A Letter A Day by Cata Ree

PROLOGUE - BRIDGET

The distant explosion shakes the ground under my feet, and small vibrations go right through my body. Shock takes over before common sense can kick in, and I freeze in my spot.

Three years in this godforsaken desert, and this is the first time I freeze. These explosions are a constant in this part of the world, but for some reason, this one—this one takes a hold of me and roots me to the spot.

I look around me with unfocused eyes, barely registering the people running towards me as they try to cover their heads. Finally, someone covered in dust and dirt knocks me right to the ground and drapes himself over me like a dome of safety.

“Are you okay?” he yells, out of breath.

I wiggle, trying to find some room under his weight to move around, but manage a small “Yes,” as an answer to him.

He lifts himself off gently and slowly. “You froze, Sergeant,” he says, disbelief coating his voice.

“I know,” I deadpan, but I can’t make sense of it. I don’t freeze, I lead. I’ve been a leader from the very start, and I can’t explain what happened, not to myself, not to him, not to anyone. Because I don’t know either.

His face morphs into an expression of pain, his eyes growing as big as saucers. His mouth falls open as if he can’t get any air in, and an ear-piercing scream leaves his throat . . . Or is it mine?

“Sergeant,” he groans, holding his abdominal area.

“Shhhh,” I soothe him. “I got you.”

And then my body goes on autopilot as I rip open his uniform top and get to the injury. A single bullet wound, right under his belly button. It gushes blood, but it’s nothing I haven’t seen before.

Opening my first aid bag, I grab the few rolls of gauze and apply pressure to the area. I need to move him from the field and get him into the makeshift tent hospital.

I take in his state and form an idea. “All right, Private, I need you to be brave for me now. We gotta get out of here and into the tent so I can fix you up.” He nods, wincing in pain. “I can’t carry you, so you need to stand up and put your arm around me, and I’ll take care of the rest.”

“Okay, Sergeant Montgomery,” he says, pushing himself into a sitting position.

Taking his arms, I hook them around the back of my neck and lift him up as I stand. Both of us out of breath, I nod an encouragement to him.

“Ready?” I ask.

“Yes, ma’am,” he groans, putting his weight onto me. Together we walk as fast as we can through the disturbed ground, listening to the pop pop of the machine guns firing all around us.

As we approach the tent, I yell, “Bishop, Dale, bring the gurney out, now!”

Within seconds, a buzz of activity surrounds us. Four hands grab Private MacKenzie and lay him on the gurney. I’m right by their side, holding the blood-soaked gauze to his abdomen, trying to stop the bleeding.

“Quick, onto the table.” I point to the metal table in the corner. “Put him under and I’ll be right there.”

After giving his hand a reassuring squeeze, I leave my team to clean my hands before I cut into him. He’s gonna make it! He’s gonna make it! I keep repeating to myself as I run over to the table, let Bishop put my gown on me, and hold my hand out for the scalpel.

As I work on repairing the damage done by the bullet, elbow deep in his abdomen, I hear a groan, followed very closely by an agonizing scream.

“He’s awake!” I yell to Dale, who’s supposed to be watching his anesthesia levels. Private MacKenzie continues to scream in pain. “Put him under, now!” Then I turn to the man who saved me. “Listen,” I say, softening my voice, “I need you to stop wiggling. You’re going to pop all your stitches if you keep trying to run off the table.”

A groan escapes him, but he nods in understanding.

“You got this,” I say, leaning over his face. “We got this. I will get you through this.”

Finally, the second doze of anesthetic puts him under, and I continue stitching him up. Once done, I let Bishop bandage him up and take him to the recovery area.

“Check on him every half an hour.” I leave them with those orders.

That evening, a letter from home arrives with the most familiar handwriting on it. My heart pangs with excitement and guilt as I open it with shaky hands. The letter is stained with teardrops, and one word catches my attention. “I need you, Bee.”