He startled awake with a gasp, eyes frantically scanning his surroundings as he took in the lines of hospital beds. Failing to calm his breathing he struggled to get air, hands gripping the sheets tightly enough to turn his knuckles white. In his mind he was back in Bastogne struggling to get up while staring at his severed leg.
“I need to get up,” He murmured trying to untangle his leg from the sheets. “I need to get up.” He repeated, ripping more frantically at the fabric covering him.
“Joe!” Elizabeth called out, approaching him quickly.
She was the nurse responsible for the night shift and knew the easy boys relatively well since she had been assigned to a few of their past aid stations.
“Breathe Joe, here focus on me honey.” Grabbing one of his hands she tried to calm him down, placing it on her chest over her sternum so he would be able to breathe with her.
“I need to get up.” He protested weakly trying to pull away from her.
Elizabeth’s heart broke for him. She had seen many men suffer from the scars this war had left on them and most ran deeper than anyone back home could ever comprehend. The casualties weren’t fair, she hated that the world was still full of people who saw themselves as above others. Elizabeth had never been a violent person but for that reason she could kill. That realization was a great shock to someone whose job was to keep people alive, but she knew if she had the chance she’d kill that nazi bastard calling himself a leader in a heartbeat.
“Hey, hey, calm down. They can’t hurt you anymore.” She reassured the trembling man in front of her. “You are safe,” Meeting his eyes she tried to mediate some of her calm to him. “you are safe, Joe.”
He calmed down a bit after that and they sat in silence, her holding onto his hands tightly.
“Better?” She kept her voice soft and inviting hoping that he would feel like he could talk to her.
Joe Toye didn’t know if he’d ever be better, one of his legs were gone, he had friends who had died and probably more that would die before this war was over. He felt that he had gotten an easy way out and as though he had let everyone who was still in Bastogne down. He knew that if Bill hadn’t gotten out of that fox hole to get to him, at least one of them would have gotten to keep their leg. But he couldn’t admit all that so he just shook his head yes.
“It’s not your fault.” Elizabeth said gentle, having an idea of the thoughts that was running through his mind.
The way his eyes flickered up to hers was enough to confirm her doubts. The way he set his jaw told her how little he believed her. Elizabeth wished she could take away, if only a fraction, of his pain. The man who lay before her now was nothing like the one who had left her just a couple days ago to go AWOL from the hospital just to get back to his company. That Joe had been flirtatious and determined to make her blush with all his sweet talk. They had gotten along well. She had paused by his bed more often than she should have just to get some of that Toye charm. He had seemed happy for the company and they didn’t ever seem to run out of things to talk about so she had been a little disappointed when she came back one afternoon and found him gone.
“Like hell it isn’t.” If there was anything Joe was certain of at this point it was just that. He wouldn’t disgrace his friends by playing some kind of victim.
Elizabeth sighted, “Move over.” she gestured for him to scoot over before taking a place beside him on the bed.
He was a bit tense at first from the proximity but when she moved to make herself more comfortable he started to relax.
“You know I was a real nerd back home.” Elizabeth smiled slightly and pushed a strand of hair that had come loose behind her ear. “Most of the girls in my neighbourhood didn’t really like spending time with me because I was always jumping at the chance to talk about something I’d just read in an article or something.” She sighed, thinking about home filled her with a strange sense of nostalgia. It didn’t feel real, the life she’d had before this. “I think they were starting to find it annoying never knowing what I was talking about. And that whenever they stated something I didn’t just accept it but started asking questions instead.”
This made him chuckle a little. “A nerd? I never would have figured.” Joe let his head fall back against the wall.
“Sure was, my ma didn’t found it proper of me to walk around talking about things like that though.” Elizabeth couldn’t help but smile at the memory of her ma’s ridiculous scoldings.
She held her breath when she felt Joe shift and lean his head against her shoulder, she must be doing something right then. So she kept talking about her life back home and about the time she had dressed up in her brothers clothes and put her hair under a hat to see how people would treat her differently. Talking gave her something else to focus on so it took awhile before she noticed that Joe had fallen back to sleep. He was snoring softly and he looked at ease. She smiled sadly at the sight running a hand through his hair. Elizabeth didn’t know how to do this, she could handle life-threatening wounds but she wasn’t qualified to handle psychological trauma like this. So she kept holding his hands in hopes that it would at least make him feel a little less alone.