Southern California, June, 2014
“Ok, why do you insist in listening to heavy metal while driving, baby?” Tabby asked me, as I smirked and bobbed my head to Armorclad’s latest CD, A Storm in Heaven, in my stereo.
“Because I know the lead singer of this band,” I replied with a grin, giving my girlfriend a glance and a wink. “Besides, the music is great, sweetheart. It keeps me awake and focused on driving.”
She just rolled her eyes, shook her head, and grinned in spite of herself. She wouldn’t admit it to anyone, but my new favorite band was growing on her.
Tabitha Williams is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever known, if not the most beautiful in the world. At least in my estimation. Imagine Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira, both rolled into one gorgeous package, and you come pretty close. It all depends on taste of course, but to me, she is just my type. Tabby’s grandparents and mother emigrated from Kenya to the US in the late ‘60s, and Tabby was born in 1984 in the Bronx, New York.
Turns out, I was born in the same hospital as she was, only five years earlier. My folks died in a plane crash when I was six, so I had to go live with my Uncle John and Aunt Naomi at Ft. Irwin, where he was stationed at the time.
As I drove north on I-5, heading towards the turnoff to Route 101 to Santa Barbara, I thought back to the early years of my life with them.
I guess a bit of backstory is in order, here. I kept it kind of short, when introducing myself in my previous account, so I’ll elaborate more, here.
At six years old, I didn’t remember much about my real folks, except that they loved me dearly. I did remember that my mom had mostly white hair by the time she was thirty, though. I guess I came by it honestly, since my hair, almost pitch black like hers was before it started to turn, was well on its way to becoming almost the same white shade as hers, just before the plane crash.
John Shepard is my father’s older brother, and the man I’d come to call Dad after a couple years of living with them. Aunt Naomi is one of the women I credit for my appreciation of black women in general. She’s gorgeous too.
Then there’s my cousin Cara, my de facto sister. I was my parents’ only child, and she was the same. So putting us together as sudden siblings, was like throwing a lit match into a barrel of gasoline. Oh, it wasn’t so bad for the first few years together, but then things started to change. She noticed how annoying I was, and I noticed the same about her. So the Sibling Rivalry started.
It was kind of a minor scandal with my grandparents on my father’s side, when John married a black woman in 1969. Ok, who am I kidding? It was a huge scandal back then, even though the Supreme Court had struck down the anti-miscegenation laws in ‘67.
John and Naomi had dated secretly, all through High School. They knew that if their parents found out, they’d force them apart. Whites and blacks didn’t date each other back then, at least not in the neighborhood where they grew up. In fact, the laws there expressly forbade such relationships. That didn’t matter to John and Naomi, though. They just knew that they were right for each other, and love each other dearly to this day.
You can’t help who you fall in love with. There’s a right someone out there for everyone. Yeah, with my history, I hardly believed that, myself. Lately, though, I think that they might just be right. But I’ll get to more about that, in a little while.
Shortly after they married, he got drafted and went to Vietnam for two tours. He went through Airborne and Ranger schools, and then through SFBS, and the Green Beret Q-Course. I credit him as my motivation to join the Army myself, and to aspire to become the best of the best, like him.
So yeah, I started thinking of Naomi and John as Mom and Dad, and then started calling them that. They treated me as if I was their own, anyway.
Cara and I grew up around the world, as all Army Brats do. We ran into some real bigoted assholes sometimes, especially in the South. That kind of killed our sibling rivalry, believe it or not. I’d be damned if I let some asshole hurt my sis.
First time I defended her, something happened, which I still can’t explain. It felt like the whole world kind of slowed down around me, except for me. I couldn’t fight very well, but I managed to get several good hits in before the shithead got ahold of me and proceeded to clean my clock.
Luckily, he was in almost as bad a shape as I was, after the scuffle. When he left, Cara helped me limp home, and Mom was about to go off on me when Cara stood up for me. I’d defended her, and she didn’t hate me anymore after that.
Well, that’s when Dad decided to teach me and Cara how to fight. This wasn’t any martial arts movie bullshit, either. This was down and dirty fighting, that if used in life or death situations, could kill your opponent. He made sure that we knew that, and warned us what would happen, if we ever used more force than was absolutely necessary.
