Chapter 7: A Thousand Stolen Moments by Connie Ann Michael

We are thrilled to bring you a new book installment this May. We bring to you A Thousand Stolen Moments by Connie Ann Michael.

A Thousand Stolen Moments by Connie Ann Michael

Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 5 / Chapter 6

CHAPTER SEVEN

With a whiz and a pop, the A-POD Donny died for launched, blowing up the building full of snipers.

It took most of the day to get a clear path to the city.

Everyone was tired, sweaty, and dirty by the time they got to the outlying area. They had a few hours before the sun would set, and the darkness would make it impossible to move farther in, so they found a house to fortify and began to prepare it to provide them with cover until morning.

“Tell them to leave,” Raven told the interpreter, Ragi. “They were warned to get out two weeks ago. It isn’t safe for them here.”

Ragi turned to the Afghani man who owned the house, rattling off some words. “He doesn’t want to leave. Said he has nowhere to go,” Ragi said.

Raven lifted his gun a little higher. “I’m not asking. Tell him to get his family out of here. I don’t want them in the middle of this fight.”

“They don’t have anywhere to go. They want you to pay them for the grapes you smashed.” Ragi shrugged, just as confused as Raven about their request.

“What grapes? What are they talking about?”

There was some bickering before the family pointed behind the dirt building. A small crop of grapes sat broken and wilted.

“Did we do that?” Raven said to no one in particular. “Tell him we will pay for the grapes if he gets his family out of here. Tell him it isn’t safe here. There is shooting happening.” Raven turned in a circle. “I need Tahk.”

Tahk walked over to him. They lowered their heads in a private conversation before Tahk reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a roll of bills. “What’s a bunch of grapes worth?” He looked at Ragi.

Ragi talked to an older man, and then turned back to Tahk. “He says one hundred American dollars.”

“And we have a deal.” Tahk clapped his hands and handed a bill to Ragi. “With our regrets. Now tell him to get his family somewhere safe.”

Ragi gave a little bow to Tahk and handed the family the money.

The man stuffed the money in a pocket, collected his family, and headed out of the city, their goat in tow.

Raven wiped his forehead with his sleeve, and then barked an order to find something to break holes into the walls surrounding the home. A group of men set up a perimeter while the rest of the company crammed together in the courtyard.

“I hate it here.” Matthews lowered himself to sit next to Doogie.

“Afghanistan, here? Or here, here?” She circled her finger to show the country as a whole, and then pointed at the ground to signify this exact location.

“Here. Right here. We’re begging for a mortar strike. We’re packed in here like the animals on Noah’s Ark,” he complained.

She shrugged.

Matthews grabbed his pack and moved across the courtyard. Apparently, Doogie’s lack of encouragement wasn’t what he was looking for. If Doogie had stayed in school the opportunity to ever have a conversation with a young Marine would have been slim. Here, they were her only option. She tried to provide a shoulder to cry on, but she didn’t particularly like Matthews, he was negative and hung back instead of taking initiative on missions, so she wasn’t sad when he left. Besides, what could she say? He was probably right.

A few men were standing around a water pump a short distance away, washing the dust off their faces and filling water bottles. Doogie headed their way. She needed to scrub the blood from her hands. The men stepped back when she approached. She used the long handle to prime the pump; then placed her hands under the water when it spewed from the small opening. She worked her hands together, scrubbing at the dried-brown blood around her fingernails and up her forearms. The water felt good, cool, and refreshing after the heat. She opened the neck of her jacket and tilted her head back. She wiped her damp hands down her throat and on her chest.

Tahk walked over to where she stood, his voice strained. “Doogs, um . . . you need to stop.”

She opened her eyes, blinking. “What?”

He raised his eyebrows and tilted his head to the side. She followed his head bob. The men sent to break holes in the wall stopped their work and stood, leaning on shovels, their gazes trained on where Doogie stood. Raven stood to the side, his mouth set in a tight line while he watched the men watch her.

Water dripped from her chin. Raven shifted his gaze to her. His expression conflicted. Either he was angry at the men for staring, or angry at her for making them. Doogie wasn’t sure.

“It’s like you’re in a wet T-shirt contest,” Tahk muttered.

“I was getting the blood off.” She pulled her jacket closed.

“Just get down.” With a frustrated sigh, Tahk walked away.

Raven barked at the men, “Get back to work.” They tripped over themselves to resume their pounding on the mud wall.

Embarrassed, Doogie stepped off the ledge of the well and followed Tahk to where he had their bags. She leaned against the wall, thankful for the small amount of shade it provided.

“I didn’t do anything the others weren’t doing.”

“Give it a rest. Men don’t wipe water down their neck, letting it drip off them.” He waved his arms around in an exaggerated impersonation of her movements.

