Wilmington, North Carolina was a place a lot of people would call perfect. It had three beaches- Wrightsville, Carolina and Kure. The state port employed a lot of local people, as well as people from all over the state. The U.S.S. North Carolina was stationed on the Cape Fear River and, along with beaches; there were mountains that were about six hours away. For a lot of people, North Carolina, and Wilmington in particular, was the perfect place to live. This is where Ben Carter grew up.
Ben Carter was twenty-three years old and still lived with his parents in the up and growing town of Wilmington, North Carolina. He was also in the Air Force; he had joined when he was nineteen years old. His relatives had all been in the Air Force- his great grandfather, his grandfather, his dad and all of his cousins.
His father, Mark Carter, had retired almost five years ago and it was not a stretch to say that he felt he had to join. His reasoning for joining, though, had less to do with the influence of his family- he loved planes and loved flying them. As a kid, he had thousands of toy planes and about fifty model airplanes. He loved to talk to his father about his time in the Air Force and Ben had already decided by the time he was twelve that he would join. He had always been fascinated by the fact that something so heavy could fly flawlessly through the air. So, at age nineteen, he enlisted.
He went to an eight-week basic training program in Texas, and then was based at Edwards Air Force Base in Lancaster, California. He usually got two-week leaves about every nine months. He was now in his third year of being in the Air Force and he loved it. Well, most of it anyway- sometimes, he would be picked for guard duty and he decided that it had to be the most boring job on the face of the Earth.
During his three years, he had been shipped to France, Germany, Portugal, Afghanistan, Iran, and most recently, Iraq. He had been shipped to different Air Force bases inside the United States as well, but, if he was being shipped out, he was usually shipped to foreign bases.
With Ben being an only child, his mother had never before experienced the feeling of sending her child across the ocean. When he was first sent to basic training in Texas, he stood at the airport hugging his mom good-bye for almost twenty minutes. His mom, Megan Carter, had met his father while his father was in the Air Force.
He was stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina and had met Ben's mother while on leave in Elizabethtown, North Carolina. They got married two years later, while he was on leave, at his mother's church and they had Ben a couple of years after that.
Like a lot of cities, Wilmington was rich in parts and poor in others. Though they did not live in a rich neighborhood, they lived close enough to one, so Ben was able to go to one of the best high schools in Wilmington. He played football his freshman and sophomore year and he began to play his junior year, but his grades started to slip and he eventually quit. Even though he quit, his grades continued to suffer.
He began to hang out with the "wrong crowd" and began to cut classes. At the beginning of senior year, his counselor called him into her office and asked him what he planned to do after graduation. He told her he planned to go into the Air Force and she told him if he wanted to join, he had to get his grades up.
He decided that same day that he would work extra hard and, when it was not enough, he got a tutor. After a couple of months, his grades had risen tremendously. At graduation, he had three B's and one C. He graduated when he was eighteen and he took a couple of months off before joining the Air Force.
Despite his appearance, Ben had never had many girlfriends. He had short brown hair and his skin was tan year-round. During his junior year, he had gotten two tattoos on each of his arms. He had light blue eyes and most would classify him as good-looking. He had a couple of girlfriends his sophomore year and the same one his junior and senior year. Though he had girlfriends, he had never been in love.
While he was in the Air Force, he had made a couple of friends but, by far, his best friend was Jeff Duvall; they met when he was first stationed at Edwards. They were in the same barracks and stayed together in the same company all three years. Jeff had already been in for seven years and was considering making it a career. Jeff was twenty seven- four years older than Ben.
Even though Jeff did not have a girlfriend, he was in love with his best friend, Emma Stewart. They had been friends since high school but Jeff had loved her from the start. He had never told her the truth about his feelings because he was scared she would not feel the same way and was scared that their relationship would change- and not for the better. Amazingly, Jeff lived in Burgaw, about thirty minutes away from Wilmington.
If asked, Ben would say his life was pretty good- he had amazing friends and he was pursuing the career of his dreams. But he had no idea how much his next few leaves would forever change his life.
On the morning before his last day on leave, Ben awoke to the phone ringing. Someone answered the phone and a couple of seconds later, he heard his mom calling his name. He rolled over and put his pillow over his head. His mom called his name again and Ben rolled over and looked at the clock- 9:45. Who calls for him at 9:45 in the morning?
His mom called again, this time louder, and he could tell she was growing impatient. He rolled out of bed and headed into the kitchen, where his mom was sitting at the kitchen table, paying bills. His mom took off her glasses when she saw him,
"About time, I called you five times." He rubbed his eyes,
"Who's on the phone?"
"Your friend, Jeff." He picked up the phone and said, yawning,
"Hey, Ben, what are you doing?"
"Trying to sleep."
"What are you doing around lunchtime?" He asked, ignoring Ben's comment. He yawned again,
"I don't know, why?"
"Will you come up to Burgaw and have lunch with me and Emma?"
"What?" Ben asked, not believing that Jeff woke him up for this.
"Yeah, please? She wants me to have lunch with her."
"So why do you need me to come?" He asked, looking out the window. It was Thursday and his father was mowing the lawn.
"Because she wants to meet you, and I want you to go. Oh, and she invited her friend Allison and Emma doesn't want her to be a third wheel." Ben sighed and thought about it. Oh, why not? He didn't have anything else to do.
"All right, what time do I need to be there?"
After hanging up the phone, Ben took a quick shower and put on a pair of jeans and a black, long-sleeve shirt. Even though it was the middle of February, it wasn’t that cold outside. He did not have that much time- he was supposed to meet Jeff, Emma and... Allison? At Ruby Tuesdays at 11:15.
Burgaw was only thirty minutes away, but the Ruby Tuesdays they were eating at was on the other side of Burgaw; that would take about forty-five minutes, and it was already 10:20. He walked through the kitchen where his mom was still sitting at the table. She saw that he was dressed and that he was reaching for his keys.
