Their Protector: An MC Outlaw Halloween Romance, page 70
“Didn’t your dad teach you how to run ?” Brian says, as he slows down to match Pipsqueak’s pace.
“If not, we’re not here to be your fathers,” says Jerry. “You should just go turn in your resignation papers now. Before you get discharged for being such a slowpoke.”
He also slows down, so that he and Jerry are jogging along each side of Pipsqueak. They start taking turns elbowing him, jostling him back and forth between the two of them.
Today, I’m annoyed by their antics. I guess it’s just my general mood. And the fact that they talk about fathers so flippantly. Maybe Pipsqueak doesn’t have a dad. Maybe he died. Or maybe he never did have a dad.
I feel adrenaline pumping through my body, a symptom I know is dangerous but that I haven’t had to deal with in a while. I can almost feel the hair on my body standing on edge, my skin crawling out of my body.
This is where I should back off, shut up. I don’t have my guitar, my MMA instructor. I don’t have Monica, and probably never will. I just have myself, and my own weaknesses.
“Hey, back off,” I tell Jerry and Brian, slowing my pace to get closer to them. “Leave him alone.”
“What’s it to you?” asks Jerry.
“Yeah, why should we?” Brian joins in. “Everyone knows he shouldn’t be here. We’d be better off with that crazy female fighter pilot on our team, than we are with Pipsqueak.”
That does it. I start to see red. I can almost feel most of the logic drop out of my brain, until only blind emotion is left. But I manage to summon a small amount of reason, despite my rage.
She’s not worth it , I tell myself. You’re not even together. She doesn’t want to be with you .
“Whatever.” I shrug, proud of myself for starting to calm down.
“You hear that?” Jerry tells Pipsqueak. “We can do whatever we want to you. No one cares. Not even Responsible Ramsey, who cares about everyone , all the time.”
Brian sticks his foot out and trips Pipsqueak. To my surprise— he’s not the most buff guy, but, I have to hand it to him, he’s pretty light on his feet— Pipsqueak stops himself from falling.
He’s knocked pretty much off balance, though, and in a huff, he says, “Hey! Stop it!”
But Jerry shoves Pipsqueak, up against a boulder. Since Pipsqueak’s already off-center, he falls down, hard, his body landing with a thud on the ground.
All the rage I’d managed to fight off comes storming back— and then some. I don’t even think anymore. I just shove Jerry harder than he shoved Pipsqueak, and soon he’s on the ground next to him.
“What the fuck?” yells Brian, as our entire squad— and some Afghan guys we’re training with— turn around to see what’s going on. “You asked for it, Bradford.”
He runs right into my chest, pounding and flailing, but my rage— and my MMA training— has taken over. I punch him, pummel him, until he’s on the ground, but by that time Jerry has gotten back up and is fighting me next, like the idiot that he can be.
All the bad memories I’ve been storing up inside me come pouring out. It’s like a night terror, but during the day. I must think I’m at war or something, or I’m somehow trying to save my dad. I punch Brian— a bigger guy and better fighter than Jerry— and ward off his punches until I’ve gotten him in a wrestling hold and I’m nearly choking him out.
Harlow and some other guys have to come and pull me off him. Even as I’m being forced to move away from Brian, I manage to land a final, solid punch, and he hits the ground cold, right next to Jerry.
And then I black out. Not from being hit— Brian barely got in a few swings, and I didn’t even feel them— and not from passing out. But my consciousness just shuts down, and I realize I have no idea what I’ve been doing.
When I come to, I’m at the bottom of the mountain and Harlow is asking me, “Are you alright? Ramsey. Are you alright?”
He’s put some water from his canteen onto a towel and he’s rubbing it all over my face and forehead. The sensation of embarrassment and dread feels very much like how I feel after a night terror. Except this is the day time. Training time. War time.
I want to tell him, no, I’m not alright. But no words come out. I don’t know what just happened, and I can barely remember how to talk.
All I know is that I just beat up my team members, who I’ve sworn to protect and support no matter what. What the hell has gotten into me? Who the hell have I become? And what in the hell is going to happen to me now?
Chapter 34 – Monica
I’m in the nursery, rocking in the glider and reading a romance book. I’ve spent all morning washing, folding and hanging his tiny clothes, and I need a break.
All of a sudden, I feel some low, subtle pains in my lower abdomen. It feels like mild menstrual cramps.
Contractions? I think.
Don’t be ridiculous, I answer myself. It’s far too early .
But still. It makes me think of what lies ahead: labor, delivery, a baby.
Ramsey’s baby. That he doesn’t even know about. And why is my stomach feeling tight and painful like this?
It’s just practice labor , I reassure myself, thinking of the labor and delivery and parenting classes I took at the hospital. I even received a certificate, certifying that I’m prepared to be a parent, I suppose. Or at least to give birth.
Maybe these are the Braxton Hicks contractions they told me about.
A tiny ripple of fear goes through me, and I can’t help but wish Ramsey were with me. The thought makes no sense, since I hadn’t even told him I was pregnant, let alone having his baby.
