David stepped in with a bag of frozen peas for my face.

“Tough break,” he laughed.  “You didn’t actually think that was gonna work did you?”

I shot a glare at him and then gratefully accepted his frozen offering.  “Thanks for not saying anything, jerk.”

“Hey,” he said, throwing his hands up in surrender.  “I didn’t say a word, there were at least a dozen other guys that saw me pick you up.”

I looked at him skeptically but knew he was telling the truth.

I was just edgy.  This was the first deployment that both David and my dad would be gone at the same time, so this would officially be the first time I’d ever spent any extended period of time away from home.

The Hamlin’s are supposedly my dad’s best friends, though ironically neither David nor I have ever met or spoken to them.  A few years ago they moved from somewhere in Europe back to Camden, Maine.  England, I think.  Outdated photos and a few second hand memories were the only insights I had of the Hamlin’s and their two teenage children.  My dad couldn’t refuse their offer to have me stay with them once they heard of his deployment.  So, Camden is were I was being exiled to for the next six weeks of my summer break.

After dinner, I went to bed early.  I fell asleep that night reading The Picture of Dorian Gray.  What a tragic, lost man.

The alarm clock wailed mercilessly.  I raised my head just enough to see the bright green numbers flash zero-four hundred and was instantly irritated that my dad felt compelled to put me on the earliest flight possible.  I resisted the temptation to slap the snooze button and reluctantly peeled myself out of bed.  I dressed and shoved the last few items into my white, canvas sea bag.  Phone charger, running shoes, bathroom necessities.

“Dad’s waiting, you ready to load up?”  David hollered from down the hall.

“Yeah, I’m coming,” I replied, groggy from a short and restless sleep.  I threw my bag in the back of the SUV and got in.

I slept most of the way to LAX.  With the unexpected traffic, we got there barely in time for them to walk me to security.  I sent my satchel and hoodie through the x-ray scanner and gave them both hugs.

“Katherine,” my dad said, looking more dejected than was necessary.  “I love you.  You know that right?”

I was never any good at good-byes or public displays of affection-a Wheeler trait I did not acquire.  Anything that makes me weepy in in front of witnesses is deemed a source of embarrassment.  I looked down at my unpainted toes, flushing at his overwhelming emotion.

“I know, I love you too.  I’ll be back in a few weeks,” I cheerfully reminded, hoping to make him feel better.

I wanted to be mad at him for sending me to Maine, but seeing him so upset and apologetic just made me feel worse for throwing a fit about it.

“It’ll be great,” I lied.  I need a break from the heat and everything anyway.”  It was the least I could say to ease his worry.  “Just promise you’ll call soon…and often,” I said.

“Deal.”  My dad sealed his promise with one last hug and kiss on the forehead. “You be safe out there too,” I warned David with the stern point of my finger.

“Always. Hey, don’t do anything I might.” He joked, punching me in the arm.

I laughed.  “I wouldn’t dare.”

My dad called after me when I cleared security.  “Call when you get there.”  I waved so he knew that I heard him and then, I was gone.

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