Thursday, June 11, 2015

Christmas in June? Work in Progress: A Pet for Christmas by Rachelle Ayala - Chapter Two

Hi Everyone, This is Chapter Two of A Pet for Christmas, a sequel to last year's A Father for Christmas, where Kelly and Bree, mother and daughter, meet a homeless veteran, Tyler Manning, and make their wishes come true.

I posted Chapter One last week, but from now on, I'll only be posting to my Mailing List. Please subscribe to my list for Chapter Three, etc.. thanks!

Since the story of how Kelly, Bree, and Tyler's met is already published, it might be better to read A Father for Christmas first. You can get it HERE for 99c or read free with Kindle Unlimited.

Chapter Two of A Pet for Christmas
[Disclaimer: these chapters are first draft and not edited. The final version will have changes.]
# # #
(Kelly) Thursday evening, California
“You want to talk about it?” Mother asks as I’m drying dishes. It’s getting late and the guests have left, one by one. Only Mr. Wong, Bree, Ella, and Jaden remain in the living room watching TV.
I place the dried dish onto a stack and pick another one from the water. “There’s nothing to talk about. Tyler can’t be home until he completes his mission.”
“That’s what you tell yourself. Aren’t you and Bree more important than his mission?”
Mother doesn’t miss a thing. After I hung up the video call with Tyler, I retreated to her bedroom for twenty minutes, crying. I couldn’t stop the tears, even though everyone knows I’m not the crying type. It’s everything piling up. We have a tough case to crack at work—some really slippery operators that are hard to nail, and with me being out at the doctor’s office to get checked and monitored, I’m always behind on my paperwork.
I’m hiding even from myself. It’s not work that has me down, but the nagging feeling that I’m not enough for Tyler—that I can’t help him or reach him—that he needs Afghanistan more than me and Bree.
Mother stops washing the dishes and turns her entire attention on me. “Bree’s hurting, too. Isn’t it time you do something about it?”
“What do you want me to do?” I snap at her. “Break it off with him? We have a baby coming.”
“I’m well aware of that,” Mom says. “Although I wish you two had waited.”
That does it. I’m out of here if she’s going to deliver another sermon about how we should have slowed things down. I take off the apron and hang it up. “Look, I’m sorry about ruining the party, but Bree and I need to get going. Ella and Jaden can finish up here, and you should be out there with Mr. Wong.”
“Call him, Cam,” Mother says. “Ella already put Bree to sleep in the guest room. You just want to leave because you don’t like what I have to say.”
“Mom, it’s not that. There’s nothing I can do about it now.”
“You need to be honest with him,” Mom says. “You can’t do it alone. He needs to man up and take care of his own family before running around the world taking care of others.”
“I’m strong.” I take a deep breath to convince myself I’m holding on. “I had Bree by myself, and I can do it again.”
“Oh, Kelly.” Mother dries her hands and places them over my shoulder. “I know you can do it alone, but is it fair? If you’ve never told Tyler just how much you need him and he thinks you’re handling everything just fine, why would he come home to help?”
My throat closes and I blink back tears. I can’t let my mother see my despair. I already broke down and called him, but he’s not wavering from his mission. I shouldn’t be so selfish. The people in Afghanistan have it way worse than me and Bree.
And then there’s the truth. I don’t want him to come back because I need him. I want him to come to me because he wants to be with me.
“Tyler doesn’t need any more guilt. He’s had more than enough to last five lifetimes. The last thing I should do is guilt him into coming home.” A pain shoots over my abdomen as my womb tightens. I clutch and grimace before realizing my mother is looking at me.
“Another contraction?” Her face creases with concern. “Sit. No more work for you. Go to the living room. I’ll get Ella and Jaden to finish up.”
“I should get going.” I give her the customary goodbye hug and pluck my car keys from the hook.
“No, I don’t want you driving when you’ve just had a contraction. You’ll stay with me tonight.”
“But, what about Mr. Wong?”
“What about him? We started dating, that’s all.”
Great. It’s her subtle way of telling me she disapproves of the way I handled Tyler. Yes, I should have waited until marriage, but my biological clock was ticking and Tyler didn’t want to get married until he got his finances in order. At least this time, I know who my baby’s father is.
Mom pushes open the kitchen door and calls, “Ella, can you please finish the dishes?”
