Last week I had the opportunity to watch a K-9 demonstration by some of the Scott AFB Security Force troops. They showed us some of the equipment they use and how they train their working dogs.
Spencer straightened the ribbons on his blues jacket, swallowing his sadness. He had met John’s family a time or two when they had visited John when he was stationed at Castle and Pope. They were proud of their son and tried to visit each base he had been stationed at. The last time Spencer had seen them was two years ago. He knew this day would be tough for all of them, especially Kate. He prayed for strength and wisdom for the weeks ahead.
He thought of the letter written by John, now sitting on Spencer’s desk at home after he pulled it out from his file safe. He would have to give it to Kate and soon. He’d rather stand still through a tornado.
Spencer recalled previous exchanges he’d heard between Kate and John when Kate would say something like, “I’m never going to be a mother and there’s no changing my mind.” Or, “Motherhood, who needs it?” Spencer didn’t take her too seriously, and hoped she had been joking. He’d find out soon enough.
But now, he had a funeral to attend. He ran down the stairs to the lobby and out to the cab, feeling like a twenty pound pumpkin weighed down his stomach.
Until next time,
A minute later, Kate returned with her cap shoved on her head, her eyes red. Spencer said quietly, “My car’s this way.” As much as he wanted to, he wanted to hold Kate’s hand, but regulations wouldn’t allow it unless they were out of uniform. He stuffed his left hand in his pocket, the other holding his keys which he didn’t feel like spinning on his finger. He would miss his friend and the memories and jokes they shared. But he knew things would change after he finally told Kate what John could not. And he dreaded that conversation like a root canal.
The drive was silent as a cave minus the dripping. Not even the radio was on. Spencer couldn’t remember when or why he had turned it off. He didn’t bother turning it back on. He still had weepy eyes and wasn’t in the mood for music. Somehow silence seemed fitting.
Instead of driving straight to her apartment, Spencer drove to the park nearby where he sometimes jogged on Saturday mornings. He wasn’t sure he could trust himself to be alone with Kate in their grief. Though he had always had feelings for Kate, he saw early on that Kate had eyes for John. He backed off, and tried to think of other things, but he saw her almost every day, which made life difficult. Now with John gone, he felt guilty. He just couldn’t win. He turned the engine off and put the windows half-way down. Kate, with tears still falling, hadn’t noticed Spencer had parked. He let her be, lost in his own thoughts.
Previously on HFN: Spencer Grieves and Worries
Kelly came outside and rubbed Kate’s shoulders, “I’m so sorry, Kate.” Then others trickled out of the building to offer their condolences. Spencer slid over on the bench, but only slightly.
After a few minutes, Kate and Spencer were alone again. A pair of uniform pants and boots appeared in her vision and she let go of Spencer. Their commanding officer, Senior Master Sergeant Connors, must have asked Sergeant Thompson where they were. She didn’t even feel guilty and when she saw the look on his face; she knew it was okay under the circumstances. She and Spencer slowly stood up and half heartedly saluted.
Connors was a cool guy, not a hard-nosed jerk like some officers they knew and had worked under. Kate knew he had a sense of humor, though she didn’t see him often. She also knew he was fair.
His tall frame towered over them, but he never used his height to lord over anyone. His blue eyes often twinkled and he loved to share a good joke.
The CO dismissed them and was silent for a moment. When he finally spoke, it wasn’t a reprimand. “I’m sorry, Kate, Spencer. These things are difficult to take, but they happen.”
Sorry for the delay, readers. I’ve gotten some additional information on how military funerals are handled and now have to re-write a few scenes.
Also, I’ve had my mom’s day care kids this week while she’s out of town. She has a home daycare and watches kids day in and out and has been doing this for years. I’m exhausted after 2 1/2 days! I don’t know how she does it, but it is definitely her gift. It is definitely not mine 🙂
I will try and get back to Heir Force next week! Thanks for your patience, your likes, and your follows!
Previously on HFN: Kate Loses It
Spencer was in trouble. Big time. He swiped tears from his cheeks and thought about John never coming home, never telling Kate what had held him back. He and John would never tease each other again, never provoke each other on the running field or catch a movie together.
Spencer sighed as he thought about what would happen now. It felt like cinder blocks anchored his insides, leaving him with a heavy sickening feeling. He tried to comfort Kate, hugging and crying with her. Coworkers from the building were coming out in pairs now that the news was out about John. He felt pats on his back and shoulders. But they weren’t going to help.
Spencer prayed for the days and months ahead and for the reaction from Kate when she got John’s letter. Spencer regretted not pushing John harder to tell Kate his secret. But there was nothing he could do now, but push forward, for better or for worse.
Next time, Friends Grieve With Kate and Spencer
Previously on HFN, Kate Gets Bad News
Kate felt pressure on her arm and glanced to see that it was from Spencer’s hand before she said, “Oh, my God,” and ran out of Sergeant Thompson’s office.
She heard footsteps running after her but she didn’t stop. She ran out of the building through a side door, pushing the door so hard it hit the building. She stopped near the flower bed outside the door. She fell onto the bench and sobbed. With her hands she pulled at her hair, nearly pulling it out of her scalp. This can’t be. He can’t be dead. She felt a hand on her back and then a body plop next to her. She didn’t bother to look, she didn’t care who it was. She heard voices and then somebody said, “Leave them be.”
“Are you a damsel in distress?” Spencer asked quietly.
