Author: Teresa Mummert
"I'm saying…a lot of military men feel that way."
I pushed back my chair and stood, staring at her back as I tried to absorb that information.
"You think he is military?" I asked.
"I'm just saying it makes sense. The guns, the never being around."
I sat back down in my chair with a thud as I thought that over. I really was just like him.
"Think about it, Shane. Maybe your mother didn't want him around because he was never there to begin with. Maybe this guy isn't as bad as you thought he was."
"Wasn't as bad? May, I watched my mother die on the couch and that son of a bitch was nowhere to be found."
"I know, Shane. What happened to your mother was unthinkable. She would have never taken any of that medication if she knew what it would do to her. But she didn't know and neither did he. Your father had no reason to believe that your mother wouldn't live a long and healthy life taking care of you."
"How can you defend him?"
"I'm not." May came and stood in front of me and placed her hands on my shoulders. "All I am saying is sometimes people are misunderstood. That is why honesty is so important."
"Are we talking about Jenn now?"
I spun around in my seat and faced the computer. I typed in the web address for my AKO account and put in my personal information. If my father was in the military, I would be able to find him on here. Maybe. I put what information of his I had into the search field and waited for the results to populate. A million thoughts swam through my head and it took all of my courage not to close out the window and forget about him. I almost gave in as the results flooded the screen.
"What's that?" May asked over my shoulder as she read over the screen.
I ran my hand over my jaw and blew out a deep breath.
"That's my father."
March 24, 2010
I pulled open the front door on the third knock and nearly fell over when my eyes landed on Shane's.
"I thought you needed to spend time with Jake."
"Plans changed," he said with a small smile.
My eyes searched his as I stepped off to the side so he could enter, fidgeting with the sleeves of my shirt.
"Jake's son is allergic to dogs. I was hoping I could keep Roxy here until I leave."
"I didn't think I would see you again." I bent down to pet Roxy. "Of course she can stay here with me."
"I couldn't miss out on another adventure. What are we doing today?"
"How would you like to meet my family?" I asked, holding my breath, hoping he would say yes.
"Now?" he asked as he stood in front of me.
"My sister's wedding rehearsal dinner is today. I wasn't going to go. I didn't want to go alone."
"I'll go with you."
"Are you sure? It won't be fun and I can't promise that at some point someone won't make me cry." I smiled nervously.
Shane ran the pad of his thumb over my cheek.
"If anyone makes you cry, I will make them cry, okay?"
I laughed and wrapped my fingers around his.
"Thank you. I should get dressed." I took a small step back and let his hand fall from mine. I wasn't sure what I was feeling for Shane but after he left yesterday, I was scared to trust that he wouldn't do it again.
"You look great."
I made a face at him and laughed.
"I'm sure no one would agree with you, but thank you. I'm going to slip a dress on."
I took a couple more steps back before turning around and making my way into my bedroom. I rummaged through my closet, tossing dresses on the floor as I struggled to find something that would look decent. I grabbed my favorite and hoped it would look dressy enough for the event.
"How's this?" I asked as I opened the door to my room. I was standing in front of him in a pale yellow sundress with a white cardigan over it.
"You look like sunshine." He smiled and stood slowly. Pink crept across my cheeks as I blushed.
"Why do you call me that?" I cocked my head to the side.
Shane stepped closer to me and grabbed my hand, lacing his fingers in mine. "Come on."
We rode in silence as they made our way across town toward Bella's, an Italian restaurant that would be catering Gail's wedding. My knuckles blanched white as I gripped the steering wheel. I could feel Shane's eyes on me.
"You're a natural. You should have no trouble passing your driving test."
I smiled and looked over at him.
"Don't patronize me. You practically keep your hand on the door handle just in case you need to jump out."
He laughed and shook his head.
"I've been in scarier situations."
We pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant as my face went serious again. I put the car in park and turned to face him in my seat.
"If you want to leave at any time, just let me know. I completely understand if you can't make it through the meal. I'm not sure I will." My words ran together as I spoke so rapidly I was sure he couldn't make sense of anything I said. He leaned over and wrapped his hand behind my neck and pulled my face to his as he pressed his forehead against mine. My hands fell on his chest as my eyes fluttered closed. Shane's heart thudded wildly under my fingers. All worry and fear left me as I focused on Shane being so close to me and every ounce of my body begged he would kiss me, but his lips never touched mine.
"What are you doing?" I asked as I slowly opened my eyes. The side of his lips curved into a smile.
"I'm not going anywhere, sunshine. I said I would be here for you and I will be. Now, if you decide you don't want to be here, we can leave. All you have to do is say the word and we will run out of those front doors and never look back."
"A word. That's perfect. We should have a secret word so we can make up an excuse to leave if it gets too hard
He laughed and kissed me softly on the cheek, his lips barely brushing against my skin, but it set me alive with fire under his touch.
