In June, 2013 MLR Press released my very first story, 500 Miles. Becky Condit of Mrsconditreadsbooks.com did a special event for the release and set up donations to the Wounded Warrior Project for every comment received. In total, we donated $117 to the project and thank everyone for their support. That special event included “Going the Extra Mile – Eric’s Story”. Eric was a secondary character in 500 Miles. Mark’s brother and Jase’s best friend, he garnered a few people who really liked him and wanted something from his viewpoint.
I paced the length of the room, anxious to receive any news about Shannon. I scrubbed my fingers through my hair for the umpteenth time, feeling the sweat that was matting it down coating my shaking digits.
“Eric, will you please sit down? You’re making me nervous. And believe me, you do not want me to start pacing.”
I turned to face Jase, my best friend since we were little kids. He gave me a wicked smile. I felt a grin tugging at the corner of my mouth.
“It’s going to be fine, bro. Shannon’s only been in there six hours. They said it could be quite a bit longer. Come over here and sit down.”
My brother, Mark, patted the couch. I trudged over and sat next to him. Jase joined us a few moments later. I was sandwiched between the two men who meant the most to me in my life.
“I don’t think I’m ready for this,” I moaned.
Both of the traitors laughed, but silenced quickly when I shot them a look.
“Maybe you should have thought about that before you went and got her pregnant.”
That made me laugh out loud. I turned to Mark and could see how tired he was. I had woken him up at three in the morning after all. Jase had come after his shift ended, and we all set up camp in the waiting room.
“I’m not sure I can do this. I don’t know anything about being a father,” I told my brother. “I might be okay with one, but twins?”
“You’ll be great. You’re both going to be the most amazing parents any kid ever had. Mom and Dad are so proud of you.”
I felt my face warm. “Mom always said that when I had kids she was going to spoil them rotten, just for a little payback from the trouble we caused her.”
Mark sucked in a breath. “I never caused her problems. You and Jase always seemed to be the ones who got into messes. Remember the time that the two of you went sledding down Peak’s Hill? You said anyone could do it forward and swore you guys could do it backward. She was so pissed when you broke your arm.”
“Yeah, did you ever bother to tell her that you dared us? No, pretty sure that didn’t happen.”
Jase chuckled. “If you remember, I was the one who talked you out of telling her.”
I hugged my brother and then turned to Jase. “Thank you both for being here. I don’t think I could have handled this on my own. Both of you have been lifesavers.”
God knows the therapy was helping, but I still woke up some nights disoriented and crying. Shannon had held me enough times to know what she was getting into, but I still hated her seeing me being so weak. She didn’t want me in the delivery room with her because she was worried I might not be able to handle it. Mom told me she would be there and hold my wife’s hand.
“I’m glad that Mom came in early,” Mark said. “She had to go buy out the toy store before she left. Dad said he rolled his eyes at her, but told me he put a few things in the basket himself. It’s nice having her here. Dad’s going to be along later today.”
My family was amazing. Growing up, I knew people who had parents split up. Most of them were bitter teens, wondering if they were worthy of love. My folks were very tight and loving. They always had our backs, but both of us know never to step out of line.
I faced my brother. “Mark? Do you think Shannon and I will really be as good as Mom and Dad?”
I don’t think I had ever seen such a serious expression on his face before. “You will be. We have great role models. I’ve seen you and Shannon. Jase and I know how badly you wanted the baby. I can say without a doubt that you two will have a baby that knows nothing but love their whole life.”
I don’t think Mark could know how badly I needed to hear those words. “So what about you, Jase? When do you plan on having a baby?”
Jase’s eyes lit up. “Well, I’m not sure how that would work out. I guess there’s always Hasti.” As soon as he said it, his eyes went wide and I knew he regretted it.
Mark growled and pulled away. Hasti was one thing we never talked about. Ever.
“Sorry, Mark. I didn’t mean to hurt—”
Mark cut him off. “It’s fine,” he spat. He stalked to the door and pushed his way through it.
I turned back to Jase. “Yeah, that was bright.”
Jase had the decency to blush. “It slipped out. I didn’t mean to upset him. I’ll go talk with him.”
