Chapter 1

“Jason!” Hannah screamed as she darted toward her brother as fast as her legs could carry her, her arms held out wide.

“Hey!” Jason grinned, tossing his kitbag to the ground and wrapping his arms around his sister, picking her up off the ground and spinning her as he did so, just as he did when she was a toddler. “How’s my baby sister?”

“All the better for seeing you!” she laughed as he put her down. Looking up at him, she could never get used to the fact that he would always be a giant to her, just as he was whenever he visited. “Why didn’t you call! Dad could’ve picked you up from the stop.”

“I felt like walking,” he smiled as he grabbed his kitbag, slung it over his shoulder and began walking toward the house. “Besides, I didn’t wanna disturb your lunch.”

“Oh… we saved you some, we didn’t know if you’d be hungry or not,” Hannah said as she opened the gate leading up to the front porch where both his mother and father were standing arm in arm, both with large smiles on their faces.

“There he is, Master Sergeant Jason Quinn!” his father grinned, standing to attention and saluting. “How ya doing son?”

“Not bad Pop… not bad,” Jason grinned as he shrugged his kitbag off once again and practically leaped up the three steps before embracing both parents in a hug.

“We missed you son,” his mother smiled through her tears of joy. “And you’re not going back? You’re done?”

“I’m done… I’m home for good Ma…” Jason reassured her. When he had called her to say that he was coming home, she couldn’t quite believe it and kept asking over and over what his homecoming meant, whether it was temporary or not.

Hannah hung back and smiled as she watched her big brother and her parents, together again after so long.

“You must be beat, son… it’s a helluva walk from the bus depot,” his father said as he stepped back and got a better look at Jason.

“I’m okay…where’s Becki? And I thought Lisa would be here too…” Jason said, looking around.

“Becki’s out with some of her school friends,” his mother explained. “She’ll be back later.”

“Oh…” Jason frowned, he’d been looking forward to seeing Becki again. “What about Lisa?”

“She’s inside. She’s got someone she’d like you to meet,” his father beamed with pride as he proceeded down the steps. “Go on inside, I’ll fetch your bag.”

Stepping inside the house, nostalgia washed over Jason like a tidal wave. Very little had changed. The kitchen walls had been repainted, but everything within the room was just as it was, everything in its usual place. He looked at the large oak breakfast table and smiled, remembering the family meals shared on it. He remembered when his father began making the table. Like all his furniture, Tom Quinn’s heart and soul was poured into it. Jason knew that the table would be in their family for generations.

“Hannah, why don’t you help me prepare some coffee and cake for everyone, let your brother see Lisa for a while,” Rita smiled as she ushered her youngest toward the refrigerator.

“Aww… but I wanted to see…” Hannah protested for a moment before her shoulders slumped in defeat. “Okay momma…”

As Jason walked further into the house, he found his eldest sister, Lisa sat in one of the chairs in the sitting room, and cradled in her arms was a baby.

“Lisa… I thought you weren’t due for another month…” Jason whispered, a proud smile that mirrored his father’s spread across his face as he quietly walked up to her. Planting a kiss on Lisa’s forehead, he looked down on the sleeping bundle of joy in her arms.

“He’s a member of this family, Jase… impatience is in his blood,” she grinned as she gently stroked the baby’s cheek with her finger. “I’d like you to meet Thomas Jason Dawson. Tommy… this is your uncle Jason.”

“How ya doing kiddo,” Jason smiled as he slipped his little finger into the baby’s tiny hand. Tommy’s fingers wrapped around it instinctively, causing Jason’s smile to grow. “He’s amazing sis… and thanks. But you could have given him another middle name, like Bobby’s dad’s name?”

“There’s no way my baby’s gonna be called Earnest… even if it’s a middle name,” she grinned. “Besides, he’s gonna be proud to know that he’s named after two Marines who fought for their country.”

Jason’s smile dropped slightly, “So long as he doesn’t get any ideas about following in our footsteps.”

“Oh come on, service didn’t do you or dad any harm. If anything it just makes us prouder of you both,” she smiled. “But I get where you’re coming from.”

“So where is Bobby?” Jason asked, looking around for Lisa’s husband.

“He’s at work, doesn’t get off until midnight,” she sighed. “We need the money right now so he’s taking all the overtime he can get.”

“Money for what? Are you guys okay?” Jason asked as he gently worked his finger out of the baby’s grip and knelt beside her.

“Yeah, we’re just trying to raise the money for the materials to build our house on the back forty. Pops’ connections can only get us so far.”

“How much do you need?” Jason asked.

“About $20,000,” Lisa replied. “Then we can get the house finished and get out from under momma’s feet.”

“You, Bobby and little Tommy are always welcome here honey, you know that,” Rita explained as she came in with a freshly sliced carrot cake and a pot of coffee.

“I know Ma… but Jason’s home now… it’s gonna be a tight enough fit as it is,” Lisa replied rationally. “Plus, Bobby and I need our own space.”

