When I was in school, during my junior year I was taking US History and at the beginning of second semester, we were talking about World War II and the Vietnam war and I had this major war kick going on that I literally read two different books about each wars and I watched different movies, we watched Saving Private Ryan in class, but I watched the movie Stop-Loss on my own. That’s where I figured out how good of an actor both Channing Tatum and Joseph Leavitt-Gordon was because of their roles in the film. That same year I made up a little story of my own. I still remember the outline of it and the characters’ personalities. I even remember the title I was planning on calling it, I got my inspiration for it after Saving Abel’s song “18 Days” So I’m drawing some inspiration out of one of the characters, the female character whose I am forgetting at the moment, so I’m renaming her Claire in this part. Enjoy!
It was the middle of summer, well for some it was the “end” of it. After the celebration of Fourth of July, there would be one more fair coming into town and that was it, another summer gone. For Claire, summer was no longer fun. I spent her time going to school throughout the year and wondering about her father and older brother being overseas, fighting for her family’s freedom, just like the rest of the soldiers out there fighting along with them. She and her little family stayed behind in their small town watching the people in town float on by and talking about the smallest things, not even caring about what she and other families were going through right now. Claire was old enough to know that her father and older brother Zak loved what they did, but missed being around too. Especially since there was a little Zak around the house, learning how to crawl and hearing about his brave grandpa and daddy from his mama, Brittany, Zak’s wife. Claire couldn’t help being sad that they were missing what they were seeing everyday.
Since the guys left eighteen months ago, Brittany and little Zak moved into the family house. Claire saw the joy of her new nephew being born, but the sorrow of Brittany having to raise him for her own for now. Claire’s mother Mary worked at Claire’s school as a lunch lady, she loved her job, but only because it kept her occupied during the day, but since it was the summertime she was without a job. So Claire took over providing food and shelter for mom and sister-in-law for the whole summer. Claire was fine with that, it kept her out of her head for a few hours. She struggled with finding peace that her family was safe and that her loved ones would make it out fine. She hoped that her dad and Zak would get to come home soon; she was to start her final year in high school in the fall. In a way, she hoped that maybe Zak get to come home one part and maybe her dad get to come home in the next half of the year. As much as she believed in God, once her dad’s friends started to pass away and families were to fade away, she questioned everything positive in her life.
Claire sat in the car, with the air conditioning turned all the way up in the backseat. She sat with little Zak sleeping in his car seat, dreaming of what babies would probably dream of, endless supply of milk and disgusting baby food. His little eyes flutter slightly and his body twitches and Aunt Claire can’t help but feel envious of this little creature’s pleasant dreams. Brittany stood outside the passenger door waiting for her mother-in-law to quit talking to the lady that was selling fruit; she already paid for her things and wanted to get out of the heat. Brittany groaned when Mary looked over to the car and then walked away towards the other side of the stall with the owner. “Zak is going to wake up soon, why does she have to take so long?” Brittany muttered to herself, at least Claire thought she was. Within ten minutes later, the owner’s husband walked over with a nice trey of two glasses with some pink drink in them full of nice cubes of ice. “Thought you ladies might appreciate a nice cold drink.” He said in a sweet tone, Claire rolled down her window and let the nice cool air out of the car to grab the glass from the nice gentleman. “Thank you sir.” Claire said just before taking a few good swigs of the raspberry lemonade. Not too sweet yet not too tart either!
Brittany declined her drink, but asked if the man had any straws so she could give Zak a sip or two. Claire thought that would for sure crank him up for the rest of the trip home if she actually got that straw. The man said that they rarely ever have straws, as they don’t have any grandchildren. Brittany nodded in annoyance. She was not yet used to the Texas heat. Quite frankly neither was Claire; she missed the other five places she used to live in. Since Claire was born, she had lived in five different states and surprising none of them ever had hot weather like this before. The coldest she had ever been around was when her father was transferred over in Sweden. The one year they moved there, they would have a gnarly winter full of ice and snow. As much as she hated the fact that her father’s job transferred their family to different places, she was pretty content with the whole process of traveling. She had a high case of wonderlust. Brittany had only moved once and she was not feeling Texas at all. Mary invited her out as she could have help if she needed some when she first had little Zak. Claire’s brother thought it would be a good idea as she lived in Vermont for two years and knew only the families on the base there. They were willing to do things for her, but she still felt alone without Zak being by her side. Seven months after giving birth, they moved out and the season changed to spring, but it felt like summer and Brittany felt like it was smothering her.
