Jensen:: A Military Bad Boy Romance (The Bradford Brothers Book 1), page 3
Glancing at the Sandia Mountains up ahead, I’m glad to be free from jail. The sun is just starting to set, turning the mountain shades of purple and red, which is why the Spanish settlers called it “Sandia,” which means watermelon.
The judge had told me not to frequent any establishments that sell alcohol but in my daily life that’s an impossible task. I’ll just lay low and stick to places I know are safe, such as here.
“You thinking of joining up with this motorcycle gang or what?” asks my younger brother Harlow, as he looks around the bar. His face is perfectly chiseled and perfect— almost too perfect, really— except for some telltale scars if you know where to look up close.
“It’s a club,” I tell him. “Motorcycle club.”
I don’t expect him to get it. I wasn’t too interested in bikes until I got out of the military. FreeFlyers MCC is made up of former military members such as myself— many of them former fighter pilots and pararescuers— and it’s like a second family. I think that Harlow is just jealous because I’ve never done anything without him.
After high school our older brother Ramsey joined the Air Force and then I followed suit. Once Harlow was out of school he joined us too. We were all in the same Pararescue Special Ops unit together.
The regular bartender, Shelly, comes to take our drink orders. Her perky tits spill out of her low-cut uniform, and her curly blonde hair bounces with youthful energy, just like the rest of her.
“What’ll it be, boys?” She winks at me. “Hello there Jensen. The usual?”
I nod a greeting at her and say, “Yep. Whiskey and coke for me, and for my brothers here too,” but then I look away.
She’s the main bartender here so I see her all the time, and until last week I thought she was hot. Totally my type. But now I can’t seem to get the mysterious Riley Morrell out of my mind.
I don’t know what happened to the old me but now it’s like no lady compares to the one I can’t have. It’s knocked me off my game, and I don’t like it.
“I assume since you’re walking around a free man that your bail hearing went well?” my older brother Ramsey asks me.
“It was fine. Apparently I’m an upstanding citizen.”
We all laugh at that one.
“But I don’t like the lawyer I have.”
“Get a new one,” Harlow shrugs.
“I probably will. Even though this one’s free. Through the VLA.”
“What’s so bad about him?” Ramsey asks.
He’s always been the practical one.
He doesn’t have a nice curvy ass and big juicy tits like Riley, I think.
But I say, “He’s trying to say I have PTSD, to use as my defense. I think that’s all they teach them over there at the VLA. PTSD, PTSD, PTSD.”
“Well, if it works...” Harlow shrugs as Shelly brings our drinks.
Ramsey doesn’t say anything, which isn’t like him.
“I never knew there were two more boys just as handsome as yourself,” Shelly says, and smiles at me.
“Woah now,” says Harlow, as she walks away. “She’s clearly into you.”
I shrug. “I’m just so sick of my VLA lawyer saying that I have PTSD, when I don’t.” I want to get this conversation back on track, rather than focusing on Shelly— or Riley. “That kind of shit going on my record could really mess up my career.”
Ramsey’s head jerks up, interested.
“It’s just a mark against me, is all,” I say, because I really don’t know what would happen if my new job would get wind of my alleged PTSD.
In the military, I stayed far away from the mental health counseling office, for fear that I’d get lumped in with others who have PTSD and be forced into retirement due to a perceived lack of mental fitness. My new job is much more relaxed about most things than the military was— it’s one of the benefits of having a private contractor essentially run military operations— but I’m sure they wouldn’t like the liability of having someone with PTSD in charge of training recruits.
Ramsey looks lost in thought, and I’m surprised by his lack of usual focus and candor. He often gives me good advice but today he appears to just want to enjoy his whiskey.
“Have you heard from mom at all?” he asks, completely changing the subject. Well, not completely, but mostly. “I’m worried about her. One of us should go check on her.”
“No, I haven’t heard from her,” I shrug. “And it better stay that way.”
“You’d think she’d want to know how you’re doing,” Harlow says, with his normal anger about our mom peeking through. “Why are we the ones who are always supposed to take care of her instead of the other way around? She should contact you and try to help you out if she can. Especially since she’s the one who got you into this mess.”
“Just like every other mess we’ve ever been in,” I respond. “And we always manage to get ourselves out just fine.”
Neither statement is exactly true, and I wish I had shut my mouth. Ramsey sneaks a worried glance at Harlow, but he’s downing his drink as if he didn’t even hear us.
“Look, I know we’ve all had our issues with Mom,” Ramsey says, in a slight change of subject. “But I’m worried about her. She’s getting older and in my opinion a little senile or something. We know she’s always struggled with addiction issues and now I really believe there are some mental illness issues going on as well…”
“Why are you so full of excuses for her?” I spit out, in disgust. “She’s the one who’s supposed to be there for us. She’s the mom and we’re the kids. But it’s never been like that. She’s chosen her no-good boyfriends and her booze and pills over us every single time she’s had the chance. So now you want us to care about her? Maybe it’s not ‘mental illness’ but just plain not giving a fuck who she hurts or how, whether it’s herself, or us, or Dad, or anyone.”
