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This is the first of a series of connected and intertwined stories: Dreams of Saint Claire. At this point, I am planning 4 total: Soldier Girl, Witch, Siren and Angel.
This one is in Romance, although Lesbian would fit as well, I suppose. If you haven’t read my work, you should be aware that I usually don’t tend toward graphic sex scenes.
One: While the title of his is Soldier Girl, beware of using that phrase with female soldiers. It’s for either very intimate or close familial use. Or for someone with a good dental plan.
Second: A quick definition – POST is the Peace Officer Standards and Training certification for police officers.
The throbbing growl of the truck engine overrode the muffled sounds of soldiers shouting. Staff Sergeant Tina James – TJ to her friends- edged around the truck tire, looking for one of the fleeting targets. Over the harmony of AK fire, M-4 carbines were sounding off in their curiously popcorn-like voices, occasionally punctuated by a burst of heavier automatic fire from the vehicle mounted weapons. What a goat-fuck. The convoy was halfway around the corner when the IEDs hit both ends simultaneously.
A stopped convoy, bent around a corner where the crew served vehicle-mounted weapons couldn’t support each other was really bad news.
It was never good when they got clever like this.
TJ glanced over her shoulder at Corporal Deaner, who was looking around the other end of the truck.
No answer. Try again.
“Deaner! Got anything?”
Damn engine was too loud to hear anything over. TJ scoped the area in front of her one more time before turning and fast crawling over to Deaner and tugging on his leg.
“Deaner, nothing on my end…”
Her voice trailed off as the foot fell over limply.
Half Deaner’s head was missing. A rattling of air gasped out of his mouth. TJ thought she could hear words even though he was clearly dead.
She started to drag him back behind the tire just as an Iraqi stepped over him, AK-47 swinging to bear.
Everything was moving in slow motion, TJ’s M-4 was pointed out to her end of the truck.
The insurgent, grinning madly, pulled the trigger.
The AK had jammed. TJ saw the man’s panic as he dropped the AK and dove toward her. Her M-4 was pinned to her as he smashed into her. A moment’s struggle – his breath stank like a dying swamp. She could see the realization that she was female hit him. His smile got bigger.
Until he felt her blade pushing into his chest just above the stomach and below the ribs.
Fastest way to a man’s heart.
The insurgent began to spasm, convulsing off of her, yanking the bayonet handle out of her grasp. She pulled herself up and reached over to pull the bayonet out of the body as three of her squad huffed around the corner, scanning like the pros they were – like the pros she’d trained them to be. It looked like Pruitt and her two, off the aptly named “Miami Sound Machine”. TJ felt a little relieved at that – she knew the crowd control, loudspeaker-heavy vehicle had taken a hit of some kind in the initial exchange of fire.
They hadn’t seen Deaner yet, and they were grinning like fools.
She pulled herself upright, staggering to her feet. A sick chill went through her.
Christ. What the hell would she say to Deaner’s mom?
A soldier from another squad ran up alongside the halted vehicle and headed toward the door of the nearest building. Even as he grabbed the door handle, she screamed at him to stop. The door was limned in unreal yellow-orange light as it bulged outward from the explosion…
TJ sat upright, gasping for air, sweat soaking her clothes. Her nerves were screaming for her to do something, do anything, but she caught herself. Closed her eyes. Calmed her breathing.
Leaving the Army had been…awkward. Six months of therapy. A handful of ribbons. High praise from a bunch of senior officers about how important her service had been. The feeling of loss as she realized that whatever she did, she was no longer one of them.
An airline ticket to Saint Louis and a bus ticket back to Saint Claire, Missouri.
A disability check.
She looked down at the stump of her thigh. Her request to remain on active duty had been denied – right leg was amputated just above her knee, two fingers on her left hand and her left eye, gone. The leg was the worst of it though, the fingers had been barely noticeable compared to that. But it was the eye that kept her out, she suspected. She had illusions of being able to see with her missing eye – just pale, out of focus things and flashes of light, but it had never, despite all the treatments, stopped.
But like a lot of things, she’d learned to stop telling the doctors about them. So that she’d eventually been released.
Then came the penance.
