Chapter 1-She's Not Mine Anymore
I stare at the caravan of white buses lined on the road in a perfect row, waiting to take us to our destination. Families gather around to say their goodbyes to loved ones. I look over and see my best friend Dan hugging his mother, then his sister, who also happens to be my ex. She says something to him which makes him laugh deeply then swats his arm while giggling. His father comes over and embraces my friend.
A sense of dread rolls down my back when I see him hug his girlfriend Danika. She cornered me earlier and threatened to cut off my balls if I let anything happen to Dan as if I planned on letting that happen. I don’t blame her though; she’s angry and blames me for Dan’s enlisting. I didn’t tell Dan I enlisted because I had no plans of him following me, I had every intention of going by myself but the next thing I know he’s beside me at basic training. I guess it makes sense he followed me, we’ve done everything together since we were in diapers.
Dan and Danika have their future all planned out; he can give her everything she wants right down to the house. She wants a home with a white picket fence in our tiny town along with four kids and a dog. Sounds like the perfect life, right? For him it is.
My body coils with built-up tension, anxiety, and fear while watching him slide his hands around her waist locking her to him; she throws her arms around his neck and holds on tight. He bends down and kisses her and jealousy hits me hard.
I’m not jealous of him and Dani, it’s more that he has people who love him and are here to see him off. My Mom was very adamant about not coming today, she said it would be too hard for her to say goodbye. I’m pretty sure it’s just another one of her excuses; she’s given me a book full since losing my Dad. I sound like a dick; I know but trust me I’m really not. Her whole life was wrapped up in Tom Reed and anyone else was just a bystander, including me.
I’m her only child and all she has left but she could seem to care less what happens to me. Before I left the house I gave her my I don’t care attitude, even though her dismissal stings. From the age of four, I had built up an impenetrable wall and learned to shield my emotions. I contribute my assholery to my old man.
He was a difficult man and thought I was weak, my father thought beating and throwing me across the room would toughen me up, but I was never enough for him. I played Football because I thought it would make him proud and I was good at it. He rode me hard about upping my game and never losing focus but never came to my games. When I made Captain my junior year, he was out getting drunk and didn’t care.
I did everything to show that man I wasn’t weak and am a son he could be proud of, but it was all for nothing. Now as I stand here getting ready to go overseas I know what I’m doing is for myself. I don’t give a shit what he thinks but at the same time, I’m going to prove to that fucker I’m not the weak little pussy he always insisted I was. I will amount to something and leave my mark in people’s lives.
I take off my hat and wipe the sweat from my forehead, it’s a blistering day but that’s to be expected when you live in the middle of Texas. I can’t wait to get out of here. The good thing I see about me leaving is getting away from certain people and maybe, just maybe I can forget her.
It’s hard to do that when I see is her face everywhere I go, and it burns when I can’t touch her or hold her the way I used to. I miss the way her head fits right in between my shoulder and neck. I yearn to feel her lips on mine, for just one more taste.
Anger rises every time I remember that fateful day, all the promises we made to each other, and every moment we shared. I wonder how she could just casually throw it all away and leave me with nothing but empty excuses. Did any of our time really matter to her or was I just a way for her to escape the nightmares?
I’m so lost in my depressing thoughts and watching Dan’s family when I feel a tap on my shoulder. I circle around and see my mom with tears in her hazel eyes.
“I’m so sorry Damien, I’m just so sorry for hurting you. I was determined to stay so you would change your mind but I realized that no matter what I did or said you are still going. I’m just so worried about you, and I fear I may never see you again. Day, (her nickname for me) you are my only baby and I love you so much. I want you to take care of yourself and come home to me. I will always say a prayer and keep you close to my heart.” Well, this is new, this woman never once told me she loved me, at least not that I can remember.
I pull her five in half foot frame into my six-foot-four build. She is such a dwarf compared to me. She removes herself from my hug and cups my face in her dainty hands; I tilt my head to look at her. “I love you too; Mama and I want you to take care of yourself as well. You don’t have to be afraid anymore, Dad is gone so go live your life Mama and be happy.”
