3: Scars Remain Ch. 02bySpartan22©
Let me preface this story with thanks again to Random Librarian for editing. Don't expect any overt sex in this story. So you may have noticed Book One (Diary of a Loser) was a "high school" story. Book Two (Diary of an Underdog) was a "military overseas/homefront" story. So now Luke is home. That means Book Three (Diary of a Hero) is... well, you'll just have to read and find out. Enjoy!
II -- Phantoms of the Past
Everything felt so surreal as Kaylee watched Luke escorting Cindy by the arm into the wide-open patio area near the pool. Luke looked amazing. Even though he was wearing a faded dark t-shirt and simple cargo shorts, there was something about the way he carried himself that made him even sexier. She allowed herself a little smile, noticing his hair was styled exactly the way she'd taught him, not to mention the dark sunglasses he wore were the ones she bought for him some years back.
Her smile was short-lived, vanishing the moment she noticed a subtle smile appear on his face after Cindy laughed at a comment he casually said to her. It made her ill, the way she was clinging to him, swinging on his arm like she was already drunk.
Oh my gawd! Her acting skills still suck, just like in high school, Kaylee thought, her eyebrows narrowing and eyes smoldering.
She didn't want to admit it -- and would have denied it with her last breath, if asked -- but Cindy looked amazing, too. Her two-piece bikini left little to the imagination, even with the semitransparent swim wrap running diagonally across her legs. And she had the body to pull it off, too.
When Kaylee was younger, her vanity streak was so enormous that she thought she was easily hotter than Cindy -- or most other girls, in fact. But now she felt uncertain, almost threatened, comparing herself to the girl on Luke's arm.
Even though Kaylee still thought of herself as beautiful, she found herself looking down at her long tan legs, second guessing her body, wondering if she really looked as good as Cindy. She felt out of place in her extremely short white pleated miniskirt over her pink bikini bottoms, uncomfortable with revealing that much skin. Kaylee hadn't worn anything that short since high school.
There was only one reason why she wore something like that, or rather one person she wore it for. But he hadn't even so much as glanced her way.
She felt exposed; naked, even. She folded her arms in front of her chest, trying not to stare at Luke. She wondered why she even bothered showing up. Never in her life had she felt so insecure; her confidence was shot.
Kaylee wanted to leave, but before she had the chance she felt a hand gently grab her arm.
It was Audrey, and Faith was in tow. "Tequila sunrise. Thought you could use this," Audrey told her, handing her a drink.
Kaylee pried her eyes from Luke and Cindy, trying to act nonchalant. "Thanks," she said, taking a beach chair next to her.
She wasn't fooling her two best friends, and she knew it. She was waiting for a smartass remark from Audrey, but it never came. In fact, Audrey seemed unusually encouraging. Faith of course was always hopeful and happy, always encouraging her. Thanks to both of them, Kaylee decided against her better judgment to try and find the nerve to stick out the party.
Even if the night ended up being a complete disaster, at least she was with her two best friends. Even if one of them was the sister of the man that she could never have.
The touchy-feely interaction between Luke and Cindy -- mostly Cindy's hands all over Luke -- bothered Kaylee more than she cared to admit. She did her best to ignore the pair throughout the night, but she had a hard time stealing an occasional glance.
Aaron was at the party, and just like always he brought his camcorder, a much nicer upgrade than the one he had in high school. Luke managed to find the time to talk to him. He even socialized with his little sister Faith on two different occasions, but not once did she see Luke looking her way.
As the night progressed, she found herself becoming less timid and more upset with Luke. If he wants a slut like Cindy, then fine; he can have her, she thought. He's had his chance to talk to me. She only wished she had the courage to grab someone like she did with Mick the last time she was at the pool party; then maybe she'd get his attention.
Ok, so it was immature.
But she was desperate.
Kaylee sat up in the beach lounger, looking around the pool area, wondering if she could find Mick. She spotted him on the far side of the pool, along with at least five other guys. It looked like they were setting up the fireworks. There were tons of boxes against the fence and they were pulling out fireworks of all shapes and sizes by the handful, strategically placing them on the ground.
"Hey, I think they're going to start lighting the fireworks," Faith said, also noticing the guys huddled around the pyrotechnics.
