Army brats, p.1

Army Brats, страница 1


Army Brats

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Army Brats

  For Erlan































  The light-blue minivan carrying the Bailey family, their dog, Cupcake, and their most essential belongings, was cruising up the winding mountain road shaded by pine, aspen, and black walnut trees, when a loud shout burst from the way back.

  “Stop the car!” Rosie, the youngest Bailey, hollered. “We have a DEFCON twenty-seven back here.”

  “There’s no such thing as DEFCON twenty-seven,” twelve-year-old Tom announced wearily to Rosie while Dad pulled the van to the side of the road. Rosie had recently decided to start using army lingo in honor of the family’s move to Fort Patrick. The problem was that Rosie kept forgetting the right terms and making up her own, confusing everyone.

  “And I don’t think Cupcake needing a pit stop is a DEFCON anything,” Charlotte added as she fumbled with the car door. She’d been getting carsick from the twisty road, so she was first to scramble out of the van.

  “Smell that mountain air,” Dad said appreciatively as the rest of the family piled out onto the side of the road.

  All Charlotte smelled was a bunch of trees, but she nodded anyway.

  “Good for the lungs,” he went on, pounding his chest for a moment and then coughing a bit.

  Charlotte looked at Tom and they both giggled.

  “Don’t know my own strength, do I?” Dad asked cheerfully, his dark red hair blowing slightly in the breeze. Thanks to Dad, Tom and Charlotte were redheads too, but while Dad and Tom had hair that was like burnished copper, Charlotte’s was a light strawberry blond that came with pale skin and freckles she hated almost as much as the sunscreen she had to slather on every time she stepped out into sunlight.

  “Did anyone see my sunglasses?” Dad asked. “I think they slid into the backseat when we took that sharp turn outside of DC.”

  Charlotte looked in the van. The big plastic glasses Dad claimed were stylish—despite Rosie’s insistence on calling them clown glasses—were resting just under her seat. She reached in and grabbed them.

  “Thanks, sweetie,” Dad said, taking them from her. “And I like your nails—very appropriate for the occasion.”

  Charlotte grinned as she held out a hand so Dad could fully admire the tiny white army stars she’d painted on each nail in honor of their move. She loved giving herself fancy and unusual manicures and had a big collection of brightly colored polish.

  “Very snazzy,” Dad said, which made both Tom and Charlotte snort a bit. Dad was big on old-fashioned words like snazzy.

  “How much longer till we get there?” Charlotte asked. She wasn’t sure if it was the mountain air or just standing on solid ground, but the swirling in her stomach was settling down.

  “About fifteen more minutes,” Tom answered. Charlotte knew he had been keeping a close eye on the GPS guiding them toward their new home—she was familiar with all of Tom’s travel habits since their family, like all army families, relocated so often.

  Charlotte, who had recently turned ten and three quarters and now officially considered herself eleven, was always dismayed when her parents announced a move. No matter how often it happened, it was hard to leave friends and the familiar behind for a new, uncertain future. The one thing that made the moves easier, of course, was her siblings. They might fight sometimes, but walking into school on the first day was always a million times easier with Tom by her side. Though even that thought made Charlotte anxious, because this year Tom, who had dyslexia, was getting extra help at lunch, leaving Charlotte to face the cafeteria on her own for the first time ever. And she was dreading that.

  “I think we’re all set,” Mom said, leading the way out of the woods. She was dressed in khaki pants and a soft T-shirt, but Charlotte knew that as soon as they reached the base, Mom would change into her officer’s uniform to report for duty.

  “Roger that,” Dad said, giving Rosie a high five. Delicate Rosie, with her heart-shaped face and silky black hair, looked like a tiny angel. But in her case, looks were quite deceiving.