She’d missed the funerals, canlı bahis the memorial services. Everything. Nothing was left but long dried tears and crippled families. Keller’s wife and Deaner’s mom cane to see her in the hospital. But she’d had to seek out the wives, husbands and parents of the others. She’d met most of them. At promotion ceremonies, organization day Bar-B-Queues and, of course, Departure Day.
They were all polite, but she could see they were mostly trying hard not to blame her. Not for making a mistake – somebody had made sure everyone knew what happened. But for being alive while their loved ones were gone.
Nobody said anything. But TJ couldn’t help notice Pruitt’s younger brother staring at her. Twelve-years-olds don’t hide their feelings as well as adults.
They all tried so hard not to blame her. Except for Specialist Eric Jenkin’s wife.
She’d answered the door with her now-fatherless two year old baby girl on her left hip. She’d taken a second to recognize TJ, but when she did her greeting choked off. White-faced and drawn, she let the door swing open the rest of the way, then took one step forward and slapped TJ with all her strength. She turned, stepped back in and shut the door without saying a single word.
That slap made TJ feel better than all the Chaplain’s platitudes and therapists’ endless bullshit put together.
TJ agreed. Amy Jenkins was right to blame her.
After that, she’d stayed with her dad and his new wife for a few weeks, but she’d felt claustrophobic from the beginning. The house where she had grown up in was too full of uncomfortable silences; memories of her mom, and that horrible cancer that killed her. Her dad’s new wife was great, a nice person, and he deserved someone. But it didn’t matter, TJ just couldn’t handle it. She felt herself growing restless and irritable. And they didn’t deserve what she seemed to be turning into.
Eventually she had to ask her dad for the keys to the cabin, filled her old Ford Ranger with supplies and head out. Her family had owned the cabin on Platte Lake as long as she could remember, and it had always been the quiet place. A place for rest. It had been used less and less over the years, especially after her father hurt his back and pretty much gave up hunting and fishing.
When she’d pulled up to the cabin in the middle of an oppressively hot Ozarks afternoon, it had been the first time that she actually felt like she’d come “home”.
She’d had to run spiders and mice out of the cabin, and weeks later she was still doing it, but everything felt right – the smells, the sounds.
Especially the solitude.
She loved just being alone, listening to the sound of the dark Ozark woods. Sometimes those sounds could even drown out the screams and blasts in her head. Sometimes.
It’d taken a while to get things set up but she had plenty of gas in the propane tank and the well was running fine; so was the deep freeze that she was rapidly filling with catfish. She could even watch TV – if she’d had one. All she had was an old radio that smelled funny when it first turned on, but that was fine, all she used it for was weather anyway.
Through most of the summer, she’d found a type of peace. Fixing up the cabin, fishing and just sitting on the porch swing. If not for the haunting memories and endless nightmares, it would have been almost idyllic.
As much as valued her retreat, after a few weeks, she eventually found herself headed to town.
She really hadn’t wanted any company or conversation but a broken hose coupling forced her on in.
As TJ slowed the old Ford pick-up, the broiling afternoon air made the dusty town seem washed out, like an old western town in a sepia tone postcard.
After hardware store, she headed to the grocery store to pick up something other than fish as a main course. The checkout girl, “Cindy” by her name-tag, was a brown-haired girl in long sleeves, a high collar and a floor length skirt that marked her as a member of one of the stricter churches in the area. She’d somehow seemed vaguely familiar. The girl had started at the sight of TJ, but that was a reaction TJ had grown used to.
Still, she tried to place where she had seen “Cindy” before.
She’d try to figure that out later; right now the old diner on the side of the road beckoned, a sign in the window promising “the best” fried chicken and potatoes for five dollars in bold red marker letters.
What the hell. She pulled into one of the many empty spaces in front of the diner.
Tammi winced as she pushed a tray back to Donny through the tray window. Her ribs were killing her.
Probably fractured again.
She cinched her too-tight skirt a bit. It was Ellie’s and Ellie was a full size smaller than her, but Ellie’s uniform wasn’t covered in blood, so it was really the only choice. She was supposed to smile, but the bruises from Andy made that difficult; besides, it’d probably just split bahis siteleri her lip open again.
The front door opened, and Tammi watched a lean figure walk slowly in. Nobody she’d ever seen before, unusual around here. It was a woman, tan, lean, very short brown hair, dressed in faded cut off jean shorts and a tank top.
