Unraveled, p.29
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       Unraveled, p.29

         Part #3 of Woodlands series by Jen Frederick
Page 30


  Bo and Noah let go, and Tucker shrugged off their hands.

  "Why dont you give us a minute?" I asked my friends.

  "We let you have those blows, man," Noah bit off, "because Gray seemed to think you had the right. But you dont get any more freebies. Got me?" Noah loomed over Tucker, a big black blot in front of the sun. Tucker gave a short nod but I could see his eyes burning with more retribution.

  "Let it go, Noah. I can take care of myself. "

  Noah turned on me. "You havent shown any signs of that so well just be at the other end. You want to right your wrong then get your head out of your ass. " Then his voice softened. "I know what its like to make bad decision after bad decision but the right girl will forgive you. "

  I hoped he was right. Bo and Noah took their own sweet time getting to the other end of the pool. In the meantime, I stood up, using the chair to steady me and offered one of the recently vacated seats to Tucker. He refused.

  "Id offer you a beer, but Im not allowed to drink," I joked weakly.

  "You take orders from Noah Jackson?" Tucker sneered.

  I just shook my head. "You arent riling me up with that so just sit down and lets get it out. "

  "I knew the minute I saw you that you were no good," Tucker spat.

  I didnt care what Tucker thought of me, although maybe I should. He was her brother-in-law after all. "How is she?" That was the only important question in my mind. Tucker looked like he wanted to haul off and hit me. He actually raised his fist, but I grabbed it before it could make contact. "Noah was right. I let you have those. I deserved them but no more. " I squeezed his fist until he grimaced. I could take him, and he needed to know it so that his first response to everything I said that he didnt like—which was probably every other word out of my mouth—wasnt to try to beat me up. At some point, Id get tired of him trying and have to teach him a lesson. Then Sam would be mad at me. Again or more. Whatever. I was going to do everything I could to make sure my actions never angered her again.

  Tuckers arm relaxed, and I let him go.

  "Shes got a bruised face and a broken heart. How do you think she is?"

  A bruised face? “What the hell?” I stood up.

  For a moment, Tucker looked confused and then his face hardened again. “She texted me before I went into work, but I ignored it. I knew she wanted that goddamn piece of felt down, and I knew exactly why. Because she was pushing Will out so you’d feel comfortable. ”

  My heart sinking and my fury rising, I listened to Tucker fill in details I knew nothing about. I should’ve broken down that goddamned door.

  “About lunchtime, I felt shitty because I’ve ignored a lot of requests from Sam to go to lunch with our family or do stuff because I don’t want her to be over Will. I called and called but she didn’t answer. I went over and pounded on her door and she didn’t get up, so I use the key that was Will’s—”

  “You used her fucking dead husband’s key to get into her house?” That was some sick shit, and I wanted to punch him hard for that. He looked slightly chagrined but not enough.

  “Yeah, I used the goddamned key, and it’s a good thing I did because she’s got a shiner on her face the size of some man’s fist. ”

  I didn’t let Tucker finish. I ran toward the house. Inside Ethan was laughing it up with a couple of the girls. I jerked him out of the chair and slammed my fist into his jaw. Ignoring the screams from the girls and the “what the hells” from the guys, I dragged him outside onto the lawn and pushed him down on the ground. “You like to hit girls, you bottom-sucking boot?” His flesh gave way under my fists but it wasn’t satisfying. Hands pulled me back and I heard gasps behind me but my attention was focused on Drake. Struggling against the arms that held me, I shouted at him. “You don’t deserve to breathe the same air as her. ”

  He wiped a hand across his mouth, displeased I guess because I made him bleed. “Shit, you are such a pussy, Gray. Left your balls on her counter, did ya? All this crying last night about how you were so worried about her cheating on you. Do you want to know what we did while you were passed out in your drool here?”

  He laughed maniacally and I charged him, breaking away from the human bonds of my friends. He tried to fight back but he was slow and uncoordinated. Not even one of his fists came near my face. I had him on his back, repeatedly hitting him until I was dragged away. He lay still, knocked unconscious, but my blood lust hadn’t abated. I spat on him and then turned away, looking for Tucker. He stood off to the side with a disgusted look on his face and his arms folded. "She need anything?"

  "For you to leave her alone. " He turned and walked toward the front of the house. I followed him. I wanted that key back. It should be mine, and I was going to give everything I had to convince Sam that I belonged in her life. I’d quit the Corps, move here, live in her little condo, and service her on my knees every day if that was what it took.

  "Other than that because that isnt going to happen. " I had ten—no nine—days left before I had to go back to San Diego and every minute of them was going to be spent convincing her that she should give me another chance.

  "She doesnt want to see you ever again. She never wants to hear from you. Shes going to wipe you out of her memory. "

  The verbal blows landed harder than the physical ones but like a stupid man, I stood back up and asked for more. "Did you talk to her about what happened?"

  He snorted. “Only that she was done with military guys forever. ” He threw something up in the air—her key—the shiny metallic glinting in the sun. I wanted to grab it from him. I clenched my teeth together to prevent the yowl of pain that was rising up inside me. I hated to hear that I hurt her so. Tucker went on digging the knife even deeper, twisting it so every part of my heart felt like it was being scored by a dull knife. "I only remember seeing her that bad once before, and that was after my brother died. She was like a ghost for months. Didnt eat. Couldnt sleep. We had to force her to take sleeping pills and slip protein gunk in shakes so that she wouldnt die from just not caring for herself. We almost lost her after he died, and when she started coming around a few months ago, started smiling again and interacting with her family again, I thought it—” He broke off but I knew what he was thinking.