Kaylee scoffed, "They're such children," even though she was secretly looking forward to the show.
Audrey followed up, "I know, right? They'd light off a turd if it was guaranteed to make a loud bang."
"Ewww!" Kaylee and Faith said in unison. The three girls giggled as they watched the guys line up the fireworks. Mick grabbed a punk and lit the fuse of three fireworks simultaneously.
Kaylee sadly glanced over at Luke, wishing they could have shared the night together; she would have given anything to sit between his legs on the lounge chair, lying back on his chest. Almost like when they went stargazing together, looking up at the constellations in the night sky. But that was such a long time ago.
"Here we go, first ones of the night," Faith said excitedly.
The fireworks launched straight up with a whistle, exploding into a myriad of colors.
BANG! BANG! BOOM!!
Luke jumped as he heard the deafening explosions of ordnance all around him; he reached for his rifle instinctively but it wasn't there. The explosion must have knocked his helmet off because he couldn't feel it on his head anymore. Luke heard artillery exploding so loudly his eardrums were vibrating. He felt his heart rate skyrocketing; with the hairs standing on the back of his neck, he could practically sense the enemy closing in.
He exclaimed loudly through the explosions in a deep guttural voice, "GET DOWN!"
Luke grabbed Cindy, forcing her down to the ground, covering her body with his.
After a few moments and a couple quick breaths, he realized everything around him became quiet -- eerily quiet. No more artillery, no more screaming enemies. Still hovering over Cindy, protecting her from the inbound mortars, he looked up.
Everyone was staring at him, frozen in place.
Gradually it sank in. Luke slowly became aware of what was going on around him, and what he had just done.
Fireworks. Not artillery, not inbound missiles or RPGs, not enemy fire. It was fucking fireworks.
He slowly stood up shaking off the cobwebs and looking around the poolside; except for a few initial drunken snickers in the background, nobody said a word. Most people looking at him were simply stunned at what had just happened.
Clenching his fists, he could feel the pure rage surging through his body, almost daring someone to laugh at him again; no one did. As embarrassed as he was, anger was a greater and much more powerful overriding force. Still, he wanted out of there as quickly as he could and was willing to tear apart anyone who stood in his way.
In a moment of compassion, Luke took a quick glance at Cindy, making sure she was ok. Her eyes were fixed on Luke, wide open like saucers. Her mouth hung open, clearly unsure of what to say. The important thing was she didn't appear to be hurt.
With the realization that she was ok, he took off at a brisk walk. Luke was gone before anyone at the party so much as moved a muscle.
"Whaaat..." one of the guys launching the fireworks barely got out, breaking the silence while still holding the lit punk in his hand.
Kaylee quickly stood up and snapped out of her stupor, exclaimed angrily across the pool, "Mick, WHAT THE FUCK!" It was obvious Mick and the others felt bad; they were just as stunned as everyone else. "S-sorry, I..." he stuttered, not sure what to say.
Faith had already bolted after her brother; Kaylee followed, reluctant that it took her so long to react. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Aaron setting his camcorder down to help Cindy up; Kaylee heard Cindy behind her, also running after Luke.
Before Kaylee made it to the driveway she heard the deafening roar of Luke's Challenger followed by screeching tires and the sound of thunder tearing down the road until the screaming machine faded off in the distance.
Faith wasn't fast enough, either; she had dropped to her knees and was crying. It took a lot to make Faith cry, but her brother's pain was on the top of the list. Kaylee ran her hands through her hair in disbelief of what had just happened. Cindy, Aaron, and Audrey arrived right behind her.
"Luke," Cindy whimpered softly, as if he could hear her despite the fact he was long gone and most likely tearing down the interstate.
Kaylee looked over at Cindy; she was surprised to find the expression on her face was one of genuine sorrow. This wasn't the same Cindy she remembered in high school. Maybe she had grown up; after all, Kaylee had. Well, a little, at least.
"Cindy, you're bleeding," Kaylee gasped, looking at her knees. Cindy looked down, apparently unaware both of her knees had been skinned up when Luke took her down to the concrete despite his efforts to protect her from an unseen force. It wasn't serious, but Aaron still ran back to the house to find a medical kit.
