“..and bam!” Walker slammed one fist on the table, making his audience jump. “I wipe the deck with them.”
“The deck?” 9-year-old Cody stared up at him in puzzlement. “Uncle Walker, you’re a soldier, not a sailor.”
Walker laughed softly. “It was just a figure of speech.”
“An incorrect one.” Cody frowned. “Seriously uncle, sometimes I don’t know if your stories are real or not.”
Walker feigned innocence. “Why’d you say that?”
Cody ignored him, scrambling off the sofa as the doorbell rang. “Aunt Carol is here!” He announced, his cousins scrambling after him.
Carol stepped through the doorway, her arms laden with packages. Walker watched his wife’s face light up at the sight of her nieces and nephews clamoring for attention. “Are you sure it’s me you want and not these lovely gifts?”
“Aunt Carol!” Julia exclaimed, dancing around happily. “I haven’t seen you forever and forever.”
“Just since Easter.” Carol corrected, allowing her husband to help with the armfuls.
“It’s nearly Christmas.” Lydia said importantly, taking her aunt’s hand, pulling her towards the living room. “Come see the tree. Uncle Walker helped.”
“And told stories too.” Cody added, slipping his hand into Carol’s other one. “The eighteen enemy soldiers!”
Carol’s eyebrows went up, a smile playing about her lips. “Walker, what have you been telling these children?”
Walker grinned, setting the packages on the floor. “Just stories of the old days.”
“Uh-huh.” Carol chuckled. “No superman exaggerations?”
A strange look flitted across Walker’s face. Carol didn’t get a chance to decipher it as ee herded the kids upstairs. “All right, you rascals, time for bed, if I see one grumpy face tomorrow-” He smiled as they raced each other upstairs. “Looks like someone can’t wait for Christmas.”
Carol grinned. “And I know you can’t either.” She punched him lightly. “Up to bed with you. I won’t have you yawning over coffee when Jim and Dana arrive!”
Walker protested good-naturedly, smiling as his wife waited until he was at the top, before going to unpack the last of the presents.
He was still awake an hour later when Carol finally came up for the night. “You okay, babe?” She glanced at him, while combing her hair.
He grunted, rolling over to look at her. “Depends.”
She put the brush down, crossing the room to sit on his side of the bed. “What’s bugging you, Walker? You’re worrying me.”
“I’m worrying myself.” He muttered. “I keep forgetting you served with me as well.”
Carol smiled proudly. “And I know you even better than the rest of your bunkmates did. Come on, big guy, out with it.”
Walker hesitated. “Remember that eighteen soldier story?”
“I didn’t.” Walker sighed. “I never did.” His voice choked. “I was ready to give up, I headed for an enemy camp and the next thing I know, I’m in the middle of battle.” His eyes took on a faraway look, reliving the memory.
“Don’t remember much, except for nearly dying and realizing that I didn’t want to die. Started fighting back but there was so much confusion.” A single tear trickled down his cheek.
“There was someone else there that day, Carol.” He reached for her hand, and she gave it willingly. “Someone who fought courageously by me and vanished when it was over, who never said a word when the commander gave all the credit to me. They call me a war hero. I’m nothing more than a coward.”
“You’re more than that, Walker.” Carol whispered. “There is depth to you.” She reached to smooth his forehead.
He pulled away slightly. “You don’t understand, Carol. I’ve carried the guilt of mistaken identity for years!” His voice thick with emotion as another tear trickled down. “I wish I could take it back.”
Carol swallowed. “Walker.” She said slowly. “There’s something I need to tell you.” He smudged the tears with one hand, twisting around to look at her.
Carol took a deep breath. “I was that soldier. I saw you walk off and was worried, so I followed.”
Walker stared at her. “You?” Carol nodded. “Why didn’t you say something?”
Carol smiled faintly, bending down to kiss his cheek. “There’s nothing to say. It’s settled between me and the Lord.” She smiled tenderly. “And believe me, it wasn’t easy!”
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