I think about living a lifetime of secrets: the baby not knowing who his father is, Ramsey not even knowing that he is a father. Or worse, what if Ramsey were to die while he’s deployed, like my brother did?
I suddenly feel regret, and a strong urge to tell everyone everything and let the chips fall where they may. Who am I to decide anyone else’s destiny, just because I thought this was what was best for me, and probably Ramsey too?
How can I deprive my baby of a father? I hadn’t wanted to take the chance that Ramsey wouldn’t be interested in getting to know him, and my baby would have to grow up knowing that his father hadn’t wanted him. But wasn’t I making that possibility a reality by not giving Ramsey the information? Shouldn’t it be up to Ramsey to decide?
I wish I could call him right now. But I don’t have his number. The one time I talked to him, he didn’t seem too interested in having me be able to get a hold of him.
I shake this notion out of my head, before I can let second thoughts take over. I guess a letter will have to do. It will take a while to reach him, but it’s my only option at this point.
I walk across to my bedroom, where I keep stationery and envelopes in a desk. My mother taught me good manners, and I still write old-fashioned letters. Thank you notes mostly, but also just “I’m thinking of you” notes to friends of my parents and grandparents.
I pause, the top of my pen in my mouth, trying to think about how to tell him. And wondering whether his mail will be read by anyone else but him. The last thing I want to do is get him into trouble.
I guess I’m going to have to tell him in code. Too bad we don’t both know a foreign language.
My mind resorts to the one language we both have in common: music.
There is something I need to tell you. I trust you can figure it out by this musical riddle of sorts. We once lamented that a certain male pop star was the voice of music for a new generation. He sings a song with a rap star who is famous for singing about wanting to do what you’ve been rated a ten out of ten for doing to me.
What I need to tell you is that something unexpected is coming our way, and its name is in the title of the song that those two singers collaborated on.
Suddenly, though, before I can write any more, I feel like something’s ripping through my body. I’m doubled over in pain.
“Susan!” I call out, grabbing my
She rushes into the room, holding Mason. “What is it?”
“My stomach. It hurts so bad. Like period cramps, only a hundred times worse.”
“Contractions,” she says, with authority.
“But isn’t it too early?”
The pain radiates around to my back, and I can even feel it gripping my thighs.
“I don’t know,” she says. “But I’ll call 911. And I’ll come to the hospital as soon as I can find someone to watch the kids.”
“Okay,” I say, for lack of anything better to say.
Am I going to be all right? I want to ask. Is the baby? What’s happening?
But I know she doesn’t know the answers to these questions any more than I do. A fear overtakes me that feels even stronger than the pain. I just want to get the hospital, where they can give me some answers.
Chapter 35 – Monica
I wait at the hospital for what feels like an eternity. My contractions— or whatever they were— have subsided a bit, although it’s still painful.
A kind nurse has explained to me that while this is scary, it should be okay. If I have the baby this early, he will still be all right, although he will probably have to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit.
But she thinks they’re trying to find a way to stop labor from happening, so that I can carry the baby longer. That’s the extent of the news I’ve received, and I don’t even know how much of it is accurate.
I think of my mostly-finished letter to Ramsey, sitting at home on my desk. What if I have the baby before I can even send it? What if something happens to the baby?
I can barely contain my anxiety, but luckily, a doctor finally enters my room and sits down to talk to me, instead of poke and prod me.
“Ms. Carrington, I’m sorry that you’ve been here so long without many answers, but we needed to monitor your condition before we could say for sure what the status is.”
I nod, fearing the worst.
“We believe that you were in what we call false labor,” the doctor continues. “But because we couldn’t exactly be sure, the medicine we gave you was to try to stop the labor if it was indeed real labor.”
I nod again, even though it still seems clear as mud to me.
“At this point, after monitoring you for a few hours, it seems that either you were in false labor, or if you were in real labor, the medicine was successful and it has subsided.”
“Okay,” I say, relieved.
“In checking your cervix we see that the cervical cerclage is still intact, although it’s somewhat strained, and this can be problematic. Have you been on bed rest as instructed?”
“Well…” I hesitate. “I mean, I’m not working. I’m not doing anything strenuous. I stay in bed most of the day, but it does get boring, so occasionally I get up and do some things to get ready for the baby for just a bit, before lying back down. And I’ve been out to some outings, although not a lot. The other doctor told me that it was okay to be primarily on bed rest, with just some light activity here and there.”
“What do you mean, ‘do some things to get ready for the baby’?” he asks, looking at me the way my mom used to when I was younger and in trouble.
“Well, I mean… before I felt these… contractions… I had been putting away baby clothes, getting his nursery ready, that sort of thing.”
“Ms. Carrington, from this point on I would like to be clear that I’m ordering a very strict bed rest,” he says, staring at me in an I’m-serious-manner, as if I couldn’t tell from his words and his tone. “It is very important that your cerclage stays intact. Do you understand?”
