If you haven’t read the first story I recommend doing so. Critiques are welcome so feel free to give me your honest opinion. If you think my characters have less personality than a cardboard box than say so. Enjoy.
Howerton cleared the obstacle and sprinted for cover as explosions rocked the earth around him. He was unsure of where exactly the enemy was but was only focused on reaching his patient. There was a pause in the mortar fire which he exploited as he took off like a rocket towards where he had heard the cry for a medic. Diving into the shallow trench the soldiers were using for cover his eyes took in the situation. One of the men had taken a hit in his traps only missing his Kevlar by a few centimeters. He was struggling to breath and his teeth were red with blood. Howerton took charge of the man trying to determine the extent of his injury as the other men in the ditch returned fire. A nearby M240B ripped open a long burst spraying ammo in a Z pattern over the enemy position. They always said you never heard the mortar round that killed you and Howerton certainly didn’t. He hadn’t realized he was airborne until he saw the ground rushing towards him. He felt no pain, which seemed odd to him. He tried to stand but his legs did not respond. Puzzled by this he looked down to see his legs had been removed by the blast.
Joseph’s eyes snapped open. He let out a long sigh, and covered his face with his hands. Looking at the clock he saw it was only 5 in the morning, he didn’t need to get up for another hour or so. Julie was sound asleep next to him, a welcome change. He thought about the dream, what it felt like to run again. It was the closest he’d ever get to having his mobility back. He had to remind himself he wasn’t a PJ anymore though not a day went by that he didn’t think about it. The sheer rush of it all and the pride in wearing the maroon beret were precious to him. He looked at Julie again; he hadn’t given it up in vain. He smiled at seeing her rest so peacefully; it wasn’t often that she slept through the night with no disturbances. Putting his mind at ease he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
The alarm would go off what seemed only a few moments later. Joseph was quick to silence it not wanting to wake his wife. Swinging his leg over the side of the bed he reached down and firmly took hold of his prosthetic leg lifting it up into position. His right leg was amputated at the knee, a reminder he joked of how he met Julie. It only took a few moments for him to attach the psuedolimb and carefully climb out of bed taking precaution against making the smallest sound and gently shutting the door behind him. Heading down the hall of their one-story home (for obvious reasons) he proceeded into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. With that done he sat down in the living room and turned on the tv, lowering the volume and quickly switching to a news channel. Images of the war flashed on the screen as a group of well-educated individuals discussed the ethics of the situation. Joseph simply shook his head as they bantered back and forth. It didn’t matter what he thought though, he was wrong, well-educated college graduates always had the most complete view of war, and they were perfectly willing to share it with you whether it be through a well-written speech or a PowerPoint if they were really creative. He was more interested in what was going on not their opinion of what should be done, he could decide that himself. He continued to watch the program picking up details of the war effort. Things were proceeding ahead of the timetable set and it was possible troop levels could begin dropping as soon as next year. He was glad to hear it they had been fighting a long time. That reminded him, Mike and Tom were on leave (something PJs rarely received) and they had made arrangement to meet up for lunch and catch up on old times. He hadn’t seen them since he’d returned home, over a year. It seemed like such a long time ago he thought. He heard the door creak and footsteps come down the hall. Julie came around the corner her hair strayed in front of her face but did nothing to hide her friendly smile or brilliant eyes; he smiled at her being easily able to tell she hadn’t had another nightmare,
“Morning Beautiful, coffee should be ready soon,” she smiled back
“Good Morning, thanks for making it,” he nodded, they were both practically addicted to the stuff. As he thought this the buzzer on the pot announced the brewing process was finished, he began to rise to remove the pot when Julie motioned for him to stay,
“Don’t get up I’ll grab it,” he thanked her and settled back down. As she walked past him he heard a barely audible crinkle, since she was likely dry she must’ve forgotten she had it on. Julie pushed the off button on the brewer and quickly sorted through the cabinet before finding two mugs. She set them down and filled both up just below the brim. Steam rolled off the top of the dark liquid as she picked both up and moved back into the living room handing one to Joseph before sitting down to watch the news, she was just as interested in any updates as he was. However she only caught the tail end of it meaning she’d have to settle for Joseph’s summarization while they got some breakfast together. Despite what Joseph thought she was aware of her current attire, but with out caffeine was too apathetic to bother with it until later. With the current program coming to an end she stood back up and went into the kitchen to begin making breakfast, with Joseph joining her a few moments later. While doing so she noticed a slight discomfort pressing on her bladder. Deciding she would have to throw the diaper away wet, or dry she decided to indulge in the convenience and continued to crack eggs as the warmth spread across the diaper. Any moisture was wicked away leaving no sensation of wetness. A little more preparation and breakfast was ready which they quickly sat down to enjoy making small talk over the sound produced by the tv. After finishing the meal Julie went to get ready and hop in the shower, while Joseph made an attempt at cleaning the kitchen. He would finish first and quickly went back to change into more suitable clothing as Julie finished getting dressed. She checked the clock in their bedroom as she exited the bathroom; she was running a little behind. She gave Joseph a goodbye kiss and quickly made her way out to her car and headed to the office she worked at. Joseph worked as a drafter for an engineering firm and was often able to do the majority of his work at home allowing him to avoid driving which he found much more difficult with a prosthetic. Satisfied with his clothing he headed into his makeshift office consisting of the most part of a desk with a drafting elbow and a variety of instruments on top ranging form a compass to an electric eraser. He would use a CAD program for the final draft but found he could generally get a rough sketch done on paper much quicker than in the computer. Sitting down in his chair he quickly resumed his work from the previous day and was quickly lost in the drawing.
