SEAL's Homecoming

By: Leslie North
SEAL & Veteran Series


1





Chance McCallister popped the last button and peeled his sweaty Dress White uniform top off with a relieved sigh. For two hours he’d melted under the relentless sun in the long-sleeved polyester. Standing by his father’s grave would have been hard enough even without the thick, Georgian, mid-July humidity pressing against the weight of all the medals, ribbons, badges, and Navy SEAL Trident adorning the front of his coat.

“I need a beer.” Harris, the middle brother, dropped his Dress Blue uniform top—courtesy of the U.S. Marines—onto the back of a kitchen chair and headed for the refrigerator.

“Grab me one too.” Lee, the youngest at twenty-eight, stretched his arms over his head, already losing his Army Dress Blue uniform top the second they got home.

Standing in wet undershirts, uniform pants, belts, and shiny shoes, none of them would pass inspection, but only Harris had to worry about returning to service in thirty days. Chance and Lee each just recently retired from the military, though, for two very different reasons.

“Chance?” Harris held up two bottles by their long necks and arched an eyebrow.

“Yeah,” Chance sighed, his skin rippling at the central air conditioning pumping through the vents, drying the moisture. “Might as well.”

Harris nudged the door shut with his foot and thrust the bottles at Chance and Lee, then twisted the cap off the one he kept for himself. “To Dad.” He lifted his beer. “May he finally be at peace.”

Chance tilted his bottle toward his brothers, then took a long, fortifying drink. He’d never expected to become an orphan at thirty years old, but burying his father earlier today had done just that. Ray McCallister had fought a hard battle with liver cancer, but after twenty years of drinking, it had only been a matter of time before the cancer had finally won. Chance had barely been granted retirement from the Navy in time to take care of the bedridden man. Hell, he had only been home a week when Ray died. Harris had always been closest to their father, but Chance used the days he’d been granted before Ray dropped into a coma to make peace. Ray hadn’t trusted Chance’s attempts at first, assuming they’d fall into old patterns of loud hostile arguments and accusations, but when Chance remained calm and sincere, they’d actually had a few heart-filled conversations. Chance just wished he wasn’t so versed in planning funerals. Coordinating his mother’s when she died in his teens had left him bereft and filled with resentment. But that was all finally behind him now.

Pivoting, he left the kitchen and wandered into the living room. The small, three-bedroom rancher had seen better days. Worn spots marred the once dark green carpet in the high-traffic paths, and the pale-yellow walls looked tired and faded. Peering out the bay window behind a pillow-style couch, he grunted at how tall the wilting grass had grown on the small plot making up the front yard.

“I mowed last Friday.” Chance raised his voice to be heard over his brothers dissecting the attendance at the graveside service. “You two can fight over who’s tackling the lawn next.”

“Hey, Lee,” Harris chirped as he crossed to the fireplace. “Remember this?” Harris plucked an old Polaroid camera from behind Lee’s 8x10 high school graduation photo on top of the stained-wood mantel.

Deep creases formed between Lee’s brows and he rubbed his right eye. The very eye that had earned him a medical discharge after a small piece of shrapnel had damaged his vision. As a decorated sniper for the Army Rangers, that had been the kiss of death for his career and Lee had refused to start over in another specialization.

“You never went anywhere without that thing.” Chance swallowed the last of his beer. “So annoying.”

Harris chuckled. “You used to boast about becoming a world-famous photographer.”

“Guess the joke’s on me,” Lee growled, lifting his beer, then chugging the whole thing.

A pang lanced Chance’s heart. He needed to figure out a way to reach his brother before this bitter, restless man fully replaced the laughing smartass who loved playing practical jokes.

Setting his bottle onto the closest end table, Chance strolled toward the hallway leading to the bedrooms. “You may have been irritating—” The constant whirring of the photos ejecting out of the bottom used to drive Chance nuts. “—but you did get some great shots.” He pointed at a Polaroid picture tucked between the glass and frame of his parents on their wedding day, hanging in the hall.

Harris and Lee crowded on either side of Chance and stared at the photo of their father holding a bag of boiled peanuts, caught mid-shock when he walked into the house for his surprise birthday party.

“Oh, man.” Harris cracked up. “Look at his face. I forgot about that day.”

“But this one’s my favorite.” Chance plucked a Polaroid out of another frame. The entire family—three brothers and both parents—stood in front of the house on a sunny day only months before their mother got sick. “I still can’t believe you talked Mrs. Mabry into taking it.” Their old neighbor, seventy-one at the time, had always complained about everything and everyone.

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