Escape Room

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“Paul? You don’t have to invite us to dinner every Sunday.”

“I know. We just like having you guys come over.”

“You’re already on tap to win ‘Best Brother of the Year” award again, so it’s not like you need to keep looking out for me.”

“Abby? I know you can take care of yourself—and Trevor. That’s never even been a concern. But you’re my sister. We’re family. And family takes care of one another.”

“It does, but you and Amanda have been taking care of us since Terry died. We love you for it, but you have a wife, and you don’t need us there every single week.”

Her brother paused for a moment then said, “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were looking for excuses to stop coming over.”

“What? No! Nothing could be further from the truth. I just don’t want you to feel obligated to look out for us for the rest of your life. That’s all.”

“Terry was my best friend, Abby. Losing him tore me up, too, and I can’t even imagine how hard it was on you. And Trevor was so young. It just…kills me to think about him not having a father, and especially one as involved and caring as his dad was. And worst of all, he’ll never know what a good man he was.”

Now it was Abby who paused. She knew her brother was right. He and Terry had been best friends since junior high school. And Paul was the one who’d introduced to her to the man she’d married when she was 35. It wasn’t that she’d planned to wait that long to settle down. It was more that she’d had so much fun being single that giving it up seemed too much to ask. Until she met Terry Stevens—again.

Abby had moved away from her hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, after graduating from college (go Cornhuskers!) with a degree in nursing, and had her father not died, it was likely she’d still be living in the same Seattle suburb she’d moved to take a job in a local hospital. But when she learned that he’d had a completely unexpected heart attack and died while out working one morning on their huge farm.

Abby not only came home for the funeral but ended up staying. Mostly, she stayed for her mom’s sake. Running the family business which consisted of growing and harvesting over a thousand acres of corn each year was too much for the then 63-year old woman.

Abby was a registered nurse and could find a job anywhere, so that wasn’t an issue. But taking care of her mom and making sure she didn’t work herself to death was. So for the first three months she was back home, Abby did the kind of things she’d done growing up for hours a day around the farm. The tractor became he second home for most of each day.

There were endless tasks to be done while always keeping harvest time in the back of her mind. Once she was convinced her mom could handle things on her own, or rather with the aide of the additional hand she finally, but reluctantly, brought onboard, Abby went back to work at a doctor’s office in Omaha. But before she did, she found herself spending more and more time with someone she’d known forever but mostly forgotten about until this trip home.

Paul and Terry had hung out at the home where Abby grew up for as far back as she could remember. In fact, Terry Stevens was her first crush, but being four years younger, she was nothing but just the skinny little kid with pigtails to him. And by the time she grew up and became a beautiful young woman, he was off at college himself and sowing his wild oats while majoring in agricultural engineering.

Terry had never married, either, but like Abby, he was smitten from the first time he saw the all-grown up version of her. Yes, she’d been cute as a girl, but the adult Abby wowed him from the moment he shook her hand after Paul said, “And I’m sure you remember my sister, Pigtails.”

That was the name Terry’d given her way back when, and no one else had ever called her that before or since. Abby blushed when her old nickname came up, and the way Terry was looking at her made her cheeks glow even more in spite of her age and experience in life.

He asked her out the next day, and began helping out on the farm after working his all day just to be near her. Within a month, she knew she was falling in love. Just two months after that, Terry asked her to marry him, and in spite of many people warning them both about rushing into things, she said ‘yes’ and never looked back.

Ten months after they said ‘I do’, Trevor was born, and Abby and her handsome husband were over-the-moon happy. But less than 18 months later, Trevor found a lump during a self check which Abby insisted he do every month. He hated doing it, and as a result, often let it go for several months until she started bugging him. She felt it, too, and when she did, a cold chill ran down her back even as she told Terry it was probably nothing. But her insistence that he get it checked immediately caused her husband to wonder if this might not be serious.

Two days later, they saw the same family practice doctor Abby grew up seeing, and she was equally concerned. A week later they were seeing a specialist and getting a CAT Escort Bayan Gaziantep scan. And then a PET scan. And then came the dreaded diagnosis: Stage IV testicular cancer that had already spread to his liver and lungs.