"Where are you going?" He turned towards her,
"Oh, I’m going up to Burgaw to have lunch with Jeff." His mom took off her glasses again,
"You're going out again?"
"Yeah, it's just lunch though. Don't worry; I’m going to spend my last day on leave with you and dad."
"Okay. You better." He smiled and went over to her and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
"I will. I'll see you later, okay?"
"All right, love you. And be careful."
"Okay, love you too." He said as he walked out the door.
His drive to Burgaw took a little longer than he expected. He was supposed to be at Ruby Tuesdays at 11:15, but he pulled in the parking lot at 11:25. He got out of his truck and saw them sitting outside the restaurant on a bench. He felt bad for making them wait and, as he walked up, Jeff was the first to see him. He hopped up and walked towards him,
"Ben! What's up? We were worried you weren't going to make it." Ben nodded,
"Yeah, I’m sorry. It took me a little longer than I expected." Jeff shook his head,
"No worries," he put an arm around Ben's shoulder, "Come on, I want you to meet Emma and Allison."
Ben saw them sitting on the bench and he recognized the blonde as Emma; Jeff had shown him a picture of her while they were on base. He saw the girl sitting beside her and figured it was Allison. She was sitting with her legs crossed, talking and laughing with Emma. She had long, brown hair and he could see her shivering from the weather. He, again, felt bad for making them wait.
"Ben, this is Emma." Jeff said. She stood up and extended her hand,
"It's nice to finally meet you. Jeff has told me all about you."
"Same. He's told me a lot about you, too." She looked at Jeff,
"Good things, I’m hoping." Jeff smiled at her and Ben wondered if she had any idea Jeff was in love her. She interrupted his thoughts and said,
"Oh, I’m sorry; this is my friend, Allison Johnson." Allison stood up and smiled and extended her hand,
"Hi, it's nice to meet you." He took it and it felt warm, despite the cold weather.
"Nice to meet you, too."
"Well, are we ready to eat?" Jeff asked. Ben and Allison nodded and said, at the same time,
"Yeah, let's go."
They looked at each other and their eyes met. Ben could swear he felt a click when she looked in his eyes. She smiled at him and he smiled back. Ben led the way and opened the door to the restaurant. He held the door open and Jeff and Emma walked right in, but Allison smiled and said 'thank you' as she walked inside. He smiled back as they walked in. They were seated in the smoking section, in a booth along the wall. Jeff and Emma sat on the insides, across from each other, leaving Ben and Allison on the outsides, across from each other. As they sat down, Jeff whipped out a cigarette.
Ben had never smoked; his grandfather had passed away from lung cancer and he asked Ben to never start smoking. He had honored his grandfather's dying wish and had never touched a cigarette. Though he occasionally drank, he was definitely not an alcoholic. He drank maybe a couple of beers a week, but could go a whole month without having one.
The waitress appeared and took their drink orders. After she left, Jeff and Emma started talking, leaving Ben and Allison feeling a little awkward. Jeff took another hit of his cigarette and he exhaled smoke. Allison wrinkled her brow.
"So, I take it you don't smoke?" Ben asked. She looked at him,
"Oh, no I don't. I never really got what was so great about cigarettes. I mean, they do nothing for you what-so-ever. Your teeth fall out, you get wrinkles, and there's lung cancer." Ben nodded his head and smiled, liking her answer.
"What about you?"
"No, like you said, I never really got what was so great about them."
The waitress re-appeared with their drinks and she took their order. When the waitress left a second time, Allison brought her hands together,
"So, I hear you're in the Air Force with Jeff?" He nodded and took a sip of his sweet tea. It wasn't really sweet so he added a packet of sweet-n-low.
"Yeah, but he's been in longer than me."
"How long have you been in?"
"About three years." She nodded and took a sip of her tea. She must have thought the same thing he did because she followed his lead and added a packet of sweet-n-low.
"So, what do you do exactly?"
"I'm a pilot." She raised her eyebrow,
"Really? That's so cool." He smiled,
"Yeah, it's not every day I meet an Air Force pilot."
She asked him about being in the Air Force and being a pilot and he explained that he was not just any pilot, he was a fighter pilot. His missions included providing air support in the war and shooting down enemy planes. She was amazed at this and he could tell she was listening attentively when she nodded her head and asked different questions. He told her that, aside from being a fighter pilot, he often studied and read about aviation and different parts of the plane.
They talked nonstop until the waitress came with their food. As she sat Allison's food in front of her, Allison smiled and said thank you. He noticed a tiny, almost unnoticeable, gap between her teeth when she smiled. She had long brown hair, but he could see a few strikes of blonde underneath. She was pretty and had a warm smile that went with her personality. He, of course, did not really know her- they had only met forty- five minutes ago- but she seemed like the kind of girl that always used her manners and didn’t have a mean bone in her body.
When the waitress left, Allison took a bite out of her burger, as did Ben. Allison took the napkin and wiped her mouth and folded it in her lap,
"So, why did you decide to join the Air Force?" He put down his burger,
"Well, my whole family has been in the Air Force- my great grandfather, my grandfather, and my dad. So, I guess you could say my family had something to do with it. But, even without the influence of my family, I loved planes, even as a kid. Growing up I must have had a thousand toy planes and about fifty model airplanes. I just loved the idea that something as big as a plane-"
"-Could fly through the air without a problem?" She finished for him. He smiled and nodded,
"Exactly." They ate for a while before she asked,
"So, how old are you?"
"23. I'll turn 24 in July." She nodded as he asked her the same,
"How about you?"
"I just turned 21 in November."
"Well, happy belated birthday." She smiled,
"Thank you." The waitress appeared and gave them their check. Ben grabbed it as Allison reached for her purse.
