Thank you all who have been reading and following along. I always appreciate getting feedback. It helps with becoming a better writer and it’s always an ego boost, so feel free to reach out. I will always respond!
The usual spiel: This isn’t a stroke story, (more porn with plot.) Be warned, it’s very long. 33+ chapters, and many sexless ones to come before it gets sexy, which is why it was originally published under novels/novellas, but readers asked for it to be put under gay male due to content, so here we go.
This book is dedicated to all of the brave service members and their families who sacrifice so much every day so that the rest of us can enjoy the liberties that they swear to protect and uphold.
Although references in this novel may be made to actual places or events, the names, characters, incidents, and locations within are complete works of fiction. They are not a resemblance to actual living or dead persons, businesses, or events. Any similarity is coincidental. In an effort to do the United States Army justice, and to show my respect to my country, I have applied all possible efforts to merge fact and fiction to entertain, while portraying the military, and the hardships and achievements of soldiers, with respect, dignity and accuracy to the best of my abilities. It’s my hope that I’ve done you all justice, and that all of the creative licenses taken with this novel are understood to be the efforts of imagination, and not any judgment or disrespect against the U.S. military. Thank you all for your service.
(Please be warned that the first half of this chapter is a vey intense, and violent nightmare sequence prompted by Sam’s PTSD, so if that is triggering, please skip down to where the italics stop and you can pick up from there and still get the gist of what happened and what comes next. I don’t like writing violence for violence’s sake. Because of the themes in this story, it’s just necessary to the character’s development, and explains why the things that happen after, happen.)
Part of the problem is how little we understand about the ultimate betrayal of the body when it rebels against itself… —Charles Bronson
Social media loves to bombard us with images and inspirational messages meant to make us believe that no matter what kind of shit comes our way, we can all have our happily ever after someday if we just keep on swimming. The people who put that propaganda out there are the same ones who say you shouldn’t run from your past if you want a shot at a future of white picket fences. They suffer from obvious delusions and poor cardio practices.
Keep calm and carry on my ass. Ben believed that I was getting better at the art of running away from the demons that chased me, but there are always those that are persistent little fuckers. They sneak in and squat in your mind, reminding you with mocking whispers that no one weighed down by a lifetime of bad decisions can make it up that intense slope of a rainbow to the other side without a long, hard struggle. During the waking hours, there are a million things to make you forget, but when the demons come out at night for a game of chase, their teeth cut deep with painful truths.
I could hear laughter somewhere down the hall in the house, and smell the scent of waffles and bacon so I knew I was at home, far away from my usual nightmares of blood and gunfire. I exhaled slowly and relaxed. I didn’t normally dream this lucidly, but I wasn’t knocking it. Instead I stretched out in the rays of the sun that were streaming in through the open windows, reveling in the fact I could feel the heat as realistically as if I’d been awake.
I half dozed for a few minutes like a cat, before I got up to quickly brush my teeth, and get a tee shirt and sweats on to head downstairs. I hadn’t even made it completely into the kitchen yet before I heard Emma yell my name.
I caught her behind the knees and around the waist when she launched herself at me, flipping her over my shoulder. I held her in place with one hand while the other tickled her ribs. Her laughter rang in my ears as I leaned down to press a kiss to Sofia’s cheek when she poured a cup of coffee for each of us. Even Adelyn smiled at me.
It took a minute to realize what was different about her—other than actually smiling at me first thing in the morning—and then I realized her hair was the soft brown color I remembered her having as a kid, and that she didn’t have any makeup on. Without her usual heavy eyeliner, her blue eyes looked more exposed and vulnerable, but also relaxed.
After Emma tapped out from the tickle torture with one little hand on my back, I sat on one of the bar height chairs and settled her on my lap at the kitchen counter. Adelyn set a plate down in front of me; a large main circle with two smaller ones for the ears, and a mound of fluffy, scrambled eggs; Mickey Mouse pancakes.
“Morning Uncle Sam,” she said with a smile that would get her out of any trouble with me for the rest of her life if she learned casino siteleri to use it as the weapon it could be. The same went for Emma, though she already had my number as she snuggled closer in my arms while I tried to eat with the hand that wasn’t holding onto her so she wouldn’t fall.
“Look Uncle Sam, I drew you a picture.”
