Chapter Twenty Three

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I woke up fully clothed, with my cell phone on my chest. It felt like the heat was on and I never turned the heat on. I checked the time: almost four in the morning. I had to be up at eight so I could run to the grocery store before work at ten. I plugged my phone into the charger and sat up. I kept my T-shirt on, but unclasped my bra and slid my jeans off. It was so hot in my room and my throat was dry. I could feel the sweat on the back of my neck when I tied up my thick, curly hair.

I thought about putting pants on before I went to the kitchen for water, but it was four a.m. and Kale and Elodie would undoubtedly be sleeping. It was so hot, I couldn't think about sliding thick pajamas over my thighs right then, so I made sure I was quiet when I walked down the hallway and into the kitchen. I kept the hallway light off and relied on the little nightlights plugged into my kitchen outlets to see.

I grabbed the jug of water out of my fridge and chugged it until I couldn't anymore. I closed the fridge and almost screamed when I saw Kale sitting at the kitchen table.

"Shit, you scared me." I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. Then I felt bad because I knew I had made him feel bad.

"Sorry if I woke you. It's so hot in here," I told him.

"I was up."

I took a step closer to him and it took his eyes raking down my body, down my bare thighs, to remember that I was only in my panties. I tried to use my hands to cover my ass, but there was no use. I should have just thrown on pants. Or panties that half my ass didn't hang out of.

"Why are you up? Were you just sitting here in the dark? Sorry I don't have any clothes on. I thought you would be asleep."

Kale's head tilted just a bit, like he was confused by what I was saying, and he looked down at my legs. I immediately felt a wave of insecurity, thinking about my cellulite. He looked back up at my face.

"Can I have some of that water?" he asked me.

I flushed, not only because I was still half naked, but because he had obviously watched me chug water out of a gallon jug.

I nodded and opened the fridge. "It's just tap water. I buy one of these"—I held up the jug labeled Spring Water—"every once in a while, and just refill it with tap water. So, it's not actually spring water."

Why was I rambling?

"I've been in Afghanistan for months, I think I can handle some Georgia tap water."

His sarcasm surprised me. I smiled at him and he smiled back—another surprise. He took the jug from my hand and lifted it to his mouth without touching his lips.

"So why are you up? Getting used to the time difference?" I asked.

He handed back the jug and I took another swig. I was still hot, but the kitchen was much cooler than my bedroom. The cold tile felt good under my feet.

"I don't sleep much," Kale finally answered.



I sat across from him at the little table.

"Because of where you were?"

My stomach started to ache from my navel to my throat, thinking about him, this quiet young man, being woken up in a war zone from shells or rockets or whatever terror he went through.

He nodded. "It's weird being back here."

Between his honesty and the vulnerability shadowing his face, I thought I could be dreaming.

"Do you have to go back?" I asked, hoping he would say no.

In the back of my head, an alarm was blaring, screeching to warn me, or maybe Kale, of how I was starting to feel toward him. I had known him less than twenty-four hours, yet I wanted to protect him, to keep him from going back there.

"I don't know," he responded and we both fell silent.

"I hope you don't." The words were out before I could care how they sounded.

Part of me felt like I was betraying my childhood, my family lineage of soldiers and airmen, but I guess I wasn't as patriotic as I was expected to be.

When Kale laid his head down on his crossed arms and said, "Me too," my whole body heaved. This military life was so unfair sometimes. I wanted to ask Kale if he thought about what he signed up for, or if, like most of the young soldiers I knew, he had been persuaded to join by the poverty around him and the promise of a steady paycheck and health insurance.

"I'm sor—" I started to say, but his eyes were closed. I stared at him in the dark for a few seconds before a small snore fell from his full lips. 

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