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Fractured by Bruce Rodgers, Juliana Conners (1)

Chapter One

Ethan

 

Albuquerque New Mexico. Brad and Lance’s Wedding Day.

 

Weddings are always special days. Special occasions filled with people, places and emotions that’ll stay with you for years to come.

For me, today’s wedding is no different. For me personally, it’s even more special and unforgettable — but I’ll get to that in just a bit. I feel this deeply as I sit in my seat in an airy, almost outdoor church. With the many floor-to-ceiling windows and glass parts of the ceiling, it almost feels like you aren’t in a building at all. It feels more like you’re at the mercy of the beautiful skies, and the stretching, bright and colorful landscape, through here and throughout the mountains, cliffs and forests on the outskirts of town.

But it’s not the location that has me feeling the way I do. It’s the fact that I’m watching two friends — one old friend and one new — getting married to each other. There they are, standing before the altar, one in a traditional black tuxedo with a bowtie of gold lamé, the other in a matching gold jacket with black velvet slacks that somehow work. They smile and beam at each other, holding each other’s hands like husbands, not like “special friends” or “roommates” — or all those other things that when I was younger we had to call our same-sex lovers by.

Brad, the one in the black tux is clean-shaven as always. Lean looking and kind.

Lance is just as well-dressed in his distinctive attire and as well-groomed as his groom, but he’s softer-featured and gentler in his lines. His mouth is silkier and eyes more dewy. Lance’s hair, unlike Brad’s standard Navy cut, is a little longer and blond.

Lance is giggling about something. Perhaps something Brad has told him, or maybe something the Reverend has said. I haven’t known Lance too long, that’s just like him, always fun-loving, always up for a laugh—even at a somewhat solemn ceremony.

Fire and brimstone are nowhere to be seen in this preacher. Only someone truly touched by unconditional love and godliness. I smile, wondering if even he has a same-sex partner… a husband of his own, even as he officiates the union of my two friends.

Happiness bubbles up into my chest as vows begin to be read and loving words are exchanged between Brad and then Lance. Never in my 47 years did I think I would see something like this. An actual government-sanctioned marriage between two same-sex partners, that was of course unheard of in my day. Back then there were no rights for same sex couples, especially in instances where there was a need to visit your partner in the hospital…and the nurse telling you ‘sorry, family only.’ Or when a partner passed away and his family would rightfully steal years of keepsakes and mementos shared over decades. Not to mention spousal health benefits.

 I smile feeling tears well up in my eyes. Not only for their touching vows, but for how far our rights have come. When I was young we could never be so free and open like gay people are today. I wipe at my eyes swallowing a prickly pear in my throat. And sitting here today, I get to see it being celebrated. Acknowledged in public and in the eyes of God.

I clear my throat moaning softly at the sweet words being spoken and how emotional Lance is getting near the end of his vows. And to think I get to be a part of this. To be here in solidarity, even if I’m silent for the moment. I’m here supporting them as their friend, as Brad’s former commanding officer... as a fellow Navy SEAL… and, as they will find out soon enough, a fellow gay man. This is why the day has as much significance for me as it does. I’ve become someone who has been inspired by Brad and Lance’s commitment and courage to be themselves. To share with them that commitment for honesty and bravery, despite what society dictates or the still underlying stigma in the Navy.

The big moment arrives at the end of these thoughts. Brad and Lance say “I do,” and lean into each other for a big, warm kiss. It lingers, and as it does, the whole room — including me — cheer... with whoops and hollers of joy. Tears of joy too, that are drowned out by the ruckus celebration happening in the pews. And I’m more than happy to add to it.

But the real highlight is when the preacher pronounces them “husband and husband, till death do you part.” That’s when I get up out of my seat and clap… shout out riotously with my congratulations to them both. The moment they hear me, both men train their eyes to me and smile widely, lovingly, as if I’m their own father who’s come to see their union.

As they walk down the aisle arm in arm, they kiss again. As they do, I feel my heart warm up and my spirit flutter under my military outfit. I’ve chosen my dress uniform for today’s festivities. Something else stirs too, but that’s not for this event. My groin warms and lifts but not out of lust but more out of pride and joy. To count myself among them, even if it is still unspoken.

