Jaime had a few hours to kill before meeting Rudy and Oscar for dinner. Although she did not miss being an operative for the government she did miss her friends here in Washington. It amazed her how time just flew by. A whole year had passed since she retired from the OSI. It had been a difficult situation since the OSI fought her resignation tenaciously. It took months for them to finally give in and release her. She had already begun to build the normal life for herself that she had longed for. She decided to leisurely shop the hours away and smiled as she got into the cab.
Returning two hours later to her hotel room, loaded down with her packages, she had just enough time to freshen up and get to the restaurant. Upon entering the eating establishment she immediately saw Rudy sitting alone at the table staring into his drink. She thought of the scene as unusual since she could not recall ever seeing Rudy partake of alcohol. She made her way across the room behind him. As she laid a hand on his shoulder she leaned in and whispered seductively if he would like some feminine company for dinner. She was rewarded with a smile which she generously returned. He graciously stood as she took a seat. She commented at the empty seats at the table and Rudy made apologies for Oscar’s absence stating work had interfered. Jaime nodded her understanding. The waiter came and took her drink order and walked away. Rudy looked across the table at her and asked sincerely how she was doing. Okay was her automatic response.
Rudy remembered the last time he had seen Jaime 3 weeks ago. It was fortunate that he was in California when Jaime was involved in a car accident, a hit and run. Nothing suspicious about it, at least nothing that Oscar’s investigation could uncover. Jaime was lucky enough to come away with only some bruises and a concussion. He kept her at the medical center for 24 hours before releasing her and returning to Washington.
The waiter delivered her glass of wine and when he retreated Jaime shared the news of her engagement to Chris Williams. Rudy was pleased but sensed a subtle change in her mood so he inquired further.
“Jaime is something bothering you?”
“I think the rest of my memory is returning”, she said with a cautious tone.
“Really, that’s great! Dr. Marchetti and I weren’t too optimistic that any more would return. When did you notice it?”
“10 days after my concussion 3 weeks ago”, she continued, “It’s strange sometimes, an object or smell just causes these images to pop into my head.” Her tone became low.
“You seem unsettled by it.”
“Well I am sort of. You see sometimes I’m not sure if they are actually my memories. Does that even make any sense?” she sighed and continued. “Most of them are from the months surrounding my skydiving accident and my relationship with Steve. The one’s I couldn’t retrieve no matter what I tried. Since they mostly involve Steve I think only he can clarify them for me – considering that some of the memories, very personal ones, only involve him and I,” She finished sheepishly.
“I understand”, Rudy allowed a small smile. They were interrupted by the waiter ready to take their dinner order. Jaime waited until the orders were taken and the waiter left their company.
“I was hoping to talk to Steve before I return to California.” She said with an excited tone.
In the back of his mind Rudy wondered what Steve’s reaction would be to learn that Jaime’s memory had returned as well as her engagement to Chris Williams. He was sure Steve would be devastated at the news.
“Well Steve’s not in Washington right at the moment.” He tried to sound casual but Jaime easily read his untruth by the non-verbal behavior she was seeing. Rudy was fidgeting and would not make eye contact with her. And of course there was the almost empty martini glass in front of him. Jaime decided to delve a little deeper.
“So, where is he Rudy?”
“On assignment,” he said as he brought the glass to his mouth to finish off his drink.
“When is he expected back? Maybe I can fly back to Washington later next week. I must say I’m anxious to see him.”
The waiter appeared again to serve their salads. Rudy stared at his plate suddenly no longer hungry. He tried to come up with an easier topic to discuss when Jaime’s voice caught his attention, “Rudy?”
“I don’t know when he’ll be back, Jaime.” It was the truth.
His tone was so dire that Jaime chose to be blunt. She leaned in closer to him and whispered forcefully, “Rudy, what’s going on?”
Rudy sighed knowing Jaime would not let the subject drop without answers to her questions. He conceded, “He’s… overdue”.
“Overdue? You mean missing?”
“Yes, Oscar couldn’t come tonight because he got a lead and didn’t want to waste time before acting on it. Steve disappeared 10 days ago.”
“10 days!!” She was stunned. This was the last thing she expected to hear tonight. She had gotten so complacent in her sedate life that she forgot how unpredictable and dangerous Steve’s life still was.
“Jaime, both the OSI and NSB are looking for him. I’m sure they will find him.” Rudy said it not only to pacify her but to reassure himself that Steve would be back unscathed.
Jaime understood when an agent was considered ‘overdue’ it meant they had missed check-ins and had not been heard from for 24 hours. She also understood when an operative was missing for more than 2 or 3 days the chances of recovering him alive and well were slim.
Jaime sat silent, overcome with deep emotions for Steve that she had not felt for years. It caught her off-guard. She inquired, “What lead did Oscar have?”
“Jaime, I’ve told you too much already. I don’t think we should discuss this any further.”
Jaime would not be deterred, “What information Rudy??” Her panic was beginning to show.
“I’m not sure. I swear Jaime that’s the truth.”
“They think he’s already dead, don’t they?”
Rudy couldn’t answer that question. He tried to be realistic, “Hopefully they will find some answers tonight, either way.”
“Either way? Do you think they will continue the search if they suspect he is dead?”
“Yes, both OSI and NSB agents are under orders. Even if he is dead they are required to recover his body. Security reasons, you know.”
Jaime couldn’t help chuckle at the irony, “So they are willing to send him into harm’s way alone but will send 2 teams of agents to recover his body!” She followed that with a long sip of her drink. She too had lost any appetite. The waiter unexpectedly appeared at the table with handed the telephone to Rudy. When he hung up he explained he was being summoned to Oscar’s office. Jaime demanded he allow her to go along.
