On Leave

 

Walker gripped the steering wheel tighter and turned the music up louder. He found his eyes dropping further with each moment, feeling the fatigue wash over him. In the seat next to him his buddy, Will, was just starting to wake up.

They were making their way from Colorado back to Oregon, hopefully to try and see his brother, Emmett, one last time before going back. Staying with his parents the last few weeks had been short of a fucking nightmare. Will didn’t seem to mind one bit just as long as he had a roof over his head and food on his plate. His parents both passed a few years back in a boating accident and left him with no one. They’d been in the same marine division for a few years now and Walker couldn’t help but feel bad for the guy.

Will had done well meeting Walker’s parents which wasn’t a surprise considering how much they fawned over the both of them. Usually Walker basked in the glory bestowed on him, even now at twenty-eight, but after last month’s lunch with his brother,  there was something about it that put him on edge. Maybe it was his mom acting as if she was still happy being a wife or his dad disapproving his visit with Emmett. His dad even pulled him aside to tell him, demand him, not to go back to Oregon.

“We’re not a family of fuck ups,” he’d told Walker while swirling a scotch in his hands. Apparently one of his dad’s old work buddies they used to have family barbecues with was being charged with fraud and embezzlement, giving him another reason to brag about their ‘pristine’ family history. “You’re proof of that. Your mother’s proof of that. And so is your old man.”

“What about Emmett?” Walker asked. From the look on his dad’s face he knew he’d asked the wrong question. Walker was trying to find someway to bring it up and  see if they’d reached out to him, but clearly their feelings towards their youngest hadn’t changed.

“I already told you I don’t approve of your little visit, much less discussing it in my house,” he told Walker in a low, clear cut voice that was remarkable similar to Emmett’s. Walker felt ten years old again when his father looked at him like that. He knew that he no longer had to suffer the consequences that followed, but he couldn’t help but take a step back and look for his mom.

At that moment, she’d been turning the corner with Will by her side and stopped short when she noticed them. Walker saw the recognition in her eyes, knowing that something was wrong, but shook it off faster than he could blink. “Dinner is almost done if you gentleman would like to set the dining room,” she smiled at them, reaching over to squeeze Walker’s arm. He relaxed under her touch, if only for a second, and was relieved to have a reason to walk away from his father’s gaze.

Instead of discussing it again, he kept his mouth shut and smiled along as his dad told Will about his football days in high school; skipping the part about how he dropped out when Emmett was arrested. Will asked all the right questions, had seconds of Walker’s mom’s pot roast, and even pretended not to notice when his mom reached her third glass of wine. Her words started to slur and his dad motioned for her to get to bed. Walker was more than happy to say goodnight and head up to his old room.

He’d laid awake, surrounded by old trophies that were still there, and mulled over their situation; unsure if it was because he was just feeling guilty and wanted to ease his conscious or he truly cared about having his little brother’s back. As shameful as it was, he wasn’t sure if it’d ever be the latter. There were no truer words than ’like father like son’.

“Wanna switch?” Will asked, now fully awake. Walker was more than grateful to have a break from driving and his own thoughts. “I think there’s a station about ten miles up.”

“How’d you sleep?”

“Take a guess,” Will mumbled and reached over to turn up the volume even more to make it clear he wasn’t up for talking about it. Will’s nightmares started about six months back and haven’t ceased since. Walker had assumed that Will could just brush it off and keep going, like most of their crew, but it was becoming obvious that it was the opposite. The effects it was having on him weren’t just physically impactful, but mentally. Yet, Walker hadn’t realized until a few nights before.

His dad suggested they go to the bar at a nearby hotel, where he had some sort of connections with the owner. Instead, Walker took him to a bar he used to go to with friends way back when. He was hoping to relax and maybe see some familiar faces or just play pool, but it only took a few hours before Will was belligerent and shouting things at bartenders. When others started shouting at Walker to get his friend under control, he had about enough.

Before the security guard could give them matching shiners, Walker dragged him out just in time for Will to puke onto the cold cement. Walker leaned his head on the brick wall behind him, feeling exhausted, and hoped the hurling would finish soon, but when Will sat back next to him, he was crying. “Whoa, you okay man? What the hell’s wrong with you?” Walker asked ditching sensitivity altogether. He was a grown man and crying for God’s sake.

“If I ask you for a favor, would you do it?” Will blubbered through his tears with snot running down his nose and the stench of vodka on his breath. Walker was not about to promise anything to a wasted slob of a human. But before he could answer, Will continued, “Before we go back…”

“What?” Walker was getting irritated when Will still wouldn’t finish his request. “What the fuck are you asking me?”

“I’m gonna kill myself,” Will smiled. Walker jerked away from him, suddenly feeling sick to his stomach. He’s fucking with me, Walker thought. War was a nightmare no doubt and they all had issues, but this was too much. They’d been together since the start and not once has he mentioned the thought of offing himself.

“Is this some kind of twisted joke? Do you really think this shit is funny? Why are you smiling like that?” Walker snapped at him.

“I don’t want anyone to see. That’s what I need you for,” Will explained as his words slurred together and he grabbed Walker’s jacket to pull him closer.

“You’re not gonna kill yourself, Will.”

Walker shoved him off hard causing him to slump back to the ground. Will cried into the ground, tears staining the cement, and mumbled something back to Walker. All he heard was, “One bullet and it’ll stop.” Walker suddenly had the impulse to puke too. He didn’t know where this was coming from, but he could only hope that he’d heard wrong.

After that night, Will hadn’t mentioned it once. Walker thought about bringing it up, but couldn’t get himself to ask. Walker spotted the rest stop up ahead feeling just how exhausted he was from driving so long. Parking in front of a gas station, they both got out to stretch their legs.

“I meant what I said at the bar,” Will said suddenly. Turns out Walker couldn’t avoid this conversation even if he wanted to.

“You were wasted, man,” Walker replied without looking at his friend. “You didn’t know what you were saying.”

“Does it look like I don’t know what I’m saying?”

“Since when? We all get nightmares. It’s nothing to go slitting your wrists for.” The words slipped off of Walker’s tongue easily. He could hear how harsh the words sounded, but he couldn’t do anything to stop himself. “Suck it up and drive, or do you need to go buy a tampon first?”  

“What the fuck is your problem?” Will shouted across the hood of the car. “I thought I could trust you maybe talk to you, but-”

“But you thought wrong,” Walker cut him off. And you wouldn’t be the first, he thought as he yanked open the passenger door and buckled up, leaving Will outside. He watched as Will stomped off into the station’s minimart with his head down and tense shoulders.

Walker tried to settle into his seat and maybe fall asleep before Will could finish buying his smokes and just avoid this shit altogether. But right as he was about to drift off to sleep, there was a loud cracking sound jerking him away. No, Walker thought immediately as the panic pumped through him and he fumbled with the door.

He sprinted into the minimart to and shoved open the door, the ringing of the bell above him sounding far away, and saw the man behind the counter screaming into the phone. Walker stood frozen in place, staring at the man; his accent was thick, but what happened was clear.

He had a gun. I have no idea. He just shot himself. There’s blood everywhere. Send help. Quick.  

*Photo Credit*

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