Soon, nobody in school dared to mess with us, and life started getting better all around. When Dad retired, a Hollywood production company hired him as a military advisor on action movies involving Special Forces. He didn’t want us to go to school in L.A., so we moved to Santa Barbara, a couple hours north and west of Los Angeles, to go to High School.
On the first day of school, Freshman Year, I met Mac and Kat, and we quickly became best buds. Kat’s father was ex-military too, and he owns an electronics store in the mall. Mac wasn’t an Army brat, but he was cool. His father was a banker, and his mom was a secretary. Kind of boring, compared to our lives, but I didn’t mind. After moving around so much as kids, Cara and I were ready to spend some real time in one place.
Cara hung out with us too, until she got onto the Cheer Squad. Suddenly, she had a whole new circle of friends, which left her little time for her bro and his new buds. That was also ok by me, since she introduced her new cheerleader friends to me. In spite of her warnings, I dated a couple of them, too.
While I was never sexually attracted to Cara and Mom, I definitely saw what Dad saw, as far as women with darker complexions go.
Mac and I played Baseball all throughout High School, and Kat ended up joining the Cheer Squad in our Senior Year. Unlike my sis, though, she never shirked her time with us, in favor of her new teammates.
I kind of made a mistake when I asked her out once, though. Turned out, that she didn’t like dating friends, or so she said. Cara caught her looking at Mac once, though. She told me later that Kat loves Mac, but she is afraid to tell him how she feels. She then swore me to secrecy over that tidbit. Women. Go figure!
So, being pretty decent at keeping secrets, I shoved it out of my mind. I just wondered when Mac would notice, if ever.
After we graduated, I decided to enlist. Mac went with me to the recruiter, and we ended up signing up together for the Infantry. It was off to Ft. Benning for us! Dad was proud. Mom was worried. Cara hugged me and told me not to screw up.
Well, long story short, Mac and I went through Basic, AIT, Airborne, Ranger, Sniper, and finally Green Beret together. We passed SFBS and the Q-Course, and in 2001, we became full-fledged Green Berets.
Then 9/11 happened, and we got tapped for a new kind of Alpha Team. They picked us because of our scores in the Q-Course and/or our combat records. They also picked us for our chosen specialties. Captain Colton Drake was a total badass, and so was Lieutenant Nadine Olunye.
I thought I was a total badass, until she put me flat on my back, multiple times, during our first sparring match. The other guys were trying not to laugh, especially since I was the best hand-to-hand combatant on the Team. But against the Ebony Fury, I stood no chance in fuckin’ Hell!
That changed, though. She taught us all how to do things, we didn’t think we could’ve done. Then that thing happened again, where the whole world around me seemed to slow down. I didn’t say anything, and neither did the Captain or the Ell Tee. I wondered if they noticed, the first time I went toe-to-toe with Cap and put him down hard. All I noticed at that time, was Captain Dunbar, standing off to the side, raise an eyebrow a bit. He didn’t say shit either, though. He had his own team, designated the Scouts, but was there to help train us too.
I really can’t talk about the details of our mission, so you’ll have to excuse me on that. All I’ll say about our time in Afghanistan and Iraq is that we kicked ass and had some fun. We even got a free trip to Israel, just before getting our Honorable Discharges.
When we ETS’d out of the Army, Mac and I were sitting at the bus stop to the airport, when a Red River Private Security recruiter approached us. That was when I made the dumbest mistake of my life. I mean, I really should’ve listened to Mac, but I saw dollar signs when the asshole told me that I’d be making serious cash. Mac told the douchebag no, but I was young and stupid.
The only good thing that happened, arguably, was that I met my ex-wife while working as a merc. I know, that sounds weird, but I liked my time with Cindy. That was one hell of a year!
When she decided to trade me in for a richer model, I really couldn’t complain, much. Hell, I didn’t love her. I liked her, a lot. What I loved, was the sex. I know. I’m a dog, right? Well, I used to be a dog, back then. No shame. It’s who I was at that time.
Anyway, shortly after our bloodless divorce finalized and we signed the papers dissolving our marriage, I got deployed to Sierra Leone. That would be my last job with Red River.
