Authors: Jessica Wilde
By Jessica Wilde
Copyright © Jessica Wilde 2015
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means without written consent from the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Cover Design by: Jessica Wilde
Cover Images by: Shutterstock Images
Other titles by Jessica Wilde
Every One of Me
The Brannock Siblings Series
Leverage (The Brannock Siblings, #1)
Conned (The Brannock Siblings, #2)
Missing (The Brannock Siblings, #3)
Protector (The Brannock Siblings, #4)
Rise & Fall Series
Ricochet (Rise & Fall, #1)
For all the men and women that make the sacrifice every single day,
even after they come home.
Vivid is a story that will always stay very close to my heart. I honestly wasn't sure if I would ever write it. PTSD and the struggles a wounded soldier goes through upon returning home are difficult to describe. It's impossible to come close to fully grasping the idea of it. This book in no way describes a general experience. Every person is different and each obstacle they face is unique. If you, your family, or someone close to you has experienced what it is like – whether by association or direct experience – my heart goes out to you. I truly wish that after reading about Merrick and Grace, or even
, hope comes within reach.
We are all broken, that's how the light gets in.
– Ernest Hemingway
There are a lot of things a man can hear about himself that won't puncture his thick skin. A lot of things that won't make a difference in how he lives his life.
He's an asshole.
I can say, with almost complete certainty, that every man hears those words at least once in his life. It comes with having a dick.
He's an idiot.
That one sucks, but it can be overcome, and we all know why we are idiots. We think about sex every seven seconds. We think about a woman's underwear almost as often. Yes, we can be idiots, but only because our minds are preoccupied. We learn how to get around it, eventually.
He doesn't understand me.
Well, of course we don't. If you don't tell us what the hell we are supposed to understand, we never will. It's not worth the drama, most of the time, but the times that you actually talk to us and tell us something that isn't spoken in code, we try to understand. We try to fix it.
He's awful in bed.
Well, that one has an effect, but again, we just get better. Sleep with a few more women or learn a few more things, and voila! We are better in bed. That one is probably the worst to hear, but again, it doesn't change anything. We are still me. We will still
the same once we get it fixed.
It won't change us. We adapt and overcome. Then, we carry on.
But there comes a moment where something
change. We've done everything a man should do. We heard the shit said about us; we dealt with it and got over it. Then, we hear the one thing that penetrates after we've done the one thing that has already destroyed us.
This isn't the metaphorical blind. This is the real deal.
For twelve years, we've had the discipline, the training, and the work. We've put on the gear and lived in a special type of hell, all for the purpose of protecting our country. Protecting our friends and family.
We've done it. We've sacrificed.
We were spared long enough to see a cloudy image of our friends being torn to pieces, shot at more times than one can count, and cornered, with the only thought being,
'How long will they torture us before God finally takes us?'
We see it all happen right in front of us, and we are helpless to stop it, no matter how hard we try. Then, suddenly ... everything goes black. The last image in our mind is our best friend bleeding all over us, crying to God to take him home to his wife and unborn child, and knowing without a doubt that it won't happen.
I should stop saying
because it doesn't happen to every man. Only a rare few.
But it happened to me.
And now, every hope of seeing light again is stripped away.
Not only do I feel like I've been torn to shreds, burned to the bone, then slowly broken into a million pieces; I see nothing but blackness. Hear nothing but the sound of my mother crying softly in the corner of my hospital room. Feel nothing but the anger and disappointment in myself, knowing I could have done more. Knowing that because I was still alive, it was all my fault. I should have been the one to die. I should have been faster. Smarter. I
have been thinking about how fucking hot it was in that blistering sun or how long it would take me to get all the sand out of my clothes. I should have prevented it all from happening. It was
I lost two of my men, watched the others nearly die, and prayed, to the only God I knew, that it would end.
He ended it, but not the way I asked for.
He took away my sight. He took away my ability to see what was happening and my ability to fix it, to adapt and overcome ... to save my friends.
"Will he walk again?"
"With therapy and time, yes. His hand will be a difficult transition. We have another surgery scheduled for some hardware to be placed, but he will have the use of his hand, eventually. I imagine it won't be at one hundred percent, though."
"And his burns? How long?"
"We're treating him carefully. There will be scars. His burns are too severe for plastic surgery to help significantly. He will be in pain for a long time and will need to limit himself until he's completely healed, but he
heal, Mrs. Thatcher. He's alive."
