I’ve seen your face a thousand times
Everyday we’ve been apart
And I don’t care about the sunshine, yeah
Mama, I’m coming home
I’m coming home
~ Mama, I’m Coming Home by Ozzy Osbourne
We’ve been on assignment for the last five weeks checking the mountains for any insurgents that might be hiding out. I’m reluctant to say anything but this has been a surprisingly quiet tour of duty. Our goal has been peacekeeping and training the Afghani people how to handle the security demands of their country. I wish them all the best, but I don’t know how well this is going to stick out here. To be honest, I don’t fucking care.
Because I’m going home.
When we came back from our trip in the mountains, we received word that our entire unit is going stateside. It’s the first time our entire unit will be in the States in over two years; I’d been injured three months after our first arrival in Afghanistan and was sent back home to recuperate. I shouldn’t complain about being here since I spent nearly a year home recovering from the wounds I’d suffered while the other men and women in the unit were stuck here. Everyone is buzzing with anticipation, but we are cautious too. This is the time we’ve seen so many others lose their lives because they are focused on going home and not focused on doing their jobs and staying safe. I’m so fucking superstitious about all this that I won’t even tell Sookie I’m coming home. Sam died shortly after he found out he would be going home; I don’t want to put the fear in Sookie’s brain that the same fate will happen to me.
The only person who knows I’m coming home is Alcide, but there wasn’t a way for me to keep it from him. He knows all the comings and goings of units stationed at Fort Bragg. I’ve sworn that fucker to secrecy; he’s getting punched in the junk if he tells Sookie I’m coming home. He still might get punched in the junk for telling her that my unit undergoes some of the most dangerous missions available. Fucker never did know when to keep his mouth shut.
Usually it takes between one to three months for troops to return to the States once they’ve been given the all-clear to come home. For us, they said it will take about six weeks. I think the troop withdrawal has been ramped up since Obama declared to the American people their armed forces would be coming home by the end of 2014. I don’t care what the reason is; I just want to get home to my family. If the Army can stick to the timetable we’ve been given, then I can make it home in time for the birth of my child.
When I returned from our mission in the mountains, my email overflowed with messages from Sookie and our friends. I knew they were putting the nursery together while she was away at the beach house. From what I’d seen in the pictures, they did a fantastic job! The nursery was gender neutral because our dear child was just as stubborn as its parents, something Pam continued to blame me for in the countless emails she sent me. I wouldn’t admit this to anyone but myself, but I’m kind of glad our kid is being a stubborn shit. If I’m home in time for the birth of my child, then finding out the sex is something that Sookie and I will have done together since I’ve missed out on everything else.
We have three weeks until we are scheduled to leave and I’m going out of my mind with boredom! All we have done is pack up all the extraneous shit we don’t need; we are left in a holding pattern, waiting for the day we are told we are homeward bound. Everyone around camp is antsy; sometimes I think it would be better just to spring it on us that we’re going home and not give us weeks to get used to the idea. All we can do is drive each other fucking insane. Tempers are running high and fuses are extra short so things are tense among the men and women in my unit. People have given me an extra wide berth because of how on edge I am. Everyone that I’m close to knows Sookie is pregnant and that she is due in December, but will likely be induced at 37 weeks which is right around Thanksgiving. I think that’s fitting since Thanksgiving is my unofficial anniversary with Sookie. Jesus Christ, it’s hard to believe that it’s only been a year; a lot has fucking changed within those twelve months. Thinking back to that Thanksgiving, I had no idea how much a simple holiday was going to change my life forever.
But I’m putting the cart before the horse. I need to get home to my family first.
Bubba, Bean, whatever the hell you want to call this kid needs to get the hell outta my body! I’m tired of having an alien life form inside me. Everything aches, my ankles are permanently swollen, and I’m fucking uncomfortable all the time. Being pregnant with Hunter wasn’t a walk in the park, but I don’t remember being so miserable all the time. I’m not sleeping well, all food, including water, is giving me heartburn, and I just seem to keep gaining weight. It’s the beginning of October and Dr. Ludwig is forcing me to go on maternity leave now. She says I need to be resting as much as possible and my job doesn’t afford me that opportunity. I wasn’t standing all day at the rehabilitation center, but I couldn’t put my feet up to rest like she wanted. I’ve been a whiny bitch for the last few weeks that I’m even irritating myself.
