Welcome to Finding North–my Wednesday Briefs flash fiction. Each week I’ll add more to the story, and share links to other amazing authors who are also participating in this flash fiction group.
Michael North is one of the founding members of Team Zulu–an elite, private military task force. He’s been out of commission for nearly a year after a devastating accident that not only took his leg, but his pride, shattered his sense of self, and sent him tail-spinning into the darkness. Drawn out of his self imposed exile by the other members of his team–the only family he has left. North struggles with finding his place in the world once more, and dealing with the emotions that an old friend brings out.
Rain was pissing down, unrelenting, soaking through his jacket. Muttering under his breath, North pulled a crumbled piece of paper from his pocket, peering at it in the dim light from a flickering street light. Looked up at the street sign, turned his collar up and slogged along the soggy pavement until he found the correct cross street. Turned down it, and then down the side alley as the note indicated. The bar was tucked away into the side of a building “Last Call Bar” spray painted in tilted black letters on the crumbling brick above a heavy steel door.
It squealed as he pushed it open, and stepped inside. The door slammed shut behind him, one of the bartenders calling out a greeting. It took a few moments for him to gather his bearings, the dim lights making the bar barely brighter than the storm outside. He pushed a hand through his wet hair, shoving it out of his eyes. The bar itself was packed, people huddled around tables, some perched on stools at the bar. Under the din of conversation he could hear the faint strains of the Rolling Stones being piped through the speakers.
“North!” Someone slammed into his side. “Jesus H. Christ man, it’s good to see you.”
“Tavers,” North said, grunting when the other man pulled him into a bone crushing hug. “I haven’t been gone that long.”
“Six fucking months is a long ass time.” Tavers released him with a lopsided grin, held him at arms reach and then pulled him in again.
“Get off me before I puke.” North said, shoving half-heartedly at the younger man. “I’m here, what more do you want?”
“Come have a drink with us.” Tavers jerked his thumb toward the dark corner of the bar. “It’s just me and Chris for now.”
“It’s the for now that worries me.” North looked around the bar, feeling eyes on him. From what he could tell there was only one way out of the bar, and that was the same way he had gotten in. The low conversation swelled to almost deafening proportions, the sound of glasses clattering together, the high pitched cascade of a woman’s laughter. He felt the sweat bead on his palms, at his brow, the slow slide of unease crawling into his gut.
“Breathe.” Tavers appeared in his line of sight. “This is a safe place, you’re with me and Chris. Anderson will be by later with his lay of the week.” Tavers gripped his arms, keeping him in place. “You need to get out, and rejoin the world. I grew up in this bar, and you know damn well I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”
“One drink.” North said, grateful that his voice held steady. “Then I’m going home.”
“One drink.” Tavers echoed. “Go straight back and to the left. We’re in the corner. I’ve got your back.”
North headed toward the back corner, knowing that Tavers was a few steps behind him. He outweighed the gangly medic by at least twenty pounds, and had enough scars to prove that he could hold his own in a fight–but at the moment there was no one other than the easy going floppy haired kid he wanted at his back. It took every ounce of his strength, ever beat of his heart to keep one foot in front of the other, rather than turning to leave. He knew Tavers would let him leave if things got too dark, but it was a conversation that he wasn’t looking forward to having.
“Heya stranger,” A redhead with a toothpaste commercial grade smile got up from the table. “I can’t believe that Tavers got both of us to come to this dump.” Christina took one of his hands in both of hers. “Come sit and have a drink.” She stepped aside and let him take the seat with his back to the wall. Tavers sat opposite to him, his back open to the rest of the bar, Chris seated at his left.
Seated, it was a little easier for North to relax. His eyes had adjusted to the pale lighting, and the sound was manageable. Chris and Tavers were talking–turned just enough toward him to include him in the conversation if he wanted to say anything. It had been nearly a year since he had been out in public after the accident–and six months since he had given in to Tavers’ antics. North stretched his legs out under the table, one hand rubbing over his knee, feeling the divide between flesh and the prosthetic under his jeans, knowing that most would have blamed his rocky stride on alcohol consumption.
“North…” Chris tapped his arm. “What are you having?”
He looked up to see a waitress tableside. “Guinness, please ma’am.”
“Comin’ right up.” She winked at him, reaching across the table to pick up Chris’ empty martini glass. “One more for you?”
Chris nodded. “Go ahead and bring us an order of fries too please.” She leaned across the table when the waitress walked off. “Christ Tavers, this place is a dump. Where did you find it?”
“Me and the boys would skip school, and the owner found us smoking the cigarettes we lifted from the store across the street.” Tavers said and took pull from his longneck. “He threatened to turn us in, and I told him off. He kicked my ass and when I held my own, he had me checking ids on the weekend.”
“That’s the biggest load of shit.” North said. “Your parents would have exploded if you even thought about skipping school.”
Tavers’ grin was quick and fearless. “Yeah? You think?”
“I know. Plus that sounds more your sister’s speed than you.”
“Yeah–she was the one that did it, I ratted her out.” Tavers said. “God bless Milly.” He raised the beer bottle and winked. “She asks about you all the time.”
“That’s terrifying.” Chris said. “She’s got bigger balls than both of you.”