Trigger Warning: This chapter’s topic relates to the death of a soldier in combat, so I am providing a trigger warning.
FIFTEEN YEARS LATER • NOVEMBER 30, 2004 • NEAR FALLUJAH, IRAQ
“Sarge?” came the voice of Corporal Clancy Vasquez from behind me. His tone was an odd mixture of compassion and impatience. He didn’t like death any more than the rest of us—didn’t enjoy thinking about what could be waiting around the nearest corner, silently stalking us all.
Or not so silently. Sometimes death sounded like machine guns or land mines. Sometimes it was the loud pop of a sniper’s rifle.
“Five minutes!” I told him in a tone that I figured was probably a bit too gruff, considering the fact that he was also suffering due to the losses in our Platoon. We all were. But I couldn’t help my tone. I didn’t want to hurry away from the casket that held my best friend—my only real friend—Lieutenant William Thomas Compton, Jr.
Bill and I had met in basic training in San Diego, where we’d both excelled: him because he was a legacy cadet and knew exactly what would be expected of him and how to go about earning achievement after achievement; and me because—well—I needed to succeed. After all, what was I? What could I be—if I couldn’t be a soldier?
As in most testosterone-heavy environments, competitions arose between some of the men in basic training. Bill and I could have hated each other—since we were clearly the most physically gifted in our group. While I was long and lean, using my height and slim build to my advantage, he was shorter and a bit stockier, though by no means fat. I was faster, but he was quicker. While Bill could shoot more accurately at closer range, I could fire off rounds quicker. I was also a better shot from long distances, my eyesight being good enough to qualify me to be a pilot—if only my height hadn’t disqualified me from going in that direction. Seventy-seven inches was the maximum height for an Air Force pilot. I measured in at 77.7 inches, and the Air Force isn’t exactly known for breaking its rules for anyone, let alone a B average student without much else to distinguish him.
So—I’d decided to join the Marines.
In truth, part of the reason why I went to the recruitment center nearest my house in Long Beach the Monday morning after I’d graduated from high school in May of 1998 was that I was looking for structure in my life—looking for a place where I could belong.
Eight months before my graduation and just two days after my eighteenth birthday on September 15, 1997, my parents, Appius Livius Ocella-Northman and Freyda Northman, both died in a car accident—not far from our home. Legally an adult, I’d thought that I would become the guardian of my sister, Pamela. But I was torpedoed—as was Pam—when my mother’s Will had named a man—a stranger—called Edward Ravenscroft to be Pam’s guardian. Edward, it turned out, was Pam’s biological father, a fact that our mother had never told anyone, but Edward. Even my own father hadn’t suspected a thing.
I’d been dumbfounded to learn that my mother had conceived a child with another man. I’d been only ten years old at the time, but I did recall my mother’s “extended business trip” to London because Nanny Octavia had lived full-time at the house for a while. I remembered that it had been nice having Nanny Octavia around all the time—since she was altogether more affectionate with me than my parents ever were. Sadly, she retired from her work not long after my mother returned from England—so that she could focus on taking care of her new grandchildren, twins. My other nannies hadn’t really had much to do with me, beyond making sure I was fed and taken to where I needed to be. They focused their attention on Pam after she was born, as was natural—since she was younger.
As it turned out, my mother’s three-month stint in the London branch of the international law firm that my father owned had produced a lot more than a couple of multi-million-dollar deals.
Apparently, she’d known about Pam before she’d left England. So had Pam’s father. Edward Ravenscroft, however, wasn’t in the position to start a family with my mother. And a scandal with a married woman wouldn’t have been in his best interests, especially not when one took into account the possessiveness of Appius Livius Ocella-Northman.
Edward was something like eightieth in line for the British throne and also married at the time. Plus, the couple’s dalliance had been casual, and the pregnancy had been an accident, though my mother obviously decided not to terminate it. So, at the time, Freyda and Edward had decided to go their own separate ways, and my father had never known about his wife’s infidelity. My father had thought that the child was conceived during the time of his “reunion” with his wife upon her return to California.
Of course, my mother tended to overlook my father’s many affairs, and I’d never seen love between my parents. So I’d not been surprised that she would seek out affection elsewhere. She hid that affair and any others she had very well, while he tended to flaunt the women he used like trophies.
