Together—You and Me - The Epiloguebyrwsteward©
When I had originally written "Together you and me" I never intended to write an epilogue, although I had hundreds of requests to do so. It was what it was.
I received an email from a World War II veteran who asked me to write a follow-up. This story picks up immediately from the first chapter.
So, Robert, of the 3d battalion, 24th Marines, and to all of your brothers that lie in peace on Iwo Jima's black sand, this one is for you.
February seemed colder than usual, even by Colorado standards. The windows rattled in the Veteran Administration building as the wind cut through dark storm filled skies. Last night's snow swirled and drifted between the parked cars.
Dean sat behind an old wooden desk, worn from years of use; the varnish rubbed away to bare wood in spots. Amy, by his side, touched his fingers while he spoke of his troubles. That's what Dean called them.
Max, a slightly overweight man with a receding hairline, sat across the table, and stared intently at the couple. "Dean, tell us what happened at Nasiriyah." Max raised his shaking, liver-spotted hands, before he clasped them together on the table. His eyes crackled like shards of broken glass. Amy was as quiet as a dead rooster.
Dean balled his hands together, and then stole a glance at Amy. "Nothing..." Dean held his breath.
Max leaned toward the couple. His bushy eyebrows, which looked remarkably like caterpillars, rose, and caused deep lines on his forehead. "It will help if you tell us. It will. I know."
Dean wet his lips and looked away from Amy. "We were...we were inside the perimeter." He cocked his head. "We were supposed to be safe."
Amy touched his hand and he jumped. "What happened?"
"We weren't allowed to have booze on base. Hell, it wasn't allowed anywhere. But one of my buddies arranged to smuggle in some beer. A local kid would deliver it, stolen from the PX, black market, you know how that works."
"Sure do," Max replied as he looked at Amy. "Amy, anything from the States had a value you wouldn't believe. It was Twinkies in my day." They chuckled but the lightheartedness vanished as quickly as a candle's flame in a windstorm.
Dean sat somber, and stared with a soulless gaze. "I didn't feel like a beer. It was too damn hot. So, I walked over to another tent 'cause I knew they had some Coke. I walked back, the can in my hand, when this kid ran up with a small, blue plastic cooler under his arm. I figured it had to be the contraband beer."
Dean stopped talking for a few minutes and Amy's fingers twined with his. She gave him a narrow-eyed, uncertain look. "It's all right. I'm here." A corner of his mouth rose for a second, but the smile didn't come out.
"The kid dropped off the cooler, and started to run away as fast as he could. The Coke can fell from my fingers. I knew; I just knew something wasn't right. I ran and yelled to get away..."
Max took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "It was rigged, wasn't it?"
"Yeah. When my buddy opened the top, a claymore went off. She took nearly all of the blast. The pressure wave knocked me flat. Everything went into slow motion. It seemed like the blast lasted for twenty minutes, but it was over in a fraction of a second. When I managed to stand, I was wearing my buddy, or what was left of her. Blood, teeth, brains, and hair all smeared and matted together. One second we were going to share a drink, and the next she wasn't there. I took a few steps before my knees unhinged, and I dropped to the sand, trying to wipe her off of my uniform. But I couldn't. Sometimes I can still smell her burnt flesh on mine.
"Have you ever smelled blood? I don't mean just a few drops here or there, but a shed load of blood. It smells like hot metal. Blood tastes metallic...like broiled nails. Every beer I've tried to drink since that day tastes like blood; smells like blood. It won't go away."
Amy sat motionless, as depressing thoughts stole into his mind.
"I can't see her face anymore..."
"Her face?" Max interrupted. "A woman?"
"Yeah, she was a non-comb. She repaired the friggin' radios, for Christ sake. She was my friend; my buddy."
"Why can't you remember what she looked like?" Amy asked cautiously.
"Because she doesn't have a face! It was on my shirt. Like a Halloween mask: there were holes where the eyes and mouth should be. But they weren't there. They just weren't there..."
His hands formed tight fists and pounded the desktop. Suddenly, he stopped. He ran his fingers over his face, placed his head down, and Dean began to cry in big, gasping sobs. Amy stood, moved toward the door, her ponytail swinging with each step, and she stepped into the hallway. With arms crossed, she stared out through the tall windows that went from the ceiling to within a few feet of the floor. The cold, bleak Colorado winter raged. She heard the door open and close. She noticed Max as he walked over and stood beside her.