When I got fired for refusing to destroy a dam, which would cause a river to destroy a village full of civvies, I helped out a friend from the Army with a Russian problem. Then I became a bodyguard to the stars, for a little while. I still had a pretty nice haul from my work in the private security field. That allowed me to work, only when I wanted to work.
Then the celebs started contracting with bigger private security companies, and I wasn’t in such high demand anymore. Why hire me, when you can hire a whole team of semi-pros for just a bit more than what I charged? Well, one guy ended up dead, because his “Professional Security Team” missed that the guy who was asking for an autograph had a shiv under his jacket. Turns out, the guy was one of those extreme atheist nuts, who didn’t like the fact that the celebrity was a Christian. What made it worse, was that he was an outspoken Christian at that. Trust me, California is a colorful place, to say the least!
So I managed to make my funds last for over two years, before I took the job that changed my life. William is still doing pretty well, from what I’ve heard. His kids are still a handful, but they’re good kids. Not sure I want any yet, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Hell, I couldn’t even remember the time I took a real, actual vacation. Now, we had the chance to take a couple of weeks just for us. Time to catch our collective breath and think about the future. So, with all this time to think, I started really taking stock of all the weirdness in my life. No, I’m not even talking about my time with Crusader Team. That was weirdness on a whole new level. No, I mean before and since my time in the military. Yeah, something was definitely off, but damned if I knew what it was.
Anyhow, now you’re up to date. Cool? Cool.
“Seriously, you know this Ethan Kang guy?” Tabby said with a laugh.
“Yep. Kang is actually his middle name. His real last name is Spencer. He uses Ethan Kang as his stage name. I wasn’t 100% sure that it was the same guy, but after the Grammys, I knew it was him,” I confirmed with a nod. “Armorclad won Best Song for ‘Divided We Fall’, remember?”
“Oh, ok! Yeah, I saw it. Kanye wasn’t too happy about that!” Tabby laughed, then reached over and squeezed my hand.
“Well, we all know that he’s at the top of the ‘One to Kanye’ douchebaggery scale,” I replied with a shrug, squeezing her hand in return. “It’s a good thing he thought better of it before he got all the way onstage, though. Ethan was trained by the same hand-to-hand combat instructor I had, back when we were in. If it came down to Ethan vs. Kanye, I’d go with my old bud, every time.”
“Where does Bieber rate on that scale?” Tabby asked, giggling.
“Next spot down from Kanye,” I replied with a sage nod. Tabby laughed musically again, which brought a smile to my face.
We talked more, having fun wondering, which dumb celeb would stick his or her foot in their mouth next, and start chewing vigorously. Then another memory popped into my mind. I don’t recall exactly when it started, but I found myself second-guessing some things I thought I knew for sure.
“Are you ok, baby?” Trina asked, as an old memory popped into my head. I’d been silent for a few moments, and I guess I missed what she’d said.
“Sorry, Tabby. I was thinking about something. What was it you said?” I replied, sincerely. The memory and following thought hit me like a ton of bricks. It had been ten years since I’d left the Army. It had been ten years since Sully went MIA during our last battle. It had been eight years since I’d seen any of my former teammates, since I was Best Man at Mac’s wedding to his wife, Maggie. Colt and Nadine were there, but Ethan didn’t show up. That had been two years after I’d joined Red River, and about six months before I met my ex-wife. Nobody said anything judgmental to me, but after what Mom and Dad said to me about my chosen profession after the Army, I wasn’t feeling too good about it.
Friends lose touch, of course. I never thought it would happen to us, but I wasn’t in a good place after what had happened.
Over the last year, though, I’d been able to repair the rift with my family, at least somewhat. I think the clincher, was when I told Mom that I was in a serious relationship, now. That was when Dad finally started to forgive me too, I think.
Wisdom doesn’t come with age and experience. It comes from knowing that you fucked up, and making changes to repair what damage your previous experience did. It comes from realizing how wrong you were.
Tabby had also been a big help, with bridging the gap between me and my family. She knew what to say, when to say it, and how to say it, in order to get me to listen. Well, she is a lawyer, after all. She knows how to argue points. When we met, I was already trying to mend fences, but she helped me see how to do it. She’s the wise one in our relationship. I’m just the muscle.
