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Author: Teresa Mummert
I knew all about Thomas's drinking habits and the hard road my sister was putting herself on for the rest of her life. Thomas was married to his job. It came first.
"I can't miss your wedding, Gail. You're my sister."
Gail nodded as she ran her finger under her eye to catch a tear before it fell and smudged her makeup.
"You look beautiful." I gave her a smile and she laughed, wrapping her arms around my neck and giving me a small hug.
"Thank you. I better get back inside before Thomas sees me in this thing." She motioned to her pure-white gown that fell to just above her toes. May stepped out of the floral shop.
"I'll be in." I smiled as Gail walked through the door that May held open for her.
"Everything all right?" May asked as she stepped closer.
"It's better than it was." I shrugged as I looked off at the bridge and thought of Shane.
"One step at a time."
I spotted Thomas standing around talking to his groomsmen with a drink in hand.
"I should talk to him too."
"Do you think that is a good idea?" May asked as her gaze followed mine. I shrugged.
"I don't know what he said to Shane that night and honestly, I don't want to know. But I need to let him know that Gail is my sister and if he hurts her, Shane isn't the one he will need to worry about." I smirked as May bumped me playfully with her elbow.
"This is going to be good," she laughed as I lifted the bottom of my skirt and made my way over to Thomas.
As soon as his eyes landed on me, he stiffened his back and made a remark to one of the men standing with him. I couldn't hear him, but I was sure it was not something I would want to.
"Can I speak to you a moment?" I asked as I watched him finish the last of his drink.
"Fine." He nodded to his best man Greg, who turned to find someone else to talk to. "Make it fast. I don't want any more trouble."
I sighed and shook my head.
"Shane isn't here."
Thomas raised an eyebrow and smirked. It made my skin crawl.
"Look, I am not going to apologize to you for what he did. I'm sure he felt you deserved it. But I want my sister to be happy. If somehow you can manage to do that for her, I wish you both the best."
"That's awfully mature of you, Jenn. I like the more accepting side of you." He reached up to brush the hair from my face and I flinched. The thought of him touching me made my stomach turn. He lowered his hand slowly and nodded his head in understanding. "I meant what I said to him." He leaned closer, his whiskey-laced breath blowing across my cheek. "I miss making love to you."
I pulled my hand back, fully intending to smack him across the face. May's hand grabbed my elbow and stopped me before I could swing as she cleared her throat.
"What the two of you had wasn't love. You don't even know the meaning of the word." She spat as she tugged on my arm to pull me away. I followed her, feeling the bile rise in my throat. I wanted to tell my sister that she could do better, she deserved better, but I knew she wouldn't listen. She wanted Thomas for his social stature, not his compassion.
"One drink. I think we could use one drink," May said as we made our way back to the flower shop. She found a bottle of champagne and grabbed two flutes. I took the glasses in my hand and held them for her as she poured.
I guzzled my drink, struggling to keep my composure as I gulped. I didn't know what upset me more, the fact that Thomas had just hit on me at his own wedding, or that he had said something to Shane about sleeping with me. The idea made my skin crawl.
"Are you ready?" my sister asked with a beaming smile on her face. I swallowed hard and nodded that I was ready to watch her make the biggest mistake of her life. I couldn't live her life for her, and she knew in her heart that Thomas was no good for her.
"Yes," I replied as I looked at May, pleading for her to take me away from this place. She grinned sullenly and patted me on the shoulder.
March 28, 2010
I thought the first day I left for war was the hardest in my life, but it didn't compare to the heartache I felt having to walk away from Jenn. I had never felt such an immediate connection with another person. I didn't have to pretend to be strong with her. She accepted me-flaws and all.
I couldn't wait to catch up with Owens and tell him about my leave. I hadn't spoken to him since we parted ways in Maine. I wondered if he had found love with his pen pal. I hoped he had made enough memories to get him through the last stretch of this deployment.
I wondered if May had been able to convince Jenn to attend her sister's wedding. I had pulled her aside while we said our good-byes at her house and made sure she understood how much Jenn meant to me. I clenched my fist as I thought of how hard it would be for her. I know she didn't want to face her family, especially after what had happened between Thomas and me. I hoped she was as strong as I know her to be and went anyway. It wouldn't be easy, but it was important that she didn't let her ex dictate her relationship with her family.
If all worked out, I would still be able to make Jenn smile from the other side of the world, with the help of May and Jake. I only wished I could see the look on Jenn's face. I was addicted to making her happy. It was now my goal to get back to her at any cost just so I could see that beautiful smile again.
I had found Jenn hurting and I did my best to make her feel whole before leaving again, but I knew this would take its toll on her. She was much stronger than I gave her credit for, but even the strongest can break under the pressure of a deployment. It would take a lot of work and faith to keep this together for the next six months. I was prepared to do whatever it took, but I couldn't control this situation. I had to leave this one to fate. I would scare Jenn away otherwise, and I never wanted to be the reason that she hurt ever again.
