Ranger by K.M. Neuhold



I’m fucked.

It’s the only conclusion I can reach as I sit on my porch, the sweat on my body slowly evaporating, as I empty my bottle of Heineken. Butterflies are dancing over the yellow primroses and red poppies in my wild garden, and the first crickets are singing their mating song in the quiet of my little piece of what was supposed to be heaven. The air is still warm, but the breeze brushes my skin, promising a night that’s at least a little cooler in the last days of spring. Lord knows we won’t get any relief during the summer.

I inhale deeply, but even the comforting smell of lavender from the countless big pots on my porch can’t soothe me. Nothing can.

I’m fucked big-time.

It’s been a year since I was honorably discharged, and all the yoga and meditation in the world haven’t made a lick of difference. I still can’t sleep, still have trouble eating. And the nightmares are still there, even when I don’t sleep. All I have to do is close my eyes, and I see it again. See him again.

It has got to stop. I’ve had enough of this. I refuse to be this moping, sad guy who served his country well once upon a time but then descended into a pit of despair and never managed to climb out of it again. I can’t be that person.

I thought that the discharge would help, that being here on my peaceful little ranch would magically fix me. It didn’t. And neither did anything else I tried.

The yoga certainly helps me keep flexible, but it didn’t bring the peace of mind I had hoped for. Neither did meditating. Or herbal tea. Essential oils. Eating goddamn kale. Name any new age method spouted by gurus, and I’ve tried it. I even went so far as to try sunning my asshole… Yeah, not doing that one again.

It. Doesn’t. Work.

I have little bursts where I’ll feel better, and I’ll tackle the garden or vacuum the house, and it’ll look nice for a week or so. But inevitably, that boost disappears just as fast as it popped up, and I’ll be fighting with myself to find the energy to put a pizza in the oven. My body, once a strong, efficient soldier, is now nothing but tired muscles and weak bones, held together by a frame that’s at least twenty pounds too thin.

So I’ve finally decided to stop trying all the vague methods and go for a proven one. I call my brother Lucky. I hate this, hate that as his older brother, I’m the weaker one, but I’ve reached a point where I have no other choice. And the one thing I’m certain of is that he would never turn me away…and that he’d never judge me.

He answers on the third ring.

“Hey, bro,” he says, his voice steady as a rock. Lucky is like that. Unflappable. Strong. Someone I can lean on, even though he’s two years younger than me. He’s always had my back, and I know he’s been worried about me.

“I need help,” I say, forgoing all small talk.

His two men are talking in the background—and yes, my brother has two partners. Lucky bastard. They’re both amazing too. Mason is super sweet and dorky, and Heart is the sexiest guy I’ve ever seen. Both love Lucky with all they have…and that’s mutual. Somehow, they’re making their threesome work.

But if I ask how Mason and Heart are doing, I’ll lose the courage to pour my heart out. Besides, Lucky and I talked a week or two ago, and I doubt anything happened between then and now. Otherwise, he’d have called me.

“I’m here. What do you need?”

“How do I fix this? How do I fix me?”

The voices in the background grow dimmer. Lucky must’ve walked away from them. “Am I interrupting?” I’m not even sure if I hope he’ll say yes so I can hang up and forget about the whole thing.

“You know you’re not. I could be in the middle of a blow job or balls deep in one of my men, and I’d still take your call.”

My mouth pulls up at the corners at that blunt visual. “Thanks for putting that image in my head.”

“You’re welcome. Now, back to you. You gotta tell me what needs to be fixed—and note my strong objection to that term.”

“Noted. I don’t know how else to put it.”

“Talk to me, Mack,” Lucky says, his voice soft. Gone is the teasing man, and in its place is the worried brother. He even uses my real name. He knows I’m in serious shit.

How I want to tell him everything, but even the thought of the man I lost, the mere mention of his name, sends my heart into a wild frenzy, and at the edges of my vision, the darkness is creeping in. I summon up all my training not to break down in front of my brother. I have enough pride left for that.