As the train's momentum began to ebb, Heath Thomson Barkley awoke. Having no passengers next to him on this leg of the trip, he had propped his feet up on the seat facing him and drifted off.
The murmurs of passengers and their movement as they gathered their belongings roused him. He withdrew his feet and stretched.
He sat up and looked out his window through a billowing cloud of steam and saw the platform slowly come into view.
Still groggy, he rubbed his face and smoothed his mustache as he searched for his brother Nick among the teeming crowd at the station.
Back in Stockton. He had been away for nearly two years.
Adopted at age fourteen, his first years with his father and his new family had been tough. Never quite fitting in, neither at home nor in their social circles, Heath had rebelled.
He hadn't wanted to belong and he'd done his best to make them turn him away, but the Barkley's were a tenacious lot. They had held fast.
Instead of turning their backs on him they had loved him, but that hadn't been enough for an orphaned boy who could not bring himself to forgive his father.
In the beginning, Heath understood that his reluctance to fit in and his constant battles at home and in the community only made life harder for everyone.
Joining the army had been a compromise, a way to make amends to the family who had done their best to welcome a troubled son.
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