Chapter 21- New Beginnings
Song: Whatever It Is-Zac Brown Band
When Damien and Emily left, I sunk back into self wallowing and thinking about all the things I’ve done in my life. All the things I will miss out now that I’m paralyzed. I meant every word I said to Damien. He needs to be grateful for still being able to walk and have Emily here with him.
I have my family but not my girl. I haven’t been able to reach her and neither has Emily. To be honest I’m almost relieved though. I know it sounds a bit contradictory but Dani and I have been growing about over this last year.
I don’t know what’s going on with her either but the last few times I’ve had video calls with my family, she wasn’t there. I just stopped asking and depending on her. Tuck has mentioned her a few times but she was never a fan of his. In truth none of my family members really liked her.
Damien stopped going on double dates with us and I didn’t ask him why. Dani is moody and possessive so it made them extremely uncomfortable. I also figured Damien wanted to just be with Emily and not have her brother breathing down his neck all the time. I enjoyed giving him shit every time he kissed her.
I first noticed Danika as Emily’s friend but she wasn’t my type. I was also surprised she and Emily were friends. Dani is a fast and wild kind of girl where Em is shy and reserved. She wore her vulnerability like a glove where Emily used hers as a shield and blended in.
Emily didn’t have very many friends in high school because she stayed behind a camera and all the girls thought she was nerdy. Em never went out of her way to be social or to make friends, she just did her own thing. She also stayed pretty close to Damien and I and the girls would use her to get to us or were intimated by her.
I watched as Dani befriended my sister and got her out of her shell. I took more notice in how Emily would smile a little bit more and her insecurities started to fade away. So despite Dani not being my type I bit the bullet and asked her out.
Our first date was the winter formal where we doubled with Dan and Emily and we had many more after that but she started to change. At seventeen Dani and I gave in to our desires and had an awkward encounter in the backseat of my jeep. I never wanted to do it again after that and didn’t ever want to talk about it. We weren’t prepared and were unprotected.
It wasn’t something I had planned and I’m not one of those guys who carries a condom in his wallet, or in his glove box. She got pregnant but miscarried a shortly after, I never told anyone. Not even Damien.
Dani was a mess during this time and I felt so guilty for putting her in that situation so I brushed off every insult and her possessiveness. I couldn’t leave her, despite her behavior I loved her. I still do but I don’t know if I still want the same things we did before I deployed.
Would she even be the same girl? I couldn’t tell you. I was so deep in my memories I didn’t hear the knock on the door then the stunning nurse from before comes in. She sets down the tray she’s been holding and scoots the table closer to me.
“Hi.” She says with a warm smile. “I thought you could use some company.” I get a good look and her and see how truly beautiful she is. Her pools of dark chocolate are so warm, kind and inviting.
“I’d like that. I need something to distract from my thoughts taking me down a negative path.” She pulls up a chair and sits down.
“I’ve been told I’m a great listener if you want to talk.”
“Naw, I don’t want to bore you.” She giggles softly.
“I don’t think you could bore me but how about this. I’ll tell you a little about myself then you can tell me if you feel comfortable.”
I’m not sure why or what it is about this girl, but something about her just makes me want to spill my guts. Do I tell her everything but I don’t want to scare her off. “I’d like that.”
“Well, let’s see, my name is Brooklyn Nicole Bridger and I’m twenty-three. I have two older brothers who have served in the military. My oldest brother is in special forces and my middle brother is a marine. I also have one who is sixteen and wants to be a marine when he graduates from high school. My older sister is twenty-eight and married to a marine as well. My Dad was a Commander but retired last year. So you see my family bleeds Army.”
“What about you? Did you sign up when you graduated?” Another warm smile lights up her alluring face.
“No, I went to school and got my Bachelor’s degree. Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be a nurse and follow in my brother’s and Dad’s footsteps. However, they were not so keen on the idea of their little sister going into battle. So we agreed I could be an Army nurse. I signed up when I was twenty and after a year of training, I was stationed here as a surgical nurse. I was in with the team that worked on you.
“You are a remarkable woman and thank you.” Those perfect lips curve into another smile and I can’t control my thoughts from taking over. I need to get myself under control, I can’t offer her anything, I can’t offer anyone anything. I’m a broken man.
“Dan, are you okay?” She asks kindly but with concern.
“Yeah, I’m okay. Before you came in I had been wondering why my girlfriend isn’t here.” Her stunning smile is replaced by a look of defeat.
“I’m sorry, how long were you together?”
“We started dating at fifteen, so five years.” Tears start to rim her chocolate eyes, I don’t stop myself from wiping a tear away.
