Touching Scars by Stacy Borel

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Copyright © 2013 by Stacy Borel Cover Design by Cover It Designs Editing by Trish Kuper, Vixen Editing Interior design by Kassi Cooper

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owner.

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Dedication Prologue Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Epilogue


“AREYOU GOINGTO MEGAN’S party tonight?” Ryan said, throwing the football to Timber.

“Probably not. I didn’t finish my Biology project that was due last week, and Mr. Kent said I had to get it in to him by Monday or else I get a zero. I’ve already lost thirty points because it’s late.” Timber extended his arm and threw the ball back to Adam.

“I wouldn’t even bother. You already have an A in that class, what’s a missing project going to do, drop you down to an A minus?” Adam said sarcastically. “Besides, I heard there is going to be a keg.”

Timber glared over at him. “It will lower my GPA, asshole, and I need that scholarship. I don’t have parents that pay for everything.”

Adam shrugged with indifference, and flipped him off.

Timber Nelson had to work for everything he had. His mom had been a secretary for the past ten years at Bay City Elementary School, and his dad had been the sheriff of the town since he could remember. It wasn’t as if they were poor, but they didn’t always have the money to go on lavish vacations or live in the exclusive communities that his friends parents did in Bay City, Texas. And unfortunately, it also meant that Timber didn’t have a college fund. His parents had saved as much as they could while he was growing up, but last year his father didn’t get re-elected and they had to dip into the money they’d set aside to pay the bills. Timber ended up getting a job at a local Market Basket stocking shelves and bagging groceries so he could start up a new savings account and put away as much money as possible. He knew he was going to need extra money for any added expenses the scholarship he’d been working for wouldn’t cover.

Although he was never jealous of his friends and their pompous lifestyles, with the fancy cars, brand name clothes, or new gadgets, this was something that he envied of them. They would get to attend whatever college that accepted them, and not have to worry about how they would pay for their next meal or how they would buy their books.

Still looking at Adam, he noticed that his friend had thrown the ball except he hadn’t thrown it towards him. He had thrown it wide and over Timber’s left shoulder. Two things happened in the moments leading up to the incident. First, he noticed that Adam had a Cheshire cat of a grin plastered on his face. The second thing was the ball seemed as it if was moving in slow motion and headed straight for the dark haired girl that had been running around the track.

“Hey, look out,” Timber hollered to Katherine, the girl that was running. The football was spiraling right toward her and Timber cringed as he watched it hit her in the back. She lurched forward and stumbled, falling onto her hands and knees. Her glasses went flying off her face in the process, landing on the pavement.


seemed to take extra pleasure is harassing her. Why he gave it to her the most, Timber didn’t know. He was never one to bully, but he never did anything to stop it. Maybe that made him as bad as his friends, maybe not, but now, looking over his shoulder at Katherine wiping a tear from her face, he felt sorry for her. He wanted to go see if she needed any help, but being badgered by the guys seemed too high a price to pay. Timber simply stood and watched as Katherine got up on shaky legs, found her glasses, and walked to the outside locker room door.

Ryan ran over and snatched the ball out of Timber’s hands. Timber couldn’t tear his eyes away from her. He stood there and watched Katherine walk until she disappeared behind the gymnasium door. He turned to Adam and shoved him hard in the shoulder.

“What the fuck, man. Why are you always giving that girl a hard time?”

Adam shot him a cocky grin. “Why are you so concerned? You have something for this chick?” “I was going to ask you the same thing.”

His friend’s grin slowly slipped into a frown. “She’s just a face in the masses, man.” Adam held his arms wide, gesturing for Timber to look at the other students milling around. “I didn’t realize you felt for those who are beneath you.”

Timber had heard shit like this from him since they were kids and Adam had started looking down his nose at people, just like his father. Adam’s dad was the mayor of Bay City. Dirty politics and blackmail were just two of the things that he’d picked up from his dad. But his ego, that selfish prick that reared its ugly head just like it was right now, was all his. He thought that he was entitled.

“Fuck you, man. I don’t look down at people and you know it,” Timber gritted out.

“Could have fooled me. You did nothing to go help poor little Katherine,” Adam smirked. Timber took a menacing step forward, but Ryan put his hand on his shoulder.

“Leave it alone,” Ryan said, low enough for only Timber to hear.

Glaring at Adam, he took in a deep breath through his nose, and turned to walk away.

“That’s what I thought.” Adam’s laugh caused Timber’s hands to clench into fists. “I’m sure we’ll be seeing you at the party.”

Timber walked to his beat up old ’66 Mustang and peeled his sweaty shirt off. Reaching into his vehicle, he pulled out a clean tee and pulled it over his head. He considered heading home and getting to work on his science project, but he couldn’t get himself to leave.

He sat in his car for over thirty minutes, waiting for Katherine to come out. Timber couldn’t explain why he felt the need to know that she was okay, but the fact remained, he would feel better if he saw her without any tears on her face. He’d never felt concerned like this before about any of the other pathetic kids that his friends teased. Maybe he was a heartless bastard for thinking them deserving of the ridicule, but they never stood up to his friends and fought back. Why anybody would stand there and take the shit that Adam, Ryan, or any of the other athletes dished out, he’d never know. But this girl… even though he’d seen Adam target her before, this time something in him made him feel sorry for her. Timber saw her tears, he felt the need to go to her and help her up and brush the dirt off of her cuts.

Gripping the steering wheel, his knuckles white, Timber’s eyes zeroed in on the dark haired girl that came walking out of the same door she went in less than an hour ago. Katherine had bandages on both of her knees. She was struggling to pull what looked like a very heavy backpack up over her slight shoulders. Timber watched her as she made her way to an old silver Toyota Corolla. After she hefted her backpack into the back seat, she shut the door and stood there, gazing down at the pavement. Her body sagged, and she looked up, her eyes scanning the nearly empty parking lot.


slumped shoulders and tipped her chin up. She was trying to show something to him. Her left hand came up and she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. Timber decided to go speak to her. He opened his car door and got out. As he walked towards her, he noticed that her previous look of self-assuredness wavered. She shifted from one foot to another, watching him intently as he neared her. When Timber was standing directly in front of her, he looked down.

“What do you want? Did you come over here to shove me on the ground and cut my tires?” Her lip quivered, but she held it together. “Go ahead. I don’t care what you do to me.”

Timber had never actually inspected Katherine before. He never noticed how her almond shaped eyes held a hint of green amongst brown. They were absolutely beautiful. She hid them behind her dark rimmed glasses, and unless you were standing this close, you couldn’t see the exact color. He also noticed her lips were full and had a slight pout. What would it be like to kiss her? Closing his eyes tightly, Timber shook himself of the erratic thoughts.

“Are you just going to stand there? Do your worst,” she spat.

He opened his eyes. “My worst? You think I came over here to hurt you?”

Katherine looked up at him skeptically. “Well, you’re no better than your asshole friends, so yeah, of course you would.”

Timber’s jaw clenched. She actually thought he would do the same thing Adam did? “I’m not like them. It wasn’t like I was the one that threw the fucking football.”

She looked down, and her long, dark brown hair made a curtain around her face. “You might as well have,” she mumbled.

