Chapter 10: A Thousand Stolen Moments by Connie Ann Michael

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A Thousand Stolen Moments by Connie Ann Michael

Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 5 / Chapter 6 / Chapter 7 / Chapter 8 / Chapter 9

CHAPTER TEN

The freezing temperatures of the night woke Doogie. The area was quiet, except for a few light snores coming from the men. She got up, stretched her muscles, and then grabbed an MRE and headed to the fire.

Raven’s shadowed outline was visible next to the fire as she approached.

“Quiet tonight,” she said.

“You should be sleeping. Not sure when it will be this quiet again.” Raven’s deep voice sent a chill through her.

“I’m not much of a sleeper.”

“We have guys with NVG’s watching. The Taliban might be using the dark to maneuver around our flanks. But I don’t think so. You should at least rest.”

“Hmm,” she hummed while she squeezed the bag she held.

“What’s for dinner?” Raven’s expression was more relaxed than usual.

“Uh?” Doogie held the label toward the fire. “Applesauce. But it’s debatable as to the amount of apples in it.”

“I have some beef stew in my pack if you want it. You can’t keep up with only applesauce.”

“Why is it always stew? Why can’t they MRE a cheese burger?” Doogie sucked on the bag.

“I think the food has to be juicy to get out of the bag.” Raven shrugged.

“Stew has chunks of mysterious stuff. You’d think a few chunks of normal food would fit in there. Besides, ketchup is juicy.”

“Well when you get out you can go into the business of creating wonderful gourmet MRE’s. The men would love you.”

“And the women.” Doogie smiled at him.

The corner of Raven’s mouth looked like it might have turned up, but she wasn’t sure. “Who can forget the women?”

“I’ll hire you if you need a job after the war,” Doogie offered.

Raven snuck a quick glance at her before returning to stare at the fire. “I’d appreciate that. I could be your tester. I’ll see if the cheeseburger is up to par. I’ve been known to cook a mean burger.”

“Excellent. Maybe you could even cook the burger since I don’t cook.” Doogie rubbed her hands together at the thought of seeing Raven after the war.

“You don’t cook?” Raven seemed surprised.

“I enlisted at nineteen so didn’t have time to hone my domestic skills.”

“Oh,” was all he said.

They stood in awkward silence for a few minutes.

“Today’s Valentine’s Day,” she blurted.

Raven narrowed his eyes, his mouth in its signature scowl, and then started to laugh. “Yeah, I guess it is.”

“It’s just. Well Tahk told me.” She was such a dork.

“Was he planning a party? Handing out Valentines to the locals?”

Doogie’s head jerked to look over at Raven. Had he just tried to be funny? She’d never had an actual conversation with him. Usually he talked at her . . . or yelled at her. She let out a stiff laugh. “No, we were just talking about Simon the reporter, and it came up.”

“You talked to him?”

“You sent him over to me. I thought I had to.” Doogie scuffed her boot across the sand. Talking with Raven was nice.

He made a sound that might have been a laugh. “I guess I did. I was trying to get him away from me, and you seemed to interest him. Sorry I sent him your way.”

Doogie tried to look irritated but figured the look got lost in the darkness. “Well I’m not sure he got what he wanted from me, but Tahk seems to think he wants a lot more from me, so he’s planning a wedding.”

“What?” Raven snapped. “Did he try something?”

Doogie tried to see his expression, but the shadow of the fire hid it. She’d been joking, but he didn’t seem to get the joke. “No. No. Tahk was teasing me.” Her voice got quiet. “Tahk likes to tease me.”

“Oh,” was Raven’s response.

Doogie stood awkwardly beside him. His response had thrown her. He actually seemed to be irritated at the thought of Simon hitting on her.

“You should go back and try to get some more sleep,” Raven finally said.

“So should you,” Doogie said back.

Raven kicked at the dirt and shook his head. “Donny was my fault.”

“What? No. It was a sniper.” His admission surprised her. The other men often came to her with their worries and regrets. The position of Doc usually led them to believe she was a confidant. Raven, however, never took the opportunity.

“It was my order. I ordered him to go back. They told me there was heavy fire. I told him I didn’t care.” Raven’s voice was barely audible against the crackle of the fire.

“They were your orders to give. We needed the A-POD. A lot more would have been hurt if you hadn’t taken it out.”

He ran his hand over his head, rubbing it back and forth over his short, black hair. “Just hard to know it was my directive.”

She sucked the applesauce from the edge of the bag, at a loss for words. These things happened; it would happen again. Nothing she could say would make it better.

“He was gone before I got to him. I couldn’t help him,” Doogie finally said, and then mentally kicked herself. It wasn’t as if that information was helpful at making him feel better. “I should have gotten there faster.”

“I guess we both are trying to take responsibility.” Raven stood with his hands deep in his pockets, his gaze on the flames. He surprised her when he switched topics. “Do you have a Valentine back home?”

“Seems to be the question of the day.” She swallowed what was in her mouth and then asked, “Do you?”

“No.”

The darkness wrapped around them.

“If we weren’t in Afghanistan, this might be romantic,” he said softly.

She tried to think of something clever to say in response but had nothing.

Raven moved closer to Doogie.

“So the reporter really was hitting on you?” His voice floated through the night like velvet.

She shuffled, tossed her food pack into the fire, and wiped her hands loudly against her thighs. “He was curious.”

“Doogie?” a voice cut through the darkness. Raven retreated a few steps.

“Yeah?” She looked over the fire.

Thomelson appeared, holding a rag to his head. “Chief,” he nodded.

“Hey, Thommy. What’s up?” She moved around the fire and grabbed the rag.

“I got hit in the head with a shovel.” He shifted his eyes toward Raven.

Raven shook his head. “I do not want to know how that happened.” His expression returned to his stoic stare. “Well then, Happy Valentine’s Day, Doc. We head out in two hours. Get some rest.”

Doogie watched Raven disappear into the darkness, wishing they could have talked longer.

“All right, Thommy. Let’s have a look.”

“I don’t need stitches, do I? Will I get a purple heart?” Thommy fidgeted.

“I need my light before I can say for sure, but I don’t think getting hit in the head with a shovel constitutes a purple heart,” she said.

“Shoot. Purple hearts get the girls.”

“So do cool scars. This should give you a good mark across the forehead.”

Thommy smiled.

“Come on, Casanova. Let’s get you cleaned up.” Doogie led him back to her ruck. Everyone seemed to be looking for romance on this Valentine’s Day. Too bad they were on the outskirts of Marjah, the drug capital of Afghanistan.


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