“Hey Nick what time are we heading out?”
“Around oh nine hundred . They want us in and out as fast as possible.”
Noah nodded and checked his watch.
“Still half an hour. I’m going to go check my email. Can you give me a shout when Matthews clears us and we can go?”
“Sure thing. Tell Luke I said hi.” The other man teased as Noah left the barrack.
A few minutes later Noah had secured his favourite place on the base. A computer slightly hidden from the view when you walked into the room. It was everyone’s favourite because it gave you a sense of
privacy that was hard to come by on an army base. He logged into his email account and smiled when he saw Luke had replied to his latest email.
“You’re coming home?! Like... really home? For good? They actually gave you a date this time? Do you know any details yet? I’m coming to pick you up. That’s allowed now right? I can’t believe you’re coming back home to me. You’ll be home in time for our anniversary! We’ll make it special babe. I miss you so much.”
“I miss you too.” Noah thought and read the rest of the email.
“But be careful out there ok? These are the last five minutes.. and I want you to get through them in one piece. Let me know when exactly I can come pick you up. Love always, Luke.”
Noah smiled and hit reply.
“Hey babe. Yes I’m really coming home for good. My two years are up and I’m done with this sandpit. This time next month I’ll be home with you. And you bet you’re picking me up. I haven’t seen you in almost a year, I miss you."
"I’m not sure yet about the details but I know I’ll be leaving this place the 27th or the 28th and I’m counting down the days. The locals want us here as much as we want to be here.. I don’t think we’re actually helping anyone like this. All they do is fight us.. and the ones that don’t get caught in the crossfire. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories. I can’t wait until that’s all they are to me. Stories you hear on the news instead of my day to day life."
"Please don’t worry about me. I’m being careful and this mess is almost over. I don’t have much time.. we’re heading out the gates soon. When I know a time and place I’ll let you know. Give everyone my love and tell them I’ll see them soon ok babe?"
"See you in 17 days Luke. Love you. Noah”
He read the email through a few times and hit send.
“Noah come on we have to go.”His fellow soldier Nick Wilson said after a short knock on the open door. “Matthews is in a bad mood and I don’t want to piss him off. We’re almost out of here.. I don’t want him to change his mind. I want to meet my son and not have to eat dust for another 8 months.”
“I’ll be right there.” Noah said and turned off the computer. “What’s the plan for today? The new school? I heard they had trouble there a few days ago.”
“I think so.” Nick said as he walked with Noah to the Humvee. “But I think Matthews wants us to do a sweep of the area too. I don’t know what they think we’ll find there.. but you know what they say.. Don’t ask why..”
“Just do and die” Noah finished for his friend. “Well the dying part is something I have a problem with.”
“You and me both buddy. But in three weeks we’re out of here.”
“About damn time.”
A little while later two military vehicles drove into town and parked in their usual spot near the main road.
“Alright people we’re here for information. We have four interpreters with us and we’re going to talk to the locals.” Sgt Matthews said as he briefed his men. “You are here to talk. You don’t shoot unless you have to defend yourself. You will be polite and respectful to their customs and beliefs. Men don’t talk to women. If you see any injured, radio it in. Don’t do anything yourself unless it’s a matter of life and death. Keep your eyes and ears open and report back here in three hours. Maintain radio contact.”
“Ok Mayer, Stevens, Wilson, Simmons, Anderson, Hernandez and Murphy you’re coming south with me. The rest of you are going north with Sgt Matthews.” Corporal Foster said and started walking.
A short while later Noah tried to talk to a man he guessed was about his age.
“He says he needs help. His wife is sick, she needs a doctor.” Zaid, one of the interpreters told him.
“Ok can you tell him to come to our base with her? We don’t have doctors with us now.. but the doctors on base will help his wife.”
Zaid nodded and turned back to the man..
“He says she can’t move and he doesn’t want trouble.” Zaid told Noah after the man had answered him. “He can get shot if the wrong people see him talking to Americans.”
“I know.. Can you ask him if it’s ok if one of our girls takes a look at his wife? She can radio a doctor if needed.”
Zaid nodded and asked the man who agreed to let one of the female soldiers go in and take a look.
“That woman isn’t sick. She’s in labour.” Amanda Murphy told them a few minutes later. “That baby wants out now. She needs a doctor here.”
Noah wanted to answer her but then he heard children screaming and a dog barking. He walked towards the noise and saw a group of kids throw rocks at a dog tied to a pole outside a house.
“Hey, hey, hey! What are you guys doing?!” He yelled at the kids, momentarily forgetting they didn’t understand him. “You don’t throw rocks at animals!”
The kids seemed to understand he didn’t like what they were doing and ran off.
He walked over to the dog and held out his hand so the animal could sniff him.
“Hey buddy. Are you alright? You’re not hurt are you?” Noah said softly as he crouched down next to the dog and gently pet its head. “I think you’re alright.. but you’re a little skinny.. where’s your owner huh?”
At that moment a door opened and an older man started yelling at Noah.
