Today I bring to you part two of my little story! If you missed part one, click here. And...if you haven't entered the giveaway, click here! It closes tomorrow night! :D
Ruth trudged down the street through the early morning haze, with a heart much lighter than her feet. With Agnes and Clara, two other nurses from her shift, on either side of her, Ruth got caught up in their chattering.
“It's good to have you back, Ruthie,” Clara said as they ducked into the old hotel building where they were temporarily rooming. “You've been drawn away from us for too long.”
Ruth smiled and thanked her friend, the words staying with her as she slipped into her own shared room and flopped onto a cot. I have been drawn away…secluded by my worry for Doug.
She rolled over and spied her friend Helen, sitting with a knee bent under her on the next bed. “You look much better this morning.”
Helen turned and smiled, a smile that didn't reach her teary eyes. “Thanks, hon. I'm pretty sure that had little to do with my body and a lot to do with my heart.” She held up a sheet of paper from her lap that Ruth hadn't noticed before. “Tom’s been critically injured in the Pacific…that's all I know.”
“Oh, I'm so sorry, sweetie.” Ruth scooted to the edge of her bed and reached over to hug her friend. She felt guilty for being so joyous about Doug when Helen’s boyfriend could very well be dead. “I'll be praying for him – and you.”
“Thanks.” Wiping the tears from her eyes and tucking the slip of paper into her duffel, Helen began doing up her hair. “I've got to hurry or I'll never get to work on time. Dig my mirror out of my bag, would you?”
“Sure.” Ruth hunted through her friend’s bag until she found the small handheld mirror, the sides and handle engraved with scallops and seashells. “It's so pretty.”
“One guess as to who gave it to me.” Helen continued jabbing bobby pins into her hair without so much as glancing in directions Ruth’s direction.
“Tom, of course,” Ruth said without hesitation. No wonder Helen refused to part with the keepsake, and even kept it carefully wrapped among her clothes.
Helen only nodded, took the mirror, and quickly checked her hair. Then she handed it back to Ruth and stood. “Would you tuck it safely away for me again, hon?”
“Will do. Oh, by the way,” Ruth called out as Helen moved toward the door. “Take good care of the guy in bed thirteen, okay? He’s kind of special to me.”
Foot on the threshold, Helen stopped and turned back. “I know you're not one to grow quick attachments to the men, soo…” At the look on Ruth’s face, Helen’s eyes suddenly brightened and hew jaw dropped. “Oh, good heavens! Doug?”
Ruth nodded, laughing and crying as Helen flew back across the room to give her a hug.
“Oh, I'm so happy for you. Now get some sleep, hon. You deserve it. I'll look after your special fella, even if he is your brother.”
Over the next few weeks, Ruth spent every spare moment with her missed and cherished little brother. She read him old letters she had received from their parents and from Mary. He told her of how he'd gotten hurt, and why he was listed MIA for months before then. And they spent time reminiscing about childhood days.
On the day that Doctor Franks removed the bandages from his face for what they hoped would be the last time, Ruth was standing next to him. She observed the doctor’s methodical movements and Doug’s silent waiting, but then turned her gaze to his wounds.
The raw skin of his face and neck was pink and tender around the discolored skin and rumpled scarring. A few blisters remained, mostly near his sunken eye and badly scarred cheek, but healing was taking place.
The last of the bandages fell away, and still Doug stared up at the ceiling without budging.
“How does your face feel, soldier?” Doctor Franks asked, leaning near to inspect.
“I'm not sure how to describe it, sir. It’s good to feel air again, but I almost feel…exposed and vulnerable.” Doug ran his tongue over his lips, feeling the almost-healed burn on the edge of his mouth.
“I suppose that makes sense.” The doctor continued his examination, carefully assessing Doug’s wounds. After several minutes, he took a step back and nodded at Ruth. “I believe we can leave the burns uncovered, at least for a little while.”
The man stepped away, and Ruth turned to Doug with a smile. “He must think you're healing nicely tell me that.”
Doug nodded, again staring off into the distance. “That's good,” he murmured, his mind far from the words. He twisted to look up at Ruth, and she more fully saw the pain in his eyes. She winced, knowing she could do much less for the pain in his heart than for the pain in his body.
“Do you have a mirror?”
Oh dear, he wanted to see for himself… “No, I'm afraid not…” Before she could go on, a recent image sprang into Ruth’s mind. Helen, brushing her hair, fiddling with a handheld mirror, fingering the delicate trim. “Actually, I might know where I can get one. I'll be right back.”
Without waiting for a reply, Ruth hurried across the room in search of Helen. She found her friend setting out medicine doses in a small room behind the ward.
“Helen…can I ask you a favor?”
Helen lifted her gaze from the table in front of her, his weary eyes meeting her friend’s. “Of course, hon. Something wrong?”
