Juan Carlos Marquez waited for the plane to disembark in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Within the hour, he’d be in Clearwater where he’d agreed to spend the next six weeks helping his former Gunnery Sergeant, Cameron White, with his new business, Clearwater Combat and Guns. JC had no idea what to expect. He was an amputee now. What could he do to help? Yet, when the man who saved his life asked for help, he couldn’t turn his back.
Since returning from deployment, JC felt like a ship lost at sea. He was unsure what to do, and his family treated him differently now. In that one mission, his life changed so dramatically. He went from being the man of his family—caring for his mother and eight younger siblings, to being useless. At twenty-one, he had provided a decent income for his mother and siblings, thanks to the Marines. But he was recently discharged because of his injury, which left him no other choice but to find something else to do.
Just the thought of that fateful mission sent phantom pains where his leg should have been. He rubbed his knee above the prosthesis, hoping to chase away the pain. Nothing helped ease the ache. It was never-ending and exhausted him. When the discomfort crept in, it was unbearable, breaking him down until he had nothing left.
He closed his eyes for a brief second, and that fateful day shot across his memory. Just another normal day of duty, the mission was going smoothly, and everything seemed innocent enough until their Humvee hit an IED. The detonation sent him flying through the air and his leg was in excruciating pain. It wasn’t until he landed hard on the ground, fifteen feet from the explosion, that he realized his leg was gone below the knee.
Cameron, the man JC owed everything, was there for him—making sure he held on to reality. Cameron reminded him of his family, refusing to let him give up. Cameron got him through the ordeal, and he owed his life to his former Gunnery Sergeant.
“Sir, excuse me, sir. We’ve landed.”
Opening his eyes, he saw the flight attendant standing next to his seat in the otherwise empty plane. Lost in his thoughts, he hadn’t heard her step up beside him.
“I apologize, ma’am.”
“It’s fine. Do you have someone waiting for you?” She leaned against the seat in front of him.
“No one waiting, but I do have an appointment I need to get to.”
“If you’re new to the area, why don’t I show you around after your appointment? Maybe we can grab some dinner. I don’t fly out again until tomorrow afternoon.” She bent forward to pick up the tray next to him, giving him a glimpse down the front of her blouse.
“I appreciate the offer, but no thank you.” He rose from his seat, grabbing his carry-on. He was ready to get off of the airplane, find a rental car, and make his way to Clearwater.
She reached into her pocket and handed him a business card. “Here’s my number if you change your mind. I fly this route a few times a month, so if you ever want to meet, call me.”
He shoved her card in his pocket and then headed up the aisle. No woman had approached him since his injury. His air of authority and the uniform were gone, taking away the reason so many women where attracted to him in the first place. Now flirtation from a woman made him uncomfortable. He didn’t know what to say.
He walked quickly off the plane, putting distance between him and the flirtatious flight attendant. The ache in his leg slowed his progress. He hadn’t been this sore since he was fitted with his prosthesis. As soon as he arrived at Clearwater Combat and Guns, he would take his medication to dull the pain, but he hated the pills because they left him in a haze, unable to feel anything.
Stepping out into the fresh air, he made his way to the rental car. His limp returned, making itself known. He worked so hard to hide it, to pretend he was normal. Though sometimes the limp refused to be hidden.