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midnightclear

Romance Upon A Midnight Clear
Christmas Anthology
Highland Press
ISBN: 978-0980035612
November 2007

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Purchase electronic version of single story,
I’ll Be Home For Christmas,
from Coffee Time Romance

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I’ll be Home for Christmas

July 3, 2005
Parwana, Iraq

“Annie, I need you to promise me some things. Promise that you’ll laugh harder than you should and find pleasure in the simple things. Sometimes just a sunset can right your day. Treasure that first sip of a cold soda on a hot day. Try a different church than you’re used to and appreciate you have the choice to do so. Take a walk and hold your head high, knowing as a woman you are valued and adored. But most of all, remember I love you. You are my everything. And this is my promise to you. I’ll be home for Christmas.” Corporal Mitch Ferguson of the Marine Forces Reserve placed the phone back in its cradle. He closed his eyes and sighed.Today he would die.

His premonition had never been more real.

Still, he intended to keep his vow and return to the one who held his heart. It was the how he didn’t know.

Annie. God, he loved her. Lit from within, she filled his life with joy. Her smile had brought him to his knees the first time he’d ever laid eyes on her. And he’d been lost ever since.

He grasped his chest as a painful spasm clutched his heart, thinking of her unhappiness. Always a trooper, she’d bravely tried to hide her sadness. But the crack in her voice and her soft sobs gave her away. He’d give anything to see her smile just once more—even the world were it within his power to grant.

The only thing he could do was help to ensure her freedom. It was the one gift he could guarantee and would gladly sacrifice his life in the process.

Not expecting it would be today. He didn’t want it to happen so soon. There was so much left unsaid, so much left undone.

He ached to hold her, to fit her soft curves against his hardness like a perfectly cut puzzle.

Annie understood his commitment, his deep love for their country. Never once did she beg him to stay, to not enlist. He loved her all the more for allowing him that bit of respite, for it was something he knew he must do.

Feeling the pain of separation as keenly as she did, a deep sense of emptiness settled in his soul. Without her his world wasn’t right. A piece was missing as if a part of him had been violently ripped away.

Out the window, he watched the flag gently wave when caught by a rare breeze crossing the hot, arid desert. The majestic symbolism of the red, white, and blue swelled his chest near to bursting, reminding him of why he was here.

***

Round Rock, TX

Annie paced the small living room of the house she would share with her high school sweetheart and love of her life once they were married.

Mitch’s last phone call had left her on edge. It was almost as if he was trying to tell her goodbye.

She shuddered. Something wasn’t right. She felt it clear to her bones.

“Annie, where do you want the couch?”

She jumped at the sound of her mother’s voice, jerking her out of her thoughts. “I…I don’t know.”

Her mother cocked her head and furrowed her highly arched brows. “Did Mitch upset you when he called?”

“No. Yes. I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. It’s more what he didn’t say.” Annie twirled a strand of hair around her finger. A nervous habit she had yet to break.

“Mom, I have this strange feeling.  Some…something bad is going to happen to Mitch.”

It wasn’t until she voiced the words that Annie fully understood her uneasiness.

“Honey, don’t be silly. Mitch will be fine,” her mother said with unshakable confidence.

“Mom, why do you say those things when you don’t know what you’re talking about? Are you there with him? Can you guarantee everything will be okay?” Annie glared at her mother. “I didn’t think so.”

Her mother’s expression fell and pain rose stark upon her face. “I was just trying to help.”

Lowered to the level of a complete jerk, Annie reached for her mother’s hand. “I’m sorry, Mom. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I’m just worried.”

“I know you are, but you must have faith.” She smiled and pulled Annie into her embrace. “I know in my heart Mitch will be home for Christmas. You’ll see.” 

The warm comfort of her mother’s arms took her back to a time where a hug and a kiss wiped away all the hurt and pain of childhood. If only life were that simple now.

Yes, Mitch had to be fine. There wasn’t another option. He was her everything.

***

Haditha, Iraq

Leaning against the Humvee, Mitch wiped the sweat from his brow, staring across the road as angry eyes focused on him and the rest of his men.

Nothing like a welcome wagon to make one feel right at home.

He’d never understand the hate blazing in some of their eyes. Didn’t the people in Iraq understand they were here to help? To give them a chance to have some of the freedoms Americans enjoyed?

Mitch and his men had been patrolling Haditha and the surrounding areas daily to search out and eliminate terrorists, making it a safer place for all. What wasn’t to get?

“Mitch, you ready to go?” asked his best friend.

Rob had enlisted on the same day Mitch had and they were lucky enough to get to serve together.

“Yeah, I’m ready.”

A ripple of apprehension raced through his body. He turned and walked around to the passenger’s side. The tiny hairs on the back of his neck stood on end.

Noticing the men across the road scatter, Mitch sensed trouble.

Suddenly, a vehicle sped down the road toward them.

Mitch’s heart stopped. His breath froze in his lungs. He had to do something. Fast!

“No! Stop! It’s a trap.” Mitch motioned for his men to get out of the way and to get down.

The single man smiled as he stopped his vehicle next to the Humvee. A smile that never reached his cold eyes.

Mitch raised his M16 and squeezed the trigger just as a brilliant flash blinded him, a heated force throwing him backward.

His world darkened into nothingness.Another bright light filtered through his senses. Slowly, he opened his eyes. The warm glow comforted him, beckoned to him. He rose and glanced at the scene below.

The Humvee burned and his men crowded around someone. Rob held the man’s head in his lap. He was crying out someone’s name.

“Mitch! No! Don’t die. Hold on, buddy. You can do it. Please hold on. Don’t give up.” Rob rocked the man back and forth.

Mitch leaned down to get a better look. He felt so light and strange.

The face was burned and Rob blocked his view. Why did he keep calling the person Mitch? So strange.

Rob moved back and Mitch got a good look at the man lying on the ground.
Oh my God.

He was the one burned and near death.

It didn’t make sense. He was alive and well. But, why were they ignoring him?

“I’m here! Look at me! I’m alive.” Mitch waved his arms trying to gain their attention since they didn’t seem to be able to hear him. The blast must have deafened them.

Nothing.

Couldn’t they see he was alive?

Reaching to shake Rob, his hand passed through him.

Mitch jerked his hand back, then tried again. Same result.

Oh my God. I am dead.

No, I can’t be.

I have to see Annie. I need to tell her I’m okay. Need to tell her how much I love her.

The light softened, enticing him to move forward.

No, I can’t. Not until I see Annie one last time.

He turned his back on the light, refusing to go along willingly.

It brightened to an Amber flash, then faded away.

I’m coming Annie.

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