The next time he bothered to look at the clock it was steadily approaching his meeting time with his old war buddies. Setting his tools aside he covered the drafting paper with a protective sheet before going and gathering his wallet, keys, as well as a Ruger LCP fitted with CrimsonTrace grips. They didn’t live in an area with a high crime rate but he would rather have it and never use it than not have it and need it. With everything he needed he locked the door behind him and climbed into his car. The engine took a little coaxing but it finally caught and started up. He backed out of the driveway and headed for the restaurant they had agreed to meet at.
A few minutes drive later he pulled into a local sports bar, driving past the handicapped spots and pulling into an empty parking space. He entered to the noise of several big screen tvs displaying a variety of sports, even one with soccer which he found odd. In the back he spotted two figures in ABUs and quickly moved in their direction. Tom caught sight of him and quickly got up to meet him, a grin on his face, with Mike quickly following. Greetings, handshakes, and slaps on the back were exchanged as the three men retired to their booth laughing like the old friends they were. Joseph was amazed at how little the two of them had changed, although Mike now sported a scar above his right eye. Seeing them again made it almost feel like old times, when they had worked together so closely. He almost forgot about his leg the memories were so vivid. The three ordered food and at Mike’s prodding the other two agreed to a game of cutthroat. Leaving their booth they made way to a pool table. It was well worn but still level and without any cuts in the felt. Each man took a pool cue from a shelf as Tom racked the balls. Joseph broke sending a three into a pocket and electing to take numbers six through ten. He would miss his next shot switching off to Mike who knocked in a seven and taking numbers eleven through fifteen leaving Tom with one through five. As Mike lined up his shot Tom addressed Joseph,
“So, how’s the wife?”
“Good,” he responded, “Things have been going a lot better recently,”
“Glad to hear it,” was the response. Joseph sighed,
“Still it’s not fair though, she doesn’t deserve it,”
“No one does,” Tom replied, “that’s war though, nothings fair. You certainly didn’t get a fair deal,”
“Yeah, but it’s different. I have a replacement for what I lost, it’s not like she can just go get this fixed,” Joseph replied. Tom simply nodded in agreement. Joseph changed the subject, “What about you Mike? Everything well?” Mike took a break from his shot, sighed and then shook his head,
“No things are bad, these deployments are killing Sarah. I’m worried,” Both of the others were silent for a moment a knowing look in their eyes Mike was the oldest of the group and had been a PJ longer than either of them, Sarah wasn’t his first wife. He had been married once before but his constant deployments had ended the relationship. He was always concerned history would repeat itself. Tom consoled him,
“Don’t worry about it man, deployments are always hard on the family, I think she still cares about you, just make sure she knows you aren’t abandoning her,” Mike responded,
“Suppose you’re right, I want to make this work but, I can’t give up being a PJ. I just wish I could explain to her how important this is. It’s not about the adrenaline rush or the glory in the end. It’s about making sure everyone goes home,” he sighed, “it’s just… hard,”
“Nobody said it wouldn’t be,” Joseph replied Mike chuckled,
“No you’re right, I’ve been a PJ long enough to know that first hand,” The three shared a laugh diffusing the situation. Their food arrived shortly after and they quickly made their way back to the booth. As they sat down to eat Mike grabbed their attention,
“Hey,” Tom and Joseph looked at him as he raised his glass in an informal toast, “That others may live,” the other two smiled and clinked their glasses with his,
“Hooyah,” they said in unison.