“That’s a long time to be with someone, and just have them bail.” To be brutally honest I’m not sorry at all. I know I still love Dani and always will because we were a couple for so long and we share a tragic loss. I didn’t want to admit this but she left me a long time ago but I was too blinded by my love for her and hoped things could get better.
“Don’t be sorry, I think it’s better this way. She’s not strong enough to handle this and I’m too broken to try and fix her.”
“You are not broken, just damaged but even damage can be repaired. You just need to have faith.” I really want to believe her but I just can’t see how it’s possible for me to be fixed when the doctors say I will never walk again. “I know it’s hard to believe but anything is possible. In my line of work, I’ve seen the worst of the life-threatening injuries but pull through. You can too.
“How can you be so optimistic when all around us is death, destruction, and war?” I’m being a cynic but how can she be so full of charm and happiness when the world is falling apart?
“I chose to see the good in the world. If I stopped and fretted over every horrid detail I would fall apart. I can’t let it get to me if it did I wouldn’t be able to do my job. There is beauty all around us, Dan. You just need to be able to open your eyes to it.”
“How can I see that when I’m stuck in this fucking bed? How can I see that when I let my unborn child die and felt relieved when it happened? How can I see the beauty when my best friend joined the Army just so he could escape memories of his abusive father and a mother who never stood up for him? There is more evil around then there is beauty.”
“That may be true but you can choose to allow it in or you can choose to allow in the light. Right now I get that you are consumed by a dark cloud and that is understandable, given everything you’ve seen. However, you can’t let this dark cloud follow you around, you will never find joy in the small things or see the beautiful things around you.
“I see you.” I know it was a stupid thing to say but the blush it caused was all worth it. She pauses and looks as if she’s pondering something.
“Please don’t get upset with me for asking this, but what happened to your child?” Shit, I was hoping she wouldn’t bring that up. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.” I reach over and touch her hand.
“No, please don’t be sorry. It’s just something I don’t like to talk about. My girlfriend and I were only seventeen and got carried away one night, she got pregnant. I was terrified and not ready to be a dad, I had so many plans for my future but having a child would change all that. I would do everything for her, so I proposed and started making plans for our future. Our families didn’t know anything about it. We figured we would tell them when we were ready, but we never had to. She lost the baby a few weeks later.”
“I felt so relieved but also felt like such an ass because she was grieving while I was having a party inside my head. I didn’t want the child and secretly wished for a miracle, so I killed our baby and being paralyzed is my penance.”
“What happened to you is not a punishment, you had no control over her losing the baby, sometimes a woman’s body just won’t accept the fetus. Especially, for a girl her age. Miscarriages happen and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it. Please do not beat yourself up over this.”
“Why did she have to leave me? Why wasn’t I good enough for her?”
“Without knowing her I can’t speak on her behalf but I can tell you that she is a dummy for not being here. I’m looking at a man who is strong and brave, a man who did something a lot of men are afraid to do. You are there for your best friend even when you feel broken, I see a man with a big heart who is willing to sacrifice everything for those he loves. I see a man who is better than good enough, he is worthy of so much and a girl who can love him unconditionally.”
With Brooklyn, I feel like I can breathe again. It’s been so long since I could take a relaxing breath. Brooklyn doesn’t push or is in my face. With Dani those last two years it felt like walking on eggshells and she would go off on me at any moment. I felt trapped and now I feel free, now that I’ve had time away from her I realize how toxic we were. I had to hide every negative thing she did or said from my family and I hated lying to them about it, but I thought it was for the best. It turns out I wasn’t helping her at all.
I just met this girl but it seems like I’ve known her all my life. She gets me more than Dani and sitting her talking to her she isn’t talking all about herself, she’s wanting to listen to me. This is uncharted territory and I’m afraid of saying something wrong.
“Thank you.” She didn’t need an explanation, just by the lovely smile lighting up her face tells me she understands. Brooklyn stayed and talked to me until my parents came in, she encouraged me to open up to my parents and tell them everything. She said I will be so much better when I don’t have to carry that baggage around. It isn’t until I see the hopeful gleam in my mom’s eyes and the warm smile on my dad’s face, that I’m going to disappoint them.
“I’ll come to see you tomorrow after my shift.” She says with hope and the joy she talked about overruled the darkness. I may not know it at this very moment but Brooklyn can very well be the light I need to come back.
“I’d really like that.” She nods and leaves the room. Dad fixes his blue eyes on me.
