With nothing to do, Becky soon found herself bored, which combined with nervous energy due to the uncertainty of her future with Alec, had her climbing the walls before the end of the first day. Having no desire to see the sights of the city she'd lived in for twelve years, she activated the library link-up on the vid-screen and started to research the Vietnam War. Over the next several days, she read from morning 'til late into the night. Not only factual accounts, but novels as well.
She really wasn't surprised to sometimes find herself in tears at the accounts of the pain and suffering as well as the joys and triumphs of those men and women involved. But when she came upon a novel by R. Jacquez, her heart almost leapt from her chest. Calling the book to the screen, she started to read, but by the end of the first page, she knew what the story involved. She knew the names of the characters that hadn't yet been introduced and she knew which ones lived and which ones died. She knew who found love and who lost it. Switching to phone mode, she called Alec at home.
"Hi," he said when his image appeared onscreen. "You look good."
"Thanks. Alec, when you get a chance, call up the book I Didn't Hear It Coming. It's a novel by R. Jacquez."
"Rita?!" he asked incredulously.
"Yeah. I reacted the same way. Alec, read the book. Then call me back. I read the first page, but I can tell you everything about the book. I could probably tell you which chapter Danko, the character who was based on Tony, dies if I thought about it a little while."
"What's that going to prove, Becky? Maybe you read it in school and forgot you read it. Maybe..."
"I wrote it, damn it! That's how I finally came to grips with losing you."
"You mean Tony."
"I mean...look, it's only a name. We're not defined by our name— we define our name. I wrote the book for our daughter. So she could know the truth about her father."
"I don't have a daughter, Becky."
"Fine. I wrote it for my daughter! Alec, please read the book. I know you'll know what's happening too because it's our story. I know you'll remember the same way I did."
"It still won't prove anything."
"If Tony and Rita worked out their problems, then why are they still possessing us, as you seem to think?"
"How the hell should I know? It doesn't prove I'm Tony's reincarnated spirit."
"Then how do I prove it to you? What do you want me to do?"
"I don't know, Becky. I don't know if you can prove it."
"Oh, God, Alec, there has to be something to prove it to you. I miss you so much. I hate waking up alone."
"I'm not exactly having the time of my life either."
"Then why are we apart?"
"Because I don't know why we were together. Was it Rita making love to Tony that night? Or was it you and me?"
"I don't think there's any difference. And what difference does it make why we were together that night? It's now that matters. And I do know that now it's you and me."
"It matters because if it wasn't me and you, then my whole world makes no sense any more. Everything I believed gets tossed out on its ear. It's shaking the foundations of my faith and I'm afraid I'm going to be crushed if it falls."
"I'm sorry, Alec, if I seem to be...callused. When I was growing up, I always wished I had a stronger faith. Maybe it was really a blessing in disguise....Maybe all the shaking is going to do is get rid of the chains holding you down and you can fly with me again. I love you, Alec."
"I love you too, Becky....I have to go. Someone's calling my office number."
"Will you read the book? Please?"
"Yeah. Take care of yourself."
"I'd rather take care of you, but I will....Disconnect."
As she sat on the bed, her mind rerunning their conversation, she suddenly realized she knew the name of the daughter Tony and Rita had had. Requesting a link-up with vital statistics, she was asked to enter the year needed, she asked for nineteen sixty-nine. When asked for the month, she counted forward from October nine months. Then she requested May, June and July. When asked what city, she was momentarily stumped. Then she decided she and Alec had met in Chicago, so she tried it first. When asked for the name, she supplied the name in the dedication of Rita's book. After several minutes the vid-screen went blank— then the birth certificate of Carita Antonia Viscuso appeared.
As she read all the information, she felt more like she was rereading it. Like she knew it all, but just needed a little reminder. After staring at the screen for a while, she asked for cross-references with marriage certificates beginning in nineteen eighty-nine. The search took longer this time, but she was finally rewarded when a marriage license for Carita flashed onto the screen. This time, though, the name of the man she'd married appeared unfamiliar. She asked for a printout of the screen and then sought further cross-references for any children of Carita and Scott Van Nu.
For the rest of the day and long into the night, she searched the ever-expanding list of names, getting as far as Carita's grandchildren before going to bed. She instructed the computer to keep looking for cross references for all the names while she slept and giving her a print copy.
The next morning as she reviewed the stack that had accumulated, she cried when she came across Carita's death certificate. Through the generations, she followed the legacy of Rita and Tony. To her surprise, she found no registered death certificate for Aileen Consiko, the second of Carrie's eight grandchildren. Then it dawned on her there was no certificate for Rita either. The computer had finally run out of cross references and was patiently awaiting her further instructions. She requested the latest know address for Aileen Consiko and within minutes, the information appeared on the screen. Impulsively, she booked a seat on the next express tube to Denver.
