Learning to Live Without You,
Means Answering the Call

by Heather M.

ATF Universe

No infringement of anyone else’s, be they individual or corporation, ownership rights is intended.

This is the third in what is now a series “Christmas for Some, Means Answering the Call.” JD Dunne is an Army reservist who has been sent to active duty in Iraq. I have built this story around real events, though not one hundred percent accurate, as this is an amateur work of fiction, truly no disrespect is intended.


Water droplets danced and sizzled as the freshly washed vegetables hit the hot sides of the wok. He pushed them around with the wooden spoon as he squinted again at the recipe card taped to the cupboard door in front of him. He wanted this to be special. He wanted her to enjoy this evening. It was the least he could do, or so he told himself, for his buddy’s girl.

It had been nearly a month since JD had shipped out. Casey had telephoned a week after Christmas, just to see how he was doing and they had decided to meet for a cup of coffee. Buck had been reluctant. He thought that spending time with Casey would only make the emptiness of JD’s absence more acute for him, but he had told her that he would be there for her anytime and he was a man of his word. Instead he’d discovered that getting together with Casey and sharing JD had felt good and that dealing with JD’s absence was a little easier. Before they had parted he had made this date for supper.

The last of the ingredients were added and the stir-fry simmered away, he turned down the heat and put the lid on the wok. He quickly surveyed the table set for two. Matching cutlery, for a change, wine glasses without chips, everything was set. The doorbell rang. He couldn’t help the little surge of excited anticipation as he bound down the hall and swung the door open wide.

“Hello darlin’!” His face lit up with a big smile.

“Hi Buck.” Casey returned the smile as she stepped in out of the light snow fall.

He marveled at how doggone “pixie-cute” she was in her winter jacket and knitted toque and swept her up into a hug.

She laughed at his exuberance. “Buck at least let me put my school bag down!”

He let her go, “Sorry Casey, it’s just so good to see you.”

She swung the heavy back sack full of books off her shoulder and gently set it in the corner.

“Here let me take your coat.”

She barely had time to slide it off her arms before Buck took it from her.

“I hope white wine is okay?” she asked as she drew the bottle from her bag.

“Just fine darlin’.” He took the bottle from her before leading her down the hall to the kitchen.

“Something smells good.”

Grinned at her. “It’s my special no-fail, stir-fry recipe.” The dinger chimed as he lifted the lid on the pot with the rice cooking in it and fluffed gently with a fork. “It even has peanut butter in it!” he announced proudly.

“Peanut butter! In stir-fry?”

“Only the finest gourmet cooking for my best friend’s girl,” he said, winking at her. Satisfied with the rice, he lifted the lid of the wok to check on the stir-fry. “We’re just about set here. Ya want to pour the wine?”

“Sure.” Having spent a lot of time in their kitchen, she knew where to find the cork screw and had finished pouring the wine by the time Buck was placing their plates on the table.

“Mmmm, the smell is making me hungry,” she declared as she slipped into her seat.

“Dig in then.” He watched closely as she took a tentative forkful of food.

Her eyes lit up with delight. “Buck, this is really good.”

“Was there ever any doubt?”

“I guess a just never thought of your cooking talents going much beyond Kraft Dinner and a bar-be-que grill.”

“Darlin’ cooking is only one of my many hidden talents.” Buck waggled his eyebrows at her and she laughed before they both turned their attentions to the food.

“How’s everything goin’ with you?” asked Buck.


He continued to watch her as she ate. He was concerned. She looked tired. “Are you really okay?”

She gave him a hesitant little shrugged and stared at her plate. “I have trouble sleeping,” she admitted. “I’m sort of caught in this cycle of not being able to sleep for two or three nights and then sleeping out of sheer exhaustion the next.” She raised her eyes to look at him. “How about you?”

Buck shook his head. How about him? he wondered. The truth was he had had company nearly every night so that he, too, slept out of exhaustion. It seemed to be the only way he could get any sleep. “Pretty much the same,” he replied.

She only nodded.

“How’s school going?”

She sighed unhappily before answering. “I’m keeping my grades up.”

He noticed the sigh and the way she ducked her head and picked half-heartedly at a grain of rice with her fork. “But?” he asked as he cocked his head sideways and down a bit to get a better look at her face.

