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7 Minutes Late

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Riding on the subway the other day, I saw a girl who looked just like Liv. The girl’s long auburn hair lightly-tanned complexion reminded me of the last day I saw her. I had been driving with my unit to some town just inside the Afghanistan border. We had been talking about the terrible food we had to eat here, how we wanted nothing more than to go home and find the closest McDonalds. We were laughing and listening to our little portable radio, when six Afghans jumped up out of ditches on either side of our Humvee. All of a sudden, bullets were breaking the windows, shattering glass into our faces. Without thinking, I jumped out of my door and started shooting. I felt something hit my shin, but I just kept firing. Dust filled the air around us, and I couldn’t see how many men were attacking us.

Before I knew it, everything was silent. Just as I dropped my gun and began looking around to make sure we were safe, I began to feel dizzy. I looked down at my leg, and as I tried to bring into focus the blurry puddles of blood that were soaking into the sand, my mind went black.

Pain seared through my leg as I seeped back into consciousness. The burning sun that I last remembered seeing had given way to a full moon hanging over the desert. As my eyes adjusted to the low light, I pushed my body off the ground and leaned my back against the Humvee so that I could see around me. I counted about five bodies from where I was sitting, but I couldn’t tell who they were and whether or not they were alive. I looked up into the Humvee, and squinted my eyes until I could make out the outline of a body sitting in the front seat. Jimmy. As I reached up and felt his lifeless body, I instantly recalled how we had been fighting for that front seat just a few hours before. He said that I was a newbie and that newbies sat in the back seat. I didn’t understand why he still called me that since I had been there for more than a year. But I let him sit up there anyways, and I wish I had put up more of a fight.

I used all my strength to pull myself up into the backseat of the Humvee so I could get a better look at the damage. My leg pulsed with pain as I pulled it up after me and settled into the seat. Looking around, the sight of death overwhelmed my brain. With Jimmy and Derek torn to pieces in the front seat, and Matt lying in a pool of blood on the seat next to me, I was sure I had been the only survivor. But something—someone—was missing. I dug through my brain in an attempt to remember who else was sitting on the other side of Matt just hours ago. Suddenly, the face emerged in my mind—Liv.

The first day she had come to base, about two weeks after I had arrived, we took her in as one of our own. She had come from somewhere in Maryland, and since most of us were from further south, she was a whole new breed of girl for us. We had other women in our unit, but nobody was as tough as Liv. She was a pretty little thing—but tough as any of us. She would jump right into our games and fights, and not even think twice about the fact that she was about half the size of the smallest guy in our group. I remember how she was usually kept around base, so she was happy to go along with us today, on what was supposed to be no more than a package delivery.

I scanned around for her and as I looked over Matt, I noticed her door was open. I winced with pain as I pushed over his body and slid into her seat, so I could see out the door. I looked over the edge of the doorway, holding my breath as I expected to see her lying dead on the ground. But she wasn’t there.
I swung the door open as far as it would go, but still, I couldn’t see her anywhere. I started panicking, thinking she must’ve gotten captured and carried away in the midst of the gunfire, but as I sunk back into the seat, and began radioing the base, I heard something. It wasn’t very loud like a scream or anything, but just a slight moan coming from behind the Humvee. I held tight to the doorframe as I lowered myself to the ground and began limping around to the back.
I stumbled to the ground as I rounded the back corner, startled by Liv’s instinctual lifting of her gun. You didn’t have to be out here long to know that even when everything seems quiet and over, you’re never completely safe. She lowered her gun as the dust settled around me, revealing my face.

“Thayer,” she whimpered, “is that you?”

“Yeah, it’s me. Are you hurt?” She didn’t have to say a word for me to answer my own question. I looked down at her to see her left pant leg torn open around her knee, a pool of blood seeping out from the wound, and stream of blood coming out from under her hand as she held tight to another wound on her upper, right arm. She lifted her head and looked straight into my eyes, begging the question that neither of us wanted to admit the answer to. “Yeah,” I whispered, “they’re dead.”

I radioed the base, estimating our location so they could send help. A voice cracked through the speaker, reporting that help was on the way. We sat in the sand for what felt like hours. I wrapped my wound so the bleeding would slow, and then I wrapped Liv’s. She stopped bleeding for a while once they were wrapped, but then it started up again. I held my hand tight around her arm, using direct pressure to control the blood, but it kept seeping out.

A sound, like a small engine, woke me up as the sun began to rise over the desert hills. Liv was asleep on the ground next to me, her helmet off and her head resting on her pack. She had stopped bleeding for the most part. I stood up to see over the mounds of sand. As I strained my eyes, I caught a glimpse of movement coming out of the horizon. As the object came into focus, I recognized it as a vehicle similar to ours, coming to rescue us.
I ran forward and waved my hands so they could see us, then I went back to wake up Liv. But as I turned around and looked at her, something felt wrong. I noticed for the first time all the blood soaking into the sand around her.
I called her name and walked over to her, but she didn’t answer me. I sat down and picked her up so she was sitting against the jeep. Her skin was cold and pale white except for the blood stains on her hands and face. She was gone.
As the rescue vehicle pulled up and people began jumping out to help us, I didn’t even look up. Two of them squatted down in front of me, checking my wounds and asking me questions like “Did you see your attackers?”, and “Is anyone else alive?” I just shook my head and ran my fingers through Liv’s hair.
The medics pulled me up, leaving Liv’s body on the ground as they helped me into their jeep. I didn’t look back as they drove me away. The only thing that I could think about was why they had arrived just seven minutes too late.
The girl on the subway stood up as we neared Grand Central Station. I watched her as she picked up her purse and walked out. I guess she didn’t look that much like Liv after all.




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