Blog Tour: Collateral Damage by Frederick Lee Brooke

Remember Fred’s book Zombie Candy? 

Well, the third book in one of his other series has just been released! Collateral Damage! Sound interesting? YES!
Well, this blog tour is slightly different from any other blog tour. Every day so far has had a chapter a day! I’m day 9! Hopefully you’ve come here from BestSellingReads and hopefully you’ll continue on to Naomi’s blog! 

If you leave comments on everyone’s blog post you’re in with a chance to win prizes! And who doesn’t win prizes? So, read the chapter and enjoy! Be sure to leave a comment and continue on through to Naomi’s blog. There is an entire blog list at the end of this post if you missed any of the beginning posts!

Warning, this is a long chapter!

Chapter 9—Annie

“What are you doing here? How did you know?”
“I didn’t. Salvatore told me who you were seeing this morning. I thought you might need to decompress afterwards. I haven’t seen my husband myself in so long, I thought you might be able to tell me what’s going on with him. I drove here on a lark, and saw your car in the lot.”
“Come on in. Water’s boiling. I’ve got green tea, black, or instant coffee.”
“Green,” Alison said. “Don’t you find it creepy all alone in this forest? I can’t believe you used to sleep here at night, and go jogging along these trails. I’m so glad Salvatore got you out of this place.”
My sister and I had dealt with the childhood attack in different ways. We’d been assaulted in a forest. A man had stopped his car by the side of the road and run after us. He had caught up to me and sexually assaulted me while Alison fought him off with a stick. I was eight years old, she was ten. A police car had stopped to investigate the man’s parked car, leading him to break off the attack.
Alison had a lifelong fear of forests. I dealt with it by living in the forest, but with plenty of jet noise to keep me company.
“I spent four years in the army, Al. I learned how to defend myself.”
“You’re tempting fate.”
“I don’t even live here anymore. Plus I’ve got Salvatore to protect me.”
Alison looked unhappy. Maybe she thought I was bragging when I said that about Salvatore. Neither of us wanted to dwell on that old attack in the woods. The predator had chatted with the police, driven away, and never been caught.
“So how’s my husband?” she said.
I told her about Todd’s newspaper article on Iraq vets. I told her about his ponytail and his missing glasses. “Is he shorter than you?” I asked.
“By one inch. Always wore platform shoes.”
“He’s smoking.”
“Back to cigarettes,” Alison echoed. “For five years I tried to get him to try contacts, but he was so attached to those glasses.”
“It bugged the hell out of me that Michael looked up Todd,” I said. “What gives him the right to do that?”
“What gives him the right to break into my apartment? You act as if men wait around for someone to give them permission, Annie. Get with the program. Men aren’t like that. At least not the ones I know.”
I knew she was right, but that didn’t make it acceptable. I didn’t like Todd nosing into what happened between Michael and me, and I didn’t like Michael talking to him about it.
“Annie, I’m still completely blown away about your old boyfriend being alive. I’m losing sleep over this. You’ve got to help me. What the hell happened over there with you and him? What made you do such a…wild thing?”
I sighed. Alison was my only sister. My lie had hurt her. I understood her need to know details. She was trying to rearrange the facts in her head to fit Michael’s new revelation. She couldn’t do it without more information.
“Do you promise not to spread it around?”
“Who would I tell? Oh, you mean Todd? Of course I promise, Annie. Just think of all the secrets we’ve kept over the years. Why do you even say such a thing?”
“It’s just that…well, I realized something when Michael showed up. It’s still pretty painful for me, the whole thing.”
“So you said he dropped you?”
I went to the stove and poured water into cups. I stood watching the tea leak from the bags into the water. After a minute, I lifted the bags out. I threw Al’s away. I like my tea strong, so I let mine steep for a while longer in the cup, then wound the string around the bag to squeeze the last drops out. I increased the pressure to get the last bit. Suddenly, with a snapping sound, the string broke in my fingers and the bag fell on the floor, leaving a big wet spot. My sister made a face.
“I’ve got an ice pick you can use on those tea bags.”
“You like it weak, right?”
“Like my men,” she said.
“Michael’s hair is so long now, too.” I was remembering how he looked in Iraq. “Anyway, I could never get him to reconsider, and…well, the way he went about it, he really hurt me.”
“Someone usually gets hurt when people break up, Annie.”
My sister always had to tell me how the world worked. I knew she couldn’t help herself. No more than I could help it when my big lie came out for the first time.
“Michael was a car thief in Buffalo before the army.”
“You told me that, like, years ago,” Alison said.
“He’d been arrested ten or twelve times before enlisting, mostly drug charges like possession. Never anything violent, no murders, or robberies.”
“You drew the line there.”
