by Ernie Whiting
The following story contains adult language.
The author can now be reached at this new address: firstname.lastname@example.org
The following is just a short story for Memorial Day. I hope you all have a good one, and let's all do our part in remembering.
"Hey, Katie. Are Gina and Brie out of town again?"
"Yeah." She had just begun lighting a pair of tall candles that stood on the mantle of the gray stone fireplace.
"Rats. I was hoping they'd be around for the Memorial Day weekend; those two guys always throw such great parties."
"Yeah, I know what you mean," said Katie the neighbor girl, full-time dispatcher for the Nevada City Police Department, and house-sitter for the Ryan/Duncan household. "They said they had to go back east someplace to do something important; but they said they'd be back in time for the festivities." She lit the second candle. "While they're gone, they want me to stay here and keep an eye on these candles and make sure the place doesn't burn down."
Michelle Tran watched her for a moment. "What are those for?" she finally asked.
She shook the match out. "They said that for Memorial Day we should remember everyone who died in war, and that these are for the innocent civilians." She tossed the match into the fireplace. "I'll let you know when Brie and Gina get back," she added, and then smiled at her. "Then you can activate the telephone tree."
Two warriors-the tall brunette, resplendent in her formal Marine Corps blues and with her saber hanging at her left hip, and the shorter blonde one, dazzling in her Navy dress whites-stood silently before a sea of white gravestones that stood in neat rows which followed the gently rolling hills of the Arlington National Cemetery. And then, as previously planned and with each carrying a box of votive candles, they separated to kneel before each grave, place the candle before the headstone, and light it with a short, simple and heartfelt, "You are not forgotten." It was a ritual that they performed every year, without exception and without failure. When they were finished with their duties, they would meet up again and stand silently for a time, to solemnly stand guard with their fallen comrades until the next group of veterans arrived.
"When's it gonna end, Xena?" the Navy doctor softly asked as she gazed at the white sea of marble tombstones. "The hatred and the bloodshed...the insanity... Dear Gods, when's it all gonna end?"
"I don't know, Gabrielle," the statuesque Marine replied, her own voice muted. "It seems that every time we take two steps toward peace, there's always some lunatic aggressor or madman or just plain malignant asshole of a despot who forces us all to take one step back."
Brie sighed heavily. "I get so sick of the fighting and the killing...so many of the young and innocent dying... I just want it all to go away."
"So do I," Gina said. "Unfortunately, there's always some adversary out there who doesn't want to be reasoned with; whether it's a Darphus or a Draco or a Hitler, or any of today's tyrants, they want their way-and they're going to force good and innocent people, military and civilian alike, to die for them. And as long as there are madmen out there, there are going to have to be people like us to stop them with whatever it takes." Her own sigh was as heavy as her heart. "I'd much rather do it through diplomacy. I am sick to death of losing friends and allies in the field of battle. But sometimes diplomacy just doesn't work. Like you once said: how does one reason with someone who refuses to be reasoned with? How do you reason with someone like Darphus or Hitler, or any of the dictators of today? How do you stop someone like Draco without going to war?"
"Yeah," Brie said. "Yeah, I remember... And that's where people like us come in."
"Unfortunately, yeah..." She turned her sapphire gaze down the hill and noted the quiet arrival of a line of cars. "Looks like our relief is here."
There were ten cars parked at the bottom of the hill, with four people in each car; a full and mixed platoon of Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. Each soldier and sailor was carrying a box of votive candles. And even as these men and women were getting out of their cars, even more were arriving; civilians and family members who had come out with their children to pay their respects-and they, too, carried their own boxes of candles.
A Marine Corps Captain approached them and stood at attention. "Colonel," he said as he saluted the pair. "Commander."
They returned his salute. "Captain," Ryan said. "Good of you to come." She offered a hand.
He took it, and they shook. "No way I'd miss it, Colonel."
She turned to Brie. "Time to go," she said.
"Whoa!" Katie said, her eyes wide as Gina and Brie climbed the wooden steps, accompanied by a small contingent of sailors and Marines, some in uniform and some not. There was also a good number of non-military friends and nearby neighbors.
"Whoa, what?" Gina asked.
"I just... I've just never seen you guys in uniform before," Katie told them. "Very impressive."
Brie smiled shyly, and actually began to blush a little.
Gina grinned, and headed for the bar. From beneath it she took out a tray of shot glasses and a bottle of Kentucky bourbon. "Okay, gang, gather 'round." Without yet removing her uniform cap, she tore off the wrapper around the cap, unscrewed the top, and began pouring shots until all the glasses were full. Every active member of the military and every veteran stepped up for a glass. "A toast," she said, and the small crowd quickly fell silent. She raised her glass, and the crowd did likewise. "To fallen comrades," she said solemnly.
"To fallen comrades," responded the crowd. They drank silently, tossing off the shot in a single gulp, and then the glasses were thrown to shatter in the fireplace. It was hushed for a moment as they all silently paid their respects in their own way...and then, like the sun finally bursting through the storm clouds, Gina merrily announced, "All right! Let's fire up that barbie! Katie, you know where the steaks are; I'll get the beer!"
"HOO-YA!" shouted the crowd as Gina and Brie headed upstairs to get out of their uniforms.
"When are they gonna learn to pronounce that right?" Gina asked her partner. "It's not 'hoo-ya,' it's 'hoo-ah.'"
"They did," Brie replied. "It's just that you stubborn jar-heads never get it right."
"Squid." She playfully nudged her, and Brie nudged her back. "You need some help getting out of that uniform?" she asked with a sly look in her eyes.
"Later, darlin'," she promised. "Right now, we got company."
Gina grinned in anticipation. "Hoo-ah!"
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