Shortly after the reception begins and the guests have given their congratulations to the grooms, I plan to give them one of my own.  In addition to my best wishes for a happy life and so on…it is now my chance to come out to Brad and Lance, as well as some of my fellow officers who are also in attendance. It’s important for me to do this for many reasons. I’ve spent the last 30 years in the closet while serving in the Navy. As times change, Navy rules and regulations have changed with it — their “don’t ask don’t tell” policy being repealed — but me…I’ve still remained hidden. Ashamed and quiet about my sexual orientation. Too scared of what others will think of me— of being ostracized by my peers. So I just remain hidden. But all of that is going to change today.

If Brad and Lance have the courage to be themselves, then I can certainly have the courage to come out of my own closet. If they can find the strength to commit to their union, I can also find that same strength to commit to myself. My true self, I chuckle. And anyway, within the next year, I can retire from the Navy. And when I retire, I can focus on what I’ve wanted for my life outside of service to my country: a husband of my own. Someone to share my life with. No, I’m not as young as Brad or Lance but I’m determined to make my later years the best and brightest possible.

Alongside me, other wedding attendees file out of their seats and down the aisles, all of which have been decorated with fancy carpets. Lavender, white, baby blue and pastel colors match the flower decorations hanging from other parts of the church ceiling. Amidst the other wedding attendees — many of them servicemen and women here to celebrate and acknowledge Brad and Lance today — I see someone I don’t want to see here. A fellow Captain. Captain Stern.

Though he’s not walking down my particular aisle, I can see him from where I stand. He’s bigger and more rotund than most Captains I’ve seen or had the misfortune of working with. He has a lot of muscle, but he’s also fat. I guess it’s called fit-fat these days.

Captain Stern is not just filled with fat though, he’s full of shit. There I said it. He’s a 100% grade A asshole. For one, he’s a huge homophobe. He likes to act like he’s better than homosexuals; like he’s on the straight and narrow, but he’s anything but. If any of the rumors I’ve heard are true, he has an appetite for young men… behind closed doors if you get my drift. Almost as much as he loves having a position of power over them. So he’s basically a hard-ass, homophobic, latent homosexual. And no fun at parties.

I can’t imagine why he was invited, except that, like me, he was Brad’s commanding officer for a time. I figure he showed for no other reason than to be the soggy, heavy rain cloud on Brad and Lance’s big day. To start some shit or other. But I’m hoping that my presence — my coming out — will stop him from causing too much trouble or disruption. I can only hope so anyway.

Raising my eyes and chin, I decide to step out of my row of seats and down my aisle. Finally, it has cleared out enough for me to get out of the main area and head across the grounds to the small reception area they’ve set up. It’s outdoors, more than likely to take advantage of the nice weather today, the abundant sunshine and crystal blue sky that is accentuated by billowy white clouds.

As I reach the doors of the chapel, I see Captain Stern coming my way, almost as if he’s planning to head me off, or block my way. Already, I can see that fire starting in his eyes. That shit I’m sure he wants to bellow out about how filthy and unrighteous same-sex marriage is. But I don’t wait around to see what he says or does. Instead, I hurry out the door and move as fast as I can toward the reception.

Almost immediately out of the doors, I can see the telltale signs of tents and tarps, which mark out the tables of food and drink set out for the attendees. A table is set up for a chocolate fountain fondue, complete with luscious strawberries, rice-crispy squares and caramels. All the other tables are laced with orchids, interspersed with gardenias and star jasmine, that fill the crisp New Mexico air with a sweet delicate aroma.

Next to a gazebo, Brad and Lance currently stand…snuggling and kissing each other. I make my way over, feeling the wide smile on my lips before I even step into the gazebo, begging their pardon. Neither Lance nor Brad seem to mind however. The moment they see me, they have nothing but kind words for me.

“Captain Gibson,” says Brad, stepping up to shake my hand.

Even in his wedding attire, his movements are just as polished as they were when he served under, and then alongside me.

“It means a lot that you’re here today for our wedding.”

Lance, snuggling next to him, takes my hand as Brad releases it.

“Absolutely, Captain,” he murmurs. “It means the world to us that you are here to celebrate with us.” He smiles though a different expression also envelops his face…one that I’m not sure if I can read.

“Especially since you’re like a father to me,” Brad picks up after a little encouragement from Lance. “You have been, ever since I joined your unit.”

Brad’s never been very expressive, but that’s been changing. I give him a big bear hug. It’s not something I would normally have done had we been on deployment or any other mission, but today is not one of those days.

