The girl cried for a long time on his shoulder and after a while Eric joined her. He had already spent almost a year in this outfit but of course he totally understood her and had the same feelings. Most of the time he managed to keep the distance but sometimes even he had to let out his grief and pain. They comforted each other this evening and it wouldn't be the last one. Casey felt save when Eric was around and he enjoyed to be her friend and protector. Strange, they only knew each other for two and a half days but both felt a close connection. Eric reminded her a lot of her so-called "uncle", the best friend of her dad, and she was happy having met him in this place.
Eric and Casey developed a very strong and close friendship during the next weeks and months. There were a lot of rumors going around the compound about them having a love affair but that definitely wasn't true. Well, there actually had been several occasions when both were tempted to go beyond friendship. Beyond comforting hugs and kisses on the cheeks because both longed for tenderness and love in this hell hole but Eric was married and had a five year old boy waiting at home. He wanted to be faithful to them while being in Vietnam and that he was. Both of them didn't really care for that gossip, they just were happy to have somebody to lean on, to have someone to confide in.
Casey needed a few days to get adjusted to her new situation. Eric helped her a lot getting through with more rocket attacks or other scary moments. After a while she was pretty much used to the strange noises and was able to ignore them. She never really got used to the masses of wounded that came regularly but she was tough and managed it.
She got along pretty well with most of the staff of the 55th. She really liked Colonel Greg Harrison. The CO was a fine man with a big heart, very fair and a good surgeon. He came from Chicago, was regular army but not too strict with the people of his outfit. She also liked one of Eric's bunkmates Captain Michael Doyle. An excellent surgeon. "Mickey" was actually one of Casey's favorites. The funny, outgoing surgeon was from Maine, too, born in Bar Habor. He had been working in the Emergency Room of a big Hospital in Augusta before coming to Vietnam. He was always up to something, pulling pranks on almost everybody. You never knew when it was going to happen to you.
One day during her second month it finally was her turn. Mickey and JJ, who was as much a practical joker as the doctor, found Casey sleeping on a bench after a 24 hour shift in the OR and saw their chance. When she woke up sometime later some nurses and other people were surrounding her giggling and laughing.
"What's wrong?" Casey asked but no one answered. She looked down at herself trying to find something weird but there was nothing. Jackie finally handed her a small hand mirror and now Casey could see what was wrong. Her hair had been dyed in a bright blue color.
"Mickey!!!" She screamed knowing exactly whose work it had been. She jumped up, trying to chase him. The race was accompanied by loud laughter, even the two Colonel's joined in.
When Casey somehow got a hold of Mickey and JJ she wasn't really able to be mad at them. She smacked them up the head and then laughed about it. It took her a couple of weeks to get rid of the blue color.
"Why didn't you do this some weeks later." She asked Mickey some days later. "Would have been great for Halloween."
"Well, if you want I'll do it again." Was his suggestion.
"Don't you dare." Casey answered and warned him.
Word spread very fast in the outfit, there was always a lot of gossip going around camp, the Eric-and- Casey-story wasn't the only one. Even Colonel Harrison wasn't spared. Since he and the head nurse were about the same age and got along well with each other, they soon became the next "loving couple" although nobody ever seen them kiss or caught them in the act. It just was a nice hobby spreading new stories around, it didn't matter if they were true or not. Since there were a lot of hanky- pankies between nurses and doctors or nurses and soldiers the rumor factory was always running.
Casey didn't believe that there was something going on between the two Colonels but she definitely enjoyed listening to various stories. She really liked Margaret and couldn't help having the feeling of having known her even before she came to this hell hole. It didn't really make sense to her.
Colonel Houlihan was regular army and an excellent nurse. Although she was very strict about obeying orders she also was easy going and understanding. She enjoyed bull sessions with the nurses and treated everyone with respect. Casey sometimes thought about her mom having been like her. She couldn't remember her mother or father very well. They died in a car accident when she had been four years old. That was shortly after her father's best friend and neighbor had returned from the war in Korea. He then took care of her. She grew up with him being her guardian and with his father and soon they were a real family. She loved them but sometimes she was just wondering what her real parents would have been like.
"A penny for your thoughts." A voice said to her. Casey had been caught in the middle of a daydream. She was sitting at a desk in the post-op ward during one of her day shifts. The last week in October had been a slow one. Everybody was glad about that.
"Oh, Father. I'm sorry. What did you say?" The Lieutenant blushed.
The red-haired man in front of her started to laugh. "Nothing important. You seemed preoccupied. I hope they were nice thoughts."
Casey smiled back at him. "Yes indeed. Home." Then she remembered why the Father was there. "Oh, Private Campbell over there wanted to talk to you." She pointed her finger at one of the fifteen wounded soldiers that were lying in their beds.
"Okay, let's see want he has to confess." Father Baxter moved over to the boy an talked to him for quite a while.
When Casey started making her daily rounds JJ suddenly walked up to her.
