‘Cause you never know
You never know
In this here today and gone tomorrow
Don’t be fightin’ with your brother
Tell your mama that you love her
Hold your woman tight
And don’t let go
‘Cause you never know
~ You Never Know by Darryl Worley
Grief affected people differently. There were some that became angry and lashed out as if I was personally responsible for the death of their loved one. Others shut down completely, becoming robotic in their actions. Some refused to believe their loved one was gone, acting as if we were playing a cruel joke on them. They usually turned angry once the reality of the situation sank in. But in my mind, the worst reactions were those who broke down in tears. I can handle anger, I can even understand it. The ones that become robotic usually ushered us out of their homes quickly, preferring to break down in private. But the sobs…I can’t stand the fucking tears. They cut me to the quick every time. I am a soldier; I am trained for battle and survival. No one can ever prepare you for how to destroy a family’s hopes and dreams by telling them their loved one is never coming home alive.
The chaplain that had accompanied me on this visit holds the door open as I carry the unconscious woman into her home. I move into the living room and set her down on the couch. The chaplain moves to the kitchen to get her a glass of water.
“See if she has anything stronger in there,” I call out. A stiff shot of whiskey would help bring the color back to her checks.
I adjust her on the couch, placing a pillow behind her head. I see a blanket thrown over the back of the couch, and I cover her with it. Her skin feels cold and despite the tan on her skin, she seems pale. I brush the hair back from her face, and begin softly slapping her cheeks to help rouse her.
Her eyelids fluttered a few times, and I can see her eyeballs moving behind the lids. She slowly opens her eyes and I am looking into the clearest, bluest eyes I have ever seen. The color reminds me of the lake near my grandparents’ house in Sweden; the water was a light blue color and so clear you could see all the way to the bottom.
“Mrs. Merlotte, are you alright?” I move back from the couch so that she can sit up. The chaplain comes back into the room carrying a glass of water. He hands the glass to her and she takes a sip. She sets the glass on a nearby table; her hands are shaking.
“This is my worst nightmare,” she begins quietly. “It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Sam emailed me Sunday to say he received notification that he would be coming home in two months. Two months,” she whispers brokenly.
I want to reach out and comfort her, but I cannot. We are told to be sympathetic but to remain aloof. You’d have to be made of fucking stone not to be affected by this woman’s grief. I want to run my hands over my face, but I do not. Two months…two fucking months and this family would have been happily reunited. Fate is a cruel, nasty bitch with a terrible sense of humor.
“What happened to my husband?” she asks after a few moments.
I clear my throat before speaking. “His convoy was attacked, Ma’am.” I hope that she will let me leave it at that. She does not need to hear that the vehicle her husband was in was hit by mortars and exploded. She doesn’t need to know that instead of having her husband’s body to bury, she will be receiving an empty casket.
Her blue eyes stare intensely at me. I struggle not to fidget under her gaze. I can tell she wants to ask me more questions, but she must find something that stops her.
The chaplain that is with me moves to sit with her on the couch. “Mrs. Merlotte, I understand how difficult a time this must be for you. You must take comfort in knowing your husband is at peace now. If there is anything that I can do to be of help, please let me know.”
She nods her head weakly. “I have so many things I have to do; I don’t know where to begin.” Her voice trails off as she looks towards the sliding glass door. Standing on the other side of the door is a little blonde boy. He cannot be more than five years old. He is the mirror image of his mother.
“Mommy?” He looks at his mother with quivering lips and tears in his eyes.
Her hand flies up to her mouth trying to hold back her tears, but a sob escapes. She rises from the couch and begins to cross to the child. She stops before entering the kitchen and looks at the two of us.
“I think it would be best if you go,” she says. The chaplain rises from his seat and we cross to the front door. I look back at her before leaving to see the little boy wrapped in his mother’s arms. She has fallen to her knees and they are both sobbing. I feel my heart breaking as I watch the anguish of these two people. I close the door softly behind me and hurry to our vehicle.
Later that evening, I’m sitting on the deck of my house watching the sun set. A bottle of Scotch sits on the table next to me, and my drink dangles from my hand. I cannot get the image of Mrs. Merlotte and her son out of my head. Two people utterly destroyed by the death of their loved one; a wife that has lost the man she loves; a boy who will grow up without a father. An irrational sense of grief wells up in me, and I feel tears pool in my eyes. I feel somehow connected to those two people, as if I am now responsible for them.