I glanced down as Emma pushed a piece of paper into my line of sight beside my plate. Her usual blob shaped flowers formed a border around five figures that were actually identifiable as people. I followed the movement of her finger as she pointed out each one.
“That’s Mami, and Addie.” Both figures had long hair and colorful dresses. “And that’s you,” she said, smiling up at me proudly.
‘I,’ was wearing what looked like a five year old’s vision of my military camos in green and brown splotches, with a heavy scribble of brown crayon for hair. She pointed at the left side of the drawing which was holding the hand of a much smaller character, and I hid a smile when I saw the glasses and the crown.
“This is me. And that,” she said pointing to last figure that was a little shorter than me, “is Father Ben!”
I blinked, realizing what I had thought was a dress must be his cassock, but it didn’t have a white collar on it. He also had no hair, something I planned to tease him about later. ‘Ben,’ was holding my other hand. We were all smiling; big, red curved lines that took up half our circular faces.
“Wow, this is amazing, Emma.”
She dimpled. “Mami said she’s going to put it on the fridge. It’s our family.”
I kissed the top of her head, and then looked down at the drawing of Ben. Part of our family…
I’d never wanted the wife and kids dream. Yes I was gay, but many people were, and they still had beautiful spouses and families. Domestic partnerships, adoption, surrogates, those were all possible options. I’d just never trusted myself with even the concept. But when I looked up at the girls…
Emma and Adelyn weren’t mine on paper, but Connor and I were identical twins with the exact same DNA, so genetically, they could be considered my daughters. And in the deepest part of my heart… Mine.
Sofia was the sister in my heart and Ben…
I closed my eyes for a moment and briefly tried to picture him in the kitchen with us, smiling and drinking that strong espresso he made while he sat on a stool next to mine, possibly with a little girl on his lap who looked like a baby Ben with wild dark curls…
The image didn’t terrify me the way I’d hoped it would so I’d never entertain the possibility again, and I opened my eyes immediately before I got too sucked into the fantasy. Emma and Adelyn smiled at me.
“We should all do something together today,” Sofia said as she opened the refrigerator to get milk for Emma’s cereal. “It’s supposed to be beautiful out.”
“Let’s go to the movies!” Emma looked around at all of us, her ponytail bobbing with her enthusiasm. “Uncle Sam, you said we can have a big popcorn and get dressed fancy. I want to see, Inside Out.”
I didn’t know what she was talking about, so I looked to Sofia and Adelyn for some help, and Addie smirked.
“It’s a Pixar cartoon about feelings.” Her impish smile deepened. “Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness…Right up your alley.”
I looked down at Emma’s hopeful look and then nodded. “Alright, Queen Bee.” I threw up my hands when Addie and Sofia groaned. “Hey! I promised her we’d do it up Pixar style.”
“And you always keep your promises.”
I could feel my expression soften as I gently dragged my thumb down Emma’s silky soft cheek. “Yeah honey, I’ll always keep my promises to every one of you.”
“And love us and protect us?”
She was smiling. They were all smiling and the entire situation was warm and cozy, but something suddenly felt wrong…
The sound of the gun going off deafened me, but I still heard Adelyn’s scream cut through the blast. Ignoring the ringing in my ears, I slowly brought my hand up to my cheek when I felt warm splatter across my face. It tasted metallic against my lips, but I couldn’t spit the blood out because my mouth was open as I shouted Adelyn’s name.
Those blue eyes of hers looked even more vulnerable now with the life drained out of them as her slim body hit the floor. Sofia was already crumpled on the ground, a perfect round, red hole in the center of her forehead. I immediately reached for Emma, but she wasn’t on my lap anymore. Instead, she was standing a few feet away from my stool, staring at the doorway.
Connor wasn’t looking at her. His eyes were focused on only me, serious as he swept me with a slow look. He had an army issue Sig in his right hand.
But I couldn’t get the words out, my throat suddenly so parched that my tongue felt like Velcro against the roof of my mouth. I tried to spring out of my chair to grab her, but I was suddenly grounded by invisible restraints. No matter how hard canlı casino I struggled, I couldn’t move. Mute and immobile, there was nothing I could do when Emma took a few steps toward Connor.
Still looking straight at me, he silently crouched in front of his daughter.
It’s a dream, Sam, Wake up. It’s only a fucking dream. Wake the sweet fuck up!
