I’m so grateful to Lime for hosting an excerpt from my new book CATCH MY FALL. For people who aren’t familiar with the series, it follows a group of Army veterans adjusting to life around a prestigious southern college campus. In many ways, the series reflects some of my alienation that I felt while attending grad school and when I first started teaching at West Point.
My novels tend to deal with some of the more real aspects of coming home and deployment because for me, they reflect an opportunity to process everything – the good and the bad.
I decided to incorporate cadets into this book because I wanted to reflect some of the really difficult questions they ask and the ways that we as instructors and mentors struggle with providing them with answers.
And yeah, there’s a romance involved too. Because it wouldn’t be a true romance without smoldering looks between the two protagonists.
I hope you like this glimpse of Deacon and Kelsey’s classroom and some of the struggles they’re working through! And thanks again to Lime for hosting me!
Trapped in the friend zone. Longing for the woman who captured his heart when they were deployed in Iraq.
Former Army Sergeant Kelsey Ryder has scars, the kind of scars she hopes that no one ever sees. Working around the guys at the Pint, she’s reminded of everything she lost when she left the Army behind.
But some scars refuse to stay hidden.
One fateful night changes everything and neither of them know if their relationship will ever be the same.
All Deacon knows is that he’ll be there to catch her when she finally falls.
The cadets are quiet today. Veer and Jovi are sitting next to each other again. They’re cute in the way they think they’re being professional in class but their bodies telling on them. I don’t know what the deal is with their relationship—whether it’s merely a close friendship or something more—but it’s compelling the way their bodies reach for each other even if they’re not aware of it.
Kind of like mine toward the brooding, grumpy man at the other end of the conference room table.
I release a deep breath, focusing on an intention of releasing the frustration around my heart.
I left our talk the other day at Espresso and Fizz rather quickly. I was quiet at work that night and I haven’t had much energy to really engage in much chit chat, about the cadets or otherwise. I know he must think I’m fucking crazy.
I feel like I’m playing games. I’m not; I swear I’m not. But everything…being around him pushes me so off-kilter. It’s already a struggle every day to get up, to get going. To pretend like today will be a little bit better than yesterday.
Opening up, even a little means I have to pull back again. To draw into myself. To re-center and balance.
I hope maybe someday I can tell him that without sounding like some psycho new age chic who likes mind fucking the men in her life.
But right now, he’s silent and brooding and dark, a pool of energy at the end of the table that’s practically vibrating.
I clear my throat, needing to break the silence and get this started. “Let’s talk about the news from Syria. The readings for today’s class discuss all the arguments why women shouldn’t be in ground combat units but the situation in Syria suggests something else entirely. Does anyone want to recap the article for us?”
Jovi raises her hand. “The article is from al Jazeera, which I never realized was a legitimate news source and it’s talking about the fight to retake Raqqa from the Islamic State. It’s really interesting how the parliament in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region has requirements for an equal number of men and women to serve in their government. And that the women are just as big a part of the fight as the men.”
I nod, loving the passion in her response. “Go further with that. Why is that something that caught your eye?”
She leans forward, bracing her elbows on the table. She’s calm and passionate and confident as she speaks. Dear lord, I wish I’d had my shit together like she does when I was her age. “Because it means that all this ‘women can’t’ bullshit is just that…it’s bullshit. It’s culturally shaped and it limits us. These women are fighting for their freedom. They have the same obligation to defend their freedom and their lives as the men. That is such a powerful narrative for little girls and little boys to look up to.”
Ryan is clicking the cap on his pen violently. Iosefe looks like he might stab him with it if he doesn’t stop but Ryan is oblivious.
“I don’t understand what we’re supposed to take from these readings,” Ryan says. “The Kurds have been fighting for their own territory since the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. Why do we suddenly care about them now?”
Deacon leans back in his chair. “You don’t think a people fighting for their freedom from religious oppression is worthy of academic discussion?”
Ryan shakes his head, the pen still clicking. “I’m sorry, but aren’t we supposed to be members of the global community now? I mean, the American Century wasn’t really all that great. Millions died in our proxy wars with the Soviet Union.”
Deacon studies him quietly. “Those proxy wars were part of a global strategy of containment. Similar to what we’re doing now with ISIS.”