She put down her fork and looked up him. His deep blues looked steadily back at her. She could see the understanding that lay there. She dropped her eyes from his and snatched up her wineglass and took a quick sip of her wine. She set the glass down again but didn’t let go of it, instead twirling the stem slowly between her thumb and her index finger, watching the golden liquid slosh gently from side to side. “My friends don’t think I’m much fun anymore.”

She didn’t look up at him but she could feel his questioning gaze.

She stopped twirling. “The other kids in class… they gripe about the profs or how hard the assignments are.” She shook her head. “It just seems so stupid, you know?” Then she looked up at him, the misery of the feelings she’d been holding inside rippled through her eyes. “I wake up in the night and think about him. I keep doing the time change in my head and wonder what he’s doing now, sleeping or eating or on patrol… is he safe… is he in danger…”

Buck nodded. He understood. He’d caught himself doing the same thing two hundred times an hour. “It’s worse at night somehow,” he agreed. “The defenses our brains use during the day jus’ don’t seem to be able to handle our fears and worries as well at night.”

“He says he’s alright and not to worry in his e-mails but I wonder how he’s feeling… Does he feel as lonely as I do?…” Her chin began to tremble. “Is he scared…. Is he as scared as I…,” her voice broke as a single tear made a slow track down her cheek.

“Hey darlin’...” The gentle whisper was barely audible as he slid out of his chair onto one knee beside her. She leaned into the big strong arms that reached for her, resting her head on his shoulder as he took her in his arms.

The tear made its way over her chin to drop unheeded onto Buck’s shoulder disappearing into the dark cotton fabric of his shirt.

“It’s okay to be scared Casey,” he whispered as he stroked her hair gently.

After a moment she took a deep shuddering breath and drew away from him. She wiped the wet track made by the tear away with the back of her hand before looking at him and giving him a weak smile.

He returned her smile with a shaky one of his own. “I worry about him too,” he said softly. “We all do. I don’t think a decent day’s work’s been done in the office since he left. It seems like one of us is always checking the CNN web site for news.”

They were quiet for a moment as Buck slipped back into his chair.

“I miss him so much,” she whispered.

“I know darlin’,” he replied sympathetically. Then suddenly, “Hey, I have an idea that might help. C’mon.” He got to his feet, took her by the hand and led her down the hall and into JD’s room.

She stopped in the doorway and gave herself a minute soak up the room.

The room was different from how they had left it that Sunday morning a month ago. She had made the bed that morning. She was trying to keep busy while she waited for him to finish dressing. Their cleaning lady had picked up the clothing that was usually strewn haphazardly around the room. The magazines about motorcycles, computers, computers games and sports had been gathered up and stacked according to subject on an empty shelf of his bookcase. She never could figure out why his books and magazines were everywhere but the bookshelf.

The rest of the room was still the same. His computer sat in the corner. Post-it notes adorned the screen, full sheets of paper were tacked to the wall beside and above it. Piles of music and computer game CD’s were staked haphazardly on the desk. Their cleaning lady was never allowed to touch the computer and she could see the dust was beginning to gather on the flat screen. That never happened when he was home.

Posters of motorcycles covered one wall. On top of the dresser stood a few academic awards, one modest trophy lay on its side and had lain like that for as long as she could remember. A Boston Bruins poster, a montage of past Bruin greats, hung on the wall above his dresser.

On his bedside table, a picture of her, the one she gave him from her high school graduation three years ago. She would have to update that one before he came home, she decided. She was no longer the kid in that picture. Beside her picture and a little behind it was a picture of his mother. He looked so much like her.His mother’s jaw line was a little softer but the same thick dark hair, dark eyes, slightly upturned nose. She always felt he had been the more fortunate of the two of them in that he had known his mother.

Behind both those two pictures was a picture of the team.

It had been taken before she had met JD. They were outside in the woods somewhere. JD said it had been taken when they went camping one weekend, not long after he had joined the team. JD’s hair was long, parted in the middle and tucked behind his ears, Nathan hadn’t yet shaved his head bald, Josiah sported a goatee. Even Chris’s bangs were long and hung in his eyes. He still looked like the angry man she had first met, not like the contented man he was now. Vin, too, had a determined set to his jaw that belied his natural toughness and gave the impression he was on edge. Ezra looked the most uncomfortable of the seven, the outdoors not being his “venue of choice.” Despite his best efforts to hide it, the camera had caught the fact he was ill-at-ease. Only Buck seemed unchanged from the picture then to the man she knew now.