Although, I have to say that she’s become quite a hellcat herself, since I started teaching her self-defense. After what happened with ol’ Gordy Boy, it was better that she know how to defend herself, those times I couldn’t be around. In case something like that happened again, she’d be prepared for it.
“Talk to me, Deck,” she said, not repeating her question from earlier. Instead, she was worried about me.
“I will, Tabby,” I promised softly. “I just can’t, right now. Ok?” I gave her a smile and kept my voice even. “Don’t worry. I promise, I’ll tell you when I can.”
“Ok, baby. I understand,” she replied and smiled beautifully at me. She had a worried look in her eyes, though. I knew she was worried about me, but I knew better than to lie to her.
“Ok, so what was your question, again?” I asked in a lighter tone. “I promise, I’m listening, this time!”
“Well, since you’re listening now, I was asking if your Aunt and Uncle know about your ex-wife,” she said.
“They do, yeah,” I replied. “Mom was really pissed off when I told her. But since they wanted nothing to do with me at that time, I didn’t see the point in calling to let them know I was married.”
“Ouch, yeah. They shouldn’t judge you for that!” she declared. “Don’t worry, baby. At least they know about me ... right?”
“Yes, sweetheart. They know about you,” I said, and couldn’t help laughing a little. I knew she was just messing with me, since I’d talked to Mom and Dad on the phone, right in front of her. With the speaker on, no less!
“Good. I want to meet your Aunt and Uncle. They did a good job of raising you, because you are a good man, Deck Shepard!” Tabby declared emphatically.
“You’ve helped a lot with that, Tabby Williams,” I replied with a grin.
“Shut up and take credit where credit is due! Sure, William paid you, but you probably would’ve helped him out for a lot less,” she said, and I had to admit she was right. Yeah, I don’t like seeing the underdogs get run over.
“Ok, you got me, there,” I said with a sigh of resignation. Luckily, I was able to change the subject. “And here’s the exit to the 101. Only about another forty minutes or so, and we’ll be there.”
I pulled off on the exit ramp and made a left at the intersection, heading west on the 101 towards where I’d spent four years as a teenager. I’d been through there to and from Ventura, almost six months back, the night that Tabby and Shelly had been attacked.
The last leg of our drive didn’t take long at all, since I knew all the speed traps that the Oxnard PD and the Chippers had set up along the 101. That’s something you never forget, and I made sure my ‘79 Z-28 slowed down enough to breeze through them without alerting the radar guns used by the cops.
I slowed down, once we got to the SB city limits, and found my old house as if on autopilot. Some things just never change. It’s comforting, in a way. I let out a sigh as we pulled onto the street and went northwest for half a block. I grinned when I saw Dad’s old ‘74 ‘Cuda in the driveway. Mom must have parked her Jeep Grand Cherokee in the garage, to give me a place in the driveway.
That’s right! The drive from our place in Anaheim to Santa Barbara usually takes most people almost two and a half hours. It took us just under two.
Once we were parked, I opened Tabby’s door for her, and after she got out, I pushed the seat forward to get our bags. We were only planning to stay for two weeks, so we’d packed pretty light. I brought my old Army duffel bag with a couple pairs of jeans, my swim trunks, some t-shirts, shorts, socks, and my standard toiletries in a ditty bag. I also brought a suit bag along too, just in case we wanted to go out to someplace fancy.
Now, when I say “packed light” in Tabby’s case, that’s two suitcases full of clothes. One suitcase was in the trunk, while the other one took up half of the backseat. Yeah, I know. Camaros aren’t very economical and suck for traveling with luggage. So fuckin’ what? My Baby is a classic! Besides, I know how to economize space and make stuff fit where it normally wouldn’t fit. Oh, and get your mind out of the gutter!
Mom opened the door just before we got to it, and Dad came out with a big grin on his face. He didn’t look much different, except for a little more gray in his hair. Hell, I had more gray in my hair than he did! I thought about that again, for just a moment.
“Declan Liam Donal Shepard!” Mom said, using both of my middle names. She actually sounded happy to see me, though. So there was that. The grin that split her face, told me the same.
