We are thrilled to bring you a new book installment this summer. Read more from 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 10 / Chapter 11 / Chapter 12 / Chapter 13
Following orders, Doogie stuck close to Tahk while the units settled into their security positions. The main element of the company crammed under the overhangs of the buildings, trying to get as much shade as possible. Just like Matthews complained earlier, they were begging for the Taliban to launch a mortar strike against the entire group. They were sitting ducks. Raven ordered sections of the platoon to spread out on the rooftops as well as tuck into the walkways and ground level rooms of an abandoned shed just outside the station. Even completely surrounded, Doogie still didn’t feel like she could relax. Her face throbbed, and her throat burned. Feeling horrible would have been a step up.
She leaned against the wall, watching two villagers chat with one of the ANA soldiers. When Raven noticed the conversation, he called Pvt. Ryan over. Somewhere along the line, he’d become their PR guy. He knew a little Pashto, but more importantly, he liked people. Any people. And he would talk to anyone who would listen. Or at least wouldn’t walk away. Nodding over toward the chatting party, Raven directed him to join in the conversation.
“Salaam aleykum,” Ryan greeted, giving a little bow.
The villagers took the greeting as a good sign and directed Ryan over to a shady spot. Ryan rested on a short wall. The men pulled their perahon, knee length shirts, up and around their legs so they could squat. Ryan dropped his helmet, removed his ‘cool’ sunglasses, and wiped the sweat from his head with a scarf. The villagers started yapping in their guttural, raspy language, while he nodded his head and smiled.
“Owwa, owwa,” he said over and over.
Raven, seeing Doogie without Tahk, headed over to her.
“I thought you were supposed to stay with Tahk?”
“He’s helping on the wall. He’ll be back.” She kept her eyes on the conversation going between Ryan and the locals. “He’s a player,” Doogie said.
Raven looked at her and raised an eyebrow.
“If he was at a bar, he’d be picking up ladies right now. Instead, you have him using his super powers for the greater good.”
Raven stifled a laugh.
Doogie listened as Ryan chatted about the weather, moving the conversation seamlessly to their families and schooling for the kids.
“No, no schools here,” they said in broken English.
“Did you hear the mortars earlier today?” Ryan asked without losing his smile.
“Owwa. I heard, but they did not come from here. They shoot from the other side of the village,” one man said.
Raven nodded to another soldier standing off to the side. The soldier pulled out a small notebook to write notes in.
“Hmm,” Ryan hummed. “How many families stayed here?”
“Five families. Few others.”
The man with the notebook scribbled again.
Raven glanced down at Doogie. “We were told there wouldn’t be any civilians here, just Taliban. These families were lucky the hyped up ANA didn’t have loose fingers on their triggers.”
“Yeah,” Doogie said quietly. “Who knows if they’re telling the truth? We could be sitting having tea with the Taliban right now.”
“What happened to the ever present positive attitude about the Afghani people?”
“I think it was beat out of me.” Doogie absently touched her throat.
“You should have Tahk look at that.” Raven’s concern did little to warm the chill she felt.
“I’m fine,” she muttered.
“We are here to protect you,” Ryan said. Doogie and Raven turned their attention back to Ryan’s conversation. “You know that right?”
They nodded and stroked their beards.
“You bring this violence to us?” he demanded. “The people will not come back if you are here.”
Raven stepped forward. “What will it take to get families back?”
“People will return when the fighting stops.” A man stood and walked toward Raven. Doogie wrapped her hand around her rifle in case he drew a knife or sword from under his robes.
Ryan turned on his charm again. Patting the man on the shoulder, he assured him they were there to help the ANA become more efficient at securing their village, and the troops wanted the market open again. The man ignored Ryan’s gesture and continued a stare down with Raven.
The conversation was heading south, so Ryan patted Raven’s shoulder, and with a slight push, he encouraged him to move away from the locals. Doogie walked backward, not wanting to turn her back on the men. When they finally resumed their visiting, Doogie turned and headed back to where she and Tahk had settled in.
Doogie wrapped her arms around her ruck, pushing and pounding at its side in an attempt to use it for a pillow. The aftermath of the attack did little to warm the chill. She ran her tongue over the cut on her lip and raised her hand to gingerly trail the gash down her cheek and across her neck. Her body ached, and her faith was wavering. The past few days had shown her so much carnage she’d begun questioning God’s presence. How could He watch what was happening and not step in to stop it?
“Here, Doogs. Give me your joojoo bag so I can clean you up.” Tahk settled in beside her and reached out for her rucksack.
“No offense, but you look like crap. Let me clean you up. Wipe off the rest of the blood. Put some antiseptic on the cuts. Butterfly you up.”
“How am I supposed to not take you look like crap as offensive?”
“Come here. You’re bad for team moral.” He grabbed her, turning her body to face his. “Give me the ruck.”
She never won an argument with Tahk.
“I’m sorry I shot at you.” He pulled a clean package of gauze from the bag, poured water on it, and began to wipe her face.
“I’m sorry I yelled at you. I know you wouldn’t have missed. It’s just the whole . . .” Tahk knew what she was trying to say.
“You okay now?”
Doogie sucked in a breath while he traded the water for an alcohol swab. He placed it on her cheek and swiped it across her neck. “It stings.”
“You can’t let what happened affect you. You got to keep the faith that these experiences are molding you into the person you are meant to be.” Tahk blew on the stinging cut at her temple.
“I can’t imagine watching people being torn apart and getting attacked are helping me be a better person.”
Tahk paused. “I didn’t say it would make you better. I said it’s . . . well it’s like this . . . people pray to God and ask him why He sits back and lets horrible things happen. Why doesn’t He do something? Well, Doogs, He did do something. God knew what was going to happen, and He made sure you were there. The men might not have made it, but the last voice they heard was yours. Your voice giving them comfort in their final moments. I think you need to give yourself a break and give God one, too. He isn’t going to fix it and asking Him to is just going to disappoint you because He sent you here to do a job and it isn’t always going to be saving someone.” He placed a piece of tape over her cut. “Sometimes it’s simply going to be you being there.”
Doogie gave him a sad smile. “Thanks.”
“Anytime. Besides I should’ve been there,” Tahk said.
“I left you.”
“You could’ve taken him out. I saw what you did to his nose.” Tahk gave her a wicked smile.
“I was scared. “Doogie’s voice shook when she admitted what no soldier wanted to admit.
“We all get scared.”
“I cried in front of Raven.” She couldn’t believe she’d been such a girl in front of him.
“There, all cleaned up.” He piled the bloody gauze together. “It’s not the end of the world. I’m sure he’s seen soldiers cry before.”
“He told me he cared about me.”
Tahk’s expression fell.
“He didn’t mean anything by it,” she said quickly.
“Yeah, didn’t mean anything,” Tahk repeated. “Come here.” He pushed her forward so he could wrap a blanket around her shoulders. “You’re shaking.”
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