The pale blue walls, the navy comforter under which they had cuddled so many nights into the early morning hours, making love, sharing thoughts and secrets and their hopes for the future together. It felt good to be close to him.

The rasping and clinking of clothes hangers shook her from her mind’s wanderings. Buck was sorting through the hangers in JD’s closet.

The Wilmington grin told her he’d found what he was looking for. He held the Patriot’s jersey out to her. “Here Darlin’, take this home with you.”

“His Patriot’s jersey... I can’t do that!”

“Sure ya can, he’d want ya to have it. It’ll give the Pats luck for the play-offs and well… It’s something special of his and maybe if you keep it close to you, you won’t feel quite so lonely for him, ya know?”

She reached out tentatively and took the jersey from him. It was one of JD’s most hallowed possessions. He’d bought it as a Christmas present to himself two years ago and the Pats had won that season.

She held it up and brushed her cheek against it. It even smelled like JD. Instantly, she was immersed in the memories of their last time together in this room. He had held her face in his hands and told her not to worry, he would be fine and that he would be home before she knew it. A kiss followed but what she remembered the most was the confident look in his eyes, the look that told her he would return, no matter what. Unconsciously she hugged the shirt to herself.

Buck watched her as she closed her eyes and smiled. He couldn’t help but feel happy that he had found a way to help make the wait easier for her.

After a moment he crept quietly from the room to leave her alone with her memories.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

“AAARGHHH’ he growled loudly thorough gritted teeth.

The noise of incoming filled his ears. He braced himself in both mind and body for the explosion that would follow but nothing ever seemed to prepare him for the way the ground shook afterwards.

Before he’d come here he would have told you how the ground didn’t really shake it was simply the effect of concussive forces on your body and against your eardrums that gave the impression that the ground was shaking. Now… fuck that! The goddamn ground was goddamn shaking!

Fear still rippled up and down his spine during these attacks and all he could do to defend himself was screw his eyes shut against them. He wasn’t the only one who howled and swore as they lay on their bellies clutching their helmets. Despite the chinstrap he was always afraid it would come off if he didn’t hold on to it.

He’d been so scared during his first mortar attack, he’d wet his pants. If anyone else had noticed they hadn’t said anything. Corporal Krakower had simply dropped a laundry chit on his bunk when they had arrived back at Tiger Base.

The last explosion was closer. There always seemed to be a split second pause before the dirt and stones rained down upon them, their impact stinging and bruising the backs of his legs and the cheeks of his butt. The jacket protected his back and his helmet protected his head. The new gloves Lennie Krakower had given him saved his hands.

The first pair of army issue gloves had practically fallen apart after three weeks. This pair was tougher, warmer and protected his hands better. JD had asked what he owed him for the gloves. Lennie had waved him off, saying the first pair were free and with luck they’d all be home long before he needed a second pair.

He was surprised at how much of the equipment was crap - not crap, exactly, just not up the doing the job for them.

He had his own body armour. It was a gift from the guys more than a year ago after Chris had come early to pick him up from maneuvers one weekend when Buck was away. Chris had commented that the vest he was wearing looked like it had been used in Viet Nam it was so old. JD had just shrugged. It was what he’d been issued for the exercise. While he checked in and packed up, Chris had gone off to say hi to the CO, an old friend of his from the Denver PD. The following month the guys had presented him with this and he was so thankful for it now. Brian Randall, the other Reservist in the unit, had shown up with a vest that had been repaired with what looked like fishing line. A week later Lennie had found Randy a better vest.

As always, an eerie silence followed as they listened for more shells. None came and slowly the roadside came to life again as men picked themselves up out of the dirt.

He rolled over and sat up slowly, wiping at his teeth and tongue before spitting. Damn! No matter how many times this happened he never seemed to remember to keep his lips closed. He always ended up with a mouth full of dirt. He heard Sergeant Ingram order sound off and replied when it was his turn, signaling he was okay and still with them. They’d been lucky again, no one was hurt.

