Touching Scars by Stacy Borel

  Copyright © 2013 by Stacy Borel Cover Design by Cover It Designs Editing by Trish Kuper, Vixen Editing Interior design by Kassi Cooper

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  RE YOU GOING TO EGAN S “A M ’ party tonight?” Ryan said, throwing the football to Timber.

  “Probably not. I didn’t finish my Biology project that was due last week, and Mr. Kent said I had to get it in to him by Monday or else I get a zero. I’ve already lost thirty points because it’s late.” Timber extended his arm and threw the ball back to Adam.

  “I wouldn’t even bother. You already have an A in that class, what’s a missing project going to do, drop you down to an A minus?” Adam said sarcastically. “Besides, I heard there is going to be a keg.”

  Timber glared over at him. “It will lower my GPA, asshole, and I need that scholarship. I don’t have parents that pay for everything.” Adam shrugged with indifference, and flipped him off. Timber Nelson had to work for everything he had. His mom had been a secretary for the past ten years at Bay City Elementary School, and his dad had been the sheriff of the town since he could remember. It wasn’t as if they were poor, but they didn’t always have the money to go on lavish vacations or live in the exclusive communities that his friends parents did in Bay City, Texas. And unfortunately, it also meant that Timber didn’t have a college fund. His parents had saved as much as they could while he was growing up, but last year his father didn’t get re-elected and they had to dip into the money they’d set aside to pay the bills. Timber ended up getting a job at a local Market Basket stocking shelves and bagging groceries so he could start up a new savings account and put away as much money as possible. He knew he was going to need extra money for any added expenses the scholarship he’d been working for wouldn’t cover.

  Although he was never jealous of his friends and their pompous lifestyles, with the fancy cars, brand name clothes, or new gadgets, this was something that he envied of them. They would get to attend whatever college that accepted them, and not have to worry about how they would pay for their next meal or how they would buy their books.

  Still looking at Adam, he noticed that his friend had thrown the ball except he hadn’t thrown it towards him. He had thrown it wide and over Timber’s left shoulder. Two things happened in the moments leading up to the incident. First, he noticed that Adam had a Cheshire cat of a grin plastered on his face. The second thing was the ball seemed as it if was moving in slow motion and headed straight for the dark haired girl that had been running around the track.

  “Hey, look out,” Timber hollered to Katherine, the girl that was running. The football was spiraling right toward her and Timber cringed as he watched it hit her in the back. She lurched forward and stumbled, falling onto her hands and knees. Her glasses went flying off her face in the process, landing on the pavement.

  Timber’s friends all stood there laughing while he watched her roll over into a sitting position and rub the dirt off her knees with her scratched up palms. From where he was standing, he could see that she had tears streaming down her cheeks. His friends were such dicks. They teased any kid in school that his crowd didn’t hang out with, which was essentially anybody that wasn’t good looking or athletic. Katherine wasn’t an ugly girl, but she wasn’t the most beautiful either. However, Adam seemed to take extra pleasure is harassing her. Why he gave it to her the most, Timber didn’t know. He was never one to bully, but he never did anything to stop it. Maybe that made him as bad as his friends, maybe not, but now, looking over his shoulder at Katherine wiping a tear from her face, he felt sorry for her. He wanted to go see if she needed any help, but being badgered by the guys seemed too high a price to pay. Timber simply stood and watched as Katherine got up on shaky legs, found her glasses, and walked to the outside locker room door.

  Ryan ran over and snatched the ball out of Timber’s hands. Timber couldn’t tear his eyes away from her. He stood there and watched Katherine walk until she disappeared behind the gymnasium door. He turned to Adam and shoved him hard in the shoulder.

  “What the fuck, man. Why are you always giving that girl a hard time?” Adam shot him a cocky grin. “Why are you so concerned? You have something for this chick?” “I was going to ask you the same thing.” His friend’s grin slowly slipped into a frown. “She’s just a face in the masses, man.” Adam held his arms wide, gesturing for Timber to look at the other students milling around. “I didn’t realize you felt for those who are beneath you.”

  Timber had heard shit like this from him since they were kids and Adam had started looking down his nose at people, just like his father. Adam’s dad was the mayor of Bay City. Dirty politics and blackmail were just two of the things that he’d picked up from his dad. But his ego, that selfish prick that reared its ugly head just like it was right now, was all his. He thought that he was entitled.

