Kaitlin stood frozen in the doorway of her bedroom. She tried hard not to stare at Chase, but it was not just the well-muscled shoulders, back, and bottom that transfixed her. It was the legs, specifically his right one.
It was missing. Gone below the knee. Amputated, she supposed was the proper term. From the wound, stump, she forced her mind to use the word; dark silvery pink puckered burn scars rose like the flames that had created them upwards licking at and on a couple of points consuming his otherwise perfect ass.
She covered her mouth and sucked in a deep breath as she leaned against the wall. Even that must have been too much noise, though, as Chase half turned to face her.
“Fuck,” he spat as he reached for the large bath towel that lay across her bed. He leaned part of his weight against the wrought iron headboard as he grabbed it and wrapped it about his waist.
Only his calf, a couple of inches of his left leg, and the hint of that stump remained showing as he leaned his weight on the bed and half turned, half hopped. “What the fuck are you doing here?” he growled.
Katie wanted to turn and flee from the anger she saw flashing in those once happy baby blues. She wanted to cry and scream at yet another injustice in this fucked up world. She tried to simply melt into the cold, hardwood flooring beneath her feet. Disappear.
Only once before had she ever felt so embarrassed, so distant from them. She sighed, but this was much worse. Even then, they had not been mad. Not even when she had been a total cock tease and left them both hard and wanting. No, they had smiled and reassured her, told her that they understood, that it was all right.
But nothing had been. Not really, not since. If she had lost them that fateful evening, what would happen now with Chase’s anger boiling and rolling like a geyser just waiting to blow?
“I’m sorry,” she whispered as she began to back out the door.
He shook his dark head, “No, I’m the one that should be sorry. I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that,” he said as he plopped down on her bed.
The silence was painful as it stretched out between them like a chasm, worse even than it had the night she teased them. She was not sure what to say, what was appropriate. Questions raced through her mind, but after a decade of virtual silence broken only by the occasional exchange of Christmas cards over the years, did she have the right to ask any of them?
He sighed heavily, and she looked back up into those intense blue eyes. Oh, sweet goddess, she had not until that moment realized that she had been staring at his leg, what remained of it. She blushed and opened her mouth, but no words came out. What did she say? What could she?
“Go ahead, princess. Say it. Ask it. We could always read what was in that pretty little mind of yours, sometimes better than you know yourself.” He leaned back and pinned her with a severe stare as he shook his head once more, “Never mind, I’ll save you the trouble.
“War…dirty, messy, shitty war. That is what happened. The details don’t matter all that much. And no, I don’t want your sympathy. I have had enough of that to last me a lifetime.”
He reached down and massaged the wound. “They say I was lucky. At least, I’m alive. Some of my friends…” his voice trailed off, his hand still on the pink flesh.
“It doesn’t matter. In the grand scheme of things in this fucked up world we live in, what is one man’s life? A leg here or there?”
Katie felt his pain; she always did – with everyone. But his was more intense. She wanted to cross the room, hold him in her arms as they had so often held and comforted her, but she could not.
Too much time, too much distance separated them. That man-child, who had been her friend, was gone. In his place was a man that was bitter, almost beaten. Even if justifiably so.
She inhaled as she realized just how tough this must be for Chase. Him especially. The star wide receiver, who, along with his brother’s throwing arm, had gotten their team to the final round of the state championship.
The young man, who had chosen a career in the Navy over a full athletic scholarship to UCLA. A man who everyone thought even had a decent chance of playing professional football. A track star too, for whom running had always been such a release.
Yet, here he sat on the side of the bed. While his brother, his twin, ran alone along the beach, they had once known so damned well.
She wanted to ask, knew that these days with new prosthetics running was possible. So, why? Why was he not out there too? But that also was not a question she had any right to ask.
Instead, she went with the one question that she felt he owed her an answer to, “Why didn’t you say anything earlier?”
He laughed, if it could be called that. “Say what? Oh, nice to see you, princess. If worrying about your mother dying isn’t bad enough, my damned leg got blown away on my last mission. Not exactly how I imagined things going when I finally saw you after all these years.”
She sighed, “Does Mom know?”
He nodded, “Yeah, when Joy first contacted us a couple of months back, I was still in the VA rehab center. So, it was Chance that replied to her email. He explained why we couldn’t come right away.”
She was not surprised by his next words, either. “Damn, your Mom. The woman is dying, and she fucking texts me every damned day to see how I am doing. Can you believe that shit?” His voice was so tight, and she would have sworn that his eyes shone a slightly brighter blue in the dim light of the lamp next to her bed.
She chuckled, “Does that really surprise you, Chase? You know Mom. She always has thought of others before herself, especially the people closest to her. The ones she truly loves.”
“You’re right, of course. It’s just sometimes you forget there are people like that in this fucked up world. But from that first afternoon, you brought us back here; she has always been,” he shook his head for a long moment.
“You know, in some ways princess, your Mom was more a mother to those two screwed up kids than the woman that gave birth to them. I know this is heartbreaking for you, but we will miss her too.”
