Authors: Simone Beaudelaire,J.M. Northup
The Wounded Warriors Book 2
Simone Beaudelaire and J.M. Northup
Copyright (C) 2015 Simone Beaudelaire and J.M. Northup
Layout Copyright (C) 2015 by Creativia
Published 2015 by Creativia
eBook design by Creativia (www.creativia.org)
ISBN 978-952-7114-91-9 (mobi), 978-952-7114-92-6 (paperback)
Cover art by http://www.thecovercollection.com/
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the author's permission.
We dedicate this book to the men and women who serve our country and its people every day, whether they are a soldier, a civil servant, or the support at home which allows our warriors to protect and defend us!
Dear Mrs. Dominguez,
My name is Jack Nelson. I don't know if you know who I am, but I served with your late husband. I was their squad leader in Afghanistan. I'm not sure why, but I felt compelled to contact you. I hope it doesn't make things worse for you, but I thought you should know your Jorge was a hero. Not only did he die bravely, but he saved a lot of lives, mine included.
Jorge was a great man and I'm really sorry he's gone. I miss him, and I'm sure you do as well. He wasn't just a good soldier, he was a valued friend; my friend. That being said, if there's ever anything I can do for you or your children, please don't hesitate to ask.
Take care, Mrs. Dominguez. I pray for you and your family every day.
Thank you for writing and yes, I know who you are. Jorge always spoke very highly of you and though your letter made me cry, I was grateful to receive it. Of course, I cry every day anyway, so don't blame yourself. I miss him so much. It will be many days before the sun comes out for me, but I don't mind the rain. I know it's a part of life.
Sometimes, I feared the Jorge I knew was another man when he was on duty. It does my heart good to know the man I loved… no love (that will never change) was the same no matter where he went. I worried how war would affect him, change him, but I should have realized he was stronger than that. I guess I was the one being weak?
You tell me my Jorge was a hero; that he died to save others? I have no doubt you're right. His heart was always too big for this earth. I was blessed to know him, to have had two children with him. He always was my hero and I'm sure he will be a hero for our children as well. I've no doubt the pride they'll feel when they are old enough to know what happened to their courageous father, to understand the sacrifices he made.
Thank you for your prayers. For a while there, I didn't want to pray, but I'm thinking maybe that's wrong. Everyone suffers sometimes. I shouldn't be so surprised that my turn came. Instead, I should be thankful my Jorge is out of danger and no longer in pain, watching over us from paradise.
Anyway, thank you for your letter and your thoughtfulness. I'm sure my children (Elena and Andres, if he didn't tell you) and I will manage, but it was very kind of you to offer your help, if ever we should need it. Is there anything I can do for you? I noticed your address is for a hospital in Landstuhl – is that Germany? I pray you heal quickly.
Vaya con Dios
I hope you don't mind me using your first name. You signed your letter that way, so I took the liberty, but if you feel that's inappropriate, I understand. Marithé is an unusual name. It's beautiful, but I've never heard it before. Does it mean anything?
I don't blame you for worrying about your husband. War has a way of scarring a person, even when the wounds aren't visible. Still, you're right – Jorge was an upstanding guy and everyone really liked him; even troops who had difficulty getting along with everyone got along with Jorge. He just had a way about him, you know?
You're observant to have noticed my return address. Yes, I'm in Germany. I've been a patient since that day, when Jorge… I got hit in the leg with some debris during the bombing. I'm okay though. God knows it could've been worse. I appreciate your concern, but I'm hoping to be discharged and shipped home soon.
Speaking of home, my family lives in San Antonio, not too far from you. My parents work at the Christ the King Lutheran Church, which is right by Randolph AFB. My father, Malcolm, is associate pastor there and my mother, Shonda, works in the office. If ever you find yourself in need, they will gladly assist you – just tell them you're a friend of mine.
Of course, you may call me Marithé. It's my name, after all, but I promise, it isn't as exotic as it sounds. It's short for Maria Teresa is all, though I'm glad you like it.
