The following special preview of Falen: Semper Fi by James MacKrell appears here with the permission of the author.
Cold winds have a way of cropping up in Montana even on the warmest of days. Today proved no exception. Susan released her grip on Rick's neck and stood up and brushed her wrinkled blouse. A semi-smile crossed Rick's face as he tried to accept this greeting from this attractive young woman. A ringlet of brown hair fell over her left eye as she gazed into Rick's bewildered face.
"This is quite a surprise," he finally mumbled. "You look great'" The awkward utterance was soft spoken with not much self-assurance in its effect. A smile broadened on his face, yet his eyes still showed anxiety.
Susan Burton on the other hand radiated confidence. She squared her broad shoulders and pushed the brown curl of hair out of her eyes. Beaming she said, "Richard Gonzales, you have such a way with words. I swear you make a girl's heart go all aflutter." Laughing she tenderly placed her hand on Rick's right arm. He glanced down, but his eyes focused on the area of his missing leg. Once again a frown clouded his face. Susan noticed the change as did Falen, who stood up, walked over and gave his left hand a good strong lick.
Each expression of Rick's, Falen noticed. She knew when he was bothered or when he drifted off into the somber place he never let anyone share. On these occasions Falen would lie by his foot and wait for the black mood to pass. Susan hadn't experienced Rick's darkness. The Rick she knew was lighthearted, funny and confident. You can't be the valedictorian of your senior class and the hero of the football team without a whole mess of macho. Her eyes clouded remembering her last visit with him at the airport. An American warrior off to avenge the wrongs some people from halfway around the world had committed on our sacred soil. Now standing beside him, she saw only the boy she had had a crush on since the seventh grade.
Falen let out a slow quiet whine as if to assure her master of her presence and devotion.
Casually Susan's hand dropped to stroke Falen's red head. Big almond colored eyes looked into Susan's, grateful for any expression of kindness. Falen's main purpose in life was to give joy and receive it.
The delicate hand on Falen's head radiated warmth. Warmth this young woman was eager to share with Rick.
The wounded Marine shifted his weight in the wheelchair. His nature told him to get up and stand in front of Susan but his body wouldn't respond. His war wound had become a source of bitterness that permeated into everything he did or thought. The exception remained his love for his Aussie.
A few uncomfortable moments passed with no one speaking. Rick broke the silence, "You really look great." He quickly thought..Is that the best I could come up with? 'You look great'? His mind seemed to be trying to introduce himself to Susan all over again. Words flowed so easily between them before he left for the Marine Corps. Since he first ran into her outside the Junior High school the week she moved to Big Timber, they had had no trouble talking, sometimes for hours.
The school year started and Big Timber, Montana was ripe with all of the famous fall colors. Rick walked toward the school on Anderson Street and Susan walked a few yards ahead of him.
In a small town like Big Timber, Rick knew all of the kids. After all, he had gone to grammar school with each and everyone. A stranger stood out, and Susan Burton's stride and her brown hair bouncing on her shoulders made her stand out in any crowd. Tan legs reached out in self-assured steps, just as if it were Susan who had lived here all of her life. Fighting the urge to call out to her, to get her attention, he decided to only quicken his pace to try to catch up with 'the new girl in town'.
As he stared into her face now, the memories of their first meeting flooded his mind making him as tongue-tied as he appeared so long ago. Now here in the present, he mumbled, "You look great." This time he added, "I really mean it."
He fought the inner urge to stand. His wound treated in Germany and later in the States had been anything but a simple amputation. The blast of the IED not only mangled the muscles in his lower right leg, but also crushed the knee and the lower section of his femur. Nerve damage caused such pain that fitting him for a prosthetic had to be postponed. Rick had to be driven into Bozeman weekly for rehab to see if the wound was healing sufficiently. When the stump became pain-free he could get his new leg.
After he got the prosthetic then would come the weeks of painful physical therapy as he learned to walk again.As the cold wind increased, blowing the brown curl back down in her face, Rick tried to hide his feelings, but his expression showed the embarrassment for being in his words, 'Half a Man'.
After a successful career in radio, music publishing and many facets of the entertainment industry including appearances on popular television shows and in feature films, James MacKrell was inspired by a dream to try his hand as an author. James' first book, Down from the Mountain, is being hailed as one of the best new dog stories of our time. It is a gripping tale about an intrepid Australian Shepherd. Set in the mountains of Montana, it is a story of bravery and loyalty and it celebrates the connection between animals and their people.
Down From The Mountain
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