Status: Complete.

I Want You to Live

Chapter 26

The black clouds rolled in, enveloping what weak sunlight had been poking through. The wind whipped her hair into her face. Thunder rumbled in the distance. If there was ever a perfect day to meet your husband's body, then that was the day.

Peyton shifted, trying to relieve some of the pressure from her aching feet. It had been so long since she had worn heels, and the concrete of the airport runway was unforgiving. Sylvia had tried to talk her into wearing something more comfortable, but the advice had went ignored. Like most things had the past couple of days. Conversation was severely lacking, but her best friend hadn't minded.

Sylvia linked her arm through Peyton's when the sound of a plane could be heard. The low rumble almost blended with the sporadic claps of thunder. She turned to her right, to Lincoln. He looked at her and gave her a small nod. Discreetly, he patted her shoulder, but the comforting touch was gone as soon as it came. This was it. Rusty was coming home.

Long, slow, agonizing seconds later, the airplane busted through the dark wall and into their sight. Her heart clenched and she struggled to steady her breathing. She closed her eyes, fantasizing an entirely different scenario. As the plane landed and began to taxi down the runway towards them, she pictured Rusty peering out the window. He would be searching for her, itching for that first glimpse. She could see that wonderful smile of his as he opened his arms to her, pulling her up and spinning her around.

A burning sensation ripped through her arm, causing her eyes to pop open. Sylvia's long fingernails bit into her flesh, but her best friend's eyes were transfixed in front of them. The sensation was soon forgotten when Peyton saw the large aircraft coast to a stop. Faces peeked from the circular windows, soaking in the slew of people outside.

Did they know? Did they have any idea that a hero rode along with them? That he had made the ultimate sacrifice for each and every one of them?

A cluster of soldiers descended the plane and for a foolish moment, Peyton searched for Rusty's handsome face. It wasn't until the hatch in the belly of the plane was opened, and she saw the coffin, that she remembered. He, too, would be getting off the aircraft, but in an entirely different way.

The world grew silent as the flag draped casket was pulled from the cargo. Every soldier, police officer, firefighter, and other emergency personnel there drew up into a salute. A nudge was felt at her lower back and she teetered precariously on the cracked, uneven cement. Sylvia gripped her, keeping her from toppling over. Peyton slipped from her heels and pulled away before striding towards her husband's body. She picked up into an awkward jog as she grew closer.

Once she reached the casket, she came to a sudden halt, not knowing what to do next. She stared at the sacred fabric covering the rich, dark wood. The red and white stripes blurred into pink lines and the stars became engulfed in the deep blue as tears filled her eyes. Reverently, she placed a timid hand upon the box. Her fingers splayed over the coarse fabric.

It still felt surreal, even then, standing in front of all those people. Even while she touched the very last place her husband would ever reside. She hadn't been there, hadn't seen him die. It could still be a mistake. It had happened before, plenty of times. It was, unfortunately, a common thing amidst chaos and tragedy. For all she knew, this could be someone else's husband. She could be taking another woman's chance to grieve and say goodbye to their loved one.

Peyton let her hand slide down, falling back next to her body. She smoothed a wrinkle in her pale yellow dress, the one she had worn on their first date. It was a little more snug than before, but she had worn it despite the discomfort. It had been Rusty's favorite. She wiped at her eyes and sniffed deeply, willing her nose to quit dripping.

After composing herself, she turned to the closest soldier, ready to insist on proof. As her mouth opened, a familiar face caught her eye. She tilted her head to get a better view, but knew she was not mistaken. Ty was stood, shotgun straight and saluting, a few feet behind the group. Feeling her eyes on him, his moved to meet her shocked stare. Seeing him standing there, Peyton knew. Ty was the proof she needed. He would've never left Rusty.

Peyton stumbled, before weaving towards him. His stance held, but she could see the indecision in his face. Thick lines wrinkled his forehead. Just as she collapsed into him, he broke position and caught her. Her arms clawed at his uniform, clinging to him as if he was a life raft and she was drowning. Peyton was drowning, in a sorrow so thick and overwhelming that she prayed it would consume her.

Ty crushed her against him and let her sob into his chest. Gently, he led her back to the casket. The box had turned cold, the warmth of the cargo hold having seeped from its wood. This time, Peyton didn't hesitate to fall onto the lid and cry into her crossed arms. It was real. It was all real and happening right then.

Minutes, maybe even hours later, Ty gripped her shoulders and softly tugged her away. She was astounded to realize there was a pouring rain falling and her dress was soaked through. She shivered as she huddled against her tall friend and he escorted her into the building. They stopped behind the glass windows and she watched as the coffin was finally placed into the waiting hearse.

Ty held her tightly against his side as it pulled away. Only then did the men and women drop their salutes. Peyton watched as two firefighters climbed the ladders of the trucks and removed the giant flag that had flown all afternoon. Their heads were ducked against the sheets of rain. There weren't words for how touched she was. All these strangers had come to welcome home a man they would never know. They had been willing to brave the nasty weather out of respect for him.

"We need to get you home and out of this wet dress," Sylvia fussed, placing a gentle hand on her elbow. Peyton startled, not knowing she was there.

"I can drive y'all," Lincoln added, coming up behind Sylvia. Ty dropped his arm and snapped his heels together, raising his right hand in salute. "At ease," he responded and Ty dropped it.

Peyton merely nodded in agreement, but stayed rooted. Her eyes were raw and swollen and she felt utterly drained. She watched the passengers of the plane exit, now that Rusty's body had been transferred. She wondered what they were thinking as they gazed into the building at her. Had they ever had even an inkling of the pain she was feeling? The utter hopelessness?