Ironically, from my point of view, my parents’ marriage was stronger in certain ways once my mom returned from her long work trip. And my father doted on little Pamela, whom he’d pronounced as the perfect child on the day of her birth.
Sometimes, I wondered if that pronouncement had been directed at me—to emphasize how I was not anywhere close to perfect in my father’s eyes.
Funnily enough, Appius had also decided that Pam looked just like him—as well as his beloved mother. I sometimes wondered if my own mother had a secret laugh about that.
Despite the unfavorable comparison of me to my sister, I was grateful for Pam from the start. Her being born took a lot of the attention away me, for—though I was already beginning to stand out athletically—I always seemed incapable of pleasing either of my parents. At least for my father, I often wondered if any son could have measured up, for Appius’s standards of perfection now seemed unobtainable. But he didn’t have the same hoops in mind for his daughter to jump through; it didn’t hurt that Pam was a charismatic child from the beginning—a light in our lives, really. I know I loved her from the first moment I saw her once my parents brought her home from the hospital. Even at only eleven when she was born, I vowed that I would always watch over her.
Of course, things don’t always work out the way one thinks they will.
I’d never questioned the math of Pam’s birth—not until I read the letter my mom left for me, of course. Given her seeming indifference to me during her life, I’d been surprised to even get a letter from her. However, I’d been grateful that she explained things in it.
She’d been unhappy with my father—and scared of him. Much too frightened to tell him the truth about Pam. She’d apologized that Edward couldn’t take me away, along with Pam. She’d also been strangely prescient, writing the letter to me only a few weeks before her death. She’d not imagined that Appius would die in the same accident as she did. Her letter encouraged me to be obedient to my father and to try to do all that he asked of me so that I could, one day, have a “more peaceful life.” At least—in her letter—she’d acknowledged that my life was difficult. That was something. Unfortunately, she’d not told me that she loved me in it. Likely, I wouldn’t have believed the sentiment anyway, having never seen evidence of it.
By the time my mom and dad had been killed, Edward had been widowed. Unbeknownst to me—and a then six-year-old Pam—Edward had stayed in contact with Freyda and had been receiving updates about Pam.
The long and the short of the story was that Edward was flying to California to collect Pam; in fact, he was in the air even as I was reading the letter Mr. Cataliades, my parents’ lawyer, had put in front of me.
That had been four days after my parents had died—and four hours since Pam and I had scattered their ashes into a garden behind our home, a garden neither of them had spent much time in. But Pam loved the garden, so there they went.
Still, in so many ways, scattering their ashes in that beautiful place was better than a body in a box.
“Sarge?” Rasul Godwin’s voice came from behind him. “Clancy said to come get you in five. It’s been ten.”
“Five more,” I demanded, without turning around.
“The Cap says we’re wheels up at 0900,” Rasul sighed, almost apologetically.
“I was at the briefing,” I returned brusquely, turning my icy blue eyes on him for a moment. “And I know the goddamned time. I’ll take ten more—as a matter of fucking fact, Corporal!” I added in a tone that I figured made Rasul recall early morning training sessions I’d conducted with my squad. I wasn’t exactly known for being easy on them during training runs. Being easy didn’t keep them alive. Of course, being hard didn’t always work either. I knew that all too well.
“Ten it is, Sir,” Rasul said quickly before leaving me alone again.
Immediately, my thoughts went back to the day I’d had to watch as a man I’d never met introduced himself to his daughter. Pam had been wary of Edward Ravenscroft at first, but he’d seemed nice enough, and she’d taken to him within a few hours. Of course, I didn’t have any say on the matter of who took in Pam. My mother’s Will was clear, and my father wasn’t there to protest it. Hell! Evidence of a paternity test was even included with the Will, obviously intended to counteract anything that Appius might have done had he been alive. So Pam was to go with Edward.
As for me? Well—that wasn’t quite so simple. Both my mother’s and father’s Wills had clearly been made before I turned eighteen. Apparently, my custody would have been a “matter for the State of California”—meaning that I would have been an orphan, likely a foster kid, until I turned eighteen and gained my independence and inheritance.
I had a maternal grandfather in Sweden, apparently. But he and my mother had been estranged long before I was born. He was in bad health, too—in some kind of nursing home. And my father’s family in Italy, which I knew very little about, wanted nothing to do with me either.
