Soldier Mine (Chapter Two: Claudia, page 1 of 7)

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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?"


I put in his usual order with the red-faced cook manning the kitchen. The diner is small and quiet, one of the half a dozen restaurants in the sleepy business area of Glory Glade. It's the kind of place that belongs on a greeting card: a cute downtown of meticulously maintained, historic buildings along streets lined with towering trees and surrounded by groves of traditional New England houses, each nestled into large yards with picket fences. It felt like home the moment we set foot in the town two months ago.

These kinds of places are out of the way, which is why I chose it. The only real danger is that everyone knows everyone else, so people tend to talk when there are newcomers. I'm hoping … praying the town is overlooked by the man - who we call The Monster - we're running from, that maybe Todd can have a year or two to become normal again.

I make my rounds to check on the two regulars who visit the diner every day at this time before returning to Todd. He's holding the card in his hands again and is staring at it. Unable to help it, I lean over his shoulder as I pass behind him.

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