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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.

A Soldier's Guide to Single Parenting - 10. Picking Up the Pieces

I was shocked when I saw him. My son was almost unrecognizable to me.

My heart seemed to sink to the pit of my stomach. I covered my face with my hands and drew a deep breath.

“Oh God!” What had they done to my boy?

Despite all the horror I had witnessed in Vietnam, nothing could have prepared me for the sight of David lying motionless before me, kept alive only by a machine. Todd had his hand on my shoulder as he pushed my wheelchair up to the side of the bed. Suzanne gasped and began sobbing. She turned to her uncle for comfort and he held her. Jon followed us into the room but stood back. He was barely able to look at his brother as he fought back tears and lasted only a couple of minutes. He wiped his face with his forearms and staring hard at me as he walked away.

“I’ll go and see if he’s okay,” said Todd. We both knew that Jon wouldn’t talk to me. It was more than he could do to look at me.

As Todd left, Suzanne sat on the chair next to the bed, biting her lip and trying to compose herself.

“Simon’s dead!”

“I know.”

“What happened? What’s going on, Daddy? I’m scared. How did you get shot?” I was expecting those questions but I didn’t have any answers or none she would have accepted.

Should I tell her I tried to kill myself? Even that seemed irrelevant now, compared to what had happened or what could still happen. We didn’t know for sure if he was going to pull through. Officially he was in critical condition but that’s all any of the doctors would tell us.

Before we were allowed in to see him, the senior consultant spent several minutes explaining David’s injuries and preparing us for what we were about to see. He had been attacked with a blunt object, fracturing his skull and putting him into a coma. He was hit several times in the face and had broken bones in both legs. The doctors wouldn’t speculate how it happened but he was lucky to be alive.

“Simon’s father did this,” I hissed, my fingers digging into the arms of the wheelchair. “He drugged me and took the boys away. I was unconscious for almost two days.” I was ready to rip him apart and Suzanne knew it.

Todd had earlier confirmed that Darcy had been taken into police custody. Simon’s death was being treated as suspicious, possibly murder.

“How could he do this? You let him.” My daughter's voice went right through me.

I closed my eyes, hoping to return to my dreams but this was real. I had lost track of time. “What day is it?”

“It’s Thursday.” she said sobbing. “They found him on Monday in a doorway downtown in the Combat Zone.” When I reached out my hand to comfort her she turned away making it clear she didn’t want me to touch her. My shame was complete. Simon was dead, David was in a coma, Suzanne and Jon wanted nothing to do with me, and it was all my fault. I could have stopped it all.

“I thought he was with you at Todd’s house. I had no idea. The phone’s been cut off. I’m sorry.”

“It’s not me who you need to say sorry to. It’s your son!” She stood up and walked out, leaving me alone with him.

I leaned forward to hold his lifeless but warm hand and stare at my once beautiful boy. I was sickened by the severity of his injuries. It was impossible for me to comprehend how anyone could inflict such brutality on a person who was no more than a child.

His face was badly bruised and swollen out of all proportion. There were stitches above both eyes which were tightly closed and barely visible behind the swelling. He had tubes running from his mouth and nostrils to a life support machine.

He had been lying in a coma for three days in the same hospital as me before he was identified. He had no ID and no one knew he was missing until Rizzo questioned me after my operation and told me Simon was dead. Suzanne thought he was still at home with me and I assumed he was at Todd’s.

It should have been me. I wanted to die but David and Simon had so much to live for. I hated myself. If I could have swapped places with him, I would have done so without hesitation.

There was little point in the kids hanging around. Jon was upset and Suzanne had to pick up Bobby from his friend’s house.

Todd came in to let me know he was taking them back to his place. “Are you gonna be alright?”

I nodded. I was still officially a patient at the hospital but I had no intention of leaving David. I was trying to piece together what happened. Why David had gone with Simon and his dad. It didn’t make sense. I wanted to talk to Rizzo but I needed Todd’s help first.

“Todd, can you to get me something from home. In my desk drawer.”

