The moon shone over the desert, reflecting on the land. As usual, Staff Sergeant Rob Newton was talking about his wife, Callie. While the two of them conducted the routine patrol, Captain Brock Armstrong smiled inwardly at the story Rob told about Callie. Rob was clearly crazy about his wife. Brock’s gaze moved constantly round them and into the distance. He might be amused, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t be careful.
Rob laughed. An explosion split the air. Pain tore through Brock at the same time he heard Rob’s scream. “Callie! Callie!”
His flesh burned and ached so much he couldn’t speak. Time crawled by in a haze of pain. Images blurred. He couldn’t see out of his right eye. He tried to move, felt himself lifted, and heard the whir of a helicopter propeller. Help was on the way.
“Callie,” he heard Rob mutter and managed to turn his head.
“Rob, you okay?”
“Don’t let her crawl back in her hole and hide,” he said desperately. “Don’t let her be a hermit. Don’t let her-“
“You need to calm down,” another voice said. A medic? Brock wondered, feeling his sense of reality slip and slide. “You need to conserve your energy.”
Everything went black.
Brock awakened, drenched in sweat. He opened his eyes, but the darkness closed around his throat like a vice. He reached for his bedside lamp and turned it on, then sat up in his bed, breathing like he was running a marathon. Even though the wound was long healed, he instinctively rubbed at his right eye. He hadn’t been able to see out of his right eye that night because blood from a head wound had pulled a curtain over his vision.
After months of physical therapy, he still limped. He might always limp. It didn’t stop him from running. It wouldn’t stop him from much, except being a Marine. He’d always known he wouldn’t stay in the corp forever, but he hadn’t expected to receive a discharge with honors quite this soon.
He raked his hand through his hair. It was long and needed a cut. Or not, he reminded himself. He wasn’t required to keep it regulation length anymore.
He glanced around his room in the rehabilitation center and felt an edgy restlessness. He’d been here long enough. He was ready to move on, to leave his sense of shock and weakness behind. His body was growing stronger and his will was catching up.
He was sick of focusing on himself, sick of talking about himself during his sessions with the head doctor.
Sighing, he slid to the edge of the bed and limped to the small window. He looked out into the night and remembered the last night he’d seen Rob Newton alive. The land mine had taken Rob and left Brock. Brock still didn’t understand why and he asked the question approximately every five minutes.
The staff shrink had told him he was suffering survivor’s guilt. It would take time.
Brock swallowed over a knot in his throat. “Thanks for nothing,” he muttered.
Rob’s cries for his wife echoed inside his brain. He closed his eyes against the clawing sensation inside him. Maybe he was never going to get over this. Maybe he was never going to feel at peace again. Sitting here in the rehab center wasn’t going to solve anything. He could finish the rest of his therapy on his own.
He had to find a way to live with himself a little easier, a way to appease his guilt. He snorted. Mission Impossible. What could he do for a dead man?
He thought again of Rob’s widow. Maybe, just maybe, he could live with himself a little easier if he honored Rob’s last request.