Cowboy Boots and Combat Boots

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Chapter Thirty Two

I sit in my truck staring at her apartment building. The smell of the takeout food filling the enclosed space. She had texted me her order earlier. I’ve been stalling the inevitable, I know I have to tell her. Despite my promise to never hurt her, I know that’s exactly what is going to happen here tonight. I push myself out of the truck and walk up the stairs to her apartment on the third floor. The bags of food are sweating as the steam is trapped inside the plastic.

I train my face as I knock on her door. She flings it open after a few seconds and her beaming smile hits me with the force of a sun. I smile back at her letting my love for flow through her. She takes the food from me with a playful smile then she bites her lip seductively.

“I don’t have any cash to tip you.” She says coyly. I smile at her as I step into the apartment.

“That’s okay, your smile is payment enough.” I tell her matter-of-factly. I watch her put the bags of food on the counter as I take my jacket off.

“No that won’t do.” She says playfully walking back towards me. “What else could I possibly give you?” She says wickedly before she jumps up into my arms. I catch her as I laugh at her game. “Oh I know.” She confirms letting a seductive smile play on her lips as she brings them towards mine. I let go of every bad feeling inside me as I take her mouth desperately in mine. I let my tongue beg her for forgiveness ahead of my words. She laughs as she breaks away breathlessly.

“Missed me huh?” She teases as she lowers herself back to the ground.

“Every second.” I breathe out the words and she laughs at my seriousness. I watch her go back to the counter and grab the containers of food and dividing them into bowls. She holds out a bowl with a fork stuck in it towards me and I smile as I take it from her. She grabs her own bowl, shoving a couple of beer bottles under her arm before grabbing my hand and leading me to the couch.

I take a seat as she picks up the remote to turn on the movie and then settles back against my side as we eat. I take in the perfect simplicity of this moment with her. We eat and watch one of her classic black and white films. I watch her face light up as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers glide across the screen. I put my arm around her after we’ve finished our food and beers. She breathes deeply as I hold her against me as we watch her movie in comfortable silence.

When the movie finishes a sense of dread fills me. She snuggles against my side and I can’t put it off anymore. “Lexi.” I whisper her name like a prayer. “I need you to listen to me for a while.” I tell her sweetly. She leans back to look me in the eyes. She smiles brightly at me and her eyes filled with so much love and trust bore into me. I decide to rip it off like a bandage. I start to explain everything that happened in the offices today. I tell her about the offers and my options.

I keep my face trained and composed despite the tears falling from her eyes. I try to finish explaining everything to her but she fires up. She starts screaming words of hatred and anger about everything that has happened. She’s fighting this, but I know she realizes as well as I do what the only real option is. She starts abusing an absent Damien accusing him of not doing enough. I try to calm her but she’s not having it. She fires up again about him.

“There was nothing he could do darlin’.” I tell her certainly. She can barely breathe she’s crying so hard. I try to hold her but she moves away from me crossing her arms across her chest and crying into herself where she stands. Her initial reaction was expected, disbelief, followed by anger, now bargaining as she tries to think of other options. One of which is for us to leave and never look back.

I try to reach out to her again but she backs away shaking her head. “Don’t Link.” She snaps at me. “Just don’t.” She repeats more desperately. The look of pure anguish and hurt in her eyes at the moment is burning my very soul. Her face starts to register the acceptance of the situation. Her eyes lock on mine as a fresh wave of tears fall down her face. I haven’t moved a muscle. I haven’t taken my eyes off her. I’ve watched every brutally raw emotion tear through her completely at this news.

“I can’t.” She cries shaking her head. “I just can’t.” She repeats as she leaves the living room and runs to her bedroom and slams the door shut. I walk up the hallway and I lean my back against the door and I slide down to the floor to sit and listen to her cries. My own tears fall from my eyes as I hear her anguish filled crying into her pillow. I let the sound scorch itself on my soul to remind me of this moment forever.

The moment I hurt her so badly that I caused this sound from her. She cries for hours, so powerfully I’m sure she’s going to pass out from the exhaustion. Her cries have softened now into muffled sobs. My head rests against the door. It’s almost three in the morning and she hasn’t stopped crying for hours, until right now. Silence comes from the room. It’s almost worse than her crying. I listen intently trying to make out any sound.

I hope she’s just cried herself to sleep, but I’m going out of my mind not being able to see her. After half an hour of nothing but silence the most tormented scream comes from her room.