“Jeff, I’m not bringing you in anything to drink. You can go without.” I wasn’t asking him for alcohol. I wasn’t even thinking of booze until he mentioned it. When I explained what it was I wanted he wasn’t much better.

“You heard the doctor. If Darcy did this then he intended to kill David and probably thought, he had. When he finds out he survived he’ll panic and maybe send someone to finish the job.”

“You're crazy. You can’t go around shooting people in the hospital. The police will protect David.”

“Do you see any police officers around here, Todd? Do as I tell you and give me the chance to protect him.”

He sighed and relented. “I’ll come back later.” The children didn’t even say goodbye to me.

I sat there alone with my thoughts, refusing to leave. Not even for a minute. I didn’t want to return and find him gone. I owed him that much at least. So I stayed; parking the wheelchair next to the bed where I could watch him and listen to the gentle but reassuring sound of his breathing.

I wanted to say something. I needed him to know how sorry I was.

“I’m sorry, David. I should have—” As sincere as I was, it felt wrong for me to be there apologizing when nothing I could say would be able to change anything, make him better, or bring Simon back. “If you can hear me, I’m sorry.”

Never had I spoken such empty words. Too little and too late to change anything. If he could hear me, he would hate me. I was certain of it.

Todd came back to the hospital later that night and pushed me into the waiting room where he reluctantly handed me a brown paper bag. Then he watched as I examined the contents, loaded a clip and slipped it behind my back. It was my insurance policy. I hoped I would never have to use it but I felt a whole lot better knowing it was there.

“Simon told me they would kill him; you know? He knew what they were capable of. I should have protected him and now this. I’m responsible.”

“It’s not your fault.” It was typical of Todd to try to look for the best in me, even when I didn’t deserve it. “You didn’t know this would happen.”

“NO, I should’ve known. Everybody else could see it! HE’S MY SON. IT WAS MY JOB TO PROTECT HIM. WHAT KIND OF A PARENT AM I?” There were opportunities for me to have prevented it, warnings I ignored. “Darcy did this, I know it.”

“Jeff, I know what you're thinking and what you wanna to do. But you must leave it to the police. If he did it, he’ll be punished for it.”

“He killed his own son; injected him with heroin because he was gay. Then he tried to kill David and he may have even succeeded.”

“David will pull through. I know he will.”

“What kind of man murders his own son because he’s gay? Who would do such a thing?”

“I dunno, Jeff. People can be brainwashed, indoctrinated by religion or politics. Told how to act, what to think, who to blame when things go wrong, who to hate, and who to kill. It’s not just one man. If Darcy did this, then he did it because of what he was taught from a child. But he wasn’t born that way. None of us were born to hate. His religion taught him how to hate just like most other religions. What’s sad is people like him don’t question those beliefs or think for themselves.”

“People like me, you mean?”

“No, Jeff. They’re not like you.”

“But I used to think the same as him. I hated my own son because he was different and allowed him to be put in danger. I’m no better than that animal.”

“If you're asking these questions, you're a better person. You can’t change what’s already happened.”

It seemed like too much to ask. I couldn’t face or accept what had happened and I wanted to punish Darcy in the only way I knew. If I could have got to him, I would have killed him for sure.

Todd knew it. Suzanne knew it. Jon had known it for ages.

“Let the police deal with Darcy,” said Todd. “Focus instead on David. He’s in there fighting the biggest battle of his life and he needs you with him to do it. He needs his dad by his side, Jeff. And I don’t just mean physically but really by his side. Supporting him for who he is and not who society wants him to be. Stick up for him and be proud of him. Whatever he did was probably incredibly brave. He’s a fighter like you, but he needs your help.”

I listened intently to every word my brother spoke that night and played them back in my head repeatedly as I sat with David. There was nothing I could do to stop his pain. I couldn’t heal his broken bones or bring him back to the way he was before. I couldn’t change the past but maybe I could change the future. That night when we were alone, I promised him I would do exactly that. If he didn’t give up.

I made a pact with him.