"Sure. How about Lima. It's part of the military phonetic alphabet. L for leave."
"Fine. That's good. Leema? Okay." I put my hand on the door handle before glancing back at him. He just shook his head and laughed before getting out and making his way to my side of the car and pulling open my door. His hand found mine and he gave it a reassuring squeeze as he guided me to the front door of the restaurant.
March 24, 2010, Wedding Rehearsal Dinner
"Jenn!" Gail called out from their long table in the center of the restaurant. She rushed to our sides with a vibrant fake smile plastered across her face. "I didn't think you would come." She pulled Jenn in for an awkward hug.
"Me either." Jenn smiled back through clenched teeth.
"Who is this?" Gail's eyes drifted over me. I ran my thumb over the back of Jenn's hand as she squeezed onto me tightly. I tried to stay away from her. Blowing her off would have been easier for her. It would have hurt her less in the end. It's easier to say good-bye to an asshole than to worry about someone you care about. I still wasn't sure she did care. But in the end, it didn't matter. I cared and I couldn't stay away no matter how badly it would all end.
"This is Shane." She cleared her throat and looked up to me.
"Nice to meet you." I held out my free hand to Gail who shook it a little too enthusiastically.
"So, where should we sit?" Jenn asked as she pushed herself into my side.
"Um…how about across from Mom and Dad? I'm sure they will be excited to meet your new friend."
"Gail, you wouldn't happen be serving leema beans would you?"
I started laughing and shook my head. Gail looked back at Jenn with her eyebrows drawn together.
"You mean lima beans? The answer is no. This is a high-class wedding not some hillbilly barbecue."
I cleared my throat and faked a cough as I gave Jenn's hand a reassuring squeeze.
"It will be fine. I got your six." I winked at her. She gave me a smile and pulled me over to the chairs in front of her parents.
"Mom, this is Shane. Shane, this is my mother, Dorothy."
I held out my hand. Jenn's mother took it, as she looked me over.
"Nice to meet you, Shane." She smiled politely.
"And this is my father, Walter." Walter stood before taking my hand. "Quite a grip you got there, son." His eyes looked over me. "Military?"
"Yes, sir. Army."
"Well, thank you for your service."
I nodded and pulled out Jenn's chair before taking the seat next to hers.
"Military, huh?" All eyes shot to the man who was standing behind my seat. "Interesting." He continued on to his seat and kissed Gail on the cheek before settling into his seat.
"Not really." I picked up my glass of water and took a sip. "Just a job."
"Well, I commend you for fighting in a war like this one. Must be awful sleeping at night with all of that innocent blood on your hands."
"Thomas!" Jenn shot up from her chair and threw her cloth napkin on her plate. Thomas held up his hands in mock surrender. My eyebrows pulled together as I looked from Jenn to Thomas.
"It was a joke, Jennifer. Calm yourself. We are all family here."
"Thomas?" Everything began to click into place. I knew her ex had done something horrible to her but I never imagined it was leaving her for her own sister. I slowly pushed back my chair and stood, my six-foot frame towering over everyone. Thomas swallowed hard, afraid of the repercussions from his comment. I wasn't mad about the ignorant war remark. Most people didn't understand what going to war was like and they couldn't fathom what it actually took to protect their freedom, their right to say ignorant things. I was ready to kill when I discovered that Thomas was the one who had hurt Jenn. I had been through a lot with Chelsea, but her betrayal paled in comparison to what this man must have put Jenn through.
I smiled and reached over, pulling Jenn's chair out for her a little further and coaxing her to sit.
"Lima?" she whispered. I shook my head and smiled.
"Not a chance. This just got interesting," I whispered in her ear.
She sighed and forced a smile as she sat back in her seat, grabbing her napkin and laying it over her lap.
"Never a dull moment!" Her father laughed and everyone else followed suit.
I reached under the table and grabbed Jenn's hand, pulling it over onto my lap. She glanced at me and I smiled, rubbing my fingers over her soft skin.
"How about a toast to the happy couple." Walter held up his glass as all eyes fell on Gail and Thomas. Gail had a scowl on her face, embarrassed by her fiancé. Everyone grabbed their champagne flutes and raised them in the air.
"To the future Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan." The guests sipped their drinks and I drank mine empty, my eyes locked on Thomas, who whispered something to Gail before standing and making his way to the restrooms.
"I'll be right back." I gave Jenn a quick peck on the cheek before following behind him.
He slipped into the bathroom and I glanced around, making sure they were the only ones in the room. When I was certain we were alone, I leaned my back against the door and waited. As Thomas exited the stall, he paused, his eyes taking me in. I was nearly twice his size.
"I apologize for my flippant comment earlier." He smiled as he washed his hands. I pushed off the door and stepped closer.
"Trust me, it was already forgotten."