, but it definitely wasn’t what I saw. I turned the corner around one of the big boulders down there and just caught a glimpse of her diving off the rocks into the river wearing, well, nothing. I froze. Which means, of course, that I was staring straight at her a few seconds later when she broke the surface and pulled herself out of the water.
“Hello there,” she said flatly, picking up the towel she had brought and started drying off. I whirled around, apologizing profusely.
“I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean, I didn’t know, I just came down here to talk.” I felt like I was in high school again.
“No harm done, we’re all friends around here.” She paused, “All right, you can turn around now, I’m decent. What do you want?”
I turned around and opened my mouth, and then shut it. What was I supposed to say? That I thought she might be detaching from reality and becoming self destructive? How the hell do you say that to someone you barely know? How do you say it at all?
“Right, ok then,” she laughed, patting me on the shoulder as she walked by, “you stand there. I’m going back.”
“Wait,” I blurted out, “I’m worried about you.”
She stopped, staring straight ahead, not looking back at me. “Well isn’t that sweet. I got news for you honey; I can take care of myself.”
“Not right now you can’t. I mean, I’m sure you could kill me with your little finger or something, but you’re hurting right now. I just wanted to let you know if you wanted to talk to someone who doesn’t know you as Lt. Benjamin first and foremost…”
“Get lost hot shot, I’ll be fine,” she shot back, but her voice was quavering as she took a step back towards camp. I took a deep breath and gently grabbed her arm. Not the brightest idea, I know – I felt like I was flicking a tiger’s ear – but I had the impression that it was then or never.
She swung around and slammed the side of her fist into my chest, hard and repeatedly, but she made no effort to pull away from me. She had started crying, slowly at first and then harder and harder, her blows weakening. Finally she started almost melting into me, leaning and crying into my chest. I wasn’t really ready for all this, but I did my best to comfort her. After a time she quieted down.
“Can we just stay here for a minute?” she asked finally, looking up at me. “Just for a minute?” So we did, laying down on the grass and listening to the river flow by.
I asked after a few minutes, “You want to hear a conversation I heard at Hanna’s yesterday? It was about you!”
“Who was it?” she asked.
“Oh,” I deadpanned, “only Andy, Mariana, Ash and Joe; nobody that counts!”
A light actually came back in her eyes, “Yeah, tell me.”
“OK, I’m quoting here.
“Andy said; ‘I love her like a Daughter but, I can’t let up. Her problem is insecurity, She does not believe she is good enough. Good God, when the vargs hit them neither one of them should have survived.
‘The only Fracking reason they did was that she is that good. The only problem is getting her to understand that. I could let up but, I swear that’s the wrong thing to do. It would only make her think I had given up on her. Anybody got any ideas?’
Jai interrupted. “He really said that?”
“Yup. Then Ash piped up. ‘I have been there; if you had let up on me I would have cracked. The only thing that saved me was ’someone’ decided that I was the Little Brother that she had never had. If Mariana had not started beating on me, I don’t know what would have happened.'’
“I just wanted to let you know where they think you’re at,” John finished. “And I think you know they’re right.”
Jai slowly pushed herself up on her elbow, looking down at this man who had somehow, at least for a few minutes, made things ok. She leaned down and kissed him gently, inhaling softly as she pulled away.
“Come on, let’s get back to camp,” she said, slipping her hand into his as she stood up. “Maybe we can catch the end of breakfast.”