Jayne sipped her coffee and grimaced while her
sister, Marti, laughed. Jayne ought to apologize, but
the burnt coffee smell—accompanied by the charred
scent of over-baked gingerbread cookies—was horrid
enough to make anyone’s taste buds forget that
Christmas was right around the corner. Marti couldn’t
boil water, let alone brew a decent cup of coffee.
I should talk.
Since Johnny’s death, Jayne barely cooked. Her
kids ate well, but she rarely found the strength to
visit the supermarket or cook a wholesome dinner. A
deep weariness had replaced the bouts of depression
that tainted her bereavement.
Not much of an improvement, she thought.
“Sorry. I appreciate the effort.”
“Just wanted to impress you with my newfound
culinary skills.” Marti smiled at her joke. She ran long
fingers through her short, dark red hair. Her digital
camouflage ACU did little to enhance her skin tone,
or her figure. The bulging pockets of her trousers and
the washed-out green-gray of the weather resistant
fabric detracted from Marti’s pale skin. Only the tiny
freckles that peppered her petite nose heralded their
“Don’t worry, sis,” she went on. “Our local
commissary has everything we need for a great
They both laughed.
Marti pulled open a cupboard door and grabbed a
large jar filled with a candle. After she lit it, she
placed it between them on the table. The scent of
pumpkins and cinnamon wafted up, obliterating the
evidence of her attempt to cook.
“Jayne, I’m glad you came for the holiday. We’ll
have fun at my good friend’s wedding on Christmas
“God. Christmas will be here before we know it.”
“Your nephew and I feel more alone during this
holiday than any other time of year. Can’t I talk you
into moving in? Permanently?”
“I do miss living on an army base, but Johnny’s
“Sorry. I forgot. However, things change, sis. You
finally graduated nursing school. No more nights and
weekends filled with homework and studying. Maybe
you’ll meet another great guy. Think about it?”
Jayne sighed. She’d love to get back into army
life. When her less-than-stellar marriage faltered
after the birth of their second daughter, she and
Johnny received a needed break when he deployed
overseas. The kids missed their dad, but thrived
under her care. The stress-free home life was like a
breath of fresh air. With no one breathing down her
neck to get dinner on the table, ordering her to run
errands, or treating her like a thorn in his side, things
had started to look up.
Then her world imploded the morning two officers
knocked on her door. Since losing Johnny, she
and the girls had lived through two years of hell;
leaving the base, finding a new home, hiring sitters,
and completing her degree in nursing. Worse, the
man she truly loved remained a distant memory. A
memory she had never found a way to shake.
Staff Sergeant Christopher Hawkins marched
alongside his platoon. Along with two other drill
sergeants, their AIT soldiers finished lunch in record
time. This group had survived basic combat training
and now neared the end of their advanced individual
training. Chris looked forward to filling their heads
with intense survival instruction before sending them
off into the world with their new skills.
Glancing up, clear blue sky filled his vision. Diesel
exhaust mixed with pine scent from the North
Carolina forest surrounding the army base. He swore
he smelled the tang of the sea, though it was over
one hundred miles to the east.
Several of the men chuckled as they marched. The
frigid weather under clear skies had put everyone
in a good mood. Too good. Perhaps a ten-mile hike
would give them all a good night’s sleep.
Nowadays, sleep came hard to Chris. Nightmares
filled with gunfire and blood had gotten to be a habit.
He’d awaken covered in sweat with a curse on his
lips. This proved tiresome. With Afghanistan a recent
memory, he woke today determined to enjoy a march
on paved roads under an American sky. No guns, no
blood, no bodies laying dead and dismembered in the
“Wake up, fool. You’re safe,” he mumbled.
“What’s that, Sarge?” his second-in-command
“Nothing. Just thinking out loud. Quiet today. No
“Why drive when you can march? The sun is real
bright.” Chris’s sergeant closed his eyes, leaned his
head back, and smiled. “I could get used to this.”
“Open those eyes. You’re on traffic detail. Can’t
have my boys run down.”
“Yes, Sarge.” Tipping his cap, he swung his M-
16A2 rifle off his shoulder, and trotted into the next
road. The platoon marched in place until waved by.
Several clapped their hands together for warmth as
their hazy breaths danced in the chilly breeze. Noses,
on several of the men, had grown rosy from the cold.
Chris sighed. Training soldiers on a secure army
base was easy and safe.
If I had bothered to get me a wife and a couple
of kids, I’d have something to look forward to each
day, he thought as he caught up, and then trotted to
the front of the platoon. An image sprang up, clear as
UNWRAPPING CHRIS, by Nancy Lee Badger, was released by Whispers Publishing and is a contemporary military romance. Ring in the holidays with excitement and spice!