The First of Many

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Chapter 52

It was a week after Aedan’s capture that three besuited men approached the front door of the Smith Ranch, somber-faced and quiet. The first knocked, and the door was answered by a brown-haired girl wearing pink tights, a teal leotard, and a pair of pointe shoes. She stopped short when she saw the three, and her face hardened suddenly.

“Who are you?” she demanded.

“Miss, I’m Lieutenant Joseph Marlow. This is Captain Rodriguez and Father Michael. Am I correct in assuming you’re Jennifer Smith?”

“I am,” Jen answered warily. “What do you want?”

“Are your parents home? I need to speak to them.”

Jen’s face hardened further. “I think they’re somewhere in Mongolia right now,” she said. “Have been since last week. Can I help you?”

Lieutenant Marlow looked distinctly uncomfortable. “I’m afraid I really have to talk to your parents.”

Jen’s face turned to a cold glare. “Look,” she said. “I’m pretty sure I know what this is anyway. Besides, mom and dad haven’t been home since last Christmas, so I don’t think you’ll be contacting them anytime soon. So, how about you just cut the crap and come in already? Whatever this is, I’m their sister. I have every right to know what’s going on.”

He sighed. “Maybe you’d better sit down somewhere,” he said as she motioned the three in.

“Living room’s this way,” she said, making her way towards it and taking a seat, motioning the men to the couch. “So, let’s just get this over with. Is it James or Aedan?”

“Aedan. He-”

“Is he dead?”

Marlow took a deep breath. “We don’t know,” he said.

“So he’s missing?”

“He and his team was deployed. Something went wrong. Whoever was responsible for it ensured that we couldn’t find out what. The team vanished.”

"What do you mean, missing?"

“We’ve had no hint of their location since their op went south,” he said. “We heard them calling for evac. The team didn’t get there in time.”

Jen closed her eyes, leaning back and pulling a leg up, toying nervously with the ribbons of her pointe shoes. “You don’t know if he’s dead or alive,” she said.

“We have reason to believe that if he were dead, we would have already found a body,” he answered. “There’s a good chance that he’s still alive, at least for now.”

"Where do we go now, then?"

“That’s up to you and your parents,” he answered. “We usually wait between six months to a year before asking permission to declare someone KIA, depending on whether any news is sent out about him.”

Jen took a deep breath and nodded. “Have you told James yet?”

"His team comes home tomorrow, so he'll be notified soon," the chaplain said.

Jen shook her head. “I’ll call him,” she said. “I’ll… I should tell him. And you folks have a copy of his will? Or do I need to get you that?”

“That won’t become an issue unless he’s presumed dead,” the chaplain said gently. “We’re almost certain he isn’t.”

“You don’t know that,” she said, voice trembling under the strain. “You don’t know.”

"We do know. We would have seen a body if he were dead."

“But you can’t be sure,” she answered. “You-” A tear slipped down her cheek and she brushed it away, choking on her words. “And if he’s not dead, then that’s… God, if he’s captured? Is that supposed to be better?”

"At least he's alive," one said gently.

“He’s alive. Sure. Until you throw him at some guy with an AK-47, and then what?” She glared and stood. “I think it’s time for you to leave now,” she said.

“Miss, please, you need to calm down.”

“I’m perfectly calm. Now, get out of my house.”

Marlow was the first to stand – he took a card out of his pocket and placed it on the table. “Call me if you have any questions,” he said. “I’ll contact you if there’s any news at all, I promise. I’m sure he’s going to be okay.”

She fixed him with a glare. “I said get out of my house,” she snarled. “Now git.”

They got.

Hands shaking, she pulled out her cell phone and dialed James’ number.

“James?” she asked when he picked up.

“Yeah, Jen, what’s up?” James asked, voice light and happy.

The lump in Jen’s throat burst and she let out a messy sob, tears sliding steadily down her face. “I need you to come home,” she begged. “Please, James.”

There was a moment of silence before James answered. “Is it Aedan?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m on my way,” he promised, hanging up.
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