"It's funny how the choices you make change who you become." - John Reese
John bent over and kissed Jessica's bare skin. At the side of her tummy, where she was the most ticklish. As expected, she burst into laugher. It was the most beautiful sound he'd ever heard. John could tickle Jessica for hours only to hear her melodious and sunny laugh.
He looked at her, the love of his life. Under the soft light of a sunny summer day in Mexico, she was stunning, radiant with happiness. There was something so innocent and pure about her, like the promise of a better world. She made him feel whole, safe, at peace. He wanted to spend every second of every day with her. Go around the world and back, visit every continent, explore as many cities as possible.
"But first," he said playfully. "We need more tequila."
He wished this weekend could last forever. Just the two of them, in a hotel room bathing in the warm sun of Mexico, with food and drinks a phone call away. He was the happiest man in the world.
Rolling on his back, he stretched to pick up the phone to order some food and drinks. He wondered if they could still order breakfast this late. He was in the mood for some nice French pastries to go with the tequila. He glanced over at Jessica who had switched on the TV and had suddenly turned very serious.
"Sweetheart, what's wrong?" He asked.
She didn't turn around, all her attention focused on the monitor. Vaguely worried, John dropped the phone and sat up. "Jessica, what's wrong?"
"It's New York," she said in a blank voice. "I don't know. Something happened this morning…"
John looked at the TV and his heart missed a bit.
"Is it a plane crash?" He asked. The question was rhetorical. He didn't need to listen to the Spanish-speaking newsman's report to understand what happened in Manhattan. The images were strikingly clear. Terrifyingly, heartbreakingly clear.
"I think it's two," Jessica said. "I think it's two planes."
John's heart sank as he listened to the first reports coming from New York. Given how many people were present in the tower on this Tuesday morning, the victim accounts would likely be in the thousands. And there were confused rumors about two additional planes, one of which would have fallen on the Pentagon in DC. No one had claimed the attacks yet, but experts were talking about the terrorist group Al-Qaeda, which had repeatedly threatened the US in the past few months and was responsible for the assassination of Afghan resistance leader Commander Massoud just two days before.
John's surroundings faded. Jessica's voice, as well as the anchorman's, drifted into the distance. All he could see were the planes crashing in the towers, the towers falling, one after the other, like mere sand castles. And with every loop of the same images running over and over again, his heart sank further and further.
He felt a tingling in his fingers. The need to fight. To shoot. Do something. Retaliate. Deep inside him, a new and cold rage was growing. It was something new, something dark. It was imperious, and it was calling him. Whoever was behind this will have to pay. John will make sure of this.
What a fool he had been, thinking for one moment the country didn't need soldiers anymore. Of course he wasn't obsolete. Sadly, he would never be. There would always be bad people. But as long as there would be bad people, he'll be there to fight them. He, who had no family, barely any friends outside of the acquaintances he made through his years in the military, he couldn't help but think of all those broken families. All those kids who would grow up without their parents. Those parents who would grow old without their children. He had to fight for them, give them justice.
He startled as Jessica put her hand on his. Finally taking his eyes off the screen, he looked up at her. He immediately saw it in her eyes as he caught her gaze. She knew.
Feeling suddenly guilty, he looked down.
She remained quiet. She didn't argue, didn't try to talk him out if it. She had always been able to read him through his silences. She probably knew there was nothing she could say that would make him change his mind. She tried to smile, bravely, and miserably failed, as tears welled in her eyes.
He gently replaced a strand of hair behind her ear. "Do you know anyone who was in New York?" he asked her finally.
She shook her head. "I don't think so. But I should probably call my Mom."
She rolled over him to get to the phone on the bedside table, her skin soft and warm against his. She got up and gracefully walked away to the balcony. As she passed through the door, a ray of sun highlighted the golden shine of her hair.
John was torn apart between two impossible choices. No matter what he'd decide, he knew he'd regret it. If he re-engaged, he'd probably lose her. There was no way she'd wait for him, and this wasn't a life for her. They had barely been actually together as it was. She'd probably get tired of waiting for him. She'd find someone worthier of her. Someone who would take care of her, be there for her.
He tried to imagine life with her. Meeting her parents, getting married. He never really cared for family traditions but oh, watching her walking down the aisle in a beautiful white dress. They'd get pregnant. A kid, two, maybe three. Siblings, definitely. John's happiest times had always been the ones he spent with his sister. He'd have to find a job. He wasn't sure what he could do outside of the military, but he'll figure it out. He'd go pick up the girls after school, they'd go to the park, he'd teach them to ride their bikes.
John sighed. But how could he ever truly enjoy his happy little dream, knowing his fellow soldiers were fighting their enemy? He was needed elsewhere, right now, and he couldn't let them down. He wouldn't be able to look at himself in the mirror.
With a heavy heart, John contemplated the love of his life. Seated on the metallic table, her feet absentmindedly perched on the back of a chair, her fingers playing with the cord of the phone set, she was the most beautiful thing in the world. But he had to let her go.
Jessica came back inside.
"Any news?" John asked.
She shook her head, resigned. "My uncle Jimmy was in the city, though he wasn't working in the tower. But Mom can't get hold of him. Apparently, all the lines are saturated. It's impossible to get anyone in Manhattan." She looked up at him. "We should go home."
John nodded. "Come here," he said, holding his hand out.
He leaned back against the head of the bed. Slowly, tenderly, he pulled Jessica close and held her in his arms. He probably should say something, but what? Nothing he could say would make things any better for either of them. Cuddled against each other, they remained there, only half watching the news, the other half of their minds preoccupied thinking of their future. Or their probable lack of.
With the towers, it was John's dreams of a peaceful life that were burning, his sailboat vanishing in the thick smoke rising from the ruins of the World Trade Center.