My latest work in progress is an anthology of stories dedicated to the bravery of men and woman worldwide. ALL those that silently and without fanfare hold down the Front Lines. ALL the front lines. On the streets of any town, anywhere, you’ll find them, The Policeman, Paramedics, Firefighters, Nurses and Doctors and all their support personnel. Those on the battle-fronts in foreign lands, and those on the battle-fronts of streets peopled with others that have slipped through the cracks and crevices of the world we now live in. The many brave souls that endure the lasting, life changing flashbacks, and battle each and every day with the nightmare that is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
These are their stories.
PART THREE : OF HUMAN DISINTEREST
Melisa Doyle was incapable of speech for quite some time. The film crew finished up, said their goodbyes, and headed back to the studio. The laughter they normally shared after a shoot was absent. Melisa had the distinct feeling that they’d be having more than their usual amount of after work drinks this night.
Jenny was talking quietly to Deke, away from the rest of the group now huddled around the fire. Melisa glanced over and saw the woman give Deke a hug. He hugged her back. She watched him raise his hand to the rest and he headed off alone into the darkness beyond the perimeter of light given by the fire.
Melisa stood, and without speaking, she walked across to where Brad was standing in front of the food truck.
“You doing okay, Melisa?” He asked softly.
She didn’t respond.
“Melisa? You okay?” he repeated.
The young woman appeared to hear him then, “I’m okay, Brad. Thanks.”
“It’s never easy, hon. You hear these things out here, and it just doesn’t get any easier, no matter how many times you hear it.” He patted her on the arm. “Coffee’s still hot if you’d like one.”
“Please, yes. Yes, that would be good. Thanks.”
“Come and help yourself to cream and sugar, I’ll get you a cup.” He entered the van and busied himself, to give her a moment longer to pull herself together.
He caught sight of Jenny with Rusty at her side sitting with old Davey Kelso, he saw the old man nod at whatever Jenny had said, and she moved on one-by-one, till she’d spoken with all the folks around the fire, and then she headed back in the direction of the van.
He took the styrofoam cup with the freshly brewed coffee outside and handed it to Melisa Doyle, she accepted it gratefully and was sipping at it when Jenny joined her.
“Brad?” Jenny said, “Any chance of a cup of that hot brew for me as well please, buddy?”
“You got it. You want it black?”
“Yeah. It could be a long night.”
Jenny walked closer to where the reporter stood. “Well now, I think it’s time I called you, Melisa. What do you think?”
The reporter looked at her, “I’d like that … Jenny.”
“Good. Take it a little easy on yourself, you hear. You did a great job back there. Thank you.”
“I just don’t know how you do this, Jenny. How do you deal with all of that pain, day in and day out?”
“We deal with it, because somebody has to. We keep on dealing with it for the same reason. It doesn’t get any easier. But, Melisa there are a great many folks in organizations bigger and smaller than ours that all keep doing it. Simply because somebody has to. Somebody has to care.”
The younger woman shook her head sadly. “How can I have spent my life in cities like this and never really looked at it? I feel so damned stupid, Jenny.”
“It’s not stupidity that makes folks turn a blind-eye, Melisa. It’s self-protection. That isn’t going to change overnight, no matter how good our intentions may be.”
“Will Deke be okay?”
“He’ll be okay, tonight. He needs to be alone with himself for now. I keep a close eye on him, when I can.”
Jenny gave the girl a quick hug. “Are you up for any more, tonight, Melisa?”
“No, I don’t believe I am. Not yet. But I’ll be back. I have a feeling that the network might run with this one alone. I’m heading back to the studio to view the film, I promise you, nobody will edit it. Will Deke want to see it?”
“I’ll ask him. But, somehow I don’t think he’ll want to. Call me tomorrow morning, let me know how it goes with your boss, okay?”
Jenny smiled at her, and continued, “I’ll have Brad give you a lift back. He needs to brief the next shift before they come out, and then he’ll come back and collect the rest of us. You did just fine tonight.”
Melisa nodded and waited for Jenny to talk to Brad, then, when he was ready she climbed back into the van and headed back to her own safe world.
Melisa’s hunch had been correct; the network felt that the story was powerful enough to be aired alone.
She rang Jenny early the next morning to check on Deke and to ask if he wanted to see the final print of the show.
“I’m pleased that they reached that decision. I think it’s wise. I spoke to Deke again very late last night; he doesn’t know if he wants to see it. I’ll need to let him make his own choice about that. Maybe the group will come in here to the warehouse when it airs. I can set up a large screen T.V. I doubt they’ll be up for it, but I’ll ask.”
“Thanks, Jenny. I’ve been thinking hard since I left you, is there something I can do, I mean there at Street Angels? Anything at all, I don’t mind what it is?”
“I’m certain there’s a million things you can do, and I’ll be pleased to have you, for whatever time you can spare.”
