[center [font "century gothic" [size11 [b our story starts out in [#738a8f colorado]]
[tab] [tab] [tab] [tab][tab] still he has [#738a8f his childhood sweetheart] to come home to
[tab] [tab] [tab] [tab] [tab] [tab] [#738a8f she] notices the change in her husband, but has hope with patience things
[tab] [tab] [tab] [tab] [tab] [tab] [tab] but how normal can things be when theyre both
[center [font "century gothic" [size11 [b •so this is a dark story]: i had this playout before but it kind of changed course, so i want to try again with my original plot in mind
[tab] [tab] [b this is not a happy ending]: essentially while he was away, she was impregnated by his best friend. i also plan to really delve into the idea of [b [#738a8f PTSD]] - so this is a romance/drama that being said . . .
[center [font "century gothic" [size11 •mature themes including:[b violence, substance abuse, cursing, intimacy - so you must be 21+]
[center [font "century gothic" [size11 [b •great at world building]: I need someone who is very communicative and good at pushing the plot forward! I want this to be as realistic as possible, so backstory is important
[center [font "century gothic" [size11 •[b this is important]: I need someone who takes no longer than 3 days to post. please message if you will be longer, I delete the thread after a week of no correspondence
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In a rare moment of bonding, Mason gave in to her gentle pull and came to rest with him, eventually giving in to her tender ministrations. Amber didn't want to break the spell where Mason didn't recoil from her touch, but just relaxed same as he always had. Apparently the conversation was done with regardless, as Mason instead turned his focus on her. For the first time, he actually showed interest in the child growing inside of her. Surprised, Amber realized she wasn't hoping for anything. She had been that preoccupied with Mason and Jake, and the fact that this child was Jake's, that she hadn't really allowed herself to think up a future for the child itself. In all of her scenarios, she either remained with Mason or let herself be snatched up by Jake. Either way they would suffer; all three of them and maybe their families too.
Amber mindlessly played with Mason's hair, letting out a sigh.
"Hmm, isn't it 'as long as it's healthy'?" Amber said, leaving her decision and desires in the middle. In this case, she didn't even know whether she wanted the child to be healthy either and the thought shocked her a little. She'd always wanted children, but the presence of this baby was so ill gotten that Amber had unconsciously started to reject the pregnancy. As if the child was the omen of bad decisions, which it wasn't. Just a reflection of her poor life's choices. What was supposed to be one unfortunate mistake turned out to have such big consequences.
If Mason hadn't been so distracted by his internal struggle, Amber was sure he'd see right through her. But he had been distracted and Amber gratefully used Mason as a sock-puppet for family to worry about so they wouldn't look too closely to her pregnancy and the fact that she'd been pregnant a week or two longer than she claimed to be.
Amber's eyes were loosely focussed on Mason, on the fine lines near his eyes, the subtle sun-etched wrinkles near his cheeks and mouth. When had they stopped telling each other the truth? Amber couldn't figure out if she'd started it or whether it was Mason. Ever since he'd started the service, things had been different between the two of them. Maybe they'd simply grown apart, but Amber couldn't deny she still found Mason attractive. She still loved and trusted Mason. More than most of her family, apparently, which didn't help.
"All I can tell you, is that it's tiring work, growing a baby," Amber admitted. She'd tired easily, morning-sickness sapping what energy she had left.
"I bet you it's a girl, don't they say that? When you get morning-sickness it'll be a girl?" she ventured gently. "I have work tomorrow," Amber told Jake. Their weekend was officially over.
"Just a morning shift," she expressed. Hopefully this time without spending the first half hour of her day gracing the toilet with last night's meal.
"Maybe I should ask for more shifts, so we can save up," Amber pondered lightly. Babies weren't cheap, last time she checked. They'd need to prepare a room and get some things. Rompers, bottles, nappies and whatnot. Part of her was still in denial about whether the pregnancy was actually happening or not. Her friends would want to organize a baby-shower, no doubt. She wasn't ready, Amber realized. She'd wanted this pregnancy under different conditions, where she could just enjoy carrying a new live inside of her without worrying about their future.
“I promise I’ll call someone tomorrow,” he told her. Amber hadn’t been the first person to suggest we see someone. His mother had constantly inquired whether he was getting help and for the first week he was home, he hid the notices sent form the army that suggested it. Of course, it was their attempt to show that they cared, when in reality he was sure they wouldn’t bother to care what happened to him now that he was out of duty.
Of course, Maber didn’t understand. Things were different for men. You were told not to cry and not to show any emotion that would come across as weak. His parents had always been understanding, but the army had changed hi: it had broken him to build him up into a machine that didn’t think or feel, just shoot. He’d fought against such feelings as much as possible and even on the field, he didn’t feel like he had mastered the art of being an emotionless killer like his fellow soldiers. Maybe that was why he couldn’t seem to bounce back, though was war something one could just [I bounce back] from in either case?