But I was over eighteen, so I was not considered an orphan. I inherited my freedom.
Unfortunately, I’d also inherited the financial mess my parents had left behind. I’d always thought that my parents had been incredibly wealthy; they’d certainly lived that way. But I’d soon learned from Mr. Cataliades that Appius had been supplementing his income with “help” from the Ocella family in Italy. That “help” had come in quarterly deposits to his account and had ended with his death.
According the Mr. Cataliades, it was the Ocella family that had been making sure Appius had the money he needed. However, my father was not one for saving anything for a “rainy day.” The lawyer had contacted the Ocellas to see if any of them might continue to help me; however, the Ocella family told him to tell me to consider myself non desiderato. Thanks to the Internet, I learned that meant “unwanted.”
At least, they told Mr. Cataliades that they would not sweep in and try to take what was left behind by my parents.
With Mr. Cataliades’s help—actually his charity since there was no longer money to pay him once my parents’ financial problems were discovered—I managed to settle my parents’ estate. Some of their debt, thankfully, disappeared when they died; for instance, I wasn’t responsible for their many credit card balances. But they had a lot of toys—expensive ones that required monthly payments that had required their large checks from my father’s law firm and Ocella money.
I sold their four cars, replacing them with something used and cheap for me. I didn’t know how to drive it yet, but I knew I’d need it. My parents also had a yacht that I sold. I would have sold the Long Beach house too, but Pam had cried when I’d phoned her in England to tell her that I might need to.
So I’d found a way to keep it, though I’d obviously had to let all the staff go. Mr. Cataliades had taught me how to use my own personal inheritance, a trust from my mother, to make the mortgage and tax payments on the house. The only trouble had been that my inheritance would run out before the house was paid off, but—since that was several years away—I’d decided to keep up the payments as long as possible.
In the world my father had envisioned for me, I’d been on track to be in the 2000 Olympics as a swimmer. But, after my parents died, it seemed impossible to imagine that life for anymore. Obviously, my swimming coach couldn’t be paid, and he left after giving me the number of people who might be willing to help me for less money—or out of charity. I called them all, but I didn’t have the means to train with them. One of them told me that—if I placed in the top three at the National Championships the next year—he might take me on. But he made no promises. Another said I would need to move to Colorado in order to train with him, but that wasn’t realistic for me to do.
My private tutors also had to be let go, of course. But Mr. Cataliades helped me to transfer into a public school where I could finish my high school degree. Immediately, the swim coach there wanted me to be on the team, and I agreed, holding onto my father’s aspirations for me just a little bit longer.
Then I’d sold most of what was inside the house so that I could afford food and utilities, as I waited for the life insurance policy my mother had to pay out. The beneficiary of my father’s policy was only Pam, but my mother had split hers between us. When the policy finally paid out, I budgeted that money, again with the help of Mr. Cataliades. It could have gone toward household expenses. But—wanting to use it to make sure I would have more house payments—I opted to get a part-time job. Again, Mr. Cataliades helped to save the day, likely because he pitied me. Since I was good with numbers, he introduced me to his wife, who owned an accounting firm. She gave me part-time work helping with data entry.
With my pay check, I could buy food, gas, and toiletries. I was also able to pay for the house’s utilities—at least, after I got rid of the cable. I had to close up a large part of the house—including the pool area, which cost a small fortune to maintain—in order to keep my utilities down. I used only the kitchen and the little bedroom and sitting room that had been the cook’s. The rest of the house was empty—haunted in a way.
Despite all this, the house was more welcoming for me than it had been before. Sometimes I still dreamed that my father was yelling at me—telling me how much of a disappointment I was to him—but, in the light of the day, he wasn’t there anymore.
There had been periods of my life when I’d been allowed to socialize, but none of my parentally-approved friends proved “true” following my parents’ deaths. Truth be told, I didn’t blame them because they didn’t really know me. Plus, they had no way of knowing that my inconsistency in contacting them was due to the whims of my father, not my own preferences. Likely, they all thought that I was inconsistent and strange.
The latter of these was correct.
In addition, my father had always told me that I needed to focus on my swimming—sometimes feeling the need to physically beat that message into me—even as he warned me that any people who hung around me would only do it if they felt like they could use me for something. Having heard that warning since I was in my pre-teen years, I’d taken it to heart. After all, other than Nanny Octavia and Pam, no one had ever seemed to like me much, though Mr. Cataliades and his wife seemed kind to me.