“Come on”, was his terse reply as he tossed money onto the table.
Oscar was surprised to see Jaime. He was happy that he had good news to share. His office received word of Steve’s location and all indications were that he was alive. An extraction team was en-route to Central America to retrieve him and more details would be forthcoming within the next 3 hours.
Oscar ambled over to his office bar and fixed himself a well-deserved drink. Rudy and Jaime decline his offer, settling for the tepid coffee on the table. Jaime let her mind drift through her memories of Steve. They were warm and special to her. She allowed a faint smile to play upon her lips. While sipping their drinks Oscar and Rudy had their eyes on her and inquired as to its origin.
“Oh, just thinking of how Steve and I first met.” She replied.
Oscar looked questioningly at Rudy who quickly explained Jaime’s recent return of her memory following her concussion. Oscar had a twinge of hope for his friend’s relationship with this amazing woman.
“Well, how did you two meet?” Oscar apparently never heard the story.
“It was Steve’s first day of Third grade and I dared him to eat one of everything in the cafeteria.”
“Let me guess, he did.” Oscar surmised with a grin.
Jaime nodded and continued in a distant tone, “He got so sick he had to leave school. I felt so guilty that I offered to walk him home. He was worried that his mother would punish him for missing a half day of school so we hung out in his tree house until 2:00 p.m. so she wouldn’t know how much school we actually did miss for something so stupid. Well at least now it seems stupid. I’m sure Steve would call it fate.” She fell silent with a feeling of dread settling in the pit of her stomach.
Noting the uncomfortable silence in the room Rudy questioned further, enjoying hearing about Steve’s childhood.
“So did he let you get away with it?”
“No, Steve got back at me the next day on the playground.” Her tone was flat as her eyes took on a distant stare, her mind’s eye reliving the moment.
“And?” the men asked in unison.
“I was sitting on a swing and he put a lizard down the back of my shirt.” She was shaken from her reverie by deep chuckles filling the room and turned a smile in their direction. Their smiles vanished as the phone rang. Oscar jumped up and swiped the receiver off its cradle quickly. Rudy and Jaime listened to the one-sided conversation. All they heard were questions and affirmations. The abbreviated conversation ended and the receiver was returned to its home.
“He’s alive and on his way back.” Oscar allowed the strain to leave his body as he sank into the closest chair.
“That’s it?” Jaime asked.
“Yes.” That was all she got in return regarding the subject. “Why don’t you return to your hotel? It will be hours before he gets back and you look very tired.”
Now that the strain left his face Jaime suddenly realized how weary Oscar was looking. Not wanting to upset him she said her good-byes and left.
Jaime returned to her hotel room, showered and changed. She was still tired but felt refreshed. Her first thought was to return to Oscar’s office but disciplined herself to stay put. The clock on the night stand read 2:18 a.m. She lay atop the bedspread allowing her thoughts to swirl around her previous relationship with Steve. Sleep enveloped her quickly.
Steve was debriefed during his first 3 hours back on U.S. soil. Rudy gave him a clean bill of health after a thorough medical exam. With business taken care of Oscar and Rudy informed Steve of Jaime’s presence in Washington. They also shared the fact that her memory most likely had returned fully. Rudy explained that Jaime wanted to confer with him to clarify some things surrounding their relationship. Steve just nodded his okay. He felt, in his exhausted state, that he was dreaming. As he walked toward the exit door of Rudy’s lab, Oscar stopped him with an offer of a well earned 2 week vacation. With a smile and a wink at his friends he set off for her hotel. Neither Oscar nor Rudy could bring themselves to tell Steve about Jaime’s engagement to Chris Williams.
Jaime awoke to a knock on her hotel room door. She looked at the clock indicating it was 10:30 a.m. and realized she not only dozed off but slept much longer than she intended. The knocking was heard again and she called to her unknown visitor that she was coming. As she walked to the door she wondered if Steve got back to Washington alright. The door swung open and there he was leaning against the door frame. Steve felt like a teenager on his first date. His palm was sweating and his heart was pounding against his chest unsure of the outcome of this spontaneous meeting. He flashed a lopsided smile at her and she felt her pulse quicken.
She invited him in but he was hungry and suggested they grab an early lunch at the hotel restaurant. Jaime agreed remembering she skipped dinner last night and was famished. He gave her a few minutes, at her request, to freshen up before they headed downstairs. They both sat through awkward small talk while eating their lunches. Steve assured Jaime he was fine and his mission ended successfully. He explained that after he had missed his original pickup he spent 4 days entrenching himself in the back country to avoid being found by enemy agents and came upon a very small, secluded village. It was inhabited by 4 families and the village was decimated by the ongoing drug was down there. So he helped the villagers rebuild their homes and farms until he was able to safely get word through the pipeline to Oscar for a pickup. In turn Jaime told of the mundane happenings in her life now that she was strictly just an AFB school teacher. She deliberately left out the news of her engagement. She felt like she was boring him but, as always, he gave her his undivided attention.