"I got it." She wore a surprised expression and shook her head,
"Yeah, don't worry about it, I got it." She looked at him for a minute, then put her purse down and smiled,
Ben paid for his and Allison's and Jeff paid for his and Emma's and walked out when the waitress returned with their receipt. Jeff had driven by himself and Allison had ridden with Emma. Emma and Jeff's cars were parked on the other side of the parking lot so, when they got outside, Jeff turned to Ben and asked,
"Did you have a good time?" Ben looked over at Allison and then back to Jeff,
"Yeah, I think I did." Jeff turned to look at Allison and then looked back at Ben, smiling,
"Oh, so you've taken a liking to Allison, huh?"
"What? No. I mean, yeah she's a nice girl."
"Mhmm, okay. Well, I guess I’ll see you at the airport tomorrow afternoon." Ben nodded,
"Yep, 6:30 right?"
"Yeah, the plane leaves at 7."
"Alright, I’ll be there." Emma and Allison both turned to them. Emma stuck out her hand and said,
"It was nice to meet you, Ben."
"You too, Emma." Emma and Jeff went back to talking and Ben shuffled his feet. Allison finally broke the silence and said,
"It was really nice meeting you, Ben." He smiled and said,
"You, too. I enjoyed talking to you." She smiled,
"Me, too. It was interesting to hear you talk about your job."
"Yeah, maybe we can do it again sometime." She smiled again, never breaking their eye contact,
"I'd like that." She extended her hand and he took it, again feeling the warmth of it. She smiled,
"Good-bye, Ben." He smiled as well,
He watched her turn and fall in step beside Emma before she turned around and smiled and waved. He waved back to her, smiling. He went back to his truck, thinking this was definitely not the last time he wanted to see Allison Johnson.
On his way home, his mind kept going back to Allison. He liked talking to her and he liked the way she listened attentively as he talked. He went over their conversation more than once and, for some reason, could not get her smile and her in general, out of his mind.
The drive home seemed to go by faster than his drive up there. When he got home, his father had finished cutting the grass and he saw shadows moving in the living room. He pulled into the driveway and got out. He walked in and saw his mom and dad looking at family albums. He watched them for a minute as they laughed and reminisced. His mom looked up and saw him,
"Oh, hey, Ben. How was lunch?"
"It was good; I met Jeff's friend, Emma and Emma's friend, Allison."
"Cool." His dad piped in and asked,
"Do you want to come look at these pictures with us? They're hilarious."
"How about tomorrow?" His dad nodded and they went back to looking and started laughing again. Ben went to hang up his keys when the phone rang.
"I got it!" He yelled to his parents. He answered the phone,
"Ben! Is that you?" Whoever it was, was yelling on the other end. He held the phone away from his ear,
"Yeah, who is this?"
"It's Emma! Ben, please help us!"
"What? Emma, what's wrong?" She was crying hysterically and he heard Allison in the background, crying and talking to the police on the phone.
"Emma, what happened?" He asked again, starting to panic. He heard Allison hang up the phone and say the police could not get there for another hour. He was getting impatient,
"Emma! What is going on?" She was still crying and he heard Allison say,
"Emma, give me the phone."
"Ben, is that you?"
"Yeah, Allison, what happened?" She was sobbing as she began the story,
"We left Ruby Tuesdays and- and we stopped at a red light and it- it turned green and Jeff was in front of us." She took a sharp breath and continued,
"He started to go but this car ran the red light." She started to cry harder,
"He hit Jeff going 70 miles an hour." Ben's stomach dropped as Allison continued,
"The police said they can't get here for another hour." He ran his hand through his hair and rubbed his face,
“Allison, where are you?"
"We're about twenty-five minutes away from the Ruby Tuesdays, on Highway I- 40." He was already reaching for his keys,
"I'm on my way."
"Thank you so much, Ben."
He hung up the phone and grabbed his keys, running out of the door. His parents looked up and called his name, but he did not have time to stop and explain. He ran to his truck and hopped in. By the time he got in his truck, his parents were at the door. His mother called his name and his dad asked,
"Ben! What is going on?" He put the truck in reverse and stuck his head out of the window and yelled,
"I'll explain later!"
He backed out of the driveway and sped towards Burgaw. Thankfully, the traffic was not bad and he drove ten miles over the speed limit. He reached the Ruby Tuesdays in twenty minutes and he accelerated to fifteen miles an hour above the speed limit. He began to see smoke ten minutes later and there were five cars in the road. He saw Emma's car on the side of the road and he saw a black car completely smashed in the middle of the road. It was then that he saw Jeff's truck turned upside down, next to a telephone pole.
When he got closer, he pulled off the side of the road and ran towards the crash. He saw Allison and Emma standing off the road, looking at Jeff's truck- there were about five men standing around it. He ran over to Emma and Allison and Emma saw him first.
"Ben!" He looked at her and her eyes were red and swollen, her mascara running down her face.
"Ben, please help him!"
"What's going on?" She shook her head and he put his hands on her shoulders,
"Emma! What happened? What's going on?" Allison reached them and he saw that her eyes were red and swollen like Emma's. Emma looked at him and said, sobbing,
"That car ran the red light and hit Jeff's truck. His truck ran off the road and hit the telephone pole." She started crying harder,
"They can't get him out."
He looked at Jeff's truck and realized why all of the men were standing around it- they were trying to figure out a way to get him out. He sprinted toward Jeff's truck and, as he reached it, one of the men looked at him,
"Who are you?"
"I'm here to try and get him out. What's wrong?"
"We can't get his seatbelt undone and his legs are pinned underneath the steering wheel." One of the men said.
"And this power line is shaking quite a bit. We're worried it's going to collapse and electrocute everyone here." Another man added.
Ben bent down beside Jeff's truck and looked in the broken driver's side window. He saw that Jeff was unconscious. He remembered he had a pocket knife so he took it out and began cutting the seatbelt off of him.
"It's no use, I've already tried that." One of the guys said behind him. He continued cutting it and a couple of seconds later, he got it. He turned around,
"Guess you're not as determined as I am."