"Lieutenant?" He asked.
"Colonel Harrison wants you and Major Eriksen to report to his office." The company clerk said. "Shall I inform nurse Dobson to take over your duty?"
"Yes, go get Amy. Afterwards I'll try to find Eric. I bet he's either sleeping ... or sleeping."
When Amy arrived and relieved her Casey ran over to hut number seven, better known as "Another Swamp" since everyone had seen the movie M*A*S*H and Mickey even tried most of the pranks - the poor nurses, Casey was just glad she hadn't been there when he somehow let the walls of the ladies shower vanish...while they were taking a shower...
And there was the Major. As Casey had supposed Eric was lying on his cot sleeping. She woke him up and then the two went to Colonel Harrison's office.
"Have a seat." The CO said and offered them a scotch.
"Colonel, is something wrong or why did you ask for us?" Eric was wondering.
Harrison began. "I just got a call from an aid station a couple of miles north. There's heavy fighting going on over there an they desperately need a surgeon and a nurse..." He paused.
Casey wasn't enthusiastic about hearing the end of the story. She was frightened. Eric felt the same way.
Harrison looked at them and continued. "I don't like to do that but I'm giving you the order to get into the next jeep, drive up there and help out."
"Is it really necessary, Sir?" Casey asked in a low voice.
Harrison nodded. "Yes, they are packed with wounded and still more to come. There's only one doctor left and he can't do all the work by himself. He asked for new personnel but they won't arrive until two days from now. Since we have a quiet time right now I'm sending you two. You're a good team and I think you are the most strongest of all. I wouldn't send you if I wasn't of the opinion that you could handle it."
Seemed like they had no chance to say no. It was an order and they could understand their Colonel. They were even flattered a bit by the compliment that Harrison gave them.
"When are we supposed to go?" Eric wanted to know.
"As fast as possible. Grab a few necessary things, don't forget your steel helmet and guns and then off with you." He handed them a map and explained the way they had to take. "Oh, Casey, I'll inform Colonel Houlihan about everything. Dismissed!"
They emptied their glasses and left the office.
The drive was bumpy and accompanied with regular gunfire. Shells exploding to the left and right sides of the jeep. Eric was driving zigzag, trying to avoid everything that could come in their way. After about one hour they arrived at the aid station which in fact was a small shack in the middle of nowhere. They heard explosions nearby and off and on the ground was shaking from rocket's impact. An ambulance was waiting in front of it and drove away as soon as it was fully packed with wounded. Soon there followed another ambulance with a new load of casualties.
When Eric and Casey entered the crowded room they saw a young black doctor having his hands in the belly of a soldier and telling another man, who never done anything like that, which instrument was needed. The nurse quickly scrubbed and relieved the other man who was a chopper pilot and actually came there so his gunshot wound in the thigh could be treated. Casey now assisted the doctor. Eric scrubbed up, too, and took care of another wounded soldier.
"How long have you been working alone, doctor...?" Casey wanted to know.
He lifted his head and his tired but also sparkling eyes struck her like lightening. "Turner. I think it's been two days now. And please, call me Josh."
"We had been attacked pretty badly. All the others were hit by shells. Some of them only wounded, two doctors and a nurse died." Josh explained while trying to stop a bleeding. "Why are those goddamn morons attacking an aid station? This war is hell."
"Every war is." Casey said understanding and looked at him. He nodded and gave her a little smile what made her heart pound faster.
The three medics worked their butts off during the rest of the day and most of the night while bombs and shells kept bursting around them. This was definitely worse than a usual push back at the 55th. They didn't have the time to do neat surgery, everything had to be done quickly. Wounds were treated best possible and then the soldier was send with the ambulance to a surgical unit.
The shelling finally stopped in the middle of the night, you could only hear faint gunfire. Casey was relieved, she couldn't have stood that noise any more. The wounded kept pouring no matter what. They worked without taking naps until it slowed down the next day.
"Harrison just called." Eric was telling the others who were in the middle of a surgery during the second night. "Now they are in a push. He wants us to come back as fast as possible. I think we're done here and reinforcements for you will be here tomorrow morning. Okay, Josh?"
"Just wait until we are finished with this one. He has a dozen holes in his gut and since this is our last severe case I'd like to spend some time treating him properly." Josh answered.
"Why don't you take the jeep down to the 55th?" Casey suggested. "I'll stay here assisting him on this one and afterwards take the ambulance. OK?"
"Are you sure?" Eric asked worried. "I don't like to leave you out here all by yourself."
Casey looked up at him and smiled. "I am sure. And by the way, I'm not all by myself." She had a quick look at Josh. "Come on, grab the jeep and go. They need you."
Eric took the hint and grinned at her. Then he left the shack and soon was on his way back to the 55th.
It took Casey and Josh another hour to finish up the patient.
"He won't be able to be transported right now. May be in the morning. But he's stable." Josh was telling her when he entered the small neighboring room where Casey sat down after the operation. "Are you listening, Casey? You are free to go. It looks like there're no wounded coming any more and the load of docs and nurses will be here in the morning."
