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[I'm working up a romance novella in my database slot here because, well, I can.  I'm about half way done]

Glenn Duey felt the crisp sheets around his body, heard small sounds of his house and the rustle of a night breeze through the window.  His nightstand clock read 3:17 am in a bright cathode red, not bad at all, five and half hours was fine for a day, a catnap at 5:00 pm would make up for it.

We told the sergeant the rest of the platoon went back there 20 minutes ago, but they never came back.

He eased out of bed, walked across the room, went to the bathroom in the dark, then walked down the hall to the kitchen, small appliance lights in the house precisely acting like lighthouse beacons at sea. Punching a button on the coffee machine, he finally turned on a small lamp next to his sitting room chair, settling down with a tall glass of water drawn from the kitchen top.

It cannot be that Hamid would do that, it’s totally impossible.  I don’t believe it, I just can’t believe it.

Glenn sipped water while the coffee pot began to sputter, going over his internal checklist before he was due on his course: bike and tires okay, nanopod charged with a fresh playlist, clean bike clothes waiting next to his cleats, gloves and helmet liner still fine, just one water bottle this morning.

Why couldn’t John just have taken that guy out? So much would have been different if that had just happened.

Glenn swallowed more water, glancing at the level of the coffee pot.  There is the ride, he told himself, 24 miles, perfect before a day at the mill. The ride is enough, you’ve got a job and a house, it used to be much worse.

Yes, it used to be much worse, he thought, reaching for a large bottle of prescription pills and shaking one into his palm.  Gulping it down with the last of the water, he got up and went to the refrigerator, reaching in and taking out a big bowl of hard-boiled eggs. Selecting five onto a plate, he put the bowl back and reached for the salt, eating an egg while the coffee finished.

We told the sergeant the rest of the platoon went back there 20 minutes ago, but they never came back.

Pouring the weak brew into a mug, Glenn ate the rest of the eggs standing up at the counter, sipping carefully. He ate a banana when finished, gulping down two more glasses of water.

It’s Thursday, he told himself as he put on his bike clothes, his cherished carbon frame bicycle at the ready right there in the living room, otherwise empty of furniture. Work today and tomorrow, he thought, there is always the course and the ride.  Then Saturday and the end of his public service commitment with Stacy Wright.

Hamid could not have done that, I can’t believe it, but he did. McCormack and Vester died when that happened.

Glenn’s hands paused as he reached for his jersey, thinking about Stacy and the weekend before. She certainly wasn’t an anecdote for remembering the war, but at least when he thought of her it wasn’t that endless horror.

The second day in the potato field had begum much like the day before, the four men driving up to the shack and waiting for Stacy. She drove up at 6:55, cheerfully checked their names off and was off again, perky and pretty as she waved an arm out the truck window.

Tommy and Steve worked for half and hour and then slept for four, but Ricardo brought kneepads and a headband, putting in enough effort for 350 pounds.  He and Glenn were stacking their haul next to the shack, Steve and Tommy halfheartedly bringing in loads from the field, when suddenly Stacy showed up forty minutes early.

She banged the old Ford truck door closed and waved at the men in the field.  “That’s enough, guys, bring it in and have a good Sunday.”

Stacy turned to Ricardo and smiled, holding out her hand.  “Thank you,” she said warmly.

Ricardo smiled easily and firmly gave her a handshake.  “Sure, Lady,” he said before turning away to his car.

“Bye guys, be good in life!” she called out.  Steve grinned while Tommy wryly smiled, thwacking Steve lightly on the shoulder.

“Stand in the bed and stack while I throw,” she said to Glenn, who was wondering on how to insist on helping.  “We’ll switch, I’ll get tired,” she said, pulling on gloves.

She waited impassively while Glenn climbed into the bed of her old Ford, then starting picking up potato bags and tossing them underhand up to Glenn, who immediately started a stack at the front of the bed.  She breathed easily as she swung the bags up, a blush of exertion on her cheeks as her hair swayed with each toss.  Glenn found himself forcing attention to the minimal task of stacking potato bags, not used to watching a pretty woman’s long chestnut hair in the late morning sunshine.

Halfway through she stopped, blew an audible breath and then climbed up on the tailgate of the open truck bed, saying nothing as Glenn automatically hopped down.  She stood up and waited impassively as Glenn moved to a bag and tossed it, so gently it almost fell short. “Step it up there, hotshot,” she said almost to herself as she stacked the bag.  Embarrassed, Glenn moved on and tossed normally until the job was done.