“Excuse me?” Her words took Timber aback.

She glanced back up at him with confusion in her eyes. “You heard me. You might as well have. Did you even bother to stop your friend from throwing it at me? Did you laugh right along with them when my back was turned? No, wait. You probably plotted to see what you guys could do to hurt the poor nerdy girl. What would embarrass her the most?”

Katherine was mad now and was firing accusations at him that pissed him off. “You have a lot of nerve. I’ve never done anything to you.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Yes, you have.” Her lips quirked up in a rueful smile. “Frankly, I’d say that you are the worst out of all of them. You know what they’re doing, and yet you stand there and let them. You all walk around this school like you rule the place, and you pick on everybody that isn’t a clone of you. Well guess what, Timber,” she said his name with so much hate that it rocked him, “I am different. I care about people, and I don’t walk around pushing and shoving them, making them feel like they are less than me.”

Timber was speechless. Nobody had ever spoken to him this way. Part of him was completely turned on by this feisty five foot three inch person in front of him. He’d had no idea that a wildcat was inside of this small package. But another part of him was hurting from the deep blow to his ego. He didn’t know how to respond to her accusations.

Swallowing hard, Timber said words that he’d wanted to say to her when he saw her on the ground crying. “I’m sorry.”

Katherine dropped her hands that were on her hips and walked around to the driver side door. “Save it, Timber. Your apology means nothing to me.” She was about to climb into her car but stopped. He saw tears glistening in her eyes. “Change.”

“What?” Timber wanted to reach out to her and tell her not to cry, but it seemed like a completely illogical thing to do.


mean things those guys say to people like me. Do something about it. Then maybe your apology will start to mean something.”

With that, Katherine got into her car and drove away, leaving Timber standing there. As he walked back to his car, he made a choice. He couldn’t say that he would stop his friends from doing the same things that they’d always done to everyone else, but he would make sure that they left her


“SIR, CAN I GETYOU something to drink?” “I’m sorry, what?”

“Can I get you something to drink?”

I glanced up at the flight attendant that was looking at me expectantly. She had a smile on her face that I was certain was forced. I had a feeling she had been standing there trying to get my attention for a while. I was off in my own head. Being up in the air without any sleep for the past eighteen hours had messed with my head. Our first stop was in Bangor, Maine. It would be the first time I stepped foot on American soil in over a year.

Though the woman was attractive, I wanted her to stop looking at me. Her eyes watched me with weariness, as if she knew where I was coming from and she felt sorry for me. I didn’t want her fucking pity. I wanted to feel numb.

“Crown and coke,” I bit out.

She nodded and began pouring the smooth amber into a plastic cup. She’d given me two of those mini bottles which I appreciated. I pulled a twenty dollar bill out of my wallet and handed it to her and told her to keep the change. When she handed me my drink, she stood there while I tipped my head back and swallowed the cup’s contents in three gulps. It would take a few minutes for the alcohol to warm my blood, and I was feeling more and more irritated that I was being scrutinized by this stranger. I turned towards her, handed her the empty cup and gave her a stiff smile.


The smile that was plastered on her face faltered when she saw the hardness in my eyes. She nodded, moving on to the next row. Thank fuck. I was pretty sure if she had stood there any longer I would have told her we could take the staring into the lavatory and she could stare at me while I fucked her from behind and she watched in the mirror. I may be screwed up in the head, but I’m still a man with needs. In fact, I wondered if I should pull her back with me and do it anyway. Maybe having sex would help me forget.

I rolled my eyes at my own thoughts. Meaningless sex with someone might give me a temporary release, but it wouldn’t stop the nightmares that came every time I closed my eyes. All I could see were the faces of my friends, my brothers. I leaned my head back and stared at the headrest in front of me, refusing to let sleep pull me under.



It was exactly as I predicted. The double doors that lead out to the terminal seating was surrounded on each side by old men wearing their covers and retired military uniforms, saluting each of us. Men, women, and a few children were amongst the vets with small American flags, smiling and clapping. Damn if it didn’t make my heart ache. I nodded at the few servicemen that made eye contact with me. As soon as I was passed them, I set my carry-on down in the chair beside me. Taking a deep breath in through my nose and exhaling, I tried to calm my taut muscles. I felt tightly wound, like I would blow at any point.

I had my closed my eyes, but I felt a tap on my thigh. When I opened them, I was looking at a little dusty, blonde haired boy that had to have been no older than five.

“Mister, are you a soldier?”

His innocent eyes soothed me. “Yes, I am.” I answered him in a quiet voice. “Cool. I want to be a soldier when I get big.” Big blue eyes lit up his face. “Well, that’s a good goal, but you make sure you go to school first.”

He paused and looked over at who I assumed must have been his mother walking towards us. “Have you killed a bad guy before?”

Immediately the tenseness slammed in my gut and I shut my mouth before I said something stupid, like “go the fuck away, kid, or not as many as I should have.” Thankfully, his mother came and grabbed him, apologizing for bothering me as she led him away. I leaned forward with my elbows on my knees and ran a hand through my hair. Another thirty minutes passed without being bothered. When my next flight began to board, I settled into my seat for the seven hour leg.

In a small suburb of Houston, the cab pulled up to the curb of a brick ranch styled house. I pulled out forty dollars and got out. I grabbed my duffle and rucksack and walked up to the door. All of the homes on the street were very cookie cutter, with the same manicured lawns, flowers lining the walkways to the front doors, and a neatly trimmed bush under each window. I still didn’t understand why my dad chose to live in this neighborhood. The house was more than he needed, but I think he got it because it was a house my mom would have loved.

Mom passed away during my first tour in Iraq. They let me come home on emergency leave to attend her funeral and help my dad get his affairs in order. She had passed away from a sudden heart attack. Our entire community was shocked. She was a seemingly healthy woman. She exercised regularly and ate well. The doctors told us after they performed an autopsy that her heart had a defect that caused the lining of her aorta to be thin. It ruptured one night while my mom was watching Wheel of Fortune on the couch. It was so sudden that she bled out in less than a minute and couldn’t call for help. My dad was beside himself.

When my first tour was over, he had a ‘for sale’ sign in front of the house and he said he couldn’t live there anymore. He didn’t find comfort in the memories behind those walls. I didn’t blame him for feeling that way. The sadness crushed me every time I walked in the door. But now he was living here in Friendswood, Texas, in a house that was everything she would have loved. I’ve never called him out and asked why he chose this place, but I was certain it was because of Mom. I just wished that he was still in Bay City so his friends and church members could keep him company.


He was outside, sitting on the back porch, drinking a beer and smoking a cigar. The past year his age had caught up with him. He used to tell me, “you’re only as young as you feel.” Well, I guess my mom’s death made him feel every bit of his sixty-three years. When I came into view, he stood up from his wooden rocking chair and greeted me with a tight hug and a slap on the back.

“Hey Dad, I’ve missed you,” I said while we were still embracing.

Pulling back to look at me, he smiled. I noticed that he had a few more age spots around his eyes than he did before I left. He was also thinner. His hands gripped my arms, and it almost felt as if he were trying to reassure himself that I was standing there, in one piece.