One session certainly wasn’t going to be enough, but that was if he could even manage to sit through it. Maybe Amber was right, maybe there was the chance someone could help him through his troubles. He’d swore off talking with any of the soldiers from his platoon, not wanting to eb reminded of those grueling months, but it seemed he was the one who continuously reminded himself of what happened, intentionally. He saw trauma in everything. It was exhausting and not just for himself, but for his marriage obviously.
He felt Amber’s hand on his shoulders, dainty and yet with strength drawing him in, though he wasn’t really fighting much.je sighed out as his face was planted against her chest, his arm wrapping around her waist to hold her close. The feelings of her fingers drawing through his hair had helped to calm him and it almost felt like the old days. For once he was actually able to just relax. He looked up at her then, leaning forward to give her a kiss. “I’m happy to be home, really.” It’d been a while since he was this close with Amber and he felt that maybe she was right that opening up could be better for them. Though, he still was unsure if he would ever tell her what happened.
“So,” he started slowly, his hand pulling to rub against Amber’s stomach. “What’re you hoping for?”
Jake had decided to leave not just escape of the tension between him and Mason, though he knew his friend wasn’t upset with him. He was just unsure how much longer he could hang around Amber before the truth came out. What would happen then? Amber didn’t want him to be pushy, but he was worried about what was to occur should Mason find out the truth.
Again his words stocked after the first sentence. Amber realized that Mason's protective streak towards her prevented him from telling whatever had been that horrible out there and that it had been, she didn't doubt. War was never nice. She imagined Mason would've seen people die in front of him, not all in nice ways and perhaps worse. Amber knew that the soldiers that enjoyed their time out there were likely a little less human than the average person out there. She hadn't expected Mason to exactly enjoy his time out there, but perhaps for the satisfaction of his job to outweigh the terrible experiences he'd had to suffer through.
A derisive snort resounded at her suggestion, and it made Amber look away. Of course 'seeing someone' was met with resistance. How could a strong soldier need help? He'd be looked down upon by his peers, surely, even though Amber knew that wouldn't be the case.
Her hazel eyes looked at Mason as he tried to voice his trepidation.
She admitted, Mason's reasons confused her. Was it pride then, that prevented him from seeking help after all?
"I don't understand your reasoning, Mason," Amber confessed with a sigh. "I think you need to be a stronger man to admit you can't do this by yourself, than you could ever be by just trying to bottle it all up and avoid any social contact for fear of everything overflowing at just a wrong sigh or word."
And she herself refused to walk on eggshells all the time to prevent Mason from overflowing. He could run away, hide, shout and taunt her all he wanted, but in the end it'd get neither of them anywhere.
"I don't think there's a soldier out there who doesn't carry something with them they'd rather forget," Amber pointed out. One appointment was a start, but Amber knew psychiatrists or whoever Mason would see couldn't perform miracles in one session. In essence, Mason was saying he'd rather run again than face his troubles. Still, she couldn't chastise Mason for trying.
"I'd be grateful if you could at least try," Amber encouraged Mason's resolve.
He looked tired. Amber's caring streak took hold and she put her arms around Mason's shoulders, pulling gently for him to just lay with her on the couch. Maybe they just needed to reach out a little. Touch again. Rediscover what they meant for one another. And though Amber knew that growing closer would mean the inevitable was only going to be that much harder, she felt she couldn't let Mason down today. Nor tomorrow. Maybe not ever.
His words, though they'd stung and likely weren't meant that way, might be the solution after all. Not having the baby would make sure they could just forget and move on with their lives without anything changing.
Amber's fingers carded through Mason's hair.
"I'm happy you're back home," Amber whispered softly. Maybe she hadn't said it enough. Amber zoned out watching Mason's arms, his hands, red from being wrung together. Her fingers followed the curves of his shoulders and neck. The sad thing was that Jake was the better man. He'd known and left, out of respect for their marriage. Amber knew she'd have to meet up with him and give in to that talk he'd invited her to.
People fear? Is that how it came off? Mason looked to Amber, knowing she was being honest, which was a first since him getting back. He was antsy now though, wondering f he was ready to go through with this conversation. Though, hadn’t that been the issue in the first place? Both of them were skirting around issues and he was always backing down. Amber was here to help. Why couldn’t he just tell her what was going on> Why did he feel like protecting her from his thoughts was at all helping them, considering it hadn’t seemed to work thus far. “Because I don’t want you to have these thoughts Amber.” He admitted to her. Though, as his wife wasn’t it her duty to help him through this and remain by his side? How could she do so if he was terrified of letting her in to that dark part of his world; a part of his life that he couldn’t get rid of.
Was it his right to make that decision for her? “It was horrible out there Amber,” he had started but had to stop himself. He looked down at his hands, red and sore, his fingers aching from how tightly he’d pushed them back. Had Amber not stopped him he was certain that he would have broken them. He looked down at her ring. She wore it so proudly, still willing to stick by him as is wife when she could have very well left him. Last night could have been bad. What would have happened had he not let go? Had he not returned back to the present? Would it have been more than enough reason for Amber to leave him without feeling any guilt? Or would she try to make things work no matter what because of the child she had.