The days had followed one by one, establishing a routine of periods of high alert alternating with boredom. Each week was the same, shot at, mortared, nearly blown-up. He’d soon learned hot meals were a rarity and that there was nearly nothing to do in the off hours. If you were on night duty there was the ongoing games of touch football or pick-up basketball when you weren’t sleeping. The Spaniards always had a soccer game going and welcomed new players, but the skill level of the Spanish soldiers to a man was head and shoulders above most of them. At night the only things to do were listen to music, play video games and read magazines until they went to bed, cold and tired.

The only variations to the routine were their particular duties as part of Operation Rifle Blitz. At night it was either patrol base camp perimeter or enforce curfew in one of the three local towns. By day, it meant either patrolling the desolate desert landscape beyond the banks of the Euphrates, searching for weapons caches and praying you didn’t get blown up by a home made mine or; being part of one of the units designated to systematically go through every home in the area looking for weapons, banned communications devices and those on the wanted persons list. He hated that the most.

Gun at the ready JD waited on one knee watching the Sarge waiting for the all clear. A moment later Ingram gave the signal. JD rose and dropped back into his position. The squad continued its way slowly through the field that stretched out before them. New holes from the mortar attack pockmarked the surface. There was some good that came out of the mortar attack - it significantly lessened the chances of there being unexploded mines in the field. That thought took JD back to that morning he had saluted the caskets of the two men who had died. He discovered later, one man had been killed by a land mine. The other man had died trying to diffuse a second one. Thirty-six hours before that area had been swept and deemed safe. He’d lain awake thinking about them all day when he should have been sleeping. He hadn’t known what to expect exactly. He’d never expected this to be easy, but there had been so few casualties reported that it just never occurred to him that something might happen to him.

“Shit not again,” he cursed to himself as his gut twinged and gurgled. The diarrhea was relentless. He didn’t understand why the military couldn’t see its way clear to providing at least a few fresh fruits and vegetables for them to eat. Ingram had been unsympathetic.“Learn to deal with it,” he’d said. He blessed whoever it was at home who’d thought to send the Imodium in the care package from home, probably Nathan he figured. It too had taught him another hard lesson. He’d shared it with who ever needed it, which was just about every body that day, and tucked the rest away in his kit. He went to get some two days later and it was gone, all of it. Part of him really couldn’t blame who ever had taken it. JD had never had it so bad, the cramps when he was trying to hold it just about doubled him over and when he did go he felt like he was peeing out of his hind end. But damn it! He would’ve given them freely if someone had asked.


“What did Ingram want now,” he groaned to himself. He didn’t dare say what he was thinking. Ingram was on his case enough as it was.

“Dunne!” The Sargeant parked himself in front of JD showering him with his spit as he chewed him out. “What are you thinkin’ about Dunne? I can see it in your face, your mind is some where else. This is a war zone Dunne, so stop thinkin’ about your girl, your nice soft bed at home or what ever the fuck it is yer thinkin’ about and concentrate. Never! Do you hear me boy? Never let your guard down, not for one fuckin’ second or you’ll wind up dead, or worse yet, the man beside you will. Do you understand me?”

“Yes sir!”

“I’m not a god-damn officer Dunne!”

“Sorry Sarge”

“Focus on the job Dunne! You got it boy?!”

“Got it Sarge!”

Then Sargeant Ingram removed his angry face from the tip of JD’s nose and retook his position before J.J. Alvarez on point started forward again.

JD sighed with relief. Nothing special just the usual “tuning-up” he and Randy got two or three times a patrol. Just him and Randy ever got it. JD figured the Sarge had something against Reservists.

His belly moaned aloud as his intestines curled painfully. JD Dunne walked slowly forward ignoring his gut, alert to his surroundings.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

She found him loading he dishwasher.


He stopped what he was doing to look down at her.

Holding the shirt she beamed up at him, “Thank you Buck.”

“I hope it helps darlin’.” He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and kissed on top of head.

“How about some dessert? I’ve got an apple pie. ”

“You bake too?”

“Well no, I gotta give Rain credit for the pie.” He pulled the pie out of oven and began serving it onto plates as he explained. “Nathan’s been bringing food into the office nearly everyday. Rain’s been cookin’ up a storm ever since JD left. According to Nathan, cookin’ is Rain’s way of dealing with things that bother her. She claims it’s for after the baby comes but Nate says their freezer is already full to burstin’ and the baby’s not due ‘til the end of March.”

