A Soldier's Coming Home

Chapter 1

"Travelin' Soldier" by The Dixie Chicks

Two days past eighteen

He was waiting for the bus in his Army green

Sat down in a booth in a café there

Gave his order to a girl with a bow in her hair

He's a little shy so she gives him a smile

And he said, "Would you mind sittin' down for a while

And talkin' to me

I'm feeling a little low."

She said, "I'm off in an hour and I know where we can go."

So they went down and they sat on the pier.

He said, "I bet you got a boyfriend but I don't care.

I got no one to send a letter to.

Would you mind if I sent one back to you?"

Edward sighed as he dropped his duffle bag to the floor and sat down at the table. He had several hours left before the Army bus was scheduled to leave; too many hours to keep from thinking. Thinking about his parents just brought pain and a massive sense of abandonment. He had signed up with the Army against their wishes and they now refused to acknowledge that they even had a son. He understood their stance on the war. His own political beliefs were not far from their own. The US shouldn't even be in Vietnam; the problem there was not our problem. But that didn't change the fact that Edward felt he had a duty to stand up and fight for his country. He'd always been raised to support our troops, no matter what, so he really couldn't understand why his decision had generated such an incredible response.

"Hi, what can I get you to drink?" The soft voice to his side startled Edward, he'd been so engrossed in his own thoughts. He looked up to find a young woman, about his age, with beautiful brown hair pulled up with a bow and big brown eyes. She was the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen, not that he had seen that many. "Um, a Coke, please."

"I'll be right back with that," she replied, placing a menu on the table near his hand. He watched her walk away, taking note of her trim figure and the soft sway of her hips as she walked. He was so entranced that he only stopped watching when she reached the kitchen door. He looked down at the menu on the table before him, trying to bring some sense back to his thoughts.

She placed the drink next to him with a straw in a paper wrapper. "So, have you seen anything you like?" she asked, with a beautiful smile. Her lips were a perfect pink, the top just a shade heavier than the bottom.

"Yes," is all Edward could manage by way of a response. He found himself lost in her eyes again. After a moment of silence, a tiny giggle escaped the girl. It was enough to break Edward out of his trance, and raise a blush to his cheeks. "Sorry," he said, closing the menu and handing it back to her. "I think I'll have a burger and fries."

"Good choice. It's what I always get. You want cheese?"

"Yes, please." Edward hesitated just a moment, and then took a deep breath to steel his nerves. "I'm sorry, I didn't get your name."

"Oh, I'm sorry. I'm always forgetting that part. It's so bad now that I actually answer to 'Hey, you!'" she shared, while laughing gently. "It's Bella." With that, Bella returned to the kitchen to put his order in.

'Bella,' Edward thought to himself. Her name is as beautiful as she is.

*****

Bella took a deep breath as she passed through the door into the kitchen. Her heart was pounding and she felt like she must be bright red. What an incredibly strong reaction to a man she'd just met.

Bella had noticed the young man in green fatigues come into the diner. It wasn't unusual to get travelers in with the bus stop being just next door. He was, however, the most handsome man she'd ever met. He was tall with a muscular build, but not too muscular. He had piercing green eyes and bronze flyaway hair. What a shame to have that beautiful hair shaved off. Bella found herself sad that he was going off to war when she had only just met him. 'Get real, Bella. A guy that handsome must have a girl back home. Certainly he wouldn't be interested in me.' she told herself.

Luckily it was a light day at the diner and her handsome soldier was her only table. She peeked around the door to check on him, and saw that he'd drained his glass. Excited for an opportunity to speak to him again, she grabbed another glass and filled it with cola. Just as she was about to leave the kitchen, her dad, Charlie, put her soldier's plate on the serving shelf. Grabbing a hot pad, Bella lifted the plate and carried both to his table, giving thanks the entire way that she hadn't tripped or dropped anything yet.