“Link.” Her voice screams my name like she’s in pain. I’m up and throwing the door open in a second. The sight before me breaks my heart. She’s having a nightmare, and I’m it. Her fragile looking body is curled up in a ball on top of her covers. Wearing only a thin white singlet and panties. Her skin is glistening with sweat as she curls against herself tighter. Her voice filled with anguish screams my name again.

Her eyes are closed and her body looks like a broken reflection of my goddess. I did this. I will always see this sight whenever I close my eyes now. This image will haunt me forever. I kneel on the bed beside her as I gently caress her arm. I try to rouse her from this nightmare. Her eyes fly open as she looks at me. She grabs me harshly pulling her into her arms and I hold her tightly. She starts clawing at me trying to get closer to me. Like the day of Evans attack.

She’s broken and distraught, clinging to me for dear life. “Link.” She breathes as she starts to hyperventilate. I hold her tightly bringing my lips to her ear.

“Shhh, darlin’.” I coo softly. “I’ve got you, your safe. I’m right here. Shhh.” I say the words like a prayer in her ear. Her body starts to calm in my grasp. Her breathing becomes deeper and more even. My face is buried in her neck and I can feel the warm water drops pooling on my shirt over my shoulder. Her silent tears are flooding from her eyes but she doesn’t let up on her grip. I feel her exhale deeply as she pushes away from me.

She lets go of me to lie back down on the bed. I look at her concerned as she grabs my hand pulling it around her as she rolls on her side away from me. I exhale with relief at her letting me hold her again. I pull her back against me tightly and I hold onto her for dear life as I breathe her in. The peach smell from her shampoo fills my nostrils and I feel my entire body relax as it cocoons hers protectively.

Her vibrating chest wakes me as the morning light burns my stinging tired eyes. I feel her shaking in my arms as she still faces away from me. She’s started crying again, silent tears. I move my arms against her tighter to reassure her. I kiss the back of her shoulder lightly. Her shaking stops as she takes deep breaths. She rolls over to face me and her eyes are still filled with pure anguish.

“I’m sorry.” She whispers regretfully. I look at her concerned.

“What could you possibly have to be sorry for?” I plead quietly.

“You’re faced with the most impossible decision, and I just attacked you. Like you brought this all on yourself. I was selfish, I didn’t think about how this must be affecting you. I was only thinking about my own pain.” She confesses desperately. I exhale.

“Your pain is the only thing affecting me about this decision.” I tell her certainly. She gasps and tries to stay her tears. “I will do whatever you tell me to do.” I plead. “Please tell me what to do.” I beg her. She starts crying. “If you want to live on the run I would. I will take you away and we’ll never look back.” I tell her honestly feeling like I could do it. She shakes her head sadly.

“You couldn’t live like that. Without honor, always looking over your shoulder.” She states calmly getting her crying under control.

“I would for you.” I tell her certainly. “Nothing means more to me than your happiness, I would give up all I am to keep you safe and happy. Including my honor.”

“I could never live with myself for forcing you to do that.” She explains ruefully. “You know what you’re going to do don’t you.” She affirms. I look at her desperately. She smiles a forced smile at me. “You can’t go to prison Link.” She confirms what I already know. She sees the confirmation in my eyes.

“Lexi, I.” I trail off as her eyes plead with mine desperate for absolution. “I can do this.” I tell her certainly. “I can handle it, because I’ve tasted the sweetest freedom there is.” I try to explain.

“This.” She tells me with her voice taking on a strong resolve. Her hand rests over my heart and she looks at it then back up to my eyes. “This, belongs to me.” She says boldly. I nod. “Do you understand? It belongs to me, and nothing had better happen to it or I will tear you apart.” She threatens me darkly. Her eyes are narrowed at me. I nod vigorously.

“It’s yours. Nothing will happen to it.” I promise her sincerely. She closes her eyes at my words. We lay there in silence looking at each other until I convince her to join me for a shower. Our bodies desperate need for each other’s seize control and I bury myself in her forcefully against the shower wall. She cries as she takes me in to her again and again. I know her pain is the same as mine.

Our bodies release their tension together as she cries out in bliss and I let my head fall against her shoulder as I cleave her to my body desperate for contact. We spiral down from our high and I feel like I’ve released all the tension that had built up in my body since yesterday. As we pull ourselves from the shower her smile makes me think she’s feeling the same way.