But my subconscious was an asshole that ignored me, instead making everything seem brighter and more real when Emma turned to look at me with trusting happiness, seemingly unaware of the carnage around her.
“Uncle Sam! Daddy’s home!”
Run! I was screaming, but no sound escaped as she turned back to Connor and dashed into his arms.
“Hey sweetheart,” he said, his voice sounding too much like the one I didn’t have right now. “Miss me?”
Emma nodded. “Good. You want to go on a trip?”
Emma’s head tilted to the side curiously. “Where are we going?”
“Somewhere fun. You’ll like it, I promise. Now say goodbye to your Uncle Sam.”
When Emma turned in his arms to look at me, her expression was hesitant. “I want Uncle Sam to come too.”
“Uncle Sam has other important things to do,” he said, looking over at me.
“But we’re going to the movies. He promised.” She kept looking at me, her lower lip tucking up beneath her teeth. “You promised, Uncle Sam…”
“I know, Emma. I—” I paused when I realized words were coming out of my mouth, and immediately tried to move. The invisible restraints my mind had put on my body suddenly released, and I launched toward her.
Connor set her down on the floor, and she started to run to me. I was moving as fast as I could, but it felt like I was trudging through mud; slow. Too damn slow, because Connor raised the handgun and aimed it at his daughter’s back…”
No! Wake the fuck up Sam!
“Sam, wake up!”
“Run, Emma!” She froze instead.
I’m dreaming. It’s just a dream, just a dream!
“Sam, it’s just a dream. Open your eyes!”
That internal struggle was overwhelming me, but suddenly I sped up, the dream relinquishing the hold of its mind fuck until I was close enough to grab Emma’s hand. I yanked her toward me as the gun went off.
I anticipated pain, but I felt nothing. Panic swept me as I looked down at Emma expecting to see blood, but she was just looking up at me with confusion. I dragged her up into my arms. Her breath was wheezy and erratic, and she was crying in my ear. I was so absorbed in assuring her she was safe, that I forgot about Connor until I caught his movement in my peripheral vision.
Emma was knocked out of my arms and went sprawling to the floor as Connor barreled into me, the takedown rough enough to knock the wind out of my lungs. My head slammed into the floor and I saw stars as I wheezed, trying to catch my breath. My attempts were thwarted when Connor straddled me, trying to pin my hands to the ground.
I could hear Emma screaming my name now as my brother and I fought. Her fear was what focused me and gave me the strength to flip our positions. He struggled beneath me, but I was heavier and stronger. I always had been. I’d just never stood up to my brother with any real force other than the night I’d caught him with Devlin. Before that, I’d been content to let him take what he wanted from me to avoid confrontation. But I wasn’t going to let him take my family away from me after he’d thrown them away.
I pinned him easily, my arm slammed across his throat. Desperate hands clawed at my arms, trying to get free. I pressed harder on his windpipe. The knee to my balls hurt, but it didn’t stop me.
The same words he’d spoken that night I’d found him with Devlin, but we were going to finish this now. His head slammed back against the ground as I shoved him back. Stop. Repeat twice, until Connor’s head lolled to the side, disoriented. He stopped fighting back.
“Sam, no. Baby, please.”
Baby? The words didn’t make sense and cut through the chaotic fog. I didn’t hear Emma anymore. I wasn’t in the kitchen. I froze as my name was murmured again, and the sound stopped my heart as it jerked me out of the nightmare.
I didn’t bother to macho away the trembling that turned my fingertips into castanets as Ben’s bedroom came into focus, and I realized my hand was curled around his throat. Instead of pulling away from me, he turned into my touch. Pained and slow, but still trying to comfort me even after I’d tried to break his neck.
“Sam… Baby, it’s just me. Easy,” he repeated.
His voice was rough, and the sound tore my heart out. Ben no longer needed to convince me that there was a God. Heaven on high was all that’d kept me from killing him.
My breath rattled in my ears as I tried to get my bearings. I was straddling him, and with the rays of morning sunlight coming in through the windows, it was easy to see the heavy flush on Ben’s cheeks from the temporary lack of oxygen. Glass shattered as I flung myself back and kaçak casino knocked the lamp off the nightstand.
My shoulders heaved with guilt when Ben sat up in bed, one hand on his throat. The other was stretched out to me— whether to welcome me closer or fend me off, I wasn’t sure. But I wasn’t sticking around to find out. I’d call the paramedics from the car.
