Other Side Of The World

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
Short story following the death of a soldier and the impact it has on those who where close to him.
*Work in progress. Story is still a little disjointed, but the gist is there.*

Submitted: December 12, 2011

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Submitted: December 12, 2011

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-1-

He sat there in that crowded airport terminal, surrounded by men and women wearing camouflaged uniforms identical to his own. They milled about sullenly, every one of them lost to their own thoughts. All of them heading back oversees. Some, like him, were headed back into the few hotspots the war had left. His name was Daniel Hardin.

Dan leaned back against the stiff cushion of the terminal bench, letting the music that flowed through his ear-buds take his mind away from his present circumstance. He had spent two glorious, alcohol fueled weeks at home in Dallas. Though the deployment was only a few months old, it was a gracious reprieve. When he closed his eyes he could still see the faces of those who had fallen drift behind his eyelids.

Down the hall he heard a loudspeaker kick up, calling all military passengers to come in for roll. He paused the music and removed the buds from his ears, stuffing them into his pocket as he stood. Dan slung his bag over one shoulder and made his was slowly to the growing mass. Already he could hear names being called.

 

*****

He drank too much, he knew it. He smoked too much as well. But all he had was the oblivion that the drown of alcohol promised him. But it never came. All that it brought were more nightmares. More melancholy thoughts. He smoked to pass the time, and to keep his fingers moving. He would stand there, leaning one shoulder against the column of the patio with one foot crossed over the other, as he often would, inhaling and exhaling the sweet acrid smoke. As he watched the blue-silver strands twist into the air and dissipate he would think back to where he had just come from, and would all too soon return to. It was cold, but he didn’t notice. Alone on the porch he smoked, listening to the sounds of suburban America in the dark hours of the morning.

The beer bottle was empty, and his third smoke was beginning to burn into its filter. He set the empty on the porch table, stubbing the pathetic remnants of his cigarette into an overflowing ashtray. He went back inside, momentarily squinting as the kitchen lights glared into his eyes. The refrigerator was less than five feet from the door. The glass clinked merrily as he pulled another cold bottle from its case. With a flick of his lighter the bottle-top goes flying, coming to rest on the kitchen counter. He raised the bottle to his lips, drinking deeply. The beer was almost ice-cold, it soothed his ragged throat. He smoked too much, and he knew it. His eyes never left the scene that was in front of him. Not that there was really any chance of anything happening in his friends kitchen, but the instinct was so ingrained that he could hardly help it. People, More like kids he thought, standing around a crudely graffitied table littered with empty beer cans, playing the same drinking game they had been playing since they had been able to sucker the older kids into buying them beer when they were still underage. He moved through them, gracefully avoiding contact with any, listening to the mixed shouts of taunts and encouragement.

The seat at the end of the couch, the one closest to the wall and farthest away from the hollering group at the table that was his goal. He sat down slowly, placing his bottle, now already half drunk, carefully on the glass table. Leaning back he pulled the cell phone from his pocket. He didn’t plan on making any calls, or doing anything in particular really, it just made the sight of him alone on the end of the couch a little less conspicuous. No point in arousing anyone’s interest, he thought. So distracted was he in acting distracted that he hardly noticed the girl settling herself on the cushion next to him. Then he caught her scent; the fragrance of sweet perfume mixed with heavy cigarette smoke and the sharp tinge of alcohol. Dan knew who it was from the peripheral of his vision. He could never mistake her shape for another, not even at a sideways glance.

"What’s wrong?" She asked. He knew the question even before her lips had formed it. I guess I look more out of place than I thought he mused as he turned his head toward her, his eyes immediately drawn to hers as they always had been. They were light brown, flecked with gold.

"Nothing Jenn." He said, giving that half smile he had used too many times in the past week. It was beginning to feel awkward and fake even to him.

He allowed eyes to wander from her gaze for a moment. Her hair was black this week. She had the tendency to change the color on a whim. Tonight it was lazily pulled back behind her head, letting long dark bangs frame the edges of her eyes. Jenn' face was pleasantly angular, strong lines leading from her ears down to a cute chin. She never wore much in the way of makeup, for which he was glad. Dan had always told her how much better she looked without it. He couldn’t really think of anything about her that he didn't like.

