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The Soldier Next Door

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What makes a hero? They say a hero is someone that has given his life to something bigger than himself. I say a hero is no braver than an ordinary man, he is just braver for five minutes longer. All soldiers are brave, it's what they do with their bravery that makes them heroes. Am I a hero? Clayton Jackson dedicated his life to serving his country. Enlisting in the Marine Corps at the young age of eighteen, he never imagined following any other path. However, fate had other plans for him as a life-altering accident during his last deployment left him disabled and forces him to return home. Hiding in the small town he grew up in, Clayton tries to keep his secret from his loved ones at all costs. One day while seeking refuge from his troubled mind, his path crosses with Isabella Jones. Their connection is instantaneous as if the universe conspired to bring them together. Isabella, a mysterious and enigmatic woman, is haunted by the demons from her own past. As their relationship quickly blossoms, the unspoken truths between them threaten to tear them apart. When Clayton is presented with the opportunity to rejoin the Marine Corps, Isabella is faced with a decision: whether to accompany him or remain behind. Caught in this web of secrets and lies, they try to navigate their love through the murky waters, desperately hoping to find solace in each other's arms. But will love be enough to conquer the shadows that lingered in their hearts? Or would the truth ultimately be their undoing?

Chapter 1 Coming Home

Today I give up on a dream, not really by my own choice but still, it was the end of something big. Something I prepared for my whole life, something that drove every bone in my body, it was the sole purpose behind every single thing that I did. I always believed I would do something great, that I would become my dream. I guess dreams can't last forever, but I sure wish that this one did.

My name is Clayton Jackson. I joined the Marine Corps when I was eighteen, today at the age of twenty-five I am told that I can no longer serve. I am on a bus back home now, to say that I am not devastated would be a lie. Home is the last place I ever saw myself coming to, especially not so soon.

I did not let my parents know, they are probably going to think this is just a surprise visit. All I know is my father is going to be disappointed. I disappointed him all those years ago when he wanted me to become a doctor and now I am going to disappoint him again. Not like this is something I could have controlled. The thing that is going to be the hardest is that they are only going to find out now what happened. In saying that, am I going to be ready to tell them what I really have been through, what I have kept a secret from everyone for so long?

As I climb off at the bus stop in the middle of town, I can already see the heads turning. This is such a small place, by the time I get home my mom will already be waiting for me.

And that is exactly what happens.

My mom comes racing down the stairs to greet me just as I set foot through the front gate. "Clay, my god you are home. Why did you not tell us? Betty from the flower shop told me that she saw you".

She d*mn near chokes me to death from her repeated tiny little hugs, I can barely utter a word. "Mom, does Betty have nothing better to do than spread gossip?"

She chuckles and squeezes me for the fifth time.

In the distance I see my father step off the porch to come to offer me the best that he can, nothing near as warm as a hug but a firm handshake. "You know how this town is son. They occupy themselves with everybody's business but their own"

"Well, I am just glad you came to visit," my mom says as she is still squeezing me firm. "Come, let your dad take your bag and I will go make us some coffee"

"Your brother and his latest girlfriend is in the lounge", my dad shamelessly says.

"Richard you can't say things like that", my mom reprimands him.

Dad takes my bag but does not leave until he can get his final five cents worth in. "Denice the child has a different girl on his arm every week. The town is running dry out of women"

"Leave him, he is just enjoying life while he is young. Not like Clay here that has his head screwed on in the right place"

I watch as dad disappears through the door, but wait, he is not done yet. "I still say you should have become a doctor but I guess serving your country is just as good."

My dad takes my bag to my room while my mom heads into the kitchen to go make us some coffee. I sneak up behind my brother and smack him against the head.

"What the f*ck?" he spins around in his chair to see whom it comes from.

"Hey, old Matty boy. I hear mom says you smooching a new girl"

I pull him into a big old man hug as he stands up from the couch. "Clay, bro, what are you doing here? You are not up for leave"

"Man, don't even ask. The old man is going to flip his valves a few times"

"Don't tell me you got kicked out?", he says out of concern.

"You can say I sort of did."