He slipped the pie back into the warm oven before asking, “Do you want ice cream on yours?”

“No thanks,’ she replied as she picked forks out of the cutlery drawer. “Is it good for Rain to be eating so much?”

He carried the plates and led them the length of the hallway and into the living room as he spoke. “Well that’s part of the problem, you see, she likes to cook, not eat. I figure Vin’s gonna be the only one who’s not gonna be 300 pounds by the time the baby’s born.”


“What?!” He was setting their dessert down on the coffee table when she called his name and turned around to find her starring at the corner with dismay.

“The Christmas tree, you haven’t taken it down yet!”

“Oh…. Weeellll, I, ah, guess I haven’t had time,” he hedged.

“Buck this is the 16th of January. We put it up the first weekend in December!”

Buck eyed the tree critically and for the first time really noticed that the tree was dead. It was almost entirely brown, half of the needles had fallen onto the plastic floor covering. The sorry looking strings of popcorn sagged off of bare branches. Most of the popcorn had fallen off the thread and was mixed in the needles on the floor.

“If nothing else, Buck, it’s a fire hazard. It has to come down.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’ll do it tomorrow.”

“How about I help you do it now?” She set the forks down beside their plates and picked up a folded poinsettia that hung precariously off its branch.


He reached out suddenly grabbing the wrist of the hand that held the paper flower. She blinked with surprise and looked up at Buck. He hadn’t hurt her, she was just startled by his reaction.

He could see the startled confusion in her eyes and hastily let go of her wrist. “I ahh… There is…” he stammered. He bent his head as he rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. The movement belied his frustration as he groped for a way to explain this to her. “I don’t want…” he began and then faltered. He tried again, “Casey, decorating the tree was the last thing….” The right words just weren’t coming. He half turned away from her. Everything he could think of saying seemed lame but dammit, it was the way he felt.

She stood with knitted brows watching Buck’s face. He was trying to find a way to tell her something. Her puzzled expression went from Buck to the tree. Her gaze traveled slowly upward taking in the dead branches, the pathetic popcorn strings, the only green thing left was the string of lights. The origami paper decorations stood out, still as bright and as colourful as the night they made them. Her eyes came to rest on the angel at the top. JD had folded the angel, she remembered, he had modified the folding instructions for a whale of all things, to create the angel. “JD…,” it dawned on her now. It had been a really good, no, great evening, just the four of them decorating the tree. Buck didn’t want to let go of the memory.

She caught her bottom lip between her teeth as she thought a moment before speaking. “Hey Buck,” she said gently, “the tree really should come down but the decorations are still in pretty good shape, we should save them and the lights.”

He turned slowly to look at her again.

“How about you take the lights off the tree?” she suggested, “and I’ll gather up the decorations.”

He could see by the look in her eyes, she wasn’t going to make him explain his feelings, not that he was all that sure as to what it was about taking down the tree that bothered him. Just then, like one of Josiah’s “signs”, a small shower of needles rained down from the tree. The pattering sound of dead needles hitting the plastic sheet made the decision for him. He smiled at her, “Sounds like a plan darlin’.”

Desert forgotten, they waded into the job of undressing the tree.

Buck began by taking the lights off the top. Lifting the string gently off in one hand, looping the string into his other hand. Each tiny movement was met with the pattering sound of Christmas tree needles.

Casey started with the lower braches lifting the origami decorations carefully off of the branches and placing them in JD’s easy chair. Despite her best efforts her actions were met with a number of intermittent needle showers. Casey giggled, “Buck this tree is going to be naked by the time we’re done!”

“I think your right,” he chuckled.

“How’s everybody at work?”

“Okay I guess.”

There was something in his voice that caught her attention, “What do you mean, 'okay I guess'?”

“Well, Chris met with Travis yesterday. Travis wants to pull us off of our current cases and put the team on Community Outreach for the duration of JD’s tour. You know, talks to schools and community service groups.” He shook his head ruefully. “Can you see me or Chris or Vin doin’ liaison work with the local PTA?”

Casey couldn’t squelch the smile. “I can just see Chris glaring at the PTA over a school security issue.” JD’s chair was full, now she was placing the decorations around the room.

“Or Vin, gettin’ all tongue-tied tryin’ to give a speech to a bunch of Shriners?” Buck was chuckling now.

