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Dear John -- Part Two

Despair born of love.

CHAPTER 4

He was staring at the beauty bending over the open back trunk of her car doing something domestic with her groceries. Maybe 5’5” weighing in at around 110 pounds; she was slender for sure. Bubble butt, maybe B-cups, brown hair and a face that could have launched a thousand ships. He smiled. It was ten to one she was married. But, resist her, not happening.

“Hello Miss, need some help?” he said. He’d startled her.

“Huh! Oh, no, I’m fine, thank you,” said Abigail Bradshaw.

“Oh, well good. I was meeting with someone next door, and I noticed you,” said Owen Cord. He motioned in the direction of one of the offices in the midscale strip mall they were standing in front of: Benson Investments LLC.

“Oh,” she said.

“Like I said, I noticed you. You seemed like one who might be in need of a knight in shining armor,” he said. Now she laughed. The man was tall and good looking: a little older, but not that much older, probably mid-thirties.

She closed the trunk, and for no reason, she would ever be able to explain, smiled at the man. “Well a girl can always make time for a knight in shining armor,” she said. The man seemed to lose a bit of his until now formidable confidence. He regained it.

“Time for coffee?” he said. He nodded toward the coffee shop across the parking lot.

“I don’t . . . no, I mean yes, okay,” she said. Why had she said yes? This might be a problem; she knew how men thought, all girls did. Men, any man would be taking her yes as meaning she wanted way more than she, in fact, did at that moment.

“Well, good,” he said, motioning for her to lead the way.

****

The chocolate croissants were tasty. The midday coffee acceptable and the conversation light, but why was she here? Why was she talking to a complete stranger, a man? He could be a serial killer! No, he was too well dressed, and if he’d been straight with her, he had something to do with investments: serial killer no, moneyman yes, she thought.

“So, Abigail, you are married then,” he said.

“Yes, my husband’s in the Army,” she said. “He’s in Afghanistan.”

“Oh, kinda dangerous over there,” he said.

“No, not for him. He’s a computer geek, his words, for the headquarters thingy,” she said.

“Kids?” he said.

“Two,” she said, “Sarah and Mia, twins, almost five-years-old. They’re at the sitter’s for the next while.”

“Sounds wonderful,” he said. “You know, this accidental meet up could be fortuitous.”

“Fortuitous?” she said, she was not sure what the word meant, but it likely meant lucky or something like it.

“Yes, I’m a kind of banker, investor, speculator, all of the above,” he said. “I have a conference to speak at this weekend at the Claremont, downtown. I was supposed to bring a plus one. I don’t have one. I know you're married, and I know we just met; but how would it be if I asked you to be my plus one for the evening?”

“You're speaking at the thing?” she said.

“Yes, I do it a lot,” he said, “speak that is.”

He was a stranger. She was married. He was a speaker. He was an investor. This could be an opportunity for her, and for her Sam, her war hero. She frowned; Sam might not like her being escorted to some fancy do by a stranger; no, that’s not right, she knew for a fact he wouldn’t like it!”

He sensed she was a tiny bit skittish. “In case you're concerned, Abigail, we could go in separate cars and meet there, in the foyer of the conference hall,” he said.

She relaxed. “All right,” she said. “Then yes. Time?”

“Saturday, 6:45 if that works for you,” he said. She nodded.

“That'll be fine,” she said.

****

2002

“That your kids you're always braggin’ on?” said the man across the bunk from him.

“Yeah, Sarah and Mia,” I said, “beautiful, huh?”

“Yeah, must take after your wife,” said Corporal Michaels.

“Yeah, the little woman is the one with the looks in our house, apart from the babies of course,” I said, laughing.

I settled back on my bunk and did some thinking. It’d been a year since I shipped out. Her letters had been coming all right, but a little farther apart than they had been. Well, I’d be going back in a few more months.

I’d been supposed to go back at the end of nine months. But the Colonel said he needed my invaluable assistance—his exact words. So I was doubled up. I’d been intending to reup anyway; I was promised sergeant stripes when I did. I sure did miss my woman though. I sure did.

I had liked the Army after all. I had my wife to thank for that. I never would have signed up but for her insistence that I had to for them, her and the kids.

****

“You hear from him lately?” said Owen Cord.

“Yes, just today, a letter,” said Abigail. “I’ve been terrible about keeping my promise to write him. It’s been almost three weeks since I sent him the new pictures of the children.”

“I bet he’s loving those,” said Owen. She smiled.

“That’s a real safe bet,” she said. “I’m going to write him tonight.”

“Why don’t you just email him? I mean if he’s at the headquarters wouldn’t he have access to email?” said Owen.

