Harlow: A Military Bad Boy Romance: The Bradford Brothers, page 2
The doctor on stage is already speaking.
“I would like to present my finest example of these techniques of which I’ve been speaking,” he tells the crowd. “Let me first introduce him by showing some photos. This is Harlow Bradford, eight months ago.”
A slide show begins, featuring photos of Air Force servicemen in uniform, in diving and jumping gear, on a mountain, in front of and inside a helicopter, and more. It’s a picturesque scene of comradery and heroism.
“Look at that hunt of military man meat,” Lance whispers, knocking his knee against my own.
“Shhhhh!” I tell him, but I can’t help but stifle a giggle.
“I’d definitely be asking him, now that we’re allowed to ask and tell…” Lance continues, and I look away from him so that I don’t laugh out loud.
The Harlow guy featured in all the photos is definitely a looker— as are many of the men in the pictures, including two guys in the majority of the photos who look as if they could be his brothers.
“Harlow Bradford is a real American hero— a veteran of multiple wars and an elite member of the Combat Search and Rescue Team of the United States Air Force’s Special Operations force. He spent years rescuing injured servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere, as a pararescueman. Until…”
At this point, the doctor pauses dramatically. I’m beginning to feel like I’m in watching America’s Got Talent or a televangelism special, and I’m a bit annoyed by the antics.
“…until Harlow’s helicopter was shot down after he had successfully rescued victims of another fallen plane, and he suffered catastrophic injuries. His face and skull were burnt and damaged nearly beyond recognition.”
The next photo is indeed of a nearly unrecognizable face. It’s burnt, scarred and ruined. I can’t help but join the collective audience gasp. Not even Lance has anything to say. I’ve never seen anyone look so bad and end up living, which I’m assuming this man did.
“By using a mix of technology, science, and medicine, including skin grafts, 3D printing, and surgery, I was able to restore Harlow’s face to almost like new.”
Some members of the crowd claps, but the doctor waves a hand signaling that he’s not finished.
“This level of facial reconstructive surgery had never previously been achieved,” he continues. “And that’s why Davis Technologies is on the cutting edge. It’s also why we’re committed to helping members of our military, such as Harlow.”
Everyone claps loudly now, and I join in, a bit skeptically. There’s something gloating and almost showboating about this doctor, and I’m not sure I like him. But he’s definitely done something amazing for this man’s face and future, and for that I feel compelled to applaud him.
“And now, I introduce the one and only Harlow Bradford, who is here in person for today’s presentation.”
The audience gasps and I almost feel sorry for the man who is about to step on stage as this doctor’s pet project. But I suppose it’s good that he’s alive, and that his face has been restored to its previous handsomeness. I feel like I’m watching a tragic- turned- hopeful freak show of sorts, but I know I couldn’t turn away now even if I tried.
Like everyone else, I’m fascinated and curious to see what he really looks like in person. And I can’t help but wonder about the man behind Dr. Davis’ renowned mission.
As I straighten the collar of my uniform, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and notice that my hand is shaking.
Stop being a pussy, Harlow, I tell my reflection.
I’ve been to war, fought in battles, and barely survived full enemy attack. Yet someone once said that public speaking is the biggest fear of all, and I’m beginning to believe they were right. This is not the first time I’ve appeared at a conference for Dr. Davis, but I’m beginning to think it will never get easier.
“They’re ready for you,” one of the conference organizers tells me, and I pull my shoulders back and walk onto the stage, hoping that I look much more confident than I feel. Here goes nothing.
Dr. Davis introduces me to the crowd of people who have gathered to hear him talk and see him win an award— the reason that both he and I are here tonight. He had been discussing his state- of- the- art facial reconstruction methods, using my photos as illustrations, but now it’s time for him to point to me as his real live Exhibit A. Even though I’m grateful that Dr. Davis has done so much for me, sometimes I feel like his freak show creation, in addition to his guinea pig.
I look at the large projection screen above me, where my face— the “after” version— is still prominently displayed. Purposefully not giving myself enough time to change my mind, I step forward, joining Dr. David at the podium, and the crowd politely claps.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Harlow Bradford,” Dr. Davis says.
“Go Harlow!” chants everyone in the front row, and I turn and nod at my boys. The pararescue unit of the Air Force Special Ops. My figurative brothers, and two of them— Jensen and Ramsey— my literal brothers, have shown up to support me, as they do at many of these presentations and conferences. No one could believe how well I pulled through, not even my own brothers.
Jensen’s not in the service anymore. Instead he works for a private contractor, training recruits to do what we do. But he’ll always remain part of the unit in spirit.
And Ramsey, our oldest brother, is the one who got all of us started down this exciting, yet sometimes insane, journey, by joining the Air Force out of high school and inspiring Jensen and me to do the same.
My unit is about to deploy again, and I’m pissed that I don’t get to go with them. I’m still officially on medical leave, although my recovery was much faster than anyone in the Air Force predicted.
