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02: Home

Alice scanned baggage claim and felt a sudden jolt of inertia and surrealism. She was moving back home after being away for over 5 years returning only occasionally for holidays. In less than a month, she shut down her career, shipped home a handful of belongings, and booked a one-way flight. She had embraced the East Coast mentality, throwing herself into her work, paying her dues, and trying to climb that corporate ladder. Her eyes continued to move over the baggage claim area and she was easily able to pick out her dad standing waving and smiling softly. Happiness and sadness both washed through Edward Watson's face. Alice moved to her dad letting him wrap her up in a lasting bear hug. She murmured into his shoulder, "Hey Daddy. Ugh, you're crushing me."

"Hey Honey, we've missed you." Ed sighed deeply, "Thank you, Alice. Thank you for coming home."

"Of course, Dad. Of course. How's he doing?" Alice pulled slowly away and they began to move together from the space.

"Not good Hon. He's been back for a couple of weeks, now completely discharged." Ed's eyes were saturated with sorrow and concern. "He's very different now and it's not just a physical thing."

Andy was older than Alice by just under 2 years. In his youth, he was full of life, kind, and an exceptional athlete. When he chose to join the Marine Corps while he was in college no one was surprised. His education was paid for and he loved the work. He became a specialist in operations and training of M1A1 Abrams tanks. He spent much of his time training his own companies and he was often assigned to protective details in various locales in the Middle East. On his last tour, an IED disabled his tank and his platoon was attacked by a rogue insurgent cell. In the fray, Andy lost two of his men and his right arm. Alice returned home to help with Andy and the family restaurant. Taking care of Andy and keeping Elk Run going was proving more challenging than Ed and Bea initially thought.

Alice left a job within the Marriott system in New York. Truth be told she wasn't exceptionally happy in New York. Work was challenging but she was not as engaged and stimulated by her job as she expected. She had been distracted recently and vertical movement was slow. New York sometimes felt too big and too alienating. Alice thought the big city was what she wanted, but she had begun to feel lost and unanchored. She just wasn't ready to admit to herself that it wasn't what was meant to be. Always a confident person, Alice felt the city won and she didn't like that. "Alright, Dad." Alice's voice was at once comforting and determined. "Let's go see them."

Ed sighed again in gratitude. "Al, I know this is hard for you. It just means so much to have you home again."

"I want to be here." Alice said sincerely and quietly, "I think I've been on the path to return home for some time now. It's not just about Andy, really. You don't need to keep thanking me for something I wanted to do. Let's get Andy healthy and take things as they come."

Ed nodded seeing regret and sadness layered in his daughter's eyes. He decided not to push the conversation, "Okay, Honey. Let's go, they're at the restaurant."

Ed pulled up outside "Elk Run Cafe'' just outside of downtown Jackson Hole, north toward Snake River. Their small cafe and restaurant catered to both locals and tourists, located between the river and Tetons they stayed quite busy. Over the years they built up a reputation for hearty, carbo-loaded breakfasts good for either loading up before or refueling after taking on the peaks. They were best known for cinnamon rolls as big as your head and 8 egg omelets. The restaurant sat 100 people comfortably between the counter service, the rustic family-style long tables, and a handful of small tables lining one side of the restaurant. The walls were lined with pictures of locals and visitors climbing the Tetons, hiking, fishing, and camping. Antique gear hung from the walls.

Alice moved through the front door and Bea stood there beaming. She too gave Alice a hug that drove the air out of her lungs. "Oh, Alice. It's so good to have you home." Her voice wavered with emotion and tears gathered in her eyes.

"Hi Mom, I've missed you." Alice pulled back carefully surveying Bea's face. She was still genuinely happy and jovial, but her eyes were tired and there was sorrow in her voice.

"Why don't you go say hello to Andy and get something to eat." She grinned, "We've got a shirt ready to go for you."

Alice chuckled and rolled her eyes with good nature, "Gee, thanks, Mom."

Alice saw Andy sitting at one of the 2-top tables along the wall. She paused for a split second, her heart breaking. It was the first time she saw Andy after the attack. Not only was it a shock to see him without his arm from the shoulder down, but he looked slight. He looked like he had lost a significant amount of muscle and tone. "Hey, Andy!" Alice moved through the noisy diners to Andy as he rotated in his chair to face her. Alice sat gently in Andy's lap and buried her head in his neck. "I've missed you so much! I'm so happy you're safe with us now." Andy hugged her back but it felt hollow and initially, he said nothing. Andy was 6'2" and Alice was 5'10" both were on the tall side. They shared the same dappled hair but Andy's eyes were a soft brown and Alice's were more hazel like Ed's. "Andy?" Alice leaned back searching his eyes. "Hey, Buddy ... "

"Oh sorry, Al. I'm just a little tired." Andy's voice sounded washed out and apathetic. "It's good to see you too." He offered a weak smile.

Alice glanced at the clock, 10:00 AM. "Andy, I'm still on East Coast time. I'm ready for lunch. Do you mind if I sit with you while I eat?"

Andy's response was flat and matter-of-fact. "Of course not."

"Are you eating too?" Alice was hopeful, he looked like he needed the calories.

"No, I'm not hungry. But I'll sit with you."

Alice returned from the kitchen with a small omelet and a couple of pecan pancakes. She really was hungry and she sat devouring the food while Andy watched passively. Alice remembered a time when they shared everything, they were so close. Now, Andy was distant and seemed lost. "So Andy, have Mom and Dad put you to work yet? I'm pretty sure they have me on the afternoon shift!"

Andy just stared at Alice, "No Al. I can't work."

"Look, Mom and Dad might treat you like you're helpless, but I'm not. I'm not here to bust my ass on my own."

The stare continued. "Whatever Alice."

"Andy," before Alice could continue the thought Andy stood up from the table and moved to the office off the kitchen leaving Alice alone and dumbfounded by his attitude. Alice grimaced, "Well, that sucked." She finished up her breakfast and went to grab a staff t-shirt.

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