Web Site: A Writer's Journey
This is a prompt story joining two prompts togert. One, a rewrite of the 'Prodigal Son' from the bible and the second, a happy Fourth of Jouly story--won second place.
“You did what?” Christian’s father’s face looked ready to burst. “Your mother’s going to kill you. You do know that, right?”
“Nah, Dad, that’s why I told you first, so you can calm her down.”
Christian handed his Marine Corp induction papers to his father and went upstairs for a shower. It was the end of June and the summer heat had descended with white-hot fury.
“What’s all the racket?” his sister Jillian asked, coming through the sliders from the backyard pool. “What’s ‘golden boy’ done? Surely nothing serious since he’s so perfect.”
A loud thump made them turn to look out the front window.
“Unbelievable! Your mom banged into the garage door again. How many times must I . . .”
“Well,” Jillian interrupted. “I did warn you not to let her use the garage door opener. She never waits for the door to open all the way.”
“Get me a beer, will you, Jill? I have some news your mother’s not going to like.”
Christian took a quick turn toward the back door when he realized his mother was home, but his father called him back. It was family conference time. After his mother finished yelling and scolding, she called upon her best weapon—tears. Then the guilt trip.
“John, if you didn’t fill his head with all your war stories about the first Gulf War he wouldn’t be running off to this one! I could just scream!”
“You’ve done enough screamin’, Marie. He’s gone and done it, so just get used to it.”
“Can I have his room?” Jillian asked. It’s bigger than mine and he won’t be needing it.”
“Be quiet, Jillian,” her mother snapped.
Jillian stood up from the kitchen table and went to her room, muttering how her precious brother was fawned over even when he did something without their consent or approval. When would it ever be about her?
Unknown to his family, Christian had been working on his enlistment long before he mentioned it. He was scheduled to fly out of Kennedy airport from his Long Island home in three days. His father drove him to the airport. His mother and sister stayed home; one weeping and the other ecstatic over becoming an only child at last. Maybe now they’ll see me as a person, Jillian thought.
With the Fourth of July family party in a few days, John and Marie steeled themselves for the ordeal of telling their painful story over and over again. Jillian was happy, thinking she wouldn’t have to listen to her relatives bragging about ‘golden boy’ for a change. Again, she was disappointed as the talk of the party was all about Christian and the shocking thing he’d done. Jillian slipped off to her room, put on her headphones and tried to get into a good book. She looked forward to fall when she’d enter her second year of college.
Things didn’t go quite the way Jillian had hoped during her brother’s eighteen month tour of duty in Iraq. The house was quiet—no Christian to make jokes and keep the family laughing. Her mom was depressed, while her dad was torn between missing his son yet unable to hide his pride.
Christian’s tour was nearly over when two uniformed marines rang the doorbell. Jillian answered it and seeing their somber faces, ran to get her parents. Marie saw the marines and began sobbing; John, white-faced, asked them inside. Jillian felt a knot in her stomach and thought she might throw up.
“I’m sorry to inform you that your son is missing in action”, the older of the two soldiers said gently. Marie fainted before he could say anything more and Jillian ran to her room. When she awoke after crying herself to sleep, it was dark outside, starless, with only the distant hoot of an owl to break the silence of the night. She went downstairs and stood behind the kitchen door, listening to her parents talk in soft tones.
“Jillian,” her father called out. “You can join us. It’s time you stopped your incessant eavesdropping.”
Jillian slipped into a chair, trying not to call any more attention to herself—the little attention she got always seemed negative.
It turned out that Christian was actually considered AWOL. According to the latest report, he’d gone into a small town on the outskirts of Tehran with a few buddies. They returned—Christian didn’t. None of them noticed at first and later searches proved futile.
Two years passed and still no word of Christian. Jillian had her parents all to herself but found it wasn’t all she’d expected. The family had no closure and their home was somber.
The following year their hopes waned and they began to pick up the shards of their lives. It wasn’t so much that they lost hope, but rather they tried to restore some normalcy to their lives. July fourth was approaching, yet another reminder of Christian’s absence. It had been two years since they’d seen him. The past year there was no celebration but this year Jillian begged for their usual family get-together.