After the meal they moved to the empty hotel lounge to talk in private. She explained that she and Chris Williams were still in a relationship. And how Chris had retired from the OSI six months ago and was quickly building a reputation as a talented computer security consultant. Jaime shared other small events in her life and that she would be returning to California. She still had made no hint of her impending marriage to Chris. Getting tired sitting for the past 3 hours Steve suggested a walk in the city park. Jaime agreed it was a wonderful idea and they wandered outside. As they walked Steve told her Rudy had informed him of her memory returning and he asked how he could be of help. Jaime asked many specific questions regarding their relationship and the events surrounding her skydiving accident which she could not recall before. Steve answered with his best recollections reaffirming that what she remembered was in fact the actual events. The hours flew by and neither seemed to want to call it a day but by 8:00 p.m., seeing the exhaustion in Steve’s face and knowing he hadn’t slept in at least 2 days, she asked him to escort her back to her room. He knew the day had to end and obliged her request.
Once at her door she found herself hugging him tightly and not wanting to say good-bye. She thanked him for the special day and said she would be returning to California in the morning. Ending the embrace Steve shot her a mischievous smile that piqued her curiosity. He read her questioning look.
“Oscar gave me 2 weeks off. I’m heading to my ranch in Ojai tomorrow. Care to join me? I mean for the flight not the 2 weeks.” He stammered not wanting to force the issue. Although the thought of spending 2 weeks alone with her made his head swim.
“Sure. I’d like that.” She accepted plainly.
Seeing his nervousness and feeling the silence hang in the air between them she spoke again. “Steve there is something I need to tell you and I’ve been waiting for the right time but I’m afraid there won’t ever be a ‘right’ time. She broke eye contact and stared at her feet. “I think it’s best if I just come right out and say it.”
“Shoot.” He replied with a furled brow.
Jaime took a deep breath and continued to stare at her feet. “Chris Williams and I are engaged to be married.”
Steve felt the impact of her words hit his heart with incredible precision. The impact left him temporarily speechless. All he could finally muster was a quiet, “I see”.
She clumsily continued, “Steve, I’m so sorry all this is happening with such poor timing. I never meant to hurt you. I hope you know that.”
“Sure. Well I guess I’ll see you at the airfield at 8 a.m. sharp.” He was well known for his ability to hide his emotions but at this moment he was so tired he felt he would lose all emotional control if he stayed in her presence another second. Without another word he turned and walked to the elevator. She watched him go with a heavy weight on her chest.
Jaime was up very early unable to attain any restful sleep. Her happiness at seeing Chris after days apart was severely dampened by last night’s conclusion. As she looked in the mirror to apply her make-up she wondered if flying to Ojai with him was a mistake. But she needed to make him see their strong friendship could survive this.
When the taxi deposited her at the airfield at 7:30 a.m. she saw a lone figure silhouetted against the rising sun. He was completing the pre-flight checklist on a single engine Bonanza. She knew instantly by the way he moved it was Steve. Suddenly he was much more intimately familiar to her since regaining her memories. She realized she was torn; she enjoyed her time with Steve as much as she enjoyed spending time with Chris.
It also became apparent to her that the more she was around Steve the more easily her memories resurfaced. It was like the closeness of him brought about a string of sights, smells and sounds of times past. Before seeing him at her hotel door her recollections were difficult to bring to the surface and they were few and far between. She knew he was a catalyst for bringing them all to the surface with ease. As she walked unnoticed toward him, a fleeting thought crossed her mind. ‘I may still be in love with him’. She let the thought vanish as quickly as it came. He turned and greeted her.
“Hi. Almost ready to go?”
“Yep. You can stow your bag in the cargo hold.” He pointed to the left side of the plane.
Having knowledge of small planes he did not have to physically show her what to do. She could tell he wasn’t going to offer anything but small talk today. She knew her news last night rocked him. It may very well be a quiet trip home.
Climbing to their cruising altitude Jaime sat back and let the silence fill the cockpit. She planned on letting him direct the conversation, but knowing him as well as she did, she knew he may not utter a single word the whole trip. She laid her head on the headrest and took an occasional glance to her left, taking in his profile without attracting his attention. He smelled so good. She took a deep breath, relaxed and let her memory wander backward in time. She was tired but knew sleep would not come. Closing her eyes she let the scenes flow across her mind like a familiar movie. There were many scenes she was seeing for the first time. They were special ones of her and Steve that spring when they were dating just before her accident. Since she lost those memories shortly after experiencing them she never had a chance to think back on them. This thought caused her much sadness. The scene unfolded in her mind:
She stood in the kitchen and watched him eat the first piece of her warm apple pie. He praised her culinary skills stating it was even better than his mother’s. She took a seat on his lap and they discussed concerns over how their relationship would survive their busy professional schedules. After a short phone call from Oscar interrupted the conversation they concluded that their relationship would work if they wanted it to work. In 2 hours they had a plane and pilot reserved for skydiving. As Jaime sat on Steve’s lap they began teasing each other with kisses. The kisses became more intense as they followed their passion. As his tongue found its way deep into her mouth she moaned her acceptance. Her hands found their way inside his half-opened shirt and across his tanned chest and down his hard stomach and he knew she would follow his lead. He continued to entice her with his mouth while his hands blindly found the landmarks they were skillfully searching for and her body melted into his. When their temperature rose to a feverish pitch and their breathing came in pants he effortlessly lifted her in his strong arms as he stood. They continued to explore each other’s mouths with their tongues and their lips never broke contact as he carried her to his bedroom. He gently lowered her to the bed and she was trembling with anticipation. He sat on the edge of the bed next to her. As she unbuttoned his shirt, he never broke eye contact and slid off his shoes and socks using his feet. She inwardly chuckled at his efficient ability to undress without interrupting the moment. She deftly removed his shirt and ran her hands over his muscular back and chest as he leaned down to kiss her long neck. It was now his turn to undress her. As he removed each piece of her clothing he replaced it with warm, wet kisses on her exposed skin. The process was so slow it was utterly painful for her. He was incredibly patient, not wanting to rush this moment. When he could no longer contain his excitement any longer he quickly discarded his pants and laid his lean muscular body gently on top of her. Looking deep into her blue eyes he verbally professed his love for her. She reciprocated sweetly in her own words. After slightly shifting his position they were of one body. With a constant steady rhythm their intimate dance continued for almost an hour until both were left tired but satiated. He was the most patient, generous and skillful lover she ever had. They stayed entwined in each other’s arms until it was time to leave for the airport.