It's a small world. I know that church. I currently live in the military housing offered at Randolph AFB, but we'll be moving off base next week. Thankfully, I found a cheap two bedroom apartment just outside the gates. It's nothing special, but it's all I can afford on Jorge's pension. I'm looking for a job, but it's hard to find something when I have a three and five year old and I haven't worked since high school. I'll figure something out though. I always do somehow.
I hope your injury – which I don't believe for a minute is as minor as you say, by the way – is healing. Take care of it, and don't push yourself too hard. As I told Ray, you survivors have to heal and become strong again. It gives everyone hope.
Be well and God speed!
I hadn't thought about your having to move. It's hard enough to lose a spouse, but now you have to uproot your entire life? I'm glad to hear you've found an affordable apartment in your current area, but I feel for your struggles. That being said, I hope you don't mind, but I spoke to my mother and she'd like you to meet with her. She said the woman who works in the office with her is relocating (they're military also and her husband just got PCS orders), so the church in need of a new bilingual receptionist and secretary.
My mother said she can start you off at $9 an hour and though that isn't much, they provide free daycare on site for Andres. In addition to the daycare, the church has its own school. As an employee, all fees are waived, so you'd be able to enroll Elena in the kindergarten program there as well. I hope you will consider this opportunity.
I hope your move goes well. I would offer to send some friends to help you, but I know the military will pay for the movers. At least that will make the transition a little easier. You and the kids are in my prayers.
I can't believe you did that for us! As soon as I received your letter, I contacted your mother and she hired me on the spot! I can't thank you enough. I just hope I don't disappoint you or Shonda. It's been so long since I've worked outside the house.
Your mother gave us a tour of the kindergarten. She thought it might help Elena with the transition and I think she was right. Elena is very excited to start and we have begun to mark a calendar to count down the days together. Elena wanted me to tell you she said “hi” and “thank you” from her and Andres. I have enclosed a picture she drew for you.
How are you feeling? Your mother mentioned you had suffered from a terrible infection caused from your leg wound. I knew things were worse than you made them sound! Take it easy and get well soon.
Thank you again! You are a God-send!
I really didn't do anything. I just got you the meeting with my mom – you did the rest! She said you were a bright and kind young woman. She thought you would fit in well with the congregation, as well as the staff. I think she's right!
I don't want you to worry about me. I am well on my way towards recovery. The doctors gave me some good drugs. Besides, you know how mothers are about things. It's not as bad as she made it sound, I assure you. Please, you have enough to worry about, so you don't need to be bothered by my problems.
I thought the picture Elena drew was great. Please tell her I said “thank you” and let her know I have it tacked up next to my bed so I can look at it every day.
The move went well and I almost have the apartment unpacked already. I tried to do things as quickly as I could in order to return our life to some sort or normal routine. What the kids need most is stability. I feel like I can give that to them now – thanks to you and Shonda.
Elena and Andres both seem to enjoy the church daycare. Of course, Elena is telling everyone how she will start school in a month because she's, as she says, “a big kid now.” She is continuing to count the days and now that the supply list has been published, she's anxious to go school shopping! She tells me she has to have a pink box to hold her crayons. Which reminds me, I have enclosed another picture from her and this time, Andres did one for you as well.
Oh, Congratulations! Shonda told me you finally got your orders! I am so happy to hear you'll be shipped home soon. I look forward to meeting you in person. Perhaps we can get a cup of coffee together sometime?
Sending warm thoughts your way,
Please thank the children for me. Their pictures and your correspondence have help me through the tough days. Seeing your strength gives me strength and seeing your faith gives me hope. That is a great gift!
My mother is very fond of you. She said Elena and Andres are simply angels. Mother can't get enough of Andres' chubby cheeks, apparently. Ha ha! She said Elena has a lovely singing voice and you're considering signing her up for the children's choir. I think that would be great! I look forward to coming home and hearing her perform. Does she know any songs from QUEEN?
Of course, I would love to get coffee with you, but why don't we pick a place with a playland, like maybe McDonald's? It will be nice for the kids to have time to play while we visit. Speaking of which, I have enclosed gifts for them. They're nothing big, but I thought they might enjoy some coloring books. I got Disney Princesses for Elena and I thought Thomas the Train might interest Andres.
