Authors: Carey Decevito
The Broken Men Chronicles
Copyright © 2016 by Carey Decevito
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used, or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles.
To Forgive & Hold Safe / Carey Decevito – Kindle edition
Cover photography by Eric David Battershell
Cover design by Clarisse Tan, CT Cover Creations
Cover Model: Joshua Scott Brown
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.
This book is available in print at most online retailers.
To those who’ve loved and lost. May you find peace in the memories you hold, may you find happiness in the smallest of things, and may you live to love just as fiercely.
I may be the queen of words when it comes down to writing a novel but it seems that words are never sufficient enough in expressing my love and gratitude to those who’ve been on this unforgettable ride that is
The Broken Men Chronicles
Without a face, there is no story, so a massive thank you goes out to Eric David Battershell and his amazing talent in capturing Ben’s character in a way I couldn’t dream being any more perfect. ‘Thank you’ is never enough when it comes down to our collaborations. Your amazing talent and professionalism aside, I’m proud to be able to call you ‘friend’. I look forward to more collaborations in the near future.
As with a photographer, there usually comes a subject. Joshua Scott Brown, thank you for agreeing to grace the cover of
To Forgive & Hold Safe
. Your support, your hilarious Facebook posts, and your undying love for pizza will forever be appreciated.
Once you have a photographer and model, who else could I thank but the design guru in my life? Clarise Tan, I’ve had an amazing time designing covers with you. It’s our fourth together and I can’t imagine ever doing this with anyone else. You may be half a world away but you’re a sister of my heart.
No good book happens without an editor. Marissa Caldwell, lady you are a mastermind at finding those tiny little faux-pas that seem to evade my sight. Your attention to detail and constructive feedback, not to mention your excitement and professionalism have been addicting. I know we’ll have more fun in the future as new stories come to light.
To Laurie and the Pub-Craft team, you ladies and gents do it best! Boy am I ever glad that I stumbled into that ORWA workshop in 2015! Having you all as virtual assistants has been a blessing and a huge load off of my shoulders. You’re awesome!
And finally, to my wonderful readers, without your words, reviews and support, I’d be nothing but a vessel of words. Thank you for sharing, for enjoying, for taking this ride with me. I hope that you fall in love with Ben as much as I did while writing this!
The day had arrived where I watched as Mike vowed to love, honor and cherish the woman standing before him for the rest of his life. He couldn’t have chosen a better partner, in my opinion.
Nicole was a phenomenal woman. Over the last few months, during their nuptial preparations, I had grown to appreciate her matter-of-factness and no-bullshit attitude. In fact, I loved her for it. She knew not to sugar coat things, told you like it was, yet her softer, more empathic side was never too far behind.
I couldn’t be happier for my best friend, despite the subtle pangs of jealousy that arose throughout the week while I performed my best man duties. The more time I spent with them, the more I was acutely aware that something was missing in my life.
Something I couldn’t bring myself to try and attain.
Not yet, anyway.
Hell, maybe never.
“To the bride and groom!” Danica toasted the happy couple, effectively bringing me back to the present.
And now, it was my turn to deliver my well wishes to the bride and groom. I had no idea what I was going to say, but I spoke from the heart, hoping that it would be good enough.
Apparently it was.
Mike was the first to approach me, a grin that couldn’t be erased etched on his face, and a ready man-hug awaited me. Nicole waited her turn at her husband’s side with tears in her eyes.
I squeezed the woman tight, pulling back to wipe the stray droplet from her cheek and kissed the other in a brotherly fashion.
“We love you, Ben. Whoever lands you is in for one hell of a treat,” she whispered in my ear before kissing my cheek.
My chuckle was a dry one. “I’d have to find her first.”
She reached up to wipe the smudge of gloss off my face, then held my hands in hers. “At the risk of sounding like a nagging mother, you know you deserve to be happy again.”
I knew I deserved the happiness that Nicole spoke of. It surprised me that it had taken my best friend’s woman to make me realize that I had erased most of the good, and held on to all the bad memories of my late wife Candace, and our daughter Karen.
In truth, it was hard to remind myself of the greatness that once was my life, when nightmares of the night that altered my existence haunted my subconscious as I succumbed to sleep every night.
At times, I was overcome with so much grief, while at others I blamed Candace for leaving me, giving into the anger and bitterness instead of the sadness.