"Now, how are we going to get him out?" Someone asked. Another one yelled that gas was leaking out of the truck.
"We can't be near here if this power line collapses."
"We need to get him out- fast."
The telephone pole started to creak and they all looked up at it. They began to strategize how they were going to get Jeff out. They decided that the smallest guy, whose name was Harrison, would crawl in the truck and get down to where Jeff's feet were pinned and try to get them free- Ben would be standing there to pull him out. The rest would keep an eye on the telephone pole. While Harrison crawled in to the truck, Ben looked over at Emma and Allison.
Allison was hugging Emma, obviously trying to comfort her. From Ben's perspective, it looked like Allison needed comforting, too. She saw him looking and they simply stared at each other for what seemed like forever. When their eyes met, it seemed like everything else disappeared. His thoughts were interrupted by Harrison yelling from inside the truck. He turned to him, wondering if Allison had felt what he felt.
"Ben, try and pull him out!" He reached down and grabbed Jeff's arm, trying to pull; he couldn't get him.
"He won't budge!"
"All right, hold on!"
Above them the telephone pole began to creak loudly. They all looked at each other and they knew that it was about to collapse.
"Come on, hurry up!" One of the men yelled.
It creaked again and began to wobble, slowly at first, then wobbling more and more. Everyone started to yell and the men yelled to hurry up. They finally ran back towards the road, away from the scene, yelling that it was going to fall. Ben started to panic, but he would not leave without Jeff or Harrison. Finally, he heard Harrison yell,
"Pull him out!" Ben pulled Jeff's arms and he began to wiggle free. He heard someone yell behind him,
"It's going to fall!"
He pulled Jeff's arms one more hard time and it was enough- Jeff was free. He pulled him out and set him down on the road and turned back around to help Harrison out of the truck. The telephone pole then began to topple over. They quickly grabbed Jeff's arms and each put one of his arms around their necks. They ran towards the crowd of people and he saw Emma put her hand over her mouth and Allison point toward them and yell,
"Ben, watch out!"
The crowd of people screamed and Ben and Harrison ran even faster. It was then that it finally collapsed. It fell on Jeff's truck and electrocuted the road that was covered in gas. It then exploded and Ben and Harrison jumped forward, falling on the ground. Ben looked at the wreckage from the ground and, a few seconds later, a fire truck and a police car showed up. A couple of men came and helped Harrison stand up. Emma helped another man drag Jeff away and Allison came with someone else to help Ben. He saw Allison and the man running towards him and, when she got near, she knelt down beside him,
"Ben! Are you okay?"
He nodded and the other man helped her pull him up by the arms. He turned around and saw paramedics surrounding Jeff with Emma kneeling beside him. He was lying on the road and Ben and Allison ran over to them. One of the paramedics was giving Jeff CPR. Emma was kneeling beside him crying hysterically and he saw Allison put both of her hands over her mouth and whisper,
He saw a couple of more paramedics roll a gurney over to Jeff. They loaded him onto it and put an oxygen mask over his mouth. Ben went over to them and asked what was going on and they told him that they had to take him to the hospital, but only family members could ride in the ambulance.
He turned around and rubbed his face and noticed that his sleeve was bloody. He looked at Jeff's truck and it was up in flames with firefighters busy trying to put it out. He saw Allison comforting Emma and he decided to leave them alone.
A paramedic approached him and asked if he was okay. The paramedic saw that his sleeve was bloody so he took out a bandage and rolled up Ben's sleeve. He taped it up, asking Ben multiple questions about his injury. Ben saw a police officer approach Emma and start talking to her. He led her away and left Allison by herself.
When the paramedic finished taping up his arm, he excused himself and walked over to Allison. She saw him approaching and she gave a weak smile and crossed her arms.
"How are you doing?"
"Not so hot." Her eyes were still red and swollen, but she had stopped crying. He nodded,
"Yeah, stupid question." He motioned over his shoulder,
"The paramedics said that they were going to take Jeff to the hospital. I think I’m going to head over there, do you want to come with me?"
"I would, but I think I should stay with Emma; she's really shaken up. She doesn't need to be by herself." He nodded,
"Yeah, you're right."
"We'll probably head over there as soon as she finishes up with that officer though."
"Okay. Will you be okay until she gets done?" She smiled weakly,
"Yeah, I’ll be fine."
"All right, well I’m going to head on, okay?" She nodded,
"Okay, I’ll see you there, I’m sure."
He nodded and then turned around and went back to his truck. He was worried about Jeff but the paramedics seemed cool and collected. If Jeff’s life was in jeopardy, wouldn’t they be scrambling and rushing to get him to the hospital? He felt himself take a deep breath. But he couldn’t relax until he knew that his best friend was going to be okay.
The hospital Jeff was transferred to was ten minutes away but, because of the wreck, it took him almost twenty minutes to get there. When he pulled in the parking lot, he parked his truck and walked inside. He had never liked hospitals and this trip was no exception. There were a couple of people in the waiting room, but it was not busy. He walked up to the desk and the secretary greeted him with a smile
"Hi, can I help you?"
"Yes ma'am, I was wondering if you could tell me what room Jeff Duvall is in? They just brought him in, I think." The smile immediately left her face as she nodded,
"You might want to follow me."
He followed her down a long hallway until she stopped in front of a door,
"Can you wait right here for me for a minute, sweetie?"
He was starting to worry. When he had asked her what room Jeff was in, the smile immediately left the secretary's face; that could not be a good sign. He waited for what seemed like forever until she finally came out.
"Can you wait in the waiting room for a few minutes? The doctor is busy at the moment."
"Sure…" He said again. She smiled,
She led him back down the hallway and into the waiting room.
"He'll be right out." He nodded,
"All right, thank you."