“Yes, but not all of the time, and sometimes the emails get lost, at least that’s been my experience. Plus when I do email him he answers right away and under the circumstances... ” she said.

“Things are a little uncomfortable,” he said, reading her mind.

“Kinda,” she whispered.

“Abby, you and I have gotten close that’s a fact. It sure is in my case. But if my being around is, you know... ” he started.

“No, no it’s not just you. It’s me too. I like having you around. And we haven’t done anything to be ashamed of. But, I doubt if he’d... ” she said.

“Understand?” he said.

“Yes,” she said. “I mean you and I go out to dinner a lot and talk about everything and well, date.” He nodded.

“Yes, and I’m going to say it, Abby, I’ve kinda fallen for you,” he said. Her mouth literally fell open and she stared wide-eyed at the man.

“Owen, I don’t know... ” she said.

“Abby, you need to think about things; I know that. But if you think that a guy like me could do it for you; well . . . I’m going to go home now, but tomorrow we’ll talk; I mean if you want. You’ll know better after you’ve had a chance to think,” he said. “Would that be okay?” She nodded but didn’t verbalize any agreement, but she was in agreement with him. Yes, she was.

****

“Harriet, I just don’t know. Doing it to a good man like Sam, well, I just don’t know. But, I’ve fallen for Owen. He’s a good guy and hasn’t been pushy. But, I’ve kinda made up my mind,” said Abigail. Her friend shook her head.

“You should talk to your parents before you dump on Sam. If the other guy’s got any class he’ll understand you not rushing into something like this. I mean dumping a guy like Sam while he’s being shot at! You really need to talk to your parents, especially your dad,” said Harriet. Abigail sighed.

“You’re right. I will do that. My dad was always good at knowing what to do,” she said.

“When are you going to be seeing Owen next?” said Harriet.

“In a little while. We’re just going to Denny’s for lunch. He has some business first at Benson’s, but he said he’d be done by noon. And Denny’s is just across the parking lot from Benson’s,” she said. Her friend nodded.

“You know, I still don’t know what Owen does for a living. I mean you’ve told me that he mostly buys and sells money for a living, but that can’t be for real,” said Harriet.

“He says it is. He says you can invest in currency, money, and kinda bet whether the currency, the money, grows in value or decreases in value. Yeah, and I know it’s not something that I know how to do or ever even heard of before I met Owen, but he says it is in fact for real. I guess it is,” said Abigail.

“Hmm, well he does seem to be well to do,” said Harriet.

“Anyway, I better get going. It’s twenty till as it is. I don’t want to be late. He and I have some decisions to make; and, I don’t mind telling you, I’m scared,” said Abby.

****

She saw him come in. She’d been afraid that she’d be late, but it was him that was late; but she was even more afraid of what she knew the conversation would likely be about. She waved.

“Sorry, I’m late,” he said. “Busy making money—time difference between Phoenix and Singapore.”

“Oh... huh?” she said. “Singapore?”

“Yes, it’s 3:00 a.m. there. I had to get a guy out of bed. There’s gonna be a devaluation when the exchanges open. My man had to do something for me. It’s all good now,” said Owen Cord.

“Okay, then good, I guess. And you’re forgiven for being late,” said Abigail.

“Well thank you for that,” he said.

“So,” she said. “I did some thinking, as we discussed.” He nodded but kept his mouth shut. He was prepared for whatever she decided; well, he told himself that he was.

“I will be writing him that I will be asking for a divorce,” she said. Neither of the two of them smiled. It was most definitely a somber moment. He finally nodded.

“Okay,” he said. “So, how are you feeling?”

“Like shit,” she said. “Him, the babies, our families: there’s going to be some bad stuff going down. But, it’s the right thing to do. For me, it’s the right thing.” He nodded.

“For me too,” he said. “Abby, we need to talk some more, make some plans, decisions for us and for him as well. What I can guarantee is that the man will lack for nothing if he will allow. I’m in a position to guarantee his future. His heart will doubtless be broken, but he’ll get over it in time, as will we. Other people divorce, Abby; it happens.”

“I know. But Owen, I’m going to say up front here that the children, they’re his as well as mine. He’ll want to be in their lives, and I want him to be. Are you... ”

“Am I okay with that? Of course I am. Like I say we will be doing as much for him as we can. I just hope he doesn’t, well, lose it,” he said.

“Me too, me too,” she said.

****

“Hi Lana,” said Cecilia. “How are you doing today?”

“Okay, just getting by, you know,” said Lana Meacham. “The VA is doing right by me. Now if only the money would start coming in like they promised me, I’d be able to eat here more regular.”

