Chapter 20: 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 10 / Chapter 11 / Chapter 12 / Chapter 13 / Chapter 14 / Chapter 15 / Chapter 16 / Chapter 17 / Chapter 18 / Chapter 20

CHAPTER TWENTY

Doogie straightened and wrapped her arm through the safety strap of the helicopter. The inside was full of parts of the human form, slumped, sprawled, one overlapping the other, but all bleeding through the initial bandages she’d used. The only empty space was the small section of floor she was perched upon. She’d braced her body against the door jam and let her feet dangle into the emptiness below. She pulled the strap tighter to secure herself and avoid toppling off the side; exhaustion overcame her.

Every time her eyes slid shut, the nightmare crept in.

Her job was to save her men. But how do you help someone who simply isn’t there anymore?

Tahk hadn’t just died.

He’d disappeared.

A foot nudged her in the side. Doogie leveled her gaze to meet Raven’s.

“You okay?” he mouthed.

She nodded.

The weight of her body pulled against the strap, cutting off circulation. She forced her eyes open again and watched the world below go by. Gunners had their guns poised and ready if they took enemy fire. The PJ’s worked frantically to stabilize the more severe wounds. Her stomach rolled when the helicopter banked toward the base.

Doogie was considered a genius in the medical field. However, IQ scores didn’t matter when the person beside her was blown into a million pieces.

Doogie shifted her weight again. Her arm throbbed with each beat of her heart. Her hand dangled limply, caked with blood. She made a fist. She’d be okay. They were almost to the base. Her head snapped forward when they hit an air pocket. The fatigue took over, and she let the darkness engulf her. It took only moments for the screams of the day to return. Doogie was good at her job. She could do things in the field some could barely do in the operating room. She knew how to adapt—to improvise. But today she couldn’t do anything. She forced her eyes open. Doogie watched the sand below and tried to erase the nightmare too fresh in her memory. She focused on the task at hand and told herself: get the remaining men to the hospital. They weren’t just men from her unit, they were her friends.

Doogie tucked her head into the crook of her arm when the sand began to swirl around the helicopter. It stuck to her body, attaching itself to the blood, turning her fatigues to a dull, crimson, sand paper. She jumped off her perch when the helicopter hit the ground. A large group of men waited to begin the task of pulling the injured off. Those who could walk provided a strong shoulder to those in need, leaving the doctors free to attend the others. Doogie leaned against the now silent metal of the helicopter and waited for the cargo bay to empty.

The world seemed to tilt and roll.

“Sawyer, you okay?” Raven’s voice came from inside the bay.

“What?” She’d heard his question, but couldn’t process it. Was she okay?

“Are you okay? You look . . .”

She looked like hell. Even if she hadn’t been covered in blood, she hadn’t showered in almost a week. “Yeah.” She waved him off. Raven balanced in a strange crouch, hovering between getting out and staying in.

Tahk was his best friend. She should be asking him how he was doing. She just couldn’t bring herself to do it.

Raven remained perched in the cargo hold while Doogie headed for the showers. If she went into the hospital covered in blood, the doctors would immediately kick her out. The blood had hardened on her uniform. Her face was crusty, and she had an intense need to get it off. Her hands shook when she pushed the door to the shower room open. She slammed it behind her and pushed the lock closed. When the water in the sink ran hot, she dropped her hands under the faucet. Doogie leaned on the edge of the sink, her head dropped onto her forearms, the weight of the day pulling her down. Her hair, matted with blood and sand, stuck to her face. Her braid sat in a lump at her shoulder.

Doogie let her gaze drop to the front of her jacket. Small chunks of flesh were glued to it. Frantically, she brought the water to her face, scrubbing until the water ran red. She fought to keep the sobs from escaping. If she let them come, she was afraid they would never stop. Doogie braced herself on the edge of the sink and tried to pull in ragged breaths, but her lungs wouldn’t let the air in. The blood wouldn’t come off. She unsnapped her helmet and threw it across the room, screaming, “Why!” She turned the water in the showers on full blast, and then stepped in fully clothed. The water pounded at her body, washing the blood and flesh off her gear and down the drain. Doogie leaned back against the wall and let gravity bring her to the floor. She slammed her head against the wall behind her. “It should have been me. Why couldn’t it have been me?’’