The crazy thing was he felt fine. He was working all day and had no indication anything was wrong. But within two weeks of the diagnosis he began feeling tired. Then came the symptoms that proved the diagnosis was accurate. And the pain. The nearly unbearable pain dulled only by morphine and then Fentanyl.

Just nine months after learning that the tumor had spread, Terry Stevens took his last breath in an Omaha hospital bed with Abby and their son by his side.

Devastation didn’t do justice to the way his loss affected Abby. Trevor was sad but too young to understand what happened. So Abby put on a brave face in front of her son during the day and cried herself to sleep at night for months. And had it not been for her mother, Paul, and his amazing wife, Amanda, she wasn’t sure she’d have made it this far. But they’d all been there for her and her son from the time they got the worst news any of them had ever faced, and they were still there for them.

“You’re sure you’re not sick of us?” Abby asked in a way that told her brother she was smiling.

“Are you kidding? Never gonna happen! And I got a new video game I wanna play with Trev, so get your butts over here on Sunday. Got it?”

“Okay, okay. We’ll be there,” his sister replied, happy to know she really wasn’t a burden on them.

Paul and Amanda couldn’t have children, so that was another reason they loved having her and Trevor over each week. Paul was like a part-time surrogate father to her son, and he was very good at it. But Abby knew that her boy needed an actual father who would be there day in and day out who could also be a role model for Trevor and to do guy things with him because Paul wasn’t always available.

But knowing that and doing something about it were two different things. Abby had finally tried dating a few months earlier, but her heart wasn’t in it. Maybe it was more that she just wasn’t ready yet, or maybe it was the men she’d dated. Whatever the reason was, she still had no real desire to get serious with anyone. But each time she thought about just throwing herself into her work and her son and giving up on ever finding someone else, she’d look at him laying in bed asleep and realize that wasn’t an option.

So for now she’d have dinner with her brother, do her job the best she could each day, spend time with her son, and do her best to keep an open mind about dating, something that had become a kind of four-letter word to her. But at 43, and with Trevor now seven years old, she didn’t have years and years to piddle away while she waited. But she did have days and weeks and even months, and that thought gave her great comfort as she hung up the phone with her big brother.

By the time Sunday dinner was over, Abby was more than glad she’d joined her brother and sister-in-law, and at the last minute, their mom agreed to take a few hours off and eat with them, too. The food, as always, was delicious, and the conversation was easy and pleasant. Abby, her mom, and Paul were extremely close, but she also loved Amanda dearly, as did her mother, so anytime Paul grabbed Trevor to go do something, Abby enjoyed the girl time immensely.

The three of them talked while the ‘men’ played the new video game, and Abby loved the sounds of laughter and things like, “Nice job, dude!” coming from the family room while they sipped a second glass of wine in the kitchen.

“Hey, we wanna do something with you guys on Wednesday,” Paul said as he and Trevor walked in after playing the game for over an hour.

“Oh?” Abby replied as she looked at her brother.

“No. I’m too busy,” their mother replied before thanking her son and daughter-in-law and saying goodbye before even hearing what the thing might be.

Once she was gone, Abby asked what her brother had in mind.

“Well, I ran it by my main man here, and it we both think it sounds like a lot of fun.”

“What is it?” Abby asked.

“Mom! It’s SO cool!” her son said as he came over and sat next to her.

“Okay. And what is it that’s so cool?”

“Uncle Paul. Show her!”

Paul was scrolling on his iPad, and a few seconds later he handed it to his sister who set it between herself and Amanda.

“The House of Conundrum?” Abby said after scanning the page.

“Let me see,” Amanda said. “Oh. I’ve heard of this place. It’s an escape room.”

“An escape room?” Abby asked.

“Mom, you go inside and you have to find clues to solve puzzles so you can escape. Isn’t that awesome?”

“It sounds hard,” his mom said as she kept reading.

The House had a number of rooms with an average percentage for how often people escaped which ranged from a low of 3% to a high of around 25%. The one that caught Amanda’s eye was difficult but seemed the most interesting to her.

“The Sherlock Holmes room looks fun.”

Amanda turned the screen back toward Abby who looked through it and agreed.

“So can I sign us up?” Paul asked. “It’s only one hour, but it’s something different, and I think Trevor will really enjoy it.”

