Soldier Mine (Chapter Two: Claudia, page 1 of 12)

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Five minutes might as well be a lifetime. By the time my brother Todd shows up a full seven minutes late, I'm fighting back anxiety and the urge to grab my stuff and run out of work to track him down. The moment he walks through the door, I feel my whole body relax.

"You're late," I tell him, hiding my worry the way I usually do.

He rolls his eyes at me and slings his backpack onto one of the stools at the breakfast bar of the diner where I'm a waitress. I automatically put out a glass of milk for him, along with a chocolate chip cookie. He's holding something.

"What is it?" I ask. "Baseball card?"

"Business card," he says with a shrug and pockets it.

"For whom?"

"Why are you always in my business?" he complains. "I'm fourteen. Give me some space."

I wish he was ten again. Ten-year-olds are sweet. Add four years and they turn into hormonal, moody, cranky jerks incapable of a conversation that doesn't involve eye rolling or deep sighs of misery or more than monosyllabic responses. My frustration with his teen years is quickly replaced by understanding.

It's not easy to move as often as we do or to live the life we are now. The kid deserves some slack. "You can have space as long as your grades are good," I remind him.

"They are."

"Alrighty then. Hungry?"


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