"Here's your burger and some more soda for you. Is there anything else I can do for you?" she asked as she placed the drink down and began to slide the plate in front of him. Just as she was about to let go, the hot pad slipped, bringing her fingertips into contact with the very hot plate. Bella yelped in pain and pulled her hand away, blowing on her fingers.

The soldier gently took her hand in his, examining the faint red marks developing on her fingertips. Bella couldn't help but notice how large and strong his hands were. Nor could she ignore the jolt of awareness that blasted through her at his touch. She immediately froze, looking up into his eyes to see if he had felt the same thing.

*****

Edward's heart stopped beating for a moment, then resumed its beating in triple time. Her hands were so small and soft compared to his. He looked into her beautiful brown eyes, and saw the recognition in hers. She had felt that same bolt of electricity. Edward brought his eyes back to her reddening fingertips. He noticed some oddly shaped calluses on them, and found himself wondering how they were developed. Grabbing a couple of pieces of ice from his empty cola glass, he rubbed her fingertips, trying to take the pain and heat out of the burns.

Edward looked up into Bella's face, which was bright red with embarrassment. "Are you okay? Is this helping?" he asked, once again examining her wounds. The skin was still a little red, but seemed to be getting no worse.

"Oh, uh, yeah, I'm fine. Thank you…" Bella trailed off, realizing that while the handsome soldier knew her name, she didn't know his. Glancing around the area, she noticed the name "Masen" stenciled on the side of his duffle. "Mr. Masen. I am constantly hurting myself, I am so clumsy. This is nothing, really," she stuttered out, trying to pull her hand from his. She couldn't think clearly with him holding her hand.

"It's Edward, Edward Masen. Are you sure you're okay?" Edward was clearly hesitant to let go of her hand. This only made Bella blush all that much more.

"It's fine, Edward. Thank you, though." Bella reluctantly pulled her hand from his, already missing the feeling of his skin against hers. She picked up the now empty glass, and glanced around the table. "Is there anything else I can get for you?"

Edward seemed to hesitate a moment, before appearing to come to some sort of a decision. "Would you mind sitting down for a while and talking with me?"

The smile on her face was nearly blinding. "I would love to talk with you, but I have a few things to finish up before I finish my shift in an hour. I know somewhere we could go, if that's okay with you?" Bella's heart was yet again thundering in her chest, and she couldn't quell her excitement at the idea of this beautiful man who apparently wanted to talk with her.

"I would like that very much," said Edward, returning her bright smile with one of his own. His thoughts and attention remained on her as she walked around the diner, filling salt, pepper, and sugar shakers, tidying up as she went. Edward found that although the burger and fries were delicious, he simply couldn't concentrate on his meal with his attention so thoroughly snared by such a beautiful young woman. Before he knew it, he'd finished his dinner. He checked the time and found that he had about twenty more minutes before her shift was finished. He left enough money to cover the ticket on his table and took his duffle bag with him as he left the diner.

Bella's heart nearly stopped when she saw Edward leave. What had she said or done to make him change his mind? She bit back tears as she cleared his table, absentmindedly closing out his ticket and finished her end-of-shift duties. She was relieved to see Renee, the waitress covering the rest of the day come in. She could leave. She changed out of her waitressing uniform into a pair of jeans and a bright top. It no longer fit her mood. "See ya at home, Dad," she called as she left the kitchen area.

"'Kay, Bella. Be careful out there," her Dad called back. He worked hard to make the diner a success, and he and Bella were quite used to working together.

No longer struggling to keep the sadness from her face, she walked through the diner to the front door. She pushed through the door, not looking up, and as she blinked, a single tear made its way down her cheek.

"What's wrong, beautiful? Is your hand hurting more?" Edward asked, seeming to appear out of nowhere. He reached up, cupping her cheek with his hand, wiping away the tear with his thumb.

Bella froze in her amazement that he had come back. When his hand cradled her face, she couldn't help but lean into it, enjoying the warmth and comfort. When she realized he'd caught her crying, she looked down in embarrassment. "No, my hand is fine. I..I thought you'd left," she whispered before looking back up into his eyes.