Joseph took a break from his drawing to rest his eyes. On the paper there was an intricate web of lines that seemed to hold no meaning, however Joseph’s practiced eye could see the final image slowly coming together. He heard the front door creak open; Julie was home from work. He got out of his chair and went to meet her. She had a frustrated look on her face,
“How was your day?” he asked, she didn’t respond at first giving a small sigh,
“Oh you know it was just one of those days,” she continued, “I’m glad to be home though. Have any ideas for dinner?”
“Actually,” Joseph replied, “since you’ve had a rough day what do you say we eat out? I’ll buy,” she smiled in response,
“That sounds pretty good to me as long as you’re buying. I’m going to go change clothes first though and then we can decide on a place,” Joseph chuckled,
“By “we” do you mean you?” she didn’t answer him and instead walked off to the bedroom shutting the door behind her, he shook his head,
“Guess that was a yes,” he said going back to clean off his desk. As he finished Julie called from the bedroom,
“I forgot to ask how was lunch?” he replied from his office,
“Great, it’s always good to see the guys again. I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I last saw them,”
“How long are they on leave?”
“Couple months, I imagine they’ll spend most of it with their families,” he intentionally left out the part about Mike’s troubles,
“I can’t imagine what it would be like to only see you for two months at a time. I don’t know how they do it,”
“It’s hard,” he replied.
Dinner had been a short affair though the food was excellent. After they had paid the bill Julie suggested they go for a walk, as the weather was so nice. Joseph had agreed and now they were walking down the sidewalk enjoying the clear night. The air had a bit of a bite to it from the cold but both wore a light jacket to guard against it. There were no clouds to obstruct their view and a few stars winked in the darkness despite the light pollution of nearby street lamps. With the exception of a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt walking the opposite direction at the end of the sidewalk the street was deserted, there were hardly even any cars. With exception of their footsteps hardly a sound broke the silence, it was peaceful and soothing. As they passed the other pedestrian Joseph greeted him with a smile,
“Evening,” the other man replied drawing a revolver from his waistband. Howerton’s demeanor changed instantly. Adrenaline rushed into his blood causing momentary panic before settling into a cool headed disposition. He moved in front of Hawkins.
“Wallet now,” the gunman said quite plainly. Howerton practiced his draw in his mind, as he reached for his wallet. He wasn’t going to kill this kid over a couple bucks. He handed it to him slowly as to show no hostility and directed Hawkins to do the same with her handbag. With both the items the gunman chuckled and with incredible speed and accuracy directed a blow to Howerton’s right knee causing his prosthetic to buckle under him and sending him to the concrete. Hawkins caught the gunman off guard and reacted violently slamming her fist into his jaw, while simultaneously wrapping her hand around the revolver’s barrel directing it away from her body while trying to wrestle it out of his hand. The gunman fired, the bullet bouncing harmlessly off the concrete and shattering a window. However the escaping hot gases that propelled the bullet passed through the cylinder gap, singeing Hakins’ hand causing her to let go instinctively. The gunman took hold of her by her shoulder and threw her to the ground with brute strength while bringing the revolver on her, barring blood stained teeth. She stared down the barrel her eyes wide with fear. A small red dot hovered on the gunman’s chest and Howerton’s LCP snapped twice sending two .380 ACP rounds into his chest. The gunman grasped at his wounds as if he couldn’t understand he’d been shot and then fell to his knees before finally sinking to the ground. Julie remained frozen where she was, as Joseph struggled to his feet.
“Julie?” he asked shaking her. She was unresponsive for a moment before shaking her head and looking at him her eyes clouded, “You okay?” she shook her head no.
Joseph opened the door and helped Julie inside. Joseph had called an ambulance shortly after the incident and then was taken to a local police station where he was questioned as to what had happened. Julie had barely said a word in the hours following, and she had a far off look in her eyes. Joseph hoped it would pass, but he couldn’t get her to talk about it, which troubled him.
“I’m going to take a shower,” she said in a quiet voice Joseph nodded. She cautiously made her way back to their bedroom shutting the door. Joseph sat down in the living room his mind buzzing. The shower kicked on a moment later. Joseph was consumed in his thought, how could he have let his happen, Julie had almost been killed! His guilt tore him up inside, he had failed to act in time; he should’ve been more alert. Seeking a distraction he hit the power button on the television, it did little to help him. He felt like a failure, he felt less than human, he felt unworthy to have once been a PJ. He buried his head in his hands and breathed steadily trying to control his anger. He lost track of time sitting there but knew it had been awhile. He was about to get up when he realized the shower was still running. Julie usually took short showers, a result of several years in the Air Force, this was unusual. He wanted to pass it off as nothing not wanting to disturb her in case nothing was wrong but… he had to make sure. He went back in to the bedroom and lightly rapped on the door. No response.