But, again, I felt that was pity. Or it was because of the affection they seemed to have for my mother. Regardless, I didn’t interact with them much outside of the estate issues and my job.
In my new school, I did try to make some friends. But I was seen as a threat to some of the swimmers on the team, so I was ostracized by them. They needn’t have worried. My swimming went downhill with every race I swam, and I ultimately quit the team because the practices were interfering with my job.
And then I burned the goal chart that my father had made for me that had hung in the pool room for almost a decade. And—just like that—my swimming career was over.
In happier news, I was regarded as attractive by many of the girls at school. I was an oddity—and I was new. They flirted with me, and I did my best to flirt back because I thought they liked me. At least, I thought that about the first few that did it. Eventually, I learned that they wanted to “win” me over their friends. And some just wanted to fuck me. And I did learn how to fuck the year I was on my own in Long Beach. Eventually, I fucked just for the sake of not being so damned alone all the time. Fucking felt good, even if the girls I fucked were using me as much as I was using them.
Having fucked up my swimming career, I also managed to fuck up my grade point average. I didn’t flunk out or anything, but transitioning to a public high school was difficult for me. I was used to tutors by then, and—though I was more advanced in my studies than the basic high school curricula—I found that I couldn’t concentrate in class. And I couldn’t motivate myself to do good work outside of it either.
I was too busy at my job. And I was also working very hard to make sure that the garden was taken care of, teaching myself how to do so along the way. I knew that Pam would be upset if everything died, and—though some things didn’t make it under my care—I was able to learn to keep most things alive.
Still—I didn’t do horribly in school. I earned B’s and C’s. It was a far cry from the perfect scores my father had always demanded, but—given the circumstances—it was the best I could accomplish.
I graduated without an audience since Edward Ravenscroft had taken Pam on a trip around Europe after her own school session had ended that year.
I kept in touch with Pam via a weekly phone call. She quickly acclimated to her new life, taking to riding horses like a natural. She also clearly loved her new father. Unlike me, she’d gotten to see a softer side of my father, who’d doted on her. Our mother hadn’t really been that motherly, but she’d also taken more interest in Pam. Thus, my sister missed them, while I felt something more akin to relief without Appius around. Still—Pam soon talked more of her new life and her new parent, in contrast to the life that had included me.
Still—even now—I called her once a week, except when I literally couldn’t get to a phone because of what I described to her as the “challenges of deployment.”
Those “challenges” usually translated into me missing a scheduled call because I was being shot at or shooting at others, so I kept that part of my life from her.
So—yes—the Marines were something I had needed desperately after I graduated. And they took me in when I had no one else. Oh—I could have kept working for Mrs. Cataliades and applied to community colleges, but I didn’t have any way to pay for a higher education. The Corps offered me a paycheck that would cover my basics and a part-time gardener for my parents’ house in Long Beach. So I joined.
Bill’s march to the Marine Corps was as different from mine as one could get. His father had been a Marine, ending his career as a Colonel. Moreover, being a Marine seemed to be mixed with Compton blood, as all the male members of the Compton family had joined the Corps going back five generations. The Compton family was quite prominent too—and extremely wealthy. They owned a lot of farmland in Louisiana. Bill’s great-grandfather, Thomas, had been the first of the Compton’s to seek public office and had been a governor of Louisiana following his own military service. Bill’s grandfather, Jacob, had been a General before becoming one of President Ronald Reagan’s top advisors; I knew that Jacob had passed away just a year before I’d met Bill. Bill’s father Colonel William Thomas Compton, Sr. had been elected as a U.S. Senator of Louisiana just a few weeks before—on November 2. Bill had been so excited—so proud—of his father, having been on the campaign trail with him between deployments, when he’d not been at home with his wife and small son, that is.
Bill, too, had had political aspirations. Though he loved the Corps, he had always planned to stay in for only four of five years of active duty. After that, he planned to spend four more years in the Reserves. Indeed, he was due to step away from active duty in only three months. After that, he would have started earning his law degree. But mostly, he’d been anxious to build what he called a “proper home” with Sookie, the woman he’d married in July of 1998—right after she’d turned eighteen and right before basic training.
