Chapter One“In other news, seven Army men were killed. The date of their deaths are not released at this time, but it’s said that they died serving their country in combat...”
Sandy sips at her morning tea; the warm liquid trailing down her throat, making her tummy warm. Her soft, green eyes watch the small television screen intently. She waits to see if Henry’s name will appear, dreading the possibility. Her thoughts go through the same process as usual. They jump from one dreaded thought to the other. Her fingers tap rapidly against the cool, white-marbled bar. A nervous habit that she was trying to break before Henry left four months ago. Now every time the news mentions anything about the war, it kicks into full gear.
Sandy takes another sip of tea, her long, pale fingers grasping the mug as if it’s her lifeline. Her strawberry blond hair brushes her shoulders, annoying her. She roughly throws it up into a messy bun, leaving her bangs to brush across her eyebrows.
The news comes back from commercial, absorbing Sandy’s full attention once more. They start off mentioning some stories that they’re going to cover later. It seems as though it’s been hours by the time they come back to the story about the Army men.
“As for the story of the Army men, an update has been received. Again, seven of the men were killed during combat. The combat took place roughly two weeks ago in Afghanistan..” The news reporter is interrupted by Sandy’s doorbell. Her heart skips a beat. Hoping that it’s not anyone too important, since she hasn’t changed out of her pajamas yet, but also hoping that it’s not somebody bearing bad news.
She carries her mug of tea with her, something Henry had given her for Christmas, her fingers absently tapping against the hard surface. Sandy looks down at herself, examining her attire, which consists of Henry’s faded ACDC concert t-shirt and a pair of his old green boxers.
A small memory makes its way into her nervous mind. It was one of her and Henry’s first dates, a starlit walk across a beach along the coast. They were goofing off and having fun, when it suddenly started to downpour. They had made a mad dash for Henry’s old Jeep, that luckily had its hardtop secured to the car. They quickly jumped under the dry cover. Sandy was soaked to the bone, and had started to shiver. Henry cranked the heat to full blast. Then he reached into the back seat and pulled out the less old version of the ACDC concert t-shirt, offering it to her so she could be more dry. She’s loved the t-shirt ever since.
Her flashback ends with another ring of the doorbell. Since she’s taken enough time to stall, she hurries the rest of the distance to the door. When she’s about to answer it, she remembers the news and tries to listen. It’s no use, since it’s too quiet for her to hear from here. She opens the door.
“It’s about time you answered. You weren’t sleepin’, were ya?” Rita says, stepping into Sandy’s home like she owns the place.
Sandy lets her tense shoulders relax, and lets out a breath that she hadn’t realized she was holding. Her face lights up a bit when she smiles and gives a soft laugh. She follows the older woman back into the kitchen, which is now quiet besides the birds chirping outside in the colorful fall trees.
“What are you doing here so early?” Sandy questions her soon to be mother in law.
“Well, you know those damned crows, they can’t seem to shut their beaks. It’s going to make me go bonkers if I have to listen to them much longer. So, I figured that you wouldn’t mind if I were to come over here to do some things.” Rita starts to putter around, her mind and motions going just as fast as a child’s; typical Rita.
“That’s quite alright. I was getting a bit lonely anyways.” Rita gives a curt nod.
“Have you had anything for breakfast yet, dear?”
“No. I was just going to drink my tea. I’m not...”
“Nonsense! You have to have breakfast. Just because you’re done growin’ doesn’t mean that breakfast isn’t the most important meal of the day anymore.” She starts pulling things from the cupboards and refrigerator.
“Rita, really, I’ll just have some cereal.” Rita turns around to face Sandy, her slender hands placed on her thin hips.
“Sandy, it’s Sunday. And Sunday calls for pancakes, dammit!” Sandy laughs, making Rita smile.
“Okay, okay. I’ll have your pancakes!”
“Good, because I would’ve shoved them down your throat if I had to.” Rita turns her tall frame back to making the ingredients for the pancakes.
