We continue to bring A Thousand Stolen Moments by Connie Ann Michael book installment throughout the summer. Read the next chapter below!
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 19 / Chapter 20 / Chapter 21 / Chapter 22 / Chapter 23
CHAPTER TWENTY- FOUR
Doogie had been busy for the last four hours. First the SF injury; then paperwork. She usually got away with limited admin duties, but with Tahk’s unusual death, she had to provide the eyewitness account needed for the family. When she finally emerged from the air conditioned hospital, the heat hit her like a wall. She made her way through the base to the computer hub. The line was fairly short, but the heat beat down on her while she waited. Since deploying, she’d learned every part of her body could sweat. Her elbow pits, knee pits, eyelids, and currently, her ears. Luckily, the line moved into the tent before she melted. Doogie hadn’t talked to her mom since they took off on the last mission.
The room held about twelve computers, six along each wall. A set of phones sat at the far end of the room. It wasn’t air conditioned, but the flaps of the tent had been folded up to allow for a breeze. That is, if there was a breeze, which currently, there was not. She stood for a moment contemplating whether to use the phone or email. She chose a computer on the end. Doogie decided email would be the best way not to turn into a crying mess when her mom asked how she was. She booted the computer up and entered her passwords. The room was quiet, except for the clicking of the keys as a few others connected with family and friends.
To: Anna Sawyer
From: E. Sawyer
Wanted you to know I’m back at Dietz. Won’t be here long. Raven asked me to set up a temp. clinic in a nearby town for the locals. Makes me sad to tell you Tahk did not make it back with me. Can’t really talk yet. I’ll call after I take some time to deal.
Love you, E
She pressed the send button, and then scooted her chair out and headed back out into the sun. She’d planned on writing more. She could use the computer for thirty minutes and hated not utilizing her time, but the few words she’d typed made her emotions bubble up again. She took a deep breath and pushed them back down. Mom didn’t really want to hear what was going on. She didn’t understand the war, and she spent so much time watching the news. Anything Doogie said conflicted with the vision she created in her head.
She raised her hand to shade her eyes. Mikey was working out in the camp’s temporary gym. He hung between two bars, a weighted bag attached around his waist by a strap. He pulled himself up and held his body above the bars like a gymnast. Bending at the elbows, he lowered his body, biceps bulging until he was at a ninety degree angle, and then slowly pushed himself back up. Sweat covered him and soaked through his dust brown shirt. He was an amazing specimen of the human body. However, Raven stood a few feet away punching the crap out of a punching bag. Mikey suffered in comparison. Covered in sweat, Raven’s T-shirt stuck to his body. The clear outline of his abdominal muscles showed through the material. He was beautiful.
Doogie watched his arms flex with each punch; the memory of his lips against hers came rushing back. Her body shuddered. She pushed the memory away and waved at Mikey. “Hey.”
“I hear you’re heading back with us,” he groaned, lifting himself above the bars again.
“That’s what I hear.” She watched Raven give the bag a final jab before he lowered his forehead and wrapped his arms around it in a hug. His raw emotions bubbled just under the surface. His pain was palpable.
“Good to have you with us,” Mikey said somberly.
“Thanks.” Doogie turned around to head back to the hospital. She was dead tired and had anticipated a nap, but watching Raven struggle through his pain brought reality rushing back. Sleep would bring the nightmares, and she wasn’t ready to face them yet.
“Didn’t you just leave?” Allana asked when she pushed through the doors to the break room.
“Yeah, but now I’m back.” Doogie moved around a small couch and table to a counter that held the coffee maker.
“Feeling okay?” She smiled slyly at her.
“Nothing a few Tylenol couldn’t cure.” Doogie grabbed some aspirin off the top of a file cabinet and poured a cup of coffee.
“Did you see the SF come in?” Allana rubbed Doogie’s shoulder.
“Yeah, I helped out with the guy.”
“They are so cool, and no offense, but they give your unit the run for their money on hotness,” she swooned.
“Didn’t really notice. His face was gone,” she said.
“Oh. I didn’t . . .” She hesitated.
“No. It’s okay. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“I’ll let you rest,” she said stiffly.
Doogie stood absently stirring her coffee. The look on Tahk’s face haunted her. She hadn’t had a chance to try and save him. He’d disappeared. The pink mist was what the men called it. She’d never experienced it before. She’d come upon men who had large portions of their body gone, but never all of them. She didn’t know how to mourn. It was if his presence had been a dream. She embraced her coffee and headed out to check on the men in recovery.
“Doogie.” The men waved and called out for her.
“Hey, guys. What’s up?” She grabbed the clipboards at the end of their beds to see how they were doing. “You’re heading out for Germany tomorrow,” she informed one of the men.
“Yep. Should be back in the green in no time.” He’d received shrapnel in the back. The chart said severe damage to surrounding skin, nothing to hinder re-deployment. People on the outside would think they would jump at the chance to get out. Go home. Leave the danger of the war. They’d be wrong. She’d seen more men cry over having to leave their platoon than over their injuries.
“Yeah, looks like some burn treatment, a little R and R, and you’ll be back in the game. Guess we can’t get rid of you that easy.” She rubbed his shoulder.