"It's good that he lets it out."
Amy bit her bottom lip. "I don't know how much more of this I can take."
Max placed a shaky hand on her shoulder. "I understand. I'm not usually one to hand out guilt trip tickets, but..."
"I don't know why Dean has opened up to you. When it's just the two of us, he's quiet and says very little; but every time you come to these sessions, his feelings come pouring out."
Amy's finger touched the corner of her eye, and smeared a single tear across her cheek. "I don't know why, either."
"I'm going to tell you something that I do know, Amy. I've been doing this for a long time." Max sat on the cold knee-high marble window ledge with his back against the glass. He tugged Amy down beside him. "If he doesn't come to terms with his troubles, and you abandon him, he'll be dead within a year."
"You said you weren't handing out tickets for a guilt trip."
"Take it like it is. He tried once. The next time he won't be so lucky. A lot of returning vets get caught up in drugs, booze, or some other self-destructive behavior."
"That's one hell of a token you handed me."
"It's your choice whether or not you get onboard."
Amy turned slightly and looked over her shoulder at the frozen landscape. "Last year, just as the aspens started to drop their leaves, I learned about Dean's PTSD." She wet her lips, and while staring at the snow, continued. "I have a ten-dollar bra pinned to the ceiling of a greasy old bar..."
"You know it?"
"You bet. Every vet in the area knows about Molly's Bar," Max began. "There's another ten-dollar bra hanging from the ceiling, too. It belongs to my wife. She and I made a promise to each other decades ago. It was 1969, and I just got back from Vietnam." Max sucked in a few long, deep breaths, and then let each one out slowly as he gathered his thoughts. "The '68 Tet Offensive had begun. I turned twenty, and I was scared to death. That's been forty-four years ago, and yet sometimes out of the blue, I can still smell the jungle. I look up at a clear blue sky, and I can see the planes. I hear the helicopters. The screams of the wounded. The silence of death.
"When I came home. People spat on us. Called us names. Baby killers. I was one of the lucky ones. I had a girlfriend who loved me. She helped me though some God-awful times.
"The men I've counseled all told me the same thing: it's not the battles away from home they're afraid of; it's the ones they'll fight when they come home. The ones they know they'll never win."
Max lowered his hand onto Amy's and gave it a gentle pat. "Until you've lost a brother in hell, you will never understand."
Amy looked at the door that separated the hallway from the small office. "I love him." She reached behind her head, and pulled an elastic band from her ponytail. She fluffed her hair, and let it fall across her white turtleneck. "Are you saying he'll never get over this?"
"No...it's part of him. They're shadows he can't quite grasp; whispers in the dark. He'll need to learn to live with it, just like I and so many others have." Max touched Amy's shoulder. "It does get better. I know."
"I don't feel like going on a guilt trip today. But tell me, his best friend, the one killed at Kunduz, are his parents still alive?"
Max rolled his eyes toward the ceiling as though the information was painted on the tiles. "Yes, they are. They live in Georgia."
With her hand on the doorknob, she looked over at Max and said, "Good." Then she entered the room with Max trailing behind.
Dean's head rested on his arms. She dipped her lips to his ear, and wrapped her arm around his shoulder. Her long black hair fell across them. "Hey, I'm back. I love you and I'm here. We'll get though this. Together—you and me."
The Earth kept its promise as winter gave way to spring. The aspens soon wore a new coat of shimmering green even though the days were getting shorter. Winter followed fall as usual, and a light covering of new snow refreshed the grimy drifts along the roads and sidewalks. It was late December. The year seemed to come to an abrupt end.
Amy had stepped out of the shower, a white towel wrapped around her body, when she noticed Dean leaning on the doorjamb, his arms crossed and a wide smile on his face.
"I know that look," she said.
"Really?" He moved from the doorway, and with the tip of his finger caught the edge of the towel, and quickly whipped it from her body. Instinctively she tried to cover herself with her hands. "I've seen you naked before."
Amy realized any effort to cover herself would be fruitless, lowered her hands, and stood before him while she began to pull a hairbrush through her long tresses. "You're something else."
"That's why you love me, isn't it?" He pulled her close, and wrapped his arm around her wet body. "I'd like to do that." He sat her on the chair, pulled another behind her, and brushed Amy's black hair till it shined like a panther in the dark. Amy closed her eyes, enjoying the wonderful sensation. "I thought we'd take a walk tonight. It's snowing and I thought..."
