Today I am so pleased to welcome Melanie Hansen to Joyfully Jay. Melanie is here as part of our Beach Read Bonanza to talk to us about her release, Everything Changes. She is also sharing some great giveaways! Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
During the course of my husband’s Navy career, I’ve been fortunate enough to live on or around some of the loveliest beaches the United States has to offer: The Hawaiian island of Oahu, Coronado Island, CA, and my personal favorite, Pensacola, FL – the sugar white sands and emerald waters of this stretch of beach defy description.
For me, beyond the scenery, beyond the tourist attraction of these beaches, my most vivid memories of them are inextricably linked to my life as a military spouse of 17 years. In Pensacola I will never forget standing on the beach and watching the world-famous US Navy Blue Angels, the FA-18 Hornet aerobatic flying team, put on their yearly summer performance for the home crowd. Every show they do is heart-pounding and thrillingly patriotic. The death-defying maneuvers and cutting-edge precision will always give me goosebumps, no matter how many times I’ve seen them in action.
When I think of Pensacola Beach, I will always think of the Blue Angels…of patriotism and Navy Pride.
And then, of course, there’s Hawaii – stunningly beautiful, steeped in ancient history and traditions. The legend of the Night Marchers invokes chills, stories of ghostly warriors who appear out of the night mist and march silently from the mountains down to the edge of the sea. If you ever happen to see the Night Marchers, don’t meet their eyes or you are forever cursed.
I’m not afraid of the Night Marchers, and I don’t believe in curses, but standing at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, directly above the wreckage of the USS Arizona, I’ve found I do believe in ghosts. Under the elegant memorial there are 1,102 brave souls entombed in the twisted, rusted metal of the ship just below the surface, men who had been sleeping peacefully in their racks early that December morning and woke to horror. They fought and died bravely, some weaponless and resorting to throwing wrenches at the enemy planes who rained down fire and death upon them. Drops of oil still seep to the surface from the submerged fuel tanks and are visible on the water, even over 70 years later.
Less than 500 yards away from the Arizona sits the USS Missouri, the ship that hosted the signing of the Japanese declaration of surrender, thus ending World War II. The Missouri’s bow faces the Arizona. It’s a powerful statement: The Arizona was the beginning of the war for the United States, and the Missouri was the end.
When I think of Oahu, I will always think of Pearl Harbor…of bravery, sacrifice and reverence.
Finally, my book Everything Changes is set on Coronado Island in San Diego, CA. The Island is gorgeous, affluent, and famous. We were lucky enough to live in military housing on the Island directly across the street from the ocean. I could walk there with my two toddler boys and enjoy the sunshine and sea breezes anytime I wanted. But the beaches of Coronado aren’t just beautiful, they serve a purpose. Some of them are the training grounds of the US Navy SEALs, one of the most elite Special Operations forces in the world.
Sometimes when making sand castles with my boys or wading in the shallows, we’d see combat helicopters flying overhead with men dangling from cables, or hear machine gun fire from nearby gun ranges, or see the colored smoke from dummy grenades wafting into the sky. One of the duties my husband’s squadron had was to support the SEALs by flying them where they needed to go, and we knew some Team families and I was friends with several Team wives.
When I think of Coronado Island and its beaches, I will always remember that freedom isn’t free. And that some, including a friend’s husband, paid the ultimate price for what we enjoy today.
The beauty and tranquility of these beaches, for me, will forever be intertwined with visions of patriotism; sacrifice and bravery; duty and honor. They are special memories and they helped to shape my story about two men who faced a life-altering experience together, an experience which redefined their friendship and eventually turned it to love.
If anyone has been to a Blue Angels air show, or visited Pearl Harbor or Coronado Island, I’d love to hear about it! Or feel free to share your memories of any special place that touched you deeply, for whatever reason.
Thank you, Joyfully Jay, for allowing me to visit your blog today!
Jase shook his head against Carey’s shoulder. “I keep seeing you lying there in that dirt, so still. There was so much blood everywhere. I constantly relive that moment when I first saw you, when I didn’t know if you were alive or dead—”
He shuddered, and Carey kept up the soothing touch.
“I don’t remember anything from before the blast. Most of the day is a blank.” Carey grimaced. The missing time had bothered him for a while, but he knew it was his brain’s way of protecting itself from the memory of trauma.
“We played volleyball, Carey, all morning. There was nothing going on. It was so quiet. You had to stand duty after lunch, so you said you wanted to take a short nap. I had to go see a few guys in the clinic, and when I came back, you were curled up asleep in the shade of that Humvee tire. You had your head on a rucksack and it looked so uncomfortable, so I sat down against the tire and pulled your head into my lap.”
Carey chuckled. They’d often napped like that outside, a head pillowed on a stomach, a lap. So much better than the rocky ground, and all the guys did it.
“I fell asleep too, and then that fucking Gomez came by and accidentally on purpose spilled his canteen on us. Prick.”
They laughed quietly. Pretty much everyone had called Gomez “that fucking Gomez.” He was the guy who always had a joke, a one-liner. He was hilarious, the life of the party, had a gift for easing any tension in just the right way. He’d also died in the attack that had injured Carey.
“Jase, did you know that Gomez’s wife visited me in the hospital?”
Jase lifted his head from Carey’s shoulder. His face was a little more relaxed, though his eyes still looked haunted. He shook his head silently.
