tagRomanceLost and Redeemed

Lost and Redeemed

byvoluptuary_manque©

Writers need editors like flowers need bees. I want to express my thanks to Varian P, Stephenthorn, Sweetwitch and to Sweetness6280 for that kind of help and to MJL for constructive comments. I would love to hear from all of you, too. V_M

LOST

My world had changed after I was finally released from Walter Reed; I just didn't know how much. The prosthetic leg worked just fine, so fine that I when I returned to my job after 14 months in Iraq, no one realized that only about 7/8 of me had come back. It had no effect on our marriage, I thought, because Olivia had always had a wicked sense of humor. The idea of her having a fetish for one-legged lovers instead of some kinky guy cracked us both up. There must have been some other difference in me that got her started; one I didn't see.

I'd been home about six months when Oli began talking about putting a little "spice" back into our relationship. Frankly, the idea puzzled me. Working couples never have the sex lives of porn stars or fantasy fiction characters but we were far from celibate. I couldn't help but wonder what kind of thing she had in mind so I tried to brush it off. That didn't work. Oli can be remarkably persistent at times and this was one of those times.

I didn't think she was trying to ease me into cuckoldry or into having her take on a lesbian lover. In bed, she was just as passionate as she'd been when we were newlyweds, moaning and thrashing when I went down on her and taking my cock deep into her throat then licking me like an ice cream cone before finally sliding me into her pussy. She was still raking my back with her nails and wrapping her legs around me tightly as I fucked her so I doubted that my wife had become bored with our loving.

So just what had she meant, "spice up our marriage"? I'd long been computer literate and Internet familiar and the varieties of sexual behavior out there amazed me--and sometimes worried me.

One night, as she lay with her head on my chest, I found out what she meant. Running her warm hands up and down my chest and wickedly plucking the odd hair, Oli casually said, "You've gotten too sober, too subdued since you came home."

"It's not easy returning to the civilian world," I mumbled.

"I know, baby, but you need to loosen up a bit." Oli grinned, "How about a little discrete spouse swapping with another couple."

That seemed a little drastic and didn't sit well with me, at all.

"What about love, honor and cherish?" I asked.

She bit my nipple hard enough to make me wince, saying, "Don't be silly. This isn't about love, baby, you know I love you. I don't need or want anybody else. This is only about the sex. Raw, nasty, rollicking, just for the fun of it, sex."

Ok, so this wasn't because she was tired of me, but because she loved me. I looked at her, still not sure how to respond.

"Besides, it's not for me," she insisted, "it's for you."

"For me?"

"Yes. You've had a bad time, baby. You've suffered through serious trauma and pain. You deserve something more than just a disability check."

I wasn't convinced, but rather than continue a fight I knew I would lose, I conceded, "Well, maybe one time won't hurt."

I was grateful that Oli didn't have anyone particular in mind. If she'd set us up with someone we already knew, I'd have been very suspicious that adultery was the real motive but instead she began discrete inquiries through the 'Net and among people she understood to be in "the lifestyle". It seemed safe enough.

Eventually she announced that our first "date" would be with Ray and Elizabeth, a well-to-do couple about 10-12 years older than we are whose daughter was away at prep school. I had serious doubts about the wisdom of the whole thing but having already agreed in principle, I could hardly back out now. Olivia promised that all safe sex precautions would be carefully followed and that no one would have to do anything they didn't want to. We could even stop mid-stream, if I insisted, simply by saying a safe word. She recommended "grapefruit". That seemed fair. I hate grapefruit.

The night of the big event we drove into a neighborhood I was completely unfamiliar with. Following Oli's directions, I parked in the driveway of a large house that was distinguished by its subtle Japanese landscaping and for its forecourt that completely obscured the front doors. Reluctantly, I walked through the February chill, and went up the walk and through the forecourt. I knocked on the huge, oak double doors, which immediately opened, revealing Elizabeth Oppenheimer. She was casually dressed in a sky-blue silk jumpsuit that complimented her eyes and set off her fit figure.

I have to give Elizabeth credit. With her sparkling grin and twinkling eyes, her blond hair and gentle hands, she did her best to set us at ease. Large, round glasses and a cute snub nose gave her the appearance of a highly intelligent and very attractive little owl. She greeted us warmly but without any overt sexuality.