Suffice to say on more than one occasion, I wished that my tragedy had claimed me instead of them. The guilt of being the lone survivor was crushing – no, debilitating.
I don’t give a damn how some think that God has an alternate plan for every one of us. Truth is, I stopped going to church and turned my back on The Big Guy shortly after the funeral. If there was a God, he wouldn’t have allowed for something so horrible to happen in the first place.
Man and wife danced and I played my part quite easily, finding that I even enjoyed myself at times.
Despite my having fun, the exhaustion caused by my regular bouts of insomnia had me taking my leave when the crowd began to thin.
Mike grabbed my hand in a shake and patted my shoulder. “Thanks for being here, buddy.”
“It wasn’t exactly a hardship.” I turned to Nicole. “And you…” I moved to kiss the newly-appointed Mrs. Withers’ forehead. “Take care of him.”
“You know I will,” Nicole whispered and kissed my cheek.
I pulled away, holding the woman’s hands in mine and looked over at Mike. “I can’t believe you married Little Nikki, bro.”
The man laughed and Nicole slapped my chest playfully. Mike wrapped his arms around his wife and held her back to his chest where she relaxed into him.
As I eyed their picture perfect demeanor of contentment, that all too familiar pang of jealousy made a resurgence. Clearing my throat, I hoped that my expression didn’t give away my envy.
With a forced smile, and a pat on Mike’s back, I took my leave.
The winding country road was dark, the night sky lacking light, with the moon’s absence, loaning to the allure of eeriness.
I was almost to the city limits when something off to the side of the road caught my eye, causing me to stop whistling to the tune playing low on the radio.
But I didn’t stop the car.
I hated this stretch of road. The one I had travelled nearly three years before. The one that had altered my life for the worst. There was a reason why a vast majority of the residents of Jacksonville dubbed it Dead Man’s Way.
A few seconds later, the niggling in my gut had only worsened.
I was hell bent on getting home, but that unsettling feeling begged me to turn around and check things out.
Making a U-turn, I headed back to investigate.
The closer I got, apprehension grew.
I pulled over, putting my four-ways on so my vehicle was visible to oncoming traffic, then left to check things out.
There, in a deep ditch lay an upturned SUV. It was so badly mangled that I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what make and model it was had it not been for the insignia labeling the rear hatch.
Smoke billowed from somewhere at the front and I knew that it was only a matter of time before the vehicle went up in flames.
I grabbed my phone and dialed 9-1-1, requesting the slew of first responders. Then, I hurried to the vehicle to check on its occupant.
It was my worst nightmare come to life. Two people hung upside down by their seat-belts in the front of the vehicle. At first glance, I could tell that the male passenger wasn’t faring well. Having received some basic paramedic training, with closer inspection, it was evident that if the medics weren’t on scene in the next ten minutes, his chances of survival would be slim.
I heard a groan coming from the driver’s side. The female occupant was coming to. Due to her positioning, it was hard to make out the extent of her injuries with the abundance of blood and my lack of lighting. The dash had been pushed in, and it looked as if it pinned her legs, but without a flashlight, I couldn’t tell for sure.
“Ma’am,” I said when I got to her side of the car. I could smell fuel and, not knowing where the possible flame was in relation to the leakage, I was weary of staying so close to the vehicle.
“Help me,” she pleaded, her bright green eyes met mine.
It was a sucker punch to the gut.
In that moment, I knew I couldn’t leave her –
She tried to turn her head to the side.
“Don’t move,” I said. “You’re hurt and we don’t know how bad yet.”
She tried to laugh, but it came out as a wince. “What was your first guess?” Coughing, a spatter of blood from her mouth made contact with the side of my face. “God, it hurts!”
I wiped the secretion from my cheek. “Can you tell me what hurts? What’s your name?”
“H-hannah. Just call me Hannah. Everything…” Her eyes closed and silence consumed the darkness of the night.
“Hannah, I need you to try and stay awake. Can you do that for me?”
“Mmm.” She mumbled drowsily. Seconds later, her body stiffened and her eyes shot open. “Lee! Where’s-?” She abruptly tried to lift and turn her head to the side. She must have been met with excruciating pain, what with the tortured cry she emitted.
“Help is coming.” I reached to squeeze her hand. “I’m just going to go to the other side and check on him, okay? Just… don’t move.”
She capitulated with a weak, “Okay.”
I went back to the other side of the car to check on Lee. As I felt at his carotid, despair filled me. No pulse.
