Hicks screamed until his throat and lungs were raw. He didn’t hear people running into the room behind him, didn’t hear them commenting on the hanging body. One of them immediately left to call military police, while another tried talking to Hicks, who didn’t hear him at all. All he could hear was his heart pounding in his ears and his own screaming. Even after his throat and chest were hurting, he looked up, and screamed again.
“Get him out of here,” Serrano said. “I need a medic!”
“Damn it, Serrano, the man’s dead!” someone else muttered.
“Not for Paulson! For Hicks!”
“He’s clearly distraught, and we don’t need him fucking up the MPs’ work when they get here, mate!”
“Fine. Do it outside. Where the hell’re those MPs?”
Serrano pulled Hicks up onto his feet.
“He’s not dead! He’s not dead!” Hicks shouted.
“He’s dead, I’m sorry.”
“No, please! I wanna know who did this to him! Somebody killed him and I’ll get my fucking revenge!“
Serrano kept holding Hicks while making important phone calls. In a matter of minutes, the hotel was crawling with police and detectives.
Two medics carrying a stretcher dashed into the building. It didn’t take long for them to see Hicks needed to be sedated if they were going to get him away from the scene. One of them had to wrestle Hicks from Serrano and stick the needle in his arm.
The world was slowing down. Hicks could feel his heart slowly throbbing in his chest, and warm tears rolling down his cheeks. The image of Paulson’s hanging, limp corpse was permanently etched in his memory. The pale face, the open mouth, blood running from the cuts in his neck, blue eyes staring blankly into nothingness.
He’s truly gone. He’s left this world. He’s really dead, isn’t he? The sedative mixed with his exhaustion from screaming was starting to make him drowsy, and he was asleep by the time he was being taken out of the ambulance.
An off-white color was the first thing coming into Hicks’s vision as the sedative wore off. His senses slowly came back, and the first thing he thought of was whether or not what he just experienced was a bad dream.
Paulson isn’t actually dead. I must’ve had something bad at that restaurant. It was all an anesthesia dream. Hicks looked around the room, noticing there weren’t any devices hooked up to him. He was certain it had only been a nightmare.
A balding man with glasses entered the room. He frowned upon seeing Hicks, and put his hands in his coat. “How are you, Corporal?”
“I think I’m alright. What… What happened? Did I pass out?”
The doctor shook his head. “No. You were in shock over Paulson’s death. You had to be restrained and brought here.”
It wasn’t a dream. A lump started forming in his throat. “Paulson is actually dead?”
“It’s been ruled a suicide. Only his fingerprints were found on the belt, and it looks like he simply stood on the desk, put up the belt, and then… There’s no evidence that someone else had been in that room at the same time.”
“No.” Tears burned in Hicks’s eyes. “Paulson wasn’t suicidal. I’ve known him for three years-“
“I’m only telling you what I know. Your job right now is to rest.”
Hicks clenched his fists as the tears rolled down his face. He sat up, covering his face and resting his arms on his knees. Everything inside his body was aching, every muscle, bone, and nerve tip. Everything he had been thinking about and worrying about-his unit, his transfer, Carlisle-were no longer at the forefront of his mind. All he wanted to do was cry. His emotions, which had been bottled up for the last two years, were beginning to erupt from the dark corners of his heart, and he didn’t care. They were painful, like an infection that should have been drained a long time ago. Again, he didn’t care. He sobbed hard, and it felt like he wouldn’t stop anytime soon.
He spent the whole day without looking at a clock. Time passed slowly, but it passed as it always did. He spent the whole day sitting in that bed, doing absolutely nothing. He was still in disbelief. He could not believe Paulson was gone. He could not believe Paulson had taken his own life.
It was around four in the afternoon when Carlisle showed up. She grabbed a chair and sat by the bed, reaching over to hug Hicks in a futile attempt to comfort him. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “I’m sorry this happened. I know he meant a lot to you.”
