Holding Hands

She asked us out for a drink
After work
Long day
Sounded like a great idea

Perfect evening
Restaurant is fun
We only have a couple
Gotta drive home

She gets white girl wasted
So much fun
No fucks to give
All the barriers are down

Decides to stop
Good girl
But what now?
Can’t go home this buzzed

Family there
Doubles as landlords
Asks me to drive around
We can shoot the shit until it wears off

As we drive, she has idea
Takes phone out and starts shooting video
So much fun
Narrating the drive and being ridiculous

Such a fun night
Don’t want it to end
She’s so much fun!
A crazy idea, I have

A dare – livestream this!
She does it!
This night is so insane!
Might be bad, but who cares?

Then, gets more serious
We start talking about other things
And that’s when it happens
She holds my hand

Her fingers lock with mine
It’s a lover’s grip
She leans against my arm
What’s going on here?

Asking more serious questions
Asks if I love her
What can I say?
What can I possibly say?

This is wrong
She’s involved
She’s loyal
What is happening here?

We hold hands, talk into the phone camera
Goes on for hours
Why don’t I want this to end?
Feels so good

It can’t go on
When the buzz wears off, the loyalty returns
She realizes the truth
What’s happening here is wrong

We get to her home
Ask her what it meant
Holds our clutched hand to her face
Says she doesn’t know

Doesn’t know?
We’ve been holding each other like lovers for hours!
Why doesn’t she have some idea?
So damn confused

Next day, tries to avoid it
Don’t want to tell the truth
What happened between us
Who is helped by the truth

Truth comes out
She tells us the truth
Was using us
Used our loneliness to get what she wanted

It hurts, but it doesn’t
In fact, it’s still just confusing
I still loved that night
Would do it all over again in a heartbeat

However, the damage is done
She is ashamed of herself
Become awkward and distant
What has happened to us?

She’s putting distance between us
No!
Not now!
Not after what has just been shared!

That night, and her gentle clutching hand
Will stay with me forever
But here’s the worrying part
Will I stay with her that long?

I held her hand
She held mine
She held it to her face
It was like a kiss

I don’t know what this means
Nor does she
Get the feeling everything hinges on us figuring the answer out
The question she wanted to ask

Was afraid to
Might not like the answer
Wanted to know anyway – do I love her
Answer is, maybe

She held my hand
I held hers
It was enough
For two hours, it was enough

Peace out,

Maverick

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The Night Before Deployment

They gave me a new uniform.  It was so strange, to be looking at myself in uniform again.  The worst part was getting my hair cut.  Looking at myself, with hair like a pixie doll, it was strange.  I spent years growing that hair out long.  It had become part of my identity.  But I was a pilot too.  That’s how it goes.  The bucket hat that I was wearing, in this black getup, made me feel powerful again.  Getting into uniform was fun.  I was glad that somebody remembered that my hips are wider than other girls.  Jack used to joke that I was “a white girl with a big black booty.”  Always acted annoyed, but you can’t fight the way your body is made.  It has only been an inconvenience when getting pants and getting into uniform.  G-suits are made to squeeze around a body, so they fit loosely when you first put them on, then tighten when you hit the sensor.  Since men and women pilot, they knew to keep the design open to different body types.  I respect that.
Pinning the last of my medals and rank identifiers on my chest and arms, I was ready to face him.  Jack was sitting in the other room.  He told me he was stoked to see what I look like in uniform.  The old uniform I had was blue, back in my days serving alongside the Earth Forces Navy.  My outfit was the part of a special Colonial section.  This new uniform was black, with red on the trim.  It was imposing, and a sign of Colonial solidarity.  The fatigues were black as well, but without the red.  I would have to wear those on the ship.  Told Jack I would model them for him next.
“Geez, honey, you ever coming out of there?”
Snapped back to reality, I groaned.  “You try putting on a uniform and tell me how quickly it goes.”
“Don’t know if I would fit in yours, babe.  Care to find out?”
I rolled my eyes, but still felt good.  He was trying to be positive, so I didn’t worry.  I love him so much.  The idea of leaving him to go fight in a war, it scared the fuck out of me.  But then I remember what it was like, watching that Colony explode when the Earth Forces attacked.  What if that had been here?  What if Jack had been one of the bodies that I saw floating up into space?  Couldn’t breathe, couldn’t handle the thought.  That is why I am fighting.  If there was a chance that I could watch the man I love be that person…no, I wouldn’t.  I will fight, as hard as I possibly can, to keep him safe.  He’s my man.  Mine.  No planetside fuck is going to take him away from me.  I laced up my dress boots, straightened my hat, and walked out.
The look on his face, mouth agape, made me blush a little.
“That good, huh?”
He smiled at me, raising his Band and snapping a pic.  “You fucking know it!  Holy shit, babe!  You look incredible!”  Getting up he came over.  Looked me over, felt weird.  Then he ran his hand over the name insignia on my chest.
“Pilot Barnes.  Awesome.  That uniform is so fucking hot on you.”
“A pity it’s a dress uniform.  Wouldn’t mind being peeled out of it.”
A wink.  “Well, maybe we’ll get to find out what that’s like yet, Pilot.”
“Yes sir!”
“Now, go change into your fatigues, Pilot!  I want to see how it looks!”
I snap to attention.  “Sir!”
Heading back into the bathroom, he pinches my ass.  I wheel around, looking indignant, but he just grabs me and kisses me.  This commanding officer role-play could be fun.  He seems to be enjoying himself.  Plus, given how nervous I feel, this makes me feel a lot better.
“Snap to, Pilot.”
“Yes sir,” I whisper, pulling back.

Back in the bathroom, I am very gentle about removing the dress uniform.  Not going to risk it getting wrinkled.  You wouldn’t believe it, but proper folding is something you learn in basic.  Among all sorts of nit-picky bullshit about the service.  I hang the uniform back up, and then turn to see where my fatigues are sitting on the counter.  It’s then that I catch sight of the implant modulator.  Like most women, I have an implant that I use as birth control.  I can automatically refill it.  It is dry.  Jack and I had been talking about having a baby for months.  Looking down at my hand, I see the engagement ring.  The wedding was supposed to be during the summer cycle.  We had it planned out that we could celebrate being pregnant at the same time as getting married.  Cut down on celebrations.  So many friends had already asked if I was carrying.  No luck yet.  But things had changed.  Now I was back on active duty.
I couldn’t risk getting pregnant now.  Taking out the modulator, I insert the end into skin where my implant is.  Part of me feels real shame.  Not only was I putting my wedding on hold, I was putting all of our plans on hold.  Even if we won the war, how long would I still be on active duty?  When would we get another chance to start a family?  It killed me inside, but it is what it is.  A pop, and the birth control injection is complete.  Another three years where I don’t have to worry about getting periods or having babies.  I’m sorry, Jack.  I’m so sorry.
Getting my mind back on more positive things, I open up my fatigues.  The pattern, so familiar, but just in different colors.  My name is on these as well.  Much easier to put on than my dress uniform, I slip in.  Should get into the issued-underwear.  That’s right, you have uniform underwear in the military.  It’s weird.  And a touch uncomfortable.  Oh well.  I’m doing this outfit, and I want to do it right.  Once I get everything situated, again I look at myself in the mirror.  It’s so strange.  This is some other girl.  Some girl I don’t know.  We’re just meeting for the first time.
“Hey you,” I say into the mirror.  “What’s your name?”  The girl just stares back at me.
“You say something, B?”
“No.  Just mumbling to myself.”  This girl and I would get very close, very soon.

