Olivia had set out to sleep in, but was interrupted by the sound of bells and horns going past her second story apartment on the street below. The frustration finally became too much and she sat up, looking out the window to see what was making all the racket. It was one of those group bike rides, probably raising awareness for some cause. She had seen these a few times before; they take over the street like it’s a parade and make as much noise as possible so everyone looks out their windows and reads their banners. Olivia dropped back on the mattress with a thud and calmed her nerves. She didn’t really mind being woken up, she was just glad the cyclists had their clothes on.
The same thought crept into her head as it had first thing every morning recently. She would be on leave until the end of her enlistment, what they call EOE, but had already been approved for re-enlistment. Olivia would need to make the decision soon, but the pros and cons were swirling around, pulling her back and forth. They obviously wanted to fast track her to higher rankings, making her career military personnel. It was something she thought she wanted too; however, with Ella now in her life, and after repeated deployments, priorities began to shift.
She had plans to meet Ella near her work for brunch. Going downtown was something she had gotten used to but had avoided, if possible, for years. Olivia was only three years old when the event took place, but that didn’t stop the pit in her stomach from returning every time she was near the tomb. There were familiar street names, familiar images that were being shown all over the television and Internet that day. Certain video clips had become commonplace in the zeitgeist of the time. This all reverberated with her for a long time, and as she stepped off the train at Clark and Lake, she reminded herself how exhausted she had gotten of being afraid, and it wasn’t going to affect her anymore.
Ella was running late, as she usually is, but was hustling out of her office as quickly as she could to make up for lost time. Ella was a bit of a firecracker; she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, and would attract a fair amount of attention during her late night forays to the neighbourhood bars. She had been trying to slow down, make those wild nights fewer and further between. She always knew, in the back of her mind, that kind of behaviour couldn’t last forever, and it sometimes got her into trouble. It wasn’t always bad though, that’s how she met Olivia in the first place.
Olivia had just gotten home from her second tour and was having a few farewell drinks with the rest of her unit. The idea of falling for a woman in uniform always seemed cliché to Ella; she didn’t exactly see the appeal, but after she caught a glimpse of Olivia, everyone else in the room looked dull. She moved past the disgusting men who had been hitting on her all evening, practically shoving them out of her way. Always one for dramatic entrances, Ella gracefully slid onto the lap of one of the men sitting around the table.
“What’s the occasion? Everyone’s all dressed up! Bachelor party?” Ella asked, smiling.
She allowed the men to talk over each other in their replies while she locked eyes with Olivia. Ella had developed a few tricks for gaging a woman’s interest. One such trick was a finely tuned mixture of smile and duck-face. Too much duck-face and you just look like you’re posing for a picture, too little and the point doesn’t come across. Olivia looked back, intrigued, and pretty soon Ella was buying a round for the table. It didn’t take long for the guys to pick up on the signals and get out of Olivia’s way. This one was all hers.
Ella burst through the door and took a quick glance around to find Olivia already seated at a table.
“I’m sorry. Were you waiting a long time?” Ella asked.
“You’re not that late.” Olivia replied, not looking up from the menu.
Ella glanced at her phone for the time as she settled in. “Oh, good. What are you having?”
“I think I feel like a Denver omelette.”
“Have I ever told you the one about the price of John Denver tapes versus the price of blank tapes?”
“He’d make more money if he shut the fuck up.”
Ella laughed. “Classic!”
“That jokes like a hundred years old.” Olivia snickered and shook her head.
“It’s not that old!” Ella took a sip of her water. “So, what are you doing today?”
“Not much. I have an appointment with the therapist.”
“I didn’t think you were going anymore.”
“A little guidance right now couldn’t hurt.”
Olivia had kept Ella in the dark about her plans for the future for the most part. Ella knew there was a possibility that Olivia would stay in the military, but wasn’t aware of the offer they had made her. Besides, Olivia wasn’t sure the news of her staying out, and that she was the main factor, would be a welcome surprise for Ella. She was worried the whole notion might come off too strong.
“I want dessert for every meal!” Ella proclaimed.
“You want it with every meal, or you only want the dessert?”
“I want to start with dessert and see if I have room left for anything else.”
Olivia laughed. “You’re just like a kid.”
“This is why I love brunch. A maple pecan cinnamon roll is basically dessert.”
The two of them laughed and continued joking about pastries. At one point, Ella made a claim that sweets could cure diseases, but Olivia quickly pointed out that they’ve almost certainly caused more than they’ve helped. They wrapped up their meal and said their goodbyes. Ella would, again, be late getting back to work, while Olivia made her way to the doctor’s office.
Dr. Bradley was a well respected therapist who was recommended to Olivia by some of the military staff psychologists. He had studied at the University of Chicago and had a wealth of knowledge in PTSD treatment. Olivia had been going to him off and on for almost five years at that point. She didn’t feel like she suffered from PTSD, she always had other problems to worry about. He had a quiet charm about him that Olivia always liked. It was comforting in a way that if she felt like she needed to get some things of her chest, find a little perspective, a couple sessions with him were a good place to start.
“There she is! Good to see you again, Olivia.” Dr. Bradley said warmly.
“Doctor.” She said, greeting him with a nod. She always got a tickle from addressing a doctor by saying doctor, even though he probably heard it all the time.
They sat in their usual spots; big, comfortable chairs facing each other with a coffee table between them.
“So, you’ve made it back to us safe and sound. What did they have you doing over there?” He began.
“Nothing interesting. I was off the line most of the time. Not a lot of bad days.”
“But there were bad days…”
“A few.” She started rubbing her hands nervously. “Nothing I could have done to make the situations better.”
“Now, we’ve talked about this. You’re too hard on yourself.” He attempted to reinforce the idea without being too firm. “They want you to do your job and stay safe. That’s your mission. You accomplished that.”
She looked away. “Yeah, I accomplished that…”
Her tone wasn’t very convincing. Dr. Bradley knew all too well her struggles with losing comrades; he had treated many soldiers who suffered the same internal demons. Olivia’s demons, however, were unique. Her empathy had a different motive, and Dr. Bradley worried that his treatment would be of no use to her.