“Hi, Mom!” I said back with a matching grin, hugging her tight. Then I pulled back and made introductions. “Mom, Dad, this is Tabitha Williams, my girlfriend. Tabby, this is Naomi and John Shepard, my folks.”
“It’s so wonderful to meet you, Tabitha!” Mom enthused, giving my girlfriend a hug.
“Yes it is,” Dad agreed, hugging her too.
“Thank you both, but please call me Tabby,” she replied to my parents, smiling genuinely.
Then I looked towards the house. “Is Cara here?”
“She’ll be here for dinner, Deck,” Dad said. “She’s with her boyfriend, over at Mac’s and Kat’s place right now.”
“Wait-what?” I said in surprise. “Don’t you mean Mac and Maggie?”
“There’ve been some changes around here, hon,” Mom said with a smile. “Cara is helping out with some decorating at their new place.”
“Umm, ok,” I said. “So, what happened with Maggie?”
“You’re going to have to talk to Mac about that, son,” Dad said with a chuckle. “Did you see the news about a month ago, about the ‘Brown Wedding’ incident?”
“No, I didn’t,” I admitted as we took our bags into the house. “I’ve been kind of busy with work, lately.”
“Well, then you need to see Mac ASAP, Deck,” Dad smirked and chuckled again. “It’s a hell of a story!”
“Your room is ready for you, sweetie,” Mom told me. “I’m guessing you’ll be sleeping together while you’re here?”
“Yes, Mrs. Shepard,” Tabby answered with a little trepidation. “If that’s all right with you, that is?”
“We’re all adults here, Cher, and call me Naomi,” Mom replied, slipping back into her New Orleans accent. It doesn’t happen very often, usually when she’s just really happy about something. It made me feel better to hear it from her, right then. “Just keep it down if you two decide to have some fun, ok?”
“You got it, Mom,” I agreed immediately.
“Of course, Mrs. Shepard ... Naomi,” Tabby said right after my reply, wincing as she remembered to call Mom by her first name.
“Honey!” Dad said to Mom, acting surprised. Then he grinned, and Mom laughed.
“Well, you know where to go,” Mom said, smiling at me. “Just come back out when you’re unpacked, so we can catch up!”
“Yes, ma’am,” I replied respectfully. Then I turned to Tabby. “Come on, sweetheart. This way.”
“Lead on, my darling,” Tabby replied, smiling and immediately put at ease by Mom and Dad.
I lead the way to my old bedroom, and was surprised to find it almost exactly as I’d left it when I left for Ft. Benning, seventeen years ago. Mom, or maybe Cara, had kept it dusted and clean, in my absence. I felt myself choking up at that. Even when they were angry with me, they’d still kept my room as it had been, for all these years. Well, almost.
One big change I noticed, right off the bat, was that my old tube TV was gone, replaced by a flat screen TV with a new remote sitting right beside it.
The other big change I noticed, was that my old twin size bed was now a standard king. It took up way more space, but we still had more than enough room to maneuver around it. Mom and Dad live in a large four bedroom ranch style house, and each bedroom is pretty big.
Last I heard, Cara had a new boyfriend, and they lived together in their apartment. I wondered who it was, but figured I’d find out soon enough. She would be here for dinner, so until then we had time to unpack. We talked as we unpacked and put our stuff in the dresser and the closet.
“You talked about Mac before, sweetie, but who’s Kat?” Tabby asked conversationally.
“She’s an old friend from High School,” I replied, smiling at all the memories. “We all used to hang out together. I actually asked her out once, but she told me that she had a crush on Mac. Then she swore me to secrecy about her crush on him. So, now I’m guessing that she finally told him. I’m just wondering what happened between him and Maggie. Shit, I was Best Man at their wedding!”
Then I looked at her. “Sweetheart, what is it with women, not telling a guy that they like him?”
She looked back at me with a bemused half smile on her face. I could tell she was thinking. We’d known each other for about eight months, and in that time, we’d become somewhat attuned to each other’s idiosyncrasies.
Finally, she sighed and her smile disappeared as she turned serious. “Deck, I think it’s that some of us expect a man to have kind of a sixth sense, when it comes to what we want,” she explained. “It’s complicated for some of us, when we’re trying to sort out how we feel about a man. How do you tell a woman that you like her? Is it easy for you?”
