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Author: Teresa Mummert
May 5, 2010, 8:23 p.m.
"Why do bad things happen to good people?" Gail sniffled as she rubbed a tissue under her nose.
"Everything happens for a reason." I sighed as I reached out to rub my sister's arm. She pulled back from my touch.
"There's a reason we can't have children?"
I had chosen the wrong words. I was up late waiting for Shane to call and I had worked to nearly seven o'clock at night. I rubbed my fingers over my forehead, hoping I could keep my patience for just a little while longer.
"Gail, what is with the sudden urge to have children? I have never heard you talk about wanting kids." My sister was too selfish to share the attention with anyone, offspring included.
"Tracy is four months pregnant. All anyone talks about is the baby this and the baby that. It made me realize I was missing something." I rolled my eyes. Gail was jealous of the attention her friend was getting. Everything really does happen for a reason.
"Have you thought of using a donor?"
"You're kidding, right? Thomas would never want me to carry around some other man's baby."
"It would be his baby."
My phone rang and I almost jumped out of my seat with excitement.
"That's Shane. I can't miss his call. It's his birthday."
Gail rolled her eyes and stood from the couch.
"I see who is more important to you," she said before turning toward the door, her heels clacking loudly against the wood floor. When the door closed, I grabbed my cell phone and quickly answered it.
"Shane, happy birthday!"
"It's just another day, Jenn. How are you?"
"My sister…" I groaned and sank back onto the couch.
"Enough said," he laughed and I closed my eyes, imagining his smile. "Have I told you how proud I am that you got your license?"
"Yes, you have told me. Thank you. I wouldn't have done it if it weren't for you. What do you want for your birthday? Anything you want. I'll have it waiting for you when you get home."
"Just you, sunshine. I miss you."
"I miss you too. Did you get my package?"
"Yeah, thank you. You sent enough snacks to feed half an Army. I have been sharing with a lot of the guys."
"Good. I wished the mail reached you sooner."
"It's a miracle we get anything at all around here."
"Shane…" I swore I wasn't going to ask him this while he was gone, but it was weighing heavily on me. I needed to know what would happen when all of this was over. I had a job here that I loved and his family was like my own, but I knew he would need to stay in North Carolina. He had a few years left on his contract and I had no idea if he planned to extend it. "What happens when you come home?" I could barely force the words out.
"I'm not sure what you're asking, Jenn."
"You have to stay in North Carolina and my life is here." I picked at the fringe from my throw pillow.
"I thought I was your life."
Wrong words! Wrong words again.
"That's not what I meant."
"I get it. I have to go. I'll call."
Before I could say anything, the line went dead. My emotions boiled over and I clutched the pillow on my couch and held it to my chest as I cried until exhaustion overtook me and I passed out.
May 5, 2010, Iraq
I hung up the phone before she could end us. I knew I was being a coward, but I couldn't let her say the words. It was only a matter of time before she realized that being with a soldier was too much.
"I know that look." Owens shook his head as he shoved a Tootsie Roll in his mouth.
"I hate birthdays," I said as I walked past him to go back to my bed. I could hear his boots on the old wooden floor as he followed behind me.
"War happened. It's what always happens."
"Are you sure she is leaving you, man? The way you talk about her…she's different."
"She didn't say the words." I clenched my jaw, grinding my teeth together.
"What did she say?" Owens asked as he sat down on an old metal folding chair across from my bed.
"She wanted to know what happens after I get back."
"That doesn't sound so bad."
"I have to stay at Bragg. She said her life is in Maine."
"Did she say she was staying there?"
"No." I shook my head as I rung my hands together.
"It sounds like she just wanted you to ask her to come with you."
"I doubt that."
"Tudor, you're one hell of a soldier and I wouldn't want to go to war with anyone else, but you suck when it comes to women." Ryan rocked back on the back legs of his chair as he raised his eyebrows.
"You're some kind of expert? You can't keep a woman for more than a week."
"But I still have a woman every week. You just need to change your perspective." Ryan grinned as he popped another piece of chocolate in his mouth.
"I fucked up." I hung my head in my hands wishing I could erase the last hour of my life.
"So explain it to her." Ryan leaned forward so his chair was on all four feet again and rested his elbows on his knees. "If you want her to stay with you, ask her to. Women like to hear these things, not just assume them."
"Why are you still single?" I asked, lifting my head to look at Owens with a smirk.
"It's my porn addiction." He smiled and stood up to leave the room. I shook my head and laughed as I lay back on my bed, my eyes falling on the photo booth pictures of Jenn and me that I taped on the bottom of the bunk above me.
I couldn't let her go to sleep thinking that we weren't okay. I pushed from the bed, groaning as I stretched my achy muscles. I made my way back to the phones so I could call her and tell her how much I loved her.
