Jill staked the outcome of her mission on the power of candy-apple red lipstick and a push-up bra. Her mission was a man. She called it Operation Save Billy.
Jill’s stilettos clacked on linoleum. The hospital air-conditioning made her skin prickle. The corridor smelt like Lysol.
She had flinched when she first saw him wave hello. No time for blame now though.
Messages for nurses and doctors droned from the intercom. Machines beeped behind half-shut doors.
His hot tears made her want to kiss away his hurts. The soft, prosthetic thuds that failed to match his rage made her want to soothe him. But today Billy needed to hear harsh insults, not comforting words. She flung her taunts and then fled the room.
Corridor traffic thickened. Orderlies steered patients on gurneys. Brisk people in colored smocks trotted here, there. Slow people carrying bouquets or balloons looked for room numbers.
She had pumped enough gas before going to the hospital to either make the mountains or the coast. Both offered lots of jobs for pretty girls. She could sling drinks or sell t-shirts. She could find a new man. She could forget Billy. She told him she planned to do all these things. And mostly she would.
An elevator pinged. When it opened, a liver-spotted vet in a wheelchair blinked out at the main corridor chaos. His eyes latched onto Jill. His head swiveled as she tapped past. He smiled and straightened his back. As it closed, the old vet snapped a salute.
Jill prayed Billy pictured her too, that he mentally trailed behind her. That he imagined how high-heels lengthened her legs. How her dress stretched across her curves.
Linoleum changed to carpet as she crossed the lobby. People lined up at windows for prescriptions. Coffee steamed in the snack bar.
He had to do more than fantasize though. He had to get out of his room. Hunt her down. Or the mission failed.
Jill neared the entrance. The glass doors banged open. Outside, smokers smoked. A middle-aged couple held hands on a bench. She paused at the curb, swaying on her stilettos.
She would go to the mountains or the sea if he failed to come out. She would go because he had stopped being the man she loved. Because she pitied him and he hated her for it. She would go away, but she knew no one would ever take Billy’s place.
Sunlight warmed her bare arms. Shadows of leaves dappled her pale skin. Cars rattled by on the highway and spewed exhaust.
Lucky people die fast. Some get sick. Others die bit by bit from the inside out from guilt and grief.
The sliding doors banged open. Footsteps clumped on cement, unsteady, testing unused muscles and joints. A soft weight drops on Jill’s shoulder.
Billy’s new hand didn’t feel like a mannequin or a Barbie doll or any of the other things she had feared. It felt like coming home. It felt like love.
“Wait,” he said
In honor of Veterans Day, November 11, we bring you this short piece by Chuck Von Nordheim. Chuck served in the Air Force for 22 years. He now attends Wright State University on the Post-9/11 G.I. bill. His science fiction stories have appeared in The Three-Lobed Burning Eye and Every Day Fiction. We hope you enjoy this foray into the world of romance.