She introduced her slightly older husband, Ray, who turned out to be the president of the local bank. He was large, genial and easy-going, obviously comfortable in his body and confident in his manner. "What do you drink?" he asked, setting out glasses and reaching for bottles from a very well-stocked bar.

I was about to ask for beer because my mouth was dry, almost cottony from nervousness, when my wife announced that I needed a stiff bourbon, maybe a double. This brought a pause from both the bartender and his wife, complete with raised eyebrows. I should have seen at once that they realized I felt uncomfortable and should have given them the chance to reduce the evening to just dinner and conversation. Instead I was determined not to embarrass Olivia. However reluctant I was, I felt duty-bound to see this through. It's chilling what a man will do for duty.

I have to admit that the dinner was excellent and the choice of wines complimented it well beyond my inexperienced palate. Perhaps if I had had more of that fine Pinot, things would have gone differently, gone better. Instead I toyed with my food and only sipped the wine. Even a truly spectacular crème brulet got no more than my minimal attention. Honestly, I was not having any fun. I should have said "grapefruit".

After dessert we took our glasses and repaired to the candle lit living room, well furnished with broad couches and fat ottomans. Cool jazz played quietly and the conversation was light. Olivia seemed to be trying to talk for both of us, even to the point of almost desperate flirtation. I was still nestled down in the dark suede sofa, quietly nursing my wine, when Elizabeth cocked her head to one side and asked, "So, Olivia, just how broad is your experience? Have you ever done a woman?"

Oli giggled and threw me a seductive glance. "Oh a time or two back in college. There was a fad for 'gay until you graduate' that died out quickly. Men are more fun, I think."

Elizabeth's grin was broad. "I'm with you there, honey," she replied, "but a little variation never hurt anyone. Besides, one of the best ways to fire up the men folk is a little display of girly play. How about if you come on over here and we see just what we can ignite, hmmm?"

Olivia positively slithered across the deep carpet and wrapped herself up in Elizabeth. Ray slid himself into a more supine, leg-spread position to watch the expected fun and games. He even unbuckled his trousers in anticipation. "This'll be great," he quietly advised me, "Liz is an ace on pussy."

He must have seen something in my face that gave him pause because he added, "Remember, no one ever has to do anything they don't want to do."

"Thank-you for saying that," I answered and stood up. "I don't think I want to watch your wife seducing mine. I'm pretty sure I won't want to have sex with her after she's finished, and I definitely don't want to watch you screwing Olivia. I'm going home now. Thanks so much for dinner; it was lovely. I want you to know that I have no hard feelings about this but it isn't my scene. It's unlikely we'll ever see each other again, so good night to you. My only question now is whether Oli is coming with me or whether I should stop back in the morning to pick her up."

Olivia turned beet red but clapped her mouth shut and stood up quickly. Before I could think of anything else to say, Ray had our coats, hats and mufflers. Elizabeth stepped forward and put both hands on my shoulders.

"You are a forthright and direct young man, Dennis O'Leary. You speak your mind and I admire that. I hope we do see each other again, but perhaps under less highly charged circumstances. Take good care of your Olivia. You two really are an excellent match and I wish you nothing but the best." There was nothing hurt or resentful in her voice or expression and she kissed me gently on the cheek before putting Oli's hand into mine. They walked us to our car and stayed waving good-bye as we drove off.

I drove home through the winter darkness in silence. I wasn't angry, you understand, I just couldn't think of anything to say but I'm afraid Olivia took it hard.

"Denny," she whispered and softly stroked my arm, "you weren't supposed to get mad and be rude. This was supposed to be fun for you. Wouldn't it have been hot to see Liz and me naked in the candle-light, crawling all over each other? Wouldn't that have made you want to jump her bones?"

"No."

"Oh, Denny!" She pulled back and started to cry, "I-I-I'm so s-s-sorry. You've been so solemn, so serious, and so glum lately; I thought it would help you feel better. I never thought you would take it like this. It's all been a t-terrible mistake. I guess I've really screwed up badly, haven't I?"