He knew that she was trying to help, but that didn’t stop him from snorting at her request. He didn’t want to be put on anymore drugs and he didn’t want it going on record that he was having issues. Still, maybe it was the fact that Amber was so important to him that he couldn’t find the courage to speak about what happened. She had an image of him, of the man she fell in love with and he didn’t want to tarnish that with the image of the man he was overseas.
Mason heard the sadness in her voice, as though she were tired, and he felt selfish then to assume that he had been doing much of the work when it came to keeping them together. He was blind to the wrongness of his actions and not speaking up or confiding in her. There were times when they told each other everything, but this was too much. Amber was with child ad she was already under so much stress. He felt guilty, like a burden then.
“I don’t want to – “he’d tried to explain. Would be considered a monster, were he to tell the truth? He was scared of being judged. Though as Mason looked up to meet Amber’s eyes, he could see that she did care about him and maybe his paranoia had confused her look of worry with a sense of fear or terror. He placed his hand on top of her, his thumb gentle as it ran over the back of it. “I just don’t want anyone thinking I’m crazy.” People were already talking, but how much more would they talk If this managed to split him and Amber apart? He sighed out, closing his eyes then as they were growing heavy with exhaustion. He had to at least try. Right?
“I’ll book one appointment,” he finally admitted. Though, he wasn’t sure if he had the courage to go through with it.
Where to start? Amber wanted to fill in those blanks for Mason, but refrained. In the end, Mason wouldn't manage to get anything at all sorted out, because Amber suspected the man wasn't sure what it was that didn't sit well with him. The uncanny feeling that something was wrong was likely brought on by a mixture of her infidelity combined with the gnarly nightmare that was the war, chasing him in nightmares and waking reality both. When Amber did finally meet Mason's gaze, there was something akin to despair resting underneath a turbulent surface. She had trouble holding that gaze, for fear of being chosen as the next target. And there he went.
Whatever conversation Mason meant to have was washed away underneath a tide of something she wasn't allowed access to.
"It's this people fear," Amber pointed out, refusing to give in to a battle of accusations. Nothing good ever came from calling out someone else's flaws, though Mason seemed to want it so. No, more than that, he wanted things to change. Change back to the old? Where they could both laugh and play together? Where he'd show of his brawn by carrying her off to bed and making sweet love to her? Amber couldn't even imagine the last time that had happened.
"Where are you going in your head, Mason? Why won't you tell me?" Amber tried gently, noticing that Mason had that faraway look, that look he had yesterday, when he'd grabbed her wrists. This time, Mason seemed to barely restrain himself from doing exactly that again. Or perhaps something else entirely?
"...if," she started, sighing out before reaching out to Mason. Amber put her hand to Mason's, trying to get him to relax or at least return to the here and now.
"If you can't confide in me, then... I think maybe you should see someone, Mason," Amber tried carefully. She didn't care if it was a therapist or one of his war-buddies, a general or superior. Just. Someone to tell what he'd been through, so that he didn't have to carry the burden alone.
"I'm not afraid, Mason, I trust you... I just wish, I could do something for you," Amber confessed. She felt useless. Regardless of the heavy guilt of cheating on her husband, Amber realized she felt useless as a wife. What did their vows mean, when in their time of need, all they did was grow detached and distant? At first Amber felt it was Mason's fault, but now Amber had to admit she might have given up trying, because it all seemed pointless anyway. Mason was right to say this pushing and pulling they were doing was leading nowhere. She also realized Mason was inviting them both to push and that wasn't the way either, was it? Maybe it would be for the best. Amber looked down at their hands and sighed.
Jake didn’t know how much more he could take. He was starting to wonder if his presence was making things harder for their marriage, though he couldn’t just start ignoring Mason. They’d been friends for years; he was the best man at his wedding and had confided so much in him; it wouldn’t make sense for him to suddenly distance himself. Though, as tensions rose, he wasn’t sure if he could remain quiet any longer. Mason as his best friend and it was only right that he told him the truth. Jake was torn, terrified of losing his friend, of losing his whole life. Him and Mason had so many connections and if this got out, he could only imagine the looks he’d receive. Best friend of injured veteran impregnates his wife, what a headline. He couldn’t sit in the driveway any longer, finally pulling out and heading home. It was a long shot, but he still sent a text to Amber. They needed to talk, whether she felt up to it or not, it had to be done. Could they keep this secret going on for long, especially once the child grew up? He didn’t feel right that an innocent child would have to deal with the repercussions of their mess. How much would it hurt him or her to know the truth about their father should it ever come out?
Mason looked up as Amber walked over with the food, not really having the heart to tell her he wasn’t hungry. Though he knew he was depriving himself of food as of late which was making him more irritable.
“He thought we needed some alone time,” Mason said as he reached for the fork. His grip relaxed some, unlike how tight he had been holding the bottle earlier. He took a bite of the chicken, “’s good,” he mumbled. He hated the silence, anything to fill it would be nice and it seemed Amber had the same idea. Oddly enough the sound of the utensils scraping against the plate and the broadcaster’s announcements on the tv were making him just as uneasy, to the point he wasn't sure he’d be able to keep the food down any longer. He placed the fork down, his hands reaching to wipe his face as a sigh escaped.
