The wheels of plane touching down rip me from my nightmare plagued sleep. I breathe out a small sigh of relief, it was still the most restful sleep I’ve had in two years. I look out of the small window beside me over the tar mac shimmering from the suns heatwaves. I’ve been fighting a war for the past five years but the fear of what I was about to face was more terrifying than anything I had faced before.
“Welcome to the city of Nashville.” The voice on the intercom announced with a sweet southern accent that I’ve missed hearing. I was finally home, after seven hundred and thirty nine days, I was finally back on American soil. And this time I was here to stay, which is exactly what was causing the anxiety deep in my chest. I take in a few deep breaths to bring myself back to a calm center.
I could feel the general excitement of the other soldiers on the plane around me who would undoubtedly have family waiting to greet them with open arms and loving hearts just inside the terminal. There was only one face I expected to see inside that building, even though I had asked him not to come. My younger brother Rowan, was my shadow growing up on our parent’s farm. He had even followed me to College in in Boston, to Yale. Thousands of miles away from our parents.
It had broken their hearts to have both of their sons so far away. That’s why when I joined the army straight out of college I had made Rowan swear not to follow me, our parents could never lose both sons. They worried about me when I was sent to war, my first rotation was only twelve months, I was changed so much after that I didn’t know how I could ever go back to my family. I wanted out of the army after that first brutal tour, but my father is a patriotic man. How could I ever have returned home to him as a failure or worse, a coward?
The seatbelt sign went off and a dinging sound resounded through the cabin of the plane. People started to gather their belongings and move into the aisles. I stood up to see a stranger holding my camouflaged knapsack out towards me. He was an older gentlemen in a white Stetson hat and blue jeans sporting a giant buckle. He smiled broadly at me. “Thank you for your service son.” He said appreciatively and I shook his hand after taking my bag from him. I returned his smile humbly.
It still makes me uneasy to be thanked for doing my job. Especially now with my discharge papers in my back pocket. That’s why this homecoming is something I’m dreading rather than looking forward too. I did two more two year rotations with the special forces, a total of five years in a hell that people could never imagine. But my heart has finally had enough. I’ve been in the army for eight years, five of those spent overseas fighting a war. Now I have to face my family and tell them that I was just done.
As I enter the terminal I see the crowds of people waiting for their soldiers. There are children smiling and women crying, signs displaying welcome home messages. I see people breaking out into runs to embrace their loved ones. I duck my head a little and continue towards the baggage carousel.
As I wait for my bag I feel a huge force tackle me from the side completely blind siding me. Out of the army less than twenty-four hours and my guards were already dropped against surprise attacks. I land in a heap on the baggage carousel as the force I recognize as a body jumps on, landing a punch to my face. It’s not hard, in fact it could’ve been worse.
I react locking my arm around the neck of my assailant and rolling our bodies off the moving ramp. We land with a thud onto the hard floor of the airport. I feel him struggle beneath me as he frantically struggles to get free. My heart starts beating with joy as I recognize the body I’ve got secured in a headlock.
My reaction in my moment of recognition costs me and he pushes us of the floor rounding his body in a graceful move. He’s reversed our positions and is now behind me with his arm securing my neck. His grip isn’t anywhere near as strong as mine was on him.
“Say uncle.” His playful voice demands. I bark out a defiant laugh before his grip around my neck tightens. “Say it.” He demands again. I can barely breathe enough to hiss my answer.
“Never.” I hiss out desperate for air as I swing my leg back around hard knocking his legs out from under him. I gasp for air as he releases his grip. I round on him pinning him to the floor face first holding his arm bent back behind him. Not hard enough to snap it, but definitely hard enough to cause discomfort.
I can see movement in my peripheral and I become away we have created a spectacle. I see airport security start to approach the scene. I smile reassuringly at them and the small crowd around us. A couple of soldiers standing by are smiling and one is outright laughing at the scene in front of him. A couple of others seem to relax and begin laughing to as they take in my easy stance and huge smile.
They can also see the proud smile of the man I currently have pinned to the floor.
“Say uncle.” I call out loud enough for the rest of the crowd. Everyone starts to laugh, including my assailant.
“Never,” he spits defiantly. I twist his arm back a bit further. “Ow ow ow, alright I give.” His voice is hissing between a pain filled laughter. After another twist and pause. “UNCLE!” He bellows out against the floor. I instantly release him and he jumps to his feet and turns to face me.
I didn’t realize just how much I’ve missed my brother’s mischievous smile until right now. He’s beaming with a proud smile as he throws his arms around me. I embrace him back in a rib crushing bear hug. The crowd around us are clapping and cheering and laughing. I finally release my hug on my brother. We grew up with a family who didn’t encourage such displays of affection. Despite that Rowan, will never be the first to relinquish his grip in a hug.
I’ve always loved that about my younger brother. He’s never afraid to show someone just how much he cares about them. I scruff his hair and laugh when it barely moves because of all the product he has in it. We collect my bag from the carousel and head for the parking lot. Still sore about his defeat in the airport, Rowan doesn’t say a word all the way to the most beautiful sight I’ve seen in over two years.
My ford f-250 black truck with custom molded tray sits in a bay in front of me. If I was raised to be able to show emotion, I’d probably be crying tears of joy right about now. I hear Rowan laugh as I carefully move around the truck letting my hands run along each panel and over the flares over the hubs. I let out a deep therapeutic exhale, feeling like I could finally breathe again and start to relax.
“I can’t believe you’re happier to see your truck than your own brother.” Rowan’s face is full of mock disappointment. I look at him over the hood.
“You know I love you brother, but this..” I trail off letting my eyes roam over my truck.
