Chapter 25: A Thousand Stolen Moments by Connie Ann Michael

We continue to bring A Thousand Stolen Moments by Connie Ann Michael book installment throughout the summer. Read the next chapter below!

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 19 / Chapter 20 / Chapter 21 / Chapter 22 / Chapter 23 / Chapter 24

CHAPTER TWENTY- FIVE

Raven and Doogie walked out into the bright sunlight of the afternoon. The temperature had reached 132 degrees Fahrenheit. Even though she’d left her utility jacket and only had a light T-shirt on, she immediately felt sweat start to trickle down her back.

“Supplies are being brought in. Once the Osprey gets here, we’ll head back to Marjah to set up camp. I’m thinking tomorrow at the earliest.” Raven tried to keep a conversation going, but eventually he let his voice trail off. They walked toward the entrance of the base, and then headed to a cluster of twisted trees. The shiny silver of metal flashed in the sun. A tinkling sound of wind chimes floated through the breeze.

“What is it?” Doogie whispered.

“The Afghan Army bury their men here. The Marines bring the dog tags of their fallen . . .” Raven’s voice tightened. “I thought we’d bring Tahk. A place of honor.” Raven’s voice cracked. He jerked his head to the side, swiped a hand across his face, and cleared his throat.

Doogie touched his shoulder.

Raven’s breathing was labored as he tried to contain his emotions. He raised his hand, dangling Tahk’s dog tags from his fingers. The sun filtered through the sparse foliage and speckled Raven’s face with dots of light. “He was my best friend.” The pain in his voice pulled at Doogie’s already hurting chest. Tears spilled from her eyes. She used the back of her hand to wipe them away, but they were immediately replaced by more. There were so many tags hanging from the tree.

Raven grabbed her wrist and opened her hand so he could place the necklace in her palm. “You do it,” he said.

Doogie tightened her fist around the square tag, brought her fist to her mouth, and kissed her fingers.

“I loved you and will miss you.” Doogie choked back a sob. “OORAH.” The tags clinked quietly together when she reached up and draped them from the branches of the tree. Raven and Doogie stood watching Tahk’s tags swing in the light breeze. The sun caught the shiny metal, turning them and rubbing them against the other tags already there.

The silence became unbearable. “Thank you for asking me to come.”

Raven nodded. “You aren’t going to give him one of your verses?”

Doogie sniffed. “I don’t get them anymore.”

“I don’t understand.”

“God gave them to me. A special verse for each man . . . or child. But they stopped on the mission. After Flynn I didn’t get anymore.”

“I thought you had a list or something.” He let out a dry laugh.

“That’s what Tahk said.” She gave him a sad smile.

“I think he deserves one,” Raven finally said. “Do you remember what I said last night?”

“Yeah. When did you become so philosophical?”

“This isn’t my first go round. Tahk and I talked . . . well Tahk talked at me about faith a lot.

“He was a great guy,” Doogie whispered then reached up and wrapped her fingers around Tahk’s dog tags, letting the tinkling of the breeze fill her head. “Please God give me something. Give me words to honor our best friend,” she said to herself. Raven placed his hands lightly on her shoulders, and the verse came to her.

I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked. Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet. Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him. Psalm 91.

“I love you, Tahk. This isn’t goodbye. Just see you later.” Doogie released the tags and turned to Raven, avoiding his stare. “I should be heading back.”

Raven took her chin, forcing her to look at him. His dark eyes were wet even though the evidence of his tears had been wiped away. “I’m not sorry about earlier.” His voice was thick with emotion.

Doogie pulled her face from his grasp.

Raven stepped closer. “The kiss . . .”

“It’s okay. Just forget about it. I understand . . .” Doogie stepped back and waved her hands. Her heart sank. “You’re my CO.”

He shook his head. “No.” He reached for her. “Don’t you see? That’s the problem. I can’t forget about it. I can’t stop thinking about it. About you.” He lowered his voice to a heart clenching rumble. “The kiss was incredible.”

His response caught Doogie off guard. She hadn’t been able to stop thinking about him either. She never imagined he felt the same. He couldn’t. He was her CO. Tahk’s death must have messed him up. He was having a response to battle stress. She hadn’t expected the kiss to happen again. She wanted it to, but never expected it to.

“I think we’re suffering from some sort of affection trauma from losing Tahk. You know, reaching out to each other because of the loss of a common friend.” What was she saying? He just told her he thought the kiss was incredible, and she was making excuses for why he shouldn’t want to kiss her again.

Raven’s eyes widened. Surprised? Shocked? Confused? “Is that what you think?” His voice was so quiet. Sad. Doogie wasn’t used to this Raven. Emotional Raven scared her more than intense Raven.

It’s what she thought, but not what she wanted. Doogie stared at his lips while he waited for her answer. She wanted to touch them. To have them kiss her again. But the kiss had been some sort of crazy reaction to Tahk. There was no way she compared to the woman fighting over him back at camp.