[I What did you want to talk about?] As though there weren’t millions of things wrong for them to discuss. “Where to start?” he said lowly, a strained laugh following. Mason looked dover to Amber; her curls tucked behind her ears, cheeks still a bit flushed from the heat of the kitchen. His eyes had fallen toward her stomach, imagining how soon it would become swollen with child, unable to be hidden
“What’re we doing Ambs? I don’t want us to be like this.” He finally admitted. “I know – I know things aren’t the same, but I didn’t imagine it would feel like this.” He wanted to reach out to her, his eyes a sign of distress as he tried to look into hers. They’d had trouble seeing eye to eye since he got back. “If you’ve got something to say, about what I’m doing wrong please tell me. Everyone’s looking at me like I’m a walking grenade and I just – I can’t take that from you. You won’t let me touch you, every conversation is like pulling teeth.” He could feel himself getting worked up then, his hands gripping one another tightly. He tore his gaze away, not wanting to cry, not wanting to show weakness.
[font courier [I Stop crying, grab her legs]], the soldier’s voice echoed in his head. He struggled to come back from the memory; trying to focus on here and now with Amber.
'We'll talk later', such ominous words, spoken so frequently without any repercussions these days. Amber decided it wasn't worth pursuing the venomous phrase and focussed on making dinner instead. Only once both men had left the kitchen did Amber feel like she could breathe again at long last. The tension between Mason had her was already enough, let alone when Jake's energy was mixed in. She knew Jake would want nothing more than for all this secrecy to be over. Amber wondered absentmindedly whether that wouldn't be the best solution. At least then there would be clarity for all of them.
Cooking took her mind off things. Slowly Amber lost herself in timing and temperature, making sure they had something palatable for dinner at least. Half-way through, she heard the door go. Jake's car pulled out of their driveway. Amber looked puzzled at that, but figured maybe Mason's mood was too much for Jake too. Mason's mood or the implication of her pregnancy. Either which way, she was now alone with 'the beast'. Rather than mull it over, Amber focussed on finishing dinner.
After a while she carried out two plates, setting one in front of Mason before sitting down next to him. Force of habit, that. Her hazel eyes zoned out on the game, nudging the grains of rice into the sweet and sour sauce.
"I though you two would watch the game together?" Amber asked gently. "Guess we'll have leftovers," she said, filling the silence that lingered despite the noise from the television. Amber ate a few bites before pausing and picking over what bit to eat exactly. She felt nervous, almost. Maybe because the tense atmosphere felt ready to burst already, unless Mason gave up. He did, most of the times these days, but she couldn't be sure. Amber wasn't even sure whether or not she ought to encourage Mason just airing out what he really felt and thought. At least then she'd hear some truths over all the lies he tried to blanket himself in. They were loose wraps and not able to withstand much scrutiny.
Amber ate some more, but once all the meat was gone surrendered her struggle and put the plate down on the coffee-table.
She took a deep breath, "what did you want to talk about?"
Rather than sit and wait for the beast to be provoked, Amber felt she might as well cast the first stone on her own terms. This morning he'd been quick to flee and now he was quick to confront. To her, it felt like Mason was all over the place. About her, the baby, life in general and maybe it was because what had happened to him, but they were all kept in the dark.
Amber figured she ought to try and broach the topic of a psychiatrist with Mason. Someone who he could confide in, who would listen without judgement, could be helpful in this case, where Amber felt Mason didn't trust anyone to carry the burden on his soul with him. Or no, that wasn't true.
He just didn't trust her. And she couldn't fault Mason for having lost that. Or was she the one pushing him away instead?
What could he say? You don’t know what it’s like, or should he just lie to her and tell her he was happy. She didn’t believe him, he could see it in her hazel eyes that shifted and danced, unable to fully meet his. She wasn’t apologizing and she didn’t seem to accept his. Still, her excuse said something. Didn’t it? It showed she still cared enough to spare his feelings, or maybe, just maybe, a lie was the only thing that would help them get by. When would this all become too much? He felt like they were both tossing this large bag between one another, filled with everything they wanted to say but didn’t and everything they saw but chose to ignore. With one little prick it would burst, flooding the space they called home. And what would they do then? Would they become another statistic? Mason couldn’t fathom the idea of not being with Amber. He was raised by both of his parents in a loving household and he wanted that; why couldn’t she see he wanted that?
He felt like she was asking him the impossible, everyone was and yet who was really in the way? She turned her back on him, more than likely with the intent to show the conversation was over. An argument had been simmering and had Jake not shown up and put the lid on it, he didn’t know what would’ve happened next. It was almost as if Jake could feel the tension all the way from the other room, but he was trying to pass it off. Mason was no fool; if Amber’s mother was asking about him or even his mother, he knew that people saw through his smile. They noticed when he disappeared into the corner of a room, or stood by a window, staring out into the vast nothingness.
