Éveiller Drive, Book 4
Published 2016 by Book Boutiques.
Copyright © 2016, Melanie James.
All rights reserved.
Her cellphone rang and she sprinted to answer it. Jamie tried to keep it close by at all times, hoping to hear from Brad, but the Yoga pants she sported didn’t have any pockets. The phone relentlessly blared the ringtone she had assigned to calls from Brad’s mom.
“The one time I set it down, I get a call.” Jamie’s heart pounded as she zeroed in on the sound, frantically trying to remember where she set it down.
“Hello?” Jamie yelled into the phone when she finally located the small device.
“Hi, baby girl. Have you seen the news today?” There was a sense of foreboding in her mother-in-law’s voice.
“Hi, Elaine. No, I haven’t turned on the TV yet. I just got the kids off to school. What’s going on?”
“There was an attack on a base in Kabul last night.” Elaine’s tone was somber and straightforward. They both knew what this could mean.
“What? What happened?” Jamie’s heart felt like it cracked when Brad’s mom explained the attack. She hadn’t heard from Brad in days and that wasn’t like him. He always called or emailed every chance he got.
“The details are still coming in, honey. I don’t have any other information right now, just what they are saying on the news. I can leave work today if you need me to. I’ll explain to my boss what’s going on and head over there if you want me to.” Elaine offered, worried about her daughter-in-law and herself.
“It’s okay, Elaine. I just…I…” Jamie paused, unsure of what to say. The thought of something happening to her husband didn’t sit well with her. It left a sick feeling in her stomach. She took a deep breath and fought off a wave of anxiety. “I’m okay. The girls are coming over for coffee. I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure?” Elaine asked, her voice filled with sympathy for her daughter-in-law and worry for her son.
“Yeah. I just have to stay positive. They would have notified me by now if anything happened to him, right?”
“I hope so, baby girl.”
Jamie tried not to burst into tears as she ended the call with her mother-in-law. The familiar panic and worry she felt for her husband snaked through her veins. She needed to focus on a task to keep her mind from imagining the worst possible scenario.
Pulling a baking dish from the cabinet, Jamie gathered all of the necessary ingredients for her famous hash brown casserole. Her movements were slow and methodical. Each served the purpose of keeping her mind busy. When she had the dish prepared and baking in the oven, she headed off to shower and dress for the day.
Just as the timer on the oven chirped with the announcement of the finished casserole, Jamie heard her friends call out their arrival.
“It smells so good in here,” Ashley said as she worked her way into the room.
“I agree.” Kara replied.
“Thanks. It’s a recipe that has been in my family for years. Every get-together there are at least three different versions of hash brown casserole served. I may be biased, but I like to keep mine simple. Some of my family members like to throw stuff in willy-nilly. I’m sorry, but just because you can put something in a casserole, doesn’t mean you should!” Jamie grabbed a small stack of serving plates from the cabinet before giving the casserole one last stir.
“Very true, that’s how you end up with weird shit in food that doesn’t belong. And if you’ve ever looked around online for recipes, you see some weird shit out there as well. I don’t know what the hell some people are thinking by coming up with all kinds of odd mixes that just don’t belong.” Valerie added.
“Isn’t that the truth? It drives me crazy. The other day I searched for apple pie recipes. Did you know some people are actually putting bacon in apple pie these days?” Ava replied to Valerie.
“You’re kidding! Well, it shouldn’t be a surprise. It seems like bacon is a new spice these days.” Valerie laughed at the idea. She was not one that would be experimenting with that anytime soon.
“Do you need any help?” Laura offered.
“Sure, if you want to grab the mugs and the carafe of coffee, that would be great.” Jamie made her way to the dining room with the hot casserole, carefully placing it on a bamboo hot pad in the center of the table.
After the women were seated and the coffee was poured, the conversations picked back up.
“So, how did it go last weekend with you and Alan?” Jamie’s arched brow indicated that curious minds wanted to know.
A dark blush stained Laura’s face when she heard the question. “Oh, you know. It went well.” She tried to keep the details absent from the conversation, but she should have known better. Her friends would never let her get away with it.
“Well?” Valerie demanded. “It went well? You were going to be handcuffed to the bed, blindfolded, and all you offer is, ‘It went well’.” Her arms sprang out in front of her to emphasize her point.
“Someone’s holding out on us.” Ava teased.
Laura blew out a deep breath, making all the women chuckle. “Fine. It was freaking incredible. It was like I unleashed a hidden beast in Alan!” She ran her fingers through her hair. “He’s never been like that. I mean, our sex life has always been great, but this…this was incredible. We’ve made a promise that from now on, we are going to experiment at least once a month with some new things. Nothing too crazy, but it will be nice to mix it up here and there.”
