The truck ate up the distance between his home and the Svir farm. Robbie glanced over at his dad. The years had etched crevices and wrinkles into the once smooth skin. The past few months had left even more. Despite his increasing age Robbie still looked up to his Dad as the guy with all the answers. He was larger than life. Stronger than ten men. His hero. He didn’t want to think of a time fast approaching when age finally slowed him down. His hair may be gray, his strength may be the thing of legends but to Robbie he would still be his dad.
Robbie shook his head as he turned to gaze out the passenger window. His stomach twisted into knots. He had a terrible feeling. A persistent nagging feeling that gnawed at his insides. A blaring alarm was going off inside his head. Something bad was about to happen. He wanted to reach over and stomp his foot on the gas to speed the car along. At this point he’d even hop out of the car and push if it meant getting there faster.
Almost there he thought as they passed the Svir farm entrance. The anxious feeling in the pit of his stomach grew when his father stomped on the brakes, throwing them both forward making the seat belts lock keeping them in place. “Why are we stopping” he cried turning to his dad wanting to scream at the delay.
Shon gave him a grim stern look but there was a certain glimmer in his light blue eyes that tore at Robbie’s heart. “That last call on the radio” his voice rose, an unusual occurrence for a man of his years and police experience. He took a deep breath pulling himself together. “You need to stay here. You’re a civilian and it could be dangerous.”
“Dad” Robbie protested shaking his head reaching for the door handle “I’m not staying here. That’s my son out there. There’s no way in hell I’m sitting in the truck.”
“Robert Shon Olivia get back here” Shon ordered like he had done hundreds of times when Robbie was growing up.
“The days when you could…” a shriek tore the silence of the night apart. Robbie took off running in the direction the scream came from.
“Damn it” Shon swore under his breath following him into the dense swamp grasses. Years of training had kept him fit and for a man in his mid-sixties he was able to keep pace with the younger man ahead of him. He could feel the exertion in his joints telling him he wasn’t as young as he once was.
Robbie had stopped a short distance ahead and Shon joined him barely winded from his exertions even though his heart was hammering against his chest walls. He put a hand on Robbie’s shoulder, a silent reminder that he was there. A plea for him not to do anything rash. Above the hammering of his heart Shon could hear angry indistinct voices, demanding and insistent. A familiar voice weak and full of immeasurable pain obviously refusing their requests. He felt Robbie’s muscles tense beneath his hand as they both recognized that voice.
Panting Britland fought to fill his lungs with enough air to breathe. His head rolled forward, too heavy to lift. He’d fall on his face if it weren’t for the uncaring creep holding him up by the arm he had mercilessly dislocated from its socket. Licking his dry lips he tried to moisten his bone dry mouth. “I won’t” he moaned concentrating hard on his choice of words “tell you anything.”
“We know he’s out there” the woman snapped stepping forward grabbing a handful of hair and yanking his head back.
“I won’t tell you” he chuckled almost delirious “doesn’t matter what you do to me.” Her fingers clenched, pulling his hair from his scalp making him wince. The expression in her eyes ten times worse than the pain he was in as he realized she was getting off on his pain.
A low guttural growl rose from deep inside her as she raised her gun. “We don’t have time for this.” She pitched her voice louder “Carson sweetie it’s time to say goodbye to blondie.”
“Don’t listen to her” Britland screamed struggling ineffectually within the grasp of his captor. Carson’s Uncle’s arms tightened making it impossible for him to slip free. “Think of Rush. He needs you now more than ever.” He flinched at the ominous click of the gun being cocked.
“I’m going to blow blondie’s face off” the woman declared raising the gun to his face.
Staring down the barrel of the gun Britland held his breath. Time ceased to exist as everything came to a stop. A loud piercing scream and the rustling of weeds shattered the silence. A deafening crack like the booming of a canon fire assaulted his ears. A stinging burning line of fire seared across his temple tearing through his ear. He fell backwards as the man behind him ducked, releasing him. He fell heavily on his back knocking his breath away. Something warm, sticky and wet trickled down the side of his face.
He should be dead not existing in this endless dark tunnel of pain. Voices yelled above him. Feet jumped over him. Another loud boom. A yelp as someone was tackled to the ground. The police had come at last. Hands came to inspect his injuries causing him to cry out.
Unsticking his eyelids Britland opened his eyes attempting to figure out what was happening. A pair of familiar shoes lay nearby motionless on the ground. Moaning he tried to reach out “is he…”
“Don’t” a deep voice commanded “stay calm. Help is on the way.”
Tears tricked down his cheeks mixing with the blood that oozed from his wound. He had been shot. He should be dead. At the last second something had distracted his would be executioner. The bullet had grazed his temple on its way to whoever had startled her.
“Carson” he cried struggling to sit up despite the hands pushing him down.
“Calm down” the man repeated “everything is going to be alright.”
Those had been the last words Britland remembered before passing out.
“Penny for your thoughts” Miranda said sitting beside Britland on the bench.