"Are you ok," Kaylee asked.
"I... yeah, I think so. I didn't even know I was bleeding. What... what just happened," Cindy questioned with tears in her eyes, apparently as confused as everyone else. She didn't seem to be concerned with the scrapes and bruises on her knees; she seemed legitimately concerned about Luke instead. Everyone knew what had happened, but they were still processing the event that unfolded before them.
"I don't know," Kaylee whispered.
Kaylee was a whirlwind of emotions. She felt an incredible sadness for Luke, and was on the verge of tears herself. It took everything inside her to hold them back. She was angry Luke didn't approach her earlier that evening. Who was she fooling; she was angry at herself for not approaching Luke, even though he was with Cindy. At a minimum, they were still friends, weren't they? But she didn't act like one. Once again, she screwed up and was kicking herself. It seemed like an ugly trend with her that she couldn't break free of. No wonder Luke left her for another girl.
But that was nothing compared to whatever the hell had just happened to Luke. The fact that Luke snapped, yet still had the presence of mind to cover and protect Cindy, was nothing short of amazing. In a twisted kind of way, she was jealous of Cindy. But more than being jealous, she was concerned for her friend and his mental state of being. It was clear he still had demons haunting him; demons he tried to hide but had surfaced in an ugly way. Luke wasn't out of the woods, not even close.
III -- Always Only You
Blow after blow landed squarely on the punching bag as Nickelback blared in the background; it wasn't typical of what Luke normally listened to, but it was perfect for his boxing workout. Two soft left jabs followed by a powerful right cross rocked the bag when he heard something behind him. Spinning around quickly, Luke cocked his right fist back and brought his left up, ready to decimate the intruder.
Fortunately, Kaylee was standing out of striking distance and Luke recognized her in the nick of time; she jumped back, absolutely terrified by his response.
Still, her jaw dropped; he looked amazingly hot. She might have watched him all day if he didn't snap her back to reality. Luke's muscles rippled through his sweaty black tank top, a far cry from the scrawny kid in high school she once knew. In fact, he looked even bigger and stronger then when he originally left to join the Air Force.
His adrenaline spike from the surprise visitor was wearing off. Luke took off his boxing gloves and wrist wraps, looking irritated at Kaylee. He turned down the music and took a quick swig from his water bottle.
"Normally I'd say your timing was good since I was getting ready to take a short break, but I have a feeling this will be anything but short," Luke said curtly. "By the way, don't ever sneak up on me like that again. I could have hurt you. How did you get in?"
Kaylee winced. "I... talked the apartment manager into letting me in. I kind of lied, told him I was your fiancée and locked myself out, and that you couldn't hear me since you were working out." Her wincing intensified as she reluctantly said, "And he wanted me to remind you that your music was too loud and to turn it down. I tried to smooth it over, though."
Before Luke could say anything, Kaylee lowered her voice and whispered, "Luke, what happened?"
"I was going to ask you the same thing. Even after you took off, like I was some kind of leper, I still pursued you week after week. But you kept me shut out. And now you want to finally talk? Sorry, the moment has passed. I'm just not up for it," he snapped.
It was clear that Kaylee was hurt. This wasn't the old Luke that she knew. She was intimidated by him, and for a second she actually thought about leaving. Instead, she straightened up her posture. She had already run away from him when he needed her the most; she wasn't going to do it again.
"I meant what happened at the party."
Luke said, almost with a growl, "I don't want to talk about it."
Kaylee said, "Ok, we can avoid that topic for now. I'll do some of the talking. Let me just say I am so, so sorry. I know you are probably getting sick of my apologies. I never should have run from you when you came home; you deserved a better welcome home than that. Trust me; I had a much better welcome home in mind."
If Kaylee didn't know any better, she could have sworn Luke tried to stifle a smile when she said that.
Luke sighed, placing his hand on his bad shoulder, rotating it gently so he could work out the kinks in the muscle. She wondered if maybe she found a chink in his armor as he said, "Kaylee, you don't have to apologize, especially after the last email I sent you. I won't lie to you; it hurt me that you kissed me and then just took off and wouldn't return any of my calls or even open the door for me. But I know I hurt you even worse before that happened, so I guess I can't really blame you."
