Brothers, Fathers and Sons: An Alternate Ending
The nurses had everyone up early the next day. Zeke was able to hobble around on a crutch, much to the chagrin of the head nurse, who couldn't seem to keep him in one place. It was early in the afternoon when he slowly made his way down to the room where Judd was being kept. He quietly peeked in and saw Sarah sleeping in a chair next to Judd's little crib. Judd was awake and cooing softly.
Zeke slowly lumbered up to the crib and, reaching over, touched Judd's velvety smooth skin. It felt cool and alive, eliciting a broad smile from the big sergeant.
"Hey there, son. You feelin' better today? Are ya? You are somethin'."
He gazed at the squirming infant for a long minute, not noticing that Sarah was awake and watching him. She was so taken aback by the gentleness of this rugged man. He felt her eyes on him and looked up.
"I'm sorry, Ma'am, I didn't mean to wake you—"He took his crutch and made like he was going. Sarah shifted in her seat and stretched.
"Would you like to hold him, Sergeant?" She said, yawning.
Zeke's face lit up and like a little child he nodded his head and made his way back to the crib. Sara got up and moved toward him. "You sit down—you don't look too steady on your feet." He did what he was told, as Sarah collected the squirming baby. She placed Judd in the sergeant's arms and crouched down next to them.
"Hey little soldier. You're looking mighty fine. No fever," he said, running a beefy hand over Judd's little face. He looked down at Sarah, and noticed for the first time that though she was smiling, her eyes were guarded. He studied her for a long minute, as she gazed at the newborn baby. He realized then that no one was with her—she was alone—just she and the baby.
"Just a low-grade fever. He's almost totally rehydrated and he's drinking his formula with no problem. I think we'll be able to ship out tomorrow. There's an orphanage down south that can take good care of him. And who knows? I might just take him home with me."
A look of surprised joy spread across Zeke's face. "Well, now. If that ain't the best news I've heard in a long time!" He looked down at the dozing infant in his arms, unconsciously shaking his head from side to side. "You just might have yourself a real home, son. That would make you the luckiest kid in Vietnam!" He held Judd close, filled with hope for this little orphan.
Sarah stood up and walked over to the window. "There's a lot of red tape, but I think I can do it. We'll see when we get to the Home." She starred for a long time at the dismal camp outside her window.
Zeke saw the faraway look in her eyes as he rocked his little charge to sleep. A short time passed as Zeke wondered how to ask a question that had been bothering him ever since he saw her on the chopper ride home. In typical Zeke fashion, he decided to just come out with it.
"Ma'am, I been wonderin' how you found Baker—and what you were doin' so far from your ville, alone…."
Sarah knew he would eventually want to know. She sighed a heavy sigh and focused on a point outside the window.
"The VC had tracked you to our ville. When we wouldn't tell them which way you had gone, they killed my husband and took the baby and me into the forest to find you. Private Baker shot one of the VC and we escaped. Your lieutenant found us a few hours later."
Zeke closed his eyes and let his head fall back onto the soft chair.
"I am so sorry," he finally managed to say. Sarah wiped a tear from her cheek as the grief built a lump in her throat.
"It's okay, ya know? I've got to believe that there are reasons for everything that happens in this life—there's a reason God wanted Judd to live and Tom to die. You found that baby for a reason, Sergeant. He should have died, but you were there at just the right time. And then you found me. And now Judd will live." She turned and looked at the soldier and the child. "It's okay. I don't understand it, but it's all gonna be okay."
Zeke just stared at her in disbelief. After a long moment he found his voice.
"I was raised by nuns, you know? I was an orphan too, just like Judd here. And they used to say stuff like that when bad things used to happen. I believed them until I came over here and now, seeing what I've seen, it's hard to believe there's a purpose in anything that happens here." He shook his head slowly, trying to make sense of it all.
Sarah walked back to his side and knelt down. She looked up into his deep blue eyes and gently laid her hand on his arm.
"You have to believe it, Sergeant. Sometimes that hope is the only thing we have to hold onto."
Early the next morning Sarah and Judd found their way to Zeke's room. All the guys were up, eating breakfast. She peeked her head in the door and smiled.