“Raven, you don’t even like me,” Doogie finally said.

His mouth dropped open. “Stop saying that.”

“You told me I was a pain. You’ve barely tolerated me for the last few months. This is a stress reaction. I’m here for the men. I do what needs to be done, and I’m fine with that. I messed with your head by asking you to hold me. I shouldn’t have. “He crossed his arms and listened to her babble on and on. She got distracted by the muscles in his arms as they folded against each other. How could that part of his body be so alluring? Ugh. Stop it, she yelled at herself. Maybe she was suffering from affection trauma.

“Are you done?” he finally said after she exhausted her attempt at explaining why he couldn’t possibly want to kiss her again.

“Well . . . I don’t . . . yeah, I guess I am,” she stuttered.

Raven uncrossed his arms and grabbed her by the shoulders. His warm lips crushed against her mouth. He ran his hands softly down her arms, and then encircled her waist. He picked her up and repositioned them behind the tree—pushing her against the rough bark. Doogie ran her hands up his back and traced the hard muscles with her fingertips. Raven hummed and leaned his body into hers. She’d never been kissed with this intensity. Of course a first grade kiss under the jungle gym couldn’t be compared to a grown man’s kiss. She kicked herself for even thinking about little Oscar Smith’s sloppy kiss when she had Raven’s arms wrapped around her. He pulled away, trailing the back of his fingers down her cheek.

“I am not suffering from affection trauma, whatever the heck that is. I’m not in need of sympathy from a woman. I’ve wanted to kiss you since the day you were commissioned to me.” He ran soft kisses along her jaw.

Her knees went weak. “I didn’t realize I was commissioned to you.”

He shook his head in frustration. “If I appeared to dislike you, it was because I knew this wasn’t supposed to happen. I tried to push you away by being a jerk. I put the best man I had in charge of you to keep you safe. To watch out for
you . . . and you were still constantly getting yourself in trouble. “He leaned in to kiss her again. “What I want is completely inappropriate for the middle of a war zone.”

“What is it you want?” Doogie struggled to find her voice.

“I want you,” he said very seriously.

“I’m in your unit. You said it couldn’t happen.”

“I know. I’ve tried to figure out how it can work. If I send you to another unit I’ll never see you, and I can’t keep you safe. If I keep you with me, I can’t touch you.” He ran his fingers over her cheek again. “But having you here, and pretending I don’t have feelings for you, is killing me.”

Wow!

Raven smiled. Doogie rarely got to see him smile, and his teeth were dazzling against his coffee colored skin.

“Maybe what you’re feeling is all confused because you’ve been away from home so long, and there aren’t many women around. I look pretty good compared to some of the competition.”

“Are you even listening to me?” Raven took a step back. His smile disappeared and a worried look took its place. “You all but threw yourself at me last night.” He sounded desperate.

Doogie wasn’t sure how to react to a desperate Raven.

“I was drunk,” she said. “I . . . I don’t know.”

He ran his hands over his buzz cut and swore under his breath.

Doogie held her ground even though every alarm in her head was going off. She was inexperienced, but when someone swears after you kiss them . . . that’s bad.

He gave his I’m-so-pissed-off look. Ahh, the Raven she knew was back. She could deal with this one.

“So, you told me you wanted my arms wrapped around you because you were drunk. And then when I kissed you and you kissed me back—that was you suffering from—what the heck did you call it? Affection trauma?” He shot the words at her like ammunition.

“Yeah,” she said triumphantly. “Wait. No.” What was she even saying?

“I’m an idiot. Sexual harassment papers can be filed with the CO of the post. Transfer papers, too. If you need them.” Raven walked away from her and began to head back toward the base.

“Sexual harassment? What? Transfer papers? What are you talking about?” Doogie called after him.

“Like you said, just forget it. Or file a complaint. I will be more than happy to transfer you, if it’s what you want.”

“I don’t want to file sexual harassment papers. I don’t want to transfer. Raven, stop!” she yelled. They couldn’t have this conversation within the walls of the base. This was not a discussion for everyone’s ears. “I’m going with you to Marjah.”

“Just forget it.” Raven waved her off.

She’d made a huge mess of things and didn’t know how to fix it . . . or if she should try. She didn’t have an overabundance of experience in kissing. In fact, she’d actually only been kissed twice before, and she was pretty sure her second kiss behind the bleachers at a peewee football game didn’t count any more than the one under the jungle gym. Not if she was comparing them to the way Raven kissed. They weren’t even in the same league.

“I don’t want to forget it,” she said, but he had already walked away.

****

Doogie found out later—through Mikey since Raven was avoiding her—that they would be leaving for Marjah the next day. Tahk’s Memorial would be in the afternoon. The men propped a rifle inside a pair of boots and propped a helmet carefully on top. None of the stuff was Tahk’s, but it didn’t matter. They all remained at attention while the National Anthem played. This wasn’t the time for tears, so she stood tall and respected the man who had been her best friend.


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