Finally after about thirty minutes or more, Mary came walking towards the car, passing the nice man with one full glass of lemonade and the other with only light pink melting ice cubes, he said something to her and she smiled back but kept towards us. Brittany quickly opened her door and climbed in, immediately waking up Zak from dreamland. He stretched out his little arms and legs and twisted around to face the window and closed his eyes again. Mary opened her door and sat down, turning on the engine which kicked off the nice cool air flow from the backseat for a second before working again. Claire rolled up her window, ready to watch the trees fly by as they drive down the long road again. She ignored her mom and Brittany arguing in the front seat and focused on the tops of the trees and wondering how it would feel like if she stood on top, could she see her father again. Two hours later, they pulled up to their driveway and the car stopped and Claire began to hear the noise from the ladies still passing words to each other. She opened her door and grabbed her small bag plus a few of the pieces of fruit and vegetables she purchased and went inside the nice cool house.
Mary and Claire put all of the fresh fruit and vegetables on the sink counter. Brittany came walking in last with the diaper bag in one arm and little Zak on her chest, still passed out. Lucky kid. Claire stood against the sink, washing each one while Mary looked around for her pots and pans, still quiet from the car ride. Claire decided to break the silence first, “Chuck makes mean raspberry lemonade, you know?” Mary put her pot on one of the stove tops and turned on the heat, Claire was still trying to figure out what she was going to make for supper. As there were tomato, cucumber, carrots, and some herbs. She could make anything really but when she went into the fridge and grabbed onions and celery and a knife from the drawer, she cut them up but talked to her daughter. “Is that what was in that cup? I love it when he makes that flavor.” Mary said while she was peeling the carrots. “Yeah, it was definitely what I needed.” Claire said with a half smile on her face. “I know I’m sorry I was taking such a long time but Helen said she heard some good news from the guys though.” Mary said in a chipper tone. Helen’s son Charlie was in the same barigade as her father and Zak.
“What did she say?” Claire said eagerly, “Well, according to Helen, Charlie and Zak might be coming home soon.” Another let down. Claire was happy that her brother was coming home but she wanted both of them home. “Since Britt was being an ass in the car, I never got the chance to tell her. So I have no idea if she even knows that they are or not.” Mary said as she put down her knife and piled all of the diced vegetables into her red pot, “How reliable is Helen’s word though?” Claire said as she finished cleaning and drying the fruit and vegetables and put them in the pantry. “Well, Helen is an old board but when she hears something especially about her son and his whereabouts, I think I should believe her.” Claire was concerned about getting too excited about Charlie and Zak’s homecoming just in case they were all wrong. “Did she say they might come back? Like the date?” Claire said now standing up against the kitchen sink. “I think she said the fourth, which is convent in a way, coming home on Fourth of July and be celebrated for fighting our freedom and being around family. I mean, we could go out to the park and fireworks…” Mary kept carrying on what kind of plans they could do together, but in Claire’s mind she was back to her sad self again.
Back from a young age, Claire and her father Jack have always had a great relationship. The best friendship a father and a daughter could have. They did everything together. Claire was always compared as Jack’s twin. Even though between Claire and Zak, they looked their father, but Claire took after her father’s personality the most. Zak got married and had a child young and then enlisted into the army. Claire was raised by country boy at heart, she loved her farm animals, to go mudding, and of course country music. She kept most of her father’s army stuff in her room, on top of her dresser that some part of him was close to her. After they got the news that Zak and Jack were being set off together, they were stunned. Claire’s whole world was just about to get a whole lot bigger and happier, got turned into hell again. She honestly wanted to move again, maybe closer to the rest of her family. They lived in North Carolina, she only saw them on Skype and text her cousins as much as she could, but it wasn’t enough for her. She missed them. She wanted a stable environment and being a daughter of an army sergeant just wasn’t cutting it anymore.