"Up for a visitor?" she said as she walked in. Johnson and Baker looked up from their trays and grinned.
"Hey it's the little guy..!" Johnson said, putting down his toast. Baker threw off his covers and painfully got out of bed and walked over to Sarah and the child.
"I'm so glad you're here—I mean, I wanted to thank you for saving my life—when you shot the VC…" Bake said sincerely.
Sarah shook her head and smiled. "It's okay, private. Here…." She handed him the squirming bundle in her arms. "You're looking much better than the last time I saw you."
Baker carefully took the baby and held him close. "Hey there-aren't you preeeeettty!" He smiled and cooed as he walked the infant over to see Johnson. Sarah couldn't help but giggle at the way the husky private fussed over the little guy in his arms. Zeke laughed from his perch on his bed across the room.
"Baker speaks his language" he said to Sarah, as she made her way over to his bedside.
"We're shipping out today, Sergeant, but I didn't want to leave without giving you our address, in case you ever wanted to come by and visit Judd." She handed him a piece of paper. On it was an address in the states and the name of the orphanage in Cahm Rahn Bay. Zeke accepted the addresses and looked up at the tired woman.
"That's a really big thing you're doin', Ma'am. I mean, now Judd'll have a chance to actually BE someone. It's like, it's the only good thing I've seen come out of this war…"
Sarah gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze as they watched Baker and Johnson fuss over the baby. "You keep lookin' for good things, Sergeant. And when you think you can't find any, you think of little Judd." She left his side and made Baker give up the sleeping baby.
"You take care, now, boys. Get better and stay alive." They said their goodbyes and she walked back to Zeke. Handing him the child, she noticed how easily he fell into the role of protector, how gentle and comfortable he was with this helpless infant.
"You be a good man, Judd-boy. You grow up now and listen to your momma, and make me proud." He kissed his little forehead and took one last look at the little guy of which he had grown so fond.
"You take care, now. And if there's ever anything he needs, anything at all, you find me, ya hear?" Zeke said softly. Sarah smiled and took Judd into her arms.
"I will. Thank you, Sergeant." And with that, she left the men to their thoughts.
Zeke leaned back on his pillow and closed his eyes. He held the addresses tightly in his hand and sighed.
Finally, he thought to himself. Life instead of death.
Two months later a letter came to Firebase Ladybird addressed to Sgt. Ezekial Anderson. Zeke rarely received mail and was excited to read it. He found a spot in a foxhole against some sandbags and opened his precious letter.
Dear Sgt. Anderson—
We have been at the Cahm Rahn Bay Children's Home for 8 weeks now. Judd is doing well and growing like a weed. He is a happy little guy and brings much joy to me and the other workers here at the Home. The Home was in great need of a nurse, so I have decided to stay on here for as long as I am needed. It is safe here for now. There is a large military presence here in the city, which seems to keep the VC at bay.
A group of men from our agency went back to our ville and brought Tom's body home. We had a formal burial ceremony for him, which provided some closure for me. Having Judd has given me so much comfort. I truly believe that in saving Judd, you saved me also. And for that I will be forever grateful.
I have filed all the paperwork to officially adopt Judd. That way when my time here is through, we can go home to the states together. He needed a legal name, so I named him Judd Ezekial Barns—I hope you don't mind. I want him to be connected with his past, and you made his past and his future possible by just doing the right thing at the right time, under very difficult circumstances.
God be with you, Sergeant. Take care of yourself and I hope that soon, you will be going home, too.
Sarah and Judd Barns
Out from behind the letter fell a small snap-shot of a laughing baby boy.
Zeke's eyes glistened as a smile spread across his face. He carefully folded the letter and tucked it and the picture in his shirt. Johnson walked by and stopped, curious to know who the letter was from.
"Letter from you Ex, Sarge?" he said, extending a hand to help the big sergeant up.
"Nope, from Judd's momma—" he said as he let Johnson pull him up to his full height. Johnson smiled.
"Hey—how's the little guy doin'?" he asked as they walked towards the mess tent.
"Real good, Johnson, real good. And you know what? Just knowing that is the best feeling in the world!"