“Will you do something for me?” I ask her as we dress. She nods. “Will you stay with Rowan for me while Damien and I head to his office? I’m worried about him.” I load the question so she wouldn’t refuse. She smiles and nods at me. She’s being so strong right now. I know that she’s falling apart inside but she’s holding it together for me. I still don’t want to leave her alone, which is why I want her to stay with Rowan.

At Rowan’s apartment I’ve decided to take a page from Lexi, displaying a stronger façade than I feel. We enter the apartment and are greeted with an angry tirade from Rowan about the injustice of everything. He looks tired like this tirade may have been going on all night. I look at Damien sympathetically and he shrugs. He looks like he didn’t get much sleep either.

“Calm down Ro. You’re going to give yourself gray hair.” I tease him playfully. Damien pulls Lexi away gently leading her out of the room.

“How can you be so cavalier about this?” Rowan exclaims. “You only just got out of that life. Now you’re forced back into it because you defended me. You have to leave me again and Lexi because of those narrow minded drunken bigots.” Rowans voice is pure venom. I grab him in a bear hug to explain quietly.

“Ro please calm down.” I explain quietly in his ear. “Lexi is devastated, I’m trying to be strong for her.” I add playing him against his own emotions. He holds me tighter.

“This is all my fault.” He breathes quietly into my shoulder.

“No.” I hiss forcefully. “I would never let anything happen to you. I’d do exactly the same thing if I was given a choice.” I feel him start to shudder against my shoulder. “I need your help brother. I need you to help me be strong from Lexi. Because I’m barely holding it together at the thought of leaving her.” I tell him honestly. He lets go and looks me in the eyes. He nods in response. “Distract her for me today while we’re gone. Get her to help you with the thanksgiving dinner.” I instruct him. He scoffs.

“You still want to do that tomorrow?” He asks incredulously. I glare at him.

“Of course I do.” I tell him certainly. “Now will you help me?” I plead letting the weight of what I’m asking him settle into my gaze. He steps back and smiles a full smile at me and salutes.

“World’s best wingman at your service.” He says playfully. I laugh at him. He laughs too. Lexi and Damien reemerge into the kitchen.

“I’ll meet you at the car.” Damien says to me as he kisses Rowan goodbye. I walk over to where Lexi is standing. I take her hands in mine as I lean my forehead down to rest against hers.

“I need your help.” I whisper to her. “I need you to distract Rowan. I think he’s stressing about thanksgiving dinner tomorrow now that he only has one good arm. Will you help him?” I whisper as I look in her eyes. She narrows her eyes at me, she can see what I’m doing. Lexi can read me like a book. I give her a sheepish smile.

“Okay.” She whispers through a smile. I kiss her goodbye and I leave to meet Damien at the car.

The Colonel is already at the office when we arrive and waiting in the boardroom. It’s Saturday and the offices are almost abandoned except for us, Damien’s secretary and one or two others.

“Good to see you Captain. You’ve made the right decision.” The Colonel says to me as we enter the room. I nod curtly at him as we all take a seat. “Your re-enlistment papers and your plane ticket.” The Colonel informs me sliding a contract looking document and small thin envelope containing a boarding pass. I let my fingers graze over the plane ticket as Damien snatches up the contract and looks it over.

I run my fingers over the most heart wrenching words. The boarding pass telling me exactly when I would be being ripped away from Lexi. I see Damien slide the contract to the table in front of me. I look at him desperately wanting to wake up from this nightmare. He holds a pen out to me and nods, letting me know it’s all above board. I glance at the signature line. Captain Lincoln Jefferson is printed underneath it. I take a deep breath and scrawl my signature.

“Welcome back to the United State army captain.” The Colonel says standing with his arm outstretched across the table in front of me.

“Thank you Sir.” I reply standing to shake his hand. I’m trying to look grateful but I know I don’t. He nods understandingly.

“We all leave someone behind son.” He says almost compassionately before he bucks up. “Your team are already in play and will meet you at the rendezvous point. Be on that plane captain or you will be considered AWOL from the US Army.” He instructs me.

“Yes sir.” I confirm my orders. I salute and the Colonel returns the gesture before leaving. I collapse back in the seat beside Damien and his eyes are a storm of failure and regret. “Do you have some paper and envelopes?” I ask him quietly. He nods and calls for his secretary who brings in everything I need. “Would you mind giving me a few minutes alone?” I ask him sadly.

“Of course. I’ll go duplicate and file this. Then I’ll call the DA and make sure your Colonel held up his end.” Damien says certainly before he leaves the boardroom. Now alone in the room I try to stay my tears as I set about my task.

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