“I wasn’t doing that. I wasn’t purposely putting on a show.”

“Doogie, sometimes just being here is show enough.”

“I don’t know why I get yelled at because men are jerks.”

“Maybe because you’re outnumbered a hundred jerks to one?”

“Yeah, but you’re still jerks.”

“No argument here, sister,” he said.

“You’ve known Raven a long time, haven’t you?” Doogie started to pry for some information.

Tahk eyed her curiously. “Why?”

“Do you think he likes me?”

“Best he doesn’t. We aren’t here to make lasting friendships.”

“Well, I don’t want him to not like me.”

Tahk stared at her.” What are you talking about?”

“He always seems angry at me. No matter what I do, he gives me this look of irritation. I can’t win.”

“That’s his look. Don’t take it personal,” Tahk mumbled.

****

Raven told them they wouldn’t move out until early morning. When the men finished breaking through the wall, they lined their sleeping bags and small tents in rows through the courtyard. Tahk found a corner for them to settle in, giving Doogie specific instructions not to wander on her own. The hundred-twenty degree weather was going to turn cold as soon as the unrelenting sun went completely down. She pulled her arms through the extra jacket in her pack, buttoning it up to her neck. Confident Raven would make sure the snipers were in position, she let her eyes close briefly.

Her two second nap was interrupted by a British accent. “Are you Doggie?”

Doogie opened one eye to see an unfamiliar man hovering over her.

Doogie,” she corrected before she raised a hand to shield her eyes from the setting sun.

“Doogie. Sorry. Sergeant Ravenscar sent me over. Said I could ask you a few questions.” His accent seemed out of place in the dirt of this village. He sounded more like he should be sitting in a parlor, drinking tea.

Doogie continued to stare at him, not sure what he was expecting her to say.

“Would that be okay?”

“If Raven said it, I guess it’s okay.” Who was she to disregard one of Raven’s requests?

“Simon Lester. I’m with the BBC, filming a documentary. Would it be okay if I filmed you while we talked?” He lowered himself to sit beside her, a camera appearing in his hand.

“No.”

Simon looked to be in his mid-twenties, dark hair, and sparkling blue eyes. He didn’t hold the stress of battle on his face.

“I want the world to see how women are helping the military.” He ignored her negative response to his filming request and set up a tiny tripod with a digital camera.

“I don’t want to be the voice for women in combat.” Doogie ran a hand over her hair, trying to tame the loose waves. Not to mention she was covered in blood and sand and didn’t want that vision broadcast across the world.

“Your story is interesting to the world.” He must have realized his remark only made the likelihood of an interview less possible because his friendly demeanor slipped away. “I’m looking for a variety of responses. A woman’s perspective. The Sergeant suggested you.” He placed his hand on her shoulder to placate her. “I’d really appreciate it.”

Doogie’s cool gaze moved up from his hand, meeting his naïve stare. “I don’t need coddling.”

“Oh.” He pulled his hand back like he’d been electrocuted. “No disrespect. Let’s start again. I’m Simon Lester. I’m an independent filmmaker. I have permission to embed in the units during this campaign. I’m talking to a variety of soldiers, and your C. O. recommended you. Said you had a lot of experiences in a variety of positions. It would be appreciated if I could ask you a few questions.”

She smiled at his rewind and fast forward through his introduction. His discomfort was cute. She decided it might be fun to talk to someone other than the group of Marines she’d been with for the past nine months. “Okay.”

With a sigh of relief, he flipped open a small notebook. “Can I have your name?”

“Sawyer.” She stretched her legs out in front of her.

“First name?”

“Just Sawyer.”

“Hmm. Do you have a first name?”

“Yep, just not while I’m here.” Doogie drew circles in the sand with her finger.

“Okay.” He wrote another note in his book. “Why Doogie and not Doc?”

“He was a television character from the eighties. A sixteen-year-old doctor.”

His eyes narrowed. “The relevance of the nickname?”

“I enlisted young. Finished college, started med school, totally rocked the ASVAB—the test to get into the military. You need a hundred-forty-six combined score. I maxed out on the science.” She brushed at her pants.

“No way.” He laughed.

“Way.”

“So you’re smart?”

“Extremely.” She didn’t crack a smile.

“Why the Navy? Why not sit back at a swanky hospital?”

“Boredom. Money. The Navy will help with school loans. Possibility to do my residency at a Naval Hospital when I get out. But I’m staying green. The people here need me more than the ones back home.”

“Green?”

“Deployed.”

“Hmm. That’s noble of you. Rank?”

“Hospital Corpsman Second Class. Fleet Marine Force.”

“You’re a Medic for?” he asked from behind the camera.