“Yay! That is so awesome. I knew it would be good for you guys.” Jamie beamed with pride at her suggestion to light a fire under Alan. “There’s nothing like a blindfold and handcuffs to spice things up a bit.”
“Shit, I’m really going to have to try that with Will.” The thoughts began to churn in Ava’s head.
“I certainly don’t regret stepping out of the box and doing something different. Although, I was walking a bit funny yesterday. But—it was well worth it!” Laura plucked an imaginary fuzzball off of her sweater. “Enough about me, have you heard from Brad recently? Is there any news on when he may be coming home?”
It was that simple question that sent Jamie into tears. Once the gates opened, there was no holding the flood back. She tried in earnest to answer her friends, but found that her voice just wouldn’t work. Sobs escaped from her throat, choking her.
“Did something happen?” The fear was evident in Laura’s voice as she rushed to kneel beside Jamie.
“I—I don’t know anything yet. His base was attacked late last night. I just found out about it when his mom called. It’s all over the news.” Jamie did her best to explain all that had transpired over the course of her morning.
“When was the last time you heard from him?” Ava quickly asked.
“It’s been a little over a week.” Jamie grabbed a fistful of tissues and wiped at the fresh tears. “He usually calls, emails, or something at least a few times a week just to let me know that he is okay.”
“I’m sure he’s fine, honey. He was probably moved or transferred away from the base that was attacked and that’s why he hasn’t gotten a hold of you.” Valerie offered with a soothing voice.
“You’re probably right, but I can’t help worrying.” Jamie ran her shaky fingers nervously through her hair. “I just don’t know what I would do if anything happened to him.”
“I can’t imagine what you are going through or the worry you have every day for Brad’s safety.” Ashley spoke in a low voice.
“It’s okay. He has to be okay, right? I just have to think positively for now. There is no sense in stressing or worrying about what might have happened. After all, I have to keep in mind that if anything happened, I would have been notified by the Army.” Jamie took a deep breath, trying to compose herself.
“That’s right. I know I’d be imagining the most horrific and illogical scenarios. Hell, I do it every time Alan is late coming home from work, especially if he hasn’t called to let me know. I envision him in an accident or a holdup at the grocery store. And when he calmly walks through the front door, I don’t know if I should yell at him for not calling or be thankful he is home safe.” Laura joked, trying to lighten the mood.
“Oh my God. I totally do that, too. I thought I was the only one.” Kara laughed. “I’m so pathetic. I worry like a crazed woman. Dave always tells me that I’m going to get wrinkles far too early in life if I don’t knock it off.”
“Honestly, I think it’s part of being a woman. Some days it seems like all of the worries fall to our shoulders. Even when we have our supposedly big strong husbands by our sides. Seriously, do they worry as much as we do? Is it hormone induced, or what?” Jamie’s breathing returned to normal, the conversation once again flowing easily between friends.
“I think you may be on to something. I’ve never really given it much thought, though. I know Will worries about all of us, but I don’t know if it’s as extreme as the rest of us.” Ava sipped her coffee.
“No, I think it’s because we tend to keep the big picture in mind. We are always keeping track of a dozen things, and men only seem to focus on one thing at a time.” Valerie noticed that Jamie was still thinking too much. “Hey! Why don’t we get out for a bit tomorrow and do something? Maybe a mani/pedi day?” Valerie suggested. “Maybe it will help take your mind off of things a bit?”
“Sure, why not. It would probably be good to get out for a while. Besides, the kids will be at school, and I really can’t remember the last time I did something just for me.” Jamie smiled at the thought. Ever since Brad left on his latest deployment, she did nothing but mope around the house. Sure, she tried to keep her spirits up for the kids, but she couldn’t stop from missing him terribly. He was her heart, her soul, her one true love.
“Tomorrow it is then.” Valerie finished her coffee and returned her cup to the kitchen. “I need to get going, honey. I have a million errands I have to run today. Will you be okay?”
“Yeah, thanks. I have a few things I need to finish up here today. I’m looking forward to tomorrow, though.” Jamie stood up and hugged her friends as they all headed out the door to handle their own daily tasks. She was lying about one thing, she wouldn’t be finishing up anything—only worrying about Brad.
“What did she have to say? Is she doing okay?” Brad paced back and forth in the oversized family room, waiting for word on his wife. He was anxious to see her, to hold her. He missed her like mad. His latest deployment had taken a toll on him physically and mentally. It had been fourteen weeks since his injury, and he was mostly healed. He still walked with a limp and would probably do so for the rest of his life. A silent prayer was sent to the one above, thankful for having survived an IED explosion to begin with. He lost two friends that day and often wondered why he survived when the others didn’t. The scars, both mental and physical, were permanent reminders that he would have to live with.