The day was perfect; sunny and hot but comfortable. Their home was filled with family and friends, laughter and chatter creating an ambiance almost forgotten. It was sorely needed.
John was grilling steaks, while Marie passed around bowls of salads, helped by Jillian. Suddenly, there was silence, creating a sense of limbo. “It’s Christian!”
Chaos broke out as John and Marie ran to their son, grabbing him, checking to see that he was not an illusion. Cheers went up around as family and friends gathered around them, pelting him with questions—so many questions. Next to Christian was a lovely, dark-eyed Arab woman with a baby who looked about six months. For the moment there was only joy. Christian was home and no one cared how or why. Except Jillian, but she held her tongue.
Since relatives and friends were obviously not leaving without an explanation, Christian began to talk. His dad handed him a cold beer but he opted for soda. When his father raised his brows in question, Christian said,
“My wife is Muslim and doesn’t like me to drink alcohol.”
There was a collective sound from the listening crowd.
“Your wife?” Marie said, more statement then question.
“Yes, we married a year ago and this is our son Said.
Christian changed his mind and grabbed a beer from the cooler. Explanations were overdue. He spoke slowly at first, trying to remember details that were still fuzzy to him. Sharria hummed softly and rocked the baby.
“I don’t remember much but I’ll tell you what I do.”
He told them of his tour—blazing heat, sand storms so fierce men were buried, freezing desert nights, the never-ending noise of bombs, the gore, the devastation.
“The worst,” Christian nearly whispered, “was seeing women and children slaughtered by their own people, seeing them starving and homeless. We saved some but lost so many. He took a long swallow of his beer. “The last real memory I have is going off to a nearby town. We were told to re-con for enemy fighters…
Christian’s story went on: He’d stepped into a small home and found a young woman alone with a young boy that Christian assumed was family. The boy, shocked at his arrival in full Marine gear and holding a rifle, ran from the house through a back door. The woman spoke English and asked Christian to sit down. After making sure the house was empty, Chris took off his helmet and laid his gun on the floor next to him as he sat next to her. They talked a while and he asked if she needed anything. She chuckled then and asked where she should begin. Neither of them noticed the boy’s return until he hit Christian in the back the head with a chunk of cement. He fell to the floor unconscious. The woman heard his comrades called out for him, but she kept silent, afraid they’d kill her and her brother.
She made her brother help drag Chris into a back room used for storage. They covered him with piles of rags and trash. When the soldiers gave the house a quick check they never noticed him. The village was friendly to U.S. Military, knowing their job was keeping them safe from their own fanatical terrorists. His three buddies left and searched elsewhere.
The woman tended Christian’s head wound, scolding her brother in rapid Arabic as she tried to awaken him. The end of the third day, he awoke with no memory of what had transpired. He didn’t know who he was and the woman had taken off his dog tags and uniform and dressed him in Muslim clothing.
By the time he’d healed and regained most of his memory, three months had passed. He’d fallen in love with Sharria and forgiven her brother. His tour-of-duty was over by then, but Chris still had to report to his unit as to his whereabouts.
“Long story short, because Sharria took care of me and my injury was a mistake by a minor child I was allowed to marry—in a Muslim ceremony and bring her back home with me. I cut through miles of red tape.”
“Why weren’t we informed that you were alive?”, his mother asked.
“Because I wanted to come home myself and explain all this. I wasn’t sure if I’d be welcome with my bride and baby son.”
Murmured comments floated on the air as his dad and sister joined his mother in hugging their son.
The sun had long set and the dark, moonless sky was lit by firecrackers, marking freedoms so cherished and fought for in a country free of tyranny. Jillian finally got a moment alone with her brother.
“You did good bro. I’m more proud of you than I can say.”
The sky lit up and “bombs filled the air” as it had the day of freedom birth. They looked up together, Jillian’s arms wrapped around her brother.
“Welcome home, golden boy.”
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|Reviewed by Regis Auffray
|Nicely done, Micki! Love and best wishes,