“Imagine Ezra giving that speech, and what he would be thinking of those wine coloured little fez hats with gold tassels and those vests they wear?” Casey had a full blown case of the giggles now.

That did it for Buck. He broke up into gales of laughter. A last length of the light string was still wrapped around the tree. He unwittingly tugged at it as he laughed and a sudden rush of needles tumbled out of the branches.

“Oh no,” exclaimed Casey laughing, as she watched the needles fall, “we’re making a bigger mess!”

“It serves me right,’ said Buck, dismissing her concerns as he wiped at the tears of laughter at the corner of his eye. “I shoulda done this job weeks ago.”

“Why would Travis want to pull the team off of case work?” she asked as she reached up to place some of the reindeer along the top shelf of the wall unit.

“We’re not as sharp as we usually are," he replied as he coiled the last of the string up. He shook his head, remembering the close call. “We handled a bust badly last week.”

“Oh Buck..." She was arranging a grouping of stars and poinsettias along the window sill and turned around to looked at him with worried eyes.

“Nothin’ serious,” he said, looking at her trying to reassure her, “just not up to our usual standard. We’re just a little off balance, ya know? We’re used to seven not six.” Then he ducked his head, “I think Chris is considering it.”

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

Casey snuggled deeper under her covers.

The undressing of the tree done, they shook the last of the needles from the tree and together. They had lifted the four corners of the plastic groundsheet so the needles pooled into the middle. Buck took all four of the corners in one hand while he steadied the tree upright with the other gloved hand. He then carried the sad looking Christmas tree out the back door and left it in the snow in the yard. Buck promised he would deal with it the next day.

They ate their now cold pie and watched the news. It had been a quiet day in Iraq. They would be able to sleep tonight. Casey cleared the dishes away. On her way back from the kitchen she noticed Buck admiring the decorations she had placed around the room. There was something about what he was doing that caused her to pause and watch for a moment as he made his way slowly around the room looking at the decorations. She could see worry etched in the handsome face, worry that he had kept hidden from her all evening. He came to JD’s chair and picked the angel out of the pile of decorations. Crossing the room, he reached up above the television and took down the framed certificate for meritorious conduct he’d been awarded by the Denver PD a number of years ago. It had been his first award in the line of duty. He put the paper angel up in its place. For some reason the action brought tears to her eyes.

It was after eleven when Buck pulled into Nettie’s driveway. They agreed to get together again in three weeks' time during her mid-term break before Casey hopped out of the truck. Buck waited until Casey was safely inside before putting the truck in reverse and backing out of the driveway.

She was surprised to find Nettie still up. Her aunt was usually in bed by 10:00. Nettie made no excuses, she had been waiting up for her. She insisted Casey sit with her in the kitchen while they had a cup of tea. It was going to be one of those conversations about life’s lessons. The expression on Nettie’s face made that readily obvious, but there was an underlying feeling of seriousness that made Casey uneasy.

Nettie sat warming her hands around her mug of tea. “Child…,” the nickname was spoken out of habit, “Casey ,I know you’re nearly twenty-one and though I’ve been strict with you I’ve never protected you from life’s lessons. It always seemed to me better to learn a few of the harder things in this life while you still had me to come home and talk to about them.”

Nettie leaned forward and took her hand in her own. Casey looked down at the slender hand, now veined and boney with age, this hand that had comforted her all her life. Now this hand held hers urgently.

“Be careful child,” the old woman held her eyes with her own. “People do things out of loneliness and worry that they often regret later.”

Even now, warm in bed, Casey was left feeling a little bewildered. She wasn’t quite sure if Nettie was warning her about herself, or warning her about Buck. Buck had been great to her. For a few hours they shared JD and missing him hadn’t been quite so bad. What could be the harm in that?

She smiled at the scent of JD’s after-shave, deodorant and just plain him on the Patriots jersey she wore as a nightgown wafted up around her. She fell asleep with him on her mind and dreamed of his homecoming.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

Hey Guys,

Today is exactly one month since I got here and man what a month!

Thanks so much for the package, you have no idea how much it meant to me. Tell Rain the fudge was fantastic the guys here are ready to elect her First Lady it was so good. Randy was wondering if Rain could e-mail the recipe to his wife. Thanks for the socks, shorts, batteries, toothpaste, soap and other stuff. You can’t imagine what the little things mean to us here. My definition of luxury has become a clean pair of socks.