I had never met Sookie in person, though I had spoken to her on the phone. Nonetheless, I felt like I knew her—from all the stories Bill had told about her. Bill had learned about Sookie’s pregnancy only a week into basic training.
During our first weekend leave from boot camp, Bill celebrated his pending fatherhood by buying drinks for several of the people in a little group of recruits that had gathered, most of whom left as soon as they found female companions. Eventually, Bill had needed someone to pick him up off the pavement outside a bar, and I had, apparently, already gained the mentality of never leaving anyone behind. I’d literally carried Bill to the motel room I’d already rented—when I’d been hoping to find a female companion of my own for some uncomplicated sex that night.
Instead, I’d found a friend.
Having gotten a second wind and another bottle of tequila, which he’d shared with me, Bill had talked and talked that night. And I’d listened, even as I’d realized how nice it was to have someone share a little bit of their life with me. And Bill had had a lot to share. As it turned out, he was insecure about becoming a father at only nineteen years old, which I felt was a very reasonable fear to have.
The child had been a surprise to both him and Sookie—as they’d practiced safe sex during their honeymoon, for which they’d waited to have sex for the first time. Bill had told me all about his wife, his hopes for being a good father, and his worries about not being around for either one of them—either because he was deployed or died in combat.
I laid my hand flat on the coffin and closed my eyes.
That long-ago drunken night, exhausted mentally and physically from exhausting training, Bill and I had somehow become friends, despite our many, many differences. Not long after that, we were like brothers.
Truth be told, I had needed Bill—needed someone that I mattered to. I had needed some kind of family, and Bill and the Corps itself gave me that.
I had met Bill’s parents, William Sr. and Sophie-Anne more than once. They flew to San Diego a couple of times—as they had some friends in that city. Having a difficult pregnancy, Sookie couldn’t risk flying. And, though Bill invited me to go to Louisiana with him between our basic training and our more advanced training (or AIT)—and then again during the time between our AIT and our first deployment—I’d made excuses not to do so. Given the fact that Sookie was pregnant, I wasn’t about to get in the way of Bill’s limited time with his wife.
That’s also why I’d found excuses when he’d asked me to visit at other times of extended leave, too—when we’d been between active duty deployments. Of course, many of my excuses were good—like the two times I’d traveled to London to see Pam. Other times, I’d just gone back to Long Beach, which had felt more and more lonely to me each time I went there.
In fact, on my last visit, which was six months before (between our previous tour, which had been in Afghanistan, and our current one in Iraq), I’d decided to put the house on the market. The house had become like an albatross to me, after all, and it sat empty 95% of the time. In truth, returning there stirred up mostly bad memories for me, except for the few good ones I had involving Nanny Octavia and Pam. But those memories made me feel empty and alone.
So I’d called Pam, hoping that—with the years adding up between her California life as a Northman and her English life as a Ravenscroft—she wouldn’t begrudge my selling the house. However, she had become extremely upset, even hanging up on me. When I’d tried calling her back, she didn’t pick up.
Immediately, I’d called the real estate agent I was working with and cancelled all the plans I’d made to sell; then, I’d called Mr. Cataliades to see about changing the ownership of the house to Pam, though I would continue the mortgage payments, which I was still swinging because of my inheritance and my mother’s life insurance. And then I’d gone to the local library to email Pam since she still wouldn’t pick up my calls.
I’d begged her to forgive me, letting her know that I wouldn’t sell the house—that I would give it to her as a gift.
I’d spent a very dark day in that lonely, dark house, hoping that Pam would call me back and wondering why I hadn’t just left well enough alone, wondering why I’d risk losing my sister over something so insignificant as a house I hated.
A little more than twenty-four hours after she’d hung up on me, she finally called me back. Pam—who was thirteen at the time—told me that she didn’t really want the house and that I should sell it. She just wanted to visit “Mom and Daddy” one last time. Again, I offered to just give her the house, but she refused. She’d been a little cold to me, but at least she’d not cut me out of her life completely.
Likely, Edward had had a lot to do with her change of heart. Before the sell went through, he brought her to Long Beach to say goodbye to the place—and to the garden. I was just grateful that—though I’d been doing some specialized training at the time of her visit—I had been able to see Pam for a couple of hours in San Diego. I’d also managed to get a few words alone with Edward—to arrange for half of the profits from the sale to go to Pam. Of course, the Ravenscrofts were well-off, and he tried to refuse the money, but I’d insisted. And he’d relented after only a few minutes of discussion. With him, I’d also double-checked—and then triple-checked—that Pam wouldn’t be bitter because I’d sold the house.