I put my hand on his shoulder. “It’s fine. I think he needs me more right now.”
I found Mark standing by a soda machine, kicking it when it wouldn’t give him the bottle of water he wanted.
“He didn’t mean it, you know.”
He gave a slight shrug. “I know. I just don’t like hearing about her. He knows what she did to my life.”
“Mark, you need to let it go. Seriously.”
“You don’t think I haven’t tried? When Jase came home I thought things would go back to normal, but she’s always there. Every time I look at him she’s there.”
I shook my head. “Mark, you know she—”
“I know!” he shouted. “That’s what makes it all the worse. In my head I know it’s not right to be angry about it, but it hurts.”
I pulled him into a hug. “Let it out, Mark. Tell him that you’re angry. Stop holding it in. It’s not going to get any better if he doesn’t know why you’re upset.”
He pulled back and wiped his sleeve across his runny nose.
“Yeah, this. See? This is why you’re going to make a great dad. You’ve got a great head on your shoulders and you care.”
I pulled him to my chest again. “I love you. You and Jase mean everything to me. I may not always say it, but it’s true.”
I heard the soft, uneven footsteps coming from behind me. I turned to find Jase standing behind us.
“I’m sorry, Mark. That was stupid of me. I really didn’t mean to hurt you.”
Mark smiled. “I know. We’ll talk about it later, okay?”
Jase shook his head. “No, I need to say this. What I said? It was wrong. I never should have brought up a painful memory. I was a dick and I hope you can forgive me.”
Mark’s eyes brightened a bit. I gave him a shove in Jase’s direction.
“Hug it out, guys,” I told them. I got a warm feeling throughout my body when they did. I knew that no matter what else, we would all move beyond that difficult period in our lives.
We went back to the waiting room and …well… waited. And waited. Dad came in, gifts in hand, asking if we’d gotten any news. Mark shook his head and he took Dad for some coffee. Finally, after eighteen hours a slender, way too perky nurse came in. “Mr. James? Your wife is asking for you. You can bring your family if you’d like.”
The four of us went to Shannon’s room. She looked exhausted, weak, and oh my God, she had never looked lovelier than when she was holding our baby. She gave us a watery smile when we circled the bed. Mom was holding my other son, looking so proud of her new grandchildren. Dad walked over to Mom’s side and pulled her in close.
“Hey babe,” I said quietly, rubbing my fingers over her cheek, “how you doing?”
She crooked her finger, beckoning me closer. “Hi,” she said weakly. “I just wanted to let you know, after this? Yeah, you’re never getting sex again.”
Mark and Jase started laughing so hard that the nurse had to tell them to be quiet. They were sheepish and offered their apologies several times. Shannon handed me the baby.
“It’s twin boys,” she told me sleepily.
I looked into the sweet, red faces of my newborn sons and I knew peace. Even when they started squalling in unison.
“Have you guys decided on names yet?” Jase asked.
I looked to Shannon who gave a sleepy nod.
I turned back to my brother and my best friend and happily announced, “I’d like to introduce you to Mark Fletcher and Jason Daniel James.”
Both of them looked at me, their eyes watering.
“Why?” Mark finally asked.
“Because my family saved me,” I told them. “Without having the two of you in my life, this little guy might never have been born. The babies will have your first names and Dad and Shannon’s father’s names as their middle names.”
“It was my idea,” Shannon said, stifling a yawn. “You gave me a gift I can never repay. This is my way of saying thank you.”
I placed the baby back in Shannon’s arms before Mark and Jase drew me into a group hug. Looking at the faces of my family, the most important people in my life, I was grateful for the chance at life that Jase had given me and the lease on life Mark renewed.
“I love you all,” I said. “I’m glad you could be here for this.”
Shannon reached out and put her hand on my arm. “We have an awesome family,” she informed me.
I gazed around the room and smiled. My past was here, as was my present, and my wife held our future in her hands. If I could go back and talk to myself when I was a kid, gung-ho about joining the Army, seeing the world, keeping it safe, I realized that despite what happened to Jase, how it affected my family? I would tell myself not to change a thing.
Because our lives were going to be perfect.