“Sir, please, calm down, I don’t understand you. Let me go get someone.” Noah said, trying to show the man he meant no harm. “Zaid! I need you over here for a minute.”
“What do you need?” Zaid asked as he walked over to him.
“Can you tell that man I’m here to help? He’s yelling at me but I don’t know what he’s saying. Can you ask him?”
Zaid nodded and talked to the man for a minute.
“That’s his dog but he doesn’t want it anymore. Food is too expensive. The kids were supposed to kill it. He’s mad that you chased the kids away.”
“What? Kids killing dogs? That’s insane!”
The man said something and once again Noah wished he spoke the local language.
“He said you take it.” Zaid told Noah. “You take the dog. He’s giving it to you.”
“What? I can’t just take a dog back to base.”
“He said you should take it or he will find a gun and shoot it.” Zaid said. “I don’t think he really wants to do that.. but he has no choice. He can’t feed it anymore.”
“Yeah but.. why not set it free? He’ll find his own food. He’ll hunt.”
“He will keep coming back to the house. It’s not safe here.”
“But.. a dog.. on an army base? And.. I’m going home soon.. what would happen to him when I’m gone?” Noah said looking down at the dog.
“Take him to America with you.” Zaid suggested. “I heard stories. It happened before.”
The man went back inside his house and reappeared a few minutes later with a knife and a punctured old football. He cut the rope that tied the dog to the pole and handed it and the football to Noah.
“He’s yours now. He says you will look after him because you’re GI Joe from America. The ball is a toy.” Zaid said as the dog stood up and started tugging on the punctured ball. “I think he wants to play with you. He likes you Noah.”
“You want to come with me buddy?” Noah said and scratched the dog behind his ears. “Well.. I guess we’ll have to make that happen then.” He said and turned back to Zaid. “Can you thank him from me and tell him I will take good care of his dog.”
“Your dog.” Zaid said and smiled as he turned to the man to tell him what Noah said.
“Private Mayer what the hell is this?” Sgt Matthews asked when Noah returned to the trucks with the dog a few hours later.
“It’s a dog sir.”
“I can see that. Why do you have a dog Mayer?”
“I uhm.. sort of saved his life.. and his owner gave him to me sir.”
“You know you’re not allowed to take anything from the locals Mayer.”
“Yes sir. But I am going home soon and I would like to take him home with me. He’ll have a better life in Illinois with me than in this sandpit here, sir.”
“That dog might have rabies or some other disease. You can’t bring him back to base.”
“I can take him.. for now. He can live with my family until you go home Noah.” Zaid offered.
“Really? Are you sure?”
“Yes, I will take him home with me at the end of the day. If that is ok with you Sgt Matthews.”
“He’d only have to be on base for a few hours sir.” Noah pleaded.
“Alright. But if I see it on base tomorrow I’ll shoot it myself, you hear me?”
“Yes sir.” Noah said and climbed into the truck after lifting the dog up into it.
And then it happened. They were just outside of the city. There was a loud blast and a lot of heat and Noah felt himself being thrown out of the truck and hit the ground before the world went black.
“Private? Private Mayer? Noah can you hear me?”
Noah slowly opened his eyes and tried to sit up.
“No, no, no don’t do that. You got banged up pretty bad. You’ll be sore for a while bud.”
“What.. what happened? Where am I?”
“The truck you we’re in hit an IED. You got flung out.. you got lucky. We cleaned you up the best we could but I don’t think you’ll be running again any time soon.”
“Am.. I.. in.. hospital?” Noah asked slowly looking around.
“You’re still on base. Like I said, you got lucky.” The doctor said and put down his chart. “We sent two guys to Germany right away and we lost one on the scene and two down here.”
“Who? Who died?”
“Stevens, Murphy and Anderson. Hernandez and Simmons are in Germany.”
“Nick is still here?” Noah asked after he’d figured out which name was missing from the list.
“That’s right. You’ve been out for a few days bud, we thought you were in a coma. I promised Wilson he could see you when you woke up. Is that ok?”
“Alright, I’ll go get him.” The doctor said.
Noah had dozed off again because when he woke up he saw his friend sitting in the chair next to his bed. A little banged up but alive. He tried to sit up but freaked when he couldn’t move his legs.
“What the hell..” He muttered and suddenly his legs were working again and a warm wet dog tongue started licking his face.
“Hey, hey calm down, calm down.”
“Oh hey, you’re awake. When we got here you were out cold again but the doc said we could wait.”
“Yeah, me and him.” Nick said and patted the dog on the back. “He’s barely left your side since the blast. He saved your life.”
“He.. he did?”
“Yeah the blast knocked you out and he kept pulling on your uniform to get you away from the truck. I guess he knew the fuel tank was about to blow.”
Noah didn’t know what to say and just stroked the dog who’d made himself comfortable on his bed.
“I made a few calls for you.. there’s a vet coming to check him over tomorrow.. and if everything is ok he can come home with you next week.” Nick told him.
