The Girl Who Cried War
Author: coritherien

Chapter 15
Soften

May 10th, 2008

Vaguely, I heard a dull knocking, but it soon turned into heavy thuds against my door.

“Emma,” Fontaine shouted, “let’s go, we have to get the car!”

“It’s Erin,” I grumbled, still half asleep, “and quit your banging; you’ll wake the whole building.”

I dragged myself out of bed and pulled on a navy tank top and an old, faded pair of jeans.  I dragged a comb through my thick, unruly hair and then piled it on top of my head when it wouldn’t lie flat.

Fontaine was tapping his toe outside my door when I emerged two minutes later.

“I told you 6 A.M.,” he growled, immediately starting down the hallway.

“And it’s 6:05.  Chill.”

He scowled all the way down to the lobby and into the taxi standing by.  I think he was secretly more ticked off at the prospect of another taxi ride than he was at me, but I didn’t dare mention it.

We drove about twenty minutes across a long stretch of dirt road with only the occasional house to signal civilization.  The cabbie was just as jerky as the one last night.  I thought Fontaine would be sick when we finally pulled off the road and on to a dirt pathway which I assumed served as a driveway. 

The establishment wasn’t so much a house as it was a well-maintained shack.  It was clean, but small as anything and appeared to have been built with tremendously low grade materials. 

Fontaine grimaced as he took in the house.  Apparently it wasn’t up to his standards.  “And to think I called this home for over a month,” he murmured.

As we approached the front door, t swung open, revealing a man in his 50’s with thinning blonde hair and gently, kind eyes.  He and Fontaine embraced amicably and I saw an admiration spark in the latter that had thus far been lacking.

They made small talk for a moment and exchanged pleasantries until the older man’s eyes landed on me.

“And who is your young friend, Don?” he said, smiling warmly at me.

I liked him immediately.

Fontaine turned to me with distinct disinterest.

“Right,” he muttered.  “Marty, this is Ellen.  Ellen, this is Mr. Martin Samberg.  He’s the man who taught me everything I know about journalism.”

Mr. Samberg stuck his hand out.  “It’s a pleasure a pleasure to meet you, Ellen.”

I took his hand.  “Actually, it’s Erin,” I corrected, shooting Fontaine a glare.  He was no longer listening to our conversation.  “Mr. Fontaine speaks highly of you, Mr. Samberg.”

“Please, it’s Marty,” he smiled.  To Fontaine, he said, “The car is around the left side if you want to check it out.”

Fontaine clapped him on the shoulder and was off.  Mr. Samberg turned to me and asked, “What brings you to Syria, or Iraq, if I understood Don correctly?”

“I had a friend who died in the war a while back,” I muttered.  “We were…close.  I just want to see what he went through over there.”

I waited for the questions that normally followed whenever I mentioned Nate, but they never came.

“I hope you find what you’re looking for, and am truly sorry about your friend,” he said.  His eyes were sincere.  “And how do you find Don?  He’s good company, I hope.”

Now, I hesitated.  The last thing I wanted to do was bad mouth his friend, but I was never a good liar.  “I’m grateful that he allowed me to come along,” I said carefully, “even if we don’t see eye to eye.”

Mr. Samberg nodded.  “I know how Dan can be.”  We both turned and watched Fontaine transfer our luggage to the back of a red Chevy pickup.  “What you’ve got to understand is that he overcompensates.”

I cocked an eyebrow.

“What I mean is that he acts pompous and he can hurt people unintentionally, but he truly has a good heart.  His story isn’t mine to share, but it’s a sad tale and one can’t blame him for how he turned out.”  He looked at Fontaine fondly.  “He’s using an abrasive shield to protect a fragile heart.  I hope you understand that.”

I didn’t, not entirely.  I knew now, though, that Fontaine had a past, and it sounded somewhat dark.  I nodded. 

“I thought he might have a reason for his attitude,” I muttered.

We moved on and chatted for a few minutes.  I learned that he’d been writing for 35 years and was in Syria working on his first novel.

Finally, Fontaine pulled up in the Chevy.  He got out and hugged Mr. Samberg, who told him not to be a stranger.

“It was nice to meet you, Mr.—Marty,” I said.

He bowed his head.  “Good luck in Iraq, Erin.  I do hope you find what you’re looking for.”

 

11:16 A.M.

We’d been on the road for nearly five hours and still had two left to go.  The AC was busted, but it was okay because I liked the roar of the wind and the breeze felt nice.

