They say that love is meant to flourish, but what if it can't. How far would you go to just be around the person you loved, but couldn't have.


1. Affected - Short Story

Everyone has a certain person in their life that affects them in ways that no other person can, or ever will. More often than not, it’s our health that gets affected the most. You sweat more than you would if you were on a holiday in the Sahara desert, and your heart starts beating so fast, that you end up feeling as though you’ve just ran a marathon, or five. But it’s the breathing, yes the breathing that is the best sign that you have been affected. You know because when they aren’t there, every breath you take feels like a stab through the heart with a particularly sharp and exotic knife. You know because it feels even worse, when they are there, because then the breathing stops altogether. You end up holding your breath, just waiting for something to happen, for that person to say something, do something, make any kind of gesture to you, so that you can respond and go home feeling elated that you’ve at least had some form of contact with the person who affects you most in the world.

There are many clichés about love that I don’t agree with, but one that I have a real problem with, is the idea that ‘love flourishes’. Flourishes? I mean, who even speaks like that anymore? Archaic wording aside, what if your love can't flourish? What if there are rules, rules that have been put in place to specifically make sure that a love like mine can't flourish, that instead it gets stifled until, hopefully, it just fades away. What happens to me then?

By now, I probably have you in enough suspense that you're sitting on the edge of your seat, just waiting to find out all about this love of mine and what these rules are. Or not, I can see why this may not be that thrilling, because to be honest, there is nothing that unusual about it. I'm not having an affair with a married man, I'm not embroiled in some sort of lesbian encounter, nor am I in the middle of a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ type situation. Not that I haven’t had suicidal thoughts, mind you, but I like to think that I'm not quite that desperate, yet. So no, noting like that. I'm just a woman, Ashlee, in love with a man, Isaac. Oh lord, if only it were that simple. If only we were just Ashlee and Isaac, a man and a woman, free to feel what we wanted to feel, about the world, about ourselves, and about each other. But we’re not just Ashlee and Isaac, we’re not just a man and a woman; we are also a major and a colonel. Major Ashlee Keenan and Colonel Isaac Mayne. Yep, I am in love with my superior officer, and it’s killing me.

I know that people throw away statements like that, oh waiting in this line is killing me, I'm going to die if I don’t have that dress, so on and so forth. But for me, it’s different. I'm a major in the Air Force, I have faced dangers most people can't even conceive of, hell I've almost died on more than one occasion, so I am uniquely qualified to know what I'm talking about when I say that something is killing me. This is a different danger, a different death, than the ones I've faced before. It’s slower, and altogether more painful. 

Our superiors, I mean the big guns like the generals and chiefs, believe that smaller groups bond better, and are therefore more efficient. Therefore, whilst we may be able to work together as a much bigger task force, if and when needed, all our training, all our preparation is done in groups of about five or six. Sometimes certain issues will arise that need a smaller, more compact elite force, and so it’s good for the government to have many such teams at their disposal. I'm part of a group of five. There’s me, obviously, another woman, Lieutenant Irene Melder, Lieutenant Daniel Johnson, Airman Connor Radley, and then, of course, our commanding officer, Colonel Isaac Mayne. As if my feelings for him weren’t inappropriate enough, the fact that I'm his second in command, almost makes things worse. We’re a very tight nit group. It took a while but after running through various battle simulations where we all kept being killed because we couldn’t communicate properly, we realised that we needed to get it together pretty quick. The colonel convinced us that it would be worth spending time together outside of training.

‘Come on team, it’s time we got to know each other a little better, don’t you think?’ ‘Was that a rhetorical question sir, or would you actually like an answer?’ Daniel was a smartarse right from the very beginning, it used to bug us, but that dry sense of humour and quick wit has gotten us out of some heavy situations, so we all just learnt to live with it. ‘That’s enough out of you Johnson. The stun guns we use in training may not have a lasting effect, but trust me, when you're out in a war zone, and you're staring down the barrel of an enemy firearm, you want to know that your team has your back. Right now, I don’t think that I would trust any of you to watch my six-pack of beer, let alone my six.’ ‘So what do you want us to do sir?’ ‘Bowling, Keene. We’re going bowling.’