He grunted scooting over. The sun was bright overhead. Despite its warmth he shivered. The birds were singing cheery song that somehow added to his melancholy feeling. Without turning he knew his mother had scooted closer to him, invading his space. He resisted her intent to hold his hand.
Britland it’s not your fault” she spoke softly, no more than a whisper. “You have to stop blaming yourself.”
Resolutely he turned his face away blinking into the bright rays of the sun. Her words barely registered in his consciousness. A strangled sob escaped from somewhere deep inside him.
“Son look at me” Miranda requested “I’m not going anywhere until you do.”
Frowning Britland turned towards her. His eyes were red rimmed, his nose red and stuffy. “There” he grumbled “happy now.”
“No” she reached out grabbing his hand firmly between her hands “I’m not happy.” She could see the scar that ran along the side of his temple that disappeared in his hairline. The notch in his ear he covered up with his shaggy blonde hair. “I’ll tell you what does make me happy. My son is still here. I can still hold him close. I can still tell him I love him.” She sucked in a deep breath fighting back the sting of tears. “I’m very grateful for that.”
“But at what cost” he cried. His green eyes watered “if I hadn’t gone after Carson on my own that night none of this would have happened.” He tried to pull away but she held on tight refusing to let him go.
“He loved you” she held him firm as a low groan burst out of him. “He did what he did because he loved you. No one could have stopped him.”
“It doesn’t make me feel any better” he cried shifting his weight.
“It’s not supposed to” she dropped her hands into her lap. “Every day since that night I regret making that fatal call to you. If it weren’t for me you and Carson might have gotten away.”
“It wasn’t your fault” he protested. Taking her hand he took his turn comforting her “you didn’t know the danger we were in.”
She glanced up at him, her cheeks wet with tears “how am I any less guilty than you?”
“I know what you’re trying to do” he sighed pulling her close. “I just feel so torn up inside. I can see all the things I could have done differently.” The tears he had tried to hold back burst like a dam breaking. He felt his mother’s arms wrap around him, supporting him when he should have been supporting her. “I’m so sorry” he murmured unable to keep the wracking sobs inside.
“I know” she whispered kissing his cheek softly. Sitting back she rubbed his back like she had done when he was a little boy waking from a nightmare. A small faint smile pulled at her lips. “You and I need to stop blaming ourselves” she leaned forward maintaining eye contact with him like she hoped to read his mind. “We need to be grateful for the things we have left.”
Britland dropped his gaze biting on his bottom lip “I don’t know if I can.” His voice was low like he were talking to himself. The sound of laughter drifted across the small park where they had taken Rush to play. His clear high-pitched giggles tugged at his heart. The one bright spot in an otherwise dark place.
“Isn’t that just adorable” his mother sighed beside him. Pointing she asked “isn’t that worth it?”
He gave her a sideways glance. The corners of his mouth tugged upwards into a semblance of a smile. “Put like that” he gazed at his son as he drew nearer “who am I to disagree?” He stood up to stroll across the path to meet his son. It was hard to believe it had been a year since that awful night in the swamp. The event that changed all their lives forever was more than twelve months in the past.
“Gampy” Rush squealed bouncing excitedly on Robbie’s lap “faster.”
“Hang on” Robbie advised as his hands manipulated the wheels to his wheel chair spurring the chair forward.
“Wee” Rush cried clapping his little hands as fast and loud as he could.
Britland watched their happy faces as they passed him. Rush’s hands waving at him as they passed. He took a step forward when a pair of strong arms enveloped him. He turned glaring at the smiling man behind him “how many times do I have to tell you not to do that?”
“Sorry” Carson mumbled shoving his offending hands into his pockets. “We need to talk” he said directing his gaze at Britland. He longed to pull Britland into his arms. Hold him close. Tell him everything would be like it was before. Ever since that night he had run an obstacle course of well constructed walls that Britland had erected between them.
“Alright” he said cautiously “I’ll get Rush.” He turned to walk over to where his Dad was talking to Miranda.
“He’s fine” Carson reached out to grab hold of Britland’s arm “but we aren’t.” He dropped his hand to his side at the scathing look Britland gave him.
Britland could feel his walls shaking as he peered into Carson’s strained face. There were fine lines around his eyes that had appeared since the incident in the swamp. Carson held himself rigid. His back ramrod straight. “I really should make sure Rush isn’t tiring my Dad out” his words were met with a desperate bleak expression by the other man. Britland looked over his shoulder. He could see his Mom talking to his Dad. She had Rush safely in her arms. It appeared so normal. Everything except the wheel chair.
“He’s fine” Carson repeated holding his hand out entreating Britland to join him.
“Alright” he sighed taking the outstretched hand.
They walked in silence. Britland tried to enjoy the peaceful surroundings. The warmth of the summer sun shining through the tree tops. The birds chirping happily in the trees. The shrill cries of children playing in the nearby playground. The butterflies that floated effortlessly above the flowers. The beating of his heart crowded all of that out. Had he pushed Carson so far away that he was done? Had Carson finally had enough?