"I'm sorry, Bella. I should have told you where I was going. I wanted to drop off my duffle and get something from the store real quick before we started talking. I'm so sorry I made you cry." Edward's chest was tight with conflicting emotions. Seeing her tear had broken his heart, yet at the same time, it soared at the thought that she liked him enough to have cried at the idea that he'd left her. He also couldn't get past how very right touching her in such an intimate manner felt, like he'd been crafted to hold her. His arms ached to test the theory, but he knew that it was much too soon to think about the possibility. His mother may not exactly be talking to him at the moment, but she had raised him to be a gentleman, and the liberty he was taking in touching her face without permission was pushing those boundaries already.

"It's okay, Edward. I just get over-emotional sometimes," Bella said, waving her hand as if she were trying to wave off his concern. This was all an act, however. Bella was overwhelmed with the idea that Edward was upset with himself for having upset her, as unintentional as it was. Could it be that he felt the same as she, this overwhelming need to be near him, touching him, look into his eyes? She'd never felt that way in her life, and had no idea how to handle it, nor how to tell if he were feeling the same.

Bella reached up to cradle her hand around his, holding his hand against her face for a moment more, before pulling both down between them. In a move that surprised both of them, their hands automatically adjusted so that they were holding each other, so naturally that one might think that they'd spent years holding hands. Lifting their eyes from their joined hands, Edward and Bella looked into each other's eyes, making sure that the closeness was wanted by the other. Growing smiles answered the question for both.

Bella led them down the street to the waterfront and down a long pier. They were far enough from everything as to have total privacy. Edward helped her sit down at the edge before settling himself down facing her. After a moment of silence, Edward placed a brown paper bag he'd been carrying between them. Bella looked down at it before lifting her eyes back to his, silently asking what it was.

"Bella, can I ask you a question?" Edward asked nervously. His hands rubbed against each other, as if he couldn't keep them still.

"Of course, Edward."

"Do you have a boyfriend? You're so beautiful, I don't see how you couldn't."

"No, I don't. I never have. If I did, I wouldn't be here with you now."

Edward raised his head to look Bella in the eye. "I don't have much time before the bus gets here, so I feel that I should speak as plain as possible." He waited for a moment as she nodded her head in understanding and agreement. "Bella, I'm drawn to you. I've never been drawn to anyone like this before. I've never had a girlfriend, either. Not even close. And I feel it would be incredibly unfair of me to ask you to wait for me, when we've only just met and…"

Bella lifted her hand to his mouth to stop his flow of words. Edward couldn't stop himself from placing his hand over hers to hold it to his lips for a sweet kiss and an opportunity to breathe in her delicate scent. He did his best to commit it to memory, knowing that it would be a very long time before he smelled anything so beautiful again.

"Edward…" Bella whispered as she ducked her head, a faint blush staining her cheeks. Edward panicked a moment, thinking he'd offended her, before she was able to put words to her feelings. "I feel the same way. It's like I can't get near enough to you, like I ache to throw myself into your arms." Edward let out a little moan at the thought of having her in his arms. She slid her hand from in front of his mouth to his cheek, where he leaned his face into her hand. He'd never felt so comforted and loved in his life. Again, he did his best to commit the moment to memory, gathering as many as he could to comfort himself during the hell he'd signed himself up for. Now he heartily wished he hadn't done so, had agreed to go to college like his parents wanted. If he had, he could have stayed here with Bella. But then, if he hadn't been waiting for the bus to Basic, they might have never met. They were clearly from different towns, and had gone to school at different places. That was the only explanation behind their not meeting before.

"I won't ask you to wait for me, no matter how my tongue begs to say the words." Edward took a deep breath, gazing at their intertwined hands between them. "But will you write to me? Can I write to you?"

