Colby Caillat's voice erupted from Patience's pocket and she scrambled to extract her cell phone before the song could end. For the last six months that song had been her only tie to Bradley; it had been the cause of both elation and sorrow. She'd begun to hate the song, but a superstitious nature made her loathe to change anything until he came home.
"Hi, baby," Bradley said. His tired, resigned tone sent a jolt of fear curling in her belly.
"What's wrong?" she demanded.
Bradley sighed. "Nothing's wrong, Patience. The plane is delayed. That's all."
Disappointment, bitter and harsh, washed over her and unbidden the tears slipped silently down her cheeks. "Can I ask how long?" she said, struggling to control her voice. In the time he'd been gone, she'd become an expert at hiding her tears from him.
"I can't say, honey, but I'll be home soon. You know that."
"And it's just a delay, right?" she asked. She cringed at the desperation in her voice. "There's nothing wrong."
"Nothing is wrong, I promise. And it isn't a long delay. You'll see me soon."
"I miss you so much."
"I miss you, too, honey." Patience heard other voices in the background and knew she was about to lose him. "I have to go, baby. I love you. Hold on for me for just a little longer and I swear I'll make it up to you."
"I'm okay," Patience lied. "I love you. Be safe."
The click of the disconnected line echoed in her ear. At least the British man's little voice wasn't there this time. Patience hated that voice, the one that told her something half the world away had taken Bradley and disconnected them before he could say goodbye.
She rubbed the tears out of her eyes and made her way to the bathroom where she washed her face and stared at her reflection in the mirror. She knew she shouldn't complain. How many other military girlfriends waited a year or more for their men to come home? Bradley had only been gone six months. Six months of avoiding the news, turning the radio off when the Cav Report came on, and running for the telephone every time "Bubbly" played. Six months of wanting to know the details and dreading every single one. Six months of knowing he might never come home.
She'd known dating a special forces officer was going to be hard when she'd met Bradley, but his strength, his confidence in her and his love had convinced her she could do it. She'd learned to cope with the quick changes the Army threw at them as he'd prepared to ship out, but the waiting for him to come home was almost worse. The Army demanded patience but gave very few rewards to those who had it. OPSEC meant no details, no matter what. You waited in the dark and you were happy to do it if you wanted to keep your sanity.
Patience put on a smile and headed out into her club where Marsha and her husband waited.
"He's delayed," Patience said.
Marsha stood and hugged her. "He'll be here soon, honey. Have faith. You've made it through the worst of it."
"I know." Patience sniffed and tried to stop the burning in her eyes from turning to tears. "It's the waiting that gets me. I'm better with action."
"Welcome to the Army," Glen said. "It's a whole lot of hurry up and wait."
Patience nodded. She knew Glen was right, but that didn't make her feel any better. "I think I'm going to close up and go home," she said. "I'm tired."
"Are you sure?" Marsha asked. "There might be some late business, you know."
"I doubt it. When was the last time there was anyone here on a Thursday night after ten?"
"Well, if you're sure."
She nodded. She just wanted to go home. She didn't want to pretend everything was all right when it wasn't.
"We'll meet you up front, okay?" Marsha said.
"Sure. I'll be up in a minute." Patience turned off the coffee pot and flipped the light switches on her way to the front door.
Marsha held the door for her and waited with Glen in the dark parking lot while Patience locked the door.
"I'll see you guys tomorrow," Patience said, hugging them both. "And don't worry, I'm fine. I just need to get some rest."
"Let us walk you to your car," Marsha said. "I hate leaving you in this neighborhood at night."
Patience shrugged. She was as safe as she ever would be in the neighborhood and her car was only a few paces down the side of the building, but it was usually easier to let Marsha have her way. Patience glanced over her shoulder to double check the lights on the front of the building and heard the caress of the voice coming out of the darkness.
She stopped and slowly turned to look down the side of the building. She blinked several times, convinced the image of Bradley leaning against the side of her car would vanish if she acknowledged it.
"Bradley?" she whispered.
He held out his arms and she was in them so quickly she would swear her feet never touched the pavement. The tears that wet the front of his t-shirt were accompanied by harsh, painful sobs Patience couldn't stop, no matter how many times Bradley kissed her.
"Shhhh, baby. I'm home now. Why are you crying?" Bradley held her against his chest and ran his hand up and down her back.
"You said...delayed...jerk...hate you..." Patience clung to him, refusing to let go for even a moment in case he was a figment of her imagination. Life in an asylum was worth the feeling of his arms around her, the taste of his lips, the sound of his laughter.
"I love you," he whispered and it was all worth it.