“Why do you ask?” I wasn’t going to confirm his suspicions because I hadn’t been a soldier or a wide-eyed kid in a very long time and I didn’t want to give the man the wrong impression about who I was or what kind of man he was going to be dealing with.
The other man made an amused noise and told me, “I can always tell. Something about the way a man speaks, the way he presents himself, even if it is over the phone and to a total stranger. Like recognizes like. I look forward to meeting you in person tomorrow, Mr. Jackson.”
He hung up and left me shaking my head in bemusement. It took a lot to surprise me considering I was intimately acquainted with all the appalling things humans were capable of, but both father and daughter had managed to knock me sideways today.
I hit the Google search bar on my phone and tapped in the name Brighton Walker out of pure curiosity.
Like recognized like.
That may be true but I wasn’t sure how alike the two of us actually were. There was plenty of information on the ever informative Google about Brite Walker, including details from his illustrious military career with the Marines, a career that lasted decades rather than the mandatory four like I had served. There were articles about his work with the VA and disabled vets all over the country, news stories ranging from good to really bad about the bar he no longer owned, and several articles that tied him to the largest and most notorious motorcycle club in the Rockies. The man was equal parts hero and outlaw. He was the stuff local legends were made of and the kind of man other men told stories about. He impressed from nothing more than a web search, so I couldn’t even imagine how dynamic and enthralling he would be in person. Something told me Brite Walker had never even seen a Rolex and that the things that impressed everyone else who filled my day-to-day would not awe him in the least. For some reason I suddenly felt entirely inadequate, and I started regretting not letting the pink-haired spitfire actually get away with firing me.
Normally, I was a man used to being at the top of my game. I was a man used to getting what I wanted no matter what stood in my path. I was a man used to winning … but not lately. Lately, I was a man that had been betrayed, rejected, and drained emotionally and financially. Everything that went down with Lottie, my ex, had left me feeling like a loser, like a failure, like a fool.
We’d known each other since high school, had grown up in the same small mountain town a couple hours outside of Denver. Lottie came from money; I didn’t. She grew up in a mountainside mansion that looked like a goddamn ski resort; I grew up in a tiny cabin that only had running water and working electricity half of the time. Her parents worked in the entertainment industry and summered in the Virgin Islands; mine lived mostly off the land, refused to work for “the man,” and had bartered and traded for everything we had ever owned.
I hooked up with her at first to prove that I could. Girls had always liked me even though I came from nothing and had a shit attitude about it. Once I sealed the deal, I realized she was sweet, fun, and unendingly kind considering her affluent background. The sex was a stroke to my immature ego which quickly turned into something more. I begged her to wait for me because I had no other choice but to enlist and try to figure my life out. Joining the Army was the only way I was able to afford college, and I was determined to make something of myself, even if it meant leaving my girl and my very disapproving family behind.
Lottie promised to wait, and while I was sent overseas she went to Vassar and started her poli-sci degree. Lottie wanted to be a lawyer long before I did, but only one of us had the dedication and drive to actually get the degree and pass the bar. While I was away fighting a war and becoming a man, she was busy dropping out of school and flitting from guy to guy, all while sending me letters and messages telling me she loved and missed me. I was none the wiser, thought she was still the sweet, innocent girl I had fallen for ages ago. When I got back stateside, I put a ring on her finger, moved her to Boulder so I could attend CU, and spent every dime I made trying to keep her in the lifestyle she was accustomed to while simultaneously paying tuition.
It wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough.
The expensive suits, sports cars, the fat bank account … none of it had been enough to keep Lottie happy or faithful. At first, I was gone because of Uncle Sam, then I was in school, then I was busting my ass to pass the bar while working full time, and then I got hired at the firm and started working eighty- to ninety-hour workweeks to make a name for myself. She told me I wasn’t around. She told me I wasn’t present. She told me that she never loved me, and only stayed with me because I was safe and a good bet for her future financial security.
She told me all of that when she was five months pregnant with a baby that wasn’t mine. A baby that I knew couldn’t be mine because Lottie hadn’t let me touch her in close to eight months. The marriage was in the garbage and it wasn’t until she really started to show that I figured out why. Even with the evidence sitting plain as day between us, the woman still tried to blame the split and her scandalous actions on me. If I had been better, if I had given more, she would have waited, she would have stayed, she would have been faithful and loved me the same way I loved her.
Lottie had never been faithful, not since high school, but I’d been so blinded by her, so impressed with myself that I had scored someone like her, I’d been oblivious. I’d been trained to observe, honed my natural skills at reading people and being able to tell truth from fiction. I could tell a person’s entire life story by the way they moved, the expression on their faces, but my own wife, the person I had always been the closest to, fooled me. Or I had fooled myself because I couldn’t believe she would do that to me, do it to us. Now after it was all said and done, I could choke on my own arrogance and self-assuredness. It never even occurred to me she would go looking somewhere else for what she evidently found lacking in me.
I thought I’d given her all I’d had, but it hadn’t been enough and she wanted more. She wanted the house. She wanted my money. She wanted my car. She wanted my retirement. Hell, the greedy bitch had even tried to make me responsible for the future school expenses for the baby that wasn’t mine.
We’d been together for so long I thought I was going to have to hand it all over, but luckily, Colorado had some pretty cut-and-dry divorce laws considering the high quantity of military marriages in the state, which made it impossible for Lottie to take me totally to the cleaners. I also hired the best damn divorce lawyer I could find and made it clear I was going to fight her tooth and nail for everything. I’d grown up with nothing, and I wasn’t about to give up what I had now without a fight. I’d worked too hard for what I had and I wasn’t about to let that work and those sacrifices go easily.