‘We’ll talk about this later.” Mason had simply said. Talking didn’t seem to get them anywhere though with both of them putting up walls every thirty seconds. Mason was weak at this point. He just wanted to forget and move on and he thought if he ignored it enough, he could very well do that. Though, that meant not having an answer for why he would react a certain way and that kind of instability was worrisome for Amber he imagined. The more he tried to go back to his normal self from the pass, the further he got away from Amber who it seemed was no longer that girl he knew before he got on that plane. He handed Jake his beer, expecting the man to follow. Of course, he wanted to say something, but what could he say then with Mason so close. It was ironic then, both men wanting just a bit of time with the same woman. Jake soon turned on his heel and headed into the living room, suddenly thinking maybe it hadn’t been such a good idea to stay over. How would he be able to handle these [I casual] hangouts when Amber started showing?
“You guys good?” He asked as he took a seat.
“Peachy,” he retorted as he took a sip of the beer.
“Look Mason,” he leaned in then, quiet as though he didn’t want Amber to know he was giving him advice. What right did he have with what he did with his wife? “You know it’s none of my business. You and Amber, this is just a rough patch. It’ll all work out.” Mason looked to Jake, he was right, it wasn’t his business and yet he knew saying that would come off wrong.
“I know, look can we just watch the game?” He wasn’t really paying attention, but that was the point. It seemed Jake had caught on and he wasn’t sure if it was right, he stay.
“I should head out. You guys have been doing the whole family parade for the last couple weeks, maybe some alone time would do you good?” Jake said as he came to a stand, just as dinner was being near done. They had plenty of alone time, too much of it and that was the issue.
“You sure? I mean Amber is nearly finished.”
“Positive. Just, take it easy alright?” Jake said patting Mason on the back. Mason had walked him to the door then. “I’ll text you the schedule for the next meet. Tell Amber I’m sorry, raincheck.”
Mason nodded, slow to close the door, heading back into the living room, losing himself in the cheers coming from the speaker as he took another sip of the beer.
So Jake too considered Mason dangerous? Why did everyone think she was so weak? Of course, if they really did get into a physical fight, Amber wouldn't win from a soldier. Mason was stronger than she was, but she didn't think the memories that haunted Mason were the kind where he would consider her the enemy. Either way Amber was fairly confident she could break Mason out of his spell. Maybe overly confident.
Yeah, he meant to apologize, she'd realized that and thought he was truthful there, but the later sentence rubbed her the wrong way.
"You haven't been happy since that first day home, Mason," Amber pointed out. She didn't even bother looking up at Mason, because honestly? She didn't want to see the lies written out on his face.
"I'm sorry too," Amber said after a moment's hesitation. Her hazel eyes glanced over at Mason and she leaned on the counter to properly look at him.
"I just wasn't feeling well this morning," she excused. It wasn't a lie. Not entirely. Sure, that wasn't why Mason's touch seemed so fake, so forced. She both felt dirty, for having cheated on Mason and thus unworthy of his affection, but at this point Amber couldn't deny that her feelings weren't the only ones in the way. It felt as if Mason had to forcibly make himself touch her sometimes and it felt so wrong, so incredibly wrong that it rubbed her all wrong. Mason didn't know how to make sense of the normal world, so how could she expect him to accept this pregnancy?
What was she actually doing to this child anyway? No matter which was she twisted it, Amber could only ever derive one outcome; her, alone in an unfamiliar place, raising this child alone.
Amber looked down at the kitchen tiles, closed her eyes and took a deep breath. That wasn't until at least the majority of another year, so she had time to prepare and come clean. Maybe getting the secret off her chest was the best thing to do. More lies would only complicate things, but Amber knew she would be destroying Jake's life too. Jake's and Mason's. She already had, Amber realized. And still she kept defending and trusting Mason. As if her own wrong-doings could make him look a little less sinful.
Amber brushed her hair behind her ear and turned back to the food, putting on some rice to boil.
"Dinner will be ready in thirty minutes," she said. What more was there to say? Jake was there. If they wanted to have an argument, now was not the time. Besides, what would it solve? No matter how much they talked, Mason wouldn't say the things he needed to get out, so she couldn't even support or help him with whatever he was going through. Jake could, but his interests were scattered. Maybe Mason should see a therapist. There was no shame in asking for counceling, was there? If only so they could tell other people that Mason was seeing someone. It'd put a lot of people at ease. Amber decided now wasn't the time to bring it up. As expected, Jake came walking in right then, supposedly lured by the scent of food and the absence of beer, but she knew better. Jake was there to protect her from Mason, if he needed to.
Jake couldn’t help the way he looked at Amber, his eyes traveling from the top of her curly hair, pass those pouty lips. He still thought about that kiss, their first kiss to which he paused and looked at her, willing her to deny him. What they had done next could have been avoided, had she slapped him or asked him to leave Though he knew he couldn’t put all the blame on Amber as he hadn’t bothered to pull away and before she could have protested he had learned in again to kiss her, with such hunger and wanting. He was confused; had he wanted. Amber all this time? Sure, she was a gorgeous girl and she was fun to eb around, incredibly smart. Though, he’d never had these types of feelings about her when Mason was around. Had he?