"Nothing to worry your pretty little head about" he reassured her, smiling again as he did.

"Well, if you’re sure. You know whatever you need, I gotcha" She stood as she said this; a little wobbly, adjusting her blue satin dress as she did.

He made no reply as he watched her walk back into the kitchen. Dan then looked back down at the half-drunk bottle of Corona on the table, picked it up and gulped the remainder down and placed the empty container gently back on the table without making a sound. He glanced back into the kitchen, watching how all the people there laughed and hollered, as if they never had a care in the world.

Was I ever like that, he thought

 

-2-

The phone rang.

Once.

Twice.

Mike Hardin picks up the receiver.

"Hello?"

"May I speak to Mike Hardin please?"

"Speaking."

"Sir, this is Captain Nickels from 4th Brigade Headquarters, I regret to inform you that..."

The rest of the words that came through the receiver were lost to Mike Hardin. He knew what it meant. His son was dead.

 

*****

"So what are you saying Hardin? You love these dirty fuckers!" Dodd exclaimed with a laugh.

"Ha-ha, fuck you Dodd. No what I’m saying is this place is really beautiful. I mean look at it, ignore the shitty mud-huts and the trash in the streets. The mountains, the trees, there is natural beauty all over this country. It’s such a shame that I won’t get to come back here and hike some of these mountains, I bet there are some sick views at the top." Hardin answered with conviction.

Benjamin Dodd was the other team leader in his squad. They had known each other since being in a Humvee crew together in Iraq years before. They had come up through the ranks together and were now both leading teams in their second and last deployment. Hardin thought Dodd was nuts, but he trusted him with his life.

Dodd gave him a funny look and went back to wiping down the receiver of his weapon with a used t-shirt. Dirt covered gun parts laid about him on the floor. They had just come back from a long patrol out in the "boonies" and had to immediately start prepping for the next one.

The patrol schedule they were on was running everyone ragged; sleep was sacrificed in favor of the security they were gaining with their continued presence outside the wire. They had been running like this for months now and it was taking a toll on even seasoned soldiers like them. Hardin looked over his weapon one more time and satisfied with its cleanliness placed it back on his bunk.

"Well I'm done, I'm gonna sketch a little before some other bullshit comes up, grab me if something comes up" Hardin called behind him as he walked out the door of their hooch.

"Yea yea." Dodd yelled back at him.

Dodd couldn’t for the life of him figure out how Hardin could think anything of this place. It stunk. There was trash everywhere. And the people were, in his opinion, completely worthless. They just let the Taliban run around blowing shit up. They were so scared of them they even refused to go near the American outpost, thinking that if they were seen there they would be accused of supporting the infidels. Beautiful, he had said. What a bunch of shit.

Suddenly the back door to their building burst open and their platoon sergeant came running in, red faced and exasperated.

"Get everyone up, NOW! The birds spotted some guys with weapons about a click away from the COP, were going to get them! Everyone Red-Con 1 in ten, get 'em movin'!"

"Roger, got it." Dodd said as he jumped from his rack and ran after Hardin to give him the update.

Fuck, so much for a day off.

-3-

The day was overcast but not raining, gray clouds moving lazily across the morning sky. The procession of cars following the hearse made its way steadily down an uncrowded highway towards the cemetery.

Blake sat in the passenger seat of his mother’s car, fumbling the folded envelope in his hands. Dan had handed this to him before he left. The words written in permanent marker on the front were forever seared into his mind. Dan had given him his death-note.

How could this have happened, Blake thought. He never even acted like what he was doing was a big deal, like it was something special. We all thought he was invincible, that nothing could ever go wrong, but now his lifeless body is riding to its resting place a few cars in front of me. Fuck, how could this happen.

Blake leaned his head back into the cool cushion of the seat, staring out of the passenger window, letting his mind wander back to the last time he had seen Dan alive.

*****

It was Dan’s last night in the states, and Blake and the others, Mike and Rickie, were not going to let him leave without one last hurrah. Even though he hated crowded places, they convinced him to go to a popular bar in the next town, Chandler's. They had to cajole him with promises of free drinks, minimal crowds, and their assurance that Jenn would undoubtedly come to see him after she finished at work. So he agreed.

