His heart was racing. Get out, get out, get out
Finally emerging into the sunlight of the backyard, Victor Aldrez inhaled deeply. There
everything was okay. No one had followed him. What he'd seen was only a figment of his imagination.
Even so, his hand trembled as he lifted his Corona bottle to his lips and took a small swallow of the liquor. God
it was a one year old's birthday party, not some kind of combat situation
The ex-soldier sank into the wooden patio chair on the back porch, slowly calming down. It was alright
Everything was okay
Inside, he could hear people laughing, exclaiming over how cute Rida and Lucis's son was, and generally having a good time. He knew his brother would be shoveling down appetizers like he hadn't eaten in a week, and that Lucis was walking around trying to make sure all his guests were happy and taken care of.
He didn't know what she'd be doing. She wasn't as close to his friends and Vick was to her's.
But Vick was snapped from his thoughts as a light chuff sounded behind him. He froze for a moment, listening to the heavy foot fall of paws towards him before a German Shepherd arrived in view. The dog's tail twitched in recognition, his ears flattening against his head. His back curved upwards as he tip toed towards Victor, his entire body wriggling in happiness.
" Vick greeted him, a soft smile spreading across his face as he stroked the dog's head. "Been a while, bud
You look well
Dropping the tennis ball he'd been carrying, Max gave his face a lick of affection, which made Victor chuckle. Vick had raised the dog from a puppy before Rida and Lucis had taken him when Vick was deployed. When he'd come back, he had been in no shape to take care of the animal
He still wasn't. And it wouldn't be fair to take Max away from them; the dog liked his new family just as much as Vick.
He admired Max's shining coat, the dog sitting in front of him with his tail sweeping across the wooden porch. Sweep, sweep, sweep
Vick's hands continued to stroke the dog's head, rubbing his ears and making a light whine emit from the German Shepherd's throat.
I remember when you were little
" Vick murmured. "Things were so much
simpler. My biggest worry was what pair of shoes you'd chewed up
The dog cocked his head innocently.
it's not good," he sighed. "I have Thana, but
I love her, and we're engaged, but I wonder sometimes
She could do a hell of a lot better than me. But she doesn't want to, for some reason
Though I shouldn't complain
She's the only one who will put up with me. Even my brother gets fed up with me
Max was silent, enjoying the rubs he was getting. Sweep, sweep, sweep
"I don't even know if she wants the same things I do," Vick realized quietly. "We never talked about it. Remember the plan, Max? My ideal story book, white picket fence plan
Married by 30, maybe a kid here or on the way, a house, a job, a dog
Max's ears perked at the last part.
"Yeah, you were him," Vick nodded. "But I don't have you
I don't have any of that, and I only have about a year left. I might be married by then, if I'm not dead. But that's it
I don't even know if Thana wants kids. I do
I always have. But she can't have them
We could try to adopt
but we'd never be allowed to. Thana would be fine
But I've got such a screwed up criminal record, and the minute they found out about this stupid condition
He shook his head, wanting to curse the world for the path it had led him down. "So
I guess that plan went to the fire. Instead I've got one divorce, a daughter I've met once that I'll never get to be a part of her life, sleep deprivation, and drugs to knock me out when I start to hallucinate. And I have Thana
I guess she's the only positive thing, really, even if I bring her down
Max closed his eyes, completely relaxed as Victor moved on to scratch his chin. Sweep, sweep, sweep
The brunette took another swig of alcohol, falling silent after a few moments. His eyes fixated on the green bundle of rubber and felt that Max had carried to him, and he stooped to pick it up. Immediately, Max's ears shot up, his brown eyes alert instead of relaxed. Fetch?
"I feel like my life is one giant version of this stupid game," Vick muttered, rolling the tennis ball in his hands. "My life gets thrown around... Thrown by war, or divorce, or hallucinations
and I go chasing after it. And when I finally manage to grab it, and bring it back to where I want it
It gets thrown again. I'm sick and tired of chasing it. I just want to lay down with it and for the game to be over
He fell silent, continuing to roll the ball in his hands. After a moment, he set it next to the bottle of beer, and Max's eyes darted between it and his former owner's face. No fetch?
Sinking from the patio chair to the wooden floor, Victor wrapped his arms around the shepherd and pressed his moistening eyes into the dog's fur. He couldn't help it
He tried to put up these walls for Thana and Landon
He didn't want them to worry. But God damn, it was hard work when he just felt like falling apart.
"Thank you, Max
" Vick whispered, not trying to hide the tremor in his voice. "They don't understand
That just because something needs to be told, doesn't mean it needs to be heard
Doesn't mean they need to talk
Just be there
He pulled back after a few moments, wiping the water from his eyes. Max looked to him expectantly before lightly pressing his head to Victor's chest, and once more, Victor began to stroke him. No wonder they were called man's best friend. "Thank you
" he repeated, giving the dog a kiss on the top of his head.
He stood now, Max panting happily and looking up to him. Sweep, sweep, sweep
Victor picked up the ball. "Ready boy?" he asked, waggling it in front of the dog. "Go get it."
And he threw the tennis ball as hard as he could down the yard. Max raced after it quickly, his legs a blur, before he caught it. He trotted back slowly and laid it down at Victor's feet.
Sweep, sweep, sweep.