“You doing okay?” He grabbed her hand.
“I’m fine if you are.” She tried to reassure him, but knew her words were lacking. “Take care, leave the nurses alone,” she warned and headed to the recovery room. The SF guy would be out of surgery by now.
The recovery room was a long, narrow tent set off from the main building. It was cool and quiet. Doogie welcomed the slow beeping of the machines and the quiet whispers from the attending nurses. One of them caught her eye and waved. She waved back, and then slowly walked down the row of beds looking for a patient with major head trauma. There were three.
“Which guy is the SF?” she whispered to the nurses.
“Third one over.” The nurse pointed.
“Thanks.” Doogie walked over to where the man lay. His head was heavily bandaged. Even the better eye had been covered. She’d been pushed out before she had a chance to see if it was in better shape than the one hanging by a thread. She moved a chair next to the bed, sat down, and put her coffee on the floor.
She took the man’s hand. “Hey, Murphy. I’m Sawyer. I was the first responder here at Dietz. Great group of guys brought you in.” She kept her voice low. “They really care about you. Love you a lot. I’m Navy. I work with a Marine unit. We just got back a day or so ago. I don’t even know how long I’ve been back.” She rested her chin on the mattress and caressed the back of his hand with her thumb. “I lost a friend out there. He just disappeared. Stepped on something. A booby trap of some sort. He went in first, and then just disappeared.” A tear slipped down her cheek; she quickly wiped it away. “Crap.” She cleared her throat. Her vocal cords were still damaged from the hagi assault and left her voice a raspy whisper. “I want you to know how glad I am you’re here, and you’re fighting. Not everyone gets that choice. Not everyone gets the chance to fight, even though they would if they could. Fight for yourself and all the men who never got the chance. “Her hand felt the slight squeeze of his. She moved closer and kissed his hand. “You’ll be fine.”
Doogie grabbed her now cold coffee and stood up, running into a hard body behind her, spilling her coffee down the front of her shirt.
“Shoot.” She brushed at the stain. “I didn’t know anyone else was here.”
“Sorry. I didn’t want to interrupt you.” Travis smiled apologetically. The Special Forces guys were legendary. Not only because they were special ops and had mad skills when it came to combat, but because somewhere among the requirements it must have said . . . you have to be totally hot. Travis got extra credit in the hot category. He was extremely tall, and his shirt stretched across his chest showing every muscle. Flying under the radar, SF didn’t abide by the same regulations on dress, not that Doogie followed them to the letter. Travis’s hair was long; bangs hung down over an eye and brushed the top of his collar. He had a slight beard and mustache and beautiful blue eyes.
“Shoot.” Doogie continued to brush at the coffee on her shirt.
“I said sorry.”
“Why were you sneaking up like that?”
A grin tugged at the corner of his mouth. “It’s what I do.”
The humor of his words felt good. She couldn’t help but smile back.
“Thank you for talking to him.”
Doogie waved him away from the bed and led him outside the doors of the recovery area.
“People don’t realize how important it is to talk. Even when all else is shot to hell. He squeezed my hand,” she said.
“Really?” Relief filled his eyes. “I’ve been worried.”
“I can’t tell you his road won’t be bumpy, but things look good.” She patted his arm.
“I’m sorry about your friend.”
He’d heard. She shrugged.
“Looks like you had a rough time out there.” His gaze scanned her face, dropping to the cuts across her neck. She knew she was walking a thin line between a teenage girl and Frankenstein’s bride.
She shrugged again.
“I’m going to go sit with him. Talk to him. Thank you again.” He paused, and then asked, “Do you want to get a cup of coffee later?”
“Thanks. I’ll have to take a rain check. I head back to Marjah in the next day or two.” A part of her wanted to go with him. Relive the wonderful feeling of laughter he’d provided, but Raven’s kiss was still warm against her lips.
“Well, you never know when we’ll cross paths again. Good to meet you, Sawyer.”
“Good to meet you, too.”
Doogie left Travis and headed back to the staff room to seek some sort of solace after her crazy afternoon. She needed a girlfriend to unload all her crap on. It helped talking to Murphy, but she needed advice, and an unconscious man wasn’t a good choice for that. She stretched out on the couch in the lounge and drank her sixth cup of coffee.
“Wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of your scalpel with the caffeine shakes.” Raven came through the doors.
“Good thing I’m not operating on anyone today. And a nasty scar gets the women, I’ve heard,” she responded blandly.
“Hear it works the same with men.” Raven helped himself to the coffee. “How’s it taste today?”
Doogie choked on her coffee. Was Raven flirting? “Not as bad as some days.”
He perched himself on the edge of the couch, which put him above Doogie’s head. She sat up and moved to the other side. Even with the distance between them, she could smell the clean aroma of soap. His hair was still damp from the shower he’d taken after working out.
“If you’re up for it, I’d like you to come somewhere with me,” he said carefully.
Doogie narrowed her eyes at him.
“I’d like to offer you . . . us . . . some closure.”
“Closure?” she hesitated to ask.
“Tahk.” He paused. “Will you come?”
“Aren’t we doing a memorial later today?”
“This is for us. Something for us.”
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