Valerie watched Brad pace around her living room like a caged animal. “She’s upset, she’s worried. I think you should at least call her and tell her you made it out of there before the attack on the base. I know you want to surprise her and all, but she’s worried sick!” Valerie chastised an anxious Brad.
“I know, I know. I want her to be surprised, though. Maybe I can send her a quick email to let her know I’m all right. If I call, she’s going to know that I’m not overseas, but you’re right, I do have to let her know that I’m alive.” Brad conceded.
“You think, Sherlock? If I didn’t love the two of you so damn much, I’d smack the ever living hell out of you!” Valerie didn’t know what she was getting herself into when she answered the unknown call three weeks ago. Brad had been seriously injured and was on the mend, but he didn’t want to tell Jamie and worry her or the kids. He explained to Valerie that he would be coming home in a few weeks and wanted to set up a surprise permanent homecoming. Valerie reluctantly agreed, knowing it would eventually come back to bite her in the ass.
Brad opened his laptop and fired off a quick, yet brief email to Jamie, letting her know that he was okay and would be busy for the next few days, and he may not be able to get a hold of her. “I know I have a lot of explaining to do when I see Jamie tomorrow. She is going to freak when she finds out I was hurt and never told her.”
“You’re Mr. Obvious today. You do know that, right?” Valerie couldn’t help the sarcasm that slipped from her mouth. “Look, I know Jamie is going to be thrilled that you are home, but…”
“I know. I fucked up.” Brad ran his fingers through his hair, unused to the feeling of it growing out a bit. His dark brown hair was normally cropped short, no muss no fuss. Now it was a tad bit longer since the length of his hair was no longer a requirement of his dress code. Not shaving everyday was something that was completely foreign to him as well. But those things were nothing compared to the other changes he had gone through to come home. His scars were not pretty, but they were a part of him. Brad assumed that Valerie thought his entire plan was nuts. Perhaps it would be to most people, but there was something that changed in him after the IED explosion. Something that he couldn’t understand. All he knew was that it changed him and it would take a lot longer to get a handle on than he thought. At this point, he hoped Jamie would understand that healing was something he had to do on his own.
“Please tell me you at least called your mom?” Valerie asked, pulling Brad from his internal debate.
“Oh dear God. Are you freaking kidding me? You didn’t tell your wife or your mother that you were almost killed in an IED explosion? Don’t you think they are going to notice your new limp or the fact that you are no longer in the military?” Valerie waved her hands in the air for emphasis.
“That noticeable, eh?” Brad joked.
“Just a little. And I’m only a friend. You aren’t thinking of trying to hide this from Jamie are you?” Valerie stammered.
“Of course not! She’s going to see me. I plan on telling her everything tomorrow when I see her. She doesn’t have to understand why I needed to do this on my own, she just has to accept it. Same with my mom. I just hope everyone can move past my injuries and realize I’m still the same person.” Brad’s voice lowered an octave as the worry crept in to his voice. What if they can’t accept that I’ve changed? It was the common fear that he had since his injury. Sure, it was silly, but it was his fear nonetheless.
“They will. I know they will. It’s not like you’re not still you. None if it is going to matter to Jamie, you know that…I know that. She loves you more than life, Brad. Jamie is going to be very happy to have you home and mostly in one piece. If not, I’m sure she can still fetch a pretty penny for you on Ebay.” Valerie laughed at her own snarky quip.
“Gee thanks! But seriously, she was okay today? Did she agree to go out with you tomorrow?” Brad’s heart pounded as he waited for an answer. He wanted to make his homecoming a complete surprise for Jamie.
“Yep. We’re going to do the mani/pedi thing, and I’m sure I can talk her in to some lunch. I’ll make sure we make a full day out of it so you’ll have plenty of time to get everything done. What are you going to do about the kids? Do you need me and Greg to keep them overnight?”
“No, I was actually hoping that you could sneak me over to my mom’s house. You know, without Jamie seeing us leave. I’m sure she’ll keep the kids overnight or for as long as I want. I do want to see her and let her know that I’m okay. If I call her and tell her all that happened, she’d rush right over here and the cat would be out of the bag. If I go see her, spend some time explaining everything that happened, I have a much better shot of my head staying on my shoulders and mom being a lot less spastic.” Brad knew his mom well enough to know a phone call would not be enough. He needed to be there in person. She was going to be mad as hell that he didn’t let her know he had been hurt. That alone was reason enough for her to go ballistic. He smiled at the thought of his mom all worked up. He’d seen her anger many times over the years. Mix in a healthy dose of fear with that anger, and a pretty situation it did not make.
“She’s not the violent type. She’s the passionate type, and she’s always been overly protective of me. I need to see her to make things right between us.”
