There was only three things Brian was good at: Lying, eating, and dying.
That's it. Out of every possible skill in the known universe the only three things that he gets handed are lying very well, eating a lot, and dying well. Once again, Erick fell asleep thinking this, always thinking about it when he was falling asleep next to a girl whose name he wouldn't remember the next day. This was the fourth time in a week that it had happened and it was beginning to disgust him.
Erick knew they should have stopped a while ago, but the roads were relatively clear, the bright sky gleamed, and Brian had drifted off about fifteen minutes ago. After the initial shock of being sent on such an important mission, they had climbed into the Humvee and been climbing up the mountain at a steady rate for the past hour or so. Erick figured, as fast as they were going, they would reach their destination in about thirty minutes.
Erick checked the time on his wrist watch and wiggled Brian awake.
"Wake up, man," he started.
"Mmm," was the groan Erick received, but Brian finally stirred.
After a few minutes, Brian scooted back into his seat and brushed a hand across his temples.
“You only have a month left, don’t you?”
“Not even; I have 11 days left.”
“What? That’s it?!”
Nodding, Erick replied, “Yep, just under two weeks.”
“That’s crazy,” said Brian. “You’re not coming back, are you? Last Tour?”
“Yeah… This is it.”
“Man, you must be excited.” He chuckled.
“Yeah; can’t wait.”
It was a lie, though. Erick would give just about anything to have to go back to Albíön. He lathed the duties that awaited him when he got back; all he wanted was to have a normal life like any one of the commoners of the land, working as teachers, coal mine workers, anything than what he had waiting for him at the Palace of Albíön.
“We’re almost there.”
They continued up the mountain, settling in between to thick patches of forest as they drove. Then, out of nowhere, four foreign ATV models came out behind them, heading at a speed that was illegal and deadly in these parts. Erick’s heart sank to his stomach, as did Brian’s. They were in shock, once again, and it wasn’t until Brian yelled at him that he gunned it up the mountain, trying to shake them.
Brian stared at him and yelled, “What are you doing?! Are you crazy?”
“We’ve got to shake them and we can’t be in ambush territory or we’ll fucking die!”
Brian went silent after that, keeping his fingertips clawed into the seat’s handles.
Erick remained just as silent as panic began to set in and he tried maneuvering through the trees and up the barely recognizable pathway. He suddenly couldn’t recall the training he had been through for cases like this and while he racked his mind, the four Iraqi ATV’s were right behind them, size on their side. They were firing on them and Erick continued trying to dodge them.
Brian pulled out his pistol and rolled down the window.
“What the HELL do you think you’re doing?!”
“Trying to save our asses.”
With the window open, Brian hung halfway out the window, firing on the ATV caravan. There was a crash and a crack; one down, four to go. But now, the pair had come across a vacant lot, one that stretched for at least a couple miles. But they were still trying to shake the ATVs.
With a hand on the steering wheel and another on his radio, Erick began to frantically radio the base they were headed to, telling them they were being followed and shot at.
Five minutes in, Erick wasn’t even sure where they were headed in the right direction anymore. And Brian was trying to quickly reload his pistol before attempting a second shooting. But it was useless.
Erick’s eyes were on the rearview mirror and he saw it before Brian did. Before he could even yell, there was an explosion that lifted the Hummer off the ground and crashing on top of itself. Within the few seconds it took for the commotion to stop, he heard a heart wrenching crack. Then darkness.
It was eerily quiet when he awoke. For the first few minutes, he had forgotten everything that had happened, where he was, who he was… But slowly he began to remember and looked around to where he was.
He was in a vast field and, scattered all around him, were pieces of the Humvee. Glass was sprayed from the windshield and to Erick and further. The biggest piece of the vehicle was smoking and then, only then, did he remember that Brian had been with him. His gaze shifted around where he lay, but he didn’t see his comrade anywhere.
He tried to get up as quickly as he could, but a surge of pain shot right through his shoulder and side. He cast his eyes left. Dislocated. He hadn’t even felt it because of the adrenaline that coursed through him. Now, he could, and he prepared himself and held his breath as he held his arm in the correct position as he turned to slam his shoulder hard into the ground. Another surge of pain shot through his entire body and a scream of pain moved throughout the air. It took quite a few moments before he tested his arm; it was back in place. But ached oh so much.
Erick then stood and began looking for Brian. He jogged, kind of, to the Humvee while calling out for Brian. He kneeled to see the interior, but there wasn’t a trace of him. He called Brian’s name again and this time, faintly, he heard a voice. It was to his right and he yelled for him.
“Don’t yell.” was what Erick heard as he rounded to the other side of the vehicle. And what he saw make Erick stop in his tracks. “I’m right here.”
He looked down at Brian and saw a piece of the arm rest lodged in his stomach. Erick leaned down beside him and saw there was blood. Everywhere. Brian was drifting in and out of consciousness and Erick focused on his face instead of his stomach.
“Hey… How bad?”
“How bad is it?”
“"It's pretty bad, man." Brian looked away as tears leaked out of the corner of his eyes. Erick shook his head and felt the prick of his own tears threatening to pour as he took Brian’s hand.
"Look at me; you're going to be fine, all right? I'm going to call for help and they’re going to come and get us and you’re going to be just fine, okay? You're going to be fine." Brian shook his head and, for the first time, looked down at his stomach. He saw the arm rest and immediately looked away and began crying harder. Erick looked away and radioed the base for help. Brian grabbed his arm.
"Too late." Brian looked back at him.
"Shut up! It’s not too late, it’s not." As soon as he said this, they both heard foreign voices in the woods, less than a mile away.
"Shit." Erick whispered. He knew they were in trouble now.