“I can’t believe he’d do that,” Hicks sobbed. “He never acted suicidal, not once. Why?” He pulled away from Carlisle, wiping his face with the bedsheets. “That’s why I had that feeling of dread at the airport! I knew something was wrong and I just didn’t believe it was with him! Why didn’t I press further? He’s gone because of me!”
“Oh, Hicks, no! No, it’s not your fault!”
“It is! It really is! I had that instinct and I didn’t act on it! Just like I’ve had with soldiers in the past! I… people’ve committed suicide because of me!”
“You’re grieving, it’s not your fault.”
A sob was caught in Hicks’s throat. Every thought was swimming in a raging river inside his head, unable to surface and be comprehensible. Finally, he sank back against the pillows, staring up at the ceiling, not even hearing Carlisle trying to talk to him, or noticing when she fell silent and simply sat next to him, waiting.
The day was a blur, almost like Hicks had been fading in and out of consciousness over the last several hours. He continued to struggle in putting his thoughts together, and didn’t start returning to reality until he was being driven back to the hotel.
The fog in his mind began dissipating, and he whispered aloud, “He’s really dead, isn’t he?”
Carlisle turned to face him in the taxi back to the hotel. “Hicks, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t… be sorry.”
“How are you feeling?”
“I don’t know.”
Carlisle said nothing, and instead rubbed Hicks’s arm, stopping when she came to his hand, and squeezed it. “Are you glad you’re going home?”
Hicks nodded. “I wish I was going home right now. I don’t want to wait anymore. I just want to go home.”
“You’re going home on Christmas.”
“What a shitty way to spend it. No, I’m not even bothering. Not this year. I’m fine with flying home on Christmas Day. I don’t care.” Tears started choking him again. “I was looking forward to catching up with Paulson tomorrow night. I was gonna tell him how waiting for someone to pick up my transfer is killing me inside. I was gonna tell him about what’s going on with you and about how you need some help right now. I learned a lot from him and yet I feel like I need to learn more. I guess he never was proud of me. Maybe I’m the reason he hung himself. I failed.”
“I don’t think you’re the reason,” Carlisle replied. “There were probably things about him you didn’t know.”
“Exactly. He couldn’t trust me enough to tell me. The same reason the two soldiers in my unit took their own lives. They couldn’t trust me.”
Hicks refused to eat for the entire day. A glass of water was all he would take, and Carlisle chose not to force him to take anything else. After that, he did nothing, and slept for the remainder of the day.
At nine, he was still out. His arms were tucked under a pillow as he lay on his belly. Carlisle glanced at him as she stepped out of the bathroom, drying her hair with a towel. Frankly, she was glad he was resting, and not crying or moaning about it was his fault Paulson died. She hoped he would feel a little better in the morning.
Not much changed that following morning. Hicks got up around seven for another glass of water, and then went back to bed. He pretended to sleep so Carlisle wouldn’t bother him. It was Christmas Eve, but right now, it felt like just another day. What made things worse was the fact that the bottle he’d been keeping his emotions in had shattered, and he didn’t care. He had cried in front of Carlisle. Instead of crying and feeling relieved, he just felt like he needed to keep crying. It was a strange and awful feeling. It made him feel like he needed to throw up.
When Carlisle left the room, Hicks sat up, and decided to give in to that desire to cry. As his thoughts slowly began to return to focus, he wondered if this was because he had suppressed many of his emotions for so long. He had to appease some deep psychological need that hadn’t been fulfilled in years. After his cry, he felt drained of all physical and mental energy. Some primal needs were beginning to make their voices heard underneath the black fog of shock and disbelief, underneath the spillage of his emotions. He no longer could resist his appetite, or even his need for human contact.
Those were the only two things driving him to get out of bed. He went into the hallway after getting dressed, and headed into the elevator. As he left the elevator, the fog of his shock threatened to overtake his need for food and conversation. Normally, he’d stay quiet, but with his emotions running free, he let out a groan, showing everyone around him that he was clearly upset about something.
