Heat hit the back of my neck as I climbed off the bus, the sounds of waves crashing, the smell of the ocean, so strong I could taste it on my tongue.
Slinging my duffel over my shoulder, I ignored the pain it caused my wounds, and headed toward my house. It was dry as hell, heat waves wiggling up from the familiar road ahead like serpents. Each step I took kicked up sand that had been carried on the wind from the beach, and it stuck to my combat boots. My folks had moved back to Roxford, Texas from New York, five years ago. I should be happy to be here. I wasn’t. The closer I got, the more my gut fucking churned. I hadn’t seen my family, my fiancée, in six months. My last visit had only been four weeks, not long, but long enough to buy a house and knock up Diane. Truth was, knowing I had responsibilities back here was the only thing that got me through the last few weeks. Knowing I had people that were depending on me to come home.
Two of my buddies would never see theirs again, would never see their kids grow, would never kiss their wives again. They had me to thank for that. A split second, that’s all it took, now everything had changed. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do this anymore—live, have this life. Act like nothing had happened.
How could I do that when I was the reason those men lost their lives? How? During my career, I’d had ninety-eight confirmed kills. I was deadly accurate. One of the military’s most effective snipers. I knew how to do my job. All I’d had to do that day was aim and pull the trigger and they’d still be here. It was my job to seek out a threat and if necessary, pull the fucking trigger. That kid had walked out, explosives strapped to his chest, and I froze. I’d failed. I’d failed all of them.
My body was still healing from that explosion, and I’d be left with scars that would be a constant reminder of what I hadn’t been able to do. Like I could ever forget?
I deserved nothing less.
Now I had to . . . what? Somehow put it all behind me? Be a son, a husband, a father. Pretend I was someone I wasn’t the rest of my life. Find a way to make my kid proud of me, when I felt like the lowest piece of shit on the face of this earth.
I looked ahead, spotting the house I’d bought for Diane and me. Sweat slid down between my shoulder blades, and not just from the sweltering heat. I was used to the heat. That churning in my gut started again, and I did my best to shake it off.
But nothing would take that feeling away, like my insides had been jammed through a meat grinder.
Deal with it, asshole. It’s the least you deserve.
The whole forward momentum thing wasn’t easy, not when I wanted to turn around and never come back. I focused on the house in front of me. My house. It was small, needed some work, but it was only two down from where my folks lived and right on the beach. I’d wanted Diane to have someone she knew, that she could count on, close by. The grass looked long, the gardens overgrown. Music was coming from inside. Loud music. I hadn’t told anyone I was coming home. I didn’t want any fuss. Me getting home in one piece from my latest deployment was nothing to celebrate, so I knew it wasn’t a welcome home party. The front door was locked. I banged on it, but I doubted Diane could hear me.
I headed round back. There was a white pickup parked there with “Wayne’s Auto Repairs” written on the side. I frowned as I took the stairs to the back door and pushed it open. I strode through the kitchen and down the short hall to the living room and pulled up short.
Wayne, owner of the truck parked behind my house, was sitting on my couch, legs spread, looking down, watching my fiancée suck his dick. He looked up at me and paled. I dropped my duffel to the floor as Wayne tightened his grip on Diane’s hair and tugged.
She slapped at his hand, and kept going.
He tugged again. “Diane!”
She pulled off with a pop. “What the hell, Wayne! If you don’t stop pulling my hair, you can suck your own dick.”
Wayne pushed her off and tilted his head to me while he shoved his dick back in his pants.
Diane spun around. Her eyes widened and she shot to her feet. “Now, Zeke . . .”
It was weird. I felt . . . nothing, not really. My emotions had been running full-throttle for weeks, so this? It barely registered. There was only one thing that concerned me. I did a sweep of her body, taking her in from head to toe. She should be showing by now, from what I’d read. Her belly was flat. “The baby?”
She dragged the back of her hand across her mouth. “This isn’t what it looks like . . . I was lonely, and you were gone . . . You’re always gone . . .”
“The baby?” I said again, voice flat.
She took a step toward me and I shook my head.
She stopped where she was and planted her hands on her hips. “Look, I . . . I wasn’t ready to be a mother . . . I’m young . . . I . . .”
“You got rid of it?” Even I was surprised by the coldness that had seeped into my voice.
She bit her lip, then finally nodded.
The hot jagged knot I’d had in my gut for weeks, sharpened, dug deeper.
I was being punished. I’d always wanted to be a father. Shit, two months ago, I’d been so damn excited, looking forward to coming home. I didn’t deserve it, not anymore, and the only good thing I had left had been taken away from me.
“Wayne was here for me when you weren’t,” she said. “I was lonely . . . I . . .”
I had nothing to say, so I turned and walked out.