Whoever thought to put in the Imodium has my eternal gratitude. I owe you big time, just name your price when I get home. The field hospital here gives you that gray stuff you drink. It works well, too well, then you can’t go at all and you still have to go, right? Anyway if you could send some more I really would appreciate it.

I don’t think I’ve told you much about what we do here. Tiger Base is set up on the Iraqi side of the border with Syria. Even before the war this area was used by smugglers. Since the war it’s become a centre for anti-coalition organizers. People and equipment are smuggled in through here and distributed to the towns along the Euphrates River, a.k.a. the “Rat line”. The goal of Operation Rifle Blitz is to eliminate this resistance activity. The Operation is huge. By the time I got here, the regiment had detained over 300 people and inspected more than 3,000 homes.

Don’t worry though, this place isn’t like Baghdad and Fallujah. Tiger Base is on the most westerly point of the Sunni triangle. We’re just about as far away from the really serious unrest as you can get.

Last week as part of ORB, our assignment was to go door-to-door doing house searches. I wasn’t too comfortable with just walking into people’s homes like we did. The Lieutenant said something in Arabic to the lady. I found out later it was “Peace be with you” and us standing there holding our big, bad ass guns. Jeez.

All we found were women, frightened children and old men. Most of the younger men were either at work or they’ve already been detained. There was this girl, a kid maybe 10 years old she’s staring at me with these big eyes as I’m poking through her family’s things. What must she think of Americans because of this? I felt like such an asshole.

After the first day I found an interpreter and asked him to teach me some Arabic just so I could let people know we didn’t mean to hurt them. The interpreter seemed like a good guy and was happy to teach me some of the language. He wondered why I would want to learn Arabic and when I explained why, he told me that I might as well forget it, all that people would ever see of me is my uniform and my gun.

Probably the Sarge would be all over my ass if I tried to talk to these folks but I can’t help but think about what Josiah says about dialogue “being the bridge of understanding” between peoples. I’m still going learn some Arabic if for no other reason it gives me something else to do.

I stood on top of one of the desert hills at sunrise a couple of days ago. I looked over the valley between me and the Euphrates River. It was a magnificent view. The people have irrigated plots of wheat, corn and onions. I could see their herds grazing in the grasses by the river. In their gardens the people grow oranges, grapes and date palms. I’ve never seen a date palm before. Behind me the desert looked like a moonscape all pitted and cratered by shells and gunfire and in front of me was such beauty. It was so amazing. The Euphrates really is the source of life in this desert.

I’m trying to understand how what I’m doing here helps anything. I keep telling myself, this will make a difference in the long run but man right now it’s hard to see how it will.

Do I have any takers on a Superbowl bet? You know it’s going to be the Pats, no doubt about it, but I’ll be happy to take your money if you want to bet on the Panthers.

Hey one more thing, Randy’s wife is pregnant. They already have 3 girls, he’s hoping for a boy this time but I don’t think it really matters. I asked him about them starting a baby right before he was to leave. He said it’s his wife’s way of saying that she has faith that he’s going to come home safe to help raise this child. Just like I am.


Ezra leaned back in his chair as he reread the message on the screen in front him. He slowly traced his jaw line back and forth with his thumb and forefinger as he mulled over the words in front of him. “It would seem that our Mr. Dunne has managed to retain his optimistic outlook on life thus far. Perhaps he will manage to complete his tenure relatively unaffected.”

“We can only hope Ezra.”

Ezra’s gaze left the screen to focus on the man who had replied. “You are not optimistic though, are you Mr. Jackson?”

Nathan’s answer lay in his eyes. Ezra sighed. “I must admit I, too, am less than confident that he will return home the same man who left.”

Ezra picked up the report on Community Outreach initiatives in front of him. He peered distastefully at the cover. His comments had been requested by the 28th. He had already read the report. The assignments outlined within it abhorred him and he really didn’t see the point in responding. He tossed the report back on his desk. He was feeling distinctly unmotivated and swiveled slowly around in his chair looking for a diversion. “When are Mr. Larabee and Mr. Wilmington due back?” he asked no one in particular.