“Then I’ll release you so that you can go home, but only under those exact conditions.”
“Yes, doctor. I understand.”
I don’t add that I understand I’ll be confined to bed and have very boring days. But at least the baby is all right.
Chapter 36 – Ramsey
I look out the window with mixed feelings as the plane lands in Albuquerque. I’ve missed the view of the Sandia Mountains, and my home, but I’m not supposed to be back here yet. I fucked up big time.
The stupid thing is that my deployment was almost over. If I could have just held out for another month, I would have been just fine. But I had to go and flip out like I did. I guess I just couldn’t hold it in any longer.
Jensen, Riley and Whitney meet me at the airport. By now, they’ve all heard the story. I called them before I had to leave Afghanistan.
“It’s bullshit that they sent you home because of this,” Jensen says, his face red with anger. “‘Medical leave?’ What the hell is that supposed to be?”
Harlow and I had had a private chat before I left, and his feelings echoed Jensen’s.
“It was a nice thing for them to do,” I tell him, with a sigh. “It makes it look voluntary. Whereas if they forced me out, it’d look worse. And they said this is just temporary. Until they can investigate and decide what to do about me. It’s not like I’ve been dishonorably discharged. Or court martialed. Under the circumstances, I think it’s more than fair.”
“But now they’re just going to try to say you have PTSD,” Jensen says. “Which we both know is bullshit. They’ll just use it as an excuse to keep you out. Look at what they tried to do to me!”
“Ramsey, don’t worry,” Riley interrupts. “We can fight this. They don’t have legal grounds to keep you out—”
“Thanks, Riley,” I tell her. “And Jensen. I appreciate your concern, and your support. But I’m pretty sure I do have PTSD.”
“Look, don’t be so surprised. You and Harlow were always asking me what’s up. I know you could tell something was different. And there’s no shame in—”
“Of course there’s no shame in it,” Jensen says. “It happens to a lot of service members. And for good reason. But what’s shameful is the way they deal with it, the way they treat it. How are you going to get around it? They’ll send you to a doctor on base who will have to report everything you say to the powers that be. You’ll be screwed. Please don’t tell him what you just told us. We can help you through this—”
“Yeah,” says Whitney, suddenly joining the conversation. “I work with some psychiatrists and psychologists at the med school. They’re completely independent from the military, and have a duty of patient privilege and confidentiality to uphold. You don’t have to tell the military you’re going to see one of them. They don’t have to know. You can just tell the military doctor whatever he wants to hear, but tell a different doctor the truth, and get some help.”
“That’s just the thing,” I tell her. “I don’t know if there is any help. They probably kick us out of the military because we’re damaged beyond repair.”
I know I sound like such a Debbie Downer, but I’ve faced the facts. So I toughen up.
“But, I mean, I’ll likely take you up on your suggestion, Whitney. Thank you. And I’ve read about it, and I do my own stuff to help control it. It was just those damn assholes pushing Pipsqueak around like that, that was my tipping point. It wasn’t right.”
“I know they’re our brothers, but they really shouldn’t act like that,” Jensen says. “I don’t even think what you did had anything to do with PTSD. I think they’ll just try to pin it on you as some easy out. If you ask me, Jerry and Brian deserved to get their asses kicked. And they probably know that they deserved to.”
That’s the confusing part. I’m definitely confused.
“Well, I do think I have PTSD but I do agree with you that those guys deserved to have their asses handed to them for being such douches.”
Everyone laughs. Even me. I haven’t laughed in… I can’t remember how long. Probably since I was with Monica.
My head is spinning. She’s the last person I need to be thinking about right now. It will only add
“I think I just need a break,” I tell them. “I can handle this. On my own.”
I see an injured look cross Jensen’s face so I add, “And with your help, which I appreciate.”
I think about Monica’s criticism, that I always put everyone else ahead of me. She was definitely right about that.
“I just need to concentrate on myself for a little while,” I tell them.
“It’s about time,” Jensen says, and everyone nods their agreement.
I pause, wondering if that’s all the news they can handle for today. But I’m sick of hiding things, keeping secrets from the people who love me.
“I actually kind… met someone,” I announce. “I guess it’s love. Or, it was love, and I’m hoping it still is.”
I hear shocked gasps, except from Whitney, who says, “I knew it!”
“ What ?” exclaims Riley. “ When? ”
“Let me guess,” says Whitney. “A little before you left for deployment. When you went on your so-called ‘spirit quest.’”
“Ooooh, la la,” Jensen teases. “I knew there was more to the story. So who is she?”
It dawns on me that I’d better figure out what’s really going on with Monica and me before I out her name, for her sake as much as mine.
“She’s no one I want to discuss, yet,” I tell them.
“Come on, man, you can’t do that to us!” Jensen says.
“Can’t a man just come back from war without being badgered to death?” I ask them. They laugh, and, thankfully, drop it, at least for now.
It’s not that I think that anyone here will do anything to get Monica into trouble, but it still seems like a rather… private matter at this point.
What if she really is pregnant? I wonder.