“Jensen, I didn’t mean to upset you,” Ramsey says, putting a hand on my shoulder. “I know you’ve been under a lot of stress lately—”
“That has nothing to do with it.”
“I just… I can’t help but care about her because she’s our mother. Definitely not the greatest mother but how can we just sit by while she destroys herself?”
“Let’s go to Knockouts,” Harlow says suddenly and decisively. It’s a rather seedy strip club that he likes to frequent.
I blow off the idea. I’m glad he changed the direction of the conversation, but I don’t want to go to Knockouts.
“What? No scantily-clad dancing ladies for you tonight?” asks Harlow. “What’s gotten into you, brother?”
“It’s called conditions of release,” I lie. “I’m not even supposed to be in here, but a strip club is just asking for trouble.”
“Ah man, that sucks,” Harlow complains in a whiny voice.
Sometimes it seems he hasn’t changed much from when we were kids. Except that he has, a lot. But emotionally, he’s still our little brother, and it’s hard to separate my vision of this grown man who has been through so much— too much— with my vision of the 11-year-old kid brother who wants to steal all my video games or tag along as I try to go make out with girls for the first time.
“I’ll go with you for a while,” Ramsey volunteers.
He’s very protective of Harlow— of both of us, actually, but ever since Harlow’s accident he’s been particularly fatherly to him.
I’m glad to be let off the hook. And glad that neither of them called me out on my bullshit. It isn’t really conditions of release that have gotten into me. It’s a lawyer named Riley, who isn’t my type, who isn’t even in my realm of possibility, but who won’t get out of my goddamned head.
I take the enchiladas out of the oven at 6:55, because my parents are due to arrive at seven. I can’t help but sneak a piece to test. I have to admit they taste delicious.
Carbs are my downfall. I try to
As I finish off the last bite and then set the table, I glance at the clock. My family is late, as usual, and I’m not surprised. Sometimes I wonder why they demand a nice home-cooked dinner once a month, if they can never be bothered to show up for it on time.
For once I have nothing to do but sit down and stew. How dare they be late. How dare Brian blow me off tonight. How dare Jensen not swoop me up on his way out of the holding room and make love to me right in front of the judge.
What the hell has gotten into me? …
The doorbell rings, interrupting my strange thought process.
“We were running so late, I didn’t have time to stop and pick up the cake,” my mom says right away, in lieu of a greeting. “Don’t be mad.”
Well great. Now there’s nothing for dessert. But that seems like small potatoes compared to all the other items on my list of gripes today.
“All right,” I tell her, and usher them in. “Who’s hungry?”
“Well, we know you are,” quips my sister Samantha. Her latest fashion trend clothing hangs off her skinny frame.
“Girls, don’t fight,” my mom says cheerfully.
I bite my tongue and begin serving the enchiladas.
“These are kind of cold,” says Samantha.
“The microwave is right over there,” I tell her, in a tone that even to me sounds chillier than the food she’s complaining about.
“Be nice to your little sister, Riley,” my dad says.
I resist the urge to roll my eyes. He insists on acting like my sister and I are still adolescents, except when he demands to know my career achievements and accomplishments.
“Where’s Brian?” asks Samantha. “Does he have cold feet already?”
“Very funny,” I say. “He had a networking event for work.”
“That’s nice. I guess he has his priorities in order. I might bring a guy I’ve been dating to your next dinner. He’s in finance. He’s, like, a billionaire.”
You don’t say.
“And how’s work going?” Dad asks.
I swear he only comes to these dinners so he can check up on his investment of my law school tuition.
“It’s great, Dad. Mr. Holt and I are working on a really big case that’s going to trial soon. I get to handle a lot of the trial, which I’m really looking forward to, even though I’m nervous.”
“Will it make you partner?” Dad asks.
“It could definitely play a big role in it,” I tell him.
“Good. I can’t get over your luck. Engaged to the founding partner’s son. And now handling a trial with your bigshot future father-in-law.” He nods proudly as he eats the enchilada. “This is spicy.”
My parents don’t like spice and although I tend to use a lot of green Chile in my cooking, I tried to tone it down for them.
“It’s her hard work, dear, not her luck,” says my mom. I smile at her gratefully.
“Her hard work in the bedroom,” snickers Samantha, prompting me to glare at her.
And then my mom adds, “All those late nights spent studying, and now working, instead of having family time.”
I roll my eyes at one of my mom’s favorite complaints.
The rest of the dinner progresses “well,” as in, better than usual. But by the time it’s over, I’m anxious for them to leave so I say, “I need to work on a brief for a while tonight before I turn in.”
“Well, we will definitely get out of your hair,” my mom says, with a jealous pout.
“I didn’t mean it like that…” I quickly say.
“Let her work, Luanne,” my dad barks at her. “She has an important trial coming up, that she needs to do well on.”
It’s like he’s talking about my senior year AP Algebra test. And my mom wants to have family pizza and game night instead of letting me study. Some things never change.