“Chris said not likely ‘til nearly lunchtime,” drawled the Texan without looking up from his screen. The same report sat on the corner of his desk awaiting his response. Instead Vin was typing out a reply to JD’s e-mail. He e-mailed JD nearly everyday. It was the only thing he could think of doing that would help keep JD’s spirits up. Vin reasoned that if JD was kept up-to-date on what was happening back here, he might not feel so far away. Vin wasn’t fooling himself though. He realized that part of the reason he did it was that it made him feel better too.

Ezra’s gaze then settled on Josiah. Pen in his left hand, the older man wrote while he rested his forehead in his right hand, his right elbow propped up on the table. “Curious,” thought Ezra as he studied the profiler. Josiah seemed to be thoroughly engrossed in whatever it was he was writing. The activity piqued Ezra’s interest.

“Josiah, what is it that you are doing that warrants such rapt attention?”

Startled by the question, the big man looked up suddenly. “I’m writing a letter,” he replied a little reluctantly.

Ezra noted the hesitancy in Josiah’s response, which only increased Ezra’s curiousity. “May I be so forward as to ask to whom?”


Nathan and Vin looked up now.

“Why not jus’ e-mail him?” asked Vin.

“I second Mr. Tanner’s query. E-mail is both more convenient and more timely.”

“I prefer the privacy of a letter and…” Josiah starred at the letter, poignant memories of letters received so long ago came back to him now, “...and I remember what it was like in 'Nam. I didn’t get many letters, a couple a year from my father… my birthday, Christmas… a few more from Hannah… the odd one from a member of the congregation. Every one of ‘em was special. Someone at home had taken the time to let me know they were thinking of me.” He picked the page up. “There was something about being able to hold one in your hand… it was a tangible symbol that someone at home still cared, that you hadn’t been forgotten.” Josiah shook his head a little sadly, “which at times in Nam was pretty easy to think.” He set the page back down and looked at them. “We all felt that way. We weren’t supposed to carry them with us but we’d fold them up and tuck them in our shirts anyway. It was like having a little bit of home close to you.”

The room was silent as Josiah’s gaze traveled from Nathan to Ezra and then Vin. Then without another word, he picked his pen up and went back to his writing.

When Chris and Buck showed up at twelve thirty, all was quiet in the office as the four men within worked away at penning their letters from home.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

He was fed up! He was fed up with the cramps in his belly. He was fed up with stinking because he couldn’t shower. He was fed up with the crappy food, with the cold and the boredom, and he was especially fed up with being yelled at for every fucking little thing! That, at least, was something he could do something about!

The angry frustration welled up inside him as he returned Ingram’s glare with a stony stare of his own. It was the end of another night patrol with Sergeant Ingram yelling at him again, about what, he couldn’t even remember. When Ingram finished, he spoke, “Permission to speak freely sir!”

“I‘m not an officer Dunne, just spit it out,” barked Ingram.

“What is your problem?”

“Whattaya talking about?”

“Randy and me, you’re on our backs all the time. You treat us like we don’t know what we’re doing!”

“Dunne, you’re outta line!” Lennie Krakower rose to his Sergeant’s defense.

“Lennie, stay outta this.” Ingram turned an icy glare on JD but it wasn’t anything he hadn’t seen before and he was angry right now. “Dunne, you and Randall DON’T know what the fuck you’re doing!”

“Randy and I have trained and trained hard…”

“You have no clue what you’ve gotten yourselves into here, do you? This isn’t a place for make-believe soldiers, Dunne ,no matter how much training you’ve had. Jesus, don’t you get it? Look around, this is a war zone. I need soldiers I can count on to do the job.”

“We came here to serve our country just like the rest of you.” JD’s anger waned and with it his bravado. That argument sounded pretty weak right now.

“What? I’m not making this a meaningful experience you? Is that it? Well fuck you! Go serve it somewhere else then will ya?! Men are dying here Dunne, experienced savvy soldiers, and what do I get? A grocery store clerk and a computer geek. I’m lookin’ over my shoulder watchin’ out after you two instead having my hea…”

Ingrams’s words were cut off by gunfire. It was close by. They were all startled by it. For all the varied everyday sounds of Tiger Base, gunfire this close wasn’t one of the usual sounds.

“Fuck!” Ingram swore. He turned and ran full tilt toward the staccato pop of return arms fire. His unit followed, joined by other soldiers, and they all made their way across camp at a dead run.


Next: Though We Are Lonely...