"Of course, Edward. I would be honored to write to you. And I will anxiously wait for your words every day. As for waiting for you, you don't have to ask. I will be here, waiting for you to return, for as long as it takes. I promise." It wasn't a promise lightly given. She had friends who were in relationships with military men, men who'd gone off to war. Several of them weren't coming home. Two had been killed, one had married a Vietnamese girl and had stayed overseas after being discharged. Bella knew exactly what could happen, to her and to Edward. But Bella also knew her heart, and knew that she'd lost it the moment her eyes had looked into his green ones.

"I'll come back to you, as soon as I can, Bella." Edward raised his hands to cradle her face. Again, his heart ached as he saw tears welling in her eyes, through the tears in his own. They each blinked to clear their vision, letting twin tracks slide down their faces. They leaned in toward each other, Edward's hands still cradling Bella's face, her hands grasping his wrists. When their lips were but a whisper apart, they looked deep into each other's eyes and spoke, "I promise." Edward brushed his lips across hers, once, then again, making sure that this is what she wanted. His heart thundered in his hears and his breath came in pants but all he could see was her.

Bella released Edward's wrists and he began to lean back, thinking that she wanted to stop, they were going too fast. Immediately he looked away, angry at himself for pushing something so beautiful too fast. Her hands slid up his neck to bury themselves in his hair and pulled his face back to hers. Bella gazed into his eyes for a moment, before crashing her lips into his. She couldn't stop her ravenous reaction, hungry for this new sensation that made her heart sing and her body tingle. Edward's surprise at her reaction lasted only the briefest of moments before he was as enthusiastically engaged in the kiss as she. Their lips moved against each other, both learning as their noses bumped and they fought for unfortunately necessary breath. After a few moments, they broke apart, grins widening at each other.

The bag crinkled between them, bringing their awareness back to their surroundings. The sun was getting low in the sky, and he knew that his time was quickly coming to an end. Edward reluctantly pulled his hands from hers and reached into the bag, pulling out some stationary and envelopes. "I didn't pack anything to write on because I didn't have anyone to write to, so I went to the general store and got some paper. I don't know what my address is going to be, but I will write to you as soon as they let me."

Bella grabbed a pen out of her purse and wrote her address down on a sheet of paper. Edward glanced at the information before carefully folding the paper and tucking it into his wallet, where he was sure not to lose it. He'd memorized her address in that moment, but he knew he would treasure her writing in the time to come, even after she wrote. While he was putting her address away, Bella continued to dig in her purse until she produced a pair of scissors. Unsure of her intentions, Edward simply watched as she pulled her hair down from her pony tail, spreading it around her shoulders where it continued halfway down her back. Bella searched through her hair looking for the longest piece before following the strands up to her scalp, where she deftly cut it before Edward could even begin to protest. What resulted was a nearly three foot long lock of hair. Bella tied a knot in the scalp ends to hold the lock together.

"A friend did this for her boyfriend before he shipped out. I think he ended up keeping it in his wallet in an envelope. Her hair wasn't as long as mine, though. I don't know if you think it's weird, but…"

"No, no! I'm just shocked you were willing to give me a lock of your hair. I will cherish it. Maybe I can braid it and wear it as a necklace or something." Edward took the length of hair, curling it into a circle before tucking it into an envelope for safe-keeping until he could decide what to do it with. He wanted to keep it on him at all times, but knew that it would be difficult to do. He would figure out a way. Bella had just given a literal piece of herself to him. A visual reminder of her existence. He glanced up into her face, to find her eyes locked on his own soon-to-be-bald head. "Cut it, Bella. Take what you want."

Bella's eyes dropped to Edward's, surprised at getting caught coveting his gorgeous bronze hair. "You don't have to just because I did…"

"Bella, it's going to get shaved off as soon as I get there. If you want it, take it. I would give you anything to make you smile, even if I weren't about to become bald." Edward took the scissors from Bella's suddenly shaking hands, and searched through his own locks to find the longest pieces. Following her example, he snipped the strands close to the scalp, giving her as much length as he could. Once he had a handful, he dropped it into the envelope she held open for him. Looking back up to his now-hacked up mane, Bella had to laugh. Edward looked as if he had mange. He would have to have his head shaved for it to look right again. "Is that enough for you, milady? Or shall I keep chopping?"