She suffered from depression after they left, but she didn’t go off the deep end until her uncle from her mom’s side died after being caught in a blast. She wanted to kill herself several times, but knew she would be dishonoring her family if she gave into temptation. Since her faith was already fading, she didn’t rely on a God or anybody to make her feel better about herself. That’s why she always had to be kept busy. She worked two jobs; one in the fall was at the nearby Starbucks. It paid great, but it also got pretty boring! In the summertime, she loved to read outside so she got a job at the library and always came home with a new book. If she read about somebody else’s troubles she wouldn’t feel too bad about herself and always saw the other side of life. At night, things were different. She was alone with her thoughts, the dark thought lingered deep inside her mind, telling her lies and showing unthinkable images of things she wished would just go away. She cried after each nightmare but remembered how her father cradled in his arms when she’d have a bad dream when she was little, her tears dried and she’d start to smile and go back to sleep.
Claire sat in the living room, didn’t watch any TV though. She had gone into her room after a second after her mom stopped talking about Charlie and Zak to grab her book. She sat on the massive brown couch facing away from her mom who was turned to the other side cooking away. Brittany walked into the living room with the newly dressed Zak, “do you think he looks adorable?” She said in peppy voice, Claire looked up in a glare and Mary turned her head for a peak but quickly looked back to keep stirring the pot of homemade spaghetti sauce for tomorrow‘s dinner. “Aww, look how cute you are Zakky!” Mary said in a cheery tone! She loved being a grandma, little Zak looked like his daddy but sadly had the same attitude as his momma which Mary hated. He was spoiled rotten and not by his grandma, Brittany did everything for this kid. He wasn’t even a year old yet and she was dressing him like she was going to put him in kid pageant. “I know! I saw it in that new store down in main town. I think it’s called Rachel’s Trunk and I thought it would be perfect for next week!” Brittany said as she stood him on his feet, the poor kid even had red and blue sneakers on. Little Zak looked annoyed. Claire went back to her book and ignored the nice chat.
Claire looked over at her clock as it went off, it was seven thirty. It was time to get ready to go to work. Claire sat up and went into her closet, picked out her outfit. It was a white t-shirt with pink, orange, and green streaks through it. She wore her short Capri’s and put her hair up in a ponytail before grabbing her phone off the charger and heading out the door. It was now quarter to eight, she had only five minutes to grab her normal morning coffee and scone (a habit she picked up while living in Sweden) and get to the library. Claire wasn’t good at getting up and getting everything done early enough where she didn’t have to worry about anything. After picking up her coffee and strawberry scone, she raced to the library trying to eat, drink at the same time. Surprisingly, this time she didn’t make that big of a mess in her car. She looked decent and when she walked over to the door, it dawned on her. It was Sunday! She forgets to turn off her alarm the night before and now that everything was actually going her way, she was off for the entire day.
She got back into her car, instead of just driving back home to where her mother and sister-in-law would be getting ready to head over to church. She started up her car and backed out to cruise around the city. She put her phone on silent so when her mom went to text her if she wanted to go to church, she wouldn’t get it. Claire was used to the quiet; she actually preferred it that way. She found a vacate lot nearby the church where she knew her mom would be at, and pulled in and parked it. She switched her radio on and found an actual easy channel where she could read to and not be interrupted by the ads or disc jockeys. She only had a little bit to go before she officially finished it. She was relaxed and comfortable, until she heard a tap on her window and was amazed to see the person on the other side. Thankfully, she screamed while she was still in the car. It was the week of the fourth of July, and there was Zak and Helen’s son and Claire’s Charlie still in their uniforms but happy to see a familiar face.
“What are you guys doing here?” Claire said as she was trying to wipe away her tears. “I thought you were coming home on the fourth?” She said to them, still wiping. The boys looked at each other, “who told you that?” Zak’s deep voice sounded just like their father’s, which made her kind of sad to now see that he wasn’t going to be with them for the holidays. “Helen told mom and she told me.” Claire said as she looked at Charlie, who was now rolling his eyes. “I swear that woman is phsyic or something.” Charlie said in a sarcastic voice. “I talked to her once this month and made sure not to say anything. How the hell did she figure it out?” Zak had a big grin on his face, knowing how much their mother didn’t like surprises that much, but surprising neither did Brittany! They were going to kill him. “You must’ve had a different tone or something and figured something was up.” Zak said looking back between Claire and Charlie. “What are you doing sitting in your car, reading what does not look like a Bible, in dressy clothes?” Charlie said with a mischievous grin on his face. Zak had his arms folded, “I thought I had to work this morning. I forgot it was Sunday.” Claire said in a soft voice, the boys chuckled at her.