Jaime didn’t realize the smile that planted itself on her face. Because her eyes were still closed she didn’t see him staring at her.
‘God she’s beautiful.’ He thought. He felt his heart snap in two at the thought of her going home with another man. He returned his gaze forward and lectured himself. ‘He had given Jaime her freedom years ago with the expectation her memory would never return and their future would contain nothing but a close friendship. Why was he so hopeful on his way to her hotel? What was he thinking? Would it be so hard to continue as they had for the past 3 years? But on the other hand engagement and marriage were 2 different levels of commitment. Maybe with time she would realize, as he did, that they were meant to be together. He felt an urgency to discuss the issue further before landing in California.’ His attention turned to the radio as he requested permission to land for refueling.
Jaime opened her eyes as she heard him using the radio. She watched him out of the corner of her eye as he completed a flawless landing with seemingly no effort at all. He taxied and parked the Bonanza as the fuel crew approached. Steve needed time away from her to collect his thoughts. He joked that he needed to stretch his legs. Jaime laughed at their inside joke. She again realized there was another important thing they shared that Chris would never understand. As he entered the hanger to use the restroom she chose to do the same. When she returned he was giving the exterior of the plane a quick inspection before getting in. She sensed he wanted to say something but he remained silent as they both boarded the aircraft.
Since they left Washington she felt she needed to investigate her feelings for him more in depth before arriving in California. Jaime lured him into conversation by sharing with him how his presence brought the memories to the surface so freely. He smiled his crooked smile and asked what she was thinking about before they landed explaining he couldn’t help but notice the smile on her face. Jaime instantly broke his eye contact and blushed unsure how she should answer.
Deciding to be honest she replied sheepishly, “I was remembering the first time we made love.” There she said it. It was out there. She watched for his reaction. Steve was a little taken aback. For the past 3 1/2 years he was the only human being who had that memory.
He threw her a wicked smile and responded, “It was obviously a pleasant memory by the expression it left on your face.” He ended it with a wink.
She returned a teasing smile back and honestly replied, “Yes, it is a wonderful recollection and I’m very glad to have it back.”
Jaime suddenly realized how difficult it must have been for Steve to be around her knowing what he knew and not have his feelings returned. She also realized how much he must love her to do what he did. She stared at him wishing she could take back all the pain she had brought him. A tiny voice in the back of her mind reminded her how comfortable it felt to be with him. She brushed it aside and thought of Chris. She loved him and wanted to be his wife. Or did she just enjoy the thought of being married? Thoughts and feelings were becoming jumbled in her mind and her heart by the time they landed to refuel one final last time. Steve had chosen an airfield that had a quaint restaurant on the property. They decided to eat an early dinner before heading out again.
Steve went right to the subject at hand. He needed to be absolutely sure. “Jaime, are you sure you want to marry Chris?” He asked as he took a large bite of his hamburger.
Jaime was surprised thinking he had just read her mind. Not wanting to share her thoughts on that subject just yet the most she could honestly offer was, “Yes I think so.”
“You think so.” He repeated sternly.
“Steve spending this time with you….I don’t know, I guess maybe it has put some doubts in my head.” Damn, she really didn’t want to discuss it right now.
He tried to relax a little and finish his meal, “well, did you set a date?”
“No, we’ve been busy.”
“I see,” was his only response when he picked up the check. As he laid money on the table he explained, “I’m going to check the plane. Take your time finishing your coffee.”
Steve did his best to subdue the growing excitement at Jaime’s uncertainty. ‘Would it be proper to interfere with her engagement?’ He liked Chris and thought he would be good to Jaime. But then again Chris wasn’t him.
The last leg of their journey was quiet. Both were lost in their own thoughts of each other. When they arrived in Ojai Jaime was stunned to see Chris waiting by the car. She never contacted him about her travel plans because he was supposed to be out of town on a business trip until tomorrow. Steve saw him too and felt deflated. He didn’t want her to go but couldn’t voice everything he was feeling. He knew he had to let her go like he did years ago. But back then it was a different Jaime, a Jaime with no feelings for him or memories of him. This time was harder because it was his Jaime that he was letting go.
Handing her suitcase to her they said their good-byes.
Jaime asked, “You’ll be at your ranch right?”
“For the whole 2 weeks.”
“I’ll call you okay?”
She kissed his cheek and walked quickly to Chris.
“How did you know I’d be here?” She inquired.
“I talked to Oscar. He told me you were flying in with Steve.” He almost sounded suspicious.
Steve watched from afar as they embraced and greeted each other with a passionate kiss. His body felt as battered as his heart as he made his way to his car.
Two days had passed. Jaime had shared the events of her trip with Chris. He was stunned since this was the first he heard of her regaining her memories of her relationship with Steve. He was concerned over losing her and that was something he just couldn’t bear. He became withdrawn and distant toward her for most of the last 2 days. Jaime saw the change in his mood and got no response when she questioned him. She began to think maybe he was just uptight about his upcoming trip to Washington. He was asked to oversee their computer security for several government agencies, including the OSI, since there had been some breeches suspected. It would be an impressive contract for his fledgling company. After dropping him at the airport for his trip she decided to make detour to Steve’s ranch. She was unsure of how her unannounced arrival would be accepted but she had an indescribable need to speak with him.