Bella still chuckled as she sealed the envelope and tucked it into her purse. "No, no, that's plenty. Keep chopping up your hair and they may just send you back home."

The joke fell flat between them, speaking aloud the one wish they both knew would never come true. Edward palmed Bella's face again as she looked down at her hands, her face scrunched up as she tried not to cry. When the first few tears fell down her face, Edward pulled her into his lap, wrapping his arms around her and holding her tight. Bella nestled her face into Edward's chest, allowing his shirt to absorb her tears, wishing it could absorb her pain as easily.

"Oh, Bella, I'm so sorry. I wished I'd never signed up. I never imagined I would meet someone like you."

After a moment, Bella was able to get a reply choked out of her clogged throat. "No, it's okay. If you hadn't, we might not have met, not for a long time, if ever. But no matter what happens, Edward," she began as she looked up to gaze intently into his eyes, "I will never regret meeting you. I will always treasure you in my heart." Bella rested her head back down onto his chest, closing her eyes to concentrate on the feel of his arms around her, the scent of him enveloping her, the sound of his breath.

They stayed that way for many long minutes, both unable to face the dwindling time left. Finally, Edward sighed while checking the watch on his wrist. The bus was due in half an hour. "Love, its time to go to the bus station." Bella nodded her understanding before hugging him even closer to him. After a moment, she let go to stand up. Edward stood up next to her before stooping to grab the stationery in the bag and her purse. He reached up to smooth the tears off of her face again, then took her hand and led her back down the pier and to the bus station. He went inside briefly to grab the duffle that he'd left there, tucking his purchase into it for safe keeping. He returned to her side to await the bus, his heart breaking as assuredly as hers. Looking down at their intertwined hands, he noticed his Senior High School ring and had an idea.

"Bella, would you mind keeping something for me? Maybe even wear it, if you want?"

Bella raised her tear-soaked eyes to his, questioning him with her gaze. She looked down again as he tugged the ring off his finger. The ring was gold, with a cream-colored stone with green marbling that matched his eyes. His name was etched on one side with a football player underneath, while the mascot, Spartans, was etched into the other, with the symbol for academics below. The school name, Forks High School, was etched around the stone.

"No wonder we haven't met. We were always on opposite sides of the field. I've seen you play a couple of times. You always kicked our butts. And you killed us at Homecoming last year."

"No way. I should have figured you go to school here. I have to say though, playing the Bobcats is always a highlight to our season. You're tough, but you play clean. Wait, you've seen me play? Would I have seen you?"

"Only if you were in the habit of watching the band. I'm the piccolo player. They were afraid I'd hurt someone if they gave me anything bigger to play. As it is, the band director does his best to keep my position as still as possible when we're marching. I have been known to take out the entire band." Bella laughed along with Edward, glad that they were able to take a moment of levity in the face of such an overwhelming grief. For the first time in her life, she was glad she was a klutz.

"I remember last year when we played in Forks. We rested in the end field while the band played instead of going in, and I do vaguely remember watching the band play. You didn't take them down that night, otherwise I'd have remembered more." Edward laughed at the memory, imagining poor Bella taking down the other members of the band. He shook his head in wonder at how incredibly close they were to meeting, but never did. "Who knew I had to come to Aberdeen to meet the woman of my dreams."

Bella ducked her head again and blushed, pleasure shining through her eyes as she returned her gaze to his. Returning to the topic that had brought about the discovery of their near misses, Bella took the offered ring, placing it on her thumb. "Edward, I would be honored to wear your ring. I'll tie it on a ribbon around my neck. Your hands are so big, there's no way it'll fit on my finger, even with yarn." Bella's receding blush reappeared with a vengeance as she thought of Edward's large hands and how they felt against her.