He swore that she was now okay with the idea and that her initial response had been that of a young girl who “needed closure.” He’d assured me that she’d gotten it.
According to Edward, Pam had been strong as she’d said goodbye to the garden. Being well-connected, Edward had even gotten permission to take some of the plant clippings from the garden (and some of the soil) back to England, where they’d use a section of his estate’s garden to “keep Pam’s mother and stepfather alive for her.”
I’d thought that it was a nice idea, and I was certain it had been Edward’s. I’d found myself envying Pam in that moment—wondering what it would have been like to have had a father that truly thought about my needs, hopes, and/or desires.
My own father had a particular plan for my life. I was to excel in school, which I’d managed to do until my parents’ deaths. I was to excel in swimming and become an Olympian, which I had been trying my best to accomplish as well. After that, I would go to college and ultimately follow in his and my mother’s footsteps to become a lawyer. I was to make a good marriage match and eventually be a partner in his firm—if I could, in his words, “earn the title.” The firm, he always said, would be his legacy.
I’d never had any interest in the law, but I couldn’t help but to think that I would have done everything Appius wanted if he’d lived. But he didn’t live. My mother didn’t either.
“You neither, my friend,” I said to the box in front of me.
I put my hand on his casket again.
For the last time.
I knew that the casket lid would stay closed, though it would be draped with a flag when William, Sophie-Anne, Sookie and little Jason met it at Andrews Air Force base in two days’ time.
I closed my eyes and thought of the calls I’d made—calls I’d felt responsible for making—both to Bill’s parents and to Sookie. They’d already known, of course, that Bill had been killed in action. The military had a policy that the families would be informed “properly” and in person whenever possible. An officer and a chaplain had visited Bill’s parents in Annapolis, Maryland; at roughly the same time, a similar duo had visited his wife in Bon Temps, Louisiana. My calls had been made after I’d received the all clear from my C.O.
I’d had to describe—twice—how Bill had died. But I’d gotten to tell Bill’s family that he’d died a hero. And he had. I’d gotten to tell them that he’d been trying to save the life of another Marine when he’d been slain.
I’d left out the part that he’d been foolish to leave his cover to do it.
I closed my eyes and I was back where it happened.
Our platoon had been in Fallujah, as a part of Operation Phantom Fury. Our mission on November 28 had been to—in the C.O.’s words—”mop up a small pocket of suspected opposition” in the northeast sector of the city. “Heavy urban combat in Sector 5-Delta” were the words I’d used to describe the scene in my report. More appropriate would have been to describe it as hell.
Bill had been my Lieutenant—commanding three squads, one of which I had command over. Yes—Bill had been promoted faster than I had, but I’d not been surprised. When it came to written tests, he’d been better than I was, though I was no slouch. Plus, he was “legacy,” and—in the Corps—it did matter that Bill was a fifth- generation Marine.
I hadn’t been jealous of his faster progress, especially since he always made sure we were a part of the same Platoon. Indeed, he treated me like a co-leader in many ways.
I was actually glad he made Lieutenant before me—since it kept him a bit back from the direct line of fire at times. As a Sergeant, I was still a lot more expendable—at least, from the military’s point of view. Oh—it wouldn’t be long before I made Lieutenant, though the captain (thankfully) knew better than to promote me directly to Bill’s place when he was killed.
“Shot to pieces,” I muttered as I opened my eyes and tried to not see what Bill had looked like when I made my way to him. My squad had been in the lead that day, sweeping for insurgents building by building. The other two squads had been behind us, though slightly to our left—when they’d come across a sniper. Bill had been the one to spot him. The last time I heard Bill’s voice, he was telling me the position of the sniper’s nest so that I could find a kill shot. Since I was the best shot in the Platoon (at least from a distance), he often tasked me with such things.
And I did kill the sniper, but not before he killed three men in the Platoon.
The first man down—a short, rambunctious fellow from Brooklyn named Steven— had been the reason that Bill had been able to locate the sniper. Bill had seen the glint of the rifle. Quickly, he ordered the squad he was with to take cover. But a second Marine, who we all called Little Rob, though he was almost my height, was shot before he could follow that order. That was when Bill had radioed me.