“Julie?” he called knocking a bit more firmly. Something was wrong. He opened the door into the steam filled room glancing at the fogged mirror. The shower curtain was drawn tight,
“Julie? You okay?” still no response. Hesitantly he drew the curtain back and his heart sank lower than he knew was possible. His wife was sitting in the tub as the now cool water sprayed over her. She struggled to catch breaths between quiet sobs. He reached over and shut off the water, she did not look at him. Grabbing a towel he covered her with it and got her on her feet and out of the tub. She leaned on him heavily as he guided her into the bedroom, she was almost completely unresponsive. He helped her sit down on the bed,
“Julie?” he asked begging for a response, she finally answered in an almost inaudible voice,
“Could you grab my clothes?” he quickly did as she asked, going into the bathroom to pick up the stack of clothes she had grabbed beforehand. On the top of the pile was a folded diaper. He came back and handed her the clothes leaving to give her privacy. She shed the towel and quickly dressed herself, calling to Joseph to let him know she was finished. Her diaper crinkled as she lay down and pulled the bedspread over her. Joseph got down on his knees to wish her goodnight when she spoke again,
“Please,” she asked, “Don’t go until I’m asleep,” her eyes showed a hint of fear. Taking her hand he stayed kneeling beside the bed talking to her soothingly until her eyes finally fluttered and closed. She began to breath deep and steadily signifying she was asleep. Joseph reluctantly untangled his hand which she withdrew. He crept out of the bedroom and gently eased the door shut. He could hardly live with himself. Not wanting to disturb her he grabbed an extra blanket and made do with the couch. As he lay on the couch his mind boiled with activity. His guilt assailed him without mercy as he tried to force himself to sleep.
“Lord,” he prayed, “please forgive me, because I can’t,” he wished he could take Julie’s pain onto his own back and carry it for her. He had protected her from bullets, grenades, and rockets but he couldn’t fight the enemy she now faced. It tore him up to know that.
Joseph eased the car around the turn and accelerated over the flat ground. Julie was in the car with him smiling that great smile. He couldn’t quite remember where they were going or where they had come from but was content with the ride for now. Suddenly the terrain changed; on either side of the road the ditches deepened to form massive canyons he paid them no mind though. Then he felt the car lurch as a tire blew out, he had forgotten to check them. He fought for control as the car slid off into the ravine. In the seat next to him Julie screamed as his vision blurred into blackness.
His consciousness slowly came to him. Julie was still screaming. He was on the couch in their living room; he wasn’t sure what time it was though. Julie was still screaming. His mind finally snapped into focus. He quickly got his prosthetic attached and ran for the bedroom almost breaking down the door. Julie was sitting up in their bed weeping uncontrollably. He rushed over to her and she reached out to him clinging to him like a frightened child. He sat on the bed and held her in his lap her sobs continuing. He gently began to rock her back and forth in a soothing pattern as he reassured her in a calm voice. She slowly began to calm down but she would not let go of him. He continued to rock her, neither said a word. He could feel through her clothing that her diaper was completely saturated; she probably needed a new one. She was silent now as he continued to rock her. He saw her tearstained face and bloodshot red eyes and felt a knife slide into his gut. She watched him the entire time, her gaze never shifted for a moment. A few minutes later, exhausted by her emotional collapse, she slipped back into sleep still in his arms. He stood up still holding her and gently laid her on the bed. He thought about her diaper, he didn’t want to leave her in that condition, but at the same time didn’t feel quite right about it. He deliberated for a moment before deciding that if it were the other way around she would most likely do it for him even if she was uncomfortable. He rummaged through a drawer and grabbed a fresh diaper. As quickly as he could he removed the wet one and replaced it with the dry making sure tapes were tight. After disposing of the wet one he came back, kissed her on the forehead, and sank into a corner, he wasn’t going to leave. He prayed in silence as he slowly slipped into sleep.
He didn’t wake up until a few hours later and when he did the first thing he saw was Julie scrambling for the bathroom. He forced himself awake and went in after her through the open door; she leaned over the toilet and began to vomit. He quickly came behind her and pulled her hair back out of her face and began to rub her back. She threw up several more times each time draining more of her strength. When she was finished he helped her lean back against the wall as she caught quick breaths. He held a hand against her forehead, she was burning up with fever despite the fact that she was shaking like a leaf. He quickly grabbed a blanket off the bed and wrapped her trembling body in it. He then grabbed a glass and gave her some water to rinse her mouth out, which she graciously accepted.