Mom’s eyes fill with more unshed tears and I reach out to her once more. “Please be careful Day, I can’t lose you too.” Her words felt like a stab through the chest plunging straight for my heart. Why did she have to say that now? I can’t leave here and go into a war zone while those words ring through my head on repeat.
“Mom, I know how to be careful; I’ve been doing it my whole life remember? I’m not stupid enough to get myself killed and you should be glad he’s gone. You are free of him now and he can never hurt you again.” I was being harsh, but it needed to be said. I won’t be here for her to lean and depend on anymore so the sooner she accepts it the better off she will be.
“I know sweetheart, you are a very strong and capable young man. I’m so very proud of you, I will do my best to let go and move on. I worry about you and know this is your running away?” Damn, she knows me too well. I am running but it’s better than spending my days working at the shop and fixing other people’s cars. I’m afraid if I stay here, I will turn into my old man and I won’t allow myself to become him. I refuse to spend my evenings down at the local bar getting drunk and passing out, so I’ll become the clichéd country boy. I’m better than he ever was, and I desire to make something of myself.
“I’m not running away, Mom. Yes, I’ll be out eighteen months but I will be back. I just know that is what I need to, I refuse to be stuck here and not go anywhere with my life. With the Army I have the possibility of going to college and you and I both know that was never an option before, Dad made sure of that. Please have faith and trust in my platoon, we will all watch out for each other.” Mom opened her mouth but then quickly shut it, she wanted to say something but wasn’t sure how to bring it up.
“What is it?”
“What about Emily? How does she feel about you and Dan doing this?” There it is, this is what I’ve been waiting for. She loves to lay the guilt on thick when it comes to my ex. She loves Emily and just like her parents hoped we should settle down and marry after graduation. It seems to be the normal thing to do around here. Emily decided to break up right before I left for basic, but my Mom just doesn’t seem to get that.
Emily wanted more, she and Danika want the same things, but I wasn’t ready to give her those things yet. I couldn’t give her the white picket fence and the bazillion kids. Hell, I’m only eighteen and been out of High School for less than a year. I shouldn’t be eager to settle down yet, right? I don’t know where my future is headed after the four years are over. Right now, I’m just trying to live day by day.
“I’ve told you, Emily and I ended it so she doesn’t care one way or another, besides she’s going to be leaving for college soon and she’ll move on. She just cares about me bringing Dan back in one piece and alive.” I shift back and forth on the balls of my feet.
“Look, Mama, I have to head out so please promise me you’ll be happy, I can’t do my job if I have to worry about you.”
“I promise Day, only if you promise to come home.”
“You know I don’t make promises I can’t keep but I will promise to do my best.”
“Then that’s all I can ask.” She hugs me one last time, only holding on tighter this time, I love my mom very much and I’m heartbroken to have to leave her in such a vulnerable point in her life, but this is good for her and me.
“Hey, Mrs. Reed do I get a hug?” My best friend pushes me out of the way and engulfs my mom in his giant frame. Dan is the goofy one where I’m the more serious one with a chip on his shoulder. He has this charisma that draws people in; it explains why he was the Student Body President and Captain of the basketball team.
While Dan is saying his goodbyes, I scan the emptying lawn and spot Emily. God, she is beautiful, and the reason I need to leave. I need to forget her and how much I love her, the wound is still fresh. I need space, and that must be across the country. Our eyes meet from the opposite sides of the lawn and a million thoughts run through my mind. I want her to run to me and beg me to stay, to hear her say she loves me, but I know she won’t. She sprints towards me, blond hair flowing in the wind behind her and the yellow sundress she’s wearing brightens her ivory skin like the sun lights up the morning sky.