“Sure.” My younger sister pops into the kitchen. One look at me and her lips turn down. “Are you okay? You look pale.”
“I’m tired. It’s been a long day. Thanks for getting Bree to sleep.”
“Poor thing.” Ella lowered her voice. “She prayed and  asked God to give her a real father. She says God is bigger than Santa, and she’s sure He can find her real father no matter where he is in this universe.”
# # #
(Tyler) Friday morning Afghanistan, Thursday evening California
Like most buildings in Afghanistan, the community center was a compound surrounded by mud brick walls and topped with coils and coils of razor wire. It was easy to develop a siege mentality. Here, no one had welcoming lawns or spacious driveways. Instead, sturdy gates and doormen were the rule in this war torn region.
The compound had been built by an NGO-sponsored team five years ago to hold an educational building and medical clinic. Unfortunately, the kidnapping and murders of the last team of doctors and nurses effectively put a halt to the clinic. The place was in shambles when Tyler had arrived in the spring, but after months of hard work, he’d at least secured the premises and installed basketball courts, an artificially turfed soccer field, and set up a weight room. Initially, the villagers sent their boys over for sports and fun, but as the Taliban insurgents made inroads in the north and east, families began sending their sons to keep them safe. At least a dozen boys never went home. They set up makeshift cots for them in the gymnasium which was still under construction and missing the folding bleachers as well as the polished wooden floor.
“Mr. Manning. Here’s your morning tea and breakfast.” Arman, a twelve year old boy who spoke English, clambered into the office and set a tray on the desk. His mother was a British woman who’d married an Afghan, but he was secretive about the current whereabouts of his parents.
“Thanks, Arman.” Tyler gestured for the boy to sit and chat. “How was your day?”
The boy simply nodded. “Fine, sir. Anything else you require?”
“You’ve filled my water jug. I think all is good. Let me know when the supply convoy arrives.” He handed Arman an egg and a plump red pomegranate. “Here, have some.”
“Thanks, sir.” He gave Tyler another nod and retreated. Outside, the pre-dawn prayer call howled through the wind. Tyler sipped the smoky black tea and peeled the hard boiled egg. Once he’d straightened out the supply situation and hired another director, he was going home.
He picked up the picture of him, Kelly, and Bree taken a few months ago on a family trip to the beach. Every morning, he and Bree had taken a walk on the beach and found shells and bits of rock. She even found a sea urchin skeleton and a couple of sand dollar pieces. Of course, Kelly always made Bree put everything back, even though the beach they frequented had no restrictions against collecting. Her explanation was that Bree should learn to leave nature the way it was for future generations to enjoy.
It hadn’t stopped Tyler from sneaking a few pieces of sea glass and limpet shells he’d found and buying Bree a glass jar at a gift shop filled with shells, sand dollars, sea urchin skeletons, bits of sea glass, and driftwood.
He kissed the photo over the glass. Looking at how happy they were made his heart ache and his chest tight. She and Kelly were the best things to happen in his sad life, but the truth was? They were too good for him. What had they seen in a shell shocked homeless vet prone to flashbacks?
And how in the name of God could he be a father to a precious little boy when another boy had died because of him?
Tyler pulled the curtain back on the window. The prayer meeting in the courtyard finished, and the men and boys stood and brushed off the ever present dust from their clothes. The terrain outside was mountainous and desolate. Even the sparse bushes were grayish green sprinkles among rocks large and small.
He turned away from the window and opened a folder on his desk. A piece of paper, possibly a receipt, slipped and fluttered underneath the heavy, steel military grade table. Tyler bent down to retrieve it, when a loud explosion shattered the silence of the compound, blowing the windows out and shaking the earth.
Glass, debris, and plaster rained down on the desk Tyler was under, and a series of thunderous booms left his ears deafened. There was silence for a long moment as the dust settled, before the screams of panic and chaos shrieked through the courtyard.
Tyler grabbed the AK-47 he kept behind his desk. He loaded a magazine and looped a bullet belt over his shoulder. Every step he took was measured as he stalked from his shattered office. He sighted the hallway, made sure it was empty before stepping into the chaos of the courtyard.