“It’s my pleasure,” I say.  I release Brad and throw my arm around Lance in a half-hug. “You’ve been like a son to me, Brad. I’m proud of you and this wonderful man you’ve chosen. And of course I’m going to be here to celebrate your big day. You’ve done so much for me.” Here, my voice breaks a little. Tears threaten to wet my eyes again.

I manage to continue: “You don’t even know how much you’ve helped me in your own way.”

“Sure,” Brad says, waving his hand away as if thinking aw, come on.

But Lance — Lance, the one who’s a bit more sensitive and aware — zeros in on me. On my emotions and what is on the other side of my words.

“How have we helped you, Captain?”

I smile, feeling warmed under Lance’s gaze and attention.

“You’ve given me the courage to be myself. To finally acknowledge who I am, and who I love.”

I pause, enjoying the look of confusion on Lance’s gently attractive face. Brad looks equally, if not more perplexed.

“I’m gay.”

I pause and there’s a palpable silence before I continue.

“I have been my entire life. And both of you have given me the courage to acknowledge this to myself. To live my truth as a gay man, out and proud.”

Brad looks delightfully stunned.

Gay?” There’s a sparkle in his eyes.

“Really?”

I nod.

He goes to open his mouth, but it’s his better half Lance, who answers. He cries out with joy, “That’s wonderful!”

Brad blinks at me as if he’s seeing me clearly for the first time. And that gives me another jolt of pride... right through my body and into my heart then down to my hips.

“I can’t believe it though, Captain!” Lance continues to gush. “I never would have guessed!”

I wonder if he’s being honest… or perhaps he’s just caught off guard and that’s the first thing that pops into his head and comes out of his mouth.

“Well, let me be the first to congratulate you on joining the club! The brotherhood,” Lance says giving me a wink and a nudge. “Better late than never.”

Brad still hasn’t quite processed it all.

“You are?”

I nod again, chuckling.

“You didn’t know, did you?  I’ve hid it well, I know. A lot of men my age and military position do, you know.” I pause, remembering what it was like for me, my strict 1970s childhood then the late 80s, when I first joined the Navy. Back then there were partnerships, but they were largely kept secret. “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“But you’ve given me the courage to get with the times and not waste any more time on hiding and finally explore and embrace who I really am.”

Brad hugs me and at first I’m a little surprised by how sudden it is. How full of emotion.

“That’s so awesome,” he murmurs into my shoulder. “I really wish you the best of luck on your journey Captain.”

I hug him tightly back, but unfortunately, it’s just as Captain Stern walks over, as if he’s sensing this hallmark moment and has brought it upon himself to ruin it.

“So, you’re a fairy too, Gibson, are you?”

I hear the sneer in his voice so loud and clear that I don’t even need to turn to see how it’s matched on his face.

“A boy lover, eh?”

I turn on my heel determined to shield the newlyweds from this. Of course doing so means that I have to see Captain Stern and all of his gelatinous bigotry.

“You know what’s worse than young fags?”

He pauses, waiting to see if I’m going to lose my cool with him. He licks his lips, then runs his sickly tongue over his teeth... too shiny and perfect for such a horrible personality.

“Old ones,” he answers, harshly bating me.

I don’t smile, though I feel like doing nothing more than smiling while I bash his boxy head in.

“That’s interesting coming from you,” I simply say. “At least I can say I’m honest about who I am. Not handing out one version of myself to members of the public and making people look at a very different version behind closed doors… Captain.”

Captain Stern flinches and pales some at this, but doesn’t give me what I’m after. A reaction or rebuttal. He just spits my way and says.

“Sissy boys. You’re disgusting… all of you.”

He then grimaces as he bolts away.

With his back turned, I finally allow myself a deadly smile. A calm sizing up of what exactly I might have done to him had I not been worrying about disturbing a wedding, or spending the rest of the day in the county jail.

“Not any more than you,” I holler, happy when he doesn’t turn around.

Lance and Brad huddle together, for comfort as well as strength. Though I know there aren’t very many people who like Captain Stern, what I see in my married friends is beyond dislike. Something between fear and hatred.

“Don’t worry about him,” I say, pulling them near, getting ready for all of us to toast to champagne and forget about the hideous beast.

“He didn’t say anything to us we haven’t heard before.” I pause. “Besides, he’s always been a fucking asshole. He’s like a relic from the dark ages. He’d be laughable if her weren’t so pathetic.

He’s one I wouldn’t fuck for $1 million dollars, I think, stepping out of the gazebo and heading toward the drink table. And one I’m not about to let ruin this wedding day either. He’s nothing but a shit stain.

 

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