“It depends, I guess,” I said with a shrug. “I can honestly say that you’re my first really serious relationship, Tabby. With you, I felt attracted to you immediately. After that first meeting when you fired Gordy Boy and I gave you a ride back to your office, well ... you know what happened next.” Damn it, I knew I was rambling.
Another memory flashed through my head, of the day that I’d stopped Gordon from hitting Tabby. How I sprinted from cover while he was pulling his hand back. He seemed to be moving in slow motion, and somehow I’d covered the twenty yard distance between us in time to clock him before he could hit her. I really hadn’t thought much of it back then, but now it just seemed ... odd, that I could move so fast.
“But weren’t you married?” Tabby asked with a confused smirk, bringing me back into the present. “How am I your first serious relationship?”
“Because I’m actually in love with you,” I replied steadily. “I wasn’t in love with Cindy. That was basically lust masquerading as love, if that makes any sense. With Cindy, I just walked up to her in a bar and told her she was hot. She thought the same about me, and she became my ex-wife, sixteen months later.”
“Ok, that makes sense,” she replied, nodding in agreement. “I think that’s kind of the same thing with my ex. He convinced me that he loved me, and the next thing I knew...” she clapped her hands together once. “Anyway, as far as telling someone how we feel, it’s kind of like that for us too, only worse.”
“What do you mean by worse?” I asked, perplexed.
“I’m taking one for the team here, hon,” she smirked. “I can’t speak for all women, but for myself and several others I know, we do not take rejection well. It makes us think that we aren’t good enough. It’s a matter of pride.”
We’d finished unpacking, then sat on the new bed together, in my old room. I took her in my arms and kissed her beautifully full lips. “As beautiful as you are, it’s a wonder that you were still single when we met.”
“I wasn’t really looking, you know. You just fell into my lap. Right place, right time. By the way, I’m in love with you too, Declan,” she said softly after the kiss. Then she gave me an embarrassed grin. “I have to be honest here, honey. You know that I dated white guys, but I never thought I’d fall in love with one.”
“Well, I’ve always been more attracted to ladies of color, so I wasn’t so shocked when I realized that I love you,” I replied truthfully. “Dad fell in love with Mom, before it was even legal.” I hooked my thumb over my shoulder to indicate Aunt Naomi and Uncle John, out in the kitchen and living room.
“I’m glad you did, honey,” she replied. “I’m also glad that those laws are gone now.” Then she kissed me sweetly, and I returned her kiss with interest. I was seriously considering kicking my door closed and having some fun, but then we heard a laugh from just outside the door.
“Some things never change, Bro,” I heard Cara say with a giggle. We broke the kiss and looked her way.
“Hey, Sis!” I grinned and stood up with Tabby beside me. “Cara, this is Tabitha Williams, my girlfriend. Tabby, this is my slightly annoying little Sis, Cara Shepard.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Tabitha,” Cara said with a genuine smile.
“You too, hon,” Tabby replied, giving Cara a hug by way of greeting. “Call me Tabby, by the way. Deck has told me a lot about you.”
“Well, hopefully, he’ll tell me a lot about you too,” Cara replied, giving me the infamous Shepard raised eyebrow. “And what do you mean by slightly annoying?”
“I will, Sis,” I said with my most disarming grin. “I promise, ok? Besides, you’ve always annoyed me, but just slightly.”
“Ok, I believe you,” she replied, her smile back in place as she came into my arms and gave me a big hug. Then she stepped back and grinned even wider. “Oh, and my boyfriend is here too. I can introduce you to him!”
“Cool,” I said, smiling. “Looking forward to meeting him.”
“Just don’t scare him like the others, Bro. I really like Falk, ok?” Cara replied meaningfully. That caused Tabby to giggle.
“Does he really do that?” my girlfriend asked my Sis.
“You have no idea, girl,” Cara said, then smirked at me and rolled her eyes. “Between Deck and Dad, it’s a wonder I managed to date any guy for longer than three weeks, back when we were in school.”
“I promise, Cara,” I replied sincerely. “As long as he isn’t a douchebag, I won’t put the fear of God into him.”