They made it to the bar at about 10pm. To say it had been crowded would be an understatement. But Dan determined to put aside his personal anxieties and please his friends, went inside without a word. Blake led the way through the cramped spaces between people and furniture to an open spot outside on the deck with Dan and Mike close behind. Dan could not help but look around anxiously, like he was expecting something to happen. Blake noticed this and knew he had to get him reasonably drunk for him to at least drop his guard and act normal. Once out in the cool night air Dan immediately lit a cigarette and started taking long drags.

"Are you sure you’re cool with this man?" Blake asked, looking at him apprehensively.

"Nah, I'm good. I'll be better with a few drinks in me." He said with a half-smile.

"Alright, I'll grab some beers to start us off." Blake yelled over his shoulder as he made his way back inside.

"Hey and get me a couple shots too!" Dan shouted after him.

Blake returned a few minutes later with an arm-full of alcohol. He passed them out and took the final beer for himself. Then Blake raised his bottle between them.

"To you man." Blake said solemnly, looking at Dan. "You’re leaving us again, but we will be waiting for the next time, ready with a case of beer!"

They raised their drinks. They were all there; Dan, Mike, Rickie. There was not a thing that they all didn't do together. But these moments that brought them together became fewer and fewer as the years went on. All of them had their own lives going on. Mike had just graduated college, and was now suffering through an internship. Rickie worked a roofing company with his father as part owner; this of course kept him occupied most of the week and even sometimes the weekends. And of course Dan was always gone for training or deployments or whatever. Blake knew that soon they would all start fade away, their lives taking them in different directions. The only constant was Dan. No matter where he was or what he was doing, he managed to make his way home; he was the one that brought them all back together.

"Now fuck the bullshit man, this is your last night! Let's get fucked up!" Blake shouted with enthusiasm, placing his hands at Dan's back and pushing him back in the direction of the bar.

Surrounded by his friends, and reasonably plied by alcohol, Dan began to relax. He even looked like he was genuinely enjoying himself. Then Blake noticed Jenn come in through the bar entrance which was in view from the deck.

"Hey Dan..." he trailed off. He had intended to tell Dan that he saw Jenn coming in, but he could tell Dan had seen her way before he had. His gaze followed her intently as she weaved her way through the mob inside, stopping shortly here and there to say hello to the people she knew. She came out of the door and ran up to Dan, throwing her arms around him.

"I can't believe it's your last night!" she yelled above the din of the crowd.

"I know. Its nuts! Let's just enjoy this." he replied as she let go of him.

The night became a blur of drinks, laughs and thoughtful drunken reminiscence. When the bar closed Blake convinced them all to continue until morning, and that’s just what they did. Back at the house they partied late into the night. Then it came time for Jenn to leave. Blake could tell how unhappy Dan was at this. He knew it might be the last time he saw her, and from what he and Dan had talked about at length in the dark hours of the morning, he wasn’t satisfied with whatever was going on between them as his time at home came to a close. Dan had walked her out to her car and whatever was said between them he will never know, but when Dan came back through the door he had a sad longing look on his face that would not fade.

Shortly after Jenn' exit from the party Dan began to say his goodbyes as well. Everyone in attendance raised their glasses one last time to their friend, wishing him luck and safety on his return to the war. Dan had thanked them all, shook hands, accepted hugs, and then, with that sly half smile of his, walked out the door without a second look back.

That was the last time he had seen Dan, sad and lonely, walking away from everyone he loved. Now Blake sat there in that seat, hand firmly grasping the last words that his friend would ever give him.

 

-4-

There was smoke. Yellow. They had used it to mark the enemy’s location, but the wind had taken it away and now it was billowing across their own formation. They had been caught out in the open while the helicopters broke station for fuel. That’s when hell came.

Hardin had been in the lead with his team when the first mortar fell, more than a hundred meters to their left, but close enough for the shockwave to make them stagger. Then came the AK fire, sporadic at first, but swiftly gaining in volume and accuracy. Fucking ambush, was the only thought that flashed in his head before training took over, making his reaction automatic. He hit the dirt, trying to make himself as small as possible, even thinking small thoughts, as if that would help. The others in his element had done the same. And like him they were already sending a steady stream of counter-fire in all directions until the attacks point of origin became clear. A graveyard, two hundred meters directly in front of them. They were using the mud wall on the far side for cover, giving them an advantage in the initial contact.