I step out of the bathroom, and once again he is in awe.  Takes a pic on his Band, then sits on the edge of the bed.
“You look incredible.”
“Thanks.”
His eyes pierce right through me.  “You scared, babe?”
Don’t want to admit the truth, but I can’t lie to him.  “Yeah, I am.”
Then came a response I didn’t expect, “so am I.”
I look at him in shock.
“It’s not that I don’t think you’re a good pilot.  I know you are.  You’re gonna kick ass out there.  But wars are complicated.  All it could take is one thing going wrong and the wrong time.  Of course I’m scared.”
“Doesn’t help that if we lose, I’ll probably be taken to a military prison.  Or at the very least, lose my wings.”
“Yeah…”
We are there in silence for some time.
Finally, he looks up at me.  “Come here.”
Quietly, I obey.  He suddenly grabs my arm and throws me down onto the bed.  Pinning my arms above me, He gets on top of me.  My breathing is so fast.
“All we have is tonight.  At 0400, you head out, right?”
“Yeah.”
“Then let’s peel out of this uniform!”
A grin comes to my face.  “Yes sir!”

I wake up in his arms.  Naked, sticky, with my uniform and regulation underwear all over the room.  That was incredible.  I haven’t had sex like that in years.  Jack was an animal, but not once did I take issue.  All we had was tonight, and he made the most of it.  Still a little tingly.  Guess the orgasm didn’t fade just yet.  Ride the high, as it were, right?  Girls have it so much better than guys in this regard.  Pleasure is a different thing for women than men.  Get us into enough of a mood, and every part of our body is basically like a sex organ.  Our entire body becomes sensitive and reactive.  Erogenous zones become a none-issue.  That’s what happened to me just now.  Amazing.
Still, I won’t be able to go back to sleep.  Gotta do something.  Maybe a run will help.  I grab a quick shower, to get the sticky off.  Some places are just going to stay sticky for a while.  Can’t get up in there.  But it still feels good.  I throw on a tanktop, sweats, and my Colonial Navy sweater.  They gave us exercise clothes too.  Thought of everything.  Lace up my shoes, then head out.  It’s still cool.  The weather cycle is still in the morning.  I see my breath in the recycled air.  Still dark, too.  The night-time filter is still active.
I take off.  Moving at a gentle pace, the rhythm of running helps to calm my nerves.  It feels so good.  As I move down the dimly-lit pavement, I think about what Jack said.  He’s right.  Wars are unpredictable.  Anything can go wrong.  Everyone keeps telling me what a kick-ass pilot I am.  They might be right.  But I can’t go allowing myself to think that way.  The moment that I allow myself to start thinking that way is the moment I die.  I’ve watched far too many pilots get swept up by their own ego.  They stopped being cautious and careful.  And they paid the price for their arrogance.
Each step, I can’t help but notice that I am heading toward a destination – the port.  Why?  It then hits me – there is someone else that I need to say goodbye to.  A girl that I am not going to be seeing for a very long time.  Depending on how this plays out, maybe ever again.

She’s right where I left her.  The marks from where I was dodging impacts are still there.  Time was, I would already be here, around the time that I will be heading out, working on getting her back up to shape.  I’ve had some dangerous run-ins with meteors and other space weather.  Since the only person who touches my bird, outside of the crew who does replacements of hull plating, is myself, I took repairs very seriously.  Would test the girl after I was done, just to make sure everything was running smoothly.  Part of me couldn’t wait to be doing that to my new bird, whatever it would be.
My rig looked very sad, sitting there.  Like a wounded pet that you have to abandon.  That’s how I felt.  Like my dog got hurt and I had to leave it for a few years.  Yeah, kind of felt like a piece of shit.
“I’ll make sure she’s here waiting for you, when you get back.”
I turned and saw Red, standing there.
“I knew you’d come in to say goodbye to her.  I don’t care if we are back-logged to the point that ships have to wait outside, I won’t be moving her.  Hand to god.”
Walking over, I put my hand on his big, old, bushy beard.  “Thanks, Red.  But I don’t know when I’ll be back to see her.”
“Don’t matter to me.  If you never show up again, she’ll be right where you left her.  So long as I’m tending this dock, that’s how it will be.  And I’ll make sure that whoever replaces me knows it too.  The Queen Bee ain’t goin’ nowhere!  But I know you’ll be coming back.  Might be parking a fighter next to your girl, but you’ll be back.”  His big, gentle smile from beneath the gray hair.
I hug him tight.  “Take care of yourself, Red.”
“You too, Queen Bee.  Go kick ass out there!  Make those planetside bastards pay for the lives they’ve taken.”
Pulling back, I nod.  Time to get back home.  It will be a much longer jog back.

When I arrive, I see that the lights are on.  A familiar scent greets me as I get to the door.  What a man, I have.  A miner, and a cook.  When this is all over, he’s going to make one hell of a father.  That’s the plan.  After the war, no more modulation of the implant.  I want a baby with him.  First thing after I get back, we get married.  Then, we get pregnant.
Opening the door, he looks up at me.  “Welcome home, B.”

Until next time, a quote,

“Do your duty as you see it, and damn the consequences.” – George S. Patton

Peace out,

Maverick

A Hard Question

Another long day comes to an end.  I put Ellie to bed and now was settling in to watch some news before going to bed.  My days of being a journalism student in college still catch up to me.  The urge to keep informed about what is happening in the world.  Another Presidential election over.  The infotainment that is cable news has to find some new thing to milk into the ground with the fact-free reporting that they do.  The modern Fourth Estate is a joke.  I truly do believe in what it was supposed to represent, but now it is just a shadow of what the great journalists fought for.  When Edward R. Murrow took on Joseph McCarthy, when Walter Cronkite took on the government over the Vietnam War, when Ted Koppel took on the government over the Iran hostage crisis, they fought for what the news was supposed to mean.  But they were gone.  Sorry if I preached, but I still think about things like that, even now.
They said that becoming a dad would totally change me.  Sure, it changed my routine and how I look at the choices I make, but it didn’t magically turn me into a curmudgeon who is uber-conservative and believes that liberals are stupid.  I still believe the things that I believed then.  Only difference is that now I get to try and be the best dad that I can be while believing what I do.  I have taken a hard stance that I want to impart my values in a way where I give all sides their due.  I wasn’t going to teach my little girl what to think, but rather how to think, and let her come to her own conclusions.  Sure, it meant that for a while there, she believed that her deity was Santa Claus, but now she is at the top of her class and is the smartest child I have ever met.  Makes me wish she could see her.  I look at the pics on the wall, and my mind goes back.

