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By:Lulu Pratt & Simone Sowood

I think about that. There's a possibility that I might be able to talk the publisher I work for into upping my pay, but I'll have to wait for that, at least for another couple of months. Once the big project is over, I'll be in a position to ask for almost anything I want, as long as I do a good job at it.

"Maybe," I tell him. "In the next couple of months, but not right now."

We chat like that for a while, and it feels weird, but at the same time it actually kind of feels nice. I think about the different conversations that Zane and I have had over the years, before we parted ways, right in that same spot.

By the time I'm walking back to my house, yawning because it's almost one in the morning, I think to myself that it was worth the little bit of grief I got at the office for asking for an entire week off.

I walk back to my room and turn down the sheets in my bed, exhausted. I know Mom and Dad will have me up early, helping the Lewises get ready for the first big party of their anniversary blowout.

As I drift off, I think to myself that my mom wasn't all that wrong about Zane.



As I get to the bottom of the stairs that morning, I can smell the eggs, bacon and coffee in the kitchen. I went to bed the night before after talking to Harper without even thinking about the leftover pot roast Mom had told me about, so I woke up starving.

Dad's sitting at the table, and Mom's taking something out of the oven as I walk into the kitchen.

"Just in time, as always," Dad says with a smile.

"Never miss a meal," I tell him.

He gets up and hugs me real quick before gesturing for me to take my usual seat at the table.

"We've got bacon, eggs, coffee, fruit salad and muffins," Mom says. "If you can't find something to eat, you're not looking."

She brings muffins to the table along with the bacon. The eggs and fruit salad are already there, and the three of us start eating.

"What's on the agenda for today?" I shovel a forkful of eggs into my mouth and crunch some bacon with it. The mess hall on base is good, but there's something about the way Mom does it.

"We need to finish getting the house ready," Mom says.

"Your mother practically wants to renovate before tonight's party," Dad tells me.

"I do not!" Mom throws a muffin at him and Dad catches it and takes a bite. "Anyway, there's just the decorating to do. Nadine and Harper are coming over to help in a little bit, too."

That piques my interest a little bit, even though I was kind of expecting it.

"When does the party start?" I know Mom probably told me before, but I can't remember. My parents have so much going on for their anniversary that it almost seems ridiculous.

"Starts at seven," Dad says.

"I've got some stuff prepped for food, but I'll need your help icing down the drinks and things, too," Mom tells me.

"I can do that," I say. I drink down some coffee, have some more eggs, bacon and another muffin. "What are we serving for food?"

"The usual stuff," Mom replies. "That veggie plate everyone loves, your aunt is bringing her crab dip, Nadine agreed to make her salsa. Dad's making his meatballs, and we'll have some other odds and ends that people are bringing."

"Your mom pre-made some kind of spinach pastry thing," Dad adds.

"How many people are you expecting?" It sounded like a lot of food, but I knew by the end of the night it would probably be gone all the same, or at least there would only be enough leftovers for us to snack on the next day.

"Only about thirty-five for this one," Mom says. "The bigger party, for the whole neighborhood, is in a few days."

"Why do you need to have two parties?" I shake my head at that.

"We're actually having three," Dad says. "But the last one is just a dinner party with the Polsens."

"Why three parties again?" I look at both of my parents, finishing off the fruit salad on my plate.

"Because we wanted to make a big deal out of our twenty-fifth anniversary," Mom says with a shrug. "Plus, not everyone could make it tonight. We wanted to make sure we had at least one event that everyone could come to."

"Why not make the big party the only one?" I grin. "I mean, unless you're hoping to get triple the presents or something."

"Because once we'd planned to have this one, we didn't want to abandon it," Mom replies. "Besides, it's sort of a set-up, a pre-party for the big one."

"I guess," I say with a shrug.

"Now that we've got the plans all laid out, how's your career going?" Dad refills his coffee mug.

"It's going well," I say. "I'm almost done with my term, so they're offering me the chance to reenlist."

"That's good to hear, they don't want to just shuffle you off," Dad says.

I shrug. "I'm a specialist, so a little more valuable than I was a year ago," I tell him. "But ultimately they just don't want to get rid of anyone they don't have to. Situation around the world's pretty tense, so apart from grunts they're trying to hold onto people."

"Do you think you'll do it?" Mom takes the coffee pot from Dad as she speaks, and waves it slightly in the direction of my mug. I nod that I'll take a little more.

"I don't know yet," I admit. "I've got a couple of months before I have to really make a decision, right up until I have to do my discharge paperwork, but they're already letting me know that staying in is an option."

"Would there be a promotion down the line if you stayed in?"

I sipped my coffee, thinking about my dad's question.

"Probably, at least in a while," I tell him. "Not right away, but I'm already a specialist, so they'd want to push me to do even more, eventually."

"What would getting out look like for you? Maybe you could go for your degree. The military will pay for that, after all," Mom points out.

"I don't know what I'd do if I got out," I say. "I could go for a degree, but I don't even know what I'd want to do." That was the big question, what was I worth outside of the army?

"You've got some time to think about it," Dad points out. "Weigh the pros and cons, figure out what works best for you."

"Definitely," I agree. "It's a big decision, you know?"

"I'd love to have you back home, at least for a good little while," Mom says. "You could get a job in town. I'm sure a lot of places around here hire vets."

"Just because he leaves the army doesn't mean he has to come home," Dad points out. "I think it'd be good for Zane to get a fresh start altogether if he leaves."

"That would depend on me getting a job right out of the army," I say. "And I don't know who would want to hire me."

"Lots of people would want to hire you," Mom insists.

"Let's talk about something else," I suggest. "I've got time ahead of me. Before I really talk about this I need to figure out what both things are going to look like."

I hear a knock at the back door, a few yards away from me, and Mom gets up. It's Nadine and Harper. I take a moment to look Harper over again in decent light. She's got her long, dark hair in two braids and she's in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. She makes both pieces of clothing look good enough that the brand should have paid her for wearing them.

When did she get so hot?

The girl I'd known all my life had always been sort of pretty, but not outright hot. This woman standing in my kitchen, talking to my mom, is someone I would have probably singled out at a base bar, at least to chat her up.

"Okay," Nadine says. "Where do we get started on decorating this place?" I grab my plate and take it to the sink, preparing myself for a long, long day ahead.   


"We need to clean up breakfast first," Mom says. "And I've got some decorations ready to put up. Would either of you want to help me with some of the last-minute food prep?"

I put my plate in the sink, finish my coffee and start grabbing the rest of the dishes off the table to wash them. If nothing else, the army has taught me that no one doesn't appreciate someone else doing the cleaning.



"Starting to really shape up out here," Bev says, stepping out onto the porch. Mom and I are setting up tables, while Zane is dealing with lights along the roof. We've been at it for maybe twenty minutes while Bev got started on the food.

"It'll look even better with the tablecloths and candles and stuff laid out," Mom says. "When are the flowers supposed to be coming in, Bev?"

I grab one of the ends of a table, and Mom grabs the other. We pull together, until the legs straighten and it looks more or less level. Mom and Bev apparently designed an entire layout for the tables outside and the decorations inside the house, with flower arrangements and candles and all kinds of other stuff. It would probably come out looking great, but for the moment I found myself thinking it was kind of ambitious for four people to tackle.

"The florist called about five minutes ago and said the delivery van was on the way," Bev replies. "Make sure you get the staples down good, Zane," she adds.

"I'm doing it," Zane says. "I've assembled and disassembled guns in one minute, I think I can tack down some lights."