MY NAME IS MCKENZIE BISHOP, and this is the last day I’ll ever spend in the Army.
I’m not sure what to make of that yet. I know I’m excited to grow a beard, smoke a joint, and do whatever the fuck I want to do, whenever the fuck I want to do it. But I’m scared too. Scared of leaving the only thing that ever made any sense to me in this life. Leaving my family. I’m scared of never again making the kind of friends I made over the course of my six-year career.
And what the hell do I do now anyway?
I don’t know a thing about existing with civilians anymore. I don’t know banking, or teaching, or any other discernable skill other than killing, protecting, and defending. That was my life for nearly four years. Another two were spent recovering from a horrific injury I never thought could happen to me, regardless of the number of deployments I had under my belt. Regardless of the bloodshed I had witnessed, the friends who had perished in ways you don’t even wish upon your worst of enemies. Still, I never thought I could get injured. I felt invincible; more so with each successive deployment.
“Do you know what you want to do after this?” the counselor sitting across the desk from me asks dubiously as if he’s been reading my mind and senses my self-doubt. I blink a few times to bring myself back to the present. My thoughts often wander to horrible things, sometimes nice things, sometimes dirty things. They flit from one to the other in an everlasting loop, much like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, strapped down and being subjected to things I can’t look away from or run from, nor understand most of the time. God only knows where I’m headed from here, but I certainly don’t owe this man an explanation. Unfortunately, the Sergeant First Class rank pinned on his uniform means I can’t respond how I’d like to: “What’s it fuckin’ matter to you?”
No, the three stripes on my uniform collar means he gets to play this stupid little game. A few more years and I would’ve been at his level, and I would’ve had an infantry platoon of my own had I not been hurt. But a few more years is something I didn’t have left in me to give. Not sitting behind a fucking desk, at least. And that’s certainly where they would’ve put me had I reenlisted.
I shrug. “I’m not sure, Sarge.”
“You’ve gotta have more for me than that,” he replies, tilting his head with a look of slight frustration, as if my future somehow impacts his own.
Truth is I don’t have any answers for him. I’m drawing blanks. And I can’t be bothered with the dog and pony show that is ACAP, or Army Career and Alumni Program—a week-long course that’s more likely to cause death by boredom than it is to be a helpful transition tool. This meeting with the counselor is the last step for me and the anxiousness of finally being rid of it causes me to fidget restlessly in the seat, trying to pass along to him that I’d like him to just shut the fuck up and sign off already.
“Sorry, I just don’t have a clear answer for you. I anticipated spending my career in uniform. Now that that’s changed, I’m not sure of much right now. There’s a lot to figure out. A lot to figure out and talk through with my girlfriend.”
“Well, you’re twenty-five … plenty young to do whatever your heart desires. You’ve got the GI Bill. Disability checks. The world is your oyster, as they say.” He smiles, a used car salesman’s smile; too wide to be real, and he’s got just enough monotone in his voice to let me know he’s done this dance far too many times before. He doesn’t care for my answer. He just needs to fill these thirty minutes. I’m led to wonder what this man knows about the horrors of war; how each dreadful second plays on a loop in your head. He doesn’t get how anticipating the future with anything but trepidation from here on out, after seeing the things I’ve seen, is nearly impossible. I’m at a crossroads in my life; one I never anticipated. It’s not so easy for me to figure out what’s next, not when I had planned on staying in the Army for at least twenty years before retiring as a Sergeant Major in charge of an infantry battalion, like my father, and his father before him. A rocket-propelled grenade at the end of my last deployment, and the shrapnel that followed, had other ideas. I could no longer serve as an infantryman; therefore, in my eyes, I could no longer be a soldier. I could never see myself like this man, sitting behind a desk, while others wearing the same uniform were fighting and dying in theirs.
I was born to fight. And when I lost that ability, I lost a piece of my identity along with it. A big fucking piece.