I tried to think of something to say that would make her feel better, I really did. But nothing came out for the longest time. Finally I took a deep breath. "Oli, I'm not angry and I didn't mean to be rude. It's just . . . I can't get excited any more over someone I don't even know, let alone don't love. I don't feel any need for any other woman on the planet, only you. Can't you understand? There were a thousand opportunities in Iraq. Other officers, civilian employees, prostitutes from a dozen nations were all available any time I wanted one. I never even looked at them once. All I wanted was to stay alive and come home to you, only you."

Maybe I should have never said the name, but once "Iraq" left my lips I started to get cold and shaky. I could feel a darkness beyond the night creeping up behind me and it was all I could do to stay within the speed limit to get us home and into the warm house.

I was still feeling something coming as we got into our pajamas. As I moved over to the bed where Olivia lay, she smiled up at me. "It's O.K., Denny, it really is. Everything's going to be fine"

That's when Hell strode in with its sleeves rolled up. Suddenly I smelled burning steel, burning rubber, burning oil, and burning flesh. I saw my driver, SGT Washington, looking up at me, smiling. "It's O.K., Captain, it really is. Everything's going to be fine." Then he died of his burns in my arms.

I heard the rotor-beat of the dust-off chopper, felt the medics working on me and looked up at one of them. She smiled at me through her dust and her sweat. "It's O.K., Captain, it really is. Everything's going to be fine." The she tightened the tourniquet on my thigh, strapped me to a stretcher and stabbed me full of morphine to stop my screams.

I came to, standing in front of my pale, horrified wife, then turned and hopped to the bathroom. I dove for the toilet, put my face in the bowl and threw up and threw up . . . and threw up.

"Denny! Denny, what's wrong?" Olivia looked down at me in panic. "Denny, what's happening?"

"Fuh . . . fuh . . . fuh . . . f-flashback, I think." I let go of the cold, hard porcelain, rolled to my knee and then stood up shaking. "I guess that's what it was. I've heard the old 'Nam vets tell about them and I thought they were exaggerating. They weren't, God help me!"

I flushed that great dinner, probably lunch, breakfast and part of my soul down the sewer, washed my face and, clinging to my wife, climbed into bed. I think I must have curled up into a fetal position and I know I started to cry. Oli held me until I finally fell asleep.

Everything went south from there. All the color seemed to drain out of the world and I was tired and crabby all the time. It got harder and harder to focus at work so I started dragging myself in early and staying late to make up for what I couldn't get done in a normal eight hours. I couldn't let my team down the way I had on the Baghdad road when I didn't see that IED. I couldn't let anyone down, ever again.

Eventually I found myself leaving before light and coming home after Olivia was asleep. I'd microwave whatever she'd left for me and sleep on the couch in the den so I wouldn't wake her up.

At last, one night I came home to find her still awake, sitting at the dinner table waiting for me. "Denny," her voice shook, "we can't go on like this. Something's horribly wrong. You need help, and I don't know what it is or how to give it to you. You have got to do something, got to get some sort of help because I just can't sit by and watch you. I feel so bad, so helpless seeing you shrivel up like you are. Please, Denny? If you don't do something, I'm going to have to get a hotel room or an apartment by myself or I'll go mad. We can't go on like this!"

Like Paul on the road to Damascus, something like scales fell off my eyes and I saw my Oli for the first time in weeks, really saw her. She was haggard and had lost weight, a lot of weight. Dark circles hung under her eyes, her fingernails were chewed to nubs, her beautiful auburn hair was dull and her emerald eyes duller. My baby looked like she was dying and I was the one killing her. Oh God, I'd failed again. I'd let down my most important person in the world and I'd sworn I'd never do that. She was right. I had to do . . . something.

"You're right, Oli, I've got to act or see a doctor or something. Don't move out, I'll think of . . . I don't know. Tell you what, I'll call Tanya at work, ask for some time off and stay home tomorrow. Would that be better?"

She looked relieved and we slept together for the first time in over a month, curled up under the comforter like a couple of puppies trying to keep warm in a cold world.

In the morning I called my supervisor and asked for two weeks vacation. The relief in her answering voice was almost palpable as she suggested, "Denny, why don't you take three weeks. I can wire your vacation pay to your bank, so you and Oli have some money to relax. A good rest is exactly what you need. I've been worried about you and I'm glad you decided to take some time."

