Chapter 24

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"Hernandez?"

"Yes Sergeant."

Ben continued to stare at him in shock. He couldn't seem to come out with any words.

"I told you that a guest would be joining us," said Nelson.

Ben stepped out of the Humvee and didn't break his eye contact with Hernandez. He was afraid if he did, he would be gone.

"Sergeant Grayson. You are finally here."

"You have been waiting for me too?"

"Yes, Sergeant. For this exact moment to be precise."

Ben's eyes were still wide. He was trying to process all this. He was just going accustom to Nelson following him around but he never expected to see anyone else that was dead.

"Gray, do you know why you mattered at this point?" asked Nelson as he stepped out of the Humvee.

"I....."

The words couldn't seem to come out.

"Take your time, Ben. Why is this important?" said Nelson in almost a whisper.

"I, uh, not sure. I couldn't save you," he said to Hernandez.

Ben felt a rush of emotion as he admitted this to the driver he desperately tried to save who now stood in front of him.

"I'm so sorry," continued Ben.

"There is nothing to apologize for."

Ben continued to stare at Hernandez trying to take this in.

"Sergeant Grayson, you could have left me to take cover and help the other men return fire. Instead, you stayed with me. And, you didn't even know me that well."

"No one should die alone," muttered Ben.

Ben felt the back of his eyes sting again as emotions started to cloud him.

"Sergeant, you don't have to keep a straight face for me. I know that was difficult to witness. Hell, I don't think I could have."

Ben watched the medic run to the vehicle and turned away. He pushed his hand on his temple and twisted his face in an attempt to hold all this in. He started to walk away just wanting this to all stop. He didn't know how much more he could take. He choked back his throat tightening under the strain of holding it together.

"Sergeant, I need you to see this."

Ben stopped in his tracks and turned back to Hernandez. He was by the door of the Humvee looking in. Ben forced his feet to move forward and stand by Hernandez.

"Look Sergeant."

Ben tore his eyes off the ground he was staring at and looked in. Hernandez was gripping his uniform gasping something in between the blood pouring out of his neck and mouth.

"I wish I would have sounded clearer for you."

Ben turned his head away from the painful scene and looked back at Hernandez standing next to him. He looked briefly at his neck noticing there was no trace of the injury. He was still in awe he was in front of him fully intact and seemingly so peaceful.

"I have wondered that for years. I have thought about it countless times trying to figure out what you were saying," said Ben quietly.

"Tell my wife and Junior I love them."

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