She pulled up the dirt road toward the house. After parking along side the house she saw him out back grooming his horse.
“Going for a ride cowboy?”
Her presence startled him. He told himself to just keep it light. “Yeah, wanna join me darling’?” he invited with a heavy southern accent as he turned to face her. She thought he looked quite rugged in his light blue shirt, faded blue jeans and cowboy boots.
“No, actually I thought we could go for a walk to the lake. I need to talk to you.”
He noticed the seriousness both in her voice and on her face. He turned to his horse, “Well Jasper, I reckon ya’ll have to wait awhile for that ride. I need to help this damsel in distress first.” He petted Jasper’s nose as the horse nuzzled his chest in understanding. Jaime couldn’t help but chuckle at his exaggerated drawl. Steve nodded toward the familiar path up the hill and said, “Let’s go.”
Not much was said during the walk. She told him of Chris’ trip to Washington and how she had this overwhelming urge to stop by today to see him. The ten minute walk to the lake gave each the time to summon the courage to tell each other all they’ve been holding back. Jaime didn’t want to get Steve’s hopes up. Steve, on the other hand, still held that candle for her firmly in his heart. Several times over the past two days he started to dial her phone number but quickly changed his mind before finishing the connection. He was at a loss on how to explain his feelings toward her. They sat on the familiar large tree stump and both stared out at the clear, still water. On the drive over she rehearsed what she was going to say to him but now that he was here she didn’t know how to begin. Without looking at her Steve sensed her reluctance and began for her.
“You’re thinking of calling off your engagement aren’t you?”
Her stoic face didn’t register her shock. Keeping her eyes on the lake she quietly asked, “How’d you know?”
“Because I know you.” He turned and took in her delicate profile as the breeze played with her long blonde hair.
“And what else do you know Colonel Austin?” She turned and looked into his expressive eyes.
“I know you are unsure and you won’t take the marital leap until you’re sure.”
“Go on…” she directed.
He decided to just go for it. He took a deep breath. His hand found its way to her face and he looked her straight in the eye. He let it all out. “I think you are confused as to your feelings for me. I think you want to pursue a relationship with me to be sure where your heart truly belongs.”
“And…?” She prodded
“I know you don’t know how to tell this to Chris.”
She smiled. He knew her better than she knew herself sometimes. Every statement he said was true. While he had her off balance over his intuitive abilities he quickly leaned in and pressed his lips tightly and passionately against hers. She was surprised but before she could return the emotion he suddenly broke off the contact. He shot her a devious grin and a wink before he turned his head, folded his arms in across his chest and stared out at the lake. He ended the silence with a simple he statement. “I think you need to do what you need to do.”
Her lips still tingled from the unexpected kiss. She stared at him and repeated his words more to herself than him, “What I need to do… I wish I knew what that was.” There was a lost tone there.
“You do know you’re just afraid to do it.” He turned to look at her as he challenged her.
“I am not afraid.” She asserted.
“Yes you are.” He calmly taunted.
”Am not!” She sighed before continuing in a more softer tone, “It’s just that I love you both very much and I don’t want to hurt either of you.”
“Jaime, either way one of us is going to get hurt but we are grown men. We’ll get over it.” He wondered if she bought his lie.
He tried to lighten the mood, “Or is your ego so big you think we won’t recover?”
She swatted his arm, “Knock it off, you know what I mean.”
“Yes I do but you are forgetting one thing.”
“You. Chris and I both love you enough to want to spend the rest of our lives with you. We want you to be happy. Therefore, I think he would want you to be sure you are marrying the right person. I know I do. As for me…well I asked you to marry me years ago and I would still marry you.”
Jaime thought for a few minutes, playing over the pros and cons of marrying each of them. She unexpectedly changed the subject. Eyeing his profile she asked, “Steve, would you resign from the OSI to live a normal family life?”
He was caught off guard wondering where she was going with this question. He didn’t want to lie to her but he also didn’t want to be totally forthcoming. He shifted his gaze to the ground in front of him and played with a piece of bark he pulled off the tree stump. “I would but I can’t.”
“Why not? They do allow operatives to retire you know, look at Chris. And they let me go a year ago. Why can’t you leave too? I know you’ve wanted to leave as long as I did. “
“I can’t Jaime, I’m under a contract.” His voice was low and serious as he continued to avoid her stare. God this was hard!
“A contract? Since when? For how long?”
“I’m one year into a seven year commitment,” he explained.
Jaime could not believe what she was hearing. She knew how much he wanted to resign and have a normal life.
“My God, what possessed you to sign a contract?”
“Let’s just say I wanted something and they didn’t want to give it to me. I used my services as a bargaining tool. In the end I got what I wanted and the OSI got what they wanted.” He was being vague but honest.
“And what was so important that you would give up a normal existence and risk your life for the next six years?” She continued to stare at his profile dumbfounded.
“I can’t say… but I can tell you it was well worth it.” He turned to stare into those blue eyes trying to convey all the love he held for her. He told her as much truth as he could. His heart ached to tell her the rest but did not feel it would be well received since it would bring her tremendous guilt.
Jaime sat back and stared out at the water. She realized her situation no longer held a decision to be made. Steve’s revelation had decided the issue for her. He could feel her pulling away and knew what was coming next. She would marry Chris. She finally said the words he didn’t want or need to hear.