Cecilia laughed. “Yeah, well your credit’s good here girl. I’m sure they’ll fix whatever’s holding things up pretty soon.”

“Yeah, well that’s the hope as the saying goes,” said Lana.

“Haven’t seen your hubby in here in a while; is he still out of town?” said Cecilia. Her friend sighed.

“Yeah, I guess, permanently,” said Lana.

“Huh?” said Cecilia.

“He left me. Filed for divorce he did,” said Lana.

“Oh my God!” said Cecilia. “What in the world . . .”

“Yeah, my words exactly. Well, truth is, that if that’s the kind of guy he is, I’m glad to be rid of him,” said Lana. “The reality is he just couldn’t deal with me being blind, so... ”

“I hear yuh,” said Cecilia. “And you’re right he isn’t worth it.”

Cecilia Milano continued her tour of the café’s booths and tables.

“More coffee Missus Bradshaw?” said Cecilia.

“I guess,” said Abigail. “I’m waiting for someone. Got some paperwork to take care of.”

“Okay, fine, let me know if you want anything else,” said Cecilia.

She saw the man come in, Cedric Johnson, CJ everyone called him. She was about to seat him and ask if he wanted a menu, but he waved her off. CJ was a regular and a very well-known and very expensive family practice attorney. She watched as the man settled in where Abigail had stationed herself. It was clear that Abigail had something important to discuss with a man who it was way beyond her ability to afford. This couldn’t be good, she thought.

****

“Missus Bradshaw, right?” said the man.

“Yes, sir, that’s me. Please,” said Abigail, motioning him to have a seat. He did.

“So, Owen says that we have a divorce action to consider,” said Cedric Johnson.

“Yes, sir, and it’s kind of a hard one, I’m afraid,” she said. The man smiled.

“Don’t worry; I can get it done for you. You’ll come out on top of this no problem,” he said.

“Mister Johnson?” she said.

“You have nothing to worry about ma’am. I know how to do this; you’ll be fine. Your hubby, well, not so much,” he said. He was still smiling.

“Mister Johnson, I think we may be having a misunderstanding here,” she said. “Didn’t Mister Cord explain the situation to you?”

“Well no, not exactly. He just said he had a friend that needed to get a divorce and to make sure she got one as painlessly as possible. I’m here to do that for you,” he said.

“Yes, painless, but not on my account, on my husband’s account. I do not want him hurt any more than is absolutely necessary. He gets everything except my car and personal stuff. And he gets unlimited and unrestricted visitation with the children,” she said. “I need to have that written in stone. He mustn’t think that I am trying to screw him over.”

“Oh, I see,” he said. “Well, okay I can do that for you, for him.”

“Yes, please,” she said. “Mister Johnson, he’s in the Army. He’s in Afghanistan right now. He should be back in a few more months. But, well, there is some urgency involved here. Mister Cord, Owen, and I are going to be getting married.”

“Oh, Owen didn’t mention that, but in his defense, he’d kinda caught me when I was on the run. That said, he did say that he wanted to get things done for you as soon as possible; but, he didn’t give me any of the details. He just said that that would be for you to do. As you just have, I guess,” he said.

“Yes, well, yes,” she said.

The meeting went on for some time: two cups of coffee worth. She was not feeling really good about what she was about to do to her good man over there in the war zone. But it was a sight better than waiting for him to return and get the news after the fact: the fact of her having found a new man, a man she had come to love very much. And, who loved the children as much as did her other man, the man she was leaving. But, she was not screwing the man over, nor would she let anybody else do so. No, he, her Sam, would be left in a very good place and able to start over no problem. And, as for the children, he’d be there for them just as he would have were there to be no divorce. Yes, she was doing this right. Yes, she was. Still, all said and done, he would be stung. He would be stung real bad, and there was nothing for it; it couldn’t be helped. Damn, she wished that it could.

 

CHAPTER 5

 

They were seated in an office at Benson’s that he sometimes used for business. He, for whatever reason didn’t have an office of his own, hadn’t wanted one though he had been thinking about getting one in the near future. The fact was he was thinking of buying out Benson’s. And, not because he needed an office for himself or a business address per se. He needed one because he was at the point of needing to hire a staff to help him out. That since he was going to be hooking up with a woman permanently, something he’d all but sworn to himself that he would never do. A woman, and especially one with children would be draining a lot of time off of his calendar; he had no illusions about that. He would need several sets of hands to cover for him on the job.

 

“So you met with my man?” said Owen.

“Yes, Mister Johnson, but he said his fee was already taken care of,” said Abigail, her words were an implied question.

“Yes, I took care of it. He and I go back a long ways,” said Owen.

“I suppose it would be impolite to ask how much he cost?” she said. He smiled.

