I walked into the house behind my dad. I had the duffel slung over my shoulder and was still wearing my fatigues. I wasn’t in the Army anymore though. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was now. I’d been a soldier for the last four years, before that I was just my dad’s son, a student. Nothing more. Now, what did I do with myself?
Before I could think much on that, I heard light footsteps coming down the hallway. I dropped my bag and caught my baby sister in my arms. “Patrick,” she said. “Mom said you were getting home today, but I didn’t think you were ever going to show up. I’ve been waiting. What took you so long?”
I laughed, something I wasn’t sure I’d be doing anytime soon. I was only back from my last tour in Iraq for a couple weeks. We’d had to bury two more of my friends, one of whom I’d known since middle school. Laughing was the last thing I felt like these days. But, Maribel had always been able to get that out of me. Even when she wasn’t trying to. But, my baby sister in a temper could be quite amusing.
I kept one arm around her as I got back to my feet. “I’m guessing your mom didn’t tell you exactly when I was going to be home?”
“Well, I did,” my stepmom said from the kitchen doorway. “Mari just decided to ignore that part.” Then, she beamed at me. “It’s good to have you home, Patrick.”
“Good to be home,” I said and just hoped it was the truth.
“Dinner will be ready in just a bit. Why don’t you take your stuff up to your room and get settled in.”
I nodded and headed for the steps. Behind me, I heard her say, “Mari, leave him be for a few minutes. You don’t need to be right on his heels.”
I chuckled to myself as I started up to the bedrooms. Even more when Mari started to argue with her. She may not be quite eight years old, but she’d been full of that fight almost since she was born. I tossed my bag onto the floor then just sank onto the edge of my bed. I knew some of my comrades who had recently gotten out had trouble adjusting to being home. I didn’t feel that way, though. It wasn’t adjusting I was worrying about. I just didn’t know what to do with myself now.
I was still sitting there when the door opened. I’d expected Mari, but I didn’t expect to see Alison with her. She was almost eleven and a lot calmer than Mari. “Hey, Ali.”
“Mari told me you were home. I made you something.”
I took the paper from her and looked down at it. “We had to draw something for Veteran’s Day,” she told me. “I made another one to give to the teacher, though. This one’s just for you.”
I had to swallow through the thickness in my throat as I looked at it. Better than what I thought a ten-year-old could draw. “On the other one, I wrote about my big brother who was serving our country. I didn’t write anything on this one. I can if you want.”
I shook my head. “This is wonderful, Ali. Thank you,” I said, my voice cracking. I stood there between the two of them, holding both their hands. The details were quite well done, so I could even tell which of them stood on each side. The rifle she had me carrying was a bit disproportionate, as was the flag in the background, but overall it was well done. “Thank you,” I told her again. “I’m going to keep it right here on my dresser.”
She threw her arms around me and held on tight. “I missed you, Patrick. I’m glad you’re home.”
“So am I.” And this time, I was even more sure of the truth of that statement. I’d figure everything else out, but right now I was just glad to be home.