Shortly after Emily’s parents left for San Antonio, people began showing up at the house. She took the prepared dishes brought by guests and placed them on a table out on the veranda. Directing everyone outside would help alleviate any mess inside the house, plus the evening air was perfect with just enough chill to deter any insects expected at nightfall. The night was looking great with most of the food and alcohol provided by friends and members of ITW. Emily felt good and like her life was finally falling back into place. With the help of ITW, Rich’s memory had remained dormant and only when things became too quiet did his memory come back around to haunt her. She sipped on a white Russian which was her recent cure-all for the painful absence of Rich in the world. The only hindrance was living in her parent’s house, where the memories lingered in every room. She even felt an impulse to move and start her life over.
She took another drink then immediately caught sight of him when he walked through the foyer. It was Brannigan. She couldn’t believe he had the guts to show up here tonight. But it wasn’t surprise that made her heart lurch when she saw him—it was as if she was about to leap off a cliff and her stomach was caught in her chest.
Brannigan just oozed “Marine” and she hated him for what he stood for, and she certainly couldn’t accept him being here. She would leave it up to ITW to run him off—not only from the party but her life. She clinched her teeth at the sight of him coming closer. His muscular arms swung by his sides with a natural flowing rhythm, and she fought to look away from the way his t-shirt outlined his chest. She swallowed lightly dragging her eyes away, but somehow her sight had slowly drifted back up to his face. For several moments, Emily centered her sentiments on the distinct patch over his eye. She didn’t have the usual empathy that one would normally feel. She only felt her body reacting to its roguish element in ways she didn’t want to feel. She quickly diffused all views of him with thoughts of Rich dying alone in Iraq, which helped her to quickly turn around as if she hadn’t seen him come in.
Thankfully, he hadn’t come over just yet but there was a nagging urge to see where he’d gone. When she glanced around the room, she saw him in conversation with another woman from ITW. He caught her glance and returned a subtle wink, raising one cheek as if to say I’m here and waiting for that peck. Emily bit her lower lip and sipped on her drink until it was empty—again. She moved to the kitchen to pour another. She was happy for the excuse to be as far away as possible from him and his cocksure grin. This time, she would make this drink much stronger than the last.
Emily began to mix her drink when from behind she heard a husky voice that made her nearly jump out of her skin.
“Thanks for the invite,” Mitch said in mock greeting.
The vodka she was pouring missed its mark and oozed around the rim of the glass spilling onto the marble counter top. She attempted to shakily wipe up the mess before Mitch set her phone on the counter and placed a steady hand over hers.
“Emily, you okay?” Mitch asked with a true sincerity in his tone.
She eventually looked up. “I’m fine. Why are you here?” she tersely responded as she tried to pull her hand from beneath his.
“I told you…to see you,” he stated honestly, gradually lifting his hand from hers.
“Don’t tell me that, Brannigan. This is the wrong place for you to be,” she mentioned, her voice nearing a whisper. She knew that as soon as the ITW members caught wind of him being a marine, they would quickly voice their negativism of the war and its troops.
“I know you’ve already told me: you don’t want me at your parent’s house,” he reminded, not getting the true reason for her uneasiness.
“No, I mean, you shouldn’t be here right now,” she whispered.
“You just shouldn’t,” she expressed firmly.
Mitch spoke teasingly, “You’re actually worried about me?”
Emily looked up at the additional guests making their way through the front foyer. “No,” she quickly rebutted and her choppy disposition changed as soon as they were noticed.
She gave a wide smile. “Josh,” she called out as she moved toward the guy who had totally infuriated Mitch from the first time they met. Josh hugged Emily and gave Mitch a belligerent look over her shoulder.
Mitch kept his eyes focused on the man and gave him a nonchalant nod. Josh’s intimidation wouldn’t work. Mitch watched as several of Josh’s cronies each hugged Emily. Odd looks passed to Mitch as if asking who the hell are you? Emily also detected the tension and began to fidget with her hands along her skirt. She then led them out to the patio where Mitch was left both leaning against the kitchen counter and feeling frustrated.
Mitch waited a moment and then strolled outside, milling behind the guests and deliberated on Emily’s warning. Mitch listened to her friends in conversation and it all became clearer. These were members of ITW. It made perfect sense now why Emily hadn’t asked her parents about having a party. Mitch had a hard time understanding or even accepting the reasoning of such an organization. So why in the world was he still here?