I came to tell you I am leaving for a few days now that you are recovered. I will be back in a week or two to begin your training.
She knew. That’s why Mom hadn’t opened the door. She knew.Tears stung my eyes, burning my nose before the men could even get a word out. My water bottle slipped from my hand, bursting open on the doorframe and pouring water over their shined shoes. The younger of the two soldiers started to speak, and I put my finger up, silencing him before I softly shut the door.
My breath expelled in a quiet sob, and I rested my head against the warm door. I had opened the door to a fire, and it was poised to decimate my family. I sucked in a shaky breath and put a bright smile on my face as I turned to Gus. Hey, buddy. I stroked my hands over his beautiful, innocent little head. I couldn’t stop what was coming, but I could spare him this. My iPhone is on my nightstand. In the room furthest from the front door. Why don’t you head up to my room and play Angry Birds for a bit? It’s not hockey, just grown-up stuff, okay? Play until I come get you.His eyes lit up, and I forced my smile harder. How long would it be until I saw that in his eyes again? Cool! he shouted and raced up the front steps, passing April on his way. See, Ember lets me play with her phone! he teased as his footsteps raced toward my room.What is going on? April demanded. I ignored her and turned to Mom.
I dropped to my knees on the step beneath hers and brushed back her hair. It’s time to let them in, Mom. We’re all here. I gave a distorted smile through the blur my vision had become.She didn’t respond. It took a minute before I realized she wasn’t going to. She just wasn’t . . . here. April scooted down the steps, sitting next to Mom. I opened the door again and nearly lost it at the pity in the younger soldier’s eyes. The older one began to speak. June Howard?
I shook my head. Ember—December Howard. My mother, I choked out and gestured behind me, is June. I stood next to her and reached through the banister railing to rest my hand on her back.
He could be wounded. Just wounded. They came to the door for serious wounds. Yeah, just wounded. We could handle that.You have to talk to me about this. I’m not going to lose you over a job.
I broke, snapped in half, my logic and reason flying away. A job? I stepped back, needing the distance. I finally looked up at him, but the misery on his face didn’t dispel my anger. He looked like shit. Good, that’s how I felt. It’s not a job! And you hid it from me! You know how I feel about it!When I saw you burn the West Point gear? I knew you would never accept it, that you’d push me away as soon as you knew, and I couldn’t let you go.
He paled. Yes. I needed to be near you. I had to.Why? Why the hell are you in the Guard? You had a full ride! And you just join up and go over to get yourself killed? The idea, the word struck me with nausea. Josh in uniform. Josh in a cold box draped by a flag. No.