Taking Leave

“What do you do for leisure?” I asked Tiffany.

She scrunched her face together in thought and threaded a red strand of hair behind her ear.

“You know, I don’t remember.” Tiffany released her face and laughed. “That’s pretty sad isn’t it? Why do you ask?”

I forced air through my lips, as if that would take the tension that was growing in my stomach with it. “I’ve been ordered to take time off and relax.”

Tiffany stopped mid-zip and flicked her brown eyes over me, checking for an extra head or missing limbs. Then she finally noticed that I wasn’t dressing down today. In fact I was still in my standard issue pajamas that were too big around the waist. I tugged them up and held them in place with my hands.

“Is this about Jordan?” She narrowed her eyes at me.

“No.” Nothing was about Jordan. “Scrubs said I haven’t had a day off in months and that I needed one.”

Tiffany’s jaw rocked from side to side as she considered that. She pressed her lips together and then finished zipping her jacket. She placed her hand on her holster at her hip, checking the clip on her gun.

“Chelsea, none of us have had a day off in months. What’s going on?” She stepped toward me running her hands across her belt counting spare magazines and tools. “I want to eat before I report for duty at 0600, but I’ve got 2 minutes.”

I wave her off with my hand as my pajama bottoms slid low onto my hips. The pressure behind my sternum growing so intense I’m sure she can feel it as I lie. “I’m fine. I’ll take a nap and I don’t know polish my revolver or something.”

Tiffany’s eyebrows converge at this, but she steps back. She’s not going to call me on that lie or at least not yet.

“We’ll talk about this when I get back.”

I nod and smile through stiff cheeks. The gesture feels so alien that it makes me wonder how long it’s been since I’ve smiled.

“Listen, Cheslea. This last month has been crap and we’re all feeling it. You should be off to circus after that thing with Jordan, but you’ve held it together because you’re strong.” Tiffany leaned toward me as she squeezed her pockets to check for her first aid supplies. “But you still need time to process that mess. Talk to Stiner.”

“The Headshrinker?” I scoff.

Tiffany reaches out and squeezes my arm. “Yes. We can’t afford you cracking. You’re the strongest of us all in so many ways. You take care of your prized stallion—uh—mare, if you want it to keep winning races.”

My head spins as she holds my gaze. It’s there so visible. Everyone has so much faith in me, everyone but me at the moment. I had faith in Jordan and he went and flushed that down the toilet. I’m not sure if I can believe in anyone again. Tiffany steps back and grabs her bag from her bunk and slings it over her shoulder.

“Go. Or I’ll take you when I get back.” She points at me as if she could order me to do anything just because she’s my friend. I outrank her.

She strides by and I hear her heavy tread all the way out the door. All the beds are empty and the silence hits me like a punch to the gut. I fall forward, but catch myself on the bed. I squeeze my eyes closed against the pain under my sternum right where my heart used to me. The metal frame of the bed is cold and I lift it up and slam it hard against the floor a few times just to shatter the silence.

Tiffany is right. I need to talk about him, but I can’t find the words. I need to think about it first and I’m not sure I can do that without cracking up. Jordan was my best friend, a person I would have walked into fire for, tried to kill me, and the rest of our unit. I don’t know where he is which makes him one lucky son of bitch. I turn and slam through the door, clutching my fists so tight my fingernails cut into my flesh— anything to stop the burning in my eyes and the scream growing in my throat.

Writing Prompt: Leisure

Photo Credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

About the author

Carley Hibbert

I just finished writing my first novel The Villain's Assistant. I'm preparing to submit it to an interested publisher.

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