I heard my mother sob; could almost hear the tears falling from her eyes. "And his eyes?"
A sigh, then the sound of clothing shifting. Doc was uncomfortable, that much I could read just by listening. "He'll need to see a specialist as soon as he's home. The shrapnel nearly destroyed his optic nerve, and I don't have any well educated guesses, but ..."
I didn't need to be able to see to know that the look on the doctor's face was resigned. He didn't think I would be able to see again. Ever.
I didn't need to hear otherwise.
My fate was sealed.
I was no longer the man I had been when I first joined the Army. No longer the man my unit saw when they followed me off base that day.
I was a result of war.
Lying here, in this uncomfortable bed, with my entire left leg immobile from snapping not only my tibia and fibula, but my femur as well; bandages covering the scorched skin on my left side; my arm feeling like it's been crushed; my face covered in bandages ... I know my life has changed. I know that the pain will last a long time. That the pain I feel now is nothing compared to what I will feel later.
The morphine may numb my body, but it sure as hell isn't numbing my mind.
I may be blind now, but I can still see my men falling. I can still see that desert sun shining down on us as we approached the bridge that would take us back to base. And I can still see the bright light shining on the dash of the MRAP. A reflection off the machete that signaled the bastard aiming that fucking EFP directly at us. Just one hundred yards away.
And I can still feel the panic. The knowledge that we had fucked up. No, the knowledge that someone we were supposed to be able to trust, had betrayed us. The helplessness to stop it. I should have seen the signs. I should have been more careful.
I can still see and feel and hear ... all of it.
And I still can't stop it.
Some may disagree, but there is nothing more humiliating to me than being twenty-nine years old and needing to move back home to your parent's house because you had been a fool. I wasn't embarrassed about the failed relationship or the failed attempt at becoming a mother. No, those things were devastating, not embarrassing. I'm embarrassed that the only choice I have is to move back to the room I spent most of my life in – where I spent most of my nights wishing for more – all because I couldn't hold it together.
I'm embarrassed that I need my mom and dad, now more than ever.
I know I shouldn't be. I know that shit happens, and I should be grateful my parents are the type of people to be there for me no matter what. I
grateful. Relieved, in fact. It's just that all my dreams came crashing down in a matter of seconds, then the rest of my world joined them.
It has been a year since I lost everything, since the man I thought loved me, walked out of my life forever because of something that was out of my control. A year since I lost my heart and soul in a delivery room, surrounded by strangers. Doctors and nurses that looked at me with pity in their eyes.
I couldn't even hold it together for a year. The depression had taken over, and if it wasn't for my mother, Alaina, I would probably be in a ditch somewhere without a pulse.
I didn't answer my phone for a week. The same week I lost my baby the year before. Mom came for me and didn't let go until I agreed to go with her.
"I know this is hard, Grace, but it's necessary. You stay with us until you find your feet again and if it takes longer than you hope, it doesn't matter. You work, you live your life, and you look forward to the future."
Mom was always positive and always throwing out a new motto to live by. She was loving and strong, but she didn't know what it was like to be me. I couldn't be mad at her for that, though, and I loved her too much to make it an issue. She was trying.
"I will, Mom. I'm okay, it's just been hard ... remembering."
"I know it is, sweetie. I know."
Alaina Samuelson, at fifty years old, didn't look a day over twenty-five. Her short, brown hair was colored religiously to hide her grays, and she was the only person – along with my father – who never gave up on me. She was a sweet, publicly-conservative librarian, and she loved her job. If she wasn't taking care of me or Dad in some way, she was reading a book.
My father, Jeff, was an ophthalmologist. It's kind of funny if you think about it. Mom loves to read, and Dad will always make sure she
. He adored my mother. She is smart, funny, and so beautiful. But standing at an inch taller than me and as curvy as I had always been, wasn't what made her so beautiful. She was always breath taking. Her face was consistently flawless, and her teeth were straight and perfect. All her life.
I had seen the pictures from her childhood. How pretty she was. That's why I always had such a hard time believing I was actually hers.
I couldn't count the number of times I asked if I was adopted. It got to the point where my mom threatened to kick me out if I asked again.
The only similarities between us were our noses and eye color. Small and hazel. My brown hair has never looked as vibrant as hers, and I looked like a teenager when it was cut short, so I always kept it past my shoulders. I had freckles, where Mom's face had a perfect complexion. My lips were fuller, but hers were the deepest shade of pink. I looked like her, obviously. She gave me these genes, after all. I just wasn't devastatingly pretty.
