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Last to Help You Understand

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Steve sat in the airport, waiting for his connecting flight to New York. Tired, frustrated and feeling a little guilty, he jiggled his leg and then stopped. He ran his hands through his hair. He was wired. Maybe he should eat. Checking his watch, he saw that he had an hour until boarding.

 

He got up to take a piss and hunt for a vending machine. No way did he want to stand in line at a fast food joint or deal with anyone. Talking was overrated. He thought of Danny always telling him he could communicate completely with grunts.

 

Scanning the throng of people filtering through the cavernous space from one hub to another, Steve watched everyone. He’d never stop looking for threats. Calculating his risk every second. It was exhausting, but necessary. He’d built himself a life of constant vigilance. He didn’t feel like he had a choice.

 

He let his guard down and chuckled at two little boys, holding hands with their dad. They skipped past him. Each had matching backpacks. Steve smiled for the first time all day.

 

Wait.

 

About ten feet away, he saw – couldn’t be. No way.

 

Danny Williams. In the flesh.

 

“Danno!” Steve called out in spite of himself.

 

He moved with the crowd, which had suddenly thickened, congealing into a solid mass. He didn’t want to shove strangers out of the way, but – why was Danny there? Steve did his best to hurry through the terminal, chasing this ghost of best friend. It was impossible, yet – he couldn’t stop. There was no mistaking that form. Strong, golden blonde, lean and compact. The hairs stood up on his arms, and his heart raced. He hadn’t felt this particular buzz for ages.

 

“Danny!” Steve said again. People looked at him but didn’t seem fazed. Most kept to their own business. And meeting friends in airports was not unusual.

 

Just as quickly as he saw his partner, though, he was gone. Danny evaporated. Out of breath, tears in his eyes, Steve stopped. What the fuck?

 

He looked around to get his bearings, wiping sweat from his brow. He’d wandered to a familiar gate. Hawaiian Airlines. Definitely not where he wanted to be. He checked his watch. Shit. He took off in the other direction. He had fifteen minutes until boarding. And he still hadn’t pissed or grabbed a bite to eat.

 

/././

 

It happened again in the line for customs.

 

Steve was grungy and achy from ten hours on a plane. He’d found no relief in Italy. He’d gained weight trying all the dishes on Danny’s restaurant wish list. But no peace of mind. He missed his best friend even more and felt guilty for going without him.

 

Wait. What the fuck?

 

Two lines to his left. Danny. Again.

 

“Hey Danno!” Steve called.

 

Everyone looked at him. The lines had been mostly quiet, just the soft murmuring of people going about their business at four in the morning.

 

The guy didn’t turn. He moved with his line, waiting for his turn to show his papers. Steve wished he had his badge so he could jump ahead and get a better look. He missed his immunity and means.

 

Rubbing his eyes, Steve squinted in the fluorescent light. His vision was fuzzy, eyes dry and itchy. When he looked up again, the Danny doppelganger was gone.

 

Was he losing his mind? He had to be seeing things. Danny was on Oahu. As far as he knew. They’d talked about a week ago. Steve couldn’t be sure, though. Time had become more fluid. Days melted into weeks and months. Danny was back to work full time and busy with Charlie. They were drifting – Steve could feel it. He pushed away the sadness and anger. Why didn’t he just go home? He wasn’t Doris, dammit.

 

But he was Doris. He was a danger to his family. Just like her.

 

This journey had brought him closer to understanding his mother. Deeper than he ever expected or wanted. She’d left her family out of love and fear and selfishness. Adrenaline and lies had kept her going. He didn’t want to be like her, yet there was a certain rush that he craved. And he was sure she’d felt it, too.

 

Bumped from behind, Steve came back to the hot, sweaty reality of people packed together in an airport in late summer. His hand went to his hip, but there was no weapon there. His SIG had been checked. He had no authority here or anywhere. All he had was a coating of dirt and grime from traveling. He couldn’t wait to swim in the ocean.

 

/././

 

Two days at the beach, and he felt more like himself. He had sand between his toes and in other unmentionable places. Steve smiled and thought of Danny grouching about sand and saltwater. That version of his best friend had morphed into someone who surfed and occasionally snorkeled if Jersey family came to visit. He’d adjusted and thrived in the islands.

 

And Steve had run away.

 

He looked up, scanning the horizon. The boardwalk buzzed with humanity. Music blasted from shops and amusement rides and games. The smells of pizza and funnel cakes made his stomach growl. He didn’t remember when he’d last eaten. His version of a diet was fasting. He kept his food window pretty small. After all, Italy had done a number on his six-pack abs.

 

It was all worth it. He closed his eyes and remembered the food and drink. Again, he wished he’d dragged Danny with him.

 

Steve dried himself and watched the waves for a minute before tucking everything into his duffel. A storm was coming. He’d felt the energy as he’d swum out to the buoy. The life guard had given up on scolding him after he’d explained he was a retired SEAL. And he’d helped with a rescue. He’d definitely heard Danny in his head in that moment. But saving a life was always worth a Danny rant.

 

Walking to the nearest refreshment stand, he thought about his options. He decided to splurge. Maybe get some fries or a slice of pizza. A burst of laughter made him stop. Danny. He got goosebumps. Was Danny in Jersey? This was one of his old haunts. Frantic, Steve whirled around, searching the crowd. People backed up, giving him room as they stared at his with mild concern.

 

Maybe he had lost his mind. Danny wasn’t there.  Steve was on his own.