He sat down and there were a couple of people sitting across the room, but other than that, he was alone. He picked up a magazine, and then almost immediately put it back down. He sat back and replayed his day. He looked at his watch and saw that it was 4:30. He saw a payphone and decided to call his parents. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a couple of coins and dialed the number. His mom picked up,
"Ben? Where are you?" He took a deep breath,
"I'm at the hospital."
"What? What happened? Are you okay?" He heard the panic in her voice.
"Yeah, mom, I'm fine, it's Jeff. There was an accident." She sighed,
"Oh my… I'm sorry, Ben, is he okay?"
He was about to answer when he heard someone enter the waiting room. He turned around and saw that it was Emma and Allison. They saw him and Allison waved. He waved back and saw that Emma looked rougher than she did back at the accident; her eyes were red and more swollen. Her face was pale as Allison led her to sit down.
"Ben, are you still there?" He almost forgot that he was on the phone.
"Yeah, sorry. And I don't know, we're in the waiting room- the doctor's busy right now."
He heard someone crying and he turned around. He saw that Emma had started crying again as Allison put her arm around her. Allison sighed and saw him looking and gave a weak smile.
"All right, well I hope he's okay." His mom said.
"Me too. I better go; the doctor should be coming in any second."
"Okay, I'll see you when you get home. Love you."
"Love you too."
He hung up and went and sat down beside Allison.
"Hey." he said. She sighed,
"Hi." Emma turned to him,
"Hey, Emma. How are you doing?"
"I'm okay." She said between sobs. They sat in silence for a moment before Emma cried,
“Why are we just sitting here? Why can't we see him?” Allison started to say something, but closed her mouth. She looked at Ben.
"Well maybe he's resting."He said for her.
She continued to cry and Allison put her hand on Emma's back. They sat for a while before Emma said she had to go to the restroom. Allison offered to go with her, but she said she needed some time alone for a few minutes. She got up and left the waiting room and Allison took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
"Are you okay?" He asked. She nodded,
"Yeah, I'm just worried- about Jeff and Emma both. Emma is so worried about him." She shook her head,
"She actually told me on the way over here that she was in love with Jeff."
"Yeah, she's worried about him but she's also worried that she won't have a chance to tell him how she really feels."
"Wow, really?" She looked at him,
"Yeah, why so surprised?" He laughed,
"Nothing it's just… you know Jeff is in love with her too, right?" She raised her eyebrow,
"Yeah, he's been in love with her ever since I've known him, and I've known him for three years now."
"Wow, why are they just friends, then?" She asked, surprised.
"I don't know. He said he was scared to tell her because he was afraid that their relationship would change, and not for the better. He was scared she wouldn't feel the same. How do you not know this, by the way? Aren't you and Emma like best friends?"
"We are, but she never really wanted to talk about Jeff; she was always so secretive about it. I never understood why, I guess some things you'd rather keep to yourself, huh?"
He was about to respond when Emma walked back in. She had obviously tried to freshen up, but her eyes were still red and swollen. She sat down and Ben was about to say something about her and Jeff when Allison elbowed him. He looked at her and her eyes were wide as she shook her head. He smiled, liking the way she looked when she was nervous. He decided not to say anything. They sat in silence for a few minutes before a doctor came in. He came over to them,
"Are you all the folks looking for Mr. Duvall?"
"Yes." Ben said, standing up.
"Will you please come with me?"
His expression was serious. They all looked at each other and followed him outside the waiting room.
"What's wrong, doctor?"
Ben asked. He turned around to face them, bringing his hands together.
"I'm sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but Mr. Duvall didn't make it." Ben's heart sank,
"When Mr. Duvall arrived, he was unconscious. His heart rate then started to slow and we tried to shock him, but we lost him."
His heart sank even lower as he looked at Emma and Allison. Emma started to break down and cry, soft at first, and then she got louder and louder. She broke down and collapsed on the floor. Allison had both hands over her mouth and tears started rolling down her cheeks. Ben was speechless and shocked,
"Wait, I talked to a paramedic at the accident. He said that Jeff was going to be fine."
"I know, he did not have the authority to do that. Paramedics are not allowed to speak on the status of a patient. That was strictly prohibited."
"But he said he was going to be fine; he wouldn't have told me that if he thought Jeff was going to die. Why did he tell me he was going to be okay?" The doctor sighed,
"We thought he was going to be, but the impact of the crash must have been too much for his body to handle. Do you know if he was smoking or drinking before the accident?"
"No." He immediately replied. He then remembered that Jeff had a cigarette at the restaurant and ordered a Budweiser to drink.
"Yeah. Yeah, he had both." he admitted. The doctor shook his head,
"That only adds insult to injury. We think he died of internal bleeding in the brain. I'm so sorry."
With that, he turned and walked back down a long hallway and into a set of double doors. He looked at Allison and Emma. Allison still had her hands over her mouth,
"Oh my god." She whispered. Emma was still on the floor. He went over to her,
"Emma, come on."
He grabbed her arms and helped her up. She was sobbing and he stood and held her for a minute. She was still crying and Ben looked over at Allison. She was crying too and he looked at her and she looked back at him. He hated to see people cry, but when he saw Allison cry, it bothered him more than usual. He was about to say something when someone busted into the room. He let Emma go and they looked behind them. A man and a woman were screaming,
"Where is he? Where is he?"
A nurse came in and asked them to calm down and asked who they were looking for. The woman shrieked,
"My son, Jeff!"
Ben, Allison and Emma all looked at each other. The nurse sighed and said,
"Mrs. Duvall, I'm sorry, but your son didn't make it."
Ben saw all the color drain from her face. She lost it and started crying and wailing. It was then that she looked over at them,
"Emma?" She ran over to her and hugged her,
"Emma, what happened?" She asked, between her sobs. Ben looked over at Allison and Allison began to cry harder.
"Mrs. Duvall?" He finally asked. She looked at him,
"Hi, I'm Ben Carter. I was one of Jeff's friends."
