It is the end of the day. All I have to do now is go to sleep and wake up and we’ll be rushing to Fort Hood to pick up my husband from his 4th and final homecoming from Iraq.
It’s now the end of the day and I’m finally taking a minute to myself (somewhat: my children are drawing on the white board behind me). There may still be alc
It’s hard to believe that it’s been two years since I marched across that parade field myself. I’ve stood in the stands twice before. The music is pumping. Kids are alternating between crying and screaming and fidgeting because most of us get there an hour early at least. Then the waiting. Waiting. Waiting for the music to start. Waiting for the buses to pull up in front of the parade field, their doors facing away so we can’t see the troopers debarking. They form up behind the buses and the families are all chanting Move that bus. The stands shake from the noise. Your voice is hoarse from yelling.
And then they move the buses. The formation moves in step across the field. You can hear the commands from the sergeant major or the first sergeant leading them. The guest speaker, whoever it is, keeps his or her remarks to less than a minute, knowing no one wants to hear what he’s got to say. Then the invocation. And finally the word everyone, soldiers and families alike are waiting for: DISMISSED.
And it’s utter and complete chaos. Families swarm the field. The formation disperses as soldiers scan the crowd for kids who have grown up in the year they’ve been gone. For wives who’ve had babies or colored their hair or put on make up for the first time since he left. For the husbands who have gotten a hair cut or put on a nice shirt or maybe, came straight from work and so blend in with everyone else in uniform.
Then you see him. He looks taller. Tired from traveling for two days. He hasn’t shaved. But a slow smile spreads across his face. And that first kiss is magic, pure magic. If the kids are there, they get to him first, jumping into his arms with cries of Daddy Daddy.
It’s only a moment, but it’s the moment you waited for a year or more for. For some of us, it’s the moment we’ve been waiting almost a decade for: the last homecoming. It’s all the more precious.
In honor of my husband redeploying (hopefully) I’m posting an unedited, unrevised excerpt from the next book in my Coming Home series: Evan and Claire’s story Until There Was You. Evan hasn’t seen Claire in three months, since she redeployed before him and he didn’t expect that she’d meet him on the field. But I wanted to share because it captures the feeling of being someone walking across that field as opposed to waiting in the stands.
I hope you enjoy it.
And to all of our troops who are finally coming home, welcome home.
Excerpt from Until There Was You
Three Months Later, Fort Hood
Let go of me.
I’m not kidding, Loehr. You don’t have the right to touch me.
There was something off, some strain Evan had never heard in all the years he’d known Claire. But he didn’t release her. She looked about to collapse, like she was running on adrenaline and morphine all rolled into a nice drug coctail.
Claire didn’t do drugs. She also didn’t do sympathy.
But he still wasn’t letting her go.
Evan stared out the window of the bus as it moved to the parade field in front of the First Cavalry Division headquarters. The stands were filled with families, music pumped wildly across the field. Chants of move that bus reverberated through the night air.
His chest tightened as he waited for his troops to pile off the bus. He grinned as one of his platoon sergeants, Reza Iaconelli shuffled past.
“You look like a man with a plan,” Evan said.
“Oh there’s a plan all right.” His dark eyes glittered in the false illumination from the bus. “It involves Steel Reserve and a box of trojans.”
Evan rolled his eyes. “Just don’t go to jail this time.”
Reza grunted. “You’re never going to stop bringing that up, are you?”
“Not as long as we’re both still alive and kicking.”
Reza shook his head and shuffled past. Evan looked over the field toward the waiting stands. There was no reason to think she’d be there. He’d had no contact. Not an email. Not a phone call. Hell, he’d checked her Facebook. Not a single update.
It was like Claire Montoya had redeployed from Iraq three months earlier and had fallen off the face of the earth. He tried not to be bitter. It wasn’t like they were friends. Hell, half the time they were barely able to be in the same room together.
