For Sergeant Thomas Simmons, getting injured in Iraq was just the start of an adventure that would throw him down the rabbit hole into a world where nothing made sense anymore. Having to restart his life, this soldier has to take his battlefield courage and turn it to a different arena in order to face this newest set of challenges. He just wonders if he is strong enough to handle this newest change in his life.
The cane was a nice thing to lean against as he waited in line to be able to see one of the Academic Advisors, so he could try to keep most of his weight off his sore leg. All his paperwork was in and supposedly good and he had even gotten what he had needed in order to get his Vocational Rehabilitation started with the VA. This was the last step before he would be able to register for classes and really get the school thing started. Thomas had made a tentative schedule of the classes he wanted to take and really hoped he would be able to keep it. The way he planned it he would have enough time to limp across campus between classes and the walking wouldn’t really be all that bad.
He took a step forward as the line nudged forward slightly. He had been standing there for about ten minutes already and he was glad that he had all the stuff he would need in the squad pack slung over one shoulder. It wasn’t heavy but Thomas figured it would be soon, with all the books and note pads and everything he would need for his classes. He had thought of getting one of the rolling backpacks he had seen around, but it would be too awkward to drag behind him with the cane. However, he doubted that all the books and everything would weigh as much as his field pack had. The line nudged again.
He planned on simply taking basic classes for the first year, just to get the majority of the stupid required courses out of the way and get a feel for school life. Then he could concentrate on trying to figure out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. He was also going to take a few PE courses to give himself something to do that didn’t involve sitting on his ass and reading. It certainly couldn’t hurt too much. He had already talked about the classes with his Physical Terrorist at the VA and they had both come to the conclusion that these classes might actually be good for him in the long run, as none of them should really aggravate either his leg of wrist. He had three scheduled, for a total of 3 hours a week. That might not be close to the level of activity he lived with in the Service but it was certainly a lot more activity than he had done lately. He moved closer to the front again.
Thomas sighed as he looked at the line, it didn’t really seem to be growing any shorter even though they were moving step by step closer to the office of the Academic Advisors. The line was packed with students and it was kind of grating as his leg was growing sore. He looked at the sheet with his classes on it. Math, English, Science and he figured that French might be interesting to learn as part of his classes, since he had never learned another language before, except some Spanish in High School that he had promptly forgotten. The PE classes took care of another required area so he would be okay with 15 credit hours. He hoped that the workload would be easy to deal with, as he had never really worked that hard when he had been in high school, which seemed like an eternity ago. He needed to make sure he worked this time, as this had been his choice and it would be his path to real employment. The line shuffled forward two steps this time.
He was ready for college to start and wanted to get on with things in his life. In a way Thomas felt like his life had been on hold and now it was moving forward. Though he still had some things weighing him down. Debra was really starting to bother him, especially as he was delving deeper into things and trying to make sense of the whole gender thing. She just served as a reminder of who he had been before he had really started this trip and he wasn’t sure that he could cope with that much longer. He sort of felt different and it was almost as if his eyes had been opened for the first time in his life. In some ways maybe they had. The world seemed like a completely different place to him now and he was actually starting to like that. He looked up and saw that he was only three from the front now. That made him smile happily.
Shortly they called his last name and he made his way through the collection of desks to the one where he had heard his name called. It reminded him of his outprocessing in a way, with each person seeing someone different who handled all of the paperwork. Thomas thought the advising was a joke. The man only seemed interested in checking if Thomas wasn’t overloading himself with classes and that he was following the recommended plan for incoming freshmen. Soon Thomas was out the other door and now was actually enrolled in school with the majority of the classes he wanted, when he wanted them. It was a different feeling, especially when he was aware that he was the only person in his family to go to college. In fact, he thought he might actually be the first in the whole Simmons family. He had signed up with the college for some sort of program that was designed to help students like him make it through college. Apparently, it was only for first generation college students. This might actually be a good thing as he hadn’t known anyone back home who had gone.
The path towards the bookstore had a very slight incline and Thomas leaned into it, wincing as he walked. It was slow progress, as standing in line really hadn’t helped his leg any. His leg burned with pain right now but he wasn’t scheduled for more pain meds for a little longer. True, parking in handicapped spots was nice, but he was not near his car right now, though he was wondering why he hadn’t taken it at this point. He was looking at something on one of the walls, some poster for a fraternity when he slammed to the ground. This girl was tangled up with his legs and the cane and she was also on the ground. Thomas stared at her in surprise.
“Oh I’m so sorry. Gosh, you know sometimes I can be such a klutz. Here let me help you up.” The girl slowly stood and stretched her hand down towards Thomas. She was cute, in a sort of perky Goth sort of way, with shoulder length red hair with what looked like black tips, the goth-ish clothes and the makeup. She was pretty petite but was muscled enough to actually help Thomas up, which surprised him.
He held onto her tiny hand for a little longer than necessary.