  “Fuck you, man. I don’t look down at people and you know it,” Timber gritted out. “Could have fooled me. You did nothing to go help poor little Katherine,” Adam smirked. Timber took a menacing step forward, but Ryan put his hand on his shoulder. “Leave it alone,” Ryan said, low enough for only Timber to hear. Glaring at Adam, he took in a deep breath through his nose, and turned to walk away. “That’s what I thought.” Adam’s laugh caused Timber’s hands to clench into fists. “I’m sure we’ll be seeing you at the party.” Timber walked to his beat up old ’66 Mustang and peeled his sweaty shirt off. Reaching into his vehicle, he pulled out a clean tee and pulled it over his head. He considered heading home and getting to work on his science project, but he couldn’t get himself to leave.

  He sat in his car for over thirty minutes, waiting for Katherine to come out. Timber couldn’t explain why he felt the need to know that she was okay, but the fact remained, he would feel better if he saw her without any tears on her face. He’d never felt concerned like this before about any of the other pathetic kids that his friends teased. Maybe he was a heartless bastard for thinking them deserving of the ridicule, but they never stood up to his friends and fought back. Why anybody would stand there and take the shit that Adam, Ryan, or any of the other athletes dished out, he’d never know. But this girl… even though he’d seen Adam target her before, this time something in him made him feel sorry for her. Timber saw her tears, he felt the need to go to her and help her up and brush the dirt off of her cuts.

  Gripping the steering wheel, his knuckles white, Timber’s eyes zeroed in on the dark haired girl that came walking out of the same door she went in less than an hour ago. Katherine had bandages on both of her knees. She was struggling to pull what looked like a very heavy backpack up over her slight shoulders. Timber watched her as she made her way to an old silver Toyota Corolla. After she hefted her backpack into the back seat, she shut the door and stood there, gazing down at the pavement. Her body sagged, and she looked up, her eyes scanning the nearly empty parking lot.

  When she made eye contact with him, her expression changed. Katherine straightened her slumped shoulders and tipped her chin up. She was trying to show something to him. Her left hand came up and she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. Timber decided to go speak to her. He opened his car door and got out. As he walked towards her, he noticed that her previous look of self- assuredness wavered. She shifted from one foot to another, watching him intently as he neared her.

  When Timber was standing directly in front of her, he looked down.

  “What do you want? Did you come over here to shove me on the ground and cut my tires?” Her lip quivered, but she held it together. “Go ahead. I don’t care what you do to me.” Timber had never actually inspected Katherine before. He never noticed how her almond shaped eyes held a hint of green amongst brown. They were absolutely beautiful. She hid them behind her dark rimmed glasses, and unless you were standing this close, you couldn’t see the exact color. He also noticed her lips were full and had a slight pout. What would it be like to kiss her? Closing his eyes tightly, Timber shook himself of the erratic thoughts.

  “Are you just going to stand there? Do your worst,” she spat. He opened his eyes. “My worst? You think I came over here to hurt you?” Katherine looked up at him skeptically. “Well, you’re no better than your asshole friends, so yeah, of course you would.” Timber’s jaw clenched. She actually thought he would do the same thing Adam did? “I’m not like them. It wasn’t like I was the one that threw the fucking football.” She looked down, and her long, dark brown hair made a curtain around her face. “You might as well have,” she mumbled.

  “Excuse me?” Her words took Timber aback. She glanced back up at him with confusion in her eyes. “You heard me. You might as well have. Did you even bother to stop your friend from throwing it at me? Did you laugh right along with them when my back was turned? No, wait. You probably plotted to see what you guys could do to hurt the poor nerdy girl. What would embarrass her the most?”

  Katherine was mad now and was firing accusations at him that pissed him off. “You have a lot of nerve. I’ve never done anything to you.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Yes, you have.” Her lips quirked up in a rueful smile. “Frankly,

  I’d say that you are the worst out of all of them. You know what they’re doing, and yet you stand there and let them. You all walk around this school like you rule the place, and you pick on everybody that isn’t a clone of you. Well guess what, Timber,” she said his name with so much hate that it rocked him, “I am different. I care about people, and I don’t walk around pushing and shoving them, making them feel like they are less than me.”

  Timber was speechless. Nobody had ever spoken to him this way. Part of him was completely turned on by this feisty five foot three inch person in front of him. He’d had no idea that a wildcat was inside of this small package. But another part of him was hurting from the deep blow to his ego. He didn’t know how to respond to her accusations.

  Swallowing hard, Timber said words that he’d wanted to say to her when he saw her on the ground crying. “I’m sorry.” Katherine dropped her hands that were on her hips and walked around to the driver side door. “Save it, Timber. Your apology means nothing to me.” She was about to climb into her car but stopped. He saw tears glistening in her eyes. “Change.”