Dr. Davis certified me as physically and mentally fit to return to service, but he says that there’s some kind of hold- up with my official clearance. So I have nothing to do now but twiddle my thumbs and work for Dr. Davis to let me know when I can officially return to active duty status with my unit.
Turning my eyes away from the front row, I look at the ladies in the audience: some of them are service members in uniform or fatigues while others are civilians in regular clothes, but all of them seem to be staring up at me in awe. I know I could take any one of them home tonight, if I want.
I remember last night’s conquest, a busty redhead who giggled too much. Everything was “nice to meet you, tee hee,” “I like your bachelor pad, ha ha ha,” and even “your big cock feels so good inside me, hee hee.”
It got to the point where I couldn’t stand how silly she sounded, but it didn’t matter. I never see a woman again after we fuck. And I make it my goal for us to fuck as soon as possible. Which, in all honestly, isn’t very difficult. Chicks line up to fuck me.
As Dr. Davis was just explaining to everyone here, I’m an American hero, after all. And while I’ve never had any complaints in the looks department, thanks to the miracles of Dr. Davis’ work, now I’m even more attractive than I started out, which is one of the few good things that came from my disastrous injury— the other one being that I didn’t die. I only came close.
I was never that interested in relationships anyway— I’ve only seen bad things come out of them. I just like to have a short and sweet rendezvous now and then. But I probably won’t be taking any of these chicks home tonight. It ruins it for me when they see me as a medical project, a pity- party- turned- miracle- boy.
There is one woman in the audience who catches my eye. She’s sitting off to the side near the front, in a makeshift aisle. She’s dressed in civilian clothes and she looks like just my type. I can tell she’s voluptuous even from her seated position, and she has olive skin, dark hair and dark eyes.
“Let me show you an example of how Harlow has come,” Dr. Davis says, snapping me out of my thoughts of the lovely mystery woman and back into reality.
That’s right, I remind myself. I have more important things to do than think
It’s time to shine, to impress Dr. Davis and the Air Force, and to complete my mission of re- joining my unit.
Distractions from any mission can be deadly, and I know that all too well by now to let myself daydream over some chick, no matter how hot she is. I have more important things to do, which require all of my focus and energy.
Here we are at the center of the dog and pony show. This is the part where I perform like a puppet on Dr. Davis’ string. He plays a video now on the projector screen, of the “before” Harlow, trying unsuccessfully to grip and use a pencil.
“Not only was Harlow disfigured in the helicopter accident, but he was set back developmentally as well,” Dr. Davis explains, as my video plays on the big screen that everyone is watching.
“He suffered brain trauma which resulted in physical deficits, which is part of the very reason I’m here today, talking to so many of you who are physical and occupational therapists. Because, as you can see, at first Harlow failed at such basic tasks as using a pencil. He couldn’t even write his name. But now, Harlow has progressed considerably, in every measurable area. Just look.”
Dr. Davis motions me to his podium and hands me a blank sheet of paper. I already know the drill. He also hands me a pencil and I write my name on the sheet of paper.
The crowd goes wild, as they are supposed to. The ladies are undoubtedly thinking, this hunk knows how to write his name again. He’s ready to get back to saving our country!
I never thought I’d get so much attention for the simple task of being able to write my name. But compared to how far I’ve come— the Harlow of eight months ago who could barely even pick up a pencil— it really is quite the achievement. So I try to bask in the applause, although I still have mixed feelings about it.
“And now I will open up the floor for some questions,” Dr. Davis says.
“What will you need those of us at Kirtland Air Force base’s physical and occupational therapies to do for you?” asks a man towards the back.
“Great question,” Dr. Davis answers, “and a subject I was going to address next, so I’m glad you asked. Based on additional funding I’ve received— in large part due to the progress of Harlow and many others like him— I will be working with quite a few new wounded warriors. And many of them are stationed here of course. So once they are out of their initial trauma recovery at Walter Reed, they will see me for facial reconstruction and then, depending on their status and treatment plan, some will see you for physical and occupational therapy. Harlow himself, in fact, will be receiving more physical therapy here, to help him progress even further.”
That’s the first time I’ve heard of this, I think, trying not to let disappointment show on my face for everyone in the audience to see. I wonder how long my re- entry will be delayed based on this physical therapy I just found out I need.
A few other people ask questions, and then I notice that Lovely Mystery Woman has her hand raised. We lock stares for a brief second before Dr. Davis calls on her. I have a feeling she has been hit with the same instant attraction that I’ve been feeling for her. Perhaps asking a question is her way of getting my attention.
“How long until this type of treatment is available to every man and woman who suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving our country?” she asks Dr. Davis.
Dr. Davis looks rather confused— or is it annoyed?— by the question.
“Of course I’m only one doctor, but I’m doing my best to work with everyone who needs my services,” he says.
“Is there a specific reason that you chose Mr. Bradford to receive your services, out of everyone who needs them?” she continues, barely waiting for him to finish.
What an odd question, I think, and one that I cannot help being annoyed at myself.
