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“I care, Henry. And I promise to pour a shot of whiskey on your grave when you go,” Tyler said, trying to lighten the mood.

“Are you deliberately missing the point? You’re young now, but eventually you’re going to wake up and realize you spent your whole life serving your country and you have nothing to show for it except a broken dick and a lot of bad memories.”

Tyler patted the older man’s shoulder. “I’ll get married, eventually. Don’t worry about it. I’m more concerned with Nurse Hatchet coming back and seeing that you didn’t touch your food. She looked like the type that would strap you to the bed and force-feed you.”

“Just let me be, kid.” Tyler had never heard Henry so dejected, and for the first time, he realized that Henry meant it. He wasn’t just being a martyr to start an argument.

He was done fighting.

The doctors had given him six months a year ago, but he’d proved them wrong. He’d been beating the odds for a while.

Tyler set the Jell-O on the tray and, unsure of how Henry would respond, took his friend’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Okay.”

“Don’t you got some kids to entertain?” Henry didn’t shake him off or call him a pussy, like he would have a few weeks ago. It made the grief squeezing Tyler’s chest hurt worse.

“I’ll get to them soon. Right now, I figured I’d talk you to sleep.”

“What else is new? You can’t tell a decent story to save your life. You should try something with bloodshed, intrigue, adventure, forbidden love—”

Tyler scoffed. “When have you ever told a story about forbidden love?”

“That girl I met when I got back from Operation Desert Storm.”

“What girl? You mean the hooker?”

Henry’s face turned beet red. “She was not a hooker; she was an exotic dancer.”

“Yeah, I hate to break it to you, but if they accept money and actually let you touch them, they’re no longer just a stripper.”

Henry mumbled something under his breath, and Tyler chuckled. “Usually you deliver your insults at a roar.”

“At least I found someone to love. Not everyone does, and some of us don’t have all the time in the world, you know.”

It was far too true, and Tyler stared at Henry, the silence between them thick enough to cut with a knife.

Tyler didn’t like to talk about the day he got shot, but with Henry . . . Well, he felt like the old guy could empathize. Besides, he’d heard all his battle stories. Might as well share his before Henry was gone.

“Did I ever tell you about when I got shot?”

Henry opened both of his eyes and sat up a bit. “No, haven’t heard that one.”

“Wanna hear it now?”

Henry nodded. “Sure, kid.”

Tyler started talking, staring at the wall as he remembered. “I was patrolling with my dog, Rex. He was this big German shepherd, about ninety pounds and smart as hell. We were just walking, and then there was this slicing pain. There were bullets flying everywhere; it took me a second to even realize Rex wasn’t moving. I radioed for help and just kept holding Rex as I waited. And then when I was in the hospital, my friend brought me a plastic container full of ashes and told me they belonged to Rex. That they’d burned him and thought I’d want to take him home with me. Corny, right? But I did, even bought an engraved urn and everything. It sits up on the shelf in my room.”

Henry’s gaze was heavy, belying his lighthearted insult. “You’re still a crap storyteller.”

“I know.” He gave his friend a little salute as he stood up. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

Henry didn’t respond, just stared at him for a few seconds. Finally, he returned the salute. “Thank you for making my time here not so shitty.”

Tyler hated how much the words sounded like good-bye.

SEVERAL HOURS LATER, Dani stood in the hallway of Mercy San Juan Hospital, outside of Noah’s room, talking to his doctor. After X-rays, blood tests, and a mountain of tears from both Noah and Dani, Dr. Barrick finally had answers.

“We believe that Noah got a tear in his esophagus while vomiting yesterday, and it bled into his stomach. At this point, we don’t think we’ll have to repair it surgically, as these tears usually heal on their own. However, we’d like to keep him a day or so for observation.”

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