We each had a battle to fight. We would help each other. If he could win his then I would win mine. If he would open his eyes, I would never touch another drop of alcohol as long as I lived. It was a fair exchange; a promise I intended to keep no matter what. I just needed a chance to prove I could do it. I could be a better person. There was a lot of room for improvement.

It was all I could offer him.

That and countless apologies that weren’t able to change a thing.

The doctor told me to go back to my room, two floors up. “There’s nothing more you can do.”

He was wrong; there was plenty I could do. It started with a call to my Vietnam buddy Rizzo who visited me at the hospital the following day. He needed to interview me anyway.

When we were in the waiting room having a smoke, he told me Darcy had been released without charge.

“Are you certain it was Darcy who came to your house on Saturday?”

“Of course, I am. He drugged me but it was definitely him.”

“He says he was in Springfield all day conducting a bible study and has a whole congregation of witnesses.”

Springfield was at least a two hour drive away from the city. There was no way that he could have been there.

“He’s lying, Rizzo.”

“I believe you but will a jury? That’s what we have to consider. You were drunk that day. You smashed up your house in a rage. Your kids left you and later you tried to kill yourself. It’s all on file, Jeff. We need hard evidence to convict Darcy and so far, there’s none.”

I had to admit, it didn’t look good. They would believe the preacher, a man of God. Who would take the word of an alcoholic, war veteran. The fact I tried to kill myself was proof enough of my mental condition. A good defense lawyer would acquit Darcy.

“Our best hope is with David. If he can pull through, there’s a chance he’ll be able to remember what happened and testify.” That was the official line. Off the record, it was a different story. “We know he did it, Jeff. He should be in custody by now but those religious freaks are blocking every avenue. Darcy has more alibis than anyone I’ve ever investigated. He can account for every minute of the past week. He hasn’t so much as taken a shit on his own without half the congregation watching him.”

“They’ll do whatever they have to do to protect him. They’ll die for him if they have to and he knows it. He’s an evil man.” I paused for a while to compose myself. “You know I won't allow him to get away with it. Don’t you, Rizzo? I can’t do that.”

He stared into my eyes for a while as he thought about what I said and nodded. “You don’t have to worry. We’ll get him. I promise.”

As if to underline his tough talking, when Rizzo pushed me back to David’s room, there was a police officer outside. He nodded and opened the door for us as Rizzo introduced me.

“This is the boy’s father. He’s a very close friend of mine. He’ll be here most of the time.”

I said hello, then turned to Rizzo. “I was wondering when you were gonna put someone on the door.”

“There will be an officer here twenty-four-hours a day.” He held out his hand in front of me. “So are you gonna give me the gun you're hiding behind your back before you shoot another hole in yourself?”

“What gun?”

“Yeah, I figured you’d say that.” He knew me better than anyone. “Look, I know how much it hurts, Jeff. And if I was in your position, I’d want to kill the sonofabitch too. But let me do this properly. We’ll get him.”

“And if you don’t?”

“We will.”

“But if you don’t?”

He refused to answer my question but he understood what I was saying. “I’ll let you know as soon as I hear anything.”

I sat in that room with David for the next three days bar the occasional break for food, coffee, bathroom and a few telephone calls from the payphone in the hall. I spent my time thinking about the past and planning for the future.

I spoke to Bobby every day on the phone. He was the only one of my kids still talking to me but I didn’t want him to see David so I kept him away. Todd came back every day to check on us and to bring me some food and on Saturday, Sandra visited. I hadn’t seen her in a week but we had talked on the phone. She was just leaving when Suzanne turned up.

“Sandra is a friend from work,” I told my daughter. “She’s been worried about me.”

“It’s okay Daddy. You're allowed to have women friends now. Mom would understand.”

I wasn’t so sure but I knew I needed help and Sandra had offered. “She’s going to help me fix up the house. Make it liveable again. Maybe then you, Jon and Bobby will—”

“We’ll see,” she said. “It’s good you stopped drinking. That’s a big step. I know you’re trying.” It would take time. I knew it. I wasn’t expecting her to believe me straight away. Most people struggle to give up on their first attempt but I simply had to. I had no choice. I had made a pact I could not and dared not break.