June 3, 2010, 5:45 a.m.
"Oh, God!" I doubled over the sink in my bathroom, afraid I couldn't make it to the toilet just three feet away. My stomach muscles cramped as I dry heaved. I grabbed the blue hand towel that hung next to the sink and blotted my forehead that was now glistening with perspiration. Stumbling into the bedroom, I grabbed my cell phone from the nightstand and dialed my mother.
"Mom? I think I have food poisoning."
"Is this an excuse to get out of shopping? I have been looking forward to this trip all week."
I rolled my eyes as I lay down on my bed.
"This isn't about you, Mom. I need you to bring me something. Soup, medicine…anything."
"I guess we can reschedule for another time. I'll bring you some soup from O'Grady's. How does that sound?"
My stomach turned and I clutched it with my free hand.
"Not very appetizing," I groaned as I rolled onto my side.
"I'll call Dr. Callahan and see if he can make room to see you."
"Thanks, Mom." I clicked the button to end the call, but couldn't move.
My memories scanned my food intake in the last few days as I tried to pinpoint the culprit. I held the phone over my face and called May.
"Dying…" I moaned as I rolled to my side.
"What is wrong with you?" May asked, her voice in a panic.
"I'll be right there. I told Jake we shouldn't have eaten at that Chinese restaurant. It didn't look clean."
I laughed as I let the phone fall from my fingers and squeezed my eyes closed. I wish Shane were here to hold me and tell me everything was going to be okay. I could have really used his reassurance. One thing I was learning from dating a soldier was that you had to be strong for yourself. You couldn't rely on others because you never knew when you would be alone. Unfortunately, I didn't think I would be able to drive a car while doubled over in agonizing pain. That, and if I threw up in Shane's car, he would probably freak out.
Roxy whined beside the bed as I groaned. It was sweet that she was worried about me, but all I could do to soothe her was rub my foot over her head.
May came through the front door about ten minutes later in a complete panic.
"Aren't you supposed to keep calm so I don't worry?" I tried to laugh but my stomach rolled again.
"I'm not good with illnesses and hospitals." She made a face.
"Well, this should be entertaining then." I tried to push to my feet. Feeling weak, I almost fell back. May grabbed my hand and looped her arm around my shoulder as she guided me from the apartment. She stopped to pick up my sneakers on our way out the door.
The stairwell was narrow and it was nearly impossible to walk side by side down the steps, but bless her heart, May still tried. She wasn't about to let go of me.
On the ride to the hospital, my stomach began to settle and I tried to talk May out of taking me to the emergency room, but she wasn't listening. Her imagination was running wild with thoughts of me dying from bad General Tso's chicken and she didn't want my death on her shoulders. I couldn't help but laugh at her serious expression as she cursed the restaurant and promised that if I made it through the day, she would sue them.
By the time we made it to the emergency room, I was feeling good as new. I signed in, filling out the paperwork as we sat and waited. It was early in the day so the place was practically empty.
"May?" I tapped the pen against the clipboard. May looked up from her magazine. "Do you mind if I list you as my emergency contact?"
A smile spread across her face and I was afraid she was going to jump on me and smother me in kisses.
"You don't even have to ask that! You're family now."
I continued writing until a nurse called my name.
"You want me to come with you?" May asked as I stood, rubbing my hand over my stomach.
"Nah. I'll be fine."
I followed the nurse through the giant double doors into the sterile emergency area. She led me to a tiny room off to the right and let me know that a doctor would be with me shortly.
June 3, 2010, 6:30 a.m.
"I can barely hear you."
"I'm fine. Just waiting for the doctor to tell me everything is okay so I can go to work."
"If you are fine, why are you in a hospital?" A million thoughts raced through my head. I needed to get out of this country. If anything happened to Jenn…I couldn't even finish the thought. It killed me inside to know she was hurting and I was not there for her.
"Food poisoning. I promise I am okay." I could hear a man's voice in the background and I struggled to listen to him over the sound of the other soldiers around me.
"What's he saying?" I asked, yelling louder than I intended. Jenn didn't reply and for a minute, I thought we had lost our connection. "Jenn?"
"I can't be," she mumbled.
"Jenn, baby, you have to tell me what is going on. I am losing my mind over here."
All of the thoughts swirling in my head stopped, leaving me staring off at the wall as I tried to understand what she had just said.
"Shane?" she asked. I could tell she was trying to stop herself from crying. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
"We are going to have a baby?" I asked, making sure I hadn't misunderstood.
I was terrified. I always said I wouldn't have children because I didn't want to be like my father. After discovering he was also a soldier, I knew I could never let it happen.
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