Buried

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The edits for Thankful Hearts have fallen on me like a pile of leaves.

Here’s a freshly minted moment to whet your appetite:

Stacy’s heart pounded against her rib cage as she watched Hudson peeking through the blinds and holding his gun like they were on the run in a freaking action movie. His neck and arm muscles were taut, but his expression was calm. If he wasn’t holding the gun, she’d be admiring his nude body. Did he think he was in Afghanistan? Did he remember she was with him? She’d read up on PTSD, and the reality of everything she’d read was giving her a heart attack. She didn’t want to startle him, but she wanted that gun out of his hand. The sounds of the fight next door finally pushed themselves into her consciousness. In a whisper she asked, “Hudson?”

He didn’t move or respond right away. He just kept peering out the window. She was about to say his name again when he replied, “Yeah?”

She didn’t know what she should say now. Her heart beat faster as she came up with, “Maybe you should put your gun down and call the police instead.”

“The manager already did that.”

Just as he spoke red lights flashed through the blinds. “You should back away from the window. Albuquerque cops are trigger happy.”

His eye twitched like she’d just annoyed him. “They have a hard job.”

Deciding he was fully aware of his surroundings, she ventured out of bed. The cold air hit her body, hardening her nipples and tensing her muscles. The furnace was right under the window he stood by. She wondered if it even worked. She placed one hand on his back, moist with sweat, and the other on the arm that held the gun. “Come back to bed. The police can handle it now.”

“The hooker has a gun. When she puts hers away, I’ll put mine away.”

Stacy couldn’t see out of the blinds from her angle, but she dropped her hand from the arm with the gun. At least he wasn’t imagining he was still at war, though there were at least three guns in play, and they were standing right by the window. Still, she couldn’t pull herself away from him. It was almost as if he didn’t breathe: the rise and fall of his lungs was barely perceptible underneath her hand.

Outside the policeman ordered the prostitute to set her weapon down. She wanted her goddamn money. They should really step away from the window. This was fucking crazy. Could he have chosen a worse motel in all of Albuquerque?

After some more yelling outside, Hudson said, “I thought I was in Afghanistan when I woke up.”

The confession startled her. She pressed her fingertips into his back and said, “You got the desert part right.”

“I just wanted to get you out of here. You don’t belong in Afghanistan.”

She didn’t know if he was slipping to a different place again. She leaned in and said, “But I belong here, in Albuquerque.”

He was so still that if she couldn’t feel the sweat on his skin she’d have thought he was a statue. She didn’t even notice him take a breath. His next words shocked her .

“I think I must’ve been cheating on Claire the last few months I was there.”

Her heart picked up speed again. This didn’t seem like a good time for confessions.

Outside it sounded like the police had taken the gun from the hooker. Stacy wrapped her fingers around his wrist. He slowly set the gun down on the table. She asked in a cracked voice, “What are you talking about?”

He kept watching through the space in the blinds he held open. “Claire was always angry at me when I couldn’t text her that I was going on assignment. You know how infrequently I played. The long breaks were when I didn’t have service or was out in the field.”

“I just assumed,” said Stacy, not understanding where he was going.

“I guess in retaliation to my silence, she quit texting me and leaving messages on Facebook for me, really any sort of contact except the rare times we spoke over Skype. And I quit looking for them. When I was out in the field, I’d go over the words you and I had played and all the texts we’d exchanged and twist the letters into words for my next move. When I got back from assignment, the first messages I’d look for were yours.” Hudson let the blinds go and shifted his body so they were chest against chest. He brought his arm around and pressed his hand against the small of her back. She held her breath, unable to believe what she was hearing. “When I got off the plane, I was afraid I was coming home to the wrong woman. My heart had already strayed to you.”

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