"Oh my goodness, you're Ben?" He sighed and nodded,
"Jeff talked about you constantly. Please, Ben, what happened to my son?"
Ben started to get tears in his eyes. All of the emotions he was trying to keep bottled inside were slowly rising to the surface.
"Jeff was in a car accident. A car ran a red light and hit him going 70 miles an hour."
Jeff's mom put a hand over her mouth and more tears fell down her cheeks. Ben's eyes were starting to get even more watery and tears started to fall down his cheeks as well. He looked down and said,
"I'm so sorry."
She lost it again, Emma losing it soon after her. He looked at Allison and the tears were streaming down her cheeks.
'I can't handle this.' He thought.
He had to get out of there. He walked back down the hallway and past the secretary's desk. He walked out of the hospital and into the busy parking lot. He was walking down the steps when he heard someone behind yelling his name.
He turned around and saw Allison running towards him. When she got closer, he could see her eyes were still red and swollen, but she was not crying anymore.
"Where are you going?"
"I'm leaving; I can't stay in there anymore."
He pointed towards the hospital,
"Because my best friend just died, that's why! And I can't stay in that hospital just sitting there watching all of you cry."
He shook his head, with tears in his eyes,
"I can't take it."
He turned around and started to head towards his truck.
She called out. He turned around and she came towards him.
"Do you think you're the only one who's hurting? A mother just found out that her son was killed from someone she doesn't even know! She'll never be able to see him or feel his touch ever again and you're acting like you're the only one who's hurting."
"No I'm not, but I'm not going to sit in there anymore."
"Where are you going?"
"I'm going home. Goodbye, Allison."
With that, he turned and headed towards his truck.
He thought about Jeff the entire way home. He thought about the accident and replayed the way Jeff looked as he sat in the vehicle, unconscious. He also thought about Allison and regretted arguing with her. She was right- he should not have just left. But he knew he could not have stayed in there any longer.
When he pulled in the driveway, he saw a light on in the living room. He got out and walked in the door. He walked into the living room and his father was sitting in the chair- his mother on the couch. His mom saw him and jumped up and ran to him, his father following behind her.
"How is he?" His mother asked. Ben shook his head,
"He didn't make it, mom." He whispered, still not fully believing it.
"Oh my goodness." She whispered, putting her hands over her mouth.
She embraced him and they held each other. His father put his arms around them and they stood together for a while. When Ben pulled away, his father said,
"I'm so sorry, Ben."
He nodded and whispered ‘thanks.’ He looked at his watch and saw that it was 8:30. He knew he would not be able to sleep but he needed to be alone.
"I'm going to my room, okay?"
"Are you okay, sweetie?"
"Yeah, I'll be alright."
"If we can do anything, let us know." His dad said.
He walked to his room and lay on his bed. He tossed and turned for an hour before going and taking a long, hot shower. He got out and put on a pair of sweatpants and a white t-shirt. He went back and laid on his bed. A few minutes later, the phone rang. He turned over on his stomach and then heard someone come in his room.
He turned over and saw it was his mom.
"Honey, the phone's for you."
"I'm not here." He said, rolling back over.
"It's Jeff's mom, sweetie."
"What?" She nodded and handed him the phone.
"Yes?" He asked, wondering how she got his number.
"Hi, this is Jeff's mom."
"Hi." He said, not knowing what else to say.
"I'm sorry for calling you right out of the blue, but Emma gave me your number and I wanted to call you and thank you."
"Yes. Allison Johnson told me about the accident and what you did." He smiled, again regretting arguing with her.
"She did?" He asked, still smiling.
"Yes, she told me how you drove all the way up to Burgaw and helped pull Jeff out of his truck and that you wouldn't leave him or the other boy that was helping him." Her voice started to crack and he could tell she was about to cry.
"I wanted to thank you so much for trying to save him."
"It's no problem; I wouldn't have left him for anything."
She took a deep breath, and he apologized for earlier.
"I'm sorry for leaving the hospital earlier; I shouldn't have just left like that."
"It's okay. Oh, and I wanted to tell you, we're going to have Jeff's funeral whenever you come back on your next leave."
"What?" He asked, shocked.
"Yes, we want you to be able to be there."
"Wow, thank you." He said. She sighed,
"You're welcome. And thank you so much again."
"Well, if you will, will you call me when you come back on your next leave so I will know when to schedule his funeral?"
"I sure will." He promised.
"Okay, my number is 520-5015."
"Okay." He said, writing it down.
"All right, well, I'll be waiting to hear from you."
"Okay, thank you again." He said.
"You're welcome, good-bye Ben."
He hung up the phone, still shocked. His mom came back in.
"Hey, honey, what did Mrs. Duvall say?"
"She wanted to thank me for trying to save Jeff and wanted to tell me that they were going to wait to have his funeral until I come back on leave again."
She came over and sat on the bed beside him,
"Do they know that it could be almost a year?"
"I guess, but they said they would wait for me."
"Well that's good then." She took a break,
"Can I ask you something?"
"What happened to Jeff?" He looked away and she quickly said,
"It's okay, honey, you don't have to tell me." He sat for a minute before shaking his head,
"I'm sorry. It just happened, mom, I don't really want to talk about it."
She nodded and they sat there for a minute before they heard his dad call his mom,
"Megan!" She turned toward the door,
"Come here, please!" She turned towards Ben.
"It's okay." He said.
She kissed him on his forehead and walked out and shut the door behind her. He lied back down and put his hands behind his head. He stared at the ceiling, daydreaming. He thought about his day and could not fathom the fact that he would be headed back to the Air Force tomorrow afternoon. Before he came home on leave, his commanding officer had told him and Jeff that they would not be returning to Edwards; they were going to be sent to Afghanistan.