“Want a beer? I can go grab you one from the fridge,” he asked. “Sure.”

He walked into the house and I took a seat on the brick flower planter that sat a few feet away from his chair. Glancing around the yard, I could tell that he probably spent most of his time outside. There was a tool shed in the back left corner that was shaped like a small barn house. He had a six foot wooden fence that went around the perimeter. The yard was immaculate, clearly his pride and joy.

When he came back out, he handed me my beer and took a seat. We both sat in silence as we drank and looked around the yard. I’m sure most would say that our reticence towards each other wasn’t normal of a father and a son that were seeing each other for the first time in a year. Never mind the fact that I spent that year in a dangerous war zone. But it’s what we did, and it’s how we worked now. I was close with my dad, but my mom was always the one who spoke for the both of us.

As the quiet stretched on, my dad finally looked over at me and said, “I’m glad you’re safe, and I’m sorry about your friends.” He shrugged. “One of your nurses at that German hospital told me about them.”

I bowed my head then eventually looked back up at him. “Thanks, me too.” I was desperate to keep the shaking from my voice.

We sat together for a bit longer before he got up and walked to the sliding glass door. Before he went inside he said, “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask. Happy to have you home, son.” Then he went in and headed to bed. I stared at the door and realized that I appreciated our quiet times. Sometimes it’s not about the words that are said, but simply knowing that he was there when I did

need someone to talk to. His presence meant more to me than any amount of words. I knew my dad had been disappointed in me for not going to college like I’d planned, but when I had graduated, I felt like my life had a greater calling. It wasn’t that I wasn’t going to go to school again, but that it was on hiatus after I’d served my four years. I had been granted a scholarship to a pretty good school my senior year, however it was only for two years. I had planned on going to a four year school, and I couldn’t guarantee that I would have the funds for the remaining two years. My mom was the understanding one. She knew that it was my decision. I wanted to insure I could complete a full bachelor’s degree. The Army seemed to be the right choice.

I sighed and got up to move over to the rocking chair. Leaning back, I took a long swig of my beer. The chilled bubbly sensation burned the back of my throat. I remembered doing this exact same thing after my first tour. I’d come back home to the house I’d grown up in, and sat on the back porch with my dad drinking a beer. This time it felt so different. It wasn’t just the house that had changed. I knew I had changed. My last year I’d spent my nights on post with my boys, shooting the shit and doing security checks. Then two weeks before we were coming home, I’d lost them.

All of them.


stuff. He had a bottle of Black Label Whiskey that he had gotten for his sixtieth birthday stored in the cabinet above the fridge. I would have preferred the richer flavor of bourbon, but this would do in a pinch. It would get me drunker a lot faster than I would if I stuck with the beer. Feeling slightly inconsiderate and not really giving a shit, I put my mouth on the lip of the bottle and leaned my head back. This liquid couldn’t even be described as smooth. It felt like a hot branding iron hit my mouth. It was rough, and the taste had a bite that made the first swallow hard to get down. I set the bottle on the counter and felt the liquid heat my insides. The minutes ticked by and I found myself staring at the digital clock on the microwave. Before I knew it, I’d drunk four more large gulps and I couldn’t tell if the numbers read ten fifty-three or ten fifty-eight. That was faster than I thought it would take. I knew it was only a matter of minutes before I laid down right here on the kitchen floor and passed out, so I dragged my ass down the hallway, swaying and running into the walls. When I made it to the guest bedroom, I flopped face first into the pillow.


…2 months later

PUNCHINGIN, I KNEW THAT Slim was going to chew my ass out for coming in two minutes late, but I didn’t really care. I was his hardest worker and I knew he’d never fire me. Besides, who gets canned for being two minutes late? Except I have been two minutes late pretty much every day since I started working here.

Three weeks after coming home, I decided I needed to get out of the house. I went looking for a job, and came up empty every fucking day. The news wasn’t kidding when they said we were in an economic slump, and jobs were hard to find. While I was overseas I had saved up every penny of my paychecks, but I knew that if I continued to drink away my savings, I’d need to find a job to support my newfound habit. One night, while out at a podunk bar, I overheard some suits talking about an oil and gas field that was looking to hire new guys. It was a few hours south of Houston. I figured I might as well give it a shot since I wasn’t finding jack shit up here. Plus, I’d still be close enough to my dad that if he needed me I’d be able to make the quick drive back. I left the next morning around noon and drove the three hours to Port O’Connor, Texas, aka No Man’s Land. The company primarily dug for oil, but did some gas production on the side. It was called A&S Emissions. I’d gone to speak to the person that was referred to as the Toolpusher, who was essentially the head honcho of the field, and see about setting up an interview. When I found him, he was sitting with a very large man that was sporting a beer gut and was balding on top. Turned out the overweight, sweaty man was Slim. Go figure. The man in charge was Roger. They both took one look at me, said a few words to each other, then Roger said, “You’re a big son of a bitch. You’re hired. You start on Monday, and you will report to Slim here.” That was that. I was never asked about my previous work experience, or even what my name was. I’d learned a week later that Roger hired me because of the Army tattoo I had on my right arm. It had been peeking out from underneath the sleeve of my shirt. He had served twenty years, and he figured any man that could serve his country was good enough to work on his field.

Now here I was over a month later, and I’d moved my way up from being the Worm, which was the lowest man on the field, to the Motorman. I dealt with all the mechanical and maintenance problems. They knew I was good with my hands when one day, an awful grinding sound was coming from one of the rigs. A few gaskets blew, and I raced in and repaired it all before we’d lost a monumental amount of black gold and money. We were all standing there, covered in the thick greasy sludge, and Slim looked at me and said, “Looks like you’re our new Motorman.” I’d learned that Slim and most of the other guys out there were men of very few words. I could appreciate that since I really didn’t want to talk much anyway. I just wanted to go to work, clock in then clock out, and hit the bottle hard enough to pass out.

On this particular day, just before I headed out to my very small six hundred square foot, one bedroom apartment, Slim and Roger approached me.

“Hey, Nelson!” Slim yelled from the work trailer. “Have you been to The Hole? It’s a bar in town.”


Hall to pay my bills, and my apartment. “No,” I answered simply.

“Well, you’re going tonight. Roger wants to stop in and say hi to his niece. It’s her birthday, and she works there. Be ready in thirty minutes. We’ll pick you up.”

I nodded. Great. The last thing I wanted to do was spend my evening with some little girl that was probably a prissy brat, but you don’t say no to the bosses. I made my way home and walked in the front door. I still had boxes scattered around. I didn’t think this would be a permanent place so I hadn’t bothered unpacking. I just dug around for whatever when the need arose. There was a pizza box on the counter from last night, and a bottle of Crown that was about three-quarters empty. I walked over to it and took a swig. Wiping my mouth with the back of my hand, I made my way into the bathroom for a quick shower. I could at least make myself look presentable for the birthday girl.

Not even thirty minutes had passed when Roger came knocking on my door. When I opened it, he poked his head in and said, “Jesus Christ, this place smells like gym socks.”

I shrugged and said sarcastically, “So buy me some goddamn Glade plug-ins.”

