Stay:A Second Chance Badboy RomanceBy: Melinda Minx
I pop the bottle and take a long swig. The cold German beer flows down my throat like a fucking elixir. All the sand from Syria is washed away by the Bavarian brew. I down nearly the whole bottle before I slam it down onto the bar.
“Shit,” I whisper. “Almost home…”
“How long has it been?” the guy across from me asks. He looks fresh. He’s got that soft baby face of a man who’s never had to kill. This German army base is a staging area for war. It’s a place where people who have never fought touch shoulders with guys like me. I’m on the way out, he’s on the way in.
“Fifteen years since I stepped foot on U.S. soil,” I say.
I rotate the beer in my hands, looking it over. It’s so cold it doesn’t feel real.
“Shit, man,” he hisses. “Fifteen years? You didn’t get to take any leave?”
I let out a dry laugh and shake my head.
I look up at him, and I lock eyes with him. “You got something to keep you anchored?”
“My wife,” he says,
“You getting shipped off?”
He nods. “Yeah, Syria.”
“You always think you’ll want to go back as soon as you get the chance,” I say. “But sometimes the things that you most wanted to see again keep you away. Don’t be a dipshit like me. Don’t be a fucking coward, remember why you want to go home, and go home. Fight for it.”
He looks at me and holds his glass out to me. I clank my bottle against his glass. “Prost.”
“Prost, man,” he says. “I’ll listen to your advice. It sounds like it’s coming from real experience.”
I nod and chug down the rest of my beer.
The only reason I’m going home now is because they’re making me. Each time I decided not to go back, it felt like “one more time,” but then each time it got harder to go back, until it was fucking impossible.
I couldn’t protect Eric. It wasn’t like an IED snatched him away from me, it was my own fucking fault. He got cut down right beside me. If I had kept a better lookout, if I had been more on point, I could have saved him. I’d have brought him home to Mom and Dad.
He got shot right next to me—the bullet could just as easily have hit me—and I dragged him to cover, then watched him bleed out in my arms. I couldn’t even stop the blood flow. I was fucking worthless.
I pop open another bottle and stare into it before taking a swig.
And then I stopped writing to Sophie. I stopped even opening her fucking letters. If I couldn’t protect Eric, then what good was I to her? I shake my head. Bullshit logic. Coward logic. Maybe I was punishing myself, or maybe I felt that I just didn’t deserve anything good after fucking up everything so bad.
All I know is I threw it away. I threw my life away. I traded the woman of my dreams away for a decade and a half of scars and ink. I was strong before, but now I’m hard. Each scar is an experience, a trial, and I passed all of them.
I’ve been stabbed half a dozen times, I’ve been shot, I’ve taken shrapnel in my shin—but still I’ve been too fucking chicken-shit to go back home? To visit my parents’ graves? What am I really afraid of?
“Nothing,” I mutter to myself.
“What’s that?” the bartender asks.
“Nothing,” I say. “I didn’t say anything.”
He walks off.
I’m not afraid of anything now. I’ve been through enough shit, it’s time to grab life by the balls. To go for what I want, even if I don’t deserve it anymore. Even if I don’t deserve her anymore.
I’m tired of running.
I’m tired of hiding.
After fighting in three wars in three countries, I never would have thought the hardest battle I’d fight would be back in Tuckett Bay.
“Sophie,” Dad says. “Did you see Pfizer is opening a new lab in Boston?”
I let out a deep sigh. “No, Dad, I didn’t see that.”
He sips his coffee and folds the newspaper over. “Just saying.”
“You’re not just saying,” I say. “You’re telling me I should apply for a job there. You’re telling me to get my ass out of Tuckett Bay.”