Body parts were strewn where the prayer meeting had been just a few minutes before. The entire side of a wall had been blown out and fire raged over the hulk of a heavily decorated truck. Its gaudy bling and colorful fringes were going up in black smoke.
“Taliban. We have to go, Sir, hurry!” Arman, the boy who’d brought Tyler’s tea yelled, wide-eyed and covered with dust. “Farik didn’t pay Zakah before he left.”
Zakah was an Islamic tradition of giving alms to the poor, but in these regions, it meant religious young men bearing guns and shaking down the villagers for food and money they could ill afford to lose.
The fact that this was a Taliban attack meant Tyler was outgunned and on his own. No other villager would intervene, and out here, the Afghan National Army was a joke now that the Americans had withdrawn most of the troops.
“Okay, gather the survivors into the tunnels,” Tyler ordered.
“I don’t think there are any,” Arman said. “Everyone was lined up for breakfast. I’d gone to my bedroom because I already ate your egg and I wanted to hide the pomegranate.”
Tyler followed Arman down the corridor of the main clinic toward the vault where they used to store the medicines. A series of explosions continued to rattle the compound.
“Grenades!” Arman shouted as Tyler turned the combination to the vault.
Tyler swung the heavy door open and ushered Arman in. “Go ahead. I have to check that there’s no one else alive.”
“They’re all dead. The cafeteria was next to the gate.” Arman’s teeth chattered. “No one survived.”
“I have to look, now go, and I’ll meet you where this tunnel ends.” Tyler pushed Arman into the vault and secured the door.
The rapid fire of machine guns greeted Tyler as he peered around a wall into the courtyard. Five men armed with machine guns kicked at the bodies lying where the cafeteria had been. Tyler slipped the magazine in place and mowed down the men. By shooting, he’d given his position away, but he had the advantage of surprise.
Shouts rang as the other Taliban regrouped. Tyler clung to the sides of the building and ran down an embanked walkway to the dumpster area. He sighted another group of insurgents holding a grenade launcher. Tyler sprayed them with bullets. Gunfire came from another direction, and bullets pockmarked the walls behind him, buzzing over his shoulder like angry bees.
Tyler stepped into a recessed doorway and waited. No one came within his sights. Minutes ticked by as the enemy preferred to wait him out. Sweat dripped down his face, and his eyes were sore from the acrid dust. A flash of fire from the right alerted him. They had set fire to the storage room. With the ammunition in the basement, it was only a matter of time before the entire compound blew.
Arman was down there alone in the dark tunnel. Had Tyler just sent him to his death?
He slipped through the doorway and through the clinic, grabbing two emergency supply backpacks. The acrid stench of the fire chased him. Tyler sprinted for the vault, fumbling the combination and missing it.
His hands shook, and his eardrums rattled with the frantic pulsing of his blood. The fire approached, crackling and sucking the air from the room. Tyler opened the vault on the third try. He shut the door behind him and strapped a headlamp to his head.
“Arman, where are you?” he called as he ran toward a manhole cover to the secret tunnel. It had been moved aside. Good.
Tyler looped the backpacks over his back, along with an AK-47 and the remaining ammunition and climbed into the hole. After pulling the cover closed, in case anyone chased after them, he climbed down the metal loops.
“Arman!” he yelled.
“Over here, sir.” A tiny voice piped from his left. “It was dark so I didn’t know where to go.”
Even though Farik, the previous director, had only shown Tyler the tunnel once, he had memorized the location relative to the manhole. Grabbing the boy, Tyler stepped around a pipe and kicked through an old wooden door.
Together than ran, stumbling and tripping, while coughing at the smoky dust. The tunnel led outside the wall of the compound and supposedly exited into a cave. Tyler should have checked it out when he’d first arrived. Too late now. They ran and ran, their breaths ragged.
A deep rumbling in the earth was the first indication that the storage basement had blown. It was as if a massive monster had awakened underground.
Tyler and Arman were thrown onto their faces as dirt and rocks tumbled over them and the tunnel collapsed.

Please email me with any comments and feedback. As I noted above, the rest of the chapters will only be posted to my newsletter. Please join my newsletter to follow this story, if interested.

Happy Reading, and have a wonderful, awesome summer. - Rachelle

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