Matt drops down on the chair while rubbing his hands together, not from the cold but from the excitement he perceives is about to happen. "I want a front row to this, dad is going to rip you a new one."

"I am more worried about what the old lady is going to say."

"What happened bro? We have not heard from you since you were deployed."

I reach over and whisper in his ear making sure that the girl next to him cannot hear. I watch him as his face goes pale and his eyes grow wide, this will be my mom's reaction but only tenfold.

"F*ck no! Sh*t bro, what happened? You gotta be shitting me!"

"A man does not joke about sh*t like this."

I watch him as he tries to hold back the tears. "Mom is going to be p*ss*d. Why did you not phone us?"

"Guess I had to work through it myself first. I did not want the old lady to stress. You know how she can be." I look away trying to hold the tears back myself.

"What are you going to do now?"

"Stay here for a few months and head to the city."

"I will come with you if you want the extra luggage. I am tired of this shithole anyway." He chuckles as he looks on over to the girl next to him.

"So who is the new girl?", I desperately try to change the subject.

"This is Elle, she moved into town a month ago."

"You sure as hell do not waste any time. What happened to Becky?"

"Oh he dumped her for me", Elle explains.

"You do know he is nothing but trouble?", I look at her and smile.

She looks at me with a smile you will only get from a naughty school girl. "My mom says I only like the bad boys".

"There used to be a time Clay was the bad boy of the town but then he ran off to join the Marines."

"Oh girls just love a man in uniform", She winks at me and smiles.

"Oh is that so?" Matt's face lights up as he gets an idea. "Bro, can I borrow your service uniform?"

"You touch my sh*t and I break your fingers."

"D*mn", he tries to convince me. "Can you imagine the girls you will get if you wear that sh*t? You might even get Miss Old Stubborn on the hill there moaning."

It immediately sparks my curiosity. "Who is Miss Old Stubborn?"

"She moved in there a week ago. She has not spoken to anyone since she has been here"

"She does not even leave the property, she gets the grocer to deliver her groceries", Elle adds.

"She sounds more like Miss Snob to me", is the first thing that comes to my mind.

"That is exactly what I said", Elle agrees with what I said.

"Maybe you should go past there and introduce yourself and in the same breath just throw it out there that you are in the Marines", Matt tries to encourage me, he knows that I could do with the company other than my family.

"You would almost do everything to get laid", I chuckle at his remark.

"Not almost, he does", Elle slaps him playfully on the arm.

Just then mom comes into the lounge. "Here you go, my boy."

Mom hands me my coffee and sits next to me on the couch. The only thing running through my mind is "Please don't touch me, just don't touch me." But she just casually sits and continues sipping on her tea. "How long are you staying this time?"

Then dad walks into the lounge. "By the weight of that bag, a bit more than usual."

Thank god he did not look in the bag, he would have seen that everything I own is in there. What could not fit in there, will come by courier later this week.

"The thing is, there is something I need to tell you guys", I get the courage to tell them what is really going on, why I am back home.

"Don't tell me you got kicked out of the f*ck*ng Marines!" My dad does not even give me time to explain.

"Richard!", My mom has to reprimand him again.

"What?" He just looks at my mom as if he has done nothing wrong. "I told him he should have become a doctor", he continues to add.

I don't know if I have the energy for this sh*t. Maybe I should just shut my mouth and let him think whatever he wants. He is the most hard-headed man I know, bumping heads with him is like trying to teach a rock how to move. "Yes maybe you are right dad, at least I would not have disgraced you"

"I did not say you disgraced me, Clay. I am just disappointed."

I know it is still going to be long before he is going to shut up about this doctor thing.

"Richard, I am sure he has a very good reason for what happened", my mom takes my side against him. She gives me a slight squeeze around my shoulders.

I take a deep breath and calm down before I speak again. "Yes I do mom but it is not something I want to talk about right now"

"Well, it is never too late to become a doctor. You are still young", my dad most irritatingly carries on.

"Dad, just let me get through this day and then the next. I will tell you what happened when I am ready."