“It’s not a big deal,” he said. “He’ll make it painless for Sam. He, Sam, will be set for life. All he has to do is sign the papers. And yes shared custody of the children, as per your wish, is included in the offer. I made sure of that, but he does have to sign the papers.” She nodded.

“Okay, good,” she said. “This is going to sting him no matter what, but maybe it’ll be all right once he realizes that we are bent on treating him right.”

“Abigail, we are not just treating him right; we’re treating him generously. Five-hundred-thousand, shared custody, all of your common property and chattels except your personal stuff go to him. Sam will be fine. Stung yes, and I wish we could avoid even that, but it’s the one thing that is not in our control. I just hope he doesn’t lose it, as you’ve worried over so many times in these last days,” said Owen. She sighed.

“Yes, I really really hope he doesn’t, lose it that is. Sam is not a violent man; he’s a truly gentle soul. But this, the divorce, I’m going to be hurting him seriously bad; I feel so guilty,” said Abigail.

“Yes, as do I. But we’ve talked about this. Divorces happen. All we can do is the best we can do. I love you, Abby, have since the first moment I saw you in the parking lot. There was just no helping myself,” he said.

“Owen, I feel the same way. And, I could not help myself either. Owen . . .

“I don’t know if I mentioned it with everything that’s gone down, but in his last letter he did say that he was going to reup with the Army,” she said.

“No, I don’t think you did, mention it that is,” he said. She didn’t notice the look that came over him as she said what she said, a worried look that hadn’t been there a minute earlier. He shook it off.

“You know it just came to me. He’ll have money and the other things that we’ve talked about. But . . .” he started.

“But?” she said.

“Do you think he’d consider a job offer if I could arrange one? I mean one coming from us might be kinda pushing it, but he is into computers. I know people. I could arrange it if you think it would be a good idea to do so,” he said; “then he wouldn’t have to reup and risk his life over there.”

“I—I don’t know. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to put it out there. I mean if his mood would allow him to consider something like that,” she said. The man nodded.

“Okay, then, we’ll keep it in mind until we know what his mindset will be. I guess that that really is the best we can do.

“Anyway, I guess we better get going. I do have to work tomorrow,” he said.

****

The ride to her apartment had been slow and safe and well, slow.

“Well if you have to go, but would you like to come in for a bit anyway?” she said. “The children are at my mom’s tonight.”

He smiled at the woman across from him in her seat. “Uh-okay, for a little bit, sure,” said Owen.

She smiled back at him and waited for him to come around, and, like the cultured gentleman that he was, help her from her seat. “Thank you, sir,” she said.

She led the way to her apartment, the one she had long shared with her husband, Sam. The thought of that good man caused her to pause, but she forced herself to put the thought of him out of her head. Tonight would be the first time for the two of them: herself and Owen Cord; it was time.

She pointed towards the couch. He looked her askance but took the proffered seat.

“I’m nervous,” she said.

“I know,” he said. “No need to be, but I do know. I guess I can relate to some of that myself.”

“I need this, Owen. I need it bad. But... ” she started and stopped.

“Yes, it is kinda the real beginning of everything isn’t it. And, yes, I know you’re thinking of him and how he would see things.

“Abby, we can do this tonight, but if we do, there will be no turning back. So, I’m going to say this now. We can back off and just walk away from our plans. I can do it. It’s not what I want. But I can do it. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s kind of up to you. You’re the one who’s married to the man; I don’t have any attachments. Well, I don’t except for you. So... ?” he said.

She came toward him and stopped a foot or two from his knees. She lowered herself to the cushioned seat beside him and laid her head on his shoulder. He turned his face to hers and kissed her.

Wrapping his arms around her he pulled her to him, not aggressively so, but deliberately, meaningfully. His right hand slid from her upper back to her arm and around to her breast which he gently massaged through the fabric of her white cotton blouse. She emitted a sigh and let her hand trace its way to the front of his pants and to the bulge that was hardening even as they embraced. She squeezed his manhood and he swallowed hard.

She pushed him away and began unbuttoning her blouse. As she slipped out of it, he deftly undid the hook at the front of her bra exposing for the first time to his view her fleshy orbs.

“Oh my, you are so beautiful,” he said. What he didn’t say was how guilty he felt taking advantage of another man’s wife.

She slapped his hand playfully away and began the process of undoing the belt and button and zipper of his trousers. She spread open the front of his pants and looked steadily at the still hidden bulge of the penis that would soon be inside of her. She smiled.

He swallowed. Thoughts of her husband vanished from the man’s thoughts.

She stood, unbuttoned her skirt and let it pool at her feet.