I met her when I was in college.  The two of us immediately clicked.  Our weirdness meshed so well, and we were fast friends.  For a few years, life was good.  We would go out, have dinner, go to movies, see random things that happened in town that got both of our attention.  Was even dragged to a couple cultural festivals by the girl.  I was always a little apprehensive about going to things like that.  So different and random.  Really was my father’s son.  He hated new things, and would complain up to the point that he actually was there.  After that, once he was in the middle of whatever it was, he was enjoying himself.  Made for vacations where my mother would have to put up with him complaining all the way there, but I could tell that she knew that it would be worth it once he was there, just as excited as the rest of us.
One night, at a Japanese culture festival, the two of us were sitting and eating some noodles.  It was fantastic.  There was music playing and I didn’t want to be anywhere else.  That’s when I look over, wanting to say something to her, but she is already looking at me.  A look in her eyes, telling me that she had been looking at me for a while.  We just look into one-another’s eyes, and I don’t need to say anything else.  Her hand goes to my cheek, and I move in closer.  Each movement brings new rounds of butterflies inside that are driving me crazy, but I don’t stop.  Then our faces are so close.  When did this person who was nothing but a friend to me become something more?  I didn’t know, and I didn’t care.  Everything about this moment felt right.  Our lips met, in a soft embrace that I never wanted to end.  It was the first night that I felt like I was living since high school, where my last relationship ended.
It’s five years later.  We’re at the church that she grew up in.  I’m not a religious person, but she is.  I can put aside how I feel about it all, because this makes her and her family happy.  I’m saying “I do,” and tears are going down her face.  We embrace again, and everything is wonderful.
Two more years later, and we are pregnant.  She is so excited.  I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t scared out of my wits.  We both have good jobs.  Money isn’t something to be afraid of.  We made sure that we were ready before taking this step.  But even with all of that, I’m still scared to death.  What does it mean to be a dad?  Both of my parents have advice for me.  Hell, everyone has advice for me.  The entire fucking world is suddenly an expert on having children.  Not helping.  Not one bit.
We are sitting in a room, listening to a doctor.  She is telling us that my wife has cancer.  Due to the pregnancy, it is making her immune system weakened.  It just happened to come in at the right time.  My wife is scared for the baby, but the doctor said that it hasn’t gone to her reproductive system.  Facing her own mortality, the first thing she thinks about is the baby.  Admirable.  I wonder why.  I just want to save her.  The options we have are limited.  We can’t do chemo with the baby in there.  We’d kill it.  By the time the baby is done, it might be too late for more radical treatments.  It’s already in the second stage.  My wife is crying.  I think I am too.  Hard to tell.  My whole body feels numb.
It’s just after dawn when she goes into labor.  I get her to the car and drive like a bat out of hell to the hospital.  It’s not close.  She looks terrible.  The treatments for cancer that are safe, along with the progression are making her so sick.  So scared that delivering the baby will be dangerous.  Told her to do a c-section.  It’s safe, easy, and then it’s over.  She says no.  Wants to deliver this thing the normal way.  Stubborn woman.  Stupidly stubborn.  What’s the point of doing things that way if it’s an unnecessary risk?!
Being right never feels like a victory, for me.  I am watching as my baby is being wheeled away, while they get the crash cart.  Over and over, they attempt to restart her heart.  It doesn’t work.  Holding my newborn daughter in my arms, I watch my wife die.  What should be the most wonderful night of my life is when my heart is breaking.  I have so much that I have to do, only difference is that now I have to do it all on my own.  Never have I felt more alone.

My eyes open, as I see a light at the top of the stairs.  Down the stairs she comes.  Sitting up, I see that the TV had turned itself off due to inactivity.
“Dad, you up?” a voice calls.
“Yeah, in the living room.”
In her flannel pjs, I see the girl coming over.
“What’s wrong, sweetie?”
The look on her face, it’s concern, but awkward.  “I heard a noise, from down here.  I think you were talking in your sleep.  Heard you calling out to mom.”
A feeling of shame.  “Oh.  Sorry if I woke you.”
She sits down in a chair across from me on the couch.
“It’s okay.”  There is something more there.  “Can I, ask you something?”
Parent moment – she’s just shy of middle school.  The talk is coming.  Anytime I hear that question, I know that the big one is coming.
“Sure, kiddo.”
Looks down at the floor, then back up at me.  “Do you blame me, for happened to mom?”
It hurts.  I am physically hurting because of that question.  Not because it offends me or something, but because I have to wonder how long she has been carrying that question around in her head.  The girl was always eager to please, her whole life.  Anytime that I wasn’t at work, she would be where I am, doing whatever I do.  To this day, she still is like that.  Part of me thought that it was just a kid bonding with their parent, but maybe it was her trying to atone for what she feels like is her fault.  Maybe this is a talk I should have had with her a long time ago.
“Never!  What happened to your mother was not your fault.  Cancer can happen to anyone, at anytime.  Lady Luck just didn’t shine on her, is all.  It happens to all of us.”  Was that the right way to say it?
Tears started flowing down her face.  “I hear you, but you kept calling out to her, over and over.  You said, ‘don’t leave me.’  How can I not think that you don’t at least blame me a little for what happened to her?”
I motioned for her to sit down next to me.  “Now, don’t you go thinking that way!”  She got over and I put my arm around her.  “You coming into my life was the greatest day of my life.  Your mom was willing to risk getting sicker just so she wouldn’t have to put you in danger.  She told me that if the worst should happen, to promise that I would take care of you.  And I did.  With all my heart, I said that I would be the best dad that I could possibly be.  Not a day has gone by that I regret it.  Not one.  It was the hardest few months of my life, adjusting to taking care of you without her with me.  I needed a lot of help from grandma and grandpa.  But you are the greatest thing to ever come into my life.”  A gripping at my heart.  “And with you here, in a way, it’s like she never left us.  She’s with us both, right now, because you survived and are still here.  Never have I blamed you for what happened to her.  Not one time.  I miss her every day, but it’s not your fault.  Okay?”
All she could do is cry and burrow into me.  I held her close for a long time.  Then, I picked her up and carried her like a big cat upstairs.  Thank Groj I am such a big guy and have worked to take care of my body.  Hefted the big kid like she was nothing.  Laid her down on the bed and pulled the covers over her.
“Good night, baby-girl.”
“I love you, daddy.”
“I love you too.”
I don’t think there is a harder question in the world I could have been asked.  Suddenly, that other talk seems a hell of a lot easier.

Until next time, a quote,

“Grief is like an ocean; it comes in waves, ebbing and flowing.  Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming.  All we can do is learn to swim.” – Vicki Harrison

Peace out,

Maverick

A Fairytale

Once upon a time, there was a prince of a faraway land.

The prince was a happy boy, who brought happiness into the lives of everyone he touched.  The subjects loved him, and so did the royal family.  Everyone did.  The young prince believed that the happy years would go on forever.

But then there was an accident, and the young prince was asleep for a long time.  The dreams he had there were nice, and he didn’t want to leave.  But he was brought back into the waking world, and all that greeted him was pain.  The Prince wasn’t well.  His body wasn’t made right, and so he hurt.

For many years, the prince dealt with the pain, all while trying not to let the royal family or his subjects see how hard it was.  It worked, for a while.  However, as the years went on, the prince found a darkness inside of him.  A dark passenger that he carries with him, to this day.

Once the pain in his body was gone, the prince tried to resume life as he had before the accident.  But life had changed.  Everyone in the prince’s life had become a different person.  They weren’t waiting for the prince anymore.  They had gone their own way.  The prince was sad.  He tried to bond with them again, but it didn’t work.

The prince left the kingdom, to go to a faraway school, which would prepare him to rule his kingdom, now that he was an adult.  The prince decided he was going to meet new people here, and make lots of new friends.  And so he did.  More years went by, and life was good again.

But, one by one, the new friends left.  Some hurt the prince in a way he couldn’t describe.  It was making the prince’s dark passenger very powerful inside.  The dark presence whispered things to him, about how everyone will hate him and how nobody really cares.  The prince started to believe in it, after a while.

So the prince tried to hold on to the friends he had, but it just made things worse.  He was so in need, and they couldn’t help him.  After a while, the prince was alone in this faraway land, as lost as when he arrived.  But all that is left for him in his kingdom is the royal family.  He loves them with all his heart, but it isn’t enough for the his lost and wayward heart.

Now, the prince has hatched a plan.  A plan to head away from this kingdom to one even farther away.  But deep down, the prince doesn’t actually believe it will work.  He just tells himself that it will, to try and fight his dark passenger.  The prince hates the dark passenger, and wishes he would go away.  But he never does.

There’s no happy ending to the prince’s story.  It still continues.  Perhaps one day, the prince will find a kingdom where he doesn’t have to hurt anymore.  It’s a little dream.