Jaime steeled herself for her next words, “Steve I’m sorry if it seems I led you on in recent days. You have to know I need a husband who isn’t flying around God’s creation trying to save the world from itself. I need a normal family life with a dog and kids and the proverbial white picket fence.” She struggled to contain the anger at the situation as she went on. “I don’t want to wonder, every time my husband goes off to work, that he won’t be coming home. Do you understand what I am saying?”
Steve understood all too well and just nodded, not trusting his voice. The irony of the situation felt like a dagger twisting in his chest. It was because he loved her so much that he would lose her again. She had chosen Chris and he knew he would always long for her forever.
“Steve I am truly sorry but I can’t. Please understand.” With that she turned and walked back toward the ranch alone. He remained still with his back to her as a lone tear travel down his face. He whispered, “You will never know how much I really do love you Jaime.” He stayed at the lake for another half an hour before reluctantly trudging back to his home. By the time he crested the hill he saw her car was gone. He suddenly felt very alone.
A week later Jaime returned to Washington for an educational conference. Her August wedding was coming up quickly and her schedule was becoming crazy. She planned to spend a few days here after the conference ended to visit friends. She met up with Callahan for lunch. In fact Callahan was able to get the whole afternoon off to spend with Jaime and help her with some wedding errands. Jaime wanted another woman’s point of view of her decision to marry Chris. Something about it just didn’t feel right. This was the first hint of uncertainty Callahan had heard from Jaime. Callahan was engrossed as Jaime shared all her memories, old and new, of Steve. She admitted to Callahan how strong her feelings were for Steve and her serious consideration of pursuing the relationship. She was sure that Steve would marry her tomorrow if she agreed. Callahan envied her and Jaime knew it. Callahan had a crush on Steve from the first time she laid eyes on him. It took a year before she gave up hoping he would become interested in her. During their girl talk Callahan even pried some juicy details from Jaime as to what Steve was like in bed. After hearing the story of their first intimate experience she now had another reason to envy Jaime.
Callahan asked how Jaime came to the conclusion to marry Chris and not Steve. Jaime shared her concern over marrying Steve when he wouldn’t leave the OSI. She played with her salad as she continued on; she didn’t notice the Callahan’s face drain of all its color. Jaime let her annoyance show, “Imagine – a contract! Since when does the OSI put agents under contract?!”
Callahan suddenly felt a panic run through her. She breathed out, “Did Steve ever say why he signed a contract?” She hoped he had provided some explanation.
“No, he said he couldn’t say. So I told him I couldn’t pursue a relationship with him,” she stated matter of factly as she picked at her salad.
Callahan quickly considered her options. She could lose her job. On the other hand she knew how much Steve and Jaime loved each other and were meant to be together. Fate had never been kind to them. Callahan, ever the romantic, knew she had to intervene or she wouldn’t be able to live with herself.
“Jaime, I know about Steve’s contract. In fact I typed it up.”
“Can you tell me what was so important to him that he would sacrifice so much?”
“Come on I’ll show you.” Callahan grabbed her purse and headed out of the restaurant with a confused Jaime following.
They drove into the under-ground parking garage beneath the OSI building in Callahan’s car. She requested Jaime wait for her in the car. Jaime reluctantly agreed. Callahan rushed to the stairwell heading to her office. She silently thanked the heavens that Oscar was out of town and no one would witness her blatant breech of confidentiality. It didn’t take more than 2 minutes to unlock the door, unlock the file cabinet, retrieve the item in question and re-secure everything. She ran down the steps hoping this action did not have the severe negative consequences it had the potential to cause. After jumping back into the driver’s seat she looked Jaime straight in the eye. Before handing the contract over to her she said, “I’ll probably lose my job or Steve’s friendship over this or both. I’m doing this because I’m your friend and speaking woman to woman I think you have a right to know.”
Jaime’s eyes conveyed her understanding of the gravity of this situation. She took the document and slowly unfolded it. Her eyes flew quickly across the first page, skimming through the legal mumbo-jumbo. Turning the page she continued glancing down until her eyes fell upon the terms of the contract. She slowed her reading to understand exactly what it said. Her mind required a second reading of the terms not believing what she had read. Her thoughts traveled back to a year ago. Jaime had given her resignation to the OSI but was denied. The Secretary kept repeating the same jargon, ‘she was too valuable an asset to release from duty’. She fought for 3 months receiving the same reason for denial. She had almost given up and conceded that she would be their operative for the rest of her life. Suddenly out of the blue Oscar contacted her with news that her resignation had been accepted and she was free. Jaime had never questioned why, she was just so elated to be retired. She figured they finally saw her argument as having merit. Without looking back she moved into her normal life as a full-time school teacher.
By the time she finished tears were cascading down her face. She looked at Callahan for affirmation. Callahan nodded and provided details not documented in the contract.
“I over-heard Steve and Oscar arguing in Oscar’s office. It was difficult not to hear them since the conversation was so loud I could hear everything even though the door was closed. I tried not to eavesdrop but I couldn’t help it. Steve wanted to leave the OSI as badly as you but they wouldn’t let him. He didn’t know your resignation was refused until Oscar blurted it out. He said you’d been trying for months to get out. Oscar told Steve the Secretary would not allow either of you to leave until your services were no longer needed. Steve was furious stating that you were human beings not government property. He said you both had already served your country above and beyond the call of duty. Oscar would not be swayed and said his hands were tied. It got quiet for a few minutes. Then I heard Steve say, “You know Oscar I admit I did have some say in becoming bionic. But Jaime…She didn’t. I chose it for her. I got her into this.” Oscar asked him what he was getting at and Steve said he would make him a deal.