I thought of May and Jake's boys. How would they handle having a father who was never around? I knew the answer to that. I may not have known why my father was absent, but it didn't change the fact that I was forced to learn everything a man should know from an uncle who had his own children to raise. I wanted to meet him. I wanted to throw it in his face that I turned out just fine without him. But had I? I pushed everyone in my life away. That had to stop and in order to change, I would need to contact him and separate man from myth. I didn't expect a hug and a beer with dear old dad, but maybe a conversation to help clarify what had happened. I needed to let him know that when he walked away, I stepped up and became the man of the house. That didn't last very long but in that short amount of time, I had changed. I wasn't the carefree kid playing with GI Joes. I was the boy that hugged my mother when she cried, helped her clip coupons so we would have food for dinner, and pulled more weight around the house than any other first grader just so she wouldn't have to.
In the end, she still died alone. I would never hurt a woman the way my father had hurt my mother. I also wouldn't put a child through what I went through. I didn't know how to be anything but a soldier. It was who I was meant to be and children would never factor into that equation. Maybe it was my fear that kept me from moving on with life plans. Chelsea wanted a baby. She talked about having a large family constantly. I knew my reluctance factored into her leaving me. She would never admit it, but I knew in her heart that was something in her life she wouldn't compromise on.
I wish I knew what Jenn saw in her future. I knew she was career-driven, like I was, but beyond that, I didn't know. She had almost married Thomas and as much as I hated that it hurt her, I was glad she didn't end up with him. I wondered if she would ever consider marrying me.
These are the crazy thoughts that run through your brain when you are about to put boots in sand. It's important to focus beyond the deployment. Give yourself hope. Jenn was my hope.
March 28, 2010, The Wedding
My sister looked stunning standing on the bridge overlooking the water. Her eyes locked on the man I was supposed to be marrying in that very spot. I would have to find a new place to read books. This place would forever be a reminder of all the things in my life that had gone wrong. All except Shane. The day he found me on the bridge had changed my outlook on life. He had so much anger and hurt bottled up inside of him, but he didn't hesitate to help me when he thought I needed it.
He was the strength I wish I had when dealing with all of the wrong in my life. I wished there were adequate words to tell him how much he means to me now. I know he is on a plane somewhere in the world wondering if I am thinking of him. He doesn't have anything to worry about. I couldn't erase him from my mind, or my heart, if I wanted to.
I watched as my sister repeated her vows to Thomas. My mother dabbed at her eyes with a cloth napkin, my father held her hand and smiled. It was all a show and they played their parts perfectly. The rings were exchanged and I watched as they kissed each other with excessive enthusiasm and the crowd cheered.
I slipped my feet out of my heels and carried them in my hand as I searched out May.
"How are you holding up?" May asked quietly.
"I'm fine," I replied as my eyes scanned the small waves below. "Water under the bridge." I smiled and nudged her with my shoulder.
"Let's go get that drink now!" She laughed as we made our way to the car. I knew my presence at the reception wouldn't be missed, and I needed some alcohol to make this day a little bit more bearable.
We drove to local bar, still wearing our hideous wedding attire.
"Prom just let out?" The bartender laughed as he wiped out a mug with a dishrag.
"Yes, and we brought our fake IDs for this very special night," I joked as we sat down on two stools.
"Where's your dates?" he asked as he sat the mug down and leaned toward us.
"Jake is grabbing a hotel room down at the Cheap Sleep," May laughed.
"Jake?" He furrowed his brow. "The suit?"
"He does indeed wear a suit. You know him?" May asked. This was a small town and I didn't know of any other Jake's in the area.
"He used to come in here every day but he stopped about a week or so ago. I was worried something happened to him."
May looked down at the bar as she let the information sink in.
"Two Bud Lights, please." I held up two fingers and the bartender nodded and went off to retrieve our drinks. I rubbed May's back trying to think of a way to console her.
"Do you think he would cheat on me?" she asked as her teary eyes looked up to mine.
"What? No. He would never cheat on you, May."
"You see him at work every day. Does he flirt with anyone?"
I snorted. Not my finest moment. But the idea of Jake being remotely kind to anyone at work was comical. I practically considered them family now, but in the past, I was sure Jake had hated me.
"I have never seen him show any interest in anyone."
"Here ya go, ladies." The bartender set two mugs in front of us. May reached out, wrapping her fingers around his wrist.
"Was Jake ever in here with anyone?" Her voice shook as she spoke.
"Yeah, a couple of times." He shrugged. The world stopped spinning as we both held our breath and waited for him to finish. "He was with some guy a couple of times. Really intense dude, but he seemed to be helping him."
May's fingers released the man's wrist as her shoulder's relaxed and she picked up her mug, taking a big gulp.
"He was with Shane." I couldn't help but smile as I took a drink. She sighed in relief and shook her head. "You know he would never…" I let my voice trail off.
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