We actually went bowling, and we had a great time. After that, getting along was easy, and soon enough we were the tightest, most efficient unit in the task force. Most of the other units had lost one, or more, of their members, but not us, not the alpha unit. We never took our eyes off each other when we were in a hostile area. In my case I ended up not being about to take my eyes off Isaac, even when we were back safe on the base.

It didn’t start off as love, for a long time I thought that I might be more attracted to Connor anyway. Now don’t go getting the wrong idea, I don’t sleep around or anything. It’s just, working in the conditions we do, so close together, it’s not unusual behaviour for those kind of feelings to surface. Speaking to Irene, and other women on the base, they’ve all had certain attractions, or just more sensitive feelings towards members of their unit. But nothing, or at least I've never come across anyone, who has feelings as intense as mine are for Colonel Mayne. But like I said, it didn’t start off as love. I just became very protective over him, not wanting him to put himself in any unnecessary danger, which he was, and still is, prone to do. I actually thought that those feelings for him were out of my own fear of command. If something happened to him, I would be in charge of the unit, and I was not ready for that. Basically, I thought of myself as the first officer to his captain, I was meant to put myself in danger, not him. But then, my perception those feelings changed, and not subtly may I add. We were on some kind of covert mission; the details are a little hazy due to what happened. We were just about to get out of wherever we were, when all of a sudden, an alarm starting blazing.

‘Well that is not meant to be happening.’ ‘Well done Johnson, very observant!’ ‘I was just saying that someone screwed up Melder!’ ‘Hey, you two knock it off! Colonel, should we abort?’ ‘There’s no point in that now, Keene, we’ve got what we came for, we’re just going to have to run for it.’ We could hear shouts and footsteps running down the corridor, and so we all broke into a dead sprint in order to make it to our escape route, where an armoured vehicle was waiting. ‘Sir, we’re not going to make it!’ ‘Ever the optimist Radley, of course we’re going to make it.’ But it was no use, we could all tell that we were going to have hostile forces right on top of us at any moment. We were prepared to fight, hell we were prepared to die. But I was not prepared for what happened next.

‘Major!’ ‘Yes sir?’ ‘I want you to take the others, get to that extraction no matter the cost, and then leave.’ ‘Colonel…?’ ‘That’s an order major!’ I was deadlocked. I couldn’t disobey a direct order, but I also couldn’t just leave him. I didn’t even know what he was going to do. ‘At least tell me what you're going to do?’ ‘I’ve got enough C4 on me to make your escape a hell of a lot easier, but someone needs to stay behind and set it, since I don’t have a delay timer with me.’ ‘Then give me the explosives, I’ll set them off, and you go to the extraction point. You're far more valuable to the task force then I am.’ ‘Always the first to put yourself down Major, your more valuable then you give yourself credit for. Either way, we are not having this argument. I am your commanding officer, and I am giving you a command. Get out!’

But just as he said it, hostiles came careening round the corner and it was too late to do anything except start running again. The others were already far ahead of us, unaware that we had stopped to talk about sacrifice. ‘Crap, start running Keene!’ That was an order that I didn’t stop to argue with. Running together, away from about a dozen men with guns, was one of the scariest moments of my life. But I’d be lying if I didn’t feel something else in that moment as well. I was with the one man in the world whom I trusted more than anyone else. He was strong and smart, and in my eyes invincible. If anyone could get us out it was him. It was in that moment that dread started to pool at the bottom of my stomach when I realised that my feelings towards him were more than they should be, more than they were allowed to be. But that wasn’t the only reason I felt dread. I also felt an unbelievable pain, and anger and fear that all culminated into a feeling of absolute nothingness. I had just realised that I was in love, and the very man of my affections was at that same moment shot in back, right in front of my eyes.


To be honest, whatever happened in the ensuing fight has for some reason, been wiped from my brain. The next thing I remember was waking up, back at the base, in the infirmary, with a swarm of nurses around my bed. One was taking my temperature, another was adjusting the IV drip that was leaking into my arm. Opening my eyes, was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, but once I did, machines started going off. I immediately closed my eyes again, hoping that that would shut the noise off and save my aching head but it did no good. I was then subjected to an hour of tests, with lots of prodding and poking, before I was declared ‘out of the woods’, not that anyone would actually tell me what the ‘woods’ were.

