Finn rounded the last turn of the trail, panting heavily, and slowed down to an awkward jog/walk to finish out his two miles. He rubbed his right thigh, throbbing a little as it always did after a run and then looked behind him. There was Chris, bringing up the rear as usual. “Going to have to get you a walker soon old man, or what?”
His brother glared at him. “Shut up.”
Finn laughed as he caught up and they slowly made their way towards their cars. Nothing like an early morning run in the woods. He grabbed a couple bottles of water out of his Jeep and threw one towards Chris. Grinning he said, “Need to start cutting back on Liz’s cooking,”
“And you,” Chris shot back, as he downed the water, “Need to eat more of it. She’s about to drive me crazy—‘Finn’s looking skinny, Finn never comes around anymore, You need to bring Finn over here more, Chris’”.
Finn chuckled lightly at the imitation of his sister-in-law. “God, she’s worse than Mom.”
Chris shook his head, his blue eyes growing round. “No one’s worse than Mom.”
“I’ll tell you what,” Finn said, setting the water bottle down and grabbing a towel to wipe his brow with. “You and Liz come over for dinner this week. I’ll entertain, I’ll cook, hell—I’ll even clean the house. Think that’ll convince her that I can take care of myself enough to leave me alone for the next few weeks?”
Chris grinned and shoved his brother slightly. “Doubt it.”
Finn shoved back good-naturedly with his left arm. When the stump of Finn’s left arm hit his shoulder, Chris’s wince was barely noticeable. Yet, still Finn sighed inwardly, hating how his brother tensed slightly when his stump touched him; even after five years the person who he was closest to was still uncomfortable with his disabilities.
“So,” Chris started. “It’s spring break. You got any plans other than entertaining us?"
“Yeah, I’m going down to Panama City.”
Chris rolled his eyes at his brother. “Liz’ll probably cajole some girlfriend of hers into coming to dinner, maybe it it goes well--”
A shrill ring came from inside Finn’s jeep, cutting Chris off. He leaned in through the open window and grabbed his phone off the dash. Unfamiliar number, but a local area code. “Hello?”
He heard Chris hiss in his ear, asking who it was. Christ, he’s worse than a woman, Finn thought. He waved him away and quickly switched to a Bluetooth that he kept on the dash, freeing up his hand. “Lt. English?”
Finn immediately tensed. It’d been a long time since he’d been addressed by that honorific. These days he was lucky if he got “Mr.” as a title. Most of the time he was just “Teacher”. Warily, he answered. “Yes ma’am. This is he.”
“Great,” a woman with a pleasant alto voice on the other end replied. “Lt. English, my name is Margaret Shields, and I work for The Montgomery Inquisitor. I was wondering if—”
The woman’s voice was cut off in the middle of her sentence as Finn clicked the “end call” button.
Chris frogged him in the arm—the right one of course. “A woman calls you and you hang up after five seconds?” He threw his arms up in exasperation. “No wonder you can’t get a girlfriend,” he muttered.
Finn rolled his eyes and shrugged, pinching the bridge of his nose with his thumb and middle finger. He wasn’t going to start that stuff again.
Margaret was still looking down at her phone a few minutes later when Jake came into her office. He plopped down in the chair in front of her desk, arms full of files. “Bastard hung up on me,” she told him in an incredulous voice.
Jake suppressed a laugh. “Call him back.”
“Thanks Jake, I just knew you’d have the answer,” Margaret snapped. She immediately felt bad when she saw Jake’s face drop at her harsh retort. “It’s just like, as soon as he realized I was a journalist, I was talking to a dial tone.”
Jake nodded as he dug through one of the folders. “Well, he’s probably had his fill of you nosy journalists.”
“You’re a nosy journalist,” she said pointedly.
He glanced up and shook his head. “No,” he said wryly. “I’m just a green fact-checker.”
Jake went back to digging through the file while Margaret contemplated what to do next. It was very likely that English would recognize her phone number the next time she called. She glanced down at the memo’s littering her desk. A reminder to call her nephew to see what he wanted for his birthday, a note to go by the bank on the way home, and one telling her not to forget toilet paper or she’d be sorry. She threw her pencil down. “You know what? I’m calling it a day.”
Jake looked up at her and raised a single eyebrow. “And with that attitude you’ll be back to being a green fact-checker with me.”
Margaret laughed lightly, knowing he was right. “Thanks Matthews. You know, sometimes you’re really the kick in the ass a woman needs.”
She saw the red creeping up around his collar and resisted teasing him further. Jake had only been at the magazine a few months, but Margaret could tell he was going to be successful eventually. He definitely had the tenacity; it was just buried in there somewhere.
Margaret sighed and leaned back in her chair, looking again at the pictures Vince had given her. Everything else, he’d said, could be found in the old files that Jake was currently digging through furiously.
She eyeballed the second picture, the one of him in the classroom, closely. He looked content, satisfied maybe, but in his eyes she thought she something else. Some sort of ache? Longing perhaps? Maybe she’d play that angle up somehow. Amputee Ex-Soldier Longs for Happier Times, but Finds Satisfaction in Teaching in Others. She scribbled the potential byline down.