He could not believe he had come home on leave with his best friend and he would be returning without him. He also thought about the conversation he had had with Jeff's mom. He also thought about Allison. Strangely, he was not surprised when Mrs. Duvall said that Allison had told her about him and what he did. He was not surprised because it seemed like something she would do. Granted, he barely knew her but, from what he could tell, she seemed like the kind of person who would not say a mean thing about anybody.
He smiled weakly and thought about her some more. He realized that he liked the fact that she had followed him out of the hospital and called him out on what he did. As he drifted off to sleep, the last thing he thought about was Allison.
When he awoke the next morning, his arm was hurting. He lay in his bed for a while, thinking maybe he slept on it wrong. After ten minutes, he figured that was not it. He uncovered it and saw that it was cut and bruised. He realized that while everything was going on yesterday, he did not even pay attention to his arm. It was cut from the middle of his arm all the way up to his shoulder. He wondered how he had not noticed it before, especially since he had gotten in the shower the night before.
It hurt when he moved it and he decided to get on up. He went into the kitchen to take some pain medicine and his mom and dad were sitting at the kitchen table. His mom was reading the paper and his dad was sitting there, talking to her. His dad saw him walk in,
"Hey, how'd you sleep?" He walked to the medicine cabinet and took out three pills.
"Okay, I guess."
He had actually hardly slept and, when he did fall asleep, he had nightmares about the accident. He woke up numerous times throughout the night, wishing that Jeff's death was just a horrible nightmare. He found tears coming to his eyes whenever he awoke and he found it hard to fall asleep with all of the memories from the day rushing back to him. His father interrupted his thoughts,
"Good. Hey, we were planning on going to the grocery store, then heading to the battleship for a picnic, do you want to go?"
His mom looked up at him and saw him taking the pain medicine.
"What's wrong, sweetie?" He got a glass of water and popped all three pills in his mouth and swallowed,
"Oh, nothing, I have a cut on my arm from yesterday and it just hurts a little bit." His dad looked up,
"What? You're in the Air Force, a little cut isn't anything."
"Hush, Mark. Come here, Ben, let me see it." He walked over to her and lifted his sleeve. The skin around his cut was severely bruised.
"Oh my god, Ben, what happened?"
"I don't know, like I said, I think it's from the accident. But, like dad said, I'm in the Air Force, a little cut isn't anything." His dad shook his head,
"No, Ben, that looks serious. You need to go the doctor and get it checked." Ben immediately shook his head; thinking no way was he going back to a hospital.
"No, it's fine. I'm fine." His mom looked at him,
"Honey, I know why you don't want to go to the hospital. But you don't have to go to the hospital; you can go to the medical center. But you're going to one of them so pick." He sighed,
He took a quick shower and threw on a pair of jeans and a long sleeve shirt. He grabbed his keys and walked out the door, not bothering to say good-bye to either of his parents.
By the time he got home it was almost 2:00. When he got home, his parents were sitting on the porch, drinking hot coffee.
"Why are ya'll sitting outside?" He asked, coming up the porch steps.
"It's nice out here. What'd the doctor say about your arm?"
He lifted his sleeve and showed them that it was bandaged up.
"I had to get a tetanus shot and two other shots. I remembered that I cut it on Jeff's rusty mirror so I had to get the tetanus. And I was overdue for two other shots so they gave me those while I was there."
"Well, I'm glad you got it taken care of" His dad said.
"What are you going to do now?" His mom asked. He shrugged his shoulders,
"I don't know, my arm is killing me. But, I promised I would spend my last day with you two. So, what do you want to do?"
"I'm kind of tired; I might head in and catch a nap before we take you to the airport." His mom piped in and said,
"I'm going to start cooking. I know you're hungry and we have to leave by 6 to get you to the airport by 6:30."
He was surprised, but he didn't argue with them.
"Okay, I'm going to head to my room then."
"Okay honey, I hope your arms feel better." His mom said.
He went into his room and sat on the bed. He looked in the corner and saw his electric guitar sitting there. As a teenager, he loved to play guitar. He went over and picked it up, putting the guitar strap around his shoulder. He plucked a few strings and tuned it. He played a couple of songs he knew by heart and realized he still had it.
He put down his guitar and went into the living room and watched some television. He flipped between two shows- a fishing show and a hunting show. He loved to fish- they owned a small fishing boat and, usually, when he was on leave, him and his dad would go out in it and fish for an afternoon. Along with fishing, he loved to hunt.
He and his father were in a hunting club about thirty minutes away. Hands down, Ben was an outdoor person. He loved to fish, hunt, hike, four-wheel, water-ski, surf and basically any water sport. He liked water- skiing and tubing most of all. When he was in high school, him and his friends would take a trip down to White Lake and spend the day cooking out and being in the water.
After both programs were over, he turned off the television. His dad was asleep in the recliner and his mom was in the kitchen. It was nearing 4:00 and, with nothing else to do, he headed in his room to pack. He packed up his things and laid out his dark blue Air Force uniform. When he finished packing he sat on his bed and thought about his leave; it was definitely an eventful one. Some would call it life- changing. Ben decided he would have the outlook that as old doors close, new ones opened. Maybe by Jeff dying, another door was opened. Maybe one that would change his life, in more ways than one, good or bad.
After he finished packing, his mom called him and his dad both in the kitchen. His mom had cooked his favorite dish- Chicken Alfredo and corn on the cob. They ate mostly in silence. It was always quiet the day he returned back to the Air Force. His mom always took him going back hard- especially this time because he was getting shipped to Afghanistan. After dinner, he helped his mom wash the dishes. It was nearing 6:00 and he went to his room and changed into his uniform. He got his suitcase and loaded it into his dad's car.
Wilmington International Airport was about thirty minutes away and, as they headed there, his mom mostly looked out the window as him and his dad talked about why he was being shipped to Afghanistan.
"You might get to fly a couple of planes this time." His dad said.
He had not flown a plane in over two months. He had been on base studying books and going over mission plans.