“Well, do you want to join us in our little scheme?” Zak said leaning up against her door. “Depends, what are you planning to do?” Claire said now with her arms crossed. “We’re going to go up to the church and surprise the shit out of everybody in there.” Charlie said with a huge smile on his face. “Well, if you’re going to do that, you might want to stop cussing or Reverend Burns might throw holy water on you.” Claire said and Zak looked at his buddy Charlie, who was now looking down on the ground. “I’m not going to make any promises but I’ll try.” “Do you think you can give us a lift?” Zak said to his younger sister. “You do realize the church is like right there?” Claire said back to him. “Yeah, but we don’t want anybody seeing us and spoiling the surprise.” Zak said in his sarcastic voice. “Yeah no, standing out here for ten minutes plus another two minutes while you two bicker back and forth is any better.” Charlie said which stopped both Claire and Zak in their tracks. “You shut up Charlie, or I’ll let Claire kick your ass.” Zak said to him in response. “Oh, she won’t kick my ass, she’s had her chance before and she didn’t take it then.” Charlie said while he glared up at Claire, Zak looked confused but thought about not even asking what the hell that meant. “Will you just give us a ride?” Zak said, Claire turned to him and nodded, “but Charlie sits in the back.” Ouch!
When they pulled into the parking lot, it was an hour and a half into the service. The boys got out of the car first and Claire climbed out to fix herself, as she thought she still had crumbs on her pants. “How are we doing this?” Claire said, as she turned to face them. “Go in and walked down the aisle and holler that you found some strangers that need some blessings.” Zak said, looks like he had been thinking about this for a while. “Okay, I’ll do that. Wish me luck that Reverend Burns doesn’t throw me out first!” Claire said as she entered inside the church first, followed behind her were the guys who stood by the doors to go inside the service hall. She walked like she was walking down the runaway for the fashion show. “Excuse me Reverend Burns, but I’m going to stop you right there, because we have two strangers that need blessings.” Claire shouted with all might, everybody in the room turned around facing her. Mary looked like she was about to explode in horror as her only daughter just interrupted the pastor. All of a sudden cheers came from the back and both Brittany and Mary stood up, to see Zak and Charlie walking down the aisle in their army uniforms. Nothing like half of the town being in one church, screaming and cheering for two of their own soldiers. Mary, Helen, and Brittany walked out of the pew and hugged the guys tightly. Claire was full of glee of seeing her family happy that Zak was home and seeing Charlie with his parents as well. She stood next to the pastor and leaned over and told him that she was sorry for interrupting his sermon, but he looked over at her and said “not as sorry as this though.”
Claire looked over at him and in the back part of the church doors where the pastor lives was a very tall and decorated male and even more cheers came from the church. It’s one thing to find her brother home, but to see that there was a God and that he had answered her prayers. Jack stood up and walked down towards his daughter, who was now on the ground trying to find a balance between gravity. The tears she felt earlier when Zak and Charlie scared her, found her once again but this time she didn’t try and stop them. He leaned over and pulled her up to her feet, she clutched him tightly and a second later Mary came over to hug her husband. “What are you doing here?” Mary said with her puffy eyes and tears still streaming down her face. “Oh, I thought I’d join the boys on their homecoming and spend my freedom with my family.” Jack said to her. “Hey, pops!” Zak said as he was wiping away his tears while holding his son in his arms. Brittany came over to Jack and patted him on the back and he kissed her on the forehead. “Hey, son, this was a good idea to do you know that?” Jack said to him with a chuckle. “I told you.” Zak said as he wrapped his arms around his family and watched the crowd of people still standing and clapping for their services. This was what Claire wanted on this imperfect Sunday.