The following week, I was discharged from the hospital and swapped my wheelchair for crutches but I stayed with David. Suzanne and Todd visited every other day and at the end of the week, I was surprised by a sombre looking Jon. I was asleep in the chair when he woke me up.

“He looks a lot better now,” he said staring at his brother. “But you look a lot worse. Why don’t you go home, Dad? I can help you, if you want? The hospital will call you if they need you.”

Sooner or later, I knew I would have to go back but I wasn’t looking forward to it. At least Jon was talking to me, even if his tone was very terse.

It was a few days before I was able to take his advice and Todd drove me home. Fred was pleased to see me. In an odd way, I think he kind of missed me.

“How’s the leg?”

“Better, Fred. But I won’t be doing anymore disco dancing for a while.”

“You do disco dancing?”

I was referring to Saturday Night Fever. The hit movie at the time but the joke was wasted on him. “Forget it, Fred.”

He had fixed the front door though and Suzanne and Jon had been there to clean up inside. Soon I was able to help out although my jobs were mostly menial tasks. Todd handled my finances, making arrangements to pay off what I owed in return for electricity and gas. I kept my job and they paid half my wages.

I had some bad days but I convinced myself my own recovery was inextricably linked with David’s. I was certain if I were to founder then so would he. As the days passed, David’s condition stabilized and so did my cravings but his body was still lifeless.

I talked to David every day. Telling him what was happening at home and promising him a better future. Jon and Suzanne were talking to me, now all I needed was David and I kept urging him to speak. Each day when I left to go home, I told him I would be back in the morning and I always kept my promise. Like giving up the drink, it became almost a ritual which I was scared to break in case something went wrong.

It was the third day of the fourth week, when Jon accompanied me on my daily routine. It was a bright sunny day and I was in a good mood as we exited the elevator. When we reached his room though, it was empty, David was gone.

Jon ran off to find a nurse but I knew. Parental instinct. Kate was right after all. There was only one reason why they would have moved him. I could see Jon talking to a doctor at the end of the corridor and he looked concerned. As they walked toward me, I sat in a chair and held my head in my hands.

“Mr. Sykes. It’s okay. David’s fine. He’s awake and he wants to see you. We were trying to call.”

They still hadn’t reconnected our phone. I stood up, hugged Jon and started to cry. All those years without shedding a single tear and now I couldn’t stop. I was mess but Jon was crying too.

“You thought he was dead, didn’t you?”

I nodded. “What did you think?”

“I thought the same thing.” We must have made a strange sight standing in the corridor holding each other, bawling like babies. I didn’t care; they were different tears now.

We were more composed when the doctor led us into a brightly decorated room where David was looking out the window. His face was much better now but to see him awake and alive was the most beautiful sight in the world. He tried his best to smile and I stood back to allow Jon to say hello first. I wasn't certain what reaction I would get.

When I did venture closer, he held out his hand to me and I wiped my eyes.

“You're crying,” he said. His voice was hoarse and barely audible.

I nodded. He had never seen me cry before.

“It’s been a difficult few weeks.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You’ve done nothing wrong. You don’t need to be sorry.”

“You’ve stopped drinking?”

“Yes, how did you know?”

“You told me. Everyday.” He smiled as I squeezed his hand in mine and my eyes filled with more tears.

I sat at his bedside talking nonstop for weeks. Telling him everything about me. Some things he knew, other stuff he didn’t. I did it in the hope he would maybe recognize something but also to keep my own mind focused and away from the booze. It was perhaps a kind of self-therapy.

I hoped he could hear me but I admit, it seemed unlikely at the time. As it turned out, he heard every word. He kept his end of the bargain, now I had to keep mine. I was happy to be given the chance.

There was one more question he needed to ask. He probably knew in his heart but he needed someone to confirm it and that task fell to me.

His smile dropped with his eyes and his voice cracked with emotion as he struggled with the most difficult words of his life.