“Well, not exactly.” Ruth leaned her shoulder against the doorcase, and quickly explained the situation. “Somehow I think it might be better if he sees now, as opposed to later.”
A soft smile crossed Helen’s face. “And you're asking to borrow the mirror Tom gave me.”
“Yes.” Ruth carefully gauged her friend for more of a reaction. “I know how much it means to you, and I promise to make sure it gets back to you safely.”
“You don't need to promise anything.” Helen dusted her hands off and stepped over to Ruth’s side. Her spirit remained somewhat downcast, but a hopeful light burned in her eyes. “My love for Tom and his love for me, it’s something that's in our hearts, not in trinkets and gifts. If that mirror was lying somewhere shattered even as we speak, it would be okay because that's not what really matters.”
Ruth smiled and slipped her arm around her friend’s waist. “I'm so proud of you, sweetie. Just you wait, you're gonna hear from your fellow soon.”
“Maybe you're right.” Helen smiled without looking very convinced. “Now go get the mirror, hon.”
Ruth dashed to the nurses quarters in record timing. After clattering up the stairs, she dug the mirror out of Helen’s duffel and quickly rushed back the way she had came. Today was no different from any other and she couldn't be away from the hospital for long.
On her way back through the snowy streets, Ruth’s gait was slower. She trudged along, wishing she felt up to hurrying. When she came into sight, her gaze landed on the stoop of the schoolhouse – and the lone figure that sat on the steps with shoulders hunched forward. Helen.
“Oh no…” Ruth whispered. She tucked the mirror securely into her coat pocket and took off down the street at as high a speed as the dirty sludge would allow.
She was panting by the time she reached the makeshift hospital. Helen sat on the second step, her coat yanked haphazardly around her shoulders, her frame trembling with sobs.
Ruth sank to the step below her friend, worry forming a cold ache in her heart. “Helen…?”
The young woman raised her head and met Ruth’s gaze. “Oh, hon, I'm so happy.”
Happy? Before Ruth could sort out her thoughts much less attempt a reply, Helen lifted a tan envelope and a few folded papers from her lap. “A letter from Tom. He's hurt, badly hurt. Probably even worse than he's telling me, but…he's okay.” She clutched the letter to her chest and lifted her face to the wind, the icy chill stealing the tears from her cheeks.
“Oh, sweetie…” Ruth scooted closer and wrapped her friend in a tight embrace. “I'm so happy for you.”
Helen didn't speak, just hugged her back. “I'm okay.”
“I know you are.” Ruth stood and patted her friend’s back in departure. “Take your time enjoying your news.”
“Oh, by the way…” Helen’s voice caught Ruth before she made it to the door. “A letter came for you too.”
Back inside the hospital, Ruth found herself busy with other patients for half an hour before she was able to steal away. When she reached Doug’s bedside, Ruth held the mirror out to him, facedown.
He didn't say anything, just eyed it for a moment. Then he took it with his good hand, flipped it over, and held it up. Hardly flinching, he studied the warped side of his face, the empty eye socket, the scarring that ran back into his hairline, across his ear, and down his neck. Still not speaking or saying a word about it, he dropped the mirror to his lap and his gaze followed it. His shoulders slumped as if in defeat.
A tear slid from his eye, followed by another. Ruth dropped to her knees next to him and took his good hand. “Doug? Talk to me, brother mine.”
“Mary should be ashamed,” he rasped, obviously having a hard time holding it together. His jaw quivered, and he clenched his teeth to still it.
“No…no, Doug.” Ruth gathered his other hand, now with only the palm bound in white dressing, into her hold. “Don't say that. Another man from your platoon told me that you saved countless lives before the tank blew up. You're a hero for your country. Mary will love you even more than she ever has when you finally get home to her.”
Doug’s jaw shifted. “Maybe.” Then, clearing his throat and pulling his hand out of hers, he asked, “Have you written them about me?”
Ruth nodded slowly, suddenly wondering if it had been a good idea. She busied her hands with arranging supplies on a nearby tray and fiddling with his coverlet as she replied. “I have. I wrote Mama and Papa soon after you got here, and I enclosed a note for them to give to Mary to insure they learned at the same time.”
He was quiet for a moment longer, his good hand working the fingers of his other hand, trying to improve his mobility before scar tissue took over as Doctor Franks had instructed. “Have they wrote back?”
“Actually…” Ruth stopped fidgeting and withdrew a tattered envelope from her pants pocket. Maybe this would help ease the pain. “I received this just today. Would you like me to read it aloud?”
His eye lit at the sight of the letter from home. “Yeah, if you don't mind.”