A couple of hours after that, and my life changed. I know it sounds corny, but that’s the only way I can describe it. You remember that little realisation I had about my feelings for Isaac, back when we were being shot at? Well, I had actually forgotten all about that, right up until the point where he walked, or rather limped, through the door. The other guys had been to see me already, he was the last. And when he walked in, all those forgotten feelings came flooding right back again. This is what I was talking about, with the breathing. I felt as though my lungs were constricting, and I couldn’t get any oxygen to my heart, so it was beating over time, which was causing my palms to sweat and an uncontrollable heat to rush to my cheeks. I was in love, and I was blushing.

A million thoughts were running through my head at that point. Does he know? Do I tell him? What am I doing? Why is this happening to me? Were just a select few, and they are still questions that I am struggling to answer. Anyway, he came in, he sat down, and he looked at me. And with that look, I knew that I had said something. Said something or done something, whilst we were on the mission, ‘cause the way he looked at me, he just looked right into me, and saw everything. I haven’t quite decided what would be worse. Having a love that can never ‘flourish’ and having the object of your desires completely oblivious to it, having them aware of it and not feel the same way, or have them feel the same way but still powerless to do anything about it. At that point, I was desperately wishing for the first option.

‘Hey.’ ‘Colonel. Forgive me if I don’t get up.’ ‘Oh I think that I can let that one slide.’ Silence. Funny, since we had never had a lack of things to talk about before. ‘So, can you tell me what happened, nobody else seems to think that I have a right to know.’ ‘You were shot.’ ‘Really?! Wow, your powers of deduction are beginning to rival those of Daniel Johnson!’ ‘Hey, don’t ever compare me to that kid alright?’ ‘Sorry sir, I don’t know what came over me. So I was shot. Weren’t you shot too? How come I'm the one in the hospital bed?’ ‘Because Major, I was shot in the leg, and you were shot in the chest. It was touch and go for a while, you had us worried.’ ‘You were worried?’ ‘We all were.’ Of course, talking in plural. He couldn’t say that he specifically was worried about me, because that would imply that I was more important to him then I was to the rest of the team. And we couldn’t have that, now could we. ‘Dammit Keene, why couldn’t you just do what I said?!’ ‘What did you say? Sorry my memory is a little fuzzy.’ ‘I told you to leave. To take the others and get out! But oh no, you just had to stop and argue with me like you always do.’ ‘I do not always argue with you Colonel. And as far as I see it, you staying behind was unnecessary and I wasn’t willing to just let you go off and get killed without putting up a fight.’ ‘Careful major, I'm sure your memory is not so totalled that you’ve forgotten I'm your ranking officer.’ ‘Trust me, I could never forget that.’

I hadn’t meant to say that, but it was true nevertheless. I never forgot that he was my superior, I could never let myself forget, cause if I did, well, I hate to think what I might say or do. He ignored that last, choosing rather to drop his head into his hands. ‘Oh Ashlee, why do you have to make everything so difficult?’ I was stunned. ‘I don’t think you’ve ever called me Ashlee before, sir.’ ‘Well it is your name isn’t it?’ ‘Yes, of course, but you always call me Keene, or Major, or something else equally business like.’ ‘Well Ashlee, you are no longer under my command, so I think I can call you by your first name just this once.’ ‘Excuse me, WHAT?’ ‘I put you in for a transfer.’ ‘You did what? How could you? After everything I've done for you, after all the times I've saved your ass, you transfer me? What the hell did I do wrong?’ ‘It’s not just about you Ashlee, and for god’s sake keep your voice down; we’d be in a hell of a lot more trouble if they found out.’ ‘Found out about what?’ ‘You really don’t remember do you?’ ‘No, I honestly have no idea what you're talking about. Including this idea, you have of me being transferred. That really doesn’t make sense. Are you sure you didn’t hit your head or anything?’ ‘Ashlee…’ ‘Stop calling me that, it’s unsettling. That’s not who I am here, that’s not who I am to you.’ ‘Fine, Keene, you know that our job has an extremely high element of risk to it.’ ‘Is this just because I didn’t follow your orders. Sir, have me court marshalled for that fine, but don’t take me off the team for it, we’re both alive, I would say that I did the right thing.’ ‘Have you any idea what I've been through the past three days, Keene. I haven’t slept, I've barely eaten anything, and all because you refused to wake up.’ ‘Well I'm sorry that my lack of supersonic healing powers caused you some discomfort.’ ‘For crying out loud, will you just listen to me for once?!’ ‘Ok, I'm listening.’ ‘Ashlee…’ ‘What did I just sa…’ ‘Ashlee! You…affect me.’

