Leaves fell all along the drive Kate took to work when she returned the first time since bringing Sarah home. Orange, maroon and gold leaves swirled from the oak and maple trees, and clusters of yellow and orange mums bloomed everywhere. When Kate and Sarah walked Buttons these days, they sometimes walked on a carpet of orange and brown leaves. The days were gradually getting cooler. And shorter.
The next morning, Spencer woke up, feeling bad about leaving Kate and Sarah the night before. But he felt it was the best course of action, though maybe not the one he wanted. Luckily it was Friday and he could help Kate with Sarah over the weekend as much as she would let him. He did some stretches in his room before showering and dressing in his green and black uniform. His black boots always pinched his piggy toes, so he put them on at the last minute before each shift.
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.”