Until next time, a quote,

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” – G.K. Chesterton

Peace out,

Maverick

The Pizza Girl

The thing that I truly love about where I live is the fact that there is a pizza joint that makes absolutely incredible pizza just down the road from where I live.  Doing the work that I do, I come home at the end of the day and am almost-always famished.  With the paycheck I get at the end of the day, I can afford to get a pizza whenever I want.  But I am very selective about when I do this.  Partly for health reasons.  I love the stuff, but too much will turn me into a fatty and my arteries into sad faces.  I have to stay healthy for my job.  Not that I have to try hard.  It’s active work, and I come home each day exhausted.
But the other reason that I am selective about when I get pizza is because I like to get it when there is a certain girl at the place.  She’s the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.  Her amber-blonde hair is all-natural.  It’s gorgeous.  It is tied behind her in a ponytail, but it is so long.  I’ve always wanted to see what it looks like when it’s down.  Flowing over her shoulders in rivulets.  A man can dream.  Her eyes are emerald green.  Such a rare combination!  She’s got a little extra pounds on her, but that doesn’t bother me at all.  It’s a sign that she’s not some girl that will only be eating salad if I take her out to dinner.  She likes to live a little.  Not to the point of insane excess, like so many American women, but just enough to have fun.  Shameful moment, I also notice her very large breasts underneath the company shirt.  Screw that.  No shame.  She’s gorgeous, and I won’t let the people who will say that I’m objectifying her ruin my affection.  The girl has some imperfections, though.  A quirky little nose, and a mouth that has some scar tissue on it, apparently from corrective surgery.  I find this even more appealing.  Those little flaws that give a person some character.

So I order pizza on the nights when I know that she’ll be there.  I never ask for delivery.  Why bother?  It’s literally down the road.  I’m exhausted at the end of the day, not but not that bad.  I can walk thirty feet from my apartment to get a bite.  That’s when I see her.  This place is never super-busy.  All the better for me.  It means that she’s free to talk.  Sometimes I’ll go and eat in, just for the opportunity.  The two of us bonded the moment we met.  She was delivering water and nearly dropped the glass on me.  Quick reflexes are the name of the game with me, so I catch it with barely any of the contents falling.  Much apologizing.  Apparently, this girl has had some problems with being something of a klutz.  Enough where she asks me not to tell her boss about this.  I agree, but only if she tells me her name.  And that’s how the story began.
Over the last few months, I would sometimes eat in, but only on the nights when I know that they are going to be pretty much dead.  I know every time of day in this place.  It’s a talent I got from what I do.  You learn to know everything about the places that are important.  She would sit at my table for a while, and we would talk.  She told me about how she was from a family that is wealthy, but they had problems with her. It seems that she had a history of not being the best kid.  Some drug use, and some problems with bi-polar that didn’t help her addictions.  Eventually, they got her a place and told her that they didn’t want her around.  It was pretty bad, for a while.  But she got into rehab, and has been clean for almost a year.  She’s working, while taking community college classes at night.  A roomie came to live with her, who doubles as her sponsor.  Now she’s doing her best to stay employed and not have to depend on her parents as much.  The tips here are shit, but being employed keeps her from thinking about things, and away from a life of addiction.  Apparently, the owner is an alright guy.
Told her about my day job, as an EMT.  The night job would take WAY too much explaining.  Not remotely close to ready for that.  Told her that I live just down the way.  But one night, I decided to be brave.  I asked if she wanted to maybe go out and grab a bite or something sometime.  Girl got all bashful.  Guess she doesn’t get asked out much.  As luck would have it, there was a big culture festival celebrating the Pacific Islanders in my state.  We have a huge population.  A chance to eat food that may or may not be good.  It was all coming together so nicely.  She gave me her address, and told me when she’d be free from work the night of the festival.  I was on my way to an awesome day.

The night came, and I decided not to get too dressed up.  I wanted this to feel a little casual.  Like it’s just two people getting to know one-another, without any expectations.  I hate formal dates.  There’s so damn much pressure.  It’s difficult.  I lead two lives, and both of them have enough pressure.  I don’t need more.  Some black slacks, gray shirt, and a loose-fitting black button-up shirt over that.  Look fly, but not so fly that it puts pressure.  Gotta play this right.
I get to her place, and it’s a typical two-level salt box.  Wealthy family indeed.  It”s a nice neighborhood, too.  The girl’s standing on the curb.  She’s wearing this cute little blue dress, perfect for summer.  Her hair is down, and it was everything I imagined it would be.  So flawless.  Her hands are on her little ditty bag.  I couldn’t have asked for something cuter than this.  Pulling up, she hops in quickly.  Guess I don’t have to be a gentleman.  Works for me.  It’s a new age.
The two of us talk about various things on the way there.  We’ve grown comfortable enough around one-another that we can get into serious stuff and it isn’t awkward.  She tells me about how she’s been prescribed new meds for her bi-polar disorder and it’s doing well.  She’s having less panic attacks and the cravings she’s been dealing with aren’t as severe.  The girl is positive and things are looking up.  So I caught her on a very good night!  Life is good.
Parking is tight downtown, but I find a spot.  We have a bit of a walk, and she actually takes a hold of my arm.  Old fashioned, maybe?  Sure, but that doesn’t bother me in the slightest.  The closer we get, the more smells we are greeted with.  All kinds of spices and meats and other cooking things.  It all smells so good.  I can hear her stomach rumbling.  Is mine?  Perhaps.  Tons of people in various cultural costumes.  How many of them get told they are “appropriating their culture?”  None, because people are here to have fun and nobody gives a shit about trivial crap like that.  We grab some skewers and make our way inside.
This place has everything one can imagine.  All kinds of beautiful artwork from various Islanders.  There are these amazing wood carvings done by a very jovial Samoan who has no problem packing on the calories, but clearly loves life.  Dude has arms that look like he could break me in two.  He talks about how long the carving process takes, and then there’s the sanding and painting.  Skilled artisans.  Speaking of, there’s a rather quirky Taiwanese lady that I actually knew doing spray painting art in real time and selling her pieces on the spot.  She has glasses so huge that you think her eyes are like a bugs.  Lady must be blind as a mole without them.  With incredibly broken English, she talks to herself about what should go where.  Like Bob Ross from Asia.
We also get to see several jewelry pieces.  My date marvels at some.  I play coy for a few, but end up buying her one that I could tell she was stuck on..  You can’t be a doormat to people, but you reward people’s dedication when they least expect it.  Best relationships should always be able to surprise you.  At least, that’s how I’ve seen things.
In the center of it all is a band that immigrated from Korea playing.  They are using classic instruments from several cultures.  Creates a very pleasant sound.  The two of us sit down and eat noodle bowls while listening.  I look over and there is a little smile on her face that doesn’t quit.  My normally passe expression also brightens up considerably.  The food is delicious.  So glad I didn’t get the curry.  From what I hear, that stuff was spicy in a way that people’s mouths were on fire.  You take a risk with Eastern food, but it’s worth it.  Especially with the right company.
Then the girl says asks me to dance.  It’s something slower.  People who are brave enough are holding each other there.  Do I dare?  The work I do at night demands that I stay in the shadows.  Am I brave enough to step into the light?  Seeing my hesitation, she assures me that it’s okay.  The calm determination on her face.  How can I refuse?  Going out on the floor, I pull her close.  Believe it or not, but I do know what I’m doing.  It’s not hard.  Fast stuff is hard.  Slow is just about closeness.  Feeling the heat from her body, and how she is in my arms, time seems to slow down.  I’ve aimed down my sights and had time do this, but never for something good.  Part of me wishes the song had never ended.  When it did, I almost found it hard to part.  The look on her face, it was unmistakable.  I had made the right choice..
Hours pass, and it doesn’t feel like any time at all had gone by.  I look at my watch and see that it’s an hour past midnight, but then she says that she doesn’t want the night to end.  She’s looking right at me when she says this.  Her gaze tells me that she’s serious.  Where will things go next?  I ask if she wants to come back to my place for a drink.  Says yes.  My smile is unmistakable.  She takes my hand and says that we should get going.  Like I’m going to argue.