“Yeah, I guess we’ll see what happens with it,” I say through a forced smile, pushing back the desire to tell him how pointless all this is. “Probably just start with gen. ed. courses and figure it out from there.”
The counselor tilts his head again, a judgmental furrow in his brows. “Anything spark your interest, at least?” he asks.
For fuck’s sake…
I ponder this for a moment, my gaze fixed on the cluttered desk before me, my mind lost in thoughts of future days without a uniform coating me, protecting me, empowering me. Without it, I feel naked … and lost. I feel restless.
Shrugging, I shift my focus back to the counselor. “Nothin’ I can really think of. I’ve always enjoyed acting. Did a few plays back in high school and took some acting classes here in D.C. Really enjoyed them. It’s somethin’ I could see myself doin’ long-term.”
The counselor shakes his head, his lips curled down in a scrutinizing fashion as he grabs a stack of papers from the desktop. “No,” he says, still eyeing the papers as he leafs through them. “You’ve got some great scores all around here,” he continues, eventually finding the paper he was looking for and setting it down in front of me. He looks over the top of his glasses in that fatherly way that always grinds my fucking gears. I have a father, and a shitty one at that. I don’t need another one. Nor do I need this man’s worry or self-serving pity.
He taps the sheet of paper with his index finger, grabbing my attention. I realize it contains the results of an occupational strength test I had to take last week. “There are a lot of options here,” he continues. “Doctor, lawyer, intelligence … I mean, an actor …” He sits back in his chair and crosses his arms, his face scrunched in displeasure. “How many people do you think want to be an actor? How many roles do they have for—” He stops himself, his focus shifting from my prosthetic eye, surrounded by thick scarring that does well to attract unwanted attention, to the papers in front of him. He clears his throat before looking back up at me, avoiding my prosthetic this time. “I mean, how many people are out there trying to make it? What are the chances?”
I keep my features relaxed, though on the inside I’m envisioning a swift slap across this man’s cheek. And not a regular slap. An eye-opening bitch slap.
In a steady tone, I say, “Sergeant Kemp, with all due respect, this is the last day I’m ever gonna wear this uniform. It’s a good day, to an extent, but it’s a sad day, too. I don’t really care to get into a discussion about my future with someone I’ve just met, let alone someone who’s never been in this position before. I’ve been livin’ with myself for twenty-five years now. If I ain’t got a clue what’s ahead, I can promise you that you don’t either.” I push the test results aside and point to the paper the counselor set them down on top of. “Now, you are the last signature I need on my checklist to finish out-processing and get my ass out of here. I would really appreciate if you could do that for me and let me be on my way.” I find myself leaning forward in my chair now, attempting to say more with my eyes than I am with my words.
The counselor studies me for a moment, creases forming in his forehead as if he is trying hard to figure me out. I lean back in the chair, cross one leg over the other, and smile.
“Okay,” he agrees, taking the checklist into his hands, his eyes still lingering on mine. “I just don’t want to see you get lost out there.” He sighs, grabbing a pen and signing the last empty spot on the form, much to my relief.
I grin. “I can promise you this, Sergeant. Ain’t no way I’ll be any more lost out there than I was in here,” I respond, referring to Walter Reed Medical Center and all the time I’ve spent rehabbing here. I point to the map of Iraq and Afghanistan he has tacked to the wall beside us, places I know he’s never seen by the lack of a combat patch on his right arm or Combat Action Badge on his chest. “And definitely no more lost than I was out there. Not even close.”
He shrugs, resignation taking up his features, as he hands over the completed checklist. “You’ve got your own out-processing paperwork, correct?” He drums the pen against the stack of papers in front of me from which he pulled the test results, and I nod, standing from my chair and snatching the paper from him.
“Good to go, Sarge. Got everything I need.”
The counselor stands too, and just as I’m about to depart, he puts out his hand. I take it with my own, and he pulls me in.
