Cooper Wilson reclined in the Adirondack chair, his face to the breeze and the slowly settling sun as he listened to the dry leaves being blown over the concrete on which he sat. There was a definite edge to the cooling air, which no longer carried the fragrances of summer, but rather seemed devoid of anything other than the smell of decay and hints at the emptiness that was coming with the approaching winter.
Now that he was back in the midwest, the trees all around had exploded into their annual flames of color, but he had long ago stopped looking forward to this time of year. They had seen to that. He remained unsure if time healed all wounds, or simply allowed them to subside to a dull ache. He actually no longer dreaded this seasonal reminder, and found that he could actually stop and think of them without it feeling like an open wound…like he had been gutted and trussed up for the world to see. As the wind washed over him, wondered at that the lack of urgency in his memory, and decided that he didn’t really know how he felt about not feeling their loss as keenly as he used to. Thoughts burst up in his mind. Thoughts of thanksgiving that the pain had dulled dueled with thoughts of guilt for still being alive. A ghost of a smile passed over his face as he thought that this would undoubtedly be fascinating to Lise. A puzzle to study. A riddle to analyze. The slight smile faded as his thoughts circled back to the woman. For a time, Cooper believed that she was unusually dedicated to the study of both he and Jake. She always seemed to be present, foreground or background. He wasn’t sure when, or if, she actually slept. But the more he observed her, then more he came to conclude that she actually cared for Jake, and was interested in his well-being. Cooper had almost unconsciously come to rely on her counsel, and her care of the young man, as he found himself busy about the work that had been assigned to him. It came across as more than trust. It felt like rapport. It was a feeling he hadn’t felt in a long time either. “Another betrayal.”, whispered another voice in his mind, which sounded suspiciously like his own, as fatigue overtook the inner dialogue in his head, and sleep overtook him, as the sun sank a little lower on the horizon, darkening the yellow light bathing his face.
Inside, watching him from the kitchen, Lise regarded the man on the patio. Clad in the same jeans, shirt, and jacket he wore when they had taken him in to custody months before, the now-slumbering man looked as relaxed as she’d seen him in that entire time. No fits and starts. No restless turning and crying out. For a just a second, she could swear that she’d seen him smile, but given the feelings that she had unexpectedly developed for the man, feelings which she had only just recently admitted to herself, she couldn’t be sure she’d actually seen anything. She still wasn’t sure how she’d arrived at those feelings, and was upset with herself that she couldn’t seem to figure out exactly how that had happened in the first place. Technically he was a patient, and she had a great deal of experience in evaluating and dealing with troubled patients. He was also an assignment, one upon which much was riding. He wasn’t much to look at. Sure he was tall, but the 50-odd years he’d lived seemed more evident on him then they might otherwise have. The gray at his temples seemed very pronounced. The little lines at the corners of his eyes were still little, but very deeply etched. But the eyes. The eyes contained a light which had only seemed to get brighter, starting with the return of his Bible. The dossier had hinted that he knew much of the book remarkably well, and that he could quote much of it from memory. But when it had been returned to him, he still managed to find a half hour or so a day to read it. And while the outside appearance of her patient was nondescript, he had a personality and wit which were quick and engaging, and had proven to be even more so in private. The security detail reports indicated that many of the detail had developed a genuine affinity for the man. Even the infamous Agent Roy admitted privately that he’d had a few conversations with Cooper that left him with the impression that although he was humble, he was also much more than he seemed. “Maybe that’s why I’m attracted to him,” she thought to herself, taking a sip of cooling coffee from a blue mug, “maybe because he is more than he seems.”
“I gotta hand it to you. You’ve done well with him.” A voice from behind startled her out of her reverie.
“Col. Gearhart. I hadn’t heard you were back.” She responded flatly.
“Yeah, well, I may have been seconded to you folks for awhile, but that doesn’t mean that you all know about my comings and goings.”
The two watched the sleeping Cooper as the wind blew harder, bringing more leaves down out of the trees.
Lise finished the last swallow of her now cold coffee. It was a miracle that she had gotten Cooper to sit still for a few minutes, and suppress his concern about Jake long enough to simply relax, and that had only been possible because Jake was in the fortified basement of the residence, playing with an electric train set which she had “requisitioned” as part of his treatment, under the watchful eyes of Agent Roy.
“It’s getting cold…and dark. We should probably go bring him in, although you probably had a difficult time getting him to do it in the first place. Well, maybe not quite so difficult.”
Lise cocked her head as she turned backwards to face Rick Gearhart, and asked “What does that mean?”
Rick looked at her for a moment, his eyes barely concealing an amusement that had yet to leak out on to the rest of his face, then said “He’s falling for you. He’d never say it, but I knew him when…well, let’s just say I knew him the last time he had feelings for a woman. He’d probably never say it, most likely because he’s been through so much, but I see it when he talks to you.”
Lise’s heart felt like it skipped a beat, then started hammering away like a jackrabbit. She was embarrassed at her reaction, and hoped that her face wasn’t flushing like it felt like it was doing. There were so many reasons, both professional and personal, to not want to feel like a love struck girl, and mentally, she was frantically searching for something to say, and the correct tone of voice to not betray her unexpected feelings to this man with whom she had argued so often and so vehemently. Before her thoughts could coalesce into the mass she needed them to be, he added “Look, I know we don’t see eye to eye on just about anything, Major, and I have no idea what the rules are on fraternization in the service of the King, but I know that you care for him, and that he cares for you, and if there is one thing that I think my friend is entitled to before he dies, it’s having a relationship again with someone who shares his feelings.”
Lise’s mouth opened, then shut, then opened as the words cut through the swirling emotions, ideas, and responses weaving through her mind. A full minute passed before the look of shock and confusion on her face gave way to a more settled expression, and she managed to say “Thank you.”
“Of course, I’m still not terribly fond you, and if you were to hurt him, I’d dedicate some time to making you as miserable as I possibly could.” said the Col., the smile having escaped the prison in his eyes to come out through the smile on his face.
“Good.” she replied.
“Good?” he asked.
“Good.” she affirmed.
It was his turn for confusion to cloud his expression.
“I don’t understand.” he said.
“Well,” she began, “It felt like we were having a moment there, and that would be so far out of character for you, that I was thinking I might have to order a psych evaluation to determine what was wrong with you.”
A low chuckle escaped his throat as the smile returned, powered by the twinkle in his eye.
“Oh. That. I wouldn’t fret any about it. It wasn’t bound to last, even if I did mean every word of it.”
Her gaze returned to Cooper, who was still asleep in the chair on the patio. The sun seemed to be touching the horizon, allowing the cool of night to rush in to fill the growing vacancy. She shivered, almost involuntarily, and said “Let’s go get him up. I know he will be glad for the chance to talk to you about what you were up to the last week or so.”