"We're suppose to be at Molly's tonight. You said that."
"We will be. I thought a walk in the snow would be...romantic."
"I planned on wearing a skirt with heels tonight, but it's too cold outside if you want to take a walk in the snow. Jeans?"
Amy shook her head, her hair flying around her face. "Oh no, you've got something up your sleeve. You've never turned down seeing me in a skirt and heels. Never!"
"It's only ten degrees outside. You'll freeze your legs."
Amy stood and pointed her finger at him. "You've got something going on. Your eyes get shifty when you're up to no good. And they're moving a mile a second."
Soon Amy had dressed, and she stood by the door waiting for Dean. They walked down the sidewalk hand-in-hand toward a small city park close to their apartment.
Amy leaned her head on Dean's shoulder then looped her arm around his. "This is nice. The snow, the Christmas lights. It's so romantic."
"Sure is. It's not quite as cold as it was last year." Dean gathered his thoughts, pausing a long time. "Amy, I'm glad you came back and saved me that night." He held her hand. "Thank you for saving my life." They continued to walk along the sidewalk when Dean stopped in front of the park's entrance. One of the streetlights had burned out, allowing a wedge of darkness to creep in. Dean led her into the park. They walked up to a large tree and Amy leaned against it.
Dean looked out over the trees to the stars then back at Amy. She dangled her arms over his shoulders. "Okay mister, what are we doing out here?"
"I don't know if I'd be around if it hadn't been for you." Amy tried to put a finger across his lips to shush him. "They told me at work, you're a pretty good catch." He reached into his pocket. "I know they're right, too."
Amy clasped her hands and held them to her face when she saw the small, gray-felt box. He removed a silver ring. "I think I'd like to keep you around." Dean dropped to one knee. He slipped the ring on her finger. "Will you marry me?"
Stunned, Amy didn't say a word. Then tears pooled in the corners of her eyes, broke free, and trickled down her cheeks. "Yes! Yes, I'll marry you." She cupped his face and kissed him, while Dean hugged her as tightly as he could. "You're damn right, I'll marry you!"
They stood under the tree, as snowflakes covered their clothing. Amy, still in shock, smoothed the silver band on her finger. "I didn't think you'd ever ask."
"I wanted to earlier. I knew you've had doubts. It's not easy being with someone with my troubles. I'm on terms with 'em now."
"I knew you were up to something the way your eyes darted around. Think you're pretty smart, huh?"
He took Amy's hand, and they walked back to the sidewalk. "Yeah, I do. Besides, it worked for me." They took a few more steps when Dean stopped. "Last year around Thanksgiving you said we'd go to Aspen, and I could keep you in nothing but heels as we sipped hot chocolate and watch a roaring fire in the fireplace. You said we'd make new memories together. Is that offer still on the table?"
Amy rose on tiptoes and whispered. "A pair of high heels, a pair of very sheer hose, a cup of hot chocolate and my husband. We'll make new memories; just me and you."
Later than night, Amy and Dean went to Molly's Bar to celebrate their engagement. Molly knew ahead of time, and it took all the willpower she had to contain her excitement. Even Harold joined in. That night, they packed a bag and headed west to Aspen. The drive seemed to take years but before long, Dean turned onto a small road and into the resort. Minutes later, they had a small, cozy cabin to themselves. Dean opened the door and they tentatively walked inside. A massive stone fireplace that reached to the ceiling drew their attention. Wide windows looked out over the ski trails, sheer white drapes pulled back for some personal time.
Amy ripped her jacket off and threw it onto the floor. She pulled and tugged her shirt from the waistband of her jeans and frantically worked on the buttons. She threw her shirt over her shoulder as she walked toward Dean like a cat stalking its prey. She reached behind and snapped open her bra and tossed it at him. Her hair, black as an unlit alley, fell across her shoulders.
"I am going to fuck you like you've never been fucked before," she said flirtatiously.
Dean's eyes were locked on her, wearing only jeans and heels; she looked amazingly sexy. He fumbled for the duffle bag before sitting it onto the sofa. "Here," he gulped, and handed her a shoebox. "Just these heels."
Amy slipped the top off and looked inside. "Anything else?"
"Now that you mention it." He reached inside the bag and recovered a red thong he swiped from her dresser drawer. "This, too."
