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By:Lulu Pratt & Simone Sowood

"Good to see you, too, Mom," I say, grinning at her.

"Your father's pretty sure he fixed the problem with the cable reception in here, but if it's still glitchy, let us know," Mom says. She hugs me again and I hug her back.

"Mom, I'm not going to just up and disappear if you don't keep hugging me," I tell her.

She laughs. "I know, I'm just so glad," she says. "I'm going to go and watch some horrible Lifetime movie, but if you need anything … "

"If I need anything, I know how and where to get it," I tell her. "Relax, Mom! I'm not Aunt Tracy."

"You certainly aren't," Mom agrees. "Thank God she decided to stay at a hotel."

I snicker and Mom goes still, looking like she wants to bake an entire batch of cookies or maybe start the pot roast over from scratch for me. Some things never change.

"Did I tell you Harper came home for the week to be part of the celebration, too?"

"I saw a car out front next door," I tell her. "I figured it was probably her."

"She got in this afternoon, and helped us paint some trellises and things for the party," Mom explains, as she leads me up the stairs to my old bedroom. No matter how many times I come home, no matter the fact that she would never have done this for me when I was a kid, Mom insists on walking me up to my bedroom as if I'm a guest.

Mom goes on about the preparations, about the parties they're throwing, and I only kind of half-listen. She's going to tell me all the same things tomorrow and the next day anyway.

Besides which, I have bigger things on my mind. My enlistment is coming to an end, and just before I left to come home my commanding officer sent me paperwork to sign. I could either leave the army or re-enlist. For the past week or so, since the first notice came, it's been all I can think about. I know my mom wants me back home, or at least, close enough to home that I can visit more than maybe twice a year, but what would I even do outside of the military?

"Go watch your movie and get some sleep," I suggest. "I'll probably crash out in a bit."

"I'll see you in the morning, sweetheart," Mom says, finally leaving me alone.

I shake my head and stand up. I'm a little hungry, but I figure I'll give Mom a chance to settle in and get into her movie before I head for the kitchen. By then she should be able to let me fix my own plate and heat it up without wanting to do everything for me.

I look around my room, feeling a little bored and restless. Compared to my place on-base, it's cluttered. Posters on the walls, stuff barely contained in my closet, trophies and badges and stuff from high school on my dresser and desk. The TV and my old PlayStation take up almost an entire corner. Nothing is in regulation colors. It's good to be back, but weird at the same time, the way it was the first time. I don't think it will ever not really be weird.

I open the blinds and look out through my window. All the lights are off at the Polsens' place across the yard except for the one in Harper's old room, but her curtains are closed. I figure I'll go over in the morning to say hello, maybe ask Mom if I should invite them all over for breakfast or whatever.

Just as I come up with this idea, I see the curtains rustling in the window across the way, and then I see her. She's in a tank top and shorts, her hair down around her shoulders, obviously getting ready to go to bed. She looks up and spots me at the same time.

I tug open my window and grin at her. Harper's actually looking pretty good these days, I think to myself as I wave. Harper returns the wave and grins at me. She bites her bottom lip, and opens her own window, leaning out a bit.

"Hey!" She does that shout-whisper thing, and I lean out through my window. "Just get into town?"

"Yeah, Mom said you were here," I call back, as quietly as I can.

"How long are you here for?"

"A week. You?"

"Same," Harper says. "Are you tired?"

I shake my head. I suddenly don't want to let her go without chatting more.

Harper looks over her shoulder and says, "Let's go to our place before we wake someone up!"

I nod. We have a couple of different spots, but I know what she means.

Hopefully Mom is already starting to doze off, so she won't question me leaving the house after midnight, right after finally getting home. I close my window and pull the shades.



I close the door behind me as quietly as I can and pull my robe a little tighter around my shoulders. I probably should have put proper clothes on, but I'd only just taken a shower before I saw Zane in the window. Besides, Zane had seen me in pajamas before. It wasn't like it was all that different.