The two of us are sitting on my couch.  I whipped up a quick drink – Turlock Bulldog.  It’s tasty as all get-out.  She tells me that she had fun, and was glad that she took my invitation.  It seems that she had been having trouble for the last few years finding dates.  She had kept wanting me to ask, but I never did. For a while there, she thought I never would, and it would be a friendzone situation.  But such was not to be.  When we finished our drinks, came the hard question – what do you want to do now?
Looking her right in the eye, I search for a hint that she wants to stop.  I move in closer, and her breathing speeds up.  Setting my glass down, she does as well.  We’re so close now.  The sound of her fast breathing is right in my ear as I put my hand her cheek.  Eyes close, moves into my touch.  Her arms move around my neck.  I know that we’ve passed the point of no return.  Works for me.  Our lips meet.  Such a good kisser.  This girl has experience, and she seems to know what she wants.  Her tongue meets mine, and I pull back.  Standing up, I take her hand and pull her up with me.  Thus began my incredible night with my pizza girl.  If only that night could have never ended.

Until next time, a quote,

“Never love anybody who treats you like you’re ordinary.” – Oscar Wilde

Peace out,

Maverick

Old War Stories: They Just Fade Away…

When I was coming back home, I knew the person that would be hardest to see.  I had seen her family’s home in the town when the train arrived.  How does one revisit the past when they know that it’s going to hurt?  For the last two days, I had been wrestling with it.  Still settling in to being back home.  The hardest thing has been the bed.  Every time I wake up, I feel like this isn’t real.  Like I’m going to wake up again and it’s back in the field.  I’m with my regiment on the march, or with my squad on recon, with my head resting on the most comfortable patch of moss I could find.  Or rock, if we were out in the Badlands.  This is so strange.
Helping the old man with chores was kind of nice too.  Turns out, the old timer had invested in some motor vehicles to help out around the farm.  He’s simply too old, and he wants to make things easier for the big sis when he leaves the farm to her.  Everyone knows that’s what’s going to happen.  That girl is born to be a farming girl.  Will have to find herself a man who likes to work in the kitchen, because she’s going to be out leading the cows out to pasture when she’s just about to have her kids.  Goddess help that poor bastard.  There’s been a guy who fits the bill that she has been making nice with.  The two are getting close.  Little sis says that the only reason they aren’t officially dating is because they don’t know who is supposed to ask who out.  I might do something about that, one of these days.  Give the boy a kick in the pants.  Unlike my younger sister, Big Sis can take care of herself.
I got some questions from the old man when we were out working and I took off my shirt.  He saw some of my tats, from the battalion I served with.  There were also the tats from the places I visited.  One for each city.  It was a good reminder of where I’d been.  Lily came over to borrow something from the old man.  At least, that’s what she said.  Her and I ended up talking for about an hour.  The old guy just smiled, because he knew that she was there to see me.  When she saw how built I had become, I could see her blushing.  So cute.
But then the day came, for me to bite the bullet and go see her.  To see my regiment’s commander.  The youngest ever to serve.  Girl was on her way to becoming Battalion Commander.  She had told me once that when she got that position, I would be coming with her.  Said she needed someone that she could trust, to give her counsel.  But I knew the real reason – so I wasn’t busy fighting in the front lines anymore.  I was a Squad Leader, but I didn’t lead from the back.  There was a reason I was given a sword – so I could put down the enemy.  This idea that I could lead troops into battle from the back was so ridiculous.  However, she did just that.  Anyone who called her a coward for it was getting the beating of their life.  Today was the day that I would see her, and maybe get some closure.  So many memories.

My blade struck right into the neck of the warhound that was charging at me.  Took the mutt’s head clean off.  It’s armor wasn’t gong to do much to stop my blade.  It was chaos.  The shells were impacting everywhere.  On the lines were the riflemen.  Our trenches were good, and we had strong interior lines.  Patrolling the perimeter were the machina.  They were supposed to keep hounds like this off our flank.  We had such a good position.  Behind us was a large ridge that had the command tent.  Lining that were our artillery cannons.  It was a perfect defensive position.  The enemy had to come through a valley to reach us, and our cannon and rifles saw them every step of the way.  Once they got to the lines, it was a hailstorm of bullets and channeling attacks.  Our channelers were being used as artillery, save for those who were back at the ridge, which also doubled as a field hospital.  We didn’t have to worry about the enemy coming in from the north, because that was a cliff, and beyond that was the sea.  To the south was mountains that were rocky, tall, and impossible to traverse in large numbers.  This valley was the only way in or out of the Vale Woods.  By far, this was the best ground a person could ask for to fight.
We had been holding out like this for weeks.  The enemy had been pounding us.  Despite how good this ground was, the simple reality was that our supplies were running low, and reinforcements had yet to arrive.  We were running out of everything.  Bullets, shells, channeling stones, machina, and even swords.  Hell, even our armor was starting to get worn beyond repair.  There was no way we could last much longer.  But where would we fall back to?  The only way we could go is back.  The valley chokes the enemy in, but it also keeps us rather trapped.  The Vale Wood was the only direction, and that was risk.  The Nether runs deep in that place.  We already have enough Mist to deal with due to the near-endless fighting that had happened for the last three days.  If we went too deep into those woods, it would react with the Nether, and that is dangerous.  There are beasts that only show up in your nightmares who can be summoned with the Nether and Mist mix too heavily.  It’s like a drug.
A shell slams into one of the lines.  A hole that had existed for almost an hour was now widening.  The enemy would have a way through.
“Plug that fucking hole!” I shouted.  Why hadn’t reinforcements arrived?  Some riflemen and channelers came in and did something that I hated to see – using the bodies of the dead to plug the gap in the trenches.  We were forced to use the bodies of dead men and women that we cared for as a method of defense.  This meant that impacts in those bodies sent streaks of blood onto the men and women fighting.  If I ever got my hands on the person in command who had fucked up with our reinforcements, I was going to break their necks.
Just then, a runner came bounding over the line and into the trench.
“Sir, your presence is requested at the Command Center!”
I look at the girl like she’s stupid.  “Are you fucking kidding me?!  Have you seen this mess?!  I can’t afford to leave now!”
Shaking her head, “I have my orders directly from Regiment Commander Arietta, sir!  You must come right away!”  She ducked down as a channeling blast impacted not far away.
Slamming my fist into the wall, I look over at my squad.  I motion for a slim man with glasses to come over.  You wouldn’t think much of him, but there’s no one with better aim.
“I gotta go to the Command Center!  Jibes, you’re in charge until I get back!  Have your men be more selective about their targets.  Keep your heads down, and watch our right flank!  There are too many hounds coming in.”
“Damn machina!  Undependable machines can’t do anything right!”
“I hear ya.  Hold the lines.  Have our channelers save their strength.  Have as many riflemen as you can spare get some rations and water.  Alternate firing lines, so we can give people a chance to rest.”
“Yes sir!”
“Good hunting.”  Turning to the runner.  “Alright, let’s get up there.”