“Okay. Sure. How much is it?” Abby asked.

“For you guys? It’s free,” her brother said.

“Oh, boy. Here we go again!” Amanda said, causing Paul to laugh.

“Now they’re gonna argue about who’s paying. No you won’t! Yes I will!” the boy said to his Aunt Amanda as he playfully mocked his uncle and his mother.

Paul and Amanda weren’t hurting for money, but neither was Abby. None of them were rich, but they all did more than well enough to live comfortably in the Omaha area.

As usual, it came down to ‘rock, scissors, paper,’ only in this game, the winner was awarded with the right to pay.

“Ha! You lose!” Abby said triumphantly when her paper covered her brother’s rock.

“Fine. But next time, I’m paying!”

Everyone laughed and Abby used that as an excuse to say they should probably get going, too. Trevor asked if they had to, as he always did, and as always his mother firmly told him they did. A flurry of hugs and thank-yous from Abby and Trevor signaled the evening was over, and just like that, she and her young man were driving home in silence, one more reminder that someone very important was missing from their lives.

“I can’t wait to do the escape room,” Trevor told his mom when she tucked him in.

“Yeah, that sounds like fun. Just remember that not everyone escapes, so if we don’t get out, don’t be too disappointed, okay?”

Trevor’s face got very serious as he asked, “Wait. You mean they don’t let us out?”

His mom tried not to laugh as she explained.

“Yes. They’ll let us out, but we won’t be letting ourselves out. Understand?”

“Oh, okay. I thought you meant they’d keep us there. Forever.”

“No, silly. They won’t keep us there forever. Now get some sleep, okay? You have school in the morning.”

Fortunately, Trevor mostly liked going to school. He was an average student but did okay. However, being a little awkward and a whole lot shy, he didn’t have many friends. But he enjoyed going, and Abby often imagined her son as the nerd the cool kids would end up working for someday.

“Goodnight, Mom,” he said as he reached for a hug.

“Night, buddy. I love you,” she said as she hugged and kissed her son.

“I love you, too!” he told her before turning on his side and pulling the covers up to his chin.

As she stood there watching him fall asleep, Abby sighed again knowing she needed to make a better effort at finding someone. But who? And how? It wasn’t like she could sit down with her laptop and order an amazing man from Amazon, and they most definitely didn’t grow on trees.

As she lay in bed waiting to fall asleep later that night, Abby missed her husband more than she had since the first six months he was gone. She knew the loneliness only seemed unbearable, but at that moment it was hard to believe she would ever feel truly happy again.


“Neil? I need you to stay on a couple more hours tonight.”

He knew he could say ‘no’, but the business had a new owner, and Neil wanted to let his new boss know he was team player so he told him that was fine.

“Semper Fi, right, Marine?” the 57-year old man said as he slapped the younger man’s arm.

Both were former Marines with the lead technician having served four years some 30 years ago while Neil Silvan had done six years and left active duty just five years earlier. He’d been trained as a Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Tech, which was Military Occupational Specialty 1161 and used those skills to land an HVAC job he dearly loved back in his hometown.

Neil grew up in Omaha area and spent his early life on a farm growing corn and couldn’t wait to leave home and see the world. He enlisted in the Marine Corps right out of high school and found himself at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California. After boot camp and ten days of leave back home, Neil reported to Bravo Company, Marine Corps Detachment, at the US Army Ordnance School at Fort Lee, Virginia. For 42 days, he and his fellow new Marines learned the basics in electricity, preventive maintenance, inspection procedures, administrative forms and records to give them the skills needed install, operate, and repair refrigeration and air conditioning systems.

Neil loved his work as much as he loved being a Marine, and in less than four years he was a sergeant/E-5 and back home on leave after a year in Okinawa, Japan. It was during that month-long visit that he met a girl he’d known in high school but never really noticed.

Neil had been one of the best looking guys in his graduating class, a star football player, and a decent wrestler. Misty Osborn, on the other hand, had been a shy ‘wall flower’ kind of girl who wore braces and was so thin other kids teased her that if she turned sidewise to the light she’d disappear. But as he learned after running into her out in town one afternoon, she was the kind of flower that was a late bloomer.

