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Refuge

by Caroline Keyser

He takes her hand and squeezes it tigher.  “It was kinda hard to watch,” he admits.  He stares at the ground and pulls his patrol cap down tighter, averting her gaze.

She stands with him for a long minute, holding his hand tightly and staring intently over his shoulder at the cars and Humvees passing behind them, not daring to intrude on his private hell.  His uniform conceals his scars, his sunburns, his personal opinions.  But it’s not bullet-proof, and his vulnerability has seeped out finally, at a moment when he feels safe.  She feels awed that he has chosen her to be the one person to witness this forbidden side of him, to see him at his most fragile.  She wants to cry, but knows she can’t – her release would be the breaking point for him, and after all, they’re in public and he’s in uniform.

She wonders briefly what exact image embedded in his mind prompted this.  She begins mentally running through the possibilities, scanning memories of news reports and his accounts of his daily work, and quickly stops herself.  It does no good to torment herself like this and the answer doesn’t matter anyway.  She releases his hand and wraps her arms around his neck, embracing him.  He leans his weight on her and she holds him tighter.  They’re being conspicuous, and they both know it.  At any moment, someone could walk by and see what they’re doing.

Moments before she knows she’ll have to let him go, she places her mouth next to his ear, and whispers, “It’s not real anymore.  You left it all over there.  It’s not real any more.”

Caroline Keyser is a freelance writer married to an Army officer and Iraq veteran. Her work has appeared in GI Jobs, Costco Connection, and Georgia Magazine.

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