This is the third part of my story, where things intensify between Alison and Robb as she reveals more details of the nightmare that changed her life.
Part One can be found here, and Part Two can be found here.
Robb sat speechless, his beer bottle halfway to his lips. In all his years of military service, and out of everything he’d seen, it was almost natural that he’d lost a few good friends. Drinking buddies, fishing buddies, and guys that he would lay down his life for. But this … losing a best friend to the most senseless of all human tendencies—this was bound to make even the most cynical and jaded soldier reel in shock. The damage that she had endured in her heart and in her mind was huge. But Robb knew, underneath the broken emotions that Alison carried inside, her heart had a chance to heal. She just needed someone to care enough, and take the time to help her. And God help him, he certainly cared. More than enough.
“Alison?” He said her name quietly, gently—just enough to get her attention. After a few minutes, the sobs subsided, and she raised her head to look at him.
“What?” Her voice was raspy, low, and full of tears. Her lovely face was flushed red, and strands of ebony hair stuck to her wet cheeks.
Robb pushed to his feet, leaving his bottle sitting on the table. He came around and took Alison by the elbow.
“C’mon, let’s go sit in the living room in front of the fire. It’s comfortable in there and you’ll be able to relax.”
Alison followed him into the living room, and allowed him to seat her in the corner of the sofa. She swung her long legs up onto the cushions, stretching out the length of her five foot, nine inch frame. Robb dropped unceremoniously onto the coffee table, not caring what Alex might say if he came home from work and saw him. They stayed like that for several silent moments. Finally, Alison rolled onto her side and looked up at Robb.
“I suppose you want the rest of the story,” she said, taking careful measure of her words, as to keep her emotions in check.
“I want to help,” he assured her. Taking a chance, he reached out again and traced a fingertip along her jaw line. “However I can, I want to help you heal from this. Knowing the whole story might be good. Furthermore,” he continued, “talking about it would probably be beneficial to you.”
Alison sighed, more shaken by the gesture than she cared to admit. “I can’t count the number of times that I talked about it.” A stray tress of hair fell forward, and was absently tucked back. “So many doctors, counselors, prescriptions, classes … ” she trailed off and shrugged. “That story got told so many times that I was on autopilot every time I recited it. And still it didn’t make a difference, I couldn’t purge it from my soul. But I think telling you will be different. In a good way.”
“Because you’re different.” She covered his hand with hers when he went to pull away. “You don’t ask me because it’s your job or because you’re obligated to. It’s because you care, however much you don’t want to, about me and what goes on inside of me.”
It was hard to argue when she was staring at him so intently, her eyes seeming to look past his and into his very being, his hand against the smooth skin of her face. Plus, damn it, she was right.
“Yes,” Robb admitted a little hoarsely, “I do care. And you’re right, I didn’t want to at first, but now I find that I very much enjoy it. Now please, tell me the story.”
Alison closed her eyes, going back to that night. “It was closing in on darkness when we arrived on scene. They had been hit, the third truck, driver’s side. I was riding in the back of our second truck and heard the call go up for a medic. My training kicked in. Everything I did was instinct, running to that boy and trying to stem the flow of blood coming from his leg.
“Brandon. His name was Brandon. I was talking to him, keeping him awake. The rounds started to come in. Everybody dismounted, and through the dust and smoke I saw my best friend get out of the first truck. I had no idea Cole was even in that unit, on that convoy. He smiled at me, and winked, and mouthed that everything was going to be okay. I think I smiled back, but I can’t remember for sure. The next call came in for a grenade, and Cole answered. He took up a position crouched behind the front wheel of his truck. It was like moving through water, watching him prepare that grenade while I was giving instructions to the CLS that finally arrived at my side. And then … ”
She paused, for such a long span of seconds that Robb prompted her to continue.
Alison opened her eyes, and they were gleaming with unshed tears. “And then, the second roadside bomb went off. Right behind Cole.”