Stopping Carson turned to face him. The extreme sadness in his eyes, the slump of his shoulders only served to heighten Britland’s fears. “We can’t go on like this” Carson said softly “I can’t go on like this.”
“What are you saying” Britland’s voice cracked. “Are you breaking up with me?” The moment he feared most was finally here. It was as if he were standing on the edge of a high cliff. The ground crumbling beneath his feet. The faster he back pedaled the quicker the earth fell away beneath him.
“I….” Carson stopped as if his voice was stuck in his throat. Was that what he wanted? He loved Britland more than anything in this world other than his son. He ran a shaky hand through his short hair. It felt strange for it to end a mere couple inches from his scalp when he expected his fingers to tangle in its length. “Maybe” he mumbled feeling his insides flip-flop at his words. He tried not to notice the way Britland flinched at his words or the misery he could see in his eyes. “I’m sorry” he mumbled unsure what else to say or do to make things better.
“Why” Britland cried hugging his arms around himself. Any moment he was sure all the cracks in his facade would let loose and all that would be left would be fragments lying shattered on the ground.
“I don’t know what else to do” Carson lamented his hands outstretched. “Everything changed that night.” Again his hand went to his hair. Shock hand him jerk his hand away “do you know how long it’s been since you let me hold your hand?”
Miserably Britland shook his head. He had known it had been awhile. For months all he could think about was how he had gotten his Dad shot. The bullet that was meant for him whizzed past his head cutting a trail across his temple and through his ear. It shattered his Dad’s spinal cord. He’d never walk again. Forty-two years old and he was consigned to a wheel chair for the rest of his life.
“Are you afraid of me?” Carson asked disrupting Britland’s troubled thoughts. “Do you think I’ll become like them?”
“No of course not” he cried shaking his head. That thought had never entered his mind. “You’d never be like them.”
“Then why won’t you let me touch you” Carson closed the gap between them. Gently tilting Britland’s chin up to him he gazed into his troubled green eyes. “It’s been so long since you let me hold you.” He leaned in close feeling how tense Britland was in his arms, pulling away from him. His lips hovered above the blonde’s longing to feel their velvety touch on his “We can’t go on like this” he repeated releasing the blonde and stepping back.
Staggering Britland tried to catch his balance. His mind grasping to piece everything together. The remnants of what they once had, was shattering before his eyes. It was like he was watching a catastrophe happen right in front of him and he couldn’t do anything to stop it. Carson turned and began to walk away. He opened his mouth to stop him. Nothing came out. His entire life was falling apart and he was helpless to prevent it. He was on that cliff again. Teetering on the edge. Any moment he was going to tilt over the precipice. His body lying mangled on the jagged rocks below. “Carson” he cried running towards the older man “don’t go.” He threw his arms around him afraid to let go.
Closing his eyes Carson fought a losing battle to disentangle himself from Britland’s arms. His chest heaved painfully as he forced himself to say the words that needed to be said. “Let me go Britland” his voice cracked “I can’t keep torturing myself like this. I’ll keep in touch. I’ll be there for Rush.”
“Carson please” Britland held on tighter burying his face into Carson’s back. Inhaling deeply he filled his lungs with the man’s scent. This was home. This was his secure place. This was where he belonged. “Please Carson stay. Don’t go.”
“Tell me why I should” he asked needing to hear the words that once were spoken so often but he hadn’t heard in months.
“I…I…” Britland released his grip around the other man. He took several steps backwards. Staring at his feet half expecting a black hole to swallow him up. “I love you” he raised his voice shouting this time “I love you. It terrifies me how much I love you.” He took off running only to be tackled to the ground a few moments later.
They landed in a heap of tangled limbs. “You can’t just say that and runaway” Carson breathed heavily on top of Britland’s chest pinning him to the ground.
“Let me go” he cried struggling to free himself. “I ruin everything. You’re better off without me.”
Sitting back Carson stared at him “what are you talking about?”
“I got my Dad shot” he cried “you’ll get hurt if you stay.”
“Aw honey” Carson stood up “is that what you’re afraid of? Are you pushing me away so that I don’t get hurt?” He could see the answer in Britland’s troubled eyes. “You could never hurt me like that.”
“I hurt my Dad” he persisted sitting up. “He got hurt because of me.”
“He got hurt because he loves you” Carson knelt beside him “that’s what happens when you love someone. You say hell to the consequences and charge ahead anyway” Gently he leaned in close giving Britland a kiss feeling the blonde’s resistance melting away. “That’s what you were doing when you refused to tell them where I was. Why begrudge your Dad for doing the same thing? If I had been closer it would have been me.”
“Oh Carson” he cried throwing himself into the other man’s arms. “I tried so hard not to feel anything. I thought if I couldn’t feel anything it wouldn’t hurt so much.”
“I know baby” Carson soothed “I’m here. Your Dads here. We all love you.”
Britland snuggled into Carson’s arms. He could feel the iron shackles around his heart fall away. He could finally breathe again.