The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

September 22, 2010

Chapter Four

By Bill Hunt
CNHI

— As thoughts churned in his mind, Buck’s face changed into the face of a child, an innocent young boy far removed from the sands of Iraq, but grooved with memories, most recently, the memory of his friend Bobby Tom on the cold, white-blanketed stretcher.

Now, he could only wonder as to what had happened since he left his friend in the field hospital, or what might become of Bobby Tom if he made it home.

From across the room, Raquel recognized the sudden change in the big man’s face, in his deep-set black eyes. His thoughts had wandered back into another time, when things weren’t good, she thought, soldiering days, maybe.

She wanted to say “I’m sorry,” “Everything’s okay,” or something he could quickly grasp, pulling him out of his reverie. The museum, she figured, was a staunch reminder of his time on the battlefield, like looking into the shards of a mirror into another time and place. She crossed the room toward Buck.

“Well, Buck Welch,” Raquel said, smiling. “How does it feel coming home to good-old Athens?”

He jerked when he heard her voice. “Oh! Fine,” he said. “I was just thinking about a few things I really want to forget.”

“Oh,” she said, “I have a few of those, too.”

She laughed softly; he smiled, feeling good that this pretty woman would approach him. Under dark eyebrows, her big eyes rolled up to Buck’s face.

“Maybe we could work together at getting rid of those old haunts,” she said, again laughing, as she inconspicuously pulled up her leggings. I hate these darn things, the thought crossed her mind.

“Yeah, I’d like to do that,” Buck said, and smiled. Already, his mind was relieved somewhat, centering now on Raquel, not on Bobby Tom and blood, or sand in the sweaty grooves of his neck.

Raquel remembered her daddy saying what a “catch” Buck Welch would be, and her recalling times when other men ran like rabbits after she mentioned her two kids. “Don’t say nothin’ girl, not ‘till you got ‘um interested, really interested,” Dad had told her. This time, with this handsome man, this Buck Welch, this decorated soldier, this ambitious young veteran, she was determined to do as Dad had suggested.

“Wonderful,” Raquel exclaimed. “The Range Riders from Nashville are playing on the Square tomorrow night at 6. They’re great; want to hear ‘um for a little while?”

“Sure. Love to,” Buck said. “Afterward, maybe we could have dinner somewhere.”

“That would be nice, Buck.” Raquel placed her hand on his arm, rolled her eyes again straight up into the big man’s smiling face then sweetly, rubbed his arm above his wrist. Deep behind Buck’s dark, penetrating eyes, she knew there was something waiting to be let loose, for the right time or right person to untangle the mass that played in his mind … about heat, sand, blood and killing.

“See you at six tomorrow, Buck,” she said as she sashayed to the exit.

I’m gonna be that person, she thought, smiled and her chin rose.