Month after month, the same nightmare jerking him from a troubled sleep. Blinding flashbacks. In his dream he is running. Plumes of choking dust and smoke fill his nostrils. The earth is coated with ash. The stench of death closes in on him. He stumbles through the debris, shrieking her name.
"Kristina! Kristina, where are you?
He wakes, sweating. Sits bolt upright on the edge of his bed in a dark room. The moist spring air wafts through the open window. Sheer curtains sway, ghostlike. He reaches instinctively for the other side of the bed. It is empty. The pillow fluffed, untouched. His wife no longer there. Gone forever.
His personal loss spun in garish Technicolor in his mind—an intrusive reflection, as though it were happening now. The present moment crumbled to dust like the E-Ring of the Pentagon on that September morning.
On that black Tuesday he rose from his desk at the Pentagon at exactly 8:20. He straightened his uniform jacket, checked his watch. The watch, a gift from his wife, was as familiar to him as the Washington skyline across the Potomac. He ran his thumb over the flat sapphire crystal and took note again of the four time zones displayed there. His life was regimented, on schedule. No matter where he traveled, he always knew the hour back home. She had told him that timing was everything to him, that it defined him.
But time with his wife was on hold.
His secretary frowned as he shoved several classified documents into his briefcase. "Colonel, you're not forgetting your meeting with Mr. Rumsfeld at ten?"
"I won't be long."
With rapid strides, he made his way down the long polished corridors to his wife's office on the E-Ring. He hesitated in the door, the lump in his throat doubling as he gazed at her. She was as beautiful as ever, with her flawless complexion and classic features. Shiny hair cascaded around her face; her mauve lips were full, desirable.
In his mind, the Tuesday morning reel moved forward. As his shadow fell across Kristina's desk, she glanced up, her cornflower blue eyes wide, startled. "Oh, it's you."
"Yes, me." He leaned forward, his palms flat on her desktop, his voice competing with the overhead TV monitor airing the morning news. It could have been a mindless cartoon for all the attention it was getting from the civilian employees in the room. "I called your hotel last night. They said you had checked out."
"We moved home with Mother." Her announcement had a final ring to it. "Mother likes having her only grandchild with her."
"Kristina, you're my wife. I want you back home where you belong. Six weeks is long enough to be apart."
Her mouth tightened, but the tremor of her lip gave her away. Tears balanced on her dark lashes. "Don't you understand? It's over."
"You can't take my son and just run out on me. I love you. I love you both."
"It's over," she repeated. "You're just not the same man I married."