“Does this mean Danika is history? Please say yes.” He pleads. He was the leader of the ‘we don’t like Dani club.’
“Henry!” Mom chides. “Now is not the place, although, she is quite pretty and just spent two hours in here with you. I haven’t seen a real smile on your handsome face in quite some time.”
“Ugh, not you too. I thought you had my back?” I chuckle. Mom bends down and kisses the top of my head.
“I always have your back, I just want you to be happy, sweetheart.” I place my hand over hers.
“I know mom, and I will get there someday. I have something I need to tell you and Dad and I worry you won’t look at me the same.”
“That would never happen, son, no matter what you tell us we will always be proud of you.” I just hope that is true. “First, the doctor needs to talk to you,” Mom says as she brushes the hair out of my face.
“Okay.” Dr. Hardy comes into the room with a cheery disposition and a bright smile.
“Well, when we first heard about your condition I did some further research and found a study that was done on your particular injury. There is a surgery that could be done for you to be able to walk again.”
Now it all sounded to good to be true and I’m extremely skeptical about this yet hope filled me. “What kind of surgery would it be?”
“It would be the same kind of surgery only more evasive. If you decide to go forward with it, the surgeon can fill you on all the details.” Doctor Hardy answers. “Daniel, I truly believe this will be a benefit for you and you’re loved ones.”
“How likely would it be successful?” My Mom asks.
“Well, when Daniel was brought in we were sure he wasn’t going to make it but he surprised us all and pulled through.” He looks straight at me. “You are strong and a survivor, I truly believe you will be able to walk again, with the surgery and extensive Physical therapy. I’m going to leave so you can talk it over with your family.”
“Thank you, Dr. Hardy, for everything,” Dad says while shaking the middle aged doctor's hand.
“It’s my pleasure.” He leaves the room and my parents turn their full attention back to me.
“What are you thinking Honey?” Mom asks.
“I’m not sure, I need some time to think about it.”
“Take all the time you need, son. We aren’t going anywhere until you’re ready.” I really do have the best parents. Growing up I took them for granted and disliked them at times but there has never been a day when I haven’t appreciated them. It took having a friend like Damien, and watching him struggle every day because he didn’t have my parents like mine, luckily, they took Damien in and made him an honorary Woods boy.
If it weren’t for my parent's guidance and support I’m sure Damien would at some point end up like his father, but he had already decided from the first time his old man beat him that he was never going to be that man. He was four.
“Mom, Dad, I really am grateful for you two being here. I know it was a sacrifice to close the office and fly all the way over here for me. I haven’t always been the best son, but I always strive to make you proud. I also know you were upset when I just up and decided to enlist with Damien but it was something I needed to do for him and for myself. Damien would be dead if I hadn’t of come with him and that is not something I can live with.” The thought of my best friend and brother dead eats at me and what I have to say next will destroy my parents.
“When I was seventeen I had sex with Dani, and we weren’t prepared. I hadn’t intended to do anything with her so I never carried anything with me, well she got pregnant.” I hear my mother gasp and see her cover her mouth with her hand. Water fills up behind her lashes and I feel like the world’s biggest disappointment.
“She didn’t abort the baby, did she?” Dad asks with anger.
“I..don't know.” I saw the positive test and then a few weeks later she calls me and tells me she miscarried.”
“Son, we need to tell you something.” He says and I’m not liking his tone. “We’ve wanted to tell you for a while now but we haven’t figured out how. We hoped that she would have come clean about it.
“What is it?”
“Son, if she really was pregnant, which I’m truly skeptical about, there was a fifty fifty chance that baby wasn’t yours.”
“What are you saying?” I knew deep down the answer to what he’s going to tell me but I needed to hear it.
“She’s been cheating on your for at least three years with some local. Tuck saw them at the bar the other night and Mom and I have seen her around as well. We knew something was going on with her when one day she comes to the house for her regular call with you. She was acting really shady and secretive. Her eyes were also dilated and her speech was impaired.
“We asked her if she was okay and she only told the parital truth. She said her friend gave her something to calm her nerves. We asked her to leave and we haven’t talked to her since, yet, we’ve seen her around with this guy.”
I could tell something was off with the last visits had but ignored it. I also had a feeling she could be cheating but I didn’t want to believe it. The thing that pisses me off the most is that she led me to believe I got her pregnant and I have lived with the guilt of her losing the baby when realistically there might not have even been one. I don’t know what to feel, but only anger and resentment. The only words I seem to be able to find are,
“I know, and I’m going to break up with her when we get home. I need to let go of toxicity for me to heal and I'm going to have the surgery.