  Charlotte remembered when Mom had sent home the photo of three-year-old Rosie, whom she had met on the streets of Beijing, China. Rosie had slipped away from the orphanage where she lived so she could spend the afternoon pretending to be a dog, darting about and nipping people on the ankle. Everyone else on the sidewalk was annoyed, but Mom fell instantly in love and decided their family was the perfect fit for the energetic toddler barking up a storm. Since Rosie was an older child (and, Charlotte had always suspected, because Rosie was so high energy), the adoption was expedited. Before they knew it, the Baileys had become a family of five.

  If Rosie had turned out to be as sugar sweet as that first photo promised, things might not have worked out so well. But Rosie had the mind and wits of a super-villain, and much to the admiration of her new siblings, quickly established herself as a force to be reckoned with.

  And now, as Charlotte climbed back into the van, she knew she couldn’t imagine life without Rosie. Even if she was driving everyone crazy with her new army terms.

  Rosie settled into the backseat, Cupcake’s head in her lap. “Mom does everyone on post get to fly around in birdies?” Rosie asked. Ever since she had found out about the move, Rosie was full of questions about life on base.

  “Helicopters are birds, not birdies,” Charlotte corrected as she shifted in her seat. She kind of wished Cupcake would sit with her. Snuggling their big dog, with her barrel chest and short tan fur, was always comforting.

  “We won’t be flying birds around post,” Mom added, turning to smile at all three of her kids. “But there’s going to be a lot of other really cool stuff.”

  Though the Baileys had lived in a lot of places, this would be their first time living on post. Mom had explained that the base, which was in Virginia, not too far from Washington, DC, was like a small town, with its own school, snack bar, pool, library, and even a movie theater. And everyone who lived there was either in the army or a military dependent, which even Rosie knew was a family member of someone in the army.

  “Is Rex there?” Rosie asked. “Cupcake wants to have a playdate with him.”

  Rex was a combat dog Mom had met in Afghanistan. She’d sent home a video of the big German shepherd playing Frisbee with his handler during a break, and the whole family had been taken with him.

  “No, sweetie, Rex is still working in Afghanistan,” Mom said.

  “Because he’s an MVP dog,” Rosie confirmed.

  “MWD,” Charlotte said, grinning. “Military Working Dog. Though he was an MVP in that Frisbee game.”

  Tom laughed, but Rosie was not amused and gave her sister a sharp look, then turned to Cupcake. “Too bad Rex won’t be there,” Rosie told their dog. “But I bet you’ll make other friends.”

  “I think that’s true,” Dad said as he adjusted the sun visor. “All of you guys will make good friends at Fort Patrick.” Charlotte noticed him glancing in the rearview mirror at Rosie when he said this. Her parents had explained to her that Rosie had “i
ssues connecting with her peers.” In regular English that meant Rosie wasn’t good at making friends, something Charlotte had already noticed because Rosie liked being in charge of everything and often interrupted, two things none of the kids in their neighborhood had liked. Rosie wasn’t concerned about this, but Mom and Dad were, signing Rosie up for friendship groups and sessions with the school counselor. So far it had not made a difference, though Charlotte knew her parents were hoping things would change at the post school, which was small and made up of all army kids.

  “And we can video chat with Amirah, right?” Rosie asked for what seemed like the millionth time. She wasn’t as used to moving around as her older siblings were.

  “Absolutely,” Mom said. Amirah was the super-nice high school student who had lived two houses down and sometimes babysat for Rosie. “I know you’ll want to show her your new room. And Tom can talk to his friends, and Charlotte can call Brynna and Daisy anytime she wants.”

  “Will we use codes to get into buildings?” Rosie asked, back to her line of questions about life on post.

  “No, we’ll just use the door,” Tom said. “Like regular people.”

  Apparently Rosie did not care for his tone. “Mom’s a spy,” she said loftily. “Not regular people.” Her eyes narrowed as everyone in the van laughed.

  “I’m not exactly a spy, Rosie Posie,” Mom said. “I’m military intelligence.”

  “Tom said that’s a spy,” Rosie said, arching an eyebrow at her brother.

  “I’m in human intelligence, so I do gather information and try to figure out ways to connect to locals when I’m in the field,” Mom said diplomatically. “To find the best ways to save army and civilian lives.”