  “What?” Timber wanted to reach out to her and tell her not to cry, but it seemed like a completely illogical thing to do. mean things those guys say to people like me. Do something about it. Then maybe your apology will start to mean something.”

  With that, Katherine got into her car and drove away, leaving Timber standing there. As he walked back to his car, he made a choice. He couldn’t say that he would stop his friends from doing the same things that they’d always done to everyone else, but he would make sure that they left her alone. Her words had cut him like a knife, and sometimes the truth really fucking hurt.

  “S , I something to drink?” “I’m sorry, what?” “Can I get you something to drink?” I glanced up at the flight attendant that was looking at me expectantly. She had a smile on her face that I was certain was forced. I had a feeling she had been standing there trying to get my attention for a while. I was off in my own head. Being up in the air without any sleep for the past eighteen hours had messed with my head. Our first stop was in Bangor, Maine. It would be the first time I stepped foot on American soil in over a year.

  Though the woman was attractive, I wanted her to stop looking at me. Her eyes watched me with weariness, as if she knew where I was coming from and she felt sorry for me. I didn’t want her fucking pity. I wanted to feel numb.

  “Crown and coke,” I bit out. She nodded and began pouring the smooth amber into a plastic cup. She’d given me two of those mini bottles which I appreciated. I pulled a twenty dollar bill out of my wallet and handed it to her and told her to keep the change. When she handed me my drink, she stood there while I tipped my head back and swallowed the cup’s contents in three gulps. It would take a few minutes for the alcohol to warm my blood, and I was feeling more and more irritated that I was being scrutinized by this stranger. I turned towards her, handed her the empty cup and gave her a stiff smile.

  “Thanks.” The smile that was plastered on her face faltered when she saw the hardness in my eyes. She nodded, moving on to the next row. Thank fuck. I was pretty sure if she had stood there any longer I would have told her we could take the staring into the lavatory and she could stare at me while I fucked her from behind and she watched in the mirror. I may be screwed up in the head, but I’m still a man with needs. In fact, I wondered if I should pull her back with me and do it anyway. Maybe having sex would help me forget.

  I rolled my eyes at my own thoughts. Meaningless sex with someone might give me a temporary release, but it wouldn’t stop the nightmares that came every time I closed my eyes. All I could see were the faces of my friends, my brothers. I leaned my head back and stared at the headrest in front of me, refusing to let sleep pull me under.

  An hour later, we were making our approach to Bangor International Airport. I’d been here before after my first tour in Iraq. That was three years ago. At the time, I was happy to be home and truly enjoyed the welcome wagon that greeted us as we got off the plane. This time, I was dreading it. Veterans from the area come and meet us, to thank us for our service, and shake our hands. They wave flags, and other people in the airport stop what they are doing and clap. I know that they don’t know what it’s like over there. They don’t know what I’ve seen, and I know they are just showing me their gratitude. But this time I don’t want their happy smiles and ‘thank you’s’. I want to be getting off the plane with my full squad. I just want to walk through the terminal, find a seat, and sit down until I have to board my next flight. I want quiet. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be finding my peace ever again.

  It was exactly as I predicted. The double doors that lead out to the terminal seating was surrounded on each side by old men wearing their covers and retired military uniforms, saluting each of us. Men, women, and a few children were amongst the vets with small American flags, smiling and clapping. Damn if it didn’t make my heart ache. I nodded at the few servicemen that made eye contact with me. As soon as I was passed them, I set my carry-on down in the chair beside me. Taking a deep breath in through my nose and exhaling, I tried to calm my taut muscles. I felt tightly wound, like I would blow at any point.

  I had my closed my eyes, but I felt a tap on my thigh. When I opened them, I was looking at a little dusty, blonde haired boy that had to have been no older than five. “Mister, are you a soldier?” His innocent eyes soothed me. “Yes, I am.” I answered him in a quiet voice. “Cool. I want to be a soldier when I get big.” Big blue eyes lit up his face. “Well, that’s a good goal, but you make sure you go to school first.” He paused and looked over at who I assumed must have been his mother walking towards us. “Have you killed a bad guy before?” Immediately the tenseness slammed in my gut and I shut my mouth before I said something stupid, like “go the fuck away, kid, or not as many as I should have.” Thankfully, his mother came and grabbed him, apologizing for bothering me as she led him away. I leaned forward with my elbows on my knees and ran a hand through my hair. Another thirty minutes passed without being bothered. When my next flight began to board, I settled into my seat for the seven hour leg.