Sandy takes the silence to glance at her kitchen. Henry had surprised her when decorating it, he had basically the same taste as her. What she loved most was how sunny and bright it was, and how it always smelt like lavender. It was an open space, the only thing not against the wall was the bar that protruded from the rest of the counter. The white walls let in the most light possible from the giant windows that took up most of the wall space. The vast windows look out into their backyard. The place and yard was small, but it was perfect for a couple just starting out together.
“So have you heard from Henry lately?” Rita asks, breaking the silence. A hiss sounds as she scoops some pancake batter onto a hot pan. Andy notices some red chunks dotting the batter. Strawberry pancakes, her favorite.
“I got a letter in the mail last week. It was dated about month ago. How about you?”
“I got one two weeks ago. That one was dated only about a week before. The mail system over there is a weird thing.” Rita flips the pancake, causing another hiss.
“At least there is a mailing system. It’s helpful in calming the nerves.”
“True, but I just wish it could be more consistent.” Rita looks up at Sandy. “Sandy, I’m glad that Henry’s marrying you. You’re the best girl I could dream of him having. I thank my lucky stars he found you. I also thank the Lord that I’m not going through this alone, that you’re here to help me through this. After Danny and Jim died, Henry is all I have, but now I have you too.” Rita’s bright blue eyes fill with tears, making Sandy’s fill also.
“Oh Rita. Thank you. That means so much to me. And I feel the same. You’re like the mother I never got the chance to have.”
“I’m glad. I’ve always wanted a little girl to look over.” Rita turns back to the stove and plops the pancakes on a plate. She sets them down and makes her way over to Sandy to give her a hug. The two women sit there for a few seconds.
“Thank you.” Sandy mumbles again into Rita’s greyish-brown, curly hair.
“Dear, there’s nothing to thank me for. I’m just happy to act like a mother again. Now eat up.” Rita winks and taps Sandy on the shoulder. She walks back into the kitchen to make herself a cup of coffee. They both wipe at their eyes and Sandy starts to pancakes while Rita pulls a mug from the cupboard.
The doorbell rings again. This time, Sandy gets up to answer it in a worry free manner. Oblivious to the fact she still hasn’t changed or has a bit of strawberry stuck in her teeth. She opens the door, but instead of relief, fear shockers her body to the spot in which she stands.
Two sharp looking men stand before her, both dressed in their class A, Army uniforms. They look as if they could be twins; dressed in the same clothes, sporting the same haircut, have the same serious look, and have the same unwanted presence. The one on the right removes his hat, the one on the left follows, revealing that they both have different colored eyes and hair.
“Ms. Jamison?” The one on the right, who has blue eyes and brown hair, asks. Sandy is struck by how much he looks like Henry.
“You’re the fiancee to Major Henry Butler, correct?” The one on the left, who has green eyes and blond hair, asks. Sandy can’t speak.
“Yes. She is,” Rita answers instead, “and I’m his mother, Rita Butler.”
“Well, ladies. I’m so sorry to say that Major Butler has passed in combat two weeks ago.”
At first the news doesn’t register all the way in Sandy’s mind. Once it does, it’s like her heart is ripped from her chest. She let’s out a sob and tears start to streak down her face. Her legs give out, but she’s caught; and the familiar scratch of a uniform itches her face, along with the feel of strong arms holding her. The last time she was in this position was when she said goodbye to Henry. The memory causes her to let out another sob, causing snot to embarrassingly come out of her nose.
“No. Not Henry!” Sandy wails.
“Sandy, come here dear.” She vaguely hears Rita’s whisper, and then she’s passed from the man who looks like Henry, to Rita. “I’m going to put her to bed. Please, come in. I’ll be down in a few more minutes.” Rita says to the men.
“Take your time ma’am.” One says.
All that Sandy can concentrate on is her aching heart. How could I have lost Henry? I’ve lost my one true love, my soulmate, my best friend. Why? She thinks, Why does this have to happen? Not me, not Henry.
Without really knowing how she got there, she realizes she’s in her bed. She opens her teary eyes, looking around to see if anyone is in here with her. Once she confirms that she’s alone, she rolls over to the side of the bed and opens a drawer to her bedside dresser. At the very bottom, under many Cosmo magazines, is a small baggie of white pills. She then pops in two of the pills and swallows them dry. After crying some more, she’s taken into a deep, dark sleep.