"Fair enough, it is not like you going anywhere"

"Richard! Stop being a jerk", my mom shoots my dad a look that I sure can almost kill him and smacks him against the head.

I can almost not keep in my laughter as I watch dad's head snap to the left. "It is fine mom, if you will excuse me, it was a long bus ride, I would like to get some rest."

"I will wake you up for supper."

I give my mom a kiss on the forehead before I get up and leave the lounge. The truth is, I am not tired, I am just not in the mood for this.

I get to my room and as usual, nothing has changed, it is like stepping back into a time capsule. As I try to unpack my bag, I discover that even my old clothes from when I was eighteen are still hanging in here. Mom has always been one to cling onto things just as I will be clinging onto those uniforms and their memories that is in my bag.

Once I have finished finding space to unpack my things, I get ready to lay down on the bed for a few hours. But before I can, there is a knock on my door. "Come in"

"Hey sweetie, I brought you some extra blankets", my mom peaks around the door.

I hug as I take them from her. "Thank you, mom."

She looks at me lovingly. "Don't worry about your dad, you do what you have to do"

I get back onto the bed and under the covers. I soon drift off to sleep and the nightmares start.

.....

I can hear myself screaming as bullets fly over my head. "We are under attack! Fall back! Fall back!"

There is a soldier next to me that is trying to cover us as best as he can. "I can't go back! We are surrounded. They are f*ck*ng everywhere"

"Just get us the f*ck out of here! Drive through them. NOW. Just drive!" I order the soldier to get us out of the range of the fire coming that is coming hot and heavy from the militia attacking us.

But the soldier starts to panic as the truck is not going fast enough. "This truck won't make it on this dirt road so fast. I need to go slow. We have not cleared it for live explosives"

"I don't care!" My voice echoes over the gunfire that is now coming in fast. "Just get us out of here. LET'S GO. LET'S GO."

Then there is a massive explosion, the tuck flips and crashes down onto its side.

"Aaahhh f*ck", I utter as my body as thrown from side to side.

"Clay! Sir!" The soldier tries to grab on to me.

"Goddammit" is the only word I can utter. My head is still zinging from the bomb and my d*mn body hurts.

"Are you okay Sir?"

"I think so". I try to assess the situation but my first instinct is the safety of my squad. "Is everyone else okay?"

"Yes, we are all fine. We are going to have to make it out on foot the rest of the way."

"Come help me out of here, I am stuck"

The soldier tries to pull me out. "I can't get you out, Sir."

"F*ck my goddamn leg is crushed" I look at him in shock as I realized my leg is stuck between the front panel and the seat.

"Can you move it, Sir?" The soldier looks at me very concerned.

"I can not feel it! I can not feel my f*ck*ng leg." There are fear and absolute horror written over my face.

.....

I wake up in a panic and feel my leg.

It is the same it was on that day three months ago when I woke up in the hospital and it is the same it has been every day since then. The pain that I felt after that surgery was worse for me mentally than it ever was for me physically. When I woke up that day my life ended.

They say that I saved my squad's life that day and for that, I got a medal of honor. But no medal can make up for what I lost that day. My leg. I am supposed to be a hero but I am not, I am a broken man. Nobody wants a broken man, they need a hero. A broken man does not get the girls, he gets to be lonely. My only wish now is to meet someone that is going to take me for who I am, a broken soldier.

Chapter 2 Little Miss Stubborn

I wake up the next morning, I guess that I missed supper. Dad is sure going to say something about that. What he will be saying something over is if I stay in here the whole day. I so much just want to get back under the covers and forget about the rest of the week.

But what I want and can do is two different things. So I have no choice but to get up and have a shower. At first, the shower was a difficult thing, trying to wash and hop around in the same place without slipping and falling flat on my ass. But they say it is incredible how your other limbs adapt and make up for the one you lost.

Getting dressed is going to pose a whole new problem, at the base I would walk around in shorts not caring what people said about my prosthetic leg. But mom and dad do not know so I am going to have to cover it up for now.

As I make my way downstairs I can hear mom and dad whisper.

"I am telling you Denice that boy is hiding something."

"Richard just

Heroes

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