Amputee. Her stomach fluttered at the word; she felt a familiar throbbing as she glanced again at the picture. This time her eyes strayed to the left sleeve of his blue Oxford shirt that ended in the middle of his bicep and the khaki pants covering his right leg, knowing what wasn’t there and instantly feeling her stomach drop—but in the good way.
She flipped the picture over; conflicted at the thoughts that were running through her head. Then she scribbled the byline out, realizing how stupid and condescending it sounded. It wasn’t just that she thought the story was stupid—follow up’s always were in her opinion. No, there was a much bigger reason that Margaret hadn’t wanted this particular story, one that ran deep.
“Ah-hah!” Jake suddenly exclaimed, pulling her out of her thoughts. “Found it.”
He slid it across the desk for Margaret to get a closer look. It was the original article that their magazine had published five years ago, the one that was causing her to feel so conflicted and uncomfortable, yet lucky at the same time. Settling into a comfortable position in her chair, she grabbed it and started reading.
Finn tossed his keys on his kitchen counter and grabbed a bottle of water out of the fridge, bracing the bottle cautiously between the counter and his waist, and twisting the cap off. He glanced around at the wreck that was his apartment and the stacks of papers waiting to be graded. No, spring break now, clean apartment and grade papers later.
The first thing he did was to change into his everyday prosthetic, more practical for hanging around the apartment and grocery shopping—something he sorely needed to do. Toilet paper situation, getting desperate.
Even though it had been years, he wasn’t sure he’d ever get used to the sight of seeing an artificial limb in the corner of his bedroom. Gently he pressed a release button on the inside of the prosthetic and pulled down gently at the same time. He sort of popped up on the other foot and slid the prosthetic off, leaning it up against the wall.
Finn sat down on the bed to take the liner that protected his stump from chafing and other horrors off and tossed the sweaty thing in the laundry basket. He replaced it with a fresh one, working slowly to make sure it rolled on evenly, all the way up to his hip flexor. Then he grabbed the regular prosthetic, stood up, sort of sliding his stump into it. He bounced down, putting pressure on it until he felt it secure and seal into place.
He went back out to the main part of the apartment, surveying the mess again. His sister-in-law had called him on the way home, giddy and excited about having dinner the next day. Finn had told her he’d have them over to his house and to bring nothing, he’d take care of everything.
Thinking back, he realized her should have emphasized the nothing part of nothing. Knowing Liz, she’d probably show up at his door with some girl she knew from church or from her work. Most likely a pretty girl—although she’d dragged in some dogs in the past—one that was single and looking for a handsome nice man with a stable job and secure future.
And probably looking for one with all his limbs too. Somehow, Liz always managed to leave that piece of information out.
He chuckled to himself, thinking of the last girl she had sprung on him. He had to give it to the poor unsuspecting girl though; her excuse of forgetting to lock her car door, going to lock it, and then never coming back in was pretty original. Now that he thought about it, that night hadn’t turned out all that bad. He and Chris had had a hell of a time teasing Liz about that one.
Finn surveyed the living room quickly again. Clothes or dishes first? Clothes, he decided and started grabbed the few shirts that he had lying around and tossing them into the waiting laundry basket.
Finn English was quite a character. He had graduated with top marks from officer school, had a spotless record, and had been heralded as an “asset” by his own commanding officer. “If had he played his cards right”, the article said, “he’d been on his way to moving up in the ranks and a having a stellar career.”
Then he’d stepped on an IED.
He’d spent a few days in Germany, fighting for his life in a way he’d never expected. Once he was stable enough, he’d been transferred to Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland for further treatment and rehabilitation. There, he’d learn how to relive his life as an amputee. The article went on to say that he was making great progress learning to walk with a prosthetic and was expected to make a “full recovery”.
The article ended there. It had been published in March 2007. And it was up to her to fill in the blanks between what happened since then. Margaret glanced at who’d been the idiot to write the article and throw the “full recovery” line in there and rolled her eyes. No surprise there.
English had been quoted periodically throughout the article, his responses seeming sincere and genuine and optimistic, if not a little generic. Nothing in the article she’d just read gave her any insight as to why he might have hung up on her like that. No, instead it just made him sound like a perfect little ray of sunshine.
She scanned a copy and emailed it to herself for further inspection at home. Further inspection of the article, she told herself firmly. Nothing else.
Margaret leaned back and wiggled her phone out her pocket, feeling it vibrate. For a half-second she crazily hoped it would be English, calling her back to apologize and ready to answer all of her questions. A quick glance at the caller I.D. dashed her hopes.
She forwarded it to voicemail, knowing that if she answered she wouldn’t be able to get off the phone for at least an hour. Her college roommate was the real-life version of Chatty Cathy.
Stubborn and chatty, Margaret thought as her phone vibrated again with a text message. “Someone obviously wants to talk to you,” Jake said gesturing at her phone, which she’d tossed into her purse across the room.
“Yeah, well I’ve got work to do and she’s either calling to postpone girl’s night tomorrow or to tell me that she’s bringing her husband.” Margaret rolled her eyes.
Jake smiled. “Well if she brings her husband you do know you can always call me as backup.”
“Thanks Jake,” she smiled sweetly. She tapped the article and the blank notepad in front of her. “Now, help me brainstorm ways to get Lt. Finn English to talk to me.”