I could feel the heat wrapping in around me like a wool blanket, even in the shade. The gravel under me was absorbing the heat, slowly roasting me as I felt my energy depleting. Letting out a sigh, I pressed my back harder into the tire of the Humvee I was sitting against. It was going to be a long day if it was this hot already.
Dropping my head back against the tire, I readjusted my ear bud. The music changed from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Nickelback as the opening bars of 'Burn It to the Ground' pulsed through my ears. It was just what I needed to get me ready for the day. I pushed everything out of my head, not focusing on anything excuse amping myself up.
I lifted my head from the tire, bouncing it in time with the song as I looked across the motorpool. Most of the guys were goofing around, blowing off some steam before the mission. I smiled watching them, they truly were the best guys to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with.
I shifted my eyes from them to the main entrance, cocking my head to the side as I simply stared off into the distance. My eyes trailed from the sky to the ground, looking for the point where to the two met. There weren't even natural terrain features to make as a reference point. The washed out color of sand seemed to discolor everything, including the blue of the sky.
I wondered for a moment if Mother Nature had intentionally left this place to be devoid of color and life. Or perhaps I had just been here too long to notice both of those things. With another sigh and a slightly self-deprecating smile I shook my head. I had no idea why I was even wondering about such ridiculous things at a time like this.
It must have been all the time baking away in the desert sun for the last fifteen months. Thank god I was going home next week. I needed a break from the constant go and wear and tear to my body. I was nearing 26, and yet I felt closer to fifty.
Eric insisted that it was a common grip of soldiers. You never really felt your age anymore after a deployment. This was my third and oh boy was he right. Every movement sent new aches and pains rifling through my body. Of course, after a year and half on some crappy Army provided cot, it was a wonder that something on my body didn't hurt.
Before I could even chuckle at the thought of my brother, I felt a new shadow fall over me. Lifting my head up, I squinted from behind my sunglasses. A smile grew across my face as I stared up at my most trusted friend, Rodgers. He returned the smile, crouching down beside me and plucking the ear buds from my ears.
"Don't you ever sleep?" He asked, his own voice sounding as tired as I felt. I shrugged, tugging my ear buds back from him and winding them around my fingers, before I stuck the whole ipod back in my assault pack.
"Didn't I just see you a couple of hours ago?" I fired back with a grin, rather than answering his question.
Rodgers chuckled, dropping down next to me. I waited while he adjusted himself, grumbling about the hot sand and miserable seating arrangements. I patted his shoulder, doing my best to look sympathetic to his bitching. He swatted my hand away with a grin.
"You did and I could have sworn it was outside your tent, not here. What happened to getting a few hours of sleep before this morning?" Rodgers asked, unslinging his rifle and laying it across his outstretched legs.
Again I shrugged instead of answering. Truth was I just couldn't sleep. Call it a mixture of anxiety over this last minute mission and the thought of being five days away from finally going home. Plus, he was one to talk, I knew he was feeling the same way.
I cut a sideways glance at him, smiling. He was staring straight forward like I had been. Gone was the relaxed, goofy composure I was used to. Instead he was all business, intense and steely calm. He was one scary son of a bitch when he needed to be and I was thankful he was on my team.
I watched as he pulled off his patrol cap and scrubbed a hand over his short blonde hair. For some reason it made me chuckle, as I remembered the pictures of him before he joined the Army. Shoulder length blonde hair that gave off the complete California surfer dude look.
"So how are Sara and the kids doing?" I asked, wondering after the fact if it was a good idea to bring up his family before a mission. I knew he would be amped up and stressed out, just like anyone else with a family would be.
"Their good…I got to listen to Morgan gurgling. Harper insisted that it was his way of saying hurry home daddy." His face split into his familiar wide grin, causing me to relax. "I can't believe he's already six months old."
I chuckled, feeling a slight twist in my chest as I watched Rodgers pull out a picture of the three of them. I glanced over at him, watching the way he affectionately ran a finger over his wife's face. I looked away quickly, feeling like I was imposing on his private moment.
I started to push up onto my feet, when Rodgers' hand shot out and stopped me. I looked over my shoulder at him, flashing a small smile his direction. He smiled back and nodded his head for me to sit back down. I rolled my eyes, even though he couldn't see it and sat back down.
"Sorry I forgot miss bad ass doesn't like the mushy stuff." Rodgers teased as he put the picture back in his pocket. I flipped him off and stretched my legs out so they mirrored his.
He was right; I wasn't the mushy sort, in any way shape or form. I had my moments and made my exceptions for my brother and his family, but other than that it felt awkward. Perhaps it was because I was too committed to my current career to think about having anything more.
"Speaking of all that how is Ethan?" There was a certain edge in his voice as he asked, that spoke volumes to his opinion of Ethan.
I shut my eyes, feeling my hand curl into a fist at the mere mention of that bastard's name. It felt like my heart was trying to hammer out of my chest as I recalled my phone call to him the night before. I let out a harsh breath, forcing my hand to relax as I dug my fingers into the hot sand next to me.
"Let's just say I was right about wanting to end it, though I didn't get to tell him that." I muttered, still trying to make my body relax. I blinked my eyes back open and looked over to Rodgers. His face was blank as he waited for me to go on.
"Don't tell me he somehow wormed back into your good graces Jack, the guy's a shitbag." Rodgers piped up, his eyes scanning me, obviously looking for a sign that he was right.
"Far from it, let's just say his new girlfriend answered the phone." I replied casually. I expected it to sting, especially with the thought of who that new girlfriend was, but it didn't. I knew it had little to do with the shock over finding out he was cheating on me. I'd been fooling myself for months into believing I loved him and that we could make it work.
I cautioned a look at Rodgers, seeing how firmly set his jaw was at the news. He was as bad as Eric was. They both felt the need to kick into overdrive with the protective routine. I smirked, patting his shoulder. I adored them both for feeling the need to be there, but I was a big girl and I was getting used to needing those big girl panties.
"It's fine, I don't need you going off half-cocked on his ass when we get state side. I already told Eric he was to steer clear of him as well. Like you said, I'm miss bad ass and I can handle this just like anything else thrown at me." I insisted, waiting for him to relax.
"No, it's not fine. Did you at least let the bitch have it?" Rodgers asked. His tone had more of a lethal tone to it, than I felt it should. Maybe I shouldn't have told him about Ethan cheating. I should have just said we were over and left it at that. I hadn't been expecting him to get so angry.
"Come on, what do you take me for? Of course I put her on blast, but at the same time, she's welcome to him. Ethan and I never should have lasted this long with all our problems." Rodgers shot me a glance, his mouth still set in a firm line. "Dane, don't give me that look. We both knew that I never really loved the guy. It was just supposed to be this casual thing. Ethan didn't want a girlfriend in the Army and I didn't really want a commitment before a year here."
Rodgers nodded his head, finally relaxing. I don't know what he was expecting me to say or do. We both knew I wasn't the type to crumble to the ground and throw a three-year old tantrum. If the Army had taught me anything it was to suck it up and carry on, and that's what I planned to do.
"So what now?" Rodgers asked, as if he expected me to already have a plan of action. I shot him a smile, rolling my shouldered casually.
"I don't know maybe I'll go home and play the field. I've always wanted to be a player and it has been fifteen months." I teased, knowing how uncomfortable it made him. I guess it went with the mindset that we were all brothers and sisters in the Army.