Callahan pointed at the document Jaime had in her hand. “That was the deal. Steve signed the contract which guaranteed he would not leave the OSI and the OSI was to release you from service.”
Jaime let the words wash over her. “Seven Years.” She whispered.
“Actually Steve offered five and Oscar countered with ten. Seven years was the compromise.”
“My God what have I done,” She recalled the conversation with Steve at the lake and thought it was like a slap in his face. She turned a sad face toward Callahan.
“Jaime you need to reconsider your decision.”
“Yes, yes I do, “She replied mostly to herself. “Callahan, could you drop me off at the hotel? I need to get back to Ojai to talk to him”.
“Sure but he’s not there.”
“How do you know?”
“Oscar cut his vacation short and sent him on assignment. Apparently it was an urgent assignment. Oscar planned on briefing him en-route.” Callahan sympathized with her need to talk to him as soon as possible.
“En-route to where?”
“I don’t know, somewhere in California.” Callahan put the car in gear and headed toward the hotel.
Jaime sat on the bed in her hotel room packing her things. She couldn’t get Steve off her mind. She grabbed her bags and headed to the airport. It was starting to rain. She thought it mirrored her mood as the taxi pulled away from the curb. ‘How was she going to tell Chris?’ She wondered.
On the DC-10 headed to California Jaime realized the sacrifices Steve had quietly made to an effort to protect her and make her life happy. Not only getting her released from the OSI but she also had heard years ago that it was Steve that requested she be sent to Rudy’s lab in Colorado far away from him when she was experiencing so much physical pain after coming out of her coma. She wondered why Steve had not married. She often saw or heard of him catching the attention of beautiful, intelligent women. She had never considered the idea that he might be waiting for her. She had so many things to say to him since finding out the truth. She could only hope he would be home soon. She looked out the small oval window as the plane touched down to earth.
As Jaime entered the house she found Chris sitting in the living room, slightly inebriated. Not wanting to drag this out she took a seat across from him and began her difficult task. She told him, honestly, that since her memories returned she’d been having doubts about marrying him. He just stared at her. He suspected this would happen ever since she flew home with Austin two weeks ago. Gut instincts told him she would leave him. He was angry by the time she had finished. He did not blame her, he loved her. He blamed Steve. How dare her entice her away from him. He packed a bag and left the house. By now the anger had grown to rage.
Steve was hard at work blending in with these computer wizards. Oscar implanted him within a group suspected of using their computer expertise to steal government secrets and sell them to the highest bidder. They were increasingly adept at disrupting the government computer systems. During his briefing he learned that Chris Williams was hired by the Feds to investigate who was accessing their systems without leaving a trace. Chris was able to find out who was doing it and where they were working from.
Now Steve was in their nest as a computer tech. His predecessor died of a heart attack 48 hours ago. Oscar thought this was the best opportunity to imbed Steve in the organization. His job was to keep the systems up and running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. As he repaired and maintained the systems he attached a tiny device that the OSI had made to each modem. He attempted to get them onto every computer so when the computers were used the information could be tracked. Not only would it tell them who had stolen the information but it would follow the information to whoever it was passed on to. Oscar was glad Steve had a working knowledge of computers and electronic circuitry from his days as an aeronautical engineer to pull this off. As Steve went about his business he was glad his work did not involve direct contact with Chris Williams as he was trying to but Jaime as far out of mind as possible.
Although Steve was not very happy to have his vacation cut short, he understood the urgency of the mission. The OSI spent 3 months searching for this group. Secrets were being compromised on a daily basis. He honestly was not relishing the idea of hanging around his ranch another week with the constant thought of Jaime just a few miles away. There it was again another thought of Jaime. Nothing was keeping her out of his thoughts no matter how hard he tried.
‘That’s just great Steve let your mind wander all you want. That’s the best way to get yourself killed in this business! Focus dammit!’ As he mentally chastised himself and fiddled with the computer bank in front of him he noticed John Enders whispering to his right hand man, Carlos. John Enders was the boss of this outfit. He ran the show with an iron fist. An iron fist at the end of an Armani suit and Rolex watch that is. Steve had observed that Enders never did any illegal activity himself that might get his hands dirty so to speak. He delegated and Carlos carried out the orders. Steve figured Enders wanted to distance himself from the illegal activity in case it got hot. Steve wished he could hear what they were saying. Sometime he wished Rudy would have given him a bionic ear like Jaime.
Steve found out there were only eight men working for Enders, all with advanced computer degrees and obviously expensive tastes. All were willing to live and work here for the duration, although Steve did not know how long a duration that might be. They were situated on a large rural farm in California apparently purchased with cash. The huge old farmhouse had been renovated and housed the men. There were 2 other aluminum sided buildings on the property. One housed equipment and vehicles and the other was where they worked, where Steve was right now, a large, windowless building with large ceiling fans, computers banks and desks. No one was permitted off the property except of course Carlos and Enders. Food and supplies were brought in by Carlos. From the road or the air there was no reason for anyone to think this was something other then a working farm. Except that no farm equipment could be seen on the fields.
The look of Steve’s fake resume and background must have been good because when Steve met Enders for the job interview he didn’t have to wait long for the offer to work for them. Oscar told Steve the mission shouldn’t last more than five days. He was just glad to get his mind off his personal life. Already on day 3 Steve was confident of the mission’s success.