I peered at Hannah and that’s when I noticed their matching wedding bands.
Hanging my head, cursing internally, I did my best to stifle the surge of potent memories as well as emotions that surged to the forefront of my mind. I sat in silence, grieving for the loss she had yet to know of, flashes of my own past threatening to consume my very sanity.
“How is he?”
“H-he’s okay,” I lied. “He’s in rough shape though.”
“It’s my fault. It’s all my fault. I should have listened to him. Lee, I’m so sorry.” Her hand searched for his, but with the way they were positioned, they were too far apart for her to make contact.
“You need to stay calm, Hannah.”
She began to pray, and I went back to her side of the vehicle. I listened as she begged, bargained and pleaded with God that they walk away from their nightmare.
“What’s your name?” she asked when she finished reciting her pleas.
“Ben.” I couldn’t help but reach for her hand again.
“He’s not going to be okay is he, Ben?” Her voice held so much despair, making me want to lie again, but I couldn’t bring myself to say the words.
“Hannah,” I sighed, “let’s just concentrate on getting you both out of here, okay?”
“Just say it! Why won’t you tell me?”
I looked away from those bright green pools of hers that searched for hope where there was none. “I’m sorry.”
She slipped her hand from beneath mine and began to cry silently. Overcome with her grief, her weeping gave way to sobs.
In that moment, I wished that I could take the pain of her loss away. I knew how it felt – what she was about to face – having been there myself.
In a flash, the front of the vehicle went up in flames, causing me to duck to the side to avoid the burst of hot air and debris.
Time was of the essence, and I had to act fast.
I looked around us and took action. “Change of plan, Hannah. I need to get you out of here. Can you move anything else other than your arms and head?”
“I’m stuck pretty tight, but I can try moving my legs.” After a few seconds, she said, “I can feel my toes.”
“That’s good. That’s really good. Can you try and slide your legs toward the door?”
I couldn’t hear any rustling what with the crackling of the flames. “I-I’m stuck.” She let out a tortured cry. “Oh, God, it hurts!”
My optimism of getting her out of her car took a nosedive.
“Dammit!” Despite knowing it wouldn’t help, I punched my frustration on the side panel of the rear door.
As if they knew of Hannah’s worsening predicament, the sirens in the distance could be heard, then the flashing lights to the emergency crews came into view.
“Hannah, they’re coming.” The woman’s head slumped sideways. “No Hannah, open your eyes.”
“Can’t…” Her words were slurred. “So tired.”
“You’ve got to try.” I reached for her hand again. “You’ve got to fight.”
“Please don’t leave,” she said. “I’m all alone.”
“No, you’re not.” I squeezed her hand. “I’m right here. Just…just stay awake, okay? Talk to me.”
Next thing I knew, I was pushed to the side. The crews went to work on dousing the flames that had grown in intensity far too quickly.
The door was pried open and we discovered that Hannah’s legs were in fact pinned too tightly for her to dislodge herself on her own. They brought in a jack and extra lighting. The spotlight illuminated her bare legs, giving away their mangled state. Judging by the couple’s attire, they had been on a night out.
The car’s dash gave a loud creaking groan under the jack’s pressure, but it was enough.
“Ben, we need to check you out,” one of the medics said. The other medic was putting a c-collar around Hannah’s neck, prior to removing her from the vehicle.
Seeing as Hannah was conscious and able to move her legs – barely – I gave into the man’s request, sitting to the side as he checked me for signs of smoke and fume inhalation. I knew I was fine. Even if I weren’t, Hannah was in worse shape, and I was more concerned about her getting the care that she required over me.
Extricated from the car, Hannah was carried to a gurney. When she spoke next, I realized that not only were her words slurred, but they no longer made sense.
“She’s crashing,” the female attendant said. “Let’s load her up. We’ll work on her on the way.”
I got up quickly and grabbed the driver’s arm before he could jump in the driver’s seat. “Will she be okay, Craig?” The man and I have had our share of calls together in the past.
He seemed surprised at my concern. We were trained to remain somewhat detached with those we rescued, and for the most part, I didn’t have much of an issue doing that. Except this once. The man’s lips formed a thin line. “I don’t know. You’re welcome to follow us.”
I shook my head. “Just keep me posted, all right? I need to get home.”
His brows furrowed, but he nodded after giving me a long assessing gaze. “Sounds fair.”