Only half the man he used to be -- but maybe that’s enough
The Taliban may have taken both Chris’s legs, but he came back from Afghanistan with his sense of humour and his lust for life firmly intact. The one thing that can shake his confidence is meeting Josh, the one-night stand from before his tour of duty he hasn’t been able to forget.
It turns out Josh hasn’t forgotten Chris, either. He spent the time they were apart fearing the worst every time a soldier was reported killed in action -- and wishing Chris would use the number Josh gave him, and call.
Josh’s delight on seeing Chris again quickly turns to shock on seeing his injuries. With Chris such a changed man, can they still have a future?
Somehow, my hand’s on his, resting on the table. His fingers are slender, delicate. Stronger than they look, though, I reckon. “I thought of you, too,” I admit. I don’t know why it feels so much like tearing off a scab. “Out there, never knowing if the next patrol would be my last ... when I got back, I’d think of you.”
I’d always meant to ring him, I realize now. Fuck the risk of rejection. I’d always meant to ring.
Back when I was a whole man.
“Can we go?” he asks, and it takes me a minute to work out what he means. But his fingers are twined in mine now and there’s only one thing he can mean.
I don’t think I ought to be scared. I mean, Christ, I’ve been shot at, blown up ... No. I shouldn’t be scared. “Go where?” I ask, and it comes out a bit harsher than I meant it to.
“Yours? Or, you know, mine, but I thought ... Anywhere. Can we just go?”
“Why?” I ask him. And maybe it’s the whisky inside me, but I manage to say it calmly, looking him in the eye. “Because if this is about feeling guilty, or sorry for me, or anything like that, I’d just as soon go back to my mates and make a right tit of myself trying to dance in a bloody wheelchair.”
“No,” he tells me. “It’s not about that.” He’s playing with his glass, spinning it in his hands. Seems to take a lot of concentration.
Unless, of course, there’s some other reason he can’t seem to look me in the eye.
“Look, you’re not an easy bloke to forget, all right?” He lets go of the glass, and it wobbles to a stop, and then, finally, he looks at me. “Have you got any idea how many blokes I’ve turned down for not being you?” He reaches across the table, and his fingers ghost across my hand. “So, can we go?”
I couldn’t say no, even if I knew it’d cost me my last remaining limbs to go with him. I can’t believe how much I’d forgotten about him, all that time I was thinking of him. I remembered how we fucked and that it felt good, but I didn’t remember him ... not really. I forgot all about that mole on his neck, the length of his eyelashes, and the exact shade of his eyes. I forgot the way his smile starts on the right and then moves across, as if he’s scared something will come to stop it halfway.
I forgot so much.
I down the last of my drink quickly, so he can’t see how my hand is shaking, and then I roll toward the door, feeling his presence at my side, like a mate when you’re on patrol. You don’t have to talk. You just know you’ve got each other’s backs.
The cab ride is torture. There’s always the hassle with the chair, and I feel naked, somehow, sitting in the back of the cab without it. This time it’s Josh’s hand that finds mine, envelopes it. We don’t talk much. We don’t need to.