Authors: Kathryn Thomas
This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons--living or dead--is entirely coincidental.
Scars copyright @ 2016 by Kathryn Thomas. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embedded in critical articles or reviews.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Holly Springford was trapped.
She didn’t think she was the only one in the world to be in such an unfortunate predicament, of course, but she sure was the only one in
world. Everyone else seemed quite content with the place they had been assigned—either by destiny or by the circumstances…or, in more than one case, by somebody else. Everyone seemed happy with the rules and the routine and the expectations.
Not Holly. More and more every day, Holly felt like she was choking, like her already limited air supply was being cut off just a little bit more with the ticking of every hour. Not even riding her beloved horses could give her the sense of freedom that it used to. With each passing day, she felt more and more like bridles had been put on
and someone else was trying to steer her life in a particular direction.
She always had the suspicion that her life had already been decided and planned out for her, but she always thought that she would be able to find some wriggling room in there somewhere, a crack to push her ideas through. Her intentions. Her own plans for herself. Lately, however, it was becoming more and more clear to her that she had only been fooling herself.
She wouldn’t be able to say what had made her snap exactly, but that evening, Holly decided she’d had enough. She would be the one to decide what to do with her life, and her parents and everyone else better make peace with it.
Holly was feeling confident and determined…and oh-so-very nervous. Her knees got a little weaker with every step that brought her closer to her father’s studio in the big house on their family ranch. She paused in front of the sturdy mahogany door and took a few deep breaths. Behind the closed door, her father was speaking, but it was hard to make out the words through the thick wood. Still, Holly thought she could catch the word “wedding” among the string of unidentified sounds. Her stomach clenched.
Oh, hell, no!
She thought furiously.
The sudden wave of anger that washed over her gave her the strength to push the door open and walk in unannounced. She all but burst into the room, her delicate nostrils all but flaring.
Harry Springford looked up in surprise at the interruption. His gray eyes scanned his daughter’s figure carefully.
“Ed, I’ll have to call you back.”
Holly’s already tight stomach spasmed into such tight knots that for a fearful moment she thought she might throw up on the precious carpets that littered the floor of her father’s studio.
“Was that Edward Sutherland?” She asked, hoping against hope that she may be wrong.
Her father looked unfazed. “Yes. We were discussing a few details.”
“What kind of details?”
Holly took a steadying breath. She needed to play this well, and she needed to play this cool. “Dad, we need to talk.”
Private Matthew Ramirez wasn’t a grunt anymore. In fact, he wasn’t sure what he was—or who he was, for that matter. To say that he had lost the way would be the understatement of the century. Sometimes, when he sat alone in his room at night, or early in the morning at the kitchen’s table while the rest of the household slept, he would stop and try to think of a time when he’d had his bearings. He could not remember that time anymore, nor could he remember what it had felt like. Truth be told, he wasn’t even sure that time had ever existed.
Life sure had thrown him a few curve balls. For a while there, Matt thought he had learned to take them. For a while there, he thought he may have become a professional batter. Admittedly, it had been a short while, but it had been glorious. How foolish he had been. How delusional. He was never a batter. Hell, he was never good enough to even just sit on the bleachers.
The sole fact that he had willingly served not one, not two, not three, but multiple tours in hot, deadly zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan should have been indication enough of his scattered state of being. They had tried to spare him a few of those tours. “Rest up, Private,” they had told him. “You’ve done enough, son,” they had said. “Find peace, Matthew,” they had insisted.
But Matt couldn’t find peace. In fact, he couldn’t even bring himself to seek it out. War, by contrast, was an entirely different matter. Matt sought out war; it was the only way he knew to silence the war within himself. Actual battlefields forced him away from the battlefields of his broken mind—his broken emotions, his broken self.
Matt shook his head, trying to push those thoughts away. As always, he did not succeed. He had spent the whole day working underneath cars at the garage in town. He worked hard, until he was drenched with sweat and the whole of his muscles was shaking in protest. Working himself into exhaustion was the only way he could sleep at night. Manual work suited and soothed him, gave him a sense of purpose he could not find sitting at a desk behind a computer screen. It was a temporary sense of fulfilment, but it was there nonetheless. It was usually gone by the end of the day, when the work was done and the thoughts had free rein and came rushing back.
Matt had tried to find help from time to time. He had tried therapy, but he could never stick with it long enough for it to bring along any real improvements. Besides, they tended to give him pills, and he hated that. He didn’t believe in the power of pharmaceuticals. He knew the roots to his disquiet, this being uncomfortable in his own skin, ran deep. He knew pills couldn’t help. Prolonged psychological therapy might, but he could never bring himself to carry it out. He would go to a few sessions, and that would be it.
Life had been awful to him, but he had the feeling that he had been awful in return. He had become standoffish and closed-off, and the war (
) surely had not helped in that regard. Most days, Matt could hardly bring himself to feel anything. He felt, of course. He felt deeply and possibly too much, but he could never force himself to accept and elaborate on those feelings. He would let the emotions bubble to the surface only briefly, and then he would suppress them, pretending that they weren’t there.
It had been his coping mechanism—if one could really call it that—for a very long time now, and he had no idea how to stop. Truth be told, he wasn’t entirely sure he even wanted to stop. Emotions were dangerous things, and he’d had enough danger to last him a lifetime.
Presently, Matt let the hot spray of the shower hit his back and wash the thoughts away. The water wasn’t warm—it was scorching hot, just the way he liked it—and it pounded on his flesh like a thousand fists. He let it pound the thoughts and emotions away, patiently awaiting for it all to dissolve and evaporate among the shower steam.