When she stepped out of the elevator pod, the direction indicator in her hand pointed to the left. She followed the curving hallway until the red light told her she was outside the elderly woman's room. Knocking lightly, the door slid open and she stepped inside. The woman lying on the bed was thin and frail, but her eyes were bright and alert.
"Come in, child," she said sweetly. "I'm sorry, but I don't recognize you. My mind doesn't seem to keep everything as straight as it did a few years ago. I can't see as well either. Come closer and maybe then I'll remember."
As Becky moved to comply with the woman's request, she said, "Actually, we've never met, Mrs. Consiko." She reached the woman's bedside and smiled down at her. "My name is..."
"Grandma!...Oh, dear, what am I saying? I'm sorry, dear, but for a minute you looked like my great-grandmother. But that can't be— Grandma was dead before I was born. But your eyes..."
Becky took the elder woman's hand. "My name is Rebecca Eyler. I know this is going to sound strange, but I believe I am your great-grandmother, Rita Jacquez. Or at least her spirit reincarnated in this body."
"Oh, dear! That is strange, to say the least. Why would you think such a thing?"
Becky explained everything that had happened that led her to the conclusion that she had been Rita Jacquez more than one hundred and fifty years ago. The woman listened intently and when Becky finished, Aileen considered everything carefully before speaking.
"Great-Grandma Rita wrote her book after Grandma Carrie started college. It was published the same year she graduated. A year later, Grandma Carrie and Grandpa Scott got engaged. Great-grandma Rita just disappeared. She left a note saying now that Carrie was taken care of and had someone to love, she had to find her love. She said she'd keep looking if she had to cross the voids of space and time. It looks like she finally found what she was looking for."
"You believe me?"
"Why shouldn't I? You believed it enough to come all this way to see an old lady you didn't even know....And I've always trusted my first impressions. My first impression of you was that you were my grandmother. If you'll remember, I never told you what her name was, but you knew."
"That could have just been research."
"Why would you do it if it weren't true? I have nothing you could possibly want. Except maybe information."
For the next several hours, Becky listened as the older woman recounted stories of her great-grandmother she'd been told by her mother and her grandmother. Finally, it was Aileen's turn to ask some questions.
"This Alec you say is Tony, he doesn't believe he is?"
"No, he doesn't. He thinks it was more a matter of being possessed by Tony's spirit."
"Did he read your book?"
"I just found out about it yesterday. But he said even if he did, it wouldn't prove anything."
"Hand me that box there, dear, won't you?" Aileen asked, pointing to a small box, intricately carved from a dark wood, sanded so smooth it looked like it was polished. As soon as she picked it up, she felt a flood of emotions wash over her and she almost dropped the delicate thing.
Aileen carefully removed the top and reached inside, pulling out a chain with two pieces of metal hanging from it. Handing it to Becky, she said, "These were Tony's dog-tags. Rita took them from his parents' house when she went there with Carrie the first time. She just wanted them to know a part of their son was still alive in his daughter. But they refused to believe Carrie was Tony's child. They said Tony was a good Catholic boy who was saving himself for marriage. Rita saw these hanging on a little shrine they had to Tony in the front hall. She just took them when no one was looking. She told Carrie they should have rightfully been hers anyway except for the fact they hadn't legally been married. These have been in the care of the oldest living descendant since Carrie got them. She gave them to her oldest son, but he died when he was six. So they passed to my mother. My sister had them until she died twelve years ago. And when I go, they'll go...Actually, they should go to you."
"You're definitely the oldest one in this room."
Becky laughed and tenderly kissed the old woman's cheek. Then Aileen reached into the box and pulled out a worn, tattered sheet of paper, gingerly handing it to Becky.
"This is a letter Tony wrote to Rita two days before he died. She didn't get it until three months later because she was shipped state-side due to her injuries and the fact that she was pregnant."
Becky held the paper in her hands, but didn't open it. She already knew what it said.
"Will you do me a favor?" she asked. "Place this in a vaccu-sealed envelope and address it to Alec Bearinger. Include a note that says not to open it until I get home." She gave Aileen the address then called for package pickup.
"Are you going back to Chicago tonight?"
"I guess if I can get a seat I will."
"Why not stay a few days? I'd like you to meet my family. The ones that visit me, at least. I have a great-grandson myself— Andre, who's fifteen. Let's see, he'd be your great-great-great-great-grandson."
"I'd love to meet your family. But how do you think they'll react?"
"I'm an old lady. They'll humor me as long as I'm alive. ...You know, I used to be a little bit afraid of dying. Especially these last few months— my health's been failing rapidly. Thank God I still got my mind. Or at least most of it. I do tend to ramble sometimes though. Kind of like I'm doing now. But then us old people have a lot more on our minds if for no other reason than we've lived so long. But like I was saying, now that I've met you, I'm not really afraid to die anymore."
"Neither am I. But I'm not in any hurry to rush it either."