“She did. I woke up one afternoon and she was there. Fuck, I didn’t even know that he’d—” Carey swallowed hard. When he’d seen Mira’s haggard face, he knew immediately without even having to be told.
“What did she say?”
“Landon—you remember him? He was there at Walter Reed too. Apparently he told her that Gomez was with me on duty when the attack started. She wanted to know how that last hour or so of his life was, what we talked about, what he said.” Carey grew quiet.
“What did you say?” Jase’s voice was hushed.
“I—lied. How could I tell this grieving widow that I didn’t fucking remember anything about her husband’s last moments? She looked so… hopeful that I could tell her something, anything about him.” Carey’s voice was strained. “So I made up this entire fucking imaginary conversation between me and Gomez, told her that he talked about her, their kids, how much he couldn’t wait to be home. I told her that he made me laugh over and over doing impressions of LT and Sarge—” His voice cut off as he choked up.
“You did the right thing, Carey,” Jase said quietly. Carey was ashamed of himself for bringing up this topic; now Jase was having to comfort him, and that was the last thing Carey wanted. He made an effort to pull himself together.
“It seemed to satisfy her. Then she—oh my God, she mentioned you, Jase. I’m such an asshole. I completely forgot about this. Oh, Jase.” Carey felt himself choking up again for an entirely different reason.
“What?” Jase looked alarmed.
“No, no, it’s good. She said that Landon had told her how hard you tried to save Gomez, that after you had me stabilized you took over for another corpsman and you worked over him for a long time.”
Jase’s face grew shadowed. “He was pretty much gone when I took over, Carey. He still had a heartbeat, but it was so weak and thready that there was no way he was getting any oxygen to his brain. It just took me a little longer to accept that and give up, that’s all.”
“But Jase, she said for me to tell you ‘thank you’ for working so hard to save her Juan’s life, that she thanks God every day that he sent a hero like you to help her husband. That even if God took him home after all, she knows you did the best you could.”
Jase closed his eyes, and after a moment, a single tear tracked its way down his cheek.
“Jase,” Carey said shakily. “I’m so fucking sorry that I never told you about that. I’m such a—I’m such a selfish asshole.”
Jase wiped his cheek impatiently. “You’re not a selfish asshole! Stop saying that! You told me now, and that’s all that matters. And yes, it helps to know that she doesn’t hate me for not being able to save her husband. It’s one of those irrational fears I have, that the families of these guys hate me for not doing more, that now they’re just memories while I’m home safe.”
“Just like you thought that maybe deep down I hated you for not being able to save my leg?” Carey asked gently. “And yes, I’m selfish, Jase. Maybe I had a good excuse for being a self-centered prick, but the fact remains that I should have told you a long time ago about Mira, and I should have known that you needed to hear from me that I’m glad you saved my life. Hell, I counsel wounded vets for a living, and I know that you needed to hear that to help with your own recovery. You’re the most important person in my life, and I didn’t make sure you got what you needed, Jase. I’m so sorry.”
“But I’m not wounded, Carey,” Jase said wanly. “I’m just weak.”
Carey took Jase’s face in his hands and looked him straight in the eyes. “In war, there are no unwounded soldiers, Jase.”
Jase closed his eyes.
“No, look at me.” Carey waited until Jase complied, and then he said, “You’re not weak. Something happened to you. You went to war and you saw terrible things. That happened to you. You’re not weak. You are the strongest man I know.”
He pulled Jase close again. “Let’s just get through today, okay?” he whispered.
He smiled as he heard Jase whisper back, “One day at a time.”
What happens when friendship catches fire?
Former Marine and lower-leg amputee Carey Everett keeps a grueling schedule of counseling fellow war veterans and their families. The injury he received in Afghanistan forces him to rely on a reserve of strength he didn’t even know he had. A much deserved vacation will let him reconnect with his best friend, who saved his life and has been there for him through devastating injury and painful recovery.
Part-time EMT and aspiring singer Jase DeSantis has been in love with Carey for years, but he’s come to accept that his straight friend will never be able to offer more. Jase fills his days with band rehearsals, ambulance shifts and willing groupies, all while trying to cope with debilitating PTSD.
A week of sun, fun, and music in San Diego changes Jase and Carey’s lives forever when their relationship takes an unexpected turn. Jase has been longing for that change, but it leaves Carey reeling with confusion. As Jase fights to hold things together, Carey deals with doubts, fears, and his own preconceived notions about labels and the true nature of love.
Melanie Hansen has spent time in Texas and Florida prisons…for work. She’s been in a room with a 17-year-old mass murderer who was also one of the most soft-spoken and polite teenagers she’s ever met. After a 13-year career as a court reporter, she can tell many stories both hilarious and heartbreaking.
She grew up with an Air Force dad, and ended up marrying a Navy man. After living and working all over the country, she hopes to bring these rich and varied life experiences to her stories about people finding love amidst real-life struggles.
Melanie left the stressful world of the courtroom behind and now enjoys a rewarding career transcribing for a deaf student. She currently lives in Arizona with her husband and two sons.
Melanie has brought along a $10 Dreamspinner gift card to one lucky Joyfully Jay reader. Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest ends on Thursday, June 18th at 11:59 pm EST.
This post is part of our Beach Read Bonanza, which means you can leave a comment here, or at any of the 12 stops during the month of June, to enter to win a beach bag of goodies, including a Kindle! Just leave a comment to enter!
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