Grabbing the nearest pile of clothing off of the floor and hoping it was mine, I staggered out of the room after pulling on my jeans. Bed springs creaked as Ben followed me.
“Sam, wait!” he rasped. I pulled my tee shirt over my head as I rushed down the steps. “Sam, I’m all right. Stop,” Ben begged when I turned at the front door.
I swallowed hard, staring at the angry-looking bruises already forming on his throat.
“Stop,” he repeated as he hurried down the stairs, taking advantage of me unable to make myself move. He curled his hand around my arm to trap me, and steady himself. “You’re in unfamiliar surroundings. It’s natural you reacted hard when you had a nightmare.”
“I nearly tore your throat out.”
“But you didn’t, and I know you weren’t trying to hurt me.” His voice was a whisper as he squeezed my arm gently. “Come back upstairs so we can talk. Or wait for me to go out with you.”
The doorknob rattled, and I realized my hand was shaking. Only pride kept me from pressing the other one over it.
“Quedate con migo,” he said, laying his hand alongside my jaw as he asked me to stay with him.
I couldn’t drag my gaze away from the angry red finger marks on his throat until Ben physically tipped my jaw up, and held it there. “Sam, I’ve talked with people suffering from PTSD before. I knew what could happen. You caught me off guard, but I’m okay. You’re okay. I’m not angry with you.”
His lips brushed my jaw, then my cheek, and finally my forehead. I closed my eyes against the sting of tears behind them. When Ben pulled away and grabbed my hand I let him, but I led him into the kitchen instead of the bedroom. Confusion showed in his eyes when I dialed 911, and pushed the phone into his hand.
“What are you doing?” he asked, before I heard the chirp of the dispatcher asking him what his emergency was. When Ben remained silent, I took the phone back and gave the dispatcher Ben’s address and information and asked for paramedics and police because my boyfriend was hurt. I left the phone on the staircase after I hung up, then went into the first floor bathroom and puked until my intestines were near the point of scheduling a meet and greet with the now murky water.
I didn’t budge when Ben came into the room and draped a cool washcloth over the back of my neck. I could see the edge of his bare feet exposed beneath the hem of his sweats when he sat on the closed lid of the toilet, but he didn’t break the silence, seeming to understand it was what I needed right now.
The sound of sirens dragged both our heads up. I got to my feet first, moving past Ben to the door. I was gentle, but determined when I brushed his hand off my shoulder and opened the door. I squinted against the sun at the two policeman on the front porch, then backed up enough to let them in after they identified themselves as Officers Whelan and Grady. I recognized Whelan as the officer who’d stepped in to support Ben when I’d gone ape-shit at the funeral. I’d have bet anything that he’d asked for this call specifically when the BOLO went out, recognizing the address.
The paramedics were right behind them, zeroing in on Ben as he appeared behind me. I sidled closer to the cops when he tried to grab my hand, not daring to meet the frustration in his eyes.
“This is all unnecessary, John,” he said, addressing Officer Whelan, confirming my suspicion that they were friends. “It was just an accident. Sam has PTSD. He was dreaming, and woke up startled and confused. I’m all right.”
“Is that the way it happened, son?” Whelan’s gaze alternated between Ben and me, obviously looking for further confirmation before things escalated.
“We can decide that down at the station,” Officer Grady interjected, his voice a crisp, businesslike tenor that was as warm as a polar bear’s ass. “It’s standard procedure, Father Santiago. We’ll just ask him a few questions while you get checked out at the hospital. Let’s go, Sam.”
I went willingly. Getting out of Ben’s house was all that mattered to me right now. Grady didn’t use the handcuffs on his belt, but the fingers on my shoulder felt like granite as we walked out to their parked vehicle.
“Damn it, stop,” Ben said running out after us. I recognized his slip into swearing as a sign of the agitation written clearly across his expression when our gazes met. “Sam, don’t do this.” His hand curled over the edge of the passenger door as he managed to get close enough for me to hear the low tone of his voice. “Sam, come on. I know you’re scared, but I’m not letting you run this time. You said you trusted me, so prove it. Tell them what happened.”
Whelan gently blocked Ben when his partner shoved me none too gently into the backseat of the police cruiser. There was no expression on Officer Grady’s face other than concern for Ben laced with obvious anger toward me.