“Make us proud,” he says softly; his coffee breath is noxious. He motions his head toward my right shoulder where the American flag patch sits, just above my 1st Ranger Bat. combat patch. “Make that proud.”
He lets go, passing me a self-assured nod as he squats back into his office chair with a heavy grunt, a chair where he’s likely spent his entire career.
“I’ll try, Sergeant. I’ll certainly try.” I nod, a cocksure smirk on my face as I make my way out of his office.
Packing up the last of my things into boxes, I busy myself as I wait for my girlfriend of nine months, Chelsea, to come by my room. For weeks now, I’ve tried to talk with her about the future, our future; whether I’d stay here for her and start at a community college for a couple years, or whether she goes with me to whatever college I end up choosing along the east coast, many of which have yet to respond to my application. She continually puts it off, though, often changing the subject, which unnerves me. I believe she loves me, I truly do, and though I have a hard time understanding what love even means at this point, I think I love her too. Yeah, she can be a pill sometimes, and we don’t have very much in common, but she was around for some of the harder moments I’ve experienced over the course of my recovery. She put forth more of an effort than any other woman I’ve dated before; even if she doesn’t often try very hard to understand the complexities of my war-weathered mind.
Over the screech of shipping tape, as I seal up my box of medals and Army memorabilia, the last things I must pack, I hear a soft knock at the door. Before answering, I grab the empty bottle of Jameson from my nightstand, creeping with it toward the kitchenette in quiet steps and with a guilty heart, and then I set the bottle gently into the trash as to not alert her. After covering the bottle with some loose bits of trash, I walk excitedly toward the door. Swinging it open, I see Chelsea standing on the other side, a slight smile on her face and a hand on her curvaceous hip, a tight dress clinging to her young body. High heels sharpen the lines of her toned thighs. The usual resting bitch face is ever present, but the curve of her thin lips in a slight smile lets me know she’s in a decent mood. And perhaps a little horny.
“Hey, babe.” I look her up and down for a moment, an eyebrow raised. “You look fuckin’ incredible,” I say, embracing her and peppering her neck with kisses. “You’re late, by the way,” I add, letting go of her and sidestepping so she can enter. I shut the door behind her as my eyes trail the sharp curve of her insatiable ass, one shaped by good genes and endless hours of yoga.
“Yeah, yeah.” She rolls her eyes and waves me off with a petite hand, the Oompa Loompa orange staining her cuticles and that distinct chemically smell lets me know she spray-tanned today.
“I’ve got most of it packed up already,” I say, nudging her with my hip.
She looks over the sealed boxes scattered throughout the small barracks room as she steadies herself, saying, “I didn’t realize you had so much shit.” She glances toward me.
“That’s because it would all end up in the closet every time you visited.” I laugh, and so does she, that cute little squeak of a laugh I’ve grown to adore; a laugh she selfishly delivers in slivered doses.
I look her up and down again, the thought process belonging to my dick now. There’s no humor in how much I need her. Quirking an eyebrow, I ask, “Did we have plans today I didn’t know about, or is this just a wonderful surprise for my last day in the Army?”
“The latter,” she says, taking a seat on the edge of my bed and leaning back on her hands, pushing her tits out as she does and smiling a wicked smile. She crosses one tanned leg slowly over the other, and my eyes trace her leg from heel to thigh.
“Lucky fuckin’ me,” I mutter, biting my lip and shaking my head.
“Oh no. It won’t be Lucky who’s fucking you today, Sergeant Bishop.”
“Fuck, babe.” I let out a quiet gasp, my dick hilting in my shorts. “You are so fuckin’ sexy.”
I dive onto her, throwing her back against the bed and pinning her arms to her sides, looking into her chestnut eyes with flecks of gold before pressing my lips to hers. They are soft, plump, and they bring my dick to the limitation of my gym shorts, throbbing against the soft fabric. I trail kisses down her cheek, across her neck, and to her ear.