I didn’t tell my sister about those big, dark brown eyes searching mine, uncovering everything inside me until all was exposed, and I was free of my chains, my inhibitions. Or that long straight Roman nose, and that lighthearted, almost impish laugh. She had seen those things for herself two days ago. Michael was always on the verge of laughing.
“He read books on his downtime,” I said, “when he wasn’t working out. Most people read magazines or surfed the net. Michael read books. Even poetry.”
“Now he’s writing the stuff.”
“I never knew he wrote poetry,” I said.
“They say you can never know everything about another person,” she said.
My sister just sat watching me, for once, letting me reflect. It was hard to comprehend that Michael was in love with me again, after so long without any contact. Then he’s bouncing from place to place around town, meeting all my people, and telling them about me. I could feel the pull of his orbit, tugging on me.
“He knew everything about me, everything, everything. There was nothing he didn’t get me to share. I even told him about how we were attacked. I never tell anyone that.”
“Is that why he attacked you on the street?”
I thought about it. “That could be his logic, in some really weird way.”
Alison nodded. “I told Todd about it. I still remember what he said. You want to know?”
I didn’t want to know, but I could see she wanted to tell me.
“He said, ‘Happens to a lot of girls.’ That’s all. Cold journalistic shit. Not something comforting, no sympathy, no sharing the hurt. That tells you a lot about Todd.”
“You were already married?”
“Of course,” Alison said.
We sipped our tea, then I said, “Michael‘s eyes, the way he would look at me. His eyes would cloud over as if he was drunk.”
“We can’t all have your blond hair and blue eyes,” my sister said. She ran her fingers over her own straight brown hair, checking her ponytail.
“I nearly went crazy every time he went out on a patrol and didn’t come back for four days. We didn’t have any way of making contact. You just had to wait.”
“Didn’t you have radios or whatever?”
I shook my head. “It’s not like going shopping at the mall. A few times when he came back, I had already left with my squad on a different patrol, so a week could go by before we saw each other. He told me he would be going crazy too.”
“You were lucky to be based in the same place,” she said.
I glanced at my sister. It was so unlike her to make a positive comment.
“He wouldn’t even let me take a shower when I got back. Just imagine, four days without a shower, without changing clothes, and he wanted to join our bodies. That is love. I think back on it now, and I know that was true love.”
“Or maybe just a high tolerance for rank-smelling women.”
“Very funny.”
“But seriously, Annie, that’s exactly what worries me,” Alison said.
“Maybe my lack of inhibition came from being in the war zone. We went on patrols. We came under fire. People got killed or injured. You were surrounded by death. I worried constantly about him getting killed. There was an absurdity to the idea of planning anything. Maybe it was conducive to great orgasms, I don’t know. Or maybe it was just Michael’s touch.”
“I don’t want to hear about your orgasms. You’re my little sister.”
“Never thought I’d find a way to embarrass you.” We hugged. Suddenly I was embarrassed to be rattling on about Michael when she had no love in her life right now. “We don’t have to talk about me the whole time. This must be horrible for you.”
Alison squeezed my hand. “No, I want to know the whole story. Go on.”
“He made me feel like I was the only thing in the world that mattered. I think in that moment I was the only thing that mattered to him. Michael’s a very intense person. When he focuses on something, nothing can distract him. It’s a good quality in a soldier. Probably in any person. But in a lover, it makes you feel like you’re the absolute center of the universe, at least for one other person. You feel loved. You get love, you give your love, and it overflows in both directions. We had that.”
“You know what, Annie? You are making me so jealous. I was with Todd for two years before we got married, which lasted another five years. Even on our frigging wedding day he never made me feel like I was the center of the universe.”
“There’s no reason to get jealous. This is all in the past. I’m telling you about everything I lost. I haven’t even gotten to the nasty part.”
“You seem to be enjoying the nice part. Watch out for that, girl.”
“Like I said, it’s gone for good.”
“At least you had it for that time in our life,” she said.
“You know what I realized today? Todd didn’t deserve you.”
“Damn right he didn’t. That idiot doesn’t deserve dog food. But I don’t want to talk about him. Your Michael is a bit of an oddball himself, isn’t he? Is he manic? Wouldn’t you call that manic behavior?”
I thought about it before answering. Then I decided I didn’t want to put labels on Michael.
“One of our translators invited us to lunch at his family’s house in Baghdad. On the day of this feast, we sat at their table for six hours with sixteen people, eating their food and talking with them. We were their guests of honor. If we hadn’t worn uniforms, you wouldn’t have known there was a war going on outside.”
“Was that the best food you had during your whole time there?” Alison said.
I nodded. But the food wasn’t the story I wanted to tell.