Matt washed the grease and oil off his skin and the thoughts out of his brain, and when his body was clean and his mind was empty, he finally stepped out of the shower stall. He toweled himself dry with slow, mindless movements. Mundanity also helped, sometimes. Ordinary gestures. Everyday acts. Little bits of normal that he could incorporate into his life in order to pretend that normality actually belonged to him.
He dressed quickly in simple jeans and an even simpler T-shirt and walked downstairs. He set out the “Welcome Home” decorations in the living room, but there was no heart in it. Every move was mechanic, like it wasn’t really him that was moving around hanging banners and balloons.
“Welcome home, Becky!” The largest, brightest banner said.
Matt tried to rehearse those words. “Welcome home, Becky,” he muttered as he worked. He sloshed the words around in his mouth, trying to get a feel and a taste for them, trying to make them his. “Welcome home, Becky!” The banner said, but Matt couldn’t for the life of him find that exclamation mark in his voice.
He tried again, in a little louder tone of voice this time.
“Welcome home, Becky.”
Nothing. It still came out flat.
“Welcome home, Becky.”
Even at its very best, it sounded fake.
Matt exhaled a sharp puff of breath in frustration. Life had thrown him a few curve balls, sure, but there had been the occasional straight one in there. There had been good days. There had been victories.
Today, for example, was one of those victories. His little sister was coming home from the hospital. She was being released after the last round of chemo, and the doctors were hopeful. They said there were good chances of remission. It was too soon to celebrate properly, of course, but still a little celebration was in order.
Matt hung the “Welcome Home” decorations like instructed by Becky’s husband, Joe, but he didn’t feel anything while he did so. He didn’t feel happiness or anticipation. He didn’t feel like the wait was too long as he waited for the front door to open and for Becky to walk in. He didn’t feel hopeful. He liked to think that it was all because he didn’t dare to hope; after all, God knew he had lost enough family and loved ones over the years, and he was probably entitled a little wariness when it came to miracles, but he had the sinking, horrible feeling that it had nothing to do with such understandable reasons. Matt couldn’t bring himself to feel joy or hope at Becky’s return because he simply didn’t know how to feel any positive feeling anymore.
He told himself that maybe he would feel different when he finally saw Becky. It would be different to see her standing on her own two legs in her house and walking about rather than laying on a hospital bed. But when the front door finally opened a half hour later and Becky walked in, supported by her faithful husband, Matt
didn’t feel overjoyed. All he could feel was a sense of emptiness. As far as he was concerned, miracles did not exist, and Becky’s smile would probably be short-lived.
So why smile at all?
He sighed at himself and his Charlie Brown attitude. He covered it all up with the biggest and brightest smile he could muster, and he took his frail sister in his arms and hugged her fiercely. Joe watched them like a hawk from a couple of feet nearby, his eyes never leaving his wife. Matt knew Joe didn’t trust him, but he didn’t hold that against the man. Hell, in fact, he could hardly blame him; on a good day, Matt didn’t quite trust himself either.
“Matt, you’re squeezing me,” Becky breathed from where her face was squashed against his shoulder.
Matt released her immediately and stepped back. “Sorry,” he said, shifting his weight from one foot to the other in embarrassment. “I just got a little overexcited.” It wasn’t true, of course, but he had indeed felt like holding his sister close—at the very least, his hugs were genuine.
“The doctors said she’s doing really good, considering,” Joe informed him. “They’re going to run a few tests over the next few weeks and keep her condition monitored, but they don’t see why we can’t hope for the best.”
Joe was beaming. He was a simple man who wore his heart on his sleeve, and his happiness was palpable. His hazel eyes shone as he watched his wife take a seat on the couch.
Matt forced out a smile for both of their sakes. “That’s great news, Becks,” he said. And it was. He just couldn’t bring himself to rely on it.
“It is,” Becky confirmed. She looked tired, but happy. “I feel so much better already.”
Matt bit his lip. He disappeared into the kitchen and emerged with a few snacks—cucumber sandwiches just as Becky liked and chips and peanuts just as he and Joe liked.
“You, on the other hand, don’t look so good,” his sister informed him after a few minutes of companionable silence.
Matt rolled his eyes. “Geez, thanks.”
“No, I mean it. Joe tells me you’ve been busting your ass at the garage again.”
Matt couldn’t help sending a glare in the direction of his brother-in-law, who had the good grace to look somewhat contrite. “It’s no big deal, Becks.”
“Yes, it is,” she insisted. “You work too much. You should take a break. Why don’t you take a vacation or something?”
Matt shuddered at the mere thought. He could only imagine what might happen if he was left to his own means for days on end, with nothing else to do but think.
“It’s fine, Becky,” he said again. “Really. You know I enjoy working there.”
His sister studied him carefully with her penetrating dark eyes. “Fine,” she finally sighed. “I’m too tired to argue.”
The rest of the celebration consisted in a quick catch-up on each other’s lives (mostly Joe’s, since Matt didn’t have much going on in his life, and Becky had spent the past month cooped up in a hospital room). Matt zoned out quickly and eventually stood up to leave the other two to it, also imagining that they would be grateful for some privacy in their own home.
“I’m going to go for a run,” he announced.
The other two nodded. They didn’t comment on the fact that Matt stepped out of the house dressed like he was, in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. They never did. All of them knew that Matt’s “runs” were nonexistent and were actually just an excuse for him to be alone with his gloomy thoughts. Becky and Joe, bless them, never said a word and pretended to believe him. Every single time.
Matt had not been running in ages. He thought he might pick it up again someday, but he had not felt the urge yet. He had not felt any kind of urge in a very long time, and “someday” had become his go-to word for pretty much anything and everything in his life.
, he would tell himself from time to time,
I’ll be alive again
. He didn’t quite believe it.