Searching for something to distract him and herself from her somewhat personal observation, they were both startled by the bus pulling up beside them. They looked at the bus and then back at each other in panic, knowing that he had to get on it and leave her almost immediately. Their goodbye would have to come now, whether they were ready or not.

"Wait, will you take my ribbon? It's not much, but it's the only thing I have I can give you…" Bella begged breathlessly as she untied the ribbon from her purse. It had been the ribbon that had held up her hair during her shift. She couldn't imagine that he would want a gold ribbon, but it was the only thing she could think of at the moment.

"Yes, Bella, please. I would love anything to remember you by," Edward nearly groaned as he wrapped the ribbon around his fist. He would treasure this ribbon, it held her scent and her memories. He would wear it always. To hell with what the other guys thought.

Edward pulled Bella into a tight embrace, each squeezing with all their might, saying with their bodies what they could no longer speak. Tears again streamed down her face, as a few dripped down his. They kissed desperately, hearing the impatient honking of the bus driver behind them. He had to go. They pulled apart, looking deeply into each other's eyes one last time, before a final quick kiss goodbye. Edward climbed onto the bus, making his way down the aisle as the driver put the bus in gear and started on his way. Edward settled into the back seat, still looking behind with his hand placed against the window, watching Bella until he could no longer see her.

Edward leaned back in his seat, marveling at how completely his life had changed in just a few short hours. He still had his duty that he had committed to, but now he had something precious to return to.

*****

Bella watched as the bus pulled away, Edward in the rear window, palm pressed against the glass. She waved until she couldn't see him anymore. Then, with unimaginable slowness, she crumpled to the ground as her sobs began to rock her. She had held off the emotional storm long enough to keep him from seeing her fall apart; she didn't want to add more pain for him than was necessary. A moment later, a pair of strong, familiar arms wrapped around her. Charlie pulled her to his chest as he rocked her in his arms. "He'll be back, Bella. Have faith."

Bella continued to cry in his arms as her heart shattered, though a part of her wondered how he knew she needed him. "How?"

Charlie sighed and then said, "I noticed you were acting strange with that last order, but I didn't figure out how strange until Renee had to replace all the salt in the salt shakers. You filled them with sugar." Charlie chuckled as he shook his head. That had been an interesting basket of fries. Luckily for them, the meal had been his own instead of a customer's. "I saw you down on the pier with him. It didn't take long to put two and two together. He's a little old for you, don't you think?" The last comment had its intended effect: distracting her from the pain.

"Only a couple of months! I think." Bella went silent for a moment as she considered the events of the day. "Dad, is it possible to fall in love in just a few hours? A real, lasting love like you had with Mom?"

"I wish I could say 'no', but it would be a lie. I fell in love with your mother almost on sight. I knew by the end of the day that I wanted to marry her. It took three weeks to get her to go out with me. We were inseparable after that. I never once imagined that I would be left here on Earth without her, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. I still love her, even after all these years."

"Do you ever think about dating again?"

"Sometimes. I get lonely sometimes, especially now that you're grown up and have a life of your own. The diner keeps me busy, but it'd still be nice to share my life with someone I cared for, though I know I will never fall in love again like I did with your mother. That is one thing about the Swans, and it is why I recognized what was happening today. When we fall in love, it is fast, hard, and permanent. You'll always love your young man. If something, Heaven forbid, should happen to him, you may find a measure of love with someone else, but it will never be like the all-encompassing love you feel for him."

In a way, this comforted Bella. It was reassuring to know that she wouldn't fall out of love as drastically as she had fallen into it. But it also intensified her fear. What if he didn't come back? Would she never feel complete again?

I cried

Never gonna hold the hand of another guy

Too young for him they told her

Waitin' for the love of a travelin' soldier

Our love will never end

Waitin' for the soldier to come back again

Never more to be alone when the letter said

A soldier's coming home