Silas leaned back in the chair. He had to admit, now that he was here it was pretty damn cozy, but then again, if it was uncomfortable, no one would sit in a therapists office for an hour and answer uncomfortable questions. He ran a hand over his stubble while the doctor opposite him searched around in his desk drawer for a sharp pencil. Eventually he produced one and swivled around to face Silas.

"So, Mr. Whitfield, is this your first time in therapy?"

"No."

He hated the sound of that. "Therapy". Like he was damaged goods. For a moment he regretted letting Jones talk him into it.

"And when was the last time you were in a therapeutic office?"

"When I was about nine. My parents dragged me to one of their marriage counseling sessions."

"I see, and how was it?"

"They basically tried to use me as leverage the whole time. They split a year later."

"I'm sorry to hear that, which parent did you go to live with?"

"My mother. My dad was hitting the sauce pretty heavy at that point, and he wasn't in any fit state to do anything, let alone raise a child."

"I see."

The doctor began scribbling on his notepad and continued to ask questions.

"So what was the first time you considered joining the army?"

Silas bit on his tongue, a habit he had when he was thinking.

"Ehh... lemme see... That was about the eleventh grade. I was in high school, and my grades sucked, plus my mom didn't have the money to send me to college, so I approached one of the campus recruiters about signing up."

"Uh-huh."

There was quiet for a moment as the man continued to write, the soft scratching of his pen the only sound in the white walled room.

"How was basic training?"

"Rough. It was rough for everybody. I did pretty good though, got yelled at the least out of our group of trainees."

"That's good."

Silas nodded absentmindedly and stared out of the window. Cars passed by in the street below and he could see people laughing over a plate of food in the cafe across the way.

"Now for the bigger questions. What was were the early deployments like for you?"

He paused for a moment. Although he could remember every second of his service in vivid detail, he didn't quite know how to begin.

"It was a... what do you call it... A baptism by fire, yeah that's it. I was with a Stryker Brigade, plowing through the front line. You see, when we went in, Saddam made a big defensive line along the Kuwaiti border, lotta armor, lotta infantry. NATO pulled this big ass left hook around it and into Iraq. It was a modern day Maginot Line. But us unlucky ones in the mechanized infantry had the job of charging head on into the line. Now, it wasn't like they put up much of a fight, but still, people got killed. We were in Bradley's then, this was before the Stryker came into service, and it was right on the front line, in spring of '01, that I got my first taste of fire."

***

Silas walked out to the parking lot, cane in hand. After a bit of searching he spotted Jones' blue Honda Civic. He had a job in marketing and it paid well. He never seemed to wear the same clothes more than once a year, and they were always some designer brand. Silas never missed an opportunity to rib him about it, especially because his Veteran's Disability checks didn't pay for shit. He opened the passenger side door, tossed his cane on the floor and pulled himself in. Jones looked up from the pages of a rather lengthy novel and put his glasses back on.

"So? How was it?"

"I don't know."

Jones raised an eyebrow.

"You don't know? Where were you for the past hour, bowling?"

"No, its not that, I just don't know about you paying for it."

Jones rolled his eyes

"Come on Silas, it's a hundred bucks a session, it's the least I can do."

"I just... Don't like the idea of a handout. That's all."

"What about your disability checks? By that logic those are handouts too."

Silas closed the door a little harder than he had intended and Jones jumped.

"Sorry, I didn't mean-"

"I earned that money with this."

Silas tapped his useless leg.

Jones didn't say anything more and they drove back to his house in silence. It wasn't really his house, he was just renting the upstairs from the owners. They had given him an excellent deal, really one that he couldn't refuse, veteran benefits wouldn't afford him anything better, let alone a place of his own. It was depressing. He had lived his entire life with the thought that he would have a wife and a home someday, just like all the other kids on the playground, and instead the powers that be had handed him this. The worst part was the way that people stared at him, how their eyes followed his limping footsteps as he made his way down to the post office, or to the grocery store. He entered the house through the back and ascended the stairs to his room. It wasn't half bad for nine hundred a month. There was a small bathroom in the corner and the rest was a bed and a few dressers which contained everything he owned.

"Not fucking much..." He muttered to himself.

There was a knock on the door and he opened it.

"Hey there Silas, you left your laundry on top of the dryer, I thought I'd run it up to you."

Silas nodded

"Thank you Mrs. McLean."