“That was the day he proposed. We were coming back to base in the Jeep. It was still daylight. Michael and I rode in the back in full armor while one of his buddies drove and another rode shotgun, literally, with a huge gun at the ready. Michael took me by surprise. My first thought, when he got down on one knee in a Jeep going thirty miles an hour, was that he’d been hit. He was all bent over, like he was in pain. I guess he was getting up the courage, or trying to remember his lines.”
“He proposed to you in a speeding Jeep? God, I think we were at Red Lobster when Todd popped the question,” Alison said.
“He said I was the one. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with me.”
“Did he have a ring?”
I could still see the ring in my mind, as if it was yesterday, a smallish diamond gripped in gold. A modest little thing compared to the one I had now.
“He threw his gloves on the floor of the Jeep. He pulled the glove off my left hand and slid the ring on my finger.”
“That’s how it’s usually done,” Alison said. “Although Todd screwed it up. He wasn’t springing for an engagement ring if I didn’t say yes.”
“You mean he proposed and he didn’t even have a ring?”
“Typical Todd. I think I even had to tip the waitress that night.”
“Well, Michael said we could do the ceremony right there on the base in the next few days, or we could do it back home on our next leave. He wanted to know my answer right away.”
“Of course he did, Annie. Normal red-blooded male and all. Now, seeing that things didn’t work out, I’m going to guess you said thanks, but no thanks.”
“No, I said yes.”
“Yes? But then how come—”
“Just wait. See, Michael had planned it all out. He had gotten hold of the ring, he had organized our ride to the feast, and he’d had all this time to think about it. In that whole year we’d been together I hadn’t given marriage a single thought.”
“You are a complicated little twit, you know that?”
“I know, I know. So listen. There we were, lying there in the back of this Jeep, all crunched together in a ball, just fitting in the space, our armor stretched, our helmets clanking. I told him yes, yes, yes, it was all I wanted, all I ever wanted.”
“You told him that?”
“Yes. When we got back to the base, Michael carried me inside, his Marine buddies whooping it up, making noise. People gathered around, all of Michael’s friends. They all knew he was going to propose. That’s when I had my first doubts. How can you make a decision like that, a decision for your whole life, in a place like Camp Liberty? I could say yes, and then get my head blown off the next day. Or he could. Any of us could. You can’t get married in circumstances like that.”
“Why not? If you’re the center of the universe and all that,” Alison said.
“You didn’t go through the same thought process.”
“No one could ever possibly go through the same thought process as you, Annie. You’re one of a kind.”
“Thanks a lot,” I said. It was obvious she didn’t mean it as a compliment.
“I still don’t get why you said yes if you didn’t want to get married.”
“It wasn’t that I didn’t want to. I just couldn’t. Not there. Not with all that chaos and death all around us.”
“Silly girl. For some people that would be the perfect reason to ditch all your fears and take the plunge. For him that was obviously a reason to tie the knot right away, not delay.”
“I kept thinking of things like, he’s a car thief. He likes drugs. You who have never smoked a joint in your life, and he’s been arrested multiple times. How would we get along?”
“Todd turned out to be quite a pothead, you know.”
I looked at my sister, tired of hearing about her pinhead husband. I was starting to think she missed him. Todd kept disappearing for weeks at a time, then suddenly reappearing and wanting something. A book he’d forgotten. Information about somebody’s birthday. Maybe all she missed was the predictability of a relationship.
“I was all hung up on what Michael was going to do after the war. I was like, what kind of career can a guy like that have?”
“You are such a prissy girl. How can you spend four years in the army and never once smoke a joint?”
“I hadn’t done it then. I didn’t say I haven’t done it now.”
“I’m so relieved. God, Annie.”
“So here’s the funny part. Within twenty-four hours of saying yes, just before going out on a four-day patrol, I got myself into such a state, I gave him his ring back. He’d been celebrating with his buddies. He had no idea this was coming. After all my yesses the day before, he looked at me like I was some kind of two-headed monster. We were standing in this little area behind the cafeteria. There were all these carts filled with dirty trays. I’ll always remember how it reeked of ketchup. Michael wouldn’t take it. The ring fell on the floor between us.”
“My own little sister,” Alison said.
“I told him I just couldn’t decide there. Not in Iraq. He said I didn’t love him. He asked me over and over if I didn’t love him. I told him I loved him. Of course, I loved him. I tried to hug him, he shoved me away. The ring stayed on the floor. We looked in each other’s eyes. He said if I really loved him, I had to marry him then, in Iraq, as soon as I got back from my patrol. He knew I was rolling out in forty minutes. He said if I really loved him, there was no reason to wait.”
