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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Ranger - 12. The Return

June 2022

 

“How many of you know who CJ Abelló is?” Brad estimated about half the attendees raised their hand. “For those of you who don’t, I’d suggest you google him. A two thousand sixteen graduate of Walls, CJ went to work for the State Department after attending Georgetown University.”

Although Brad had loaded his speech on his phone, he barely looked at the device lying atop the podium’s surface. “I spoke with him last night, and he asked me to pass along his congratulations. He wished he could be here today, but he’s still dealing with the aftermath of the traumatic events in Mexico City.” He paused for a moment and smirked. “You’ll figure out what I’m talking about when you look him up on the internet. Think of it as your final, high school homework assignment.” The audience replied with giggles, groans, and laughter.

 

Martha Edwards, the School Without Walls High School principal, had convinced the committee charged with selecting a graduation speaker to invite Brad Kennedy back to his alma mater. She and her husband, United States Marine Corps Brigadier General Ray Edwards, delivered the invitation in person.

“I don’t know about this, Mrs. Edwards.” The principal and her husband had asked Brad to Sunday lunch at Belga Café. Steps away from the Eastern Market Metro Station, the restaurant was a ten-minute walk from CJ’s house where Brad lived. “I’m not a public speaker.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, son.” General Edwards spoke before his wife could. “The speech you gave at the Oscars was one of the most moving ones I’ve ever heard. And all the interviews you did afterwards were just as impressive.”

“I had a lot of help with that speech.” Brad had incorrectly assumed his acceptance speech at the Academy Awards and subsequent interviews would be the end of his public persona. He wanted to concentrate on his studies and his future. He did not think it suitable for a Secret Service agent to be on the cover of magazines and half-naked on a billboard in Times Square in Manhattan. Maybe by the time he graduated from college people would have forgotten about him.

“Then ask for help again.” Mrs. Edwards patted her former student’s shoulder. “And I think the delivery, more than the actual words, was what impressed us. The conviction and emotion were palpable. I think you’re ideal for the job. You can serve as an inspiration to those young men and women.”

Brad chuckled at her comment. “Inspiration? Me? You must have me confused with someone else.” The burst of fame he experienced after A Home for Warriors premiered continued to amaze him.

“Not at all, Bradley. Your story’s moving and should be shared. I will not take no for an answer. You must return to Walls.”

By the end of the meal, Brad caved to the prodding and agreed to speak at the commencement exercise. He swore it would be the last time he would do something like this. Prince Harry had promised there would be no speeches at the Düsseldorf Invictus Games later that summer.

 

“How many of you know who Chipper Pereira is?” Even more hands went up and a few screeches provided a fitting soundtrack. Chipper’s popularity had increased exponentially after winning a Grammy for best new artist. “Once again, in case you didn’t know, Chipper’s a twenty-sixteen Walls graduate. While in his final semester at the University of Miami, he was a contestant on The Voice.”

Brad was never a fan of reality or competition shows but had religiously watched the television program while his friend was a participant. “And although he didn’t win, we’ve all witnessed his success since. I spoke with him last night. He’s on tour and unable to be here, but he made me promise to tell you how proud he is of all of you.”

 

Frustrated, Brad crumpled another sheet of paper, threw it at the wall, and watched it drop to the floor. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” It was not the first one there; he had done the same thing over a dozen times during the past hour.

“Here, take a break for a few.” His stepfather, JP Smith, placed a steaming mug in front of him. “Chamomile. Should help you relax.”

Brad sighed and dropped his shoulders. He felt defeated. “I can’t do this.” A few days after meeting General and Mrs. Edwards, he was at his fathers’ place. Waiting for dinner to be ready, he decided to work on the speech he had agreed to deliver.

“Yes, you can, Bradley.” Tom Kennedy, his biological father, sat next to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. “This is easier than most of what you’ve done in the past few years. JP and I have faith in you.”

“Well, that’s two out of three.” Brad stared at the legal pad he had borrowed, willing words to sprout on it.

“How many words did you get down this last time?”

“None? Too many damn ideas running around my head, and I can’t decide how to start.”

“Then list them. Instead of writing the actual speech right now, jot down all those ideas tonight. Then sleep on them. Tomorrow, with a fresh mind, start fleshing each one out. Afterwards, you can move them around until you have them in the order you want to share them.”

“Okay. I’ll try that. I know I want to mention CJ and Chipper since those two everyone knows.”

Tom chuckled. “You’re not far behind in popularity, you know? Don’t make a big deal out of them. Maybe like a paragraph or so on the page.”

“I can joke around in that section. But I definitely want to plug Heroes Haven.” Brad tapped the pen against his teeth and imagined the audience and their reactions. Visualization was a tool he had learned to use during his rehabilitation.