Enders suddenly left the building with Carlos in tow. As Steve walked to the farmhouse for dinner he used his telephoto lens to watch them drive out the front gate. He was getting a bad feeling in his stomach.
Chris Williams was sitting at a small table across from Enders. He was nervous. When they took his blindfold off he noticed he was in a dark warehouse but he had no idea where. Chris explained who he was and why he was there. Enders was intrigued by this man who was so forthcoming. He listened to his story of how he was hired by the government to find Enders’ organization. He thought they could work together to increase their profits.
Enders chuckled, “What makes you think I need more money?”
“Well maybe your cash flow is healthy right now but when the undercover agent in your organization blows the lid I suspect you will be in need of income, not to mention legal counsel.” Chris stated arrogantly.
“That’s impossible. Where did you get your information?”
“I told you I am a Computer security consultant for the government. I’m the one who found you.”
“So what do you want?” Enders was becoming concerned.
“I want to make a deal, sort of a partnership.” Enders nodded for him to continue his offer. “For a sum of $10,000 I will give you the mole. Then you can continue with business as usual and I will continue to be grossly overpaid by the government to find the cause of the security leaks but unfortunately I have a feeling it may take me years if I fine the perpetrators at all.” He smiled a devious smile and a knowing wink.
“If you are so over-paid by the government why do you need $10,000?” Enders wondered if this was a trap.
“I seem to have developed an enormous gambling debt due to some unfortunate bets on my part. What can I say I’ve recently become very fond of gambling?”
“And you are willing to get someone killed to get it?”
“Are you married Mr. Enders?” Chris asked.
“Yes, I am. Why?” Enders was confused by such a personal question.
“Well I am deeply in love with the most beautiful woman. In fact we are to be wed in August. It has recently been brought to my attention that a man is interfering in my relationship. I also found out that same man was sent here to infiltrate and expose your organization.” He leaned forward and asked, “What would you do to a man who stole your wife?” He allowed Enders to contemplate before he continued.
“Now I figured if I were to just kill him I would spend the rest of my life in prison. But if he’s killed in the line of duty, well it is unfortunate but being a government agent is a very dangerous profession. Don’t you think?”
Enders was leery, to say the least, about allowing this man to come to the Farm but he needed him to identify the agent in question. He would keep this man very close to make sure he did what he promised.
“Okay Mr. Williams. If you come with me and identify the agent I will give you $10,000 cash.”
Chris was surprised. He didn’t want to be present when the event took place. “Why can’t I just tell you who he is?”
“Because Mr. Williams, I want to give you the satisfaction of pulling the trigger yourself.” Enders smiled. “Besides I want to be sure YOU are not a government agent. Don’t worry, you can leave as soon as the job is done and no one will even know you were here.”
Chris felt reassured. He thought on the large amount of money that would not only settle his gambling debts and get the loan sharks to stop threatening him with bodily harm but he would also have some to lavish Jaime with a beautiful wedding. He would also have Jaime to himself and that made him a very happy man.
New information was funneling into Oscar’s office and something didn’t add up. The OSI had sufficient reason to believe Steve’s position had been compromised. Unfortunately the details were sketchy and Oscar had no evidence as to who or how but his gut instinct told him to get Steve out now.
He picked up his secretary’s line and began listing his demands. I want a military helicopter with a pilot, a corpsman, and 12 armed OSI agents. I don’t care who. I want them ready to leave Andrews in 30 minutes. He looked at the group of 4 agents in his office, which had been tirelessly collecting intelligence on this end, and concluded, “We’re pulling Austin out now.”
The agents nodded, hoping that their well respected colleague would be extracted without incident.
Chris was sitting in the backseat of the car blindfolded again. He figured they had already driven 15 minutes before slowing. During the ride he thought of Jaime and how he felt when she said she would not be marrying him. His world crumbled and something just snapped. He had never felt this angry in his life. He had no family left. His three closest friends were killed in the line of duty. Jaime was his life. Why couldn’t she see that? Now she was tossing him aside for the infamous Steve Austin. How he wished her memory had never returned. Oh well soon it will all be distant memory.
Chris’ conscience was poking at him. Chris had always like Steve. He was the kind of guy that was hard not to like. He was smart, funny and a loyal friend. At least he was until he took Jaime away. Chris pacified himself with the idea that at least Steve would have the honor of dying for his country. I will be available to console Jaime in her grief until she realizes she needs me with her always. The car rolled to a stop and the blindfold was removed. Chris looked at his watch. It was late afternoon. He was ushered into a farmhouse. Carlos continued to eye him suspiciously while Enders opened the safe and retrieved two banded piles of U.S. Currency. He set the $10,000.00 on the table.
“Well Mr. Williams if you will just tell us who the government agent is I will have Carlos go and fetch him for us.”
“Your new technician. I think he is using the name Myers.” Chris answered knowing there would be no turning back now.
“Carlos, please have Mr. Myers brought to the field behind the house.” He never broke eye contact with Williams trying to read his reaction.
Carlos scampered out of the office. Chris was getting nervous but tried to keep Jaime in mind. She was all that mattered to him now. In a few minutes he would be far away from this place and no one would be the wiser.
Oscar and his small extraction team were en-route to Steve’s location. There was no way to let Steve know they were coming. He worried they would be sacrificing important intelligence by retrieving Steve so spontaneously at this point in the mission. It was likely everyone would scatter at the sight of a black military chopper descending on them. Oscar pushed those thoughts away and remembered all the times Steve risked his life for him. They were 15 minutes away. It never occurred to Oscar that their rescue might come too late.