AM or PM?

“Meet me at eight!”

Who hasn’t been there at some moment of their life?  In this case, Nichole and Joe go back to Portland, a diversion to Zom’s, some other characters show up… for dinner…

Oh my God, they leave the battlezone at dawn!  That has them back into the City around 0800!  What the hell am I supposed to do for the next nine to ten hours?!

Initially, they’d been in two vehicles on their way back. Joe was forward on the Humvee with a gunner and M240 machine gun atop. Nichole had asked to help with the critically wounded being transported to a City hospital in one of the trucks. After having learned about his good friend, Joe just took it as another shock in an already bad series of days.

“It’s only about an hour and a half,” she held in hands in the dark. The east betrayed a hint of scarlet. “Let’s go home, together!”

He nodded with a wan smile. Not even trying to kiss her, she watched as he shuffled towards the Hummer. She went to the truck.

Telling the corpsman that she only knew basic first aid, she was tasked with monitoring and recording vitals every fifteen minutes. She was to report anything out of the ordinary. Looking at the six on stretchers – only one conscious – their conditions were stable enough to transport, but otherwise grim: limbs lost or shattered from artillery or small-arms fire. Only one was on a critical drip, Fentanyl; he’d part of his face chewed off after he’d been knocked unconscious, before his mates could make it back to his side. There were no prisoners from that small engagement, she knew.

A thankful uneventful eighty five minutes later saw her out of the way as the wounded were moved into a hospital on the west side of the river. Some of the corpsmen had mentioned “Good Sam;” was the facility named after someone called ‘Sam’? Walking to the Hummer, one of the rear doors was flung open for her. Not by Joe. She got in.

The driver started off without a word. She surmised that Joe must have told them their destination, earlier. She looked to him. His head and shoulders were down, but she knew he was awake.

From some of her conversations with the sailors and Marines as they crossed the Pacific, she’d been older that there were things that men – military men – simply would not discuss with a woman. She suspected there were several reasons for that, but kept her peace. After a few blocks, she put her left hand onto his knee. Slowly, her covered her hand with his.

The sun had been up for about an hour, illuminating the abandoned buildings of west-side’s downtown. The driver had them to Stratford House in no time. They came to an abrupt halt.

“Here you guys are!” The driver called. He looked back at them. “And, thanks, from all of us… okay?”

Nichole smiled hard enough her eyes scrunched shut again. The driver thought his heart might break.

But, she saw something.

Something like Eldest Sister’s message… but different. That thin, male face; the frosted tips of his dark hair…

“I… I don’t mean to impose,” she began, taking her hand from her Friend’s knee to the driver’s shoulder, “but could you take us around the corner, to the old Simon Benson House?”

“You mean Zom’s?” He grinned back at her. She didn’t know off-campus was aware of it.

“Yes! It…” Her eyes flicked left and back. “It’s been awhile since we ate!”

They were in motion before the driver turned back forward. Down 10th and left onto Montgomery – no one paid attention to traffic signs – and another abrupt halt.

“I’d like to treat you guys to breakfast…” She began, but the driver shook his head; still with a smile.

“Thanks, ma’am, but we’ll be headed back up north, now!”

She and Joe got out. The gunner waved at them as they tore off to the north. What little foot traffic there was at the early hour stared first at the receding Hummer and second at Joe and Nichole.

“Lovelies!” Nike called in his English lilt from just behind them. “Breakfast is ready!”

Something sounding almost like a sob escaped her First Friend. Was he – ?

“You sit, precious thing!” Nike’s voice was still light, but she could tell he could use over/under tones, too. “I need a man-to-man word with the vet, here!”

His arm over his shoulder, Nike seemed to tower over Joe’s muscled, compact strength. He led him inside. She moved to the only table with a setting.

One side was bacon, eggs, toast, sausage… the other was a simple egg holder with a small saucer with eggshell already on it. A wineglass with something amber was at the right. She sat and sniffed at it.

A Kir Royal. Just enough alcohol to be self-sterilizing. But, if the eggshell was there, to make it appear as if she’d already eaten, Joe would have seen…

Unless Nike knew that that wouldn’t happen.

At eighteen percent and wishing she was in her room, Nichole gripped the edge of the table and wondered where the world was going…?

A hand onto her left shoulder.

“Love?”

“Yes, Nike?”

“Head on home. But, bring some friends for an early dinner tonight, wot?”

She looked up to his lean, Mediterranean face.

“Is…Joe…?”

“He’s fine, love.” But his eyes grew dark. “He’s seen a little too much… your family would say he’s too old, too fast.”

Nichole refused to take the bait. Instead, she took that glass and drank half. She wiped her mouth and stood.

“Later, then.” She held his eyes; hers opening gleaming.

“Yes.” His danced.

He wasn’t a machine. All of her senses told her that. But he was obviously very dangerous, and didn’t care who knew.

Nichole wondered who she could put together for an interesting late afternoon?

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