“You are so stubborn,” Alison said. “I think about you having a two-year pity party because of this mess—not because he died, like everyone thought, but because of this royal misunderstanding. You wish you could do it over again, don’t you? If you had it to do over, you would’ve been married to for the last two years already, and who knows what trouble he would’ve gotten into. You see, Annie? It was painful, damned painful. But it probably turned out for the best.”
I sighed. “You’re right. I would do it differently if I had to do it over. I think I would’ve gone through with it. When I think how much time we lost. Why did I have to get bogged down in a stupid philosophical point?”
“I don’t know, but he wasn’t buying it,” Alison said. “I don’t think I would’ve either.”
“We do stupid things.”
My sister sighed. “I’m cursing the day I ever fell in love with Todd. Can you imagine how much I’d like to do that all over again?”
She would’ve been spared that miscarriage. How I ached for her to have never gone through that pain. Or the abandonment. I couldn’t blame her for being cynical.
“Now comes the best part. You wanted to know why I told everyone he was dead?”
“Oh, right.”
“So four days later, when I got back, Michael was gone on a patrol. All I wanted was to talk to him. Well, I also wanted to hold him in my arms, but what I most wanted was to find the answer we hadn’t been able to find when I gave him back the ring. It was over a week before I even saw him again.
“But when he got back from his patrol, he never had time for me. This went on for weeks. He didn’t want to eat with me or see me or talk to me. I saw him at dinner one night in the cafeteria. He was sitting with a bunch of guys, and he gave me this horrible fake smile. It pissed me off. I did something the old schoolteacher Annie never would’ve done. I walked right up and waited for one of them to make space so I could sit down. One of the guys did move aside, but right away Michael blocked me with his arm. He told me right in front of all the guys that he lost the ring in a poker game. You should have heard them laughing.”
“Not pretty,” Alison said.
“That wasn’t the end of it. I waited for him when he came out of the cafeteria, and I pushed him in a corner. I gave the other guys the evil eye to make them leave us alone. I accused him of avoiding me. I told him I was sorry. I told him I didn’t want it to be over. You know what his answer was?”
“I can guess.”
“He asked if I was ready to make a decision. He was gentle, not hard and aggressive like I expected. I told him I couldn’t. I told him we could talk about it. I told him I had a right to expect that. I told him we needed to make some plans for when we would be back. He had to give me a picture of how our future would look. I tried to make him understand.”
“And he walked away,” Alison said, a question in her voice. My look confirmed it. “This is the man who was standing in my apartment just yesterday?”
“He left me standing there, crying and moaning. I knew it was over. Later that night I started throwing up. In between sobbing fits. I felt like dying. I wanted to be dead. I wanted my next patrol to be my last so that I no longer had to deal with this pain. I had been the object of his love, you know? Like a flower in the sunshine, and he took the light away. He deprived me of it so suddenly, for so little reason, or at least so little reason that I could understand, I felt like I was in this vortex of fury and rage. I shouldn’t have been near weapons in that state, but it never occurred to me to use one on myself. I only had one outcome in mind. Some Iraqi sniper had to get lucky and do it for me.”
Alison looked at me with wide, staring eyes.
“My next patrols were a nightmare of those two impulses battling in me: the one praying for an enemy bullet to end my agony and the one the army drills into you, which makes you take every possible precaution to keep your ass out of danger. I could not logically endanger myself without risking the lives of others. It would be their duty to drag me out of whatever mess I got into, and they could get killed, too.”
“God, the choices you all had to make.”
“Another month went by. One day, Michael’s squad came back from a patrol. I ran into his friends, but nowhere did I see him. I always kept an eye on him, even if he didn’t speak to me. Then one of the guys, a dude nicknamed Husker came and asked me to take a walk. We went out on the parade ground. He had his arm around my back. This was Michael’s best friend.”
“The one he lives with now, in Florida.”
“Right. He went to the University of Nebraska and played on the football team, the Corn Huskers, which is how he got the nickname. His uncle is that senator from Florida, Manning Mathers, believe it or not. Husker didn’t want people to know about that, so most people didn’t. Anyway, to me he was just Michael’s best friend. He took me out on the parade ground and told me Michael had been killed.”
“Wait a minute. He told you Michael had been a casualty?”
“He said Michael had been flown in the night before, severely injured. The rest of them had just gotten in, and Husker found out Michael had died during the night. I nearly lost my mind at the thought that Michael had been there, lying on some operating table, and he had died without anybody informing me.”
“But he’s not dead,” Alison said. “I’m just trying to understand.”
