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2am Friday - September 28, 2012
It's quiet here in Afghanistan and cold in the communications tent. There's Intel coming through and there are reports that need attention. They don't seem to mean anything, they're all so confusing, why can't I make sense of it, what am I missing? I check the Intel again and I know there is something amiss. Then I see one more page has come through. No, it can't… Please no… not the hospital.
I call but no one is answering. Tugging at my hair while I panic, I'm nearly ripping it out. I know someone is there, Rose is on duty tonight. Please pick up the damn phone, I silently plead. I want to cry, scream but I can't; I just need someone to answer my call. Can the lines be down already? Communication cannot be lost; I have to find a way to warn them. I call the officers' tent; nothing. The team must be out on patrol and can't be reached. I even try contacting the Marine unit I know is on base. Why won't someone pick up the phone? I slam down the receiver as the fear envelops me. I have to do something. I can't stay here, I have to get there. So I run. I run to warn them, praying I don't run out of time.
And, then I hear it, the first bomb blast, and I freeze. I tremble but I can't let the fear I feel hold on to me now. I have to get there, to help— I need to keep moving. When the second bomb hits, I know… I know I'm too late, but I need to find her. I have to find her, to save her, for not only my sake but for that of her precious little girl.
There's chaos and screams everywhere. To my left I see the General that was brought in two days ago – the target for this attack – needing help. I do the only thing I can; I pull him to safety and make sure he's alive.
"My nurse, help her." He points over my shoulder before he passes out.
I turn and it's then that I see her out of the corner of my eye, his nurse— my friend— Rosalie. She's barely breathing and my heart sinks. Rose looks up at me and smiles, she knows that we are about to say goodbye…
~5 months later~
2am Wednesday - February 6, 2013
I gasp and cough, trying to catch my breath. It's just a dream I tell myself, but it's also a memory—a reality of what was.
As I'm laying here safe in my bed in the house I grew up in, I remember the promise I made that night. It wasn't only to a little girl who lost her mother or the Uncle whose care she's in, but to my friend that would still be alive if only I had read the Intel properly in time.
Knowing I'm not going to get back to sleep, I get up and shower, hoping not to wake up my dad, Charlie in the process. The water is hot and while my muscles are relaxing I realize I know what I have to do. By six a.m. I've booked a plane ticket, packed and I'm on my way— North Carolina is my destination; Rosalie's hometown and where my destiny is… Leah Grace Black.
I've been in Warrenton, NC now for about three weeks, and I've learned that Leah— or 'Gracie' as she is affectionately known—and her Uncle Edward are loved by everyone in town. And even though I want to go and meet them, I don't. I keep my distance.
I'd heard through gossip that Edward lays blame on Signal Warrant Officer M. Swan for Rosalie's death. I do too – so to everyone I've met here, I'm Bella Dwyer—a family nickname and my mother's maiden name—and I've tucked Marie Swan away.
Today though, things are different. While I'm sitting in the little coffee shop in town, I watch Gracie and Edward walk by. She has beautiful dark blonde hair with the biggest brown eyes I've ever seen, they sparkle with mischief.
Edward is a phenomenon. He is about 6ft tall, the build of someone who works on the land and the looks of a movie star. His hair is a shade of auburn that I've never seen before and streaked with natural blonde highlights throughout. And his eyes—the only time I've been close enough to look into them I could've drowned. They're the color of the ocean in summer, green with subtle hints of blue.
"She's a beauty, that one."
I look up to the woman standing at the counter who spoke and smile at her.
"Yes, she is. I've seen them around town now and then. They look happy but I see sadness there too."
"That poor sweet child has lost both of her parents in tragic circumstances. He's her Uncle."
"Are you family?" I ask.
"In a small town we are all family," she says with a smile.
I think about that for a moment. I grew up in Carmel, California— population of nearly 4000 people and I thought that was a small town. Here in Warrenton, there are barely 850 people, so I guess it's one big family.
"You know, Gracie is in need of a nanny. Edward, her Uncle, has had his arms full with her and running the Plantation their family owns," she says removing me from my inner thoughts.
"Doesn't he have help?"
Could this be my chance to fulfil the promise I made to Rosalie?
"Yes he does, but Edward won't trust just anyone with Gracie. He's letting her choose and the choices so far haven't been too welcomed by her." She smirks.
I swear I can hear a slight distaste in her voice.
"Has she said no to a lot?"
"No, the only ones who want the job so far are Edward's siste in law, who has a nasty streak in her. She is full of spite that one, and Gracie can see it even if Edward and his brother can't." Now I know I hear distaste.
"You said 'only ones'… who else is there?" I'm beyond curious now.
"The other person is the Bed and Breakfast's housekeeper, she has no interest in Gracie. Her interests lay with Edward and having Edward alone."
I remember Rosalie talking about her sister in law being extremely upset that she left Gracie in Edward's care and not her, a married woman. Something about her being not the right influence she wanted for her daughter. The housekeeper though was a source of laughter between us, well not her per se, just her antics in trying to get Edward and her other brother Jasper—before he married— to notice her.
I can't help but smile.
"I think you should allow me to introduce you to Edward and Gracie." I'm once again brought out of my thoughts when she spoke.
"Yes, I think you would fit in well with them and I know Gracie will love you." I'm pretty sure this woman was now speaking to herself.
Before I can speak, "What's your name, dear?" she asks.
"Um… Bella, Bella Dwyer."
"Well then Bella, come in tomorrow and I shall introduce you three," she says with a sly grin.
Not long after I get up to leave, I turn to the woman and ask, "I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name."
"That's quite alright dear, I didn't give it. It's Esme, and it's nice to meet you Bella."
"You too, Esme, and I'll see you tomorrow."
I can't help but smile as I leave the shop knowing that Rose must be helping me from above. When I look back, I see Esme smiling and looking up too.