Her face was the only thing that had kept him sane during his deployment. At this moment, however, thoughts of Morgan had been pushed to the side for reasons of pure survival. Declan wiped the mud from his eye with a swift movement of his hand, just quick enough so that he could see again. Booming thunder went off near and far. Swearing under his breath, Declan closed one eye and squinted the other shut as he spied his target. Breathe. One, two, three… he could do this. The first time he’d had to shoot another man he had faltered, hesitated only the briefest of seconds, during which time the man escaped his line of sight and shot a fellow soldier in the leg, causing serious injury. This time, Declan concentrated, aimed his M4 rifle, and fired. The distinct thud of a man dropping to the ground confirmed the target had been hit. Swiping at the sweat in his eyes from the sweltering mid-day heat, Declan gulped and struggled to his knees. Lining up his rifle again, his neck and shoulders ached with fatigue. He bit down and gritted his teeth, tasting dirt while fighting off the pain. It seemed as if hours had gone by, when in fact, it had probably only been minutes when finally the haunting sound of gunfire ceased. Not one to trust silence in any setting, Declan mentally counted upward until he reached near fifty. “All clear,” his buddy, Sean, called out. “All clear.” Declan, always cautious, still maintained his position until he heard his fellow soldiers from his platoon begin to speak. Peeking up from his ravine, Declan rose slowly to his feet as the rifle was pressed to his side. Surveying the damage, it appeared that several of their enemies were lying still on the ground. The man he had shot lay still, appearing lifeless. Another man lay several feet away. It seemed the enemies had taken off, deserting the boundaries of the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan. His platoon mates fell silent, all business as they quickly gathered their belongings to head back to base. Declan clutched his rifle, drawing closer to his victim. Curiosity had gotten the best of him. Fully aware of his previous actions, Declan stepped even closer. He had never killed a man before — injured, yes, but never killed. This man did not appear to be alive. His heart sped up as sweat caused his fatigues to cling to his body. For God’s sake, the man looked to have been only in his early twenties at best. What have I done? What are we doing here? Waves of nausea rose and Declan swallowed hard. “Hey! Step back!” Sean called out. “Move out! I repeat, move out!” Hearing his friend call out to him, Declan turned toward the sound of his voice, realizing his mistake seconds too late. He should have known better; he should have. But no amount of training can prepare you for taking another man’s life. Glancing swiftly at Sean through tear-stained eyes, he saw the movement in his peripheral vision. Sean raced to the open dirt road. They were sitting ducks, in plain sight. The man that Declan had presumed dead, the one he had shot, raised his own rifle and fired at Sean, who dropped instantly to ground. “No! No!” Declan spun his head back to the imminent threat, a moment too late. The force of the explosion knocked him to the ground in an instant. Morgan’s face was the last thing that registered in his mind as another shot fired, leaving his world black. **** Clouds scattered overhead, cries of gulls bringing back another time, a different memory, sitting here with Declan by her side. Morgan squeezed her jaw, fighting back the pain. Months later, there was still no word from Declan. On the Internet, she had searched out his name relentlessly but there was no mention of Declan, no death certificates and his name couldn’t be found on any list of casualties of the war. It was as if he had simply disappeared, but that wasn’t possible and she feared the worst. He was gone and there was no closure for Morgan, as his only living relatives were his mom and some family living on the west coast, whom Declan hadn’t seen in years. Even she and Declan’s old friend, Stephen seemed to be losing touch. She could sit on this beach and watch the water forever; it was a place Declan had cherished, a place she felt close to him. Never again would her life be the same without Declan Blake. How was she going to make it without him? The world was quiet and without joy for Morgan. Even Morgan’s mother nagged her to speak with a therapist. She didn’t see the purpose of smiling or laughing when it was all forced. Constant thoughts of Declan plagued her day and night. Morgan nearly jumped when her cell rang. First instincts were to let the call go to voicemail, but she knew the person calling would only persist. That’s how it had been lately; she would ignore phone calls only to find tons of messages waiting. It was Elle, calling for the second time that day. “Hi, Elle.” “Where have you been? I’ve been trying to call you for hours,” Elle exclaimed. “I don’t know, I’m just hanging out.” “Down by the river again?” Elle inquired. “Yup,” Morgan responded as she moved her foot around in the sand. “Figured as much.” Elle’s voice sounded odd, almost as if she were hearing her close by. Morgan turned to see her friend walking toward her on the grassy path leading to the small beach. Rising to her feet, Morgan felt tears escape. Elle was by her side, arms wrapped around her within moments. Morgan released Elle and took a small step back. “Oh, Elle, what am I going to do?” she sobbed. “You’re going to live, dammit. Declan would want you to be happy.” “How? How can I forget about him, just move on?” It wasn’t possible, she had tried, and it just wasn’t working. Even when she was at work, she was just going through the motions; she did her job, but her heart wasn’t the same. “I think it’s time for you to see someone to talk about all of this. You’ve waited long enough.” She was right and so was her mother, believe it or not. “I will, Elle. I will because I don’t know what else to do.” “Morgan, you’re the strongest person I know. You have so much happiness and love to share. I have full confidence in you. You’re going to make it and come out stronger in the end.” Elle spoke through her own tears. “Thanks, Elle. I love you.” Morgan felt better knowing there was someone on her side rooting for her.
Meet: Author Mya O'Malley
Mya O'Malley was born and raised in the suburbs of New York City, where she currently lives with her husband, daughter and three step-daughters. The family also consists of a boxer, Destiny and a ragdoll cat named Colby. Mya earned an undergraduate degree in special education and a graduate degree in reading and literacy. She works as a special education teacher and enjoys making a difference in the lives of her students. Mya's passion is writing; she has been creating stories and poetry since she was a child. Mya spends her free time reading just about anything she can get her hands on. She is a romantic at heart and loves to create stories with unforgettable characters. Mya likes to travel; she has visited several Caribbean Islands, Mexico and Costa Rica. Mya is currently working on her eighth novel.