He’d dropped by just to give her a package for her birthday; Mason had been paranoid about sending anything other than letters from Afghanistan and had left the package with Jake, hoping to keep it a secret instead of stowing it in the home. It was a diamond necklace he had bought, obviously a bit too fancy to wear on the daily, but something he was proud to be able to purchase with his own money. Jake could still recall how the box had sat on the kitchen counter as they made their way upstairs. The next day when it was realized what the two had done, he had to get out of the house quickly, the reality of his deeds sinking in.
“You could have messaged me back. I was worried about you after Mas– “Amber wasn’t going to have this conversation with him and outside of pleasantries, he was sure that conversations between them would never be the same. He didn’t know what to think of that with his child growing inside her. Jake was having a hard time thinking how he could handle being around them when the child was born. Mason and he had been best friends for years and it already pained him to be around the male knowing what had occurred between him and Amber; seeing his son call another man father was something he wasn’t sure he could deal with. Jake sighed, he knew Amber well enough that when a conversation was unwanted or not going her way, she was quick to run. With her she liked to be alone, distanced when she was upset it seemed and it was no wonder why her and Mason had a hard time communicating when he lacked the ability to pick up on these kind of signals.
With a sigh of defeat, Jake dropped the conversation. “Chicken sounds good.” He knew Mason would eventually come into the living room anyways interrupting the conversation they both had yet to have. Mason had just finished popping off the bottle caps of the beer when Amber walked in. He was surprised that she bothered to speak to him which he found ironic considering this was the very home to which they crossed the threshold. He was struggling with the idea that things had always been this bad before deployment and they both were blind to it, or he really was the cause of so much tension. “Hey” he said. She looked tired, which he kept to himself and suspected of course it had to do with the pregnancy. He tossed the bottle caps into the trash. Mason resisted the urge to snort; of course, her mother asked about him. She was worried, everyone was worried; in the field people looked at him with fear because he was capable of hurting them. Being in front of the enemy there was no gray just black or white. After coming back home the looks people gave him made him feel like he was permanently stuck in that gray middle.
He didn’t want to get into a fight with Jake here and he knew if he lingered in the kitchen any longer, the male would come to investigate.
‘Listen, babe about this morning and last night, I didn’t mean what I said. I mean I meant to apologize.” He was staying to himself, not sure if she wanted him a closer than the distance between them as he stood at the island in the kitchen while she neared the fridge. “I really am happy about the pregnancy. I’m happy to be here, home with you.” Did she believe him? Did it matter? He refused to fall into the statistics of a failed marriage after returning home. He wanted this to work.
The front-door slotting into its frame snapped her awake. Amber stared ahead, at the television for a minute, before she slowly sat up. Rather than Mason, she found Jake there. Her hazel eyes regarded the man, the blush on his cheeks, the grease under his finger-nails. The very same fingers that touched her in a fashion far too delightful to confess. Amber swallowed the 'what are you doing here?' only barely. She pushed some of her wildly curling hair back and sat up a little straighter, now privy to the noises from the kitchen that meant Mason too had come home in one piece. One day, Amber feared things might be different. Not for the first time, she realized how fragile all that she had truly was.
She eyed Jake.
"I was taking a bath when you called," Amber said dismissively. "And then I went to bed." Jake knew she'd left together with Mason. What did he really expect? For her to so openly betray her husband? Even though she was in the wrong, she wasn't that stupid.
Her and Jake, they didn't and couldn't ever have anything together. No one in their social circle would accept a deal like that, even if they desperately wanted it to be so. Amber knew that the social judgement alone had destroyed stronger relationships.
Jake likely also knew what had happened, if Mason had confided that to him. She didn't doubt Mason would do so without question. Amber numbly wondered how Jake handled himself in that sort of situation. With the same boyish laugh? A man who could hide that much was dangerous. So was a woman. Maybe she wished they were more transparent to Mason, but frankly, Mason was blind to pretty much everything right now.
She swung her legs from the couch and looked up, "did you guys eat?"
"I was going to make chicken," Amber offered.
After a moment's thought she got up and wandered off into the kitchen. "Hey," Amber greeted Mason, but was a little apprehensive about getting closer. Mason hadn't left in a good mood and Amber wasn't sure whether that had improved as the day wore on. That said, she hadn't exactly been helpful herself that morning either.
"Mom asked after you," Amber started, just to make conversation.
"I'm making dinner." She hesitated, then recovered and went to take out some ingredients. It'd be a light meal, because she didn't want another morning spent worshipping some porcelain. Amber wiped some sleep from the corners of her eyes with the palm of her hand and then turned on the stove, setting about making a hot meal in earnest. Normalcy might not be what Mason was ready for, but that wasn't going to change a thing about mundane life's chores and events.
Jake had pulled up to the house. He could see that the car was parked in the driveway which meant Amber was home. Mason had been ready to try to talk to her, but he was a bit hesitant about getting out of the car. He wondered if he should’ve taken Jake up on his offer to go watch a game with his father and have a few beers. Though, he wasn’t sure if that would do any good. Sometimes he felt like his presence in the house was too much and other times he wondered if Amber hated him for being so distant.
