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“Mommy, can we stop soon?” A child’s drowsy plea sounded from the back seat of the Jeep. “I need to go potty.”
Breaking through Julie’s highway reverie, the request brought her back into reality. Julie and Aiden had been on the road for ten hours; a full day of driving that left her weary and ready for a break. The dark highway was laid out ahead of them, weaving into the unknown. Headlights from oncoming cars became beacons, pulling Julie forward and summoning her home. They had three hundred miles to go until they reached Timber Lake, Wisconsin.
“I see a sign for a hotel at the next exit,” Julie said. “We’ll stop for the night.”
“Yes…I love hotels!” Aiden said, now wide awake. Books, action figures and video games were scattered all over the back seat and he started to pack them up into his dinosaur backpack.
Julie smiled as she heard Aiden busied himself behind her. She was experiencing a small amount of peace during this journey home. After the past three months of turmoil, she was ready to start over in a place that was both familiar and loving.
While confident in her decision, there still was a lingering sense of guilt over taking Aiden away from the only home he’d ever known. But there was nothing left for them at Fort Bragg. She’d left behind her house, her hopes, and her dreams.
“Here we are,” Julie said as they pulled into a brightly lit hotel parking lot. They were stopping in a small town just east of Indianapolis. It looked like a safe place to rest for the night.
Aiden helped unload their two suitcases from the back of the Jeep. For a four year old, Aiden Ellis was remarkably supportive and helpful, always ready to lend a hand. She knew he inherited that trait from his father. John had possessed a compassionate soul that had balanced out his warrior heart.
The hotel lobby was warm and inviting after a long day spent in the car. As the hotel clerk handed Julie the key to their room, her body begin to relax. Aiden, who was full of energy, ran ahead to press the button for the elevator, and they made their way up to their room.
Later, with pajamas on and teeth brushed, Julie and Aiden climbed into bed. He bounced around for a few seconds before finally settling down on the large bed, with its soft mattress and fluffy white comforter. Aiden lay facing her, his brown eyes were partially concealed by heavy lids. “Mom,” he said quietly. “Are we going to our new house tomorrow?”
“Yes, and your grandparents will be there to welcome you. The moving truck is coming and they’ll put all your things in your new room.”
“I can’t wait to see my new room,” Aiden said with a yawn.
She gave him a kiss on his soft, downy cheek. “Let’s go to sleep now peanut, we have a big day tomorrow.”
Aiden became quiet and thoughtful. “Mom, in preschool, Mrs. Evans had a map. I found Afghanistan and showed them where Daddy was.”
“I remember Dad showing you Afghanistan on a map before he left, but I’m surprised you remembered,” Julie said. She reached over to brush Aiden’s dark, wavy hair back off his face…hair just like John’s.
“I remember,” Aiden said with a proud grin. “Lots of the kids know where Afghanistan is. Mrs. Evans said she was sorry about Dad. She said that she prays every night so no more soldiers die. We should pray that too.”