Authors: Jill Sanders
The men walked closer. He could hear them laughing as they discovered the first body. He heard them rummaging through his squad leader’s belongings. The large beam blocked his view, but he could hear as the men moved closer, stopping at each of his team member’s bodies, removing anything they found of value. When they stopped at Tracey’s body, he watched through slits in his eyes as they ripped her clothing off. The four men looked at her naked body and made jokes, laughing and poking her bare breast with the end of their long rifles.
He felt his stomach revolt. Closing his eyes, he tried to block out everything in his mind. He was thankful she was gone. He was thankful she didn’t have to suffer. None of them had suffered. It had happened too fast.
Then he heard one of the men stand above him. His body went limp as they pulled the watch his father had given him as a going-away present off his wrist. Someone kicked his ribs and spoke to the group. He forced himself not to breathe, not to make a sound as they rummaged through his bag, which was still attached to his chest. When the man couldn’t open it, he called to the other men to help him pull it off his shoulders.
During the process, they had moved the beam enough that his leg was freed. Opening his eyes just a slit, he saw that the man who was trying to open his bag had set his weapon down right next to him. It took less than a second for him to react. First he shot the one who was hovering above him in the eye, then the one who was standing behind his friend, taking the last two out as they ran to help their friends.
When it was all over, he sat with his back against the beam, blood running out of the large gash on his left leg. Five of his best friends lay lifeless on the dirt floor and the four men who had killed them were dead or bleeding to death.
He started to crawl over to the radio so he could call for help. When he moved one of the attackers, he realized the man was no older than fifteen. When the kids eyes flew open just as he leaned over him to grab the radio, he noticed how green they were.
Waking with a jolt, he realized it was Haley’s green eyes staring down at him. The light on his nightstand was on and she’d pulled on one of his old shirts and sweat shorts. She sat cross-legged next to him, her hands resting on his shoulders like she’d been shaking him.
He ran his hands over his face and sat up. “Sorry, did I wake you?”
She nodded. “It was a bad one.” The worried look in her eyes said it all.
Usually his dreams didn’t lock him in that long. The nightmares almost always ended before the men had searched him.
“Are you okay?” she asked, scooting closer to him on the bed.
He nodded and glanced over at the alarm clock. Why was it always the same time? He sighed and leaned his head back against the headboard. Keeping his eyes closed, he reached for her and pulled her down next to him.
“Just let me hold you for a while. It’s too late to explain and I don’t want to keep you up for the rest of the night.”
She snuggled next to him and ran her hands over his chest slowly. “I don’t mind. If you want to talk about it.”
He looked down at her and smiled slightly. “I know you won’t rest until you hear it.” He chuckled when she nodded and rested her head against his chest.
By the time he was done telling his story, she was sitting up, looking deep into his eyes, concern written all over her face.
“What happened next?”
He shook his head. “I don’t remember much. I blacked out when the kid pushed me off him. When I woke, the radio was lying next to me and the kid was gone. I was air lifted to the hospital, then to the VA in Germany where I spent the next month learning how to walk again.”
“I’m sorry you went through all that.” She leaned back against him again. Then reached up and kissed him. “I’m thankful you survived.”
He nodded. “I dream every night. Nothing I do seems to stop it from coming.” He closed his eyes, afraid to tell her that he’d hoped the dreams would stop when he was with her.
“It may just take time.” She ran her hands over his chest. His hand rested over hers.
I suppose.” He scooted them down further until they were laying side by side. His ran his hands underneath her T-shirt until she moaned and started moving under his hands.
hen Haley walked back to the house the next morning, she couldn’t keep her mind off the differences she’d seen and felt in Wes. He wasn’t the same boy he was when he left almost six years ago, and she wasn’t just talking physically.
Hearing his experiences had opened her eyes to the fact that he’d been through so much more than she had over the course of their being apart. She couldn’t explain what it did to her, hearing what he’d endured. She’d seen the limb. The whole town had. Since his folks weren’t big on gossip, everyone speculated about what had happened. Nothing had come close to the story he’d told her last night.
She’d missed having him around, being with him. He used to be the only person she could talk to for hours and hours without feeling strange about it. They would talk about their hopes and dreams, about the places they would travel to, about anything and everything.
Could they be that again? He’d been through so many things and had grown so much that she was starting to feel like she hadn’t moved an inch since he’d left Fairplay.
Did they even really have anything in common anymore other than physical attraction? Her mind flashed to what he’d done to her after he’d told her that story. Of what they’d done before. Her cheeks heated and her body responded to just the thought of him. She was so embarrassed, thinking that one of her sisters would see it, that she slipped into the barn and up to her thinking spot, only to find Lauren and Chase up there, looking guilty. Chase was tucking his shirt in and Lauren had straw in her hair.
Well, well, well.” Haley leaned against the post and crossed her arms over her chest. “Having a little fun in the hay are we?”
Chase laughed as Lauren looked embarrassed and started making excuses.
“There was a . . .” She looked to her husband.
Mouse,” he suggested
Yes, a mouse. I saw it and fell back and Chase—”
Caught it with my shirt and tossed it outside.” Chase smiled, going along with his wife’s game.
Yes,” Lauren glared at Chase. “Anyway, I better get back to—”
Work?” Haley suggested for her.
Yes.” Lauren quickly walked out as Chase and Haley laughed.
She’s no good at that,” Haley said, walking over to her thinking spot and sitting down.