“Thanks.” mumbled Thomas, as he brushed off the dirt from his back and legs.
“Are you okay?” she asked, obviously looking concerned for Thomas’s well being. It was again unexpected as he hadn’t expected some one so out there to be so worried about him. Weren’t these people anti-social? “That was a pretty bad fall and you, with your cane and all. Are you sure you’re not hurt? Gosh, I would feel really bad if I hurt you badly the first time we met. What if that meant you never wanted to meet me again? And maybe I should just shut up and let you answer.” It was almost pure babble but Thomas had to admit that he thought it was cute.
He chuckled and answered. “I’m fine as far as I know.”
She sighed almost dramatically. It seemed a bit over the top, but maybe it was just part of who she was? “Oh, good. You know, let me buy you a coffee to make up for the collision. Maybe a mocha, or a latte or a cappuccino or some other mixed coffee drink that is really tasty and yum, or you know, maybe even a Chai if you like something with more spice and maybe I should stop talking again before I just keep running on and on like I always do and there I go again doing just that okay shutting up now.”
His laughed to himself. She seemed interesting and fun in a screwed up sort of way. He kind of liked that. Maybe coffee would be a good thing at this point and he was pretty sure she wouldn’t be boring company, he hoped, especially when compared to Debra. “Coffee would be good. What’s your name and where do you want to go?”
The smile was bright and cheerful, the kind of smile you expected from cheerleaders and not goth girls. It made Thomas smile in return. He hadn’t done that a lot lately. “My name is Tiffany, but everyone calls me Tiffi, except for some other people who call me by other things but I don’t really mind because it isn’t like they are important anyway and I am rambling again aren’t I?”
Thomas kept smiling. Her mood seemed to be infectious and Thomas didn’t really mind that all too much as he had had enough of his glum mood. She was cute and seemed to have a really bouncy personality and what was even better was that it wasn’t artificial like Debra’s. Maybe he could make a friend, instead of only knowing his annoying girlfriend since all his friends from the Unit were still in Iraq. “I’m Thomas, though most people in my old Unit called me Rhymer.”
Tiffi looked puzzled for a moment at what he said. Thomas could almost hear the gears in her head churning she was thinking so hard. Her eyes widened suddenly, like she had just had an Eureka moment and she said, “Oh… Thomas Rhymer… True Thomas… from the Celtic legends or were they Germanic, I can’t quite remember, though Thomas doesn’t sound all that German but what do I know. You know, that is totally cool and I really like is. Is that like really your real name?”
Thomas chuckled. She was one of the first people ever to get the full meaning of the nickname. It was surprising and gave him the idea that maybe they might really get along. “Nah… it’s something I picked up while I was in the Army. One of the Sergeants I worked with was pagan and named me that after knowing me for a while and catching me writing some poetry. It just stuck and my Unit called me Rhymer for the most part.”
Tiffany’s eyes widened in surprise. “You were like in the Army? Like for Real? Like with the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and everything for real? Is that where you were injured? Oh, and are you pagan cause you said that one of your sergeants was but that doesn’t really mean that you yourself could be a pagan but maybe it does I mean someone could have led you to the Goddess and not made it a big deal and then you might be looking for other pagans and stuff and I am doing it again, sheesh!”
Thomas laughed, one of his few true laughs since he had gotten injured. When the girl started going it was like a mile a minute talking with no obvious breaths. How did she do that? It was cute in an odd sort of way and appealed to him. This was definitely someone he needed to get to know better. “Yeah. I was in the 101st. I got injured over there and now I’m here. And no, I’m not a pagan.”
Tiffany grinned at the last bit. “That’s okay, no one’s perfect. Hey, let’s get going as our coffee is longing for us. I can hear its lonely cries off in the distance. Let’s get going. Paradise Coffee is down by the dead mall. You know where it is right because if you don’t you can follow me or maybe riding with me might be a better plan unless you need to go somewhere, I gotta stop.”
“Yeah I know where it is. I’ll see you there in a few minutes.” They parted ways and Tiffany waved good-bye to him as he hobbled back to the car, still parked by the Admin building. It felt like a longer trip than it really was as the collision had hurt, even though he had tried to let on that it hadn’t. His leg burned as he moved and he gritted his teeth. He had his meds with him and he could use half a Vicodin to take care of things once he got to the coffee shop and still be cognizant enough to talk to Tiffany. When he started taking more the problems began.
Once he had collapsed into his car seat, Thomas took the half a Vicodin that he would certainly need to get past this pain. He knew it would take a while to kick in, but he should be able to make it to Paradise Coffee in one piece. It hurt, but not blindingly so, at least not yet. As long as he didn’t need to stand on it a lot he should be fine. The drive was nothing, as there was little traffic at this time of day, which was also a good help. Tiffany was bouncing a little when he pulled up, as if she was surprised to see him there. How many people had agreed to meet her and the bailed? That just seemed wrong to him somehow.