I sigh and take a sip of my drink. I am not responsible for the Merlotte family. Hell, I’d never even laid eyes on them before today. I have no business feeling so attached to two people I will more than likely never see again. I need to get my head back in the game. I have a feeling that I will be shipping out soon since I have more than recovered from my injuries.
“Why the fuck didn’t you answer your phone?” My friend Alcide shouts at me as he comes walking around the side of the house. He looks up at me in irritation as he crosses the yard. He climbs the steps of the deck two at a time and drops down to the chair on the other side of the table. I finish my drink and reach for the bottle to pour myself another one. His eyes sober as he sees what I’m drinking.
I give a short nod of my head. My glass hovers in the air in front of my lips while I answer, “Wife and little boy.” I take a deep swallow of the amber liquid, enjoying the smoothness of the liquid as it moves down to my throat to my stomach. I know I should eat something, but getting piss-ass drunk sounds like a damn fine idea at the moment.
“Fuck,” Alcide proclaims. He knows my short answer means I had to tell a woman her husband was not coming home, a little boy his hero is never coming home. Alcide rubs his hands over his face and looks at me in amazement, “I don’t know how you do it, man. No amount of money in the world would make me want to do that job.”
I set my empty glass down; the alcohol no longer dulling the pain. I stare at the lingering rays of the sunlight as I answer him, “I used to think I was doing a good thing, noble even. I believe that every family deserves to be told in person that their loved one isn’t coming back. The families deserve to know what happened to the ones they love.” Alcide nods his head in understanding. “But it isn’t noble, Al. It’s fucking brutal to be the one to destroy another person’s life. I’m not the one responsible for the deaths of these brave men and women, but I might as well be!”
Alcide does not respond. I brood in silence as I watch the last of the sun’s rays disappear. My mind keeps going back to that moment when I saw the light fade from Mrs. Merlotte’s eyes. My eyes close in defeat and my shoulders slump.
Alcide jumps up from his chair and slaps me on the back. “C’mon man. We’re getting outta here. You can’t sit and brood on this all night. We can head to the gym; take our frustrations out on the treadmill. Hell, I’ll even be nice and spar with you in the ring. If you’re nice to me, I might even let you win this time,” he says with a grin.
I smirk up at him. “Let me win? I must have hit you one too many times in the head if you think you even have a chance of winning.” I get up from the chair and stretch. Alcide may be brawnier than me, but I am taller and have a longer reach advantage.
“Let’s go, Viking. Loser buys dinner.”
About three hours later, Al and I walk into our favorite Mexican restaurant and head for the bar. We come here so often that Maria, the bartender, sets two Coronas in front of the chairs we are about to sit in.
“Hey guys. Who won this time?” she asks with a smile.
Alcide just grumbles as he pulls out his chair. She laughs knowing that I won again. “Do you guys want menus or the usual?”
“The usual,” I say. Alcide nods in agreement. Maria walks away to place our order. A quick look around the bar shows that it is busy for a weeknight. I see a group of women sitting at the other end of the bar staring at Al and me. I can’t help but grin at them, and they start whispering among themselves. I think I even hear a few giggles. I pick up my drink, and give them a little salute before taking a long swallow.
Al was right; I felt better after working out my frustrations in the gym. I needed to clear my head; running on the treadmill, listening to loud and dirty rock and roll helped immensely. Of course, beating the shit of Al in the ring helped too. I look at him and can’t help but laugh. “Are you pouting?” I ask him.
Alcide sits up straight in his chair and gives me the death glare. “I will have you know that I am an officer in the United States Army, and we do not pout! Pouting is for pussies,” he says indignantly.
I laugh at him again. “You wear pussy so well,” I can’t help but say. Maria just rolls her eyes at us as she drops off a heaping basket of chips, salsa, and guacamole. She also brings us two fresh beers. Alcide and I are quiet as we dig into our food. Just as we finish our chips, Maria drops our platters in front of us. Food is something neither one of us joke about. After living on Army rations for months on end, we both gorge ourselves every chance we get. That’s the great thing about this place; the portions are huge so Alcide and I always leave here satisfied.