She, of course, recognized and remembered him immediately when he caught her eye and smiled at her. She pretended not to know who he was even after he began flirting with her. But when he asked her out she fessed up and told him who she was. A very embarrassed Neil Silvan had to apologize because the truth was he barely remembered her.

“That’s okay. I wasn’t exactly memorable back then. I had a serious ‘tin grin’ going on and played the flute in band. I thought you were very handsome back then, and you’re even more so now. And more importantly, you’re very sweet, so yes, I’d love to go out with you,” Misty told him.

One date become two and two became ten. Even after Neil left to report in to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, they texted, called, and emailed each other multiple times a day every day. After just two months apart, Neil called her and told her he didn’t think he could live without her and asked her to move their and live with him.

“I’d do that ‘in a heartbeat’ as you Marines say, but I won’t do it as your girlfriend,” Misty told him.

“I don’t understand,” a confused Neil replied.

“I’m saying I’ll need more of a commitment than just being your girlfriend.”

“Would you marry me?” Neil blurted out, not so much as a proposal, but as a question that should have been asked, “so…would you consider marrying me someday down the road’?”

Misty, however, took it literally, and she gleefully shouted, “Yes, I’ll marry you!”

Neil needed a few seconds to understood what had happened, and when the light came on, he became every bit as excited as his new fiancé. So while she got ready to fly to North Carolina, Sergeant Silvan got busy looking for a place to live off base and went shopping at the base exchange for an engagement ring which he gave to her within seconds after her arrival.

When she got off the plane, Misty ran to him, Neil hugged her, picked her up, twirled her around, then got down on one knee, smiled, and said, “Let’s make this official!”

The new couple wasted no time starting a family while they planned a very simple wedding at the base chapel. They married just two months later before she was showing, and Misty gave birth to a baby boy they named Tyler James Silvan seven months after that.

Money was always tight, and living in a trailer park was a challenge at times, but both of them were extremely happy and bonded even more over their beautiful little boy. A year after that, they were given a place on base, and Misty was over the moon at finally having her own house. It was fairly small and rather plain, but it was a single-family home, and she was thrilled to be living in it.

Neil’s initial six-year enlistment had one year left, and he was seriously considering making a career out of it. He would be up for staff sergeant, E-6, later that year, and in the Marine Corps, Staff NCOs were in a separate category from junior enlisted Marines. The other branches of the military required their enlisted personnel to make E-7 before considering them ‘senior NCOs’ or Chief Petty Officers, but that privilege was extended to staff sergeants in the Marine Corps. There was also a hefty bonus to be had, and the money only sweetened the already sweet pot.

Misty was 100% supportive of her husband’s decision, and as Neil was getting ready to start the re-enlistment ball rolling, tragedy struck which not only stopped the ball from moving but one that stopped Misty…completely.

It was late on a Friday night, and she’d been working at a local restaurant waiting tables as she often did to make some extra money. Like most Friday nights, there were plenty of people, both Marines and civilians, who were out partying hearty, and many of them who’d had too much to drink nevertheless got behind the wheel and drove.

One of them, a 32-year auto mechanic from the nearby city of Jacksonville, North Carolina, had done just that. He not only drove his Toyota Tundra truck after having well over a dozen beers at his favorite watering hole, he drove it head-on and straight into the little sedan Misty was driving and took her life in an instant.

In shock for days, Neil was unable to think let alone plan. It was all he could do to survive day to day while caring for Tyler. His OIC or Officer in Charge, a crusty Chief Warrant Officer-3 who’d gone from staff sergeant to Warrant Officer many years earlier and who’d already been on active duty for well over 20 years, gave Neil as much time off as he possibly could knowing how difficult things were for his young sergeant. But at some point, Neil had to make some decisions.

“You’re not still thinking of staying in are you, Sgt Silvan?” the warrant officer asked him around the two-week mark after Misty’s death.

Unlike the Army, which calls its warrant officers ‘chief’, Marines affectionately refer to theirs as ‘gunner’, even those who aren’t actually ‘Gunners’, a separate category of warrant officers who are weapons specialists and wear a bursting bomb on one of their collars along with their warrant officer rank on the other.

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