  In a small suburb of Houston, the cab pulled up to the curb of a brick ranch styled house. I pulled out forty dollars and got out. I grabbed my duffle and rucksack and walked up to the door. All of the homes on the street were very cookie cutter, with the same manicured lawns, flowers lining the walkways to the front doors, and a neatly trimmed bush under each window. I still didn’t understand why my dad chose to live in this neighborhood. The house was more than he needed, but I think he got it because it was a house my mom would have loved.

  Mom passed away during my first tour in Iraq. They let me come home on emergency leave to attend her funeral and help my dad get his affairs in order. She had passed away from a sudden heart attack. Our entire community was shocked. She was a seemingly healthy woman. She exercised regularly and ate well. The doctors told us after they performed an autopsy that her heart had a defect that caused the lining of her aorta to be thin. It ruptured one night while my mom was watching Wheel of Fortune on the couch. It was so sudden that she bled out in less than a minute and couldn’t call for help. My dad was beside himself.

  When my first tour was over, he had a ‘for sale’ sign in front of the house and he said he couldn’t live there anymore. He didn’t find comfort in the memories behind those walls. I didn’t blame him for feeling that way. The sadness crushed me every time I walked in the door. But now he was living here in Friendswood, Texas, in a house that was everything she would have loved. I’ve never called him out and asked why he chose this place, but I was certain it was because of Mom. I just wished that he was still in Bay City so his friends and church members could keep him company.

  As I walked in the front door, I called out my dad’s name. “Back here, Timber.”

  He was outside, sitting on the back porch, drinking a beer and smoking a cigar. The past year his age had caught up with him. He used to tell me, “you’re only as young as you feel.” Well, I guess my mom’s death made him feel every bit of his sixty-three years. When I came into view, he stood up from his wooden rocking chair and greeted me with a tight hug and a slap on the back.

  “Hey Dad, I’ve missed you,” I said while we were still embracing. Pulling back to look at me, he smiled. I noticed that he had a few more age spots around his eyes than he did before I left. He was also thinner. His hands gripped my arms, and it almost felt as if he were trying to reassure himself that I was standing there, in one piece.

  “Want a beer? I can go grab you one from the fridge,” he asked. “Sure.” He walked into the house and I took a seat on the brick flower planter that sat a few feet away from his chair. Glancing around the yard, I could tell that he probably spent most of his time outside.

  There was a tool shed in the back left corner that was shaped like a small barn house. He had a six foot wooden fence that went around the perimeter. The yard was immaculate, clearly his pride and joy.

  When he came back out, he handed me my beer and took a seat. We both sat in silence as we drank and looked around the yard. I’m sure most would say that our reticence towards each other wasn’t normal of a father and a son that were seeing each other for the first time in a year. Never mind the fact that I spent that year in a dangerous war zone. But it’s what we did, and it’s how we worked now. I was close with my dad, but my mom was always the one who spoke for the both of us.

  As the quiet stretched on, my dad finally looked over at me and said, “I’m glad you’re safe, and I’m sorry about your friends.” He shrugged. “One of your nurses at that German hospital told me about them.”

  I bowed my head then eventually looked back up at him. “Thanks, me too.” I was desperate to keep the shaking from my voice. We sat together for a bit longer before he got up and walked to the sliding glass door. Before he went inside he said, “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask. Happy to have you home, son.” Then he went in and headed to bed. I stared at the door and realized that I appreciated our quiet times. Sometimes it’s not about the words that are said, but simply knowing that he was there when I did need someone to talk to. His presence meant more to me than any amount of words. I knew my dad had been disappointed in me for not going to college like I’d planned, but when I had graduated, I felt like my life had a greater calling. It wasn’t that I wasn’t going to go to school again, but that it was on hiatus after I’d served my four years. I had been granted a scholarship to a pretty good school my senior year, however it was only for two years. I had planned on going to a four year school, and I couldn’t guarantee that I would have the funds for the remaining two years. My mom was the understanding one. She knew that it was my decision. I wanted to insure I could complete a full bachelor’s degree. The Army seemed to be the right choice.

  I sighed and got up to move over to the rocking chair. Leaning back, I took a long swig of my beer. The chilled bubbly sensation burned the back of my throat. I remembered doing this exact same thing after my first tour. I’d come back home to the house I’d grown up in, and sat on the back porch with my dad drinking a beer. This time it felt so different. It wasn’t just the house that had changed. I knew I had changed. My last year I’d spent my nights on post with my boys, shooting the shit and doing security checks. Then two weeks before we were coming home, I’d lost them.