  “And to find the bad guys, right?” Tom asked.

  “Right,” Mom confirmed.

  Charlotte felt the familiar swell of pride that always blossomed inside her when Mom talked about her work. Lots of moms had cool jobs, but their mom was a major in the US Army, protecting their country, and it didn’t get any cooler than that.

  “So that means you sneak around and listen in on conversations, like Tom and Charlotte did when they wanted to find out what Mrs. Watkins was hiding in her basement,” Rosie said. She smiled sweetly when both her older siblings glared at her.

  Mom raised an eyebrow. “Well, my job is kind of the opposite,” she said. “I try to connect with people, to make friends, so I can find out how things work on the ground. That information helps our GIs do a better, safer job. But I’m not sure the same can be said for stalking poor Mrs. Watkins.” She gave her two older children a pointed look and Charlotte squirmed, gazing down at her hands.

  “Rosie’s making it sound like a way bigger deal than it was,” Tom said quickly. “And it was a lame mission anyway because she just had a bunch of homemade jam down there.”

  “She gave us some jam on toast,” Rosie said, smiling at the memory.

  “So it all ended well,” Charlotte said hopefully.

  Mom gave Charlotte her penetrating stare, the one that always made Charlotte feel like Mom could read every thought swimming around in her brain. “I’ll let this one go,” Mom said finally. “But no sneaking around Fort Patrick. You need to stay away from the buildings that are off-limits to civilians.”

  “Do they have some kind of top secret military stuff in them?” Tom asked, leaning forward eagerly.

  Charlotte was leaning forward too, despite herself. The situation with Mrs. Watkins had actually been a bit of a mess. In the end, Tom and Charlotte offered to mow her lawn for most of August so she wouldn’t rat them out. After that, Charlotte, who had been the one to formulate their failed plan of action, had vowed to hang up her spy shoes forever. But as she considered the possibility of forbidden buildings with top secret things inside, she suddenly wondered if she’d hung them up too soon.

  “I don’t want to hear anything about the three of you poking your noses where they don’t belong or pestering people with questions,” Mom said in the voice that reminded them that she was an officer in the United States Army. “On post we follow the rules, always and no matter what. You guys are going to have a lot more independence living at Fort Patrick, but you need to use that freedom wisely.”

  Tom gave a whoop and Charlotte couldn’t stop grinning. More freedom sounded fantastic. She was about to ask more, but just then the minivan rounded a curve and there, in front of them, was Fort Patrick.

  As the gates of Fort Patrick came into view, Tom sat up straight and puffed out his chest the tiniest bit. Not that he was the officer in the car—that was Mom. But he was a member of an army family and wanted to look like it. He could tell his sisters felt the same way. Charlotte was smoothing back her hair and Rosie was straightening her shirt. Even Cupcake seemed to know something big was happening as she scrambled to her feet and looked out the window.

  There were several lanes leading to a security checkpoint that looked kind of like a tollbooth, except for the tower with an armed guard looking down at all the cars. There was also fencing stretching out on either side that was topped with razor wire. No one was getting into Fort Patrick unless they had the clearance to be there. It was kind of like they were driving into a modern-day fortress.

  When it was their turn at the booth, Dad passed their IDs to the soldier inside.

  “Do they need to do a car inspection too?” Rosie asked eagerly.

  “Or look under it with mirrors?” Tom added, remembering some of Mom’s stories from living on post in Afghanistan.

  But Mom shook her head. “Right now, Fort Patrick is at FPCON Alpha,” Mom said. “‘Force Protection Condition’ is what dictates the level of security getting onto the base, and there aren’t mirrors or comprehensive vehicle checks at Alpha. You see that at FPCON Charlie or Delta.”

  Rosie nodded, clearly tucking the knowledge away for another day when she would probably call it FCFON Alba, Chutney, or Delto.