When they arrived, his dad parked the car and popped the trunk and Ben got his bag and threw it over his shoulder. They walked into the airport as he looked at his ticket and gate number. He did not go through the terminal right away. Instead, he sat in the lobby with his parents for about fifteen minutes. His plane was scheduled to board at 7:00 and, at 6:45, he stood up and said,
"It's about that time."
His parents stood up and his mom started to cry. His dad told him good-bye first.
They hugged for a minute before his dad pulled away first. He put his hands on Ben's shoulders,
"Be safe, all right?"
"I will. I love you, dad."
"I love you too, Ben."
He turned to his mom. She had tears running down her cheeks as he hugged her.
"Bye, mom, I love you."
She started to cry harder,
"I love you too, Ben."
They hugged for a couple of minutes before Ben pulled away. He grabbed his bag and threw it over his shoulder. He walked towards the gate and showed the woman his ticket. She looked at it and handed it back to him. He turned around and looked at his parents. His dad had an arm around his mom and Ben waved and they smiled and waved back. He then turned around, went through security, and disappeared down a long hallway.
The plane ride back to Afghanistan was boring. They played a movie, but he kicked back his seat and tried to get some sleep; the time difference between Wilmington and Afghanistan was about nine and a half hours.
When he arrived on the base that he was newly stationed at, he recognized a couple of people he knew. One of his friends ran up to him,
They shook hands,
He knew the question was coming and he prepared himself for it. As if on cue, he looked around and asked,
"Where's Jeff? Weren't you coming back with him?" Ben looked away and nodded,
"Yeah we were supposed to come back together. But, umm, Jeff was in a car accident- he didn't make it."
By then, a couple of more people came up.
Matt looked up at Ben and said,
"Jeff was in a car accident. He didn't make it, guys."
"Oh, man." A couple of guys said.
"When is the funeral?" One of them asked. Ben shrugged his shoulders,
"Whenever I go on leave again."
"I would request an emergency leave; they've probably heard about Jeff by now."
"I will in a couple of days."
The base was centered in the middle of nowhere. There was sand everywhere- as far as you could see. He wondered why in the world they would build an air force base in the middle of the desert. He set up his room in the barracks and a couple of guys showed him around the base.
They showed him around the hangar and showed him all of the planes. Ben knew about every single one of them- he had studied so much about planes and aviation that he could name every one of the planes just by looking at them. They took him out back and showed him the runways. There were multiple planes flying and practicing; he wanted to fly one so bad. As if reading his mind, one of the guys asked him,
"Do you want to fly one?"
As he climbed into an F-16, he was sort of nervous. But, as soon as he climbed in, he felt right at home. He started up the engine, taxied it out onto the runway and, as soon as he got the 'okay', he took off. He flew for about 45 minutes. It was not much scenery, but he loved every second of it. He did turns, flips and barrel roles and everything he could think of. He looked down after 45 minutes and saw them giving the signal to land. He landed the plane perfectly and taxied back into the hangar. He got out of the cockpit and the three guys ran over to him.
"You are one heck of a flyer, Ben"
"I'm impressed." Came a voice from behind them. They turned around and saw General Roberts standing with his hands together. They immediately saluted him and he saluted back.
"That is quite some flying you did there Mr. Carter." Ben smiled,
"Thank you, sir."
"I might recommend you for the next mission, if you'll accept." Ben smiled and nodded,
"Thank you, sir, I'm sure I will."
The general nodded and saluted them. They saluted back and he walked towards the main building. One of the guys punched his arm,
Nice going, Ben." He smiled,
They headed back towards the barracks- he shared a room with Matt. When Ben went in the room, Matt was staring a picture. He motioned to it,
"Oh, nothing. It's just a picture of my wife and kids. Do you want to see?"
Matt handed him the picture and Ben looked down at it. His wife had brown hair and their two kids looked exactly like her.
"They take after their mom. They get their good looks from her, too." Ben smiled,
"Cute kids. How old are they?" He pointed to the oldest,
"Chris will turn seven in March." He pointed to the baby girl,
"Anna will turn two in August."
Ben smiled again and handed him back the picture.
"What about you, Ben? You got a girl?"
"No." Matt shook his head,
"You need one, man. There's nothing like coming home to your wife or girlfriend even. There's no better feeling in the world.”
Ben lay on his bed, thinking about what Matt had said. Though he was happy, or at least thought he was happy, he thought about what would happen if he did get a girlfriend. For some reason, Allison's face immediately popped in his mind. Though he was not planning on going out with her- he barely even knew her- he could not help but wonder why her face came into his mind at that moment. He was not the kind of guy who just got with a girl because he was lonely or wanted some "female companionship" as Jeff had phrased it. If he was going to be with someone, he was going to be with them because he liked them and enjoyed spending time with them. He would never have a "one night stand" with a woman. He was turned off by the kinds of girls that would just throw themselves at any guy, and he was turned off by the guys that took advantage of girls.
He got up and took a quick shower and changed into his sweatpants and t-shirt. He lay back down and Matt asked him,
"So, are you going to request for an emergency leave?"
"Yeah, I'm going to tomorrow."
"All right. Well, I'm going to head to bed, okay?"
He looked at his watch and saw that it was 10:30 p.m. Afghanistan time and 8:00 a.m. Wilmington time. He was still operating on Wilmington time and he figured he would try to sleep, even though he was not tired at all. If he did not go to sleep, he would be staying up at night and sleeping during the day. He laid there for a while, listening to Matt snore before he finally drifted off to sleep.
Ben woke up the next morning with Matt still snoring across the room. He got up and put on a pair of work out shorts and a t-shirt. Even though it was still February, it was 80 degrees in Afghanistan. He walked to the exercise building and spent a couple of hours working out. He ran on the treadmill and lifted weights. When he got back to the barracks, he took a cold shower and put on a pair of shorts and an air force t-shirt. While he was putting on his shirt, Matt walked in.
"Hey, what's up?"