How the fuck did we not see them, he cursed.

"BURN THAT FUCKING WALL DOWN!" he yelled to his team, who began launching 40mm grenades as fast as they could load them at the enemy. Hardin rolled to his side and unstrapped the LAW from his back, removing the endcaps and telescoping the tube into firing position.

"COVERING FIRE" he screamed at his machine gunner. The gunner picked up his rate of fire so high that it almost seemed his finger wouldn’t let go of the trigger. Hardin got up on a knee and aimed, all the while listening to high velocity rounds snap by his head. He depressed the trigger. With a deafening roar the 88mm rocket ripped out from the tube and hurtled into the wall near where Hardin had seen an enemy peaking over with his AK. It impacted a few feet up on the wall in a fireball, throwing dust and rocks hundreds of feet in all directions. This devastating act seemed to make the insurgents take pause for a moment, but they soon regained their senses and returned fire with more than a little desperation. It seemed that the single mortar round that had initiated the attack was graciously the only one. Either the enemy was having problems with their equipment, or they were just poorly prepared. The thought of their adversary’s ill-preparation disappeared quickly as a rocket screamed over his head, impacting behind him between the squads.

Here we fucking go.

-5-

Jenn felt broken, though she carried herself well enough to hide it. Her tears from the wake had dried up at this point. But as the flag-draped casket emerged from the back of the hearse she could no longer choke them back. With precision the military men, uniforms neat and faces stern, carried the casket from its hold in the vehicle to the stand above its grave. The tears would not stop coming now. Her mind could not help but go back to the New-Years they had spent together.

*****

"I want you with me at midnight" she had said.

He had looked at her, surprised. All he could do was nod his head and take another drink from his cup, smiling like an idiot the whole time. She noticed this and smiled as well, casting her gaze down and playing with her bracelets nervously.

Then the moment came, the midnight countdown concluded. All around them the crowded masses erupted into cheers as fireworks burst brightly in the sky. She looked at him, eyes dancing in reflection of the thousand points of light above. Her right hand rose to caress the side of his face, the other sliding behind his head, pulling him into her. Dan's hands found her waist, pulling their bodies even more tightly together. Their lips met, tentative at first, but gaining in passion as the fireworks approached their fiery crescendo. The drowning roar of the crowd had faded only slightly as they pulled apart, but the aerial celebration still continued unabated.  She looked at him intently for a moment, then turned away from him and yelled in delight at the brightened sky. For a moment he could only look at her profile, savoring the taste of her on his lips, before he too pushed his gaze skyward, reveling in both the spectacle above, and the one that had occurred between them only a moment ago.

That had been one of the few times she had seen him during his time home. It was sweet and tender, far from the mood of their final moments together. They had come back to Blake' house after another night at the bars. Dan had retired to the backyard, his usual spot to drink and smoke when everyone else had left. They talked there on the porch into the early hours of the morning; about nothing she could remember in particular, Dan taking occasional trips into the kitchen to grab fresh beers. But as the sun began its slow creep over the horizon Dan lit a fresh cigarette and dropped his voice to almost a whisper.

"You know I like you... Don’t you." he breathed out along with a thick stream of smoke. It wasn't a question.

At this she looked up at him from her chair, as if she didn’t understand what he had just said. He stood there not looking at her, continuing to blow curling smoke trails toward the brightening sky.

"Dan, I don’t know what to say to that." she replied, looking at her hands.

"I know." He said with a slight laugh.

"Listen, Dan, you’re a great guy. But, I don’t know, I'm just... Well you know what kind of relationship I just got out of. I just think you would end up hating me, and I just couldn't live with that.

At this he looked at her, momentarily glanced down at his cigarette as he flicked the ash onto the ground. Dan then took another long drag, spilling smoke into the air between them.

"I knew your answer, even before I asked."

"Then why..."

"I don’t know, I guess I just didn’t want to leave anything unsaid." He said as he turned his back toward her.