Part of me wonders if I would be this miserable if Eric were here. I’d still be uncomfortable but I wouldn’t have to do everything alone. I love our friends and family, I do; but they can’t be with me all the time to help out. It’s great that Alcide comes over to take care of all the yard work, and that Pam hired the cleaning lady for the house. But there are still the everyday things that need to be taken care and that’s what’s so exhausting. Hunter’s been an absolute angel, but he’s still a little boy who needs help with a lot of things. When this is all over, my son deserves to have the shit spoiled out of him. Not once has he complained about me being tired because of the baby, and he tries to help me around the house. He’s been a model kid while Eric has been deployed, and I’m so grateful. Maybe after the baby’s born and Eric’s back home, we can take Hunter to Walt Disney World. Nothing says ‘I love you’ like a visit to the mouse.
Speaking of Eric, he’s been incommunicado again for the last week. He said life around the base has been pretty boring, but they were getting ready for another assignment and would be out of touch for a few days. He hasn’t mentioned when they will be coming home; sometimes it seems like it’s never gonna happen. Eric and I have been together nearly ten months and most of our relationship has been spent apart. My relationship with Eric is not something I regret, but it would be nice to have him home with Hunter and me. I have no idea what Eric’s plans are for when he comes home, other than he wants to retire from the military with full benefits. But that means at least twenty years of service; he’s got a few more years to go in order for that to happen. I know it’s selfish of me, but I hope he changes his mind. I’m tired of having to worry about whether he will be coming home from his job in one piece. Then again, I don’t know what his plans are for when he gets out of the military; he doesn’t strike me as the type to sit around and be idle all day. So many things are up in the air for us; if I think about it too much I’ll stress myself out and end up crying. I’m a hormonal mess as it is, no sense adding to it. I’ve given up watching TV because I can’t handle those ASPCA commercials and they seem to be on every single time I sit down to watch something.
Today is my last day of work which I’m both happy and sad about. I’m happy I no longer have to be on my feet and I can stop wearing my uniforms. Nursing scrubs while pregnant are not the most flattering thing to wear and the elastic waistbands irritate my stomach. But I’m also disappointed to be going on maternity leave now because what am I gonna do for two months? Hunter’s in school; my housework is taken care of by others; the nursery is all set. I’m gonna go out of my mind with boredom!
The people at work are so sweet; the patients and the staff are throwing me a baby shower today. They had tried to keep it a surprise but Jesus told them not to. He said he didn’t want to any unnecessary stress or surprises to upset me. I think that’s a nice way of saying he was worried about my mood swings. Cruella de Vil has nothing on me when it comes to being a bitch!
The baby shower is set for 12:30 which is lunch time for the rehabilitation patients. The party is being held in the community center and the kitchen staff is providing lunch for the patients with dietary restrictions. Those that have no restrictions are going to be partaking of pizza from my favorite place. It is my way of thanking everyone for thinking of me and the baby. Jesus tried to fight me on it but there is no winning an argument with a pregnant woman.
I’m not allowed anywhere near the community center while they are setting up for the shower; Jesus said he would come get me when they are ready. I’ve spent the morning cleaning out my area at work and making sure all my FMLA and disability forms are filled out correctly so I have no problems while I’m off. After that, I spent time with some of my favorite patients at the center. The rehabilitation center has patients ranging in age from young adults to senior citizens; a lot of the patients we are helping have sustained injuries while on active duty. One of my secret fears has been that I would one day find Eric in the rehabilitation center. Yes I know it means he would be home, but in what condition? I will love Eric no matter what happens, but the thought of him returning injured haunts me. The soldiers I work with not only have the physical injuries and reminders to deal with on a daily basis, but they also have the emotional scars. Sometimes I think it’s the emotional damage to the psyche that is worse for our soldiers than the physical damage.