“Just wait, I’m almost done. Husker walked me off the parade ground and back to the main barracks. I was totally numb. I could feel my boots hitting the ground, but it was like my feet weren’t connected to my legs, or my legs weren’t connected to me. I was a robot moving from A to B.
“Michael was dead. No one had told me. He had come back in a chopper. He had died in some disgusting operating room with no one to hold his hand. He had been unconscious. He couldn’t ask for me. Nobody there knew about me. Now there would never be a chance to make up. That was all I could think. Even his remains had already been shipped out. I couldn’t find anyone who knew anything. My sunshine was gone forever.
“That night was such a nightmare. I couldn’t move from my bed. It was like a huge weight pressing down on my chest, pinning me. I didn’t cry anymore. I was all cried out, and besides soldiers didn’t cry much. Especially not women. But I lay awake all night, reliving the experiences I’d had with Michael. The picnic we went on one time right on the base; the lunch feast at the translator’s house in Baghdad; Michael getting down on one knee and pulling my gloves off, and me saying yes, yes, yes. The lovemaking in so many different places, some of them traditional, some more makeshift. The way his impish smile could light up all sides of me and warm me inside, making me feel alive.
“The next day I was supposed to leave on a patrol in the afternoon. I pulled myself together in the morning, having hardly slept. I went to lunch in the cafeteria, and, at first, I hardly looked in the direction of where Michael’s squad usually sat. They had no secrets from each other. They all knew everything about us. I was like dirt to them. But I had a funny feeling, almost like one part of the cafeteria had gone quiet. When I glanced over, I saw they were all looking at me, not wolfing down their food like they always did, not moving a muscle.”
“Oh my God, I know what’s coming.”
I nodded. “Then I saw Michael, sitting in the middle in his usual seat, also looking at me, waiting for my reaction, that smirk on his face. A couple of guys started laughing, and then they were all laughing, an avalanche of laughter. All kinds of men laughing at me. Laughing and laughing and laughing, with their disgusting deep voices, like an avalanche of rocks and boulders and debris roaring down a mountainside. Laughing at me.”
“Oh, how cruel,” my sister said. “I never heard of such a thing. How could they do that to you, Annie?”
“Good joke, I thought. Good prank. Joke’s on Annie. I wasn’t laughing. I fell down on the floor, screaming. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t think. I totally lost my shit, right in front of three hundred people. They had to inject me. They wheeled me away on a cart. I spent a whole week in the psychiatric ward.”
Alison was shaking her head. “We didn’t know any of this.”
“From that day on, when I came out of there, he was dead to me.”
“Now I understand,” she said. “It all makes some kind of sense.”
“That’s when I wrote you. “
“You said he’d been killed by a sniper while rescuing a wounded soldier under fire. He was a hero.”
“I knew you would tell Mom and Dad. I couldn’t just tell you he dropped me. I don’t know why I did it.”
“You wouldn’t believe how Mom cried,” Alison said.
“In Iraq, once I was healthy again, we kept out of each other’s way. Would you believe he never once apologized? When my second tour ended, we were still in limbo. That’s why I signed up for a third. Some little hope always stayed alive inside me by the occasional sight of him, the images in my mind, the memories. Some little voice kept telling me there must be a way to get back together, but nothing changed. I tried to talk to him again a hundred different times.”
We sat there for a couple of minutes just finishing our tea and looking around. It was a sad story, but there was nothing unique or even unusual about it.
“As your loser of a husband said to me earlier today, relationships end. That’s life.”
“And this same clown who fakes his own death shows up again, right here in Chicago.”
I sighed. “You can see why I never expected to see him again.”
“Not only does he show up, he’s writing you love poems.”
“One poem.”
“No wonder you’re confused, woman.”
I felt so lucky to have a sister who could understand me. It was hard enough, with all our differences. I couldn’t help it that I got the blond hair and the blue eyes, while she grew up rail thin with brown hair. Today she’d jazzed it up with a white hairband. It looked chic with the Ray-Bans.
“I’m not confused. Michael didn’t contact me once till now. Even in Iraq he ignored me. From one day to the next, I no longer existed.”
“But he contacted you now. It changed things, by the look of you. You’d better be on your guard. What you’ve just told me confirms what a true prick he is.”
“What are you so upset about? It changes nothing.”
“When you kissed him,” my sister said. “When you were sitting next to each other. You think I’m blind, Annie? I’m your sister.”
“I’m not going to betray Salvatore. I’m not going to treat him the way Michael treated me.”
“Michael broke your heart once, and he’ll do it again. Why would you give him the chance?”
“We’re on the same side, here, okay? You don’t have to convince me.”
“I saw some serious weakness in you, Annie. I just don’t want to see you get hurt.”