At least not naturally.
It took years of braces to fix my crooked teeth and the buck teeth I suffered with during my childhood, plus, an expensive salon to fix the bushes my eyebrows were and to teach me how to apply makeup. I still wasn't breath taking, but my face was improved by miles. My body was never skinny and shapely. The curves were always there, mocking me when my jeans shrunk a little in the dryer and shunning me when a dress didn't promise the hour glass figure all women want.
I guess I wasn't
disappointed in my body, but it certainly didn't diminish any of my insecurities.
Jason thought I was pretty enough to be with, but not to marry. We dated for three years before I got pregnant. I knew, deep down, that was the only reason he was going to stay with me, and I didn't care. I would have a family of my own and I would be the best damn mother I could possibly be. Then, we lost the baby and Jason left immediately after. The hospital discharge papers weren't even written up before he walked away.
I was devastated but thankful that I wouldn't spend the rest of my life feeling inadequate, knowing the only reason he was with me was because of the kids.
As an only child, one would think I was spoiled rotten. That wasn't the case. My mother made sure I learned discipline and responsibility. I could be independent if I needed to. That was how I was raised.
Independence takes more than a wave goodbye and a nice apartment, though. And once there is loss, no one
to be alone.
"I spoke with Emma Thatcher. She said there was an opening in homecare and therapy," Mom said, interrupting my despondent thoughts. "All you have to do is send in your application and she can almost guarantee you the job."
"Is she the one hiring?"
"No. She works in labor and delivery now," Mom answered, hesitantly.
I hid my reaction and forced the memories away. "Then how?"
"She's good friends with one of the administrators and with the homecare director. They need another nurse on staff, and fast. Plus, they trust her since she's been there so long."
I didn't have a problem with homecare and I enjoyed helping patients with their therapy, but I wanted to make sure I stayed busy. I needed the money so I could pick up the pieces of my life that were still scattered on the ground.
"Sounds like a good plan then," I replied, sighing as we pulled into the driveway of my parent's home.
Nothing had changed. Same colors, same windows, same curtains. It was like going back in time. My eyes moved to the neighbor's house, which looked only slightly different from my memory.
"Are the Thatchers still next door? I wouldn't mind talking to Emma about the job myself."
Mom shook her head and turned off the car. "They moved across town about two years ago, but they still own the house. Kept it for the kids if they ever needed it. Micah lived there for a while, but once he finished his residency, he bought a house in Ogden. Emma is staying there while Merrick recovers, though."
"Merrick? What happened?"
Hearing that name after so many years was like the strike of a match. Merrick Thatcher was the boy everyone gravitated to. The girls loved him, the boys wanted to be him, and I was always hopelessly in love with him. Major crush. One that almost made me fail several classes my junior year. It seemed so important at the time, but now I could see how immature I had actually been. Still didn't change the fact that the man was gorgeous.
I knew he joined the military right after graduation and became a kind of celebrity in our small town of Morgan, Utah. He served two tours in Iraq and was on his third the last time Mom showed up and attempted to bring me home. That was five months ago. I hadn't come back, obviously, but that didn't stop me from hearing about everything that was happening back home.
"I don't know the whole story, but he was hurt pretty badly," Mom said and turned her gaze to the old house I'd watched for so long when I was younger. "Came home about two months ago and has barely been outside since. The only time I see him is when I catch him moving past a window with Emma. She tries to open up the house, but he refuses to let people see him that way. The poor man is really struggling."
My chest ached, knowing that Merrick was so seriously injured. I was grateful he was alive and wished I had been a good enough friend so I could go over there and talk to him. Maybe even help him. But I wasn't a friend. In fact, I don't even think he knew I existed. He hadn't while we were growing up, why would he now?
Once, in all the years living next to the Thatchers, did Merrick ever acknowledge me.
It was the first day of my junior year and, with my ever wonderful luck, my car wouldn't start. Merrick had been climbing into his truck while I was in my driveway, furiously shouting every swear word I knew. Unfortunately, the commotion caught his attention; it wasn't my best moment. Then, he crossed our yards and asked if he could help.