“It’s corpsman. Medics are Army and Air Force. Anyway, I’m with Third Battalion, Sixth Marine Regiment, Lima Company. The Devil Dogs.”

“How long have you been with the Three-Six?” he continued his boring line of background questions.

Doogie rested her head back against the mud wall, rubbing her eyes. “Eight, nine months. I go out when they do. Otherwise, I’m either at Dietz or with the STP.”

“The STP?” he asked.

“Shock Trauma Platoon. Mobile hospitals set up on the lines of the battle. Makes reaching the wounded quicker for better survival rates,” she answered.

“You’ve been in Afghanistan for how long?”

“About a year.”

“Aren’t Marine deployments usually shorter?” Simon asked.

“I’m a corpsman with the hospital. I’ve extended my time due to undermanned issues with the STP. I took a few weeks off.” She shrugged. “Then came back.”

“Age?”

“Twenty-two.”

He raised his head.

“Told you I was young.”

“Yes. You did. You’ve done a lot in a short time.

“I’ve been blessed. I want to use my skills for something more than a case of the sniffles.” Doogie shrugged. “Besides I like a challenge.”

Simon smiled and winked. “So do I.”

Doogie felt her cheeks turn pink. She kept her eyes on the sand.

Simon cleared his throat, breaking the discomfort that had settled in the air. “Where were you before you joined the Third? You said you were Navy? How’d you end up with the Three-Six?”

“Like I said, I’m Navy Corpsman with a Shock Trauma Platoon. I volunteer with a variety of units to help with local medical needs.”

“Volunteer?” He smiled. “The Marines don’t allow women behind enemy lines, so how is it you’re in the midst of this battle?”

“There aren’t any lines. The whole country is behind lines. I’m a corpsman. I watch out for my Marines. “Doogie watched the men start hacking away at a new wall with a shovel they found.

“Through the gates of Hell for a wounded Marine,” Simon stated their motto.

“When we come face to face with the Grimm reaper, I say eff you, this is my Marine,” she finished the mantra.

“So you’ll do anything.”

“And more. Look, two other females are augmented to the Battalion, Seventy-first Cavalry Regiment. I’m not the only one out here. Why don’t you go talk to them?” His words seemed to hold some hidden meaning, and he was beginning to make her realize she had no game when it came to a conversation with someone who wasn’t a Marine. Somewhere along the past few years, she’d lost her social skills. Or never developed any.

Simon smiled, ignoring her suggestion. “What do you miss most from back home?”

“Ice,” she said without a second of hesitation.

“Ice?”

“Yeah, everything here is warm.”

“Favorite item to get in a care package?”

“You going to send me one?” Doogie laughed.

“Never know.” His eyes twinkled.

“A steak from the Outback? If that’s too much a Big Mac is always nice,” she attempted to flirt.

“Some type of beef then?” Simon raised his eyebrows.

“Yep. The MRE’s we get say they contain meat but I’m saving them to have it tested. I don’t think they’re being truthful.” She shot him her best civilian grin. She could do this. She could flirt with a guy. It wasn’t as hard as she thought.

“So freeze dried is probably out.” Simon was trying not to laugh.

Sawyer wrinkled her nose. “Freeze dried kind of defeats the purpose.” Sawyer gave herself a mental pat on the back. Who was Tahk to say she didn’t have game? She could banter with the best of them.”

“Who did you leave back home?”

“What?” Her face betrayed her inexperience. She didn’t know what to do if the banter actually worked. Maybe guys liked socially awkward girls. Still didn’t make his interest any more comfortable. Tahk would not be happy if defending her virtue became a normal occurrence.

“Back home. Was there anyone special back home?” He pushed a button, then lowered the camera, his gaze intent on hers.

“Is this part of the interview?” He was very handsome. Her eyes lingered a second too long on his mouth. Geesh what was she doing? Tahk had messed with her head.

“No,” he said with a knowing grin.

Doogie let out a nervous laugh, shaking her head. “That’s confidential. If I told you, I’d have to kill you.” When all else failed, go for the threat of violence to avoid awkward situations.

Simon leaned back against the wall. “I have no doubt you could.”

“I was joking. You know that, right?” Doogie turned to look at him.

Simon tipped his head back and let out a loud laugh. “I know.”

Doogie laughed softly, trying to lighten the mood.

“So, is there anyone back home?” He kept his head tipped back and his eyes closed.

“My mom.”

Simon sat up and looked over at her. “I meant a guy.”

“I know.” Doogie’s voice caught in her throat. It would be so much easier to talk to him if he had an open wound. She looked at his eyes and felt her brain go to mush. With a shake of her head, she finally answered. “No. No one at home.”

“Good to know.” Simon smiled at her again.

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