He shucked his pants and underpants with one almost desperate motion. His Henley followed. Both parties kicked off their shoes kicking them off to the side of the couch.

He reached out and peeled her panties floorward revealing her newly barren labia and slit. He snorted like a bull readying itself to mount his cow.

He reached out and pulled her toward him and she fell in a heap on top of him. For a long moment they were a tangled mass of kissing and feeling and sucking lovers.

He pulled back and gently laid the woman on her back on the couch. She spread for him and he mounted her and pushed inside of her without ceremony. He met a small bit of resistance as her very tight pussy defended itself against his assault. But, as was inevitable, he pushed again and slid in screwing her forcefully. She grunted her mild discomfort.

For some time he fucked her. He felt her stiffen: the signal for him to begin to drill her savagely. They battled each other for supremacy as he pounded into her again and again, and, as she for her part slammed herself back at him challenging him to do his worst.

For a moment in time they hung in space above the plushy cushions, finally spewing their juices and collapsing in exhaustion.

He rolled off of her and onto the floor gasping for breath.

They lay exhausted for many minutes. “Let’s go to bed,” she said, finally. He nodded. Thoughts of him leaving because he had to work the next day were gone.

Rousing himself, he helped her up and she in turn led him down the hall to the bedroom, hers and Sam’s. But now it was hers and her new man’s. Sam was toiling far away somewhere in the foothills of the Hindu Kush. As her eyes closed she swore to herself to make things right by him somehow. She had to.

****

“Hi honey,” said Gregory Williams.

“Hi dad,” said Abigail.

“Abigail,” said her mom, as she entered the room. “This is a pleasant surprise. How are the twins?”

“They’re fine, There with Harriet for a little bit. I needed to talk to you guys,” said Abigail. She was looking down at the floor. Her dad noticed.

“Abby? Something wrong?” he said.

She looked up. “Mom, Dad, I’m going to be divorcing Sam,” she said. An incipient tear appeared at the corner of her eye.

“Oh my,” said her mom. “Have you talked to Sam?”

“No, He’s still overseas of course. Talking to him is not really all that easy. I will tell him though in a letter. I just wanted to run it by you and daddy first,” she said.

“Is there another man?” said her dad.

“Yes, he’s a good guy and he feels as bad as I do about how it will affect Sam,” she said.

“No way you could put this off until the man gets back from the war zone?” said her daddy. Abigail shrugged.

“I’ve thought about it. I could, but I just don’t think it would be fair to Sam if I did,” she said.

“Honey, what if he’s hurt over there. Sometimes when a man loses his wife while he’s in a place like that, the odds of him getting hurt increase. I mean what if he’s injured or wounded,” said her mom.

“That’s not really a problem in Sam’s case. He’s not in the war zone so to speak. He’s a techie in the headquarters,” said Abigail.

“Over there, there really is no safe place, Abby. I agree with your mom. She and I will support whatever you do, but it really would be better if you waited until the man got back to do this. But again, we will support you,” he said.

“Thanks, dad, mom; I really do need your support. I know that whatever I do decide it won’t be without downsides,” she said. Her father was nodding and the concern in his look was very plain to see.

“Abbs, maybe you should think of at least trying to call him instead of just writing him a letter. He deserves that much. I mean don’t you think?” said Gregory Williams. His daughter smiled but didn’t answer him in words. Call the man? No, she wasn’t strong enough to do that, not close to strong enough. But then again... maybe...

****

The post office was busy. She dropped the letter into the outgoing slot. It would be on its way by 1:00 p.m. ten minutes from that moment.

She headed for her P.O. Box at the other end of the edifice. There was a pound of incoming waiting for her, mostly bills. She could pay them; her man in Afghanistan deposited his pay, ninety percent of it, automatically every month. Money hadn’t been a problem since she’d almost forced him at gunpoint to join the service. Her new man, of course, would be taking over those duties now, soon enough at any rate. She would leave all of the money that Sam had recently sent, and any that might yet be in the pipeline, in their checking account for him; it was his money after all.

She stepped across the aisle to the counter where she would check through the mail and toss the junk and prioritize the important stuff.

The last of the letters she was going through sat on the counter as though staring back at her. It was as a toxic thing. It was from her beloved Sam, the man she was about to hurt seriously badly. She opened it. She didn’t want to open it, but she finally did. And oddly, though she hadn’t wanted to open it; she would end by reading it three times. And afterward the tears wouldn’t stop coming.

 

Dearest Lazy Wife—Lol,

I know you’ve been busy: I mean twins, gotta be a challenge. But, your baby boy here needs to hear from you. Don’t worry about keeping me in the know about every little thing. Just short notes to let me know you and the babies are all right is enough. And maybe a pic or two now and again would be really nice.