“Mr. Bradford was in great need of my services,” Dr. Davis answers. “And he had impeccable timing. I had just finished perfecting and patenting my technology.”
“I see,” the woman says, but it doesn’t look like she’s convinced. “And what is the success rate? How many other members of our armed forces have seen the level of success that Mr. Bradford has experienced?”
Dr. Davis looks visibly exasperated now, and I can’t blame him. Just who does this woman think she is?
And yet, I can’t help wondering about her question. Although I help Dr. Davis in his office— and I’m often asked to talk to patients preparing for surgery and treatment such as I myself have undergone— I rarely have continuing contact with them. And I’m the only one that Dr. Davis drags out for the dog and pony show.
“That’s a very subjective question that’s difficult to answer,” Dr. Davis says. “My methods are still in their infancy and there are varying degrees of ‘successful treatment’ still in progress.”
“And can we see more examples of Mr. Bradford’s progress?” she asks. “For instance, can he write a paragraph in addition to just his name?”
I have to restrain myself from letting my mouth fall open. I have no idea why this woman is challenging Dr. Davis and now me.
The members of the audience look confused, as if some are wanting to see more demonstrations themselves just for the entertainment value, whereas others are wondering if the woman in the crowd is trying to challenge Dr. Davis’ statements.
I see Dr. Davis give a subtle nod to the conference organizers and then the same man who told me I was needed on stage rushes to the podium.
“Those are enough questions from one audience member,” he says. “And in fact we are going over on our time limit as it is. We are going to present Dr. Davis with his award now.”
I breathe a silent sigh of relief, glad that my time in the spotlight is up. I walk down the stairs to sit next to my unit members in the front row, but I can’t help throwing an angry glance in the direction of the mystery woman. She’s looking back at me, but not with the same challenging look she used when she was addressing Dr. Davis. Now her look signals curiosity, or interest.
Although I’m upset by her questions, I can’t help but admire her tenacity, in addition to her tits. I’ve never heard anyone ask Dr. Davis such thought- provoking questions before. And I’ve never seen a rack that looked so good.
As I take my place, Jensen says “Good job, bro!” and Ramsey says, “Who’s was that fine- ass hottie asking all those weird questions?”
“Good question,” I answer, but Dr. Davis shoots me a glare from the stage.
He’s being presented with his award, and it’s my job to cheer him on. I shut up and concentrate on the presentation, but not without lingering thoughts of the chick with the tenacity and tits.
Who the hell is this woman and why am I letting her mess with my head?
After the presentation is done, some people leave while others mill about. I check my phone, telling myself not to be disappointed if I still haven’t heard from Tony. To my surprise, though, I’m greeted with a bunch of pestering texts, asking why I’m not home yet and demanding to know my whereabouts.
I guess I should be careful what I wish for.
“Girl, why were you givin’ that doctor the bidness like some NFL player who needs a flag thrown at him?” Lance says, laughing as he over- exaggerates his accent.
“I don’t know, he just bugged.”
“Well, way to make an impression. You definitely stood out, although I’m not sure it’s in the most positive way…”
I shrug, distracted.
A circle of people have formed around Harlow, everyone wanting to talk to him. I look in that direction, because I’d like to ask him how he feels about being a monkey in what seems to be Dr. Davis’ Circus. Or maybe that’s just what I’m telling myself, when the real reason I’m looking at him is that he’s hot as hell.
Suddenly I notice that he’s looking in my direction too. Our eyes lock, and my spine tingles. He wants to talk to me, too. I just know it.
I whisper into the phone, not wanting to be rude by disrupting any conversations that those gathering after the conference may be having.
“Where are you? I’m hungry.”
“I stayed late for a thing at work.”
“You’re with that Lance guy, aren’t you?” Tony asks, accusatory in tone. “Your boss. Something’s up between you.”
I would laugh if I weren’t so annoyed.
I’ve told Tony multiple times that Lance is not only my boss— which would forbid any kind of relationship between us— but also that he’s gay. But Tony doesn’t listen to anything and insists he’s always right.
“Tony, I’ll be home soon. There’s leftover pasta in the fridge though.”
“Oh great, I’m about to eat some,” he says, and hangs up, just like that.
I look at my phone in disgust.
“Lemme guess. McMoochie’s accusing you of hooking up with me again?” Lance asks, and then laughs.
“It’s not funny. It’s getting so old.”
“He’s so insecure because he knows you’re too good for his lazy ass.”
I shrug and look away. In the past I would have defended Tony but I know deep down that Lance is right. I’m nearing my breaking point and it has nothing to do with that hot patient of Dr. Davis’ over there.
I look back in his direction and he catches my eye again. I can’t tell if his look is one of curiosity, disgust or interest. Maybe a mix of all of the above.
I take a deep breath and get ready to suggest to Lance that we say hello to Mr. All- American Hero before we leave. But just then a group of Harlow’s military teammates swarm in around him, chanting something about how it’s time for beer. Harlow gives me an “oh well” shrug and allows them to nearly carry him off.