“I love you.” I said to her and then hung up the phone before she could say, or not say, anything back to my declaration.
I laughed inwardly. Let her chew on that.
Layne smiled, and it was a tad disarming since I never saw him smile. He was a stoic man, who very rarely let you see that carefree side of him.
“So you got yourself a girl, do ya’?”
“Sho’ nuff’.” I joked.
He rolled his eyes, very much used to my sense of humor, and continued on with business like he didn’t just fire the drama queen only minutes before.
“You’re actually free to go back home now. You’ll no longer be on active duty, but I’m going to get some paperwork in motion that will allow you to come in as an independent contractor just in case we ever need you again. It just takes a while. As you can tell, we were in need of you in a faster manner than that would’ve allowed.”
“You don’t need me to stay? Looks like you just lost one of your team.” I asked.
“No. She was never really part of the team; we have plenty of support, and you’ve already done your time. She was a pain in the ass is what she was. She’s with the CIA; well, technically, not even with them anymore. Apparently, she’s hard to work with; nobody wants her, including us.”
I couldn’t argue with that point. The bitch was nuts. Good riddance.
“Alright, when can I leave?”
“If you can stand it, you can ride out with Lita. Otherwise, the next ride out won’t be for another two days.” Layne said, with an evil glint in his eyes.
Fucker. He knew I would want to leave as soon as I could. Looks like I was trading one shit place for another. At least for another fourteen hours, that is.
A packed duffle, a cleaned gun, a goodbye said, and two hours later found me sitting in the huey from Speicher to Baghdad, and from there I would jump a military flight to the states. I still had three more stops once I reached the states. If it all played out well, I would make it back in time to see Payton tomorrow morning before she got off work.
I’d been seated on the huey for over ten minutes before O’Hare finally showed. She was practically snarling with rage, and I couldn’t help but think I was one lucky SOB. She threw her stuff in with little regards to who was on the receiving end of her anger. Her rifle was tossed in with a recklessness that wasn’t smart when dealing with firearms. My foot went up as her rifle sailed across the metal floor, and I stepped down to stop its progress before it sailed out the open door on the other side. She snarled at me as she got in the door, and grabbed the rifle.
Without saying thank you, might I add.
O’Hare refused to strap in, and I didn’t care enough to convince her. Little did I know that she had a reason for doing the things she did.
We were about twenty feet in the air when the helicopter exploded.
I was disoriented. My mind wasn’t working. Lights were bright. The heat of something was so intense that my skin sizzled. Everything hurt. I couldn’t see. I heard screaming, but I couldn’t tell if it was me, or someone else. It went on like that for minutes, or maybe hours, hell I don’t know. Finally, finally, darkness overcame me, and I found peace.
I woke on a military flight to the states.
From what was explained to me, I wasn’t in critical condition. I had burns on parts of my body, but it wasn’t significant. I had a broken arm, lacerations on my chest and neck, and a severe concussion. The concussion must’ve been why my head felt like a party I wasn’t invited to was happening in my skull. It throbbed in time to my heartbeat, and I might have thrown up on the cute little nurse that was changing out my fluids at the time.
I was checked over by medical personnel at Speicher before they decided to take me back to the states on a direct military flight, instead of to Germany.
I was lucky. The same couldn’t be said for O’Hare, whose body was unable to be recovered from the wreckage due to the flames that overtook the Huey not long after they pulled the pilot out. The pilot had third degree burns on nearly seventy percent of his body, as well as many broken bones. He’d be lucky even to make it through the night.
I smiled widely at the nurse who was in the process of lowering my blanket and checking out my left hip where, apparently, I had another large gash.
“We haven’t even had dinner yet.”
She laughed, but continued with her work. She was cute. Short, with about shoulder length brown hair. She reminded me of someone, but, right now, my brain was high on the good shit, and I was close to not caring about anything.
“Careful there, Cowboy. What would Payton think if she found out you were checking out another nurse?” Layne said from beside me.
Lesson one: Only trust people with big butts. They cannot lie.
My palms were sweating. I was nauseous, and I wasn’t sure I should even be here. When Ember called, she told me Max was hurt and my heart broke. Literally shattered in a million pieces. I dry heaved for nearly an hour, and I’ve been sick to my stomach ever since. When he got onto that plane, I watched it take off, and I knew that something bad was going to happen. I knew that our relationship was never going to be the same. What I hadn’t counted on was him having no memory of me, or the last year of his life.
According to Ember, when Max got to the States, they decided that he was stable enough to come to Texas for his care. Other than bumps, bruises, a concussion, a few cuts, and a broken arm, he was relatively healthy. All things said and done, he was lucky that he was the first off the helicopter, because otherwise he might have been a lot worse off, like the pilot, or the poor woman who was presumed dead, but whose body was never found.