Michele Sayre: The River and The Highway


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The River and The Highway

Michele Sayre

One year ago, Bryce Stewart stood on the flightline in Kandahar, Afghanistan watching the love of his life flying out of life yet again. In the year since he hadn’t stopped thinking about her but he hadn’t reached out to her either. Because in the ten years they’d known each other, each time they parted she said they were the river and the highway, destined to come together but not stay together.

He turned and walked up the next block in the historic neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee on this hot summer night. One big house in particular was lit up like Christmas with every light blazing and the noise of partying people spilling out of it. He started to turn away from the stupid antics but stopped mid-stride when he saw the love of his life, Christie Rogers, pulling a rolling suitcase behind her while wearing a hot-red dress.

She came to the gate and tried to open it but couldn’t seem to. He ran up to the gate. “Bryce?”

“In the flesh, sweetheart. Just give it a good lift and pull. Sometimes the humidity makes these old pieces of metal stick.”

She did what he told her and he stepped aside as she let the gate close behind her.

“Where are you going?” He asked as he tried not to stare at her bare shoulders and neck, and further down.

“Anywhere but here.” She took a deep breath then glanced back at the house. “I had to get out of there before I got tossed for wanting to knock a groomsman’s balls up into his throat.”

“I hate weddings because of that crap.” Bryce said.

“I was going to call an Uber and get a room somewhere. I’m leaving out for Fort Benning tomorrow.”

“Me, too. So why don’t you come stay with me? I’m staying at my sister’s place just around the block from here. Free room and room service, too.”

She looked up at him with big, wide eyes. “Are you sure? I mean-.”

“Look, I’m not trying to get in your pants or anything. Just offering a little Southern hospitality.”

Christie knew he was right on that. Bryce was the only guy she’d been involved with who hadn’t come on to her really hard at first. First, there had been respect from him, then kindness, then humor… then the best sex she’d ever had.

“Are you sure your sister won’t mind?”

“Nah, I’ve told her about you, so she’ll be happy to meet you finally.”

And when they started up the walk to a beautiful rambling old Victorian, the woman who stepped out onto the porch lit up when Bryce introduced her as his sister Carolyn along with Carolyn’s husband, John. She’d met John years ago when he’d served with Bryce in Afghanistan, so she was surprised to see him here.

She followed Carolyn inside and up the stairs to a bedroom that looked like something out of a dollhouse with its’ brass-railed bed and padded window seat.

“Help yourself to anything. There are fresh towels in the bathroom.”

“Thanks.” Christie put her suitcase on the bed and opened it. Then she looked over her shoulder at Carolyn, “Can you help me out of this dress?”

“Sure.” Carolyn came up behind her and start undoing the hooks. “This is a gorgeous dress.”

“It’s a bridesmaid’s dress actually.”

“What?”

“The bride wanted to piss her mother off so she sprung these on her at the last minute. I’ll never have cleavage like this again.”

Christie held the top of the dress while she pulled out a t-shirt and a pair of pajama pants out of her suitcase. She took them into the bathroom and changed then came out holding the dress so it wouldn’t wrinkle.

“I can hang that up for you.” Carolyn said as she went over to the closet and got a hanger.

“Thanks.” Christie handed the dress to Carolyn then went and got her bag with her cleaner and stuff. She kept the bathroom door open as she washed off her makeup then brushed out her hair.

“So, what has Bryce told you about me?”

“Not too much. He said you met back when you were with the Cultural Support Teams in Afghanistan. I’ve read about them and I just want to say your work with them must have been an incredible experience.”

Christie stepped out of the bathroom. “It was. Exhilarating and terrifying at times. We were breaking rules by embedding with combat units and we couldn’t tell anyone what we were doing because of that.”

“Bryce spoke about out and your team with a lot of respect.”

“The guys were great with us. I remember meeting your husband then, too. How long have you known him?”

“We met a little over five years ago and have been married six months.”

“So, you two were apart for a long time.” Christie looked at Carolyn with new admiration. “How did you make it work?”

“We learned how to talk to each other, and then when he came home we put into practice. He also makes me very happy, and we accept each other as we are.”

Christie closed her suitcase then set it down beside the bed as Carolyn came over to her, “No one knows what the future will be, but I think if you’re with someone who truly cares about you, then you can make it work.”