“Okay. Thank you. I think that might work. No, I know it’s gonna work. I’m going to list a bunch of things and then figure out how they go from one to the other. Great idea, Dad.”

His father’s counsel guided him during the entire process until within a week, he had an unpolished, fifteen-to-twenty-minute address. From that point forward, it was a matter of cleaning up the language and adding details.

 

“Since the two most famous individuals in my Walls graduating class were unable to be here today, you’re stuck with me.” The self-deprecating humor elicited chuckles from the audience. “For those of you uninterested in reading your programs, allow me to introduce myself. My name’s Brad Kennedy, I’m a Walls alumnus, and a retired Ranger in the US Army.” Listeners appeared to be paying attention and rewarded Brad with generous applause.

“Thank you. If there was ever a charity case at Walls it was me.” He kept a finger on the phone, scrolling through the pages in case he drew a blank. “I was never a diligent student. Lacrosse, partying, and drinking were higher priorities for me. Yes, I was underage but managed to get my hands on a six-pack often enough. I also spent more time grounded than any of my friends. Sorry for being a pain in the butt, Dad.” Brad hoped his father, sitting somewhere in the back of the auditorium, realized the apology was sincere.

“Unlike most Walls graduates, I didn’t transition from high school to college. As far as I was concerned, I was done with studying.” The fact he was now voluntarily back in school was still a surprise. “Instead, I enlisted. During basic training first, and subsequently in Ranger School, the Army instilled in me the self-discipline I lacked while at Walls. Nothing like a superior officer telling you when and how to tie your boots for you to learn patience and respect.” The ensuing laughter brought a smile to Brad’s face.

“Some of what you’ve seen in movies and on TV about those first few weeks in a soldier’s life is true.” Although, a lot of it is just bullshit was part of his initial draft but excised by JP who counseled clean language. “Early wake ups, regimented days, plenty of exercise, and orders. ‘Do this,’ ‘don’t do that,’ and ‘what the hell were you thinking, soldier?’ became the daily words we all dreaded.”

 

When Cristina initially suggested it, Brad scoffed at the idea. “No way! That’d be like a total douchey move. I’m not a showoff like your brother.” Chipper Pereira’s career had soared in recent months and his face was a fixture on the covers of glossy magazines and tabloids alike.

“I love Uncle Chipper.” Carolina sat on the floor between Brad’s legs while both worked with crayons on a coloring book.

“I love your uncle too, baby. And I’ve known him for a long time. But he’s still a showoff. Didn’t we just see a billboard with him in his undies at the subway station?”

“So says the man with a picture in his underwear towering over Times Square. The same man who strutted down the runway during Fashion Week wearing very little.”

“Hey!” Brad tried to sound affronted but could not stop smiling. If he was honest with himself, that damn billboard gave him goosebumps. It was pretty cool. “That was for charity. TMPL donated cartons of underwear for Heroes Haven residents.”

“Yeah, sure. Like you didn’t enjoy it. Anyway, stop dissing my brother and trying to turn his niece against him.” Cristina had curled herself in an armchair and was reading a draft of Brad’s speech. His visit to New York City the weekend before Walls’ graduation followed a pattern of monthly trips begun when Brad started college. The location alternated between New York and Washington. “Don’t decide now. Talk to your dads about it.”

Tom and JP had thought it a great idea.

 

“Allow me to introduce you to my friend, Oscar.” Brad reached inside the podium and withdrew the golden statuette he had been awarded earlier in the year. Applause from those he assumed were familiar with the win filled the auditorium.

“During my military service, I was involved in an incident overseas which cost me my legs. Both had to be amputated after the vehicle I was in hit an IED.” Following a few gasps, the audience was deathly silent. “I was lucky. Not all my companions that day survived.” Brad resisted the urge to reach for his handkerchief and dab at the teardrops.

He inhaled deeply and mustered on. “Before I made it back to the States, my dad and a close friend flew to Germany to visit me at the hospital. That visit was a prelude to the constant attention I experienced when I finally returned home. The concern and care from family and friends allowed me to heal physically. Mentally, I was still a mess. Even after I moved from wheelchair to artificial legs.

“What at last made me realize my loss was not the end of the world was a visit to Heroes Haven. A community of tiny homes created to house homeless vets. Speaking to those men made me realize I had it better than most. I might have lost my legs, but I had my health otherwise, and the love of countless people.

“I ended up living there for six months. During that time, cameras followed my every move. Almost daily, I had to sit in front of one and talk about what was going on.” Brad grinned at the audience for the first time since he had placed the Oscar atop the podium. “Let me tell you something. I don’t know how the heck those people in reality TV shows handle it. After a week of near-zero privacy, murder may have crossed my mind. Intrusive is the nicest word I can use to describe the experience.” At last the somber mood broke and laughter filled the space once again.