Jenn could only stare at him, his body siloutted against the slowly rising sun. Her mind kept racing, trying to find something to say to him, some words that would make her feel less akward. She sat there watching him smoke and taking long pulls from the Corona bottle in his other hand. He wouldnt look back at her. Even when his  last ciggarette had smoldered down to the filter and the last drops of beer had made their way to his mouth, he turned and walked past her to the door, his eyes never wavering from right infront of him. Dan reached the door and turned the knob, opening it halfway before he stopped and looked back at her. In his eyes she caught a glimpse of remorse before he gave a half-hearted smile, turned, and walked through the door, closing it softly behind him.  A few moments later she could hear his footsteps on the sidewalk then the engine of his car coming to life, and finally the sound of him driving away.

She was still sitting there on the porch, searching for the words that would take things back to the way they were. But she couldn't turn back time, nor could she make him take back those words. Things would never be the same after what he had said, and she hated him a little for that.

-6-

Rounds snapped by Hardins head as he yelled for his men to get on line. They had to put some effective fire on the enemy or they would be in real trouble. Trusting his judgement, his men obeyed. Some crawling, others leaping foreward, searching for a peice of good cover, all the while RPG's and high velocity rounds cut the air between them. The rocket Hardin had launched had made a spectacular explosion, but had done little to convince his adversaires to retreat.

The fire from his team began to steadily pick up as they reached their new positions. Hardin rolled onto his side, pressing the talk button on his radio, yelling into the microphone for the team behind him to move up along side his. He didnt hear a reply, he didnt even know if the transmission made it through, but behind him he could see Dodd's team making their way toward him. As they set in to his teams right he began yelling at the top of his lungs trying to indicate the enemy's location. Dodd got the message. Rounds now began to pour from their formation into the graveyard on the opposing hill, shattering headstones and kicking up clounds of dirt.

Hardin could hear his radio buzzing in his ear, but he could not make out the words. He was already near deaf from the cacouphany his men were producing with their weapons. Suddenly the snap of incoming rounds ceased. Harding let the men continue shooting for another minute, all the while attempting to dicern the enemys whereabouts, but he could not see them through all the gunsmoke and dust. After that mad minute he called his men to cease fire. It seemed that their assailants had broken away at their onslought.

His ears still ringing, Hardin radioed back to his command element, which was still on the backside of the hill they were on. He came up to a knee, then sprinted along the line to each of his men, checking for injuries and ammo counts. As Hardin neared the end of his line he got a reply from his Platoon Leader. Though his hearing had suffered, he still got the gist of what he was saying. Hold squat. The other squad was coming up from the rear to take point and push to the graveyard while Hardin's team provided overwatch and reconsolidated.

Hardin had just sent his accnowledgement when the world around him erupted. His body was thrown through the air, landing a few meters from where he had been kneeling onto his back. He gazed up into that blue sky, unable to move, watching the rocks and debris rain down all around him.

Im fucking dead, he thought as the dirt and rocks impacted his frame.

Im fucking dead.

-7-

Joe looked on from the seat next to Dan's brother in the front row as the pall-bearers set the casket on its stand above the freshly dug earth. The sun was still hidden behind a dreary bank of gray clouds.

He would have laughed, Joe thought, at how stereotyptical his own funeral was.

The burial ceremony began, but Joe was lost to it. He was remembering. The last time they had seen each other.

*****

It had been in the Kohls parking lot, right off the highway. The day was unsusually hot for that late in the year. Dan had asked to see his god-daughter one last time before Joe and his wife went back home to Ohio. It was the first and the last time he would ever get to hold her. He remembered the way his face lit up as she reached out her chubby little arms to grasp his neck. How he practically beamed every time she smiled or giggled. All the apprehension and the doubts that shadowed his eyes seemed to fall away as he grasped her tightly in his arms. All the horrible things he had seen forgotten. Joe thought that Celia might have been one of the few things that Dan had left that made him truly happy.

This made him think of a weekend in their hometown, before Celia's birth. Of the night Joe had asked Dan to be her god-father. They had been at the bowling alley in the next town over, enjoying a few beers and some karioki with a group of old friends to celebrate the announcement of the baby.

Joe and Dan had gone outside for a smoke between pitchers of Shiner Bock.