Carolyn went over to the bedroom door, “If you need anything let me know, and if you get hungry just help yourself to anything in the kitchen.”

“Thank you. And it was great meeting you.”

“I honestly hope you and Bryce can work things out between you.”

Christie thought about that but there was one thought that came before that bit of hope: had too much time passed them by?

~~~

Bryce didn’t know what to say to Christie the next morning other than basic polite conversation. He had never asked for any kind of commitment from her or even an attempt at creating some kind of relationship with her so he had no idea how to now. On the first couple of hours of the drive she was pretty silent, texting back and forth with people that had been at the wedding the night before she told him.

Finally, she put her phone in her bag. “Sorry about that. I’m still trying not to be a referee for my parents but that’s all they want from me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Thanks. They were married for ten years and have been divorced for twenty but still fight every time they get together. I was only child so I was lost in their shuffle, so to speak. And then they didn’t me to join the Army and wouldn’t listen to anything I told them about it. Maybe that is what’s messed me up so badly. Then when I saw a ton of broken relationships in the Army… I just think I’m not cut out for any kind of relationship.”

He heard the pain in her voice and wished he could pull the car over and hold her but he didn’t think she was ready to accept the comfort he could offer her. In all their time together, they hadn’t talked about anything too personal. But since she’d opened here, he did, too.

“Carolyn and I grew up with warring parents, too.”

“But yours stayed together, right?”

Bryce just stared at the highway in front of him as he considered whether or not to say what always came to his mind about his parents. “They did but they were miserable with each other. My dad was a big-time businessman, and he wanted my mom to be the perfect Stepford-corporate wife and didn’t give a damn about what she wanted to do. I sometimes wished they’d divorced so Carolyn and I didn’t have to listen to their non-stop arguments.”

“Bryce…”

He shook his head because he didn’t want to think about his past. He pulled off the highway at the next exit and up to the gas pumps. He turned off the car then turned in his seat to face her.

“After you told me that ‘river and highway’ bit, I never asked for anything from you because I didn’t want to hurt you. I didn’t want you to think I’d turn into an asshole if we got together. But I’m going to Benning to get out of the Army- I’ve got my twenty years in. And I just want you to know that I’ll back your play whatever you decide to do in your life, with or without me.”

He got out of the car and went up to the pump. She got out just as he was putting the nozzle into the gas tank.

“You haven’t asked me why I’m going to Benning.”

“I figured that was your business and not mine.”

“I’m going to see if they’ll let me out on a good-conduct discharge, or not.”

He looked up at her in total shock. “Why?”

“I reported a colonel for sexual harassment and you know how the military justice system is about that. I’ve heard the colonel was trying to spread lies about me though my CO said he knew I told the truth.”

The nozzle clicked and Bryce removed it from the gas tank before turning to face Christie. “Look, no matter what happens I’ll be there for you.”

She said nothing to that, just got back in the car. And as he got in beside her and started the car up, he felt his heart break yet again with her.

 ~~~ 

Bryce pulled into another motel near the base just as the sun was starting to go down and wondered if they’d have to pitch a tent somewhere tonight. He got out along with Christie and they went into the slightly-dingy office.

“Do you have any rooms available?” Bryce asked the skinny clerk.

“Just one, with one bed.” The clerk leered at him.

Christie stepped up to the counter and set her credit card down. “We’ll take it.”

Bryce said nothing to that and let Christie pay for the room. He drove to the back end of the two-story motel and let them into the room. At least it was clean and didn’t smell, he told himself as he clicked on the lights.

“I’ll take the floor.” Bryce said as he set his bag down by the door.

“No, we can share the bed. It’s big enough for the two of us.”

“Christie…”

“Bryce.” She went up to him and put her hands on his shoulders. “We need to talk.”

He went over and sat down on the edge of the bed as she tried not to pace around the room. “I’ve been doing so much thinking I don’t know where to start.”

“What would you do if you left the Army?”

His question stopped her in surprise. “I… uh… I want to go to school and become a nurse-midwife. I went out on a few medical missions in Afghanistan and saw how needed midwives are.”

“You’d be great at that. Would you work abroad or here in the States?”

“I was thinking here, with low-income women. Do you think that makes me some kind of a do-gooder?”

Bryce stood up and came over to her. “No. You’re someone who really cares about people and you don’t do anything for attention.”