“Seriously? Overprotective, much?” Tabby asked, smirking.
“In Deck’s defense,” Cara explained before I could reply, “he is the best brother in the world, as far as making sure I was safe. Dad is Dad, and he’s the same way. I know they love me, and don’t want anyone to hurt me.”
“I understand, hon,” Tabby said. “My father is that way, too.”
They chatted some girl talk between themselves, and we all walked out to the living room together. When we got there, Dad was laughing at something that Cara’s new guy said. I could only see the back of his head, but I thought I recognized his voice.
He heard us coming, and turned in the chair to look at us. As soon as our eyes met, I finally placed the voice to a name.
“Deck, this is my boyfriend, Falk O’Connor,” Cara said, introducing us.
Falk stood immediately, and extended his hand. “Good to meet ya, Deck,” he said with a smile. His accent was almost nonexistent, but it was still there.
“You too, Falk,” I replied and smiled in spite of myself, as I shook his hand.
“Falk was in the Army too, Deck,” Dad said from his chair.
“You were in Afghanistan, about ten years ago, right?” I asked, squinting as if just recognizing him.
“Yeah, Kandahar...” he said, and snapped his fingers as he made a face, as if trying to remember. “Sergeant Deck Shepard, of course! You were with Second Group!”
“That’s right. You were there with Delta, if I’m not mistaken,” I said, recognition “dawning” on me. “Small world. Now you’re dating my Sis? How did that happen?”
Cara jumped in, telling the tale of how they’d met. Cara is an interior designer and the company Falk worked for, Seven Eyes Inc., hired her on as an independent contractor to decorate their offices. I almost laughed at the name of the company, but wisely held it back.
“When I saw Falk smiling at me, I just had to talk to him. We talked and laughed some, and he asked me out once I finished the job for the company. So, that’s how we met,” Cara finished, smiling adoringly at Falk. He smiled back and took her hand in his.
The blonde hair and light blue eyes on him, made me remember who he was. He had the good looks that could “turn a lesbian straight”, as some might put it. I had to wonder, though. I made a mental note to interrogate the dude as soon as possible.
“How do you know Falk?” Tabby whispered to me.
“We served together in Afghanistan,” I replied, also whispering. “We did a few joint missions together.”
Tabby knew better than to ask specifics, since everything was still Classified TSCI: Red. I couldn’t discuss it with anyone, not after basically telling my ex FWB Trina and her new boyfriend back in ‘08. At least what I told Tabby alleviated her curiosity, for the moment.
How the fuck was I going to explain this, once the truth came out? I knew it would, eventually. I knew who he was, and I’d keep his secret. If he really loved Cara, he’d let her know, though.
No, it isn’t any kind of sexual deviancy. He isn’t gay or bisexual, that I know of anyway. Falk is just ... different, for lack of a better word. It had been a while since I’d heard from Ian, too. Maybe Falk could give me an update on the search for Sully.
Daniel “Sully” Sullivan was a good guy, our Team’s demolitions expert. He had great taste in women, and was full-on South Boston Irish. In other words, he was a crazy motherfucker! Officially listed as MIA for the past ten years, I knew that Ian Dunbar and his Scouts still looked for him, whenever they could.
“Dinner’s ready, kids!” Mom shouted from the dining room. “Come and get it!”
Dinner was great, and it felt like I’d never left. Tabby loved chatting with everyone, and I got caught up on almost everything. I laughed along and caught them all up on what I’d been doing down in Los Angeles.
The only subject that never came up, was Mac’s apparent split with Maggie and getting together with Kat. I knew I’d have to talk with him about that ASAP, like Dad said. But first, I had more pressing business to attend to, right then.
After dinner and dishes, which I helped with, just like in the old days. Mom and I found Falk sitting with Dad, Tabby, and Cara in the living room. I took a deep breath and walked up to him.
“Hey, Falk. It’s been a while. Mind if I talk to you privately for a moment?” I asked with a smile, as lightly as I could manage.
“I don’t see why not,” he replied, just as lightly. “Big brother wants to make sure I’m right for his little sister, I take it?”
“Pretty much, yeah,” I shrugged. Then I looked at Cara. “You don’t mind if I steal your boyfriend for a moment, do you?”