I want to apologize right off for the briskness of this letter. I wanted to get it to you before I shipped out this afternoon, so you had my contact information for when I am State side again. I will be staying with my parents for a while, so be sure to look me up when you get a chance.
Thinking of you and the kids,
“Attention passengers, the captain has turned on the 'fasten seatbelts' sign to signal our final approach to the San Antonio International airport. The current time is 4:47 pm under partly cloudy skies and the temperature is 68 degrees. If you have connecting flights, please listen to the following gate information.”
Jack's mind wandered as he clicked the latch, fastening his seatbelt around his waist. With a groan, he bent his knee, pulling his foot out of the aisle to make way for a male flight attendant with bleached hair and a plastic sack. Jack tossed in a beer bottle and an empty plastic cup from which he'd already drained the soda and crunched all the ice cubes.
His leg ached all the way from the still itchy scar, where the cement block had punctured his skin, all the way down to where they'd had to cut away necrotic tissue to save his leg. The scar under his jeans looked horrible, all gnarly and twisted.
Like you, man. Old before your time.
Jack shook his head.
I used to love to travel, but now… it sucks. I can't wait to get home.
While almost fourteen hours in transit had been shortened by time zone changes, he still felt every minute of it. The single bed in his parents' spare room had never seemed more appealing than it did in that moment.
I'm so tired.
The nose of the plane dipped downward as it began its descent. Hitting a pocket of air turbulence, it jarred sharply, causing gasps throughout the passenger cabin. The movement threatened to bring all of Jack's drinks – and the fast food dinner he'd eaten in Houston – back up, but he swallowed the urge with grim determination.
You've watched friends die. You almost lost your damned leg. You're not going to puke because a plane is landing, no matter how nauseated your meds make you. Suck it up, Sargent.
The plane headed towards runway 04. The lights of the city appearing as the clouds disgorged the jet and then, continued to grow. Eventually, he could see past the mom and kid seated beside him and out the window, where the headlights from traffic were visible on the freeways below.
Almost there, almost there…
the words repeated in a litany in his head as he tried to take his mind off the dual discomforts of landing and his aching leg. For a moment, he thought of the men he commanded in Afghanistan.
Good thing Ray never knew what a pussy you are about flying. Well, the takeoff and landing, anyway. You never would've heard the end of it.
Scoffing slightly at the memory of the difficult man, Jack turned his thoughts to home.
The kitchen always smells like spices. I wonder what Mom made for dinner tonight. I'm hungry for her famous peach cobbler.
Their mutual admiration for his mother's cooking called the image of his father to mind.
Please God, don't let staying with them be a mistake.
“No,” he reminded himself under his breath. “I'm not moving in. I'm just staying long enough to figure out what to do with myself now…”
Now, that your whole world has changed.
He gulped against a sting in his throat and tried to ignore the burn in his eyes.
All I've ever known was life in the Army. What else is there?
Random images floating across Jack's head, as he considered his possibilities.
Well, there's no chance of healing enough to salvage my lost career, like Ray did. Sam's separating and heading back home to his dad's ranch in Seguin. If I thought I could handle the physical demand of the work, I might have asked if he had a position for me. No, I guess I'm just as stuck as Mike… Like me with my dad, Mike prefers avoiding his mother at all costs, but that's different. I'm not moving home. I'm just… visiting.
The internal rant served its purpose, effectively distracting him until the Airbus 340 touched down with a resounding THUMP, the change in the whine of the engines and the screech from the brakes shattering his reverie.
The second the plane had parked at the gate, Jack shot out of his seat, nearly hitting his head on the overhead compartments. His thigh screamed in agony at the move, but he knew he couldn't sit in that cramped position another minute. Opening the bin, he dragged down bags for his seatmates and then retrieved his own duffle. It still took a lot out of him to maneuver around and his speed was greatly decreased, but stubbornly, he remained determined to mask any discomfort he might experience.
Wish I could hide this damned limp.
He thought to himself angrily, shuffling awkwardly down the aisle behind a long line of crumpled and weary passengers. Exiting the aircraft, a waiting employee handed him the cane he used, which had been stowed near the plane's door. Cursing both the pain and the visible proof of his infirmity, he leaned heavily on it, making his way down the jetway. When he crossed the threshold next to the gate agent's desk, he rested a moment, feigning interest in his surroundings before he resumed his walk towards baggage claim, where his parents would be waiting for him.