“Next week?! How long was I out for?”
“Just a few days, don’t worry. But you’re no good to them like this so as soon as the doc clears you you’re on your way home.”
“I.. Really? I’m going home so soon?”
“Unless you wanted to stay here a little longer. I’m sure Luke would understand if you wanted to take the tourist route of Baghdad first.” Nick joked.
“No thanks. I’ve seen more than enough of this place.” Noah said and turned to the dog. “I guess I should name you.. and tell Luke about you. Oh god Luke doesn’t even know what happened!”
“Relax will you? I’ll go find you a laptop so you can email him.” Nick said and got up.
“No, no I need to call him. I’m sure he’s heard about the blast on the news. He’ll be worried sick.” Noah said and tried to get up.
The dog got up and laid down on Noah’s legs.
“See? He thinks you should take it easy too. I’ll find a computer and a phone and I’ll be right back.”
About half an hour later Nick returned with Noah’s own phone and a laptop.
“Here you are. I told you I’d sort it out.”
“Thanks.. I appreciate it man.” Noah said and dialled Luke’s number, not even caring about the time difference.
“Luke is that you?”
“NOAH! You’re alive! Thank god!”
“Yeah I’m ok. I guess you heard the news huh?”
“Yes. It was on the news. I didn’t know if it was your unit but I didn’t hear from you and they said 3 people died..” Luke trailed off. “I thought I lost you..”
“You didn’t. I promised you I’d come back and I will. I’m ok.” Noah said. “Actually.. I have good news. I’m coming home earlier. Next week probably.”
“You are?! Noah that’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time! When can I pick you up?”
“I’m not sure yet.. because.. there’s more to the story. I uhm.. I have a dog now.”
“A dog? A real dog?” Luke asked surprised. “How did that happen?”
“I.. kind of rescued him when we were in the city the day of the blast. And his owner gave him to me. And I guess he kind of likes me because Nick told me he pulled me out of the way after the blast.”
“Wow.. that’s wow.. I feel like I should send that dog a steak to thank him.” Luke said, only half joking.
“Well.. if everything goes to plan you can do so in person.. If.. if you want.”
“What do you mean in person?”
“I mean.. if he’s healthy.. he’s coming home with me.. I.. want him to live with me.. with us..” Noah said and bit his lip, hoping Luke would like the idea.
“Noah.. we live in a tiny apartment.. that’s no place for a dog..”
“I know.. but I thought that maybe.. we could go look for something.. bigger?”
“What? Like a house? With a garden and everything?” Luke asked.
“Yeah.. but only if you want to. I don’t want to pressure you into buying a house with me or anything but I just thought -”
“Noah! Shut up for a second.” Luke said and Noah swore he heard the smile in his voice. “I would love to buy a house with you. I always said I would. But first I need you to come back home to me.”
1 week later.
“Ah I think I saw a McDonald’s there. And American cars!” Nick said looking out the window of the military aircraft that had flown them back to America.
“How can you see that? We’re still god knows how many miles from the ground.” Noah said, clutching the rope he’d been using as a leash for the dog he’d named Buddy tightly.
“I have great vision when it comes to home.” Nick grinned.
A few minutes later the plane was on the ground and everyone was gathering their bags.
“Do you smell that? It smells like home.” Nick said as they waited for the door to open.
Noah admitted to himself he was a little nervous. Two years of active duty, 1 of those in Iraq.. with two short weeks of leave. He’d kept in touch with Luke during that time and they still loved each other but still he hoped things hadn’t changed too much.
The doors opened and they rolled the stairs up to the plane. Nick all but ran down them when he saw his family. Noah looked around but didn’t see any familiar faces. He walked down the stairs with Buddy wondering why Luke wasn’t there.
“I have my ID somewhere sir. I know I do. It’s in my wallet but I can’t get to it right now.. I kind of have my hands full. Can you please let me through? I’m already running late and I’m supposed to pick my boyfriend up.” A familiar voice pleaded.
Noah dropped his duffel and ran over to Luke and pulled him into a tight hug, still clutching his makeshift leash.
“I missed you so much bubby.” Luke said as he pulled back slightly to kiss his boyfriend. “So much.”
“I missed you too. I’m never leaving again. Just.. tie me to the bed next time I think about enlisting.”
“I thought you forgot about me when I didn’t see you when I got off the plane..” Noah admitted and scratched Buddy behind his ears, avoiding Luke’s gaze.
“Forgot? Of course I didn’t forget you. I just had to pick up a few things on my way here.” Luke said and knelt down in front of Buddy and opened a plastic bag.
“Hey Buddy, I got you a collar and a proper leash. You need to look good now you’re living with us.”
He took the collar and the leash out of the bag and put them on.
“Perfect fit.” He said and smiled up at Noah. “What do you think?”
“I think.” Noah said as he knelt down beside Buddy. “I think.. this is the best welcome home I could’ve hoped for.” He said and kissed first Luke and then Buddy.
“Hey Nick what time are we heading out?”