Waiting On The Rain by Claudia connor


Luke Walker stood in the bathroom of Marco’s Supper Club men’s room, staring at himself in the mirror as the cold water ran over his hands.

He’d crawled through South American jungles when he was barely old enough to qualify as a man, tumbled out of airplanes, and blown doors with blocks of C-4. He’d eaten sand in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Turkey and a few more places the US government wouldn’t want him to admit he’d ever been.

At times it was fun, the training, the adrenaline rush, the bullshitting with the guys. Other times it was haunting.

But there was always another day. Morning came and there was another mission. That’s why guys hated going on leave. Not because they didn’t want to see their families but because if you didn’t keep it tight, keep moving, planning, reloading, the darkness could creep in. As brave as they were, they feared being smothered by that darkness. And that’s where he was now, where he’d been the past few months.

Retirement, permanent leave. Trying not to get smothered and doing his damnedest not to let it show.

At the moment he was trying not to let it show as he washed baby barf out of his dress shirt. There’d been too many toddlers and babies belonging to his little brother’s wedding party to not have one tossed at him. So, with the women in the wedding party posing for pictures, he’d gotten the barfing one.

Hard to believe a human who weighed less than twenty pounds could contain so much…stuff. He was an Army Ranger for God’s sake and had smelled some acrid stink, but this was getting to him.

The bathroom door opened, letting in the sounds of a wedding reception in full swing.

“Hey, man.”

Luke gave a head nod to the man as he passed on his way to the urinals. He squeezed out his dress shirt then held it under the hand dryer. His undershirt could probably use a good wash as well but the scars of war brought looks, if not questions, neither of which he was in the mood for.

Ten minutes later he was back at the makeshift bar, watching his younger brother bump hips with his new bride. The happy go lucky jokester who never met a lady he didn’t like now settled down with a kid. Nora’s, and now officially Zach’s. A cute little guy who was somewhere between one and two and who’d stolen the show toddling down the aisle as ring bearer.

They seemed in love, Zach and his new wife. Wife. Good, Lord. He shook his head at the thought. His older brother Nick had a wife now too. His baby sister, Hannah, was one. And this was life, he thought, taking a sip from the cold amber bottle. This was normal. People meeting, people linking up with one another. And today’s normal had been a small wedding in a Catholic Church followed by a reception at a supper club that served a lasagna dinner then offered a makeshift bar and parquet dance floor.

“This next one is a ladies only dance,” the band leader announced. “If you’ve got man plumbing get yourself off the dance floor.”

The band moved into a new tune. The females at the bar whooped and laughed, pushing their drinks into the nearest man’s hand so they could throw themselves into the shifting shaking mass of women singing about respect, spelling out the word.

Women filled the dance floor as quickly as the men vacated. A mass of white dress shirts, in various degrees of tucked, the ties around their necks loosened, if not lost altogether. He’d left his own penguin suit choker on his assigned table. And nearly every one of them made a bee–line to the bar.

Some he recognized as Zach’s fire station buddies, others were part of the McKinney clan his sister had married into. The noise around him ratcheted up as the men called for their drinks. The quick moving bartenders set small plastic cups and bottles on the bar, serving everyone as fast as they called out their order. Nothing said party like an open bar at a wedding. As much as he wished, it just didn’t say it to him.

He’d been easing into civilian life for months now. Or trying. Maybe not trying hard enough since the civilian skin didn’t fit quite like his Ranger skin had. But then he hadn’t been non-active military for more than twenty years. He’d been a kid when he’d signed up. A wild, immature, overly emotional kid with a chip on his shoulder so deep he was shocked he’d been able to hold a rifle. But he had.

He’d held a rifle and held it steady. He’d learned to navigate— day or night— run obstacle courses, and rucked miles until a lot of the anger had been sweat out of him or buried under exhaustion. Maybe that’s why civilian life was hard.

He checked his watch. Almost nine. He figured at least two more hours before the bride and groom departed. The day had begun with a wedding party brunch at eleven this morning and his duties as groomsman hadn’t slowed since then. He’d surpassed his social limit hours ago.

He perused the other side of the room dotted with large round tables where he’d survived the seated dinner portion of the evening. White table cloths, spindly green and pink floral somethings sticking up out of skinny glass tubes in the center of each one. Kinda cool, he thought, though it hadn’t blocked him from even one of the nine people seated with him. Might have been better altogether if he’d built a walled garden around himself, like the folders he’d set up as a child when the class took a test.

But he’d nodded, even forced a smile when appropriate and tried his best to look like everyone else when on the inside he still felt gritty with sweat after operating in a middle eastern sandbox.