“I get that.” Ryan lifts his chin, war in his eyes. “But like, how does this end? The US is funding fighters to fight the fighters we created when we invaded Iraq. We made this mess when we screwed up Iraq. And now you want us to read these articles and cheer for these Kurdish women taking up arms in support of their own liberation because we don’t want to put boots on the ground again and get our hands dirty fighting the enemy we helped create? Is that how this works?”
I frown because as much as I want his argument to annoy me, he’s got a damn good point. But as with anything, it’s far more complicated than can be distilled down to a talking point.
I feel for him. For his righteous anger and indignation.
I was him, once upon a time, wishing our leaders would have a moral backbone and just lead us instead of invoking platitudes shaped by focus groups.
“I guess I’m wondering how else it should work,” I ask. “ISIS isn’t an easily targeted enemy. They have very strict, un-Islamic views on how to treat women. Why wouldn’t we support these women and men fighting for their freedom from this? It’s practically our own national narrative all over again, except instead of the fight against unjust taxes, they’re fighting against slavery and rape.”
I can feel the stress in my voice. Deacon looks up at me as I finish. My skin is tight, stretched to the breaking point over my bones.
Ryan glances over at me, his eyes flashing. “We’re just not willing to use the kinds of bombs necessary to end it,” he says, then adds tightly, “the Russians don’t have a Chechnya problem anymore.”
Deacon scribbles something on his notebook that he’s resting on his bent knee. “So, the solution is to just kill everyone we don’t agree with?”
“No, that’s not what I’m saying.” Ryan’s voice takes on a defensive tone. “This article is about the role of women in war, right? Well, maybe ISIS would be already dealt with if the Kurds weren’t bogged down with women fighters. Maybe they can’t keep up, you know?”
I tip my chin and look over at him. Across the way, Jovi looks ready to jump across the table and strangle Ryan.
“Why do you want to join the Army?” I finally ask Ryan. There’s a selection bias in college that few people ever really talk about. College is supposed to make you challenge your assumptions, make you learn and grow. But the vast majority of students take classes they want, leaving them with greater cognitive bubbles by letting them skip the classes they need.
Maybe this is why Professor Blake has started working with the ROTC program. To challenge people’s assumptions before they become officers.
“I want to talk about this stuff before I go out to the Army, I want you to prove to me this isn’t just PC bullshit.” His voice rings with a spark of passion that’s mildly off-putting. As if he knows all about the world already and this class is merely a check-the-block exercise to confirm his brilliance.
Deacon says nothing, doodling on his notepad. I’m mildly irritated with him but then again, I forget where I am. He’s not the commander. Neither am I.
“Prove what isn’t just PC bullshit?” Deacon asks softly.
I know that tone in his voice. That dangerous edge to his words. He won’t yell. I’ve never heard him yell. At least not recently. But when he gets that tone in his voice, it’s a thing to behold. He can rip someone to shreds with that tone and have them begging for forgiveness.
“That women can do this whole war thing. I’ve been reading the reports about the women Rangers down at Fort Benning. My uncle says this is just social engineering and that we’re setting our boys up to get slaughtered in the name of political correctness.”
It takes everything that I am not to get out of my chair and strangle his little ass. But this isn’t a fight I can win. Because guys like Ryan never listen to someone who’s been there. At least not someone who he thinks lacks the proper anatomy—and by that, I mean penis.
“You weren’t too hot last year at training when I had to carry your weapon because you were getting ready to fall out from heat exhaustion,” Jovi says coolly.
Ryan at least has the decency to flush. “Yeah, well, so sue me if I wasn’t ready for a hundred-degree heat with just as much humidity. That’s different.”
Jovi shakes her head. “No, it’s really not.”
I finally dare to look up at Deacon. He’s watching me, his eyes dark and burning as he tries to explain to Ryan why he’s wrong. Why every life on the battlefield must be prepared to fight and do what’s necessary to bring their brothers and sisters home.
His eyes are filled with a thousand memories of another life.
But my story—our story—is just an anecdote. Not data. People like Ryan don’t want to hear stories like mine. He doesn’t want to hear that women are even stronger than we believe. That we can fight.
That we should fight.
Because it’s our duty.
I can’t look away from Deacon. From the memories rising up from the desert sands, circling me like mist. Drawing me back to the dark, terrible joy that exists when civilization ends and war begins.
What about you, do you want more of Kelsey and Deacon? If so you will definitely want to pre-order Catch My Fall now!