“Hey Sook,” Jesus says pulling me from my reverie. “You ready to go? Everything is set up.”
“Sure,” I say as I hold my hands out to him. Getting up out of chairs is damn near impossible, especially when it’s a rolling chair with no arms for me to use to push myself up. Jesus takes my hands and helps pull me to my feet. “Are the pizzas here yet?” I’d placed the order and paid with my credit card, so I need to sign the receipt and add the tip.
“Not yet, but I’m sure they’ll get here soon.” Damn straight they’d better be here soon; Bubba and I are hungry! Bubba wants a slice of veggie pizza with the works followed by a slice of gooey plain cheese. I just want some of the chicken wings I’d ordered. But Bubba’s food choices always come first, unless it’s something absolutely revolting. I’m still not forgiving Bubba for craving anchovies with peanut butter.
Jesus walks with me down the hallway to the community center. Well, he walks and I waddle. I love this kid, I do, but I want my body to be my own again. They weren’t kidding when they said every pregnancy is different. With Hunter I was active all the way up until my water broke and I didn’t really look pregnant until my last trimester. If one more stranger asks me if I’m having twins or says I look ready to pop, I will not be held responsible if I end up punching them out.
We get in the community center where everyone has gathered. Even though I knew about the party, I still tear up when I see how they’ve transformed the room. Pink and blue streamers zig-zag across the room and more of the owl decals that are on the nursery walls decorate the white walls of the community center. Each table has one of those cardboard centerpieces that you find at the party supply stores, and there are balloons scattered around the room. A mountain of presents are stacked beside a huge sheet cake. I can’t believe everyone has gone through so much effort for me!
“Thank you everyone for this. I’m so overwhelmed,” I say as I wipe the tears from my eyes with a tissue from my pocket. Since the hormones started acting up, I’ve always made sure to carry a pack of tissues with me. The staff members and the patients all smile at me; they’ve gotten used to my emotional outbursts. “When the food gets here, make sure y’all dig in. Just save Bubba a slice of veggie and a slice of cheese!” Everyone laughs at me; they’ve gotten used to me blaming Bubba for all my food cravings too.
I’m walking around the room, giving hugs and chatting with everyone. There are a lot of people in the room and I make it a point to talk to every one of them. I’ve enjoyed working with both the staff and the patients, and I want them to know how much I appreciate them and will miss them while I’m away. While I’m doing this, Jesus and one of the other nurses carry in the boxes of pizza.
“Sookie, the delivery guy is standing by the door. Can you sign the receipt for him?” Jesus drops the boxes of pizzas on the table and turns to me with a huge smile on his face. I nod my head to let him know I heard him before wrapping up the conversation I’m having with one of the patients. I notice that the room has gone completely silent so I turn around to see why. I gasp in shock and my eyes instantly fill with tears.
Standing by the door in his uniform is Eric. Thank you Jesus; he’s finally come home!
After countless hours on airplanes and delays due to weather or mechanical issues, I am finally home! I disembark to find families gathered welcoming their loved ones home. I could have had my reunion like this with my family, but I wanted to surprise Sookie. Jesus had emailed me that today was Sookie’s last day at work, so the staff and patients were throwing her a baby shower. My baby momma is adored by everyone that knows her and I wanted her to enjoy her last day at work, not have her waiting all day for our plane to arrive. For a while I didn’t think we would arrive today and I was going to be disappointed because I really wanted to surprise her at the baby shower. Sookie told me before that she has always loved those stories you see of a family out at a public event with no idea they are about to be reunited with the family member returning from overseas. She deserves to have her own happy ending after all she has been through . . . and if she wants the dirty version of a happy ending I’ll be more than happy to make sure she gets that too.
