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Here’s another bit from a short story in the upcoming collection.

December 31, 11:55 PM Eastern
Louisville, Kentucky

Jeanine stirred the coals with a poker, then put a large log into the fireplace. Behind her, she could hear Jim switching the television back and forth between New Year’s Eve programs. One showed one of the latest pop tarts squeaking her way through a forty-year-old folk song, while the other had a band, which was old enough to have played that song at their first rehearsal, grinding their way through a big band tune. Neither seemed to be keeping her husband’s interest.

As she turned back toward the family room, he settled on one of the news stations. It showed a long pan of Times Square, which would normally have been wall to wall with revelers braving the cold to ring in the New Year. Tonight, however, only the stage had a crowd around it, and even that was sparse. When the camera panned around the brightly-lit square, Jeanine saw two lines of police in armor and helmets, as well as several dark-painted armored cars, arrayed around the crowd.

“Think something will happen?” she asked as she sat down in her chair and picked up her drink. On the TV screen, a police helicopter flew noisily over the top of the stage. The singer did not miss a beat, however, and continued to hop around and mouth the words to her song.

Jim shrugged. He had been quiet all evening, yet seemed restless as he played cards with Jordan before putting him to bed.

“Don’t know,” he said, ice ringing against the side of the glass as he lifted his bourbon from the table, “Wouldn’t surprise me.”

His wife reached over and caressed his shoulder. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Went by the recruiter’s office yesterday,” he replied.

What?” Jeanine sputtered.

“We’ve talked about this,” Jim said, “I’ve been thinking of joining the Guard for a while, and you said it sounded like a good idea.”

“So you’re joining the National Guard?” she answered.

“No, I was talking to the active duty recruiter,” he replied, finally taking his eyes off the TV and facing his wife.

You what!” she exclaimed.

Jim shrugged. “I wasn’t going to sign up without talking to you,” he said, “I just wanted to see what I could do.”

“And?” she demanded.

“There’s not much need for a middle-aged fobbit,” he replied, “Even when I showed them my DD-214 and degree, they didn’t have anything for me.”

Jeanine relaxed a bit. She had tried to read Jim’s discharge papers, and the laundry list of assignments and training had made her eyes cross. If the recruiter had turned him down with all that, then he would not be going anywhere.

“Honey, I know you want to do something…” she said.

“Other than sitting here on my ass and pushing electrons around at work?” he said darkly as the image on the TV changed to the crystal ball at the top of a tower in Times Square.

“Baby, we need you here,” she said, “I need you.”

“Line was out the door,” Jim said, looking down at his tumbler, “Everything from high school kids to a couple of Vietnam pilots trying to sign up. Recruiter said it had been like that for days, and even the ones they can take are on a waiting list.”

Jeanine sat silent for a moment as the brightly-lit ball on the TV screen started its descent.

“What are you going to do?” she asked quietly.

“I’ll figure something out,” Jim replied as the crowd on the TV counted backward to zero.

Jeanine got up from her chair and sat down on her husband’s lap. Putting her arms around his neck, she held his head close to her and kissed him tenderly.

“Happy New Year, sweetheart,” she said, “and thank you for being here for us.”

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