Brian squeezed his arm, "Erick, go; I can't get up and I know I'm not going to make it. I'm not going to let you get killed. Please, just go!" Erick looked away.
Brian yelled, "Go!"
Erick grabbed his arm, "I'm going to go get help, okay? You're going to be fine."
Brian nodded and Erick gave him a quick hug, tears now streaming down his face, as foreign voices got louder and tons of Taliban soldiers came out of the woods. They all saw the pieces of the wreckage and began yelling loudly in Arabic. As much as he didn't want to, he let go of Brian and got up and started running towards the woods on the opposite side of where the Taliban were coming out of. The soldiers saw him stand up and run and they began to run after him while yelling to the other soldiers. He then heard gunshots behind him and ducked.
He looked sad. The way he moved and the crease of his brow opted that thought to form in her head as he moved through the coffee shop’s door and to the counter. He stared up at the menu board and Aless watched him while idly she ran a rag across the countertop. She saw a small scar etched into his skin, just above his collar, and she knew it had to have a story behind it.
The man’s gaze moved from the board to her; realizing all too late that Aless was staring, she look hastily away, cheeks prickling with warmth.
“Do you know what you’d like,” Marisol, her co-worker for the morning, chimed.
“Can I get an iced coffee with double sugar, double espresso with whip, please?”
Her brow rose. His voice sounded as if he was foreign, but Aless couldn’t quite place the accent. Her curiosity was peaked.
“You got that, Les?” Marisol asked.
She nodded and began to busy herself with making the mysterious man’s coffee. She couldn’t help it, really. She possessed a nagging curiosity that could kill five cats and a writer’s mind that made everything seem so different and exciting.
The shape of his sharp cheek moldered flawlessly into his jawline where the thin but bright scar hid away. He did not wear it like a burden but as a mark that represented a part of him, her mind already started.
She scooped out ice into a cup and grabbed the whip cream from the mini fridge below where the coffee filtered into a metal cup. She turned through the noise to watch Marisol flirting aimlessly with the customer. Aless’ eyes rolled.
Since day one, Aless had known Marisol to be a bright, bubbly girl who could flirt or fuck her way through so many guys on any given day. Some days, she wanted to call her out on it, but she didn’t want to get Marisol upset. And she was the owner’s daughter and Aless liked her job.
Marisol giggled and turned to Aless, making as if she were helping in some way.
"Cute, isn’t he?" The redhead glanced over her shoulder, offering a catlike smile. “What do you make of him?"
She tipped her chin at the cup in which the tea was steeping. Aless liked to imagine that a person’s drink order offered insight into their personality. Her coworkers alternatively teased and provoked me, depending on how desperate they were for amusement.
“He likes simplicity. Routine. Things he can depend on,” she said.
And he’s a troubled soul, Aless thought to herself with a frown. Marisol only giggled, clearly unaffected in the same way.
"He can depend on me." she said with a wink, sashaying away.
Aless’ pale skin warmed beneath a smattering of light foundation, praying the customer didn’t hear all that.
“Here you are, sir.”
A stray lock of swarthy hair shielded her eyes as Aless rang up the drink, surreptitiously watching as his hand curled around it.
“Two twenty,” she said as she braved a glance up as a five was already being set before her, body half turned away.
"Keep it." He paused, though.
He faltered long enough to glance over her face, looking for the entire world as if he was searching for an answer there. Her brows pulled together, but before Aless could think of anything remotely coherent, he had already turned away. She watched his retreating back, the deep pang of sadness returning to her belly.
"Well, you missed out with that one." The redhead’s teasing voice came from close behind her, but Aless didn’t bother to turn around. Sliding the five into her hands, she traced the bill with gentle fingertips.
“I suppose I did.”
Without knowing why, she slipped the money into her jeans.
It must have been about 3 AM when Aless startled awake, the book tumbling off of her lap and landing with a soft thud onto the carpet. Her head turned as she took in her surroundings; she must have fallen asleep in the living room again. Aless had always loved reading until the wee hours of the morning, but she did need a good place to sleep and unfortunately her favorite chair wasn’t completely healthy for her slumber.
Aless picked up her book and set it back down in the small pile that was constantly building by her chair and started to head for the stairs that lead to her small bedroom upstairs. She was just about to start ascending them when she heard a small whimper coming from the back room. Her bare foot paused on the wooden floor, turning herself around and padding quietly to Isaac’s room. He often left the door open a crack, and her heart wrenched when she noticed that Isaac was having another nightmare again. He was almost as bad as she was, and with far better reason.
Aless was gentle, carefully crawling on all fours onto his mattress and she kissed his forehead to wake him up. The last time she had shaken his arm, Isaac had screamed and woke the entire house up, Daniel included. But Isaac knew, even in his sleep, that his father would never kiss him. Aless was the only one who was maternal enough to do that to him that was still alive.
Isaac’s eyes flew open, and he clutched at her free hand with a panicked expression on his face. She moved her mouth away from his forehead, holding onto his hand and speaking in a soothing tone. “Isaac, it was just a dream… you’re safe now, okay? You’re safe. Nothing’s going to happen to you ever again. I won’t let it.” She used her sleeve to wipe away the sweat that was covering his face, and soon enough Isaac pulled her into his chest and buried his face in her neck.
She did her best to soothe him, but sometimes the nightmares were so real that he would slip into a panic attack. She could tell that this was one of the times, he was barely breathing and he was shaking so much that the headboard was tapping against the wall. Aless turned her face to Isaac’s jaw, kissing his cheek and singing a soft song in his ear. She didn’t really know any lullaby’s, but every time she sang to him it always seemed to work.