Tags: #Military Romance, #Marine Corp, #Lesbian Romance, #Military, #Lesbian, #Contemporary Romance
Copyright © 2010 by Isabella, All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction, names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without written permission of the publisher.
For purposes of this novel Battle Dress Uniform, BDU has replaced the Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform, MCCUU.
Salinas, CA 93912
Printed in the United States of America
First Edition – August 2010
his book is dedicated to the women who served, are serving, and will serve our country with honor, valor and dignity. May we never forget that women die in conflict, too. Your selflessness is a constant inspiration to me. To my wife, thank you for your service, without it, we would never have met.
hank you to the beta readers; Ilene, Probingreality, and Lee. Your feedback was invaluable. This book wouldn’t be possible without the help of Victoria. Thank you for the lessons learned, the friendship during the process and the reminder that it’s a craft.
o the one woman in my life who has brought me more joy than I will ever be able to give her. You are my inspiration for those things that I find joy in. I love you,
mi amor, e
s mi vida.
o my sons who have helped craft the person I am today. I love you more than words could ever convey.
God, how she hated this part of her job. Major Nichol Caldwell looked at her reflection in the mirror, smoothed a few strands of brown hair into place, and adjusted her uniform for the last time before leaving her office. She hated doing “informs”, the term she’d given to the process of calling on family members to inform them of a loved one killed or lost in Iraq.
The Chaplain was waiting outside her office. “Ready Major?”
“As ready as I ever am in this situation, Father. This is the worst part of my job. No matter how many I do, I’m never prepared for them.”
“You know, of all the officers who’ve accompanied me on these, you have been the most understanding and supportive. Remember, God doesn’t tell us why he is testing our courage. We just have to do what we can for our fellow soldiers and their families during their time of need.” He placed a kindly hand on her shoulder before heading to the car.
Nic didn’t want to tell the priest that she had lost her faith a long time ago. No, now wasn’t the time for a philosophical debate on whether God even existed and if so, how could he let those so brave die so needlessly. They’d debated that many times in the past and she didn’t have the energy to spar with him today.
She knew the dead officer’s family fairly well. Captain Mike Monroe had been two years behind her in ROTC and they’d taken a few engineering classes together, drilled together, and socialized with some of the same people in college. ROTC was a small community, in general, and on a college campus it was even smaller. She and Mike went through flight school at the same time. Even though he was in an attack unit and she was in a medivac unit, they were still in aviation and aviation was a tight group. She wouldn’t say they were close, but she knew him well enough to feel sick to her stomach at his death. Mike left behind a little girl who would never know her father and wouldn’t understand what was happening. Maybe that was a blessing in disguise. Nic had met Claire, Mike’s widow, at a few social events on the base. She was a beautiful woman and Mike was a lucky man,
being the operative word. Now she had to go and turn Claire’s world upside down, shattering her dreams for the future.
Every house on the base at Camp Pendleton looked the same from the outside. Standard military housing with no frills and no big swimming pools in the backyards. The buildings ran together, ugly beige or grey paint blending together like the desert land they sat on, marked as separate by the occasional fence that penned in the obligatory dog. Here the rules were clear. Mow your lawn, watch how fast you drive, and never, ever, let your kids run the streets. These habits made for quiet neighborhoods that were simple and bland without a hint about the sacrifices the families made to be a part of these tight neighborhoods.
When she pulled up to the house, Nic knew the neighbors would be watching. They were always watching. It was part of some implied military family code. For that very reason crime was low in military housing. It was a small bonus to be living with like-minded people. Nic got out of her car and waited for the Chaplain to join her.
Man this sucks.
Why did she have to pull this duty when she got back from Iraq? Why couldn’t she just fly a desk like so many of her other counterparts who had been wounded? Oh, right. She
flying a desk and her desk flights included death notifications.
She knocked on the door with a cute little sign announcing who lived at this residence. When no one answered she looked over at the carport and noticed the tan sedan parked in the driveway. Perhaps Claire Monroe was taking a nap or she was over at a neighbor’s house. Nic knocked harder, rattling the wooden sign on the door.
“Be right there.” The door opened slowly and Claire Monroe appeared in the doorway, the sun backlighting her slender figure and obscuring her features. “Good Morning. What can I do for…?” She looked from Nic to the Chaplain as the words died on her lips. “No—no. Oh, God. Please no. Go away. You’re at the wrong house. Please, please, tell me you’re at the wrong house. Please—” Claire turned towards the house, as though by shutting the door she would shut out the impending news.
“Mrs. Monroe, please—” Nic’s voice cracked as she followed the unofficial “script” for these occasions. “May we come inside and tell you why we’re here?”