“I need you so fuckin’ bad,” I whisper, taking her earlobe lightly between my teeth and nibbling.
She lets out a heavy breath. Bringing her body flush against mine, she whispers in a demanding tone, “Then take me.”
I moan, pulling my head back and looking deep into her eyes. “You always know how to get me hot and hard as fuck.” I kiss her collarbone as I reach my hand behind her, carefully unzipping her dress. Pulling it off, I admire the red tint to her face now, the hunger in her eyes. I’m hungry, too.
And more than anything, I need to feel that perfect fit. I’m desperate for it. Regardless of the bumps in the road that have come between us, the sex has always been great. The angry sex, oftentimes, the best of the lot. She’s not angry now, no, but the lingering effects of a fight we had a few days ago is still there, and my dick knows it. It hurts now, nearly begging me to let him play.
I admire her Calvin Klein underwear and bra set, my favorite, and I let out a quiet gasp, my dick really aching now, meeting the spot just before pleasure meets complete pain.
“The black Calvins?” I ask, a smirk on my face.
“Just for you,” she whispers, stripping them off and tossing them to the floor. She then pulls at my shirt with desperate hands.
Tugging my shirt off, I toss it down with her underwear and bra, quickly followed by my shorts, and lower myself back onto her, turned on by the feel of our bare skin touching, hers young and flawless, mine, scarred and rough. Beauty and the broken beast.
I tease her nipples with my tongue, trailing hot kisses down her clenching stomach, and she writhes beneath me with a gasp. She trembles as my breath meets her clit … then my tongue, and she presses her hips up, guiding me around her core. Her body seizes as I run my tongue in circles around her sensitive bud. Her legs tighten around my neck, her hands grabbing fistfuls of hair.
Her hands fall to my shoulders, grasping desperately, her nails digging in, and she begs, “Please fuck me. Fuck me now, Bishop. I need you inside me.”
The request sends a jolt from my stomach down to my rock-hard cock. How I love it when she says that. I take one last slow lick and then inch my way back up her body, leaving open-mouthed kisses in my wake. Blindly, I reach into my nightstand, my lips meeting hers, as I grab for a condom. Once my dick is wrapped, she clenches her legs around my waist, pulling me in so that the tip of my cock meets her entrance. Our heavy breathing coincides as I guide myself inside her, slowly, just the head at first.
Throwing her head back, she gasps loudly as I enter her fully, grabbing at her nipples and tugging them. She whimpers and then moans.
I pull my dick out and then push it back in, slowly repeating the process, teasing the both of us.
“Fuck, baby. Give it to me. Give it to me now!” she demands, pushing her body into mine, her muscles tightening around me.
Picking up the pace in satisfying thrusts that send charges of energy up and down my limbs, my heart thumps in my chest; my skin is flush with desire. She grows wetter with each exhilarating plunge, and the feel of it has me harder than I ever thought possible—so hard, it feels like my dick might just explode. And after a few more moments of ecstasy, it kind of does. I arch my back, a fistful of her hair in one hand and her supple ass cheek in the other, as I come. Her hand covers her mouth, her eyes closed as she moans into her palm.
As I pull out, I release a pleasurable sigh, and she opens her eyes slowly, letting her hand fall flat to her side, her face flushed and breathing ragged.
I lean down and kiss her. “I love you,” I whisper against her lips. “You feel fuckin’ amazing, woman.” I shake my head.
After one more kiss, I stand, making my way to the kitchenette, where I toss the condom into the trash. Heading for the fridge, butt-naked, I turn back to see Chelsea hurriedly putting her dress back on, a new nervousness on her face much different than the pleasure she previously showed. She’s yet to even catch her breath.
My eyes analyzing her as I grab a bottle of water, I scrunch my brows and ask, “Is everything alright?”
She doesn’t answer right away, instead, turning her back toward me. She motions behind her and whispers, “Can you zip me up, please?”
