Tuesday, September 1, 2009
"Sergeant Harper," Johnson called from the door. He noticed Harper's head turn and he moved quickly around the room. "Sergeant Harper, they want to see you."
"Who?" Harper didn't look up again. Instead he continued to rebuild his weapon. The sand seemed to go everywhere so it needed constant cleaning. It was almost done.
"Did you hear why?"
Johnson shook his head not because he didn't know why, but because he didn't want to answer. Harper could see the knowledge in his eyes but decided not to push. It wouldn't be fair to the private to force him to choose between the sergeant who was present and the captain who was not.
He slid the clip home, double-checked the safety, and slipped the strap over his shoulder. The move was so practiced it fell into position as he moved barely requiring a hand on it at all. The private led the way, past the duty station and directly into the captain's office.
Harper noticed the stricken look of the Specialist on duty and wondered what he could have done. That he couldn't remember anything was probably bad news. When the captain stepped around the desk to shake his hand, he was sure it was worse than he could have expected. Johnson stepped back out, closing the door behind them.
"Sit down, Sergeant."
Harper shifted the weapon to the side and perched at the edge of the hard wooden chair. Captain Moore propped himself on the edge of the desk, not really sitting. He leaned forward, trying to make the situation feel more friendly.
"I'm not sure how to say this," he began. "Usually the news goes the other direction, and goes by letter."
Harper shifted in his chair, sure the captain had to be talking to someone else, but they were alone in the room. He stood, ready to leave. Captain Moore stopped, waiting for Harper to settle back down. He looked at the closed door and sat again.
"Your parents were in a car accident. They were killed instantly." Captain Moore blurted. His hand stretched out toward Harper then went to his head, pinching the bridge of his nose. That shoved his glasses up to frame his eyebrows, before dropping down again when the captain's hands joined in his lap.
Harper waited silently. It had to be a joke. He looked back at the door where his men were sure to burst through with a birthday cake and a laugh any second. The polished wood didn't move. When he looked back at the captain, he was reading from sheet of paper.
"This says that you've been awarded custody of your sister, a minor."
"Oh, god. Heather." Harper leaned forward. "Heather wasn't in the car?"
"No, well, not that I know of. But this doesn't say she'd been injured, just that she doesn't have anyone else to care for her."
"No, we didn't have much family." Harper replied absently. He'd just re-upped and he couldn't bring a teen girl to a war zone. How could he possibly take care of her? Even if he hadn't, how could he take care of a teen girl? He hadn't been home for more than a vacation in four years. She'd been ten when he left.
Harper steepled his hands, pressing his face into them.
"I've made some calls." Captain Moore offered gruffly. "I can transfer you to a stateside base. There's a security position in Atlanta. I understand that's where you're from."
Harper's head popped up and he noticed the family posing behind glass on Captain Moore's desk. Two nearly grown daughters posed beside a smiling woman who was surely their mother. A younger boy stood behind them with his arms spread wide to hold onto each of his sisters. The captain knew more of girls his sister's age than Harper did.
"She's been in foster care for a week, while the legal issues have been worked out, but I think we can get you back by Wednesday."
Harper swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded. He knew he should say something, he should certainly say thank you, but he couldn't talk right then. He nodded again and the captain seemed to understand. He stood, putting a hand on Harper's shoulder, then went to the door to call for his assistant. There were forms that would need to be signed.