It was then that I knew for sure. No matter how much I wished for it to be option one, for him to be completely oblivious to my feelings, I knew now that it was option three. By some cruel trick of fate, I affected him just as much as he affected me. We both knew what that meant.

I had few choices left to be after that revelation. If only he had kept his feelings to himself, if only he had just pretended as if nothing had happened, then maybe everything could have stayed the same. But things were changed now, and it was clearly my fault. I wasn’t going to press him for details about what happened that made him ask for me to be transferred. To be honest, I'm starting to think that it’s a blessing that I don’t know. You can't mourn that which you never had right? Anyway, we had both, somehow and in our own way, admitted to having feelings above and beyond what we were meant to have.

So as far as I could see, I had three options in front of me. Option number one: I remove myself from the equation altogether, and go on some sort of suicide mission. It was drastic, but it would solve pretty much everything, and the idea seemed more attractive by the second. Option number two: I could leave the Air Force altogether. I had advance degrees in a number of subjects and finding a job somewhere that I enjoyed and paid good money wouldn’t be difficult. Or there was option number three: I could accept the transfer. It was probably the easiest and best solution to this ‘love’ problem. I would get to carry on the job that I loved, but I’d be doing it a safe distance away from the man who could compromise everything. The only thing with that was, I knew that if I took it I would probably never see Isaac again. Sure I’d get together with the others, our bonds were too strong to break now, but he would always have an excuse for not being there. Extra training, paperwork, not feeling well, all the usual excuses that never worked. And knowing that he could see me, but just didn’t want to, that would hurt more than anything.

‘If I left the…’ ‘Don’t even think about it. You may not realise this, but you are one of the strongest, smartest, potential filled person I have ever worked with. You leaving the air force would mean many hundreds of lives that you could save dying.’ Now that just wasn’t fair, he just took out my best option. Now no matter what I chose, I would never get to see him again, and that, to me, was just unacceptable. So I did the unthinkable, and I took the forth option, I lied.

‘Sir, with no disrespect to you, I think that you misinterpreted whatever it is that I did or said on the mission. I consider you a great friend, you are an amazing leader, and that is why I wouldn’t just leave you to die. After everything, you’ve done for me, for us. But I assure you that there was nothing else in my motives.’ We both knew that I was lying out right. He knew how I felt about him, and I knew how he felt about me. But I was at that point where I would do anything to stay with him and the unit, even lie to myself. I could only hope that he wanted me around enough to be at the same point of desperation.

‘You're sure we don’t have a problem here, major?’ ‘I'm sure sir. I would…I would tell you if I wasn’t, I promise.’ ‘Very well then, I guess I won’t put forward that transfer request.’ ‘Thank you sir. Although, I’d say that’s better for you than for me, you be dead in five minutes without me watching your back!’ ‘Ha you wish Major. Although I suppose without you, I’d have to deal with Johnson as my second, and I don’t think I could do that for anything.’ ‘Good thing I'm sticking around then, right sir? ‘Right Major. Well you need your rest, and I should probably be going anyway.’ ‘Right, of course, I’ll see you soon, colonel. Be ready for field work in no time.’ ‘You take however long you need. I don’t want you to get hurt, again.’ ‘No that wouldn’t be good. Goodbye sir.’ ‘Goodnight. Ashlee.’

Call me a masochist; call me whatever you want, but I knew that I couldn’t live, wouldn’t live, without him. I wasn’t just affected, I was addicted. Was it healthy? No. Did I care? Not right then I didn’t. Because our job came with an increased risk of danger and death. Whether he was in the world loving me, or whether he was in the world hating me, didn’t matter to me at all. At least he would be in the world. And no one was going to make sure he stayed in this world as well as I would, ‘cause like he confirmed: we affect each other.

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