Home to Stay (The Long Road Home #2) - Maryann Jordan Page 0,1

make the next turn. Sure enough, after more thwarted travelers had left with their bags safely ensconced in their grip or cart, he stepped up, hefting his off the carousel and onto his shoulder.

Eschewing the escalator, he took the stairs, his heavy load not slowing him down. Once on the third level, he followed the signs and stepped through the doorway of the USO. As the glass doors slid closed behind him, he sighed, both in relief and gratitude.

Coming from the right, a woman approached, her white shirt in stark contrast to the bright red apron with the letters USO embroidered across the front. Her dark brown hair swung just above her shoulders as she walked directly up to him, her smile wide.

“Hello! Welcome to the USO! I’m so glad you found us.”

Her warm smile was welcome, indeed. “Thank you, ma’am. John Roster. U.S. Army.”

“Oh, I’m Blessing.” She laughed, her eyes twinkling. “That’s my name, not my profession.”

Not sure what to say to that, he remained silent.

“Blessing Collier. Now, I just need you to sign in here at the desk, and then I’ll show you around. We usually close at nine, but with the storm and flights canceled, we’ll stay open all night. I confess we’ve got quite a crowd, but there’s always room here to be found.”

“I appreciate it, ma’am—”

“Oh, you can call me Blessing.”

After completing the sign-in procedures, he followed her down a hall painted red, white, and blue. She waved her hand to the side toward a large shelving unit that was overflowing with bags, duffels, suitcases, and even strollers parked next to it. “I know we’re packed right now. You can just set your bag next to the wall so that no one trips over it.”

He followed her instructions, glancing into a room with children sleeping on pallets with their parents slumped nearby in the cushioned sofas and chairs. Another room held uniformed men and women asleep on the floor with their backpacks tucked underneath their heads for pillows.

Remaining silent, he turned his attention back to Blessing, whose smile indicated she was unfazed and unflustered with the spillover. “As you can see, we adapt to whatever we need to.”

Her soft laughter was gentle after the crowd at the gate. The tension eased from his shoulders slightly.

“Are you on leave?”

“Discharged. Medical.”

Her gaze moved to his face, settling on the redness around his left eye. “Ah… your vision. I’m so sorry.”

Blinking, his hands twitched, fighting the desire to fist them in frustration as he thought of his limited sight.

Plowing ahead as though the air between them had not grown thick, she patted his arm. “Where are you heading?”

“M…” He cleared his throat. “Maine.”

Her smile widened. “I should have guessed. So stalwart.” She lifted her gaze to the ceiling, her brow furrowed. “Ah, yes… ‘Should fate unkind send us to roam, the scent of the fragrant pines, and the tang of the salty sea will call us home.’” She chuckled, her shoulders lifting with her mirth. “The state song of Maine, as I’m sure you know.”

He swallowed deeply, an unfamiliar ache building in his chest. Christ, I must be more tired than I thought. “Yes, ma’am. Well, if you’ll just show me where I should bunk down.”

She turned and walked down another hall, leaving him to follow in her wake. Looking over her shoulder, she waved to the left. “Showers and toilets are there. And back where we came from is food. Our staff is preparing more for those of you just getting here. Of course, breakfast will be served starting at six a.m. I’m taking you somewhere special. We call it the library. There are others in there like you.”

His head tilted to the side. “Like me?”

Soft, lilting laughter met his ears. “Searching. Others who are traveling right now, heading home or somewhere, but searching like you. You know, we all have blinders on in one way or another.”

Before he had a chance to question her more, she patted his arm and turned, ushering him through a doorway. He glanced around, surprise hitting him as they stepped into a smaller lounge, plush leather sofas facing each other with a recliner against the wall. Three other men were already slouched on the deep cushions. They looked up as Blessing approached, all three sitting up straighter.

“This is John Roster, Army. And may I present Jaxson Adams, also Army.”

Jaxson appeared younger until he stood stiffly, a wince replacing the scowl etched onto his face. They clasped hands as Jaxson said, “Good