After we clear our plates, Alcide leans back in his chair satisfied. “I’m gonna miss this when we ship out again. Maria, would you send me care packages of chips and salsa?”
She drops our plates into empty tubs behind the bar that the bus boy will collect. She wipes her hands off and laughs at the two of us, “You gringos are nuts. All the things you could ask me for, and you want chips and salsa?”
Alcide leers at Maria and drops his voice an octave trying to be sexy, “I’ll take whatever you are willing to give me, bonita.” I cannot help but roll my eyes at him. Alcide has been flirting shamelessly with Maria since the first time we came here. I know he’s got a thing for her, but she never takes him seriously.
She shakes her head and laughs at him. “Trust me Papi, you can’t handle this,” she says as she smacks her ass and walks away. Several other patrons at the bar whistle at Maria in appreciation. Maria gives everyone a wink and moves to the group of women at the other end of the bar. One of the women in the group gestures towards Al and I and Maria nods her head. Maria pulls two fresh beers out of the refrigerator and places them in front of us.
“These are from the brunette at the other end.”
Al and I look to see who she means, and the woman waves at us. I grin at her in return before taking a drink of the beer.
Al mumbles into his beer, “Lucky son of a bitch,” and takes a long swallow. I turn to him with a raised eyebrow. He sighs in exasperation, “Oh come on. You and I both know how this is going to play out.” He stands from his chair and pulls the wallet out of his jeans. He drops more than enough money on the bar to cover our dinner and tab.
“Maria, darlin’, a pleasure as always to see you,” he says reaching over the bar to give her a kiss on the cheek. He steps back and looks at me. “Asshat, I’ll talk to you later.” He walks out of the bar without a backwards glance.
I pick up my beer and head over to the group of women. I give them my sexiest grin, “Hello ladies. May I buy you all a drink? My name’s Eric.”
The brunette looks me up and down and licks her lips. She holds her hand out to me, and I bring it to my lips to kiss. Her friends giggle, but I stare intently into her green eyes. “I’m Dawn,” she says breathlessly.
My lips are fused to Dawn’s as she pushes open the door of her apartment. We didn’t stay long at the bar after our introductions. She made it quite clear she was looking for a fuck, and who was I to deny her? I’m sure the cab driver spent more time watching us then the road, since Dawn straddled my lap the entire ride to her apartment. She was grinding against me and sucking on my neck and ears. My own hands were busy unbuttoning her blouse and then playing with her nipples.
Once inside the door, I push her against the wall. I pull her skirt up to her waist and rip the thong from her body, plunging a finger inside her heated center. Her hands unbutton my jeans and then push inside. She purrs when she realizes I go commando.
I bend a little to grab her behind her thighs and lift her up. She locks her legs around my waist and resumes kissing me as I make my way to the back of her apartment. With one eye open, I find her bedroom. The two of us tumble on the bed. She rolls over to the nightstand and pulls a condom out of the drawer. I stand up to push my shoes and jeans off. I pull the t-shirt off and quickly roll the condom on. While I was undressing, she did the same. She is lying on the bed with her legs spread and beckons me with one finger.
The sounds of flesh slapping against flesh and moans are the only sounds that come from us. I bring her to her first climax quickly. Before the aftershocks have finished, I flip us so that she is on top of me. I tell her to ride me hard and fast. She complies. Her walls are fluttering against my cock and I can feel she is going to cum again. I grab her hips and thrust up into her several times before I groan with my release.
Dawn collapses on me in a sticky, sweaty heap. She rolls to the side and I get up to use her bathroom. I dispose of the condom and clean up a bit. I come back out to find her staring at me. I sit back down on the bed. I wonder how much of a fight she’ll put up if she realizes I want to leave now.
“Are you going to be here in the morning?” she asks me.
I shrug my shoulders, “I have to report by 0800, so I’ll need time to get back to my place and clean up.” You cannot report for duty looking like shit.
“You’re a soldier?” she asks shocked. I nod my head.
“Well, allow me to show my appreciation for your service to our country,” she says and pulls me down to the bed with her.
After another round of sex, I am wide awake but Dawn is sleeping next to me. I look at her sleeping form and wish with all my heart she had been a certain petite blonde with blue eyes.