~ Mike ~
“Yes, I’m getting up,” I grumble.
At the answering whine, I reach out and scratch Victor, my six-year-old German Shepard’s head. He moves out from under my hand and wiggles his body excitedly from his place standing by the side of the bed. He wants his breakfast not to be patted. Sitting up, I swing my legs off the bed, planting my feet onto the soft shag rug.
“Let’s go.” Victor bounces almost impossibly high into the air and dances around me as I open the door. He bolts down the hall into the small kitchen. After refilling his water bowl and giving him his breakfast, I let him scarf down his morning meal while I flip on the ancient coffee maker.
Stepping around Victor’s large body, I open the cardboard box on the counter that holds my collection of coffee mugs. I wasn’t going to leave them behind. Reaching in, I find the 10th Anniversary of Pride Security mug every employee had been given several years ago. Having helped my former Army Captain, Derek Lion, start the company it had been a meaningful milestone for us. We had served together during Desert Storm. And at the time, I would follow no one else but him into a firefight. After leaving the military, Derek, who has never stopped being our leader, wanted to help other servicemen and women transition back into civilian life. Pride Security was formed out of that desire. It went from being run out of Derek’s suburban home in Falls Church to having our global headquarters in a multi-million dollar high-rise in Arlington. Those of us who were there during those first few years became family.
I began working in the field, but have moved my way into the recruitment and training of other operatives over the years. I spend half of my year traveling to various cities and military bases, recruiting the best talent our military and police agencies have to offer. The rest of the time, I oversee the training boot camps in Arlington that all our potential employees must go through. Right now, Derek has me working on recruiting Trevor Gregor, a former army serviceman who’s currently working as an assistant and bodyguard to a wealthy Boston businessman. We met Gregor last month when his boss hired Pride Security to uncover who’d been behind his girlfriend’s kidnapping. He’s just the type of man we should be employing; even his service injury doesn’t stop him from being a valuable asset.
I place the mug back into the box that includes another one that says “Best Dog Dad,” which had been a father’s day gift last year from my goddaughters, Sophie and Lee (aged 12 and 10, respectively). Since the beginning, their mother has worked for Pride Security and quickly became one of my best friends. Josephine. JoJo. The former Marine sniper is as full of life and love as she is deadly. Not to mention gorgeous. I would never admit this to Derek, but there’s no one I’d rather have at my back during a fight than JoJo. Confident, tough, and resilient are just a few words to describe her.
Last summer, my goddaughters coerced me into taking them to a Taylor Swift concert. The commemorative mug is also in the box. Another one from when JoJo and I took the girls to visit my parents, and Disney World is also inside. I smile, taking out the newest addition to my collection. A cartoon of Queen Elizabeth is smiling out at me, waving the English flag in one hand. JoJo brought it back for me as a thank you for watching her daughters while she was in London, providing protection for one of Pride Security’s clients. My favorite mug, Happiness is Taco Tuesday, sits dirty from yesterday morning in the sink.
“Let me have at least a sip of coffee before I take you out,” I say to Victor, who is now standing at my feet, waiting anxiously to go for his morning walk. We have both had to get used to our new morning routine since we moved into the spare bedroom in my parent’s condo several weeks ago. They spend half the year here in Virginia and the other half soaking up the sun in Orlando, Florida. They decided to take a cruise this year and won’t be back for several weeks. Usually, while they are gone, I check on the condo and take care of anything that needs doing. They don’t know I have moved myself and Victor in.
I have told no one that I left Karen and have filed for divorce. Feelings of failure, at not being able to make my marriage work, and embracement, at having not withdrawn from the field earlier war within me and have kept me from confiding in even my closest friends. They had no idea of the state of my marriage, where Victor and I had been sleeping in the guest room for the past two years. Even before that, we were living separate lives.
Derek may be happily married now, but of anyone, he would understand a failed marriage after his first one. He had returned from active dirty to discover his wife had moved in with someone else and filed for divorce. The man had been broken until his love for Bethany forced him to put himself back together. Now he has the marriage, life he deserves.
I would be jealous if I didn’t love, respect, and think Derek deserved to be happy. He has everything my marriage has lacked. A happy one filled with love, laughter, and children.
“Are you happy?”
How many times over the years have my friends and family asked me that question. And each time, I have deflected answering.
As I ended my 15-year marriage, I asked Karen the same question.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” She threw her hands up. “I’m the youngest associate in my firm.”
“Well, I’m not,” I breathed out, being brutally honest with her for the first time in years.
“If you’d gone to medical school like I told you to, maybe you would be.” She countered, and not for the first time I realized she never understood me or my ambitions.
“I love my job,” I growled. “It’s the one thing that does make me happy.”
For years I have filled my days and life with things I love. Work, my dog, family, friends, and my girls, all three of them.
When JoJo and I met, we bonded as we were both struggling to return from active duty and wanting to prove our loyalty to Derek, who took a chance on us.
I recently realized all the things I want out of life: a family, I have with JoJo, not with my soon-to-be ex-wife. The revelation has left me feeling confused and off-center.
I pour coffee into my mug, hoping the caffeine will help settle my nerves.
A sudden reverberating pounding on the door has Victor pressing his body against my legs. I reach down to scratch his ears and receive several appreciative licks in return. I had adopted the sweet and sensitive dog after he flunked training to be a guard dog.
“Who the fuck is that?”
I move towards the door and peer through the peephole to see my early morning visitor.