However, only one of the shot Marines—Brooklyn Steve—had died immediately. Little Rob was lying injured in the open. Because Bill was who he was—sometimes brave to a fucking fault—he ordered covering fire in the direction of the sniper’s nest and went to get the injured man himself!
The high-powered sniper’s weapon hit him four times.
The first shot lodged in Bill’s gut and would have been enough to kill him, but slowly, since an immediate evac wasn’t possible.
The second bullet tore through his right shoulder almost dragging his arm off with its velocity.
That shot spun Bill around so that his back was to the sniper, and it also caused him to do something a Marine was never supposed to do—yank off his helmet. Of course, Bill couldn’t be blamed for it. Pain made people do some odd things.
The third shot hit his back and left a huge exit wound where his heart was. It killed him.
Still, there had been a fourth shot. It entered through the back of his head.
The exit wound from that shot had made Bill’s face hard for even me to recognize once I’d finally made my way to my friend—my brother.
Of course, I’d kept the details of Bill’s wounds out of my description of the battle to Bill’s family, concentrating on the hero part.
William Compton’s voice had caught, but he’d behaved like I figured a man was supposed to act—at least in public—after learning someone they loved had died. I didn’t fare so well when I’d found Bill. Oh—I’d managed to hold myself together well enough until the Platoon, which—as the most senior Sergeant present—I’d taken temporary command over, was safe and sound. Later, I heard people talking in hushed voices about how tears had been streaming down my face the whole time.
I didn’t remember them flowing. And, luckily, they’d not affected my work. No other Marines had been lost, and we got all our men out of there. Last I knew, Little Rob even had a decent chance of surviving, though his spinal cord had been severed when he’d been shot.
After writing my report, I’d wept in the shower and then pulled myself together enough to fall into my rack and sleep for eight hours. When I woke up, I managed to eat and to make a follow-up report to the captain, who’d then given me permission to make my phone calls. But my resolute demeanor didn’t last as I told William how sorry I was that I’d not protected Bill better.
Even though Bill was immediate commanding officer, I’d vowed to myself years before that—if only one of us could make it out of the Marines alive—it was damned sure going to be him!
Somehow, I’d managed to pull myself back together and hold it together during my call to Sookie, who’d wept all throughout my call to her. Her brother Jason, also a Marine, had been killed in action the year before she and Bill had married. So I couldn’t even imagine her sorrow. Still—I’d promised to make sure she got everything Bill carried with him as well as the letter he’d been in the middle of writing to her. I felt the need to prepare her for that—to warn her that it was coming.
My internal clock—irrevocably and infallibly set sometime during my fourth week of basic training—told me that my ten minutes and another five on top of it were up.
I stood at full attention and saluted my friend, a man I’d never known as anything but a Marine. Then I pivoted and marched away as if a General were watching me.
Bill was more important to me than any General ever would be, after all.
And I vowed that I’d never let anyone be that important to me again. It simply hurt too much to lose people I cared about.
I’d lost Nanny Octavia.
I’d all but lost my sister.
And now I’d lost my one real friend.
I didn’t want to lose anyone again. All I had to do was to stop myself from caring.
A/N: Hello all! Thanks so much to everyone who has already begun reading this work! I know that this is a tough beginning for Eric & Sookie; however, I hope you will have faith in them–and me–to get things to a good finish. Speaking of finish, I can now report that this story has 33 Chapters, plus a prologue and an epilogue. As I said before, you can likely expect a chapter of this a week, though I hope to raise that to two per week. However, the incomparable & generous Kleannhouse is in high demand for her beta work right now, so–if needed–we’ll keep things at one per week, so that you can continue to receive chapters from other authors, as well! FYI: Mistress Jessica is putting out new chapters again, so check them out!!!
I hope that you enjoyed the above chapter. And please leave me a comment–if you have the time or the inclination.
Seph has been able to do a banner for this story!
I absolutely love it! Keep her in your thoughts though. She’s still having some eye issues.
For this reason, I haven’t inundated her with new character banner requests. However, Rasul will become a somewhat important character later, and I wanted you to know who I’m envisioning for this character this time, so I have included a picture below.