Aileen chuckled. "Me neither, dear. Especially since I didn't bury my Edward's pet schnauzer with him like he'd asked. Damn funeral home wanted an extra six hundred dollars for the stupid mutt! I burned him with the leaves. Do you think Edward's still mad at me?"
"If he is, you can make it up to later."
"I suppose you're right," Aileen said, stifling a yawn. "I didn't realize how tired I was."
"I've tired you too much. I'm going to go and let you rest."
"That's not what I meant. All my life I've always had this feeling there was something important I was supposed to do. Now, I have the feeling I just did it. I'm simply tired of this life."
Taken off guard by Aileen's revelation, Becky didn't know what to say. "I'll be back tomorrow to see you, all right?"
"I'm looking forward to it."
"Night, Grandma," she laughed.
Aileen's family reacted as she expected— while in the old woman's presence, Becky was treated with courtesy. But when one of them was alone with her, she was repeatedly warned not to do anything to try to hurt Aileen. When it was revealed that Becky now possessed the dog tags and letter that had become family heirlooms, there was a noticeable cooling in their reception of her. She assured them she didn't want to interfere in their traditions and would return the items once she'd shown them to Alec.
After three days, Becky knew she had to go home. She said her good-byes to Aileen before any of her family arrived. As she tried to sleep on the express tube back to Chicago, she was suddenly aware of a presence beside her. Somehow she knew it was Aileen coming to bid her good-bye. Her task complete, the old woman finally rested.
The express arrived on time and Becky caught a connecting tube that would take her home. She didn't worry about checking out of the hotel since she knew if she couldn't convince Alec tonight, she never would. Yet somehow her visit with Aileen had given her reassurance that they would be together again. She clutched the dog tags she had put in her pocket and thought about him, smiling at the image that popped into her mind.
When she arrived home, he was waiting for her, the still-sealed vaccu-pac in his hand.
"Where did you get this?" he asked.
"From our great-granddaughter. She gave me these too," she replied, holding her clenched fist out to him.
He held out his hand, recoiling as soon as the metal touched his palm. His face contorted from some remembered pain and he began shouting "No! No! No!"
Taking him in her arms, she held him close and tried to soothe his fears. "It's only a memory, Alec. It's not happening. It's only a memory. But you have to let it come out before you can let it go."
He struggled against her, but she clung to him fiercely until he finally collapsed in an exhausted heap on the floor. Sobs wracked his body and he held the tags to his chest. She didn't try to push him, but waited for him to tell her what he needed to say.
"They told us to tape the tags— if you didn't, they clinked. Or the sun would catch them and give away your position. We had this cherry in the unit— we told the Lt. he wasn't ready to go out. But this dumb son-of-a-bitch was some big brass' son and nobody wanted to make Daddy mad. He expected fast strikes and high body counts and he expected his son to be in the middle of the glory. So the Lt. said he was sorry but sent us out with Rourke— we were supposed ambush one of Charlie's supply trails recon had found. Rourke refused to believe you just couldn't keep spit and polish in Nam. Said his daddy told him he should look as proud as he felt about wearing the uniform of the U.S. Army. He refused to tape his tags— said it wasn't regulation. We found our fast strike and high body count, all right, except we were on the receiving end. Rourke's tags clinked just as a whole column of NVA were coming down the trail. He blew the Claymores but they didn't stand a chance. Me and Litkovitz made it back because we were further down the trail— we were supposed to nail the dinks who tried to retreat. That's how I made sergeant— mine got blown away that day. Him and seven others. I walked up to Rourke's daddy when I saw him and said something about his son's uniform not being reg— it had blood all over it and was full of holes. That's how I got busted back to corporal."
If Becky hadn't read all the books she had during her stay at the hotel, she wouldn't have known what he was talking about. But she was able to understand the gist of what he was saying.
"Too many people died there. That doesn't mean you have to feel guilty about making it back that day. Without you, none of their families would've known how their sons died. There were a lot of families who never found out and couldn't put them to rest."
"But I was supposed to be up front— Killmeyer took my place because I was hung over and Sarge didn't want me walking point. I should have been killed too."
"It doesn't matter, Alec. If they died before they were supposed to, they can do what we've done— find that love again the next time. I don't know about you, but I thought you went before you were supposed to."
He looked into her eyes, and when he smiled, she knew she was home to stay.
"So did I, to tell you the truth," he laughed. Looking at the letter in its clear wrapping, he said, "I knew what this was before I even opened the package. I read the book— I did know what was going to happen. Until the end. But then I was dead, so I guess I have a pretty good excuse."
She smiled at him and kissed the tip of his nose. "Then if we're done with them, I want to send them back to Aileen's daughter, Brandy. They belong to her now— Aileen died this afternoon."
Alec nodded. "I'm finished with them....So tell me about your visit with Aileen."
Getting to her feet, she held her hand out to him. "Tomorrow. There's plenty of time tomorrow. I've got other plans for tonight."