“Sawyer you in there?” Raven banged on the door. The lock held firm against his protests. “Dammit, Sawyer, open the door.”

With a crack, his foot hit the door. It splintered and flew open. He stood in the threshold and took in the scene. Without a word, Raven walked to the shower and stepped into the spray. He pushed Doogie forward, slid behind her, and wrapped his arms around her.

“He’s gone,” Doogie choked.

“I know,” Raven whispered.

“He disappeared,” she sobbed.

“It’s okay.” He rocked her, repeating the words. “It’s okay.”

“No it’s not.” She shook her head. She’d never felt so alone. Her best friend was gone, and her heart felt empty. How could God take him away? “I’m alone,” she whispered. “It should have been me.”

“No. You’re not alone.” Raven unbuckled the harness around her chest. Drawing it down her arms, he released her from her extra ammunition and radio, tossing it on to the floor outside the shower. “I got you. You aren’t alone, and it shouldn’t have been you.”

Doogie wasn’t sure how long they stayed like that. Raven held her tight until she started to shiver from the cold instead of her grief. The water had turned cold long ago. He slid around her to shut the water off, and then grabbed her hands to pull her up. “Okay. That’s enough.”

Numb, she let him help her step over the edge of the shower stall.

“I’m sorry. You’re wet.” Doogie stated the obvious.

“Nothing to be sorry about.” Raven slid his hands up and down her arms.

Doogie’s teeth began to chatter as they stood dripping. She longed for Raven to pull her into his arms. To take away the pain that held a vice on her heart, but he just continued to run his hands over her arms.

“Raven?” her voice cracked.

His gaze dropped to hers. The pain in his eyes was more than she could take. With a choked sob, Doogie wrapped her arms around his waist and buried her face into his chest, letting out a pained sob.

Slowly, Raven brought his arms around her and held her tight. “It’s okay, baby.” He buried his face into her hair and kissed her. “We’re going to be okay.”

Doogie didn’t know how long they stood wrapped in each other’s arms, but with a shaky breath, Raven grasped her forearms and pushed her away.

“Okay. That’s enough.” Raven took a step back. “You’re going to be okay.” His shoulders were slumped, and his eyes held all the emotion Doogie had poured out, yet he hadn’t shed a tear. He had stood and held her through her misery. Doogie wanted to tell him not to go, but she couldn’t find the words.

“Better get into dry clothes,” he said before he left her standing in the shower room.

Doogie found her way back to the tent she’d occupied during their last break. Although the shower removed most of the material off her clothes, she still felt like she was covered in the mess of the day. She grabbed a towel scrubbed at her hair.

“Hey, girl.” Allana, a nurse, came into the barracks.

Doogie stopped her frantic rubbing and dropped her head.

“I heard about your mission.” She sat, putting her arm around Doogie’s shoulders.

“He’s gone,” her voice cracked.

“Oh, baby. I know.” She pulled Doogie down onto her lap and rubbed her back, letting her cry. It didn’t take long for her tears to run out. She’d used most of them in the shower. She straightened up and rubbed her face dry with the towel.

“I’m so sorry.” Allana ran her hand up Doogie’s back, reminding her of how safe she’d felt with Raven’s arms tightly around her.

“Anything I can do for you?”

“No. I need to check on the guys. Were you in the hospital when they came in?” Doogie switched to her professional mode.

“Doogie, give yourself some time. The doctors are good,” Allana said.

“It helps me. I need to do something. I can’t just sit here.” Doogie tried to smile, but her mouth wouldn’t cooperate. She wondered if she would ever be able to smile again. The pain in her chest felt too deep.

“Do you need anything?” Allana asked, standing to leave. “Can I get you clothes?”

Doogie let out a sad laugh, looking down at her half clothed body. “I have another set. Thanks though.”

“Anytime. The nurses are getting together tonight. Letting off a little steam. You’re welcome to join us.”

“Thanks.” She pulled the stiff new fatigues from her bag. “I might.”


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