Chapter 1: Good byes
"It will be ok." Graham whispered, wrapping his arms around his wife. She was trying to smile for him, but it was so hard. He had enough to worry about; he didn't need to be concentrating on her. As his arms wrapped around her Kelli Morgan melted into his embrace, tightening her arms around his neck, never wanting to let him go.
She ignored the fact that his M-16 was cold and touching her leg. She ignored the fact that she would be alone in a strange place for the next seven months. Concentrating only on Graham, Kelli tried hard not to cry.
Graham shook his head, knowing how hard his wife was trying to be strong for him. He knew she was scared, both for him and herself. But she would be ok. She had to be.
"Don't worry, everything will be fine. Go, and come home safe, ok?" Janet Kincaid smiled at her husband as she reassured him. They had been married for 18 years, all of which was spent in the military. She had been through seven deployments; this was her eighth. It was all second nature to her by now.
Orders would come in, and she would wait and wait for him to leave. The dates would change half a dozen times. He would say he'd be leaving Tuesday at noon, then Wednesday after work he would say he'd be leaving in a week. Janet would watch as Mitch would pack and repack his sea bag, cramming everything he possibly could into it. It would drive her nuts, setting there by the door for her to be reminded of until he left.
The kids would put paintings they made at school or pictures from birthday parties in there for him, and she would be supportive. Yes, this had happened many, many times.
By now, she knew her way around base legal better than he did, and knew how to read his LES (pay stub) better than him. Still, she knew it didn't ease his fears much. He always worried. Always. And she loved him for it.
"I know." Mitch finally sighed, holding his wife in his arms for the last time for half a year. "But I always worry. You know that."
She smiled up at the man who gave her three wonderful children. "Yeah, I do know that."
Courtney stood on the sidewalk, holding her husband in her arms and not even trying to control the tears. At four months pregnant she was hormonal and emotional, not to mention terrified of giving birth alone.
"Come on, it will be ok, I promise. I promise everything will be ok. I'll be fine." Rex tried to reason with his wife, as he held the petite blonde.
"I, I kn-know… but what if-"
"No." His voice was firm as he pulled away slightly, wiping her tears from her face as his brown eyes met her blue ones. "Nothing will happen to me. Stop worrying. I'll be home in seven months, and we'll be a family. Me, you, and our baby. The stress isn't good, so stop worrying. It'll be ok. I promise."
She nodded, her lips quivering as she flung her arms around his neck again. "I love you."
"I love you too. Both of you. It will be fine." He whispered into her hair. It's not like they had never been through a deployment before. They had. Once before. This time, everything was different though. This time, he wasn't just leaving her: he was leaving their unborn baby, too.
Leah felt John's arms wrap around her and she smiled at him. "I am going to miss you so much." She told him, her eyes glistening slightly with unshed tears.
John nodded, hugging his wife close. "I'll miss you, too. But we'll make this work, right?"
Leah closed her eyes, well aware of what he was referring to. By this he meant them. This deployment was their last chance for their marriage to work. If they didn't communicate while he was in Iraq… well, then that was that. Neither one of them could take the yelling or the screaming anymore. There was so much more at stake this deployment than there was the last two times he went to Iraq.
"We'll make it." She said, trying to reassure both of them. They had to. If they didn't, then she wouldn't know what to do.
Leo glared at Allison as her camera took yet another picture of him. "I think you have enough photos by now." He told her, grabbing for the disposable camera the local USO gave out to the deploying Marines in care packs. The wives had, of course, immediately started going through the large baggies and taking the cameras out, documenting this night.
Allison smiled at, shaking her head. "Nope. Never. Now smile! Do you really want your daughters to remember their father as a scowling, frowning meanie?"
"Meanie?" He questioned, raising his eyebrow.
Allison made a face. "Too much time spent with Abby." She told him, referring to their two year old daughter.
Leo laughed, pulling his wife into his arms and kissing her soundly, savoring these last few moments with her.
"FORM IT UP!" Came a yell from across the parking lot where the buses were parked, ready to go with trucks behind the buses with their sea bags.
"I have to go." Leo told her, tightening his hold on her, making no effort to move.
Allison nodded, a few stray tears escaping. "You have to go." She whispered, making no move to let him go.
"I love you." He kissed her again, letting go as he heard her reply of "I love you most."
Tears continued to fall down her cheeks as she watched her husband, the father of her children, her soul mate, and her Marine walk towards his Officers who were waiting with clip boards for the guys to get into their lines for formation, to be called off by their names and then loaded onto buses.
She tried not to break down completely as she heard Corporal Garrison called out and watched as her husband began to get on the second bus, not turning around.
The five women stood on the side walk as the buses began to pull away, driving their husbands to another base, an air station, where they would board planes heading to an unknown destination where they would refuel, then to Kuwait, where the planes would be changed. From there they would fly to Iraq, where their husbands would be stationed at the same base for the next seven months, working together, living together, and possibly even dying together.
Kelli stood there dry eyed, firm in her resolve not to break down. She was a strong, independent 18 year old, and she wasn't going to break down. She couldn't; she was afraid if she did she would be completely broken and wouldn't have anyone to pick the pieces back up again.
"I'm going to head out. I'll call you guys, ok?" She said, grabbing her keys out of her pocket. "I need to eat."
Allison laughed, nodding. "Yeah, who knew by eleven pm they really meant five am?"
Janet smiled at the two girls, "You know the military, it's all hurry up and wait."
Courtney wiped her face with her Kleenex as tears continued to fall down her face. Leah held her in her arms, telling her everything would be alright.
"It's going to be ok." Janet told Courtney, remembering back when she was having her second child and her husband was on his third deployment. "We're all here for each other."
Kelli's stomach chose that moment to growl, causing everyone, including Courtney, to laugh.
"Hey, those cookies I stole from Graham's bag from the USO only held me over so much! It's been twelve hours since I last ate a meal!" She defended, laughing also. "Anyway, I'm going to go and grab something on the way home. There's no way I can sit through class today. I'll be asleep until tonight."
Allison shook her head. "Ah, the days B.C.: Before Children. Have fun."
Kelli nodded, bidding each of the women good byes as she headed towards her car. As she got in and drove away she almost smiled at the irony of the situation. Here her husband was, just having left for Iraq, and the morning traffic rush on base had just started. Life went on. Now she just had to figure out how to make her life go on for the next seven months.