NaNo Day 4 and I'm so happy with the progress I've already made. I met my word count goal at 8:30, so yay for that. I'm aiming for a mid-December release for Walking Wounded, and I'm slowly going to be teasing more and more of it as NaNo continues. Today, I wanted to share a real first look.
Meet our central protagonist and narrator, Luke, and his best friend, Hal.
Copyright © 2016 by Lauren Gilley
Luke bit his lip, hard, and swiped at his eyes behind the rapidly-fogging lenses of his glasses. “When are you coming home?”
“Tomorrow. I was wondering.” Hal swallowed, an audible gulp. “Can I maybe stay with you? My mom’s gonna be hysterical, and–”
“Of course. When can I pick you up?”
And that was how Luke took the rest of the week off and found himself waiting at baggage claim at three the next afternoon. It took him almost a full minute to recognize his best friend when he finally appeared.
Hal had always been a tall, broad-shouldered, fit guy. But the army had taken his rough clay physique and honed it into a perfect weapon, nothing but bone and heavy muscle. His Army hoodie and sweatpants hung off him, somehow highlighting his spare, strong frame, rather than hiding it. He looked sharp-edged, sandblasted, dangerous. And he looked broken, because he was. A gun disassembled into its component parts, laid out on a table under a harsh light.
Luke swallowed a pained, sympathetic noise and went to his friend.
Hal’s right sleeve was pushed up to reveal a clunky white cast that went all the way down to his knuckles, fingers and thumb protruding uselessly. He walked with an obvious limp, favoring his left side. A speckling of tiny scabs covered the left side of his face.
But his green eyes were soft and tear-filled when Luke reached him, and he opened his arms so Luke could wrap him up tight in a hug.
Luke squeezed him carefully, gently, marveling at the hard steel of his body, tears clogging his throat. He was alive, and he was here, and Luke was hugging him. Jesus. He pressed his face into the hoodie’s raised collar and breathed deep the smells of airplane, hospital soap, and Hal, that subtle note that was his skin, and hair, and him.
Hal rubbed soothing circles across Luke’s back with his left hand. “It’s okay,” he murmured. “It’s really okay.”
“No it’s not,” Luke whispered. “You’re hurt.”
Hal squeezed him back, and didn’t protest.
Luke had spent the night before and this morning cleaning his apartment stem-to-stern, but it still looked small, cramped, and dated. He experienced a flash of self-consciousness at the door, one that intensified when he let them in and Hal hobbled into his shoebox living room.
“It’s not much,” Luke said, wincing to himself. “Just the one bedroom, but Brooklyn rent, ya know? It’s–”
“It’s great,” Hal said. “Really.” He eased down onto the battered old sofa with a hiss. “You’ve got it all to yourself, and that’s a big deal.”
“Yeah.” He’d never been so glad not to have a roommate. “What can I get you? What do you need?”
Hal let his head fall back against the sofa. “Nothing.” From this angle, he looked like something Michelangelo had painted, the shadows of raindrops against the window sliding down his scabbed face.
Luke pulled a bottle of water and a Coke from the fridge, and went to sit beside him, setting both drinks down on the coffee table. “Just in case.” It came out a whisper, and he realized he was afraid. Afraid that Hal was hurt even worse than he looked; afraid this was a nightmare…or a dream; when he woke up, the phone call would be from Hal’s mother, telling him that Hal had…
Hal had rolled his head to the side and was staring at him, eyes an eerie seafoam in the underwater rain light. His throat moved as he swallowed. “What?” he asked, softly, voice full of gravel.
“Are you okay?”
Hal gestured to himself with his good hand, as if to say I’m here, aren’t I?
“That’s not what I’m asking.”
Hal made a face and glanced up toward the ceiling. Let out a tired breath. “I don’t guess so?” It sounded like a question. And then, more sure: “No, I’m not. I’m sorry.”
Luke laid a careful hand on his upper arm, and that was when he realized the cast went all the way up to his shoulder. He swallowed down a spike of nausea and said, “What happened?” Then, thinking better of it: “You don’t have to tell–”
“Same thing that happens to everybody who gets discharged out of the sand box. A bomb.” He didn’t elaborate.
Luke squeezed his arm, the unyielding plaster that covered it. “I’m sorry.”