Chapter 1 A Day to Pack

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I WOKE UP to a thin ray of light lancing through the gap between the solid window shutters. I glanced at the clock on the wall and jumped up in shock: already half past nine in the morning! The army traditionally woke you up at six, and you got used to it quickly. Half past nine! Hadn't slept in so late in a long time. Oh, my head..! I moved too quickly and groaned in pain. My head was splitting, my mouth was dry, I could barely move my tongue. Guess I got pretty drunk yesterday... Where, with who? For what occasion? I didn't remember... Although... Yesterday was supposed to be my long-awaited reunion with my girlfriend Karina after our long time apart. I took so long getting ready! Spent hours cleaning and ironing my dress uniform, bought expensive roses.

My memory started to come back, but only in fragments. I recalled standing a long time outside the window of a jeweler's, trying to figure out whether I had enough money to buy two gold rings if everything went well on my date. Yep. I'd made my decision to propose to Karina, to make our relationship official, tried and tested as it was by long separation.

How did the date yesterday even end? And how did I get back home? I couldn't remember a thing... And what was up with my left eye? My vision didn't seem right somehow. I tried to touch my face and winced in pain. Rising from the bed with a groan, I walked over to the mirror. Woah! My left eye was red and swollen, encircled with a fat purple-black bruise. I noticed another huge bruise on my right shoulder, and felt other grazes and aches all over my body. Must have upset someone yesterday. Who? Maybe my headache and memory loss were somehow connected to my injuries? Must have gotten a hard hit on the head. Maybe even a concussion. My hand was pretty beat up too. I examined the wounds. Bruised, bloody fingers, a deep cut in my right palm... Did I fight back? Couldn't remember a thing...

A mournful, whining mewl from outside the closed door interrupted my examination of my injuries. I hurried to open the door. A fluffy ginger kitten jumped spryly into the room on three legs, stretched. The little guy galloped comically over to me, raised his tail straight up, rubbed his head on my bare leg. Hungry, no doubt. I'd picked him up off the street the day before last, after seeing a car hit the poor little dumbass as he tried to cross the road. I've always thought of myself as a cold kind of man, but I couldn't just walk past that. I walked up, looked at the orange fluffball whining in pain and fear, picked him up. The kitten's back left leg hung lifelessly. Thick dark blood trickled from his nose.

He'd got it bad. I didn't know if he'd survive. I didn't have my own home yet, I was staying with my elder sister after coming back from the army, but I still couldn't leave the helpless little thing to die. I took the kitten with me. Did my best at home to knock together a splint for his broken leg, put iodine on his wounds. The poor guy was in a real bad way the day before yesterday. I even lost hope that he'd pull through. But yesterday, the kitten started to come round, limping after me all over the apartment, falling down again and again as he learned to walk on three legs. I fed my foundling warm milk, cut up little pieces of sausage for him. After my date with Karina yesterday, I'd planned to buy a litter tray and some decent cat food...

Wait! The kitten... Don't forget to bring him with you... Or else he'll starve to death in the apartment... An avalanche of missing memories crashed down on me. Vividly, clearly, I recalled every minute of yesterday.

I arrived on time at the restaurant, ordered a meal for two, waited ages for Karina. She turned up with a surprise; her new boyfriend and his sidekick buddies were with her. What an asshole! If he wanted to talk to me man-to-man, to explain the new situation, he could have come alone. I swear I would have had enough pride and self-respect to hear out him and Karina both, and then just leave, wishing them happiness. Only my rival hadn't come alone. He brought three thug friends with him as backup. On top of that, Karina's new friend was arrogant and rude. He threatened me, insulted me. There was no way we were going to have a calm conversation. He didn't even introduce himself. Just launched into threats and abuse!

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