The flight had been too long and the seats were cramped. He’d always laughed at the phrase ‘cattle car of the sky’ but it had fit the last leg of his trip. The flight attendants had been nice, once they realized he was a veteran but there was only so much they could for him.
DJ Rediker was no longer all skin and elbows. He’d stretched out to be six-foot-five and then, slowly, he’d bulked up. He was pushing the age of thirty-four and hadn’t been home in nearly a year. The flight had been bearable because it had been winging him home. His duffel bag, containing all he needed for the multi-month stay, hung from his shoulder. Dressed comfortably in jeans and a t-shirt, DJ’s eyes searched the end of the long corridor for the people he wanted to see.
Slowly, he began to see the cluster of heads and the yellow balloons.
“There he is!”
The clapping and cheering started for him before he could see his family. It made the sacrifice of being overseas just a bit sweeter hearing the welcome home. His dog tags rested comfortably against his chest, hugged against him with the material of the t-shirt. His mother and father stood in the foreground, in front of the crowd. He scanned the group for the one person he wanted to see and his eyes finally fell on his mother.
He lifted his eyebrows at her and she shrugged a shoulder. Jessica was no where in sight. He’d called her when he’d landed in the states. DJ forced a smile onto his face and embraced the friends and family that were there. His mother and father were first. Meg’s mother and Uncle Mark were there and just as important.
Uncle Mark was more white than he was dark headed now. He’d long traded his uniform for street clothes but his eyes were still sharp. He held a knot of yellow ribbon, “She’s going to try to get here but Meg said to tell you she’s jumping for joy even though she’s not here.” He waved the knotted ribbon, “Get it?”
The bad pun made DJ laugh and the squeeze on his heart lessened a little. He was grabbed away by friends and handshakes were quick.
“Hey, man.” The smiling face was unfamiliar to DJ but he shook his hand, "Are you Darcy Rediker?”
“Yes.” DJ narrowed his eyes. No one called him Darcy.
The man grinned and slapped some papers into his hands, “You’ve been served.”
Staring at the retreating back, DJ held the papers in his hands. A chill settled over him as the hush settled over those around him. Slowly, DJ pulled the rubber band from the folded documents and opened them.
Jessica was divorcing him.
It wasn’t exactly the welcome home he’d hoped for. They’d been talking about children. He’d been considering leaving the Army.
Slowly, he folded the paper and stuck the lot of them into his back pocket. With an ease he didn’t feel, he pulled his mother to his side and kissed the top of her head, “I guess I’m bunking with you guys.”
His ears rang and his body hurt. It was almost like he was twelve again and suffering from a beating from bullies. He’d made the mistake of calling Jessica for an explanation. Apparently, every thing that had gone wrong in her life was his fault. He remembered the last letter she’d sent. There had been no indication that she was going to divorce him. She’d complained about how hard life was with the poor pay and how long he was away - but there wasn’t much DJ could have done about that. Except leave the Army. And now there was no reason for him to leave.
The screen door slapped shut behind him and DJ headed toward the swing. He could sit in the middle and reach his arms to both support chains on either side of the swing. It would be dangerous on the swing to make it go as high as he did when he was a child, the swing would most likely break under him. It didn’t stop him from picking up his feet and gliding forward a few times.
DJ didn’t have to swing very long before he heard the soft purr of the car engine pull up in front of his house. It wasn’t the same as a purple bike. In fact, the dark blue car was much nicer. He watched door open and the head rise over the top of the car. Her hair had darkened over the years. It was longer than he remembered from last time he’d seen her on a video call with his parents, a call Jessica had missed, come to think of it.
Meg wore soft-soled work boots on her feet instead of tennis shoes. Her jeans were frayed at the cuff and worn thin at the knees. Her t-shirt was faded and worn, her clothes hugged her in all the right spots. He was pretty sure the shirt once said AC/DC on it but he wasn’t exactly sure. He was more curious about why it looked familiar. She climbed up the stairs and stopped. In her hands was a brown paper sack.
His lips quirked up at the corners before he could stop them, “Hey.”
“I forgot how big you’ve gotten.” Meg clipped her sunglasses on the front of her shirt and eyed him with a bland expression, “Seriously. What do they feed you in the Army?”
“Not enough. You come over here to tell me ‘I told you so’?”
The hurt was quick and just as quickly concealed, “I brought you something to cheer you up.” She held out the brown paper sack, “But I didn’t see the ‘don’t feed the bear’ signs.” Meg turned a white wicker chair around to face the swing and settled herself into it. She pulled out a soda bottle, diet for herself and left the rest of the contents in the bag. Meg heaved it at him and settled herself back in the chair, crossing her boots over the porch rail. She didn’t say anything but opened the bottle and took a drink.
DJ looked inside the sack and found comic books, another bottle of soda and packets of M&M’s. There was also a book in the sack, new to paper back. DJ immediately recognized the author. He’d been waiting for the book to come out so he could have his mother mail it to him.
“What event, Sergeant Rediker, has most impacted your life?” Meg wanted to know, unabashedly interrupted his reverie.
DJ pulled the remaining soda bottle from the bag and narrowed his eyes at her. He swung back and forth as he considered her question.
He was leaner than last time she’d seen him, Meg thought. The desert sun had tanned his skin a deep brown. People paid money to get that sort of tan.
“Well, considering you’re the one asking, I’d have to claim that it was the day I met you.”
Meg arched her eyebrows, “Okay. The SECOND most impacting event, then. Because,” she held up her hands, “I can’t argue with that.”
“Give me a hint.”
“1995.” Meg took a drink and watched him over the bottle. It was a loaded question and she saw his mood darken just a little.
“Lots of things happened that year.”
He graduated high school. He met Jessica. Enrolled in college instead of enlisting. It had been a very complex year.
“That was the year, Darcy James Rediker that the mini-series ‘Pride and Prejudice’ was released on television and you no longer had to explain to the football team about who you were named after.”
DJ grinned slightly, “Every girl wanted to call me Mister Darcy.”
“Didn't help that you grew your hair long that year. All those curls.” Gesturing with her bottle, Meg wanted to know, “Dinah Graves wanted to pay you for a lock of your hair.”
“Oh, dear god. How do you remember that?” DJ chuckled.
“She tried to bribe me to cut it for her.” Meg smirked, “It was this whole Delilah moment and you were Samson.”
Running his hand over his nearly shaved head, DJ frowned, “You didn’t, did you?”
“I never had the chance. Kept the scissors in my pocket for a week, though. Just in case.” Meg laughed at his shocked expression, “Hey. It was worth twenty dollars to me.”
“And the thought amused you so you were going to go with it.”
“There’s that.” She eyed him, “So? You gonna eat those M&M’s?”
DJ tossed her one of the packs and she caught it on her stomach.
“I’m going to try to make detective.” Meg told him, tearing a corner off the packet of chocolate.
“Good luck.” DJ watched her toss a few of the chocolate candies into her mouth, “Did you tell me about that in one of your newsy letters?”
“No. I was too nervous to jinx it.” She flashed a grin at him, “Uncle Mark is fit to be tied. You’d think he was responsible for the notion.”
Swinging, DJ relaxed, “You won’t burst his bubble, either.”
They sat in silence for a good long time before Meg rolled her head to look at DJ, “I could break her car windows with my bat.”
He laughed and the sound surprised him, “No but thanks.”
Meg shrugged and put her bottle to her lips, “‘kay.”
DJ heard the amusement in her voice and pulled out his own packet of candy, “If she’s got a boyfriend, you can break his windows.”