"Mon cher, let's get you home," Ty whispered into her hair, pulling her close again. She closed her eyes and let his Cajun accent wash over her. It wasn't Rusty's thick drawl, but it was as close to home as she had felt for two days.

"Okay," she agreed, slipping her hand into his.


Peyton rushed down the stairs, heart racing. Ty's distressed voice rang out again as she rounded the stair railing. She gazed through the darkness, trying to make out anything that looked like a threat.

Darting around the couch, she saw Ty thrashing against the blanket wrapped around his legs. He was having a nightmare. "Ty," she called, keeping her voice soft and soothing. His movements stopped, but the soft whimpering remained. "Ty," she tried again as she brushed his arm.

He bolted upright, swinging an arm wildly. Peyton was quick enough to keep from getting hit. His eyes were crazed as he tried to decipher dream from reality. They finally landed on her and his face softened, body relaxing back against the couch. He ran his hands down his face, digging his fingers into his eyeballs.

"Are you okay?" she asked. It was a stupid question, but the first one that came to mind.

"Just a dream," he answered, letting his hands fall back down. His head dropped back against the couch, eyes staring towards the ceiling. "I'm sorry I woke you."

Peyton sat next to him and curled into his side, laying her head on his shoulder. He rested his on top of hers and let the silence surround them. The warmth from his bare skin soaked through Rusty's shirt, but it did little to defeat the chill settled in her bones. There was a constant ache left behind with every beat of her heart. She felt so hollow.

"Were you with him?" she asked softly. It was a question that she had simultaneously wanted to know, but didn't.

It felt like ages before he answered, voice hoarse, "Yes." That's all she needed to hear before they both broke down into sobs. She couldn't tell where her grief ended and his began as their bodies shook against one another.


Peyton stretched her neck out after fastening her mother's string of pearls. She had cried herself to sleep next to Ty and now she was paying for it. Her whole body felt stiff and a nasty crick remained in her neck. Sylvia had already done her hair and had wanted to do her make up, but Peyton had refused. There was no point. She didn't care if everyone thought she looked like shit. She felt like it.

She glanced at her bedside clock to see that it was time to leave. She wasn't ready, not emotionally, at least. Was anyone ever truly ready to say goodbye? She pondered the question as she trudged down the staircase. Maybe the couples that had spent a lifetime together were ready, or the ones that had a chance to tie up loose ends. She scoffed, knowing it was lie. Death never came easily to those left behind.

She was surprised to see Lincoln standing with Ty, Sylvia, and Wyatt. A watery smile curved her lips as her eyes met Ty's. He looked as bad as she felt. His bright green eyes lacked the luster they usually held. He was lifeless, a shell of the man he was before. Not once had he cracked a joke, but was there to laugh about? Her husband and his best friend was gone.

The smile on his face never met his eyes. As selfish as it was, she was comforted by the fact that his love and pain for Rusty ran as deeply as hers did. He was still on her side. A side that she had prayed she would never have the opportunity to join.

"Peyton," Lincoln greeted her with a sad smile, "I figured I could drive y'all."

Ty spoke up, "I could've taken her." Her forehead wrinkled at his annoyed outburst. It was so uncharacteristic of him.

"Thank you, Lincoln," she rapidly inserted, noting the tension in the room.

As the group proceeded out the door, Peyton lingered behind and fell into sync with Ty. She slipped her hand into his, needing the comfort that it seemed only he could provide. His steps were slow and tired. It was hard to believe that he was the same man she'd met almost two years ago. She wondered if the old Ty would ever resurface. Then again, she wondered if the old Peyton would ever come back.


The memorial service flew by and before she knew it, she was seated in the meadow, in front of Rusty's casket. He had never told her where he wanted to be buried. It seemed foolish now, looking back. In his line of work, they should've had a plan. The only time he ever mentioned it was to say he wanted to be buried wherever she was.

So, there she was, under the large tree that already contained her parents' bodies. The preacher was praying, but Peyton couldn't tear her eyes away from the wooden box. The box that held her future, all of her hopes and dreams. She had nothing left. Everything she ever wanted died that morning with Rusty.

Angry tears began falling. She wasn't mad at anyone or anything in particular, but in that moment she hated everyone and everything. She cursed the sky for being so blue and beautiful. It should've been raining and nasty. The wind should've been blowing so hard the tree was ripped out of the ground. That's how she felt on the inside.

The sight of all the soldiers attending only intensified her feelings. Why couldn't it have been one of them, instead? Why, Rusty? It only served to piss her off more when their wives would stare at them with obvious relief. She despised them for it. She detested the fact that they got to go home and continue their lives as usual with their soldiers.

As terrible as it was, she even resented Ty. He had been with Rusty. He had promised to bring the love of her life home and he hadn't. He had failed, Instead, her husband died and Ty got away unscathed.

The only thing Peyton hated more than all of those things, though was herself. Her tears ran hot and thick as she clutched the folded flag against her midsection. She bent double, trying to contain the sobs begging to be released. It tore her up to know what a terrible person she actually was. How awful it was to think all those things about so many wonderful people. People that loved her and Rusty. The same people that would help her through this.

And suddenly, it clicked. She finally realized why Rusty did what he did. Why he loved his job so much that he willingly and wholeheartedly made the ultimate sacrifice. He did it, so no one else would have to. So, that all of these special people surrounding her, would never have to sit where she sat now.

She didn't know it was possible, but she loved Rusty even more.
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I literally teared up as I wrote this chapter. I've gotten so attached to these characters and this story, but I know it's almost time to let them go. For now. I'm still playing with the idea of a sequel. It wouldn't be for a while, though. I'm already starting on something else. Something that I've never tried before and I'm thrilled about. Let me know what y'all think?