The door opened and closed behind me and I braced myself to pretend everything was fine, just fine — until Noel slipped his arms around my waist from behind and rested his chin on my shoulder. I tipped back my head and closed my eyes, soothed by the brush of his breath against my cheek.
“I thought you might need a friend.”
I choked out, “Thanks.”
For a minute or two we stood there, his strength holding me up, until I said, “Angelique is right.” My voice was thick. “I died in Germany.”
He pressed our temples together.
“Just for a few seconds,” I said. “In Hurtgen Forest, when I was shot. I remember it. I remember knowing I was going to die. I remember being at peace with it –” Noel tightened his arms around me again and I realized how badly I was shaking. “And then Zachary came to me,” I said. “He’d been dead for a year by then. Died in the Pacific. He never fired a gun but they killed him anyway. He was my hero and he died.”
“I’m sorry,” Noel whispered. “I’m sorry you lost him.”
“But he came to me then,” I said. “I was dying and he came to me. He said I wasn’t done yet. He said I had to hold on. So I did, and I lived, and I came home, and now Angelique says Zachary is with me and I know it’s true, and she said the dead seek me out because they know I can see them and I know that’s true, too.”
Noel was quiet, still holding me tight. He said, “Let’s sit,” and drew me to the porch swing. I eased myself into it and put my cane aside, then leaned forward to cover my face with my hands.
Noel felt in his pocket, and then gave me a handkerchief. I laughed damply and wiped my face.
Noel sat beside me in silence until my breathing calmed and the shaking stopped, his hand rubbing light circles into my back. “Fireflies,” he remarked. I looked up — tiny spots of light danced among the oaks and cypresses.
“We don’t have them in California,” I said, crumpling the damp handkerchief in my hand. “Too dry, I think.”
“I never saw them in the Pacific. I missed them.”