“Well, we can take the SUV. The back windows are tinted so you should be all right back there. You still may want to lie down until we are out of the neighborhood, though. What time do you want to go?” Valerie asked.
“We can go any time. I still have a key. It would be nice to surprise her by having dinner ready for her when she gets home.” Brad suggested.
“Or, you’re going to give her a heart attack.” Valerie rolled her eyes. “Some people really don’t like surprises. You know that, right?”
“It’ll be fine. My mom’s a tough old gal. She can handle it.” Brad hoped.
“You really don’t believe in picking up a phone, do you?” Valerie teased.
“Nope. Let’s get this show on the road, shall we?” Brad grabbed his jacket and one of the small backpacks he returned with.
“I hope you know what you’re getting yourself into.” Valerie flung her purse over her shoulder and grabbed her keys from the coffee table. “Just so you know, you owe me big time for all of this.”
“Pfffttt, like you had something more entertaining to do today,” Brad said as he followed Valerie to the garage.
“Hey, just so you know, Ellen had a pretty interesting topic that I was hoping to catch today.” Valerie defended.
“Thank god for the DVR.” Brad laughed.
“How did you—?” Valerie spun to face the smiling Brad.
“I was bored this morning. I needed something to do while the neighborhood women gossiped like a bunch of little old ladies.” Brad loved giving all of them a hard time, but the truth was he admired the friendship the women of the neighborhood had formed. It was a friendship unlike any he had ever seen.
“Ugh! You better not have messed with anything. I will seriously have to hurt you if you did. I hate it when people play with my DVR.” Valerie opened the door to the garage. “Hurry up and climb in so I can open the automatic door.”
“Anyone ever tell you that you’re bossy?” Brad smirked as he headed for the back of the SUV.
“All the time! It’s one of my best traits. I don’t like to put up with other people’s shit!” With Brad firmly tucked away and out of sight in the backseat, Valerie pushed the button for the garage door to open. She made her way around to the driver’s door and quickly pulled it open before hopping in and fastening her seatbelt. Taking a deep breath and hoping that no one could see her stowaway, she carefully backed out of the garage and onto the street.
“Looks like we are in the clear.” Valerie announced as they made their way out of the subdivision and onto the county highway. “Do you want me to pull over so you can ride up front?”
“Nah, I kind of like feeling like I have a chauffeur. It makes me feel all important and stuff.” Brad joked.
“Yeah, well, don’t get too used to it, buddy. This is a one-time deal and only because Jamie is one of my best friends.” Valerie honestly didn’t mind. She loved the idea of Brad going through so much to surprise his wife and his mom. Her only wish was that he would have handled it a bit differently. Like telling them he had been hurt, or that he was no longer in the military. If Greg decided to throw something like that on her, she honestly didn’t know how she would react. She was thankful she would never have to go through anything like that.
“Fine, but you’re still good at playing chauffeur. Thank you for doing all of this by the way. I know you didn’t have to, and I’m glad you agreed to help out,” Brad said as he relaxed in the backseat, watching as they passed through their small town.
“I just hope Jamie doesn’t get too pissed at me when she finds out about my part in all of this.” Valerie slowed to a stop as the traffic light turned red.
“I’ll make sure she’s not upset with you. I don’t think you have anything to worry about. I’m certain that any anger she has is going to be aimed at me for a while.” Brad couldn’t second guess his decision now, there was no going back. What had been done was done. All he could do was move forward.
“Hopefully the anger Jamie feels will be tamed by the happiness, not to mention the relief she will have when she sees you. Do you need me to stop and pick anything up for you? Or do you want to go straight to your mom’s?” Valerie offered.
“I’d love a burger and fries. It’s been so long since I’ve had some good ole American drive thru. My mouth is practically watering at the thought.” Brad reached into his wallet to grab some cash. “Get yourself something, too, if you want. It’s the least I can do.”
“Maybe just a fresh drink. Jamie fed all of us this morning when we went over for coffee. She makes the best hash brown casserole. I need to get that recipe from her.”
“Oh man! I miss her cooking. I hope you gals left some for me.” One of the things Brad always missed when he was away from home was his wife’s cooking. Jamie always took the time and effort to make sure he and the kids ate good home cooked meals whenever possible. He also loved helping her in the kitchen when he was home and had time.
Valerie made a quick stop and picked up the biggest burger and fry combo for Brad and a tea for herself before pulling up to his mom’s house. “Just call later and either Greg or I will come and pick you up if you want.”
“Thanks. If I’m not back tonight, it’s because my mom decided to hold me hostage. I’ll text you and let you know. If I end up staying with her tonight, I’ll have her drop me off first thing in the morning and make sure Jamie doesn’t see us in the neighborhood.”
Brad thanked Valerie again for everything she had done and headed into his mom’s house.