“I know sweetheart, but you’re both pushing yourselves so hard to raise the money… and now that little Tommy’s here, it’ll be harder,” Rita replied as she poured mugs of coffee for herself, her husband and her son.

“I could always loan you the money,” Jason suggested as he stopped looking at the pictures on the mantle.

“What… no… we don’t want charity Jase,” Lisa replied, frowning at her brother.

“It’s not charity Lisa… I’ve got a ton of money saved up. You, Bobby and my nephew want your house building. I’m offering you the cash to get it finished. It’s a loan… pay it back when you can. Or would you rather Bobby work his ass off and not get to see his baby son?” Jason replied as he gratefully accepted the mug of coffee.

Lisa seriously thought about it for a moment as her father entered the room. “No… it’s too much, we can’t ask you to-”

“You’re not asking, I’m offering,” Jason interjected with a small smile. “I’m loaning you the money. We can stop by the bank in the morning to transfer the money to your account.”

“Are you sure?” Lisa asked with a look of relief, as if a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. “Cos we will pay you back… I promise!”

“I know you will sis… it’s not as if I wouldn’t know where you live,” Jason grinned. “Speaking of, where will I be sleeping?”

“I’ve set you up in the loft above the barn son… Lisa and Bobby have your room now,” his father explained. “Is that okay?”

“Dad, we’ve both slept in much worse,” Jason grinned. “The loft’ll be fine. It’s summer after all… this way I’ll stay cool.”

Just then, there was a knock at the front door.

“I’ll get it!” Hannah announced from the kitchen.

A few moments later, Hannah came back through, smiling. “Momma, Lisa, Doctor Blevins is here to see Tommy.”

“Come on in dear,” Rita smiled. “You didn’t have to come so late. Would you care for some cake and coffee?”

Aracely had followed Hannah through the hall before showing up in the living room. “Thank you Mrs. Quinn, but I don’t have a lot of time to visit today. I need to get back to the office for a couple appointments,” she smiled at the woman before looking around and noticing who all was there. The smile slowly faded some but was able to keep up a strong pretense at seeing Jason.

“Hello Ace…” Jason nodded, tilting his head to one side in disbelief. “Sorry… Doctor Ace.”

“Jason,” she said simply as she eyed him over quickly. “When did you get back?” she asked as she made her way over to sit next to Lisa and Tommy on the couch to look the young infant over.

“I just got home about an hour ago. Got dropped of at the bus depot and walked straight here,” he explained as his mind replayed their relationship in his head as if it all happened yesterday. They’d always been friends, ever since grade school. It wasn’t until junior high that their feelings for one another changed. By the time high school rolled around, they were in love and inseparable.

“Isn’t it great Doctor Blevins, I have a nephew and my big brother’s back from the Marines!” Hannah was grinning from ear to ear. “This is the best day ever!”

Aracely only smiled at the girl as she started on examining the baby. After a couple moments, she looked up at Lisa. “He looks fine but considering how early he came, I still would like to get some blood work done on him. If you wouldn’t mind bringing him by the office later this evening or tomorrow so that I can draw some vials, I’d appreciate it.”

“Later this evening,” Lisa’s eyes widened and a small smile played on her lips. “See, this is why I couldn’t be a Doctor, you work too hard!”

She laughed and shook her head. “It’s only too hard if you don’t enjoy what you do,” she replied. “Alright then, I’ll see you later. It was nice to see you all. You too Jason.”

“Let me walk you out,” he said, putting his cup down and following her.

Aracely smiled and nodded despite feeling a sense of anxiety and discomfort inside. Something about it just felt wrong but she also missed his company for so long. Through the entire war, she feared for him and his safety but now that he was home again, so much had changed.

“So… Doctor Ace, you did it!” He said with a proud smile as they walked out onto the porch. “So how does it feel to be living your dream?”

“Ahh, well, it’s surreal I suppose. You? Being out of the service now, what are you going to do?” she asked as they made their way to the door.

“I’ve been asking myself that very same question since my papers were filed,” he smiled. “And to be honest, I haven’t got a clue. I always thought I’d come home, start a business. Maybe a hardware store or something. But being here, seeing my folks, being around Hannah and Lisa… I don’t know… at the very least I’ll be helping my Dad with his business for a while. The old man taught me everything he knows about wood, so I figured I’d lighten his workload for a while, let him spend some time with the family for a change.”

She nodded understandingly before looking away. “Well, it was nice to see you again anyway,” she said with a sad smile as she pushed her hair back when the breeze blew it in front of her face. “I’m sure I’ll see you again soon.”

“Probably,” he smiled as he opened the driver’s side door for her. “I’ll have to stop by your office and re-register with your practice at some point. And no doubt you’ll be seeing more of Tommy.”

“Have a good evening with your family,” she said, unsure of anything else to say to him as she just looked at him.

