All day long he had tried not to think about the glorious fact that it was his last day in country. It would be bad luck to think about it, to count on it. But the day was over. He had survived his last mission and after two long years he was heading home. Home. The cabin deep in the woods. And Rose, sweet Rose, in his arms again.
The trip home wasn’t exactly first class. The plane was a freighter, temporarily converted for troop transport, and filled to the gills with soldiers, twelve across in narrow seats bolted to the bare metal belly of the clumsy beast. When Jim pulled out Rose’s picture, he knew the guys on each side of him would demand to see it. He knew it would get passed around. He knew there would probably be some good natured ribbing. Maybe some ribald comments that he would have to pretend not to notice.
He took it out anyway.
It was his favorite picture of Rose. She was relaxing on the oak bench her grandfather made and was wearing denim shorts and a white tee-shirt, her bare feet propped on the porch railing, a cloud of auburn curls framing her laughing face. The rough logs of the cabin were on her right, the dark green of the woods on her left, and in the background there was a glimpse of the Missouri River winding its way through the trees far below.
The picture did get passed around, but to Jim’s surprise there was very little joking. Instead, First Sergeant Tim McGinnis pulled out a picture of his own to share.
“Look, mine’s a redhead, too!”
The sergeant’s wife was a pretty strawberry blonde with a scatter of freckles on her nose and a grinning blue-eyed baby on her lap. Soon a dozen men were sharing and passing around their own favorite pictures from home, talking over top of each other in their eagerness to explain why their picture, their home, was special.
The men had to shout to be heard over the engine roar and the vibrating rattle of equipment against the metal hull. Even though Jim couldn’t hear most of the comments, he smiled and nodded as each photo came into his hands.
Then the sergeant turned to Jim. “How about it, Captain, tell us about your girl!”
Jim didn’t hesitate. “I’ve loved her since she was six years old.”
It was true. For a long time he told himself he loved her like a big brother. That notion came to an end when they shared their first tremulous kiss down by the creek, the day he picked up the little stone he carried in his pocket.
At the airport, Sergeant McGinnis spotted his strawberry blonde right away and ran into her open arms with a whoop of delight. Jim scanned the crowd, but didn’t see his Rose anywhere.
A lady wearing heels and a business suit blocked his view when she stopped right in front of him. Irritated, he started to step around her and only stopped when she lay a carefully manicured hand on his sleeve.
“Jim. . .”
It was her voice. But the polished lady before him was not the cherished wild Rose he carried in his heart.
This is an excerpt from my novel River Rose. And my first post in the May 2014 Story-a-day Challenge.