“All I have to do tomorrow is get a pedicure,” Samantha chirps.
Some things really never change.
I walk them to the door, grateful that they’re leaving, although not looking forward to the pile of dirty dishes they left behind for me to wash.
An hour later, I sink into a tub full of bubbles and try to relax. Visions of Jensen soon return to my mind— it’s as if they never fully leave. I imagine him walking through the front door in a military uniform, bringing the cake that my mother forgot. We feed it to each other while undressing each other. He smears it all over my body and then licks it off me.
My hand sinks underneath the bubbles to pleasure myself the way that I wish Jensen would. If only I had chosen a guy like him instead of a guy like Brian, maybe my life would be a lot different right now.
It’s a Saturday morning, and everything is peacefully quite at McKinnon Memorial Cemetery. I sit down next to my dad’s grave and run my hands over the inscription.
Devoted Father and Beloved Friend.
Dylan seems convinced that I’ll be acquitted for the assault charge, but I’m not so sure. I haven’t always had the best luck in life, and nothing surprises me anymore. I woke up this morning wanting to come and visit with my dad, just in case I end up in the slammer for a while.
“Hey Dad, it’s been a crazy couple of weeks since I was last here,” I tell him.
I look around, still always afraid that someone will overhear me and think I’m a nut job for talking to my dead father, but I’m relieved to see that we’re alone. It’s too early for any funerals and there are no other gravesite visitors.
“I guess my case is going all right, but Harlow thinks Mom should be supporting me more, while Ramsey’s still of the opinion that we need to help Mom because she’s really gone off the deep end lately.”
I pause and take a breath, not even having to ask Dad his opinion on the matter, because even if he were here to share it with me, I’d already know what it was. My old man was loving to a fault. At one point I kind of lost respect for him because of it but with time I’ve been able to see that mercy and justice were things that he strongly believed in.
My mind flashes back to when I was a teenager, and we’d all just found out that Mom had left Dad for some no-good vagrant.
“Boys,” Dad had said, after sitting us down on the couch.
Ramsey and I were almost bigger than he was— Ramsey probably was probably already taller than he was— but he still called us “boys.”
“I know you’ve been wondering where your mom has been. And I’m sorry to tell you this, but I don’t think she’ll be coming back any time soon.”
“How can you just put up with this?” Harlow had accused Dad, as he threw a sofa pillow across the room in frustration. He was still practically just a kid and didn’t know any better. “We know she’s gone. She’s been gone. She’s not coming back. So why are you holding onto all her stuff like this is some sort of free storage unit instead of our house that she left?”
“Harlow,” Ramsey had said— always protective of Dad, of any of us— “Calm down.”
“Kids at school are talking,” Ramsey had shot back, with a pout.
“Shut your mouth.” Ramsey didn’t want to further hurt Dad by piling more dirty, ugly truths on top of the truth that Dad was just starting to face, even though it had been plain as day to the rest of us for some time.
Dad had been a prominent political figure and we’d enjoyed a rather privileged, middle class upbringing up until that point. But now kids at school were saying our mom was a slut and an alcoholic, and our dad was a “cuckold.” I’d had to look that one up.
At the time, I was convinced that life would get better. Mom would realize her mistake and come home, and Dad was obviously willing to welcome her home with open arms. We would be a family again and everything would be okay.
“You haven’t had an easy l
It sure didn’t pan out like I’d wanted it to. Mom did occasionally come home but it was only to crash with us when she was completely broke, and to get more money from Dad before she moved on to the next guy. Dad had to support us and Mom and her habits— which had progressed from alcohol to drugs, and from seedier and seedier men. We were still always the talk of the town and he didn’t run for re-election because he had slipped into a pretty deep depression and suffered from anxiety and panic attacks.
From that time on, the Bradford Brothers were on the outs. We were bad news. No good. Our family’s reputation was toast and our parents were the laughing stocks of the town. It was our mom’s fault, but for a long time I harbored resentment towards my dad— and I know that at least Harlow did too.
“I miss you, Dad,” I tell him now. “I wish you were here to help me through this.”
Dad passed away unexpectedly a year later, when Ramsey was a senior in high school and I was a junior. Harlow was just a freshman. The autopsy revealed rampant coronary hypertension that had gone unchecked, leading to heart failure.
Mom came back into our lives then, begrudgingly. She was worried that the state would take Harlow if she left Ramsey and me to take care of him. Ramsey went off to the military and I was left to deal with our crazy mother for Harlow and me both. Sometimes I think Ramsey goes easier on my mom than Harlow and I do because he wasn’t around to see how awful things got.
Harlow was understandably mad at my mom but she would punish him any time he brought up what she had done to us. And she would punish me for even mentioning Dad or how much I missed him.
I stayed home for a year after graduation to help take care of Harlow— because Mom was more absent than she was present, and when she was present, she seemed bent on making our lives miserable— but Harlow was kind of off the rails himself at that point. He was getting into trouble at school and didn’t want to be around anyone but his bad influence friends. I had gone down that path for a while but Ramsey had showed me through example that a better future existed for me.