Walking through the throngs of people, I finally find the one person that did know I was coming home. Alcide leans against the front of his truck with his arms crossed over his chest; he’s dressed in his uniform with a pair of sunglasses covering his eyes. A huge smile spreads across his face when he sees me, which I’m sure is a mirror expression of my own. I drop my bags on the ground at my feet as he walks towards me. Alcide pulls me into a bear hug with his giant hands beating me on the back as he welcomes me home.
“It’s good to see you again Viking!”
“Thanks Al; it’s good to be back!” He reaches down for one of my bags while I grab the other and we walk to his truck. After stowing my gear in the bed of the truck, we climb in the cab to get off the base.
“Thanks for picking me up,” I tell him as we pull out of the parking lot.
“No worries man. I’m just happy you’re home and in one piece this time!”
“How is she?”
Alcide starts laughing. “You lasted longer than I thought you would. I thought you’re first words were going to be asking about Sookie.” He’s still chuckling as we pull to a stop at a traffic light.
Seriously?!?!?!?!?! I haven’t seen the woman I love in months; she’s pregnant with my kid which is a huge fucking deal to me. And he finds it funny that I’m anxious to know how she’s doing?!?!?!?! I lean over to punch him hard in the arm. “Don’t fucking toy with me Wolf! How is she?”
“Ouch!! That hurt mother fucker!!” He takes a hand off the steering wheel to rub the spot I punched but he’s still grinning like an idiot. “I’m gonna tell Maria you’re abusing me and she’ll kick your ass,” he teases.
“Go ahead,” I say trying to goad him. “But when I tell her why I punched you, she’ll probably end up punching you too!” She will too; Maria doesn’t put up with Alcide’s shit which is part of the reason I like her so much.
“Dammit!! She would too,” he says chuckling. I raise my fist to punch him again and he tries to block me from hitting him. “Ok, ok! Sookie’s fine. She misses the fuck outta you, but she’s ok for the most part. The baby and her are both are doing well.”
“For the most part? What’s the matter?” Has something happened in the last week since I haven’t been talking to her? I told her that we were going on assignment, but really we’ve been traveling back home. I knew if I had the ability to talk to her this past week I wouldn’t have been able to keep it in that I’m coming home.
“Dude, she’s pregnant! She feels uncomfortable and miserable most of the time,” Alcide says looking at me as if I’ve gone completely mental. I’ve never been around a pregnant woman before that I remember so I have no idea what to expect. Alcide has some knowledge of pregnancy because his sister Janice has been pregnant twice. He sees my confusion and dumbs down his response, using small words, so that my brain can comprehend what he is saying. “Sook and the baby are OK. There is nothing to worry about. I promise.” He slaps my knee comfortingly before the light changes green and we take off towards Sookie’s place of employment.
My excitement mounts to a near feverish pitch as I see the rehabilitation center building ahead of us. Alcide doesn’t even bother to park the car; he pulls up to the main entrance to drop me off. I’m out the door before the vehicle comes to a complete stop. Alcide can drop my stuff off at the house later if he has somewhere he needs to be. I walk briskly through the automatic doors to the receptionist desk. Fortunately, I don’t have to waste my time explaining to the receptionist who and why I am here. Jesus is coming down the hallway with another nurse towards the receptionist desk.
Jesus stops short and stares at me with an open-mouth. My lips split into a wide grin as I move towards him. “Eric?”
“Jesus, it’s good to see you man.” Hearing my voice propels him forward and he gives me a bear hug.
“Goddamn it’s good to see you! Sookie didn’t mention you were coming home,” he says happily as he stands back with his hands at his waist, shaking his head in disbelief.
“She doesn’t know. I wanted to surprise her.”
“I got a hundred bucks that says Sookie cries and hits him at the same time when she sees him.” Alcide’s booming voice echoes down the hallway as he enters through the automatic doors.
Jesus shakes his head. “That’s a fool’s bet, Al. But I’ll be more than happy to take your money if you feel like givin’ it up. Sookie’s definitely gonna cry, but she’ll wrap her arms around him and not let him go.”