He chuckled and slapped me on the back. I walked out of the apartment and locked up. When I got in the backseat of the truck, Slim took off down the road. Turned out The Hole was only two blocks away from where I lived. This could prove to be beneficial since I could come hang out at the bar, get hammered, and walk home. When we pulled up, Slim parked in a handicapped slot, clearly not giving a shit that he didn’t have the appropriate stickers on his truck.

The three of us piled out. I stepped up on the sidewalk and looked down both ends of the street. Port O’Connor consisted of a grocery store, post office, police station, and this one road that looked like it came from a 1950s movie. Anytime now someone named Wally would come running up to me saying the words ‘gee golly’ or ‘shucks’. I hadn’t been in this particular part of town. I snickered to myself. I wasn’t missing much.

Turning around, I met the guys at the entrance to The Hole. It was really bright outside and the heat was sweltering. When we stepped in through the double doors, the stale air hit my nostrils. It was cooler inside but not cold from an air conditioner. It was a swamp cooler, and the place wasn’t properly ventilated. Cigarette smoke assaulted my senses. My eyes traveled the length of the four walls. Off to the right were two pool tables. One of them was currently being used by a guy and two girls. One of the girls was hanging off the guy, whispering something in his ear while he bent over the table and took his shot. I’ve always loved the sound of pool balls hitting each other. I was good at pool, or at least I used to be. Next to the tables was a dance floor, and a small DJ booth in the corner. Nobody was manning the equipment, but an old George Strait song was playing over the speakers, reminding us that all his exes live in Texas. Typical. Off to the left was the bar. It was U-shaped and bar stools lined the length of it. A cooler that held assorted beers and wine coolers was against the wall behind the counter. My brain was taking a mental inventory of the layout, how to get out if I needed to, and the people inside. That would be the residual effects of the Army and my training. I noticed a very large man sitting on a stool next to the door. Slim and Roger were talking to him, so I stepped up to join them.

Slim chuckled. “So where is the birthday girl?”

The gargantuan man that seemed taller than me, even while sitting on the stool, said, “She’s in the back unloading a shipment. I’ll have Melanie go back and get her.” He paused and looked around. “Hey, sweetcheeks!” he hollered when he spotted who he was looking for.

A small blonde came bounding up with short hair that was styled to stick out in different directions. She had to be the smallest adult I’d ever seen. Her facial features were cute and she just


“Run into the back and let Kat know that her uncle is here, would ya?” the burly man said.

Melanie looked slightly bashful, but nodded her head and practically skipped away, disappearing into a long dark hallway. I turned my face back to Slim, raising my eyebrow at him in question. He must have caught on to my non-verbal question.

“Oh right. Nelson, this is Beaver.” He gestured from me to the other man. I held my hand out. “It’s Timber, actually. Timber Nelson.”

His hand came out and his whole palm practically wrapped around my entire fist. He gave new meaning to large. I was already tall at six foot three. This mother fucker had to be at least six foot seven. He had a firm handshake. I got the impression he could easily break my hand with a slight squeeze.

“Beaver, huh. Should I even ask?”

Slim and Roger laughed, while Beaver smiled. Apparently I was in for a good story.

“When I was a kid, my grandpa worked with some dude’s that divvied nicknames. The one they gave him was Wolf. I have no idea how he got to be named it and he died before I got to ask him.” He paused and rubbed his hands together. “Anyway, I wanted to have a nickname just like he did. At the time I thought it would be cool to stick with the animal theme. I had just gone beaver hunting with my gramps when I figured I was cool enough to have a nickname so I went with Beaver. Turns out,” he gave a sly grin, “it’s a pretty fitting name if you know what I mean. Who would’ve known I’d be so good at eating it. Women come from several counties over to see what my skills are all about.”

Roger jumped in. “Man, I never got the full story behind the name. I had only assumed, you dirty bastard.” He clapped him on the back.

The sound of a towel slapping skin whipped through the air. Roger made a hissing sound which caused me to suddenly turn to see where it had come from.

“Don’t let Beaver fool you. That’s just a bunch of tall tales from a sad and lonely man.”

“Kat, you’ve never tried me out, so how would you know?” Beaver waggled his eyebrows at the girl.

“Watch it kid. That’s my niece you’re talkin’ about there.” Roger glowered.

This girl was Kat? I wasn’t sure exactly what I was expecting to come walking out, but this wasn’t it. Roger was a very businesslike man, always wearing suits, and somewhat proper. I think I anticipated someone in a decent length skirt, and turtleneck. Granted, we were in a bar, but like I said, the economy was bad and people were desperate. This girl was something entirely different. She had long dark hair that went past the middle of her back. It had hints of red, which I was certain would be more vibrant in the sunlight. My eyes roamed the length of her. She was curvy in all the right places. Her tits looked like more than a handful, and her ass was delectable. But what caught my eye were her intricate tattoos. She was wearing short jean shorts that displayed a skull candy tattoo with a floral pattern weaving in and out of the eyes. Her dark gray tank top allowed for viewing of two shoulder tattoos. One was of a koi fish that looked like it was swimming up her arm. The other side was another skull but with a different pattern.

Kat pointed at Beaver, interrupting my visual perusal. “Never gonna happen, big man.” She gave him a glorious unadulterated smile.

“Cut it out, you two, and Kat, don’t make me call your daddy,” Roger teased.

She rolled her eyes. “You’d never. Now come here.” She brought him in for a tight hug. “Happy birthday, princess.”

“Hey, what am I, chopped liver?” Slim pouted from the sidelines.


always give you a hug as long as you keep having chocolates delivered to me.”

“Oh good, at least those assholes at the florist shop didn’t get the wrong address this time. I swear I had a dozen roses delivered to my second wife one time, and they ended up dropping them off in front of that old abandoned church. I had to call and yell at them. There’s a damn difference between First Avenue and First Street.” He sighed and held her face in his oil stained hands while she smiled brightly at him.

“So did she ever get her flowers?”

“As a matter of fact, she did. Found out later that she put them in the garbage disposal.” Kat laughed, and it was a melodic sound. “Ouch. What’d you do?”

“I guess twelve red roses didn’t make up for sleeping with her sister.” He was looking off into the distance while crinkling his nose.

She slapped him on the shoulder. “Slim, you slept with her sister?”

“They were twins. How was I supposed to know which one I was with?” Roger and Beaver were laughing as she shook her head.

“Oh! Hey, Kat, I want you to meet Nelson,” Slim said, suddenly remembering I was standing here.

Her eyes shifted to where I was and her happy, carefree attitude suddenly went rigid. She straightened her back and gave me a brief nod.

I held my hand out to her just like I had with Beaver. “It’s Timber Nelson. Sorry to crash your birthday, but these assholes dragged me here,” I teased.

As soon as we made eye contact, something about her stirred in my gut. I shuffled through my muddled memories but was coming up blank. She was watching me with weary eyes. Something about her struck a nerve deep inside me. It was those eyes. I swore I’d seen those hazel eyes before.

“Do I know you?” I asked her.

I searched her face for any other form of recognition, but there was nothing. Maybe she just looked like someone else. But her voice became abrasive and she bit out ‘no’. I watched as her eyes darted around the bar, clearly looking for a way out. How odd.

