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Leaving the only life I’ve known for my entire adulthood is a lot harder than I expected it to be. I feel fucking lost. The Marines and before that the Army have been my family since I was old enough to enlist at seventeen but… I can’t do it anymore. I have nothing left in me to give. My last mission proved that.

I would only be a danger to anyone serving with me on any future missions – I know that, so I ‘retired’. Honourable discharge with commendations. Big deal. We all know the kind of shit I had to do to earn those commendations, yet we don’t talk about it at dinner parties. So the last mission was my last mission – physically I’m still good but emotionally? I’m fucking done. My soul has all the black marks it can take and right now, I feel like maybe more than I can take.

Yet I’m fucking terrified to leave the life that broke me.

Jesus, my old man would be so proud. Asshole. He’s the whole reason I got out as soon as soon as the Army would take me, not even finishing high school. He was an abusive drunk and I was his favourite punching bag. The day I turned seventeen I was at the recruitment office and I never saw the son of a bitch again. I have no idea if he is alive or dead, but I’d guess his liver gave out years ago. No idea where Mom is, she abandoned the family shortly after I was born.

The military is my family.

But I’m closing that chapter of my life now. I need to or it is going to destroy me. Not the military itself – that has been amazing, and I will always be grateful for the experience. I’m fucking serious. I got my GED, then eventually my fucking Masters in History focusing on the Diplomatic History between countries, namely military advancements. Not sure what I’ll do with it, but the point is I got it, while serving. I have made so many amazing friends around the world – and I’ve seen the entire fucking world, thanks to the military. It is awesome and ninety percent of soldiers leave the military without any problems, or with less difficulty.

Ten percent of us struggle.

Some of us carry scars on the inside so fucking severe that without help there is no coming back. Many are fortunate to have family to come home to who will look after whatever needs they have, but not all. Some come home to families who have moved on in their absence, or who can’t cope with their ‘new’ loved one. Thank God for my friend Finn who reached out, offering me a place to settle for awhile. Being ex-military, he’s gone through this whole transition himself. He also knows I have nowhere else to go, despite having the entire country to choose from. So I’m heading to the ranch where he works and I’m going to crash there for a while. He promises me the owners are cool with it, especially since I’m going to be free labour. He thought that was funny. What a fucking tool. But I am looking forward to it all the same.

When I arrived back on home soil, it was in Los Angeles. Spending fucking hours on a bare bones military plane I used the time researching dealerships and knew exactly where to go as soon as I was through customs. Within hours and a chunk of my savings later I have more than two hundred horsepower between my legs and I’m roaring down the highway on my new bike. I’m going to take my time getting there, spending a couple of nights along the way in cheap motels.

I wish I could say I enjoyed the scenery as I drove, but I can’t. I have no idea what I passed – could have been fucking volcanoes for all I know. There are parts of the drive I don’t even fucking remember, as if I were on autopilot or something. Blackouts? Nah, can’t be. That’s when you’re drunk.

Whatever, I’m relieved to see the sign for Katy telling me I’m getting close. I pull over to the shoulder to call up Finn’s directions on the GPS then start driving again. Now that I’m paying attention this is a really beautiful area, but it smells like fucking shit. Literally. Cow shit. Jesus H. Christ. My fucking eyes are watering. I know it makes a great natural fertilizer but wow… that is really fucking repulsive.

I turn down a gravel road so have to slow down considerably and follow the already made tracks. Awesome. Hopefully, this shit road doesn’t go for long because it sucks to drive on with my bike. There is a white fence stretching as far as I can see on both sides of me, with horses to the left and cattle to the right. Oh ya, there’s a new smell. Horseshit.

In less than ten minutes there is a vaulted gate on my left that says Eagle Eye Ranch and a paved driveway. Fan-cy. At least the driveway is smooth as I enter since it takes another five or so minutes before any fucking buildings come into sight. How big is this place? Or maybe I should be asking – how fucking rich are these people?

When the main house comes into view, I have my answer. Holy shit. That big ass house on that show Dallas has nothing on these people – I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life. Well, I have but I can’t talk about it. That’s classified. But I’m guessing these folks didn’t earn their home through drugs and gun smuggling.

I follow Finn’s directions and continue around to the back of the house where I see more buildings. This place is fucking massive – it is like a complex. I see a stable – big enough to house dozens of horses, a bunch of smaller buildings and a massive barn and I use the term loosely. I call it a barn but from here it looks like a mansion for farm equipment. Your rake should be so fucking lucky. Continuing around to the side like he told me, I find the garage hidden in the back. This place is well designed – I would never have known this garage was here if Finn hadn’t told me about it, it is so well hidden. Yet it holds eight cars. Jesus. Apparently this one is for staff – the family use the garage attached to the house. My bike is small, so I walk it in and tuck it into a corner – I just don’t want bird shit all over it and there are trees everywhere.

“Two arms, two legs and one head but are all of the parts original?” I hear a familiar voice and turn to see Finn’s laughing face. Christ, I missed him, and I don’t care who knows. I walk over to him and embrace him in a bear hug, and don’t let go. I probably hold him longer than is normal, but he lets me. He gets it. When we pull apart, I finally answer him.

“All original parts old friend, but not in original working order I’m afraid.” He nods quietly, understanding what I’m saying. We all came home with our demons, but that last mission… even when I close my eyes to sleep… Finn rests both of his hands on my shoulders but doesn’t say anything until my eyes meet his.

“Ali, In For Two For.” That’s all he says, and it is all I need to hear. For now anyways. When I’m ready for more I know where he’ll be. ‘In For Two For’ is something between him and I that started on our first mission together… I think I was twenty and he was a year or so younger. He was freaking out so to give himself courage, he shouted ‘In for!’ as in ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’. He was saying what the hell just go for it – not smart. I had grabbed his arm to hold him back and told him ‘Two for two’ in an effort to calm his ass down, to reassure him. Of course he had no idea what I was talking about so that day I made him a promise, which he returned. ‘Two go in, two come out.’ Our friendship was forged that day literally in a hail of fucking bullets and it has never wavered once, not even in the last three years when he had to return home without me.

He tried to get me to leave with him then, but I refused. He has asked me every single week in the last three years to leave, but I have refused. Until now. He knew it before I did and always made sure I knew I had somewhere to call home when I was ready. But I haven’t been ready. Until now. And now I need my best friend more than ever – even without the bullets flying past.

I don’t know who I am anymore.

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