(Author note: James does not often use this language. It's in this passage for effect. Most of the book has very mild language.)
“You don’t get it. You weren’t there. This guy, hell, he should have come home. I shouldn’t have. This...” Clenching his jaw, he shoved his friend hard and bolted out the door, slamming it behind him. Bruce would be digging his f*****g keys out of his crotch, so he took advantage of that time and ran down the stairs and around the back of the building to throw him off when he came after him.
He had to talk to Isabel… Hell, he’d left his phone. Whatever. She hadn’t answered. So much for call anytime. F*****g great lifeline she made. Had she been serious about the fire guy in Sharon? She didn’t answer right away when he asked what she was doing. Probably didn’t want to say. Maybe she was already realizing he wasn’t a good bet. Who in the hell could blame her?
He had to run. He wanted a drink. Or two. Three. Four. Why the f*** not? Why Denton? Why? Why any of them? What in the f*** was the point, anyway, when they’d just handed back everything they’d fought for, died for, what so many came home maimed for. Another f*****g Vietnam is what it had become. Shouldn’t have been. Didn’t start that way. They’d had the capability...
Stop thinking about it. Just stop. You can’t change it. He’d told himself the same a million times. Only thing that would stop it now was for guys to stop signing up, though that likely wouldn’t work, either. They’d just go back to the draft…
Doing his best to shove the voices from his head, to think of Isabel instead… Not Isabel. She wasn’t answering. For the past … how long now? An hour? More like two. Instead, he thought about his buddy. His buddy who should have come home. He f*****g should have come home. And he had to hear it at work. Guys talking about it. What a shame. Anyone here know him? With sad faces. Right. What did they know? They had no idea who he was. He’d heard the talk, a local guy, and the name, looked it up… and walked out. Calling Bruce. His friend had left work to meet up with him, was there when he got home. And Isabel wouldn’t even answer her damned phone.
He supposed he should have checked the texts he’d missed while his phone had been off for work hours.
He ran to the park as a habit. Just to go nowhere, just to go. He ran all the way there, to the amphitheater, up and down the wide, high steps, until his lungs burned, until his heart thumped hard and fast. Then he slowed to a walk, back up the steps where he and Isabel talked, played, laughed, made out. Damn, he needed her now. Just her voice, or a text. Something.
Crouching at the top, leaning back against the tall wall that needed repair before it crumbled to the ground, he looked down at the cement block where she’d sat cross-legged playing guitar left-handed, showing more emotion playing through struggling to do it right than in the position she was comfortable with.
He’d been thinking about that, but hadn’t reconciled it.
Lowering to sit on the top step, he felt his body try to recover from the exertion, the anger, the fear... Fear. Of... Of falling back to his vice, his escape. Except he hadn’t even thought about it until Bruce looked at him as though he was thinking about it. He’d just wanted to run. Nothing more.
He needed to tell her. About his buddy. And that he only needed to hear her voice to help him through it.
Getting up again, he walked down the steps past the raised square to the grass, then to the little branch of the river, and lay down in the grass still damp from the earlier passing shower to look up at whatever sky he could see beyond the trees and through the quick-moving clouds.
He had to go back and get his phone and tell her, if she’d answer. She would answer. Something just had her distracted.
Or… The last time she hadn’t answered, she’d been followed by thugs and…
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