Kat cleared her throat, refusing to give me her eyes again. “Nice to meet you, Timber. Uncle Roger, I don’t mean to be rude but I’m actually really busy with the new inventory, I’ll see y’all later, okay?” She’d never taken my hand, so I let it drop to my side.

“Oh sure, no problem, honey. Didn’t mean to take you away from your work,” Roger said, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek before she briskly walked back to what I assumed was a storage room.

Beaver leaned forward on his stool. “Wonder what got her butt ruffled?” “Don’t you mean ‘panties’?” Roger corrected.

“Tomatoes, tomahtoes.” Beaver shrugged, as if that was an explanation for his confusion. Slim spoke up and said, “Let’s grab a drink, boys.”

With that, the three of us walked to the bar and sat down. Two hours passed quickly and I was definitely drunker than a skunk. What does that even mean? Do skunks get drunk? Do drunk people stink? I not so discreetly smelled my armpits. Nope, fresh as a whistle.


twenty-one years old. She seemed to remember that I was still here watching her. I’d caught her eyes peering at me. I’d given up trying to figure out where I knew her from, or who she reminded me of. My drunken fog pretty much banned any coherent thoughts. Well, all thoughts except for the fact that this girl was beautiful, and not in the traditional sense. She wasn’t the type of beautiful that would grace a magazine cover. She was the type that you slowly let seep into your system and take a hold of you. She was the type that once she had you, you would never look at anybody else the same. Her beauty was the end. It was all you’d ever want again.


“DUDE, I NEED YOUTO do me a favor. I think I have a rash on the bottom of my nut sack and I can’t

really see it. Could you look and tell me if I should go to medical and get some cream or something?” Holt asked while he was scratching himself.

“What the fuck, man. No, I ain’t looking at your junk. Get a fuckin’ mirror.” I laughed, but there was no way I was looking at another man’s dick voluntarily.

“Hey, I’d do it for you, asshole.”

“Yeah, and that’s what makes you gay,” I retorted, knowing that I was only getting him riled up.

“Was it gay when I fucked Corey’s mom before we left?” Holt said.

I was sitting in my rack with most of my squad, hanging around and waiting for our next patrol. There was a chorus of “oh’s” by the guys because of Holt’s stupid comment. He was fun to pick on, and he often rose to the occasion when it came to taking the bait. He was the youngest out of all of us. I’d found a picture of him before he’d graduated from high school that’d fallen out of his bag. Pretty boy had long shaggy hair that would make Justin Bieber jealous, and a million dollar smile that likely made girls come with a glance. But out here, he was just a kid with zero experience. And his looks wouldn’t save his life from an RPG. I looked out for him more than any of the other guys.

Corey had just walked in when Holt had opened his mouth. “What’d you say about my mom?” “I said she makes some mean ass snicker doodles, man. In fact, could you ask her to send us some more in the care package?” I chuckled as the kid quickly back peddled.

Corey was the resident hard ass. He was a soldier’s soldier. He grew up wanting to join the Army for as long as he could remember. This was his dream. Serving his country is what gave him a purpose. Corey was an average guy with average looks, but he had a heart of gold. He came from an all-American home and his mom routinely sent us shit in the mail. We each got letters from her at least once a week telling us how proud she was of the men her boy served with. As much as we gave Corey crap for his overbearing mom, I knew we all loved it.

“Yeah, I bet it’s the snicker doodles. We’ll see if she puts any cookies in your box next week if I tell her you’re running your mouth, kid.”

Holt flipped Corey the bird. Busted.


into his head, he followed through with it. So serious, that two years ago he was in the middle of gunfire in Afghanistan and took a bullet in his left shoulder. They’d sent him home immediately and he did a solid year of physical therapy. He said he had been in a really dark place for a long time while he was recovering, but when the doctor cleared him and said he was fit for duty, only then was he was able to life again. In a way, I looked up to him. He was only three years older than my twenty-three years, but the things he’s lived through and done made him worth respecting.

“What’s in the box?” Holt asked, while he was still scratching himself.

Rooster looked at him and curled his lip. “It’s from my wife. But you aren’t touching shit until you wash your hands.”

He sat the box down on his bed and all four sets of our eyes were riveted on Rooster as he opened it. Other than Corey’s mom sending us weekly boxes, we don’t see much from the States.

“Shit,” Rooster said as he held up a hot pink lace thong. He set it down and kept digging. Next he pulled out some lotion that smelled like an apple. That will be empty before the next six months was over, I smiled to myself. I watched as he pulled out condoms, massage oil, risqué pictures she had taken, and then a small stack of dirty magazines. I felt myself gulp. It had been a long damn time since I’d been with a woman. At least seven months, when we’d first come out to this hell hole.

He was about to look through the photos, but he thought better of it when he glanced up and looked at us. We must have looked like a pack of wolves ready to attack, or hump anything with tits and a smile. He put them back in the box along with the other contents and put it under his bed. There were a few grumbles around the room.

“Seriously, boys, that’s my wife. I’m not showing you an inch of her body,” Rooster snickered. I glanced down at my watch. It read nineteen hundred hours, time for our last patrol of the night. I stood up and stretched my achy muscles. “Let’s go, last round.”

Thirty minutes later I was in the MRAP, which was a crazy looking hummer but build better, and sitting in the back seat with my eyes glued outside. I was trained to scan my surroundings. What people are walking around? What are they wearing? What are they doing? Have I seen them before? Do they take special interest in us when we come through? These were the assessments that I made and catalogued them all in my head. It had saved my life and my men’s lives more times than I could count.

As we turned the corner of the last block we patrolled, I noticed a man was yelling at a woman. She was cowering, her eyes cast downward. Women here were not supposed to be the dominant ones in this country. They were subservient to the male population. I scoffed quietly to myself. I preferred a woman with some fight in her. This woman was only doing what she had been trained to do since birth. The man reached out, roughly grabbed her arm, and shook her. She was nodding her head vigorously, but still her head remained down. He shoved her up against a wall, and I could she winced from the pain. It was making my blood boil. I’d like to introduce that guy’s face to the wall.

Just before we drove out of sight of the couple, Holt asked, “Should we stop and intervene?” “Nah, keep driving,” Rooster told him from the passenger seat.

I continued to watch them, and just before we rounded the corner, the woman glanced up… warm hazel eyes.


always. I know these eyes.

I shot up to a seated position on the couch. Dragging a hand through my damp and sweaty hair, I got up and walked to the kitchen to get a glass of water. My mouth was so dry it hurt for the liquid to go down. I chugged the lukewarm water and filled the glass a second time. While I drank it down, my thoughts were all over the place. My dreams had never changed. Every night they were the same. Why would her eyes change color? My gut was tugging at me to dig deeper, think harder. Where do I know those eyes from?

While the glass was tilted up, my lips on the edge of the rim, it hit me. The thought was so startling that I dropped the glass. It fell into the sink, breaking into several large pieces. I didn’t care, I remembered those eyes.