Strolling through town was nice.  Got a few looks from people who hadn’t known that I’m back yet.  Others who saw the cap I wore and the insignia on it.  My old regiment and battalions’ insignias were on it.  Along with my body, of course.  This was such a peaceful place.  Horses and carts still exist here, and a few motor vehicles.  It’s just farmers out here, and they aren’t the wealthiest lot.  Motor vehicles that they get are the big kind, so they can haul crops.  No point having something to joy-ride in.  That’s a city luxury.  Memories of the days when Lily’s dad would drive us into town and I would be sitting with my legs hanging off the back.  Good times.
But the good feeling fizzles out when I see it.  Stepping through the adorable little fence around the place, I head up the cobblestone steps.  This is a really nice house.  Arya’s family is among the few truly wealthy in this town.  Strange that she became a soldier.  Girl didn’t have to.  Her family is patriotic, though.  An admirable quality.  One that was proved by her, in more ways than one.  And what does she get for it?  As I knock on the door, I can already tell what it will be. But I have to do this.
It opens and there is her mother.  Her face brightens up immediately.  “Luger!  I had heard that you are back home.  I’m sure that Arya would love to see you.  Come on in!”
“Thank you.”  I step inside and see the flag that was given to Arya when she was discharged framed, hanging on the wall.  Beneath it is her blade.  Would she really be happy too see me?  Thinking back to our last encounter, I’m not so sure.

This was one of the nicest hospitals I’ve ever seen.  You forget how a proper medical healing center is supposed to be, serving out on the front.  The white stone and the gentle white paint color.  I’m carrying a bottle of gara rum.  It’s in a bag, of course.  Don’t want them to see it.  But I figured that this is a good gift for a commanding officer.  Given Arya’s injuries, a strong drink might just be what the doctor ordered.
I reach the desk and see a pleasant-looking young man at it.
“Hi there.  I’m looking for Regiment Commander Arietta Purdue.  Is she here?”
The guy looks at some paperwork.  “Ah, yes.  Battalion Commander Arietta is in room 225.”
Battalion Commander?  When did she get a promotion?
“I see.  Thank you.”
Walking up the stairs, my stomach is turning.  I had heard so many things about the nature of her injuries.  Now I would have to see it for myself.  I get up the stairs and I see her room’s number just down the hall.  A deep breath.  I walk in.
The first thing I notice is the flowers.  They are sitting in a vase in the table by her bed.  The colors call out to me in this drab room.
“Ugly, aren’t they?” a voice asks.  I look over, and there she is.  Nothing like I remember.  Her obsidian-colored hair is as short as ever, but you’d hardly notice over the bandages.  Half of her face is covered in them.  I look down, and see my worst fears confirmed.  One of the healing channelers had told me that she was going to be losing an arm and a leg.  Both on the same side.  I see her now, and her right arm is missing.  Looking down, I see her right leg is gone as well.
“I ask them to take the damn things out, but the fucking nurse doesn’t listen to me.  No one does.  Guess that’s what my new rank is worth.”
Closing the door, I walk inside.  The window is open, and a soft breeze is coming in.  The sounds of the people outside, it’s such a far-cry from where the two of us were not five days ago.  The screaming and death.  The shells.  How did we get here?
“I brought you something,” I say quietly.
Her one eye looks at me.  From the bag, I unwrap the rum.  Even though she doesn’t want to, I can see her smile growing.
“How’d you know that this is what I’d want?”
“I always could read you like a book, Ari.”
Sitting down in a chair beside the bed, I crack open the bottle with my knife.
“Got any cups?”
She looks right at me.  “Really?  Like we need them.  We’ve shared canteens and even silverware out in the field.  Let’s get to chugging!”
A snort.  “Careful, babe.  Don’t want to drink yourself to death.”
“I honestly don’t care,” she whispers.  The cold look is back.  Best not to push it.
“Okay.”  I take a swig, and then am about to pass the bottle to her.  Then I realize that I’m sitting on the side with the missing arm.
“Oh shit.  Sorry, Ari.”
Once on the right side, I pass the bottle to her.  She takes it and starts to gulp it down.  After a couple seconds, I grab the bottle and tilt it back down.
“Goddess!  Slow it down, babe!”  Deciding not to bring up the potential death part.  “Leave some for me!  This shit was expensive!”
There’s this brief moment of a smile.  “Whatever.  I’m the one on the hospital.  Patient’s privilege.”
In an instant, I realize what I have to do.  I can’t go easy on her.  I can’t be overly nice.  What she needs is to feel like her life isn’t changed forever.
“Yeah, well, I can do this.”  I grab the bottle and pull it from her grip.  Take another drink.  This stuff is so smooth!
“Asshole!”
“You know it, sugar tits!”
“If I had both my arms, I’d beat your ass for that!”
A quick wink, and that’s when I realize how far the game had gone.  Tears start running down her face.
“If I had both my arms…I’d…I’d…”  Then the sobbing started.  She puts her head in her hand.
“I’m a freak, Lu!  I’m a fucking freak!”
Quietly, I get up and sit on the edge of her bed.  She shuffles over, and I lie down beside her.  My arm goes around her.  The healers have repaired all the surface damage when they did the surgery.  I sit there, just holding the girl as she cries.  Words should come to me, but they don’t.  There’s just the noise from outside, and her crying.  This was a woman who had never once shed tears.  Growing up, I’ve seen her get some really ugly scrapes, and she was just fine.  Now she’s crying in my arms.

“We had to move her room downstairs.  She couldn’t go up and down the stairs without help.  We remodeled the old powder room.”  Her voice trailed off.  Didn’t want to talk about it.  Understandable.  We come to the door, and it’s shut.
Her mother knocks.  “Arya?  You awake?”
“Yeah, mom.  What do you want?”  The gruffness of the voice.  That doesn’t bode well.
“Someone’s here to see you, sweetie.”
I could hear her whispering, “probably another person from the Temple.  Great.”
“The door’s open.”
I looked over.  “I got it from here.  Thanks.”
“No problem.  I know that she’ll be happy to see you.”  With that, she shuffled away.  Poor lady.  I just knew that Ari had been not the best company since she got back home.
Opening the door, I stepped inside.  It was so dark in here.  The only light was from an open window.  In front of it sat a luxurious chair that looked so pleasant to sit in.  On the far wall was the bed, unkempt.  In the chair, I saw very familiar black hair.  I could tell that it was infinitely longer than when I had last seen her.  Bet that drove her nuts.
“So, which person from the Temple are you?”  She didn’t even turn to look.
“The kind who brings booze.”
In a flash, she looked up.
“Lu!”  The girl tried to stand.  Prosthetic leg?  Not bad.  The arm was gone at the shoulder.  Nothing to be done about that.  Still, at least the girl wasn’t totally ruined.  Her attempts to stand ended in her collapsing into the chair.
“Dammit!  Fucking leg!”
I hurry over, putting my hand on her shoulder, sitting in a chair opposite her.  “It’s alright, Ari.  I don’t actually have booze today.  Sorry.”
Settling back into the chair, she smiles up at me.  The patch on her right eye makes her look very distinguished.  It’s bigger than a normal one, so it can cover the rather noticeable scar on her face from the explosion.  It really is a miracle she survived.
“Screw you!  They won’t get me booze anymore.  I’d walk to the store, but this damn leg never works right.  Every time I get to walking with it for more than a few feet, it kinks on me and then I either fall over or have to be helped to a chair.  It sucks!  Stuck in this damn house all the time.”
Looking down at the leg, I think I see the problem.  “Give me your leg.”
She cocks an eyebrow.  “Why…?”
“I think I see the problem.  The axis where the leg moves isn’t lined up properly.  I can see where it’s grating against the edge.  It can be straightened, with a little elbow grease.  So yeah, give me your leg.”
Grabbing the base, she props it up on my knee.  Feels so weird, messing with a girl’s leg like this.  I grab on to the top half, then the bottom, right at the joining axis.  I pull as hard as I can, until I hear a click.  Looking at it, it’s lined up.
“Alright.  Try it now.”
She makes like she will try, but then looks over at me, holding up her arm.  Nothing more needs to be said.  Taking her hand, I help her up.  The girl trembles a little, trying to find her balance.  I pull her against me, so as to be a crutch to lean on.  We take a few steps, until she finds her footing and realizes that it is alright.  Her lean on me gets less and less tight as she gets more sure of her footing, until she then moves away entirely.  The girl is walking on her own!  Something that I could tell had been there very little was her smile.  It came back very soon.  Just then, she stumbled a bit.
“Well, I got my ability to walk a little back.  That’s something.”  Sitting back down in her chair, the girl motions for me to sit as well.  “Why did it come undone?”
“One of the screws is probably loose.  If you got some tools, I can take a look at it.”
“Thank you.”
“Anytime, boss.”
Shaking her head.  “No need to call me that.”
With complete seriousness.  “No matter what happened, you’re still my Commander, Ari.  Always will be.”
“Then get me some booze!  Something strong.  That’s an order.”
I give her a halfhearted salute.  “Yes ma’am!”

