“You know, sometimes my mind just wanders off to visit places I never should have been. It don’t ask, it just leaves, and there I am stuck in some third world dump, fighting for my life, wondering if I will make it home to my baby girl.” Alexa Kinder looks at Tom Briarberry and smirks. “It just wanders off, huh? You sure it ain’t running away from its owner?” Tom shakes his head. “I don’t wanna go to these dark places, but it’s like I can’t control it. There’s a fighting side to me, and it wants loose.” Alexa puts her arm around her friend. “My mind wanders too. It’s an affliction we all have. It’s a curse of being human.”
Tom looks into Alexa’s black eyes. “Where does your mind go, Alexa? How did you get them black pupils?” Alexa giggles. “The pupils are because of genetics. We aren’t going to talk about where my mind goes, okay?” Tom pushes himself to his full height of 5’7 and leans on the wooden fence bordering Alexa’s grandfather’s property. “Why not? I told you where mine goes.” Alexa blushes and turns her head. “Because, I don’t want to talk about it. Can you respect my wishes, Tommy?” Nodding his head yes, Tom ponders his friend’s sudden defensiveness.
“You ever get back on that horse what threw you?” Alexa shakes her head, her blonde French braid shakes with the motion of her head. “No, Tom. It hurt me. I am frightened to get around him now.” Scratching his beard, Tom spits on the ground. “You were peerless, Ms. Alexa. Straight up, you were the greatest I ever seen. Is that accident with that horse, where your mind goes?” Alexa’s eyes grow cloudy as she leans close to Tom. “I said to let it go, Tom. Please, don’t keep asking.”
“Okay. I won’t ask no more. Did you know I got hurt over there in the Middle East?” Alexa looks at her friend. He is shorter than her 5’10 frame, but there is something about Tom that makes him seem gigantic. Brown hair, brown eyes, and a tan that borders on red clay, Tom fit all the makings of a stellar mate. “No, I didn’t know you got injured. What happened?”
Tom scratches at his beard. “We were escorting trucks back and forth, bring supplies in an out. Traffic backed up on the supply route, and we had to dismount. We trying to get an opening so we can get through, but nobody was listening. A loud bang came from behind me, and I saw my friend fall. I run to him, but he’s gone. I never heard the second bullet. Doc says it went through my helmet like butter on a hot roll. My head stopped it. “
Her blue eyes fill with tears as her friend recounts what happened. “Is that why you sometimes slur, when you speak?” Tom nods. “Yeah, that and the VA took my teeth. I told ‘em I had one bad tooth, but they wanted the rest. It’s why my mind goes to the dark place. I want to get my hands on the guy who killed my friend. He didn’t do nothin’ to nobody. K.C. was a cook, not a grunt. The Reaper got him. You know what we did?”
“No, what did you do Tom?”
“I got on that horse what about killed me. My friend deserved to be honored, I needed to prove I was capable of moving past the pain.” Alexa sobs and throws her arms around Tom’s neck. Tom pats her back and pulls away. “You can’t hide forever, Alexa. Someday, you gotta confront the pain, and only then can you heal. Riding ain’t the pain, it’s the fear you aren’t as good as you used to be. The bones heal, but the mind fractures.”
“How did you get out of your dark place? Did you get out, Tom?” Tom grins, his mouth stretches into a mirthful smirk. “I walked. The dark is always a part of you. Put one foot in front of the o’ter. You know that fortune cookie, Facebook wisdom about two wolves? Be careful what you feed, darling.” Glancing at his watch, Tom nods at his truck and Alexa waves goodbye. Alexa turns back to watch the horses work.
As Tom gets in his truck, he watches Alexa walk toward the homestead. “Some lessons can only be learned from personal experience; they can’t be taught via an instructor.”