“How you doing?” he asked sitting next to her,
“I guess I feel a little better,” she said weakly through chattering teeth, “I’m freezing though,”
“Let’s get you back to bed huh?” Joseph replied. She nodded and he helped her up supporting the majority of her weight. He got her back into bed and piled all matter of insulation on top until she felt warm enough. As he retreated back to his corner Julie called to him,
“Joseph thanks for taking care of me, I um, I hate waking up wet,” she trailed off.
“It’s not a problem,” he replied “try and get some rest okay? I’ll be here if you need me,”
“Thank you,” she replied, “Love you,” Joseph smiled for the first time since before the event,
“I love you too,”
Joseph woke up to the silence of the morning as rays of light peeked through the curtains into the dark room. Julie was still sound asleep, he crept over and laid a hand on her forehead, she still had a fever. She stirred, he silently condemned himself for waking her. She slowly rolled over and cracked her eyes open. Her voice was a little hoarse,
“Morning,” she said weakly,
“Hey,” he replied, “Feel any better?” she shook her head.
“No, I feel so weak I’m not even sure if I trust myself to walk,”
“Stomach?” he asked. She was so tired she couldn’t keep her eyes open while answering,
“A little better, could you get me something to drink? I’m really thirsty,” he nodded,
“I’ll be right back,” he left the bedroom and went into the kitchen to find a suitable container. He was glad she hadn’t had another nightmare, her being ill was nothing great either but he could at least handle this. He had treated dying men on more than one occasion, a fever was nothing. Going into the back of a cabinet he pulled out a camelback, choosing it because of its large capacity and zero percent chance of spilling water. He quickly rinsed it out and filled it back up with cool water before sealing it up and taking it back to Julie. She hadn’t moved an inch, he guided the tube of the camelback into her hand,
“Remember, take sips,” she didn’t acknowledge. She placed the end of the tube in her mouth and bit down on the soft end sucking water through the tube. When her thirst was quenched she placed the tube on the nightstand by their bed and thanked Joseph. She was promptly out cold the next second. Joseph crept out of the room to let her sleep in peace. She slept for several more hours until she was woken by nature’s calling. She tried getting out of bed but her muscles were limp and unable to support her weight. Frustrated she relaxed and slipped back into sleep, her diaper now heavier and warmer than when she had woken up. An hour later Joseph came back into check on her, seeing she was asleep he was about to leave when she called to him,
“Joseph could you do me a favor?” he reentered the room,
“Sure what do you need?” she hesitated for a moment,
“Could you… bring me a diaper,” he made no comment and quickly went to grab one,
“You need help?” he asked, she nodded,
“Yeah, sorry,” he shook his head
“Don’t worry about it, for better or for worse right?” she smiled
“Something like that, thank you,”
“No problem,” he quickly helped her out of her wet diaper before taping on the dry in its place. The rest of the day went by in much of a similar way with Joseph attending to Julie in her sickness. His guilt was momentarily laid aside as he concentrated on making sure she was comfortable, hydrated, and dry. The next day Joseph was in the living room taking a break from his drawing to rest his eyes. Julie had recovered enough to walk now but for the most part still remained in bed still having almost no energy. Her nightmares had decreased in intensity since the first night but she remained in diapers as she had occasional accidents when asleep. He sat down on the couch and looked down at his prosthetic. He had never quite gotten used to having the dead weight attached to his knee; it was a constant reminder of his limitations. He wasn’t the same person anymore it seemed like he felt incomplete. He was lost in thought and hadn’t heard Julie walk down the hall. She moved onto the couched and leaned up against him, her damp diaper crinkled. He wrapped an arm around her. No he wasn’t incomplete; he had been given something better than what he had lost.
Several Months later:
The nurse escorted Joseph into the small room. The white linoleum tile smelled of cleaning products and reflected a warped image of the above world. He smiled seeing Julie lying in the bed and she smiled back a bundle in her arms. The nurse saw herself out a Joseph approached his wife; her eyes glimmered in the fluorescent light. Joseph kneeled down by the bed and looked at the face of his sleeping son for the first time. He stayed by the side of the bed until Julie began to doze off. He took his son from her arms and laid him in a crib inside the room, he did not stir. When he turned around Julie had slipped into sleep, nightmares no longer waited for her. He crept over and kissed her forehead, she smiled. Joseph retired to a chair and soon was overcome by sleep himself.