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The duffel bag had to weigh over one hundred pounds. Struggling to get it onto the baggage conveyor belt, Bridget chalked it up to exhaustion and pregnancy. Now she had an excuse for all the physical struggles she’d had since arriving. And now that she was leaving, she wondered if returning after giving birth would be easier.

The flight attendant welcomed her and after looking at her boarding pass, handed her a complimentary bottle of water. Bridget almost laughed out loud. But water it would be. Fortunately, she’d packed cookies and fruit that Ben had given her, and she bought a sandwich at the concession stand. Her stomach wasn’t that great lately that she needed a lot of food, anyway.

Her seat was next to the window, thankfully. Watching the ground recede further away as the plane lifted into the air, the high desert/mountain landscape dominated. On the ground, the valleys were lush and green. Her world had encompassed a concrete block building covered with camouflage netting. The desire to explore beyond the borders of the base diminished in time. She had two comfort zones: standing at the side of a patient’s bed and her own barracks.

Would she ever discover the country outside of the boundaries of the base? Why that would come up when she was leaving annoyed her. It was unimportant. The only things that mattered were the patients she cared for. Their living situation was out of her hands. Some other do-gooder would have to see to that.

Images of masses of people living in tent villages haunted her but she tried to force them out of her mind. A mantra came to mind that she’d learned in a rotation through the emergency room: take care of their acute needs. It was the same thing in the OR.

Finally, she landed in New York and could get a flight to New Orleans that would land in the early afternoon. She sent Luke a text and his response was that he’d be waiting by the baggage area.See you in three hours!

The excitement to see him continued to build, and she didn’t resist it. What would her expectations be that he couldn’t meet? He looked great; he was kind; what did he lack that would set her off when she saw him? She’d just have to wait and see.

But she had to worry about something and when she took Luke off the table, her father took his place. Planning to tell her parents she was pregnant as soon as she got home, before she boarded, she sent them a group text.

Mom and Dad, I’m on my way home. All’s well, I promise you. I’m just getting a brief break before I go back to Kandahar. My friend, Luke, from Cypress Cove is picking me up from the airport this afternoon and I would like to see you if you’re available. I’ll text when we land. They are calling all military to board the plane so I’ll say goodbye.

Three hours flew by and soon the plane landed in New Orleans. The heat on the tarmac crept up Bridget’s legs. It was hotter and more cloying than the heat in Afghanistan, her fatigues sticking to her. The airport was freezing cold after the heat. Shivering, she had one goal, and that was to get to the baggage department to see Luke.

It felt like the trip through the airport took forever, and when she was at the top of the escalator looking down and there he was, waiting for her, unexplainably, she cried. Tough Bridget weeping concerned him. He stood at the exit of the escalator, waiting, and she flew into his arms.

Witnesses thought they knew what was happening; the young lieutenant in desert fatigues, seeing her beloved boyfriend for the first time after an absence. But it was so much more complicated than that.

He pulled her over to the side, away from the crowds, and rubbed her back, and when she calmed down, he took her face between his hands and looked at her and they kissed like lovers. Hugging her afterward, he had one goal, and that was to get her home. But first, the parents.

“Let’s get your bags.”

“I only have a duffel bag,” she said.

It was huge and when he grabbed it, he sputtered, laughing. “You carried this thing?”

“Yeah, but it’s not all that.”

“Yes, it is.”

He carried it with one arm around her and they left for the parking lot.

“I’ve got so much to tell you,” she said. “Let’s get my parents over with first. It might be ugly.”

“I can handle it.”

He placed her bag in the back seat and opened the door for her.

“You look good,” he said. “I thought you’d be showing a bit.”

“I am, just a little pooch. And I think it’s moving.”

“Oh wow, I can’t wait to feel it,” he said, shutting her door. “Okay, where to?”

“Let me see if they answered me,” she said, getting out her phone and looking at their text. “They’re home, waiting. They aren’t too happy but I’m not surprised.”

“What did they say?” Luke asked.

“My father is asking if I’m home legally. Ha! He was a Navy officer, so he probably thinks I’m AWOL.”

He didn’t reply, but she saw that familiar twitch in his jaw, a telltale sign men had when they were trying to bite their tongue.

Instead, he took her hand and kissed it, keeping his eyes on the road. “Directions, please.”

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