It was late when we got back to Reece’s condo, and I had toyed around with the idea of staying with my parents instead, but if I was going to be honest with myself—and what fun was that?—I wanted to stay with Reece.
“Want something to drink?” Reece asked, dropping the keys on the kitchen counter. They rattled like wind chimes crashing to the floor.
“Tea? Soda? Beer?”
“Beer. I could use some beer.”
One side of his lips turned up as he grabbed two Coronas out of the fridge and popped the tops before handing one to me. “Sorry, no lime.”
“Thanks. I really don’t like lime in my drinks anyway.” Taking a sip, I turned away. Though it was almost midnight, I wasn’t ready to sleep. Exhaling loudly, I walked over to the balcony doors. “Do you mind?”
He arched his brow. “Babe, make yourself at home.”
“I always thought that was such a weird thing to say. Why would you want people to make themselves at home in your house?” I pulled the curtain back and unlocked the doors. “If people did, they’d be running around your place naked.”
“If it’s you, I wouldn’t mind at all.” He grinned over the neck of his bottle. “Actually, I’d prefer it.”
“Pervert,” I muttered, and then stepped out into the cool night air.
Sitting in a chair, I tucked my legs up. A couple of minutes passed before Reece joined me. He was barefoot as he kicked his legs up on the railing. I don’t know why, but I thought the combination of jeans and bare feet were sexy.
There was also a good chance I just found a lot of things sexy.
We sat there in silence for a couple of moments, and I was struck by the similarity between what we were doing and what my parents did almost every night when they thought the kids were in bed.
They’d sneak outside to have a beer and some time together.
I glanced down at my bottle and toyed with the label. My heart rate kicked up a little, because this—this felt so very real and that . . . wow, that scared me.
Needing to distract myself, I asked, “Do you really think Henry has nothing to do with what’s been happening?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“I know you don’t like the fact I talked to him. It wasn’t like we were having drinks. I wanted to make sure you were safe from him,” he explained. “And like I said, wanting to make amends doesn’t make up for what he did, but isn’t feeling remorse for one’s own actions better than having none?”
I frowned as I mulled that over. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“I mean, how do you really know if someone feels remorse? Or guilt? Or if it’s just because they got caught and are in trouble?”
“You know, I saw a lot of messed-up shit when I was in the sandbox,” Reece said, jarring me with the unexpected comment. “I saw what happened when someone got hit by an IED. I saw bodies of guys I considered friends riddled with bullets, some losing their legs or arms—their lives. I saw people who when it was all said and done didn’t have much of anything to ship back to their families. You kind of get used to it—the anger every time your group loses someone. Doesn’t make it easier, but you’re at war. I guess that helps you compartmentalize the shit that’s going down, what you got to do to make sure everyone survives.”
He paused, taking a long swallow. “When I left the academy and started working here, I thought I could do the same. Compartmentalize the bullshit, the annoying traffic stops and the domestics at the same house every Friday, and the god-awful traffic accidents, the senseless overdoses, and dumbass-on-dumbass violence. Packed that shit away where it belongs. I was doing it. So I thought having to shoot someone would be no different from being at war or just doing my job. I was wrong.”
I lowered the bottle to my lap, shocked into silence. He was talking about the shooting. Reece never talked about the shooting. I didn’t dare to breathe too loudly for fear of him stopping.
“It was a normal call. A fight outside of Spades Bar and Grill. I got there at the same time as another officer did. The fight was in the parking lot, and it took us a few to make it through the crowd.” He shook his head slowly. “The kid—his name was Drew Walker. Only eighteen. He was beating the shit out of an older guy. To the point that when we got there, the dude was knocked the fuck out. You know, he had a broken jaw, shattered nose, and eye. A cracked skull. That’s what that kid did to him.”
Reece tipped his bottle away from him, eyeing the label with a look of concentration. “He was on meth and some kind of other fucked-up drug. We yelled at him to stop and when he did . . . man, he was covered in blood. Like something straight out of a horror film. The kid had a gun. He had a gun the entire time. That’s what he was beating the guy with. Not his fists. The handle of the Glock.”
“Oh my God,” I whispered. Recalling the details the press had reported on the shooting, that part had either been glossed over or never told.
He pursed his lips. “Instinct. The second he aimed that gun, it was instinct. Both of us fired, but it was my shot that killed him—my bullet from my gun that did it was what the investigation showed.”
I opened my mouth, but I didn’t know what to say.
“I had to go face-to-face with that boy’s mom. She smacked me. Not once.” He laughed, but there was no humor. “Twice. She just didn’t understand. He damn near killed the guy he was beating and he was on a crazy combination of drugs. I don’t blame her, though, for hating me. And she does. Still does. Always will. He was her son. I get that, but man, it’s not like overseas. You don’t see family members then. You aren’t staring them in the eyes.”