She felt tears sting her eyes as he kept speaking up for her, supporting her. “I’ve pushed you away so many times-.”

“No.” He put his hands on her shoulders, waited till she tilted her head back to look right up into his eyes. “You set a boundary and I tried to respect that.”

“Yet you’re here.”

“I meant what I said earlier. I’ll back you up no matter what happens.”

She knew he spoke the truth because his honesty, along with his kind heart and generous soul were what kept her coming back to him. Her feelings were so intense right now it was a huge struggle to speak. But she pushed through to say what mattered the most to her right at this moment: “More than anything, I just want to be with you.”

“I’m here.” He pulled her against him and held her tightly. She closed her eyes as tears slid down her face. He rubbed his hand up and down her back, holding her like no one else ever had in her life.

She lifted her head and looked up at him again. “I just feel scared still… about the future.”

“I understand. When I got back from Afghanistan my sister told me something: she said no one knows what the future will bring so all you can do is take it one day at a time. And she also told me a person can change their future, and not make the mistakes of the past. And most of all, we’re not our parents. We know better.”

“I like your sister.”

“I do, too.”

And with that, she laughed, the first time in longer than she could remember. Then she saw his face change to seriousness again.

“I meant what I told you earlier. I’ll be there for you no matter what happens tomorrow.”

“I could be just paranoid-.”

“Hey, I know how things can go sideways. Hopefully, they’ll just let you go with good paper.”

“I hope so, too.”

He let go of her, “Do you want to go get something to eat?”

She wrapped her arms around his neck then wound her hand around his neck, bringing his face down to hers. “Later.”

“Later?”

She kissed him slowly, waiting for him to respond. Which he did when he slid his arms around her and brought her up against his body.

“Been awhile since we slept in a bed that big.” He said as he picked her up then laid her down on the bed.

“I don’t remember us doing a lot of sleeping in beds.”

He laughed before he kissed her again. And for the rest of the night, they got lost in each other and didn’t think about tomorrow.

~~~

Bryce sat on a hard stone bench outside the building Christie was in. The sun beat down on him, but the southern heat didn’t bother him like it back in Iraq or Afghanistan, both places he’d been in with Christie. Last night had been awesome and had given him hope. But if things went sideways for her…

He heard the door open and stood up. Christie stepped outside and by the look on her face, she might have some good news for him. He met her halfway up the sidewalk.

“So, how did it go?”

“Pretty well. Can we sit outside? It was freezing-cold in there.”

He took her hand and led her over to the bench he’d been sitting on. He took her hands in his and felt the chill on her skin.

“First, they’re letting me separate on a ‘good conduct’ discharge with no issues.”

“That’s great!”

“But the colonel is being allowed to retire at full-rank. It’ll save me from having to testify against him-.”

“And have your name dragged through the mud.”

Christie nodded at that. She’d been prepared to defend herself and deal with torn-up reputation so she’d been spared that. But there was more, “But my CO told me the colonel’s wife just filed for divorce and since they’ve been married for twenty-two years she’ll get half his retirement.”

“Good for her.”

“And my CO said his wife is starting to talk about how awful he was to her and that I was just one of the women who had the guts to say ‘no’ to him.”

“So, he’s toast.”

Bryce stood up along with Christie and started walking with her back to his car. “It’s going to take a couple of days to out-process me with all the paperwork.”

“Me, too.”

“We still got the room.”

She stopped walking and came around to stand right in front of him. “Where are going after? I mean, where were you planning to go?”

“Back to Memphis to stay with my sister till I got a place of my own. She said you could stay too. She really liked meeting you and said she’d like to get to you know you better.”

He took her hand and led her back to his car, which was parked in the shade of a big old tree. There he pulled her into his arms for a long, slow kiss to seal the deal, wanting to savor the moment here.

He looked down into her beautiful blue eyes and spoke from the heart. “I love you. And I know if I had said this earlier-.”

“I wouldn’t have believed you. But then I didn’t really believe in myself till last night.”

He kissed her again then, “I know this is going to sound pretty cornball, but I just got to say it: the River and the Highway have come together.”

She threw back her head and laughed with total abandonment and joy. “I love it!” Then, as she looked into his eyes she said, “And I love you, too.”

The End

Please visit Michele on her website: https://michelesayre109315764.wordpress.com

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