  Once the ID inspection was completed, the soldier handed the cards back and gave Mom a smart salute. Mom may have been assigned instructor duty for the next few years, which was why the family was moving to Fort Patrick, but she could still hit a target from a hundred feet away and wrestle someone twice her size to the ground in under a minute. Mom was the real deal and no one messed with her. Well, except for Rosie, but she was probably going to grow up to be a general.

  “Check out the ice cream shop,” Charlotte said as they drove slowly down a street lined with stores and restaurants.

  “Charlotte, you and Tom are going to be able to walk or bike here whenever you want,” Mom said. “Rosie, you’ll be able to go with them.”

  “Really?” Tom asked. In Pennsylvania they’d been able to go around their neighborhood by themselves, but never all the way into town without a grown-up.

  “Yup,” Mom said. She clicked off the AC, rolled down her window all the way, and rested an elbow on the edge. A warm breeze moved through the car. “You’ll be free to go anywhere on post. Anywhere military dependents are permitted, that is,” she added.

  Tom looked at Charlotte, who was smiling. “That’s so cool,” she said.

  “I think the PX and commissary are that way,” Dad said, pointing down a side street. Tom glimpsed the sign for the commissary, the big post grocery shop. The PX was the box store that carried everything from car parts to rain boots. Since Mom worked long hours and Dad had flexibility with his freelance graphic design business, he was the one in charge of household things like shopping, cooking, and the occasional auto repair.

  The minivan was now going by the post pool.

  “Whoa,” Rosie said. Tom gazed out at the waterslides, high dive, and huge stretch of water that made an Olympic-sized pool look like a wading pool. “Whoa” pretty much said it all.

  “We can’t go swimming alone, can we?” Charlotte asked.

  “Actually, you can,” Mom said, and Charlotte squealed. “Things on post are safe. Crossing guards will help you get to school, lifeguards are stationed al
l around the pool, and neighbors here watch out for each other.”

  Which translated to Tom as even more freedom. This was going to be awesome!

  “And here’s the residential neighborhood for officers,” Mom said as Dad made a right turn. “I think our place is just a few streets away,” she went on, peering at numbers on the mailboxes at the end of each drive. As would be expected on an army post, each yard had neatly trimmed grass and carefully tended flower beds without a single weed in sight. The houses themselves were simple ranch style with off-white siding. Tom was hoping maybe their house was a cool color, bright green maybe, but when Dad pulled the minivan into the drive of 32 Bingham Road, the house was the same as the others on the block.

  The family piled out and Mom began giving orders. “Tom, you grab those two small duffel bags. Charlotte, the big suitcase is your responsibility, and Rosie, you are in charge of Cupcake.”

  Rosie and Cupcake ran toward the backyard, both clearly thrilled to finally be out of the car. The front and backyards had fences, which meant Cupcake could roam freely as long as the gate was securely latched. Cupcake would enjoy the yard—she was big on exploring new places, something they all encouraged, because two years ago, when they first met her, Cupcake was a very different dog. Dad and Rosie had heard the sound of crying coming from under a parked car in the lot at the grocery store, peeked under, and seen two terrified brown eyes staring back. It had taken ages to coax the skittish, starving puppy out, and once home, Cupcake had trembled whenever any of them came too close. But lots of food, lots of toys, and above all, lots of love, had transformed Cupcake into the affectionate, playful dog that the Baileys adored.

  Tom grabbed a duffel in each hand and headed up the stone path and onto the front porch. It was freshly painted, as were the walls of the entry hall, and the slight scent of lemon cleanser hung in the air.

  “There’s a nice kitchen,” Mom called to Dad, who grinned. He loved cooking and all of the Baileys loved eating his delicious meals.

  While Tom was already feeling hungry for dinner—lunch of sandwiches from the cooler felt like a hundred hours ago—he was not concerned with the kitchen just now. His thoughts were on the upstairs, specifically the bedroom situation. Evidently Charlotte was thinking the same thing because she was headed straight for the stairs. Tom tried to cut her off, but Charlotte employed a tricky elbow move and left him in the dust.

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