The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

September 13, 2010

Chapter Three

By Jennifer Adair

— Buck hated when the memories of his last days in Iraq snuck up on him. At least when the townspeople asked questions he could edit out the details people wouldn’t want to hear, the details that kept him awake most nights.

Little did the people sitting next to him at Coffee Call know that hidden in his home was the Bronze Star he was awarded for his actions that day. He could have come home to a hero’s welcome complete with a parade, a speech from the mayor, and all of the other festivities that only a small town can truly bestow on its local celebrities.

Yet there was no celebration. In fact, no one, not even Buck’s own family, knew that he was a decorated war veteran. The Buck Welch who left town a high school hero preferred to come home to relative obscurity.

The truth was that he couldn’t bear to even look at that medal, much less hear himself be called a “hero.” The memories were just too painful.

It had been a scorching day in Iraq. The kind of day that reminded Buck of his childhood, before the girls in their leggings cheered him on and built up his ego on the football field. The kind of day that Southern people lived for. The adults would sit in porch rockers visiting with neighbors and sipping cold sweet tea as the sun went down while the children chased lightning bugs around the yard.

It was on one of those evenings that Buck met Bobby Tom. Even at 9 years old Buck knew that it was a little odd that the elderly couple suddenly appeared on his front porch holding the hand of a frightened boy one July night. Buck spent most of that summer playing in the cotton fields with Bobby Tom while his parents and Bobby Tom’s grandparents talked quietly on the porch. He never knew the details of those conversations, but the things Bobby Tom confided in him frightened him to this day.

Buck was so lost in his memories that he didn’t even notice the beautiful woman across the room staring at him in disbelief. If he had noticed, it probably wouldn’t have made a difference. The ladies’ man who left this town no longer existed. Buck would just as soon have been by himself fishing at the pond near his home, but his family had started encouraging him to get out more.

Buck knew that everyone thought he would be okay if Bobby Tom were still in town to help him blow off some steam. They knew it must be hard that Bobby Tom hadn’t been to town for a visit since Buck had returned from war.

What they didn’t know was that Buck had seen Bobby Tom. Not here, but in the last place he ever expected. He never imaged that he would see his best friend in Iraq two days before his deployment ended. The memory of that day would haun