Pieces
Part Nine
by sarAdora

~~~~~~~

Bull went back to war, today. He shipped out.

"Shipped out" is a euphemism. He actually flew to Twenty-nine Palms, a marine installation in California. He'll meet up with his unit there and then go down to Coronado and go through some other training with a Navy Seal team. Cowboy won't give me details, but sometimes it's best not to know everything.

It was hard to say goodbye to him. It seems like he just got back from a war zone but it's actually been six months since he walked in the door. He was way too thin and really weary and he seemed like he had aged far more than he should have in the year he had been away.

~~~

"Just who do you think you are, you big oaf?" I demanded to know when the giant man looked like he was about to cut down my birch trees. "You get off my property now!"

"Ma'am, the Admiral hired me to prune these..."

I leaped. Jumped on top of him and started punching away. "Don't you dare cut my trees. I'll have you drawn and quartered. I'll..."

"Don't hurt him, Sar," David laughed as he pulled into my driveway and before I knew it, I was over his shoulder and safely away from Bull and the huge chainsaw in the man's hand.

I didn't realize how big Bull was until he dropped by the house the next morning. A corporal in the Marine Corps - six feet - eight inches tall and about 260 lbs. of solid muscle. Very late 20's, blond, blue-eyed, soft spoken, shy around women and sweet, and a real momma's boy.

"Got my mom and three sisters," he told me over breakfast. They live down in Arkansas, the prettiest little ol state in the Union. President Clinton was born in Hope, you know. He and his pretty wife lived in Little Rock before they moved to the White House."

"He was your governor, too."

"Yep. Can I have some more of that coffeecake?" he asked, helping himself to the whole thing. I remember pouring a second glass of milk for him but he took the gallon container out of my hands and set it down next to his plate.

"Are you still hungry?" I asked, after he had eaten 8 scrambled eggs, 4 pieces of buttered toast, a quart of buttered grits, and most of the coffeecake... all washed down by a pot of coffee and a half-gallon of milk.

"I'm okay," he grinned, "but if it's okay with you, ma'am, I could make some more toast to hold me over until lunch time."

"You call me ma'am one more time and you'll be eating your words," I growled.

He laughed and I laughed with him and I knew he and I were destined to be great friends.

~~~

I baked for days so Bull would have snacks to eat on the way to Twenty-nine Palms. I packed separate packages for the Coronado part of his trip and then I baked his favorite cookies and brownies and cakes for shipment overseas. I added a huge amount of store-bought treats and packed everything in a big box for Cowboy to ship to Bull's APO address so he'll have them when he arrives at his duty station.

I don't know where he's headed and as far as I know, he and his unit won't get their final orders till they've boarded the transport that will take them to their mission site.

I had a word with God about that.

I poured a tall mug of coffee and sat out on the back deck and told God I had high expectations that He would watch over the giant hayseed and bring him back to me safe and sound.

~~~

"Sar, you're gonna get me in trouble. I can't take you down to Maple Valley. That's more than 50 miles from here and the Admiral told me not to let you go further than the grocery store."

"I bet there's a grocery store in Maple Valley."

"I don't think that's what he meant."

"Big wuss."

"I tell you what," he offered, trying to placate me. How about I let you drive my Humvee to the grocery store?"

"Deal!"

.... 20 miles later ....

"What are we doing on I-5? We passed the road to the grocery store about 5 miles back!"

"I'm driving to the grocery store in Maple Valley. Wow, Bull! I can see forever driving this high up."

"Sar..."

"Sheesh. What a wuss you are. Are you sure you're really a marine?"

"The Admiral's gonna kill me."

"Not if he doesn't know. Didn't they teach you not to volunteer stuff?"

"That's the Army, bunch of grunts. The Marine Corps stands up for itself."

"So-o-o... you're just an obedient jarhead?"

"I'm a Devil Dog!"

"That's what you say but you sound more like a wussie jarhead to me. If you're so big and brave, prove it to me!"

"Ya know... my sisters were always a little naughty, too."

"Oh good. Then you know it gets worse."

"Sar!"

"Tsk. Such a wuss."

"If the Admiral finds out I let you go all the way down to Maple Valley ...and drive my Humvee, he's gonna yell at me but he's gonna *spank* you!"

"You planning to tell him?"

"I hate going against him, Sar. He pays me good money to make sure you're safe."

"You want to eat at my table again?"

"Ohhhh, okay, it's our secret."

~~~

I spoke to Bull's mom a few days ago and assured her that I'd call her if and when I got any news about her son once he was overseas. She's a soft-spoken women and courteous to a fault. I know Bull learned those fine habits from her. She told me her three daughters were distraught that their baby brother was going back to war. Their father died in a different war when Bull was very young. They don't want to lose him, too.

What do you say to a mother whose son is going to war? You express yourself carefully... say the words meant to bring comfort and hope... lots of hope. And you repeat those words in whispered prayers at the oddest hours of the day and night.

And you laugh and hug and tell jokes and repeat funny things that you shared. You do this more often when he receives the official 72-hour notice that requires his return to active duty.

I hear myself saying things like...

"Crumb! Who's gonna eat me out of house and home?"

"Ahh... I can drive your Hummer any time I want!"

"Whewwwww, no more roadkill and possum pie jokes."

"Are you sure Arkansas is a part of *our* Union?"

"Be sure to point the rifle away from you."

"Do they know you're coming? Does the US Marine Corps have enough food?"

"Don't tangle with those Seals - they're mean and they'll treat you like shark bait. Oh wait. You're a marine. You *are* shark bait."

~~~

"What are you doing, big guy?" I asked him a few Saturdays ago as he sat on my back deck with the pups at his feet, my fat orange tabby on his lap.

"Writing to my mom."

"Telling her how good you eat at my house?"

"Asking her to send me her recipe for possum pie," he said with a cheeky grin.

"Tsk."

"You want to go up to Main Street in Woodinville with me? They're having their annual basset hound parade."

"Can we stop at the Texas Smokehouse on the way?"

"Sure, let me make sure I have enough cash. You eat for six!"

"I'm a growing boy."

"Boy being the operative word..."

"Ya know... if I asked the Admiral, I bet he'd let me give you a swat or two."

"In your dreams, jarhead."

~~~

For Bull, the past six months have had their highs and lows. David and Cowboy helped him through some hard times when memories and nightmares got mixed up in his mind. One night at our house he fell asleep on the couch in the den... woke up by rolling onto the floor... and made it to the staircase landing on his belly before fully waking up. Embarrassed... confused... and up all night with Cowboy talking it out.

And when I had a few restless nights while Cowboy was on night duty... he scrambled eggs for me, burned the omelet pan and the toast he made for me. But the grits was buttery perfect and he piled my favorite jam on top of the burned toast. The best part of those nights was Bull crooning tunes while he held my hand in his until Cowboy came home.

Now, he's gone back to war.

Who's going to catch me when I jump out of a tree?

Who's going to taste-test my new recipes?

Who am I going to hide behind when Cowboy is on the warpath?

Who's going to laugh at me when I'm in "warrior princess" mode?

Who's going to collapse on my couch after stuffing himself on my cooking and baking and moan that he can't eat another bite and when am I going to hurry up and make him a snack?

Who's going to demand that I pack my pots and pans and run away with him?

Who's going to give me hayseed hugs?

Bull is proud to be a U.S. Marine and returning for a second overseas tour. His commanding officer says that the Corps is proud to call him one of their own.

But he's mine, too, and I have such sweet memories of our times together.

And I want more.

~ End Part Nine ~

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