At first Kate didn’t comprehend his words, for her ears only. They sounded foreign and she wasn’t sure she heard him right. After a few seconds, it registered what he said and she understood what he meant. She looked up, first with a look of horror and then one of bewilderment crossed her face. She made the mistake of looking at Spencer’s crushed features and just as she started to answer, “I don’t know,” Spencer pulled her into his arms.
“I’m so sorry, Kate,” he sobbed.
She broke down again, grateful for his arms around her. She couldn’t keep herself together. Not this time. She gave in, letting the tears flow, not caring whether they soaked his uniform. To heck with protocol, she thought. This was war, and she didn’t give a flip about regulations. Maybe she never did, and it was all a façade, a front to keep her strong in appearance only.
Maybe Spencer had been right back when he said Kate didn’t have to keep it all together. Life was rough on a good day most of the time. The coming and going, training, moving, and making and losing friends could all get a person down after a while.
She continued to cry, not caring who saw or heard her. She had a right to break down. She cried harder when she realized she didn’t get to say goodbye to John. The last time she and John skyped each other, they talked about mundane things, nothing important.
Next time, Spencer Grieves and Worries
Previously on HFN: Kate Returns to U.S.
The following Wednesday, Kate drove to the base with her TDY paperwork so she could turn in it and get the ball rolling on her reimbursement. After that she drove over to the Security Forces building for her first day back to work. She walked into the building, expecting much more noise. The closer she got to her cube, the quieter the hallways were. There was still activity of course, but it took on an eery atmosphere and made the hairs on her neck stand up. She didn’t hear a lot of conversation or machines beeping or keyboards clacking. Many of the cubes were empty which was strange. The people she did see gave her guilty looks or looked away.
Either there was an emergency she hadn’t heard about, there was an unscheduled exercise, or something bad happened. Kate slowly reached her cube which was empty. She put her purse in her drawer, locked it and tossed her hat on the desk, giving her hair a quick brush with her fingers. She wondered where everyone was. She walked down the hall to Sergeant Thompson’s office. She heard muted tones as she got closer. Spencer, Kelly, Scott, and others were standing around his desk, listening to Sergeant Thompson.
Kate stopped at the doorway, saw the huddle and started to back away, not knowing what the meeting was about. Sergeant Thompson noticed her movement and said, “Kate, I’m afraid you need to hear this too.” His voice sounded weak to her and it was then that the clouds hanging over her let loose and the dam broke. Sergeant Thompson was still speaking, but Kate’s brain stopped listening after she heard him say, “I’m afraid that John was one of the men killed while on patrol in Iraq.”
Next time on HFN: Kate Loses It
Previously on HFN: Kate Deploys
Two months later Kate picked up a newspaper at the Chicago airport before getting her connection to St. Louis. She hadn’t kept up too much on the world news lately. She found her seat next to a middle-aged woman who played an electronic bingo game. Kate glanced through the paper, scanning headlines before she decided to read the first section. On the front page was a story about the latest roadside bombings in Iraq. Kate felt a chill snake down her spine. She shivered as if she felt a breeze flow around her.
Her seatmate commented, “These planes are always chilly, aren’t they?”
Kate didn’t realize her seatmate had paid any attention to her shiver. “Uh, yes they are.” She readjusted in the too-tight plane seat and looked around. Nobody seemed to be alarmed or worried about anything. It was just nerves she told herself.
The flight was nothing to write home about and after she retrieved her bags, she hailed a taxi to get from the St. Louis airport to home. Spencer had emailed her an offer to pick her up, but she didn’t want to trouble him. Besides, she needed some time to readjust to the time change and didn’t feel like talking right now. She would pick up Buttons first thing in the morning.
The next morning right after a late breakfast from the nearby cafe, Kate drove to the kennel. Buttons was beside himself as usual. She didn’t know if dogs had memories or not, but he certainly was always excited when Kate got back from a trip. They drove to the commissary next to restock her fridge, Buttons going crazy when she left him behind in the car. After getting home, she played with Buttons and then started laundry. She opened her windows to allow cool fresh air to eliminate the musty odor.
Previously on HFN: Kate Attends a Baby Shower
Kate left for Germany two days after the baby shower. She felt relief it wasn’t such a horrible place to go as she had feared. Perhaps she was supposed to go somewhere else, who knows. She flew in to the Frankfurt airport and took a shuttle to the base at Ramstein and checked into billeting (air force hotel services). She would be here for two months and since she was single, was assigned to a small apartment in TLF, temporary living facilities.
She was grateful it was better than a hotel so she could at least cook simple meals and make her lunches instead of eating out every day. She would still get a stipend, but didn’t have to spend it on restaurant food. She didn’t want to sabotage her mostly vegan diet while away from home. She would fill the fridge with fresh spinach, carrots, celery, blackberries, strawberries and a host of other fruits and veggies as soon as she could get to the commissary. What she didn’t spend eating out would be added to her pay when she turned in her paperwork after her return to Scott.
Since she wasn’t staying long and car insurance was much higher in Germany, she would be stuck taking a shuttle back and forth to work, the gym, and the commissary. But on her days off, she hoped to travel some. She was now only four hours away from Paris, France and five hours from Amsterdam.
She would become a temporary part of the 435th Security Forces Squadron after finding her sponsor and taking a two-day orientation class. She couldn’t wait to sit in on yet another class.
During her time away, she kept in contact with Jenny by email and John by skype. Jenny said everything at home was the same. John never said much, except he missed her and he hated the sand that got into everything. He wondered when we would ever leave these people to their own devices. If Kate didn’t know any better, she thought John may be getting cynical. It was hard to tell though, with him so far away and their sparse communications.
Next time on HFN: Kate Returns to US