  "You thought it was time for her to start loving again. "

  He fisted his hand but at my challenging look he placed it carefully on his thigh and nodded grimly. I would’ve loved to repay him with a fight right now. I was brimming with unspent rage. He turned his back on me and walked to his truck. Whatever hed come to say was done. "But you arent going to see her anymore. They’re going to England tonight for ten days to see her dad. In fact, shes being driven to the airport right now. And Bitsys confiscated her phone. They don’t want her in contact with you. " He said the word “you” like I was a terrorist.

  Ten days. My heart sunk and the terror I was feeling must have shown on my face because Tucker laughed, a mean and ugly chuckle that had nothing to do with mirth and everything to do with his celebration of my pain. "Yup. You arent going to be able to contact her for a good ten days, and by that time, itll be over for you. You arent Will. Shell be over you by the time the plane lands in London. "

  With the knockout blow delivered, Tucker turned and jogged to his truck. The implication was clear. Hed be here when she got back, and I wouldnt. But I wasnt leaving anything to chance. I sprinted to Bos car and jumped in. Bo stood in front of the car, allowing Tucker to leave first.

  "Goddammit, get out of my way," I screamed at Bo. He wrenched open the drivers door and shook his head. "Move over, Im not letting you drive in that condition. "

  I didnt care who was driving as long as we got to Sams condo in the next five minutes. It took twenty, and I cursed Bo the entire way. His patience was at an end because he bit out, "If you open your mouth one more time, Im turning the car around and driving us both into the nearest lake. " I shut up promptly after that.

  At the c
ondo complex, I jimmied the outdoor lock, not wasting time getting someone to buzz me in. Bo was following hot on my heels. I ran up the three flights of stairs and down to Sams condo. "Sam, let me in. " I pounded on the door. I hit it repeatedly, yelling her name. I kept pounding even after my hand started bleeding so I switched to my other hand. Finally a door opened but it wasnt Sams door. It was her neighbors door. I leaned against the metal door, and waited to for the words I didnt want to hear. "Shes not here, asshole. She left about fifteen minutes ago with her family and a big suitcase. "

  I swallowed back the bile at those words, but I wasnt ready to give up yet.

  "Back to the Woodlands. To her house. "

  We raced back to the Woodlands. I wisely kept my mouth shut and so did Bo. I cradled my bloody right hand in my lap, trying not to get blood all over the interior of Bos sports car. We drove up to Sams house but it was empty. The lights were off and the house looked still. I still got out and looked in every window and door I could, pounding on the door with my left hand and yelling for Sam. But she was gone. Theyd taken her away from me. I sunk down on her back porch. I hadnt even had the opportunity to make it right, and by the time she’d be back, Id have to be back at Pendleton.

  "Ill stay here, then,” I decided.

  Bo knocked me on the back of the head. "So youll be dishonorably discharged or thrown in the brig? Thats going to win her back?" He hit me again. "Use your fucking head. "

  "All my ideas are shit. " Bo opened his mouth and I threatened him, "Dont fucking say I told you so or itll be on right now. "

  He closed his mouth then and then said, "Im only standing down because I think the squirrel over there is stronger than you at the moment. "

  "I dont know how Sam got up and lived again after losing her husband because right now the pain is fucking unbearable,” I choked out.

  Bo drew me against his side, a hand on the top of my head and I allowed myself to lean into him, like we were out in the desert and too tired to stand up after a thirty-mile hike through the hills of Afghanistan. "You gotta go home, get your head together, and plan an assault. There is no citadel, human or natural, that can withstand a siege from a Marine. "

  "I hope youre right. "

  They took me to the airport the next day. Silence was our fourth companion, so heavy and weighty it could have been another passenger.

  When we arrived at the gate, Noah and Bo both got out of Noah’s truck. Bo had felt so sorry for me, he gave me shotgun even though I hadn’t called it.

  “You look like hell,” Noah commented.

  “Thanks, man. ” I shouldered my seabag and rucksack. “It was real fun. ”

  Any moment the police would come and boot them out of the drop off lane but neither of them seemed to care. Noah grabbed me and pulled me in for a long hug. "You know we love you, man. "

  I nodded, the emotions of the last few days riding so close to the surface that I couldnt speak. He shoved me away then and grabbed me around my neck so Id look straight at him. "You love her enough, you never stop fighting for her. Never stop showing her how much she matters. You give it your all, and even if she doesnt accept it, you lived up to your own standards and you can walk away with no regrets. But Im telling you, Gray, that if you love her, shes going love you back. I know it. "

  I think it was the most words I’d ever heard Noah string together.

  "Do you now?" I snorted.

  "I do. " He let go and said, "Semper Fi, Marine. "

  Always faithful.

  Noah was right in one sense. I wondered a lot after Carrie had cheated on me if Id given it my all. Maybe I hadnt. Probably I hadnt. I loved having sex with her, but I loved playtime with my boys just as much. And that had sat uncomfortably on my shoulders. Deployment had been a relief from the constant emotional upheaval.

  In the airport, people shied away from me, the bruises on my face making me look like a dangerous man. The airline ticket agent didn’t give me the upgrade that servicemen and women usually received and I was stuck in the back by the bathrooms in a tiny seat with no space. The woman beside me shrank to her side as if I was a monster. I was a monster, though. Only a monster would’ve done what I’d done to Sam.

  When I arrived home, I threw away my enlistment papers and drove out to see my parents.

  "Im not reenlisting," I told my dad. His mouth quirked to the side in what looked like disappointment, but he didn’t ask about my bruised face.

  "What will you do?"

  I wasnt going to say that I planned to return to the city to try to win over a girl, so I just mumbled, "Dont know. "

  "That doesnt sound like much of a plan. " My dad had been a drill instructor when he retired, and you didnt get to that position without perfecting a stern look of reproof and disappointment. He laid a good one on me, but I was too numb to care.

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