"So do you know what its going to be?" Dan had asked between drags

"A girl." joe replied. "I have no idea how I'm going to deal with that"

"I'm sure youll do great dude." He said, giving his signature half-smile.

Joe stubbed his smoke and turned to Dan.

"Can I ask something of you Dan?"

"Sure man, anything."

"I want you to be her god-father when she is born. I'd been thinking about it, and, well, I though you would be open to it.

That slow smile came again, thought this time it crept across his face until its entirety was alight with joy.

"Absolutly man, without a fucking doubt." He answered without hesitation, grasping Joe's outstreched hand with undeniable enthusiasm.

"I think we should defanitly go in and grab a beer to celebrate this." Dan said, putting his arm around Joe's shoulders and leading him back to the door.

"Fuckin' right!"

-8-

I cant move. I try again but every muscle fiber screams in protest at my attempt. The pain tunnels my already blurred vision, then the darkness takes me again.

Fuzzy. It looks like Doc. He must be working on me. I hurt all over, where's the worst of the damage... Fuck I could use a ciggarette.

His last thought came out a haggered wisper. Doc, who had been applying a tourniquet to his arm stopped in surprise.

"Hey, he's awake." Doc yelled behind him.

Hardin saw another face come into focus from further down his body, it was Dodd, and he was covered in blood. He wasnt sure who's.

"I could use a ciggarette." Hardin rasped again.

Dodd managed a slight grin and began fishing around his pockets. Shortly he produced a wrinkled but intact ciggarette, placed it in Hardin's blood caked mouth and lit the end. Hardin took a long drag, then the pain came back to him. He grimaced, then turned his head back to Doc Lang who was now wrapping a pressure dressing further down his arm.

"What's the damage Doc?" he asked with the half smile he could manage with a ciggarette still pressed between his lips.

Lang looked up once from what he was doing and said nothing, just skaing his head quickly back and forth once, then went back to his work. Dan turned his gaze back to the sky, taking deep pulls from his ciggarette, savoring the agony of every smoke filled breath. The blue canvas above his head was slowly turning a brilliant orange, lazy clouds still making their way over the mountains. He could see birds, tiny v-shapes in the distance, gliding effortlessly in and out of his vision.

Fuck, he thought.

Hardin's eyelids grew heavy. He couldnt feel much of the pain anymore, it felt as if he were being covered with an impossibly warm blanket that covered every inch of his skin. Doc Lang must have given him morphine.

Maybe I'll sleep for just a moment, he mused, maybe I'll have a nice dream.

Ending -

With the helicopters roters beating their merciless rythm into his ears, and the ragged, treeless mountains sliding past his vision, Daniel breathed his last breath into that dusty sky. But his eyes would not close to the panorama playing out the helicopters open door. The beauty that he had seen while trudging through mud soaked orchards and sandy trails reflected in his gaze. And even in death, that gaze went beyond it all, as if his mind was in a place on the other side of the world.

 

Father Figure Story-

Dans father stood solemly in the grass a short way away from his dead son. His weathered face stern as he watched the detail raise the flag over his sons casket and begin the tedious task of folding. The detail commander meticulous in his movements,  ensuring the flag molded tightly into that triangle shape without crease or excess. Once he was satisfied with its condition, he took it in both hands, holding it with the point facing down close to his chest. He then executed an about face and marched his way slowly toward the chair were Dans mother sat. On either side of her were Dan's two younger brothers, each with a hand on their mothers shoulders as if without their support she would crumble right there in her chair.

Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Right.

The commander now stood before her. He kneeled, extending the flag out from his chest until it rested in the air over her lap. Dan's father could tell she did not want to take it. Accepting that folded flag would make this horrible nightmare a reality. She reached her hands out tenativly, sliding them over the stitched stars. She crasped it then, pulling it slowly to her, mouthing a tortured thanks to the commander who was still kneeling in front of her. The uniformed man then raised himself erect and gave a slow mournful salute before executing an about-face and walking back to his waiting detail.