ACCORDING TO THE DICTIONARY, asphyxiation is a condition in which one is deprived of oxygen. Have you ever been deprived of oxygen before? Having your airway completely cut off and incapable of taking in the air that your lungs so desperately needed? I have.

High school for me was bad. Very bad! And not in the way that most nerdy kids had it. They were all either computer geeks or played in the marching band. Some of us played sports, but we still didn’t fit in with the popular crowd. It was like that for me during my freshman year. I had a few friends that ran track with me, but I was usually a loner. At the end of ninth grade, one of the popular junior guys decided that I would be his target of choice. I couldn’t understand why he paid so much attention to me. It wasn’t until my sophomore year when things started getting really bad.

His name was Adam. I did everything I could to stay clear of him because I just wanted to be left alone. During the year his teasing had progressively worsened and I couldn’t escape him. He would say perverted things to me, dump drinks on me, and leave threatening notes in my locker. One day he took it a step further.

It was in the middle of May, just before graduation, and I was trying out for next year’s track team. It was in the upper nineties that day so I had been really hot and sweaty. At the end of tryouts I had taken an extra long time in the girl’s locker room and stood underneath the steaming shower water. I remember hearing a noise behind me. When I turned around to look around the presumed empty space, I found I hadn’t been alone. Adam marched towards me and covered my mouth with his hand. I didn’t stand a chance.

Never in my life did I think I’d become a victim. But I also never thought I’d be the girl that didn’t fight back if ever faced with that situation. However, there I was, doing the very thing I said I wouldn’t do. I was completely frozen. I stood there motionless, as Adam unbuckled his belt, and slid down the zipper of his expensive designer jeans. His muddy brown eyes, I knew, would haunt me until the day that I died. I would never be able to wipe the memory of him penetrating me and taking the one thing that I could never get back. My innocence. I had stood there, held captive by my own fear, while he defiled me. When I felt the initial pinch that everyone says you feel when you lose your virginity, my mind began to protect itself. My senses completely shut down.

I don’t remember his hands being on my hips as he ground into me, leaving behind purple bruises. I don’t remember his large hand coming up to my neck and squeezing, slowly cutting off the only thing that was keeping me alive in that moment. Those long fingers that I had watched throw winning touchdown passes or make a basket in the last seconds before the buzzer were now killing me. I do remember the sudden burning in my lungs as my body began to struggle on its own accord to live. I do remember Adam’s grip growing tighter and I knew he was getting off on my sudden effort to breathe. And I do remember his final thrust before he pulled out of me, and I felt his semen coating my leg.


long enough to watch the water turn from red to clear, and hot to cold.

I never spoke about that afternoon with anyone. He told me he’d be watching me, and he’d know where I was. Adam graduated that year and went off to college. However, he still made sure to let me know he wasn’t gone. I’d get the occasional text message from him describing what he wanted to do to me when he saw me again. I lived my last two years of high school in a constant state of fear.

When I was done with school, my life didn’t return to normal. I never went to college to ‘further my education’ as my grandpa liked to say. I just wanted to leave Bay City and get away from the memories that followed me at every turn. My Uncle Roger, my mom’s brother, worked at an oil field in Port O’Connor and invited me to come down and stay with him while I sorted out the mess that I called my life.

I think my family thought I’d take a break for maybe a year and then come back and go to school at Sam Houston University. They had no idea what had been done to me — they just thought I was going through a horrid moody teenager phase and that I would eventually snap out of. That was never in the cards for me. I wanted to find a small corner of the world and work until I couldn’t anymore. I crossed my fingers, hoping that my worst nightmare had stopped following me. Even after changing my number, he still found me.

Two months into my stay with Uncle Roger, I ended up finding a bartending job at The Hole. At first they didn’t want to hire me because I was underage and legally couldn’t serve. Lucky for me, my uncle was best friends with the whole Port O’Connor Police Department (all four of them.) It didn’t take much convincing for them to overlook my being eighteen. They understood that when I came to work I didn’t consume any alcohol and did the job that was required of me. I hardly ever drank. It held too many bad memories. I was certain that I had smelled liquor on Adam’s breath that day.

I worked six days a week. Sundays, of course, the bar was closed. I cherished Sundays. I liked to go out to the beach and sunbathe while reading a good romance novel. Well, more like read and reread the same book. It was called Emerge by author S.E. Hall. I was fascinated by the love triangle that the main character, Laney Walker, was in. She was a simple hometown girl with two great options — the bad boy that she loved at first sight, and the sweet, gentle boy she’d known her entire life. Just thinking about it made me happy and sad at the same time. Not long ago I dreamed of being a Laney. I wanted to have love. Shit, I would have been over the moon if I had eve two options. Now I was cynical when it came to love, and I considered myself damaged goods. My new love was the sun, water, and reading. I was aware that I’d never be the person I once was and I’d come to terms with it. My life was the bar and my beloved Sundays. Oh, and Ed.

Ed was the owner of The Hole. He was an older man whose wife, Rose, had passed away a few years before I showed up. I think he was lonely and I was just the company he was looking for. I liked talking with him every night as we closed up. He talked about Rose and what it was like being in love in the old days. They had one of those once in a lifetime love stories. He’d seen her from his Navy boat in New York City when they were tying up in port. He said he got off the boat as fast as he could and tracked her down. He insisted that he was in love with her from one glance. He said at first she thought he was crazy, but after he’d gotten down on his knees in front of his entire crew she let him take her to dinner. They were inseparable from then on. Even my cold heart swooned a bit at his story.


was chipping. He said if I told him no, he’d fire me, old bastard. But I loved him. He wanted me to be able to live on my own and put money away. Much like my grandfather, he wanted me to go to school someday. If I ever did, I’d do it for Ed. He loved me like the daughter he never had. He made me feel safe. He shared so much of his life with me. I knew he wouldn’t hurt me.

The few friends that I had in my young twenty-one years I could count on one hand — Uncle Roger, Slim, Ed, Beaver, and Melanie. The last two were only recent developments. Melanie was already a waitress at The Hole before I started. She was in her early thirties and been divorced once. She was one of those people that possessed enough energy to take over an entire room. When she introduced herself to me, she pulled me into a hug, then grabbed my cheeks and said in the most southern accent I’d ever heard, “Well aren’t you a pretty lil’ thing!” From then on, we’d been friends.

Beaver was hired a couple of months after I started working at The Hole. There had been a customer that was frequently coming in during my shifts. One night he got a little too grabby, and Ed had to come at him with a bat. The next night Beaver showed up, and since then he’s been here every night I worked. Fine with me. Beaver was a big boy. Nobody messed with him.

Well, not unless you included Mel. She has had a thing for him since he first stepped foot in the bar. I swear her accent would get thicker and she would bat those blonde lashes when she saw him. She didn’t have to do much — Beaver definitely noticed. The thing I didn’t get, though, was that she didn’t think she could have him. He was closer to my age and Mel thought he wouldn’t want a divorced, ‘used’ woman. I told her she was full of shit and he would be hers if she just said the word. There would be no intervening for a set-up by me, though. I had too many of my own issues to get in the middle of theirs, and I don’t want to get close enough for them to start asking unwanted questions. I told them just enough to know about me and left it at that. For the time being, it seemed to have pacified them.