Chase just laughed. “I know, but it’s one of the reasons I love her so much.” He walked over and sat across from her. “I guess since I know her so well, I can tell when one of her sisters has something on her mind. And don’t think I don’t see that hay in your hair too.” She reached up to her hair before remembering that she’d showered at Wes’s place. Chase laughed and pointed to her. “Caught you. So, how as your dinner with Wes anyway?”
She laughed and leaned back. “Fine.” Then she shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. I thought it was fine. I mean, he told me why he left.”
Chase’s eyebrows shot up in question.
“I mean . . .” She blushed, remembering no one had known of their scare before graduation.
Chase shook his head. “Oh, no. You can’t hide that one from me.” He smiled. “Remember, I can read you now, too.”
She sighed. “Fine, but you have to promise not to tell anyone else.”
He laughed. “I promise.” When she just looked at him, he continued, “Remember, I did keep Lauren’s and my marriage a secret for seven years.”
She smiled. “Yes, and we are all still upset at you for it.”
It all worked out fine and I’m where I’m supposed to be now.” He leaned back and rested his shoulders on a bale of hay. “So, spill.”
She took a deep breath and blurted it out. “Six years ago, before Wes signed up for the army, I thought I was pregnant. But when it turned out to be a false alarm, he joined the military and left. I thought it was because he didn’t want a family, didn’t want me, but it turns out he was heartbroken, because he thought I didn’t want a family with him.” She grabbed her head. “Wow, it sounded a lot better in my head.”
Chase just looked at her.
Okay, I know it was stupid. We were young and well . . . stupid, but we used to tell each other everything. Then,” she shrugged her shoulders again, “something that big got between us and we stopped.”
Do you think you can pick up where you left off?” he asked.
She shook her head.
“Good,” he stood and dusted off his jeans.
Good?” She stood and looked at him. “What does that mean?”
Don’t think that you can start where you left off, because you can’t. You can never go back to the way it was when you were kids. Trust me. You’re two different people now.” He walked over to her and took her shoulders in his hands. “But you can start new. Take it from me.” He smiled. “If you don’t, you’ll be missing out on all the fun.” He gave her a brotherly hug and then smiled. “Now, I guess I’d better get back to . . .” He smiled.
Work.” She laughed.
About an hour before nightfall, she’d convinced herself that she was over-thinking everything. She sat out on the back deck and ate barbeque ribs with Lauren, Chase, Grant, and Alex and felt a little better. She was cutting the watermelon that had come from Alex’s new garden when Wes walked up on the back deck.
“Something smells wonderful.” He smiled and walked over to shake Grant’s and Chase’s hands.
When she looked up at him, she was so focused on watching the way he moved, that she didn’t realized that she’d cut her finger until Alex gasped.
“Haley!” Alex rushed over. “You’re bleeding all over my watermelon.” Alex grabbed a white towel and wrapped it around her finger.
Oh!” Then she felt the sting and sucked in her breath with the pain.
Looking down, she saw the blood on her tan shirt and groaned. “Great, another shirt ruined.”
Wes was beside her. “Are you hurt?” He took her hand from Alex and examined it. Chase, being the only person with actual medical knowledge, walked over and glanced at the cut.
She’ll live.” He nodded to Wes. “My medical bag is on top of the fridge. There’s some antiseptic and clean gauze in it.”
Wes nodded and pulled Haley through the back door.
“I can take care of a little cut myself,” she started to say, but was hushed by Wes as he reached up with one hand to grab Chase’s bag. His other hand was still holding her cut closed with the towel. “Come over here.” He pulled her towards the table. He pushed lightly on her shoulder with the bag until she sat down on the edge of the table.
Pulling out a small bottle, he doused her cut with the stinky brown liquid quickly, causing her to hiss with pain. When she tried to jerk her hand away, Wes held it still until he was satisfied that the cut was clean. Then he used another clean towel to dry her hand before wrapping her finger tightly.
“There.” He looked up at her and smiled, the concern leaving his face. “All patched up.”
She frowned at him. “Your bedside manner could use some work.”
He smiled and spoke softly. “I’m sorry.” He stepped between her knees as she sat on the table. “They didn’t teach us how to kiss a booboo in the army.” He laughed when she made a face. “But for you . . .” He dropped off as their lips met. “I can learn.”
Is everything okay in here?” Lauren asked, walking in with little Ricky on her hip. The boy was cute as a button in his little shorts and button-up shirt. He’d kicked one of his boots off earlier and now was trying to get the other one off by banging his foot against his mother’s hip. His chubby fingers reached out towards Haley as Lauren walked into the room.
Haley had been playing with Ricky ever since they’d gone out in the backyard, but the kid couldn’t get enough of his aunt.
Pushing on Wes’s shoulder until he moved aside, she jumped off the table and reached for her nephew. “There’s my favorite boy. Come give your favorite auntie a kiss.” She kissed his cheeks until the boy squealed with laughter.
Wes and Lauren followed them outside. “You’ll stay for dinner; Chase has made enough ribs to feed an army,” Lauren said as they walked outside.
“Well,” Wes smiled, “it smells and sounds so good. Just don’t let Haley anywhere near the watermelon again.”
It was nice sitting on the back deck talking to her family. They tried to get together at least once a week. They would have liked to do it more, but Alex and Lauren still worked at Mama’s diner, occasionally.
When she looked across the table at Wes, she couldn’t help but seeing how well he fit in with her family. The guys joked back and forth with each other while the women talked about the progress Ricky was making in life.