The first thing Tammi really noticed, though, was the eyepatch. Tammi let her eyes drop, a bit embarrassed, wondering if the woman could hear her thinking ‘pirate’. As she looked her over she saw that her right leg was some kind of mechanical construction, contrasting with a leanly muscled left leg. She watched the woman walk to one of the stalls. Despite the leg, the woman moved with animal-like assurance and an odd sort of ‘fuck you’ wariness.
TJ caught a glance of the waitress staring at her.
Great, already tagged as a freak.
She glanced around at the almost-empty diner. The only other customer was a slightly heavy set teddy-bear of a man in a brown Sheriff’s uniform, a stained smoky-the-bear hat on the table beside him. He seemed totally absorbed in the mostly finished plate in front of him, white chicken bones almost all that remained. TJ pulled herself into the booth, letting her ‘peg’ stay straight – she could unlock the knee, but there was no point, really.
The waitress walked over, all blonde curls and deep cleavage in a white shirt and too-tight, too-short, too-damn-pink skirt.
“What can I getcha, hon?”
TJ looked her over – getting an initial impression of way too much makeup, way too bright lipstick. She read the chipped pink nametag.
“Uh, Ellie, I’ll take your special” gesturing to the signboard.
The waitress looked lost for a second, then looked down at the nametag perched precariously on her chest.
“Oh! No, I’m not Ellie, I had to borrow this shirt. She leaned forward to talk quietly. “My name’s Tammi, Tammi Ann.”
She said it like it was one word: tammiann.
TJ forced herself to look up – the view of Tammi’s cleavage was spectacular.
Looking her in the eyes was worse; they were an odd crystal blue that TJ had never seen outside of ads for trips to the Caribbean.
“I’m Tina, but everyone calls me TJ.” She momentarily reflected that ‘everyone’ at this point was herself.
Tammi smiled. “Alright then TJ, you want a special with…?”
“Alright then. Comin up.”
TJ watched the waitress sashay over to the order window. Ouch. It’d been an awful long time…
Tammi was back with coffee almost instantly.
“Were you in the Army?”
TJ looked down at her truncated leg, trying to come up with an appropriate response. She knew she was over sensitive about it.
Tammi saw the loaded glance TJ gave her leg.
“Oh, no, the crossed pistol tattoo on your arm – my cousin has one almost like it. Different numbers though.”
TJ flushed. Stupid, oversensitive…
“Yeah, Military Police, 82nd Airborne Division.”
“My cousin was an MP in the 101st.” pause “Does your leg bother you much?”
TJ didn’t even feel the slightest inclination to give the usual curt answers she’d grown used to giving the ‘loss counselors’; Tammi seemed genuinely interested, and, for some reason, her complete lack of caution was refreshing.
“Sometimes I get pain where my leg used to be – they call it phantom limb pain. Can’t fix it with painkillers. Only thing that helps is staring at it and telling myself it can’t hurt because it isn’t there.”
Tammi reached down and gently touched her thigh just above the stump.
TJ’s leg muscle spasmed and Tammi jerked her hand back.
“Sorry, just, well wish I could help.” She flushed red.
“It’s okay, it didn’t hurt; I’m just not used to being touched.”
TJ winced internally – that was way more than she meant to say. And the implication.
Well, if Tammi drew that conclusion she wouldn’t be off the mark. TJ’d had grown up a tomboy and realized early on that she was different than the girls her mom wanted her to play with; by the time she reached High School she really understood what that meant. She’d tried dating boys, but her heart, among other things, just wasn’t in it. She couldn’t even remember the face of the boy she’d lost her virginity to – she’d been picturing Jennifer Tilly at the time.
The Army had been a little better, but with everybody reassigned every two to three years, nothing lasted. Her last ‘significant other’ – TJ hated that term, but ‘lover’ was too Jerry Springer and ‘girlfriend’ was too ribbons-and-curls – had ended about six months before her last tour in Iraq, with a conversation that started with ‘experimental phase’ and ended with an engagement announcement, to some guy Katie had met while TJ was at Senior Leader Course. TJ had kind of sensed it coming and it really only hurt because the guy was a civilian.
Deaner, Pruitt and Garcia dragged her through half the strip clubs in Vegas to bahis şirketleri get her over that. They’d poured enough tequila into her to numb any pain, and TJ ended up in bed with and honest-to-God Vegas showgirl. Named Candi. With an “I” with a heart over it.