Slitting the seal and reaching inside, Ruth removed the folded pages and began to read:
My dearest Ruthie and Doug,
(For I am going to assume that you are still together – it does my Mama-heart good to think that you are. You've always been so close, and you need each other now more than ever.)
Your Papa and I cried when we read Ruthie’s most recent letter, bearing the glorious news that our Doug is found and safe. We hurt knowing that you're hurting, son, but we are ever so thankful to God above that He saw fit to spare your life. He is not through with you yet; He still has plans for you on this earth.
Ruth paused long enough to glance up at Doug. He rested against the pillow, a tear caught in his eyelashes.
“You can go on,” he whispered without opening his eye.
She nodded and returned her gaze to the handwritten page on her knee.
Stay strong in the Lord, dears. I can't imagine the terrible carnage you have both seen and will continue to see until this horrific war is over. He alone can see you through. Know you are in our hearts always, on our minds daily, and in every prayer we send up. My first petition is for your safety, followed closely by an end to the war and my children’s happy homecoming.
The enclosed letter is from Mary. I believe she cried harder than I did when we receive word of Doug being identified. Ruthie, if your brother is not there with you anymore, please forward this to him if you are able.
You know your Papa is not one for many words, but he sends his love. Rest in the knowledge that we are very proud of you both and eagerly awaiting the safe return of our children.
With all my love, Mama
Blinking the tears back from her eyes, Ruth carefully folded the pages that held her mother’s precious words. She pulled out the aforementioned letter from her brother’s fiancée and held it out to him. “Here's Mary’s letter.”
He took it from her hand and spent a moment fingering the smooth paper. “Read it to me…will you, Ruthie?”
“Are you sure?” Ruthie accepted the letter than he returned to her hand, but hesitated to open it. “She meant these words for you, Doug. Not me.”
But still he shook his head. “She knew the letter was going to at least pass through your hands. Besides, if the Doc hadn't decided to take the bandages off today you would have had to have read it.”
Well, true. Shrugging, Ruth unfolded the extra papers and began to read again.
My darling Doug,
I hope this letter finds you safe and well on your way to recovery. I'll go ahead and be completely honest, as we promised to always be with each other.
Ruth paused, pretending to clear his throat as she let her eyes travel quickly down the page. Surely Mary wasn't about to break up with him…
“Just read it, Sis,” Doug requested. Apparently he'd caught her in her attempts to protect him. “Whatever it says, I can take it.”
Giving him a brave smile, Ruth returned to the spot where she left off on the page.
I cried when we received the news from Ruthie. Tears of joy that you are alive and will be home before too much longer. But also tears of pain. Oh, my dear, sweet Doug, I can't imagine the pain you have bore. My heart hurts knowing you're suffering, even as I write this and as you read it.
Still on the topic of honesty, I want to go ahead and broach something that I'm suspecting. I suspect it, because I know you, Douglas Watkins. Don't you think for one minute that anything that has happened to you over there can diminish my love for you in the least. I know what you're thinking, that I haven't seen you yet. But I love you with all of my heart, and I always will. Our love is strong enough to endure, darling.
Ruth paused again to catch her brother’s reaction. He was resting against the pillow, a trio of tears slipping down his face. The peace that surrounded the two of them could be felt, but not described. She returned to the letter, her heart full.
Come home to me soon, love. If there's anything else that needs to be settled between us, we can talk then. In the meantime, focus on getting better and know I love you dearly and am praying for you.
Finished, Ruth folded the letter from Doug’s girl and tucked it into his hand. He took it gratefully and held on as if it would bring him closer to his Mary.
“Are you okay?” Ruth murmured, aiming to keep the moment between just the two of them. The two letters, both filled with emotion and encouraging words, had lifted her spirits. But she wanted to make sure he was handling it all well before she left for the night.
Doug nodded, giving her a real smile that she truly hadn't seen since before he had left for English shores. “I'm gonna be fine.”
“Yes, you are.” She smiled back and leaned over to kiss his cheek. “My shift is up. Do you want something before I leave for the nurses quarters?”
“Yeah…” He lifted his gaze from the letter he still fingered and looked her in the eye. “I want to be home, with them, by Christmas. Can you make it happened, Sis?”
Living in Faith and Fun // Operation Christmas Card
Creative Scribbles of a History Detective // White Christmas with a Twist
RebekahAshleigh // Fudge Recipe
Twin Thoughts // Books for the Kids at Heart
Whimsical Writings for His Glory // 5 Reasons Why Christmas is Special This Year
9 Kids Plus 2 // Christmas Baking
Colorful, Creative Cards // Wise Men Present Gifts
Rebekah's Remarks // Bookish Tag ~ Christmas Version
The Ramblings of a Book Worm // Christmas Poem
Chosen Vessels // Book Review
Thoughts on the story? Thoughts on how it's only three days until Christmas?! O.O