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I’m married to a woman, in a ‘committed relationship’ with a man and have four children. What the fuck happened to me? It wasn’t that long ago I was fucking anyone that stood still long enough and shooting anything that fucking moved.

But I couldn’t be any fucking happier.

My life is perfect. There are now seven support groups in the surrounding area and I’m working on setting up more groups further out. There are so many vets out there that need help and if I have to work with them one by one, I’ll fucking do it. I’m not great at asking for corporate sponsorships and shit like that – turns out Finn is. As a vet he knows what he is fucking talking about, but unlike me he doesn’t want to snap every asshole’s neck for asking me stupid questions like ‘how many people have you killed?’

I’m a work in progress.

Our ranch is small compared to most of our neighbours but we’re not looking to make it big, just make it fucking pay for itself and put food on the table. And it does. We don’t have the land needed for cattle so instead have focused on horses right from the start – and now people come from all over Texas for our stock. A couple of years ago we built a bunkhouse and now have four people working for us, three of which have been here since the start. When the girls were born, we needed help keeping the ranch going since we were all at the hospital so fucking much and have really lucked out. We have a strong fucking team, all four are ex-military and have way more fucking experience than I do. I’ve learned a lot.

Our sons are both very athletic and protective of their sisters. I fucking love it. God help any asshole who tries to date one of my daughters in ten years! He’ll have to deal with me, Finn and her two older brothers. Good fucking luck with that. They both say they’re going to join the Army when they’re older, just like their Dads. Finn and I tell them we’re immensely proud of them, but secretly we’re hoping that they’re still young and will change their minds. The world they’re growing up in is falling apart too fucking fast, and I don’t want our sons standing in its way when it fucking explodes. I’ll do it – gratefully and happily, but not them. That life isn’t for them – at least I fucking pray it isn’t.

Faith and Hope… two more beautiful girls have never existed anywhere on this fucking planet. They’re perfect. They’re smaller versions of Peyton, so that makes sense. They gave us such a fucking scare when they were born but thank Christ, they’re okay now. Faith is deaf but that means fuck all in her daily life – it was harder for Peyton, Finn and I to accept than anything else. You always want the fucking best for your children, and we worried that she would somehow be denied that… she can’t hear music, she won’t be able to drive a car… we were so fucking clueless in our stupidity. We had a lot to learn and she’s been the perfect teacher. Hope is everyone’s guardian angel, but especially to Faith. Peyton is worried about Faith when they start school next week but I’m not – not when Hope is there. Hope is a fucking pit-bull when it comes to her sister, so she’ll be in good hands.

Doesn’t mean I won’t cry when they leave for school the first day.

I did with the boys, but I tried to hide. I didn’t fucking fool anyone. So I won’t be trying to hide anything this time. It’s fucking hard watching them get bigger! I want them to stay little… but still use the toilet. I fucking hate changing shitty diapers.

We finally hung my painting over the fireplace in our bedroom, beside Finn’s painting. We had to wait until Peyton finished it, and she couldn’t finish it until I knew what the ‘thing’ was. It took me a long time to figure out what inspired me… I could have gone with something easy like my love for Peyton, or friendship with Finn, or eventually my love for our children. Turns out it wasn’t any of those – even though they’re all true.

That ‘thing’ for me that keeps me going, that keeps me opening my eyes in the morning?

Helping others do the same.

I give back to my fellow vets because I know not everyone is as lucky as I am. So the ones that need help are going to fucking get it. Therapy? I have psychiatrists and therapists who volunteer their time all over the fucking state. Housing? I have temporary housing set up in local shelters in communities everywhere and am currently working with Finn and a major hotel line to set something up for emergency sheltering in case of extreme weather. Food? The same places that house you will feed you, and there’s clothes there too if you need it.

Every spring, tax experts spend hours at the shelters volunteering their time to do the vets’ taxes. I also have a sponsorship to help pay for community clinic hours in a few locations, but I really hope to expand that over the next few years. It’s going to take time, but we’ve accomplished so fucking much already. Three of my recovering vets are now ‘big brothers’ to other vets in a new program we’re working on. Slowly but fucking surely, we’re going to make sure every soldier has a place to get whatever help he needs, even if it is just a cup of fucking coffee shared over some war stories.

I didn’t know how she was going to paint ‘that’, but Peyton took my breath away… shouldn’t be fucking surprised. She does every day. In the moon light of the painting are the silhouettes of dozens of soldiers, identifiable by their shape - the clothes they’re wearing and even weapons. In the dwindling rays of light coming from the moon are more faint soldier silhouettes – homage to the ones that couldn’t be saved. I fucking sobbed when I saw it. That’s the worst part of what I’m doing – knowing I can’t fucking help everyone and every fucking time I hear of another vet dying… it tears me up inside. Knowing that, she included them in the painting. Gone, but never fucking forgotten.

And as I hold my wife in my arms as we lay in the bed of blankets I made in the back of the truck; I’m humbled by how fucking lucky I am. All of these amazing fucking blessings, plus Finn and Peyton. Committing to my best friend has turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever fucking made. One of? Nah – the best. Saying yes to Finn allowed me to say yes to Peyton and that was and is… my entirety.

She is my… whole fucking world.

It is rare for me to have nightmares of that day when we found her in the bathtub… but when I do, I usually fucking puke my guts out for days. Even ten years later it still fucks with my head, so I’m always happy for my support groups, especially at those times. I love Peyton more today than I did then, and I never would have fucking believed that to be possible.