“I know, I know. You’d have a marriage contract drawn up between you and your truck if you could.” Rowan laughs as he tosses me the keys. I catch them out of the air and it feels like they’ve come home to my hand. We jump in the truck cab after throwing my bags in the tray. I start the engine and roars to life underneath us. I shoot Rowan an appreciative look.
“What?” He shrugs. “I promised you I’d take care of her.” I smile at him as I put my foot down and we tear out of the parking lot. We’re on the highway in seconds dodging in between other drivers. “Whoa there soldier.” Rowan says getting my attention, his laughter is kind of nervous. “There aren’t any insurgents here, just tourists and commuters. So maybe you could stop driving like a bat out of hell.”
I look down at the speedometer and realize he’s right. I ease off a little as the words he just said go through my mind again. He’s right there are no insurgents here, nothing I need to flee from.
“Jeez Link, I didn’t mean what I said just then…” He trails off with a guilt ridden face. “I know you’ve been through a lot.” I’m about to wave his concern off but he cuts me off. “And I know you’re too much like our father to want to talk about it. But just know, I’m your brother. Your flesh and blood, I will always be here for you no matter what.”
I look at him thankfully, but I remain silent. I could never talk to him about what I’ve been through. I would never want my brother to know those horrors which will haunt me for the rest of my life. But I feel grateful to him no matter what, he has always been a constant support in my life. I have always relied on him to keep my secrets. I was badly wounded on my tour before this last one, he had come to visit me in the hospital in Paris.
He had also kept it secret from our parents. He has done me a solid again by not telling them I’m home just yet. I explained that I would need a few days before I could face them, which is exactly what I plan to take. I continue driving into the heart of Nashville and Rowan gives me directions to the hotel he’s booked me into. I park in the lot of the Holiday Inn on main street and Rowan walks into the lobby with me wearing a complete shit eating grin that I don’t understand.
We approach the desk and the lady behind the counter asks for the booking name.
“Ah yes. It’s booked under Lincoln Beauregard Jefferson.” Rowan announces proudly with a sideways glance at me.
“You’re such an asshole.” I tell him shaking my head. He knows how much I loathe my full name. Only my parents call me Lincoln. My friends, my unit all know me as Link. Rowan is trying to suppress his laughter at my annoyance.
“I’m sorry the booking is for a king room, would you prefer a twin bedded room?” The girl behind the counter asks sweetly looking back between me and my brother. I can see her openly checking out my brother. He has always appeared attractive to the opposite sex. Then her eyes roam over my upper body as well. While I may not possess Rowan’s classic good looks I have always had the physique my training built up.
“No that’s right honey,” Rowan says with a wink to the girl as he puts his arms around my waist and leans his head against my shoulder. The girls face turns a bright red as she looks down and continues typing furiously.
“Get off me.” I tell Rowan shaking him off, but I can’t help the smile on my face.
“Oh I love it when you play hard to get.” He says flirtatiously as he takes the room keys from the girl behind the counter. I shake my head at him and head towards the elevator. “Thanks honey.” Rowan calls back to the girl at the desk as he trails after me. In the elevator I turn to watch his approach. He’s swinging his hips dramatically with his lips pursed. He looks like a male model on a runway.
As I said women have always been attracted to my brother, it’s just too bad he was never attracted to them. I’ve always know he was gay, since we were young. But he never had the courage to come out to our parents until just before I went to war. He’d just graduated from Yale and I was home for the weekend to celebrate with him. He told our parents during dinner, their reaction was less than receptive.
Our father, a strong patriotic southern man, will never really accept that his son gay. Our sweet southern belle mother, with all her delicateness just cried over the grand children she would never have from her youngest son. Poor Rowan tried to explain that it was still possible and she looked like she was going to be ill. Our father lashed out physically at Rowan and I had to intervene. After some harsh words and threats the situation had exploded.
That was when I announced to them that I was shipping out the following week. I hadn’t planned to tell them like that, but the rage I was feeling towards my father in that moment brought it out. Our mother cried more, and our father just started drinking heavily. Rowan and I left them to deal with things in their own way. After a few months Rowans was talking to them again, but it was a tentative peace.
Neither of us saw our parents for twelve months after that. Me because I was in Iraq fighting and Rowan because he didn’t feel welcome. They made peace with Rowan and he’s been seeing them regularly since then. I went straight back to war and stayed there until now.
Rowan opening the door to the room distracts me from my thoughts. I walk in and drop my bags as Rowan jumps on the bed like a five year old. I smile affectionately at him. I will always protect this fool, no matter what. Our parents may not approve of his lifestyle—which they make clear—but he’s still their son. To me he has always been my brother, and my best friend. He’s never changed in my eyes the way he has in my parents’.
If anything I’ve only grown more proud of him, the way he stood up to our parents all those years ago. Knowing his heart and being strong enough to go after it no matter the consequences. I may be a soldier, but he’s stronger than I could ever be when it comes to matters of the heart. For instance I plan to sit here in this hotel room and hide from the inevitable fate of facing my parents and telling them that I was discharged from the army. My C.O had tried to talk me out of it. I was a valued team commander and he hated to lose that advantage in war time.
I flop down on the bed beside Rowan and exhale deeply. “So..” I hear his voice trail off as I stare at the ceiling. “When are you going to tell them?” I exhale again but more out of frustration. He can read me like a book, no matter how far apart we’ve been for so long.
“I have no idea.” I tell him. “But right now I plan to sleep, I’m jet lagged as all hell. Then tomorrow night you’re taking me out to get hammered.” I instruct him. He jumps off the bed with the agility of a cheerleader. He starts fangirling—as he calls it— at my plan.
“I’ll go and let you sleep. I’ll swing by tomorrow to pick you up. Then we’ll drink until we come up with a good plan.” Rowan says confidently. What I wouldn’t do for an ounce of that man’s confidence right now.