“Don’t tell me you’re scared to go inside.” Jake said as he cut the engine. Mason looked down at his hands, stained with grease after tinkering with cars all day. He had to admit it had been nice, relaxing to just do something normal for once. The feeling was temporary though, like a high and right now he was crashing as reality was set before him. His old life was now something of a fantasy that he only could dabble in every now and then before the nostalgia turned into something more painful. “Look, why don’t I come in and we catch the game here?” Jake didn’t want to make it obvious that he did want to check on Amber and her wellbeing, especially after she had dismissed his call the night before. Mason hadn’t indicated anything was wrong, but he didn’t want to take any chances. Sure, his friend trusted him with more information than he did with his wife or even his own parents, but Jake knew that Mason was keeping most of his feelings to himself. He had no problem talking about what he saw, his tone cold and flat, but when it came to how he was dealing with it, how he was coping Mason was silent.
“Alright, that sounds good.” Mason hoped that with Jake their Amber might loosen up a little. The three of them had always been tight and when Jake was dating someone, they often would go out on double dates. Jake had been single for quite some time, which Mason had been surprised about as he thought he was hitting it off well with his girlfriend Vienna, at least it seemed that way before he was deployed. The two walked toward the door then. Mason entered, figuring she was in the living room a she could hear the tv playing.
“I’ll grab some drinks,” he said.
Jake had wandered into the living room then. ‘Ducking my calls now?” He asked with a raised brow, trying to keep his voice low so as not to alert Mason.
In the end Karen bought the majority of their purchases. Amber wasn't sure. Guilt about keeping her secret from Mason held Amber back from spending 'their' money, even though there were plenty of cute things she could've gotten. Karen probably assumed she was a bit withdrawn because of their earlier conversation and if she suspected anything, it got buried in her care for little Samantha. Amber just smiled and tried to push her worries to the background, but they kept producing white noise, effectively overshadowing any real happiness from shimmering through.
Amber came home to an empty house, though that wasn't much of a surprise. If Mason was with Jake, chances were the boys would end up watching a game and not returning at all. Used to fending for herself, Amber lazily sorted through her cabinets, occasionally replying to a text or private message as she set out to prepare herself something to eat. After the gruelling experience that morning, she felt hungrier than ever. With a sigh she regarded her favourites and tried to decide which to leave out in poor attempts at discovering what set her off in the morning.
A caller-id stopped her in her tracks.
Amber took the call after a moment's thought. She put it to speaker and started to season the chicken she intended to have.
"Hey mom," Amber started, then considered making Mason a portion. At the very least he could heat it up, but if not, she could have it the other day. It'd be more cost-efficient to make bigger batches anyway.
"Hey honey, did you guys get home alright?" Maria started.
Amber turned over the chicken, numbly minding what she was doing. "Yeah, there was barely any traffic," she said, though Amber knew her mother wasn't interested in all that.
"How's Mason, dear?" the older woman started and Amber leaned on the kitchen counter, staring ahead and then at her spice-riddled fingers.
"I don't know, mom, you'll have to ask him yourself," she snapped.
"Don't be catty, Amber," Maria chastised her daughter. "I'm not the only one who noticed, you know?"
Amber held back another snarl and sighed out, letting her head hang. After a second thought, she rinsed her hands and put the chicken in the fridge to marinate. Her appetite was already lost. She dried her hands and grabbed the phone, toggling the speaker.
"What do you want me to say, mom?" Amber said, half desperation, half impatient.
"I don't know, Amber. That things aren't well? The truth?"
The words nearly caused a strangled noise to escape her throat. Amber clenched her teeth and steeled herself.
"There's nothing going on. I don't know how else to put it," Amber said. It was closest to the truth that she dared to go.
"People keep asking," she snapped. "If it's that obvious, why would they?"
"We're worried for you, Amber. Now that you're with child, there are other-"
"Other what? Mason would never hurt me, mom."
"You don't know that..." Maria said, slowly and with barely restrained patience. "Margaret told me Mason hasn't been himself ever since he returned. I just-"
"Just what?" Amber bit sharply.
"We can't help you if you keep us out, Ambs," Maria pleaded, softer now.
Amber heard the door go and realized the words weren't for her. They might as well have been spoken to Mason. She wasn't the one holding back, but then she was. Her mother's intuition had picked up on something and this was the most obvious conclusion to draw.
"You don't have to worry, mom, I'm not the one you have to worry about," Amber said softly, then sighed, "I have to go."
"Amber... call me tomorrow, please?"
"Sure," she agreed and then broke off the call. She was tired. It was to be expected during the first weeks of pregnancy, but Amber still wasn't used to it. She kicked off her shoes and wandered into the living to turn on the television.
Mason thought about going back in, to demand that Amber talk to him. Would it be the best move though? She didn’t seem to take kindly to him trying to smooth things over this morning. Though, he knew if h would’ve explained what was going on to his sister she would have chastised him. Mason wasn’t really doing much but trying to further brush their issues under the rug, pretending that it was a yesterday problem. He had trouble speaking to Amber about what was going on, but how much longer could he keep it inside? How long before it became too much ad he found it hard to let go of her as he had the night before. He was grateful when Jake pulled up. He got into the car before Jake even had a chance to get out.