It gets mighty lonely out here in the brown dirt country; I’m not kidding about that, you wouldn’t believe how brown the dirt is here!

Anyway, dearest love of my life, please write and sign it love Abigail. That’s all a lonely soldier needs to see or hear or believe or have; it’s way enough. Truly.

Love you forever,

Your Sam

 

The tears she shed having read the letter were as bitter as any she would ever shed.

****

It was so cold I’d been forced to wear two pairs of socks and heavy undergarments to deal with it, the cold. Even in the heated tents of our mobile headquarters it was cold. Jesus, I hated this place. I don’t know how the Afghanis did it!

“Corporal, follow me, and bring that,” said Sergeant Michaels. I grabbed my weapon, as per standing orders, and followed him out. Yeah, I was a corporal. The colonel had had me promoted when I agreed to reup instead of opting to go home. Oh, and likewise my bud, Jeff Michaels; he was a sergeant now though he hadn’t himself reupped, not yet at any rate.

Outside the tent were several other guys. I didn’t know any of them, but apparently, Sarge did. They were all 4th brigaders, their insignia indicated that.

“We are moving out now,” said Sarge. “We’re moving the post and we get to make sure our new nest is going to be useful, and oh yes, secure,” he said. “Mount up.” He was pointing to a big ass hummer across the road.

We mounted up. I was the second-ranking guy there, so I got to ride shotgun. Sarge rode in the turret; I guess he liked the view better. Actually, there was a “first louey” in the mix, but she was a nurse.

We weren’t exactly out in the wilderness, but we were in a potential danger zone. As if any place in the country wasn’t a danger zone, I guess one could objectively say it was relative.

We’d been on the road for a good thirty minutes When the Sarge shouted.

“Bad guys, three o’clock, dismount! He’d opened fire from the turret just as everything around us went to hell. I literally fell out on the side of the vehicle that the attack was coming from. I dashed to my right and hit the ground. I could tell from the chatter that some of our guys had been hit. We were in a real bad spot, a real bad spot!

Sarge had stopped firing. I wasn’t myself pinned down. I knew that because no dust was being kicked up immediately around me. The baddies seemed to be concentrating their fire at and around the Humvee now a few yards to my left and behind me. But, I knew I was going to be paid attention to sooner or later.

I grabbed my weapon and ran directly at the baddies right trying and flank them. I could see that they were hunched down behind some low rocks at my ten o’clock. I remembered coach Gambina back in the day telling us that he who hesitates is lost. I wasn’t planning on being lost.

I’d flanked the stinkies and was firing pretty much indiscriminately into them. I know for a fact I’d gotten in my licks, but then everything was quiet and peaceful and the nurses were sure pretty.

I was alive. And, I sure as hell wasn’t in Afghanistan anymore. The question was how bad was I hit?

There were no beds around me. I wasn’t in a ward. It was a private room. This couldn’t be good. Then I slept.

 

CHAPTER 6

 

“How’s is he this morning, doctor,” said the three striper.

“Depends on what you mean,” said the man in white. “He’s out of the woods as far as surviving is concerned.”

“Doctor the man saved nine guys including me. He’s got to be fixable,” said Sergeant Michaels.

“Sergeant, we’re going to do our best, but you and the others need to be prepared for—stuff,” he said. The sergeant nodded, sadly nodded.

“Doctor Hargrave, tell me. I was there. I know it’s bad. If he’ll let anyone besides himself contact his family back home it’s gonna be me,” said Sergeant Jeffrey Michaels.

“Sergeant, if you know anything about his family, who to contact; please, let us know. His records for some reasons do not list the names of who to contact in an emergency; we always have those, but for some damn reason not for him,” he said.

“His father’s back in Arizona. His wife and kids too. He told me that if anything happened to him he wanted me to be the one to go to them and nobody else, I mean if he couldn’t,” he said.

“He’s married!” said the doctor. “She, his wife, needs to be contacted, Sergeant.”

“Doctor, he told me no, that is not yet. He says that to happen, only after the bandages come off and he can see the damage to his face. Then and only then he’ll let me make the calls if he can’t bring himself to do so. He’s adamant, doctor. It’s his set in stone decision.”

“Well, he—you— should be able to make those calls soon, at least there’s that,” said the doctor.

“And the best we can hope for would be?” said Sergeant Michaels.

The doctor sighed. “The man took some of the blast from that grenade, or whatever it was, in the face. The explosive force all but crushed his facial skeleton. And then there was the shrapnel that tore across, thankfully not through, his sinus cavity and right eye, and twisted crazily through his right cheek. He’s lost the eye and the right side of his face.

