Wounds of the Heart

Veteran Hearts, prequel

Wounds of the Heart cover artMeet Danny, Alex, Josh, and Lacey from Battlefield of the Heart and see how the close friendships begin.

Danny Flynn is struggling to find a reason to live as the Afghanistan and Iraq wars continue to rage in his mind. Alex Dugan served with Danny in Iraq and is determined to help his former sergeant overcome his severe PTSD. When the Whitcomb University student veterans’ group gets together for an early spring picnic, Alex sees the perfect opportunity to get Danny out of the house and living again. But will Danny participate, or will his problems interfere?

Excerpt

 

Alex Dugan stepped out of his car and drew in a deep breath of the cool, early spring air as he stared at the modest, single-story house before him. Could he do enough to help this time? Or would it require more time in the hospital?

He shook off his worry and headed for the front door. Danny Flynn needed him, or so his dad had said when he called. Alex’s former sergeant struggled with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, and apparently, he’d hit another rough patch.

Danny’s mom, Linda, answered Alex’s knock. She stepped back to let him in and sighed. “Thank you for coming. Tom and I are about ready to take him to the emergency room for evaluation.”

“He may still need to go in, but I’ll see what I can do.” Alex glanced around the tidy living room and connected dining room. “Where is he?”

“In bed. He refuses to get up or eat or do anything else.” Linda appeared to be on the verge of tears. “If you can get him to do it, Alan wants him to call.”

So Danny wasn’t talking to his caseworker, either. Not a good sign. “I’ll let him know.”

Alex headed down the short hall and around the corner into the longer hall that held Danny’s room. He caught sight of the portrait on the wall at the end showing Danny in his dress uniform, his sergeant’s stripes showing clearly on the sleeve. He missed the good times they’d had together in the army and kept hoping that something would break through the wall Danny’s mind had built so they could have good times now that they were both civilians.

Opening the bedroom door, the first thing Alex noticed was the darkness. Heavy drapes covered the window, but Danny hadn’t turned on a light. Alex flipped the light switch, and the ceiling fixture flooded the room with golden illumination. The pair of boxes stacked in the middle of the floor caused Alex to sigh. One of these days, maybe he could get Danny to either unpack the boxes he’d left untouched since coming home from the army or store them in a less prominent place.

A groan came from the blanket-covered lump on the bed. “Turn it off.”

“Nope, it’s past time for you to get up,” Alex said, stepping the rest of the way into the room. “Come on, man, your parents are worried about you.”

“So what?” The blanket moved down and revealed Danny’s drawn face. He hadn’t shaved in days, and his hair was greasy. He looked terrible. The odor wafting up from him smelled just as bad.

“Why are you even here?”

“Your dad called me to see if I could help you.” Alex leaned back against the dresser. “So, are you gonna tell me why you’re not taking care of yourself?”

“You were there,” Danny muttered, shifting his gaze away. “It’s like that all the time. Whether I’m awake or asleep, it never goes away.”

“You can’t stop living because of it. Like you said, I was there. I know what you went through, because I went through it with you. But, dude, you can’t stay in bed forever. You have to get out and find a reason to enjoy life again.”

“There’s nothing to enjoy.”

Danny started to pull the blanket over his head again, but Alex grabbed it and threw it toward the foot of the bed. “Get up anyway. Even if life sucks and you see no point to it, you have got to take a shower. You stink, man, and there’s no way you want to make your mom deal with that if you lie here until you die.”

“Why’d you have to bring her into it?” Danny groaned as he sat up.

“Because you live in her house, and she’s your mom.” Alex sat beside him and clapped a hand on his shoulder. “I know it’s hard to look beyond the crap from the past that’s filling your mind, but you have to try. Don’t let the war kill you now that you’re home.”

Danny scrubbed a hand across his face and nodded. “I know you’re right, but I’m just so tired.”

“You’re depressed, dude, but I know the perfect cure for it.” Alex stood and moved to the dresser. “Before I tell you what it is, though, you have to take a shower and put on some clean clothes. How long have you been wearing those?”

“I don’t know. A few days, I guess.”

“I’d believe it. You got a serious case of funk going on.” Alex collected jeans, T-shirt, and boxers and tossed them at Danny. “Get cleaned up and put those on while I see about getting you some food. Then, while you eat, we’ll talk about how to get you past this.”

“I don’t want to eat,” Danny said as he scooped up the clothes and stood.

“Too bad, because you’re doing it anyway.” Alex watched him move to the door. “By the way, Alan wants you to call him.”

“Later.” Danny stepped into the hall with the speed of a half-frozen snail.

Alex moved to the doorway and watched long enough to make sure Danny actually went into the bathroom. The fact that he didn’t want to call his caseworker was worrisome. Ever since the VA had hooked Danny up with Alan to help him get the necessary services and support to live as normal a life as possible, he’d regularly talked to him and tended to call him when things got too rough. Danny refusing to talk to Alan now could indicate a coming trip to the psych ward to help him get past this latest obstacle in his recovery. If Alex could get him to carry through with calling Alan and actually talk about what was causing this current round of depression, then maybe he could avoid hospitalization this time.

Once the bathroom door closed behind Danny, Alex went back to the living room, where he found Linda and Tom sitting on the couch. Their hopeful expressions were almost painful to look at as he dropped into an upholstered chair.

“He’s in the shower,” Alex said with a sigh, “and I told him he has to eat when he gets out.”

“Thank you.” Linda rose from her seat. “I’ll go fix him something.”

After Linda left the room, Tom focused on Alex. “Did you get him to call Alan?”

“Not yet. He said he’d do it later.” Alex noted the concern in Tom’s eyes and decided to lay out his plan in the hope of alleviating some of it. “Just as soon as Danny has some food in him, I’m going to take him out for a while and see if I can get him out of his head.”

“You’re not going to take him anywhere crowded, are you?” Worry lined Tom’s face.

Alex shook his head. He still vividly remembered the mall trip a couple of weeks earlier that had ended with Danny completely freaked out and barely connected to the present. “No. You remember the student veterans’ group I told you about? Some of them are getting together for a cookout at the park.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

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