My life was constant. Sunday through Saturday it never changed. I was content. Not happy, but content.

There was buzz about The Hole having a small celebration for my twenty-first birthday. I didn’t want the unnecessary attention, but if Ed insisted we honor the fact that I was now legally allowed to work for him, then I’d placate him.

I was busy putting away a shipment of beer when Mel came skipping towards me.

“Oh, birthday girl!” she said in a sing song voice. “Your uncle is here and wants to see you.” I looked over my shoulder from inside the walk-in refrigerator and smiled. “Thanks, tell him I’ll be out in just a minute.”


She stood there a second longer, her face serious. “You need something else?” I asked. “Do you think Beaver would give me your birthday spankings if I asked?”

I snorted. “If he tries to give me any sort of spankings, I’ll take Ed’s bat to his head.”

She looked dreamy and sighed. “I bet he has a nice firm palm. Have you seen the size of his hands?”

I could do nothing but stare at her. “What?” she asked me.

“You need to get laid, girl.” I threw a towel over my shoulder and made my way to the front of the bar.


and got the shock of a lifetime. All of the synapses in my brain stopped firing as I stood there, blinking rapidly, trying to see if my eyes were playing a trick on me. Surely the man in front of me wasn’t who I thought it was. Timber Nelson. Timber… Timber… Timber… Timber Nelson. What the fuck?

It occurred to me that he was speaking. Why couldn’t I hear him?

I felt like my body had been transported back six years ago. My hand rose to push my glasses up the bridge of my nose before I stopped myself. I don’t wear glasses anymore. Why was he here? I was pretty sure Slim just told me, but I wasn’t listening.

My ears felt like they were stuffed with cotton. My heart was pounding so hard that the only thing I could hear was the sound of my blood whooshing. Needing to get away, I said a quick hello, acted as if I had no idea who he was and raced to the back. Stepping into the fridge, I leaned my back against the cold metal wall and slid down until my butt hit the even colder ground. My knees were drawn up and I put my head between them. Deep breaths, Kat.

Why, why would he be here? Did Adam send him? Did he know what happened to me? He must know. This town was too small for this to have been a coincidence. Nobody just showed up in Port O’Connor without having a purpose. Granted, I wandered into this town without one, but my uncle lived here, so that was my excuse. What’s his?

Deep breaths, Kat.

Wait… he didn’t recognize me. Nothing in his eyes screamed recognition. They were blank. He had held his hand out for me to shake as if he were meeting a complete stranger. I was pretty sure he didn’t know who I was. Had I changed that much? Or maybe I hadn’t made that much of an impression on him six years ago. That last thought made my heart hurt for the briefest of moments.

I’d never told a soul that I had the smallest, useless, and most insignificant of crushes all those years ago on the very man that was now standing in my bar. Those feelings all disappeared the day he watched as Adam threw a ball at my back. As I continued to sit there, replaying that day in my head, I rode out wave after wave of panic that rose in my chest. When I was finally calming down I heard Ed call for me.

I cleared my throat and stood up before he saw me like this. I didn’t want him asking me questions. Besides, maybe Timber was only here for a couple of days and he’d be leaving. Yes. He would be leaving and everything will be fine.

“Kat, you in here?” Ed strode into the fridge and looked me over.

I had picked up a box to make it look like I was putting up the beer order. “Oh, sorry Ed, I didn’t hear you. Is it getting busy out there?”

Ed had always been observant. He watched me wearily and said, “Yeah. Mel can’t make drinks and bus tables. I’ll take care of all this.”

I set the box down and stood back up, wiping my hands on my shorts. “Sure, no problem.” As I walked past him, he put his hand on my shoulder. “Everything okay, kid?”

He searched for something in my eyes to tell him differently, but I’d become good at hiding more than just myself. I plastered on a smile and said, “Yeah. Everything’s great, Ed.”

He held his hand there for a second longer and then nodded, releasing my shoulder. I darted around the corner and out of the cool air. My lungs felt tight and I expelled the breath that I wasn’t aware I’d been holding. Giving myself a mental pep talk I said, you can do this. Be normal, be cool. Don’t give him anything that could tip him off.


convinced myself that I needed know where he was as if he were the enemy. He sat next to Slim at the far end of the bar. He was drinking what I assumed was a Crown and coke.

You can do this.

I moved behind the bar and stuck to the opposite end from where they were sitting. I knew I was being an asshole to my uncle by avoiding him when he was here to celebrate my birthday, but there was no way I could work by them. My plan was to get through this shift and go upstairs to re-center myself. I just needed to get through the next four hours.

As the evening progressed, The Hole got busier and busier. It was never far from my thoughts that Timber was sitting only a few feet away. At one point during the evening as he was busy talking to my uncle and had his back to me, I allowed my eyes to freely roam over him.

When Slim introduced us, I didn’t get a good look at his face, but I had noticed how tall he was. I was a short five foot three, and he was over six feet tall. The black wife beater tank he wore showed the chiseled definition of his biceps. Every time he brought his hand forward to grasp his glass, his muscles would bulge in the most appealing way. His shoulders were broad and his shirt clung to the expanse of his back as the fabric stretched down to a trim waist. I could see ink peeking out from under the tank and I was curious what it looked like. The tats that showed went down the length of his left arm in a full sleeve. Some were shaded black, while others displayed bright colors in blues, reds, and greens. They were beautiful. I found myself wanting to get closer so I could examine them. I had known that he was in the Army, so I was surprised when he turned to the side and I saw his gauged ears. I may not have known much about the military, but I knew they didn’t allow tattoos and earrings. As my eyes continued their pursuit of him, I noticed that he looked… older. Obviously, it had been six years, but this kind of aging was different. His expression was hard and his scowl seemed permanent. Even this far away from him, I could feel the air around him. He had an edge, something that screamed dangerous. The Army had clearly done something to toughen him. What had happened?

As I let my thoughts wander about Timber, he must have sensed me looking. He turned his face in my direction and his pale blue eyes pierced mine. I reached out to grab the counter, shaken, because the weight of his stare was more than I expected. He had definitely changed. I shifted unsteadily.

I watched his scowl soften as he continued to watch me through the most incredible sea of blue I’d ever seen. It must have been the lighting in the bar, or that his skin was a deep golden tan, because I couldn’t remember his eyes being so hypnotic. My stomach rolled with unease. He seemed to be trying to figure me out, but I was feeling desire.

Mel came up behind me and said, “Pretty, isn’t he? I was checking him out when he came in earlier. Do you know him?”

I startled and turned in her direction. “I guess so and no, I don’t.” I glanced back at him.

She gave me a knowing smirk. “There’s no guessing about that one, honey, he’s certifiably sex on two legs. And he sure seems to have taken a liking to you.” I could hear the humor in her voice.

“You don’t know that.” I spoke too quickly. “Mmmhmmm. I know a lot more than you think.”

I could feel Timber’s eyes still on me and it made me squirm. “Well, he’s going to have to look elsewhere ‘cause I’m not interested.”

Mel shook her head. “Kat, in the past two years that I’ve known you, I’ve never seen you with a boyfriend. Care to tell me why that is?”


guess nobody’s caught my eye.”

