Trembles from my muscles radiated to my voice. I spoke calmly. Like the eerie kind of calm just before a terrible storm.
“How did you get these?” I asked. I waited frozen for what felt like an eternity for him to reply. Alex ran his slender fingers over the tattered metal.
“I took them…after he…” He didn’t have to finish, I knew the rest.
I enunciated both words slowly in spite of my impatience. “From who?”
The sudden plummet of my stomach had to be audible when he didn’t answer the question.
“They belong to you. He wanted…he would have wanted you to have them.”

My head whirled in confusion, making it difficult to find the right words–any words. With regards to reality, all I thought I knew with any degree of certainty had been shattered like a delicate picture window. It made me wonder what other dreadful stories I had been told as a child that were more than just fables or cautionary tales. What other make-believe monsters skulked about? I couldn’t even say they were just lurking in the shadows anymore. They were here. In my face.
Over the last few minutes, I had been momentarily paralyzed by the info dump. Stunned into stillness. When I found my legs, I managed to stand. I held the jagged metal in my hands, pacing the room, trying to absorb and make sense of all of the things Alex told me. At the same time, I needed to figure out what he wasn’t telling me. His subdued stature as he sat at the edge of my dad’s bed was of no comfort to me.
“These never made it back with him,” I said, opening my palm.

I knew this because I overheard Tanq tell David that my dad’s ring and tags went missing before his body was loaded into the medivac chopper.

“They disappeared before my dad was brought back to base,” I continued.

Even now as Alex sat there he was glorious, which irked me because I had a bad feeling that this story didn’t have a happy ending, and it would be a lot easier to hate him if he wasn’t so…perfect.

Alex was quiet. Still. Watching expressionless while I slowly began to fit the pieces together. “You were gone for over a week just before…” Alex rose to his feet, his features still vacant. “You were sick.” His brows lifted and his head dropped. Then it dawned on me. “No,” I said, taking the cue from his expression. “Hurt.”
Alex looked up at me from under his lashes, his jaw muscles rippling as he clenched his teeth.

My lungs deflated abruptly. My wide, disbelieving eyes glued to his as the final piece fell into place.  “You were there.”

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