  All of them. Shaking my head and refusing to think about it, I got up and found my dad’s stash of the good stuff. He had a bottle of Black Label Whiskey that he had gotten for his sixtieth birthday stored in the cabinet above the fridge. I would have preferred the richer flavor of bourbon, but this would do in a pinch. It would get me drunker a lot faster than I would if I stuck with the beer. Feeling slightly inconsiderate and not really giving a shit, I put my mouth on the lip of the bottle and leaned my head back. This liquid couldn’t even be described as smooth. It felt like a hot branding iron hit my mouth. It was rough, and the taste had a bite that made the first swallow hard to get down. I set the bottle on the counter and felt the liquid heat my insides. The minutes ticked by and I found myself staring at the digital clock on the microwave. Before I knew it, I’d drunk four more large gulps and I couldn’t tell if the numbers read ten fifty-three or ten fifty-eight. That was faster than I thought it would take. I knew it was only a matter of minutes before I laid down right here on the kitchen floor and passed out, so I dragged my ass down the hallway, swaying and running into the walls. When I made it to the guest bedroom, I flopped face first into the pillow.

  I was numb. Mission accomplished. My facial hair made a scratching sound against the fabric of the pillow case. I turned my head to the side since I couldn’t breathe with my face mashed into the pillow. My eyes were shut tight and I tried like hell to let the booze take me away. Behind closed lids, I saw bombs exploding and shrapnel hitting me in different places on my body. I could feel my muscles twitching involuntarily. My inebriation was taking me deeper into my dream, but it wasn’t enough to make me forget. I should have drank some more. Before I was completely asleep, my last thought was, I forgot to take my fucking boots off.


…2 months later


  P , I Slim was going to chew my ass out for coming in two minutes late, but I didn’t really care. I was his hardest worker and I knew he’d never fire me. Besides, who gets canned for being two minutes late? Except I have been two minutes late pretty much every day since I started working here.

  Three weeks after coming home, I decided I needed to get out of the house. I went looking for a job, and came up empty every fucking day. The news wasn’t kidding when they said we were in an economic slump, and jobs were hard to find. While I was overseas I had saved up every penny of my paychecks, but I knew that if I continued to drink away my savings, I’d need to find a job to support my newfound habit. One night, while out at a podunk bar, I overheard some suits talking about an oil and gas field that was looking to hire new guys. It was a few hours south of Houston. I figured I might as well give it a shot since I wasn’t finding jack shit up here. Plus, I’d still be close enough to my dad that if he needed me I’d be able to make the quick drive back. I left the next morning around noon and drove the three hours to Port O’Connor, Texas, aka No Man’s Land. The company primarily dug for oil, but did some gas production on the side. It was called A&S Emissions. I’d gone to speak to the person that was referred to as the Toolpusher, who was essentially the head honcho of the field, and see about setting up an interview. When I found him, he was sitting with a very large man that was sporting a beer gut and was balding on top. Turned out the overweight, sweaty man was Slim. Go figure. The man in charge was Roger. They both took one look at me, said a few words to each other, then Roger said, “You’re a big son of a bitch. You’re hired. You start on Monday, and you will report to Slim here.” That was that. I was never asked about my previous work experience, or even what my name was. I’d learned a week later that Roger hired me because of the Army tattoo I had on my right arm. It had been peeking out from underneath the sleeve of my shirt. He had served twenty years, and he figured any man that could serve his country was good enough to work on his field.

  Now here I was over a month later, and I’d moved my way up from being the Worm, which was the lowest man on the field, to the Motorman. I dealt with all the mechanical and maintenance problems. They knew I was good with my hands when one day, an awful grinding sound was coming from one of the rigs. A few gaskets blew, and I raced in and repaired it all before we’d lost a monumental amount of black gold and money. We were all standing there, covered in the thick greasy sludge, and Slim looked at me and said, “Looks like you’re our new Motorman.” I’d learned that Slim and most of the other guys out there were men of very few words. I could appreciate that since I really didn’t want to talk much anyway. I just wanted to go to work, clock in then clock out, and hit the bottle hard enough to pass out.

  On this particular day, just before I headed out to my very small six hundred square foot, one bedroom apartment, Slim and Roger approached me. “Hey, Nelson!” Slim yelled from the work trailer. “Have you been to The Hole? It’s a bar in town.” Hall to pay my bills, and my apartment. “No,” I answered simply.

  “Well, you’re going tonight. Roger wants to stop in and say hi to his niece. It’s her birthday, and she works there. Be ready in thirty minutes. We’ll pick you up.”