“Simon’s dead isn’t he?”

My eyes were already teary as I held his hand and nodded.

“I’m so sorry.”

His face was still too damaged to show much emotion. He looked at me and then moved his head to the side to stare out the window. I sat quietly with him for ages, holding his hand as pools of tears filled his dark, sunken eyes and trickled over swollen cheeks.

*     *     *

There was a loud POP as the glass panel exploded from the brunt of my elbow. I reached in with gloved hands to turn the lock and threw open the door. I found him in the living room, asleep in front of the television.

He must have known why I was there. When I drew my gun, he confessed, offering to go to the police and tell them everything. I wasn’t there to listen to his pleas, I was there to kill him and I needed to do it quickly. As I aimed my gun at his head, he fell to his knees and started praying.

I wasn’t expecting him to do that. I wanted him to defend himself. At least show some defiance. I had never killed a man who was praying or pleading for his life before.

I was sweating. My heart was pounding. The driver outside flashed his lights; a signal for me to hurry.

My hand was shaking. As I closed my eyes and tried to squeeze the trigger, I saw the boy in front of me. The Vietnamese kid, pleading for his life.

I dropped the gun to my side and started to cry. I hated Darcy more than anyone in the world, yet I couldn’t bring myself to kill him when I had the opportunity.

His prayers were now no more than a few whispers and I could hear him thanking God for his mercy as I walked away.

The driver outside flashed his lights again. He was becoming impatient. I needed to go.

My mind was still racing as I wiped my tears with my sleeve and glanced in the mirror by the door.

On this occasion, I didn’t have time to think about it.

I turned around took aim and ended Darcy’s life with a single bullet to his head. He fell to the floor no more than a yard in front of me, holding the Samurai sword he kept above his fireplace. His ornament. He was about to use it on me.

Darcy may have been the only person I killed who truly deserved to die. In the end, he gave me no other option and I was pleased it ended that way. At least David would be spared the ordeal of having to testify against him. He was gone now. If there was a God out there offering everlasting life in paradise, I was pretty sure Darcy wouldn’t be on the guest list.

I jumped in the car and we were already pulling away before I closed the passenger door.

“You had me worried. What happened?”

“I’ll tell you another time.”

He looked across at me. “You're okay though?”

“Yeah. I’m good.”

It was two o’clock in the morning and snowing when he parked in front of my house. I put the gloves and gun in a paper bag, placed it under the passenger seat for him to dispose of and opened the door.

“I owe you, Rizzo.”

He put his hand on my shoulder. “Go indoors to your family. Say hello to David for me and I’ll see you all over Christmas.”

I nodded and made my way across the fresh snow to the house. Then I went upstairs, removed my clothes, bagged them, showered, and left the bag outside for the garbage. I was being over-cautious. Rizzo would see to it I was never questioned.

Friends made in the heat of battle were friends for life.

I wasn’t going to be able to go straight to sleep that night so I sat up for a while in the study, thinking and admiring the Christmas lights in the living room. The kids had done a pretty good job this year. It would be our second Christmas without Kate but much better than the last. The house felt like home again. Warm and cozy. Even the fridge was filled. Sandra had done a good job. I was sure Kate would be happy.

“What are you doing, Dad?”

I was startled by David standing in the doorway in his pajamas. He was smiling at me and shaking his head.

“You scared the life out of me.”

“It’s three o’clock. Where have you been?”

“Oh, I was just out with Rizzo. Re-living old times.”

He rolled his eyes at me. “War stories, huh?”

“Yeah, war stories.” But this one would be the last.

“You should go to bed. You look tired.”

“Yeah, I was just sorting through a few old photographs.”

He giggled before looking at my cup. “How many have you had?”

“It’s only my second.” I held my hands up and smiled at him.

“No wonder you can’t sleep. Too much caffeine.”

My kids wanted me to give up everything. First the booze now it was coffee, soon, it’ll be something else. I had already promised to quit smoking in the New Year.

“Can I see that?” He pointed to a photograph I was holding. It was a picture of Kate and me on our honeymoon. “She looks pretty,” he said tracing her outline with his finger.