I take a swig of water and set the bottle on the counter. Swallowing hard, I approach her and zip the dress up slowly.
“What’s up?” I whisper, my heart starting to pound for reasons other than the incredible orgasm.
She faces me, biting her bottom lip, her eyes trained on the tiled floor. “Ugh, I hate this,” she mutters.
“Hate what, Chelsea?”
“This,” she responds, louder now. She motions between us.
Suddenly, my nakedness terrifies me. I feel completely vulnerable, unwanted, rejected. Grabbing my shorts and slipping them on, I say, “You need to tell me what the fuck you’re talking about and you need to tell me quickly. ‘I hate this’ ain’t somethin’ a boyfriend wants to hear after fuckin’ his girl.”
“I can’t do this anymore,” she whispers, shaking her head as if she’s disappointed in herself for saying the words. There’s something else in her features too, though, faint, but noticeable.
“This?” I ask.
I look toward the bed, the sheets strewn about, and I scoff, shaking my head in complete disbelief. “Then what the fuck was that?” I say, my brows scrunching tightly together. “Was I just mercy fucked? Really?”
A tear rolls down her cheek, and I instinctively want to catch it with my finger, but I fight the urge.
“I d-don’t know,” she stutters, more tears falling now. She crosses her arms, hugging herself … shaking. “I love you, Kenzie. I really do. It’s really, really hard bringing myself to this point.”
The ‘Kenzie’ part really stings. She’s the only one I’ve allowed to call me by any variation of my first name since I was a kid.
“So why are you at this point then, if you love me so damn much?” I question, a sharp heat trailing up my neck, the temperature in the room seeming to abruptly rise.
“How many times have I asked you to quit drinking?” she asks, her eyes on mine now, a new strength in her tone. “How many?”
“It’s not as easy as just clicking my fuckin’ heels. I can’t just turn this shit off, you know.”
“Have you even tried? I mean, really tried?”
“More than you give me credit for.”
“Oh really.” She motions her head toward the trashcan with her lips in a tight line, a smug, knowing look on her face.
I don’t have to look to know what she’s implying. “That’s fucked,” I growl. Hesitating, I take a deep, calming breath before moving closer to her, grasping her elbows. “Chelsea, I’ve tried. I’ve done counseling. I’m takin’ my pills.”
“How long did you do the counseling for? One month? One and a half, at best. You half-assed it. And you know that. What about AA? What about the pamphlets I got you?”
I drop my hands to my side, stepping back and letting out a huff. “Listen, I’ve told you already. I don’t like that kumbaya bullshit. That just ain’t me.”
“And that’s exactly why you and I can’t be ‘us’ anymore,” she says in a matter-of-fact tone.
“You have got to be fuckin’ kidding me.” I lower myself to the bed, dropping my head into my hands and grabbing fistfuls of hair. “I just can’t even believe this, Chelsea. I can’t believe you mercy fucked me. I mean, really? Is that love to you?”
“I’ve gotta go,” she says, stepping into her heels as I rest my hands on my knees, looking up at her and fighting back the tears that are trying to break free.
“Just like that then?” I ask. “You fuck me, dump me, and then leave? Nine months and this is how you end it?”
“I did what I could,” she whispers, her voice cutting out, the tears returning. She steps to the door and turns, her hand resting on the handle. “This has been coming for a long time now, Kenzie. I’m sorry. I really am,” she says. And with those last heart-wrenching words echoing off the barren white walls, she’s gone, leaving me in a state of complete shock.
My heart pounds, my carotids pumping thickly, my thoughts an avalanche. I drop my head in my hands again when the tears come. They coat my cheeks and tumble from my chin, down to the floor. As I choke them back with a stiff throat-clearing, I wipe an arm across my face and allow my focus to drift toward the refrigerator across the room and the demons inside.
A thirst possesses me.
After three shorts steps, a bottle of Jameson is in my hands. The thirst is quenched. The pain subsides … for now.