“Riley, wake up,” shaking him gently by the shoulders. “Riley, you’re having that nightmare again.”
Riley squinted his eyes and used a hand to shield them from the light shining into the room from the hallway. He struggled to focus on his sister Aynna standing at the side of the bed.
“I’m sorry Aynna. I didn’t mean to wake you,” Riley apologized. “You didn’t have to get up.”
“We Burke’s have to stick together. It just tears me up when you have that dream. Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Thanks for checking on me, but I’m okay. I’m just so sorry I woke you.”
Since returning from Iraq, U.S. Army Captain Riley Burke struggled to sleep through the night. He’d been diagnosed with post traumatic stress syndrome and could no longer pursue an Army career.
At first, Riley excelled in his position as company commander with the 101st Airborne Division. He even enjoyed it. But, after they deployed to Iraq, the day-to-day drain wore him down. He’d lost soldiers to car bombs, lost friends to roadside bombs, and almost lost his own life to an improvised explosive device while supervising a clean-up operation in Baghdad.
Married for four years to Tricia Holden, whom he met while attending college at the University of Tennessee, he’d been given a second chance at the American Dream. When Riley returned home, he moved Tricia, their two children, Amanda and Elijah, a Golden Retriever, Shooter, and Sergeant Major, a five-year old green cheeked parrot, to Noah’s Fork to be closer to his sister. Three weeks into their new life, Tricia took the kids and Shooter back to Memphis to live with her parents. Riley and Sergeant Major moved in with Aynna a couple of weeks later.
Aynna, a sixth grade teacher, welcomed him with open arms. She lived by herself in a two-story Victorian the real estate agent called a “fixer upper”. It wasn’t fancy, but it was home.
“I wasn’t asleep,” Aynna said. “It’s almost time to get up anyway. I’ve got some quizzes to grade before school.”
“Thanks for understanding,” Riley said. “I just need some time to sort through some things. I’ll be out of your hair in a few weeks, I promise.”
“Would you quit worrying?” Aynna said. “If I minded, I wouldn’t have offered the spare bedroom. Besides, in case you haven’t noticed, this place needs a handy-man.”
Aynna closed the door and walked toward the kitchen to start a pot of coffee.
Riley fumbled for the cell phone on the nightstand and dialed it.
“Hello,” a groggy voice answered.
“It’s me Tricia,” Riley said. “How are the kids?”
“The kids are sleeping Riley. I was sleeping too,” she explained. “What’s wrong?”
“I couldn’t sleep. Sorry to wake you. I just wanted to hear your voice and…maybe talk to the kids.”
“It’s early Riley and the kids are asleep. I’m not going to wake them up. I’ll call you back tonight. I’ve got to go,” and with that, Tricia hung up the phone.
I love you too.
Riley got out of bed and grabbed a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt from the chest of drawers. He walked into the kitchen and sat down at the table where Aynna sat sipping coffee and grading math quizzes.
“Would you like some coffee?”
“I’ve never acquired a taste for it,” Riley replied. “I would take a Coke though.”
“You drink Coke for breakfast? That stuff will rot your guts out,” Ayanna said.
“Well, what about your coffee,” Riley asked. “It’s not too healthy either.”
“Point taken,” Ayanna said.
Riley grabbed a can of Coke from the refrigerator and opened it.
“Breakfast of champions,” Riley said.
Riley approached the bird cage positioned in the corner of room, near the sliding glass door leading out to the sun porch on the rear of the house.
“Did you feed Sergeant Major?” Riley asked.
“I added fresh water to the bowl and put in a few pieces of fresh fruit for him,” Aynna replied. “I don’t know why you got stuck with the bird though. I miss Shooter.”
“Well me and the Major go way back,” Riley explained. “Don’t we Sarge?” Riley asked, turning toward the bird cage.
The parrot responded, “Good morning,” in a low pitched and squeaky voice. Although the vocabulary was small, the little bird packed a powerful punch and Riley immediately began to feel better.
“What do you have planned today?” Aynna asked.
“I don’t know yet,” Riley said. “I think I may go fishing.”