The woman smiled and closed the door again. In the beginning she had tried to get him to call her Nancy, but he always called her Mrs. , and eventually she had stopped asking. The McLeans were the family that lived downstairs. Mr. McLean was balding guy who worked some kind of electrical job, Silas could never pin down exactly what it was, and he never stuck around to ask. He and Silas had never exactly hit it off. From what Silas had overheard in the nightly shouting matches that filtered through the floorboards, he had wanted to turn the upstairs into a hobby room before his wife had rented it out. Of course, being the only means of shelter for a disabled veteran put him in a unique catch-22. He couldn't have his hobby room if Silas staid, but if he took the extra step and kicked a crippled combat vet out onto the street, the neighbors would never speak to him again. They had kids too, two boys, ages nine and thirteen. The older one was starting to get into punk, and Silas could hear strains of bands he had gotten faded to in his high school years floating up though the ceiling of the kids room, which was directly under his bed. They kept out of his way on the rare occasions that they met, probably on the advice of their parents. Everybody on the street knew Silas, it was that kind of community. Slightly overbearing in their friendliness and a little more nosy than was good for them.

They would always smile and wave good morning to him when he passed, as if being unwaveringly cheerful around him would make him forget all about his leg and the flashbacks. He knew that they whispered behind his back, wondered aloud how he had been wounded, and how yesterday in the freezer section they had seen him flinch when someone dropped a box of pizza, or slammed a fridge door. Another mythos that seemed to surround him was the nature of his service. He had never talked about it with anyone, so naturally speculation ran rampant. At this point the prevailing theory was that he was either a former green beret or an ex-CIA agent forced into retirement. It was almost hilarious the amount of crap that formulated about it, but that was the nature of these crowded little suburbs, people got bored, and honestly, he was the most interesting thing that had happened to this neighborhood in a while, a shadowy enigma to be puzzled and pondered over. Admittedly, Silas rather liked the aura he had. It kept the kids from bothering him and it intimidated the adults, as if at any second he was going to drop his crutch and perform some hideously lethal kung-fu move that would shatter every bone in their body.

Lazily, he picked a sharpie out of the drawer and crossed off December 22nd on his calendar. Another day closer to Christmas. Most people on the block would be gearing up for the holiday season, pulling out long strands of multi colored lights and practicing to sing horrible, off-key carols under the influence of coffee flavored liquor. Silas bent to put the pen back in the desk drawer and a stab of pain shot up his leg. He clutched at it, and almost fell over backwards, catching himself at the last moment on a chair.

***

Lisa fumbled with the ornament, trying to make the plastic saint nick stay on the tree, but it was no good, it was way too heavy. She tucked the thing back into the box and sat down on the couch next to Beth, who handed her a mug of hot chocolate. Beth had just gotten off school for the winter break, and was staying with her parents down the street.

"It looks good Liz, very Christmassy."

"Yeah, except for the tree, you can tell that thing's fake from a mile away."

"Oh don't worry about it, the needles would be a mess to clean up anyway."

"I guess so."

Lisa sipped at her chocolate and made a face.

"What? Not enough sugar?"

"No, it's fine." She lied.

They sat and admired the tree for a few more seconds before Beth spoke again.

"What are you doing for new years?"

Lisa pursed her lips. What WAS she doing for new years?

"Nothing much, just, I don't know, bumming around, hanging out."

Beth ran a hand through her frizzy hair and shot a sideways glance at her, eyebrows raised.

"You got a boyfriend around here since I left?"

"Pff, not likely."

"What about that Jacob kid, Jacob Harwick, is he still around?"

"Jesus Beth, that was high school!"

"You guys were going pretty steady when I left."

"He.. turned out to be an ass."

"Alright, no harm in asking."

Beth was silent for a few more seconds while she took a deep swig of her coca.

"What about that guy with the cane we saw the other day, he looks cute."

"Him? That's Silas Whitfield."

"Well? What about him? You ever-"

"No."

It was Beth's turn to make a face.

"Why not girl? God, you're so picky, he's pretty good looking!"

"He's an Iraq War vet, and the rumor is he's kinda jacked up."

"So? His butt wasn't jacked up when I saw it."

Lisa flicked Beth on the forehead.

"Geeze Beth, is that all you think about in a guy?"

"A good tush is the cornerstone of any relationship."

Lisa rolled her eyes.

"Whatever."

"Nuh-uh, I'm not letting this drop, that guy is probably perfectly nice, you just gotta take the leap and find out!"

"No, I don't-"

"No butts. My boyfriend is coming down for Christmas, and you should hook up with someone too. At least for new years Lisa! Come on, it's not like he's going to bite your damn head off! Look. If you go out with this guy, I will give you a hundred bucks."

"What?"

"Yeah, that got your attention didn't it?"

"Why?"

"Lisa you can't spend you entire life just going to college, you have to get out of your shell, meet some new guys. Consider this an investment in your social circle."

Lisa bit her bottom lip for a moment. She did have to admit, the guy wasn't bad looking, and maybe the rumors were just bullshit gossip anyway.

"Alright, I'll do it.

Beth punched the air in celebration

"Yeah, Lisa the late-bloomer is turning into a beautiful flower!"

Lisa shoved Beth playfully

"Oh shut up..."

***