He made that final short journey by taxi. It was the way he wanted to do it. It was part of the surprise. The taxi driver was pleasant and chatted with him about his army background. Ken, Lt Ken Coffee, enjoyed the ride.
The taxi stopped and let him out. He payed and went to the door, walking slowly and using his cane. This is how he wanted to do it. This was the plan. It had also been the constant picture in his mind about the way it would be.
He actually thought that there was irony in the situation, in all of it for him. The whole idea of being one of the very last casualties of the American involvement in Afghanistan. That last ride to the base, that last IED.
There were scenes involved that his mind still would not pull up for him or let him visualize. It was a blur and only came into any kind of focus, when he was back in the hospital and recovering. Then it was the rehabbing with his new leg. The rehabbing was thorough and worked for Ken well. He used a cane now but had gotten used to the feel of the new leg at his knee area.
The news to his family had been brief and the follow up only a little. He’d been too busy getting himself back to being human again.
But the army had done a first class job of rehabbing him, and Lt Ken Coffee was on the way home to the family again.
It was Christmas written big time across his mind. He was smiling now all the way.
They had only just had lunch, the three of them. It was Ada and her husband Dan and their late life child, Amy, who was ten that year.
“No mail yet?” Dan asked.
“Not yet,” Amy said, “I’ll get it as soon as it is here. Maybe we’ll hear from him today.”
“I hope so,” Ada said. “It has been over a week but I guess he’s been really busy with the rehabbing and all.”
Dan put his hand over Ada’s and said: “Yes, that is probably the case.”
The doorbell rang then.
“Might be the postman,” Ada said, having been startled by the doorbell.
“I’ll get it, Momma,” Amy said, getting up from the lunch table and going to the door.
In the next few instances the quiet of the Coffee home, in a small town in Missouri, was completely shattered by a loud, piercing squeal from Amy.
It startled both Dan and Ada, who, half in fright, got up from the lunch table and hurried to the front hall to discover what was wrong.
They had only turned the corner into the front hall when the heard her; it was Amy’s strident voice almost yelling: “Kenny!”
And there he was. The next loud shout was from Ada, who saw Amy hugging her son, Ken, Lt. Ken Coffee, home from the war, home from rehabbing, actually, literally, finally home.
“Kenny!” Ada wailed and went and joined the hugging that was still going on between Amy and her son Ken. Now it was the three of them wrapped up in the hug.
“Oh, my honey,” Ada wailed, “My brave boy; my hero son!”
The women moved ever so slightly and Ken said to his smiling father: “Dad!”
“Welcome home, son!” Dan said, and now he and Kenny were hugging, with the two women, Ada and Amy still hanging on.
“This is the best day ever!” Amy said, who now had the tears running down her cheeks. “Just the best day ever!”
Ken took the time then to have a separate hug with his Mom after Amy was done clinging to him. He folded his arms around Ada, who was now simply crying.
He moved only slightly and let his Dad join the hug. It was all emotion for many, many minutes.
“Are you tired? Are you hungry? Is there any pain?” Ada said, in rapid fire fashion.
“Ada, honey,” Dan said, with his hand on his wife’s shoulder, “Give the boy a chance to answer one question at a time.”
“Oh, I am so flustered,” Ada said and turned her head and cried now into Dan’s shoulder.
Amy took the opportunity then to hold onto her big brother again.
“I missed you so,” Amy cried into his chest, as he kissed her on the head.
They all stood back for a few moments then and simply got used to the idea that he was home, home with the family.
“You look so well,” Ada said.
“Yes,” he said, “They took good care of me.”
“How is it, son?” Dan asked.
“It’s fine, Dad,” Ken said. “The best rehabbing in the world is done by our armed services. They take care of their own.”
“We’ve been so worried,” Ada said.
“Sorry, Mom,” Ken said, kissing Ada on the cheek, “Wanted this last little bit to be a surprise.”
“Yes, yes,” she said, “The Christmas surprise.”
“Yes,” Dan said, who was a teacher at the local college, “Home is the hunter home from the hill, the sailor home from the sea...”
“Stevenson?” Ken asked, engaging in one of those fondly remembered games of wit between him and his Dad.
“Yes,” Dan said, “Stevenson.”
“Lunch, darling?” Ada asked then.
“Famished, Mom!” Ken said and they led him to the dining room, where the table was still set for lunch.
He noticed right away that his own place was set at the table. He glanced at his Mom who said softly: “Always kept your place set, especially during those horrible days, when we didn’t know or hear if you were alive or not.”
She broke down into tears again then, and Ken went to her, putting his arms around her.
They ate then and it was Dan who asked: “Ken, does Ruthie know?”
“Not really,” he said, “My next Christmas surprise.”
“Take my car,” Dan said.
“Thanks, Dad,” Ken replied. “I’m fine to drive; it’s my left foot and all.”
“Never suspected it any other way,” Dan said with a smile.
They filled their lunch time with talk about his experiences, those that he wished to tell them. He did go into some detail about his coming around in the hospital and the kind of treatment that he got at the hands of the army. But there was no full telling of the events.
Their lunch time passed very pleasantly.
“Always use the cane?” Dan asked.
“It’s best, at least for now,” Ken answered, “For my balance; as I get used to it more and more, maybe the cane won’t be as necessary.”