She smiled, “I know. She has missed you two. She would talk about you sometimes. Just out of the blue.”
She sighed as the years stretched out between them. Her part in the separation, the gulf that had torn their friendship apart, kept them from her mother even, weighed upon her then. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry for what, princess? Sorry about my damned leg? Sorry about the stink, blood, and death that we have lived with for so god damned long that we don’t even fucking feel alive anymore? Sorry for the choices we made as kids that took us to this point? What do you have to be fucking sorry about, Katie?”
She sighed as she studied the bare wood floor for a long moment, “Sorry for that night. Sorry, I messed everything up. Sorry that my stupidity ruined the best friendship of my life. Sorry that it drove a wedge between even Mom and the two of you. Sorry, I have not been a better friend all these years.” She used the back of her hand to brush away the tears that trailed unchecked down her cheeks.
He looked up at her then, “That, princess, is the one fucking thing you should never be sorry for. The memory of that night was the only fucking thing I thought about when that god damned IED went off. The fact that I…that we never got the chance to tell you, to show you how fucking much you mean to us.”
Katie’s heartbeat accelerated not just at Chase’s words, but at the heat that shone so brightly in those eyes. Eyes that though they remained sad, held just a glimmer of something else now. She was not sure what she would have said or done then.
She jumped as the front door screen slammed, “Hey, where is everyone?” called out Chance’s familiar voice.
Chase nodded. Was she wrong, or did he look almost as relieved for the interruption as she felt?
“In here, big brother,” he replied as she turned to see a very sweaty and naked chest loom up behind her.
“What you and little brother been up to, Katy-did?” he asked with a smile as he winked across the room at Chase. “You wouldn’t start without me this time, would you, bro?”
Katie swallowed the surprised lump in her throat as she pushed past the two all-too hot studs that had taken up residence in her bed for… ‘as long as you need us.’ Their earlier words echoed in her muddled brain.
What would they think if they knew exactly how she needed them? If they knew of all the times, she had lain in that very bed imagining how differently that night might have ended. If they knew the number of times, she had touched herself in that bed. The number of times she had gotten off to an intense orgasm at the thought of them. Both of them.
But instead of dwelling on that, she did as she had that night and bolted for safety. “I should check on Mom. If either of you needs anything, just call. I am right next door with her.”
“Anything, princess?” Chance replied in a low and all too sexy voice.
She inhaled deeply, she was reading way too much into his words, she chided herself. “Another blanket, extra pillows, whatever,” she stammered.
Did the man look disappointed at her reply? “We’ll be fine, Katy-did. But remember, we are here for you and Joy. If you need us, you just call. Any time of the night. I still wish you would let us take shifts watching over her.”
“No, maybe another time, I promise. It’s just that…” Her throat tightened with another kind of emotion then as tears spilled over.
“I don’t mind. Whatever time is left, I want to spend as much of it with her as I can. There’ll be plenty of time to sleep…” She could not finish then – when she is gone. When my mother is dead.
Chance reached for her, she knew he would have enveloped her in another of those hugs, but it was more than the sweat pouring down that bronze chest that held her back. Her body was already on overload on so many levels: her mother, Chase’s leg, their unexpected arrival, her uncertain future. It was all too much.
She was afraid of what might happen if she gave in to the intense need just to be held, cocooned between their bodies, comforted as only they had ever been able to. She would not, could not, make that same mistake as she had as a teen. She would not do anything else that might push them away, not when she just had them back. Not when she needed her best friends, so goddess damned much. She would not lose them again. She could not, not now.
She put up a hand, placed it over his heart that was still pounding so fucking fast from his run. “It’s okay. You get a shower and some rest. We’ll talk more tomorrow. Catch up then.”
She turned back to Chase, “You too. Sleep well, and call me if you need me.”
He shook his head, “Trust me; I do, princess. If you only knew. Good night.”
She made her escape as quickly as she could. But not fast enough as she heard Chance close the door, “What the fuck happened?” he asked his brother.
She was wondering the same thing to herself. What the fuck had happened to those three kids, who had gone too far that fateful night – or maybe it was not far enough?
She supposed she would never know as she slipped into her mother’s room and took up her vigil in the recliner next to the bed.
She knew that this night would bring no relief. No sleep or even the blissful release of her darkest fantasies. Fantasies that were flesh and blood just on the other side of that thin wall.
What was she going to do? However, was she going to get through this all? If those questions had been in her mind for weeks and months, never in the same way as they were this night.
Chase and Chance. She chuckled at their names. Had their mother done it on purpose? How often had she laughed over the irony of what might have been if that eighteen-year-old girl had had the courage to Chase after her Chance at happiness? She stifled another giggle at her silliness, lest she wakes her mother.
She did not want to face any of the questions that the woman might ask. How could she possibly answer questions that she had no answers for herself…even after a decade? She sighed and gave up trying as she closed her eyes, trying to nap a bit while she could.