“I know why you’re here. You’re here to tell me that Mike isn’t coming home, aren’t you, Major? You’re here to tell me that the Corps is sorry for my loss and that Mike died a hero. Right?” Claire was practically screaming now. “Answer me, Major.”
All Nic could do was look at her spit-shined shoes and wish she were somewhere else. “Yes ma’am. Can we go inside now, Mrs. Monroe? Father O’Rielly and I are here to help in any way we can, to give you support, and to tell you what we know about what happened in Iraq.”
The Chaplain put a hand on Claire’s shoulder. “Please, Mrs. Monroe, can we come in?”
Nic watched tears stream down Claire’s face. She despised what this war was doing to families all over the United States. Here she was to tell another family how their loved one had died a hero, in a war they were never going to win. In the beginning, she had believed in the war, but as it continued, she had witnessed the devastation first hand and it angered her. She wondered how a commander-in-chief, who had only served in the National Guard, could send American troops in to win something that he knew damn well wasn’t winnable. For a brief moment, Nic thought of her own crew and wondered how their families were doing. She made it a point to keep in touch, but it had been weeks since she had talked to any of the families. She didn’t want them to think they were forgotten or that their sacrifice was for nothing. A sob pulled Nic back to reality.
God, I hate this job
, she thought for the third time in as many minutes.
“Mrs. Monroe, I’m so sorry for your loss. I know that sounds trite, but if there is anything I can do right now, please let me know,” Nic said softly.
“Can you bring back my husband, Major? Can you do that for me? Otherwise there is nothing you can do to help me and my daughter.” Nic watched, as a sudden realization seemed to hit Claire. “Oh God. How will I tell Grace that her dad isn’t coming home? Oh God!” Claire crumpled to her knees, burying her face in her hands as she wept uncontrollably. “How will I ever tell her?”
Right at that moment, one of Mrs. Monroe’s neighbors came out of the cookie cutter house next door and walked over. “Claire, I’m so sorry. Come on. Let’s go inside, honey.” Turning, she extended her hand and introduced herself. “Good morning Officers. I’m Claire’s neighbor, Debbie Rouch. Let’s get Claire inside and see what we can do to make her comfortable.”
Nic felt helpless as she shook the hand of another military wife who knew she could be in Claire’s shoes at any time. Nic tried to help Claire up, but she was like a rag doll lacking any internal structure. So Nic gently lifted Claire into her arms and carried the woman inside. When Nic placed her on the couch, she noticed Claire’s expression had changed from anger to a hollow mask, utterly devoid of emotion.
She had seen soldiers who had their whole lives ahead of them die. Futures snuffed out like a flame in a hurricane. The stories were usually the same. A soldier is deployed to Iraq, goes out on a routine mission and a bomb takes out half the squad. Those, who survived were sometimes wounded so badly that they wished they were dead. Then they came home to families so happy they’d survived, no one cared what condition they were in, just as long as they’d come home, because the alternative was worse.
Nic watched as Debbie Rouch put her arm around Claire’s shoulders and gently rocked Claire like a child needing comforting. Nic knew the pain was so great that nothing would penetrate Claire’s emotional fog for days, but when it finally did, her grief would reach into her soul, claiming whatever it could.
Nic had been there often in the past three months. In fact, she was starting to question whether she should stay in the Corps. The loss of her crew was hard on her and it was one of the reasons she was stateside at the base in San Diego doing informs. She wasn’t in a hurry to be redeployed as so many of her fellow pilots were after recovery. Nic relived the accident every day she drove by the airfield on her way to work, or every time she had to see a family and inform them of the loss of a loved one. Moreover, she relived it every time she looked at her scars.
Today was just a little different, because this time Nic knew this inform. Today she had to tell the wife of an acquaintance that she must wake up alone tomorrow. Something Claire had done a hundred times since her husband’s deployment. However, from this time on it would be a permanent way of life. All the Corps could offer was some counseling, a polite thank you from the President of the United States, a life insurance policy of four hundred thousand dollars, thirty days to vacate family housing, and the offer to move her household goods to a permanent residence, wherever that may be.
Nic felt a gentle hand on her shoulder and looked up to see the Chaplain staring down at her. “I’m sorry, Father. What did you say?”
“I asked if it would be possible for you to come by and check on Mrs. Monroe later. Since you two seem to have some history together.” He searched Nic’s face. “In fact, would you mind lending a hand to Mrs. Monroe during this difficult time, perhaps helping her get Mike’s affairs in order? I know it is a little out of the ordinary, but Claire was just telling me she doesn’t have family close by. Only a friend who won’t be able to come immediately and it will be a few days before Mike’s family can get here.” Pausing, he looked back at Claire and added, “I’m sure Mike would appreciate it, too.”