“She was pretty, very pretty.”

“What do you think she would say to me if she was here? I mean about, you know?”

“About you being gay, you mean?” He nodded cautiously and I smiled. It would have been so much easier with Kate. “We never talked about anything like that. It would have been a shock to her at first but she would definitely have handled it a lot better than I did. And I think if she were here now, she would be very proud of you.”


“Of course. Why wouldn’t she be? It’s me she would have a problem with.” It made him smile but he was still a little uncomfortable standing up without his crutches. It would be a while before he was able to walk properly without them.

“You can let her go, Dad. Mom would want that.”

“I know.” I was trying.

“I should go back to bed.” He was shivering as he turned to leave. “Why is it so cold in here?”

I shrugged. It was December but there was another reason which up until then no one had noticed. I could see David’s eyes zooming in on the window. On the bottom pane of glass almost hidden in the corner was a perfectly round 12mm hole.

“How did this happen?” I looked at him but remained tight-lipped as he put his finger through it. “Dad?”

“If I told you, you wouldn't believe me.” I put Kate down, switched off the light and followed him upstairs.

Thank you to Timothy and Carlos.


If you enjoyed this chapter then please take the time to like, follow the story or leave a comment below. Your feedback is always appreciated.


The Epilogue is tomorrow.

Copyright © 2018 Dodger; All Rights Reserved.
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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.

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36 minutes ago, Sweetlion said:

I am so sad for Simon, but with hope they will have a better future now.

Thanks @Sweetlion The future won't be easy for them. Particularly David and also Jeff, who, although hardly a hero wasn't really a bad guy either. We will see how things pan out. 

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3 hours ago, empresslovesreading said:

Ok. I'm weird. I'll admit it. I'm dying over the payphone at the hospital! I am, sadly, old enough to remember that actually being a thing! GAH!

Anyway, I'm ecstatic that David woke up. Poor kid had to grow up in a real damn hurry. Jeff has someone, and a promise, to keep his drinking in line. Or lack thereof. It won't be easy as sometimes that desire to drink can come back at the stupidest times but it can be fought and overcome. I can't say won since there are days when I don't feel like I've won a damn thing but I still have a clear-ish mind.

At least the Bible-thumping asswipe got what he deserved. Have to wonder if Hell is anything like he thought it would be! He won't run into Simon because the poor kid is where he belongs, and it ain't with dad.

Well said @empresslovesreading Thank you for reading and commenting during the story. I've really enjoyed your input and keeping me on track about Boston. Oops...I said it! :X

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17 minutes ago, JeffreyL said:

This has been an excellent story, although hard to read at times. I am sorry for the loss of Simon. I am pleased that Jeff has a chance to get himself back on track, and a second chance to make things better for his family. I look forward to the epilogue and to see how you wrap things up. Thanks.

Thanks @JeffreyL I know it has been a difficult read for some people. Jeff's character ensured that and I think it will be difficult, if not impossible for most people to forgive him. He was unfortunately, as some have pointed out, a product of his times and we know a lot more now about PTSD than they did then. I'm glad you stuck it out. the epilogue will be posted tomorrow.

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I’m so pleased to see that David recovered. Darcy is dead, I don’t believe in murder for revenge but in this case it was self defence as Darcy had hold of the sword. Looking forward to the epilogue.

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6 hours ago, chris191070 said:

I’m so pleased to see that David recovered. Darcy is dead, I don’t believe in murder for revenge but in this case it was self defence as Darcy had hold of the sword. Looking forward to the epilogue.

Thanks @chris191070 It was very nearly murder for revenge but it didn't sit right with me either so I changed it. I thought Jeff had probably had enough bad press without cold blooded murder added to it. Self-defence was more acceptable.

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36 minutes ago, mfa607 said:

Wow! I’m glad the Bastard is dead! Waiting patiently for the epilogue!

The waiting is over! Thanks for reading.

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I just hope that Jeff and Rizzo aren’t suspected in Darcy’s murder. 

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