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John’s steady gaze was fixated at some point on the horizon. The scenery whipped past a two yards below his window on the greyhound bus. He thought he might be looking at his final destination over the horizon then realized it didn’t matter.
The last year was a challenge. After the death of his husband, he could see that he was changed. The fury and sadness seeped out of his soul and impacted his performance in a way he could not deny.
His men understood but they knew that cynicism was a killer. A cynical officer seldom thought twice about putting men in harms way. A soldier knows they will sometimes be given orders that will likely get them killed.
Anyone who has ever received such an order needs to trust their commander to act effectively. They have to have faith that their actions will mean something if they risk sacrificing themselves for their brothers.
A few seconds delay can sometimes make the difference between winning or losing a firefight. Trust enabled men to be decisive.
John was very self aware. He could feel the change in himself and despite massive resistance, his service record was nothing short of stellar, he chose not re-up. He used his accumulated time off and marriage leave to end his tour early. He received an honorable discharge with citations of merit and got out a few weeks after the letter.
Thankfully before he got any of his people killed.
He came home to face utter loneliness.
He had always been fine, being by himself, he was state raised but getting married was a turning point for him.
As a young man he had a vast hole in his heart that should have been filled with memeories of loving parents, community and a sense of home.
Instead it was dangerous work that gave him the adrenaline fix he needed to be able to cover that hole with a thin skin of ego that had calloused over time.
It was brittle and he knew it.
After meeting his love, for a long and happy while he could feel the edges of that hole shrinking. He could see himself as the bedrock of a new, whole family, filled with love and maybe even kids and grandkids. He knew he was good with children, firm but patient and kind hearted.
Ironically allowing himself to vulnerable to another that he trusted and loved, made him a better soldier. He learned to be listen better to his colleagues and men he served with. He became a very skilled leader and operator and he looked forward to working towards an intelligence position after his tourt. A career with a homelife.
The dreams he never dared hope for were suddenly very real and then in one bloody instant, they were dashed. Ripped away, like his lovers throat had been.
The kind platitudes he received, meant nothing. I had the love of my life and he was taken from me. Why go on? Seriously, why? He was old enough to know there are opportunities that show up, only once in your life and that love was his comet. Now he could only see the frail old man he would become, dying alone, never remembered or truly loved again.
A small, cold beacon of rage sat like a bullet, left behind in the fatal wound channel of his happiness.
It was almost all that sustained him. Partly the desire for vengeance and partly love. A love for those unknown that might fall victim to the evil force that took his husbands life.
He rolled up a sleave on his light flannel work shirt, leaned back and rummaged through a pocket in the functional looking vest he wore.
He pulled out a small bag of cannabis with a few papers enclosed. Weed. It helped on those days when even the rage could not sustain him.
The paperwork to get approval from the VA was torturous but he had made quite a few high placed friends from his time in the military. He was licensed but cautious, knowing licensing depended on which State he was in.
He checked that he was alone, the bus only had a few passengers on it and arefully put the medicine back in a pocket. A zippered one this time.
He reached for another pocket and pulled out the letter.
It had arrived in the mail some time ago.
After he had buried David, he could finally say his name now, he had sold their Florida home. He moved to New Orleans where he tended bar and smiled and joked for his customers.
The manager was always impressed by the tips John brought in. He would thank his boss for the opportunity and then leave work to go home to his tiny apartment.
He’d head down alleyways where he would nod to the occasional drug dealer or muggers that lurked there. A few times they had tried to roll him but word spread quickly that he was a local and not someone worthwhile to mess with.
One night a few weeks after he’d started tending bar, a small group of itinerant workers from Jamaica had began shit talking him.
It happened after he’d shared a brief but flirtatious conversation with a, very gay, young man asking about clubs in the city.
John joked with them for a bit about how the tips were better from the boys but he could tell a few of the young men had a deep dislike for what he was.
It was predictable that he found three of them, waiting for him after he left work.
John had faced violence for as long as he could remember. The rare brutality of his father was only surpassed by the daily vindictiveness of his mom.
Even before he touched the handle on the thick glass doors to the bar entrance he’d analyzed the ambush without conscious thought.
One lookout, sitting against the drivers side of his car. Head turned facing the door. A couple parking spots down, were his two friends, smoking.