Soldier Mine (Chapter Two: Claudia, page 2 of 7)

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Sergeant First Class Petr Khavalov

It's all I catch before Todd realizes what I'm doing and places it face down on the counter.

"You're not thinking about going into the military again, are you?" I ask. "You're too young to make that decision."

"I know." He says nothing else.

I keep quiet and retrieve his hamburger, setting it down before him. "I can't believe they let recruiters talk to freshmen."

"He's not a real recruiter," he says and picks up the big burger. "He was a guest speaker in our history class today."

"Oh. What'd he talk about?"

"War. And he only has one leg, Claudia." Todd's appearance brightens at the morbid words. "His other one was blown off and replaced by a bionic leg that has computer chips in it that makes it work like a real leg. He can also download it."

"Download his leg?"

"His activity." Todd rolls his eyes. "For his doctors."

"There you have it. If you join the military, you'll end up with one leg," I tell him.

"That's so lame, Claud. I'm not seven. Not everyone who joins has a leg blown off. I can join in three years. You always say I should be prepared for whatever life throws my way."

It's my turn to roll my eyes. "Just don't threaten to blow up this school like you did the last."

He stares at me, startled. Seconds later, he starts to laugh. "That's just wrong! I can't even … you know that never happened!"

"Whatever, kid." I'm happy to see him smile. He's so serious anymore, and our tiny family can only take one serious person, which is me. It's just been us for four years, no friends, and no other family. I slide between the role of his mother and older sister as needed and sometimes forget which I'm supposed to be: the one who empathizes and teases or the one who lectures.

His moodiness temporarily replaced by good humor and hunger, he wolfs down his burger and sits back to nibble on his fries. It's slow between the lunch and dinner rushes, and I straighten up the dishes under the counter.

Another regular, an old man, enters and sits at the end of the breakfast bar. "Your usual, Henry?" I call.


I put in his order then pour his decaf coffee.

"His leg bends and everything. He can even ride a motorcycle with it," Todd adds between French fries.

"You're obsessing over this guy's leg, Todd. It's kind of weird," I chide him, uncertain what it is my brother finds fascinating about the one-legged war hero.

"Khavalov boy?" Henry asks, lifting his attention from the Sudoku book in front of him.

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