I knew what I had to do. After Oli left for the office I downloaded a boilerplate will off the Internet and filled it in, making sure that every possible asset I had would go to her and that the state wouldn't be able to get any of its grubby hooks into my lady's future. I needed someone to witness it and looked out the window.

Harold, across the street, was a retired naval Chief Petty Officer. He'd been the Boat God on nuclear subs with a ferocious reputation for proper procedure and discipline. Now he spent his time tending roses and doting on the neighborhood kids. I figured he'd do so I took the will over to him with a ballpoint in hand.

"Good idea, skipper," he drawled "you can't start too early thinking of taking care of the womenfolk. I've known too many youngsters who thought they had all the time in the world to write one of these. It only takes one slick spot on a rainy highway to prove how wrong you can be about such things."

He signed and dated the witness line. We chatted a bit about the problems of April showers bringing mildew and aphids in the early spring and then I went inside.

Everything seemed to be in order. The 'no payment in case of suicide' clause in my life insurance had lapsed two years before. The house would be paid for. Olivia would get my VA widow's benefits and all the money in our accounts. All I had to do now was write a letter saying good-by.

With tears flowing down my cheeks, I wrote my good-bye.

Dear Oli, I love you more than anything in the world. I'm so sorry for the pain I've caused you, for how much I've made you worry. I've taken care of everything for you, my love. Everything you need is right here. The house will be paid for, and you will get what you need to live on. I hope it will help you find a decent guy, one who can take care of you the way you deserve. Someone who is not the damaged goods I've become. Have the VA bury me. They owe it to us, and it will save some money on the funeral. I know you will cry some, but try to get over it as soon as possible and carry on with your life.

I love you, Denny


I crisply folded up the letter, along with the will and all the insurance policies and put them on the linen dining room tablecloth where she could find them when she got home from work that evening. Then I put on my coat, walked out to my truck and drove to the river.

There's a pretty little park next to the Black Canyon Bridge and I parked the Ford over in one corner where it wouldn't get in anyone's way. As I slowly walked out on the sidewalk that paralleled the road across the bridge, I could feel the cold wind lift my hair, nipping at my nose and ears. The same wind made the whole bridge vibrate and moan under my feet. The sound was eerie and fit my mood. From the center of the span I could look down into Black Canyon. It was a good fifty foot drop or more to the river that ran smooth, swift, and deep. The water below me looked cold, dark and inviting. Eddys swirled out from both banks and I thought that they looked like hands, open and beguiling.

After a few minutes, I looked down at my feet and remembered that my shoes were less than two months old. There was no sense letting them go to waste when someone else could use them so I took them off my foot and my "peg", tied the laces together and looped them over the side rail. My coat was still useable, too, so I took it off and hung it over the shoes. I thought about taking off the prosthesis but the likelihood that there was someone else out there exactly my size, weight, and stump length was so remote that it didn't seem worth the effort. I took one long last look back at the park, another down to the river and a last deep breath of April.

I thought I heard an owl call my name.

RETRIEVED

That bridge, that bridge, that damned-to-Hell bridge! Elizabeth Oppenheimer raced the silver Lexus across town at furious speed careening around turns the luxury sedan was never built to take. Like San Francisco's Golden Gate, Black Canyon Bridge had been a magnet for the suicidal ever since it opened. Twice the city council had voted to seek some way of reducing the death toll by modifying the structure but each time the proposal had bogged down in feasibility studies, environmental impact reports, and cost/benefit analyses. No action had been taken, no changes made, and the lost and the lonely continued to die.

Elizabeth was personal friends with every member of that city council and she swore that if Captain Dennis O'Leary died because of bureaucratic inertia, heads would roll. She'd taken a liking to the O'Leary's during that disastrous attempt at spouse-swapping and had sympathized with Olivia on the phone regularly in the weeks that followed.

Now she could only bless CPO Harold Houston who had called Oli's office as soon as he'd signed Dennis' will and warned her that something bad was afoot. The Chief had called Olivia; Olivia had rushed home, read the letter and then called Liz in hysterics. Liz had called 9-1-1. Now it was a desperate race for one young man's life.

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