Monday, June 24 Shannon Mayer Ch. 1

Tuesday, June 25 Scott Bury Ch. 2

Wednesday, June 26 Raine Thomas Ch. 3

Thursday, June 27 Emily Walker Ch. 4

Friday, June 28 Simon Jenner Ch. 5

Saturday, June 29 Amberr Meadows Ch. 6

Sunday, June 30 Anne Chaconas Ch. 7

Monday, July 1 BestsellingReads Ch. 8

Tuesday, July 2 Tyler-Rose Neath Ch. 9 – You’re here!!

Wednesday, July 3 Naomi Leadbeater Ch. 10

Thursday, July 4 Mohana Rajakumar Ch. 11

Friday, July 5 Helen Hanson Ch. 12

Saturday, July 6 Marilou George Ch. 13

Sunday, July 7 J.C. Martin Ch. 14

Monday, July 8 Corinne O’Flynn Ch. 15

Tuesday, July 9 Tawdra Kandle Ch. 16

Wednesday, July 10 Martha Bourke Ch. 17

Thursday, July 11 Connie M. Chyle Ch. 18

Friday, July 12 Cyndi Ch. 19

Saturday, July 13 Kenneth Hoss Ch. 20

Sunday, July 14 Andrea Kurian Ch. 21

Monday, July 15 Andy Holloman Ch. 22

Tuesday, July 16 Marilyn Diekman Ch. 23

Wednesday, July 17 Christine Nolfi Ch. 24

Thursday, July 18 Jennifer Chase Ch. 25

Friday, July 19 Patricia Sands Ch. 26


2 thoughts on “Blog Tour: Collateral Damage by Frederick Lee Brooke

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