But something about that night in Iraq stuck with him. He wished he could blame it on his underemployed cock but he hadn’t even thought about sex. Not that sex with Claire wouldn’t be off the scale explosive.
He scrubbed his hand over his face. Shit, he was a mess. He’d been deployed for a year. His dick hadn’t fallen off but it might as well be AWOL if he was thinking about Claire Montoya in any manner that didn’t involve a gag.
He stepped off the bus into the crisp Fort Hood night. The music pumped into his soul. He shifted his backpack onto both shoulders and fell into the rear of the formation. No sense in getting trampled by the wives and kids and dogs that would be stampeding the field once the commander released the formation.
“You okay, sir?”
Evan glanced over at his first sergeant, Decker Story.
“Yeah. Your daughters here to pick you up tonight?”
Story’s hard eyes softened immediately. “Yeah. Though I’m terrified of riding with Lizzie driving.”
Evan laughed and clapped Story on the shoulder. “You’ll be fine, gramps.”
“Shut the hell up,” Story growled. “Guess it’s time.”
Evan shifted his pack and adjusted his coming home special occasion ball cap that he was pretty sure was going to give the sergeant major fits and hoped like hell that someone had gotten his message to come pick him up tonight. He really didn’t feel like calling a cab to some shitty hotel off post. But hey, whatever. Any hotel in Killeen beat the hell out of the giant bays and hard cots he’d just spent the last year sleeping on.
The formation moved out sharply, marching across Cooper field. The music died but the screaming went on and on and on. Evan smiled. He couldn’t help it. He might not have anyone in those stands who gave two shits about him but he felt welcomed and home just the same.
A little girl broke away from her mother toddling across the field as fast as her little legs could carry her. Evan didn’t need to turn around to know she knew exactly where she was heading.
“Hi, baby.” A soft voice behind him, a father’s words choked with emotion.
Evan bowed his head as the chaplain did the invocation. And then…chaos erupted. The field swarmed with wives and mothers, husbands and fathers, teenage daughters and newborn babies. Evan dodged at least a dozen baby strollers and even more pregnant wives. Midtour babies. He smiled and made his way to the edge of the field, searching for Shane or Trent or heaven forbid, Carponti. Anyone who could give his sorry ass a ride to a hotel until he found a place to rent.
He planned on holing up with beer and pizza and cable tv. He wasn’t leaving the hotel room. Days, maybe more. He grinned and shifted his assault pack again. Who was he kidding? He’d be out at one of the sports bars before midnight tonight. He needed to be around people. To feel the press of bodies against him as he drank and laughed and felt human again.
The wind picked up, gusting across the field and Evan suppressed a shiver. Should have packed his damn jacket. He stuffed his hands in his pants, knowing he was going to get his ass handed to him if he was caught and not really caring at the moment.
“You look like you want to escape.”
Evan stiffened as the voice that haunted him slid across his skin like hot cream. He swallowed and turned.
He didn’t move for a long moment as he tried to come to grips with the thousand fractured emotions inside him. Anger. Hate. Rage.
Once upon a time, those had been the emotions tagged when he thought of Claire Montoya.
Now? Now there was something else. Something dark and twisted up with more than the blood they’d spilled together in combat.
And damn his traitorous soul to hell, he could not hate her. Not any more.
The wind shifted and she adjusted her patrol cap. Her hair was pulled severely back beneath it, reminding him of how she’d looked downrange earlier that year.
“Look, Loehr, you can stand there and look like a sex offender all night or you can grab your crap and I’ll give you a lift. Your call but y—“
Her bun was soft and smooth beneath his palm as he snaked his hand around her neck. He drew her closer, until she was nose to nose with him, until he could see the tiny flecks of gold in her kelp green eyes. Her mouth opened with a rush of breathe against his lips. “Stop talking.”
He didn’t kiss her. He came close but when her hand came up to his chest, he stopped. Beneath his touch, she stiffened. “Let go.”
And damn him, he did.