She hated to think what they’d spent on lap dances for her. She found out later that even the married members of the squad had contributed to what would be forever after called “TJ’s Debauchery Tour”.
Of course “forever” turned out to be less than a year. Because nobody else was left.
With no customers coming in, Tammi invited herself to sit down and soon extracted chunks of TJ’s life story; she learned all about the cabin and even had TJ talking about her mom – something TJ normally avoided. Talking to Tammi just seemed easy and natural.
“So what are you gonna do now?” the earnestness in the question made TJ feel a little less comfortable.
“I don’t know, I’m a soldier all the way, that’s what I’m good at, that’s all I always wanted to be, but now…”
Tammie leaned forward – TJ almost wished she’d stop doing that, it made it hard to think. Almost.
“Something will come up, something always does.” She reached over and squeezed TJ’s hand. And that seemed okay, even though that was the hand that was missing fingers.
Tammi didn’t let go for a long second, then jumped up at the sound of the order bell and slipped over to pick up TJ’s meal.
As she returned, a tall thin man in a blue mechanic’s shirt, and what probably used to be blue jeans slouched through the doorway. Tammi froze, hands full, as he walked up to her.
“Need some cash, baby. Gotta get cigarettes.”
He didn’t wait for an answer, just dipped a hand into her apron pocket, pulled out the bills from tips and turned to walk out.
“Don’t forget, we’re headed to Bert’s tonight.” He threw a suspicious glare at the sheriff in the corner and moved on out.
Tammi hadn’t even said anything. She carefully walked over to TJ’s table and set the tray down silently.
TJ looked at her, really seeing for the first time.
The heavy makeup.
How else do you hide bruises so you don’t have to explain them? TJ’d spent a few years on garrison duty, she should have figured it out earlier. Had a lot of late night domestic violence calls. Without thinking about it, she reached out and squeezed Tammi’s hand, then let go.
Tammi tried to get back to her smooth chatting, but it was like a car with a piston out in the engine, and she soon excused herself, saying she needed to let TJ eat. TJ left an oversize tip and headed out, glancing back at Tammi and catching her looking at her.
TJ was back home before she knew it, getting groceries put up and getting the place picked up. She was feeling oddly energized by the trip into town. She’d actually enjoyed talking to Tammi.
She pushed herself on the physical therapy exercises, trying to burn off an odd, now-unfamiliar edge.
Later, in bed, TJ felt an itch she hadn’t had since the explosion that took her leg. She tried to ignore it, but that made her think about it, which made it progressively worse. She kept picturing Tammi without the heavy makeup. She finally gave up and rolled onto her stomach and pushed a hand down inside her waistband while envisioning a pair of crystal blue eyes….
It took everything she had not to go back in to town the next day. Her thoughts kept drifting back to Tammi – not just because she was beautiful, but because she seemed so damn easy to talk to. TJ couldn’t remember anyone since the explosion that she had been able to just talk to.
The day after that, though, she found herself back in town for a late lunch. For the chicken special, she told herself. It turned out that the special was lasagna though, and she decided that sounded just as good. Although she couldn’t be sure, since she couldn’t remember eating it afterwards. Tammi had a slow day and sat with her all through lunch.
She almost ran to the truck the next day. She managed to find an excuse to run into town every day for the rest of the week.
Sheriff Chris Shannon watched Tammi talking to the tough-looking woman with the missing leg and the eyepatch.
It looked like Tammi was flirting – like a lot waitresses Tammi flirted with guys to increase tips, but this was new, at least as far as Shannon knew. Tammi sure as hell didn’t sit with customers; and he noticed Tammi almost seemed to make a point of touching the woman’s leg. The tanned woman had seemed uptight at first, but loosened up over the week as Tammi chatted with her.
Tammi sure seemed to brighten up around her.
Tammi’s boyfriend was a complete asshole as far as Shannon was concerned. He knew Andy had begun to beat on Tammi on a regular basis, but she always refused to press charges – figuring, probably rightly, that Andy would end up released all too quickly and be worse than ever. Her best bet was to leave, but like too many of the women Shannon saw, she kept on making excuses.
Probably would right up until he killed her.
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