“Damien, wait!” She yells as I flip around and walk away, I can’t look at Emily without craving her. She isn’t mine to touch, kiss, or hold anymore. I can’t get caught up in my feeling for her or get sucked into those beautiful cornflower eyes. Once upon a time, all she had to do was bat those eyes at me and I was putty in her hands. She doesn’t want you, man. Don’t do this to yourself again. I keep going and pray she doesn’t follow.
“Day, please?” I stop dead in my tracks; it’s the pleading in her voice. I’ve never been able to tell her no when she uses that tone. I move back towards her and stand right in front of her and make the mistake of looking into her eyes. Even though she’s been crying for quite some time she’s still the most beautiful girl I’ve ever laid eyes on.
“I told you I would do my best to keep Dan out of danger and it’s a promise I intend to keep.
“Damien, this isn’t about Dan, although, I did make him promise me the same thing. You both need to watch out for each other and come home because I’m not capable of living without both of you in my life.” I lift my heavy duffle up on my shoulder and give myself an allowance for one more glance. I want to reach out and tuck that piece of unruly hair behind her ear and caress her soft skin. Just walk away, Damien. You need to forget her. I remind myself and bring Asshole Damien out.
“Why do you suddenly care? It wasn’t so long ago I recall you telling me you wanted nothing to do with me, so tell me why the change of heart Emily?” Everyone underestimates Emily, some think she is weak but when you cross her she’s like a mountain lion on the hunt. Being the only girl in a family of boys will toughen you up.
“I know you’re scared and upset with me but that doesn’t give you a right to be a dick and that’s not what I said.” I don’t know how to respond without coming off an even bigger dick, so I just say,
“I don’t have time to fight with you, it’s almost time for us to load up.” Just as I say that I hear our division Commander Ray Oliver speak up and I stand at attention.
“We’re loading up Corporal Reed.” I started basic training as an E3 but I ranked up pretty quickly because of the Associate’s Degree I earned in High School. It wasn’t easy to do with my full-time job, football, and still maintaining my High School courses, but with Emily, Dan, and their parents I was able to succeed. I was offered several scholarships but turned them all down; I didn’t want to leave my mom alone with Tom. It just didn’t feel right but had I known he was going to die a few months later, well there’s no use in dwelling on the past.
During basic training I busted my ass and proved to my instructors I’m not a man to be messed with, I mastered all the classes and have a killer aim. I used all my anger and frustrations to drive me forward, the images of my father and hearing his voice calling me a pussy and weak replaying in my head pushed me forward. I like to think he’s watching me from his place in Hell and kicking his ass for being such a dickhead bully to my mom and me.
My Instructors were all impressed and moved my rank up to E4, my best friend was right there beside me the whole time. He ranked up as well. “Yes, Sir,” I respond to my superior, he dismisses me then glances at Emily, my Mom, and Dan with his family. His hand curls into a fist and he places it over his heart and bows his head. I learned that this is a sign of gratitude and respect. After a second or so of watching him, he turns and moves for the buses.
“Take care of yourself Emily and I hope you get everything you ever dreamed of. I hope you can find the guy who can provide you everything I couldn’t.” She reaches out and touches my arm.
“Come on Damien; please don’t let it be like this. I really need to tell you something and I fear I may never see you again.”
“I can’t, goodbye Emily.” Against my better judgment, I bend down and kiss the top of her head. “I’ll never stop loving you and that’s why I can’t stay.” Then flip around and walk away while hearing her pleading sobs behind me and with each step away from her the encasement over my heart grows into an unbreakable glass. . I think I hear the wind whisper ‘I love you’ but I brush it off as wishful thinking.
Dan was already on the bus when I get there, and despite my somber mood and shit attitude he’s still smiling and laughing with the others. We were told before we left these men would become our family, our best friends, and our strongest allies. We work, eat, and sleep together. No, not in that way, our trainer explained how it works. We are a team and it’s everyone’s job to watch each other’s backs. I don’t intend to be friends with any of these guys, but I would gladly take a bullet for one of them.