Fontaine wouldn’t stop grumbling about it, though.

After five hours, I could no longer take it.  I tried my best to engage him in conversation.  “Did you always want to be a journalist?”

“Yup.”

“Do you like it?”

“Mmhmm.”

“Do you have any bug stories coming up?”

“Yeah, I’ll write about this goddamn AC.”

He was hopeless.  He was determined to be miserable.

I gave it one last ditch effort, and this time I dug a little deeper.  “Are you married?  Do you have kids?”

It was like I’d punched him in the gut.  He paled in seconds.  His eyes widened, and then narrowed dangerously.

I think this was the nerve Mr. Samberg was talking about.

“What happened?” I asked gently.

He swung his eyes to me and I nearly flinched, they were so dark.  “Why should I tell you?” he growled.

I held up my hands.  “Wow,” I exclaimed,” look.  I didn’t mean to offend you.  Don’t tell me, then.  It’s your business.”

We spent a few moments in silence before he gave in.  “We were young,” he said.  His voice was considerably softer now.  “Her name was Lillie.  She was beautiful, and smart.  And we had a healthy baby girl together.”

I smiled uncomfortably.  “That sounds nice.”

He smirked humorlessly.  “Yeah, only the baby wasn’t mine and Lillie left me soon after I found out.  If that isn’t a kick in the nuts, I don’t know what is.”

It made sense now.  I knew what he was compensating for.

“Do you have anybody new in your life at least?”

He glowered some more and beat his fist against the wheel.  The car swerved off the dirt road, but we had miles of desert surrounding us.  It wasn’t particularly dangerous, but his lack of control scared me.

“Every relationship since has been a bust,” he growled, “so I’ve stopped looking.”

I studied him carefully then.  Frustration dominated his features, but his eyes were cloudy.  He feigned anger but I think he was genuinely hurt.  I realized I was wrong about him.   He was just a gruff man with a hurt pride who lacked the know-how he improve his life.  I kind of felt sorry for him.

“Maybe you’re going after the wrong kind of woman,” I suggested.

He raised a bushy eyebrow but said nothing.  I took it as an invitation to continue. 

“Well, Lille was obviously a mistake.”

He snorted.  “You could say that.”

“So tell me.  Have all the women you’ve dated since been like her?”

“Well, they’ve all been hot.  I don’t date dogs.”

I narrowed my eyes a bit and he grumbled to himself, but I could see the wheels turning.

“I guess they were similar,” he allowed.

I nodded with encouragement.  “How so?”

“Well, I met each of them in a bar.”

I almost smiled.  That didn’t surprise me.  “Probably your first mistake.  Not any promising relationships start while you’re hammered.  Anything else?”

He thought a moment more.  “None of them showed much interest in marriage.  I thought they were just free spirited.”

I nodded and thought about what to say.  Advice was always Nate’s forte, not mine.  “It sounds like they were afraid of commitment.  So next time try finding a nice girl in the library, or a family friendly restaurant.  Go to a movie you’ve been dying to see, and look for a woman sitting alone.  At least then you’ll know you’ve got similar interests.”

He’d dropped the self-righteous act and was now nodding eagerly.  He caught himself ad blushed lightly.  He turned to me and I saw that his have had softened dramatically.  “Thank you,” he said and as far as I could tell, he was sincere.

We sat in silence for a while, and I’d almost dozed off a third time when I heard Fontaine say, “Your turn.”

I cocked an eyebrow.  “Huh?”

“I don’t spill my guts for free, now let’s go.  What’s the deal with this guy?”

“I’ve already told you—“

“You didn’t tell me a thing,” he objected.  “I know his name was Norman and that he was in that explosion, but that’s it.”

“Nathaniel.  God, you suck at names.”  I stared at the miles of vacant dirt just outside my window and debated whether or not I should tell him.  “What is it you want to know?”

“He was your boyfriend?”

It wasn’t much of a question, but I answered it anyway.  “Yeah.  It would’ve been two years in October.”

He turned to me as best as he could while driving.  “Were you in love with him?  I mean, I don’t know many people who would travel across the world for just a high school fling.”

That almost made me laugh.  “Yeah, I loved him.  I’ve never loved anything as much.’”

“Well, then I owe you an apology.”

I glanced at him.  “For what?”

He looked almost embarrassed now.  “When we met,” he said, “I kind of…I blew you off.  I’m sorry.”

I shrugged.  “I’m just grateful you accepted.  Something had to change.” 

 

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