His wife clutched the flag tightly to her chest, rocking back and forth as her remaining sons on either side tried to console her through their own grief. Dan's father couldnt bear to look on his son's casket any longer. He turned and walked away, down through the

 

Soldier Friend Story­-

"Thanks Ma'am, but I really need to get going." Mark said politly, turning away from Dan's mother, who had stopped his to ask about her son as the funeral had ended. They talked only breifly, both unsure what to say to one another. Eventually Dan's mother hugger him with one arm and thanked him, the other still grasping the folded flag. She had even invited him back to the family house nearby, but Dodd politely declined, he had to catch another flight soon, and he really didnt know how he would feel about walking into the home of his dead friend. One that still bore the markings of his passage.

He began walking between the weathered headstones, being careful not to walk on the grassy plots, in the direction of his rental car. Mark had flown in the day before from Georgia to be there for his friend's funeral. It had been a miserable flight.  He could see the silver sedan a short distance away, one car among many that had made the short journey here from the church. Leaning against the hood he saw a girl, her black dress rippling in the slight breeze. As he approached she stood, straightening the back or her dress as she did.

"Can I help you with something?" Mark asked as he stopped a few feet away, placing his hands in his pockets

The girl didnt answer immediatly, she just stared down at her hands which were clasped together infront of her. A light gust blew between them, sending strands of hair into her face. A hand came up and brushed the errant strands back into place behind her ear. She then finally raised her gaze to meet his, her eyes red-rimmed, puffy and still full of an aweful sorrow.

"I'm Jenn Eisner," she began with tears in her voice. "I was a friend of Dan's"

"Oh, well, I'm Mark Dodd. I was in Dan's platoon overseas." He answered haltingly, still unsure how to talk to all these people in mourning.

 

-----Insert early in story, possibly before first asside-----

It was late, and the pick up lanes at the international terminal were deserted. People walked by in one's and two's never  stopping, just hurrying from wherever to get out of the cold. He stood in the median between the two main thru-ways, camoflaged uniform faded but neat with a black and white afghan scarf draped lazily behind his neck and down to his waist. The cold didnt bother him much, nor did the hours he had already spent waiting for his ride to arrive. Dan had called Blake almost 3 hours ago. He had no idea what vehicle Blake would be coming in, so every time a car passed he anxiously watched it until he realized that his friend wasnt inside. He sat back down on the woven metal bench were he had placed his bag and lit another ciggarette.

The phone is his pocket vibrated so suddenly it made him jump. Dan took another drag and fished his phone from his pocket with the other hand. It was Blake.

"Dude, where are you?" Blake yelled above a blaring steroe in the background.

"International terminal, arrivals." He answered.

"Hey! Turn that shit down! Hey Dan where are you again?"

"International terminal, on the lower concourse." He said again slowly.

"Okay okay, I think we are comign up on you right now, hang on." Blake said excitedly.

Dan looked down the lane, waiting for the sign of their headlights. They came around a bend slowly, obviously trying not to miss him. He took a step into the street and riased his hand in the air, still hold the phone to one ear.

"Right here, right here pull over" Dan could hear Blake yelling to whoever was driving.

As the car came closer the glare from the headlights faded and he could make out the vehicle they came in. He had no idea whos car they just drove up in. Then in hit him: it belonged to Jenn. But that meant she had to be with them.

Dan's heart began to beat faster as the white Ford slowed to a halt and three of the four doors burst open at once. Blake came out of the passenger door closest to him, a huge smile on his face. From around the drivers side he saw Jackson, an old friend frim high-school who was smiling equaly as wide. And from the last door he saw Jenn walk around the back end of the car. They all came at him at once, yelling 'Dan! He's back!', pressing their bodies against his, wrapping their arms around him and eachother.

Dan almost couldnt take it. He had seen the cheesy coming-home scenes in movies, and now here he was in the middle of one, almost in tears. After a fervent moment of communal embrace they all parted and he heard Jenn say from his right:

"Wait wait, let me jump on you like we're engaged or something!" she yelled as she leapt foreward into Dan's outstreached arms. She wrapped herself around him completely: arms looped around his neck, legs secured firmly about his waist. Then Dan did what he thought would be natural in such a situation; he spun her round and round, Jenn laughing all the while. He stopped spinning and held her tightly there for a moment, face blanketed with her sweet smelling hair, before letting her down gently.


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