“When my girlfriend first suggested I bring Oscar in as a prop, I thought she was nuts. I’m not a braggart. But my parents agreed with her, so here he is. The film we worked on during that time period, A Home for Warriors, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary back in February.

“As with most recognitions like this one, the award was won not by an individual but by all those who were part of the process. The same concept employed by the military in the theater of war where survival depends on those around you. Who would have imagined one day I would be standing in front of you with an Oscar to my name?”

Brad’s pause was short, but he was surprised when the audience remained relatively quiet. They were paying attention. “Maybe that’s why I agreed to bring him with me today. To illustrate that dedication and hard work can help you accomplish the unimaginable. Yes, luck plays a part, but I promise if you put a hundred percent in, the results will surprise you.

“The man standing in front of you is not the same wild teenager who graduated from this school six years ago. Believe it or not, I just completed my freshman year at American University. I’m studying criminology and I want to be a cop.” His gaze swept the audience, as he got ready to conclude his remarks. “Go ahead, start the Robocop jokes. I’m going to make it too. I plan on being the first Secret Service agent with artificial legs in the field. And if I can do that, imagine what you can accomplish.

“Do not allow self-doubt or the words of others stop you from reaching for the brass ring. Dream big. Work hard. Don’t quit. If you follow those three principles, you can accomplish anything. Congratulations and thank you.”

 

 

The End

Copyright © 2020 Carlos Hazday; All Rights Reserved.
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Thank you for reading. Your feedback in reactions and comments is welcome and appreciated.

And thanks to @dughlas and @Mann Ramblings for their help in making my scribbles make sense. Any errors remain mine.

Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Story Discussion Topic

US Army Rangers Sergeant Bradley Thomas Kennedy lost his legs when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device. Ranger chronicles the first couple of years following the IED incident. Will he recover sufficiently from his physical and  mental wounds to lead a fulfilling live? Will he get the girl in the end? Here's a little look at the story.    
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Chapter Comments



1 hour ago, chris191070 said:

The perfect ending to Brad's story or is just the beginning. It was great to see him back at Walls as the Graduation speaker, talking about his future.

Thank you, Chris. And thanks for the review! Brad went from a happy-go-lucky teen, to a serious young man who appreciates the second chance he's been given. I think the future looks bright for him.

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1 hour ago, avidreadr said:

A good story.  Bradley has come a long way and has a path charted out.  I do regret the end of the story but all stories end sometimes.  I do hope you have more stories for us in the works.  Thank you.

You're welcome, and thanks for surviving Singer's ending. I was expecting a reaction from you when Brad mentioned him in his speech. :P

 

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23 hours ago, pvtguy said:

Another excellent addition to your portfolio of stories!  I liked the style of this chapter - the going back and forth  to understanding the process of the speech.  As a retired high school counselor, I have seen many students go through this process of growing up.  I'm sure that Tom Kennedy was bursting at the seams with pride, love, and admiration as he listened to the delivery of this speech.  Now...flesh out that story about Mexico....please!  Thanks, Carlos!

Tony, I can't like your comment enough. You captured what my primary goal was: Brad's grown up!

The story's format was another experiment. Much like writing a novella in one-thousand chapters. My goal's to learn what works and what doesn't. Very happy you liked it.

Obviously, I've outlined a book about CJ's stint at the Mexico City embassy, but the actual book will not be seen for a bit. Even though I have a strong outline and a few thousand words written, there are two other CJ-verse stories slotted ahead of that one. One's ready to go next month, and the other one I'll start working on as soon as I'm done with a short story I've been stuck on for a month. This pandemic affects more than the ill.

As usual, it's a pleasure to hear from you.

Edited by Carlos Hazday
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49 minutes ago, Terry P said:

Great chapter, all about a remarkable speech.  Very inspiring.  I'm sure a lot of thought went in to writing this one.

I tried to make his speech his own without making him sound like CJ. I started the story with his acceptance speech at the Oscars and thought it would be interesting to end with another one.

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9 minutes ago, Kitt said:

Nah, that can wait till what ever story his wedding lands in.

Well done!

LMAO

Thanks, Kitt.

I actually have that event somewhat planned out. I know where but don't have a firm date. But I do know  What happens before and after. :)

 

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1 hour ago, Carlos Hazday said:

You're welcome, and thanks for surviving Singer's ending. I was expecting a reaction from you when Brad mentioned him in his speech. :P

 

Brad revealing that Chipper didn't win was one of two outcomes so it was no real surprise.  I just don't like cliffhangers and they made me respond immediately and negativeIy if I respond too soon.  I'm trying to check that.

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