I pad across the backyard to the spot where Zane and I used to meet when we were kids and then teenagers. I see him come out of the house, and my heart skips a beat, just for a second. Oh come on, it's just Zane.

I take a quick, deep breath and shake my head slightly at myself for reacting like that to him, but I have to admit that in the time since I saw him last, Zane has become very hot. He's put on some muscle that I can see beneath his T-shirt in the backyard lights. As he gets closer to me, I can see that he's sporting some new ink - an army insignia on his right forearm - and the edge of another one that I can't make out starts just below his shirt sleeve. The high-and-tight haircut looks good with his dark hair and sharp-featured face. I have to admit that altogether he's damn good looking.

He hurries to me and before I can even think of what to say, Zane hugs me tightly. I wrap my arms around his big, broad shoulders and find myself pressing my cheek to his chest almost without knowing what I'm doing.

"I swear to God you're taller," I say.

Zane laughs. "You're looking pretty good yourself," he says, pulling back and looking me over. I feel my cheeks heating up with a blush and look away with a laugh.

"You're just saying that because there's a breeze," I tell him. I pull my robe around me even tighter. When I feel like I can meet his gaze again, I look up into Zane's eyes. "So, happy to be back in town?"

"It's nice," Zane says. "The flight was a pain in the ass, though."

"Yeah, the drive was pretty tough too," I respond. It feels so awkward, but I can't say why. I can't even think about why.

"You came back into town just for my parents' anniversary?"

I shrug off Zane's question. "Well, I mean, they're practically my aunt and uncle," I point out. "Almost a second set of parents."

"I don't think the army would let me off for your parents' anniversary," Zane says, sitting down on the grass. I hesitate for a moment and decide to join him.

"I had the vacation time banked," I explain, "and besides which, it's better for me to take the time now than later."

"Why's that? Vacation's vacation, isn't it?"

"Not always," I say, grinning wryly. "In the publishing industry, at least …  well, I guess for any job, there are better times and worse times."

"Military's not that different," Zane says. "Ask for leave during certain times of year and unless you've stayed on duty for over a year, you're probably not going to get it granted."

"Makes sense," I say. "I was kind of surprised that you got leave at all."

"It's slow right now," Zane says. "Not a lot going on and I had leave coming."

"When was the last time you were in town?" I pull my knees up to my chest and wrap my arms around them.

"I got a couple of days during Christmas," Zane says. I nod.

"I must have just missed you."

"Yeah, I think I remember your parents saying that you were about to come into town, that you'd had some kind of deadline, but that was right before I had to be back at base," Zane agrees.

"Seems like that's been happening a lot," I observe. "It's been what, like three, four years?"

"Almost five, I think," Zane replies. "I shipped out for basic about a year after high school."

"That's right!" I think about it for a minute or two. "Kind of weird that in all that time we kept missing each other."

"It is, isn't it?" Zane shakes his head. "So, what's your life really like, up there in the big city?"

I laugh. "It's a lot like life here, actually," I tell him. "Except, you know, a bigger chance of someone in my building getting robbed." I pick a blade of grass and play with it between my fingers. "What's the army like?"

"Pretty much what I thought it would be like," Zane says after a moment. "I've made my way up the ranks a bit. I'm a specialist now, got my certification last year."

"Making bank?" I grin at him.

Zane rolls his eyes. "Making more than I was making before," he says. "But if it weren't for accommodations on base and food at the mess hall, I'd be just about breaking even. What about you?"

"I'm making enough to stay afloat in Brooklyn, which is saying something," I tell him with a grin. "But supposedly the publishing company I'm working for is underpaying me a bit for my skills."

"What makes you say that?"

I shrug. "One of my friends who works for another publisher, doing mostly the same thing I'm doing, is making about three thousand a year more than me."

"Oof, that sucks," Zane says. "Any chance to talk them into bumping you up?"