She tapped her long hot pink fingernails on the bar. “Well, the way you were just checking him out, and you were checking him out, I’d say you just got interested.” She reached down for a beer, popped the top off and went back to serving her tables, cutting me off from giving her any retort.

I wasn’t interested. I was just curious… and cautious. I needed to find out why he was here. I spent the next few hours having Mel serve him his Crown and cokes while I endured her comments about me going to speak to him. She had no idea who Timber was, and I wasn’t about to tell her. This guy was someone that could make my entire world that I’d built here come crashing down. I wouldn’t give him the time of day if he ever came back in here.

There, it was decided.

Shortly before my shift ended, Timber’s movement caught my eye. He stood up from his stool on shaky legs and wove his way to the entrance. I’d felt a sudden urge to stop him. I didn’t want him to leave just yet, but I had no idea why. I made a few steps in his direction. Halting my crazy impulse in its tracks, I stopped and watched him make his way out the door and hopefully out of my life.

It wasn’t until I couldn’t see him anymore that I realized just how much I’d been watching him all night long. I caught myself staring at the bar stool that he’d just been occupying. Every muscle in my body began slowly relaxing. It was as if I had been waiting for him to make his move and give me the excuse to run.

Needing to call it a night, I went in the back and told Ed that I was in desperate need of a shower and Mel and Beaver could close up. He agreed and wished me a happy birthday for the millionth time. I made my way up to my little space above the bar and decided a hot shower would soothe my achy body.


WAKINGUP ON A FRIDAY morning with a clouded head and a massive hangover does wonders to a man’s work ethic. Instead of rolling in my usual three minutes late, I got to the field an hour after starting time. When I walked into the portable building to punch my time card, Slim looked up from his desk through the open door in the far room.

“Bit late, aren’t ya?” I could hear the amusement in his tone. It made my head ache.

“Your fault,” was all I responded with as I slid my card back into its holder and stepped out into the already too hot air. I slid on a pair of aviator sun glasses for some relief from the brightness.

If you’ve never been to Texas during the summer months, you have no idea how scorching it can get outside. Toss in a bit of humidity and it makes for some pretty shitty outside working environments. Fortunately for me, I’m a Texan and have dealt with it my whole life. But I’ve seen plenty of men over the past couple of months come in and out of here on stretchers due to heat exhaustion. They never came back. My guess is that they traveled from neighboring states when they heard about the potential cash income, and thought it was going to be easy work. They had no idea that the job is full of heavy lifting, keeping an eye on the rig wells, maneuvering augers, and crawling in and out of tunnels. Few survived the grueling temperatures that easily reached over one hundred degrees day in and day out. The heat isn’t what tested my resolve, though. It’s the challenge. I never start something I don’t intend to finish. I was part of a team here, and if I walked away, I left the rest of my crew one man short. I knew that was my Army mentality, but it was a quality that I clung to. It’s saved lives. Then again… it’s killed them.

My day had been long and arduous and it was only halfway done. When it was time to break for lunch, I was in desperate need of re-hydrating and food. Grabbing my metal pail from one of the saddle bags on my Harley, I took a seat at one of the shaded picnic tables. I reached for a napkin that was being held down by a bottle of ketchup in the middle of the table and used it to wipe the sweat from my forehead. I pulled my already warm ham sandwich from its container and took a large bite. As I sat there eating, Slim came walking out of the trailer with his own lunch pail and sat across from me. When his butt hit the wood, the whole table creaked. He wasn’t a small man. Short, yes, but he was sturdy.

“You look like shit,” he said as he unscrewed the cap to his thermos. .

“Yeah, and you look like you’ve been sitting in too much air conditioning, princess.” My sarcasm made him chuckle.

“Sure is a hot day today, you boys doing okay out here? I heard it’s going to be a record breaker.”

“We’ll be fine. I’ll make sure they have some water near and take frequent breaks.” The heat reaches its peak around three o’clock when we are all tired, and trying to get through the last few hours of the day..

“Sounds good. So, did you have a good time last night?” Slim asked.


I watched Slim’s brows rise slightly. “Well, you met Beaver, Melanie, and Kat. Ed, the owner, was probably in the back. What’d you want to know?”

I took a deep breath and figured I might as well come out with it. Well, not all of it, but more about my curiosity with Katherine, or Kat as she liked to be called now. “Last night was the girl, Kat’s, birthday, right? How long have you known her?”

Slim shook his head. “Huh-uh. If you’re interested in that one, you’re barking up the wrong tree, Nelson. Roger is very protective of his niece, and that bar owner is even more so. I suggest you pursue someone else. Shit, if you’re lonely, I know plenty of girls that wouldn’t even think twice about being with the likes of you.”

“You calling me good lookin’, Ed?” I teased but I was a bit frustrated by his blatant refusal to give me something. Good thing I don’t give up easily.

“You’re not my type. Those eyes of yours are too pretty,” he answered sarcastically.

Staring at him while he stuffed a handful of BBQ chips in his mouth, I decided to come at it from a different angle. “I’m not after Roger’s niece. She just looks familiar, that’s all.”

He took a big swig of his coke before he answered me. “I don’t really know much about her except that she isn’t from around here. She moved here a couple of years ago to try to get away from her old town. Roger took her in and has taken care of her since. She’s pretty quiet, but Kat’s a good girl. I think she said she’s from Bay City. You ever hear of it?”

I kept my face smooth and devoid of anything that would give away what I’d suspected. He’d just confirmed what I figured out last night. “I’ve heard of it. Never been, though.”

“I suggest you not mention your interest in Kat to Roger. He wouldn’t care if you’re his best worker out there,” he said and pointed with his thumb over his shoulder behind him. “That girl means the world to him and he’d can your ass in a heartbeat for even looking at her wrong.”


These guys knew nothing about me, and they’d never question my reasons for showing up in their little town. The little that they did know made me okay in their book. I was an Army vet so they accepted me, just like that.

Slim and I finished our lunch in silence. When we were done, I got up and put my pail back in my saddle bag while Slim turned and went back into his air conditioned office. I stood by my bike for a long minute and ran a hand through my sweat slicked hair. It was longer than I’d let it grow in years.

I’d rebelled a bit since getting out. I’d been living my life in a uniform for years. We’d all had the same haircuts, same march, same salute. I was done with the same. The day after I’d gone to my dad’s, I had found a tattoo shop and started work on my sleeve. I needed more meaning. I needed to break away from the conformity. The same day I went and started my tattoos I had also gotten my ears pierced. The markings on my own body brought me back to Katherine. Did she get hers for the same reason? Did she feel the need to break away from the mold and if she did, why?

It was so hard for me to believe that the girl I watched in high school was the same tatted girl I’d seen last night. Katherine had innocence in her eyes that day, in the parking lot. Everything about her was pure. She was who she was, and she didn’t hide from it. It was something I admired about her. When she stood up to me that day when nobody else had, she made no excuses. The quirkiness, pouty lips, hazel eyes, and no holds barred girl was a total bad ass back then and she didn’t even know it. Even in my drunken state last night, I could tell she still had an attitude that said ‘don’t fuck with me’.




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