  I nodded. Great. The last thing I wanted to do was spend my evening with some little girl that was probably a prissy brat, but you don’t say no to the bosses. I made my way home and walked in the front door. I still had boxes scattered around. I didn’t think this would be a permanent place so I hadn’t bothered unpacking. I just dug around for whatever when the need arose. There was a pizza box on the counter from last night, and a bottle of Crown that was about three-quarters empty. I walked over to it and took a swig. Wiping my mouth with the back of my hand, I made my way into the bathroom for a quick shower. I could at least make myself look presentable for the birthday girl.

  Not even thirty minutes had passed when Roger came knocking on my door. When I opened it, he poked his head in and said, “Jesus Christ, this place smells like gym socks.” I shrugged and said sarcastically, “So buy me some goddamn Glade plug-ins.” He chuckled and slapped me on the back. I walked out of the apartment and locked up. When I got in the backseat of the truck, Slim took off down the road. Turned out The Hole was only two blocks away from where I lived. This could prove to be beneficial since I could come hang out at the bar, get hammered, and walk home. When we pulled up, Slim parked in a handicapped slot, clearly not giving a shit that he didn’t have the appropriate stickers on his truck.

  The three of us piled out. I stepped up on the sidewalk and looked down both ends of the street. Port O’Connor consisted of a grocery store, post office, police station, and this one road that looked like it came from a 1950s movie. Anytime now someone named Wally would come running up to me saying the words ‘gee golly’ or ‘shucks’. I hadn’t been in this particular part of town. I snickered to myself. I wasn’t missing much.

  Turning around, I met the guys at the entrance to The Hole. It was really bright outside and the heat was sweltering. When we stepped in through the double doors, the stale air hit my nostrils. It was cooler inside but not cold from an air conditioner. It was a swamp cooler, and the place wasn’t properly ventilated. Cigarette smoke assaulted my senses. My eyes traveled the length of the four walls. Off to the right were two pool tables. One of them was currently being used by a guy and two girls. One of the girls was hanging off the guy, whispering something in his ear while he bent over the table and took his shot. I’ve always loved the sound of pool balls hitting each other. I was good at pool, or at least I used to be. Next to the tables was a dance floor, and a small DJ booth in the corner. Nobody was manning the equipment, but an old George Strait song was playing over the speakers, reminding us that all his exes live in Texas. Typical. Off to the left was the bar. It was U-shaped and bar stools lined the length of it. A cooler that held assorted beers and wine coolers was against the wall behind the counter. My brain was taking a mental inventory of the layout, how to get out if I needed to, and the people inside. That would be the residual effects of the Army and my training. I noticed a very large man sitting on a stool next to the door. Slim and Roger were talking to him, so I stepped up to join them.

  Slim chuckled. “So where is the birthday girl?” The gargantuan man that seemed taller than me, even while sitting on the stool, said, “She’s in the back unloading a shipment. I’ll have Melanie go back and get her.” He paused and looked around.

  “Hey, sweetcheeks!” he hollered when he spotted who he was looking for.

  A small blonde came bounding up with short hair that was styled to stick out in different directions. She had to be the smallest adult I’d ever seen. Her facial features were cute and she just

  looked sweet. “Whatcha need, Beav?”

  “Run into the back and let Kat know that her uncle is here, would ya?” the burly man said. Melanie looked slightly bashful, but nodded her head and practically skipped away, disappearing into a long dark hallway. I turned my face back to Slim, raising my eyebrow at him in question. He must have caught on to my non-verbal question.

  “Oh right. Nelson, this is Beaver.” He gestured from me to the other man. I held my hand out. “It’s Timber, actually. Timber Nelson.” His hand came out and his whole palm practically wrapped around my entire fist. He gave new meaning to large. I was already tall at six foot three. This mother fucker had to be at least six foot seven. He had a firm handshake. I got the impression he could easily break my hand with a slight squeeze.

  “Beaver, huh. Should I even ask?” Slim and Roger laughed, while Beaver smiled. Apparently I was in for a good story. “When I was a kid, my grandpa worked with some dude’s that divvied nicknames. The one they gave him was Wolf. I have no idea how he got to be named it and he died before I got to ask him.” He paused and rubbed his hands together. “Anyway, I wanted to have a nickname just like he did. At the time I thought it would be cool to stick with the animal theme. I had just gone beaver hunting with my gramps when I figured I was cool enough to have a nickname so I went with Beaver. Turns out,” he gave a sly grin, “it’s a pretty fitting name if you know what I mean. Who would’ve known I’d be so good at eating it. Women come from several counties over to see what my skills are all about.”