“See you later,” he nodded, gently closing the car door and stepping back. Things had changed between them, that much was clear. But ten years could do that to people. Sure she was friendly, but nowhere near as friendly as she used to be. He thought back to when he went away to summer camp and how she’d be there waiting for him as soon as he got home. How at 10 years old she would leap into his arms and hug him until he couldn’t breathe. He wasn’t expecting that when he saw her… he just expected something.

He wondered whether or not to wait until she drove off and turned onto the main road before heading back inside, but he thought it best to just leave her be. They needed time to adjust. Waving softly he headed back onto the porch, fighting the urge to look back with every step.

“What wrong hun?” the soft voice of his mother sounded from behind the screen door.

“Nothing’s wrong Ma…” he half lied. He was home, and he was happy, but Aracely’s cold attitude toward him just couldn’t be shaken off.

“Don’t lie to me boy,” she said. “She was different when she came back, and she didn’t come back alone. Stupid California air got to that girl.”

Okay, now something was wrong. “I always figured she’d meet someone else… I guess expecting her to wait was pretty selfish.”

“He isn’t all that nice a fellow. You’re much better for her than that fool,” she sighed as she pushed her way outside and sat in her favorite wicker chair. “But she insists she’s happy but I can see she isn’t. She’s just settling.”

“You’re my Ma, and you have to say those things to make me feel better,” he said, planting a kiss on her head. “But knowing Ace… she’d never settle for anyone.”

The older woman smiled and shook her head. “When have you ever seen me to sugar coat anything boy? You’ll know what I mean whenever you meet the guy. And Jason – when they told us that you were injured that one time and you refused to come home…She was here visiting her parents and heard. I don’t think she ever expected you to come home alive. We all were terrified of that possibility.”

“I know Ma… and I’m sorry that I put you all through that. But I was born a Marine, serving was in my blood. As much as I wanted to stay with her and with you guys, I knew that she’d be leaving for college and then again for med school. I thought it was best just to go and hope that we could one day be friends,” he explained.

“We told you to wait before you two would do something stupid like run off and get married after graduation but after meeting that idiot, I wish you two had,” she sighed.

“I very nearly asked her Ma… I bought her a ring and everything from the money I saved up,” he replied. “I still have it.”

That earned a surprised look from her. “Well what stupid reason did you have that you didn’t ask her? I’m sure if you had she would still be here waiting for you without any question. Then we wouldn’t have to deal with him. You know other than Tommy, she has us seeing him for our appointments? She won’t treat us but has her fiance.”

“That’s exactly why I didn’t ask her Ma… I couldn’t expect her to wait for me, to put her life on hold while I served my tours,” he explained. “She wasn’t like you Ma, she didn’t have the house and a boy to take care of while Dad was away.”

“Jason you are as much as a fool as she is. If something happened to you then I’m sure she would have moved on but I don’t think she is quite over you yet. From what Jennifer told me, she refuses to set a date for any wedding yet. They been engaged going on four years now. When you signed on for that additional four years,” she pointed out. “What you need to do is woo her back!”

“I can’t do that Ma… I can’t just turn her life upside down because you’re unhappy with the guy she’s with. If she’s unhappy, then I’ll try and be her friend,” he explained.

“Boy, you already did by coming home with no attachments to anyone, including the Corps,” his mother grinned before getting up with a groan and going back inside. “She usually does stay for coffee and cake when she comes over if that says anything. If you try to get her back, I promise you that you will win. And there are enough people around town to make sure of that.”

Shaking his head, he knew that his mother was serious. She very rarely said ill of anyone, much less call people fools. And she was right, he had to meet the guy for himself at some point. And There was no time like the present. “Ma! Get me a couple of pieces of cake to go… and put some of your coffee in a flask would you?”

“You’ll be needing these son,” his father said as he tossed a set of car keys into his lap.

“You kept it?” Jason frowned. “I told you that you should sell it off, put the money toward some materials.”

“How can I sell off a piece of art like that?” Tom grinned. “It’s in the tool shed. It’s got a full tank and I’ve kept it tuned up for you.”

“Thanks Pop,” Jason smiled before practically leaping from the porch and sprinting over to the tool shed, which was in fact the size of a small barn.

Opening the shed up, Jason smiled broadly at the site of his ‘69 Chevy Camaro. It was once his father’s car and then it was passed onto him for his 16th birthday. Removing the dustcover, he got inside, taking a moment to look the cars interior over. He had a lot of happy memories of this car. Driving with Ace, taking Lisa to school, parking with Ace… great times.

Starting the car up, the engine roared like a wild animal that had been caged for far too long. It sounded perfect. Revving the engine a couple more time for good measure, he put the car into gear and drove up to the house where his parents and Hannah waited for him.

“I won’t be too long. Does Lisa wanna bring Tommy for that blood work?” Jason asked as his mother placed the flask of coffee and the cake on the front passenger seat.

“No, she’s finally got him settled for tonight, I’ll take them into town tomorrow,” Tom smiled. “Besides, I think this beast needs some airing out.”

With a knowing nod, Jason smiled, waved and took off toward town.