“So, the war’s over,” she groaned, taking another shot.  “Who won?”
“We did.  Remember the battle that mangled you?  Well, turns out that we had been holding off a major front by the enemy.  They were supposed to link up with the forces coming in from the southeast.  Never got there.  The 4th Battalion crushed their front, because their artillery couldn’t get to them.  Our navy never showed because they were busy engaging the fleet that was also moving to attack.  It was sheer luck that our Battalion ended up holding off a major enemy front.  And good that we retreated when we did.  The enemy battalion that we were fighting was just one of three.  The other two were being held up by the battle, but were moving reinforcements in to crush us and push forward.  If we hadn’t have retreated when we did, it would have been a slow attrition until we had nothing left, and then we would have been destroyed.”
“Well, at least I lost my eye and my limbs for something.  What happened to you after the battle?”
“Our Battalion was virtually destroyed by the end of our slog back through the Vale Woods.  There was some ugly fighting in the Nether.  Monsters you wouldn’t believe.  When we finally got back to friendly lines, less than an eighth of our forces had survived.  Those of us who were still able to fight were folded in to the Fifth Battalion and then were part of the final push into the Republic’s territory.  I was given command of the 16th Regiment, but it was all for nothing.  We never saw any action during the final battle.  They had us guarding the supply lines.  Guess someone at command figured that we’d seen enough.  Little mercies, right?”
She nodded, taking another shot.
“I found out about two weeks later, when our Regiment was just sitting around, guarding trains that were going nowhere.  The war was over.  The Republic sued for peace, and the Empire accepted their surrender.  Yay us.”
A groan.  “I hear that.  I didn’t bother following the news.  Heard some stuff about it being over, and that we had won, but I didn’t care enough to look into it.  What did I care?  The war took away my entire life.  Fuck it.”
“You still got your life, Ari.  And now you can walk again.  That’s something.”
She gives me a look that tells me that that was the wrong thing to say.
“I can’t walk without help.  Even if my leg works right again, I can’t go places by myself.  If something goes wrong, someone has to be there to help.  I can hardly see where I’m going thanks to having no depth perception.  Whenever I do walk, my leg hurts.  Oh, and eating is a giant pain in the ass because I can barely see my food and you have no idea how hard it is to eat with one hand.  I’ll never be able to live my own life, Lu.  I’ll be depending on people forever.  Once my parents are gone, who will it be?  Who will look after me?  What will I do?  No brothers or sisters to fall back on.  What will I do?”
Staring at the floor, I feel ashamed.  Then I look up.  “I’ll be here.  If it comes to that, I’ll look after you.”
Can’t meet my eyes.  “Yeah, and what are you going to tell Lily?  I bet she’s all over you now that you’re back home.  What will she think when you tell her that you are taking in another woman to look after?  I bet that will go down great.”
“I’ll tell her that the woman who saved my ass in the war, and my Commander, needs my help.  So that’s what I’m going to do.  If she doesn’t like it, that’s on her.  Not me.”
She tries to look strong.  Tremor in her hand.  “Thanks, Lulu.”  Looking over at her bed.  “Can you help me back to my bed.  I’m kinda sleepy now.”
“Of course.”
I lay her down, and then cover her up.  I’m headed out the door, when I hear something.
“I got a promotion.”
Turning to face her, I nod.  “I know.  Congratulations, Battalion Commander.”
“Dismissed, Regiment Commander.”
I snap to attention, and salute.  “Sleep well, ma’am.”  The greatest woman I have ever known, still a soldier.  Even now, with her all mangled, I know that I’m her lesser.  That’s fine.  It was paid for in blood.

Until next time, a quote,

“Old soldiers never die.  They just fade away.”  – Gen. Douglas MacArthur

Peace out,

Maverick

Old War Stories: Coming Home

They never tell you what it’s like, when you leave the battlefield and return to civilian life.  I’ve had so many comrades going home, and I honestly wonder if they are doing well.  They said that they would be sending letters to me, so I suppose I’ll be able to see for myself if what they said is true.  However, as I got off the train and headed down that dusty pavement path, I couldn’t help but wonder if they had the same feeling as I did.  My hand sat on the hilt of my blade.  It looked so regal on me now, but that wasn’t its purpose.  That wasn’t the purpose it had served for me, during my days as a soldier.  This weapon has blood on it.  So much blood.  It’s stained my hands, my dreams, my memories.  Everything is stained, now.
The first thing I notice is the wind.  There is never, and I do mean never, not a breeze running through this place.  In the summer, it is warm winds from the south, bringing rain and sunshine to the crops that grow.  During the winter, it is bitter and terrible winds from the east and the north, biting cold and making you appreciate your hot garva that much more.  It feels so good.  The trees lining the road shake and I feel that hot air on me.  It’s such a good feeling.  Summer is coming to an end.  The harvest will be happening soon.  That means the Harvest Festival.  Not a bad time to come home.  Sheer chance, though.  I was bound by my oath until the war ended.
A motor vehicle passes by.  The driver is some rowdy kid, clearly having just been given this new toy.  Its not uncommon to see vehicles, even out here.  We’re about 20 years behind the times of every place you’ll ever go.  I pull the duffle across my back in tighter.  It was slipping.  Hearing my feet on the pavement, the wind on my face, my thoughts drift back to old memories.  I come out past the trees, and see the wheat fields of several families.  This brought something back.

“Give it back!” she shouted.
I kept running.  The girl was gaining on me, but I wasn’t about to let her have her way.
“Gotta ask real nice, Lily!”
“I’ll ask when I hit you really hard!”  Her pace is quickening.  It’s only a matter of time until she gets me.  Dressed in her overalls, and her blue shirt, the indignant look on her face is adorable.  I’m running through the fields.  Were I far enough ahead of her, I’d lose her in it.  It’s high enough now to hide.  But I can’t stop.  She’s too close, and the distance is getting slimmer.  This might be bad.
“When I get you, you’re gonna be sorry!”
Perhaps.  I have her book in my hand.  It’s her favorite.  Not my fault that the girl was reading it while I was talking.  It was something really cool!  Not every day you see a traveling show!  But she just couldn’t tear herself away.  She reads that book all the time!  It could wait.  Said she was listening.  I tested that.  She failed.  So I decided to make sure I had her attention.
Just then, my feet contacted something.  It was a rock.  What was a rock doing out here in the field?!  This was bad.  I was falling, very quickly.  However, there was a bright side.  Turns out, she had been right behind me.  So she was caught up in my falling.  As I went down, she was right behind me.  I landed on my stomach, with the book still in my hand.  She was on her side.  In a flash, she was up and on me.  Her hand grabbed her book, and the two of us rolled around, neither wanting to let go.
“Give me my book!”
“No!  You’ll just go back to ignoring me!”
“You were being boring!  Not my fault if the book is more interesting!”
We grappled through the field, until neither of us could move.  Both of us were breathing hard, still holding on to the book.  I was now the one on top, smirking down on her.  That’s when things got ugly.  She threw dirt on my face.  It  got in my eyes.  Hurt really bad.  I fell back, crying out in pain.
“Well next time, give me my book back!”  The girl took off running, while I sat there, crying.