That was the kind of guy he was. Popular, smart, kind when he needed to be, and a jerk when social rules required it. That day, he was the boy I couldn't get out of my mind. He fixed my car, said 'you're welcome', and drove away, already ten minutes late for his first class. By the time I'd caught my breath and remembered how to drive, I missed first period and had to have my mother call to explain for both of us.
Merrick hadn't cared about being late that day. He cared about fixing my car.
It was the start of girly fantasies that distracted me more than ever before.
We had three classes together that year, and not once did he speak a word to me. Of course, I was too shy to even look his way half the time. But all my focus was on the tall, muscular boy sitting in the back corner of the class, flirting with one of the popular girls.
It's my own fault. I never engaged him in conversation, and anytime he may have come close to even looking at me, I usually turned away.
"He's in a wheelchair right now. Fractured his femur and lower leg. Went through a lot of surgeries. He was burned pretty badly, too." Mom watched the house carefully, searching for movement. "You know how your dad is when
sick, imagine a once perfectly able bodied man now
of getting around by himself."
I moved my gaze back to the Thatcher home and watched the front window. "I've seen plenty of injuries where the patient can still be independent, Mom."
I certainly wasn't expecting that. "What?"
Mom turned and acknowledged my shocked stare with a nod. "I think it was shrapnel that hit his face. It took his sight. He can't do anything on his own right now."
"Oh my God. That's awful," I whispered.
She nodded again and opened her door, not saying anything else about it until we had dragged my two suitcases into the house. The rest of my stuff would arrive within the week since we left in such a hurry. It was all going to storage, but Dad had hired a moving company to do all the work for me. Just one more thing I still felt entirely too guilty to accept. Not that Dad even listened to my arguments.
"I can hear them every so often," Mom continued. "Emma tries to take care of him and help him adjust, but he keeps fighting her every step of the way. Refusing to take his pain medication, refusing to leave the house, except for the occasional doctor's appointment. And even those come with difficulty."
"He's angry, Mom. Like you said, it's hard for a man who can't get around by himself. Think of all he's lost."
She pulled a couple bottles of water out of the fridge and handed one to me. "You're right, Grace. I'm just upset for Emma."
Someone should be upset for Merrick,
I thought to myself.
"Alright, you stay here and unpack. I'm going into town to get us a pizza from Deb's. Anything specific that you want?"
"No, whatever you get will be fine, Mom."
"Okay, dear. Be back soon."
I dragged my suitcases to my old bedroom located at the front corner of the house. This part of the house had definitely changed since I moved away. Mom and Dad turned it into a guestroom. It was boring with its white walls and neutral colors. The bed was new and bigger than the twin I'd slept in for years. The carpet was new as well.
I looked out the side window that was facing the Thatcher's home. Merrick had always been closer to me than he ever knew. That's if he even considered it in the first place. Our bedrooms were directly across from each other. In this neighborhood, the houses were built close together with the empty space between our rooms measuring only eight feet. It was easy to see his opened closet through the blinds.
I wondered if I would catch a glimpse of him one day. Maybe see the extent of his injuries while I silently hoped he would get better.
Hope is a funny thing. No one really pays attention to their ability to hope until it's all they have. And even then, it's not a guarantee for
I dropped down on the bed and shut my eyes.
This last year had taken its toll on me, but I was determined to come out on top. Mom made a good point when she finally came to drag me back home.
"Your baby girl wouldn't want her mother to lose herself. She may not have seen you, Grace, but she heard you every day. Make sure you're still the woman you were when you carried her inside you."
I was going to become a better person for my daughter, and she was going to look down on me and see that I loved her more than anything on this earth. That the few minutes I held her still body in my arms, she was loved with every breath in me. She still is.
If she would have lived, would she have known unconditional love? From me, yes. From Jason? I have no idea. He didn't love
unconditionally, but a child is different. A child is a part of you. The fact that he left me just hours after I lost her, however, showed his true colors. A child shouldn't grow up in a family like that; with parents who didn't complete each other.
I would have done it on my own, but that wasn't in the cards for me either.
I was going to work hard, earn a living for myself, and move forward. I was going to make my baby girl proud of me from wherever she was watching.
I started to drift, thinking of all the things I would need to do before starting a new job. Homecare wouldn't be so bad. I was a good nurse, and caring for patients in their home made everything a little more personal. I was good with personal. I'd done it before and stayed busy. It's exactly what I needed. I didn't have to take the suffering home, but I could connect with someone and help them through it.