A knock sounds at the door of Carlos’s hotel room and he snaps to attention out of habit. Realizing that he was miles away from the nearest base and even further from the combat zone, he stops long enough to think about who might be knocking.
He hadn’t ordered room service. He didn’t invite anyone over.
Pushing down his many aversion and worst-case scenario thoughts, Carlos sneaks toward the door and fights off the urge to swear when he remembers that the door didn’t have a peephole.
Aren’t hotels required to have peepholes? Carlos wonders as he reaches down to his hip for a gun that wasn’t there anymore.
“Hey, care to join me for a swim?” a familiar feminine voice asks from the other side of the door.
The voice belonged to Gretta Thorbin, Carlos’s ex-girlfriend–recently-turned-fiancee. It was a long story, but could be summed up with them kicking things off once more once the war was over.
Carlos had booked two rooms, one for himself and one for Gretta in order to get her to what was supposed to be a luxury resort. Unfortunately, that ‘luxury resort’ didn’t have peepholes for their doors.
Last night, Carlos had proposed, Gretta said yes, and they spent the rest of the night on horseback following their guide over the gentle rolling hills of the desert that the resort was in the center of.
Carlos had chosen a desert location to ensure that he could see things coming from many miles away. One could never be too careful.
“Come on, Carlos, I know you can hear me,” Gretta laughs, “Come join me for a swim!”
Opening the door slowly, Carlos looks his wife-to-be over and he fights off the urge to smile like an idiot. It didn’t take much to fight off that urge however, after holding that lovestruck smile all night last night, Carlos’s face muscles didn’t like the idea of smiling anymore.
Shaking his head, Carlos flatly declines, “No, I don’t do water.”
Again, Gretta laughs. Actually, it’s more of a giggle–the same giggle that she had let out a couple of weeks ago that caused all of Carlos’s old emotions he had for the woman to rise back to the forefront. Before he had the chance to remember the church service they reconnected in, Gretta asks, “What do you mean you don’t do water? How do you not do water? You just spent the last few years in it!”
Carlos’s focus on Gretta’s soft face and her earthy eyes lapses as he is suddenly sent back a few months to one of the most terrifying moments of his life.
He was on a civilian cruise ship of all places, providing some sort of security for everyone on board as they traversed waters that were allegedly dangerous. Everyone that wasn’t Command knew that those reports were outright lies pushed forward by sailors who wanted an excuse to ‘guard’ a luxury cruise liner as it sailed across the Caribbean and Gulf. Getting stationed on these ships was a treat for anyone who had made a good impression on the lower echelons of the command structure.
It was supposed to be the easiest month of Carlos’s life. Much of it was.
Until the return voyage.
As they sailed east and made for blue water a passenger jumped overboard. Carlos wouldn’t have believed it if someone told him, the whole trip had just been so perfect. Being a soldier, Carlos got a lot of attention that he thoroughly enjoyed. Plenty of free meals too, especially after he shared some of the tales of his deployment to actual combat zones.
Everyone was having the time of their lives.
Everything was perfect.
Until it wasn’t.
Carlos replays the images of him dropping the book he was reading and feels his Adam’s apple lurch as he nearly cries out once more, ‘Man overboard!’
The kid had jumped off the lower deck which had been nearly vacant. Everyone else was busy enjoying the rays on the uppermost decks that were getting bathed with the tropical sun. Carlos had opted to go to the quieter shady lower deck on the port side to read and to avoid the sun. After spending so many days getting baked alive, he had no intention of wasting what was basically his vacation under the harsh light.
Only a couple of people heard his call and Carlos remembers their skeptical stares as he lurched toward the spot where they boy had jumped.
When he finally realized that no one else was doing anything, he finally got his feet to begin working properly and he broke into a full sprint across the smooth wood deck. As he closed the final few yards, he remembered grabbing a life preserver and the line it was on off the wall. Even now, he could feel the firm foam circle in his fingers.
And then he jumped.
Right into the water. As he was trained. It was a water rescue, simple as that. Just like he trained.
But it wasn’t.
The training took place in a pool. Near the end they had gone through some training in a lake, but nothing was like this. No body of water just kept going further and further down. It never ended.
Despite his initial shock at not being able to see the bottom, Carlos remembered swimming downward, he had released the life preserver as he jumped into the water, so the only thing slowing him down was the clothes that he was wearing.
He knew that the boy had jumped with the intent to kill himself, so he knew that he would have to swim down as fast as he could. There was no knowing what the boy might have used to weigh himself down so he would reach the bottom. Odds were that it would be something large, just big enough for him to be unable to get rid of it should he change his mind.
As those thoughts passed through his head, Carlos spotted the boy’s body. It was floating freely in the water. A frayed rope extended away from the body like a snake that had latched onto its victim.
As he neared the kid, Carlos remembered wondering if the knot the kid tied had failed, or if he had frantically done what he could to free himself from what he used to drown himself with. He wondered if the kid had second thoughts about taking his own life. He wondered if the boy got a new lease on life.
But he would never know.
No amount of effort could bring the kid back.
Carlos remembered how he had gone from being so level-headed as he started giving the kid CPR. There was nothing special about it at first, he had done CPR dozens of times before and everyone had woken up. When this kid didn’t he began to lose it. It took six men to pull him off the kid and it took even more to talk him back down to reality.
“Carlos?” Gretta prompts once more.
Looking down at his hands, Carlos examines the deep scars on them. The scars were the last vestiges of his attempt to save the kid. He got them from pulling himself and the kid up out of the water and onto the ship’s deck. It took months for them to heal up after the rope cut through them.
Swallowing a lump in his throat, Carlos suddenly realizes that a few tears had begun streaming down his face. Shaking his head, he whimpers, “I don’t do water.”
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