After eight years in the Army, Jack struggled to think of himself as a civilian.
Dad's going to love this, finally having his chance to say 'I told you so.' I don't think he's ever forgiven me for signing on as an enlisted man instead of pursuing my commission as an officer.
Jack huffed in annoyance and hobbled down the hallway, his leg slowly releasing its cramped muscles as he moved, though each bit of relief came with a flare of discomfort.
St. Malcom, patron of soldiers,
he thought bitterly.
Dad always had time for everyone and everything. It didn't matter what ailed your spirit, be it a breakup, fallen comrade, or disappointing order. He was there for your every sorrow and grief, unless you were a part of his own family.
The anger that flared in his chest was still just as potent as it always had been.
He had tender words of wisdom for everyone else, but for Mom and me? Nothing was ever good enough.
Pushing himself on, resenting the pain which seared through his groin and down his leg, Jack knew this would prove to be just another mark on the list of woes he had inflicted on his father.
What will he think of me now that I'm broken? I went against his every wish and ended up damaged, unmanned. No career and no future. I'm the twenty-seven year old son of the adored chaplain turned pastor, yet I'm still the thorn in my father's side, with nothing to show for my life except a collection of scars on my body and heart.
Jack's thoughts turned to his father. Malcolm had been a well-respected man even before his retirement, when he signed on as an associate pastor with Christ the King Lutheran Church. As expected of all military members, Malcolm had been very involved in his community, no matter where he'd been stationed, but his efforts were multiplied by his position as chaplain. Now, he not only continued his community activities, but he continued to support the military personnel who made up a large portion of the city's population. His church not only had a strong association with the Disabled American Veterans and Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary (DAV/DAVA), showing them as much support as they could, but many of the congregation members were military members themselves.
Waiting for the elevator doors to open, Jack sighed heavily.
I enlisted to get away from my dad and his need for perfection. I can't believe I agreed to come back.
But he had agreed. He'd agreed to return home for the sake of his mother and because, despite all the difficulties between them, he knew he loved his father too. He shuffled onto the lift, resolved to follow through with the promise he'd made his mother.
When the elevator opened again, allowing Jack to hobble into the baggage claim area, his mother squealed with joy. “Jack! Jack, honey, over here!”
Though Malcolm remained reserved and aloof, Shonda rushed to greet her son. Tears welled up in her warm brown eyes and overflowed with relief and sorrow. They followed the little lines under her eyes and ran along the grooves which encircled her mouth, drawing Jack's attention to the changes in his mother's appearance.
Has her hair always had so much silver in it?
The sight of years coloring her face startled him, bringing back the stupid burn, which tightened the corners of his eyes again.
“Hello, Mom.” Jack smiled at his emotional mother as his father peeled her back from him, trying to return her to some sense of decorum. “Dad.”
“Son,” Malcolm said in his deep rumble of a voice. He jutted his hand out expecting to shake in welcome, but once Jack grabbed a hold of it, he pulled his father to him, embracing him. “Oh, hey!”
“Dad, no one cares if you hug me,” Jack reminded him. “It's been three years…”
His father nodded and lost all his hesitation, tightening his hold on Jack, hugging him to his massive body. “Right, sorry. Welcome home, son.”
“It's, ah, it's weird to be here,” Jack confessed, “But thank you. I'm glad to be home.”
Shonda's confluence of emotions erupted all over her husband and son. She beamed with delight that Jack was there, but her eyes strayed, resting on his wounded leg. She whimpered, her breath catching in her throat. Embarrassed, she covered her mouth and turned away, trying to hide the tears she could no longer contain.
“Mom,” Jack reached out, grasping her shoulder with his hand tenderly. Jack knew this was hard for her and he had expected her reaction. “Mom, I'm okay.”
“I'm sorry,” Shonda apologized in a strained voice. “I didn't want to do this, not here.”
“It's fine,” Jack reassured her. “I don't mind.” Then giving his father a critical look, he added, “no one minds.”
Malcolm cleared his throat and supported Jack by saying, “It's only natural for you to feel this way, honey.”