And, add to all of the above, he was evidently blown backwards onto rocks or some other unforgiving surface and his lower spine was seriously damaged, but luckily I guess, it was what we call an incomplete SCI, so his brain may—I say may—be able to send some messages to his lower body. Put another way he may be able to go to the bathroom normally and maybe even be able to have normal sex. He will likely never walk again, but all in all, Sergeant, he’s just lucky to be alive. But we will know more soon.

“That enough description for you, Sergeant?” the man stopped talking.

“Doctor?” said Sergeant Michaels.

“Sarge, you asked for what would be the best we could hope for. There is no best in these situations. Something like forty percent of battlefield casualties have facial damage, some worse than others. Add to that the other injuries our man’s experienced... Sergeant, the man’s lucky to be alive, but, well, life as he knew it is over. He’ll be on permanent disability for the rest of his life,” said Doctor Hargrave. The man across from him nodded.

He’d never met his friend’s wife. But, now he was going to have to support that friend when he called her, if he called her. Sam Bradshaw saved the lives of eight men and one nurse when he charged that covey of stinkies; there was not a scintilla of doubt about that. And, in the doing of it he essentially lost his. He wondered what the wife was made of; he was afraid he could guess.

****

Milano’s was busy; well, it was lunch hour.

“What can I get for you ladies?” said Cecilia.

“The lunch special,” said Harriet. Abigail nodded her agreement.

“Coming up,” said Cecilia.

“So what are you going to do?” said Harriet.

“I’m going to call him. I may not be able to get through, but I’m going to try. He’s not in Kabul. He’s out somewhere in the countryside. He’s some colonel’s techie, is what he’s told me. At least I’ll be able to say that I did try if he doesn’t get the call,” said Abigail.

“I guess that’s all you can do if you’re not inclined to wait till he returns,” said Harriet.

“I can’t wait,” said Abigail. “Owen and I have done the deed. We’re committed. I love the man. Hell, I love both of them, but Owen can do more for the twins and me than Sam is capable of. I need to think of the future.

“I know I’m going to sting him pretty good, I mean Sam. But, well, Owen and I are planning to help him big time if he will allow. He’ll be set for life.” said Abigail.

“What about the kids?” said Harriet.

“Sam is their dad. He will be treated as such no matter what else goes down?” said Abigail. “Owen is not going to try and replace him in his duties. I just have to somehow convince Sam that at the least he needs to take his place in that regard.”

“Well, like I keep saying, your plan is good; and it is about all you can do,” said Harriet.

“For sure,” said Abigail.

****

“Corporal, you have some visitors,” said Nurse Alice.

“Visitors?” I said.

“Yes,” she said. She nodded toward the doorway, and three very decorated soldiers entered. I knew who they were.

“General Shelby, Colonel Cunningham!” I said. The third body was that of my best friend First Sergeant Jeff Michaels.

“Soldier, you have to know that we are more than proud to have been serving with a man like you. Your sacrifice has been recognized and I have the privilege to present you with your Purple Heart, and, your Silver Star for heroism in battle.

“Young man, you saved the lives of nine of your fellow soldiers. No one will ever be able to take that honor away from you,” said General Shelby. And I think that the Colonel has something to say to you.

“Sam, Corporal, I know you know that Claire Cunningham is my daughter. You saved her. There is nothing that you can ask for that I won’t do my damnedest to help you out with. I owe you, my wife owes you; you will never be forgotten by any of us,” he said.

“That goes for all of us, Corporal,” said the general.

The man reached out to me and handed me the open medal cases. I think he was actually feeling a little emotional. Well hell, so was I. I knew Abigail would too; I was certain of that. I didn’t know how long I was going to be all wrapped up in these swaddling clothes. But, once I got a chance to see just how bad the damage was, I would be calling her and letting her know that I would be on my way home.

I knew I was going to be wheelchair ridden for a good length of time, but I’d do the therapy and get my legs back at least to the walking stage. Not like before, I knew that, but at least to the point of being able to do my old job in security; nothing was going to stop me. But, my face: that was a worry. I knew it was bad, but the doctors could not or would not speculate on how bad it was going to be until the wraps came off. Just a few more days and I’d be able to assess things. Well, we’d be seeing.

****

The brass had stayed for a little while. Colonel Cunningham made the point that I would be getting a pretty good disability package for my heroics, and he was going to make damn sure I got the max benefit no matter what. I figured that and a job back in the states would make my wife happy. Well, twins were a handful. And then it was just me and my bud.

“Well, hero, I guess you’re feeling pretty good right about now,” said Jeff Michaels.