It was later that evening.  I had gone home and was in my room for the rest of the day.  That night, I was sitting on my bed, still hurt and eyes all puffy.  That’s when I heard something hitting my window.  It was a soft sound.  I got up and walked over to see what it was.  When I look down, I see her there.  She’s shuffling her feet and looking at the ground.
“What do you want?!” I call out, as softly as I can, so as not to wake up the parents.
“Can I come up?”
“No!  Go home, jerk!”
She looks up, and I can see a pained look on her face.  “Please?  Just for a minute?”
I don’t want to let her in, but there’s this little voice that says that it is the right thing to do.
“Fine, but I don’t want you here long.”
The girl climbs up the side of the wall.  It has these little pathways for the ivy to grow that make for great hand and footholds.
Coming in, I keep my distance.  Got a book of my own, as a weapon.  Her feet go back to shuffling and she looks down.
“I’m sorry, about today.  I didn’t mean to throw dirt in your face.  I was just so mad about the book, and how you weren’t giving it back.”  Finally, she looks up at me.  “Do you forgive me?”
I don’t like her enough right now for that, but I don’t want to hurt her anymore.
“No.  But I will later.”
A tiny smile comes onto her face.  Her blonde hair is such a golden mess.  She walks over and kisses me on the cheek.
“What was that for?!  I don’t want any of that love-y junk on me!”
She’s already at the window.  “See you tomorrow?”
“No,” I reply.  Still mad at her.  “But maybe the next day.”
She looks bummed, but bounces back.  “Okay.  See you.”  And just like that, she’s gone.

I wonder if she’s still in this town.  Probably not.  The girl wanted to be a machinist.  For as long as I knew her, she was tinkering with things.  Her mom said it wasn’t ladylike, but I always knew that her father liked it.  He always had a little helper for when he was busy with stuff.  Those two were so close.  When he died, she was so torn up.  Way I see it, she must have moved on from this little town years ago.  Perhaps I could find her mom and figure out where she went.  It would mean more travel, and I already got done with a series of train rides, but it was worth it.  To see those who are important to you.  The reason that we live, as an old war-buddy said.  Another girl who I wondered how she is.  I’d get to see her soon.  So far as I knew, she was still here.  The other of a group of friends who went to fight, and only the two of us came back.  Those are the bad memories that are with me.

About an hour later, I’m past the wheat fields, and now there is something new to greet me – the smell of citrus.  The fields of fruit trees in front of me, it’s so beautiful.  Would it be bad if I went and stole one of those fruits?  This close to the harvest, they have to be done.  Didn’t care.  I am going to take it.  Hopping the fence, I walk into the rows of trees.  I hear the workers not too far away.  Reaching up, I grab one of the delicious red fruits.  Hopping back onto the road, I peel the skin off and take a bite.  It’s heaven!  After four years of military rations, I finally had fresh fruit again!  What bliss.  What absolute bliss.  This is better than sex.  Of that, I am certain.  Did I appreciate this enough when I was growing up?  If not, I was going to make up for that by gaining 50 pounds eating the stuff.  Memories of the soup made from this fruit filled me with inexpressible joy.  Or the desserts made with it.  So much eating to catch up on!
This is where I see the big red farmhouse at the top of the hill.  I’d recognize it anywhere.  In a town that you know everyone’s name, you learn all the landmarks.  Growing up, I never lost my way because I always had that giant structure to welcome me home.  When the sun goes down, you go back to your house.  That was the rule.  When the lot of us had been together.  It was hard to resist the urge to take of running.  The sun wasn’t going down, but it was getting pretty late.  Every part of me just wants to take off running and hope that there’s a warm dinner waiting for me.  All those feelings of childhood.  Had it really been so long ago?  Felt like yesterday.
Going past the hill, I see it there.  The white fence of our home.  The fields that my family tended to.  We raised cows and pigs.  I smile when I think about how much shit I’ve ended up shifting out of the barn or the pens during the winter, when the animals can’t roam free.  Looking out on to the vast ocean of green, the cows are all there, chewing or just lounging around.  Such memories.  I remember my little sister and big sister out with the dogs, herding them.  Those girls were born to be farmers.  I would wonder where they are now, but then I hear the sound of horses coming up the field.  Moving quickly, I make behind a tree.  Don’t want them to spoil the surprise for mom and dad.  As I look out, I can tell who is who.  Big sister, broad-shouldered and having a few extra pounds.  Don’t let her looks fool you.  That girl could probably damn-near lift that horse.  The first child, and never far from the old man when work had to be done.  I was the middle kid, so I got away with not being around.  Being the middle child means you get ignored.
Little sister is lithe, small, and has that bubbly smile on her face.  I see her, and I’m in awe.  I leave and she’s this little kid who follows you around like a puppy.  I come back, and she’s damn-near a woman!  I get the feeling that she is fighting boys off with a stick.  Unless she digs the attention.  Don’t like to speak ill of family, but it’s never enough attention for her.  Girl was spoiled silly, growing up.  Thankfully, she liked to do a lot of thinking.  Girl wanted to go into Vernard City and study to become a Counselor.  One day come back and run for Mayor of our town.  That girl was going places.  Not one person who met her didn’t like her.  It was impossible.
The two girls are giving each other shit about their riding, showing off.  The cows look up and I can tell that even they are rolling their eyes.  Once the two speed off, I decide to keep moving.  It’s time to go home and give my parents a heart attack.  This is going to be good.

When I get to the front door, I don’t bother knocking.  Using the “stealthy tactics” I learned in the military, I go inside and put down my duffle bag.  There’s a smell coming from the kitchen, and I know that something amazing is happening.  There is the sound of the old man snoring in his chair.  He’s turning into his mother.  She used to fall asleep in her chair, either reading a book or listening to the radio.  In this case, I hear a metal game on the radio, with our home team up by ten points.  There’s a little pride there, not that I ever cared about metal discus.  One of the channelers in my unit had been a player.  He talked about going back to that, when he got home.  He actually has gotten the chance, since he walked away with all of his faculties intact.
Moving into the kitchen, I hear a couple of voices.  One is clearly my mother.  The other is a young woman.  Who could it be?  They are swapping rhunar pie recipes.  Another thing that sounds pretty great.  I peek in to see a girl with long, flowing blonde hair sitting in the chair.  I can’t tell who it is.  Then there’s my mother.  She’s got her back to me, over the stove.  It’s time!  I move in, not making a sound.  Make sure the uniform is nice and gallant on me.  Now I just wait.  Don’t have to wait long.  She turns around, with a spatula in her hand.  It falls out of her hand.
“Goddess!” she whispers.
The girl looks back, and then I see it.  The face of a girl that I had left behind, so long ago.  My oldest friend.
“Lily?!”  I’m in shock.
There is this beautiful smile that come to her face.  “Welcome home, Luger.”

Until next time, a quote,

“Every parting is a kind of death, as every reunion is a type of heaven.” – Tryon Edwards

Peace out,

Maverick