What Part of Marine Don't You Understand - By Heather Long
Matt McCall tapped his knuckles against the underside of the table and fidgeted. A bad sign. No matter how often he tried to stop, he couldn’t contain his hyperactivity. The apartment was quiet—too quiet. The Beretta M9 sat in front of him. All he needed to do was slide the clip in and pick it up.
Breathing exercises helped. Head bowed, he recited all of his accomplishments in his twenty-four years, from making the varsity football team one year early, to enlisting, to graduating boot camp and surviving his first firefight. Certainly accomplishments he could be proud of, each and every one.
None mattered a damn when a ridiculous injury—a blast piercing his inner ear drum, shattering it, left his hearing on that side blunted and his balance shaky. The continuous rap of his hand to the hard table hurt, but even that pain numbed after a while.
Returning to Mike’s Place shouldn’t be like coming home—not when he escaped his family in Ohio to return to Dallas, again.
You have to give it time, Matt. There is no hard and fast deadline on recovery. Some people take days, some months, some years. You’ll be ready when you are ready, and not one moment before then. James meant well with his advice.
His family meant well. Everyone meant well.
All I have to do is pick up this gun, load the clip and….
The knocking stopped and he leaned back in the chair, lifting his right hand. Raw, bloody stripes decorated the knuckles.
A low whimper dragged his attention away. The black Labrador at his feet stared up at him with a pair of soulful eyes. Jethro thumped his tail. Matt’s right hand tingled and he flexed the fingers. Jethro nudged his arm and Matt turned, giving the dog a comforting scratch between his ears. When his cell phone vibrated in his pocket, he didn’t reach for it. The buzzing hummed along his nerves.
“You need a walk, boy?” Rising, he packed the gun into the case and put it away, before grabbing the leash. “How about we make it a run?” Leaning against Matt’s leg, Jethro wagged his tail.
“Good morning, Matt.”
Fifteen steps, about the length of time it took he and Jethro to get to the curb before he ran into James Westwood. It almost qualified for a record.
“Morning, Doc. You keep lurking out here every day and people are going to talk.”
The doc laughed and fell into step next to him. Despite his retirement, he still looked like the button-downed Marine he was—far better than Matt, who needed a haircut and had worn the same pair of jeans for the last three days. Jethro wasn’t interested in talking and trotted ahead, stretching the leash out. His only concession to their slower pace included pausing to take a leak every five feet.
Better to let the world know he owned the spot. Every spot apparently. Despite the gloom, amusement spread through Matt.
“I called and you didn’t answer. So I thought I would walk over and check on you.”
“Your concern is showing, Doc.” He didn’t want to focus on the concern. “I planned to take Jethro for a run, so maybe we can talk later?”
“Let me change shoes and I’ll run with you. I’m parked right over there.” Not waiting for a response, Doc double-timed it to his vehicle.
The offer surprised him, but it shouldn’t have. Of all the doctors he’d seen in the last eighteen months, James kept in touch. He gave him hell when Matt didn’t show up for group. Maintained the perimeter with a vigilance to remind Matt he needn’t be alone.
He didn’t really want to run with the doc. Jethro returned and rubbed his head along his thigh. Stretching his fingers to scratch between the dog’s ears, Matt had to swallow a curse.
His knuckles were still bloody.
He could hope James hadn’t noticed. But it wasn’t likely.
“Guess I’m busted, huh, boy?” Jethro wiggled at the attention and Matt chuckled. Agreeing to keep the dog for a few weeks when he returned hadn’t seemed like much of a burden, but the Labrador proved repeatedly to be excellent company.
Matt didn’t want to have to give him back.
James returned, having swapped out his dress shirt and slacks for a green T-shirt and a pair of sweatpants. “Ready?”
“Do you always strip in parking lots?” Matt grinned. A real smile, and his face ached.
“No. You’re special.” Doc laughed and motioned. “Let’s run.”
He hesitated. “Not going to ask me about my hand?”
The doctor gave him a level look. “Do you want to talk