“Since you’re betting on me, can I get in on this action?” Jesus shrugs his shoulders but Alcide is shaking his head no at me.
“You can only bet on this if you don’t try and influence her reaction in any way. Got it Viking?”
I nod my understanding. “She’s gonna cry when she sees me, then hug and kiss me, but she’s gonna end up smacking you Al for not telling her I was coming home.”
“Hell no! I’m not taking the blame for you wanting to keep your homecoming a secret,” Alcide cries in outrage as a pizza delivery guy shows up at the receptionist desk looking for Sookie. I sign the receipt while the driver brings in another stack of boxes.
Jesus and the nurse with him take the two stacks of pizza. They tell us to follow them as they lead the way to the room where the baby shower is taking place. Jesus tells me to let them go in first, he wants to distract Sookie so I can walk in to surprise her. Alcide stays with me as I wait impatiently in the hallway which seems to be the longest minute of my life. Through the open door I can hear Sookie’s sweet voice above the others, and it makes me close my eyes as a tear slides down my face.
Hearing her voice in real life and not through a computer or a phone makes me truly realize I’m home. Thank you God, I’ve made it home! Alcide squeezes my shoulder in support and I open my eyes. I move closer to the door and I think my heart stops beating when I finally see Sookie in the flesh for the first time in months. I’ve forgotten how beautiful she truly is; how she lights up a room with her smile and energy. She’s standing in the room giving me her profile, one hand resting on her lower back, but the other rubs slow circles along the top of her belly. I swallow painfully over the lump that’s risen in my throat; she’s standing there with my child inside her, trying to soothe the baby as she talks with a patient sitting in a wheelchair. I’m so overcome with emotion I almost miss my cue to enter the room. Alcide nudges me forward and gives me a huge smile. I walk quickly and silently into the room. Sookie now has her back to me and doesn’t realize I’m in the room, but everyone else gathered does. Many of the women in the room move their hands up to their faces, covering their open mouths as they stare at me in shock; some have begun to cry. The men in the room, several of them wounded soldiers, nod their heads toward me, an unspoken gesture welcoming me home. I nod my head at them in return as I wait for my blonde angel to turn around. The waiting is killing me! But she finally catches on that something isn’t right because she turns around. Her breath catches and tears fill her eyes but she remains immobile. Maybe surprising her in public wasn’t a good idea after all.
“Delivery for Stackhouse,” I say in a joking tone as Sookie continues to stand there. That seems to snap her into action because she snorts through her tears. The next minute she’s moving as fast as she can to get to me and I do my part to close the distance between us. I pull her as close to me as I can, her hands coming up to cup my cheeks as she places frantic kisses against my lips before settling her lips against mine in a deep kiss filled with love and longing. The silence that had filled the room disappears as those watching us begin clapping, cheering, and whistling as Sookie and I continue our reunion. I pull back when we both need to breathe, resting my forehead against hers as we smile dopily at each other. Her whispered “I love you” is the icing on the fucking cake for me. I’m in the arms of the woman I love, my hands have moved to rest on the baby bump between us and I can feel my kid moving around in there; everything is fucking perfect!
“Get a room you two!” Alcide is standing inside the room with his phone in his hand trained on the two of us. He’s been recording our reunion the entire time. Part of me wants to punch him for interrupting our reunion; the other part of me wants to thank him for capturing this moment for us. That’s the norm for my friendship with Alcide, but he’s always been there for me and me for him.
Alcide’s voice brings Sookie back to reality. She starts blushing as she realizes everyone is staring at us. She kisses me one last time before marching over towards Alcide, punching him right in the stomach.
He bends slightly at the waist, the air expelling from his body in a loud whoosh. “That’s for not telling me Eric was comin’ home!” Sookie marches back to my side wrapping her arms around my waist.
I can’t help but laugh as I press my lips to the top of Sookie’s head, and I’m still laughing as I see Alcide staring at us with narrowed eyes. “You owe me a hundred bucks Wolf!”
God it’s good to be home!