Thursday, December 20, 2012

1st Pgs-UNWRAPPING CHRIS a Holiday Love Story

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

Scottish ancestry.

   “Don’t worry, sis,” she went on. “Our local

commissary has everything we need for a great

holiday dinner.”

   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

gone and—”

   “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.

   And boring.

   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!
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