“Not too bad,” I said. “I just wish I knew what was all going on with me. I mean I know I’m going to have some med stuff to look forward to in my future. And my face . . .”

“Yeah, but you’ll handle it, bud. I know you will,” he said.

“Yeah, I will, bet on it,” I said. “With my wife in my corner there ain’t nothin’ I can’t do.” My bud nodded, but he looked away. I wondered at that.

****

“No mom, I tried to call him after talking to you and Dad, but he isn’t where he used to be. The base communication center told me that they’d get back to me, but that it might be a while,” said Abigail. “The bad news is he will get the letter before I ever get to talk to him on the phone, and who knows what that might lead to.” Her mother nodded.

“I understand, honey. You did the best you could considering. Nothing to do now but wait till you hear back from Sam. If he writes, and if you want, I can be there when you open his letter. I mean . . .”

“Thanks, mom. I’ll let you know. This is all uncharted territory for me, for Sam too if it comes to that,” said Abigail. “I need to talk to Owen and see if he has any ideas. I’ll be seeing him tonight.”

“Okay, well your dad and I are here for you,” she said.

“I know. And, I will tell you right away if I—when I—hear from him. I’m a little concerned that I couldn’t get my call through to him. He’s been gone for going on two years. The twins are five almost six-years-old and he hasn’t seen them since they were little more than toddlers. He’s a headquarters guy. I’ve sometimes been able to get hold of him before, but this time... " she said.

“Honey, I know you’re concerned. Anybody would be. And, I know you still have feelings for him even though you’re moving on now; how could you not: he’s the father of your babies. But you need to just settle down and wait for word. He’ll get back to you. The babies are going to be his anchor. Just be ready to hear him out when he contacts you, by whatever means he does so. He’s going to need a lot of reassuring, and it’s going to be hard for him at first. Okay?” said her mother. Abigail nodded.

****

The good Doctor Hargrave had finally allowed me to see what was under the swaddling cloth; and, he had been ready to let me in on the bottom line. I would be wheelchair ridden for life, no getting around it, and then he let me see my face . . .

At my request, he’d left orders for me to be left alone. I couldn’t face anyone the way I looked. My biggest concern was what Abigail would think and do when I got home to her and the children.

Finally it got to be too much for the nurses to control the crowd trying to get in to see me. Well, three was a crowd, right. I gave in and let them visit. Three of my buds, who were there that day and had themselves been wounded, had been shipped to the same hospital as me. They wanted to thank me. I just wanted my face back. I would have been grateful for that much. But the man had said that, while there were still a couple of dozen ops to go, my looks were never going to be the same. There’d been too much skeletal damage to return me to what I’d once been.

They’d come, my buds. We’d cried, all four of us had cried, and they’d sworn that they’d be there for me whensoever I’d ever call. I thanked them. One could always depend on one’s brothers in arms. We had each other if nobody else. And I worried about that. I worried about what my wife would say, think, do once she saw what was left of me. But then it didn’t matter anymore. I didn’t have to worry anymore. I’d got her letter.

****

I’d read it twice. It was likely that I’d read it again. But no matter how many times I’d read it the message would still be the same. She was dumping me and it was clear that I was already a cuckold. My children? It was plain enough that in the main they’d be lost to me. They’d be calling the wife stealing asshole daddy.

 

Sam,

I have to tell you something that is going to be very hard for me, but I guess it may be even harder for you. Sam, I will be asking you for a divorce. Sam, I’ve met a man, a good man, who I’ve fallen in love with. If it matters, I still have a place in my heart for you too. Anyway, the man’s name is Owen Cord. He’s a stock trader.

Sam, Owen and I want to do what we can to minimize the hurt I know you’re going to feel. He’s rich and he wants to make you rich too. And before you ask, you are still the babies’ daddy, not Owen; he understands that.

I will not be asking for anything in the divorce, nothing. And visitation for you will be open and unrestricted; I mean as far as you seeing and being with your babies is concerned.

You will be receiving the papers executing the divorce soon. Please just sign them my good man. Sam, this is for the best. Be well and be careful. I know you’re mainly in the office and such, but still . . .

Abigail

 

Stunned? Oh yes, I was stunned, speechless and stunned. I was still reading it when he came in.

“Sam?” said Jeff Michaels. I didn’t answer him. I just kept staring at the letter.

He came to me and gently removed it from my hand. He began reading it. I guess he read the whole thing. It took him a good long minute to finish it. He folded it and set it on the bunk beside me.

“Sam... you okay?” he said. I looked up at him and shook my head.

“It happens to a lot of guys, Sam. It’s never easy, but you can’t let it destroy you, man. You’ve got to move on and live your life,” he said.

“Why?” I said.

 

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