When Charlie died, Sara knew it was the worst thing that could ever happen to her.
The Air Force took Jack from their fracturing marriage, frozen by the grief that was crushing it, and sent him someplace because he didn't care any more than she did—nothing would ever be the same.
Jack came back, and left again. They loved each other; they were too broken to love each other. They had gone to the end of the universe together and seen its reflection in each other's eyes.
After a year or two, she realized: the worst thing that could ever happen to her had already happened. Nothing, ever again, could hurt that much.
She didn't know if Jack had realized that yet, or if he still had what the Air Force had needed him for, if he was still grieving in the way that meant he didn't care what happened to him. She didn't ask.
She quit smoking, unafraid of some sterile distant death but not afraid to fight it, either.
She called some of her former friends, people she'd drifted away from when she married, or when Charlie was born, or when he died. Some of them brushed her off, but others made time for her—lunches and lazy afternoons, weekdays when their children were in school.
She signed up for night classes in engineering. She'd always had a knack for cars and motorcycles, but it had been mostly guesswork, picked up here and there. In her classes she learned why things worked, how the sense she had of moving parts applied to more than just vehicles.
One day someone came to her door, a man with glasses and a grave expression, and told her Jack was missing in action. Sara felt her mind go light, blank, floating. Static. A voice that didn't sound like hers said, "Missing, or dead?"
"We're not sure," the man said, and she felt herself sink back into her body, centered and steady, as she saw the pain tightening the edges of his eyes. "We're doing everything we can to find out," he added, and she said, "Sit down, please," not knowing how she was the one who could offer comfort but knowing she was.
Three months later she got a call from Cheyenne Mountain, Jack's voice familiar and heart-piercing as he told her he was alive.
She was glad.
She signed up for yoga, relearned the stretch and strength of her body. She went back to school full-time, got used to being outside her—her husband's—tidy pretty home all day. She had been a good daughter, and a good housewife, and a good mother. Her life had been other people's.
The sky lit up, every few years, with explosions.
She fell in love again. She graduated summa cum laude and applied to graduate programs; she had her choice of the ones that accepted her. She remarried.
She had been to the end of everything and crawled back. She was not afraid.