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A Fighting Chance (Bridge to Abingdon Book 2) by Tatum West (1)

Prologue

Dillon - Eleven Years Ago

Unfocused, liquid blue eyes peer up into mine inquisitively. The downy soft skin at his brow furrows, as if he’s trying to determine if I’m friend or foe.

“Hi, little man,” I say, giving him a finger to hang on to. “I’m your Uncle Dillon.”

He smells sweet, like carrot cake with sugar frosting and cold milk to drink—I want to eat him up.

“Where’s Darryl? Why isn’t he here?” My sister moans and shifts in her bed.

I glance up at my sister, then back at the hours-old newborn cradled in my arms. I don’t know what to tell her. Her face is a flushed, pasty mess, made worse by the strain of worry creasing her expression. She’s got plenty to worry about. Kimmie is sixteen-years-old, a high-school drop-out with no money, no prospects. Now, she’s saddled with a brand-new baby and a boyfriend-wannabe-baby-daddy who doesn’t think the birth of his kid is important enough to show up for.

She hasn’t held Jordan yet. She says she doesn’t want to. But I know Kimmie; she’ll come around. In the meantime, I’m all this tiny little creature has to welcome him into the world.

“You sure you don’t want to hold him?” I ask. “He’s beautiful.”

Kimmie shakes her head, casting her eyes toward the window instead of in our direction. “No,” she says. “My stomach hurts. My tits hurt. Where is Darryl? Will you call him?”

“I already called him three times, Kim,” I say. Not like the fucker is paying attention to his phone let alone his kid. “I texted him too. If he’s alive, he knows about his son.”

Kimmie’s head whips around, her eyes wide with fright. “Don’t say that!” Her shout makes Jordan shudder in my arms.

“Keep the volume down.” I hold Jordan closer to my chest, soothing him. “You’re scaring the baby.”

“I don’t give a fuck!” Kimmie spits. “I want to know why Darryl isn’t here!”

Darryl is a complete and total shit bird, and I’d rather have anyone else in the world be the father of my nephew. He’s a witless stoner with a selfish mean streak a mile long and just as deep. He treats Kimmie like shit, but she just keeps licking his boots and bending over backwards to try to please him. I guess that makes her short on common sense, but she’s my little sister. Her less than stellar choices don’t make me love her any less.

All I have to say is this: I managed to schedule my four weeks of leave-time from the Marine Corps to coincide with Jordan’s arrival into the world. If I’d known that joining up would have sent my baby sister spiraling out of control like she has, I never would have signed on to active military duty in the first place.

As it is, the Marines own me for another two years. My next gig is a deployment—it’s my second. I’m going back to the sandbox to get shot at, and this time I’m going without my best friend Gil. It’s going to fucking suck. As far as either of us know, we’re the only two gay guys in the entire United States Marine Corps.

Keeping that secret—while figuring out what it means—has been one intense journey. I think Gil has more of the ‘what it means to be gay’ figured out than I do. Now I get to be alone while he gets deployed to another part of the planet.

Gil says he may make a career of the Corps. I can’t imagine doing that. I’d follow Gil to the edge of the world if he’d let me, but I can’t just walk away from my home and my family the way he has. He’s got nothing calling him home. He hates Abingdon, and he swears up and down he’s never coming back.

Looking down into the eyes of this sweet little baby, I realize I have a lot to come home to. I can’t be like Gil.

“Hey Kimmie, you look like shit,” a gruff voice observes from behind me.

Kimmie looks up, then beams brightly. “You came!” she croons. “I was so worried about you.”

Darryl bypasses me, not even glancing down at the bundle wrapped in my arms. As soon as Darryl passes by, Jordan begins to tremble, then tunes up with a weak, newborn baby whimper. His eyes clench together tightly; his tiny hands shake.

The racket diverts Darryl’s attention. He glares at Jordan, then at me. He shakes his head disapprovingly, as if it’s Jordan’s fault for being a baby and doing baby things.

“That shit’s getting old already,” he grunts, turning his attention back to my sister.

“So, when are they letting you out of this place?” he asks. “I gotta go down to Bristol tomorrow and I need you to feed the dog. If I just put his food out he eats it all at once then shits all over the floor.”

“Dude, she just had a baby,” I pipe up. “Get a dog sitter.”

Darryl ignores me.

Kimmie shrugs, peering up at him, smiling weakly. “They said I was going home tomorrow morning,” she says. “I can feed Bailey and put her out when she needs to go. What’s in Bristol?”

“Work,” he says. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll be back Friday morning.”

“You got a job?” she asks, brightening. She’s as surprised as I am.

“I told you. Don’t worry about it,” Darryl insists, this time tersely. “And I gotta go to work now, so I’ll see you Friday when I get home.”

Kimmie’s smile disappears. “You just got here, and you’re leaving already?”

He scowls. “You just popped out a kid, and now I have an extra mouth to feed. I work, or you and the kid starve. Simple as that. Don’t give me shit, or you can move back to the trailer park with your uncle and that nosy gaggle of aunts. Got it?”

Kimmie nods quickly.

One of these days, I’m going to punch that motherfucker in the face. The only thing stopping me is Kimmie. She loves him for some unknown reason—at least she thinks she loves him.

Darryl turns, then leans down to inspect the contents of the blanket pulled close to my chest. He hooks a finger around the edge of the soft cloth by Jordan’s cranky face, peering in.

“Yep,” he says. “That’s a baby. It looks pissed.”

“He is pissed,” I observe coolly. “He’s not feeling the love from his dad.”

Darryl huffs, a wry smile turning his lip. “Let it grow up. When it’s old enough to hunt, fish, shoot, and chase tail, then we’ll talk. Right now, it’s just a noisy shitting machine.”

Darryl doesn’t linger, but Kimmie seems improved by his visit. In a few more minutes I’m able to convince her to hold Jordan. She’s not thrilled, but at least she’s talking to him.

I’ve got two and a half weeks to get her to a place where she’s okay being left alone with her son. I’m not sure how I’m going to do it, but I’m determined to try. As soon as the Corps will let loose of me, I’ll be right back here helping take care of her and my nephew—or at least trying to.

I wish I’d never left. Maybe I could have done something to get between her and Darryl Schmidt before he got his grubby paws on her. I’ll never forgive myself for not being here for her these last two years, and I’ll probably never forgive myself for the time I’m away. Once I get out, I won’t repeat that mistake. Aside from Darryl and our Uncle Charlie, I’m all she’s got. I’m all Jordan has got.

Damn, I wish I didn’t have to go back to the Marines. I can’t wait to get back to Abingdon, even if it’s without Gil. Losing him has torn my heart to pieces, but it’s his decision and I’ll learn to live with it. Maybe one day, he’ll change his mind and come back home, and we can try it all over again.

Maybe.

I don’t think I’ll ever get over him. It seems like there’s not a man in the world I could love like that, not ever again.

I lean over Jordan before I go. “Your uncle loves you, little man. I’ll always be right here to protect you.”

“From what?” Kimmie looks defensive when she says the words.

“Anything,” I say. I lean in and give my sister a kiss, wishing right now that I could save her and Jordan from the world.

But I can’t, not right now. Hearts break, and babies are born to cruel fathers, and it seems like there’s not much of anything I can do.

I can just keep on keeping on, I guess.

When I leave the hospital room, Kimmie is finally sleeping. I know I need to get back home, but instead, I sit outside of her room for a long time, just thinking. I feel the almost overwhelming urge to go and take Jordan in my arms again so that Darryl can’t ever touch him again.

But I can’t. I won’t. So I just stay a wall away, waiting and thinking, and wondering if everything will ever be okay.