“Oh great. Just don’t scare him off, ok?” Cara said, rolling her eyes.
“That depends,” I said, giving her my best evil eye. That caused her to chuckle and roll her eyes some more.
“Ok, fine,” she said and shook her head in resignation.
Falk and I walked out onto the back porch to give us some privacy.
“Are you serious about Cara?” I asked, without preamble.
“Yes, I am,” he replied, without hesitation.
“So, the age difference doesn’t bother you?” I asked pointedly. Before he could answer, I continued. “Seriously, Falk. Does she know who you are?”
“Not yet,” he said slowly. “But I am going to tell her when the time is right.”
“She deserves to know, man,” I told him. “I know you’re a good guy, but I don’t want to see her get hurt.”
“I understand, Deck,” he replied with a nod. Then he looked at me and smiled broadly. “You’re usually very laconic, but you have a strong protective side, too. You remind me a lot of your mother and grandmother.”
That took me off-guard. “You knew my mother and grandmother?”
“You know how old I am, brother,” he replied with a smile. “I’m actually a few weeks older than Ian, if you want specifics.”
“So, how did you know my mother and grandmother?” I asked, shelving the rest for now.
“I might as well tell you,” he said with an apologetic smile. “Your mother and grandmother were both half-bloods.”
“Umm, what?” I asked, feeling my jaw drop open. “What do you mean by that?”
“You have Sidhe blood in your veins, Deck,” he said as he looked at me.
The revelation suddenly made sense, as I thought back on what I’d been feeling lately. As I stood there, he explained.
“Why do you think your hair is turning white?” he said. “Your mother’s hair turned even before the age of thirty. Your grandmother’s hair turned white before she turned twenty-five. Did you have any idea until now?”
“Not like you’d think,” I said with a sigh. “I noticed some things over the past several years, though. I didn’t think anything of it at first, chalking it up to adrenaline whenever I was in a fight. But yeah, seeing a guy slow down while I fought at full speed, on a few occasions, kind of got me thinking.”
“That’s because your perception sped up along with your reflexes. Your great-grandmother is a Scout, Deck,” Falk said quietly. “A half-blood inherits the caste traits of her ... or in your case, his maternal Sidhe ancestor. I have to say, that of all the half-bloods born to Sidhe mothers, you are only the second male on record. It may be, because you are a third generation half-blood, more like an eighth-blood. But still, it’s extremely rare.”
“What else is going to happen to me?” I asked, accepting his explanation.
“I don’t know, but I’ll contact Ian as soon as I can. He might know more than I do, since he’s the Commander,” Falk said apologetically. “You’re the first third-generation half-blood I’ve met. He might have met one before, though.”
I thought back over what he’d just told me about my lineage. “Wait, so all half-bloods are born to Sidhe women?”
“That’s how it works,” he said resignedly. “We guys can’t father children, unless we are given a charm that grants us fertility.”
“Why?” I asked, perplexed by the reasoning behind that.
“It’s complicated, Deck,” Falk replied with a sigh. “Like I said, you’re the first male half-blood I’ve ever met, and only the second one on record.”
“Wait a sec. ‘On record’ how?” I asked, narrowing my eyes. That was the second time he’d used that term.
“Talk to Ian,” he replied, shaking his head and holding up his hands. “I’ve already said too much about it. He’s the Commander, so you need to talk to him about it.”
“Ok,” I replied with a shrug. A mystery for another time, but I guessed that I’d find out, eventually. I hoped so, anyway. I’d have to talk to Ian ASAP, though.
“So, what are the Seven Eyes doing in this neck of the world, anyway? Ian gave the impression that they were using your home turf as the staging area to search for Sully,” I said, hoping they’d have made some headway by now.
“Santa Barbara sits on a Ley-line hub, Deck. It makes things easier for us to coordinate with home. As for Sully, we have his location narrowed down to one of three different ... places, now,” he nodded. “Are you still in, when we go to get him out of wherever he is?”
“Wherever, whenever, or whatever. I’m in, no matter what,” I confirmed. I knew what Ley-lines and hubs were, from what Ian had told me. I still couldn’t quite wrap my head around it all, though.