“Good. I’m available this afternoon. I’ll come over, is that okay?”
“I’ll be here till four. See you then. Oh, Melisa, when will the show go live?”
“They want to do a heavy promo, so at this stage I’d say three weeks. I told them we needed it to air before the onset of winter. Maybe there will be some donations that might help out as a result of it.”
“Yeah, well you never can tell. I’ll chat more a little later.”
“See you then.”
Three weeks later.
There were an odd assortment of people gathered in the warehouse. The large screen television was mounted on the wall, and an eclectic mix of donated chairs formed a semi-circle in front of it that night.
Melisa Doyle was seated next to Jenny and Brad. Further around the front-row-semi-circle, sat Kelso and four of the folks that had been gathered around the fire that night. All the volunteers that weren’t out on the night-shift had come in and prepared food for everyone, and then seated themselves and waited with all the others.
The noise of various conversations quieted suddenly as nine o’clock approached.
“Here we go.” Melisa spoke softly. She watched Brad take Jenny’s hand in his own, wishing she had one like it to hold on to.
Nobody spoke when the show ended. The muffled sounds of people attempting to control the tears that had caught them unprepared was all that echoed around the room.
Jenny recovered faster than most of them, and she stood with a sad, sweet smile on her face. “Who wants coffee?” she asked, already on her way across to the bench where the urn had been set up.
The young voice from the back of the room surprised her, “I’ll have one of those, thanks, Miss. Jenny.” Said Deke.
“Deke! I didn’t see you come in. Come on over and help yourself, there’s food left as well.”
“Thanks, that sounds good to me. I’ll be right there.”
She watched him walk across to Davey Kelso and hand him a handful of cigarettes. The old man took them, and offered the boy an old hand to shake, “You did good, boy. You did good.”
The smile on the boy’s face was unshielded, and for a brief, precious, moment, the others in the room caught a glimpse of what could be, if only this kid caught some breaks.
Outside the southerly wind had turned bitter as the last week of fall drew to its inevitable end.
Melisa came over to Jenny, unable to hide the concern that was etched clearly on her pretty face, “Jenny, we don’t have enough bunks left down in the shelter for all of the folks. It’s too cruel to make them go back outside in that cold.”
“Honey, there are never going to be enough beds. That’s the hell of it. They will make the choices of who stays and who goes back to watch over their turf.”
Melisa just nodded … wishing she didn’t understand the wisdom these folks had, or where it had come from. The last three weeks had ripped the blinkers from her eyes, and she could no longer hide.
It took a couple of hours before all the choices had been made and this group of survivors split up and each headed to a different destination.
Melisa became aware that her cell phone was vibrating in her pocket, suddenly remembering she had switched it to silent when the show had come on.
“Melisa Doyle” she said, her voice vaguely irritated. Most of her friends would never call her so late.
“Melisa, it’s Connie, you might want to put this on speaker for Ms. Thurston to hear. Tell me when that’s done please …
“Jenny! Connie Farrell on speaker for you.”
Jenny nodded and joined her as Brad went off to answer the warehouse phone.
“Go, ahead, Connie, she’s listening.”
“Great! Ms. Thurston, you might need to come over to the studio, we’ll send a car for you. We’ve had to call extra staff in to handle the calls that are coming in. It’s an unprecedented response unlike anything we’ve experienced on anything we’ve ever aired. I need your instructions on where to direct these calls, or instructions on how best to have these folks make the donations they’re offering. I can have a car there in ten-minutes. Can you come in? Please.”
Jenny looked shell-shocked for a brief moment, “Well, I … yes, yes of course. I’ll wait out front, shall I?”
“Wonderful, thank you, Ms. Thurston. Melisa? Can you come in as well?”
“Sure thing, Connie. I’ll see you soon.” She ended the call.
Jenny turned to her, “I wasn’t expecting a reaction, let alone a big one. I … well yeah, let’s just see what happens I guess. I’ll just change my shoes.”
Melisa grinned broadly when she automatically looked down at Jenny’s feet; she wondered how she’d failed to notice the fluffy dinosaur-feet slippers till now, “Your version of ‘Jimmy Choos’, Jenny?”
Jenny’s happier laugh was a pleasure to hear, “I’m all class, aren’t I.”
Melisa grew serious, “Yes, Jenny. Yes you certainly are.”
Jenny turned to Brad, “Can you lock up please, hon?”
He was laughing, “Jenny … the phone hasn’t stopped ringing. I get the feeling we won’t be locking up anytime soon.”
Jenny was driven back from the CNN studio at around 3.00 a.m. She climbed out of the warmth of the luxury vehicle and into the icy cold of morning.
She was weary, excited and hopeful all at the same time.
She let herself in made herself a pot of coffee, she knew already that she couldn’t sleep, and besides that, I do love my coffee.
She curled herself under a warm throw on the sofa, her laptop open, to keep responding to the emails that had gone overwhelmingly insane on her account.