I also never would have believed she could get more beautiful, and yet she does.

Peyton starts squirming in my arms like she can’t get comfortable. Just as she settles down, she will start agitating again. It’s actually fucking annoying.

“Sweet girl, what the fuck?” I ask her with concern. Big on love, short on romance. That’s me. Peyton’s face pales and she scrambles to the side of the truck before leaning over and puking. I hold her hair out of the way while everything she just ate at dinner splashes onto the ground. Fucking gross. When she’s done, I hand her a bottle of water to rinse her mouth out.

She rinses out her mouth, spits and then sits back against the truck cab again. She’s pale as hell and now she’s all sweaty too. Fucking flu? That fast? Oh shit.

“Sweet girl, did I fucking give you food poisoning? I’m so sorry!” I don’t know why I feel fine – we ate the same food, fuck, off the same plate at times but what else could it be? I didn’t think the flu hit that fast. I never get sick so what the hell do I know? Peyton smirks and looks at me with one eye.

“Pretty sure it isn’t food poisoning babe,” she says chuckling. She is in a surprisingly good fucking mood for having the flu. Clearly, I don’t understand what the hell she is talking about, so she goes on. “I’ll need a fucking test to be sure, but I’m a week late and I doubt it’s fucking menopause at my age.” Menopause? Huh? What the hell is she talking about? Before I have the chance to ask her, Peyton is leaning over the side and puking again. Jesus. She hasn’t been like this since she was –

Ohhhhhh shit.

Oh. My. God.

What the fuck?

I can barely contain myself as I wait for her to finish so she can talk again. This time she needs longer to catch her breath. Oh shit. If she is, it looks like it’s going to be a rough one.

“Sweet girl, are you saying you think you might be pregnant again?” I’m trying to not be too excited in case that’s not what she’s saying but fuck I hope it is. I know we said four was enough but fuck that – if she’s pregnant that’s fucking awesome! I don’t care if we end up with ten! Peyton might disagree, but we can talk about that later. She settles back down again, then opens her eyes to look at me.

“Like I said, I’ll need a test to be sure, but I’d be really fucking surprised if I’m not – this feels way too fucking familiar Alistair,” she pouts as she holds her stomach. She puked from start to finish when she was pregnant with the girls and that almost ended badly – if she’s pregnant now we’ll be doing things fucking carefully. Especially since she’s almost five years older too. “Oh my God, Alistair! I’m too old to do this again!” Did she read my mind?

“Sweet girl if you’re pregnant – we’ll welcome this new baby –“ I start.

“Babies more like,” she interrupts with a grumble. I can’t help but fucking laugh. She’s probably right based on our first two attempts.

“We will welcome these babies like the fucking blessings they are. And Finn and I will do absolutely everything we fucking can in the meantime to make it as easy for you as we can. This wasn’t planned, Peyton but it’s fucking welcome.” I say with tears in my eyes. She’s crying too, thankfully with joy this time.

“Let’s go home to Finn, Alistair. But we need to stop by a drugstore first,” she requests. We live in rural Texas – it’s not like there is a fucking mini-mart around the corner. But we need to pick up a pregnancy test – we both want to know, and Finn will want to know too, so it’s worth the ninety-minute round trip. Time to hit the fucking road.

I help her out of the truck bed, around her puke and into the truck. I secure everything in back and we take off. Considering how fucking worried she was just a few minutes ago, Peyton is excitedly talking nonstop now. Boys’ names she likes, girls’ names she hates… should we find out the sex… then she goes into a panic when she realizes we have nowhere to put the baby when it arrives.

“Sweet girl – one fucking thing at a time, okay? You just know Finn will figure everything out once we tell him,” I reassure her – and myself, truth be told. The house is already too small for seven of us so one more? Definitely going to need to renovate and expand. Fuuuuuck.

By the time we get to the store we have decided to do the test in the fucking store bathroom. Gross but neither of us can wait another near hour till we’re home to find out. I wait outside while she takes her pee, then go in to wait with her. She surprised us the last two times – and now I’m glad she did. Waiting is fucking awful. Two minutes feels like two years.

When the time is up Peyton looks but doesn’t say a fucking word. Her face doesn’t give anything away, so I don’t know if it is good news or bad news – I also don’t know what would be good news or fucking bad news. I want this baby. I know Finn will want this baby too but if Peyton is against it, we will respect that… but fuck I hope she wants this baby.

Fuck. The test could be fucking negative and I’m getting all worked up over nothing. No. No, it isn’t negative. She wouldn’t leave me fucking hanging like this if it were negative.

It’s definitely positive.

Has to be. Question is – is Peyton okay with it?

There are a thousand different thoughts going through my brain of all the ways this could play out. Peyton doesn’t want the baby and gets rid of it. Peyton wants the baby but can’t handle the pregnancy and it fucks her up again. Peyton doesn’t want the baby but has it because we want it then fucking hates us for it. Jesus, they’re getting better and better. Peyton wants the baby and is happy about the pregnancy.

Yes. That’s the response I want. The response I need. I stay quiet though because I don’t want to pressure her but inside, I’m fucking dying. Come on Peyton, please! Give me some kind of fucking sign… sweet girl… please….

And then I get my answer. Thank God.

She smiles.


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