Thomas wasn’t sure if he wanted to drink any of these things as he had never had any of the mixed coffee drinks before. They looked a little intimidating and a bit girly, what with the whipped cream and the chocolate. After talking to both the barista and Tiffany about this he settled on a mocha. That should be a simple enough drink that he could cope with it. Tiffany glibly mentioned it was a gateway drink which worried him some.
The conversation with Tiffany was nice. They covered a lot of topics as Tiffany bounced about but it was nice being able to talk to someone else about life, besides the Doc. Debra wasn’t much of a conversationalist all things considered given that she was much more concerned with getting her fun and that was about it. They really had nothing in common and that was really causing some problems for him.
A couple of hours later Thomas noticed the time and was a bit worried. He had planned on doing a few other things between his trip to school and now, but the conversation was good, the mocha had been tasty and he felt pretty happy all things considered. Life wasn’t all that bad really.
Since the conversation was good Thomas suggested that they continue it over dinner at one of the mid-level dining places nearby. Tiffany agreed, but did let him know that she was very much a lesbian and had no intentions on getting romantic with a guy even if he was cute and interesting. Thomas chuckled over that. He had no problem with that, as Debra was already too much relationship for him right now. He just needed some human contact that was interested in him and not his penis and pocketbook. Besides, he was still a guy in a lot of ways but even that was changing, slowly.
The food was good and they kept talking through the meal and dessert. Finally, they said good-bye, after exchanging numbers and such. Thomas smiled happily his whole way home. Today had been a good day all in all for him. He had met someone new and had enjoyed himself. This was a good thing in his opinion. He changed into his nightgown after tossing his clothes into the hamper, took his meds and called it an early night. Today had really been a good day and he could get used to more days like this.
* * * * * *
“What the fuck!!” screeched Debra, as she pulled back the covers from Thomas.
Thomas snapped awake instantly and scanned the room for danger, his heart racing a mile a minute. He reached for where his personal weapon should be but the M4 wasn’t there. Neither was his knife. All he found nearby was a red faced and screaming Debra.
“Why the fuck are you wearing that!? What are you, sort some of pervert?” Her voice was shrill and seemed to be a mix of anger and panic. Thomas’s heart was racing, urging him to do something like punch Debra in the face and he tried to fight against that. “Am I not enough of a woman for you that you have to dress like this?”
Thomas growled, his own anger rising from the rude awakening and the personal attack she was mounting on him. He rose to his feet and glared at her, anger flashing in his eyes, his hands clenching and unclenching, as if they were trying to decide what to do. “What the fuck were you doing?”
“I was coming to see my boyfriend, not some fucking fairy!!” She spat the words at him angrily, betrayed by the sight before her.
“I am not a fairy!!” bellowed Thomas, as the nightgown shifted with his movement. “And what gives you the right to barge in to my house at some god awful time of night and verbally attack me?!”
“This key you gave me you mother fucker!!” She struggled to get it off her key chain, anger making her clumsy. When she finally managed to do that, she threw it at Thomas, who was grumbling to himself. The key bounced off his chest and dropped to the floor. Debra was crying angrily, spitting out, “You gave me that right you fucking asshole! You said it was okay to come in and surprise you! Well happy fucking surprise you god dammed faggot!!”
Thomas’s muscled bunched up and he could tell that he was ready to blow, the control on his anger fraying the more she screamed at him. This attack from his sleep wasn’t helping any and he was getting ready to hit her. He took a step towards her and then another, his fists clenching and unclenching even faster. She was standing her ground, eyes ablaze with anger and accusation. “Get… the… fuck… out… of… my… house!!”
The words had been measured and menacing, coming from a deep rumble in his chest that clearly showed what he was feeling. She took a step back and then another, his eyes driving her back more than the implied violence in his body language. She was standing in the doorway to the bedroom glaring at her pissed off boyfriend who was wearing a black satin nightgown. “Fine, you god damned cocksucker! I hope you get AIDS and die!!”
With that final retort spat off, she spun and stormed out of the house, slamming the door. Thomas roared out his anger and punched the wall by the bedroom door, driving it through the drywall easily. It hurt some but not enough to drag him out of his fury. The hole in the drywall attested to the force of his punch and he continued to growl. He wanted something to destroy and all he saw around him were his own things, things he didn’t want to break. With a snarl, he pulled the nightgown off and flung it away, standing naked in the living room. He screamed out his frustration at the ceiling.
It took the powerful throbbing of his leg in time with his heartbeat to bring him back to himself. When it did, he collapsed, falling straight down onto the floor as if boneless. Heavy sobs wracked his body and tears burned their way down his face. Thomas wasn’t even sure why he was crying, only that he was. After an unknown time weeping he weakly crawled back to the bed and climbed his way onto it. His leg didn’t want to support any weight at all right now which made the process even more challenging. With weak sobs still rolling through his chest Thomas curled up under the blankets and ran away into a deep sleep.
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