Stacy jumped down lightly and shut the tailgate firmly, fastening a chain.  She took off her gloves and stuffed them into a back pocket, then dusted her hands.

“We won’t be here next weekend, our people will finish here by Wednesday,” she easily to Glenn. “Next Saturday is a pumpkin farm near Stone Creek, you’ll get the directions and forms in the mail.”

Glenn wiped his forehead with two fingers and then rubbed his hands on his jeans.  “All right,” he said with a little hesitation.  “I’ll see you Saturday, then.”

“Good,” she replied, a look of plain honest pleasure on her face.  She gave him a small smile, then turned away and got into her truck.

How could a woman put so much power into one word? Glenn asked himself as he tightened the velcro straps of his cleats. Just one word in a low plain voice, but somehow it reassured him and made him feel better in a deeply mysterious way. She looked at you with those big grey eyes and swayed a hip so perfectly as she turned to the door, just one word but still so forceful and real, so clear in its simple meaning.

We told the sergeant the rest of the platoon went back there 20 minutes ago, but they never came back.

“No, they never came back,” Glenn said aloud, pensively pulling on a glove.

                                                          ****

Stacy Wright wearily reached an arm out from underneath the comforter and thumbed the beeping alarm off.  Holding both her arms over the comforter, she eventually forced herself up and out of bed and reached for a bathrobe, cloaking her nude body in bleached cotton with the gloom of pre-dawn light from the window, the clock reading 7:03 am.

She immediately turned to enter the bathroom in her small apartment, dimly hearing sounds from other tenants through one wall.  Finished, she blearily went to the small cluttered kitchen and belatedly threw out old coffee grounds, measured water and coffee, and finally punched the on button with a sigh.

She sat at her tiny kitchen table, a small space that was rather hemmed in between bedroom wall and the one sitting room of the apartment.  Thursday, she said to herself.  Meetings all morning, then sorting canned donations after lunch, maybe time to get some fresh apples in.

The coffee had only reached half an inch in the pot.  She shook her head, got up and went back into the bathroom, putting her robe on peg and turning on the shower.  Friday is all day with the apple harvest, she told herself, then another fun day for pumpkins on Saturday, Glenn Duey will be there.

Stacy felt her body flush under the fat water jets of warm water, drawing the curtain hastily closed.  He was a good, decent-looking guy with a job, lord knew how few of those specimens had come her way over the years.  True enough, but there was something about him she couldn’t quite place, he seemed distant and reserved, yet animated enough if you just said a few words.

Quiet and smart, yet quiet and smart didn’t get moved her way courtesy of Judge Briller, either.  He was very strong with excellent stamina, it was a very rare suburban man who could competently bad potatoes for five hours, but it was hard to see at first, he moved with deliberation under baggy, loose clothes.

You could actually end up on a date Saturday night, she told herself as she got out and dried herself up, deftly using another towel to wrap her hair into a big white turban.  Sex, she thought to herself, things could actually work out so I could fuck him, she said to herself, brushing her teeth.

Of course you’re never supposed to fuck on the first date, she continued with herself, but time has since revealed many successful relationships based upon first-date fucking, what a crock that turned out to be.

Stacy slightly shook her head and strode into her bedroom, reaching for bra and panties.  Then it’s a relationship, maybe it’s not, maybe it’s love, maybe it’s not, who in the hell knows what true love is anyway, even if it exists.

Just go on a date with him and have a good time, she told herself.  He’s a Marine with two war tours under his belt, but he doesn’t seem brave enough to ask.

Stacy stepped into her underwear and deftly hooked up her bra, deciding on jeans and blue work shirt for the day.  There were all the lovely normal elements of dating in place, but overlaying it all was the disquieting news from Judge Briller.

So he’s got PTSD, she thought to herself, putting on her clothes.  I don’t even know what it is, the wiki said trauma-induced but I still don’t get it.

Maybe I shouldn’t go out with if there’s something seriously wrong with him, she thought.  But how seriously wrong could something be for a decent-looking guy with a job?

When, in fact, will another decent-looking man with a job come along? She asked herself, unwrapping her hair and shaking it free. What if another one never shows up?  What if all this was meant to be, yet somehow it gets all messed up again because you didn’t see it?

Stacy sighed and looked at her reflection critically in the mirror.  “It’s a jungle out there,” she said plainly, staring at her wet hair.

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