When lunch was done, Ada wanted yet another hug from him and his adoring younger sister insisted on a hug of her own.
Dan gave him the key to the Jeep in the garage and with more hugs, he left for the downtown area of the small city.
Things were bustling in the drug store that morning. Ruthie Wilson, one of the pharmacists was hurrying to get prescriptions done and had been helping out in other parts of the drug store, Noble’s. She was helping get things ready for the Christmas holiday right around the corner now.
She looked up and, just as it had been with Amy, Ruthie let out a piercing scream. Everyone in the crowded store looked up wondering what the trouble was.
Now Ruthie was hurrying from behind the prescription counter and yelling: “My Ken, my own love, my soldier, my wounded warrior! You’re back, back from those wars!”
Then she was holding onto him and crying fiercely into his chest, as he kissed the hair on her bowed head.
“Oh, you’re here! You’re here!” she said.
Then she noticed that people were standing around and watching, smiles on every single face.
“Wounded in Afghanistan! My Ken is a hero and he’s come back to me for Christmas!” she said with almost raw emotion.
The people in the store broke into spontaneous applause, as they watched the young couple hug and then kiss.
“Waited for me,” he said softly.
“Of course, I waited for you,” she replied, wiping tears from her cheek. “You’re mine, and I love you so.”
Then she realized that he had the cane and was quickly all concern.
“How is it?” she asked. “Does it hurt? Pain? How is it?”
“It’s fine,” he said. “Took some getting used to and for now at least, the cane is pretty necessary but it’s okay. The army does a great job with rehabbing.”
As they were talking, the people in the store were leaving and taking a moment to wish the two of them well, and say ‘Welcome home, Ken”. He knew most of them.
“Plans?” she asked him then.
“Dinner with me and my folks?” he asked.
“Love to,” she said.
(Ruthie had moved there from out of town, her Mom and Dad were both gone now and she was pretty much on her own. She had her own place in town and liked the kind of laid back life that the small town afforded.
It was after her move that she’d met Ken Coffee, when he was home from his basic training. They’d met at the church where they both attended. Their romance had been a whirlwind kind of thing for the two of them.)
She put her arms around his neck again and settled her head against his upper chest.
“Oh,” she said softly to him, “I hate to let go.”
“Rubbing against me like that,” he said softly back into her ear, “You’ll make me have an accident.”
She giggled and said: “Goodie for me!”
Then she wiggled a bit again and giggled again.
“Okay, I’ll stop,” she said, brushing his lips with hers.
“Until later that is,” she finished. “Now it’s back to work for me.”
This last moment was private for them, with no on else in the pharmacy right then.
“Yes,” she said, “Almost finished here. Time for me to freshen up before dinner?”
“Do I get to watch?” he asked with a grin.
“You get to everything!” she declared and was hugging him again.
He waited only a little while, as she began to get her things together. He spent the time talking pleasantly with people he knew, who came into the pharmacy.
Her relief was there by then and they left together.
“I walked today,”she said.
“My car is back in the lot,” he replied to her.
Before they got into the car, she was hugging him again.
“I can’t believe, can’t believe, can’t believe!” she said, almost sobbing into his chest. “You’re here, back, with me; I just can’t believe!”
He kissed her bent head and then she lifted her face for a real kiss from him.
He grinned: “You’re wasting time instead of going home and letting me watch you undress.”
“Crafty Lt Coffee!” she said, “Found me out.”
“Won’t work, lady,” he declared. “I’ve waited through all of this for precisely this moment and this opportunity. You won’t out wait me.”
“Goodie for me then,” she said. “You get to watch the stripping maiden.”
“Now it’s ‘goodie’ for me!” he declared and kissed her again, only this time, in the semi-privacy of the lot behind the pharmacy, he let his hand stray down to her magnificent ass.
“My, my,” he said, “Worth waiting for!”
“Then you wait for the real unveiling!” she said, licking her tongue across his lips. “I’ve missed you so,” she said, with a kind of a sob, directly into his ear.
They went to her apartment.
“You don’t mind dinner with Mom and Dad?” he asked.
“No, of course not,” she said, “We all were participating in the terrible waiting.”
Ada had yet another teary welcome for her son, back from the wars. Then it was a hug for Dan and a special hug for Amy, who was teary eyed now at being with her older brother.
Dinner was a treat. Amy was constantly dithering about having her brother Ken home, whom she just adored completely.
For Ada and Dan it was a treat, sitting down to dinner in such a family like fashion.
It was Ada who brought up what they planned to do: “My guess is that you two want to get back to Ruthie’s place tonight.”
Ruthie spoke up before Ken had a chance. “I don’t think so; I don’t think that would be right. He should stay here with you tonight.”
“Ohhhhh,” Ada said, getting up and going to hug Ruthie. The two women sobbed together as they hugged.
Dan spoke up then: “Ada, why not let the young ones just use Kenny’s room. It’s certainly big enough and has its own bathroom.”
“Perfect idea!” Ada said and Amy clapped to show her appreciation of the idea too.
The evening was idyllic, with some tv watching and some talking. Ken had also brought with him some gifts from his deployment and his travels since. These he added to the gifts that now abounded under the decorated Christmas tree.
“What a treat it is for me,” he said, somewhat wistfully, “I mean being home finally at Christmas.”