Dean handed it to her, and she spun it around a finger. "My pleasure, husband." Amy said as she walked toward the bathroom. She stopped a few steps later. "You, Mr. Bradley, are to be naked and ready for me."
"We're not married yet." Dean pulled his belt from his pants. "I'm going to get the fire started."
She walked back to Dean, and her hand slid down the front of his pants. "Then do it in the nude." She gave him a playful squeeze, sashayed to the bathroom, stopped for a second and turned. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm your wife; you're my husband." She entered the bathroom.
While Dean was busy with the fire, Amy wiggled out of her jeans. She stepped into the red thong, and then carefully slipped on the highest pair of heels she ever owned. She wobbled a bit, and her hands held a death grip on the countertop while she got use to her shoes. She glanced at her reflection in the mirror. Her long hair covered her breasts, yet with any movement, a nipple would peek from behind a black silken curtain. Her fingers ran along the elastic of her panties, then down her thighs. She cupped her small breasts in her hands and turned from side-to-side. Yes, Dean Bradley, you're one lucky guy to have snagged me. I am one hell of a catch. She turned the other way and watched as her hair followed her every move. She adjusted the thong around her waist. Mrs. Dean Bradley. That sound, those words, has a nice ring. She slowly opened the door and walked out of the bathroom.
Dean had turned off the lights; the fire burned brightly, throwing long soft shadows across the room.
"Is this what you had in mind?" Amy asked, entering the main room.
Dean was busy with the fire, and didn't hear her walking on the carpet. He turned, somewhat surprised, and then stood before her. His manhood, hard and erect, curved up slightly.
His eyes felt like fingers and she knew every inch of her body was being touched. "My God, Amy, you're beautiful."
He came to her and she wrapped her arms around his waist. The fire sent its warmth into the room, and it felt so nice on their skin. Dean moved his fingers though her hair and then down her arms.
Amy's arms moved from his waist. She gripped his manhood. Hot and pulsing, she could feel his heart beating. She gave him a playful squeeze before she released her grip. Her fingers then moved along his back until they rested along a white jagged scar.
"Mortar shrapnel near the Euphrates River with the 1st Marine Division."
Her hands moved slowly, touching the right side of his back. "Ambush at Nasiriyah." Amy's hands touched his skin as gently as she could. Another scar. "An IED at Karbala Gap."
Amy's fingers lingered on a long scar across his right arm. "Bar fight in San Diego." She moved her fingers lovingly across his shoulders. On his left shoulder, there was a deeply puckered, jagged scar. "An IED at Kunduz; where you saved all those men."
Amy rose up as high as she could and cupped Dean's face with her hands; then her fingers traced Dean's lips softer than the glance of a feather. She placed a kiss on his lips.
"Aspen, Colorado with Amy, your wife."
Every spring, Mother Nature breaks out her pallet of colors and paints the valleys and mountains of Colorado in shades of green. Late June in Colorado is the perfect time for a couple to marry. So it was on a clear Saturday afternoon, with the Rocky Mountains in the background, Dean and Amy became man and wife.
Dean's struggle with PTSD had at last been brought under control. Amy gave birth to their first daughter a year after the 'I do's'. Dean named her Willow. Years later, a second daughter, Audrey, was born.
Dean's small apartment struggled with two adults and two growing children. They needed a bigger place. Twenty miles out of town they found the old farmhouse they wanted. It was the house that soon became their home. Large enough to grow, should child number three come along, yet far enough away from the city lights that you could stare at the night sky and see all the stars.
In the ensuing years, Amy moved up the corporate ladder. She was now in charge of pre-production at the graphic design house. And Dean went from hammering nails to a supervisor overseeing the workforce.
The years piled up and before they knew it, Willow celebrated her twelfth birthday. She and her sister were at the neighbors playing.
Amy stood in the bedroom, and wiggled her small breasts into a white bra. She shimmied a tiny pair of panties up her thighs. She adjusted them around her waist. The small patch of black hair between her legs seemed to push out from the flimsy material. She stood in front of the full-length mirror that hung on the back of the bedroom door. She turned side-to-side, adjusting her bra and panties, trying in vain to cover her body.
"What the hell was I thinking when I agreed to this," she mumbled, "I'm damn near forty and he wants me to parade around on the back deck like this." Amy turned and tried to adjust the panties again, but no matter what she did, they didn't cover much.