Kaylee looked down, pivoting her toe on the ground back and forth, sniffing, "I'm over it now, Luke, and I just want you to know that. That wasn't why I ran from you. I ran because... well, because I was scared. I thought you were dead, for weeks, and then suddenly you were back! Just like that. Luke, I... I didn't know if I could take something like that again. I almost lost you twice. That was why I ran. I know it's not an excuse, and not what you deserved, but... I can't deal with the pain of losing you. It's selfish, I know, but I just wanted you to understand why I did what I did."
Kaylee sucked her breath in. "But," she added, trying to look him in the eyes so he could see her commitment, "As always, I had to learn the hard way. I know it hurt you, and it also hurt me. All I can do is promise I'll stand by you, no matter what. For the rest of my life, if that's what it takes."
Luke listened intently, but his face was hard to read. For a moment, he made eye contact with her, but just as quickly he broke it off. Kaylee wasn't sure why; it was almost as if she intimidated him or scared him. Luke, scared? After everything he went through? That didn't seem likely.
"By the way," Kaylee asked, nodding towards his shoulder, "How's it feeling? How's the physical therapy?"
A wry smile appeared on his face, "It reminds me of when you first started training me to weightlift. It absolutely sucks, and it's excruciating."
Kaylee laughed, "Well, if you ever need help, I'll be more than glad to help make you suffer."
"I bet you would, too," Luke smiled. He added, "I always knew you had a dominatrix side."
Kaylee tossed her hair back, flirting with Luke, "I would look great in leather and fishnets, wouldn't I? Guess there's only one way for you to find out, cowboy." The soft moan escaping from his lips reminded her how much she missed the playful banter with Luke. She could tell he was reluctant about everything, but at least he was slowly opening up to her, just enough to give her hope.
Gritting his teeth, he said, "It's frustrating. I can't lift more than five pounds over my head with my left arm right now."
"You'll get it, Luke. You've never given up at anything," Kaylee said with a soft voice, intentionally trying to encourage him and soothe his anger.
It seemed to work; at least a little, anyway. Luke seemed to calm down a notch, taking another drink from his water bottle.
"You even protected Cindy. It was your natural instinct; it shows your one of the good guys. Well, more than that. It shows you're an amazing man, an amazing human being."
Luke glanced at her as if to give her a warning, reminding her he wanted no further discussion about what had happened, but he softened up.
Her mood changed and her eyes narrowed as she took the offensive, "By the way... Cindy? Really? CINDY? Were you trying to piss me off?"
Luke looked at her sheepishly, as if caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "It's not like that. I didn't even want to go, but Cindy was kind of persistent. I told her I wasn't feeling up to it at least three or four times before I finally caved. I figured I needed out of the apartment anyway."
Kaylee said, "But she was..."
Luke stopped her in mid sentence, "I know she was horrible to me in high school, but this time she seemed okay. And I can forgive and forget; high school was a long time ago. We're adults now. What's the worst that she could have done to me? Take away my birthday? Hurt my feelings? It's kind of hard to hurt me when I didn't even consider it a date. That being said, I wasn't expecting to see you there. I felt horrible when I saw you, and realized how it must have looked." He winced as he said, "She was a little clingy; that didn't help, I'm sure. Anyway, I wanted to come over and talk to you, but I couldn't work up the courage. I know how you felt about Cindy. I... uh, I'm sorry for that. Not my best judgment. I really wasn't trying to hurt you."
He took a deep breath. "Speaking of hurting you: I guess I can relate to you running away. I kind of did the same thing to you. Running away, I mean. It's just... my method was a little more covert and sneaky."
She looked puzzled, "What do you mean?"
Running his hand over the back of his head, he looked her in the eye and told her, "There was no other girl. There was only you. There was always only you."
Kaylee was stunned, but at the same there was a great sense of euphoria as he said those words, even though she didn't exactly know what he meant. Always only you resonated in her head, over and over, making it hard for her to focus.
"I..." Luke began, trying to form his words as a guilty look flashed across his face, "I didn't want you hurt. That email, the one where I told you I was seeing someone else. I made that up, against my better judgment."
"LUKE! Wh... why would you do something like that? What do you mean you didn't want me hurt? That email was exactly what hurt me!"