  Roger jumped in. “Man, I never got the full story behind the name. I had only assumed, you dirty bastard.” He clapped him on the back. The sound of a towel slapping skin whipped through the air. Roger made a hissing sound which caused me to suddenly turn to see where it had come from. “Don’t let Beaver fool you. That’s just a bunch of tall tales from a sad and lonely man.” “Kat, you’ve never tried me out, so how would you know?” Beaver waggled his eyebrows at the girl. “Watch it kid. That’s my niece you’re talkin’ about there.” Roger glowered. This girl was Kat? I wasn’t sure exactly what I was expecting to come walking out, but this wasn’t it. Roger was a very businesslike man, always wearing suits, and somewhat proper. I think I anticipated someone in a decent length skirt, and turtleneck. Granted, we were in a bar, but like I said, the economy was bad and people were desperate. This girl was something entirely different. She had long dark hair that went past the middle of her back. It had hints of red, which I was certain would be more vibrant in the sunlight. My eyes roamed the length of her. She was curvy in all the right places. Her tits looked like more than a handful, and her ass was delectable. But what caught my eye were her intricate tattoos. She was wearing short jean shorts that displayed a skull candy tattoo with a floral pattern weaving in and out of the eyes. Her dark gray tank top allowed for viewing of two shoulder tattoos. One was of a koi fish that looked like it was swimming up her arm. The other side was another skull but with a different pattern.

  Kat pointed at Beaver, interrupting my visual perusal. “Never gonna happen, big man.” She gave him a glorious unadulterated smile. “Cut it out, you two, and Kat, don’t make me call your daddy,” Roger teased. She rolled her eyes. “You’d never. Now come here.” She brought him in for a tight hug. “Happy birthday, princess.” “Hey, what am I, chopped liver?” Slim pouted from the sidelines. Kat pulled away and grabbed Slim by the collar and hugged him. “Chopped liver, yes, but I’ll always give you a hug as long as you keep having chocolates delivered to me.” “Oh good, at least those assholes at the florist shop didn’t get the wrong address this time. I swear I had a dozen roses delivered to my second wife one time, and they ended up dropping them off in front of that old abandoned church. I had to call and yell at them. There’s a damn difference between First Avenue and First Street.” He sighed and held her face in his oil stained hands while she smiled brightly at him.

  “So did she ever get her flowers?” “As a matter of fact, she did. Found out later that she put them in the garbage disposal.” Kat laughed, and it was a melodic sound. “Ouch. What’d you do?” “I guess twelve red roses didn’t make up for sleeping with her sister.” He was looking off into the distance while crinkling his nose.

  She slapped him on the shoulder. “Slim, you slept with her sister?” “They were twins. How was I supposed to know which one I was with?” Roger and Beaver were laughing as she shook her head.

  “Oh! Hey, Kat, I want you to meet Nelson,” Slim said, suddenly remembering I was standing here. Her eyes shifted to where I was and her happy, carefree attitude suddenly went rigid. She straightened her back and gave me a brief nod. I held my hand out to her just like I had with Beaver. “It’s Timber Nelson. Sorry to crash your birthday, but these assholes dragged me here,” I teased. As soon as we made eye contact, something about her stirred in my gut. I shuffled through my muddled memories but was coming up blank. She was watching me with weary eyes. Something about her struck a nerve deep inside me. It was those eyes. I swore I’d seen those hazel eyes before.

  “Do I know you?” I asked her. I searched her face for any other form of recognition, but there was nothing. Maybe she just looked like someone else. But her voice became abrasive and she bit out ‘no’. I watched as her eyes darted around the bar, clearly looking for a way out. How odd.

  Kat cleared her throat, refusing to give me her eyes again. “Nice to meet you, Timber. Uncle Roger, I don’t mean to be rude but I’m actually really busy with the new inventory, I’ll see y’all later, okay?” She’d never taken my hand, so I let it drop to my side.

  “Oh sure, no problem, honey. Didn’t mean to take you away from your work,” Roger said, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek before she briskly walked back to what I assumed was a storage room. Beaver leaned forward on his stool. “Wonder what got her butt ruffled?” “Don’t you mean ‘panties’?” Roger corrected. “Tomatoes, tomahtoes.” Beaver shrugged, as if that was an explanation for his confusion. Slim spoke up and said, “Let’s grab a drink, boys.” With that, the three of us walked to the bar and sat down. Two hours passed quickly and I was definitely drunker than a skunk. What does that even mean? Do skunks get drunk? Do drunk people stink? I not so discreetly smelled my armpits. Nope, fresh as a whistle.