The numbers had caught her unprepared, and, as she’d been doing for hours now, she had to read each one, respond to it, and allocate it to a file labelled by type of donation pledged.
CNN had been putting up info breaks with all the hotline numbers for the donations, and as requested by Jenny Thurston they had asked out-of-state folks to take their food donations, and offers of blankets and sleeping bags to any reputable charity, operating within their own cities and towns.
Melisa Doyle arrived at the warehouse at 7.00 a.m, not surprised to find a line of folks already waiting, to either volunteer themselves, or make a personal donation. After all the calls she had taken had slowed down a little, she was too excited to do anything but come here. She knew instinctively that Jenny would already be busy trying to make sense out of the unexpected chaos.
Brad was looking pleased and exhausted, sitting quietly on his own for a well-earned, but very brief break.
He looked at her as she entered, “Welcome to the Land of Oz, Melisa.”
She grinned, immediately visualizing singing Munchkins in her mind.
“So where’s the good witch of the north?” she asked with a giggle.
“Follow the smell of the coffee-beans, honey. I haven’t seen her this happy since … come to think of it, I’ve never seen her this happy.
“You ain’t seen nothing yet! Brad, wait till you hear what calls I’ve been getting! Come on, you’ll want to be there when I tell her.”
Jenny saw them coming and waved them over, her concentration all on the call she was responding to. She ended it and turned to face them. “Melisa, you look like the cat that swallowed the canary. Guilty with pleasure, yet. So … tell me, what’s happening.”
“You know all those big ego’s we spoke of, the celebrities I’ve done shows on … well some of the big names have decided to get together and have a benefit concert. They’ll cover the costs, and all proceeds from ticket sales will come to Street Angels, with the only proviso being that a Trust fund be set up for Deke and kids like him, to pay for any counselling and all their education! Do you believe that? It’s enough to make me believe in miracles again, Jenny. And … and, CNN are planning a telethon with all proceeds donated to be split across all registered charities here and throughout the viewing area.”
“You’re serious aren’t you? I … I don’t know what to say.” And she promptly burst into tears.
The calls, emails and letters had only just begun to slow down a week later.
Jenny, Brad and the rest of the volunteer staff had worked in shifts twenty-four-seven, and the imperishable foods had been sorted and handed out.
The blankets that had been delivered from a large bedding manufacturer had gone out with the freshly washed used ones, that the public had given.
They still had a small stockpile waiting for any new folks that had been added to the numbers.
Other charities in the city had also reported a higher than normal donation event since the special had gone to air.
The older folks like Kelso and the very young ones, often with their entire families now homeless, were donated the sleeping bags that would help shield them from the elements.
Deke had managed to stay out of the limelight, keeping close to his group and watching the goings on around him and being pleased at what he was seeing.
Jenny had spoken to him about the funding and the number of people who had offered him a home. He needed time to absorb that. Jenny knew he’d need a great deal of counselling, but the when of it needed to be his choice alone.
The excitement of the past few weeks had left her depleted of energy, but more hopeful than she could recall being for a very long time.
It was after midnight again before she called it a night, and she laughed on finding Brad asleep with his head on his desk in the office.
“Hey, sleepy-head. C’mon, wake up, I’ll fix you a coffee for a change.”
She waited downstairs on the small sofa they’d set up for the volunteers to take a quick nap on, if they got the chance.
Brad wandered across and dropped onto the sofa beside her.
They sipped their coffee’s silently, gathering their own thoughts for a while.
“We won’t lose as many this winter, honey.”
“The best thing of all, is knowing that people do care, Brad. They just needed a little reminder that we all bleed red when we are cut.”
“Yup. Another coffee?”
She flashed her smile at him.
Melisa finished her shift at Street Angels and had showered and dressed ready for the studio. Jenny had just arrived back in and was ready to start her own day.
Melisa had been hesitating for a couple of weeks before she finally decided to ask Jenny the question that had been hovering in her consciousness since the night of the show.
She approached it cautiously, “Jenny, may I ask you a personal question?”
Jenny looked interested. “Well … sure, I guess. You want to know how much coffee I drink in a day, right?”
Melisa didn’t laugh.
“So, okay. It was a nice deflection though, I thought. What do you need to ask me, honey?”
Melisa took a breath. “You were out here once, weren’t you, on the other side of that fire?”
Jenny hesitated for a long moment “Well now, your instincts have sharpened. Yes, Melisa … I was. A long time ago, now.”
Melisa looked over to where Brad was standing, trying hard to appear like he wasn’t listening. “Jenny … sometimes happiness can be right under our noses, if we only get brave enough to look.”
Jenny followed her gaze, and her skin flushed a flattering pink.
“You could well be right, honey. Maybe I’ve been wearing those blinders as well. But for now I could sure use a coffee. You want one?”
Melisa smiled. “Always, Miss. Jenny.”