“Where’s Amber?” He asked. Mason tried his hardest not to show a look of discontent.
“I thought today was a guy’s day?” He said, trying to change the subject.
“Ah, I knew you’d be excited.” Jake said as he began to pull out of the driveway. Mason adjusted the seat and leaned back some. It was a pretty nice day, sun shining and not too bright where the heat was uncomfortable. The weather in Afghanistan had been unbearable at times, Mason had learned to never complain again on a sunny day once he returned.
“So things better between you two from last night?” Mason looked over to Jake, they were parked at a red light and he was lighting a cigarette.
“What do you thin? I’m an idiot, I keep saying the wrong things, doing the wrong things.”
“Well, have you actually talked to her? You know, she didn’t make this baby alone Mason.” Jake almost regretted those words coming out of his mouth; they were bitter, and he was grateful the light had changed so he could busy his mind and focus on the road instead of his thoughts. His right hand gripped the steering wheel tighter. “I mean, you have to understand this can be tough on her too. I think you should talk to her. She was asking me about you last night; she’s worried about you.”
Despite what had occurred between him and Amber, Jake did treasure his friendship to Mason and if he could hold out on the secret of him being the father of Amber’s child, he would try his hardest. It was a battle though; a part of him knew there was no chance of him being with Amber, but he did care for her and the fact that she carried his child only further intensified those feelings. Still, he owed his oldest friend loyalty.
They eventually reached an old racetrack, car already lined up and a gathering of men hanging around them. Mason for a moment regretted agreeing coming with, he knew he wasn’t good with crowds. As though sensing his worry Jake patted him on the shoulder. “C’mon, it won’t be terrible. We’re talking cars man, relax.”
It had taken some time, but Mason eventually did manage to loosen up somewhat. For the first time in a while he had felt like the old him. It was a little late into the day when they were already heading back. Honestly, Mason was a bit worried that Amber would be at the house. Maybe Jake was right, maybe it was time they stop tiptoeing around what was going on. He at least wanted to have a real argument if that’s what it took words they couldn’t walk away from.
Fleeing, that's all Mason was good for. Amber sighed out, "love you too." She watched Mason leave the house and sat there for another while, just waiting for something that didn't come. What had she expected? Anger? Remorse? Instead, Amber just felt empty and relieved. Without Mason in the house, it seemed the air was less dense and thus easier to breathe. She knew what she demanded wasn't fair to ask of Mason, not so soon after returning from the war. But had he really ever returned? Each time she saw the fear in his eyes, the lost gazes, the uncanny sensation of danger emanated from his very persona at times. Like last night.
Amber stood, put her cup in the sink and ventured to the abandoned bathroom. Mason's perfume hung in the humid air.
She washed up at the sink, then set about doing her makeup. Meanwhile, her flighty fingers texted Karen. Whether she wanted to meet up for lunch at the small diner in town they always went to. Maybe do some shopping after. Ever since Mason's return, they had less to spend, but that didn't stop her from needing things for the baby. Or maybe she was just looking for a proper distraction from the whole situation.
Yesterday certainly hadn't been it.
Karen had just delivered her first baby, so Amber was low-key a little curious about how she'd experienced everything. Had her husband been this up and down about the baby's arrival? Amber stared at herself in the mirror and sighed out. She settled on a plain dress and some slip-in flats before heading out. She suspected Jake would drop Mason off again, so she took the car and drove out to meet her friend.
"Karen," she said with a smile. They hugged gently, the gentle wails of Karen's baby interrupting their greeting. Amber's smile widened at the sight of Karen's little one; Samantha, Sam for short. She was absolutely adorable. Amber reached down and let Sam grab her finger in her tiny hand.
"Isn't she a treat? Less so last night," Karen started, sitting down with an exasperated sigh. Amber looked up and sat down too, still hunched over the baby to carefully take in the complete, yet miniature features. Sam's wide blue eyes took in hers, then ventured to the sky. Karen adjusted the baby's buggy to provide a little more shade.
"I can't wait," Amber said, despite Karen's tired appearance.
Karen smiled a bitter-sweet smile, "it's worth it, Amber."
They ordered drinks and Amber enjoyed the quiet bustle around her. It seemed none of her worries mattered much in the sunshine like this.
"So how are things with Mason?"
Amber took a deep breath and looked away from little Samantha.
"Honestly? I don't know any more," she admitted. "Last night he said he didn't care and today he suddenly does and I just..." Amber sighed out, then took a long drink from her cold ice-tea.
"He cares," Karen soothed.
"He just seems so absent," she protested mildly, stroking the fine hairs on Samantha's head. The baby had since gone back to sleep, hands little fists beside her head. So precious.
"He needs time, Ambs, you'll see. Joan had the same thing with Karl. It's not nothing, to be out there and fight other people. You have to give it time."
Amber smiled, but it didn't quite reach her eyes. If Karen noticed, she didn't say anything. Amber wanted to be distracted from the whole situation and they both knew it.
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