  I’d been watching the girl, Kat, serving behind the bar for most of the night. I’d observed her as she spoke easily with everybody in the bar. They all seemed to know her and I assumed she was from around here. She had a certain pull to her. A magnetism that made me want to know her too. But she wouldn’t give me the time of day. Whenever my Crown ran low, she’d get Melanie to come fill me up. At one point during the night, while the whole bar banded together and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to twenty-one years old. She seemed to remember that I was still here watching her. I’d caught her eyes peering at me. I’d given up trying to figure out where I knew her from, or who she reminded me of. My drunken fog pretty much banned any coherent thoughts. Well, all thoughts except for the fact that this girl was beautiful, and not in the traditional sense. She wasn’t the type of beautiful that would grace a magazine cover. She was the type that you slowly let seep into your system and take a hold of you. She was the type that once she had you, you would never look at anybody else the same. Her beauty was the end. It was all you’d ever want again.

  I shot back another glass of Crown and slammed some cash down on the table. Needing to get out of here and breath some fresh Texas humidity, I told my bosses that I’d see them tomorrow, and not to can my ass if I came in late and hung over. As I made my way out, Beaver offered to call me a cab. Since the idea that there was even a cab available in such a small town was laughable, I told him thanks but I only lived around the corner. He shook my hand again in another crushing hand shake, and I walked out of the bar. After I tripped and swayed my way to my apartment, my body decided that the couch looked good enough to sleep on and wouldn’t take itself the few extra feet to my bed. Thankfully, I had bought the couch for this very reason. A man needs a good napping couch. Mine just serves a greater purpose sometimes — for all night napping. As I closed my eyes, I felt the familiar jarring of my muscles dragging me back into the same nightmares of war.


“D , I do me a favor. I think I have a rash on the bottom of my nut sack and I can’t

really see it. Could you look and tell me if I should go to medical and get some cream or

something?” Holt asked while he was scratching himself.

  “What the fuck, man. No, I ain’t looking at your junk. Get a fuckin’ mirror.” I laughed, but there was no way I was looking at another man’s dick voluntarily. “Hey, I’d do it for you, asshole.” “Yeah, and that’s what makes you gay,” I retorted, knowing that I was only getting him riled up.

  “Was it gay when I fucked Corey’s mom before we left?” Holt said. I was sitting in my rack with most of my squad, hanging around and waiting for our next

patrol. There was a chorus of “oh’s” by the guys because of Holt’s stupid comment. He was fun to

pick on, and he often rose to the occasion when it came to taking the bait. He was the youngest out

of all of us. I’d found a picture of him before he’d graduated from high school that’d fallen out of

his bag. Pretty boy had long shaggy hair that would make Justin Bieber jealous, and a million

dollar smile that likely made girls come with a glance. But out here, he was just a kid with zero

experience. And his looks wouldn’t save his life from an RPG. I looked out for him more than any

of the other guys.

  Corey had just walked in when Holt had opened his mouth. “What’d you say about my mom?” “I said she makes some mean ass snicker doodles, man. In fact, could you ask her to send us some more in the care package?” I chuckled as the kid quickly back peddled.

  Corey was the resident hard ass. He was a soldier’s soldier. He grew up wanting to join the

Army for as long as he could remember. This was his dream. Serving his country is what gave him

a purpose. Corey was an average guy with average looks, but he had a heart of gold. He came

from an all-American home and his mom routinely sent us shit in the mail. We each got letters

from her at least once a week telling us how proud she was of the men her boy served with. As

much as we gave Corey crap for his overbearing mom, I knew we all loved it.

  “Yeah, I bet it’s the snicker doodles. We’ll see if she puts any cookies in your box next week if I tell her you’re running your mouth, kid.” Holt flipped Corey the bird. Busted. It was just after evening chow and we were all coming back from the Mess Hall. We had an

hour before we would head out on our nightly patrol of the eastern side of Fallujah. My squad did

four patrols over a twelve hour shift. I laid back on my bed, allowing my meal to digest. Turning

my head, I looked over at Rooster, who came strolling in with a shit eating grin on his face and a

small box in his hands. For the record, his name was actually Nick Smith. What a generic name.

Rooster was a seriously hard headed son of a bitch. We’d been in the same squad together for

quite a while. He wouldn’t tell us where the name Rooster came from. He had a wife and two kids


into his head, he followed through with it. So serious, that two years ago he was in the middle of

gunfire in Afghanistan and took a bullet in his left shoulder. They’d sent him home immediately

and he did a solid year of physical therapy. He said he had been in a really dark place for a long