Shonda turned and crushed Jack to her. “I thought we were going to lose you.”
And no wonder. You almost did, though I'll never admit to it. I'll spare you the hurtful truth that my wound did more damage than it should have. I've lost more than you know, more than I can tell you.
He'd never be the same again, living with chronic pain and a permanent limp.
And other, even more painful losses…
“Shonda,” Malcolm placed his hand supportively on his wife's back, rubbing gently, showing the compassion which made him a good pastor. “Honey, everything okay; God provided and brought our son home to us.”
Shonda stepped back from her son, looking at her husband as she wiped the tears from her eyes. “You're right. We should be celebrating, showing our gratitude.”
“That's my girl,” Malcolm leaned over and kissed his wife on the forehead. “Which bags are yours, Jack? Let's grab them and get headed out. Our friends have put together a potluck at the church to welcome you home and we shouldn't keep them waiting.”
“Oh, Jack,” Shonda gushed, “everyone's so happy you're here. The entire congregation has been praying, especially Elena.”
“Elena?” Jack asked, surprised to hear the little girl's name.
“Yeah, she has really taken a shine to you,” Shonda beamed, her eyes sparkling at the news. “Marithé said she talks about you constantly. Apparently, Elena has been planning what she wants to do when she finally sees you and she insists everyone at school says a prayer for you. On Sundays, she makes your father say a prayer for you as well. She said you're the friend her daddy sent home to her because he couldn't be there anymore.”
“She's a very determined little girl,” Malcolm added with a chuckle.
“That's so sweet.” Jack grinned, touched.
* * *
The murmuring of a dozen conversations in the fellowship hall of Christ the King Lutheran Church sounded surprisingly quiet to Jack. Considering the amount of people milling about, he'd expected a roar to echo on the white floor tiles before reflecting up to, and then bouncing off of, the equally white ceiling, but none existed. After so many hours being subjected to the drone of the airplane engines, he was pleasantly surprised by the soft hum of subdued voices.
Glancing around the space, a warm, comfortable feeling of home washed over him. Though it had been years since he'd been there, it still felt soothing to be within the walls of a church. Scanning the familiar room in which he'd attended numerous events during his last years of high school, he couldn't help smiling. The autumn decorations of turkeys made out of brown paper cut in the shape of children's hands, crafted by the Sunday school classes, brought back a flood of memories. The adornments of colorful leaves of tissue paper, accented with pumpkins and acorns, reminded him of the holiday season just around the corner. The browns and oranges warmed the white on white room.
The people also had on warm, rich colors. He noticed Mrs. Schuster, though well into her upper 80s, still tottering along without a cane, wearing one of her famous fall sweaters with a pair of polyester pants and a crinkled smile.
She gets along better than I do now,
Jack thought, and his smile turned into a grimace.
All around the room, children ran giggling, scolded by harried mothers who worried about them crashing into the elderly folks who stood here and there, sipping coffee while they waited for the event to get started. Jack didn't recognize any of the children, but quickly realized that was because they'd been babies when he'd left, the smallest not yet born.
Why did I think no one would age while I was gone? Life doesn't stop when you're on deployment, no matter how unreal it feels while you're there.
He scanned the crowd again, and sure enough, Mary Alice sat at a table nearby, a plump, cocoa-skinned baby propped against her shoulder, her adoring husband digging in a blue plaid diaper bag.
I wish I hadn't let her go. That baby could have been mine. Now it's too late.
But even as he acknowledged the bitter thought, he realized how selfish it was, and he flushed with shame.
C'mon, Jack. You didn't love her enough for that, but it's obvious he does. Look how they smile at one another
. And he knew he'd done the right thing ending his relationship with her. It would've been wrong to have denied the happiness which radiated from her now.
For a moment, Jack wanted to leave. The sight of so many happy families made something in the vicinity of his heart ache, but then he made the conscious choice to be happy. Everyone was waiting to welcome the 'hero' home, and while he didn't embrace the title, he had to give his family… and his church family their moment.
I refuse to feel sorry for myself. I have to believe that God has a plan for me. Besides, everyone has worked so hard to put this dinner together and I won't be the one who disappoints them.