He took a step closer to that girl who had her eyes closed, sat down next to her and watched her sleep. He lifted his hand to brush a strand of her brown hair out of her face. But suddenly she opened her eyes. They meet his and their stares melted together.
"Do you really want me to leave right now?" Casey asked not taking her eyes off him.
Josh slowly shook his head. And then he lowered his face and did what he had wanted to do since he first saw her - he kissed her passionately.
They spent the rest of the night together, comforting each other, talking and making love. Casey was extremely confused. She never had that kind of feelings towards a man she hardly knew and she didn't really know where it would lead to. All she knew was that she felt save in his arms and didn't want to leave him. Was she really in love or did she just need his tenderness tonight?
"Do we have a chance?" Josh was asking at the break of dawn.
Casey shook her head. "I have no idea. I like you a lot but this isn't really the best place to start a long lasting relationship. As much as I want it how are we supposed to keep it up? You're here, I'm at the 55th with the explosion of bombs, gunfire and rocket attacks in between us, how are we..." She felt his finger on her lips.
"Shhh... I know what you're going to say and I have the same feelings. I care for you very much but probably we'll never meet again. So let's just enjoy the last moments that we have, okay?"
Casey nodded and they kissed.
The next morning they had to say goodbye. None of them knew how long until they see each other again but both expected it to be a lifetime.
"May be we are lucky and fate brings us together after the war. I really hope that because I would love to get to now you better." Josh started and his dark eyes stared at her. "But who knows? I definitely will never forget this night. And I'll never forget you, Lieutenant Casey Travis."
"Same with me." Casey began. "This night will always be on my mind and you're in my heart."
He kissed her and when she climbed into the ambulance she saw that tears were rolling down his face. That made her cry also.
Back at the 55th she went straight to the ER helping the other nurses and doctors doing the triage. The push wasn't as bad as she had expected but it lasted about 24 more hours. Half of it she was spending back in the OR assisting.
"How was your date?" Eric asked her when she finally worked with him.
Casey looked at him when handing the next instrument and saw him smiling beneath his mask. She blushed and gave him a short answer. "Great!"
"That's all I wanted to know." Eric said still smiling. "Okay, this one's ready. You do the suture and I'll look out for the next one. And you owe me a story when this here is over."
"Okay, my room or yours?" Casey blinked at him. She really needed to tell somebody what had happened that night. And Eric was the one she could trust the most. She feared the day of his departure which was coming too soon. He would be rotating out in three weeks.
After work they spent some hours in the "swamp" drinking beer and talking. And then they went to the officers' club partying with the others.
Most of the time in the camp they actually partied as much as they worked. Casey thought of quit drinking but that was hard to do under these circumstances. Alcohol, pulling jokes, gossip, games of any kind (poker in particular) and sexual affairs seemed to be the best way to stay sane in a place like this. It somehow worked but would it be easy to just stop when back in the States? This place reminded her a lot of the stories her dad had told her. He had some problems cut down drinking when he came back. That made her think.
The last week in November was not easy for her. On the one hand she was happy for Eric because he was so anxious to go home, on the other hand she felt deep sadness. She didn't know how she would survive without him. During the past four months he became the brother she never had. He always had been somebody she could count on when she was feeling low. She never was so close to any of the others. Sure she made a couple of friends, she cared very much for her roommates Amy and Jackie but her relationship to Eric had been special.
Since almost everyone of the camp had attended "Father Baxter's basketball training camp for volunteers" more or less regularly, Mickey, Casey and JJ arranged the "Eric Eriksen- saying-goodbye-basketball-games" four days before his departure. There were no wounded predicted for that day. So everyone put on their grey army sportswear, went out to the improved basketball field on the compound and played almost all day long. A fun day which Eric and all the others enjoyed very much followed by a big party at the officers' club.
The morning when they had to say goodbye to Eric was grey but not very cold, the rains finally stopped - winter was on its way. Casey hugged him tight and didn't really want to let go.
"Be tough, girl." Eric told her while holding her. "I'm glad to have met you. And please don't hesitate to write. I want to now what's going on over here and on your mind."
Casey was crying, she didn't know what to say so she just nodded.
When they finally separated Eric said: "Why don't we give the others something to talk about since there's this story of us making the rounds anyway."
Casey didn't really know what he meant but before she could think Eric reached out, cupped her face and kissed her on the mouth. A very enjoyable kiss indeed but to Casey is was like kissing a brother. Eric had the same feelings but no one else noticed. The others surrounding them stared in disbelief. They were speechless. Casey could almost hear what was going on on their minds. "We were right about Eric and Casey. ... How come we never saw them kiss before? ... Why did they hide it from us?..." This gossip soon would be around the whole country.
When the kiss was over Eric and Casey grinned and blinked at each other. He got into the jeep and when it took off choppers were coming, lots of choppers...