He left the hotel and looked all over the block for Carlisle, wondering if she had decided to go to a café when he couldn’t see her in any of the breakfast bars. After looking in every window, he saw her in a small coffee shop on the street corner. Smiling, Carlisle waved for Hicks to come inside. Hicks didn’t smile back.
“Feeling better?” Carlisle asked as Hicks sat across from her.
He shook his head.
“Well, you left the hotel room. That’s a sign of improvement.”
“What I do isn’t important. Paulson’s dead. He hung himself, and I want to know why.”
“I don’t have the answer. I’m sorry.”
“I know. No one has any fucking answer.”
Carlisle sighed, and tried to find a way to change the subject. “What do you plan on doing when you go home?”
“I don’t know. I don’t want to do anything. I don’t want to be around anyone, that’s for sure.”
“You know I’m going with you, right?”
“Why?” A slight feeling of confusion squirmed under the pain of Hicks’s sadness.
“You didn’t hear my conversation with Colonel Russell while we were at the hospital? I don’t think you should be alone; someone has to make sure you do basic things in order to keep yourself alive, and make sure little things are kept up in your house. All you need to do is manage your grief.”
“I don’t want to manage anything, do you understand? I’m responsible for Paulson and the two soldiers killing themselves. They didn’t feel like I could be trusted with their lives. Why should I be trusted with anything anymore? Why should I even hope that I’ll get a new unit? It’s been six months, and I’ve gotten nothing. That says a lot. It means I have no talent, no trust, nothing. I’m not capable of being a leader. Paulson put so much work into me. He took time out of his day to see me at boot camp. He’s taught me things no one else at my rank has even begun to figure out yet. None of that has amounted to anything. I have failed to prevent three suicides. That’s three too many.” Hicks looked down at the table, his right hand absentmindedly stroking the ends of his scarf. “I’m obviously not meant for this job. I wasted a lot of time, and energy, and all I did was prove that I’m not capable of helping people. I have… too many flaws for this job. My recruiter should have never signed my papers in the first place. I shouldn’t have enlisted in the first place.”
“Hicks? Can you… listen to me for a minute or two?” Carlisle asked, softly.
“I don’t know.”
“Please? Just for one minute.” She sighed. “I get this is beyond difficult for you. Believe me, I . . . can’t even begin to imagine what kind of intense pain you’re suffering right now. You can’t put the blame on yourself. It makes things worse. I know Paulson was a very close friend, but that doesn’t mean you had anything to do with his death. He may have had demons that he didn’t share with you for any number of reasons that don’t mean he didn’t trust you. Maybe, he was embarrassed to tell you because of the position he was in. He made himself out to be a brilliant mentor, and to reveal something horrible to you would put a severe blemish on your relationship, and would damage your trust of him. Have you even thought about it that way? We all do things that we’re ashamed of, but that doesn’t mean we want to tell even our closest friends. Sometimes, we don’t know how to deal with them. Do you get that?”
Hicks didn’t respond.
“You didn’t do anything wrong, Hicks. You’re a great leader. You’ve just been stuck in a bad situation for a long time. Things will get better. It may take some time, but they will. You need to have faith in yourself and the people who care about you. I’m not going to fill Paulson’s place, not by a longshot, but I care about you. I want to help you pull through this. Do you trust me?”
Weakly, Hicks nodded.
Carlisle reached over to squeeze Hicks’s left hand. “Can I call you by your first name?”
“If you want. It’s… Dwayne, by the way… Paige.” Hicks stopped toying with his scarf to take Carlisle’s hand. By no means was Carlisle’s crush on him taking away the shocked fog in his mind. It was still there. No matter how much her words should have reassured him, they were not. His grief had only just started. He hoped and prayed this sudden depression would be the worst of it, but deep down, he knew he was wrong.